"Then my father is truly dead." Luke's gaze was steady as he made this pronouncement. I could see both regret and resignation. Somehow, even after all he had seen and endured, there was still a poignant innocence in his eyes.
I both hated and envied that naivet?, wondered if I had ever been that...untouched by the inescapable evils that living brought. No, I thought, a slave was never that innocent. I had been born a slave and I had finally accepted the fact that I would die one as well - a powerful slave to be sure, but enslaved nonetheless.
His words licked at me with the voracious fury of the fires of Mustafar. I was pitifully grateful for the mask that hid me from his view. Tears, something that had not plagued me in decades, pricked at my eyes, burning because I would not release them, dared not. The boy told the truth, but the truth was painful. I had learned to live with pain, however, and it would not deter me from my intentions.
There was much more at stake than his opinion of his father. I could live with the boy's hatred, I told myself. His feelings for me did not matter at all, only the power that thrummed in his veins, the power that I could use for my own victory.
Ruthlessly pushing away the pang his words had evoked, neatly and conveniently setting aside the fact that this was my child, I motioned for the troopers to take my defiant son to the shuttle. Soon we would stand together before my Master, father and son side-by-side at long last. Then Luke would finally see the glory and the horror that was the Dark Side.
My son or not, he would face a critical moment of decision and nothing could alter that. He would, like his father before him, have to make that fateful decision for himself. It was a fate from which I could not save him.
Liar, a voice mocked with gentle disdain.
The voice belonged to a dead man. For once, it was not the voice of Anakin Skywalker taunting me, but that of my old Master. You have a chance now to return to your destined path. Take that opportunity...along with your son's forgiveness. Years after my saber had struck him down, Obi-Wan still returned to vex me at times. It seemed he would have his say in this. Even in death, he had a penchant for lecturing, I thought with a touch of amusement.
But I knew what my destiny was, and rethinking my fate as I stood looking out over the forest of that Endor moon would not change anything. It was too late for me, just as I had told Luke. I had chosen this path the moment I had struck off Master Windu's hand. Or had it been earlier? Perhaps in that long-ago Tusken camp? Or was it in Watto's shop, when you gazed into a pair of deep brown eyes and lost your soul? I flinched away from that thought. It had been years since I had allowed myself the luxury of thinking of her.
The lies were so easy to swallow, comforting in their inaccuracy and the veil they threw between the past and the present. The truth was uncomfortable; it brought an ache to my chest and made my constructed limbs tremble with memories I would rather stay buried. I told myself that I was not delaying the moment when I would deliver my son to the Darkness, but I remained on that bridge, looking out over a forest that could never hide me. I tamped down that insane urge to grab Luke from the shuttle and run into that seemingly endless forest and get lost. My Master would find me and he would kill us both.
Hide? Why would I want to hide from my Master? It was a dangerous idea, especially as I prepared to face him.
So many different possible futures stretched out from this moment. Would Palpatine strike me down and take my son as his new apprentice? It was always a possibility, the Sith were known for their treachery.
Of course, I had plans of my own for my very gifted and stubborn son. Together, Palpatine and I would turn Luke away from the weak and pitiful Light and show him the glories of the Dark Side. Then one day I would turn on Palpatine and rule with my son at my side. That was his fate...and mine. Even Obi-Wan had known that Luke's destiny would bring him to me; and I think it was for that confrontation that he had prepared Luke, giving him the tools of my destruction. But he had not considered Luke's sympathy, his driving need to redeem me, as laughable and futile as that was.
At last, I turned away from my troublesome ruminations and boarded the shuttle that would take us to our fates. I settled into my seat, felt Luke's fear pulse through the Force before he tamped it down, burying it beneath layers of peace and acceptance. He was intelligent enough to be afraid and that pleased me. Only a fool would fail to fear the Dark Side.
In spite of his efforts, I could sense his confusion - feel the emotional chaos that ruled him. He was feeling so many things and could not give himself fully to any one of them.
I found myself wanting to speak to him. But what would I say? There were too many years that yawned between us, too many dark secrets. Still, I supposed it was a natural desire to speak to him, to try and explain what must happen.
For a moment, guilt at the thought of what I was delivering the boy to overcame me, and I wondered anew how far I had fallen that I was willing to surrender this bright soul up to the Darkness. My son, a child created out of the greatest love the galaxy had ever known, and I was going to gamble with his life in a bid for ultimate power.
My mind, that expert accomplice at creating a different, more comfortable reality, clutched at another thought, one that soothed my slumbering conscience. He was not my son at all, not really. He was Anakin's son, the man whose death had made way for my conception. But how much loyalty did I owe to Anakin...or to this boy?
None, I answered. I was a creature of the Darkness. There was no room for loyalty where I dwelled. Here in the shadows, there was space only for power and the sure knowledge that treachery lurked behind every face. It was a lonely life, but it was mine - and it was enough.
Liar. Force, how I hated that voice! I could hear Obi-Wan's scorn for my self-delusion.
Behind me, Luke was getting his emotions under control, assuming the serenity that all the Jedi seemed to value so much. He had learned more than I anticipated.
But from whom? It was a question my Master was sure to ask and that Luke was just as certain to answer - he would be unable to help himself no matter how strong his determination was in the beginning. I knew that only too well myself. I had endured Palpatine's "discipline" more than once, for I had once been as headstrong and reckless as young Luke. Patience had proven to be a painful lesson.
Then my father is truly dead.
Those words were truer than even Luke could know. I had watched Anakin die and had endured the painful struggle to be reborn from the ashes of his destruction. Like all births, it had been a painful and bloody business and there was no going back to the womb of that innocence.
The shuttle landed within the depths of the new Death Star, the technological terror that delighted Palpatine so much. He had started constructing it before he even built me. We were both his dark children, the twisted offspring of his ambition.
I hated that monstrosity; its very existence seemed to show a lack of faith in the Dark Side. We were Sith - the Darkness was all we should need to triumph.
Still, I supposed it served a purpose, brutal and clumsy as it was. Today it would bring about the end of the Rebellion and I would see the Jedi Order destroyed once and for all when my son let go of that weak inheritance. It was a day I had long anticipated. I wondered briefly why I did not find more joy in contemplating the culmination of so many years of preparation and plotting.
We descended the ramp and walked across the black deck. The men moved out of my way, though I sensed their surprise at seeing Luke Skywalker in their midst. The Hero of the Rebellion was on the Death Star? They glanced at us uneasily, unsure of what was happening.
None of them knew that Luke was my son, of course, because that was a secret we have both had good reasons to guard. He did so out of shame, and my own reasons were even less noble than that. Knowledge was power, and the secret of our blood bond was one that will eventually change the galaxy. He was silent on the lift up to Palpatine's throne, perhaps gathering his strength for what he knew was coming. I felt an odd urge to protect him from the confrontation, and strangled that traitorous feeling it as quickly as it was born.
The doors opened and I heard him take a deep breath, a soldier stepping foot onto a battlefield and bracing himself for certain death. He threw back his shoulders and lifted his chin, and I was struck by a pride so keen that it was a blade cutting into me. We stepped out through the doors, and he looked neither right nor left, his eyes locked on the malevolent figure crouched on his dark throne.
I expected him to reach for me across our bond, just one last plea to abandon the Dark Side. When it did not come, I told myself firmly that I was not disappointed at all, merely relieved. I glanced at him, took in the set of his jaw, the loosely clasped hands brought together by binders. Luke expected to die, was resigned to it. Against my will, I flashed to a moment in a Geonosian arena - so long ago. Before we die, I wanted you to know...
But she had been dead a long time and her son was prepared to follow her.
Together, we walked toward our destiny - Anakin's son and his murderer. The Darkness ahead of us roiled in anticipation and I treacherously basked in the Light that shone at my side one last time before it was extinguished forever. When I left this place, Luke would either be dead...or Dark. Briefly, I wondered which fate would be kinder.
You know the answer to that, my old friend, Obi-Wan said and then fell silent.
My Master's voice drifted to us through the dim chamber, calling us to our appointed places. "I have been expecting you."
Original cover by Gina. HTML formatting copyright 2007 TheForce.Net LLC.