Disclaimer: I do not own Star Wars. That right belongs to George Lucas. It should be noted that some things are borrowed from Greg Bear and Jude Watson, both who write EU (Extended Universe) Star Wars books.

Writer's Block: Flowers and Friends by Yamiyugikun. This Naruto fic is rated T and has shoujou-ai. This fic is an amazing piece of artwork. The details and metaphors woven into the story make it a rich reading experience. The romance is wonderfully written. It's sweet, and gives you a sense of being simple and pure. I love Ino and Sakura's interaction with each other. The characters are beautiful, the descriptions are beautiful; simply put, the story is beautiful.

Ack! I apologize that it took so long for me to write and post this. I ran into a bit of trouble with inspiration; the ending I wanted was a little difficult in conveying. And once I was finished with writing it, I worried about how realistic it was…so I procrastinated in posting it. Honestly, if it wasn't for my friend Sarah (alchemy dream) reading this over beforehand and giving me her positive feedback, this chapter might have been a long way in coming. Thank you so much, Sarah, for sticking with this story to the end and helping me fine-tune this chapter. Your insight is amazing, as always. :)

I just want to thank everyone who's ever read this and reviewed. I love all of your comments, from the critiques to the compliments. As we all know, good things must come to an end. I only hope that this last chapter ends with enough of a bang to leave an impression and keep you thinking about it for a little while longer. And who knows, maybe my story will prove second-read-worthy, with all of its little twists and turns (I do leave hints for everything, if you can find them). Your entertainment is my enjoyment.

Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Page Amount: 8

Word Count: 6,392

Written 2-20-06

Listening to: Narnia soundtrack "The Stone Table"

Written by Ice Dragon3

Jedi Genocide

Chapter Twenty-Two: The Fire

Darth Vader was in his house, slapping water on his face as he rinsed soapsuds off his newly clean skin. The porcelain white tiles of the bathroom hurt his eyes, as did the white light fixed right above the sink's mirror like an accusing eye. He knew that Leia and Luke must be in the house somewhere, but the buzzing in his ears made him unable to hear anything outside of his own thoughts. It was as if he were entirely alone, an entity of black trapped by this white, glaring box that separated him from touch and time.

The sound of rushing water gurgling down the drain made its way through the haze in his ears, and absentmindedly he twisted the knob off, halting the flow and noise. Darth Vader looked himself in the mirror, and was surprised to see that the soap had mildly irritated his eyes, making the lower rim a bruised red. But then again, they did itch, so he shouldn't have been so shocked by his less-than-perfect appearance.

He had taken a shower after coming home, wiping off soot and blood and something less tangible with a washcloth and soap. He had cleaned his hair calmly, brushed his teeth, and thrown away the now-useless clothes in favor of a new, clean, ink-black outfit. And then, feeling that his face still felt slightly dirty, its pores clogged with sulfur-ridden dirt, he had cleaned his face once again using the bathroom sink.

And that brought him to this moment in time.

"You look horrible, Anakin," Darth Vader said to his flipped reflection. "Get a hold of yourself. You asked for it, and you received exactly what you wanted. Stop feeling…these feelings. Think ahead, there's still the final piece to play before you can safely say 'check mate.' Your opponent's not going to go easy on you, as this last experiment taught you."

There was no time for 'feelings,' for thoughts of 'what if' and 'could I have…?' The past was dead, an unchangeable carcass, and he could only move forward, ever a parasite of the future. It was a future that was oh so near…a step and a half away from becoming the present. Darth Vader licked his chapped lips—damn those extreme temperatures—in anticipation, and then grimaced as the bitter taste of soap coated the tip of his tongue.

Slapping some more water on his face to rid himself of the last clinging residue of soap, Vader inspected himself in the mirror again. Damn, his irritated eyes were still acting up…

No matter, though, none of this mattered right now, these minor inconveniences and twinges of phantom emotions. The last of the Jedi were dead, falling into his trap as easily as a deer chased to a canyon does, all broken bones and death now. He had thrown all their bodies off the side of the platform, had watched with morbid satisfaction as the hungry lava tugged them into its heated bowels until not so much as a finger was left floating.

His brilliant master plan had worked. He was living proof of it, and the Jedi dead proof. Obi-Wan, his unwitting accomplice, had played his part marvelously. Darth Vader knew from the beginning that Obi-Wan's sudden interest in him was not a return of feelings but a turn of mission goals. While he may not of been able to get cameras or listening devices into the Temple building itself through various flukes and mistakes, that didn't mean he had been unable to spy on Obi-Wan to learn his true intentions. Those transmitted waves of data, coming and going from Obi-Wan's comlink, were as easy to tune into as regular radio stations for someone like him. He not only had the money and motivation, but the talent necessary to make the action appear almost magical in the effortless way he performed it. A twist of the wrist, tap a few buttons, and there it was, pulled out of thin air with far more brilliance than a white rabbit—Obi-Wan's sweet tune of treason being sung out like a nightingale's song.

Darth Vader had allowed Obi-Wan to get close, knowing that he could achieve two goals if he spun his web just right—so that his butterfly would be caught but unharmed in the sticky, delicate-looking threads. And he had done it—his web was so beautiful, so symmetrical, so goddamn perfect that there was not a flaw to be found in his plan. He had manipulated the threads just so, and with every subtle tug and shift another life was caught in its sticky grasp, doing exactly what he wanted. Some he left rotting in their gluey prism, others he killed quickly, and a very select few he spared. Though for some that clemency was temporary, as he was still trying to figure out what to do with them—Granta Omega being such a case.

Everything had worked out perfectly, as if it had been a rehearsed play that they had practiced millions of times, the characters all knowing their lines, their entrances and exits. If he had typed a script they could not have followed their cues more closely. Palpatine's final exit had been right on schedule, as soon as he had been sure that Obi-Wan would not try to run away; his rise to power; the demise of the Jedi…all of it had happened smoothly and flawlessly. Obi-Wan, though unwilling and distant at first, had slowly accepted his role in this 'play' as the main character's lover. And although Darth Vader had had to use some…persuasion…to get Obi-Wan to fully commit to the role, in the end everything had worked out fine. With the Force—as with all types of power—the end justified the means.

Everything was going as planned.

But then why…? He looked at his face in the mirror again, at the redness of his eyes that was not from the demonic rage of the Sith or from stupid soap bubbles, but from something more remorseful and human…

"Knock, knock," a smooth and amused voice said, followed closely by the actually rapping of the door. The voice was familiar, and brought to the mind the sensation of rich, dark, blood red velvet; he knew the man well, though he would not call them friends.

Darth Vader growled, averting his eyes from the detestable mirror and yanking the door open. "Omega," Vader said stiffly, rage darkening his face and mood. "I clearly remember telling you that you were never allowed in my house."

Omega raised his hands in a sign of false surrender. "Come now, is this the way a host should act? I clearly remember you saying that too, so there's no need to repeat yourself. I know how it goes: business is business, and personal is personal."

"Then what are you doing here?" Vader stalked to his room, motioning Omega in angrily. It was bad enough to have the imp in his house, but he didn't want his children to come in contact with him also.

"Business, of course," Omega replied smoothly, all false charm and smiles. The nicer he acted to a person, the more wary they should be; it always foreshadowed the gleeful ruin of someone.

Darth Vader raised an eyebrow, the impatient look on his face expressing clearly that Omega had better get to the point soon, or else he'd have no breath with which to talk with.

"I thought that, being the good person I am"—Omega smile gained the flinty edge earned through irony—"to tell you that Obi-Wan stumbled across something that wasn't in the plan last night. I gained him access to your room, like you asked, and everything was going perfect—he found nothing useful except your schedule—when an unexpected player decided to enter onto the stage. He goes by the name of Tyro Caladian; I checked it out and it's his real name."

"Yes, I sensed that force signature on Obi-Wan when he came home," Vader said irritably. "You're not telling me anything that I don't already know."

"Don't think that the Force gives you all the answers, Vader. I bet your Force didn't tell you that Tyro decided to 'help' us by finding top-secret information on your plans for the Death Star."

Darth Vader remained silent; however, it was such an abnormal stillness in both body and expression that it did nothing but betray the raging of his inner demons.

"Ah ha, I thought so," Omega said smugly, "Surprise, surprise, what a wakeup call, eh? I just thought I'd stop by an old friend's, and tell him that his plan isn't exactly following the bulleted outline. And I suggest that you fix things very quickly. Time is ticking, and you don't have very much left."

"And how would you suggest I fix things?" Vader asked in a surprisingly quiet voice, a consequence of him having to repress so many murderous desires. His fingers twitched with the urge to just wrap the Force around that scrawny neck…

"Kill the senate aid, make up some excuses for your lover, and get better protection software," Omega listed off laconically, holding up a finger for each point.

"And were any copies of this information made?" Darth Vader asked carefully.

Omega gave him a half-nod. "One. I gave it to Obi-Wan for 'safekeeping.' I figured if I didn't do something with the information, they would become suspicious of me. I'm sure that, with your close and loving bond—free from any lies and deceit—it'll be an Alderaan breeze to get the data back."

Vader watched Omega closely, his blue eyes flashing dangerously as he said, "Are you sure that only one copy was made?"

Omega grinned and joked, "Vader…does this look like a face that would lie to you?"

Scowling and turning away from Omega, Darth Vader dismissed the man with an imperial wave of his hand. "You have said what you came here to say, now leave before I help you—out the window."

Giving a light laugh as he went to the door, he said casually over his shoulder in a chiding tone, "Really, you don't have to be so mean about it. Just because your feelings got hurt that little Obi actually did what you wanted him to do—betraying you, betraying Jedi, etcetera etcetera—doesn't mean you can lash out at everyone else. You knew what you were getting into from the beginning.

"Your hand is dealt, so play with it or fold."

The wooden door groaned as an enormous amount of Force slammed into it, causing it to crack and hunch into itself as if in pain—but Omega's slim body had already slipped out of the room and evaded the would-have-been fatal attack. Darth Vader could hear the faint sound of cold chuckles through the warped wood, and rage bubbled up in his blood at the taunt.

He gazed at himself in his bedroom mirror, and what he saw there was to his dissatisfaction. When he crushed the glass with his mind, it was out of anger caused by Omega's lies—lies that had no truth in them.

Calmly straightening his black tunic, he strolled out of the room. Gone was the rage, the red eyes (of either kind), the clenched fists, the twisted snarl. "Leia, Luke? I'm going to the Temple now, so be good for Artoo-Detoo. I plan on being back soon, so I'll make dinner then, okay?" His children, oblivious to the monster lurking inside Vader, said inattentive goodbyes as they continued to play their three-dimensional holo-board game.

Tugging on his black boots and cloak, Darth Vader dressed himself for the final act.

"Are we really going to go through with this?" a nervous and low voice asked. Its owner faired no better. His face, normally tan, was unusually pale. He couldn't stop his hands from moving restlessly. They were like wild sparrows caught in a cage. "Can we really do this?"

"Of course we can, and are." The second voice was dismissive, so cool and collected that the temperature seemed to drop by minute degrees when it spoke. It betrayed nothing. "Everything is coming together. If we don't take this opportunity now, it'll be gone forever."

"I know…but still…I can't help but feel nervous. Like there's something we overlooked."

"No plan is perfect. If possible problems weren't taken into consideration, if flexibility wasn't allowed, then yes, I would say that we wouldn't have long to live." The charming man gave him a quick smile and chuckle, and the nervous man with sparrow hands shivered and wondered if the temperature had dropped down another few degrees. "But I'm guessing, from all things considered at this point, that our survival rate is very high—very high indeed."

"Can you be sure?"

"Only with hindsight."

The joke was not received well, most likely being mistaken as an honest reply. The nervous man gave him a curious look, and the friendly smile dripped off the other man's face like melted wax. Now frowning, he snapped out angrily, "Don't ask stupid questions. Nothing is ever certain. But your fear of failing is the reason why you are taking orders from me, and why I won't be taking them from anybody, soon. So shut up and let me concentrate, or else we really will be killed."

Commander Keller shifted nervously on his feet, his clone trooper armor clacking quietly with every small movement.

"I said, shut up," the other man stated irritably, glaring at the fidgeting clone. "I can't think with that noise."

Like the good soldier he was, he obeyed the command given to him by his superior.

A pale, human hand scrabbled under one of the six storage closets in the silent room. It was as if the entire Temple was holding its breath, wondering what would happen next. The fingers brushed up against ice-cold metal, and as the handle was grasped it felt as though the Temple let out a rush of stale air.

Obi-Wan felt terrible, truly terrible. Anakin was probably dead by now—though he couldn't be sure of anything. He hadn't had the heart to go back to Skywalker Skyscraper, knowing that he would have to face twin looks of disbelief and hurt on Luke and Leia's faces if he did so. It didn't matter that all his stuff was there, that the twins were probably confused and worried. Poor things. He wasn't going back. He had done the right thing, but the cost had been his heart. He knew that the hurt would fade away in time, that he would begin to rationalize everything sooner or later, but right now he didn't care much to think. He preferred to wander the halls of the Temple, wearing one of his old Jedi outfits that he found lying on his closet floor, discarded and holey.

He felt like a ghost, wearing his tattered Jedi outfit that spoke of history long past, of the glory and peace of the fading Jedi Order. He felt like a ghost, insubstantial in soul, walking down remembered halls in a daze that created a thin veil between him and living.

Well—it couldn't be helped now. Anakin was dead. Surely Yoda would give him a call soon, and then he could start planning for the future. The Galactic Empire would be in a weakened state as soon as news of its leader's death hit the HoloNet, and the Jedi would have to step in quickly before an ambitious minion took over or civilization imploded. And to think of things on a more selfish level—yes, the petty thoughts that arise in the greatest times of despair—Obi-Wan really did need to get himself a lightsaber…

A slight breeze drifted through the hallway, heading towards the exit. Frowning, Obi-Wan wondered if the air-conditioning had fritzed slightly, spitting out a stronger gust of air than usual. Rubbing his arms to try to get the goosebumps to settle down, Obi-Wan added 'fix air-conditioning' to his long list of necessary duties, and continued to haunt the halls.

Darth Vader was driving to the Temple when something in the air twisted, becoming unpleasant. His body was suddenly hypersensitive. The feeling of clothes on his body, his hands against the steering wheel, the flashes of light coming from the approaching Coruscanti traffic headlights—all became magnified. His mouth felt dry, and he licked his lips with his tongue. It felt like the rasping of a cat's tongue against his lips, more like sandpaper than smoothness. Something was about to happen, he could feel it in the charged air around him, in the quick swirls and eddies of the normally calm Force. And it wasn't something that fit neatly into his calculations.

Suddenly worried, he stepped down on the gas, hurrying to his destination. The speeder shifted to a higher gear, and he swore he could hear the clicking of metal on metal as the engine grinded down with new determination and fury. He had to get there quickly, before this ominous warning became an ominous action.

For the first time since he had finished weaving his web, he wondered if perhaps he was just caught up in something much grander, much larger, than anything he could see on his own. He wondered if perhaps in his focus, in his unwavering concentration on the design of his own little section of silk thread, he had become oblivious to the minuteness of his own labors.

Obi-Wan's wandering of the halls was abruptly stopped by an object in his direct path; or rather, by a person that was blocking his way. Obi-Wan took a hesitant step forward, hand held slightly out in front of him as if he wished to offer it in friendship and comfort, but was too unsure to complete the action. "Darrien, is something the matter?" he asked quietly and calmly.

He had never seen Darrien—calm, collected, silent Darrien—in such a state before. Dark brown hair and the downward angle of Darrien's head made Obi-Wan unable to see most of his expression, but what he could make out startled him. Darrien hiccupped and, as he wiped his forearm across his eyes, nodded his head shyly. The other hand hung limply at his side, not knowing what to do with itself. "I—I'm fine, Master Obi-Wan."

"You don't look it," Obi-Wan said as gently as he could. He wanted to take another step forward, but thought against it—Darrien was not one for physical contact, and often Obi-Wan had witnessed him shifting away from those who tried to sit too close to him during meditation.

Darrien bit his lower lip, and when he looked up at Obi-Wan his brown eyes were full of sadness and something indescribable. "I don't feel it," he admitted hesitantly.

"Do you want to tell me what's bothering you?"

"It's just…everything that's been going on has made me think of my…parents." Darrien scrubbed at his eyes again with the heel of his palms. "I've just been feeling so much stress lately, and then having to go through the pain of Tarren and Skraith's deaths—it was a lot for me to take in all at once. It made me start to have nightmares about my parents again. You know, the ones I used to have when I first came here." He looked away, embarrassed to admit to this weakness. "I end up hating myself all over again every time I wake up."

"Darrien, you know that you were not at fault for what happened to your parents. You were only a baby, and untrained. It was a defensive action on your part—" Obi-Wan stopped abruptly, realizing that he wasn't helping the situation by looking at it from an intellectual point of view.

"Perhaps you would like to tell me about it?" he asked unobtrusively, allowing Darrien the choice to confront or avoid the topic.

"Y-yeah, that would be nice," Darrien said. Obi-Wan motioned towards a bench close to them, but Darrien shook his head 'no.' "I don't feel like sitting. I don't think I could talk if I did that—I would just feel too exhausted, and would only want to sit there and never get up again. I know that it's not entirely my fault for what happened to my parents, but in some ways, it is. Yeah, so my dad pounded on me and my mom, and my mom in turn took her anger out on me, but still…I don't know what came over me that one day.

"I must have been four or something at the time, and when my parents started to yell at me, stopping their own argument like they sometimes did to gang up on me… They weren't even hitting me," Darrien said softly, "It wasn't as if it was the worse I'd ever experienced. Yet, something about that day made me snap. I was suddenly screaming. All these pent up emotions inside of me, all this frustration and anger and hate, were suddenly pouring out of my mouth, and I just wanted to hurt them so bad—and I was hurting myself in the process, but I didn't care. And then, suddenly—they died. I know now that what I did was a 'Force Scream,' and one of the moves a Dark Jedi will often use when frustrated, but I didn't know that then. All I knew was that my problems were suddenly solved. But before I could even feel relieved, I realized that I now had nowhere to go, no way to find food, no way to survive.

"I don't know how, but by some miracle I found my way here. Still to this day, though, I sometimes wonder if I should have died in that house too, with those horrible people—if maybe I'm a horrible person myself." Darrien looked down at his clenched fists. "I don't talk a lot because I don't want to intrude upon these kids who deserve to be here, good kids from nice families who just happened to share a unique ability. And…because I'm a little afraid of what might come out of my mouth again."

Obi-Wan's heart, which he had thought had turned to dust when he had given Yoda Anakin's schedule, told him of its weak but still functioning existence by swelling with the need to comfort this youngling. Darrien's need of human understanding reminded him that there were still reasons worth living and working for. "Darrien…" he started out, but whatever words he was going to say died in his mouth before they were even fully born. Expressions and clichés were useless—language was useless.

The hairs on the back of his neck rose a split-second before Darrien rushed at Obi-Wan, giving him an unexpected hug. Obi-Wan wrapped his arms around the child, 'shhh'ing him and trying to calm his sobbing by rubbing his back comfortingly. There was a slight rustling noise as Darrien buried his face further into Obi-Wan's ratty, coarse Jedi tunic.

"Darrien, I—" and suddenly Obi-Wan stopped, mouth open in surprise. Eyes wide, he pushed Darrien away. The child stared at him sullenly, and not a tear-streak was to be found on his face. Obi-Wan lifted a hand to his chest, where the pain was being emitted. His fingers came away a sooty black.

"I always hated you," Darrien said coldly, suddenly sounding more like the person Obi-Wan was familiar with. The hurt child was gone, the little boy who needed to talk and receive comfort. Darrien was standing in front of him, the true Darrien. The mask he had worn just now—a child feeling guilt—and the mask he had worn almost all his life—the silent boy who worked hard to be a Jedi—were suddenly melted off in a passionate fit of heat and flames. This Darrien was neither childish like the first mask, nor as silent and controlled as the second.

This Darrien was—Darrien.

"I hated that you had so much power in this Temple, ruling us like a tyrant—just like my mom and dad. Palpatine told me about you, about what to expect from you. He was the one to find me, after I had killed my parents. He told me that he had sensed my strength when I had used the Dark Side, and that with practice I could become powerful." Darrien was arrogant, proud of this fact. His brown eyes flashed, quick intelligence and quicker savagery darting in their depths like piranhas.

"He told me that all I had to do was prove that I could kill a Jedi, and he would teach me the ways of the Sith. He told me that the powers of a Sith stretches even into death, and that if he should die he would still be able to whisper their secrets to me in the dark. He showed me your pathetic Temple, and told me that if I killed you, I would prove myself. Well, I have! I have defeated a great Jedi Master!

"Jedi are so pathetically easy to deceive—all it took was one conversation on my part to make Carra unable to think of anything other than those storage closets. The mutt would have led me there himself—probably handing me the keys on the spot—if I had asked, he idolized me so much, but why get directly involved when other options existed, I thought. The only one who had any suspicions of me was Skraith, and well, we know what happened to him. Noble Skraith, dying for the greater good—and in repayment you allow me to deface his name, his actions, his words; you practically asked me to do so with your questions. The third was not Darth Vader, but me."

Darrien's bragging was cut short when rapid footsteps were heard racing down the hallway. Fear peeked through the cracks on Darrien's resumed mask, and with a start the youngling raced away in the opposite direction, lightsaber turned off and quickly hidden in his tunic again. He never once looked back at Obi-Wan to see what happened to the man who had taken care of him, and who he in turn had killed. For all his boasting, Darrien was, in fact, a manipulator and a coward, and a child.

"Obi-Wan? Are you there?" Darth Vader asked as he rounded the bend. Then, with a strangled cry, he saw Obi-Wan's body curled up on the floor. Suddenly, the coldness of Darth Vader, his prepared speech that would somehow persuade Obi-Wan of his actions being for a greater cause, was gone. Anakin ran to Obi-Wan and lifted him up slightly, staring into his dazed eyes that still showed faint signs of life.

"Hello…Anakin," Obi-Wan said weakly, trying and failing to smile.

The lump in Anakin's throat kept him from replying.

"All right, you men remember what Darth Vader said! No one comes in or gets out of that Temple, you hear me?" Cody barked orders to the stormtroopers around him. Darth Vader was in a testy mood, and Commander Cody in no way wanted to aggravate the Emperor. Darth Vader had given him clear instructions that what went on in the Temple was private, and that he didn't want any disturbances. The stormtroopers were Darth Vader's way of making sure that nothing interfered with—well, whatever it was the malevolent dictator intended to do. Maybe Darth Vader was planning another slaughtering of the younglings in the Temple, and this time wanted to do it alone.

"Makes me wish I was in there. He's probably killing all those younglings, just like last time," Commander Appo said, uncannily saying what Cody thought. But then again, all clones coming from the same chain of DNA, certain eerie similarities were to be expected.

"I was the commander he chose for the job last time," Appo went on to say proudly, "and I only wished he'd let me join in on the fun this time. Though I'm wondering why he asked for two commanders, each with their own respected troops, to be here. The job of securing this area only takes one." The way Appo said it made it clear who he thought was more capable of the job.

"He probably sent you because you're his 'favorite' commander—or so you like to say, anyways—and me to keep you in check. You get a little too trigger-happy at times." Cody wasn't exactly happy with this turn of events either.

Their slight argument might have escalated, had not a smooth voice interrupted their conversation. "Hello, Commander Cody, Commander Appo."

The two commanders, at the same time, turned to regard the newcomer distastefully. Neither liked the too-savvy, too-slick man. "Omega," Commander Cody acknowledged the acquaintance of Vader. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm here to see how events unfold, is all," Omega said calmly. Unexpectedly, the two commanders felt guns aimed at their heads. "And if you keep your heads about you, you might get to witness how things play out also. Commander Cody, Commander Appo, I'd like you to meet Commander Keller and his men. We're here to add extra security to the grounds."

Omega smiled, pleased as a cat and power-hungry as a shark.

"Commander Keller, I'd like you to put Vader's beloved children into the Temple. Then, I'd like you to 'secure' the grounds by locking all the doors and windows. After that…" Omega's smile widened. "Burn the building to the ground."

"What!" Commander Appo said in a burst of anger. "You can't do that to Darth Vad—"


"Commander Cody…" Omega turned to the other, still-living commander. "Do you have any complaints that you'd like to address to me before we proceed with securing the parameters?"

Cody looked at the body of Appo, and at the bloody pulp where the head used to be, and shrugged, saying, "None, sir." He felt no true allegiances to his leader. His own survival was foremost in his mind. His genes did come from a bounty hunter, after all.

Omega gave a small chuckle. His blue durasteel eyes and black hair seemed to gleam with an inner sheen brought about by his anticipation and excitement. "Smart man, Commander Cody. Commander Keller?"

The other commander jumped to attention like a well-trained pup. "Sir?"

"You know what to do."

"Yes, sir!"

Anakin cradled Obi-Wan's head in his arms. It no longer mattered that his heart hurt from Obi-Wan's betrayal of him. Obi-Wan was slipping out of his grasps, second by second, and all Anakin could think of was that there had to be some way to save the dying man—some sort of dark trick of the Force that was a cure-all, fix-all solution. Maybe—maybe if he used one of those little children-monsters as a sacrifice…

"Obi-Wan?" Anakin choked out, "Hang on, okay? I'll find a way to fix you, to heal you. Just hold on for a little longer." He clutched Obi-Wan to his chest tighter.

"Anakin…it's too late." There was humor in Obi-Wan's voice, though it was faint underneath all the pain. "You never did know when to quit."

"I—I came here, planning on forcing you to see my point of view. I knew that I was going to hurt you, but I figured that you'd realize sooner or later that I'd done it for your own good, but now…there's nothing really to say, is there? I refuse to accept that you're dying, but still, all the same—please, just tell me once more that…that you love me."

"Anakin…" Obi-Wan sighed, and it hurt his chest to do so. He knew that he had precious few minutes left to live. "You know the answer to that question."

"Just—just tell me anyways. I need to hear it from you."

Obi-Wan closed his eyes and said quietly, almost regretfully, "I am a Jedi foremost."

"No—no you're not!" Anakin cried out, the despairing sounds being ripped out of his throat, "You're not a Jedi at all!"

"I am a Jedi foremost—but even Jedi can learn to love," Obi-Wan concluded, opening his eyes to smile weakly at the crying Sith Lord. His hand found Anakin's and intertwined their fingers. His eyes stared right into Anakin's murky blue eyes—full of turbulent and choppy waves—and in their green depths were a million sentences that had never been spoken, that could never be spoken now.

Then the gaze slipped off to the side, staring unfocused at some point beyond Anakin's head. All the intensity in those eyes, all the unsaid words, dissipated into nothing. The moss green eyes gained a soft, slick gleam, an inner light that only entered the body once. It gave the face one final spark of brilliance, the beauty of a dying star, before inviting its fellow companion in, Death. "The Force is calling me. Goodbye, Anakin, this is the end…and the beginning."

Staring beyond the distraught Anakin, Obi-Wan died with a small smile on his face. It was a mysterious and disturbing thing, this gentle smile that spoke of knowledge the living were not privy to, of understanding that the living could not grasp. Anakin could not stand the look of those still luminescent eyes and closed them by sliding his hand down the motionless face, letting two calloused fingers draw down the eyelids to cover those earthy green eyes one last time.

The Temple burned an angry, accusing red. The fire was a snarling tiger, spitting and hissing and lashing out at anything it touched. The beast's tail twitched angrily, showering the walls with fire flecks in its agitation. Its orange and red coat ruffled in the wind, glossy and jagged and terribly beautiful. It greedily sank its fangs into the building. It licked the ceiling with its rough, unforgiving tongue and dragged its nails across the walls. It prowled the halls, ever growing larger and ever growing fiercer, becoming more and more wild and savage. Pure impulse, it had no sense of mercy, no sense of right or wrong, of what humans deemed 'morals.' Survival was all it knew, and if the tiger stopped feeding it knew instinctively that it would die. So it consumed, and consumed, and consumed. It gorged itself greedily on support beams, on easy-burning delicacies of paper and carpet. In its gluttony it grew larger, belly swelling and burning with an intense, skin-scorching heat.

The Temple, hollowed out by this hungry parasitical beast, began to crumble. First, only a single wall gave out. As if encouraged by this sign of faltering, entire sections of ceiling began to collapse, too tired to keep their rigid stance. Walls slumped down in defeat, crumbling as the fire tiger prowled restlessly through the air-depraved corridors in search of fresh oxygen and fuel.

Commander Keller watched the fire silently. He was fearful, yet in awe, of this monster. There was almost an inspired feeling in its devastating destruction, how the fire flickered upwards in curls and blackened the building slowly. The five spires of the Temple were slowly, gracefully, crumbling as the fire climbed higher, racing upwards and upwards to the sky. Black smoke filled the air, filled his lungs. It got in his eyes and made them water. Yet he could not turn away from this almighty, artistic demon. If he were to believe in Hell—which he didn't—he would think that its fortress would look something like this. All blackened and crumbling, half-standing and half-dying with flames burning fitfully.

He jumped when he heard a pounding sound nearby. His grip on his gun, before limp in his knowledge of how useless it was against this fiery foe, tightened as he aimed it at the metal door. Barely able to take a few steps forward, so great was the heat of the flames, he heard a faint sound on the other side. It sounded like…

"Children," Commander Keller gasped. His fingers itched nervously on the trigger. He didn't know if he should blast the door open or leave them. Their pleas and tiny fists, pounding on the scorching metal, horrified him. The door began to bubble in the heat, and he heard a shriek on the other side. He winced, knowing that some small hand had been charred.

He took another step forward, determined to—

"Stand down, Commander Keller," Omega commanded him sharply. Commander Keller reacted spontaneously without thought, instantly stopping. He turned to face his superior, hating himself for his absolute in obeying orders and hating this man before him for giving them.

Omega's pale, white hands were folded behind his back as his ice blue eyes calmly surveyed the damage. His black hair had red highlights in it, loaned to him by the radiant fire. The demonic fire raging before him made his command pitiful, his strength weak. Though he stood straight, he appeared small before the power of this monstrous tiger. He was made of substances that the fire could melt in seconds—he was a creature that lived and died by seconds when compared to its vastness. His petty plans and plotting were insubstantial, his dreams vague, his worth little. He was a fragile creature, built up on letdowns. Yes, blood did pulse beneath a thin layer of skin, but when compared to the heat and passion of the fire he was already cold as a corpse.

When faced with this demon, Granta Omega, a person of power and prestige, money and stature, was stripped of all that raised him above society. He was nothing more or less than a man.

But when Commander Keller looked him in the eyes, he still couldn't help but shiver. When faced with an immortal foe—time, disease, natural elements—Omega became human. But when a mortal being, susceptible to death, faced the resourceful man—well, he became something less of a man, and more of a monster.

"We live by our choices, Commander Keller, or we die by them. I don't know how strong the will to live flows through you, but I suppose now is as good a time as ever to figure out." Omega raised a charcoal black eyebrow, challenging Commander Keller with the look in his blue durasteel eyes. "You can either burn now, or delay the inevitable."

Commander Keller stood down.