Author's note: This is the final piece in the Freedom trilogy. It takes place after Freedom but before Relief. I'll make a separate story called "Freedom Trilogy" for those that actually want to read all three in order without searching for them.
Disclaimer: All yours George forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive you for the Anakin/Padmé dialogue of EP3.
Alexis Kouman, probably the most sadistic of the detention block "doctors," exited the cell and nodded proper respect to the dark shadow that awaited him. "Why you had me knit that leg together, I don't know," he commented without preamble, bending like a hawk-bat to pack his case of needles back into the general supply cart, bobbing his head like the feeding scavenger he was.
"The Rebel cannot stand without it, and I have no wish to lose him because he cannot raise himself enough to breathe," Vader responded.
Kouman shrugged, bony shoulder blades threatening to shear through the waxy skin. "Your prerogative, My Lord. I personally think the wall treatment could keep him standing. He's out of it for now; I don't waste painkillers on scum." Plus, it gave him an opportunity for needle-work, his specialty. The particular blend of toxins this patient needed still had to be tweaked, but hallucinogens and stimulants seemed to be the most effective. Focused on his work, the doctor began to walk away, showing his back to the Dark Lord in a foolishly confident gesture. Invisible hands clamped down on his shoulders and spun him around. Vader silently gestured to the open door of the cell. Facial features were not necessary to read the unasked question.
The tight corner of Kouman's mouth raised half a millimeter, the largest smile his face could produce. The resulting crinkle halfway to his sharp, jutting cheekbone had all the softness of a vibroblade. Crow's feet slashed from the corners of steel-and-ice gray eyes, telling the tales of three decades as a doctor in name only. "You want to break that one, My Lord?" he asked rhetorically. "Then leave it open. The boy in there is used to close spaces and cramped quarters; what else can the Rebels afford? But the sight of freedom, within reach but out of grasp, will tear him down. Isolation isn't bothering him, so put him on display."
"I will not allow him a chance to escape," Vader objected, but gestured that the shrewd doctor say his peace.
Kouman spread his hands. "Then keep him chained. Even with the boneknit, that boy's not going anywhere for quite some time." Again, Kouman turned away. This time he was allowed to leave.
Vader watched the man leave resisting the urge to return to his quarters and purge his systems of the black grease that seemed to coat every interaction with Kouman. His master would not be pleased that he could not work with the man.
In a swirl of ebony cloak, the Dark Lord returned to his rounds of the detention block, pushing his unease to the back of his mind as he always did. If the Rebel was "out of it," than he had other prisoners to see to.
He entered the Rebel's cell after a sufficient time for the man to begin coming around. The boy hung in his restraints, but leaned against the roughened wall for support. Across his right shin, an angry red gash testified to where the boneknitter had burrowed into flesh to reset both bones and fuse them. The repaired leg held its share of the child's weight in a wide-set stance meant to provide stability and the illusion of power to the Rebel. Blue eyes, hazy with pain and burning in anger, fixed on him through dark lashes and ragged bangs.
For a while prisoner and Sith alike remained still. Finally, Vader broke the silence. "Speak," he commanded.
"Why?" came the reply, hoarse from the screams of pain Kouman had wrung from him. Darth Vader crossed his arms over his chest, refusing to answer the question. Silence again descended. Finally, the young man shifted, looking over Vader's shoulder. "You forgot to close the door," he observed.
"I forget nothing," Vader retorted. Even when you want to, something whispered at the back of his mind. "I have nothing to forget." The statement was spoken aloud, but was addressed to the voice that had just spoken to him.
"And I have nothing to remember," the Rebel replied. "Nothing you would want anyway. What memories I have are unimportant." The sentence came out in an eerie monotone and Vader felt the brush of what could have been a powerful Force-suggestion against his shields. The trick lacked the finesse it needed to be truly good, but on a weaker mind than Vader's, it would have simply overwhelmed the target with sheer power.
The Dark Lord swatted the probe away. The boy had Force-training, he knew this, and the suggestion didn't come close to working. "Your alliance would disagree," he pointed out, purposefully ignoring the mental command to drop the subject. Let the child think Vader didn't notice the suggestion. Let him keep an illusion of power, the Dark Lord knew differently.
"The Alliance knows my worth," the Rebel replied, straightening his shoulders to relieve the ache in his arms, or maybe to make himself look and feel stronger than he really was.
Vader grabbed the boy's head and turned it this way and that, examining his prize prisoner in the same way that in his youth he'd seen slave buyers inspect their purchases prior to payment. Such a young soldier to already be fighting, but no younger than he had been. You have never been young, the faint whisper in the back of his head refused to shut up. You have seen too much.
"And what are you worth to them, young one?" the Dark Lord spoke aloud to drown out the mental whisper. Privately, he wondered what sort of ransom the Rebels might pay for the release of this prisoner. Perhaps the surrender of a base? or another Rebel?
"Not enough for that," the boy cut in clearly picking up on the unshielded thought, "but they will rescue me." Simple trust glowed in that statement.
"But what condition will you be in when they do?" Vader asked ominously, ignoring the part of his mind that pointed out he had done nothing but talk so far.
The Rebel squared his shoulders and met Lord Vader's eyes, seeming to stare through the mask. "Do what you want, I'm not going to talk."
"You will talk and more," Vader rumbled. Gesturing, the Dark Lord released the binders on the Rebel's wrists, pinning him to the wall with the Force at the same moment. Brief surprise flashed across clear blue eyes, but the prisoner remained silent. A thought from Vader and the child was pulled from the wall to stand in the middle of the cell, his arms still fixed above his head.
"Letting me out of the cage to play?" the boy asked with dark humor.
"Any cage that holds you is of your own making," the Dark Lord solemnly instructed, stalking around the young upstart.
"Then you are behind more bars than I will ever be," the child replied, his words finding a sad echo in Vader's mind.
With a snap-hiss, Darth Vader ignited his lightsaber, holding it at the small of the Rebel's back. "I could sever your spine right now," he threatened. Go ahead, chop off a limb, his mind jeered, like that's going to bring your own back. He pushed the thought away and continued speaking inching the lightsaber closer to the Rebel's vulnerable skin as he did so. "What use will the Rebels have for a pilot who cannot walk? And that is what you are, is it not? A pilot?"
"I can fly," the boy answered pulling away from the blade as much as possible, "among other things."
"Ah yes, your Force abilities. Tell me, who was your master?" Vader held still awaiting the answer.
"I didn't have one," the Rebel responded.
With precision movements, the Dark Lord raised a painful welt along the sensitive skin of the Rebel's lower back with his lightsaber. "I know that is untrue, do not lie to me again," he warned.
"He's dead," the hoarse voice broke on that. "You killed him and I have taught myself since then."
"How long were you with him?" For some reason, Vader needed to know.
"Three days." That explained the crude and clumsy manipulation. "Why do you care?"
"I find Jedi are rarely as dead as I wish them to be."
Like Obi-Wan. Like Qui-Gon. The voice that tormented his nightmares had returned speaking of faces he had seen, voices he had heard, shadows he ignored.
Like you! The Dark Lord snarled, webbing dark tendrils about the flickering candle flame that spoke from the back of his mind.
I only speak the truth, Vader.
You speak Anakin's truth, and Anakin was a fool.
With a slight effort, the light threw off its Dark covering. Look to your prisoner, Vader, or lose him, Anakin warned vanishing from conscious sight.
Following instructions, Vader caught a mental call that, strengthened by hope, had almost escaped. "None of that, boy," he growled, tracing a line of fire between the Rebel's shoulder blades as punishment. "You are here and here you will stay, but I have more important things to do than deal with a petulant child." Things like hunting the Jedi in his own psyche.
Coming around in front of the Rebel, Vader was unsurprised to find the child almost sagging in his Force bonds. He held his lightsaber before the boy's eyes, tip almost touching the child's nose. "We still have much to discuss," he told the Rebel, "and you will share with me those 'unimportant' memories."
Holding his lightsaber at the hollow of the boy's throat, Vader forced the Rebel to back up against the wall. He noted with slight pleasure the pained hiss that escaped when the injuries to the Rebel's back made contact with the roughened steel. A single thought served to lock his captive back into the binders fused to the wall. Turning, Vader climbed out of the cell.
"He's a quiet one," the officer on duty met him just outside the cell.
"Indeed," the Dark Lord agreed. "Put him on droid rotation. I have no wish to break him anew each time I have a question to ask."
"It will be done, My Lord," the officer replied with a smart nod. As Darth Vader began to walk off, the younger man reached out to close the cell door.
"Leave it," Vader snapped, freezing the man as he stood. "Let us see how this 'quiet one' enjoys the music of his neighbors."
With a smirk of understanding, the officer scurried past Vader to log the new orders.
AN: Review and I'll respond.