Title: Antithesis
Author: VAParky
Characters: Vader/Anakin, Padme
Genre: Angst
Summary: Vader prepares for the task he fears most – remembering Padme.

Disclaimer: To this day, I do not own Star Wars!
Author's Notes: Statements in italics indicate Vader's thoughts/memories. Please review if you have a moment! Your comments are always deeply appreciated

She is nowhere.

The thought came unbidden into his mind and he cursed inwardly. He hated this day. The realization of the task that lay before him was enough to make him rage at the stars, at his destiny... and even at the Force itself.

It was the day his buried memories always began to surface.

He knew the pattern. At first they would come in quick flashes, cleverly deceptive in the innocent scenes they depicted. But those quick glimpses were enough. A tiny crack would form, streaking its way through his normally impervious mind shields until the contrasts between Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader blazed forth in an ugly light.

Eventually, he would succumb. For several hours, he would hover in that blissfully ignorant state - where he was young and whole and blissfully in love. The way it used to be.

The way it was supposed to be.

But then he would wake.

Many agonizing minutes would pass before he gathered enough of his will to smother that small kernel of himself that still remembered... But he was always successful and when he finally rose, he would be ready to serve his Master completely and without question.

There was nothing that could be done; the cycle would repeat until the day he passed into the Force.

And now, once again, it was time.

He strode through the narrow hallway, his scarred face pale behind the ebony mask. Around him, the walls gleamed in muted tones of silver, white and tan. The lines were clean and crisp - the epitome of ruthless efficiency and unapologetic in their lack of style. Even the access controls were concealed behind sliding doors to carefully shield the blinking array of colors from sight. She would have hated it...

The lake house blended into the surrounding environment, echoing the curves and contours of the land, not defying it. Inside, she had adorned the walls with vivid artwork and tapestries, personally selecting them for their warmth and splendor. The windows were almost always open, an unspoken welcome that let the soft breeze from the water mingle with sunbeams. But even that wasn't the most beautiful sight of all...

She was...

His mind once again carefully blank, he turned a corner sharply and sent a frightened young lieutenant crashing to the durasteel floor with a simple flick of his wrist. He never paused, the moment of violence scarcely registering in his besieged mind.

She is nowhere.

He absently noted the menacing shadow he cast and winced inwardly at his appearance. She wouldn't know me. She would fear me. The realization caused him to grit his teeth, but he refrained from shattering the source of his ruminations. The lighting tubes in this section of the ship were simple features, but difficult to replace. They stayed cool to the touch, giving off no warmth even when activated for days at a time. It was a beneficial attribute, especially when dealing with regulated temperatures inside such a large ship. She wouldn't have cared for it...

He lay curled on his side, breathing in the scent of her hair as she finally gave in to sleep. A feeling of utter peace washed over him as he watched their shadows dance across the far wall. His own eyes growing heavy, he pressed a kiss to her temple and rolled away for a brief moment. Bringing his lips near the flickering candle, he enjoyed the warmth of the flame as it caressed his skin. With a simple sigh of contentment, the light was extinguished and he returned to his wife's side.

His step never faltered as he entered the Command Bridge. The uniformed men jumped to attention, their hearts mirroring the motion as they leapt to their throats. He turned to the highest ranking officer.

"Have the coordinates been entered as I requested?" he barked.

"Y- yes, my lord," the Captain responded nervously.

"Very good," he paused for a moment as another wave of dread passed through his embattled body. "I will retire to my quarters and I am not to be disturbed."

"Of course," came the relieved response. "I will see to it that you are left alone, Lord Vader." His words echoed through the cavernous room. Alone... Alone... Alone...

She is nowhere.

Fitting. After all, it was the way it always had been since that fateful day.

Without moving from his spot on the deck, he watched the Captain begin to gasp for air. After some of his frustration began to subside, he released him and the weak man sank to the floor, coughing loudly. He waited until the Captain's gaze came to rest on him fully and then flatly issued a final warning:

"That is a mere taste of what will happen to you if my orders are disobeyed."

Spinning on his heel, he entered the corridor that led to his quarters. His boots clicked on the metallic floor loudly and the sound began to grate on his frayed nerves. The surface was hard and unforgiving and he bit his lip as the repeated impact caused the nerve-endings just above his knees to ache. She would have done anything to take away my pain.

Their last picnic had been filled with laughter and light teasing. The ground was soft and inviting, only requiring a blanket to be fully comfortable. As night fell, his head began to ache and he lowered it to her lap. For a full hour, she kneaded his temples, paying no mind to her cramping fingers. Finally, she sensed that his pain had lessened and she leaned forward to see if he had fallen asleep.

Her eyes met an excited blue gaze and he pointed a finger to the sky. Following his unspoken instruction, she titled her head back and gasped in delight as a shower of stars streaked overhead. Taking turns, they made a flurry of wishes, each declaration more outrageous than the last until she whispered, "I wish we would never have to be apart again." He had taken her into his arms then, vowing to never let her go.

It was a promise he had kept. In his own way.

They stayed in that spot until the sun began to rise, the ground never growing hard or unwelcoming.

With a derisive scowl, Vader entered his suite and circled the dreaded object that stretched out before him as if he were stalking some sort of prey. Alerted by his presence, his primary medical droid rolled out and activated the oxygenated chamber that would enable him to sleep, free from his helmet.

"It is good that you are doing this now, sir," the droid intoned. "If you had delayed any longer, scar tissue may have started to grow around the mask."

With a curt nod, he lowered himself to the cushioned sleeping board. The droid wheeled over noiselessly and released the locks that held the helmet in place, lifting it off with a hiss. Instantly, his scarred lungs struggled for air and he wheezed as the top of the machine slowly slid into place. The instant it sealed shut, his chest relaxed and he forced his fists to unclench. Reluctantly, he allowed his eyes to close, waiting for sleep to come.

He waited with a mixture of terror and hope.

For in his dreams, his memories come to life.

And she is everywhere.