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Title: Were It Not That I Have Bad Dreams
Author: ophelia (opheliamac@aol.com)
Characters: Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Palpatine
Genre: Angst
Rating: PG

Summary: A vision-world represents the internal “conflict” that Vader swears he’s not having during the ROTJ duel.

The most dangerous being in the galaxy has no face. It has no eyes, no mouth to speak with, no claws to tear or jaws to crush.

And yet, sleeping within it is the power to turn the galaxy’s civilization to dust.

That is why it is kept locked within a cell—a cell surrounded by a burning wasteland howling with demons, which is itself enveloped by a wide, icy void, which is bound by layers of chains, thorns, lighting, and flames. The whole mass is shut within an impenetrable black fortress that stands alone on an abandoned, frozen plain.

The fact that none of these things has any physical reality does not lessen their effectiveness one bit. The strongest chains cannot imprison a man whose mind is free, and the most wildly unlimited power cannot free a man whose mind is in chains.

The Master Sith who keeps order in the galaxy, who *is* the galaxy’s order, knows this, and sometimes it is the only thing that allows him to sleep at night.

“So, you have accepted the truth.”

For the first time in an age they face each other again: the young Jedi, and the monster. According to the galaxy’s calendars not so much time has passed, but the last time these two locked eyes, it was in another universe. Much has changed since then.

Vader had been ascendant then, a great, enveloping power whose strength seeped in at every crack, and who wrapped even the brightest-lit object in half a shadow. His power to touch and taint everything had seemed like mastery at the time.

Here, however, in this nighttime forest, Luke looks into the darkness and sees only his own shadow. There is nothing to fear there, for he controls his shadow as he controls himself. He is the puppetmaster, and the darkness the puppet.

“I've accepted the truth that you were once Anakin Skywalker, my father.”

The name . . .

Something inside the monster recoils at it, as if at a deadly curse. An unexpected fear spreads through him, as if a geas has been invoked. To possess a man’s name is to possess the power to call him forth, perhaps even from the netherworld. Palpatine once called Vader from the depths by speaking his name.

What will come of hearing that name out loud?

The boy feels the power of the words, too, but instead of fear, a flicker of hope runs through him. Has the key come so easily, after all this time?

The monster tries to grind that hope into the familiar, bitter dust of all the other, similar ones.

“That name no longer has any meaning for me.”

A brief battle of words follows, with each warrior testing each other’s weaknesses. The Sith senses the mad, almost childlike hope in his opponent, and knows those emotions can be used to wrench him open and eviscerate him in a moment. He has done this before . . . so many times. It works best on those who those who believe they love their deceiver.

The young Jedi senses the soul-killing-weariness in the man who claims he will destroy him. Whatever volatile spirit has kept the hellfires burning in Darth Vader for so long, its reserves seem to have run dangerously low. Vader moves, speaks, even threatens, like the machine he nearly is. Obi-Wan’s words come back to haunt him: . . . twisted and evil.

Yes, but not entirely . . . surely not all the way to the core? Please . . . Luke thinks, although he’s not sure who or what he’s begging. Let him listen. I can make him hear—if for just one minute he’ll listen.

“It is . . . . too late for me, son.”

The words seem to hang in the air, and the regret is palpable in them, as is the resignation.

The creature speaking clearly does not expect salvation.

Nor does he expect to stand in a night-scented forest ever again, even with its sounds and dew-weighted air filtered through the sterility of a breath mask.

Purple lightning blasts Luke to the floor—courses over him like skeleton fingers, stealing life from him drop by drop. The Master—the man who has owned and exploited the galaxy since before this idiot child was born--looks down in disgust.

“Young fool . . . only now, at the end, do you understand.”

Luke makes a soft sound that might be either a sob or an attempt not to be sick, but the Emperor shows no mercy. His only regret is that young Skywalker has proven to be so witless, and now the Master Sith is stuck with an ageing, weakened Vader at his side. The Emperor has known for some time that Vader is a mere shade of the Sith he once was.

And, worse than being stuck with Vader, is being stuck with It.

Overconfident Sidious might be, but he has not forgotten Plagueis after all this time. Most of the nauseating pampering Vader has received over all these years has been the result of Sidious’s fear of It, that splinter of a thing deep inside the Dark Lord that could still shoot out and strike the Master Sith in the eye.

Sidious is not afraid right now, however, as he continues to pour a demon-star’s-worth of energy through the dying body of Luke Skywalker. Vader is nothing to him at the moment—a mutilated, wheezing near-corpse lying on the floor where his son has left him.

Sidious is not aware of what his apprentice is thinking in that moment, nor does he particularly care. If he’d had to guess, however, he’d have surmised that Vader was as disgusted by Luke’s small-minded cowardice as Sidious himself was. After all, Vader had nearly killed his son in utero due to the wheedling stupidity of the child’s mother. Why should even a weak Sith be any more tolerant of the same idiocy in a grown and supposedly trained warrior?

“Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the dark side.”

“Ani, what are we going to do?”

“You have paid the price for your lack of vision!”

“We're not going to worry about anything right now.”

“Father, please!”

“This is a happy moment. The happiest moment of my life.”

The corroded durasteel walls that surround the most dangerous being in the galaxy have begun to glow dull red, then brilliant red, then white. As the metal panels thin and drop away, a small figure is revealed within. His silhouette stands out, black against the flames. He takes a hesitant step forward, and then another. The fire does not touch him—it never did. He alone in this scorched, lava-cracked landscape remains whole and unburnt.

Physically, of course, he is not there—he is not anywhere. He is a healthy figment of a diseased imagination.

That does not change the fact that he holds the fate of the galaxy in his small, grubby hand.

He stands for a moment, fearful and lost, a speck within the shrieking demon wasteland that has surrounded his cell for so long.

It is out.

All the alarm klaxons and warning bells in the galaxy should be screaming right now, because it is out, and the Master that should be torturing it back into seclusion is torturing someone else. If the deceptively small, childlike being makes it out of his prison, then the cage of bars and steel and armor plating that serve as the galaxy’s structure will give way, and total collapse will follow.

All that can stop him now is the monster—the thing that has kept up the prison’s formidable defenses for so long.

Once, the monster had driven the boy before it--wild and deadly as a bone-stripping sandstorm driving the foraging poor of Tattooine. But now as the small figure—the boy—approaches, it is the monster that lies helpless—burned and maimed beside a river of fire. Its orange eyes are growing glassy and fixed, and its charred and blackened chest heaves with a desperate, wrenching motion that lifts the small of its back off the burning black sand on which it lies. Its lungs have been seared by burning toxic vapors, and no amount of frantic gasping will get oxygen into its ruined body. Every ounce of killing energy that Sidious pours into his victim seems to be drained out of the creature, which is losing its will to exist even as Luke Skywalker dies.

This monster has lived on for over twenty years for no other reason than to punish the galaxy for each one of civilization’s evils, both real and imagined. Now, however, it seems to have found the one thing that makes even that life unbearable.

The boy crouches down, and silently locks gazes with the blackened, half-skinless nightmare-figure. No longer persecutor and persecuted—not even equals squaring off for a battle—they are simply two tormented beings, each silently pleading with the other for help in making the misery stop.

The boy places one small hand, fingernails dirtied with engine grease, on the forehead of the dying monster, and reaches out to take the monster’s sole, claw-like mechanical hand with the other. As blue eyes gaze into orange, a loud crack sounds, and great chunks of stone fall from some unimaginable height above them. The boy—terrorized for so long—ducks and cowers, but the monster fastens his gaze greedily on the collapsing ceiling, and licks his charred lips in anticipation. Before long, the tumbling rock becomes a near-avalanche, and a mighty crack appears in the wall of the fortress that has been their home and their personal hell for as long as there has been an Empire.

For the first time since before his children were born, light enters the world of Anakin Skywalker.

Sidious is only peripherally aware of Darth Vader dying. The Master Sith has foreseen that Vader was growing weak, and will not last much longer. What of it? Sidious has watched allies die before.

At the moment, he is most joyously watching an enemy die. How long it has been since he killed a Jedi! That particular aura of martyred suffering takes him back to good times, heady times, when he drank the greatest draught of victory any Sith had tasted in a thousand years.

Perhaps it is because he is lost in the delights of the moment and vainglorious dreams of the past that he does not sense the change in Skywalker’s energy signature.

The other Skywalker.

He would not have recognized the shifted Force-vibration, anyway--since it belongs to neither the frightened, angry boy he once knew, nor to the Sith apprentice who made it his life’s work to punish the Jedi, and then the galaxy in general, for all the pain and privations of his dark, twisted life.

It is the energy signature of a man who never existed—an Anakin Skywalker who looked straight at Sidious and his promises of power, and decided to annihilate both.

All Luke could ever remember was that one moment he was in more agony than he ever dreamed existed, and the next, the pain was gone. His first reaction was disorientation. It took a moment for the encroaching haze of unconsciousness to clear from his vision and for him to hitch himself up on one elbow to see what was happening.

Vader—no—Anakin—Luke’s father, had clutched the Emperor in a death embrace, and was lurching with his screaming, lightning-bolt-shooting burden toward one of the throne room’s reactor core openings. With a power that was perhaps only possible for a man of adamantine spirit, wired within a body made of durasteel, Anakin flung the Emperor down the shaft as if the Master Sith had been little but a bundle of black rags.

There came a hollow wail, and a blast of luminous blue energy shot out of the shaft—only to be swiftly sucked back in, as if the bowels of hell were loathe to part with it. The flickering blue light seemed to crawl over Anakin’s armor once before vanishing. Then Luke’s father, the last Jedi of the Old Republic, collapsed against the reactor rail and did not rise.

“Tell your sister . . . you were right.”

There were other things to say, but the power of the Chosen One was granted only on the Force’s sufferance, and it gave him no more time.

Anakin was vaguely aware of multiple system shutdown alerts crackling and buzzing within his armor—an emergency failsafe tried to restart his heart, and then the failsafe failed as well.

Things were so beautifully quiet after that. No harsh breathing, no circuitry hum—he hadn’t been in absolute silence in decades.

As his brain began to shut down, he saw colors—remembered flashes of things: his mother’s smile, Padmé’s laugh. And then it seemed he was hovering above a massive fortress—an ugly, black forboding thing, meant to inspire fear in all who approached it, and to give a hellish mockery of “security” to the one who dwelt inside. All down the front of the fortress there was a huge cut, however, almost as clean as if it had been made with a lightsaber blade.

Luke—his son, the Jedi too clever for Sidious’ tricks--had helped him cut that escape route. Finally, after almost fifty years, there would be no more chains.

Flickers—swirling lights, a few more flashes from the past. The show was winding down.

Tattooine . . . running on legs of flesh . . . his mother . . . a limitless blue sky . . . joy.

A last muffled voice, bearing the best news of a lifetime:

“And Anakin has been freed.

You are no longer a slave.”

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