Characters: Vader, Palpatine. Mainly Vader-centric.
Word Count: 4,065
Summary: You never meant to choke her. At least, that's what you try to tell yourself.
Author's Notes: This was a really interesting chapter to write. I mentioned previously that I've never written Vader before, and it's true, I haven't, but I'm having a ton of fun writing him now. I think what's most intriguing for me is the exploration of his physical limitations and how Anakin - because at this point, he still thinks of himself as Anakin - dealt with and adjusted to them. As a result, there is a lot in this chapter about the physical side of Vader, and how difficult it is for him to care for himself and exist on a day-to-day basis. I realize some of you may not find this kind of stuff very exciting, but it fascinates me, which is probably one reason the chapter is so long. I live with several chronic illnesses, and so there is some stuff in here that comes direct from the horse's mouth, so to speak. Anyway, I apologize if you're bored. XD The next chapter will be shorter and contain less character introspection and roughly the same amount of angst. Heh.
Your recovery is not proceeding as quickly as Lord Sidious hoped.
For starters, you can barely walk two steps without stumbling over your own feet. You feel clumsy and useless, so you tend to avoid ambulation whenever you can. Your body is not tolerating the nutrient feeds recommended by the medical droids; the first night you were awake for five hours, crippled by stomach cramps, and the second evening you progressed to actual vomiting. The droids are very concerned about your level of hydration, vitally necessary for healing. They test your intake and output almost constantly, an indignity of which you quickly tire. On the third night you destroy one of the medical droids just to simplify things.
That action earns you another visit from Sidious. He has been largely keeping his distance since nearly cooking you with Force lightning, and you are grateful. But apparently, the destruction of a droid his engineers spent three years developing is too grievous an incident to overlook.
“Lord Vader, I have given you everything,” he spits as you sit catatonic in your provided quarters. “I have rebuilt your body, using the latest technology. I have accepted you as my apprentice, when you have been anything but gracious. I have tried to remake you into the consummate Sith. For all of this you should be thanking me on bended knee. But no, you do not. Instead your way of showing thanks is to make scrap durasteel out of a droid very necessary to the surgical centre and your own recovery. I am disgusted, Lord Vader.”
You bite back your retort that you were simply trying to demonstrate an emotion necessary to the Sith: anger. You would only be shot with Force lightning for that, and given the current state of your stomach, you’d prefer not to move very much at all.
“However, there will be no physical punishment at this time,” Sidious continues. “Instead, you and I will tomorrow be journeying to Naboo to attend the funeral of Senator Padmé Amidala. I have arranged us special seats over the parade route. Emperor’s privilege.” His lips curl in a cruel smile. “Meet me at the outside of the medical centre at seven standard hours tomorrow morning. Good night to you.”
He turns to go.
“Master,” you croak desperately, “must we?”
Sidious cackles. “Yes, I’m afraid so,” he replies, putting on a tone of fake sympathy. “I realize, of course, how difficult this will be for you, but dignitaries from five systems will be there, and a fine message it would send if the people did not see their Emperor and his associate prominently in attendance. Duty is duty, Lord Vader.”
The door swishes shut behind him.
The instant he is out of earshot, you are on the floor, retching and vomiting into your mask. Clumsily you reach up to unhook the clasps the way the droids have showed you, emptying it out of the largest quantity of stomach bile and continuing to cough and choke.
“I’m Anakin,” you whisper to the floor. “Anakin … Senator Amidala is Padmé …”
The names are the only remnants of your former self, and while they hurt to speak, the pain is not nearly as sharp as when you think of your “duty” tomorrow. Duty … how can he paint it like that? He knows very well how much of a trial the funeral will be for you. To see her, devoid of life, of feeling, of laughter, of the wonderful attitude that made her who she was, will be unspeakably difficult.
At the same time, you know Sidious is testing you. Goading you deliberately, hoping for the angry reaction he needs to reshape you into a full Sith. But you don’t feel anger. Not yet, anyway. Perhaps at some indeterminate point in the future, you will.
Now, there is only sadness.
Sadness for all that has been lost.
Padmé. Your unborn child. Obi-Wan. Before that, your mother.
That your mind would bring up the name Obi-Wan surprises you, as you’ve thought more of Padmé than anyone else since Mustafar. But Obi-Wan is lurking in the back of your consciousness, you realize, and your grief for him has yet to be even examined, let alone dealt with.
You do feel grief. Intermingled with anger. But still grief.
What sort of a life would you have had if you’d taken Padmé’s offer? Run away with her to Naboo, helped her through the delivery of the baby? You could have. Right up until Obi-Wan appeared in the doorway of the Naboo skiff, you had a choice. He could have come too.
Why did you suspect him? Why?
Their previous relationship, your mind replies.
It should have meant nothing. It did mean nothing. That was the lie you told yourself. Before you proposed to Padmé, you took her hand in yours and said, “The only thing that scares me about all this is that you might love him more than you love me.”
And she raised her own hand, and let her fingers drift along your jaw, and said very firmly and clearly, “Anakin, that part of my life is over. I promise you. Obi-Wan and I are just good friends now. I love you more than I’ve loved anyone.”
It was then that you dropped to one knee, producing the ring you’d carved for her out of the same snippet of japor as her good luck charm, and asked her to marry you. Her face lit up with a wider smile than you’d ever seen on it, and you slipped the ring onto her finger, and she leapt into your arms and you hugged and kissed. The tension of the previous minute forgotten, at least for her.
But not for you.
You tried not to let it affect you. You would banish the thoughts, reject them from your mind as soon as they made themselves known, but inevitably suspicion would creep back in. Aided and abetted in no small part by Palpatine. She married me … but is she still seeing him? In her heart of hearts, does she still love Obi-Wan? Does she wish he hadn’t been as devoted to the Code as he was? Does she remember their love often? Does she try to forget?
All signs pointed to Padmé’s loving you and you alone. She was the perfect wife, and one of the best friends you ever had. She was always there to comfort you when you were upset, to encourage you when you were feeling down, to offer a hug when you needed one. She rarely complained about the nature of your lives – how you could see each other only rarely, how by and large you could not live together as husband and wife, how no one could know about your marriage. Whenever you wanted to make love to her, she was ready, though in the later stages of her pregnancy, you both had to get a little … inventive about positioning. This was more than compensated by her increased need for intimacy, however, and while she was pregnant you had some of the best sex of your lives.
You can still see her, now … waiting for you on her apartment’s landing pad, practically jumping you as soon as you walked through the security shield. Just the memory of it brings a painful twitch to your groin. Or what is left of it.
But that part of your life is gone now. Evaporated, as though it never existed in the first place. Padmé is dead, and your love of life died with her.
Oh, Angel … where did we go wrong?
You’re not sure how long you lie there, slumped on the floor, barely moving. Trying not to dry-heave what is left of your kidneys. Part of you wants to keep lying there, wants to continue wallowing in your depression and self-pity, wants never to be moved again. But another part – a more significant part – cannot physically move, and so you wait for a medical droid to be sent to scoop you up and set you right again.
But no droid comes.
You are exhausted, in pain, you want to get back into your chair so you can sleep, your stomach growls with hunger even as it revolts and retches, and a vague sensation somewhere below indicates a possible need for the refresher. For the first time in days you dip into the Force to sense if the droids are coming, but no mechanical signatures are detected in the hallway beyond.
You hate this. You may as well be helpless as a baby, for Force’s sake!
“Lord Vader,” booms a voice suddenly over the intercom. It belongs to Sidious.
You try to look up, to acknowledge him, but you can barely raise your head. Then he speaks the words that cause your blood to run cold.
“I thought it prudent to inform you that no additional droids will be sent to assist you tonight,” Sidious says casually. “After you so callously disposed of that one last night, I deduced that you were attempting to send me a message. Perhaps the time has come for you to learn to care for yourself on your own.”
No. “Master, please, I need …”
“I will expect you tomorrow at the meeting point discussed previously. Good evening.”
And the intercom clicks off.
You stay slumped on the floor, because for awhile, you are unsure what else you can do. You have a sneaking suspicion that Sidious is monitoring your every move – or lack thereof – through holocams placed strategically in the room, and you don’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing he’s gotten to you. Nevertheless, your body will not be ignored for long, and eventually you begin to feel the excruciating pain brought on by being in one position for too long.
Okay. The first thing you should probably do is get up. But how? You’ve been given very little training on how to use your new body, least of all lessons on how to pick yourself up off the floor. Before, you would simply have put both hands out in front of you and pushed yourself up, or, alternately, used the Force to flip to a standing position. But now … now you feel useless and clumsy, and as big as a bantha. Your limbs are foreign, bizarre, objects over which you feel you have no control.
If only you were still whole. Life would be so much simpler.
But perhaps you can adapt your old methods of ambulation to your new self. It’s worth a try, anyway.
Carefully you stick first one arm and then the other straight out in front of you. You splay your fingers until they can offer enough support to your trunk, then attempt to push upwards.
Almost immediately you collapse back to the floor, wheezing. Obviously this is not going to be as easy as you’d hoped. You’re loathe to use the Force just to get yourself to a standing position, but it’s beginning to dawn on you that if you don’t, you could well be stuck here all night.
So you sink into the energy field, feeling the currents around you, finding some resistance against which to push. Slowly you lift yourself a little off the ground … then a little more … then more until you’re horizontal a few centimeters off the floor, staring at the puddle of vomit and bile you produced a few hours earlier. Now, to rotate yourself vertically.
Another push, and you are facing outwards. You let yourself drift down to the ground, stumbling a little as your heavy boots make contact with the durasteel floor. Then you sigh as you realize that you neglected to put on your helmet before standing. You expel a heavy sigh through both nostrils and immediately succumb to a fit of coughing. Your lungs are unused to breathing without the compressed air regulator for so long. Another sigh, smaller this time, and the Force brings your helmet to your hand and snaps it back to the neck brace. The regulator makes you breathe deeply again as fresh oxygen cycles into your damaged lungs.
The effort, though small, has nonetheless exhausted you, and you collapse carefully into the nearest chair. You wish you could just sleep for the next five or six days, but there are still two tasks that require your attention before you can relax: getting some nutrition into your beleaguered stomach, and taking care of matters at the other end. The funny prickling sensation is still bothering you, and you can sense that it will become a desperate pain before long if not dealt with.
You grip the arms of your chair, trying to remember how the medical droids handled that particular problem. You remember them inserting a tube somewhere, poking and prodding, pain … but that is quite enough. You can’t imagine doing that yourself, and for a moment you ponder what the consequences might be if you were to comm a medical droid yourself. Surely Sidious would punish you, and there may not even be any medical droids left. Perhaps he has taken your actions literally and had them all destroyed. You wouldn’t put it past him.
So. What to do?
You find yourself wishing for Padmé suddenly. Why, you cannot say. It may have something to do with how she treated you when your first roboclaw was fitted, after Count Dooku severed your flesh arm on Geonosis. You had been afraid to show it to her, ashamed of what you were becoming. (If only you could have seen yourself now!) She wanted to make love to you when you were recovered enough, but you had hidden your arm, mumbled about how surely she wouldn’t want a machine touching her delicate parts.
Padmé had reached her own hand out, taken the mechno-hand and run her fingers up and down its surface. “Ani, this is your hand,” she’d said, softly but firmly. “You may not have been born with it, but it is still yours. And I want you to love me with it as you would with your other hand.”
To prove it, she brought the arm up to her cheek and used the fingers to gently caress it. Tingles shot up the hand, made you shiver and smile. “Oh, Padmé,” you whispered. “I love you.”
She wore a radiant smile. “I know.”
You never forgot those words she spoke to you, and you never again hesitated to use your roboclaw to explore and pleasure your wife’s body. In fact, the roboclaw became a sort of project to you after that. You made many modifications to it for higher efficiency, and you even designed a sleek black glove that could be worn over top of it. Whenever it was damaged, you refused to let the tech droids fix it, instead making whatever repairs it needed yourself. You occasionally heard members of the Jedi Council express the belief that the prosthesis had created a proverbial chip on your shoulder, but to you, it was anything but. Your arm was just another thing to tinker with, much like your podracer had been and your starfighter was.
Now, you wish Padmé could be here to make you feel as comfortable with your new body. You wish she could let her soft hand drift across the surface of your mask, and tell you that nothing has changed, that she still loves you despite the disfigurement and the burns and the wounds and the pain. You even wish she could help you with the task you are currently facing, though if she were to materialize in front of you right now, you’re not sure your reaction wouldn’t be to start blushing and stammering. But your angel … she would put it right. She would help you, she would make you feel comfortable, because she was just that kind of person.
Clearly, she is not going to simply materialize in front of you. So clearly, and infuriatingly, you need to do precisely what Sidious bade you: learn to care for yourself, without the expertise of the med droids or the gentle wisdom of your wife.
You look longingly at your bed. How long will it be before you can climb between the sheets? How much effort will be expended in the process of getting there? You shudder to think. The tasks ahead seem monumental, like a mountain you must climb. But there is little to be gained by pondering just how much you have to do, and so you give yourself a small shake and begin.
The first duty is the hardest. How you miss simply being able to stride into the refresher and take care of matters instantly! Now there are pants, and buckles, and zippers, and buttons, and shields, and wraps, and dressings, and to top it off your new fingers are clumsy and stupid and won’t work the way you want them to. More than a few Huttese curses are uttered as you fumble with your garments, and several times you are on the point of giving up, but you begin to realize that Sidious spoke at least one truth: you do need to learn to care for yourself. What will you do otherwise? Cart a cadre of medical droids around with you to cater to your every need? A fine image that would present to the public.
The Hero With No Fear, Who Cannot Even Unbutton His Own Pants!
The thought almost – almost – makes you laugh.
Next second, though, you are finally as disrobed as you can make yourself, and you wonder what to do next. A bag of supplies, left by the droids, sits near your bed. You remember lying there last night, wincing and moaning and sometimes outright screaming as they poked and prodded your flesh. You weren’t paying attention to which instruments they were using at the time, but the realization comes to you now that perhaps that bag holds something useful for your current situation.
It leaps to your hand with a twist of the Force, and you open it to find one of the tubes that you recollect were poked into a significant orifice just before you destroyed the droid. It’s worth a try, anyway. You grasp it with your fingers, and with one deep breath, you take the plunge. Literally.
The sensation is not a happy one; in fact, the pain is among the worst you have ever experienced. And that includes all of the lasers and cutting tools and mechanical splicers chopping into your flesh. Possibly because, by necessity, it must be inserted into such a sensitive area. But you grit your teeth and continue clutching it, and gradually the prickly feeling that has been bothering you since you fell to the floor disappears. When you pull the tube out, with a moan of pain, you see that you have indeed been successful in your efforts.
Next, you remember, was the nutrient feed. You had largely ignored the droids when they told you to hook it up at regular meal times, and paid dearly for your mistake later in cramping and general revolting of your stomach. You are therefore loath to begin now, but at the same time, you know that you will need nutrition to heal properly. So in a way, you don’t have a choice.
You pick out a smaller set of tubing and a packet of nutrient powder from the bag, pondering how they should be hooked up. You remember, vaguely, that there’s a slot in your helmet which will allow the tubing and feed to be trickled directly into your mouth; all you need do is swallow every once in awhile. The only issue lies in finding that slot.
Carefully, gently, because your mouth is still raw and sore, you feel around with your tongue. Yes, there it is: the end of the tubing. You just have to grip on with your lips, hook up the outside tubing and the feed will regulate itself.
It takes a little while to master the exact proportions and operations, but through trial and error, you finally manage to get it set up. You sip from the feeding tube like a straw, noting with relief that the nutrient solution appears to have no taste. Willing your stomach to accept it, because you are getting sick and tired of throwing up all the time.
Everything seems to be going well, for a change, and for the first time in a little while you can sit and ponder your state of affairs again. Or perhaps this is a curse, since you don’t exactly want to think about your emotions and your mental state of mind. And Padmé. Oh, Padmé.
You never meant to choke her. At least, that’s what you try to tell yourself. You just … snapped. Lost it. Had an attack of temper at the wrong time. It could happen to anyone, right? And it had happened to you before, though not – in your view – with such devastating consequences. Somehow in the three years since your mother’s death, you managed to convince yourself that the attack on the Tusken camp had been an unfortunate accident, nothing more. You wanted revenge for the torture and mutilation they had inflicted on your mother. And were you not right to seek revenge? A son defending his mother’s honour. Surely there could be no greater calling.
Yet … yet you were supposed to be a Jedi, above such petty feelings of rage and vengeance. Obi-Wan would not have snapped like that, for instance. Nor would Mace Windu, or Yoda, or Adi Gallia, or Plo Koon. Of course, they would not have had reason to do so, lacking parents (that they could remember, anyway) to be upset over. You get the feeling that they wouldn’t even have taken revenge for the death of a fellow Jedi. Because revenge, as Obi-Wan frequently reminded you, was not the Jedi way.
That’s why you never told him about your attack on the Tusken Raiders’ camp. You desperately wanted his approval, as hard as that was to admit to yourself, and confessing that you had recently massacred a city’s worth of innocents wouldn’t exactly be the best way to earn said approval. The only people in the galaxy who did know – Padmé and Palpatine – were not Jedi, and could to some extent understand what it felt like to grieve, to wish vengeance on an opponent.
But maybe I SHOULD have told Obi-Wan, you reflect. Maybe if I had, I wouldn’t be in this predicament. I might have been expelled from the Order, but at least then I could have gone to Naboo and lived with Padme or something. Not be turned into this half-man, half-machine … thing.
The nutrient package is almost empty, and with a relieved sigh you disconnect it. It appears as though the meal will stay down, at least for now. But have you really “eaten”? To you, the act of eating still means putting food into your mouth with a utensil, chewing and swallowing it. All you have done for the past hour, essentially, is swallow nutrient-rich water. Of course, you probably couldn’t eat conventional food yet – your mouth and throat are still too raw and sore – but it is the sensation of eating you miss, as much as the satisfaction of fullness you get from nourishing yourself. Now, you have nourished yourself, you have provided your body with the nutrients it needs to heal, but you have not satisfied yourself.
You never realized there was such a big difference.
You shove the feeding tube back into the supply bag, crumpling the nutrient package and tossing it carelessly to the floor. You have no real desire to do anything now but sink into a deep, dreamless sleep. But you know it will not be dreamless, despite your best attempts.
With ample assistance from the Force, you stumble over to the bed in the corner. Collapse onto it, folding your arms over your chest like a corpse. You feel like a corpse at the moment, exhausted and sick of your life. Wanting to die. But not wanting to give Sidious the satisfaction.
Your eyes close, and you retreat back to a world of fire, pain, and endless screams.