Disclaimer: George Lucas owns Star Wars. This story is purely a work of fan fiction, and I am not making any profit from it. Title from Thriving Ivory.
Word count: ~1250
[in spite of all the things you never wanted]
He finds her in a decrepit bar in the downlevels of Coruscant. Imperial Center, he tells himself, and makes it stick by not thinking about it too hard.
"Areth," he greets her, using the new name she's taken for herself because the old one is too dangerous, in every way.
"Lord Vader," she answers warily, glancing past him - probably to see if there are stormtroopers approaching for her arrest. But the stormtroopers are all outside, having cleared the block, and she must have known there would be no escape anyway. "To what do I owe the honor?"
There's a trace of sarcasm in her tone, beneath the emptiness; someone else might not notice it, but Anakin Skywalker's memories clamor with recognition. Vader attacks them savagely, the Dark Side fueling his efforts at concentration, and Skywalker recedes, still wailing desperately. It's enough, for now: the man of that past life knows the woman Areth once was well enough to recognize that this is the fury of pain. Against all the odds, she's missed him.
"I told you to go away," Vader notes, scanning the bar behind the helmet that probably doesn't hide anything from her.
She gestures at the bar she's been tending, now empty of patrons. "I remember. And I went. This is 'away'."
It's not kriffing far, hiding on the same damn planet under the Emperor's very nose, but he hadn't specified a destination, or even a distance. Just told her that if she really wanted to help him, she would vanish.
And she had disappeared without a trace, and with the promise that when he wanted to find her, she'd be ready.
He hadn't known what that meant at the time, and it's still a little opaque now, except ... to find Areth, all he'd had to do was remember his life as Anakin Skywalker.
(That was harder than she might have thought: there are bits gone missing, things that would make the memories he has make sense, and usually he's grateful for that because he doesn't want to remember, remembering is torture, but at times like this he wonders why exactly there are so many gaps.)
But he had remembered enough, and when he'd reached for her, for the place in his mind where the memories of Ryn had lived - he'd buried those deep long before, when his name was still Anakin Skywalker and he'd thought she was gone forever, not wanting the pain they brought - the pieces had fallen together and he had come here.
There is a pause, while he assesses her carefully and she returns a steady gaze, trying ineffectually to hide her longing.
The Dark Side urges him to feel contempt for this reaction, but the emotion is uncomfortably complicated by relief.
A Dark Lord of the Sith should never feel relief - but oh, the way she's staring at him now, like his presence is a dangerous gift.
"Lord Vader?" she questions softly, one hand resting on the scarred counter; and when he doesn't answer with anger, doesn't answer at all, she vaults the bar and throws her arms around him in a completely inappropriate display of affection. "I love you," she whispers, just loud enough for his audioreceptors to pick up. "I've missed you so much. Every day I wanted to come and find you, but you told me to wait and I didn't want to upset your plans." She pulls back a little and searches the lenses of his helmet with eyes that - he remembers - are brilliantly green. "Is it time now? Are you ready?"
I'm not ready, Vader thinks, but instead of saying this he takes her by the shoulders and holds her out at arm's length. She looks unhappy but doesn't push, waiting.
"Reports say this bar is a hotbed of anti-Imperial dissent," he rumbles through the vocabulator.
"Well," Areth says, grinning a little in a way all too familiar to Anakin Skywalker, "I thought some support for a change in leadership might come in handy. You know, if the traditional Sith by-play didn't work out."
Of course Ryn would start a rebellion in his name in the middle of fucking Imperial Center.
It's harder to work up outrage with her breath steaming the polished metal of his shoulder guards, but evidently she senses his displeasure anyway.
"Did I do wrong?"
"That was dangerous," he hears himself say.
He's pretty sure he was supposed to be killing her right about now.
Her eyes brighten a little; even with the mask on, he can tell. "I've done dangerous before."
She's dangerous, and he ought to be getting the hell out of here.
"You're going to have to stop," Vader says, and Areth's face falls. Or ... not falls, exactly, but sets in the stony mask that doesn't look like Ryn anymore.
"Are you shutting me down?" she asks him. "Executing me? Or just ... sending me away, again?"
She doesn't quite keep her voice from shaking on the last one.
"You've got to leave Coruscant," Vader says, and Areth sags a little as she nods. "And stop fomenting rebellion." He can see her shoulders tense; more important, he can see it in the Force. "I'm sending you to Vjun."
"What?" Areth says, her eyes snapping to his even though she can't possibly see them through the mask.
What? Vader thinks himself, an eerie echo of her vocalization. You can't send her to Vjun, that's -
My own planet, and nobody's business but my own.
"I want you to take charge there," he says, not quite believing the words even as he hears himself say them. "And I can't have you leading a rebellion from Bast Castle."
"No," Areth says, looking a little stunned herself. "I guess not."
"You'll have to leave tonight," he informs her sternly.
Areth nods. "I don't have any ties I can't cut in a hurry. I figured when we moved, there wouldn't be much time."
Vader raises one finger at her in admonition. "We are not moving. This is not the beginning of a rebellion."
Areth nods again. "Just tell me we'll get a chance at Palpatine someday."
Vader glares at her, which has no effect at all. "We shall see," he intones, counting on the vocabulator to make it sound more imposing than it really is.
Areth doesn't look impressed. But she does follow him out of the dinged-up little bar, into the custody of the stormtroopers, and accept without question his orders that they are to escort her to his private dock, set course for Vjun, and deliver her there will all due haste.
The stormtroopers are considerably more flummoxed than she is, but like Areth they have a lot of experience in rolling with the punches. He leaves the scene to a chorus of "Yes, Lord Vader" and heads for the Emperor's palace, but not too directly.
He has to figure out some way to explain this mess, after all, before his master starts asking about his activities.
It's going to be a long night