Chapter 32: Weakest Link
He walked with them through the hallways leading to the detainment cell, a dark figure with cloak flowing behind him, physically dwarfing all of those who had him in their custody. They could have put him in restraints, but any common sense dictated he could have easily broken those. Instead, they chose to take him at his word.
Sometimes pragmatism prevailed over policy.
An uneasy truce existed between them; Vader, and the Rebels, the men given a second chance at life who walked beside their one time enemy. They sought galactic peace. He wanted inner peace, and a chance to make things right now that he knew he could.
They took him to the containment area and they waited, unknowingly turning him over to his son.
Padme rubbed her forehead. She was tired and had felt different for the latter part of the day. Listening to Leia sometimes made her more weary; the girl was an endless well of ideas and could work all day without rest.
"...with these schematics we can try a different approach." Leia looked up at her. "Are you listening?"
Padme nodded and shifted her folders. "Yes."
"You seem distracted. Break?" Leia offered.
Padme smiled. "Sounds good." They both began organizing paperwork. Padme flinched and looked up; the feeling pulsated through her strongly and her heart began to pound. Leia didn't notice at first, she was still talking about Rebellion contingency plans and Padme had again retreated, drowning out her voice to a muffle.
Leia looked at Padme; her eyes narrowed. "What is it?"
Padme's brown eyes met hers. "He's here."
Leia was quiet for a time.
Padme turned on her heel to leave and Leia caught her hand. "Where are you going?"
"He's here Leia, I know. I can feel it." Padme said, and her soft brown eyes had a light in them, Leia thought. She suddenly appreciated how beautiful Padme could be. She also knew better than to try to argue with Padme or Luke. They're damn stubborn on this Force issue, she thought wearily.
"I told you he would come back and he has," Padme added, and Leia was mutinously silent. If this pans out, this is something I have to see, she thought. She also felt the need to stay by Padme's side.
"Fine," she said, and hurried to follow Padme, who was already a few steps ahead of her.
Luke saw them as they approached the containment area, Leia a few steps behind his mother, who was almost jogging.
Padme reached him and looked up to Luke, her large eyes compassionate and hopeful. "It's him," she breathed, inquisitively.
Luke nodded. He put his hand on Padme's shoulder softly. "Are you ready for this?"
Luke gave the approval, and the containment doors opened. Padme trembled. There he stood, large and dark, flanked by Rebel guards who'd apprehended the high profile detainee and returned alive, seemingly by a miracle. His head jerked up suddenly, and Padme knew he was looking right at her.
Her legs were frozen at first and then, moving as if by their own will, carried her slowly in his direction. Then she was herself, truly herself, again, and covered the remainder of the distance separating them in a moment.
They embraced tightly, Anakin lifting her and turning slightly so her boots didn't even touch the ground. She buried her face in his neck, and didn't realize she was close to crying until she felt the wetness on her own cheeks. Sometimes emotion caught her by surprise that way. In that instant she knew how very afraid she had been that this would never come to fruition, and how one can tell themselves they could do without something just to forge through each day.
They held each other that way, oblivious to the confused stares of those around them. They hadn't noticed the guards by Vader's side motion to stop her, or seen Luke hold them back to allow her access. They didn't notice Luke watch them and smile slightly, more complete as he saw his parents and the missing pieces of his life brought back together. Or Leia, as she regarded Vader coldly and crossed her arms, saying nothing at all.
"I was worried," Padme admitted, loudly enough for Vader to hear but too softly for anyone else to discern more than a quiet murmur.
"I know." he said.
Padme was in a conference room with four beings, beings who would be considered the backbone of the Alliance itself. She sat, with Leia and Luke at her sides, Mon Mothma, and Mon Calamari Ackbar across from them. When Mothma spoke, she largely sought Leia's recommendations; Padme understood they had worked together a long while, probably Leia's entire life. They currently discussed the housing arrangements for Lord Vader, the Rebellion's newest detainee.
"This comes as quite a surprise to all of us, and we must decide collectively how to handle the situation," Mon said smoothly; Padme smiled to herself. She didn't think there was anything Mon couldn't handle with serenity, and justice. Even when Padme herself had emerged to meet her one time colleague again, Mon had been surprised but polite and interacted with her well. Mon kept an open mind to anything, and Padme had never seen her lose her bearing. For these reasons she made an excellent leader for the Alliance and a fledging new Republic.
Mon looked in Leia's direction, "Princess Organa," she said.
Leia was quiet a moment, and then shook her head. "I don't know, I didn't expect this either. I wouldn't trust the situation," she added pointedly, looking at the Senator. Mon nodded.
"Was he searched for weapons?" Leia asked.
"Yes," Mon said.
Luke, who was in charge of security, leaned forward, "None, Leia. Thorough scans were performed, and the only weapon on him was the lightsaber. It is being held in evidence," he added.
Leia shot him an angry look, then bit her lip thoughtfully, not responding. This was the balance that always seemed to be struck, she thought with agitation; Padme and Luke sympathizing with Vader, leaving Leia to stand as the lone voice of reason and common sense. Something wasn't right here, Leia insisted to herself. It could not be this easy.
"He's here to help," Padme said, sounding more argumentative than she intended.
Leia gave her a condescending look. "You would think--"
"Enough," Mon said, breaking it off before a problem erupted. She had at least three opinions to consider that she valued highly, but domestic disputes weren't her forte. She'd met Padme, her cloned colleague, and then learned of the twin's parentage, recognizing that this situation must be handled carefully.
"Regardless of personal feelings on this issue, we should hear him out and see if has information that could be of use to the Rebellion. I won't raise my hopes as of yet, but a valuable opportunity has presented itself."
Leia, subdued, shook her head and then nodded. "I agree. It is late; he can stay in containment. A thorough interrogation should be performed tomorrow."
Padme blinked and bit her lip; she had hoped Vader could be with her and be accepted unconditionally but kept her silence; at this point that would be pushing it. Despondent, she looked at Luke, who nodded reassuringly.
Luke cleared his throat. "He has special medical circumstances, Senator Mothma." He looked at Padme. "We respectfully request accommodations for him."
Leia watched Luke curiously. Commander Ackbar spoke up then, "What issues are we considering?"
"He....has burned lungs and cannot function without a respirator. By extension, he can be in an oxygenated environment. The same applies to pressure." He glanced at Padme and continued. "From what I understand he functions in a 12.5 psi environment. There is too, of course, the standard cyberkinetic maintenance," he added, glancing at his own synthetic hand. Padme reached over and held it reassuringly.
Leia was suddenly seized by a wave of spite and jealousy. "We're not here to offer him a vacation, Luke. He's committed atrocities against the Republic and individual persons for years, I'm sure his accommodations will be fine as they are."
"Leia, it's the least we can do--"
"No! The Empire wouldn't provide medical care for someone if they were dying, let alone make them comfortable." she spat.
"We're not the Empire," Luke said, and she was quiet for a moment.
Leia turned to Mon. "I think we should leave things as is and commence questioning in a standard day,"
"We need to hear this information as soon as possible, Leia," Padme said. "And Luke's right; we don't need to be treating detainees like the Empire would, we're better than that."
Leia felt her resolve erode. "He has everything he needs for now; a basic cell, and food..."
Padme felt for the first time disappointment in Leia and a burning anger rising in her chest. "You can't expect him to go to bed in that suit unless he's sleeping upright." she said tightly, and was met with silence from the entire panel. Leia looked away and shook her head slightly.
"We will make these accommodations, with Commander Skywalker's assistance," Mon said decisively. "I also think he can be questioned by all of us in the main control room and that will be adjusted as well. It costs credits, yes, but we have and will certainly utilize them for special circumstances such as these. I don't think anyone here particularly wants to speak to the black suit," she said, looking at Leia. "This could help facilitate more open discussion. That is all."
Mon rose, and with a dismissive action, everyone stood and adjourned quietly, lost to their own thoughts.
Padme felt as restless as she could ever remember. She still found it hard to believe that he was here, in the very same vessel as she was, and that they were together again, under these circumstances. She looked out her window, heart aching in her throat, amazed proximity to him could make her feel this way. They were near no solar bodies and had no light from which to gauge day or night; still time had passed and this standard day was drawing to a close.
"What are you waiting for?" Jael said softly, and smiled. Padme turned to look at her.
"Go." she urged. Padme, nodded, and involuntarily broke into a grin. The galaxy was at war, changes were in progress, but tonight...this was theirs. Whatever else happened, they were brought together and Padme could believe now they would be alright. She grabbed her cloak and, throwing it about her shoulders as she exited her room, quickly made her way to the detention area of the vessel.
Padme was able to appreciate with each successive step the difference between her life and Vader's, and saw markedly how much he had given up for her. These detainment areas, while humane, were different in scale from the quarters she and Jael had been afforded. There was no comparison to the opulence of Bespin or Vjun. She reached his cell and paused for a moment. Guards stood in front and after a brief request allowed her access; she was now a trusted member of the fleet.
The door opened and she saw him for the first time in months without his suit, sitting on the cot. His blue eyes met hers and lit up; he was rising to come to where she was but her instincts were quicker; she crossed the small area and sat beside Anakin, putting her arms around him.
"Ani," she breathed.
She heard him laugh a moment later as he returned the embrace. "I'm alright," he said, then grew a bit more serious. "Luke had them fix my detention cell. I'm sure you had something to do with that," he added after a moment.
She nodded and looked around, regarding the small but efficient area. There was a cot with ample bedding, a sink, a fresher, and even a small portal from which a view of the galaxy shone. Yes, Luke had made sure he was taken care of. In this area, this small portion Anakin would have to call his for an undetermined period of time, he had his privacy and would not be forced to do anything.
Words seemed inadequate but Padme tried. "How are you doing?"
Anakin nodded. "Fine. I retrieved everything I thought would help. I...." he paused and shook his head. "How are Luke, Leia? Have you been safe?" He was glad they were all together, and had met their mother; yet another dull pain tore at his heart as he realized he wasn't there when she met them the first time, or the second.
"They're good. Luke's been a Commander with the fleet for awhile now; he's in charge of weaponry and military actions. He's really something with his lightsaber. Leia....I don't think she ever tires. She's got so much strength and so many ideas, but sometimes I can get her to relax. She has such a dry sense of humor, like you....” her voice trailed off and she looked down.
Regret tinged his emotions. "Leia hates me." he said suddenly, but there was no bitterness in his voice, only remorse as he accepted the realization. "It's my fault." he said softly.
Padme was silent for a moment. "She doesn't know you, Anakin. She's never had the chance to know you as you really are." Padme said, and the unspoken sentiment was not lost on him. Anyone who truly knows you loves you.
Anakin was holding her hands in his own. "I've missed you, Padme," he said, and she could see in his eyes the endless well of love and tenuous faith. He traced her cheek with his hand and something in Padme ignited; she leaned forward to kiss him. The kiss became deeper, and slowly but firmly she pushed him back on the bed. He didn't resist as she shed her clothing, or when she began to unbuckle his garments.
"Is this allowed..." was offered as a faint protest before she leaned forward, pressing her lips to his.
"I don't care," she swore, meaning it as she closed herself around her husband, allowing this one escape from reality.
Later, when she woke in his arms, it took her a moment to realize where she was. His breathing was slow and easy, and she could tell by looking at him that he was at ease, perhaps for the first time in years. It was a different kind of freedom, she supposed, being incarcerated by a benevolent force than being responsible for a malignant one. He was with her, and would answer only to the end that would free a galaxy rather than oppress it.
Padme gently disentangled herself from his arms, not wanting to wake him, and went over to the portal, looking out in silence for a long time. She placed her finger over one star, then another, and then a larger one she believed to be a planet. The planets always shone brighter. She played this game as a child and now as a woman wondered where her residences on Bespin and Vjun were and what became of them. Where they still there, or had the Empire had them destroyed? Her heart ached as she thought of it, all the memories and all he had done for her; she missed the beauty of Bespin and the isolated romanticism of Vjun. Had they made the right decision?
She looked back at Anakin, who was still sleeping peacefully. They had chosen to join the Rebellion, and had to stay this course. She had no doubts as she left his room that he had once before stood at a crossroads and faced the very same feelings.
It was late, and Padme couldn't sleep. No bed, no cell, nor anywhere else could still her restlessness. In approximately twelve standard hours he was going to come before the leaders of the Alliance, and offer his assistance. Padme knew in no uncertain sense it would set in motion the path of his fate. She felt nervous, like she was on trial; whatever happened to him, happened to her too. Padme was so engrossed in her thoughts she didn't even hear Leia approach until she sat down beside her.
Padme inhaled and then laughed, "You startled me," she said.
Leia grinned good-naturedly, and sat beside her, both of them observing the view in one of the observation lounges. She had been searching, against her better judgment, for Padme for over an hour before she found her in the observation area. Leia knew she herself should be in bed but couldn't seem to sleep; as she looked at Padme she realized she had the same issue.
"Can't rest either?" Leia asked. Padme nodded. They were both quiet for a moment, enjoying each others company.
"I couldn't find you for the last standard hour," Leia said softly. "I was a bit concerned."
Padme squeezed Leia's hand. "You needn't worry about me. I was restless, so I walked about the ship,"
Leia was quiet for a moment, and something was bothering her. "You went to see him. Didn't you." Leia said hollowly, and Padme could see her demeanor instantly change.
"Yes." Padme wasn't sure if the admission brought her fear or shame, though there was reason for neither.
Leia took a deep breath and pushed her logic forward; diplomacy in this situation was proving so hard for her, due in no small part because it was family, she surmised. She looked back at Padme and her tone was dry. "I know I won't change your mind, any more than I could change Luke's. I suppose I don't have to tell you what a bad idea that is."
Padme turned her head away slightly and could feel tears burn her eyes, tears she realized were for her daughter. Leia was a good person, and led a good cause, but she struggled with herself. She was so much like Anakin, Padme thought, but at the same time she was afraid they could never accept each other. Every time Leia saw him, spoke of him, she was filled with loathing and it pained Padme to see. For Leia to hate him, she would have to hate a part of herself, too.
"The first time...." Padme said softly, then continued. "The first time we met, he asked me if I was an angel. It was so strange, meeting him." She shook her head. "Not like any other child. I wanted to believe that he was a silly little boy, and told him so. Even if I didn't acknowledge it at the time, I felt like I had found a thread of my fate when I entered that store."
Leia studied her, slightly mesmerized. She was too sound of mind to buy into the Force concepts that Luke did, but knew inherently that these memories Padme spoke of were authentic. Had the Naberries versed her on her old background? In spite of herself, she was curious and wanted Padme to continue.
"Store?" Leia asked.
"His master's store. Watto. He sold things for him, but assembled parts on the side."
Leia's mouth hung open slightly. "Master? You mean....He was a slave?"
Padme looked at her benignly and smiled. "Yes."
Leia suddenly felt ashamed. She looked down. "I didn't know that." Somehow, when she had pictured the beginnings of Darth Vader, if she ever had, she imagined someone young and arrogant, born into wealth, privilege, and training. But a regular person, a slave....that had never crossed her mind before. That would mean that sometime, in the past, he had been forced to do what he was told, to swallow his pride. Beaten perhaps. Sometime he had been human.
Padme spoke suddenly. "Why do you hang on to your anger, Leia?" There was no judgment in her voice, but a sad curiosity. Padme truly wanted to understand; perhaps if she knew what drove Leia, she could understand Anakin himself better.
Leia shook her head and bit her lip slightly; she was at a loss for words. She'd never had that problem before. When she spoke, it was not with the resolve she previously had and she did not meet Padme's eyes.
"It's unwise to lower your defenses so quickly--it...could be a trick..."
Padme had no wish to embarrass or scold her daughter. She only wanted her to understand that there were greater things. "It's easy to hate someone, to be angry for the wrongs committed against us. What's harder is finding the good in someone. It's there, Leia. I know you wouldn't think that a young slave boy could grow up to be Darth Vader, but it happened. The best part is that it can be undone; I believe that. I need to, not just for him but for myself. All the steps that led him to where he is today are a puzzle, known only to him." She paused. "It's easy to demonize our enemies, while forgetting the potential to be good or bad is in everyone. The hardest thing to face is that the real monster could be ourselves."
Leia didn't say, couldn't say, anything else as she stared ahead, her stony gaze on the unflinching stars. She couldn't bring herself to say anything when Padme slowly rose, and returned to her quarters.
But Padme's words never left her.
When the next day arrived, the air was thick with anticipation. Though not acknowledged outright, everyone felt it. Mon, General Ackbar, and Leia were seated at a conference table to one side of the command room, discussing plans and alternatives in low voices. In yet another portion of the deck Mothma's personal assistants and pilots plotted their course, and routinely screened for traffic or any potential threats.
Padme and Luke stood with the mechanical officer, studying the control panel. Luke punched in a couple numbers and activated the pressure as had been explained to him. His face was tight with concentration. "....alright. This should work." he said softly, and looked at Padme, who nodded.
Luke pressed a button on his comm. "Bring him in,” he ordered, and took his mother’s hand as they went to be seated at the table. The table fell silent and Padme waited anxiously for what seemed like an hour before she heard the door open and the sound of mechanical breathing filled the room. Two guards, each a foot shorter than their detainee stood at his sides.
Mon stood and motioned for him to have a seat. Then she addressed the guards before they departed. “That will be all. Thank you.”
She looked pointedly at Vader and nodded. “You may remove your apparatus if you wish. Everything is ready.”
He took a breath and slowly reached behind his head, unhinging the upper helmet and removing it, and then the lower breathing apparatus. He took a moment to adjust to his environment. The room was still.
Leia regarded her father. She knew from speaking with Luke and information she’d gleaned that he’d been badly damaged, and wore the suit for more than just intimidation purposes. What was it Luke had said about his disabilities...damaged alveoli....scarring of the lungs? His appearance was something else that had her taken aback. She knew not just from Luke but from conversations with Bail he was disfigured from a fight with Master Kenobi. He didn’t look terribly disfigured, but more like a taller, older, rugged version of Luke. She could tell Luke had gotten much of his looks and coloring from Vader; they shared the same blond, wavy hair. She could see slight traces of scars, particularly one than lined his left eyebrow but knew enough of reconstructive surgery to deduce he’d had them fixed over the years. The best medical care the Empire could afford, she thought bitterly. If only every citizen had been given that advantage.
“So,” Mon began. “We understand you wish to help us.”
He nodded silently and Padme found his hand under the table, squeezing it. She knew none of this was easy for him; surrendering and coming, unmasked, before the Rebellion left him open and vulnerable. It made her love him more.
Mon went straight to the point. Her smooth hand moved a black data schematic across the table; a moment later it light up into a holographic image of the second Death Star. “I’ve been over the file you brought; there are some parts I need clarification on.”
He looked at it for a moment before speaking. “A lot of the problems from the first were corrected with this construction. The firing mechanisms are able to regenerate within minutes, rather than an hour....and at rapid fire rate.”
Admiral Ackbar leaned forward. “We have teams on Endor working on dismantling the shield generator. I understand the gravitational field affords it some protection.”
Anakin smiled ruefully. “No, that’s what The Emperor wants you to believe.”
“Are you saying he’s baiting us?”
Leia leaned forward; his apologetic eyes met her icy ones. “Wait a minute. You’re telling us now to pull back from the Endor mission, because we’re exactly where the Emperor wants us? That’s ridiculous. We received this information from trusted spies--”
“Your Bothan spies were known to the Emperor.” Anakin interjected. “He also knew they would return to you with the plans and lead the Rebellion straight to it. He killed a few of them as a token, a ruse to put up the illusion that they were top secret plans. The reality was that they were purposely leaked.”
Leia opened her mouth to say something but Luke gave her an uncharacteristic hard glance. Don’t--he warned silently, and she quieted, instead sitting back and crossing her arms. Her brother had this effect on her. She knew she was pressing her boundaries.
Mon grappled with the information; she had not only valued the contribution of the spies, but the fact that they had lost their lives for the acquisition of this information, information that now was just another pawn in the Emperor’s plans. “So it was on purpose then.” she said softly. Anakin nodded.
She turned to him, and lowered her politician’s facade for a moment. “What should we do now, Lord Vader?”
He looked down, and took a deep breath before speaking. “Please don’t call me that.” he said quietly, acknowledging for the first time that he wished to shed his Sith identity. He didn’t know what would become of him, or where he would go from here. What he did know was that he no longer wanted affiliation with the Empire or what it stood for.
She nodded softly and older memories returned. “Of course. Anakin, I’m unsure of the best course of action at this point.”
He looked again at the holo. “The new Death Star has compensated for the weaknesses of the first, and it is strong, but not infallible. There are no gaps in this star’s shield, so extra caution must be taken. Most significantly, the exhaust vent is heat sensitive now. It is divided into many smaller fragments, which seal if they detect excess energy. The concentration of turbo lasers is now near the throne tower--” he pointed to a part of the holo. “To defeat this, the best way would be to use heat sensitive craft. And your best pilots. The target is much smaller, and the Death Star’s targeting abilities much greater.”
She nodded and considered the information for a moment. “It seems sound.” she concluded and looked at Ackbar. “Keep two teams on Endor to supervise the shields; have the rest pull back, return to station, and set out on thermal controlled craft.” She spoke slowly, comprehending the new information and formulating plans as she did so. “We’ll use the same tactics as last time, but different equipment. Our strategy lies in blind ambush. If we succeed, they will never see us coming.”
Everyone was quite for a time as Mon spoke with her bridge officers and teams were reassembled. Anakin marveled at the efficiency of the Alliance, and would have been proud if he could claim any part of it. Mon and Padme; they succeeded where he had failed. They ruled through respect rather than fear, and the net result was the same efficiency, but more teamwork among the Alliance. He had demanded compliance, but Mon had earned it.
Mon returned to the conference table and everyone was adjourning before Anakin felt it; the slow, cold presence creep through his entire body. And then he knew. They were discovered, and it was all because of him.
Mon was the first to notice his stricken expression and took note. “What is it?”
“The Emperor.” Anakin said. “He’s here.”
Chapter 33: Endgame
The walls start breathing
My minds unweaving
Maybe it’s best you leave me alone
A weight is lifted
On this evening
I give the final blow
When darkness turns to light
It ends tonight
Tyson Ritter~Move Along
Ripples of the Force could be felt in the room by even those who weren't inherently sensitive to it. First, the uneasy shifting. Next would come the announcement. Anakin looked at Mon and swallowed; she wore an unreadable expression and slowly turned her gaze to the command module viewport. Noises on the control panel would sound, she knew, and then they would find, in one way or another, that they had been cornered.
"Senator Mothma" Lt. Haldis said. "I've detected....it looks like an Imperial ship." He turned to look at her anxiously.
"I know." Mothma said softly, despair and resolve both crossing her features.
Without thinking, Anakin moved closer to Padme and took her hand. Now the entire room had Haldis' attention.
Haldis held the receiver to his ear, listening intently. He looked up at Mon. "He's requesting access onto the vessel."
Mon raised her chin slightly, considering her options quickly before realizing there really were none. "Well, I suppose we don't have another choice, do we?" she said, almost sadly. "Allow him in."
Leia jerked her head in Vader's direction, wearing a startled expression, before looking back at Luke. He reached out through the Force for assistance, and, finding his answer, turned to Leia. "It wasn't him." he said, shaking his head. "The Emperor must have followed his Force signature."
Minutes passed before the doors opened with a hiss and shut behind the Emperor, everyone in the room now facing him with baited breath and grim uncertainty. Anakin was surprised he didn't bring any of his guards, but considering, knew they never would be much assistance in defending him against Force sensitives.
"Emperor," Mon said without ceremony, letting his name linger and die in the air. He was smaller in person than she had remembered, but emanated no less darkness. The room seemed more oppressive, and Mon knew without asking that his fleet was watching their primary vessel even as they congregated. She briefly considered the plight of the pilots, now far from the danger they were in, who had been sent to target the Death Star. Mon quickly pushed the thought out of her mind, not wanting the Emperor to be privvy to that knowledge.
The Emperor was brief. "I seek counsel with Lord Vader," he hissed, then turned to where Mon, Admiral Ackbar, and the twins were standing. Anakin heard a warning whispered in the Force and, without thinking, summoned his crimson lightsaber from where it rested on Luke's belt. It reached his hand almost instantaneously, just a moment before an omnipotent hum filled the room and Force walls were erected, separating the area where Anakin, Padme, and the Emperor stood from everyone else.
Padme gasped and placed her hand on the blaster holstered on her hip, Anakin stood beside her and placed his arm out in front of her in a protective gesture, even before Commander Hur reached her. Behind the scarlet Force wall, Luke and Leia had done the same. Luke ignited his lightsaber and touched the wall tentatively; he could see what was occuring, but probing attempts with his lightsaber appeared to have little or no effect; each touch reverberated with an electric shock. He looked at Leia helplessly, but her eyes were glued to the scene unfolding in front of them.
The Emperor turned to face his former second in Command, his rage well hidden now beneath a dark and frigid demeanor. When he had considered how Vader could defect without his foresight, he realized the truth-he was guided by the Light side of the Force; by love rather than greed, by compassion rather than power. And the Emperor had to admit, infuriatingly, that the Jedi were not dead. They would be soon.
His eyes shifted to the reason for Vader's defection and he saw her, his former colleague, standing beside him, and tentatively reached with the Force in her direction before he stopped abruptly. He knew exactly who she was, and how she had come about. It was the same signature, the same aura that Padme had, but now there was something, someone....else there as well, building another dimension onto her character.
She was a threat to him. The Skywalker twins were a threat to him. They were all there, and he had reason to be afraid.
The Emperor's lips twisted into a sickening smile before his cackling laughter filled the room, causing everyone unease. Anakin stared stoically at him, still standing close to Padme.
"I must congratulate you on your marriage, Lord Vader," the Emperor said coldly, and Anakin flinched a bit at the use of his former title. "I'm sorry I wasn't there to support you."
"It won't work," Anakin stated calmly. "I reject everything you have to say," he added, knowing the Emperor might try to draw him back to the Empire and yet uncomfortable with it anyway.
The Emperor looked at Padme and smiled innocently before he pulled out his most vile manipulation. "I never told you about the upgrades made to the facilities on Kamino shortly after the Clone Wars began, did I?" Anakin's stomach turned; he knew that there were many secrets the Emperor hadn't told him. "You've fought alongside the clones for years, they've proved effective comrades but just as....shall we say...dispensible, when the time came. Didn't you ever question how or why they were so synchronized in their actions, and required little or no supervision in carrying out their orders?"
"Cut through it," Anakin said tersely, hating his mind games. The Emperor relished providing the information slowly, seeing how it strained his apprentice.
"It turns out they all share the same experience, without exception. The memories of every protocol are downloaded into the new ones for authenticity. Even the clones grown at a natural rate glean this advantage, we've found it makes them stronger and more effective...." he paused and looked at Padme, his voice dripping with condescension. "But I suppose you knew that already. It turns out clones can serve a variety of uses."
Anakin shook and tried to catch his breath while the Emperor's words settled. The repercussions of everything that meant swirled and fermented in his confused mind, causing him to question the cause of every action. Did this mean all of her recollections were false...that she was not Luke and Leia's mother? Where did she belong? He glanced out of the corner of his eye at Ami, who stood solidly, staring down the Emperor without vacillation. He was just as proud standing now, fighting beside her as he'd been beside.....beside Padme at the battle of Geonosis.
Newer, vivid memories flooded his senses. Dinner at Vjun with Amidala, her triumphant smile, her tears and pain as she ran to him for support after the fallout with her family.....that was real. Whoever she was, he loved her. He hoped the doubt that had flickered and threatened to break him had gone unnoticed, because if she'd known, it would shatter her.
"It makes no difference." Anakin said slowly, and the Emperor's smile faded. "She's my wife."
The Emperor studied him for a moment, before his concession at the loss of his apprentice. "Very well then."
He raised his hands and Anakin brought his lightsaber to the ready, igniting the crimson blade. He prepared to face down the Emperor's fire before the Emperor turned slightly, targeting Amidala with the Force lightning. It caught Anakin off guard as she pummeled against the wall and fell into unconsciousness. Anakin intercepted the Force lightning moments after it started, and struggled to keep it at bay with his lightsaber. The Emperor was powerful, and the lightning a skill Anakin could never have because of his prosthetics. Moments later the Emperor ceased the lightning, facing his former apprentice yet again.
Anakin looked over at Amidala, who was weak but in stable condition; her Force signature was there, and he had been able to step in before too much damage was done. His angel....beautifully broken, lay still with Hur at her side, providing as much assistance as a stormtrooper could. She stood by him, she'd always been with him; and now because he had fallen, she had fallen too.
The Emperor laughed smugly.....that infuriating laugh that Anakin had always hated, that made him want to tear his Master apart and never put the pieces together again. Anakin's breathing was labored, his stance was rigid, and a turmoil of black emotions filled him as he was this close to the cause of all the pain and loss he'd ever had in his life. Anakin wanted his family, but the Emperor wanted him; he would follow him and destroy every good thing that ever came into his life. Ami lay, harmed by his Master, and Anakin saw red; all he wanted was revenge.
He looked up at his former Master, despised, and his eyes were yellow.
Leia gasped, and Luke took her hand.
The Emperor looked pleased. "Welcome back, Lord Vader. I knew you had not strayed too far."
Vader glowered at him as he walked back and forth, his movements sure and predatory, never taking his eyes off the Emperor. He could feel the hate for his former Master flow through and strengthen him; the saber shifted and twirled idly in his hand, begging for use.
"You are going to regret that," he vowed in a low voice, and the Emperor knew he had a worthy opponent on his hands. Vader had not been this emotionally invested in battle in a long while.
"We shall see," the Emperor said, and raised his hands to administer his weapon of choice.
Force lightning was an interesting animal-powerful and strong, but like the Dark Side of the Force administered in short, potent bursts. The Emperor was surprised that Vader held his own for this length of time, and his anger seemed to give him a quicker reflex and powerful edge as he seamlessly kata'd and parried the blows, moving ever closer to his destiny. As Vader came towards Palpatine he could see the glee wane from the eyes of the sickening old man; that too failed to elicit any sympathy this time as he owned his hatred and relentlessly pummeled the dark being.
One blow, two blows, three blows came in quick succession before Vader drew a cry of pain from the Emperor as his right hand was severed. Vader summoned the lightsaber on the Emperor's belt and assumed the stance of victor, an inch away from the death of Palpatine as the blades came together and crossed, threatening his neck in a deadly V formation.
The Emperor's breaths were heavy and drawn, his ugly pallor features now that of an elderly man rather than a dictator. "I'm....too weak...I can't...." he pled pathetically.
"Liar," Vader growled. "That's exactly what you said before I came to your defense with Master Windu, before he was thrown to his death. You're a LIAR, I had no choice after that!"
"I can help you, Anakin. I will show you immortality, for you and your family, I've learned how to clone and transfer a consciousness. You can be the Master..." he said, but his words fell on deaf ears. The dark side was whispering something far more seductive in Anakin's ear. He could take back his life, he could topple the Empire and protect his family, and annihilate this disgusting creature once and for all....
Vader flexed, hungry to administer the killing blow before he felt it; the warm, firm presence of Qui-Gon hold him back, showing him with feelings what the Jedi never could with words. This isn't where it started, Anakin, he heard Qui-Gon say, and was filled with flashbacks of the Tusken Raider slaughter, then the battle with Count Dooku and his death at the hands of Skywalker. He'd wanted to end him; he'd only needed the justification, the permission, to finish him. The Dark Side had given it. If he fought evil with evil, only evil would win.
Fate couldn't be met this way. Anakin hated politics, he never would understand it, but he had to abide this time. He would not dishonor Amidala, or his family, by taking this path again. There would be a trial, for everyone involved. Measures would be slow, and painstaking, and bureacratic. But it was justice, and the only way a democracy could survive.
He numbly deactivated the lightsabers, and slowed his breathing. "You are under arrest, Emperor." he said slowly. "For war crimes, and for crimes against humanity. This ends here."
Palpatine looked at him for a long moment in disbelief, before triumph filled his features and he took advantage of the opening. A resurgence of blue lightning came out of his remaining hand--it only took one--and Anakin was vulnerable. Memories of pain, white hot searing pain, came to rest with him as he felt it again and was thrown back. He briefly realized that the mechanical part of his body was in danger, and failing, before his fears melded with unconsciousness and he saw no more.
Luke and Leia, who had been watching the scene with a horror that immobilized them, came to life. Leia's fear and anger culminated in a torrent of emotion, and she was untied. It didn't matter to either of them if their efforts were futile, they both used sabers, fists, anything, to pummel the Force wall. Luke realized vaguely as he unleashed his own desperation that Leia was channeling the Force without even realizing it.
The Emperor held many powers, but even he had limitation. Partially unarmed, and targeting Vader, he was unable to maintain the focus necessary to maintain the Force shield. It flickered, strengthened, and died, releasing Luke and Leia to jump into the fray. Luke ran to capture the Force lightning with his green blade while Leia ran to assist Amidala. She knelt at her side with Hur, and could already see her mother begin to stir; the damage wasn't bad. Luke's efforts lasted less than a minute as he steadily held the Force lightning back. One moment, a break in the Emperor's defense, was afforded and Luke neatly severed the remaining hand, leaving Palpatine wholly unarmed.
Medical personnel summoned by Senator Mothma began to arrive, assessing the damage. Leia was tending to Amidala, her eyes were opening and she knew where she was. Remaining members of the medical team were working on the other victim needing assistance. Ami knew something was wrong, very wrong, and could see them begin rescucitation attempts on the black figure out of the corner of her eye; she lost composure.
Ami was sobbing. "Oh, God. G-God no-....." she wailed between gasps, and started quaking. Leia's attempts at diplomacy, to sooth her, were futile, and she felt a cold stab of pain strike her heart as she saw what they were doing to her father.
"Please....it'll be alright," Leia pleaded, but Ami was inconsolable and grew more frantic every moment. "Sedative," Leia said, softly at first and then in a more demanding tone over the cries of her mother. "Sedative! Now; I need one, here. Now." A medical assistant obliged and Leia was barely able to hold Ami back from her efforts to crawl towards Vader as she bit the cap in her mouth, secured the syringe in the other hand, and released the agent into the largest muscle she could safely reach. Her mother went limp in her arms, just as she watched them carry the large figure of her father to the medical center.
The atmosphere in the room after the battle between the Sith Lords, the cries of Amidala, and the mystical effects had died down was strangely anticlimactic. Luke looked at the Emperor, who was now quiet and using the Dark side of the Force to subdue the pain of his severed hands but rendered powerless regardless. He felt whispers of hatred and the Dark Side stir in his own heart as he saw the haughty gaze of the Emperor, and used the Light Side to calm himself. Force bindings would be needed to restrict him, Luke thought numbly, and he had no idea, at that moment, what type of a trial they could have to dismantle the current Empire and bring the Emperor to justice.
Luke looked in Senator Mothma and Admiral Ackbar's direction. "Should I move him to the med cells?" he asked quietly, and he and Mon regarded each other for just a minute.
"No," Mon said, and Luke was surprised. "We'll do what we do with garbage. We get rid of it." She turned to her commanding officer. "Put him out the airlock."
Luke watched her, stunned, before looking at the stricken expression of the Emperor as two Alliance officers lifted him from opposite arms and put him in the adjoining room, ignoring his threats and cries as the doors on either side of him closed and sealed.
Mon gave him one final glance--that was all he deserved--before nodding at Haldis. The main door to the aside opened, and everyone watched as for just a moment the air left his room, the Emperor's robes were tousled, and he was pulled into the vacuum of space. His body thrown out, the dark energy released into the vast blackness surrounding the Alliance vessel in shades of green, blue, and invisible dark matter, before it imploded on itself, and all they saw was his figure, growing smaller the further away it drifted.
Haldis turned again to Mothma and Ackbar, his expression one of shock and awe. "I just got word from Bravo Team. They managed to destroy the second Death Star and pull away safely."
And for the first time that historic day, Mon smiled.
Anakin opened his eyes; he felt no pain. He didn't even need time to adjust to his surroundings; his feeling, if it could be called that, was one of drifting but static, suspended in warmth. There was white all around him, brilliance beyond comprehension, and yet it didn't hurt his eyes. Was he dead?
No, Anakin. Qui-Gon's amused voice said, and he almost jumped. He couldn't see Qui-Gon, he couldn't see anything but light, but the voice had never sounded as real and close to him as it did then. He couldn't see Qui-Gon but he could feel, sense, the voice around him. Nowhere. Everywhere.
Anakin looked down, and could tell that he had a form, and hands of some type, although not what he was used to.
I don't understand, he said simply.
You're hurt. Your health is in danger, but you are not ready yet.
What happened....Master? Anakin asked timidly.
Look, Anakin. Over there. he said, and suddenly Anakin was able to observe everything that was going on in his medical room. He lay there, surrounded by an oxygen tent and numerous equipment. People came and left the room often, and Amidala was at his side.
Anakin watched numbly. How long? he asked.
Time is not important here, only events, was Qui-Gon's reply, and Anakin felt frustrated.
I am trying, Master. I don't know what else...what else I can do.
I know, Anakin, and I am very proud of you. Sometimes it is not up to us to do anything. Yet our work is not done, and we must wait before we move on.
Anakin watched for a long while, content to just be in the presence of Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan was there, too, and he could find no hard place in his heart towards him. He knew now that Obi-Wan had the shortcomings of any person, but had truly loved him and done only what he had to. When Anakin had embraced the darkness and broken his heart, he moved on to guide Luke. It was no treachery or desire to possess his son; Luke was the only part of Anakin Obi-Wan had left, and he'd projected all of his love for his lost apprentice onto his son.
Amidala didn't look well. Healers came and went, Luke and Leia checked on them often, but she was reluctant to leave even for a rest break. Her eyes were sunken and she looked thinner, although she was slight of frame to begin with.
She cares for you, Qui-Gon observed, and Anakin humbly nodded. The Emperor was lying about her identity, you know. She is who she always was.
Anakin smiled slightly, tinged by sadness, finding that revelations didn't matter as much in this place. He was not run by emotion as before, and just accepted every new truth with love and knowledge. It was evening, and Amidala was prepared to sleep in the chair next to his bed; she placed her hand in his. Anakin looked down at his apparitional hand in amazement.
I can...I can feel her.
Yes, Qui-Gon said simply.
The flow of time continued and Leia came in to see Amidala, encouraging her to leave the room again. "There's celebrations on Endor...the galaxy is free. Please, come with me. Just for a little while," Leia said, heartened by the news. Amidala smiled, tried to smile for her sake, before she gently declined the offer. Somehow, leaving to celebrate, while he--the cause for their liberation--lay there.....she knew she wouldn't enjoy any of the festivities anyway. Although the healers said they didn't believe he would wake again, the possibility of him waking while she was gone was a thought she couldn't bear.
Leia persisted. "You've been here too long." Luke entered the room. "You need to at least get out to go stretch, eat something. I can stay while you go." Leia added. Amidala shook her head slightly and looked at Luke; she was fatigued, and finding excuses almost impossible in her state of mind. It was then that Leia realized; they didn't trust her with her father. Her anger, her hatred palpable, she had given Luke and Amidala no other impression...now she stood, outside their circle. What had she become?
Leia took Amidala's hand. "Please, it will be alright....Mom." She had never called her that before. Amidala looked up; her eyes locked with Leia's, who nodded gently. After a moment she hugged Leia, and then left the room with Luke.
Leia stood at the foot of the bed, looking at this man who had given her life. Anakin's spirit watched her with empathy. She moved to the side of his bed and looked at Amidala's seat, as though it was the first time she had seen it, before quietly sitting down.
This was Darth Vader. This was what was left of him, what he'd become. Leia didn't know how she looked on the outside, but inside her emotions were both tumultuous and unreadable, even to her.
Leia was finding it very hard to hate him. He lay vulnerable, surrounded by machinery, intubated by oxygen and unlikely to survive. He had a wife who grieved him, and a son trying to hold them all together.
He didn't even wear black.
She was silent a long moment before speaking. "I'm angry at you, you know. I don't know how I'm supposed to think...how I'm supposed to feel. When you tortured me, watched the destruction of Alderaan...that I thought I could survive. But when you froze Han, pawned him off like an Imperial possession.......I loved him." she said, and started to choke up.
The corporeal form bowed his head. What have I done? I know the love I have with Padme, and what she has for me. How could I ever think of taking that from someone else, whether they're my child or not?
"And yet....Han forgives you. He encouraged me to come here tonight, to let it go. It's like he forgot it happened, like it bothers me more than it does him. I-I feel....ever since I learned you were my....like I've been getting further away from myself." She looked up at the ceiling for a moment, eyes holding unshed tears. "I blamed you for that, but I know now you were just an easy target."
It's alright, Leia. You owe me nothing. I'm so sorry, Anakin said. How he wished she could hear him.
"I can't do it anymore. I don't know what type of relationship we have, or can have. But Luke was right; if I hold this anger inside, I will become the very thing I set out to destroy. I'll try to let it go; I will."
Leia looked hesitantly at her own hand before slipping it into Anakin's; his corporeal form seemed to pulsate, to glow a little brighter, and he could begin to feel the touch of love and compassion fill the room.
Finally, Leia spoke. "I forgive you, father."
Things were changing. The voices were further away, the events less immediate, and Anakin realized his environment was blending and fading, morphing into a placid abyss.
It is complete, he heard Qui-Gon speak, and Anakin felt himself slip away.
A flurry of voices accompanied Anakin as he began what he knew would be his journey into the Force. But it wasn't what he expected--the sounds were harsh and garbled, hard to discern one from another but growing more distinct every moment. The light changed from luminescent to glaring, and he found himself holding back. Then came the pain...Force, was it strong. He had difficulty breathing--perhaps something was invasively breathing for him--and he felt the effects of warmth slip away, replaced by cold, uneven reality.
Why did he hurt so much?
Voices. Coming in focus. "He's waking up....get a healer....now..."
Machines were beeping, monitors sounding, and Anakin felt the peace and certainty remove from him; he instinctively wanted to reach back to where he came, to feel Qui-Gon again.
Then he heard Padme's voice, mingled with her tears, becoming more coherent. Her hand was on his forehead.
"Open your eyes," she whispered softly, a prayer.
Reaching in her direction, he willed his eyelids to comply.
Leia stood near the corner of the room, unable to help the healers as they rushed in and out but unwilling to leave, and watched her father. As his eyes opened and slowly came into focus, she smiled, without hesitation or uncertainty.
They were blue.
Like the Alliance to Restore the New Republic, recovery time for Anakin was slow, fragmented, and not without setbacks. Healers realized the extent of his dependency on machines, and worked in his convalescence to repair them, a little at a time. The fall of the Empire, while challenging, freed up resources previously unavailable to the Alliance, and Anakin was among those who benefited from them. Unlike the Empire, they were not miserly in their issuance of medical care, working diligently to help all of their patients. Anakin knew only the Republic would show such mercy. Deep down, he'd always known.
One day during his physical therapy, Mon came to visit him.
"How is your recovery coming along?" Her concern seemed genuine.
"Fine," he admitted, a little shyly.
"I've been considering your situation...we can't pressurize and oxygenate every place you go. It's just not possible." she said softly.
He nodded and felt sadness settle. Of course she was right; he would have to be quarantined, and pay the consequences for his crimes. His fate was in the their hands now.
"Therefore," she continued. "A healer specialist has been located. Quite innovative and renowned in his field, from what I understand. He has the capabilities to give you the stem cell lung transplant you need to function normally."
Anakin looked up, unable to speak. His wish to return to normal, while serving the Empire, had always postponed until it seemed an impossible goal, forever out of reach. Faced with the prospect of gaining freedom from the suit....able to feel immersion in water....to breathe real air again. No more meditation chambers. He could go anywhere. He found it hard to believe.
He looked up at Mon and nodded; words couldn't adequately express his gratitude. "Thank you." he said simply.
A small smile crossed her lips. "Well....I have to attend to business now. I wish you a speedy recovery." She turned to look at him once more before she left. "Anakin."
He felt an understanding, unspoken, pass between them. After the moment passed he grinned to himself, thinking of Padme, Leia, and Mon.
Perhaps politicians weren't so bad.
Many changes took place with the rise of the New Republic, and would continue to form and reform for years to come.
Luke, now a Jedi Master and leader of the New Jedi Order, was starting a training Academy on Yavin IV, the planet nearly destroyed by the first Death Star. Bast Castle, former home to Vader and Amidala, was a Force Sensitive region and with Anakin's support, Luke had it rebuilt into a secondary Jedi training facility. Luke's policies were remniscent of the Old Jedi Order, but reflective of a new age. No longer would Jedi be trained strictly from birth without familial contact, and no longer would personal attachments be forbidden. Luke believed, like his father, that to deny love, to deny the need for companionship, was to deny one's own humanity.
He'd achieved what the Jedi or Sith never could--a balance between passion and peace.
Luke asked his father to serve alongside him, to be a Jedi Master on the new council, but Anakin gently declined. Luke may have been right in his belief that he'd mastered both darkness and light, but Anakin no longer felt the desire for power, or the need to fight. He would help, and mentor, his son in any way he could, but in the end just wished to quietly retire.
Padme felt the same. With the rise of the New Republic, Leia had taken on more Senatorial duties before she was appointed to the position of Minister of State by new Head of State Mothma. Leia could see her mother's political leanings, her potential, and asked her to join the high committee for the New Republic. Padme felt a stirring at the thought of the political arena she'd always loved but realized that being a leader to millions, while rewarding, was no more important in the end than being a role model to one family. She and Anakin were soon to build a quiet life together on Naboo, and enjoy the solitude they had fought lifetimes to have but never found.
Luke and Leia would visit their parents and extended family, sometimes just enjoying their simple activities in companionable silence, trying to learn each other slowly and recapture a lost childhood and years. The Bespin residence Anakin had created for his wife had been damaged, but was soon rebuilt to completion. It was often here Anakin and Padme went if they wanted to recapture the ariel planet of their union, or see Luke and Leia during a rest stop on one of their travels.
The official story released by the New Republic was that Anakin Skywalker, the Hero With No Fear, had been captured and imprisoned by the Empire after the end of the Jedi Purge and was recently freed. In a way, it was true.
Mon issued a general pardon to those working for the Empire who wished to come forward and support democracy. There were still factions, Empirial loyalists, who would challenge their cause. Perhaps there always would be. Predominantly, the New Republic was met with relief and overwhelming support, culminating in Galactic celebrations expressed through the traditions of each planet.
The cloning facilities on Kamino were shut down shortly after the rise of the New Republic. It was with acceptance, and some sadness, that Amidala marked this event, for it had been the place of her origin. But she knew life was too unique, and too fragile, to be manipulated anymore. In the end, while it brought her life and Anakin's redemption, it also yielded needless war and death for so many others. Anakin understood, as much as he loved her, that the unnatural continuity of life promised by the Sith was not as it should be.
A phrase of Luke's Jedi Code echoed in his mind. There is death, but there is always the Force.....
He knew this was true, both by experience and in his heart. Vader--the anger and fear unleashed--would always be a part of him, but like anyone it was imperative he acknowledge and control his feelings. He could not allow even the loss of a loved one to consume him.
In the end, there is always the Force. The waiting, while painful, was only temporary.
The clone troopers that had served from the Clone Wars through the end of the Galactic Empire were decommissioned and placed in a transitional program to help them lead a normal life. Like children, they lacked the life skills to work and take care of themselves outside of a battlefield, trained only to follow orders. Some, recently born, would have an easier time learning how to have an opinion, how to think, and how to feel. Some would never fully regain their humanity.
Commander Hur was taken, much like R2D2 and C3PO had once been, into the custody of Anakin and Padme. Once his original programming was stripped and security orders removed, he was free to be a normal person.
Freedom was a relative thing.
It was sad and endearing to Padme, watching how lost he was sometimes, and how other times just needed to be told what to do. The most meaningful gift she ever gave him was a first name--Byyorn. It was Nubian for new life.
Then came the day, when the celebrations on Endor had long since passed and life resumed it's normal flow, that Anakin stood before a funeral pyre with Padme. The Force felt different now; the spirit of hope and festivity still permeated the air around them. They stood in the forest where it began and ended, and slowly he brought the torch forward to ignite the pyre, watching the flames consume the dark suit as he symbolically laid his former self to rest.
Anakin would never have thought that, a year ago, he was Darth Vader and had every intention of ruling the galaxy as Sith. Years before, he was thoroughly immersed in darkness without hope of ever returning, light and love all but forgotten. Sometimes, the changes in one's self are so slow, so gradual that he didn't realize how far he'd come until he looked back. When he looked to his side and saw Padme, it made sense again. It was her strength that had made him unafraid to be Anakin.
The flames were dying, lessening, and Anakin felt a presense; he raised his head and saw the blue apparations standing in the distance. Two. The first, small but wise, radiated peace and contentment even more so than in life. The second, ever the same as when Vader had taken his life on the Death Star, smiled proudly at Anakin, and he couldn't help but smile back. A third form phased to life beside the others, stepping forward to join them, and Anakin held his breath. He never thought he'd see the man he'd considered a hero and father figure again.
Without words, he understood he'd found Yoda, Obi-Wan, and Qui-Gon's forgiveness.
Then, as suddenly as they'd appeared, the apparitions flickered and were gone, dispersing into the Force and leaving Anakin alone. For a moment he felt sad. Padme slipped her hand into his, and when they were ready, they turned and departed into the twilight forest.
He would see them again. It wasn't final, there was only the Force. Forever. Here and now, he had a future to look toward.
The Empire had fallen, and in its wake, his children's legacy was rising.
Long live the Republic.