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
There he was.
Sprawled out under the engine compartment of the dissassembled TIE, was his son, Luke. Smaller than he expected, but lean and with enough muscle to heft the bank of thrusters back into place. The boy worked methodically, as if he knew what he was doing, even though it was unlikely he'd ever been this close to a TIE before. And although Luke's presence glowed in the Force, the boy appeared unaware of his gift, reaching to pick up even the smallest of tools.
Darth Vader continued watching from the edge of the palace hangar. What did
the boy know? Not his parentage, certainly, or why would he have joined the Imperial Navy as an enlisted man? Anything of the Force? Of the Jedi or the Sith? The boy's ignorance would seem to be matched only by his own. Had Luke come to be on Tatooine because the Lars family would be his next of kin, or was there more to it than that? Who had brought him there, and when?
He might be able to solve the mystery simply by asking Luke, but that felt like an impossible task. How was he supposed to begin their relationship? Just walk up to the boy and say, Luke, I am your father?
He swallowed hard. Perhaps. But not today. He strode towards the TIE, stopping next to Luke's prone body.
The boy apparently noticed the pair of boots that had appeared next to him. "Say buddy, can you hand me the servodriver?"
An easy request. He called the tool to his hand, and placed it in Luke's outstretched one.
"Hey, how'd you do that without moving?" Luke said, sliding out from under the fighter.
Vader stood silently, thumbs hooked on his belt, as Luke caught sight of him and scrambled to his feet, fumbling for the cap he'd stuffed in his pocket.
"Sorry, sir," Luke said, attaining a semblance of military decorum. "I'm a little new at this."
He gazed at his son's face. The golden hue granted by Tatooine's suns still lit the boy's skin. And despite the pressure of the situation, Luke's expression remained open, his presence in the Force revealing tension, but not fear. Vader received an impression of sleeping strength, different from the coiled energy he usually sensed in Anakin. "Do you know who I am?"
"I'm not that
new, sir," Luke said, his eyes focused forward as he remained at attention. "You're the Emperor."
The Emperor. And nothing else. Not a glimmer of recognition. "Yes. And that fighter is part of my fleet. Tell me of your progress."
Luke relaxed from attention and turned towards the fighter, ducking his head into the engine compartment. Technically, the boy should have asked for permission before abandoning his formal stance, but Vader ignored the oversight. Luke ran a hand along the fuel tank, and his presence in the Force brightened.
"There's a leak in the fuel compartment, sir," Luke said. "I think that's its biggest problem."
Vader stooped down to peek into the compartment. Even with the visual enhancement features of the helmet, he could see no crack in the fuel tank. "And how do you know this?"
Luke stepped back from the fighter and shrugged. "I can feel it, sir. I kind of have a knack for machinery."
Vader ran a hand down the side of the tank. Indeed the leak could be felt, but only in the Force. Even if the boy was untrained, he was unconsciously using some of his ability. As Vader straightened to his full height, Luke was right there, looking into the mask.
"I'm going to confirm that with a sniffer, of course," Luke said, a flush coloring his cheeks. He obviously had no idea Vader could sense the same stream of escaping noble gas.
"Very well," he said, turning back towards the Palace. He'd gained a sense of who his son was, and that was enough for today. "Carry on."
"Yes, sir," Luke said. "By the way, how do you get a fighter like this into space?"
He paused. "What do you mean?"
"Well, sir, an ion drive's pretty slow in an atmosphere."
He smiled to himself. So the boy had a knowledge of propulsion theory. Perhaps he was a pilot, too, not just a mechanic. "That is true. When functional, this TIE will be loaded into the hold of a transport vessel."
"I'd like to see that someday, sir," Luke said earnestly.
He found himself smiling again. There was something...soothing
...about his son's presence. Almost like...He pushed away the memory, but couldn't stop himself from fulfilling Luke's wish. "If you repair this one correctly, I will permit you to accompany it back to the command ship."
Obi-Wan still wasn't used to the sight of Leia. While she and Bail had been away on Coruscant, Obi-Wan had plenty of opportunity to explore the Royal Palace, and he had come across many images of her. Some current, some taken when she was small, and a very few with a woman he presumed to be her adoptive mother. He'd gathered from the curt responses the staff gave to his inquiries that something had happened to Bail's wife, something that wasn't talked about. Through the images, though, he'd gained a sense of passing time, and of a little girl growing into the young woman he'd met.
But to see Leia in the flesh again undid all the progress he'd made. Watching her stride with Bail down the corridor, the weight of the Galaxy on their faces as they discussed some matter of importance, he could have sworn she was Padme'. But as they approached, a grin lit her countenance, and he knew he'd never seen Padme' smile like that. She was a stranger, then, no matter how much she looked like her mother. Just before she and Bail stopped in front of Obi-Wan, Leia assumed her serious face again.
"General Kenobi, did my staff treat you well in my absence?" Bail said.
He made sure not to stare at Leia, but couldn't help noticing that she did not return the courtesy. "Very well. My stay here has been exceedingly comfortable."
"Good," Bail said, his face softenening, but only for for a moment. "And I have the information you requested."
He caught the vague reference and nodded. Obviously Luke was not to be mentioned in front of Leia. "Thank you. I'm most eager to hear it."
Leia transferred her gaze to Bail. "Father, what are you up to?"
"Just an matter between old friends," Bail said, returning the playful tone in her voice. "Nothing to concern you. In fact, if you'll excuse us, I'll catch up with you later."
Leia looked hurt for a moment, but then she graciously yielded to her father's wishes. "Of course," she said, with a bow of her head. "I'll be in the library."
Bail's eyes followed his daughter until she was beyond earshot, then he returned his attention to Obi-Wan. "If you'll come this way."
Obi-Wan fell into step behind the Viceroy as they traveled further into the interior of the Palace. They went past the elegantly furnished room in which they had their first discussion to one which required Bail to use his palmprint to gain access. Inside, the room was stark and windowless, with only a circular table and a few chairs. It had the feel of a war room, cold and functional.
Bail did not take a seat, nor offered one. "My contacts were able to locate Luke."
The flatness in Bail's voice filled him with dread. "And?"
"He was on Raithal," Bail said. He looked away before continuing. "But now he is assigned to the Imperial Palace."
"The Palace," he echoed. With the new Emperor. With Vader. How had he found Luke so quickly? Obi-Wan cursed himself for not having the gift of farseeing. He should have changed Luke's name. Watched him more closely, instead of from afar. Told him the truth. Trained him. Anything to prevent the future that was now unfolding. He pulled out a chair and sank into it.
Bail put a hand to Obi-Wan's shoulder. "I'm sorry."
There was something final in the Viceroy's words that made Obi-Wan realize that Bail was offering his condolences. As if Luke was already lost, forever. Outrage surged through his veins. He was sure Bail wouldn't give up so easily on Leia. Those exact words almost tumbled out when the Force crackled darkly around him, and he caught himself. First and always he was a Jedi, and he would not succumb to the destructive power of anger. He exhaled deeply and released his emotions into the Force.
And then it struck him. Yes, he was a Jedi, and Bail was not. It probably did seem impossible to Bail to defeat Vader, not only for the military machine that surrounded Vader, but for the military machine that he was. The imposing height, all that durasteel armor, that impenetrable mask, even without the Force Vader looked unstoppable. And then to add a power unfathomable to an ordinary being would make him seem almost supernatural. But Obi-Wan knew the truth. He knew what terrible injuries lay beneath the black armor. Armor that was a crutch for broken flesh. He had beaten Vader at the height of his physical prowress, so he should be able to repeat it now. Luke's future depended on it.
"I have to go after Luke," he said, looking into Bail's solemn face.
Bail's brow furrowed. "Then you'll take on Vader?"
Memories of Mustafar drifted forward, and Obi-Wan's stomach tightened. "I will do what I must."
With every step further into the Palace hangar, Anakin's anger billowed stronger. Had Vader really thought he could keep the transfer of this son of a Jedi a secret? Even if Anakin had never noticed that his abandoned project was steadily being rebuilt, the increasing ripples in the Force would have been enough to tell him something was awry. But he had
noticed that fewer and fewer pieces of the TIE littered the hangar floor, and it had been a routine matter for him to find out who was assigned to the repair of the fighter.
But to top it off, this Luke Skywalker reeked of the Force. In fact, that might be what angered him most, that this intruder
didn't even bother to conceal his presence. It was just as Palpatine had said, the Jedi were arrogant beyond belief, and this kid obviously had so much confidence in his abilities that he felt no need to use any mental shielding. Well, if it was a fight this Jedi wanted, then that could be arranged. There was no way he was going to allow this interloper to become Vader's next apprentice.
He was broadcasting his own feelings so loudly, he was surprised that Luke hadn't noticed him. Instead, his rival kept on working on the TIE fighter, without so much as a backward glance. He clenched his teeth as he approached Luke. He would not be ignored. "What do you think you're doing?"
Luke swung his head around and gave Anakin a slow appraisal. "I'm swapping the fuel tank on this fighter."
"This was my project," he said. Vader must have given Luke some instruction, whereas he'd been expected to figure it out on his own. "I didn't give you permission to work on it."
"Easy, pal," Luke said, raising his hands. "I just got here. I'm doing what they told me to."
"Yeah, right," Anakin said, feeling his control slipping. "You're not here to fix TIEs. You're only here because of your father."
Luke flinched like he'd taken a blaster bolt. "What are you talking about?"
"Come on Jedi boy," he said. "You think you're the only one who's strong in the Force?"
"The Force?" Luke said. "I think you have me confused with someone else."
"Oh no," he snorted."I know exactly
who you are."
He wasn't going to let his rival hide behind Jedi passivity. Using the Force, he picked up the autowrench that lay near the TIE's solar panel and heaved it at Luke. It should have been an easy task for Luke to deflect the wrench, but he didn't even attempt to motion the tool away. Instead, he only turned aside, and the flying piece of metal clipped him on the shoulder.
Luke muttered a Huttese curse and then he closed the short distance between them until they were toe to toe. "I'm sure you outrank me, but the next time you hit me with something, I'm going to let you have it."
Anakin stared down into the blue eyes that were only centimeters from his own. Now that he succeeded in provoking Luke, there was something terribly familiar about the fire that emanated from the other boy's presence. It reminded him of...Vader
. The Force whispered its agreement, and a chill ran through him. Why had he been so gullible as to accept Vader's explanation about Luke's father? Because it was more believable than the truth? Perhaps, because if what he was thinking now was true, that would make Luke...
"You're right," he said, backing up. "I was thinking of someone else. Sorry about the wrench."
"It's okay," Luke said, "but I'm glad I'm not that other guy."
"Yeah," Anakin said, still dumbfounded. It was as if everything he knew was unraveling. Maybe it wasn't true, he tried to console himself. But maybe it was. One way or another, he needed proof. He turned away and headed for the hangar exit.
Luke's voice sounded behind him. "Well, if this was your project, could you give me a hand?"
"What?" he said. This Luke sure was the forgiving type. "Um, yeah."
"I need you to hold the fuel tank in place while I secure the bolts," Luke said. "Either that, or you can find me a droid."
"I can do it, " he said, returning to the fighter. "I was
supposed to fix it, I just didn't know how."
"It's not that hard once you've done it a few times," Luke said. "Have you ever brazed a fuel line?"
He shook his head, and looked, really looked, at Luke. He hadn't felt this disoriented since Vader first told him he was a clone.
Luke smiled. "Well, I can show you that, too."
Plunging through Coruscant's atmosphere on board the Tantive IV
, Obi-Wan was pummeled by an unrelenting sense of deja-vu. Though sixteen years had passed, here he was in the cockpit of the same ship, seated next to the same man who had brought him here the last time. The anxiety he'd felt knowing something was terribly wrong flowed back to him as the Tantive
continued its journey towards the governmental core. That anxiety had been nothing compared to the horror that had met him in the smoldering interior of the Temple, a horror that was compounded when he learned the awful truth of how it came to be that way.
He'd lived with that truth for a long time now, dissected every aspect and mourned every loss, until he was able to relegate it to the unchangeable past. At least he thought he had. But as the Tantive
dropped into the upper traffic lanes, he had the nauseating feeling that the bodies still waited for him inside the Temple. He stared out the viewscreen, trying to find the five spires amongst the skyline. The five spires that had always said home
. The touch of a hand gentle upon his knee pulled him back into the present.
"General, are you all right?" Leia said, her eyes searching his face.
"Yes," he said, managing to twist his lips in an imitation of a smile. She withdrew her hand, but looked unconvinced. As he returned her gaze he realized how long it had been since someone had offered him comfort. He allowed the genuine concern that streamed from Leia to warm him, and this time his smile was real. "Yes. I'd just forgotten how chaotic it is to fly on Coruscant."
It wasn't a false statement. After living in the wide open spaces of Tatooine, Coruscant looked impossibly crowded. Other vessels passed at breakneck speeds, and he couldn't believe that he used to pilot his own ship routinely through these skies.
"Speaking of that," Bail said,"will you be all right on your own, Obi-Wan?"
"I seem to be able to get myself where I need to be," he said.
"I'd offer you the use of the Tantive
," Bail said, "but I can't appear to be...rebellious."
"I understand," Obi-Wan said. It wouldn't do at all for the personal vessel of the Viceroy to be found carrying a Jedi. Especially this Jedi. "The transport and the apartment you arranged are more than sufficient."
Bail nodded. "When we refuel the ship, there'll be an air taxi waiting for you. Someone I trust."
Obi-Wan leaned back in his seat. It was beginning to feel like the old days, when they had planned the future of the Galaxy within the Tantive's
polished white walls. With their mutual dedication to common ideals they had entrusted their very lives to each other. But now the future of the Republic and the continuance of the Order no longer felt so interwoven. While he did trust Bail with his safety, something stood between them, and she was sitting right next to him. Once the children had been just an aspect of their overall plan, but it seemed that for Bail, Leia had become more dear than almost anything else. Maybe he was fooling himself to think he was different. Where did
his loyalties lie? To the Republic, and democracy? To the Order? Or simply to Luke? He rubbed his forehead. All he knew for certain was that he couldn't turn back.
He wasn't shirking, Anakin told himself, he'd just become very efficient at his job. If he spent a few less minutes feeling for currents of discontent among the outliers to the Senate, it was only because he'd become so attuned to identifying troublemakers. At any rate, having finished his circuit of the Senate Rotunda, he'd earned a respite from his duties. Especially if the reward for his hard work might be to be replaced by Luke. He just wanted to talk to her, and escape to the one part of his life that had nothing to do with Vader.
He quickened his pace as he approached the aisleway where he'd found her last time. A tingle in the Force announced her presence even before he laid eyes on her. Remembering her reaction last time, he crept to her side and stood wordlessly, staring out into the auditorium.
She turned casually towards him. A smile played over her lips before she reestablished control. "Well, well, maybe you're smarter than you look."
A thrill ran through him. He didn't know why he allowed her to speak to him that way; such insults would have bought anyone else an introduction to his lightsaber. But the way she said it was so personal
. "In fact I'm smart enough to know there's a better place to watch than standing on these duracrete steps."
"The Recopian delegation, they're absent today," he said. "We could go sit in their pod."
Her eyes flashed to him. "We'll get caught."
"Their pod is at the top of the auditorium. No one will see us," he said. Her internal struggle wafted to him in the Force, and he leaned towards her. "C'mon. You know you want to."
She stared back at him, and chewed her lip. "Okay," she said finally, shaking her head, "but if we do
get caught, it's all your fault."
He smiled and tugged on her sleeve. "Follow me."
He had no idea it would feel so good to have her come with him. As they slipped into their seats, the Kuati delegation looked over disapprovingly, but he gave them a nudge with the Force, and they appeared to forget their concerns. In the center of the auditiorium, Vader was leaning against the podium, a finger pointing vigorously at the crowd to accent his point.
Anakin shifted in his chair until his elbow touched hers. To his relief she didn't move away, and he gently set his hand atop her forearm. Their eyes met across the armrest. "He hates this, you know."
"Vader?" She said with a perplexed look. "How would you know?"
"Oh, he's told me before," he said, trying to sound nonchalant.
She snorted. "Yeah, like you talk to Vader every day."
She turned in her seat until she was facing him. "Who are
There was an incisiveness in her voice that made him pull back from her. However mad he was at Vader right now, he probably shouldn't be talking so freely. After all, what did he really know about her? But he couldn't leave her question hanging - that would only feed her curiosity, or her suspicion. "I'm Anakin."
"Well Anakin, I'm Leia," she said, extending her hand out to him.
He paused, wondering what he should do. Just shake it, like he would another man? Hadn't he seen an old vid where the man kissed the woman's hand? Why hadn't anyone taught him more about women? Flustered, he reached forward. Thankfully that was what she was expecting, and she clasped his hand with a firm grip. After the formality of the shake, neither one of them let go, and he became aware of how soft and small her hand was in his.
She flushed and withdrew her hand, but held his gaze. "I thought I knew all the other Senate brats."
There was something about the term that bothered him. "What's that mean?"
"You know, Senator's kids who prefer to hang around their parents' offices instead of staying home," she said. "What system are you from?"
It wasn't a difficult question. But how was he going to tell her that he had no idea what system he was from, or that technically, he didn't have parents? Palpatine would have said that the best disguise for the truth was to present one aspect of it, but he couldn't bring himself to tell her any of it. "It's a small system. You wouldn't have heard of it."
She raised her eyebrows. "Try me."
He could sense that she would persist until he gave up an answer, which meant he had to borrow one. But then again, it was beginning to feel like none of his life was his own. "Tatooine," he said. "I'm from Tatooine."
"You're sure you don't want me to ride in the transport, sir?" Luke asked.
Darth Vader continued his path across the hangar floor without slowing down to answer. "Are you in the habit of questioning orders, Skywalker?"
"No, sir," Luke said, hustling to match Vader's stride. "I just don't understand what I've done to warrant special attention from the Emperor."
"I see, " he said. "You question not only my orders, but my judgement."
, sir," Luke said emphatically. "Maybe I'll just be quiet now."
"Good idea," he said. They were almost to the ramp of his shuttle. "Get in."
Luke bounded up the ramp ahead of him, and when he reached the cockpit Luke was already seated. In the correct chair, he noted. He took possession of the pilot's seat, and began the pre-flight preparations, which Luke followed with interest. Perhaps more than interest, as the boy's gaze seem to anticipate the correct sequence of controls involved in warm-up. At the other end of the hangar, the transport vessel, loaded with the newly repaired TIE as well as supplies for Devastator
, thrummed to life. Aiming towards the sliver of Imperial Center sky that glowed through the hangar doors, he accelerated the shuttle past the transport.
"Sir, does this ship not have flight harnesses?" Luke said, feeling around the sides of his chair.
shuttles are built to ferry dignitaries," he said, setting the ship on a course to rendezvous with Devastator
. "They are not capable of the manuevers that would require restraints."
Luke nodded. "Yes, sir. It's just that my harness saved me when I crashed my Tee-sixteen."
He couldn't help feeling a modicum of pride. A T-16 was a fast, touchy craft requiring not a small amount of skill to fly. "You have flown a Tee-sixteen? Where?"
"Back home, sir," Luke said. "On Tatooine."
His ears pricked at the mention of the boy's homeworld. This was exactly the kind of information he had hoped to uncover without revealing his own identity. Yet. "And who taught you?"
"Some of my friends in Anchorhead, sir, " Luke said.
"Not your parents?" he said cautiously.
In the Force the boundless energy that characterized Luke's presence dampened, and the boy grew quiet. "I never knew them, sir. They died when I was very young."
Luke's sadness resonated within him, and yet he felt warmed that his son spoke with such reverence. Perhaps the boy would be more accepting than he first thought. "You know nothing about them?"
"Only what my aunt and uncle told me, sir," Luke said. "My father was a navigator on a spice freighter, and they never said much about my mother."
Anger stirred in him. That deception was at the heart of the mystery surrounding his son, a story concocted to keep the boy from the truth. But why, so that Luke would live a dreary, mundane existence on a backwater planet? That didn't make sense. It would make more sense if Obi-Wan had hidden Luke, or Palpatine. But either way, someone should have begun his training, and there was no evidence of that. To know for sure, he would have to approach the situation more directly.
"Your caretakers, " he said, "did they teach you anything of the Force?"
Luke shook his head. "No, sir, but you're the second person to mention that."
He glanced at Luke. "And who was the first?"
"I don't know his name, sir, but he's my age, back at the Palace," Luke said. "He was mad that I was working on his fighter."
He grunted. Anakin. That
encounter had happened sooner than he had planned. Ah, well, his apprentice would just have to get over his hurt feelings. But something about the circumstances of his son's upbringing still bothered him. Even though Luke was ignorant of the Force, someone lurked in the background, he could feel it.
Anakin watched himself in the mirror as he rolled the swab along the inside of first one cheek, and then the other. He pulled the swab out of his mouth and stared at it. He'd never seen the medics take a DNA sample, but the technique didn't seem all that difficult. And there could be no witnesses to the origin of this sample, just as the results could come only to him. He was about to know for sure who he really was.