The Protege'Author :
jedinemoRating and disclaimer :
Rated PG-13. The Star Wars Universe belongs to George Lucas and Lucasfilm Ltd, and I have gained nothing but satisfaction from this fanfic.Summary :
Darth Vader has an unsettling encounter within the Imperial Palace that changes the course of Galactic history.Timeline :
A few years before the events of ANH
"Did you know there was a Jedi named Anakin Skywalker?"
With his shuttle nose to tail in Imperial Center traffic, Darth Vader restrained himself from turning the pilot's seat towards his apprentice. As a matter of fact, he was aware of that. But since that tidbit was apparently news to the boy, the question was, why had it surfaced now? "Where did you come across that?"
"I did what you told me," Anakin said, retrieving a piece of flimsi from his jacket pocket. "There was a recruit who tested very high, so I had them run his sample against the genetic database."
He'd established that protocol as a way of sifting for evidence of any surviving Jedi. He'd wondered if he would catch Shelvay or Justiss, or even Obi-Wan, but apparently, he'd caught himself?
"Are you saying this recruit is the offspring of Anakin Skywalker?"
"Yeah. Skywalker the Jedi," Anakin said, reading from the flimsi. "And some senator. Padme' Amidala."
His head turned reflexively at the mention of her name."That's..."
"That's what?" Untrue. Impossible. Unbelievable.
He swallowed hard. A miracle.
After all these years. All that time wasted mourning when he should have been looking. Did that mean...no...he'd seen a holo of the funeral. But maybe it meant he hadn't killed her, not directly, not immediately. But where had the child been all these years? Who else knew? Palpatine, certainly. Fury gathered in his chest and he wished he could resurrect the old geezer just for the satisfaction of killing him. But that wasn't necessary. Palpatine was gone, and he had a son. "You're certain about the results?"
Anakin rattled the piece of flimsi. "Yeah, it says in red letters, Skywalker was a Jedi."
"No, no," he said shaking his head. Why had Palpatine instilled such an obsession in the boy? "About the recruit. Are you sure it's a match?"
"Oh, yeah. I had them run it twice," Anakin said. "Don't you think it's strange for someone to have the same name as us?"
"The Galaxy is enormous," he said, taking the shuttle down a level. "There must be many Anakin Skywalkers."
Anakin swiveled in the co-pilot's seat. "But you killed most of the Jedi. So you might have killed this other Skywalker."
"I suppose I did," he said, without meeting the boy's gaze. From a certain point of view.
"Just like how Palpatine wanted me to kill you," Anakin said, nodding. "Except that I didn't know you were me. Did you know about Skywalker the Jedi?"
This was the last thing he wanted to talk about right now."What does it matter?"
Anakin shrugged. "I don't know. It just seems weird somehow."
"It's nothing. Forget it," he said. But the news Anakin had just dropped wasn't nothing, it was everything. He wasn't even sure what to do with it. A son
. He drifted the shuttle lower to make the approach to the Palace hangar. Warning claxons sounded until he activated the shuttle's transponder, and then the hangar doors began to part. Strangely, he was tired of flying and couldn't wait to get the shuttle on the ground.
"Is that how..." Anakin said. "Is that how you were injured?"
"What?" he said, annoyed at the interruption. Besides, this was not a question anyone dared ask him. "What do you mean?"
Anakin flushed. "Umm...you know...your armor. Did you get hurt fighting Jedi?"
"You could say that." Better to have the boy think it had been many, instead of just one.
"That's what I thought," Anakin said. "It must have been quite a battle to infiltrate their Temple."
"You have no idea," he said. He wasn't about to tell the boy the greatest struggle had been with himself, and that gaining admittance had been as simple as entering his pass code.
"I guess you're right," Anakin said, crumpling the piece of flimsi and tossing it on the floorboards. "They're gone, and it doesn't matter about the other Skywalker."
As Vader lowered the shuttle to the hangar deck, he noted where the flimsi had landed, and reminded himself not to allow the cleaning crew to come through until after he had retrieved it.
Every so often guards walked past Obi-Wan's cell, casting suspicious glances through the small transparisteel window in the door. In truth, he could have undone the lock and freed himself, but there was no point. While finding his way to Alderaan had been as simple as stowing away on a cargo ship, now that he was here he had only a vague idea of where the Royal Palace was located in Aldera. It was much easier to let Bail come to him.
At first he was afraid the security agents wouldn't pass on his message. When the chip Bail had given him so long ago wouldn't read correctly on their datapads, the small benefit of the doubt they had granted him evaporated. With a toss of his head, the lead agent had summoned two guards to Obi-Wan's side, and they had begun escorting him back to the docking bays. He was in the middle of considering his options when the same agent gave a shout to halt, the Royal Seal embedded on the chip apparently finally opening. After that, they had led him to this detention cell, and here he waited.
He didn't mind. Even before Tatooine taught him the infinite patience of the wilderness, he had been very good at waiting. He laid down on the thin mattress and stared at the stark lines of his cell, the smooth white walls so different from the rough synstone of his own home. It had been quite a while since he'd been somewhere that didn't have sand lodged in every crevice and crawling things skittering across the ceiling. He smiled to himself. How many times had he been trapped in a situation like this, only to escape by his wits? His wits, and Anakin's help.
His smile faded. He didn't know why he was thinking of his old padawan so often. Maybe because of the second lightsaber that rested at his hip. But he couldn't afford to become nostalgic now. The Anakin he remembered no longer existed, and he needed to stay focused on his task. He was here to save Luke, and the future of the Jedi Order.
Footsteps sounded in the corridor outside his cell, accompanied by a flurry of voices. He sat up from the bed in time to catch Bail Organa's face framed in the cell door window. A look of astonishment came over the Viceroy, and then Obi-Wan heard Bail's voice commanding the guards to open the cell. He pushed himself to his feet as the door slid open, and walked out into the corridor.
"Good to see you, old friend," he said, and then time stopped. From within the shadows of the entourage that flanked Bail emerged a ghost, small and beautiful. He only realized he was staring when Bail shifted uneasily and moved his tall frame between them.
"General Kenobi," Bail said, "May I introduce you to my daughter, Leia."
That couldn't be true. Leia was a tiny baby, and this young woman before him must be Padme'. Except that he had watched Padme' die, and if Luke was old enough to join the service, then his twin would be almost grown as well. Besides, there was a fierceness in the young woman's eyes that wasn't Padme' at all, but Anakin.
Leia stepped forward from her father's side. "It's an honor to meet you, General. My father has told me so much about you."
The power of speech left him, and he dropped his gaze. "An honor for me, as well," he murmured.
"You must be tired, General, after your journey," Bail said. "If you come this way, my shuttle will take us back to the palace."
The tiny room on a vacant floor of the Imperial Palace was hardly suitable for the Emperor, but it was exactly what Darth Vader wanted. It had taken some effort to make sure that neither the troopers nor Anakin observed where he was going, but at last he was in a place of complete privacy. Probably designed for some low-level clerk, the featureless room held only a small workstation with a computer. Leaning forward in the plain chair that faced the computer, he clutched a wrinkled piece of flimsi in one hand, and typed with the other. The Imperial Services database thought about the serial number he had entered, then filled the screen with details about a recruit named Luke Skywalker.
He peered at the small picture accompanying the recruit's information. Blond hair peeked from beneath the boy's cap, and a pair of ice blue eyes stared from under its brim. His father's son, all right. Vader flitted through the information accompanying the image. Currently assigned to basic training at Raithal. Transported from Tatooine prior to that. Tatooine?
The boy had been living on Tatooine? That was either a cruel joke of the Universe, or someone had taken the boy there on purpose.
He shook his head and moved on. Job classification: fighter mechanic, no doubt assigned on the basis of the impressive aptitude score listed. Age: sixteen. Enlisting at that age would have required a signature from a guardian. Either Luke wanted desperately to get away from Tatooine's emptiness, or the guardian wanted to be rid of the boy. His eyes narrowed at that thought, that someone might have thrown his son out of his childhood home. What hardships might he have averted, what pains might he have eased if only he had known to look for his son?
He dropped his gaze back to the piece of flimsi. It was so strange to see her name. For a long time he had thought of her every day, but at some point he discovered it was less painful not to think of her, and he willed himself to forget. But reading her name, especially printed next to his, made her face fill his mind. And even his own name seemed different when listed with hers as the parent of this boy. Though the letters were the same, it was not the one that belonged to his apprentice, nor to the man who had brought down the Jedi Order. Instead it belonged to the man he used to be, the one who had known love and hope.
He closed his eyes and let the memories come forth. He remembered the smell of her hair, and the taste of her lips. The pride he felt when she came to him for comfort. The too brief moments of ordinary life that they had shared. It all might have been as from a dream, so foreign were the sensations now. But when he opened his eyes, the computer screen showed him proof that he really had lived that life.
He traced a finger over Luke's image. His son. His blood. And hers. This boy was part of what he had fought so hard to protect. A piece of a life he thought no longer existed. The flickers of emotion in the ashes of his heart said that the man he thought no longer existed had survived, as well. He drew in a deep breath, and though the hiss of the ventilator accompanied it as usual, it felt like the first real breath he had taken in years. A choked laugh escaped him. Palpatine was dead
. He was no longer bound to the path his master had shown him. He was free
The lock on the door behind him whined as someone attempted to manipulate its servos. He'd been so caught up in his thoughts that he'd failed to sense Anakin's approach. Hastily he shut down the computer, and swiveled in the chair just in time to watch the door slide open. "Yes?"
Anakin looked troubled as his eyes searched the small room. "It's time for us to go. We're due at the Senate."
Obi-Wan ran his hand over the silken fabric of the clothing Bail had given him. He couldn't deny that it felt luxurious against his skin, as had the warm water in his 'fresher, but it also made him uneasy. The comforting weight of his tunics and robe were all he had ever known, and without them he didn't feel like himself. But he sensed that there was more to Bail's suggestion that he put on a fresh change of clothes than hospitality. Though the Viceroy seemed genuinely glad to see him, Bail also seemed disquieted to have his guest dressed in traditional Jedi attire.
Not that Obi-Wan could blame him. While Tatooine's isolation had brought lonliness, he knew it had also offered protection. He wasn't sure if he could have carried on as Bail had, directly in Palpatine's line of sight. And if Obi-Wan had wondered if Bail would answer his plea after sixteen years, certainly Bail must have wondered about Obi-Wan's motives for suddenly reappearing. All the more reason to don the proffered clothing and ease his host's mind about his intentions.
When he finished dressing, he exited his room and found an aide stationed outside the door. At least he thought the man was an aide, and not a guard. Regardless, he followed his escort through the hallways of the Palace. Stopping in front of a pair of doors emblazoned with the Alderaanian planetary crest, the aide bowed and swept an arm towards the doors. Obi-Wan gave a nod of thanks, and motioned the doors open. As he passed through them, he decided it might be prudent to cease displaying his abilities.
Inside, the room was furnished with what had to be antiques, their ornate style contrasting with the flowing lines found elsewhere in the Palace. Bail was seated in a dark leather armchair adjacent to a tall window, and he stood as Obi-Wan approached.
"Did your room contain everything you needed?" Bail said, indicating the chair opposite his own.
Obi-Wan smiled as he sat down. "Yes. You've been most gracious. Especially after all this time."
"Of course," Bail said, his eyes not echoing the smile he gave. "But I must ask. You're not here for my daughter, are you?"
"No, no, I didn't mean to worry you," Obi-Wan said. In truth, his life had focused around Luke, and he had seldom thought of Leia. "Though it was extraordinary to see her."
"Good," Bail said, exhaling with visible relief. "Then I can let you stay. So, what has brought you here?"
"Let's just say I received a bit of bad news," Obi-Wan said.
"Yes, it's still hard to believe," Bail said.
Obi-Wan nodded. "My feelings, exactly. But I'm surprised you already know."
Bail gave a hollow laugh. "If the news made it to Tatooine, then you can imagine the amount of coverage it's received in the Core Worlds."
Obi-Wan winced. Luke's identity must have been discovered if he was on the front screen. "They haven't hurt him, have they?"
"You're concerned about Vader
"Vader? No, I'm speaking of Luke."
Bail rubbed his chin. "Then you haven't heard. Palpatine is dead and Vader is the Emperor."
"What?" Obi-Wan squinted in disbelief. "Did Vader kill Palpatine?"
"He's never said as much, but one can only assume. Who else could have done it?"
Against an opponent who had humbled Yoda, Obi-Wan could think of no one. It had to have been Vader. I have brought peace, justice, freedom, and security to my new Empire.
Words of madness finally brought to fruition.
"I was hoping that was why you'd come," Bail said, leaning forward. "To destroy Vader, and topple the Empire."
"No," Obi-Wan said quietly. Was that the tremor he had felt in the Force? Had Luke's departure been only a distraction, and his real destiny was to finish what he started on Mustafar? "I hadn't known."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Bail said, sinking back into his chair." But you mentioned Luke."
"Yes," Obi-Wan said, almost ashamed to ask for assistance now that he knew Bail had expected an avenging warrior. "He's joined the Imperial Services. I was hoping you could help me locate him."
Bail shook his head. "They grow up too fast, don't they? Leia's determined to run for Senator next year, even though I keep telling her it's too dangerous."
Obi-Wan nodded with silent empathy.
For a few moments, Bail seemed lost in another world, but then he regained his focus. "Of course I'll help you. But it will have to wait until Leia and I return from Coruscant. You are welcome to stay here in the meantime."
Anakin immersed himself in the Force, feeling for tendrils of fear and deception amongst a band of stragglers to the Senate Rotunda. Sensing none, he silently moved on to the next aisle. From the top of the auditorium he could see Vader standing at the podium of the central dais. One day, he too, would stand to address the Senate, but for now he was satisfied with his role. At least he had
a real assignment, instead of being kept locked away as Palpatine had done. Ironically, his former isolation now served him well, as his appearance generated no recognition among the senators he encountered.
He was halfway through his perimeter patrol when he sensed two beings cloistered in the shadows of the alcove at the head of an aisle. This was exactly what he was looking for: sidebar conversations taking place outside of the reach of the holocams. He passed by the pair of humans as if he had no interest. The one who faced outward he recognized as the senator from Eriadu, but he couldn't identify the other. Doubling back, he came close enough to pick up whispers of their discussion.
"...only a matter of time..."
"...the pressure will be too great..."
"...yes, until then..."
Apruptly, the senators vacated the alcove, one of them eyeing him as they walked by. Anakin smiled blandly until they disappeared down their respective aisles, presumably to take their seats. That
conversation was definitely something. He was sure it wasn't a coincidence that it involved the senator from Tarkin's homeworld. Vader would be pleased when he received the report this evening. Buoyed by his discovery, Anakin strode down the corridor with renewed vigor.
He'd almost completed the entire circuit when he sensed another being hidden in an aisle alcove. Oddly, the person was alone, and even stranger, the being was Force sensitive. A Dark Jedi left over from Palpatine's days? He thought Vader had rid the Palace of those. He crept closer, a sense of danger prickling his skin. The being turned towards him, and his heart jumped at the sight. It was the girl who had caught his attention on his handheld, the one Vader identified as Senator Organa's daughter.
He paused when she held his gaze. Palpatine had told him women were an amusement, but also a test of focus. And Vader had called her a distraction. They had to be exaggerating. Undeniably he felt a pull towards her, but he was in no danger of losing control. He tossed her his best grin as he approached. "Do you need help finding your seat, Senator?"
"I'm not a senator yet, and no, I don't need your help," she said, turning back towards the auditorium.
He positioned himself at her side and looked down at her. "Just enjoying the sight of government in action, then?"
"I would be if you'd stop talking," she said.
A flush ran up his neck as her audacity caught him off guard. He stared at her a moment, then decided to grant her request. Following her lead, he faced the auditorium and listened to the speaker. After a few minutes he found he couldn't contain his opinion. "But it's just Korattine. He never says anything worthwhile."
"You can't say that," she said, flashing him a conspiratorial grin. "All viewpoints are valuable."
A feeling of warmth spread through his body, and he realized he would do almost anything to see her smile like that again. He leaned in towards her. "What about Negus? Or Zarrk? You'll find more substance in deep space than in their speeches."
She rewarded him with a chuckle. "You seem quite knowledgeable about the Senate."
"I've been around it all my life," he said.
"Then I'm sure I'll see you at the next session," she said as she slipped by him. "You'll have to excuse me. I must finish a report for my father's office."
Anakin watched her walk away. "I wouldn't miss it."
The Sergeant Major of the Raithal Center flickered in blue holoprojection atop Darth Vader's desk. "Might I suggest someone more suitable, m'lord? That one is only part way through basic training."
Vader was used to quavering voices, so this one had no impact on him. "I am aware of that."
"But m'lord, your standards for discipline are well known," the Sergeant Major said. "This recruit has not yet attained them."
"I have plenty of staff well versed in protocol, Sergeant," he said. "What I need most is a good mechanic for the Palace. Send Skywalker immediately."