As the Death Star nears Yavin, Darth Vader takes a few moments to reflect on the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi and his own role in it.
The onyx boots snapped against the cold floor as the towering figure strode briskly through the pallid corridors of the Death Star. The Dark Lord made his way down the halls, passing troopers and officers who gave him nothing as much as a nod. Darth Vader was not someone to interfere with, especially not while he was so purposefully headed for a destination. Now that the rebel ship was away, with tracking device intact, Vader would be able to attend to more personal matters. He would be able to collect the trophies he had so yearned for all these years, the symbols of his triumph.
He turned down the short corridor that led to the hangar and saw them. They were still there, lying on the floor- the crumpled brown robes of the fallen Jedi. For a moment, Vader paused, letting the meaning of the image sink in. It was finally finished. Under his mask, a smile creased his lips as he strode over and crouched beside the robes. Vader lifted the tattered brown material slowly. Two halves, he saw, seared by the lightsabre blade that had cut them apart. But the body...
Why was there no body? He could not, for the life of him, understand that. Vader had killed Jedi before- many of them. It had always ended in a gruesomely satisfactory scene. But now that he had done it, had finally defeated the one Jedi he had longed to kill more than any other for decades, there was nothing left to show for it- nothing but empty robes.
Vader clutched Obi-Wan's mantle in his strong mechanical fist. Damn you, Kenobi, he thought bitterly. He should have known his old master would do something like this. That man had always needed to get the last laugh, the final parting shot. Where the Dark Lord should have felt satisfaction at this ultimate victory, a hollow void was left instead. In the eerie silence, he thought he heard a quiet laugh. The imaginary sound echoed in his mind, and Vader could picture the amused smile that accompanied it.
The recent memory came back in an instant. Vader had been poised, ready to unleash his might, to prove once and for all who the most powerful product of the Jedi training was. Everything had led up to that point- all those years of training, belittling, admonishing he had endured. Kenobi should have been tense, scared, worried- something. Anything. But no, he had, typically, remained stoic. And when the time had come for his defeat, what had he done?
He smiled. The image was seared into Vader's mind. That wry twist of the lips, those grey eyes as calm as a still sea. It wasn't the expression his master had worn upon their last meeting, but Vader should have expected something like this from the Jedi. The old man had barely put up a fight, instead only adopting that damn serenity Anakin had always found so irritating.
And yet, there was something in that stoicism, that readiness in the face of all things, that he had always admired, even envied perhaps. It had enabled his master to face some unspeakable things in the course of their time together, especially during the war. It was a foolish way to adopt in the end, of course. Anakin had learned that it was much more useful to embrace those angry impulses, to cloak oneself in the Dark Side and to let it flow through him. That was real power, the kind needed to defeat any enemy. The empty robes in his fists were testament to that.
Vader collected the garments hastily into his arms. He would burn them, watch in satisfaction as the last remnants of his past faded away. It was a shame that there would be no body to burn with them-Vader still couldn't fathom what had happened to it- but it would do nonetheless. The last remnants of the man who had caused him so much pain would finally be gone. Dead.
As Vader stood, the bundle in his arms, he felt something heavy slide out of the robes. It hit the floor with an unmistakable metallic clang. Gazing downward, he saw the familiar hilt lying on the floor. For a moment, he stared at it, almost warily.
This weapon is your life, a voice from memory said. Slowly, Vader bent down and picked up the instrument with the reverence of a man holding a sacred relic. Indeed, a lightsabre was the ultimate symbol of the power of the Force in one's life. His own crimson blade represented what his life had become. The hilt he now held was familiar, and yet changed. Once it had been shining, polished, pristine- the embodiment of a self-confident warrior. But not now. Now the hilt was encrusted with sand and rust. In several places, the metal was deeply scarred.
Was this what Obi-Wan's life had come to? A battered old lightsabre hilt, a mere shadow of the elegance and power it had once been? The sight offered Vader a sober moment of reflection. It was a sour reminder of what things had become. The vision most had of power was now limited to the short-sighted ambitions of politicians. No one knew real power anymore; no one respected it.
With a deft motion, Vader flicked the worn button forward and ignited the ancient weapon. He waved it around carefully, reveling in the familiar humming sound. It beheld a deadly grace, a power much greater than something that could be bought with bribes or hobnobbing at any number of social events. As he stared at the pure azure light, Vader couldn't help but admire its beauty. It commanded a respect that its former owner had embodied.
No, there was no doubt that Kenobi had been an excellent swordsman. As he stared at the glowing blade, Vader recalled the images of it whirling through hazy air, clashing with the fire of his own. He had been surprised at the fight the Jedi had put up the last time they had met, over two decades before. The older man had been strong; he had been good. Almost too good. Vader's mechanical joints ached faintly at the memory.
It reminded him of when he had just begun his lightsabre training, how sore he would always be at the end of the day. When he complained, Obi-Wan would push him harder, insisting that it was the only way to improve. Vader remembered how much he had loathed training, but had to admit that, in retrospect, it had been worth it. At his pinnacle, Anakin Skywalker had been the most formidable swordsman in the galaxy. Just as Obi-Wan had pledged.
You will be a Jedi, I promise, the spectre of a young man vowed in Vader's ear, churning some unknown feeling inside of him. Did he remember, could he, the goal he had longed for more than anything? Even through the smokescreen of his mask, the luminescence of the sword he held caught his gaze, transfixing the Dark Lord for a moment. A Jedi. Yes, that was what he had been. For all his deception and double-talk, Obi-Wan had stayed true to that promise, never budging for an instant, though there were times when Anakin wished he would have. You made it this way, Obi-Wan. The thought was a mix of resentment and melancholy. For all his supposed wisdom, the venerable Jedi had never been able to see the flaw in himself. If only he had. If only he had listened once in a while, and trusted his padawan just a little. But that was beneath him, Vader reminded himself acerbically.
But this time had been different. The fabled Jedi had seemed smaller, bent slightly with age, favouring one leg but trying his best to hide it. Yet his face held the same dignity, the same resolve that it always had. The set jaw and the crisply accented tone had not changed. In the end, however, the man Vader had killed was only partly the man he had known so many years ago. The characteristic smile had been there, true enough, but had it really been triumphant? No, Vader admitted somewhat reluctantly. Rather, it seemed as though Kenobi were grinning because of a private joke at his own expense. The smugness that had once marked his smirk had melted away, humbled by years of shame and regret.
Shame and regret...Vader had not even realised it at the time of their encounter. But now that he reflected on it, that had been exactly what he had sensed from his old master. The piety was gone, replaced by the quiet dignity of a genuine servant. Wasn't that what Anakin had wanted more than anything? For Obi-Wan to humbly admit the error in himself, in the Jedi Order, in the Code- it could have changed everything. Why? Anakin asked the still air silently. Why now and not before?
The demanding question was met only with silence. There was no one left to answer him. The one time Anakin wanted to have something explained to him, and there was no explanation. There was only the harsh sound of his own methodical breathing. I'm listening, the young man deep inside of Vader pleaded earnestly. Please answer me. Why did it have to happen as it did? Why couldn't you have just...why didn't I...Master, why?
No reply came. Obi-Wan Kenobi was dead.
Why do I get the feeling that you're going to be the death of me? The words came back, unbidden, sending a chill up Anakin's spine. It had been an impulsive comment, simply a saying Obi-Wan had invoked as a typical witticism. The man hardly ever said what he truly felt. It was just a hapless remark, one of many the Jedi had made in his lifetime. But never again. There would be no further quips, no more reserved grins accompanying sparks of lightning in those cloudy eyes. How Anakin had hated the way Obi-Wan had a sarcastic comment for everything; though, secretly, they had often amused the apprentice more than he let on.
They had, but never again. Obi-Wan was gone, just like everyone else: Qui-Gon, his mother, Padm?. Everyone he had ever cared about, had ever loved, had ever devoted himself to, had been taken from him. A long-forgotten ache throbbed dully in Vader's throat, and he struggled against the memories with all of his will. But one, he could not drive away, for it was too fresh in his mind. An old Jedi stood alone, drew his sabre into the air, and was cut down in a stroke of rage. His mentor had not been taken from him by someone else. Anakin had killed him. He had killed the last remaining member of his broken, battered family.
The idea jarred a flood of memories. They were not images of arguments, retorts, or restrictions, but of camaraderie and genuine care. The rare but heartfelt feeling of a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. A tacit but undying commitment to a skilled but troubled maelstrom of a young man. Unspoken, and often misunderstood, but ever-present nonetheless. A yearning for something neither of them could have. Anakin's own words hit him deeply - You're the closest thing I have to a father.
A wave of unmeasured grief hit the Dark Lord, seeping through the steel doors of his heart. When the choked sob came, not even the rigor of mechanics could hold it back. For a moment, the breathing stopped, and then a loud sound accompanied the exhale. The gasps came more quickly as Anakin struggled from somewhere deep inside to take a breath. He clawed helplessly, screaming silently for someone to help him, but there was no one. They were gone, now; all of them. There was nothing left to hope for, no one who would hear him if he pleaded- not a friend, not a mentor, not a family-member in the galaxy. He had no one but himself.
I promise, a sombre young man had said. It was more than a promise of training- it was a promise to always be there. Vader ground his teeth together. He could not afford to cling to promises that could no longer be kept. With one last cry, Anakin was shut back into his self-made prison, cold and alone.
With a brisk turn, Vader headed back in the direction he had come from. He was more powerful than faded memories. He shut them out and deafened his ears to them as he made his way back to the control room. Slamming his fist into the lock, he forced the door open.
Tarkin, standing behind several of the Death Star's navigators, turned his head only slightly to note the Dark Lord's entrance. When he saw what he was carrying, however, his eyebrows lifted slowly. "General Kenobi's?" he asked, with guarded curiosity. Vader nodded stoically. "Shall I have them incinerated for you?" the Grand Moff asked.
"Do as you wish," the Sith replied, handing the bundle of garments over to a young officer who had quickly appeared upon hearing the request- then stopped. The rusted sabre hilt resting on top of the pile caught his eye. Without thinking, Vader quickly grabbed the item back. "This," he recounted, "I shall keep. As a trophy."
The Grand Moff eyed Vader for a moment before giving a shrug of forced indifference. "Very well, then," he said, turning back to his work. Taking the cue, the young officer holding the tattered pieces of cloth wordlessly hurried off to carry out his task. He kept his head down, not daring to look at the Dark Lord as he passed him.
Darth Vader turned his hand over and unclenched his fist to get another look at the ancient weapon. Its tattered appearance spoke wordlessly of the fate of its bearer. A fate, Vader knew, that the Jedi had brought upon himself. But the Dark Lord had carried it out, proudly ending what should have ended long ago. This weapon would be a reminder- a reminder of how it had finally ended. Vader clipped Obi-Wan's lightsabre hilt to the left side of his belt. He would keep it. As a trophy. A trophy, nothing more.