Red as the Skin


Vader stood by the window of his starship, staring at the vast expanse of space which so reinforced the perpetual feeling of controlled calm he had already gotten used to. He stared at nothing in particular, but the action itself allowed him time to think and formulate conclusions. The seeming darkness and the emptiness which composed the scenery and yet contained so many millions of worlds had always entranced him as a child. The paradox inspired tranquillity and wonder – neither of which Vader any longer had the capacity to feel.

''Commander, the Rebel Jedi base has been detected.''

His reverie was broken by a young officer, standing before him expectantly.

''Good. I will deal with them myself''

''Sir, shall I send for a back up fl-?''

''No need. Return to your post and await my further orders.''

''Yes, sir''

Darth Vader turned away from the obsidian void – the final sanctum from which his peace and sanity could be salvaged, and strode down the hallway, cloak billowing in his wake.

He knew this moment would come. He had waited for it all these three years.

He only wished for a part of him to feel regret for what he was about to do. For some small fraction of his consciousness to protest, to object…But there was only nothingness.

Vader boarded his ship alone and dispatched for the planet where indisputable intelligence had led them all. Kyrg'rad OB7 - the final battleground. For years he had been tracking down the Jedi survivors who fled Order 66. It wasn't easy, but it had to be done. The last of the stragglers had banded together on this desolate wasteland in the Outer Rim where he was now heading to deliver their downfall. He couldn't trust anyone to do the work efficiently anymore – too many were allowed to escape, but now he would descend on them himself and finish what should have been over so long ago.

When touchdown finally came, Vader felt no excitement, no thrill of adrenaline. He left the ship and took his bearings. According to the information extracted from one of the tortured Jedi captives, the base was located within the ruins of a local temple. He ascertained the correct direction and took off, wanting to get it over with as quickly as he could.

***

''Code Red! Code Red! We've been att-'

The man never finished his transmission as a beam of red light punctured his body and was instantly withdrawn. He fell to the floor, blood trailing down his face.

The others had tried to run, to warn the ones within, but were struck down by a cascade of falling debris.

Vader walked through, nonchalant to their screams of anguish. He had breached the entrance with ridiculous ease and was now proceeding to the Rebel lair where he knew more challenging battles awaited.

The hallway was poorly lit and the walls were crumbling with age.

''So, this is the final stronghold of the Jedi. The place where history will be written with their defeat.'' Darth Vader mused as he marched through the half-light, determined to finish it all here and then.

***

He lost count of the bodies, of the blood, of the shouts of pain. In his mind, they were blurred echoes of reality, confined to memory the instant they transpired. There was no time for consideration. No time for repose. There was only one body to strike after another, after another, after another. He didn't hear their voices, or their pleas, or their cries of vengeance. None of it mattered.

And then he saw her.

She emerged from the depths of the sanctuary, lightsaber in hand, an ominous glint in her bright blue eyes. But they weren't as bright as he remembered. They were tinted with darkness - a shade of grey which spoke of a myriad of emotions – loss, pain, hardship, and suffering. These were not the naïve eyes of a child he remembered. Gone was the spark of mischief. Gone was the light.

Ahsoka Tano was the last one left, and she was a child no more.

Before him stood a woman of formidable skill and power. She did not have the playful smile he was accustomed to seeing. Instead, a scowl marred her beautiful features, betraying the boiling rage barely concealed within.

Ahsoka Tano – the last Jedi standing.

''We knew you would come'' She spoke in a low voice of quiet fury. ''It was only a matter of time. I guess you think you are going to finish the job and walk away now, do you, Vader?''

A distant rumble of thunder resounded through the walls, followed by a flash of lightning which illuminated the bodies littering the ground like a field of crimson puppets. The Sith Lord remained silent.

The young woman smirked, a bitter laugh escaping her lips. It was the way a wounded soldier laughs in the face of death as he lies cornered by the enemy. But determination was etched in ever fibre of her being and it radiated off in waves of fortitude.

''Well, you're wrong.'' She spoke through gritted teeth. ''Because I am going to finish you.'' And she charged at him with incredible speed.

The battle went on for a while. Vader parried each lightsaber stroke with jaded interest, allowing Ahsoka to stay on the offensive. He felt her anger build and the darkness within him stirred with enjoyment.

''Is this all the last defender of the Jedi faith can do? How disappointing.''

He summoned the power of the force and repelled her with one movement of his hand. The woman collided with the wall in a cry of pain and slumped to the ground, panting.

''I expected better from the pupil of Anakin Skywalker.''

Ahsoka's head snapped up, eyes narrowed.

''How...how dare you speak his name!'' She snarled, rising shakily to her feet while holding on to the wall for support. ''You were the one who murdered him! Don't you- don't you dare mar his name with your hateful voice!'' Her legs shook and she crumpled to her knees, wincing in pain.

Darth Vader slowly advanced on her, savouring the rage now taking hold of the young Jedi.

''If you think you can kill me, then do it.''

Ahsoka's eyes widened in shock as her opponent retracted his lightsaber and stood before her, completely unarmed.

''Don't you want to avenge the fallen? Avenge your master?''

The young woman stared at him with astonishment which was quickly replaced by a murderous glint.

''You're going to regret that, Vader''

She procured her own lightsaber and with the last bit of strength left in her body, hauled herself up to a standing position. Her eyes were glazed over with fury, her aura pulsating with hatred which the Sith Lord breathed like air.

Ahsoka lifted her weapon and with a yell of rage brought it down in one swift movement.

''Are you really going to kill me now, snips?''

The lightsaber faltered and hung in mid air.

It then fell, almost in slow motion that seemed to take years and years and years…to the ground with clatter.

''…Skyguy?''

Ahsoka's voice was hoarse, laced with disbelief, with shock, with horror, with a thousand emotions…''Is it really….is this really you?''

''Why have you hesitated?'' The man in question taunted her, still unmoving. '' I was under the impression you were about to kill me and avenge your Jedi kin. Or is your resolve so…fickle?''

But the young woman was still paralyzed by the endless dismay of her realisation. Her hands were shaking.

''Why…why…why are you doing this?!'' She shouted at him, feeling a lump at her throat. ''Why??'' She couldn't understand. She just couldn't. All her memories of them together flooded her mind…how she used to save his life in all their missions, how he would always beat her in a race and the way he'd laugh when she pouted in defeat…how he would pat her roughly on the head and tell her she was reckless little one…

Tears streamed down her crimson cheeks as she balled her fists in agony.

Vader stood impassive. He watched his old padawan cry silently at his feet and felt nothing still. Not a twinge of regret, not a pang of sorrow. He tried, he wished he could try, but he only felt an echo of his longing in the hollow emptiness within.

''Come with me''

And suddenly he felt a lunge of emotion assault his senses. Something small and weak awoke inside and squirmed with yearning.

Ahsoka stood before him, her hand outstretched, her eyes that same bright shade of blue that he so remembered. A sad but hopeful smile graced her tear-stained features like a beacon of light.

''I…'' What was this hateful hesitation in his words? Why was he so overwhelmed with the temptation to take that willing hand and forget who he now was, what his purpose was…?

''Come with me!'' She repeated. ''We'll leave everything behind, we'll- we'll run far -far away and forget it all. I'll help you forget all…all this. Just please…please take my hand. You don't have to do this anymore!'' Her voice was wild with hope, with desperation.

It was insanity. Madness.

''Foolish girl''

Ahsoka faltered and froze.

''You are still the same absurdly outlandish child I taught.'' Vader spoke coldly. ''I serve the Emperor. I will not commit high treason because of some presumptuous Jedi brat''

The young woman stared at him blankly. Everything was crashing down on her with incredible speed. She could not understand…

''Why…''

Vader felt torment as the small nagging something, clawing and scraping at his innards continued to grow in strength. He had to contain it. Had to eliminate it. It was getting in the way of what had to be done.

''It is too late for me'' The words had left him before he could realise what they meant.

''It doesn't have to be!'' Ahsoka pleaded. ''Please…''

''Alright''

It was as if a thousand stars decided to enter the dark, cavernous temple and illuminate everything in sight in a burst of white fire.

Wild excitement and relief spread on Ahsoka's face. And she smiled.

It was that same true, striking smile he remembered from three years ago. The light was so strong, so pure, so blinding…it was like he was back in that field on Naboo, laughing and chasing his beautiful wife through the golden grass in the golden sun…

The smile was still there, as if frozen in time, as a thin streak of blood crawled down her chin and her neck, finally pooling at the ground in little drops.

''Forgive me''

He withdrew his lightsaber from her body and watched it fall to the floor with a gentle thud.

The scraping, squirming something gave a final twinge and was silenced.

The torment had died and Darth Vader felt the same emptiness again. For the first time in all these years, he finally felt truly alone within himself.

He watched the trickle of blood blossom around the young woman's frame. She lay there peacefully with that same carefree smile though something was missing in her dulled vacant eyes. They were no longer that shade of blue.

He was about to turn around and head back to the ship but glanced back for one last time.

The blood had already spread into a large crimson flower…red as her skin.

Red as his own was.