Fandom: Star Wars
Characters: Vader, Sidious, Luke
Prompt: Written for jedinemo for the skywalkathon fic exchange. I chose the Darth Vader request (writer's choice, but nothing cracky or fluffy).
Word Count: 2006
Summary: Things are not always black and white.
Author's Notes: I suck at summaries. XD
((cross-posted to skywalkathon))
Darth Vader stared at the holoscreen, transfixed by the Naboo newsfeed. His despair remained hidden behind his emotionless new mask.
"Now you see for yourself that I did not lie to you. She is dead," hissed Emperor Palpatine. "Remember that it was by your hand, not mine. Do not direct your anger towards me. It was I who saved you from certain death. You should feel utterly grateful to me."
"Yes, Master," Vader acknowledged automatically. He marveled at how Padmé still looked so breathtakingly beautiful, even in death. They had woven flowers into her hair, had dressed her in a shimmery gown... she truly looked like an angel, peaceful and serene. The reporter was babbling on about how beloved she was, how many beings were in attendance... not a word about her swollen belly. Perhaps they assumed it was merely the style of the gown that billowed up in front that way. Or... perhaps it was the style of the gown, and her belly did not actually contain his dead unborn child...
"Your thoughts betray you, Lord Vader," said Palpatine. His voice dripped with condescension. "Don't you think if your child had survived, I would have seen to it that it was brought here to live with us?"
Vader still couldn't determine whether his Master's words were fact or fiction; he had learned that the man could blend the two with unsurpassed skill. "I don't know. Maybe you would have killed it yourself."
The Emperor's eyes narrowed. "You killed it. Not me. You."
The other Sith didn't answer. Regardless of how it had transpired, Padmé and his child were both gone. Had either of them lived, he would have sensed it through the Force. That much was fact. His new Master was all he had now.
"Your pain will fade in time, my son," Sidious purred, his tone suddenly compassionate. "The Force has far greater things in store for you."
Vader continued to watch the funeral procession with a strange sense of disconnect. He listened to the almost-soothing mechanical noises of his respirator. Breathe in, breathe out. Again. And again. His orbital sensors were focused on the scene, yet he felt as if he wasn't really seeing it.
He knew that Naboo was full of lush greens and blues, but the sensors relayed only a wash of red.
~ ~ ~
In the months that followed, Darth Vader's healing proceeded at a maddeningly-slow pace. He spent his days doing his Master's bidding: various tasks designed to spread fear of the new Empire to all corners of the galaxy -- and perhaps also intended to distract him from his own physical and emotional discomfort. He spent his nights subjecting himself to the cold, impersonal ministrations of the medi-droids. Their mechanical touch was now the only one he knew, and what a contrast it was to the loving caresses of his wife.
Yes, he still thought of her sometimes. When sheer exhaustion prevented him from focusing on his anger, or his current mission, or anything but the ceaseless itching of his synthskin as he lay in wait of sleep. He didn't want to remember how different things were a lifetime ago, but the memories didn't obey his wishes. He wondered what his life would be like now if Padmé were by his side, as Palpatine had falsely promised. In the haze of near-sleep, it didn't matter that she too had betrayed him; he just longed to feel her soft skin against his own, her hand in his hair, soothing him like no one else could.
Sleep was fitful at best; he never felt truly rested. The medics hadn't found a drug yet that could give him dreamless sleep. Or, perhaps they had found one, but been ordered by the Emperor not to administer it to him -- that wouldn't surprise him, since Sidious had certainly seemed to take pleasure in the nightmares Vader had shared with him.
The colors of his dreams were so vivid in comparison to the monochromatic red hues of his conscious world.
One night he dreamt about Padmé giving birth to a baby of such wretched deformity he couldn't stand to look at it, much less hold it or love it. To his annoyance, the grotesque image stayed with him throughout the day. The abominable yellow eyes of the monster-child bore into him as he met the Emperor in his office that evening. He kneeled before Sidious respectfully, vowing not to share the source of the day's torment.
His Master observed him from the throne-like chair behind his expansive desk. "Something vexes you, Lord Vader," he said coolly. "You destroyed more droids and choked more assistants than usual today. You may rise."
Vader gratefully rose from the painful position. He watched Palpatine drum his fingers idly against his brandy glass. Watched him lift the glass, tip it against his mouth enough for the dark liquid to meet his lips...throat muscles contracting as the drink barreled down to his stomach. Palpatine didn't need a hyperbaric chamber handy in order to quench his thirst. It was such a simple pleasure, partaking of nourishment by mouth.
Just one more pleasure denied him on a regular basis.
Vader's silence annoyed the Sith Master. "What is the matter?" he spat out impatiently. "Do you have misgivings about traveling to Chandrila?"
"No. It's... nothing, my Master. I am ready."
Palpatine eyed him skeptically, then swiveled in his chair to face the transparisteel window overlooking the glittering Coruscant night. He stood and beckoned for Vader to join him. "Must I remind you that all of this -- all of it -- is yours? Every light fixture, every scrap of metal, every living being going about its petty little existence... it all belongs to you. To us. And not just what you see here... thousands of planets, most of which you'll never even deem worthy to set foot on. They all bow to our will. It's intoxicating to contemplate, is it not?"
Vader nodded dutifully. Speaking of power had brought a glow to the Emperor's disfigured face that even Vader's limited orbital sensors could detect. He's happy, thought the younger Sith. He doesn't care that his body is ugly, that people have to swallow their revulsion just to look at him. All he cares about is power. Doesn't he get lonely? Doesn't he long for human touch? Power doesn't keep you warm at night...
Suddenly he remembered how attuned Sidious was to his mind. He struggled to control his thoughts.
If Sidious had sensed anything, he didn't show it. "Power of the magnitude that you and I have is unparalleled by any other joy in the universe. The sooner you realize it, my son, the happier you'll be."
Palpatine's eyes... were they blue or yellow? Vader remembered how blue they used to be. How they crinkled at the corners when he smiled at him -- at Anakin Skywalker, that is -- and how they shone with compassion. This disfigured flesh was just a shell, after all. Much like his own black bodysuit in that it hid any traces of possible good. Before he even realized what he was doing, Vader reached over to lay a hand gently on the smaller man's shoulder.
Surprise flickered across the Emperor's face, followed quickly by disgust. Vader found himself being propelled backwards through the Force, all the way to the wall adjoining the transparisteel. He leaned against it, panting, the ventilator in his chest rasping to catch his breath for him.
Sidious cackled. "This weakness of yours is pitiful. I've indulged you long enough -- come, we have strategizing to do."
Vader had no doubt that at this moment, his Master's eyes were an abominable shade of yellow.
~ ~ ~
Vader watched as Sidious gleefully struck Luke Skywalker with Force lightning. Luke's face was contorted with immense pain, the Emperor's with pure evil. He looked from one to the other with an unsettling division of loyalty. He had loved Palpatine like a father for years -- did he still love him now? Not exactly... he'd become incapable of love after his transformation to the dark side was complete...hadn't he?
Yes, he was detached now. He had full control over his emotions because he couldn't actually feel them anymore.
He could, however, feel Luke's blind love for him... his belief that he was still Anakin Skywalker beneath the mask of Darth Vader. The truth was he could never be Anakin Skywalker again. Luke was naive to think that he, Vader, could simply turn his back to the dark.
His son's anguished cries rose above the crackling of the brutal lightning. Sidious paused the assault only to hiss, "And now, young Skywalker, you will die." The lightning that followed the threat was of fatal intensity.
Vader watched Luke's helpless body writhing in front of his Master. He just wanted this to be over and done with. It occurred to him that "over and done with" would mean that Luke was dead. He'd already mourned the loss of his child some twenty-odd years before, but he didn't know Luke then... he barely knew him now...
Suddenly his distant emotions returned to him in an overwhelming barrage.
No! I do love him! Stop!
The Emperor was so engrossed in the torturing of Luke Skywalker -- and so confident that Vader would not betray him -- that he did nothing to defend himself when Vader hurled him down the reactor core, the blazing blue lightning still streaming from his body.
It was the first time Darth Vader had laid a hand on his Master in over twenty years.
Vader fell to the floor. His life support system was short-circuiting everywhere. His breathing came in painful gasps, he couldn't get his legs to work at all... he could sense death approaching, as surely as he could sense an approaching sandstorm when he was a boy.
Luke, apparently suffering no crippling effects of his attack, rushed over to him. "Father! Are you all right?"
A nearby explosion rocked the room. The Death Star's emergency alarm sounded.
"Go, my son," Vader rasped. "There's not much time."
The young Jedi didn't listen to him; he looped Vader's arm over his own neck and lifted him to his feet. Vader leaned into him heavily, too injured to resist... too emotional to want to. They entered the hallway and joined the throng of Imperial officers and stormtroopers running towards the hangar. No one stopped to offer assistance. No one took any notice of them at all.
Luke's strong, solid presence at his side was surreal. Vader had long since forgotten the warmth and comfort that human touch could give. He could feel the strain his dead weight was putting on his son, but the boy valiantly pushed on, determined to save them both...not yet realizing he'd already saved his father in the only way that mattered.
The floor shook again, and they collapsed. Luke hastily dragged Vader away from his fleeing minions. Vader saw his son's handsome features through a fading haze of red.
It was time.
"Luke... help me take this mask off."
"But you'll die," Luke protested.
"Nothing can stop that now. Just for once, let me look on you with my own eyes."
Luke had apparently resigned himself to the inevitable at last. He carefully, even tenderly, lifted away the delicate pieces of Vader's prison and looked upon the face of his father for the first time. There was no shock, no revulsion, no horror in his gaze.
Vader smiled at the boy as best he could. He drank in the sight of his thick honey-colored hair, his earnest blue eyes full of hope and passion; looking at Luke in full color was like looking into a mirror of a past life. There were so many things he wanted to share with him! There was so much to say and no time left to say it.
As blue eyes met blue in those final moments, he knew he would be understood.