A Room with a View
Chapter Twenty – The Final Act
Author's Note: This, I am both sorry and glad to admit – is the final chapter of my story. I hope it will be better that all the other chapters put together and I sincerely thank all my brilliant reviewers who gave me alternately, criticism, adoration and righteous anger. Thank you, all of you and I hope this will fulfil all your expectations.
My brother's suggestion for this chapter was that zombies would eat Anakin's brain and steal his lightsaber. While giving this all due consideration, I decided that such a dramatic plot device would be inappropriate at this time.
PS – I suddenly realised that I have completely stolen Han and Leia's best dialog. Oh well…
This is the re-written version, because LL was right and I completed the last chapter at two o'clock in the morning. So… it wasn't quite as finished as it should have been!
Disclaimer: Own this, I do not. Broke already, I am. Belong to George Lucas the characters do. Yes…
The voice of my education said to me
He must be killed,
For in Sicily the black, black snakes are innocent,
The gold are venomous.
And voices in me said, If you were a man
You would take a stick and break him now,
And finish him off.
But I must confess how I liked him,
How glad I was he had come like a guest in quiet,
To drink at my water-trough
And depart peaceful, pacified and thankless,
Into the burning bowels of the earth.
Was it cowardice that I did not kill him?
Was it perversity that I longed to talk to him?
Was it humility to feel so honoured?
I felt so honoured.
And yet these voices:
If you were not afraid you would kill him!
And truly I was afraid, I was most afraid,
But even so, honoured still more
That he should seek my hospitality
From out the dark door of the secret earth.
He drank enough
And lifted his head, dreamily, as one who has drunken,
And flickered his tongue like a forked night on the air,
Seeming to lick his lips.
- Excerpt from D.H. Laurence's, Snake.
"He won't fall for it. He will sense something!"
"Learned this lesson from the Emperor, I have. Only when beings want to be deceived, can you trick them. He will sense nothing."
"I've found the stronghold –everything is ready. But I am still concerned about this trap. I have a bad feeling about it."
"Playing their cards, are we. Trickery and deceit – these things are the way of the Sith. Uncomfortable, they make you. But this, they will not expect."
Petva V was a planet covered in impenetrable, steaming jungle. The air was thick with moisture and it stuck to the inside of Lord Vader's throat and trickled down the back of his neck. He could deal with the arid heat of Tantooine, but Petva V was trying his patience.
The jungle was so dense that any vehicle was little more than a liability. The Sith Lord could sense the elusive presence Palpatine had spoken of, but its form was as intangible as the wind. It slipped around the edges of his mind, but remained obscure. He could sense where it was, though, moving deeper into the jungle. So he and Jade had set off on foot for, like vehicles, any escort he also deemed a liability when dealing with anything remotely to do with the Force. Of course, a guide would have been welcome, but Petva V had not yet achieved that stage of sentient life.
They'd been in the jungle for almost a standard week now and the precise hours of a galactic day were being replaced in the dark lord's mind by the primitive cycle of the jungle. The relative coolness of the shadowy pre-dawn murmurs, the deafening cries that accompanied the rise of the first sun and the gradual illumination of the garish swirl of the jungle colours, ripe oranges and tarnished blues with the distant yellow of the canopy above, then the rise of the heat with the rising of the second sun, heightening the pungent, alien smells of the jungle, those sweltering days that were sometimes accompanied by showers of rain so hot that they burned almost like acid. Then the heat slowly decreased and eventually the air filled once more with the cries of creatures fighting for a place to sleep, the shadows deepened and seemed to twist together and the air became still and oppressive. He could sense the dark jungle buzzing with fear as invisible predators silenced the shrieks of their prey.
He and Jade did not talk. Jade had kept a professional silence for the first few days, but eventually her resolve crumbled and she tried to talk with him, on one of those humid jungle nights that seemed to stretch on and on. His curt replies and controlled hostility effectively put a stop to any further discussion that didn't relate to the situation at hand. She had been told who he was and was clearly curious, even if she attempted to conceal it. But as his Master had once said, "Curiosity killed the gungun."
Vader observed Jade carefully as they tramped, his eyes trailing over her lithe figure, wondering whether that was what pleased the Emperor. She was attractive, no question, in the accepted, conventional way. She was clever, but not brilliant and she was Force-sensitive, but not exceptionally so.
The Sith Lord considered that he knew Palpatine and that he knew what attracted the sovereign. No matter which way he looked at it, Jade didn't make the grade. Palpatine always had ulterior motives, Vader was sure his Master would never sleep with someone just because he could. Did he seek to cement Jade's loyalty? She did seem fanatically loyal. But why was she so important that he considered that necessary in the first place? The Sith Lord clenched his jaw as thoughts pooled sluggishly in his head.
How could Palpatine lower himself to touch that ignorant girl? And why had he sent her with him? Was it pure malice? Vader certainly wouldn't put it past the Emperor, but somehow he had a feeling that there was another reason, although he couldn't begin to guess what it was.
At night, when the jungle was alive with the sound of death, Vader lay, staring up at the canopy, thinking of his Master, his thoughts refusing to settle in the sticky jungle heat. That soft skin would be pleasantly cool to touch, and smell faintly of some perfume and the robes would be silk, and rub against him, cold and comforting.
However much Lord Vader hated the days on Petva V – it was nothing compared to the loathing he felt towards the seemingly endless jungle nights.
Finally, his aching feet stopped dead and he smiled, his eyes radiating with the anticipatory gleam of the predator. He scanned the area slowly, trying listen through the sunset screeching.
"It's here," Lord Vader said quietly, "whatever it is – its here." He paused and to a step, inhaling deeply and whetting his lips. Mara looked around. This place looked no different from the many miles of jungle before it, but that only made her more uneasy. Her hands slipped to her blasters.
Suddenly the Dark Lord's head jerked up and his eyes narrowed. "Obi-Wan's been here…" he said tonelessly, his voice making Mara inwardly shudder.
There was a rustle in the bushes and the Sith Lord's red lightsaber ignited; swishing down easily, almost casually, into the foliage. There was a pitiful squeak and a small thump and then silence. Vader didn't look at her.
"Looking for me, were you?" a voice asked from behind them. Mara swung round, her weapons drawn. A diminutive, wrinkled, green alien with long wing-like ears stood before them, wearing a simple dun robe and leaning heavily on a stick. She glanced at Vader for instructions, blasters trained on the midget.
For the first time, Mara saw something that looked very much like glee spread across the Sith Lord's features. He bowed deeply to the alien. "Master Yoda," he said pleasantly and Mara saw a yellow light flickering in his eyes and she half-expected him to spring, like one of the jungle beasts.
"Vader," the alien acknowledged, not returning the bow.
Some invisible communication passed between the two and Mara inadvertently stepped back, shocked by the waves of power that flashed between the two beings. The small alien activated a shining, green beam of energy and Mara jumped aside as the alien flew at Lord Vader, lightsaber whirling.
There was no discussion and no insults, only bare, remorseless conflict. Mara assumed that the little creature must be a Jedi – so different from the Jedi of her imagination.
Master…? Mara called, certain that neither opponent would notice her.
Palpatine was silent and his mind was shut from her.
Master! She tried again, focusing with all her ability. He was deliberately failing to respond, she was sure. The Jedi… Master Yoda –
- Yes, yes, I know, came the Emperor's reply. He is no match for a Sith Lord. Lord Vader should have little difficulty in dealing with him.
The link ended and Mara was left to simply watch the duel. But it appeared that Palpatine's comments had been remarkably apt – for although Yoda was faster and more creative, he couldn't match Lord Vader's even strokes and used up much more energy than his opponent. But as Mara gazed at the Jedi, the tiny alien seemed to give out and his wise, golden eyes connected with hers for a moment, and the humming, red blade arched round and sliced though his small body.
Lord Vader stood, looking down at the dead Jedi. But, as they stared, the homespun robe collapsed in on itself and the green body simply faded away. The Sith Lord nudged the robes with his foot.
Obi-Wan closed his eyes as he felt the presence dissipate. Yoda's sacrifice was necessary – but it made his heart ache all the same.
Palpatine let the music wash over him, creating a beautiful framework for his mind to explore. The quartet was playing in an old Naboo form, obviously tailored to appeal to his tastes. The string harmonies evoked memories of his adolescence, when he had first discovered that he had a passion for music. Re-entering the galaxy from the silence of his apprenticeship, music had seemed like an abstract mirror of thoughts and feelings, something that could express every nuance of emotion with such clarity. He let his eyelids droop a little and let himself drift in the musical currents.
The sound died away the auditorium was still. Palpatine could sense the fear of the musicians and the tenseness of the audience. Gone were the days that applause could be given with impunity. The Emperor languorously raised his hands and began to clap lightly, the audience following suit, until the applause became deafening. Palpatine smiled ironically. He had probably appreciated the music much more that anyone else, indeed, the Imperial court had been sleepy with boredom, yet they were clapping far more vigorously than he was.
Sate Pestage leaned over to whisper in his ear. "Lord Vader is waiting for you, sire, in your private gallery."
The Emperor nodded and stood, forcing everyone else to their feet as well. "I'll see him now," he said quietly. "Oh, and kill the Zimmae player, his concept of Eirté's Lament was insult to the composer."
The Grand Vizier bowed and gave the necessary orders.
Palpatine paused at the entrance to the gallery. His apprentice stood there in the warm artificial lights, gazing at the portrait of Senator Palpatine. The Emperor smiled slightly with memories of the artist. The man had been so struck by his apartments that he had insisted on painting him surrounded by scarlet with Palpatine dressed in modest black. His acquaintances at the time had said that the likeness was excellent, but that it did not capture the feel of the senator they knew. There was an intensity, a disdainfulness in those features that was, they felt, completely alien to his nature. But the artist had seen it in him, and Palpatine found that interesting.
"I trust Master Yoda caused you no trouble," the Emperor said.
Vader turned and knelt, "None at all, Master." he said softly.
Palpatine approached his apprentice, while his likeness gazed down at them. Vader moved his hands upwards to grasp one of the Emperor's pale hands. For a while, he simply held it there, close to his face, while Palpatine stood, deciding what to do.
And slowly, ever so slowly, as if fascinated by that small, soft hand, Vader brought it down to trail against his rough cheek and finally rested it against his lips, and they opened to caress the Emperor's fingers. And still Palpatine did nothing, savouring his apprentice's capitulation, the apprentice who had left him weeping on that cold floor on Byss.
"I love you," Vader admitted. "But you've always known that, haven't you?"
His apprentice stood up, towering over Palpatine, still holding that single hand. Still, the Emperor said nothing, only gazed up into those deep blue eyes. "So small…" Vader murmured, "So beautiful."
And there was a breath and then the Emperor was lifted up and enfolded in those arms, in a way he remembered, had longed for, in the secrecy of his deepest thoughts. He let that touch push past his carefully constructed defences and opened his mind to his apprentice and felt… inexplicably happy.
They made their way up to the Emperor's chambers, Palpatine in the lead and Lord Vader following quietly behind, slowing his pace to allow for the Emperor's small steps.
When the doors hissed shut behind them, there was perfect stillness for a moment and Palpatine could see his reflection in the transparasteel window, and watched as his apprentice wrapped those large hands around Palpatine's slender form and bent down to bury his face in the ginger curls which were already stroked lightly with grey.
Palpatine's eyes closed as he was once again pressed against that familiar body. He let the tension of decades slide out of his muscles, and was lifted up into the arms of his apprentice, to meet those eager lips. He was lowered gently onto the bed, and they continued to kiss, slowly, knowing they had all the time in the galaxy.
To the Emperor, the movement of their bodies was like a glorious extension of the music, as they throbbed and coiled against each other, forming harmonies of touch and sweeping melodies of sensation. Then suddenly, something jarred horribly and everything was abruptly silenced.
The clone gazed down at the body that lay spread-eagled on the bed, the neck bent at an unnatural angle. Master Kenobi had destroyed the Byss citadel. There was nowhere for the Emperor's soul to go. Anakin was the last clone, and he was configured to do his duty. For the Jedi.
But… he saw how he could become this man's lover. And that frightened him beyond belief.
Darth Vader gasped as a terrible shock ran through him and his head jerked up. A horrible feeling of loss assaulted his senses. He glanced over at Mara Jade, whose mouth was wide open and her face empty of colour. She made an anguished screech, and fell forwards, Vader only just managing to stop her head hitting the flight navigation systems.
The Sith Lord propped Jade against her chair and searched inside himself for the link that had been there since he was young, that deep connection that had sustained him through so much. He reached out with the force, desperately searching for it, but all he found was emptiness.
And he knew that the thing he had dreaded and fought for years to prevent had finally occurred.
"It was like being connected to another ship and having that ship unexpectedly torn away, leaving him open to the freezing, airless void of space."
Fear of loss. Fear of loss had made Palpatine virtually annihilate his own feelings. Fear of loss had made Anakin Skywalker turn to the Dark Side. So much fear. So much waste – why?
He shuddered and clenched his fists so hard that blood began to drip onto the floor. Palpatine… his lips moved but no sound came out. To realise that he would never again receive that pale blue stare, that there would be no one, no one at all, who loved him.
He had abandoned everything for the Emperor. He had ended countless lives, fought endless wars, given up everyone else, all for Palpatine.
And now Palpatine was gone.
And finally, Vader understood his Master perfectly. He understood that cold, implacable hatred that had governed Palpatine's every action. He understood that arctic loathing of the universe and everything it contained.
"Are you even human!"
Master Kenobi looked down at the Emperor. Lying submerged in that large bed, the dark, shimmersilk sheets ruffled and creased around him, Palpatine looked as small as a child. His head lolled back on the pillows, revealing the fact that his neck had been broken. The originator of so much suffering and yet his death had been so quick, so painless. He might even have died happy. Obi-Wan turned away.
"What do we do now?" Anakin asked.
"Now…?" Obi-Wan mused, stroking his beard. "Now, we wait."
Darth Vader strode purposefully up the great marbled corridors of the Imperial Palace. Everything appeared to be functioning as normal. It gave him a feeling of unreality, it seemed impossible that they could fail to know what had happened.
Sate Pestage attempted to stop him entering the Emperor's chambers. His hand flew up and the elderly Grand Vizier hit the wall and crumbled onto the highly polished floor. The Sith Lord did not break his pace.
The door hissed open and Vader stopped, staring incredulously at the being before him.
It was like staring into a mirror.
And the dark lord comprehended everything. "So…" he said quietly, "you finally have the perfect apprentice."
The clone looked to Obi-Wan for guidance; the Jedi Master shook his head.
The new Sith Master stepped into the room and the door slid shut behind him. He looked over at the bed and drew a deep breath. "You're afraid of me," he told the clone. "I can feel it. You're afraid of me because I'm what you could become."
"I fear nothing!" the clone spat back, blue eyes blazing, drawing a blue lightsaber that Vader recognised.
"No," said Vader calmly, "you're wrong. I fear nothing," he looked across at Obi-Wan, "because I have nothing left to fear."
He drew his lightsaber, smiling slightly as it ignited.
The clone lunged at him, Obi-Wan close behind. Vader easily parried their advances, deflecting one after another. Immediately he saw that his old Master was not going to survive this battle. Vader had come a long way since their last duel. He let go of his lightsaber with his left hand and calmly threw one of Palpatine's prized statues at the Jedi Master. Obi-Wan dodged, but barely. Before Obi-Wan could collect himself, Vader lunged and drove his weapon into his Master's chest, whipping back around to block the clone's advance.
"How could you love that disgusting old man?" the clone hissed, as their blades sizzled against each other.
"How could you not?" said Vader simply, breaking the connection and forcing the clone back. The clone flipped aside and landed in front of the bed, the Sith Lord following. The clone fought furiously, fought with a passion Vader knew intimately and instinctively how to counter. He lunged and the clone jumped backwards onto the bed, making the Emperor's body bounce slightly. The Sith Lord gathered the full force of his anger and hurled it at his double, just as Palpatine had taught him to do so long ago.
The clone flew backwards and shattered the transparisteel, sliding down the slope of the pyramidal Imperial Palace, crashing down onto a docking entrance several levels below. Darth Vader jumped, concentrating to slow his fall, feeling the air rushing past. When his feet connected with the ground, a blade of humming blue energy streaked towards him, and he only just managed to deflect the blow.
"You hate me," said Vader, forcing the clone to once again retreat, "that's good, because I hate you more than you could possibly imagine."
"I did something you should have done long ago!"
The Sith Lord blocked the thrust and cut under the clone's lightsaber, and watched as the red weapon burned into the clone's heart. He drove it in to the hilt.
"No. You did something that should've broken your heart."
He deactivated the weapon.
When he returned to the bedroom, Mara Jade was leaning over the dead Emperor.
"Is he dead?" she asked hoarsely.
Vader nodded. Now that he had nothing to focus on, his eyes misted over and he found it impossible to speak. The cold wind of Imperial Centre swirled around the room. The lightsaber slid from his sweaty hand and fell to the floor. His knees gave way and he collapsed beside Jade, his eyes on his dead lover's face.
She reached down to touch Palpatine's forehead. "Do you remember," she asked vaguely, "the story of Darth Plagueis the Wise?"
Darth Vader stared at her in astonishment. He opened his mouth to speak, but Jade brought a finger to his lips, a glimmer of something in her green eyes that he'd never seen there before. "Yes," she whispered, her young lips curving into someone else's smile.
She turned away from him and closed her eyes, long red hair falling across her face, obscuring it from view. There was an ignition of something in the Force, like the birth of a galaxy, everything in the room seemed to contract for a moment and Jade collapsed. Something moved through the air, brushing past the Sith Lord's face and beats of power spread out around them.
The figure on the bed drew a long, shuddering breath. Blue eyes regarded Vader sleepily. "She agreed to it," the Emperor said dreamily, "how could her devotion run so deep?"
Vader's eyes flicked to Jade, her body lay still.
"Hold me," thin lips whispered, almost inaudibly.
Wonderingly, still not quite believing his eyes, Vader gathered up Palpatine in the sheets, and the Emperor shivered, naked apart from the shimmersilk covers.
"I love you," he murmured in Darth Vader's ear.