A few days later, the small group of people that had escaped in the Millennium Falcon gathered in one of the wards of the Rebel hospital frigate. The room was a calming white, smelling of not entirely unpleasant chemicals, and one entire wall was a huge viewport that faced the starry field outside. The other ships of the Alliance fleet moved past the viewport occasionally, drifting in formation in this, the latest place they had found to hide from the Empire.
Luke Skywalker sat in a diagnostic chair, looking down as the surgeon droid tested his new artificial hand, which was an advanced model, covered with synthetic skin. He flexed the fingers experimentally, watching as the machinery within the open panel on his wrist moved in response.
The surgeon droid, apparently satisfied, reached down and closed the panel. Luke got up, and as he pulled down his sleeve, he marveled at how closely the replacement resembled his original hand. It would be indistinguishable from the rest of his body except upon close examination.
But, Luke thought as he moved to join the others, he would always know. The mechanical hand was an eternal reminder of his duel with his father. Was there anything left of Anakin Skywalker within Darth Vader? His final words to Luke clouded the issue somewhat, and the young man found himself still confused in his feelings about his father.
Freshly emerged from his immersion in a bacta tank, Han Solo slowly moved over to the wide, expansive viewport and put his arm around Leia's shoulders. He was still having a little trouble seeing, the aftereffects of his hibernation within the block of carbonite, but the doctors assured them that there was no permanent damage.
Leia smiled up at him, and Han smiled warmly in return. Luke had to smile himself, happy for them.
Mara Jade quietly approached from Luke's left and touched his arm. He looked over into her vibrant green eyes, and a bit of silent communication passed between them, a mutual understanding. She gently laid her head on his shoulder, and Luke put his arm around her, sending comfort out through the Force as well. The rest of the Alliance was far less accepting, Luke knew; she was in for a rough few days as the Rebel leadership decided what was to be done with her.
Lando, standing on Han's other side at the far end of the viewport next to Chewbacca, looked over at the line of people. "So, now what do we do?" he asked.
Han shrugged. "I'm not sure," he said. "We'll figure something out."
"The Empire is still out there," Winter said, standing next to the droids at the left end of the huge viewport. "Vader will never give up."
"No, he won't," Mara agreed quietly.
Luke squeezed her shoulder. "There's still hope."
The twinkling stars outside in the velvety black shone in silent affirmation.
In his quarters aboard Executor, Darth Vader sat in his chair and thought about the events of the last few days, staring at the wall full of lightsabers before him.
He had two children, he now knew, and both of them had rejected him. Just like she had rejected him, just like everyone else he had known.
Why would no one see what he was trying to do? He was not some bloodthirsty tyrant out to kill or enslave as many beings as he could, like Palpatine would have been. His son's last words to him stung Vader, even as he considered their truth.
What had he become? Had he truly turned into a terrible monster, as his children seemed to see him?
Vader got up and moved over to look at the rows of lightsabers, each from a Jedi that had died at his own hand. He saw Dooku's, the first to fall against him at the beginning of his slide into the Dark Side. He had already incapacitated the Sith Lord, made the old man helpless on his knees before him, and still he killed him anyway.
Just like he had slaughtered all those Tuskens in the camp of the tribe that had captured his mother, all those years ago. Anakin had been so consumed with fury that he left not a single one alive. He had killed all of them, even the children.
The sound of their screams as his lightsaber slashed through them came back to Vader in a rush, joined in an awful chorus by those of the roomful of Jedi children he had killed with equal mercilessness, again sparing not a one. How many Jedi had he killed in just that one day? People who had once trusted him, looked up to him, thought of him as a great man, all of them fell beneath his ruthless blade.
Vader reached up and touched one of the lightsabers on the very top row, one that had sat undisturbed since he had placed it there years ago. This lightsaber had belonged to a man Darth Vader had killed with more savage ferocity than any of the others. This lightsaber had belonged to a man Vader so hated that he had tried to erase every bit of him, despising him utterly.
This lightsaber had once belonged to Anakin Skywalker.
Vader took his present weapon from his belt, one he had fashioned not long after declaring himself Sith Master, and held it in his other hand. He looked down at the two lightsabers in his hands, belonging to the man he had once been and the man he was now.
Holding his hands out before him, he ignited both blades, and stared at each.
One red, one blue.
One Sith, one Jedi.
Darth Vader, Anakin Skywalker.
Which of them rightly belonged to him? Which of them was he, truly, in the innermost core of his being?
When he finally brought Padmé back, which of them would she love?
Could she love either one?
Was either worth loving?
End Part II
Author's Notes and Acknowledgments: First off, thanks goes to George Lucas for dreaming up such a fun universe to play in. Having been a fan since I was about six years old, it seems like a logical progression of events that I would eventually write my own stories set in a galaxy far, far away. So, the Great Bearded One deserves much credit for making it available to all of our imaginations in the first place. Say what you will about some of his later, admittedly exasperating decisions, but remember, we wouldn't have Star Wars without him. But I still say Han shot first. ;)
Secondly, I must give thanks to Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote the screenplay for 'The Empire Strikes Back'. I couldn't bring myself to change most of their lines, because let's face it, they just work so darn well. ESB is my favorite of all the Star Wars movies, in large part due to the snappy, witty dialogue. Plus, Darth Vader is at his scary badass best in ESB, so I saw no point in changing most of that.
And as before, I must also give thanks and praise to Timothy Zahn, my personal favorite Star Wars writer. I just had to include my favorite characters of his because, since I've spent so much time in the Expanded Universe that it doesn't quite feel like Star Wars without them to me. I just hope I've done them justice in my retelling here.
Now, as with Part I, a short oneshot collection will follow this story, bridging the year between the end of Part II and the beginning of Part III. So, keep an eye out for 'One Missed Strike: Tales From the Empire', coming out sometime within the next few weeks. I have another large story I'm working on that I've neglected a bit while working on this, so I need to devote my attention there for a little while.
'One Missed Strike, Part III' is being written right now in between all the other projects I have going, so there will hopefully not be such a long wait this time. I give a tentative estimate of late December or early January for the launch date, assuming all goes well. Unlike parts I and II, Part III will be almost completely original, with very few traces of 'Return of the Jedi', since, as the end of this story shows, the changes I've made in this AU entirely bypass almost all of the events of the movie. Parts I and II have been the setup for the grand finale of Part III, and I will be doing my very best to make sure the payoff is a darn good one.
Finally, major thanks goes to all the readers and reviewers of this story. Your support means a lot to me, and I'm very happy so many people are enjoying my work. I hope you all continue to enjoy it in the future.
Thanks for reading,
(Revision Note: As with 'Part I', I've gone through the story to correct typos, fix sentence structure in a few places, and improve certain descriptions to add extra punch. Again, very minor changes; nothing 'Special Edition'-level. ;) )