Death, the rotten stench of it assailing his nostrils. Screams and cries and the harsh glow of his light saber all wrapping around his head, clouding his senses. And the boy, his blue eyes wide, his mouth opened in an eternal unasked question. The boy who, moments before, had looked at him with hope, now lying dead and bleeding. The blue eyes accuse him, even in their stillness.
You made the wrong choice, the eyes tell him. I died for nothing. You killed me for nothing.
"No!" He woke with silent screaming. Once the dream might have brought tears. His heart might have been pounding, his skin clammy with sweat. Now the machines that surrounded him, invaded him, didn't miss a beat. How can a machine have bad dreams?
He stretched out one hand, focused on the complicated task of dressing. Machines whirred and hummed, putting him back together again.
Except his heart. He didn't have a heart. That was broken long ago.
Finally his face mask was in place, the loathsome sound of his breathing filled his auditory sensors. He was complete. He was whole.
Darth Vader rose from his meditation chamber. The nightmare had been brushed to a forgotten corner of his mind, laid it there beside a cowering little boy who sometimes cried out for a mother he cannot remember. The dream would be back. It always came back.
His black cape billowed about him as he strode down the corridor. He could sense the snaking fear of those he passes; and beneath the fear is loathing. They loathe him. Ironic. He is the reason for their very existence, he embodies all they kill and conquer for - and yet they despise the very thought of him.
Vader paused, his optical sensors enhancing his destroyed eyes and enabling him to pick out an officer among the throng of meaningless Stormtrooper white.
"You." It is not a question or a request. It is an implacable command.
"Y-yes, my Lord," the officer snapped a salute. He seemed inexplicably proud of the fact that his hand only trembled a little, that the rolling waves of fear only brought the faintest sheen of sweat to his face. Vader could smell the terror radiating off of the grey-clad man. Fear of death, of pain, of rebuke - even fear of Vader himself. All the wrong things.
"Have you found Skywalker?" Darth Vader could feel this irksome boy who had now twice escaped his grasp, could sense his presence. Near, so very near. This time, perhaps, the boy would give in. To the inevitable.
"No-no, my Lord," the officer stammered, "but we are making every endeavor - "
"Enough," Vader reached forward, allowed the officer to feel a twinge in his neck, the promise of future punishment. "He is on the planet. I need not remind you that the Emperor himself has requested the boy's presence. It would not do well for you to disappoint him."
He knew that the watch for Luke Skywalker would now increase tenfold. Subtle threats were often more effective than crass orders. His Master had demonstrated that countless times over the years.
A tiny portion of Vader's brain screamed in agony at the memory of his Master's ministrations. The Emperor, himself purged of all the weakness of humanity on a windowsill long ago, bore no sympathy for any of his followers to be sidetracked by base emotions or feelings. Vader had sometimes forgotten his new place as Sith Lord, instead allowing himself to wallow in his loss, his grief, his guilt.
None of that had brought back Padme. Or the child that she had borne. None of his feelings had brought about anything but more pain. The cleansing fires of the Force. Wielded by his Lord and Master.
And his patience had been rewarded. Vader's smile echoed in his helmet as he recalled his final victory over Obi Wan. His one-time Master, now defeated by true power. The fool hadn't even fought, really, at the end. Only bowed to the inevitable domination of the dark side of the Force.
Now Obi Wan's pupil, Luke Skywalker, sought to undermine the Emperor's dominion of the galaxy. With a shadow's hold on the Force and a bag of parlor tricks, this young boy was trying to take down the most powerful Dark Lord ever known. Such arrogance was typical of the ones who confined themselves only to the paler light side of the Force.
That the boy was his son, the product of Padme's beauty and his power...
Vader tread through the hallways of the new Death Star, his footsteps ringing with ominous peals, lost in meditation. Hours may have passed, or days. Vader was never quite sure of time when he focused his mind on the Force. His deep thoughts were broken by an underling, stinking of fear, bringing him a message from the planet below.
"Lord Vader," the man said. He was dull and unimportant, and for a moment Vader considered snuffing out his life. "I bring you news of Skywalker."
Vader inclined his head, waited for the stormtrooper to swallow his nausea and continue.
"A man matching his description turned himself in to the garrison on Endor. We await your orders."
Vader paced, his black cape billowing and masking his hulking gate. No one now could mistake him for graceful. He ignored the trooper, who still stood at attention, waiting on the pleasure of his Lord Vader.
Finally, Vader turned and laughed, a choking, oozing sound that froze the hustling flow of the Death Star. Ignoring the hatred and fear that pulsate the Force around him, Vader turned and dragged the trooper behind him. The terrified man's feet slid on the floor and he scrabbled uselessly at the invisible grip around his neck.
"We're going to the planet," Vader ordered. "Make the arrangements."
He hurled the stormtrooper away, forcing the man to run at a most unseemly pace towards the shuttle bay.
"And you," Darth Vader pointed at another hapless trooper. "Assist him. I'll be in my chambers. Alert me when all is ready."
The stormtrooper signaled to a platoon of his fellows, and they marched with pristine formation off on the important business of their Lord Vader.
Watching them go, Vader found himself momentarily bewildered. The harsh glare of the lights enhanced the sharp ridges of black and white and metal that made up this strange new world. It was a long way from the soft, blurred edges of sand and sun.
It had been his world. No, that wasn't right. It had been Anakin's world. Anakin Skywalker, secret husband of Padme of Naboo, father to Luke. Anakin died in agony and fire, left like a dog by Obi Wan.
In his place, Lord Darth Vader walked. The weakness of Anakin had been burned away. He was now nothing more than a weak boy, crying for his mother in the corner of Darth's mind. Anakin had been alone, dying on a strange world, abandoned by his brother and his love when the Emperor had melded flesh with metal and Vader had arisen from the ashes. Anakin Skywalker died because he had been soft, too afraid to fully realize his power.
A failing shared by Anakin's son.
Darth Vader spent time in meditation, twisting the sinuous threads of the Force into a shield for his mind. Luke Skywalker may be nothing more than a boy, but the Force was strong with him. Vader could not be overly cautious.
A tinny voice paged him over the his comm link. With a grim smile, Darth rose from his meditation chair and made his way towards the shuttle bay. To put an end to the Skywalkers.
The ride down to the planet was uneventful. Except for the growing presence of the boy in the back of Darth's mind. He could feel Luke's power, his emotions. And the boy felt no fear towards him. No hatred. Just a sense of...
Darth Vader shifted restlessly, his anger towards Skywalker a steady buzz in his ears. Pity was a weak emotion. Better for the boy to feed on hate. That was the only thing that might keep him alive.
Upon landing, Darth paused for a moment. His expressionless mask turned towards the Endorean sky. The legion of stormtroopers who stood next to him couldn't know, would never realize how Darth Vader longed to feel the night breeze on his face once again. The last time had been...
So long ago. The air had been tinged with fire. Magma and lightsabers scorching his lungs; Padme's tears and pleadings, Obi Wan's broken cry.
"You were the chosen one!"
Vader flexed his hand. It was better to forget. All that was over, now. He had given himself to the Dark side, had cut down younglings in his masters name. Any forgiveness he might have earned had died with Obi Wan. This Skywalker, Anakin's son, was nothing to Darth Vader.
At a curt signal from the Sith Lord the lift was summoned. Darth Vader and two of the stormtroopers rode downward to meet with the Rebel prisoner.
Luke was ushered before him. In his face, Darth Vader could see so much of the young boy who raced pods across a water-starved world a long time ago. And yet Padme stared out of his eyes. Her hope, her love, her belief in him all echoed in Luke's eyes.
Then Darth Vader knew. That choice he had made all those years ago, that moment of decision where he had placed the life of his love above the lives of the entire galaxy, had come full circle. With that realization came another bone crushing epiphany.
He wasn't the chosen one.
Obi Wan had been wrong. Qui-Gon Jinn had been wrong. Anakin Skywalker hadn't been the one to whom the prophesy referred. He wasn't supposed to bring balance and harmony to the Force.
It was Luke. The young man who stood there so proudly in front of his father. The man who defied the Emperor, who found the strength to fight out of love and not hatred or fear. Luke Skywalker was the chosen one.
Underneath his mask, Anakin Skywalker felt a tear trace his withered face.
"I will not have lived for nothing," Anakin thought. "My death will not be in vain."
Disclaimer: Star Wars is property of George Lucas and random people other than me. I have a poka-dotted plot bunny named Hubert who claimes the fic idea. I just type.
A/N: Just a little bit angst. The scene is set in Episode 6, just so you know.