Relief

As the shocks suddenly deserted his body, Luke sagged against the restraints, his head lolling to the side as his neck lost the strength to keep it upright. The sudden weight caused the binders that were welded above his head to bite into already bloody wrists, but the young Rebel couldn't find the strength to care. His arms had held that unnatural position for weeks, straining back and shoulders to the point that Luke was sure his upper extremities would be permanently maimed.

The torture droid scurried out of the cell, ushering in the next phase of his 'regimen' as Luke thought about it. Groaning and shivering, Luke shuffled against the wall of his cell and retreated into himself, unable and unwilling to face the nightmare mask again. Stars, he hurt all over. Help me, Ben, he pleaded with the spirit if his dead mentor. I can't face Vader like this. He'll break me for sure. The last thought was accompanied by fear bordering on panic. He didn't want to give in, betray his friends and sign their death warrants, but if he faced the Dark Lord of the Sith like this, he knew he wouldn't be able to hold anything back, not even his name.

Relax, Luke. The voice drifted out of the ether, just like it had over Yavin. But unlike the battle with the Death Star, Luke didn't think he could follow the ghost's instruction. Miraculously, he went limp. His shoulders were wretched out of their sockets as he stopped even trying to remain upright. The welts and slashes on his back complained loudly as they scraped across walls purposefully roughened to the texture of sandpaper. He bit his tongue against a howl of agony as he methodically, purposefully forced every muscle in his bruised and broken body to relax.

Ben had once mentioned something about healing with the Force, he mused, his conscious mind going flaccid with the rest of him. How did it go?

Let go, Luke. His defunct teacher answered the question, sort of. Luke gave a mental shrug. He didn't have anything that he wanted to keep right now anyway. So what did he have to loose? He 'let go' of the pain, and to his bemused surprise, the pain left. He let go of the entrances to his mind and felt them snap shot with all the finality of a blast door. Then, beginning with his arms, he began to let go of the injuries.

XXXXXXXXXXXX

Darth Vader approached the cell that held his latest catch. The door stood open, as always. With the boy's binders welded to the opposite wall, his psychologists had informed the Dark Lord that the sight of 'freedom' without the means to achieve it would strain the recalcitrant child's psyche more than containment in a closed box. Of course with an entire legion or three of stormtroopers between him and the nearest shuttle off-base, the still nameless Rebel wasn't going anywhere anyway. His escort waited two doors down the corridor and he entered the cell alone.

His breathing was not his own to control, otherwise he would have gasped at the sight that met him. He had expected the usual welcome of fiery glare and icy silence. Instead, the stubborn child that had given him more than a few headaches over the past month hung in his restraints, eyes closed and breathing as deeply as his physical contortions allowed. Taking advantage of the prisoner's unconscious state, Vader took a moment to study his victim. Tousled blonde hair was matted with blood, sweat and tears, forming an unruly mop that Vader knew would never remain in place. Lean, lanky body betrayed a child just out of his teens and taut with the passions of youth. Not even the scarring beginning to form on his pulverized torso could release the tense idealism the boy stubbornly clung to. The dimple in his chin would keep him forever young. And a face that Vader knew could be open and sincere, even though he had never seen in it anything but the blank slate of determination and the twisted mask of pain. The boy looked, Vader admitted to himself, a lot like he himself had when he was younger. He finished the thought quickly, not allowing Anakin Skywalker to rally support from memories that only caused pain in the end. Besides, he berated himself, he was here to do an interrogation, not to search his own soul.

Ruthlessly, he probed the boy's mind, and was thrown out of the mental touch with enough force to cause him to stumble backwards a few paces.

You are strong, young one, the Dark Lord thought at the far too silent mind of his enemy. Too strong for your own good. This time when he probed, he felt his prey's subconscious grab his mental hand and voluntarily pull him within the barriers it had created. But only past the first level. Once through the gates of the Rebel mind, Vader encountered another shield, stronger than the first if that were possible. The self-image of his adversary coalesced in from of him.

Stay here, the boy ordered before walking off. Vader noticed with interest that the mental projection was clothed in Tatooine farmer's garb, as opposed to Rebel fatigues. Interesting. Having no intention of following the impertinent child's request to stay put, Vader attempted to delve deeper into his host's mind, only to be firmly, yet gently, rebuffed. He then tried to exit the mental 'room', and was restrained from leaving in the same way. Viciously, he struggled to leave and felt as he did so the power flowing through and out of him. He cursed in Huttese. The untrained idiot was drawing the Force through him! The child was doing something he didn't even know was possible. Unless it wasn't possible and Skywalker was betraying him. That had to be it; Vader would not admit any other explanation.

Vaguely, he reintegrated his physical senses, but was still unable to break free of the mind that held him. Vader thus watched as the mysterious Rebel used power drawn from within the Dark Lord's still Light core to erase a glaring bruise that marred his face. The boy had to have trained longer than he had been led to believe, Vader concluded. No one with only a few days training could accomplish that!

I am a fast learner, the boy commented, reforming in front of Vader's mental eyes. Anakin jumped on the line and reminded Vader that he had once avowed himself a slow learner. Vader mercilessly beat the Jedi Knight into submission. He refocused on his captor, who frowned confusedly at him. So are there two of you or what? The child asked.

I am the only one you need worry about, boy. Vader growled.

The Rebel shrugged. OK, I'm going to be a while healing, so we can talk now.

Vader's blood began to boil at the thought of being trapped in this mind for hours on end. He recognized the technique, unfortunately. By allowing him the use of his physical senses, the child was leaving his mental door 'open' to Vader, but not giving him the means to escape.

Feels like a jawa without a droid to sell, doesn't it? The other observed in his thoughts. Vader started, surprised that the boy could hear his thoughts and then at the familiar turn of phrase.

Who are you?

No one important, came the evasive reply. Why do you want to hurt me?

Vader was confused, the Rebel must have just enlisted or something. No one was that naive after a year of fighting. We are enemies, he stated the obvious.

The young man shook his mental head. Enemies hurt each other on the battlefield, not when the battle is over.

Enemies don't care when or where they hurt each other. Vader informed the painfully innocent other.

Then what's the point of war? His captor/prisoner asked simply.

To decide which enemy rules the neutrals. Which version of what's best for them they are to be given, Vader recited one of his first Sith lessons.

Shouldn't the neutrals rule themselves? I mean only they know what is truly in their best interests. Vader couldn't answer. Anakin had dragged the memory of a similar discussion with Padmé out of nowhere, and he couldn't spare attention for the blue-eyed enemy that silently watched the interplay.

So there are two of you, the child observed, then noticed how Skywalker was a bloody mess from too many mental battles with his darker self. Instantly, the boy's half-smile became a frown. You're hurt. Here let me help. Vader felt the Force flow through him reverse, feeding his own failing cells instead of his victim's. Vader brought the contact to a screeching halt when Anakin began to glow in his mind's eye. He then grabbed the stubbornly alive Jedi and shoved him back into the mental labyrinth he'd thought the other was permanently lost in.

Are we done here? He hissed at the young Rebel. At that moment, the boy looked so much like Anakin, it was all the Dark Lord could do to restrain himself from mental violence.

You mean you want to leave? The boy asked sadly, even as Vader felt himself being returned to his own mind. All you had to do was ask.

Vader regained control of his own body and stood, eyeing the still unconscious, but now mostly healed prisoner slumped against the wall. That entire exchange should never have happened. The Dark Lord submitted only to his master, yet an unknown child had brought the Sith to his knees. He turned to leave then thought of one last thing. Are you the Rebel who destroyed the Death Star? He had to know if this was the same presence that he'd felt above Yavin.

A mental shrug. Yeah, you already recognized me, so what's the point of denying it?

Vader exited the cell; at least he'd gotten something out of the child. On impulse, he reached up and closed the cell door, giving the captured Rebel total privacy for the first time in a month. He then returned to his quarters for the night, and tried not to think about why the constant pain he'd lived with for twenty years had suddenly dulled.