Author's Note: A big thank you to Cariel for beta reading this for me!
Now as he fought and slaughtered the very warriors he once called comrades, Vader realized the truth: they never cared. So long as he completed his missions and fulfilled his prophesized role as the Chosen One it really didn't matter how he did it. Anakin told himself he didn't give a damn that he had been used. The ache felt in his chest wasn't emptiness; it was a longing to fulfil his destiny as a Sith Lord. Their shocked and disgusted gazes bore into him along with their pathetically calm emotions that were so judgemental and pious.
Their screams filled his ears while their bodies lay scattered about his feet. No one who stood before him lived. It didn't matter if they were Master, Knight or even Padawan; they were his enemies and they were his prey. While Anakin knew he was far more powerful than his enemies, he couldn't help but feel slighted by their calm, stoic expressions. He wanted them to feel his rage, to touch their anger, to know the hate that coursed through his veins. Only later would he realize that he just wanted to know that he wasn't the only one who couldn't resist the siren call of the dark side.
Another elder warrior made his pathetic attempts to stop Anakin from making his way to the Council Chambers. He found it incredibly amusing to think that the Jedi Knights would go out of their way to protect their leaders. He laughed at the thought of the high and mighty Council being reduced to using Padawans and retired Knights as their defence. They fell easily to his blade, far too easily for Anakin liking, but it didn't stop him from slaughtering all who stood before him.
It wasn't long before he found himself facing the great doors of the Council Chambers. As he reached out to the dark side to pierce the protective shield left in place by the Council leaders, Vader paused. Only then did it occur to Anakin that all of the Jedi he had encountered in the temple were either young Padawans or old retired Jedi.
If all the healthy and trained warriors are on the frontlines, then why are you here?
What does it mean?
The confusing thoughts echoed in his mind but were entirely missed and soon forgotten as Lord Vader opened his thoughts to fully embrace the dark side. He could sense his prey from beyond the great doors and prepared himself for the battle ahead. With the last of his mental walls and restraints lowered, the darkness consumed him without hesitation or mercy. Any humanity that remained swiftly faded away as the dark storm within left Anakin feeling as though he was a god of vengeance. No more would he cower to the Council's word, or fear their judgement, now it was their turn to bow before him and suffer. He stormed into the room with all the pomp and stance of a dark lord. But it wasn't the Council members that faced him, it was something else entirely.
The chairs that once seated the most powerful and wise of the Jedi Order were now vacant, yet behind them, he could see feel their many watchful eyes. The many Force signatures he had felt were none other than younglings. In silence, they stared at him in stunned disbelief and terror. All were too frightened to run away or even cry out for help. Time moved of its own accord as the newly appointed Sith Lord studied his prey with confusion.
This isn't real. This is a trap, a test. They want you to unnerve you, to make you lose your edge.
A boy stepped forward, a simple-minded youngling who had grown close to Anakin over the years. The trust and faith in the boy's eyes was undeniable. In another time and place, the sight would have immediately pulled Lord Vader out of the dark haze that clouded his thoughts and numbed his sense of morality.
"Master Skywalker, there are too many of them. What are we going to do?"
Anakin stared at the boy in silence, the lightsaber in his prosthetic hand suddenly felt ten times heavier than normal.
Why are you here? What are you doing?
His conscience pleaded causing the young sith lord to briefly falter. It wasn't enough and closing his eyes he forced back his doubts knowing that this was nothing more than illusion, a trap. Even now, from their hiding places, the cowards who dared to call themselves Masters sought to mock and test him. Did they really think he'd be so foolish as to fall for their pathetic illusions?
He didn't give the youngling another thought as he activated his lightsaber and swiftly decapitated the child before him. The screams of terror at one time would have torn his heart in two; now he just wanted silence and cursed them for their cries of panic.
The darkness poured from his body as Anakin proceeded to attack the children he once secretly dreamed of adopting. Those who fell to his lightsaber were the lucky ones. Those less fortunate were either choked or maimed by his uncontrolled Force attacks. Drunk on the heady rush of the dark side, Vader could no longer register his actions. There were no feelings of horror or disgust, only a sense of liberation brought on by the sounds of their screams, the harmonious requiems of their souls returning to the Force.
It was all over almost as soon as it started and in exhaustion, the Sith Lord was forced to release his grip on the dark side before his body collapsed from it. Though he was powerful in the Force the young Sith Lord still had much to learn about being a vessel to such a deadly power.
As his thoughts slowly returned to him, the young man's bleary eyes settled up on the small life forms that now lay lifeless at his feet. There were so many bodies and so much more blood. Stunned, he stared at the younglings, feeling the familiar terrifying sense of dread and terror flooding his thoughts. The sound of his lightsaber slipping from his fingers and clattering to the floor echoed off the walls causing Anakin to shiver. It was so quiet now, too quiet.
This wasn't real, it couldn't be! It was an illusion a mind trick played on him by the Council, wasn't it?
He approached one of the younglings, a little girl he once knew to be Mari. There was little left of her that was recognizable now—her body so mangled, covered in massive gouges and cuts brought on by invisible dark side attacks. The blood was still warm and through the Force, he could still feel the rapidly fading essence that had once been her Force signature. He could feel the other children's Force auras as well; fading and eroding away with unnatural speed. There would be no denying it this time.
It was real, all of it.
In his mind, he could still hear the sound of their laughter and see their phantoms smiles. He was closer to them than anyone else in the Order, save for his former Master Obi-Wan. He had loved each one of them as though they were his own children. Now they were nothing more than faded memories that would haunt him until the end of his days. Anakin's scattered thoughts didn't ask what he had done, that answer was too obvious even for him. Nor did he contemplate what he had become, the truth was too much to face.
His body felt as though it were being crushed by some unseen force. He hoped it was real and not his imagination. Death would be a sweet release from this nightmare. There was so much left to do and so little time to do it. His Master would be furious if he knew that his apprentice was faltering, but no matter how hard he tried to convince himself to move on, Vader could not make his legs cooperate.
How could he possibly stare into the face of his child knowing what he had done? How could he possibly be a father after this? What was he going to do when they were old enough to ask questions about this day? What would he say?
How could he possibly return home now? Knowing what he was and what he had become?
Slowly he sank to the floor as his body began to ache with the despair that flooded his mind. He had to move on, there was no choice left to him, not anymore. His heart wasn't in it anymore and the more he thought about it, the more he wondered if it ever was.
"It's too late for me now," he murmured softly as he bowed his head, his shaking fingers now tightly clenched into fists. There was no time to look back, no time for regrets, he had to move on and he had to leave now.
With a shaky sigh, he blinked back the unshed tears as he collected his lightsaber. Shaking, he rose to his feet. He had no intention of looking back. He couldn't bear to see the empty shells that had once been his surrogate children again.
Yet, just as he was about to exit the Council Chambers and return to the corpse-ridden halls, something caused Anakin to stop and look back. He had felt a slight shift in the Force, one that was so slight that Anakin wasn't certain if he had felt it or if it was just an illusion of his guilty mind.
As he stepped out into the hallway, the sound of a woman's voice suddenly filled his thoughts.
It's never too late.