Disclaimer: George Lucas owns Star Wars. I am not making any profit from this work of fan fiction.

Author's note: This piece, a companion to my FreeFallVerse, was originally written for LJ user darth_eldritch, who wanted to see Vader and Ryn talk about Obi-Wan. As you can see, the story ... took a detour.

under the bed

They don't talk about the past.

They live with it, because they can't do anything else. But the wounds are always there, and they try not to open them for each other. It is the central governing principle that holds their orbit in precarious tension, always just this side of disaster.

Which is why, when Palpatine asks Ryn - Areth, damn it, it's Areth now - how Master Kenobi is doing, her hand twitches because she wants, quite desperately, to strike him.

All right, that isn't actually new. She wants to slap him most of the time. It isn't so much what he's done to the galaxy, though the blatant speciesism, the wholesale slaughter of entire populations, and the enslavement of billions of beings - to say nothing of the ones who are de facto slaves merely by being so-called "citizens of the Empire" - is quite enough impetus for some straight-up corporal punishment, and she wouldn't mind being the one to deal it out. No, it's more the pure sadistic glee he takes in his apprentice's pain. Nothing makes Sidious quite as happy as Vader's misery.

It's sick, and he knows it, and it makes him ... concupiscent, really. There's no telling what he would be doing to Anakin right now if he weren't in that damn suit. And of course Palpatine is determined to hold that against Vader, the perpetual unfulfillment of his delectation, all fairness to the contrary.

Justice matters to Vader but not, apparently, to his master.

It's one of the better reasons she had for throwing her lot in with him. "The lesser of two evils," is what she tells Ferus, and tries not to look like a woman hopelessly in love.

Ferus hasn't said anything about it lately, but she knows it will come up again.

Today, though ... today Obi-Wan's lightsaber mark is still a fresh red scar across her cheek, and all the wounding she took at his hands - of flesh and soul - is still raw within her. And now Palpatine is asking in front of Anakin, for heaven's sake ...

"I thought you didn't care about the last of the Jedi," she answers sharply, meeting Sidious' yellow gaze.

"My dear, so defensive. I merely inquire about the wellbeing of an old friend." Palpatine sips his tea languidly. "It's a great pity he would not join us."

Areth - she will be Areth - grits her teeth. "I doubt either of you gave him much of a choice."

There's ... something ... in Vader's presence, and she lets her gaze flick off Sidious to meet his behind the mask: a calculated risk, as taking one's eyes off Sidious is never safe.

"He drew first," Vader says, the vocoder rendering his tone expressionless. But Ryn can feel the echoes of pain in his heavily-shielded presence.

He's telling the truth, but then the only thing she's ever caught him lying about was Padmé. "I guess the Jedi don't believe in redemption."

"I didn't need any redemption!"

Like a scared child, repeating a mantra to keep the monsters at bay: there is nothing in the dark, nothing in the dark, nothing in the dark ... Ryn folds her arms and tries to give him the look that deserves while also keeping an eye on their unwanted audience. "After all the children you killed?"

"I did what had to be done!"

Sidious is enjoying their altercation far too much to try and kill either of them right now. Probably. Ryn takes the chance and focuses her attention solely on Vader, staring him down.

Lowers her voice and finally says the words that have been haunting them forever. "You did what you were told. So did Obi-Wan."

There's just nowhere good the conversation can go after that.