Fear leads to anger...

It started out as a simple mission

It was a simple mission; routine, even, if one could consider cold-blooded murder routine. There was the familiar pattern: travel with all speed to one of the myriad planets in this wretched galaxy, kill the Jedi attempting to seek refuge there, and then return to the fleet or Coruscant as decreed by his master. The latest reports from this insignificant system pointed to a half-trained Force sensitive, so he hadn't even bothered to bring more than a half-dozen of the 501st with him. The few lights left in the galaxy were far too weak and scattered to oppose the forces of darkness. Save Yoda and Kenobi, there were none left who could pose any threat to the one chosen by the Force itself. Yet his orders stood: all with the potential of a Knight were to be destroyed, no matter how little of a threat their existence posed.

Almost from the moment the lambda shuttle made contact with the snow-covered landing pad, there was trouble. Somehow, while he and a handful of troopers questioned the governor, a bomb was planted on the shuttle. As he had set foot in the hanger, it had detonated, completely destroying the shuttle, killing those on board, and injuring the stormtroopers that had entered before he had stopped, his danger sense having arrested his motion not an instant too soon. Forced to remain on the surface, he and the remaining troopers requisitioned a portion of the governor's palace to spend the night. By morning, however, the lives of the remaining soldiers were forfeit to a lightsaber's blade, though he himself had been unable to catch a glimpse of the culprit. He had set out alone, then, scanning the area for the dim light he knew was there, a light trying so very hard to hide, yet all too visible against the waves of darkness that had permeated the galaxy since the rise of the Empire.

And then, finally, he confronted the young Sensitive who had been responsible.

It should have been an easy fight, an insult to his skill. Trapped in a textile warehouse, barely trained in the arts of the saber, the Jedi should have been lost quickly to his greater power. But the young boy refused to stop struggling. Even once he was cornered, without escape or hope of rescue, the Knight fought back, with a calm fury burning in blue eyes. Even as Vader cut him down at last, his life dwindling to nothing beneath the Dark Lord's contemptuous gaze, he laughed. With the last of his strength, the boy pressed a hidden trigger.

The instant gout of flame from the concealed igniter lit the nearby fabrics on fire, the dry fibers catching quickly and spreading rapidly throughout the storehouse, trapping him in a ring of flame. Somehow, the Jedi had known of Vader's past, of what had transpired to confine him to this prison of armor, and had spent his life to capitalize on the opportunity. How his opponent had known what so few were privileged -or cursed- to know, he couldn't fathom, nor did he truly care, his attention fully captured by the ravaging enemy before him that no lightsaber could block.

Any rational sentient, when faced with a wall of flame, runs to the nearest escape with all speed. Perhaps a moment's hesitation would slow the hasty steps, a product of shock and fear, but no more. Even the smallest of younglings knew to flee fire, had the survival instincts to warn them away from death.

He, Lord Vader, right-hand to the Emperor himself and survivor of countless brutal battles…froze, unable to move.

The sight of the fire coming ever closer had paralyzed him with terror. He had avoided flame of any sort for many years, fearing its probable effect on his control, yet now the fires had caught up with him once more. Even though the nearest flame was meters away, he still felt the heat, felt the agony of a flame's caress. Images of fire and lava flooded his mind, rendering him incapable of action. Memory after memory flashed through his consciousness, blinding him to the inexorable approach of death.

the horror of fire eating away at him, as hungry as any living creature…

the anguish of watching his brother walk away, leaving him to die…

Padme's death, and worse still, the knowledge that it was by his hand…

The last kept him from moving, the wayward thought sapping all his desire for escape. He had not thought of her in years, so painful was her memory, but her last moments rushed back to him, all the sharper for having been buried so long, seemingly triggered by the smoke that swirled possessively around him. He was trapped in the place of his darkest nightmares, the taste of sulfur and ashes in his mouth, watching her crumple to the black stone of the landing pad to lay there, unmoving, as his gloved hand telekinetically stole her life. In pain beyond imagining, he fell to his knees as the flames moved closer and closer to him, guilt and shame bearing him down beneath their oppressive load. He did not deserve his life, even a half-life such as his! He was the one who should have perished on the black sands, not her, not his angel, who was so pure and innocent next to the despicable monster he had become.

For a bleak moment, he wanted the flames to reach him, destroy him. Life was a terrible burden, one he would gladly be rid of. Numbness settled over him, all fear gone. He closed his eyes, bowing his head, pleading silently to whatever deities might exist that the end would come, praying that it would be over soon. He resigned himself to the pain that would come, hardly caring. Perhaps he would be granted the chance to see his love once more, before his soul was banished to the dark realms of the damned.

Smoke twisted around him, forcing the respirator to work harder and harder to keep him alive, his breaths coming quickly and painfully. He did not move. The flames were licking unseen at the edge of his cloak, nearly catching it in a deadly embrace, before a terribly familiar voice cried out to him in anguish.

Run, Anakin, run!

Padme… His eyes flew open, though he knew there was nothing to see, save the hungry flames. His heart cried out in agony at the sound of her sweet voice, a strangled moan issuing unheard from the mask. Despite the desperation in her voice he nearly disobeyed, regarding the flames with twisted longing. By fire, he had lost all: by fire, he wished to die. Death held no terror, nor the flames. Life alone held fear and pain, and those in great measure. It would only be too easy to let go, to join her on the other side…

No! It is not your time! Go!

Her voice held irrefutable command, one he could no more disobey than he could regain what he had lost. Still, he fought her compulsion with his despair. Why would he wish to live, now that he had nothing to live for?

I may have died, but what of the child?

He jerked in shock, unable to comprehend what she implied. The stupor that had held him so fast in its bonds was broken. Step by slow step, he backed away from the ravenous flames, almost shaking in dread of what he had been contemplating. His terribly frail hold on life would not survive another fire. He turned and bolted, the Force joining with prosthetics and sheer terror to grant him inhuman speed. Once free of the building, morbid fascination forced him to turn back and view what he had so narrowly escaped. The walls and ceiling abruptly collapsed from the heat and he dully noted that with another moment's time, he would have been trapped with no escape. Had anyone watched him closely in that moment, they would have seen him shudder before walking slowly away.

He returned to his ship immediately, acting as though unusual nothing had happened. He issued orders, sent a message to the Emperor to report the Jedi slain, and went about business as usual, giving no thought or sign of his reaction to the day's events.

But later, while the ship drifted through the infinite night and he sat unseen and sleepless within his chamber, he could not help but ponder what had happened, what the ghostly voice had implied. Unable to reach any conclusion, his mind drifted to the confrontation. Which had been more disconcerting, he mused darkly: the fire, which he had more cause to fear than most, or the fact that he had been ready -willing, even- to die? After all, a true Sith would have felt neither.

He could find no answer.

And that, perhaps, was the most frightening fact of all.