By the time he completed his run back to the base, he wasn't breathing heavily, but it had been a strenuous workout in the terrible humidity, and sweat beaded on his forehead. The evening air was cooler, but without a breeze his entire body felt sticky, and he was sorry he had ever complained about sun-baked days on Tatooine. Given the weather, he supposed he shouldn't be surprised to see that Bail Organa had shed his heavy cloak in favor of a lightweight tunic and pants. He was sitting on Luke's favorite bench at the edge of the jungle, but Luke decided it was public property and he couldn't claim it the way he claimed his spot on the sofa.
The senator glanced at him but didn't speak.
Luke pulled a small towel from his pack and wiped his face, then draped it around his neck. "Whatcha doin' out here?" he asked— casually, like he hadn't spent the last couple days harassing the man.
"Looking at the stars."
He couldn't help himself and pointed to the sky. "They're up there."
No response. He decided that maybe he should make an effort to be pleasant.
"Does it get this hot on Alderaan?"
Organa shook his head, then decided to add (in a tiny and reluctant attempt to be barely civil): "Even the summers are moderate. We do not have this level of humidity."
"Huh." He considered joining Organa on the bench, but maybe he was stinky. So he dropped cross-legged into the dirt. "I like to look at the stars too. I think each one is a life."
His Serenity maintained a dignified (or sullen) silence, which made Luke persist: "Maybe not literally. I'm not sure. But sometimes I think I can pick out people… I mean, their spirits, I guess. I think I can feel that a star's light dims or vanishes when the person dies. The night sky feels emptier."
"Indeed." The tone was cool. "Then it must have been quite a shock when you saw the empty sky after you destroyed the Death Star."
That took a few seconds to register. Oh. Luke blinked and looked down at his grubby hands. He hadn't expected such cruelty… but he supposed it had only been a matter of time before Organa bit back. He waited in case the senator wanted to retract his words, but no apology was forthcoming.
Luke kept his head down but peeked from under his lashes, which he considered his most contrite and endearing expression. "I'd never hurt Leia, you know. That was just… grandstanding, I guess. And trying to cover your indiscretion about twins." Maybe he shouldn't have added that last bit, but it was the truth. His Serene Highness had a big mouth hiding under that stupid little moustache.
Organa's face could have been carved from stone. Except for that stupid little beard. "Don't ever override me at my meetings. And never, ever, threaten my family again." Which was not quite a command, but close.
"I won't if you won't." Luke crossed his ankles and stood in one easy movement, blatantly displaying his superior physical condition. "Okay, see ya! I have dinner waiting for me."
But there was something else rattling around his brain that made him stop and turn back to the man. "Never call me 'son' again. I have a father."
He jogged toward the barracks, sensing the senator's eyes following him. Yay, I won! I think… right? Now his heart was racing, but his triumph was marred by a mild feeling of guilt— but really! He would never let anyone, let alone his Snippy Highness, upset his dad in any way.
# # #
After a shower, he settled down at the table to eat a leftover meal of mashed vegetables (why why why were they still murdering veggies that way?), a lump of tasteless white meat, and a wonderfully cold glass of milk.
"I'm not speaking to you," Porkins called.
"Because you forgot chanilla!"
"Sorry." It looked like someone had taken a nibble out of the pie slice, and he had a pretty good idea who it was.
With a resigned groan, Porkins came over and watched him eat. "I'm not really not speaking to you."
"I know." He pushed the dinner around on the plate. "This is awful."
"Yeah." Jek stretched out one arm and laid his head on it. "Every day is awful. I mean, the days, not just the food. It's been boring, and I'm exhausted. Hey, is your dad okay?"
"He's better. Fine." He flashed a smile before sobering. "Don't worry about boring. It's probably going to get interesting pretty fast. The days, not the food."
In an armchair across the room, Narra sighed and put aside his datapad. "Are you going to tell them now?"
"Tell us what? Or should we be afraid to ask?" Wedge approached and joined him at the table, followed by Hobbie. Wes and Zev were already settled on the sofa, and now they put aside their vid game to listen.
The commander nudged Porkins over and sat directly across. Luke met his eyes. He hadn't decided what to say, how to say it, or how to bring his dad into the situation without giving away his Vader identity.
With a sigh, he shoved the plate away and leaned his forearms on the wood surface. "Well…. You know how I've said that someday me and my dad would… we'd… um…."
"I think your words were 'face Palpatine'," Zev offered helpfully.
"Yeeeaaaah." He dragged the word out as long as possible, still pulling his thoughts into something coherent. Maybe he should have rehearsed with Command about what to say. Or with his dad. Speaking of… his dad wasn't listening! Luke debated about pulling their chain for attention… and dismissed the notion in case he screwed up and said something he shouldn't. Which he would never do, of course.
"Are you trying to say it's time?" Janson pushed.
"Yeeeaaah. Uh… yeah. We… I…. Okay, the Alliance Council is on board, more or less. Sort of. Although technically… um… I didn't tell all of them the actual plot. Except the commander knows!" Maybe he could shove some of the revelation duty on Narra. But the officer didn't look receptive. "And Rieekan and Organa. Uh, did I mention that Organa threw out Mothma and took over as leader of the Alliance? And— oh, hey!" Reprieve! "Sir, do you think we could get Boss back to join us?"
"I know he'd want to, but I don't know if he's fit for duty. Plus," Narra reminded, "he hasn't been read in. Your— no one mentioned him."
"My dad suggested him, so maybe you could ask?" Luke cleared his throat. Everyone was waiting, so what the hell. "Sometime soon I'll let my real name be known— Well, maybe those Alliance spies are already— Oh, I know, we'll let them discover it and they can leak it!"
"Stop the live-time plotting and just tell us!" Porkins moaned. "I'm dying here!"
I hope not. Luke frowned. "Once Palpatine knows I'm Luke Skywalker and I'm a threat to him, he'll either send an attack force or come himself."
Wedge held up one hand. "Stop. Explain. Okay, I get that you can use the Force and your father was— is a Jedi, but why would the Emperor be that worried about you? No offense."
"I… well." Here was where he had to step carefully. "He held my father prisoner for so long because my dad was a threat. And when he and I join our Force strength, I think— I mean, we can defeat him. Kill him."
"Wait." Of course Zev would analyze the part he'd tried to gloss over. "You're using past tense. Is your father no longer a prisoner?"
He curled his tongue behind his front teeth to give himself a few seconds to think. He took a gulp of milk. "Well, technically he is. Or rather, Palpatine thinks he is. But my dad has been privately rallying support to his side. So now he has the loyalties of a lot of high-ranking officers and platoons of stormtroopers and… and ships. Yes, Imperial ships. And the Alliance Council. Including Sir," he added with a small smile at Narra.
The pilots looked at their commander. "When did all this happen?" Wedge asked.
"It came together pretty quickly." Narra shrugged. "Luke's father is as persistent and persuasive as Luke."
That caused a few moments of silence in which Luke was positive that the others were thinking of his more erratic traits and hoping his father wasn't like him in those areas too.
"Also… mmm, some of the former Republic senators have joined." He cleared his throat. "He doesn't have all the Moffs, of course. Although once we get rid of Palps, they'll likely join or… well, surrender to the inevitable."
"So what you're saying is that Anakin Skywalker is heading an uprising to take control of the galactic government, and a good portion of the Empire secretly supports him even though he's been a prisoner for years?" Hobbie voiced the skepticism that Luke could feel all around him like heavy breathing on his neck. He squirmed uncomfortably. Well, when you put it that way….
"Maybe they were bought with his platinum unlimited line of credit," Wes murmured. "Are all the Emperor's prisoners worth a fortune?"
He wasn't sure how to respond. He'd been trying to ignore a worry that haunted him and that he knew could happen in a heartbeat: what if the leader the Imps decided to follow was Darth Vader? If that was the only way his dad could win, would he give up his guise of being Anakin Skywalker? "Most of the people in leadership positions knew General Skywalker during the Clone Wars. The troops trusted and respected him, and that trust has been passed on to the current troops."
"I feel like you've left out some details," Zev observed. His stare was more unnerving than it should be. "As well as the mention of one important person."
He didn't pretend to claim ignorance, instead opening his hands palms-up in a gambler's gesture of 'nothing to hide here'. "We have a plan to neutralize Vader," he said flatly. Which was true and not true, but solving that particular conundrum was up to his father. "Anyway, the point is that the base needs to be prepared to either fight or bug out."
"But?" Narra prompted.
"But what?" Luke's brain blanked for a second before he remembered. "Oh, yeah! But if there's a fight, you have to do what I say— or Sir or Rieekan or Organa— because some arriving Imperial ships may be on our side, not against us. And if the communications array goes out, that's good. Uh… not to worry!"
"What? You mean 'ask first and shoot later'?" Janson's voice pitched higher. "Are you crazy?"
"I'll know ahead of time! My dad will warn me!"
"What if he can't?"
"Then I'll know! Probably. If the fleet uses the— their—" He looked to the ceiling for answers and found nothing. "Fine! I have the Imperial battle authorization codes, okay?"
"What?! The Alliance could be using those right now!"
"Not yet." Luke shook his head. "We only have one chance— if the codes haven't been changed— to use them, so it's better to rely on my dad's inside information."
Zev was too damn persistent. "What if Palpatine discovers the plot and executes him?"
Appalled, he glared at Senesca. "What a horrible thing to say! He won't! And if anything happens to my dad— which it won't!— I'll take over."
"Because of course the Alliance and Imperials and Senators and whoever will follow a kid that they don't know."
"A few know me and they're the important ones! And I'm the son of Anakin Skywalker! And nothing will happen to my dad!" So shut up, he almost shouted before deciding that wouldn't be professional leadership. His father was so much better at coercing people.
"Well, you do look more imposing and military with that haircut," Wes offered before ruining the conciliatory gesture by adding: "Commander, what do you think? Is this plan legit and will it work?"
Legit?! Luke scowled, but waited.
"It's a strong plan," Narra said firmly, even though Luke knew he had doubts. "It's the best chance we have to depose Palpatine and restore the Republic."
"Galactic Alliance." Luke reminded.
"Ah, yes. Luke thinks 'Galactic Alliance' would be a more appropriate and all-encompassing name."
"Good name," Porkins acknowledged and tilted his head at Luke. "So you managed to remember an entire plot to overthrow the Empire but forgot chanilla?"
He shrugged one shoulder. "I was kinda busy."
"I'll probably never get any. Ever."
"Pork, when this is all over, I promise chanilla for everyone."
"Maybe a bowl of chanilla should be the design on the new Galactic Alliance flag."
"Blue with gold stars," Luke said. "We have everything planned."
"Your dad must be amazing." Porkins sighed wistfully.
"Yes." Luke shared a glance with Narra. "He's my hero."
"I can see that." The commander stood. "Let's you and I talk in my office, while the rest of you tear the plan apart, which I know you're eager to do."
Luke followed Narra into the small cubicle and closed the door. "Did I explain things okay?"
"Better than I expected, actually. Clever." The bottom desk drawer opened, and the commander pulled out a bottle and two glasses. "Drink?"
"Ye— I mean, no thanks. I promised my dad I wouldn't."
"Oh. Right. Sorry, I forgot. You don't mind if I…?"
"Go ahead." He imagined it was smooth and rich, but judging by the grimace Narra pulled after swallowing, it wasn't, which made Luke feel better about skipping it. The bottle and glasses were returned to the drawer.
"How are you going to pull this off?"
"Which part?" His response was rhetorical because no matter what the question, he didn't have a real answer. "I don't know. We'll wing it, I guess. That usually works out."
"Not always." The commander sighed (predictably) and leaned back in the chair. "You were a bit much in the Council meeting."
He decided to accept it as a compliment. "Thank you."
"Luke…. You hijacked the meeting from Organa. He's not pleased."
"I know. He already bit my head off, so you don't need to do it again."
"I wasn't intending to. But you need to honor his position of authority… even though the plan is ninety percent your father and you."
"Only ninety?" We could do it without the Rebels.
"I don't doubt that you two could defeat the Emperor personally in battle without the Alliance's help. We understand that. It's what comes after that you need us for."
"When did it become 'you' and 'us'?" Even though he thought in those terms, he didn't want this particular officer to believe that there was such a division.
Narra shrugged. "Don't take it in a way I don't mean. After Palpatine is defeated—"
"Very well, dead, planetary governments will be in turmoil, uncertain about the future. Without the 'Galactic Alliance' uniting the two sides, there would be chaos. We need to work together to stabilize the galaxy."
Wasn't that stating the obvious? But Luke nodded agreeably. "Exactly. And remember there are three sides."
Narra picked up a stylus and began tapping it on the table. Old habits die hard, Luke thought, and he felt a rush of pride that he had conquered so many old habits on his own. With his dad's help.
"Your father is very charismatic and his rhetoric is compelling. But I'm not sure…. I question his intentions."
Me too, but that wouldn't be smart to admit. "He's stated his intentions."
"He has. But are they practical? Installing a new system of government, blending Imperials and Rebels— He says he'll only hold power long enough to stabilize things, but will he really be able to walk away? It could take years to stabilize the government."
Years. What a horrific idea. "Well, it's not a totally new system, the Senate is still partially in place and their democratic functions can be restored."
Narra groaned. "Back to their endless bickering?"
"What could we possibly do about that? Except to run re-elections and ensure they're conducted honestly."
"Oh? Who's going to ensure that? Will stormtroopers be at every polling place?"
"Hey!" Luke stood. "My dad and I will cut the head off the snake. What you do with the rest of the body is up to you!"
"You're involved too."
"Not if I can help it!" But could he help it? Could he stop Anakin Skywalker from glorying in the victory and the power? "I can't fix everything. All I care about is my dad. I don't care what happens to the galaxy! I just want to— to take him and leave!"
"I know. I'm sorry, I don't mean to upset you. I need a sounding board for my concerns, a different perspective. I suppose the old adage 'one step at a time' is what we need to remember. Why don't you go and finish your dinner, unappetizing as it is?"
"Yeah. Thanks. I'm sorry I'm not more help." He turned and put his hand on the doorknob.
"You're… you've been more than enough help." There was a heartbeat of hesitation, like a string pulled taut and ready to snap. "Luke… there's…. I need to ask one more thing."
He knew what this was. Truthfully, he'd expected it sooner. Briefly he squeezed his eyes closed and thought back to a moment when he was a child. Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen arguing, not knowing he was listening.
Stifling a sigh, he looked over his shoulder at Narra and gave him a rueful smile. "What is it?"
"Did you…." The commander drew a long, trembling breath. "Did you have anything to do with the explosion at the officers' barracks?"
Luke's regret was not feigned, and he didn't know what bothered him more: that he'd killed innocent people, that he had to lie to someone he considered a friend, or that Narra felt impelled to ask.
Owen, not all truths should be told. Some secrets are never meant to be shared. Sometimes we need to look the other way and keep our mouths closed.
He held the commander's gaze. "No, I didn't."
Whether Narra believed him or not really didn't matter. Luke knew the question would never be asked again. And that was for the best. Like he kept telling his dad, it was time to put the past behind them.
# # #
He was staring at the dark ceiling when he should have been asleep. He hesitated to contact his dad because he hadn't heard from him since the Council meeting. But he had to maintain their bedtime tradition, so….
He was gratified that the response was immediate. Son. You've had a busy day— yet you are still awake.
I can't sleep unless we 'touch'. You've been busy, too, I guess.
Yes. Polishing some ideas. Did you speak to your friends?
Yes. It was hard getting around the 'Vader' part, but I did. They're expecting Anakin Skywalker. Me too.
A flare of amusement burst across their bond. What else happened? You feel uneasy.
Yeah, well, not confirming the 'no-Vader' issue didn't help. Narra asked if I was involved in the barracks explosion.
I said no. Luke rolled over and stared at the light under his door, wondering who else was awake at this hour. Was that okay?
It was the right thing to say, Bug. The repercussions of admitting it could have destroyed our plans as well as the commander's regard for you.
I know. I still feel….
I know. Accept your feeling of remorse and release it. It's done.
He nearly giggled. Words of wisdom from a man who never lets anything go.
His dad went silent.
Luke winced. Bad example, Dad, sorry. I didn't mean… anything. I mean… I didn't mean anything bad.
I know, his father repeated. Can you sleep now?
I guess. But I need to know what's happening! When does the plan start?
We'll talk about it tomorrow. You need to prepare by being fully rested, my son.
Okay. Sleep came easier once he was nestled securely in his dad's virtual embrace. Night, Dad.