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Facing Death

by Mcily Nochi

"I am ready."

Doctor Tabith Drula jumped up, startled. "Lord Vader!" she stammered. "I did not see you come in!" She bowed hastily, remembering proper etiquette. "I apologize."

He waved a hand, his black mask conveying no emotion, yet somehow stirring fear in the depths of her heart. "It is no matter."

She nodded, not sure how to respond to that, and there was an awkward silence. "Would you please be seated?" she said finally, gesturing to her medical chair. Vader stalked past her, silently unfastened his cape, and took a seat, somehow making the medical center seem like a throne room. "Do you require anything before I begin the examination?" she asked, hesitant. "I was told very little about the procedure, and as you know, I've never done this before." She swallowed, remembering why. Vader was notorious for killing every doctor who saw him without his mask. The task was only given to mediocre, second-rate doctors, or women. She knew she would die at the end of Lord Vader's physical. She put the thought aside, knowing it would only serve to distract her from treating him efficiently.

She moved to the side of the chair and adjusted it until the Dark Lord was lying flat on his back. She realized she had never before seen him without his cape. Not that that even matters now, she reminded herself dryly. Soon she would see more of him than any living person ever had.

Tabith reached for the anesthetic, but an iron grip stayed her arm. "I require nothing," Vader said darkly. "A Je-- a Sith feels no pain."

Her knees quaked. She knew that removing his mask and protective body armor would be painful to him. Surely denying him pain killers would be signing her own death warrant.

As would ignoring a direct command. "As you wish, my Lord." She lifted a small pair of pliers and unfastened the tiny, almost invisible clasps of his mask. She gently lifted his head and removed the front cover and the back in one smooth motion.

He was hideous. Tabith stifled a small cry at his face, which was pasty white and streaked with angry scars. His scalp was smooth and pure white, traced with angry red scars and oozing sores. She gasped and froze, pinned in place by the icy blue stare that seemed to promise her death. The eyes widened slightly, continuing to stare. Without moving a muscle, he suddenly looked pathetic. The giant, black-clad terror was only a man after all, his face disfigured beyond recognition. She found herself wondering how it had happened, and what he had endured in the healing. [i]If this can be called healed.[/i]

The frightening eyes flashed once, and Tabith realized with a jab of foreboding that Vader could not breathe. She immediately fastened the specially designed breath mask into his mouth, and he looked away again. She got the eerie feeling that he never made eyes contact with his doctors-- but she didn't know whether to be flattered or terrified.

She carefully removed his chest plate as well, carefully linking up the life support machines that made his torso so intimidatingly huge. He looked almost like a normal human being now, and she was struck again by how helpless he was. He could not move, and had nothing but his dark powers to stop her from killing him on the spot. Not that those weren't more than enough . . .

She sighed and began to examine his skin for irritations. He had a raw sore in his neck that was beginning to blister, and she went to a cupboard and retrieved some salve, then, dipping her hand liberally into it, gently rubbed it into his skin. He shivered slightly.

"I'm sorry, it's cold," she told him sympathetically, warming the next coating of salve in her hands before applying it. He grunted. She searched the rest of his body for blisters, then sprayed bacta over the lacerations caused by wires, and burns from overheated circuits and flying sparks.

Tabith turned her attention next to a large burn on his stomach. She coated her hands in bacta salve and began to rub it gently. He tensed. "It's okay," she whispered soothingly, forgetting for a moment who he was. "I know it hurts, but this will make it better."

He growled low in his throat and his face contorted with anger at her words. She sighed and continued treating the burn. "Oh hush. You're going to kill me anyway so I might as well say anything I like. You won't do anything with your armor off, because if I'm dead then there's no one left to put it back on you."

His eyebrows knitted and he looked at her again.

"Puzzled, are you? Good. You shouldn't know everything all the time." She finished rubbing in the salve and began spraying a protective coating over it to prevent the burn from being irritated again when he put his suit back on.

The rest of his body was mostly machine. She couldn't look long at the places where the long metal robs plunged into the stumps of his arms, wires puncturing his skin and keeping it from healing fully. He was a poor, broken man.

The treatment complete, Tabith gingerly lifted the chest plate, clicking it into place. The tiny indicator lights flickered for a moment, then came on brightly. "There you go," she said, injecting a cheerful note into her voice, although her death was now looking her in the face. She discovered that she did not care any more. It was worth it. She had seen the human inside the Dark Lord of the Sith.

She picked up the helmet and leaned over him thoughtfully. "I don't think you're as evil as you like to pretend you are," she said softly, staring into his blue eyes, which turned toward her and locked gazes for the third time. "I'm sure someone once loved you and was hurt with you when whatever caused this happened." On a whim she touched his cheek with the tips of her fingers; not a medical probe, but the response of one human to another in pain. "I'm sorry," she whispered.

The light blue eyes widened again as they were covered by the mask. His face was once again shiny, black, and impassive, yet the man was still there beneath it, looking back at her. Tabith smiled. "Nice to meet you, my Lord."

"The pleasure," he responded, his voice deep and breathy through the mask, "was all mine." She moved him to a sitting position and he stood, once again commanding the room.

Tabith bowed. "I am honored."

He paused at the door and turned to look back at her. His artificial face showed no expression, but he hesitated as if unsure of what he should do next. "I know." He paused a moment longer, then shook himself and swept out of the room.

Tabith smiled. Vader might hate her from that day on, but she knew that he would never order her death. She was safe.

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