Disclaimer: The characters aren´t mine. A pity.

Luke Skywalker was taken completely by surprise, when the prisoner, who should have been too injured to move, very suddenly rose like a thunderstorm and grabbed the Jedi´s throat with his right hand, pushing him against the wall and up, until their faces were level with each other. Blue eyes blazing, the tall man snarled: "You didn´t know the Jedi the way I did!" He hissed at Luke, who tried to break free from the other´s hold, but was slowly weakinening with loss of oxygen. The two guards, who had been equally surprised stepped in and one put his blaster rifle´s muzzle to the prisoner´s left temple:" Put him down, Vader," the soldier ordered quitely. And the Dark Lord obeyed, letting the Jedi Knight drop to the floor in a tangled heap, then taking two steps back, suddenly deadly pale. He slumped to the floor opposite from Skywalker, exhausted. The other was shaking his head now to loosen the daze he was in, then turned his eyes to the captive. "What do you mean?" He asked, truly curious now. But the Dark Lord didn´t answer. The rebels had captured him only two days ago. The day the second Death Star had been destroyed, the day Palpatine had died, the day when.... No. He couldn´t think of that right now. Not under his enemy´s eyes. He would not permit himself any weakness now. There was no point. Not anymore. Seeing that he would get no answer to his question, Luke rose carefully, then motioned the guards outside, following them. Before the security door slid closed, he threw a last look at the dark-haired Sith, who seemed to have lost consciousness now. To have him here, to get his revenge at last, it was a delightful thought. But the Dark Lord´s comment about the Jedi was disturbing. If he knew something that Luke didn´t, he needed to get it out of him before the warlord´s impending execution. Maybe Master Yoda could help. They would pick him up in three more days at Dagobah, then fly to the current Rebel Headquarters at Dantooine, where Leia and Han and the others were already waiting. Leaving the prison block of the battleship `Liberty`, Luke couldn´t hide his glee, though. Vader would pay for his crimes against the galaxy and for everything he had done to harm Luke and his friends. For killing my father. For killing Nomi.

Darth Vader had his eyes closed. His breathing was shallow, when one of the medics assigned to the prison block came in, accompanied by two guards, and injected him with a pain-killing substance. She looked him over quickly, then disappeared again. Now that he was alone again, and most likely would be for some time, Vader sighed deeply. What had triggered that sudden outburst back there had been the young Jedi´s careless comment about "You Sith."
"You Sith should never have been allowed to gain power," he had said, including Palpatine there, and that had truly rankled. Palpatine might have been a Dark Jedi, but not Sith. Vader was all that was left of them. The last Sith. Blinking back unbidden tears the Dark Lord remembered the past. He remembered first meeting Palpatine, when he had been a fourteen year old youth, a student at the Jedi Academy on Coruscant. Where the other apprentices his age already went on missions together with their teachers, he had had the Jedi Council to teach him and never left the Academy. His father had sent him to Coruscant to learn, a gesture of good-will towards the Jedi, one they saw as a chance to influence the young son of the Dark Lord of Sith. When he had arrived at the Academy he had been all wide-eyed curiosity, until he found out that the training he had previously received from his father put him ahead of the students in his class. Confused about what he was going to learn here, Vader had been relieved when the Council took it upon themselves to teach him. At first. Soon he saw through their attempted manipulations and refused to listen to their lectures, at least inwardly. The other students thought him arrogant and he wasn´t well liked. With one exception. The newly knighted Obi-Wan Kenobi had taken an interest in the Sith lore and tried to befriend him. Their friendship developed gradually, carefully. But in the end it payed off on both sides. Palpatine. That was what he had been thinking about. Palpatine had found him one warm evening atop the students´quarters, practising with his lightsaber. He told Vader that he was mature for his age, whatever that meant back then. Vader was sixteen then, and about to leave Coruscant for good. Palpatine, like Kenobi, had shown an interest in the Sith, and he was sincere, that the young man could feel through the Force. When Darth left the Academy two years later he knew that he had found an ally in Kenobi, one who might be able to sway the Council´s stance towards the Sith one day. And in Palpatine, who was a senator at that time. In high spirits, he returned home. Only a year later, though, his father died, leaving his only child to rule the Sith wisely. Unfortunately his son had seen more of the galaxy than any Sith in many generations, ever since the Jedi´s verdict that any Sith caught outside their system would be executed on the spot. They were afraid of the Sith´power. And rightly so. The story of the Sith had been a glorious one once. Not anymore. but the young Dark Lord was determined to change that. His people wanted to be free again, independent, just like everyone else. Luke Skywalker didn´t have a clue about all this. Nor should he. The Sith were dead, and their memory would die with their Dark Lord, forever.

When Luke entered his quarters, he immideatly went to take a shower. Meeting with Vader always made his skin itch. The last battle with him had been fierce and hard. It had been back on Endor, when the little team under Han Solo´s command stormed the bunker which stored the Death Star´s shield generator in the early morning hours, with a load of ewoks backing them up. Luke had gone immediately for the Dark Lord, whose impressive black-armored form was clearly visible among the white-clad stormtroopers. But he hadn´t been able to reach him at the first go, or the second or third. Other enemies were demanding his full attention, as if on purpose. When hours later the Death Star finally exloded in the blue midday sky above Endor, Vader was standing atop a small hill, fending off his attackers with wide sweeps of his blood-red lightsaber. He had turned his head to watch the explosion for a moment, Luke remembered, but the Dark Lord´s anguished cry ripping through the battle noises brought his attention back to the scene on the hill. From a distance, he saw Vader fall to his knees, and heard him scream again. He had run for the hill then, hefting his lightsaber, unmolested by the stunned troops watching their leader drop his defence and being overwhelmed by rebels and ewoks alike. Luke was panting, when he finally reached Leia and the others. A grim-faced Han Solo sat straddling the Dark Lord´s hip, holding his blaster to the fallen man´s armored neck. The others were equally agitated. "Take his mask and helmet off," he heard Leia ask. And Han did so. Luke wasn´t the only one surprised when his face was revealed. They had expected anything but that handsome, pale face, framed by dark brown hair, now matted down with sweat, and the blue eyes regarding them icily. Anything but him being a normal human man. It didn´t seem to fit his reputation. The tableau was frozen for a few seconds. Then Vader shook Han off in one powerful move and rose, kicked the blaster out of the Corellian´s hand and called his own lightsaber back to him. He was staring straight at Luke now. The young Jedi Knight took the challenge. With the others giving them a wide berth, the two opponents circled each other for what seemed like an eternity. It was Luke who made the first strike, rushing the Dark Lord, then trying to get under the other´s defence. Vader deflected his blow easily with a twist and side-step, reminding Skywalker of his bitter defeat on Bespin. That memory brought powerful emotions back: fear, hate, anger. Luke thought of Nomi´s bleeding dead body on Hoth, her dead blue eyes staring up at him, and how he had to leave her there. It was Vader´s fault that she had to die, Vader, who had cut off his hand, tortured Han and Leia. With renewed power, Luke attacked again. And saw the Dark Lord´s eyes widen in surprise at his emotional outburst. He was using the Dark Side! Shocked by that unwelcome revelation, Luke didn´t react fast enough when Vader cut at him. The searing pain in his shoulder brought the young warrior back into the present. Laughing, the Sith kicked his legs out from under him, making him drop hard to the ground. His jaw rattling from the impact and gasping for air, Luke stared up into the cold blue eyes and saw his death there. Then Han moved, saving his friend´s life yet again. Vader tumbled back, hit squarely by Solo´s blaster bolt, stumbled and fell. The Corellian took aim again and the second shot hit the Dark Lord´s lightsaber, destroying it. That had been the end of the battle.

Coming out of the shower and dressing, Luke thought of Nomi again. She had been a refugee, a runaway even. The Empire had destroyed her family, she had told him, crying. He had comforted her then, and fell in love with her innocent beauty the moment she kissed him on the forehead to thank him for his concern. He reminded her of her father, Nomi had explained, smiling sadly. He had been a warrior too. And from the way she spoke of him Luke could tell that she loved and admired him deeply. Han and Leia had been happy for their friend. And Leia had even befriended Nomi, though the small, delicate princess and the long-limbed, mischievous runaway made an odd pair. Life had been great, despite everything else that was happening. Then Hoth. Somehow Luke knew that something terrible would happen there. It was just a feeling, but Ben had taught him to trust his feelings. When Nomi lay dying in his arms amidst dead rebels and stormtroopers, with alarms wailing all around them, Luke had been overcome by grief. He should have protected her better, should have made her leave on the first transport. But Nomi had refused. My father would stand and fight too, she had told him sternly. Of course Luke knew that she could handle weapons, but still. Still it had been a mistake. One he couldn´t make undone anymore.

In his dreams, Darth Vader was a young man again, newly wed to the beautiful Andra. They had been a happy couple. He could remember her long flowing hair, a silken black and soft to the touch. How he had loved to curl those long tresses around his fingers, always admiring her beauty and strength. Then she had fallen ill. So ill that no treatment the medics could offer would be able to save her life. There was one cure though, the buthan plant´s leaves , which grew only on Alderaan. Alderaan. It might have been in another galaxy for all the chances they had of obtaining it. But Darth Vader knew he must try to get the plant, or else he would loose his one true love forever. And their child with her. The Jedi had caught him on Alderaan.
He hadn´t resisted their taking him prisoner. It would only have made matters worse. On Coruscant, facing the Jedi Council again, only Obi-Wan Kenobi had stood for him. In a passionate speech he had defended his friend, selflessly risking the Council´s wrath. But in the end it had been the Rebublic Chancellor´s intervention that saved the Dark Lord´s life. Palpatine had chosen the moment well. The Sith´s anger at the Council was making him blind to the other´s plans. And before he even realized it, Palpatine had him trapped.

After Hoth came the training on Dagobah. Still burning with the desire to get at Vader and hold him accountable for Nomi´s death, Luke had asked Master Yoda how he could defeat the Dark Lord. Yoda had looked at him pensively for a long time. "Easy is not defeating the Sith Lord. Cunning he is and resourceful. A lot of training you need, before anything you can do. But this remember, Luke: either kill him or leave him alone. No capture there is with the Dark Lord." Well, that had been proven to be untrue. They had defeated and captured Vader in one go. Yoda would be proud of his student. Still beaming, Luke went to the scheduled meeting with Admiral Ackbar. "Ah, Luke," the Mon Calamari greeted him, when he entered the Admiral´s office, "I hear that Lord Vader does feel better." - "I am not so sure, Admiral. But there is something about what he said that I wish to investigate until we reach Dantooine." - "What would that be?" - "He said something about the Jedi, that I didn´t know them the way he did. I think that Master Yoda will certainly help me with that, but I want to interrogate Vader again before we pick him up. If you allow it, sir." Ackbar leaned back in his chair and regarded Luke thoughtfully. "It is not a question of allowing, or not, Luke," the Admiral finally answered,"It is more a question wether you can hold back your emotions enough to not provoke him like that again. I needn`t remind you that we have no means to block his access to the Force." - "He is still too weak to use it." - "If you say so. Well. Alright. But tomorrow, Luke. Today I think you should relax and cool down." Cool down? Luke thought angrily, as he stormed from Ackbar´s office. How can I cool down with him this close. All I want is to kill him. Nothing else. Luke was brooding all evening and couldn´t sleep well in the night. Instead he thought back on their encounter on Bespin. Vader had had Han and Leia tortured, thereby luring Luke to him. Master Yoda had told his apprentice that going now would be foolishness, but what was Luke to do? Let his friends die? So he had left nevertheless, although even Ben had tried to caution him. Yes, Ben had appeared from the grave the Dark Lord had put him into, to warn his student. Beware the Dark Side. That sentence still hung in the air, when Luke finally faced the monster in the carbon freezing facility in Cloud City. The hot steam clouds whirling through the chamber had been distracting. Equally so the Sith Lord´s mechanical breathing. Vader had stood there atop the stairs, calmly waiting for Luke to come to him. And he had, foolish as he was at that time. The ensueing battle had been a game of cat and mouse, with Vader the silently stalking predator, lightning fast and brutal, and Luke the confused prey, who barely managed to escape, let alone defend himself. Vader´s anger, that was what he remembered most vividly that night. That uncontrolled fury had been more frightening than the ease with which the Dark Lord threw loose parts and heavy machinery at Luke. And his silence. Only when Luke finally lay defeated on the gangway above the bottomless abyss in Cloud City´s interiour, had he spoken. His harsh words still rang in Luke´s ears, as if he had only said them yesterday: Now you will pay for your foolishness, Skywalker, just like your father before you. Then he had struck, cleaving Luke´s right hand off, laughing at the younsters terrified expression. My father. You killed my father! Luke hugged his pillow hard, resisting the nearly overwhelming urge to kill that monster right away. Instead he remained wide awake, staring into the darkness of his cabin, his eyes burning with hatred.

Mara Jade had been openly surprised to see Vader cry at his wife´s funeral. He could still see her there, a young woman, her bright green eyes staring at him curiously. Apart from her only Palpatine attended the funeral service. The two of them had taken their positions at one end of the funeral pyre atop which Andra´s white-clad body lay, whereas her husband stood next to her head, also dressed in white. Holding the ceremonial dagger in his right hand he briefly considered burying it in Palpatine´s chest. But that would not bring his loved ones back. It would only bring more grief in the end. So he clenched his jaw tight and drew the sharp edge over his left palm, painting Andra´s face with the ancient funeral symbols in his own blood. When he was finished, he lit the pyre and stood back, waiting until only ashes remained. Staring down at them he recalled standing like that before, on Hoth, where he had buried his only child. She had run away just after the first Death Star had been destroyed, and both he and his wife had been happy for her. At least she was free. Even if it meant that now Vader would never be able to meet his wife alone ever again. He had found Nomi´s broken body in the ice caves of Hoth, amidst dead rebels and storm troopers. When he told Andra via holocom that her child was dead, she had told him that he had lost her trust and love. He had felt her sudden resolve, begged her to not do it, threatened even, but was powerless in the end. She had broken the connection and killed herself only minutes later. Vader had been devastated. And angry. He had known from the moment he saw Nomi´s pale face, that Luke Skywalker was responsible for her death. It didn´t come as a surprise that she had chosen the young Jedi. Her lovers always tended to be a reflection of what she wanted her father to be: Noble warriors, fighting for lost causes. And he had let her down. Skywalker had let her die.
Vader had tried to repay the Jedi on Bespin, but failed. From then on he hadn´t really cared about the Empire´s struggle anymore. When Palpatine sent Mara Jade to Tatooine to kill Skywalker he wasn´t surprised. The Emperor didn´t trust him anymore. Vader had lost nearly everything that chained him to the throne. He was ready to die himself and only the meanest threats could bring him out of his suicide fantasies. So Palpatine sent him to oversee the second Death Star´s construction. It was a risk, yes, but if Vader didn´t want to risk everything, he would behave. And he did.

The next morning saw an agitated Luke Skywalker on his way to Vader´s cell. The Dark Lord was seemingly asleep when he entered, but soon he opened his eyes, blinking in the bright light. "Perhaps you want to tell me what you meant now?" Luke demanded. A slow smile spread on Vader´s face, a pitying smile, growing into a grin and then roaring laughter.
"Look at you, Jedi, how pathetic you have become," the Dark Lord whispered. "I will not tell you anything, no matter how often you ask, or demand. Why don´t you just accept that?"
An angry frown painted Luke´s forehead: "I have a right o know about the Jedi," he answered.
"Then ask your precious Master," the other replied curtly, staring him down. That brought Luke´s head right up: "How do you know he´s joining us?" - "Plain on you mind, Skywalker. You are so easy to read." - "And you aren´t afraid that he might uncover your secrets?" - "He´s more respectful than you are, Skywalker. That´s why he is still alive."

Master Yoda was bent over his walking stick and Luke was frightened by how his teacher had aged in the past year. The other felt this and smiled at him reassuringly: "Not dead yet I am, young Skywalker," Yoda rasped in amusement, "Though curious I am." - "Why?" - "Alive is Vader and your prisoner. Not heeded have you my words." Luke´s face flushed beet-red with embarassment. "Thought to have your vengeance you did, is that so?" Luke nodded, then spoke more passionately than he had intended: "Why should he not have to justify himself? A trial would make it plain what a monster he is." - "We all know what he is," Ackbar cut in. The three of them were assembled in the admiral´s office. "And things best left unsaid might be uncovered," Yoda added." What things?" - "Precious they are to him. Best leave them be." - "But he said something about the Jedi..." - "What?" Now Yoda was the agitated one. "He wouldn´t say," Luke replied cautiously. What were those two hiding from him? "Hmmm. Talk to him I will," the Jedi Master announced, "Tomorrow," he concluded.

Jedi Master and Dark Lord sat facing each other in the small space that was Vader´s cell.
For a long time neither of them spoke. Then Yoda:" Silent you have kept, revealing none of the secrets you harbour. Why?" - "My choice has been made on Endor, Master Yoda. What memories I have will never be told." - "Then in vain the Sith will have died," the Jedi Master reminded him. "In vain? Their deaths have been meaningless. Palpatine had this planned well, you know." There was silence again, until the Dark Lord´s whisper filled the room with a humming noise: "When the Death Star exploded I was joyful and when I felt Palpatine die
I was delighted. But then...Just like Alderaan. It was just the same. Only this time Palpatine didn´t just make a statement like he did with the Princess´homeplanet. He destroyed my people for real. To die like that," he shook his head, eyes blank. "Feel with you I do, Lord Vader, but done it is." - "What do you want from me? I can give you nothing." - "Your life."
Now Vader was laughing bitterly: "My life has been promised to someone else already. You are too late," his eyes lit up dangerously, "Don´t try to change my mind, Jedi. I still have the power to destroy you, but I do not crave for vengeance, like your young student. What I want is peace at last. I made a mistake a long time ago and lost everything. Now it is time for me to return to my people." Master Yoda nodded finally and stood, limping over to the door. before he left he turned back one last time and said sadly: "May the Force be with you."

Mara Jade was pressed between the masses of onlookers. Having used her elbows viciously to get a place in the front rows, she now had a very good view of what was happening on the open plaza. In it´s midst two poles had been erected with about two meters space between them. And in that space stood Lord Darth Vader, his wrists shackled to the poles. He seemed very calm and composed, for a man who awaited his execution. Now the Jedi Luke Skywalker stepped forward from the assembled `dignitaries` standing next to the poles. Mara saw him talk to Vader, who smiled and said something. Skywalker nodded at him, then resumed his assigned place. There was someone who she really wanted to talk to somewhere nice and quiet. Or maybe not so nice. Suddenly the audience roared in one approving voice and Mara craned her neck to get a glimpse of what was happening now, as the people standing around and in front of her started waving their arms. Angry, she pushed her way forward until she stood at the very edge, with just the security wall between her and the plaza. And came just in time to see the execution commando lower their blaster rifles and trot off again. Vader hung limply between the poles, his head lolling to one side, blue eyes half closed. She could feel his life drain from him and his concentration falter. Suddenly he looked up, his eyes finding hers and Mara stared at him numbly. How could he die now? They needed him! The Empire was defeated, Palpatine was dead. She was all alone. As if reading her thoughts he slowly, painfully, shook his head, as if to tell her that everything was alright. Choking down her grief and despair she pulled herself together and stood to attention. In front of all those rebels and rebel-sympathizers Mara held her head high and saluted him, showing her respect for the man who had always been more than anyone suspected. And then he smiled at her.
Darth Vader smiled, when he saw Palpatine´s little protege salute. She had a hard life before her, but she would manage. In spite of all she represented he was fond of her. Mara Jade was a strong woman, he knew, and in not too few ways she reminded him of his wife and daughter. As if called by his thoughts he saw Andra and Nomi standing next to the red-head, both smiling and with open arms. He shook his head again, fighting the red wave of nausea that threatened to overwhelm him. Then realizing what he was doing he just let it be and died peacefully, finally free.

The End