rynne: (deja entendu)
[personal profile] rynne
Here's part four of this fic. We're half-way through! :)

Title: Feet on the Ground
Author: Rynne
Fandom: Star Wars
Rating: PG-13
Summary: AU. Luke Skywalker has grown up his father's apprentice, and can't imagine anything but serving the Emperor. But after one mission, Luke's illusions begin to shatter, and Luke and his father begin to plan for the future--their future. Primarily a Luke-Vader story, with eventual Luke/Mara.
Author's notes: This is the first sequel to my fic Walking the Sky. I highly suggest you read that before reading this, though the basics are that Vader found Luke on Tatooine when Luke was nine, killing Obi-Wan and another Jedi, and leaving Owen and Beru alive.

This fic is written in its entirety, and is eight chapters long, plus a prologue. The only delay in posting chapters is when I get them back from my betas and make corrections, so I should be updating fairly frequently.

There are characters and concepts from the Star Wars Extended Universe in here, but very few. The biggest one is Mara Jade, who plays a large role, and who will be an important part of the plot, and not just as a love interest. I hope that I've provided enough background on Mara so that those of you who have seen Star Wars but not read any of the EU books would still be able to follow the story, if you want to read it--just think of her as an original character (which she is, though created by Timothy Zahn and not me).

Enormous thanks must go to [livejournal.com profile] krabapple for betaing. You made this fic much better than it would have been on its own. Thank you!

Prologue | Chapter One | Chapter Two | Chapter Three | Chapter Four | Chapter Five | Chapter Six | Chapter Seven | Chapter Eight

--

4


"It's not that simple," Luke tried explaining again. "There's more to it than that."

Mara glared at him. "Then explain it to me," she demanded. "Why do you need to use the Force to handle a lightsaber properly anyway? I don't."

Luke sighed. Over the past six months, Luke had come to know well Mara's temper and her desire to think her way the best way and be damned to everyone else. Even though he rather liked Mara, she would often try his patience.

"You don't use it very often, either," he pointed out. "I know how fond you are of your blasters..."

She narrowed her eyes at him. "Don't change the subject," she said. "Really, I want to know. Why do I need the Force to use a lightsaber?"

Luke shrugged. "Different reasons, depending on what you want to use it for," he told her. "If you're blocking blaster bolts, then you need to use the Force to speed up your reflexes, because in some situations, human reflexes just aren't fast enough to block them all. If you're fighting another person with a lightsaber, it helps to judge the blade's position--the only weight a saber's got is in its hilt, you know. All the rest is energy. Also, if you want to use it for a ranged attack, then you need the Force to guide it and then call it back to you when you're done."

Mara seemed to consider that. One of the things Luke liked about her was that even though she wanted to think her way was best, if she was shown otherwise, she thought about it and adapted. Ever efficient, Mara.

Somehow he knew what she was going to ask before she asked it. "Teach me," she said, and Luke tried to hide a wince. Sure, he'd taught her things before, like how to curse in Jawa and Huttese, and how to repair a broken droid, but this was different.

"I can't," he told her, and resisted the urge to flinch away when her glare intensified. "Don't look at me like that, Mara. Honestly, I can't."

"Why not?" He sensed her mood dip lower. "I can use the Force, I want to learn, and you know how. Why can't you teach me?"

"Think about it," he said, with far more patience that he was feeling. She snorted, and he grimaced inwardly. If she really had thought about it, she wouldn't be asking a question like that. "First of all, if the Emperor wanted you to know more about how to use a lightsaber, he would have taught you himself."

She frowned. "I suppose..." she said, not sounding convinced.

"Second of all," Luke continued, as if she had not said anything, "I am third in the Sith hierarchy, and it would be seen as a threat both by my father and by the Emperor if I were to teach you anything about how to use the Force, especially if it was something like lightsaber combat."

"But your father taught you, even though he was the Emperor's apprentice!" Mara protested, though now Luke thought it was just for the sake of protesting. He could tell that she understood why he couldn't teach her now.

"And the Emperor still resents him for it," he reminded her. "Father told me that His Imperial Majesty never wanted me trained, and only conceded because my father outmaneuvered him."

She looked taken aback. "Really?" she asked, incredulously. She leaned forward, rested her elbows on her knees. "I can't imagine anyone outmaneuvering the Emperor."

Luke laughed dryly. "My father is still somewhat amazed that he did it," he said. "But still, I can't teach you anything about the Force. If you want to know, you should ask the Emperor."

She blinked at him, and then shook her head quickly. "It's not my place to ask my Master for anything," she said, and Luke knew that she believed it. And he regretted it, though it was not his business--his father always encouraged Luke to ask questions and request further teaching, and had only turned him down if he thought the knowledge would be dangerous to Luke at that point in his training.

But he shook off the regret quickly; it had no place here. "Just...don't ask me to teach you," he said. "It could get us both in trouble."

She sighed, but nodded, apparently accepting that. They lapsed into silence, almost awkward but not quite. They'd have to either leave or start another conversation soon or the awkwardness would be overwhelming, but until either of those things happened, there were a few things that Luke wanted to think about.

Mara was foremost in his mind. He glanced at her, apparently lost in her own thoughts next to him, in that corner of the thirty-second floor library that had become theirs. She was an enigma, sometimes. He never understood her motives.

Why had she befriended him in the first place? She'd attributed it to loneliness, in that first conversation of theirs those months ago, but after getting to know her better, he didn't think that was quite it. She was off on missions just as often as he was, and Luke knew very well that a mission of Palpatine's didn't give you the time or luxury to feel lonely. She was devoted to the Emperor almost to the exclusion of everything else, and wouldn't hear a word against him. He never saw her seek out friendship with anyone else, and he'd watched, over the months.

But he didn't think she was a spy, either. He'd thought it, in the beginning, knowing Imperial reality too well to think someone as paranoid as Palpatine wouldn't try to spy on him, but if he was being spied on, it was not by Mara Jade. Mara really wasn't very trained in the Force, and her mental shields had chinks in them, if one knew where to look. He'd never let her know that he'd done it, because he knew it would have made her angry, but he'd slid in through those chinks and found no order to report what he said or did to Palpatine, or any indication that she was doing so.

Who was she? What motivated her? He liked her, but he didn't understand her, and he wanted to. She was the only person on Coruscant, aside from his father, whom he actually liked, and he wanted to know more about her. He wanted her to know more about him. He wanted to trust her, but he couldn't do that when he still didn't know what motivated her.

His father was always telling him to trust his feelings, to look inside himself for the answer. His feelings told him that he could trust Mara, and that she would be a true friend to him, but there was too much at stake for him to tell her everything. Though he knew that she liked him as well and would prefer not to betray him, he didn't know if he could trust her not to report everything to Palpatine, and that couldn't happen.

"Tell me about your father," Mara said suddenly, sleepily. Luke looked at her in surprise; that was one of the last questions he expected from her. And one too close to something that was always at the edge of his thoughts recently, and though he didn't think she'd peeked, he subtly strengthened his shields.

"Why?" he asked. "You've met him before."

"I've met Lord Vader, yes, but only briefly, and he didn't even know who I was. I know him better by reputation," she said. "But that's not what I was asking. He's not just Lord Vader to you, is he? He's your father. What's it like?"

"It's..." Luke hesitated. How to explain something he never articulated to himself before, and so that it actually made sense? He'd never really thought about it, what his father was to him. He shook his head as if to chase away confusing thoughts, and said, "It's someone who knows you. Your dreams, some of your thoughts.... And he's my Master, too. He's raised me not just from a child to a man"--Is seventeen a man now, Luke?--"but from an apprentice to a full lord. And he...cares about me, and I about him." That was almost hard to say; Sith Lords weren't supposed to care, but Darth Vader had never been concerned about the rules and Luke was his father's son. "It's..." He gave up trying to find a word for it, and settled for a half-smile, hoping what he'd given was enough for her.

"Home," she finished softly, and when he looked at her, she wasn't looking at him; her eyes were unfocused, and she was staring off into the distance. Then she blinked, and seemed to notice him watching her, and shrugged.

"Yes," he agreed slowly, still looking at her. "How..."

"...did I know?" she finished, again. She tossed him a smile full of shadows. "I don't remember my parents; I told you that before." He nodded; he remembered her telling him of her earliest memory, Palpatine taking her to live with him. "But the Emperor...he's not my father, and I don't think of him that way, but he's still home."

Does he care about you? Luke wanted to ask, but didn't. He knew she cared about him, but Palpatine was a proper Sith Lord, and cared about no one but himself. But he wouldn't ask her about that when it was more likely than not that such a query would make her close up. Questions about her feelings, or others' feelings towards her, especially when they mattered, always did.

"Anyway," Mara continued, "what's he like? Pretty much everyone knows him as the cold merciless Sith Lord, but he's more than that, isn't he?"

"Why?" Luke asked. He couldn't think of why she would want to know about his father--unless she were Palpatine's spy, and trying to make sure that he wasn't being plotted against.

"Curiosity," she answered. "You care about him, you said, but the Lord Vader everyone knows doesn't exactly invite that kind of thing. You know him at least as well as the Emperor does."

Better, Luke thought. I know him better than the Emperor does. There are so many things that Palpatine doesn't know, that he shares with me because he can trust me. And I can be worthy of his trust. I won't tell her everything, but...

"Formal," Luke said slowly, trying to think of what was safe to say. "He's formal in public, but he's still that way in private. Um. He's patient with me, though he's not with many other people. And he knows a lot--I can ask his advice on almost anything. And he loves flying and fixing stuff."

Mara raised an eyebrow. "That's all?"

Luke shrugged. "People are complicated. Someone's personality is one of the hardest things I know of to explain. You really have to just get to know them for yourself."

"Except it's not likely that I'll get to know Lord Vader, since I doubt he cares or even knows about me, hence me asking you," Mara replied, caustic and almost sarcastic.

"He knows about you," Luke said, remembering that conversation with his father after meeting her for the first time. "Just after the Emperor introduced us, and I had no idea what you did, he told me."

Mara looked at him, sharply. "You sure?" she demanded. "Not just my position, but me personally?"

Luke nodded. "I asked him about the Emperor's Hand, and he called you by name. Why, what's wrong?"

"Nothing," Mara murmured, and shifted her back against the shelves. "Nothing wrong. Don't worry about it."

"But--" Luke tried protesting; surely it wasn't that strange, that the second-in-command of the Empire knew a few state secrets, even the identity of the Emperor's Hand?

"It's nothing!" Mara said sharply. "Drop it."

Eyeing her, he did. This whole conversation was strange. There were things that Mara wasn't telling him, and while he didn't blame her, because he didn't tell her everything himself, it was just...what did she want?

She suddenly rose to her feet, a smoothly fluid motion that reminded Luke yet again of a dancer, which she had once explained was her main cover at court.

"I'll see you later," she said, with no excuses.

Then she left, and left Luke staring after her until she made the turn outside the library doors and was gone.

Will I ever understand her? he thought, and leaned his head back against the boxes of datacards, reaching out for the comforting feel of the Force, letting it surround him and wash away all confusion.

--

The bridge wasn't quiet, but Darth Vader didn't notice the noise. He himself gave out orders almost as an automaton, without truly thinking about them. He'd given similar orders many times before, and the Rebels weren't creative enough to require his full attention. His thoughts were far away from this battle.

It was Coruscant that he was thinking of, Coruscant and two specific people living on it. The Emperor rarely left, and Luke was in between missions; they were only two people in the mass of lifeforms that Coruscant housed, but they both burned brightly enough in the Force to nearly drown out all the trillions.

He blinked and came back to himself, glancing out the viewport. The galaxy was out there, the stars hanging seemingly motionless outside the large transparisteel windows. Out there, too, were Rebel ships, a Mon Calamari star cruiser and a stolen Victory-class Star Destroyer among them, as well as a space-dead Corellian cruiser. Both the star cruiser and the Star Destroyer were wounded and limping, unable to stand up to the power of Vader's Super-class Star Destroyer and the might of the Imperial Fleet. They would soon have to abandon the battle if they wished to survive it, and the pitiful Rebellion couldn't afford to lose what ships it had.

Vader almost wished to be out there as well, among the wings of TIE fighters harrying the Rebel forces. He was at home in a cockpit as he was almost nowhere else, and one of the things he regretted most about this life, the Supreme Commander of the entire Imperial Navy, was that he couldn't fly starfighters as often as he wished.

Luke was the same way. He belonged in the sky as much as Vader did.

"My lord," a voice said behind him, but he didn't turn around, "the Rebels are preparing to jump to hyperspace. Should we continue to detain them until the Interdictor Invader can get here?"

The closest Interdictor cruiser, equipped with that ever-useful gravity well that could pull ships out of hyperspace and keep them in realspace, was still over a day's journey away, and Vader didn't think he could keep the star cruiser and the stolen Star Destroyer there without damage to the Executor, especially should some among the Rebellion grow desperate enough to try kamikaze tactics. It would not be the first time Imperial ships had been damaged by such a strategy. "No," Vader rumbled. "Their ships are damaged enough that it will be months before those two can battle again. We will have other opportunities to destroy Rebels, Captain."

Soon enough the Rebels escaped, limping and licking their wounds as repair droids crawled over their surfaces. The battle was over, but captives from the dead Corellian cruiser were already being brought aboard, and would be left to stew for a few hours before being interrogated. Vader had time to go back to his quarters and meditate before seeing to the prisoners.

Meditation had been one of the few comforts left to him, before he found Luke. Taking the Force and focusing it inwards, feeling it rise and ebb like the tides inside his veins, taking the power inside him and connecting with the true flow of the Force was...rejuvenating, to say the least. He settled into the room in his quarters, reached for that connection between self and Force, and opened his mental eyes.

For several moments, he drifted, content to just feel the Force run through him, matching its strength to his own. It was with him, in a way that the Jedi fools had never understood--inside him, undulating to the rhythm of his heartbeat, part of him. This was what meditation was for; not to find peace, or serenity, or whatever other illusions the Jedi comforted themselves with. Finding the Force inside him and holding onto it, letting it wash over him...that was meditation.

Then he suddenly found himself caught up in the inexorable flow, and thrown unceremoniously inside a vision.

//Luke screams. He screams and screams, and the sound of it echoes and will not stop. Blue lightning--Force lightning--dances over his flesh, running over him from head to toe and catching in his teeth. He is on the floor and shaking uncontrollably from the shocks.

"Father," he groans, before another scream erupts from his throat. In the background there is a maniacal cackling, reverberating through the room as much as the screaming does.

"Father, please. Help me," Luke pleads, bright blue eyes open and dazed. Lightning seems to flicker in them too, in the shrinking blackness of the pupil. The cackling gets louder.

Luke writhes in pain, utter agony, unable to control the movement of his body except to reach out helplessly with one trembling hand.

"Father!" he screams, with as much volume as is left to him in his dying. "Father..."

And then, slowly, the light in his eyes begins to go out.//



"No!"

Vader came back to himself to find that he was on his feet, in a battle-ready stance, lightsaber in his hand but not activated.

"No..." The word was again torn from him, and he forgot his training as his head began to shake, back and forth, in complete denial of what he had just seen. "Not Luke, not my son..."

Desperately, he reached again for the Force, and plunged into its flow, searching for another vision, a different one. He was willfully carried away.

//Luke's head is thrown back and his mouth is open. He is breathing in the lightning and it becomes a part of him, his blood carrying white-hot pain with the oxygen to every part of his body.

"Father!" he screams, twitching. "Please, help me!"

There is laughter in the background, low, satisfied, cruel laughter, punctuated only by the screams.

"Father!"//



Now Vader found himself on his knees, the lightsaber thrown away from him with such force that it made a dent in the durasteel wall opposite him.

He didn't think, unable to get the echoes of his son's pain out of his mind, and again reached--

//Screaming. Screaming. Unending screaming, from a throat whose vocal cords are almost torn.

On the floor Luke writhes. "Help me, please," he moans. "Father..."//



Again he searched, unable to stop, trying to find just one vision that was different--

//Screams. More screams.

"Father!"//



This time he tore himself away from the vision, unwilling to watch any more of it. He would have been gasping for breath, had the respirator allowed.

He couldn't meditate anymore--he couldn't chance the vision taking him again. Luke, being electrocuted to the point of death.... It wouldn't be soon, Vader didn't think. Luke had looked older, in the vision, in his early twenties at least. He was only seventeen now, so they had time to prepare, time that his tormented mother and pregnant wife had not had.

And Vader knew exactly what they would have to prepare for. He'd recognized that laugh, in the background of the visions. And he knew that there was only one person capable of producing Force-lightning of that intensity, and who used it as his weapon of choice.

Unknowingly, Vader clenched his fist, and he wished some fool would blunder across him so that he could have the comfort of taking out his anger in a choke-hold. Of course, it wouldn't be whom he really wanted to be choking, but that was impossible right then.

Palpatine! It had been years since Vader had thought of his master with any real fondness, a far cry from the days when Vader had counted the man his best friend save Obi-Wan. Sith traditions had destroyed that friendship completely, but Vader didn't miss it: he had the Force, and he had his son.

And he would continue to have his son. He hadn't been able to save his mother, and he hadn't been able to save Padmé, but Luke would be different. He would not let his son go.

A buzzing at his door panel saved him from further dwelling on his vision, and he strode across the room to open the door. "What is it, Lieutenant?" he asked, though it was mostly just formality. The prisoners must be secured and ready for interrogation.

The lieutenant confirmed this. "The wardens are ready for you, my lord," he said diffidently, controlling his fear at being the one sent to fetch the Sith Lord admirably.

Vader merely nodded confirmation, and swept out of the room, the lieutenant following in his wake as the door closed behind him. He made his way into the bowels of the ship to the detention center, far from any hangar bays, so that an escaped prisoner would never be able to reach one before being caught.

The first prisoner on the roster was a brave one; though strapped to a chair and helpless, he barely cringed when Vader walked into the room, and after that almost unnoticeable lapse, recovered his calm with aplomb. But then, Vader wouldn't have expected anything else of the ship's captain.

"Hello, Captain," Vader greeted politely, waving the other personnel out of the room. "What do you think of our hospitality?"

Confusion flickered in the man's eyes, which then hardened into suspicion. "I've had worse," he replied cordially enough, but with an undertone of frost. "Then again, I've had better."

"Indeed," Vader said. He made a gesture to someone outside, and immediately a droning filled the small room as a dark globe floated in on its own repulsorlifts. It had numerous appendages, and attached to one was a syringe filled with a creamy liquid.

Vader gave the captain time to study the droid, then said, "You can make things easier for yourself, or you can make them difficult. Choose."

The man's eyes moved back and forth between Vader and the droid. "What makes you think I know anything worth interrogating for?" he asked.

"I ask the questions, not you," Vader said, and closed his fist slightly, just enough that the man would feel the pressure on his throat, before easing off. "Choose." This time his voice was filled with menace, hinting at torture should the captain not be cooperative.

"I know nothing worth telling," the captain declared, his breath beginning to come shallower and quicker as his eyes continually flicked between Vader and the droid. Vader almost sighed in boredom; this man would be less than a challenge, if not easy to break.

"That is for me to decide," Vader told him. "May I presume you choose to be difficult?"

The man's mouth worked, and he spit a gob of saliva onto the floor near Vader's boot. "Think what you like," he said. "You'll get nothing from me."

Foolishly defiant--it wouldn't help him, and he would break. Vader could feel his fear already beginning to overwhelm him, for all the brave posturing. But he might last long enough for Vader to have a bit of fun with him. The fear flowed off him hot and terrible into the Force, and Vader absorbed it, then used it to increase the aura of power around him. He stepped closer to the prisoner, and watched in satisfaction as the man flinched away.

"Let's begin with something simple. Where is the Rebel base?" Vader inquired, casually, as if he didn't care at all about what was happening. And he didn't, really; interrogation was useful, and could be stimulating, but he had other things he would rather be doing. Like crushing Palpatine's throat for daring to plan harm to Luke.

He thrust that thought away--it would only distract him, and it was not yet time for Vader to reveal his true feelings for his master.

The captain was silent. Vader sighed inwardly, and waved the droid forward, its syringe snapping out and plunging the point into the man's arm. The liquid, a nerve stimulant that would help the man appreciate all the sensations he would soon be feeling, slowly emptied into his veins.

"I ask again, Captain. Where is the Rebel base?" The droid removed the syringe from the man's arm, but stayed close. At a gesture from Vader, it would bring any number of its applications forward, and the good captain would wish very heartily that he had not been so stubborn.

So it proved. Though the captain had tried, he had not been able to resist--though unfortunately, the only base that he knew of had been destroyed by the Imperial Fleet just earlier that week. He had no other useful information to offer, not even the identities of the leaders, apart from Senator Mon Mothma of Chandrila, whom the Empire had already known about.

Of course, the broken captain was no longer of any use, and once Vader had crushed his throat and thrown his body into the cell holding his crew so they could see the consequences of defiance, he left the questioning of the rest of the Rebels to the other interrogators, and went back to his quarters. He had to prepare a report for the Emperor.

The battle and its aftermath had been...disappointing. But not overly so; though Vader believed in the Empire and its strength, he didn't care about its clashes with the Rebellion. Although the separate cells had recently reformed into a so-called Rebel Alliance, it wasn't that big a threat. Especially not when the Emperor finally unveiled his almost complete superweapon.

The Death Star. Vader snorted. A technological terror, able to destroy planets with a single blast--and entirely insignificant, compared to the power of the Force. Palpatine's preoccupation with the battle moon was only the latest in a series of things about which Vader disapproved. But he couldn't expect the Emperor to understand; though he was a Sith Lord, he'd lived his life as a politician, gaining power through physical and political means. He'd never lived his life based around the Force as Vader always had, even as a child slave racing pods for his owner.

Palpatine was contemptible. And he was dragging the galaxy down, relying on technology and politics rather than the only true power to be found in the universe, the Force.

Unfortunate, that the time was not yet ripe to dispose of him; Vader was getting heartily sick of playing the loyal apprentice. But when it was time...

Vader strode through the corridors of his ship, he the highest authority that could be found on board, and couldn't stop an anticipatory smirk from forming on his face.
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