CHARACTER DEATH – TISSUES NEEDED. Also, non-gratuitous references to suicide
(not Luke or Vader) – if you find these topics upsetting, please don't read
this story. I am SERIOUS about the tissue warning. Also, use of an OC – yes,
that fearsome creature – to mirror the extraordinary tragedy of the Skywalkers
in the ordinary lives of an Imperial family…
I am no stranger to silence, but it is hard to be silent when there are revelations screaming through your mind. That those revelations are deeply ironic does not comfort me. I admit that I haven't truly been living since Misha committed suicide, and now it is too late to change; now I am about to die. There is a grim humour in that, though I am too weary to laugh. There is an old, little-known Ballil term of endearment that Misha and I used to use. Swimming in the intoxication of summer wine and young love, I can't remember ever stopping to think about its implications. I suppose it was time I had the full meaning of dragged across my throat.
Dr'shar. My Bitten Heart.
And so it's only at this moment I begin to understand the endearment as more than murmuring `I love you', as it is only at this moment that I can begin to wish I'd never heard it. Ironic, too, that it would be two of the galaxy's most powerful men who would teach a lowly officer this lesson.
Dr'shar. It is a tragedy, a curse and a redeemer. Grant me time to explain…
We're standing on the top floor of a unused building in a state of festering disrepair. This is not something that is easy to achieve on Coruscant; Xizor must be proud of finding such an appropriate setting. It is as morbid as my mood as My Lord Darth Vader runs towards the centre of the room. The ceiling stretches above us, cutting off the stars. The floor expands in front and behind us, cutting off any escape. It's cold. It's colder than anything I've ever known, but they say death has frigid fingers.
The windows have been blown in: they've covered the floor in a carpet of winking plastisteel shards; they look like the tears Misha should have been allowed to shed. The room is draped in shadows, and I imagine my dead wife standing in a corner, watching on sorrowfully, wearing the soft black cloaks of a mourning gown. Fanciful and poetic, I wish the shadows would wrap me up and offer me some comfort. Fanciful, poetic, indulgent. But if you can't be indulgent in death, when can you be?
I should be watching, guarding, aiding My Lord as he runs to try and save his son… but I'm thinking of Misha and her dusky breath on my skin, and the fever of her touch, and I'm mourning still, silently. There are tears shining on the permacrete floor in a starless Coruscant night, matching the ones crawling in silver-trails down my cheeks. I wonder if denial would make this all go away. Because denial is nothing new to me.
And it didn't work last time, either.
My Lord reaches the boy's side. The glass shards are breaking under his feet as he quickly kneels and begins to try to free him, the starless night painting them with a sliver of grey. I'm blinking out the acrid sting of smoke from my eyes. I'm pushing back the persistent cough from the ozone of blaster fire. By the door, a single guard should be standing sentry. He slumps against the littered floor, eyes closed, his throat smiling wetly.
"Dr'shar." My Lord's voice is deep and bleeding, a gaping wound yawning wider than the guard's slit throat. I wonder how he knows that word. He surely didn't learn it from me.
He slips the gag from the boy's mouth and throws it the floor. The gasp of inhaled air is loud in the empty room. The cough when he inhales the noxious smoke is louder.
Strange. I don't even show shock anymore when he says it, I only look on with numb lips and skin at the quiet compassion there. They contemplate each other for long seconds, Skywalker's expression troubled. Two hundred and fifty-three floors up and the wind is cold here, stirring those tears across the floor. I change my metaphor for a second and imagine the shards as salt to rub into open wounds. I haven't moved from my spot in the darkness of the room yet. I let My Lord and his son have their privacy in the cold swath of Coruscant night through the open window. What little light there is seems to hug Skywalker eagerly.
"Hold still." My Lord is trying to free his son from the bonds that tie him to the floor, working in the half-light. The metal of heavy cuffs has been melded together and to a hook in the floor. Dark ebony shows around his wrists where he's tried to free himself.
"There's no time," Skywalker says, his voice difficult to understand. But when you've had a gag stuffed in your mouth for the better half of the Coruscant twilight, you speak in padded vowels. Still, we both understand him. My Lord stops, his muscles tremble slightly, and Skywalker continues, "There's a bomb. You've only got another minute. You have to get out."
One minute. One minute before the Sali'ir and Sander Municipal Constructions Headquarters topples from a small thermonuclear explosion at its base. We know this. We knew this coming in. And yet we came.
My Lord is speaking. "This is not your destiny."
Destiny. Nothing but a seven-letter word for slow, drawn-out agony. Misha would laugh and flick her fingers at the sky, declaring `Destiny be damned!' Skywalker shakes his head sadly, "Don't die here."
His voice is heady with persuasion, wide eyes forcing My Lord to meet a demanding gaze. I want to walk forward to try and be a part of the decision of all our fates. I don't want to disturb them by crushing tears under my feet. I stand still. Perhaps I should try and persuade him to leave his son here, but I can't and I don't. Misha, I'm sorry. This is my duty.
Somewhere below us there's the thump of blaster fire.
"You can't undo them. I've tried." His eyes suck up the light and reflect it in stormy, saddened blue. It is an ethereal beauty that demands attention. No wonder this is the Alliance's fair-haired hero. He wears his beauty like a cloak. I don't think he's even seen me. Being disregarded is nothing new to me.
The bonds around his hands are welded to the floor, keeping him kneeling. He is shivering. The bruise on his cheekbone marks him as a victim, but the grim set of his jaw marks him as a fighter. The bonds are welded to the floor and My Lord doesn't have his lightsaber.
My breath is trembling. I want to urge My Lord to disobey, so I can stay, so I can go back to my own Dr'shar. Time is ticking by, my heart dutifully counting it down against my ribs.
My Lord is almost gentle when he wraps his ebony cloak around the shoulders of his son. Lord Vader is a man of few words and less care. Here he obeys the first, defies the second. "I'm staying."
They are kneeling in the starless night; I won't disturb them, and all I can do is remember….
* * * *
I am the faceless Imperial. I am the thin sliver of dark thread that hems the Emperor's robes together. I am the hardheaded Creishnut that, when crushed, forms the oil that allows the Imperial cogs to turn smoothly. I am the padding, the substance, the Imperial puppet that pulls the lever, pushes the button and never, ever questions. I'm Tan Dai'r, Personal Aide to Darth Vader -- the man who holds his cloak when My Lord exacts Imperial Revenge.
I am also human, and I cannot stop the shock from showing when the image of Prince Xizor appears before us.
"Lord Vader, this is unexpected."
Indeed. I never question My Lord. He has a plan, he always has a plan, and to question is to be removed from that plan, and your life, permanently. The deckplates of the Executor are grumbling as she accelerates. I cannot see the bridge viewport from here, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Xizor's Skyhook approaching through the battlefield. From here though, as ever, I cannot see the stars.
"I told you to leave Skywalker alone."
Skywalker was a name I knew well, a name that might drive me to near insanity sometime soon, such was My Lord's passion for finding the Empire's Most Wanted. His near-obsessive hunt was well known. The emotions that caused that search less so, even to me. Rumours spread faster than disease aboard this ship, spitting out morsels of information after chewing them into something unrecognisable. My Lord's hunt for Skywalker is not exempt from this. As the Dark Lord's Personal Aide I am supposed to have knowledge. I no more know what drives him than a droid knows the motivations of its Maker. I only have my orders.
I am no stranger to confusion.
Of course, before Corusca fell under the skirts of Coruscant's horizon, they would become abundantly clear. Respected, even, by me. Loathed by Xizor.
"Let us not hold any more pretences, Lord Vader. Unless the boy is exempt from Imperial Decree, I believe that - as a Rebel - he is wanted dead or alive." Xizor betrays little emotion here. Anger stretches the skin at his eyes; malicious pride tugs at the corners of his mouth.
The Falleen does not appear to realise the danger of the game he is playing. Speculation on My Lord's motives brings more than idle pastime. It brings death. I can thank those rumours for my promotion. I can remember dragging my predecessor's body from My Lord's quarters, the corpse's mouth hanging open dumbly after he has revealed the details of the latest rumour. My Lord, there are rumours that you have a… romantic interest in Skywalker. I remember walking from the execution room as the Imperial Canon-Fodder that started that rumour pleaded for their lives. They were not exempt from Imperial Rage.
"No pretences, as you say." A deep throaty growl of displeasure. "Skywalker is a special case, as you well know. I grow tired of this game. Where is the boy?"
A special case, yes. Special enough that I spend half my time gathering snippets of information on the boy, confiscating security tape of Cloud City, raiding the commander's abandoned quarters on Hoth, even a trip to Tatooine to rummage through the smoking ruins of his homestead. I probably know as much about the boy as My Lord does. Probably. Enough to respect him as an adversary I never wanted to meet, anyway.
Xizor smiles, bows in a reverence that is as false as it is tactless, and pulls a slight, blonde-headed youth into the pickup by the tips of his hair. "Right here."
Ah… the puzzle begins to form an ugly picture. My Lord is contacting Xizor because he knows the Falleen has his quarry. I watch Lord Vader's response to this. He is a man of few words and less body language, holding himself in the perfect figure of restrained power. But as his Aide, I've spent more time than is considered healthy with him. His hands tense slightly into fists; that is anger. His spine goes saber-straight; that is shock. His feet shift slightly, showing a need for action; his fingers itch for his lightsaber and I don't think I have to explain that action.
Skywalker looks dazed. Skin pale, bruises purple, eyes stormy blue. His eyes go wide when he recognises Vader. I start in horrified shock: for a moment they look like Misha's eyes as she stares sightless as the starless sky.
"What do you want, Xizor?" Lord Vader's voice is an exercise in deadly precision. It is the tone you hear before the blood rushes from your brain and you start gagging for breath.
"Prince Xizor." His hand tightens in the blonde hair.
"For now." I hear the silent promise. Xizor doesn't. He twists his hand and Skywalker grimaces. "What do you want?"
That repetition unnerves me more than My Lord's tense movements. Lord Vader never repeats himself. He kills the one who has dared defy him first.
"Money, power, revenge." Xizor considers. His hand tightens. I wince as My Lord restrains himself taking a step forward. "Mostly revenge."
I am no stranger to Revenge. I know it from kneeling beside Misha's sightless, motionless body. I know crying and moaning and other sounds of mourning that I can't remember how to make anymore. The Falleen is still speaking. He has clean white teeth and a dirty smile. "My people say revenge is like a good wine; best served cold and matured."
The image of the Falleen and his prisoner (hostage?) backs up a little to give a full view. Skywalker is favouring his right leg, his hands are manacled, his muscles are tensed. The Falleen's eyes are lapping up it all up.
The thought crosses my mind that his rampant libido might be tempted by the fair-haired hero. They say you can win a war with one hero appealing enough to make the women swoon from a single look, and the men fight with a rage of jealousy. Skywalker looks to be testing the theory. Does the Falleen see it?
The thought crosses my mind - would he have wanted to taste Misha too? And if it could have saved her, would I have allowed it?
"This is beneath even you." I agree, such thoughts would have Misha shaking her head sadly, those blind blue eyes sorrowful. Then I realise My Lord is referring to the Falleen. "Release my son to me and I will cease the attack on your Navy."
His son? Surely everyone heard my startled exclamation. I swallow my response around a tight knot of comprehension. Suddenly my predecessor's death is more understandable, as is My Lord's fervour.
Xizor raises a sculpted eyebrow. "You would let me live?" The hand tightens again. Skywalker shows he is more than an Alliance Symbol by resisting the hiss of pain. My Lord hisses for him, in anger.
"Give yourself into Imperial custody and we can discuss this then."
Xizor laughs. There is no humour there. This is more foolish than he can possibly imagine. "I think it would be wiser for me to carry out the Imperial doctrine on dealing with Rebels. Guri?"
He looks off screen; a gun is placed in his hand. He raises it to Skywalker's temple. I take a step backwards despite myself, anticipating the fury that action will cause.
"Xizor, my patience is gone, as is my mercy. I suggest you desist from this suicidal quest for your pitiful revenge before you learn the true meaning of vengeance."
"Pitiful!" Xizor manages to look angry, but it barely comes within spitting distance of My Lord's ire. The skin on Skywalker's temple has gone white beneath the barrel of the blaster. "You murdered my family, Lord Vader. I do not call a search for retribution pitiful."
"Murdering a helpless boy is hardly an act of great courage and strength, Xizor." Skywalker glares a little at that, stubborn defiance that I have noted many times showing through. He subsides with a slight inclination of My Lord's helmet and I wonder if they are communicating mentally.
My Lord has the wicked taste to ignore the alien's anger at his lack of title. "I once thought you a clever opponent, Xizor. Now you have simply placed yourself into the direct sights of the Empire, a stupid and pointless gesture that is a direct result of your attempts to get revenge on an action that was perfectly reasonable, if regrettable. Your family died to stop the plague spreading to the whole planet. They died a heroic death. You, however, will die a painful and humiliating death eventually, if you do not return the boy to me."
"Is neither present nor interested in your petty vengeance. I speak for the Empire here, Xizor. Hand Skywalker over."
Xizor's eyes are forming slits as his mind works. Is he only just now realising the stupidity of this attempt? I stand patiently by as the gunners inform us the skyhook is within firing distance.
"I feel, Lord Vader, that I must do my duty to the Empire and kill the Rebel traitor. Of course, it will satisfy my own ends too, but I assure you that is just a bonus." He eyes reflect hate. "Or… perhaps if you were to call off the Navy, Lord Vader, I might be able to safely get the boy to you as you wish. With all this fighting, it could make his escape possible. I can't possibly attempt to get him to you under those circumstances."
There's something like a growl rumbling in My Lord's throat. He has never been a man of many words. He has never been speechless, though. The murmur of the ship's crew readying the main guns snarls in the silence.
"You still hide behind pretences, Xizor. I will call off the ships and you will bring my son to me."
I look at Skywalker and he is tense, anticipating death or something worse. It seems the lottery of life dealt him cruelly.
I am no stranger to losing the Lottery.
His son… this is still barely beginning to register, and it brings memories to the surface, tainted with the black sorrow of mourning. Misha, smiling at me, crying. We won the lottery, Tan! We won! She's throwing her arms around me, and I smell soap and perfume and something sweeter… I think it might be victory. We can have a child, Tan! Our number came up; it's our turn! Then, walking in Ballil's muggy night, crying, laughing, singing. The Lottery of Life was drawn, and we won. The Birthing Commission picked us, gave us permission to have a child. Misha, you cried so hard, your red eyes were the most beautiful thing I ever saw.
There's a stab of jealousy then, as I stand behind My Lord where I can't see the stars, and he has the chance to fight for his son. A chance I never had. I am a stranger to second chances.
Skywalker's eyes show twin displeasures at the idea of being murdered by the Falleen or being taken to his father. His face only shows grim determination. Misha, would our child have been so strong?
"I don't think so, Lord Vader. I don't think you would let me live now I've held a blaster to his head." True enough. "Perhaps an exchange? My survival, and that of my organisation, for his?"
Lord Vader betrays no emotion in his voice, but I am adept at reading him. His fists are balling furiously, itching to crush the Falleen's neck. Maybe he'll get the chance.
"Very well." I think that perhaps this is the first time I have heard him give in to another's demands. Normally he just kills them. I frown; couldn't he reach out across the distance and kill the 'Prince' with the Force? Perhaps he thinks others on the Skyhook's bridge would kill Skywalker in retribution. "You will --"
Skywalker is moving then, so fast I feel the muscles in my back jumping in shock. The wrist restraints are falling to the floor, open. He twists, stabs the Falleen viciously in the midsection, then rolls on the balls of his feet. He kicks out, a roundhouse blow that nearly takes the Falleen's head off. The manacles haven't even hit the deck yet: I said he was fast. There's a wince on his face from stretching old injuries and strange, nearly silent encouragement coming from My Lord. I catch: Focus, Luke… and the rest is lost as the thud of the manacles and Xizor's body hitting the deck impacts over the comm.
Skywalker coughs. There's blood on his lips. He twists suddenly as another figure blurs the image. Both tumble from view, My Lord stepping forward involuntarily as Skywalker cries out and there's the crack of a broken bone. How do I know it's a bone that broke? I've heard that sound too many times in My Lord's presence not to recognise it. I remember the first time I heard it; it reminded me of when the coroner had to break Misha's jaw to close it from the strangled exclamation of death. It's not appropriate to lie in State screaming.
There's a crackle of stun bolts over the comm and Xizor is shakily rising to his feet, expression sour. He rubs at the sore spot on his temple where Skywalker's boot connected, rubbing the blood in. "That was impressive," he says begrudgingly, and he's right. If he had been human, he would be dead. They drag the limp, clearly unconscious form of Skywalker upwards, a blonde woman holding him upright. His attacker, or Xizor's rescuer depending on your point of view, I realise.
My Lord is close to pacing in frustration.
"Prince Xizor." This is tiresome. "Call off your ships, take the Executor's guns off my Skyhook. I will take Skywalker down to the planet surface for you to find him. You will allow me the time to leave."
All my senses are screaming, it's a trap. But what can My Lord do? Abandon his son? No, he has the chance to save him, unlike I did. "Very well." He's remarkably restrained.
Xizor narrows his eyes. "As incentive, I'll leave him with a bomb. A small gift he tried to give me." He smiles, then scowls. "Did give my palace."
He destroyed the Black Sun headquarters? I find myself wanting to cheer. My Lord seems equally unable to hide his approval of that particular action by his son.
"If you kill him, I will not merely kill you." My Lord lets emotion drip in his voice. Is it deliberate? I doubt that. There seems to be a crack in that armour that surrounds him in darkness, letting in… what? The light. Like a star. And the boy who is responsible for it is slumped unconscious in his enemy's arms.
There was something in the Falleen's eyes then. I didn't identify it at the time, but now I know it. It was betrayal. I should have recognised it.
I am no stranger to Betrayal.
Betrayal is screaming, and crying, and doing all those things I can't remember how to now whilst trying to force the door open. Betrayal is seeing Misha's body lying on the lounger in the smoggy garden, naked. Betrayal is mourning for them both, wife and son, when it won't open and the wind is stirring her hair over her body, her head tilted back, face upturned to the sky.
"Come without weapons. There'll be a scanner, if you have any weapons, including that saber, the bomb will detonate."
There's the smallest hesitation from My Lord. Then he unhooks the saber from his belt and places it by the comm unit with a solid thunk.
I know that sound. It's the sound of a mistake. It's the empty pill bottle rolling from Misha's limp hand to hit the stones, Misha's eyes rolling sightlessly to the sky. Not that they would have seen anything. Ballil is too polluted to see the stars.
It's the sound of the stamp hitting the papers that sign me over to the Empire as an officer in training. It's the sound of running away from a dead wife and an unborn son into an Empire that
ultimately cares as little for me as Misha must have when she took those pills.
My Lord tells me to ready his shuttle. Yes sir, I say. Yes sir, certainly we'll go rescue your son. Perhaps there won't be a locked door in the way for you, sir. Perhaps you won't hear the bottle hit the stone and shatter, and recognise the sound of your heart breaking into as many broken shards, sir. But I don't say that, I only think it, and My Lord, in His Greatness, never deigns to read my
The shuttle falls through the atmosphere some time later, into Coruscant twilight. She lifts her skirt for us and we enter the darkness that is never truly black. My Lord commands me with him, and no one else. That's not an honour; it's a lackey's job. Perhaps I'll have the honour of laying my life down for his son. Perhaps I'll get to hold his cape when he rushes to the rescue.
Another solid thunk and we land.
I think I've already described this building, haven't I? Dark, huge, black, smothering, wide-open, enclosed and suffocating. It's all of that. And something more. A tomb, perhaps.
My Lord is running. He's not hiding his distress anymore, his haste, he's running and he's never run before. When you've stuck five years in the Imperial Navy as a lieutenant you get a taste for trouble.
It tastes like… sour citrus fruit crushed under your tongue. Like mourning flowers covering the scent of death in the mortuary where your wife lies in State. Like the perfume gathering in the air to smother the smell of distress.
My Lord knows where he's going. I'm following in his shadow, as always, where I can't see the stars.
When we reach the door, there's a guard. My Lord ignores him and rushes across the teary floor to the huddled figure in the shaft of light. The guard lunges at me. He has a knife strapped at his belt that he never thinks to go for. It's sharp and cuts open his throat easily.
And then I think, we're back where we started. And I still can't think of anything to say to these two: My Lord and his son.
We have one minute.
One minute until the Sali'ir and Sander Municipal Constructions Headquarters is to be felled by the bomb meant for Xizor. The explosion will kick out the foundations like a child would kick out the bottom of a sandcastle. Two things could happen then. The floors could collapse inwards on themselves then, toppling one into the other. In that case, we'll feel the floor drop from under us and fall with it. Possibly the shards of tears on the floor will fly upwards and cut us open in the few seconds it takes for our floor to descend.
But then, it always hurt to see Misha cry, didn't it?
The other possibility fells the tower like toppling a tree, sending it falling into adjacent towers and killing more than one Dark Lord, his son and the silent, still grieving Aide.
Perversely, I hope we get the second.
My Lord wraps the ebony cloak around Skywalker's shoulders. He is crouching down beside him. The intention is clear, and I understand. Looking at Misha's cold, sightless body in our garden at midnight, kissing the cold lips one last time, all I wished for was that she had not taken all the pills for herself.
Dr'shar. My Bitten Heart. Misha, Dr'shar, looking at My Lord and his son kneeling on the floor I know now why I never asked for an explanation from your last breath.
I wanted to remain a stranger to my guilt.
I remember running into you in the street that first time, returning from the Seekar Perfume Plant with the smell of alcohol in your hair, your eyesight lost to the noxious chemicals. I always felt such pride for pulling you from that existence, for dredging you from Ballil's poverty lines. I didn't realise it would kill you.
"You have to go," Skywalker says, still speaking in padded vowels.
"There's no time, my son."
I want to step forward but I don't want to crush Misha's tears under my feet like I did her dreams.
I was not idle on the journey down. There's sweet retribution in knowing that soon Xizor will receive a gift entreating entry to Black Sun. A bottle of Seekar Perfume, the finest Ballil offers, containing a sample of the contagion that killed his family. In his vanity he will surely open it, test it, die screaming. My Lord, I think, has a sense of humour. Or Destiny.
"There is, for you. I want…."
My Lord tips the blonde head up gently. Only now do I realise the size of the crack in that dark persona, and how much light has gotten through.
Dr'shar. My Bitten Heart. You bit me, you hurt me, you took my heart when you took your life, but you bit open the crack that lets the light in. This I understand, as I've said, only now, seeing these two re-enact that scene in the garden with the pill bottle and Misha's poverty-blinded eyes. I am just a spectator, just the hard stone that gets crushed to form the road over which the troops will pass.
I'm just waiting for the stars to come out and the guilt to go away.
"What do you want?" My Lord, still gentle, is already mourning.
I am no stranger to mourning, am I, Misha? It's so easy to kill someone when you're so intent on saving them.
"I want to save you," Skywalker pleads. His eyes wide open, the colour of Misha's when she says that if she could see anything, if she could rid herself of the blindness for just a second, she would look at the stars. I've always had my eyesight but I've never quite seen them, either.
The blood hits my temple one last time and the ground groans, rumbles. Our minute is up. The glass shards jump into the air, and fall back down. Like tears.
My Lord is holding his son as the floor plunges downwards. He sighs quietly. "Dr'shar… you already have."