TITLE: "All Roads Lead to Hell"

AUTHOR: vader-incarnate

SUMMARY: Because, sometimes, good intentions alone aren't enough to save your galaxy or your friends or your dreams ... or your soul.

CONTENT: Dark-ish L/M AU. Angst. Mature themes.

DISCLAIMER: I own nothing. Luke Skywalker property of George Lucas -- he'll returned unharmed when I'm finished playing ... scarred for life, but otherwise unharmed ...

AUTHOR'S NOTE(S): So unsatisfied with this, it's not even funny. Uneven pacing, generally cringe-worthy lines, etc ... but please enjoy, all the same. blush

Again, not quite sure where the heck the plot bunny came from, but I'm appeasing it anyway. It seemed like a good idea at the time, though ... and angst, yay!

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.

He's passionate as he makes love to her, to whatever extent such a thing may be expected of him.

He kisses her with some fury she can't quite understand, searches her lips for some unknowable truth that she can't quite give. He clings to her as if he's hanging onto something dearer than life itself -- not the grasp of a drowning man clasping his last hope of rescue, but the grasp of a damned man clasping his last hope of salvation.

She can't give him that, either. And she doesn't want to.

He married her for her genes, and she knows it. They both know it -- they'd talked it over when he'd first proposed, leaving no uncertainties for the future. She'd give him a Force-sensitive heir, and he'd give her ... well, he'd allow her to live a while longer. She hasn't given him a child yet, though, so she still shares his bed.

When he finishes his task, he falls asleep. No pillow-talk for this one. In any other circumstance, she supposes she might be offended -- here, though ... it makes everything all the easier, really, since these are the only times she allows him to touch her -- the first day of their marriage, she'd told him that much clearly: if he touched her outside their bedchamber, she'd cut off his testicles.

He'd responded with a little smile, raising an eyebrow but wisely choosing to say nothing. She was angry enough, that day, that she may have carried through with that promise. But he knew it was a bluff and so did she -- Empress though she may be, she would be hard-pressed to keep her head attached to her neck if she ever harmed a hair on his golden head.

She's not sure, all bluffing aside, what she would do if he ever decided to touch her in public. Smile tightly, she supposes, and carefully keep up the front of a caring wife, even if her skin crawls at the barest touch of his finger. She's gotten used to things like that by now, try as she might to leave them unlearned.

It's difficult take his touch in any circumstances, though, even now. He's not ... unpleasing to the eye, if it comes to that, but she can't look into those eyes without thinking of who he is, what he's done. It still comes as faintly surprising when she looks at his hands and discovers that they aren't stained from all the blood he's shed over the years.

But stars -- he looks like an angel when he's asleep.

It's disconcerting, even after so long. His face is composed and peaceful as it never is in daylight, and a golden halo of soft hair spills upon the pillow. He looks serene, calm -- Force, he looks like he's enjoying the sleep of the innocent, and stars know that he of all people should have no claim to that.

Yet he falls asleep like this every night. Mara should know -- after all, she is his Empress, unwilling or not, coerced into this farce of a marriage or not. They've shared a bedchamber for long enough, she tells herself, that she should be used to his sleeping patterns by now -- he always looks like a little angel once he falls asleep, his hair is always that certain shade of gold, he always wears that little smile ...

All the same, she can't help but look.

Stars, forget the looking. It's just about all she can do not to touch.

She props herself up on an elbow, leaning over to watch her slumbering husband. He shifts slightly, and, damn it, she has to remind herself not to brush a stray lock of golden hair from his forehead.

She does this every night. Every night she watches him sleep, trying to hate him and never quite managing to do it.

It's strange, she thinks to herself as she watches his bare chest slowly rise and fall. Strange and stupid and jarring that she can hate him so thoroughly in the daylight and yet be so unable to summon those feelings up when it actually matters. She wants to be able to hate him, wants to hate this man whose bed she shares.

And it should be so easy, too. She knows it intellectually, logically, rationally -- she reviews it like this every night,
reminding herself why she should hate him and everything about him and everything he stands for.

She reminds herself that this is the man who deposed her emperor and who now rules the galaxy in his stead, the man who overthrew Palpatine in the name of the greater good, only to replace Palpatine's New Order with his own.

She reminds herself that this was the man who commissioned the new Death Star, after the destruction of the second. That this man was the one who commanded it to strike every and any planet rumored to house Rebels -- Kashyvykk, last she'd heard, though she'd heard threats that he'd strike as far into the Core as itself Corellia as well. By the hells, he'd wiped out the dust ball of Tatooine for next to no reason at all as far as anyone could see.

It had just been so damned unexpected when he'd seized power, or else something might have been done. The Emperor had only just been killed, overthrown by the Lord Vader and an unnamed stranger, known only to be the Dark Lord's son. No one expected that unnamed son to have Imperial ambitions so soon after the last coup ... the Lord Vader had died before the week was out.

Stars, no one had seen it coming -- maybe that's the worst part of it, to know that she was still reeling from the Emperor's loss when this upstart came to power.

He had been quick enough in announcing it, after the fact – the Holonet had been flooded with pictures of the new Emperor, smiling and waving at his citizens, delivering flowery speeches and flowery promises. And they'd rejoiced, damn them all, the Alliance included -- the Hero of Yavin had overthrown the Emperor and the Lord Vader both, what more could they ever hope for?

They'd stopped their rejoicing soon enough.

Stars, she wants to hate him.

Emperor. Tyrant. Murderer.

She tells herself she hates him, and she knows it's still a lie.

Hells damn it all, it shouldn't be so difficult to kill him. She's killed before -- stars, she's killed men far more innocent than him, with the blood of billions staining his hands. She's killed innocents, too, when it comes to that -- she's killed people for far more trivial reasons than this.

So she tells herself this, twirling the dagger idly between her fingers.

Force, she hadn't even consciously picked it up; it's become so much of a habit, at night, to reach for the hidden weapon. And the dagger would be best, she'd always thought -- quick and simple, slitting his throat from ear to ear or just plunging it into his little black heart.

Doubtful, even, that she'd be persecuted for anything afterwards -- his Empire would fall the moment he died, as dependent as it was upon his rule and his will. The guards wouldn't even be alarmed until the next morning, and by then she'd be long gone.

Do it, her rational mind orders, do it quickly and do it now. Swiftly, thoroughly, before he has a chance to scream.

And she doesn't strike -- not yet, at least.

She's had this knife hidden here for weeks now, maybe even months. She sneaked it in, concealed in her clothing -- the Empress' gowns were more than elaborate enough for that, at least -- and kept it carefully since then, hiding it when the servants came to clean, cautiously putting it in the last place anyone would ever look. It hasn't been difficult, not really -- the room is plain for an Emperor's chambers, but she's had more than enough training to cover this.

How long has it been? Weeks, months? Surely not a year, yet -- she'd know if it had passed that marker, surely.

She tells herself that she's waiting for the right moment. After all, it's been too long, too much planning and too much sweat invested in this, not to savor the sweetness of his death. She's waiting, she tells herself -- waiting for the right time, the right night, the right moment.

He groans.

She starts, almost dropping the knife and catching it by the handle at the last moment. And hells, wouldn't that be wonderful -- hide a knife for weeks and months, only to drop it at exactly the wrong time ...

His sleep isn't peaceful, anymore. The little smile is gone, replaced with a grimace of something that looks like pain --

"Leia," he murmurs, "Leia, where are you?"

This is familiar, at least. She's heard this one before -- he's calling to Leia Organa, or so she's assuming. The princess of Alderaan rumored to be his lover, or so went the old reports. She'd looked it up after the first time; shortly afterwards, she'd found out that he'd had those records destroyed.

Perhaps she should be upset that he's calling out another woman's name in their bed, but, truth be told, she doesn't give a damn.

"Where are you?" he demands, sounding more angry than anything else. The Emperor, by now, is quite used to getting what he wants. "Where are you?"

She watches silently, knowing what comes next. She can't take her eyes away, even after so long -- it's fascinating, dangerously and morbidly so. She can't help but look, can't help but listen, but she hasn't yet been able to quash the ridiculous uneasiness; it feels like she's violating something, watching him fight his private battles.

It feels like voyeurism, almost, to watch something so private and so personal -- worse than voyeurism, because she's watching something that was never meant to be physically expressed. But ... stars, she can't keep her eyes away, can't help but listen as he fights his demons and the ghosts of his last life.

"Hate you," he snarls and whimpers both at once -- she'd never known that was possible, before now -- and his fist tightly gripping the pillow. "You left me. Everyone leaves."

Stars know he never expresses these sentiments in daylight. In daylight, he is the Emperor, the Dark Lord of the Sith, the ruler of the known galaxy ... but at night, he is somehow someone more and someone less, someone she's never met face to face and can't help but wonder about. She doesn't know this man who shares her bed, has never seen his face, really -- perhaps he looks a bit like her husband, but he isn't, he can't be.

"Should have killed you myself."

It's gone on like this for Force only knows how long. She's all but memorized it by now, the tiny variations notwithstanding, and she knows that he's at the end. This is the way it always works, these nights -- first the pleading, the begging, the rising anger, the threats. Sometimes he starts cursing or sobbing, but not often anymore; he's getting used to the despair, she supposes, even as she's getting used to this stars-forsaken life.

It only takes a few moments for him to return to a quiet sleep. If he's not sleeping as peacefully as before, she can't do much about it; he'll sleep through daylight, as he always does.

If she's going to do it, she may as well do it now.

Nevertheless, she hesitates. She can't help it. It's so unexplicably hard to do this deed, to finally do what she's been
waiting so long to accomplish. Weeks, months, perhaps even years -- she doesn't keep track, doesn't want to keep track -- gone into this moment, and she can't help but hesitate.

Stars damn it all, why does her conscience nag her so?

She tells herself there's nothing she should be worried about. Stars -- she's been waiting for this for so long, Force knows how long, time longer than anything that can be measured in mere centuries or eons. There is no reason why she needs to hesitate, why she needs to stop to wonder about the blue of his eyes for stars only know why --

I hate him, she tells herself, and strives her hardest to believe it.

So before she can change her mind yet again, she drives the dagger down --

-- and he catches her hand, twisting his arm around in an arc to pin the knife against the wall.

She tries to struggle, but his grip is painfully tight. Stars, he's awake, his eyes alight with something so terrifying and at the same time so lost --

"Did I do the right thing?" he demands, and it's so unexpected that all she can do is stare.

Blue eyes darken in what might be rage, and for the first time in a long time, she is afraid of what lies behind that stare. Because when his eyes are clouded over with that anger, when the power he inherited from his father flows through his veins ... he can do anything.

Will do anything, in fact.

He shakes her wrist, strong fingers digging painfully into her flesh, but she can barely feel the pain through everything else. "Stars dammit, did I do the right thing or not?" he snarls, pulling her close and forcing her to meet his clouded blue eyes. Stars, she can all but physically feel the darkness gathering around him -- the little hairs on her arm want to stand on end for all the static that isn't really there.

But her own anger is rising up by now, fear of his power or not, and she meets his glare with her own. "Let go -- you're hurting me," she snaps.

And abruptly, he does let go. It's only through a supreme effort of will and a bit of Force-enhanced acrobatics that she manages to keep from tumbling ungracefully off of the bed without his hand for support.

Once she regains her balance and manages to look his way, fully intent on following through with the old castration threat, she discovers that he's silently sitting back on his haunches, staring at his hands as if they belong to someone else.

She stares.

"Oh Force, what did I do?" he whispers, gazing at his hands in horrified fascination. The darkness, the anger, the madness is gone -- all of a sudden, he's not the Emperor anymore, not the man she hates so much ... just a lost little farmboy with no idea where he belongs. "Stars, what did I do?"

She hesitates.

Moves carefully forward.

"Did I do the right thing?" he asks, and this time he's not demanding but begging. The Emperor is gone, the Sith is gone, the all but omnipotent ruler of the galaxy is gone ... and, for the moment, she sees the late Luke Skywalker.

She sees a lost farmboy from so many years ago, his innocence now stripped away and the weight of a thousand regrets piled upon weary shoulders.

She sees the Jedi that lost his path, the light dimmed and replaced with a darkness far easier and far more alluring, a potent force that called to him with whispered promises of salvation.

She sees the man that might have been, swallowed by darkness and consumed by a force far beyond his understanding. It was his good intentions that led him down the path of damnation, she knows, the good intentions of a single man that buried a galaxy in darkness.

The lesser of two evils is still evil, and a compromise with darkness brooks nothing less ... but he must have been a good man once, she thinks as she soothes him with gentle little nonsense words. A dreamer -- looking to cure the galaxy of its ills and willing to give his soul for it ...

And she sees how someone might have been able to love him for that.


"Shhh," she tries to soothe, stroking his golden hair slowly, slowly, until his sobs begin to quiet. "You did what you thought was best -- no one can expect any better."

He whimpers, and she does her best to quiet him.

She's always believed in dispensing truth. And she knows that this is the truth without quite knowing how, knows that the truth is still endlessly more complex than that -- it isn't the sort of question that can be answered with a simple yes or no, and she doubts she'll ever understand entirely. But it is better, she's always thought, to hear the truth and live with the truth rather than to hear a lie and base a life on falsehood ...

She continues to stroke his hair, to pat his back, to whisper nonsensical nothings into his ear until he relaxes in her embrace, and he stays in her arms, his whimpers gradually dying as she holds him, until he falls asleep.

She stares at him a long time after he falls asleep.

Stares at him, stares at the dagger in her hand.