The Five Times Vader Sees Padme
The air smells of metal and his lungs are burning, always; his mouth tastes like ash and his vision is clouded; the light is translucent but so bright, brighter than the Tatooine sun and he thinks— he thinks he might be dying.
For a moment he is glad.
But he cannot die. He mustn't die. He must save Padme, he must save –
Is she okay? Is she alive? How is his little girl, did they survive? He must know immediately, someone tell him if they—
They prod him with needles and knives and he is screaming; he's in so much pain. More pain than when his mother died in his arms, more pain than Padme's betrayal (Padme, his Padme, his light) had caused, more pain than Obi-Wan's betrayal had caused, more pain than watching the world –his world – burn on Mustafar, more pain than he's even been in; he struggles. He fights. He needs to save her; he needs to know if she's –
But then she is hovering above him and is smiling, like she used to in the better days, before the war, before the visions, back when they were Anakin and Padme and they were so in love it hurt.
(Back when he wanted to shout his love for her from the rooftops, feeling free as a bird, laughing like he hadn't before – she says, her own smile coming through, an amazed sigh emitting from her lips:
"We're married. Married, Ani."
She is grinning so widely it almost makes chest burst with and joy his heart skip a beat, she is grinning so widely he forgets for a moment they are Jedi and a senator, that this euphoria is only temporary, he forgets his anger and spite and the wars and mass destruction.
He presses his forehead against hers and kisses her, lips savoring the way hers taste, memorizing. When he pulls back, out of breath and giggling, she thinks about how lovely he looks this way, young and carefree and hers and he promises in a hoarse whisper, suddenly turning very serious, "I'll love you forever."
Her eyes light up like Coruscant at nightfall. She knows.)
He is motionless for a moment, drinking in how beautiful is; all bright smiles, flushed cheeks and curls fanning her face. They are frolicking in that field again and he thinks if this is death, she is truly an angel. Dying might not be so bad after all.
But her face screws up painfully and her dainty fingers close around her throat and she is choking out 'N-no, plea-please don't,' and he wants to tear the entire goddamn galaxy apart brick by brick, because who dares to hurt Padme, his Padme, who dares to lay a single finger on her –
Then he remembers and he is burning alive again, smoke engulfing his senses and clouding his vision and dread clawing at his insides painfully, it hurts so bad, make it stop–
He is screaming, trying to find his voice, trying to free himself but his lungs are giving out and he flails helplessly, everything hurts and he needs to know what is real, he needs to know if she is alive, he can't feel her through the Force and he is so, so worried, what if she didn't make it –
He is forced into stillness. Darkness falls around him, once again.
(The Emperor tells him; his new armor is heavy on his shoulders and there is fire in his veins and ash in his mouth and guilt, so much guilt.
Through red-tinted glass, he sees the Emperor smile. Sadly, Vader assures himself later, much later, alone in his chamber meditating, because the Emperor cares for him and would never hurt him.
Through red-tinted glass, he sees Padme standing next to the Emperor, sniffling and crying, five purple marks aligned on each side of her throat; the Force around him thunders and ripples and he wants to destroy, destroy Obi-Wan and every last single Jedi, because Padme is dead and it's their fault, goddamn it, they abandoned him –
The Emperor says, "It seems in your anger you killed her."
When the room shakes, Palpatine laughs.)
She appears to him every time he closes his eyes. He is haunted by wars and death and smoke. Every time he tries to get a bit of sleep, she is there, a vision in white or standing in her satin blue dress, hair in soft curls, overlooking the city. Sometimes she is crying ("You never visited my grave, Ani. You never even visited my grave."), other times she is quiet and looking at him with tired, disappointed eyes –
("I tried," he wants to snap at her, wants to grab her by the arms and shake her, make her understand that there was nothing in the galaxy he could've done to stop this.
"I tried to protect you, I tried to save you, I tried to be good enough," he wants to tell her, but she is not there, she hasn't been in a long time.
She is dead.)
– and other times she is angry. Padme wasn't very angry often, not at him at least but maybe that's only because their time together was short lived (he's been thinking about their time together a lot). She was angry at the lack of democracy, she was angry at slavery, she was angry at the Republic, the Separatists, she was angry at things, not in the way he was, never the way he was; but when she appears to him, fuming and spiteful, fierce and frightening, he wants to curl into himself and hide from the world.
"You killed me," she spits and there is something malicious and decidedly un-Padme in her voice that makes chills run up his spine, "You killed us. You killed our baby. You're a murderer."
He knows he is, Force, he knows that he is a murderer and that he's done terrible things, it's been eating at him his entire life and he is suddenly thankful for the mask hiding his face, because he doesn't want her to see him weak, he doesn't want her to see how affected he is by her words.
"No," he rasps. "This isn't real."
He stumbles, mechanical hand gripping onto nothing, his suit forcing him to breathe in that same steady rhythm it always does and he wishes Obi-Wan had just ended him back then, he wishes –
"Get out of my head," he demands roughly, "This is a—"
It's like she can read his mind, but maybe that's because she is only a part of it.
She tilts her head to the side, shooting him a vicious smile, a fire burning in her eyes that is all too familiar; she says, sharp and sweet, "Jedi don't have nightmares, Anakin."
(He wakes. They're leaving for Bespin soon.
He will rest tomorrow – or when he is dead. It wouldn't matter either way.)
The Emperor says, "My apprentice. It is time."
Yes, my Master. Vader bows deep; it is time.
"Prepare my ship," he orders once he is out of the Emperors hearing range. "I shall go alone."
He won't draw attention to himself; he is still a well-kept secret.
The ship is small - the panels familiar and the sound of the engine comforting. There is a R2 unit beeping merrily in the back; people will fail him, technology will not. He accepted this a long time ago.
"It's been ten years, Ani," Padme says to him when he reaches hyper-space and he would have jumped, had he not been used to it. She's a constant presence in the back of his mind.
"Our baby would've turned ten today," she smiles gently, wistfully. She stands behind him – if he was still Anakin and she was still Padme, the real one, she would've placed a hand on his shoulder and stroked his hair.
"Don't do this, Ani. There is still good in you. You can fix this. You could have a family."
He bites his tongue. He has a mission to fulfil.
She remains there, always, in the back of his mind, in the corner of his eye.
(He wonders if that will ever change.)
He arrives on Aeton in record time, leaving his ship parked somewhere in seclusion – he masks himself with the Force, remains in the shadows of the heavily populated city. People don't turn their heads when he walks by, people don't whisper when they see him. He is invisible when he is in the dark, for they are one.
The darkness is his friend. She is cruel and she demands great sacrifice, but she is all he has left.
It's been five years since the second Great Purge and more Force Sensitives were born. Vader knows killing Sensitives won't make the Force die out and so does the Emperor, but they don't care. The Force cannot be destroyed. It is, was and always will be binding the universe together. It is a constant.
The younglings are merely collateral damage, no matter how unnecessary.
("Master Skywalker! Master Skywalker! Look – Master Skywalker? What are you –"
They scream. He slays. It's the only way.)
He flicks the door open; the place is deserted, furniture laying on the floor in pieces. He can feel them, mother and child, upstairs – he can feel the little one's distress.
They knew he was coming.
(He would've smiled, had his heart not been so heavy.)
He walks up the stairs, slowly, his mechanical breathing resounding clearly through the air. He could feel the mother's burning disgust for him – it won't save her, he thinks. The Rebels were nothing but trouble. They were making this harder than it could've been.
(Couldn't they see? Couldn't they tell? It was the only way. It was the only thing they had left.)
There's a hidden door in the study, heavy and metallic and Vader opens it with the Force as though it was glass. Behind the door is a small room and he hears the little one whimper, 'Mommy, I'm scared,' and he hears a sharp intake of breath.
The woman stands up with a blaster in her shaking hands and a look of sheer determination and hatred on her pretty face. It makes him think of Padme and all the times they fought side by side and how much she hated everything dark, how she would've spat in Grievous' face if she had the chance, he realizes this woman probably has a husband just like Padme had and he is glad, because someone in this galaxy will feel the same pain he's feeling every single day–
He realizes he's been standing there for a good minute, looking at her, motionless, when she screams, tears running down her face and trembling: "Leave! Just leave!"
He cannot leave, silly girl; this is beyond him.
"They'll kill you!" she screams hysterically, shaking so bad she might just drop the damned blaster and admit defeat. "They'll find you and they'll kill you! The Rebels – they'll end you! You won't get away with this, Sith!"
She shoots, she misses. The youngling cries.
He draws his 'saber; bright, red, the color of Tatooine sundown. He strikes.
She falls to the floor with a thud and for a second – for a split second in space – she is Padme on Mustafar and from behind him he hears a panicked, grief-stricken voice: "This could've been me, Ani. It could've been me."
She struggles to breathe from the tears and she shakes her head wildly, stepping in front of the youngling. "You won't kill this child, Anakin. It could've been ours," she chokes out. "You won't kill –"
His 'saber cuts through both Padme and the youngling.
(When he opens his eyes, she is not in front of him. She is standing next to him, fists clenched at her hips. She inspects his handwork. She is trembling with rage.
He is silent. Am I redeemable, Padme? Can I be saved? Can you save me, Padme? Can you?
She looks up at him; tears dry on her cheeks, eyes blazing and hard.
"You've truly outdone yourself this time, Lord Vader."
He doesn't see Padme for weeks on end. He doesn't miss her. He doesn't feel.)
(When she appears to him again, he's terrorizing Naboo.
She might not be alive, but goddamn it, if she doesn't hate him after everything he's done now, he doesn't know anymore.)
"Our son, Anakin," she says, "You must protect our son."
"The Emperor wants him," Vader replies. "He wants to train him."
"So he can replace you," she points out and there is something about discussing Empiric matters with Padme that just doesn't feel right. "He wants to turn our son to the Dark side."
Vader's been meditating for an hour now. It makes the visions go away.
"The Dark side is where he belongs," he tells her. "The Dark side is where he could meet his true potential."
"You don't believe that," she states; she did always see right through him. "Nobody belongs to the Dark side."
"We could rule together," Vader insists. "We could make things right."
"Like you could ever end the Emperor," she scoffs. "You're too blind in your rage to see what's really happening."
Her eyes grow soft, "What happened to you, Ani? You said you'd free the slaves, not become one."
He closes his eyes. They've been over this.
("Your feelings for them are strong. Especially for..." Vader falters. "Sister."
"You have a twin sister."
A daughter. He has a daughter.)
(Laughter snaps them out of the moment.
"Your hatred has made you powerful," the Emperor says, descending from the stairs Vader stumbled down moments ago. "Now... Fulfill your destiny. Take your fathers place at my side."
Vader is defenseless, at the mercy of a stronger; he expects to die. He knows that if it were him with the blade in his hand and a galaxy promised, he would strike. He knows he would join the Emperor.
But Luke, sweet, merciful Luke with one gloved hand and his eyes – he looks at him as if he mattered, as if they were equals, as if he could be saved. Luke says, "I sense the good in you," and sounds like he believes it, like it could ever be true.
He throws the weapon away and swears, "Never. I'll never join the Dark side," with a conviction that is both touching and foolish.
"I am a Jedi like my father before me."
And Vader doesn't know whether to be concerned or proud, because there is nothing remotely Jedi about him, there is not even anything good about him and his son is on a suicide mission–
"So be it... Jedi."
The Emperor spits the last word as if it were poison.
"If you will not be turned," he hisses, "You will be destroyed."
Vader joins his master as lightning shoots from his fingertips and Luke falls to the ground.
"Father, please," he groans, writhing in pain. "Please, father. Please,"
"Anakin," her voice rings through Luke's screams. He looks wildly between his Master –is he, at this point?– and Luke, his son, his flesh and blood, the boy that looked at him and called him Father as though he deserved it.
"Anakin!" she bellows and he is dizzy, but there is no time to think, no time to consider – "Save him."
"Now, young Skywalker," the Emperor is smiling and Anakin feels sick to his stomach, "You will die."
It feels like a rip in the Force is mending when he reaches it to lift and crush and destroy the Emperor; there is no pain, no guilt, nothing in his way.
He falls. His son is there to support him.)
The air smells of metal and his lungs are burning, always; his mouth tastes like ash and his vision is clouded; the light is translucent but so bright, brighter than the Tatooine sun and he knows he is dying.
Luke is kneeling beside him - his boy, his lovely son, how could he ever forgive him? How could he ever find it within himself to forgive him after everything he had done?
Anakin whispers: "Help me take this mask off."
"But you'll die," Luke shakes his head and he looks genuinely distressed.
"Nothing... can stop... that now," he encourages and breathing is painful. "Just for once... Let me look on you with my own eyes."
Luke hesitates. There is something in his eyes, intense and blue, the colour of the sky after a sandstorm; he looks at him like he is the eighth wonder of the galaxy. Luke takes the mask off and Anakin smiles. He feels light, lighter than he had in years.
Luke with his eyes and Padme's nose. Luke with sun-kissed skin from the cruel desert. Luke.
"Now go ... my son," he wheezes. "Leave me."
His voice cracks.
Luke shakes his head. He's just as stubborn as his mother.
"No. You're coming with me. I can't leave you here," he protests. "I've got to save you."
"You already have, Luke," Anakin murmurs, looking his son in the eyes. "You were right. You were right about me."
"Tell your sister," breatheinbreatheout "You were right."
His time is coming, he can feel it. Luke says, "Father."
"I won't leave you, Father," he promises but the Force is pulling Anakin in.
His lungs collapse.
(He is engulfed in warmth. The sunshine feels lovely on his skin.
He is on Naboo, he finds, barefoot and standing in grass; he is young again, before Mustafar, before the Empire, before his anger and insecurities corrupted him completely.
Padme is at his side. She laces their fingers together; he doesn't remember a time when he'd felt more at peace. She leans her head on his shoulder.
"Ani," she smiles. "You're back."
He laughs and kisses her. There is something pure and light and wonderful coursing through his veins.
He can breathe again. He is free.)