Through the Eyes of the Beholder

Behind the Mask

Disclaimer: OK, OK I'll do it I'll confess! I used other people's characters, other people's ideas, even other people's exact words! George Lucas created the scene and characters. A person I know only as Jedi Scholar created the idea to do individual characters' POV. Both of them supplied dialogue. I've given them credit so now, on with the story . . .

I was the most vile creature in the galaxy. I was evil personified. I was Darth Vader, and this is the story of my redemption and death.

I rested the palms of my cyborg hands on the lower rail of the military base on Endor. He was coming and soon he would be here. I was afraid of this meeting, afraid that my son would reject me or worse accept me and join the Dark Side. I wanted him close to me, but not at the expense of his soul, not if he would become what I was. I stopped; what was I thinking? I would serve my emperor and bring my son to be turned by him. I let go of the railing which now had dents from my fingers and began to pace. He was here. His senses, his mind, his very being called out to me as clearly or perhaps clearer than if he had been shouting. I felt the pain in his right cheek and made a note to myself to punish the Commander for it. I felt his helplessness now that the soldiers had taken his lightsaber and put him in binders. The door opened behind me and I turned to face the company of stormtroopers. They split formation so I could see my son. He regarded me calmly, he had a plan. He was very much fearful lest I change that plan. His head was cocked slightly to the side in curiosity and he held his chin up in open defiance of me, as if daring me to try my best to turn him. Our eyes locked. "You do not understand, Son," I whispered away from the voice pickups of this infernal mask. "The last thing I want is for you to become the monster I am. Would that I could shed this monster, but I cannot."

"This is a rebel who surrendered to us," the commander broke my thoughts. The regular choke-hold would be too good for this idiot! "Although he denies it, I believe there may be more of them and I request permission to do a further search of the area. He was armed only with this." He held out a lightsaber, but not my old lightsaber. I took the weapon roughly from the outstretched hand totally ignoring the pain that suddenly washed over me from the commander and not hearing the popping, cracking sound I knew all too well as breaking bone.

"Good work, Commander," I growled not really meaning it but the words alone were enough to cause him to straiten with pride. "Leave us. Conduct your search and bring his companions to me."

"Yes, my lord."

I watched my child as he watched them leave. This was my son, my own flesh-and-blood, the continuation of my legacy as Galactic Conqueror and someday Emperor. An apprentice whom I would teach to further the Sith Lords toward universal domination. When I realized I was staring at him, I looked down. That was a bad move. His lightsaber lay in my open palm. It looked almost exactly like Obi-Wan's. Unbidden memories fluttered into my mind. Dodging a lightsaber blow that would have killed me only to lose my balance and fall into the lava pit. Forcing an older Obi-Wan back toward the hanger bay and in a single unguarded second cleaving him in half, but only his robe being cut. My son had cried out in near-tangible pain at seeing his mentor fade into oblivion. I looked up at my son with new understanding. How many more of his friends and acquaintances had been hurt because of me? To relieve the tension of the moment, I started walking. I was somewhat surprised when he fell into step with me. What could I say that would not paint me as weak or unbearably strong? What could I say to this child who was my greatest strength and my only weakness? I decided to start with a neutral subject on my part, Palpatine.

"The Emperor has been expecting you."

"I know . . . Father." That one word was like a floodgate filling me with visions of all we would do together as father and son. Watching the podraces. Then again, no, I had no wish to see another podrace in my life. But one more would be fun.

I smiled, "So you have finally accepted the truth?"

"I have accepted the truth that you were once Anakin Skywalker, my father." I stopped dead in my tracks. He had done it. He had spoken the name I hated to remember, yet could not forget. I turned to him.

"That name no longer has any meaning for me."

"It's the name of your true self you've only just forgotten. There is good in you. The Emperor hasn't driven it from you fully."

I was taken aback. How could he know? How could he know that deep down in the furthest reaches of my pitiful excuse for a soul there was a small Light-Side fire that despite all my attempts to smother it with darkness refused to die? Maybe he was guessing, because I had not forgotten. I had not forgotten the weakling slave boy pushed around by a flying blue elephant. I had not forgotten the naive Jedi Padawan who enjoyed sparing with his master. I had not forgotten the only human Podracer in the galaxy. I had not forgotten Anakin Skywalker. I looked up. My son was speaking again his back was turned and he was leaning on the rail looking into the forest in a perfect, if unintentional, imitation of what I had been doing a few minutes ago.

"That was why you couldn't destroy me. That's why you won't take me to your Emperor now."

I was at a loss for what to say. He was right. I looked at the lightsaber in my hand. Was it as well put together as it was beautiful? I ignited it. I could see my son's back go rigid and I felt his fear. He thought I was going to strike him down! "I see you have constructed a new lightsaber," I began impressed in spite of myself. "Your skills are complete. Indeed you are powerful as the Emperor has foreseen."

"Come with me," he pleaded.

I sighed and again turned to face my son. "Obi-Wan once thought as you do," I told him. Then I warned him, "You do not know the power of the Dark Side. I must obey my master." I emphasized "must" hoping he would see what I was. I was a puppet whose strings were pulled by none other than Palpatine himself.

"I will not turn, and you will be forced to kill me."

"If that is your destiny," I replied trying to keep the thought from my mind.

"Search your feelings, Father. You can't do this. I feel the conflict within you. Let go of you hate."

Once again he was partially right and partially wrong. I could not do this, and yet I must. But I did not hate anyone or anything particularly, I just wanted too much too fast. I sighed again. He did not get it. I was bound to obey the Emperor. I would give my child to the Ruler of the Galaxy. I motioned to a nearby group of stormtroopers and tried one last time to explain to my son. "It is too late for me, son. The Emperor will show you the true nature of the Force. He is your master now."

As the stormtroopers again surrounded him, my son looked me up and down. He shook his head in disgust and pity. "Then my father is truly dead," he said simply.

I watched him as he was led away. His words echoed hauntingly in my mind. Was it possible that I was that far gone into the Dark Side? I stormed off to my chambers to meditate. This confrontation had given me a lot to think about.

My son and I walked silently to the Emperor's throne room. As the doors opened, I saw his chin set as one who is determined to meet his destiny. The Emperor's chair swiveled from the observation blister. He smiled. That expression was so compelling that I dropped to one knee. He motioned for me to rise, and then turned his covetous eyes on my son.

"Welcome, young Skywalker, I have been expecting you." My hands unconsciously clenched at that. He was not even going to acknowledge that the boy was my son! "You no longer need those." The Emperor gestured minutely toward the binders clasping my son's wrists. They fell with a clatter that sprang through an otherwise silent room. My son's face flashed confusion then became unreadable, but his mind told me that he was more determined than ever not to turn. "I look forward to completing your training. In time you will call me Master."

I saw my son tense further at that. Then he shook his head and spoke. "You're gravely mistaken. You won't convert me as you did my father." He nodded imperceptibly toward me, but I staggered back as if from a blow to the face. He hated me; he truly hated me! I turned to Palpatine. The kindly old man had been my only stability, my only comfort, my only master for twenty years. When he spoke, I drank in his words like water. They were filled with a power I wanted. Power I would someday wield

"Oh no my young Jedi. You will find that it is you who are mistaken, about a great many things." Further confusion crossed my son's face and mind, but he steeled himself further and awaited what was next.

I extended my son's lightsaber to the Emperor. "His lightsaber," I explained. Palpatine took the weapon gleefully, like a child who has just received exactly what they wanted for Life Day.

"Ah, yes, a Jedi's weapon," he cooed examining it as I had on Endor. "Much like your father's." I remembered constructing that first lightsaber under Obi-Wan's careful eye. "By now you know that your father can never be turned from the Dark Side. So will it be with you."

My son shook his head. "You're wrong, soon I'll be dead, and you with me." He was absolutely confident and it showed in his voice.

Palpatine did not skip a beat. "Perhaps you refer to the imminent attack of your Rebel fleet," he jeered, "I assure you we are quite safe from your friends here." I moved to stand by my master's side. The confusion which had made its way permanently into my son's thoughts tore at something believed to have stopped beating years ago. I found myself pitying the lad who . . . no, no! I did not feel pity. I felt opportunity. The child was not yet lost to the Light Side or the Emperor's blackness. I could take him and find a small grey area to raise him in. But right now, my master was taunting my son and I could not take the emotional tumult caused by my two greatest allies and worst enemies, so I stopped the emotion. I saw, but I did not watch. I heard, but I did not listen. I acted, but I did not participate. I comprehended, but I did not feel. Feeling was asking too much.

My son stared the Emperor brazenly in the face. "Your overconfidence is your weakness," he challenged.

Palpatine returned the glare. "Your faith in your friends is yours."

"It is pointless to resist, my son," I said sounding like a recording. My son glanced at me briefly then his eyes returned to the Emperor who was bragging about tactics.

"Everything that has transpired has done so according to my design," he gloated. "Your friends up there on the Sanctuary Moon are walking into a trap. As is your Rebel fleet. It was I who allowed the Alliance to know the location of the shield generator. It is quite safe from your pitiful little band. An entire legion of my best troops awaits them. Oh, I'm afraid the deflector shield will be quite operational when your friends arrive."

My son's shoulders slumped in despair. Then they straightened with resolve. "I am not easily tempted your highness," he said.

Palpatine laughed and gave him a sarcastic smile. "Oh, young Skywalker, you have no idea how easy it will be. Come, Boy, see for yourself." My son staggered unwillingly to the observation blister and I moved up to the Emperor's throne for a better look at the firefight outside. "From here you will witness the final destruction of the Alliance, and the end of your insignificant Rebellion." My son turned away from the window and stared at his tormentor. His gaze flickered to the lightsaber lying unprotected by Palpatine's right elbow. The Emperor followed his gaze and smiled. "You want this don't you?" he taunted holding out the weapon. "The hate is swelling in you now. Take your Jedi weapon. Use it. I am unarmed. Strike me down with it. Give into your anger. With each passing moment, you make yourself more my servant."

My son was on the verge of doing just that when he caught himself. "No," he whispered.

"It is unavoidable. It is your destiny. You, like your father, are now . . . mine!"

That comment crumbled my resolve to remain emotionally uninvolved. Most of my mind agreed with the Emperor, but an increasingly larger part of my mind supported my son. My son turned back to the window, his whole demeanor one of defeat. His mind seamed to be running in circles. I longed to go to him. To take him in my arms and guide him through his troubles. But I could not even navigate my own emotional turmoil let alone help him understand his own. My emotions mirrored my son's in how lost I felt. What did I want? I did not want to be Darth Vader and I could not be Anakin Skywalker.

"As you can see my young apprentice," the Emperor rasped right by my audio pickups and nearly startling me out of my respirator. "Your friends have failed. Now witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational battle station." Palpatine touched the intercom, "Fire at will, Commander."

My son and I watched as a blast from the Death Star obliterated a Cruiser of the Rebellion's. "My friends," my son choked out. "No."

I also felt the deaths, but I reveled in them. The years I spent as a Sith allowed me to do that. Palpatine continued unfazed by the state of my child. "Your fleet is lost, and your friends on the Sanctuary Moon will not survive. There is no escape, my young apprentice. The Alliance will die as will your friends." I watched my son's face intently. It was contorted beyond recognition. He raised his right hand slightly, and the lightsaber on the throne began to twitch noisily. The Emperor smiled again. "Good, I can feel your anger. I am defenseless. Take your weapon. Strike me down with all your hatred and your journey toward the Dark Side will be complete."

My son seemed to ponder this while staring out the window. Then, with Force-quickened moves, he spun around, called his lightsaber to him and struck at the Emperor. I had more than enough time to deflect the blow.

My son and I circled. When he struck, it was lightning-swift. The child was good, almost too good in fact. The Emperor sighed and my eyes found him for a second. My son must have sensed my distraction because the next thing I knew I was toppling down the stairway. The Emperor laughed. "Good! Use your aggressive feelings, boy. Let the hate flow through you."

My boy's face, which just seconds ago had radiated an unquenchable thirst for my blood, slacked off into amazed confusion. He stared at me and turned off his lightsaber. I stood up rather shakily. The rage in my son's face was new to me, as was the unheard-of act of deactivating a lightsaber during a duel. "Obi-Wan has taught you well." I praised my child ignoring the half of me that screamed that I should not, as a Sith, be praising any Jedi even my own son. My mind began evaluating the spar and soon I was angry. Angry at myself for letting my guard down. Angry at the Emperor for distracting me. Angry at the Force for putting me in this position in the first place.

"I will not fight you, Father." The comment from my son whipped my anger into fury. How dare he not finish the fight he started. I would teach this child better.

I bounded up the steps. "You are unwise to lower your defenses." I gave him enough time to react to my statement before slashing at his throat. He parried the blow instinctively, but was forced to go on the defensive. That was good. He was where I wanted him, and I would not allow him to be anywhere else. His reflexes caused him to jump back missing the edge of my blade by a hairsbreadth. I tried stabbing him, but he jumped to a nearby catwalk.

"Your thoughts betray you, Father. I feel the good in you, the conflict," he warned.

I bit out a quick denial, "There is no 'conflict,' " before examining my own feelings to find out that he was right. Inside my chest, the Jedi Knight and the Sith Lord were battling, hard.

"You couldn't bring yourself to kill me before and I don't believe you'll destroy me now."

I looked full into my son's face. He wore an expression of supplication, pleading with me to understand him. I held my lightsaber so that it obscured his face. I simply spoke to him out of my anger, cooled as it was by his gaze. "You underestimate the power of the Dark Side." My anger was returning now and I dared a look at my son. "If you will not fight, then you will meet your destiny." I flung my lightsaber at him, perfectly aimed to do the most damage. My son dodged the saber, but failed to account for the supports of the catwalk he was standing on. My lightsaber spliced the cables, sending the catwalk and my son into the darkness at the bottom of the stairs. The Emperor and I both felt my son's fear. Palpatine laughed bestowing on me his highest praise.

"Good . . . good."

I paced in front of the overhang where I had last seen my son. I looked everywhere, but I would not give him the advantage that quickly. "You cannot hide forever, Luke." Somewhere deep inside I knew I was calling my son by name. However, the name held no meaning to my emotions. I was not speaking to my son. I was speaking to thin air.

"I will not fight you." The voice came at once from everywhere and nowhere. I shook my head, trying to clear the circuits in my mask. Either the fight had some unexpected complications or my son had become an extremely good ventriloquist.

"Give yourself to the Dark Side," I prodded picking up where the Emperor had left off taunting my son. "It is the only way you can save your friends." I did not see him react; I could not see much of anything in the darkness. However, I felt him flinch at that. I felt him reach for his left shoulder, his soul crying out in empathy for another on the Sanctuary Moon. "Yes . . . your thoughts betray you." I mimicked his earlier accusation. "Your feelings for them are strong especially for . . ." I stopped short sensing something else. My son's mind was covered with thoughts of the Alderanean princess. Well, that was normal. She was an attractive female. Yet that was not the motivation behind his thoughts of her. I focused closer on his mind. There was a connection there I was missing. Suddenly, I knew. There was a line connecting her to my son and my son to me. A line marked "family." I was the father of twins! I had to force myself to finish the sentence I had started, ". . . sister. So you have a twin sister." I found myself admiring Obi-Wan for hiding this from me and my spies for so long. I had known Amidala, Force give her peace, had given birth, but not to twins! "Obi-Wan was wise to hide this from me. Now his failure is complete. If you will not turn to the Dark Side, then perhaps she will!" I did not mean what I said. The taunt just had a certain ring to it. Besides, I fully intended to turn Leia as well; the question was how to do it?

"Never!" My son yelled appearing suddenly from the shadows, lightsaber drawn and activated. He attacked with a maniacal fury. So this was the blow which would fell my son's Light-Side resolve, and I had to be the idiot who found it. My son's attack continued unhindered. I went on the defensive, barely parrying the blows which were hurled at me. My son did not care where or what he hit as long as it drew blood. Or in my case, I thought wryly, circuitry. One extremely strong blow sent me to my knees next to the reactor pit which had grown alarmingly close. The next sliced off my hand. My right hand. Too late, it occurred to me that my son was no longer the child I had so easily overpowered on Bespin. Too late, I realized that in opening my son to the Dark Side, I had released a force strong enough to destroy me.

The Emperor clapped his hands. "Good. Your hate has made you powerful. Now, fulfill your destiny, and take your father's place at my side."

Once again, my son stared at me. Once again, the rage in his face slacked off and the lightsaber deactivated. He stared at the twitching electronics where my right hand should have been. Then he stared at his own black-gloved right hand. I caught the edge of a thought, a vision really or the memory of a vision. We were dueling, my son and I. He decapitated me, and my mask fell back to reveal . . . his own face. It was an interesting concept, but one I had neither time nor energy to ponder at the moment.

"Never," my son murmured. A quick flick of the wrist sent his lightsaber rolling to a halt some fifty feet away. "I'll never turn to the Dark Side. You have failed Your Highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me."

The emotions that filled me were manifold and difficult to distinguish from one another. I was proud of my son for standing up to Palpatine, a feat I had occasionally wished upon myself. I was angry at my son for calling me a Jedi. However, the most prevalent emotion was fear for what would happen next.

Palpatine's bemused smile became a cold scowl. "So be it, Jedi," he bit out the word like a curse. "If you will not be turned, you will be destroyed." He raised his spidery arms toward my son. My son and I both tensed. This mood of the Emperor was not new to me, but I had never felt it so strong. Pure fury poured across the bond we shared as master and apprentice. My son was going to die at the hand of my master. Bluish bolts of energy surged out of Palpatine's fingertips, knocking my son against a projection a few yards away from where I lay. Pain coursed through a body that no longer existed. I was learning for the second time, through my son, what it meant to be consumed. "Young Fool," Palpatine cackled, "only now, at the end, do you understand. Your feeble skills are no match for the Dark Side." Although he was talking to my son, the words struck a chord with me. My Jedi powers had become atrophied to the point where they could no longer stand up to the Dark Side. My physical body, however, was still under my control. Using every technique I could think of to dull the pain, I started to crawl toward the Emperor.

The strength with which my son had been holding himself up gave out. He fell to his knees and curled up into fetal position. "Father, Father please!" he called. I stood up despite the pain flowing over me from my son. Underneath the pain, my son's cry puzzled me. Although he was crying to me to help him, he was also making one final plea for me to understand him, to understand myself.

"You have paid the price for your lack of vision," Palpatine, cruel Palpatine, mocked, "Now, young Skywalker, you will pay the price in full, you will die!" I would have shouted as the Emperor threw back his head and laughed. I would have roared as the bolts pounded with renewed vigor on my son but all I could manage was a small squeak from lungs long ago seared beyond function. I looked at the Emperor who was taking pleasure in my son's demise. Then I looked at the helpless boy slowly succumbing to the overwhelming power hurled at him. As this continued, things began to change in my mind. For the first time, I saw Palpatine as he truly was. He was a black and putrid soul who killed men for pleasure and maimed them for the brief surge of power it gave him. Concentrating all my remaining strength and will, I broke the mental chains which had decades ago bound me to Palpatine. At the same time, I lunged at the Emperor grabbing him under the arms and pulling the energy bolts off my son. I dragged the Emperor to the reactor shaft, taking several bolts myself, and flung him into the pit.

The chains of servitude are not easily broken. As soon as Palpatine left my arms, I involuntarily began to follow him, to follow my master of twenty years to the very end. I was almost over the edge when I felt a small tug on my cape. Weak as the pull was, it was enough to topple me, not into the pit, but next to my son. We lay there for what seemed like and eternity. Too weak to move, too moved to speak. Actually, if I had been in charge of my mechanics, I would have been standing immediately, but the bolts of energy had fried the majority of the circuits in my suit. My son stood over me when I gathered enough strength to look up. He knelt by my side, cradling my head and chest with his shoulder while slipping my arm over his head and across his shoulders. Together, we stood up, each supporting the other. At that point, I fully realized what had happened. I, Anakin Skywalker, was free.

The Death Star rocked for the first time. My son stumbled and fell. It was obvious that his strength was failing. "Son," I rasped, "help me take this mask off."

"But you'll die," he protested.

I was weary beyond words. Weary of the mask which for most of my life had been a wall between me and the world. Besides, I was dying anyway. The energy which I had received was beginning to go to work on what was left of my physical body. "Nothing can stop that now," I told my son. "Just for once, let me see you with my own eyes."

My son nodded and together we remover the last barrier between us. The visuals in my mask had not in any way given him due credit. He was beyond beautiful, he was angelic. I heard his rhythmic breathing, without the suck-hiss of the respirator to interfere. He smelled to me like wildflowers. My vision clouded, I was standing in a field of wildflowers. The muted rumbling of thunder echoed around me. Obi-Wan, wearing a broad smile, stood before me.

"You'd better come in before it rains," he said motioning for me to follow. I began to follow him when a raindrop fell on my lips. I licked it off and tasted the . . . salt? The world came back into focus. My son was still leaning over me. He was crying. I smiled up at him.

"Now go, my son," I whispered to him. "Leave me . . ."

He shook his head vigorously. "No. You're coming with me. I won't leave you here. I've got to save you." He and I both knew that he was pleading for me to live, that there was still something unfinished, but what? My son had learned all that he needed to know. Now he needed to learn how to say goodbye. He wanted to save me. That was the problem.

"You already have, Luke." For the first time, I let the full meaning of the name slip into my feelings. Luke Skywalker, Hero of the Rebellion, Destroyer of the First Death Star, brother of Leia Organa, was my son, and I was proud to be his father. "You were right . . ." I whispered, "you were right about me." I thought of Leia, the beautiful daughter I had never known. "Tell your sister, you were right." Merciful oblivion engulfed me. When the light surrounding me solidified into shapes, I was once again in the meadow field. Obi-Wan repeated his invitation to follow. He led me to a small home on the horizon. The building was a combination of the home I had shared with Mother on Tatooine, the Jedi Temple on Coruscaunt, and the Palace on Naboo. Many familiar faces watched expectantly from the doorway and windows. I walked through the door and into the arms of the two people I most wanted to see, Mother and Amidala.

"We have been waiting a long time Ani," Amidala murmured in my ear as she relaxed her grip around my neck.

Qui-Gon clapped me on the shoulder. "Good work, Ani, you have brought balance to the Force once again."

Yoda shuffled up to me. "Confess, I must that for the galaxy, better it could not be. However, wish you had not turned to the Dark Side, I do." As other friends surrounded me, I looked back in time to see Luke drag my now-lifeless body to the last shuttle and take off.

I was allowed to see my son one last time. Obi-Wan, Yoda, and I walked along the flower-strewn pathway to the world of the living. We talked about Luke and how he grew up, sharing memories and exchanging stories of the times before the mask. I had shed the black durasteel suit along with my corporeal body. Finally, we reached the edge of death and peered into the world of the living. Luke would see us as blue-rimmed shadows. He broke away from a raging party to smile and nod at each of us in turn. Leia, my beautiful child, came and took him by the arm. As she led him away, Yoda broke the silence. "Dead the Empire is?" he asked

I nodded staring into the celebration centered around my children. "Yes, my friend, the Empire is dead. Long live the Alliance."