Vader had little patience for those who disturbed his meditation sessions. There were only a precious few things left for him to relatively enjoy, and while meditation counted as one of those, dealing with Imperial bureaucrats and their incompetent fumbling did not.
Reluctantly, he put his mask and helmet back on, before summoning the officer into his chambers. The officer, who was holding a datapad in his visibly trembling hands, was obviously aware of Vader’s aversion of his presence, as he seemingly preferred to stay at the door and not step further into the room.
“I believe you have something for me,” Vader said.
“Y-yes, my Lord.” The officer’s voice grew thin. “As per your request, an up-to-date list of recent prisoners in this facility.”
“Leave it on my desk,” Vader ordered. “And leave.”
“My Lord, I – I require you to sign this—“
“But my Lord—“
“You will require nothing of me,” Vader stated, breathing heavily through his mask. He had no time for such nonsense when there were still plenty of Jedi survivors hiding in every remote corner of the galaxy. “Now begone, I have work to do.”
The officer was not eager enough to die that he would have insisted on the dreaded Sith Lord to follow the Imperial protocol to the letter. In fact, he did not seem to need any further encouragement for seeing himself out as he almost dropped the datapad on the desk in his hurry to leave.
Vader sensed the officer's crippling fear surrounding him in the Force, which he found utterly disgusting. He simply could not stand these incompetent, pathetic excuses of military officers, who could not hold their posture in front of him. He despised all those cowards he had nothing in common with. For him, they were nothing but walking, talking reminders of the cruelty of fate and his own repulsiveness, and he surely did not need any more of those.
As soon as the officer had hurried off the room, Vader took the datapad and started examining its contents. If the Emperor had known what he was up to, he would likely have reminded him that he had other, more important duties elsewhere and that it was the Inquisitors’ job to keep their eye on prisoners, passenger traffic and other as mundane things, but Vader did not trust them or their abilities enough not to do regular double checks. Rooting out the remaining Jedi was, after all, his mission. He had to see it through, as he had nothing else left to live for. Even serving the Emperor fell secondary to ensuring the end of the Jedi.
He carefully went through the alphabetically ordered list he had been provided with. It seemed to be just as redundant as ever, as such lists usually contained only highly irrelevant information about highly irrelevant people, until he reached the letter ‘S’ and, all of sudden, he felt a major disturbance in the Force.
[Cell #366: Skywalker, Sabé
Suspected of rebel activity. Risk level: Low to medium. Note: Resisted arrest; confiscated an ELG-3A blaster pistol from the prisoner. No ID to be found.]
For the briefest moment, he could do nothing but stare at the name on the screen, as raw, unrelenting rage began to boil within him. His mechanical hands clenched violently around the datapad, breaking its screen with a loud crack. Skywalker. That name, with everything it had ever meant to anyone, should have fallen into oblivion years ago, and yet some lowly rebel scum had the audacity to try and hide behind it.
He let the broken datapad drop on the floor. There were no Skywalkers left in the galaxy. Anakin Skywalker had personally taken care of that by choking his pregnant wife to death in a fit of jealousy and rage.
Vader, in his seething rage, did not care whether the charges against this wretched prisoner were true or not, and even less he cared about the Imperial laws and the legal procedure for sentencing prisoners to death. He was going to execute this impostor tonight, and he was not intending to grant her a merciful death under any circumstances.
And he would kill anyone who would interfere.
Vader stormed through the Imperial Palace at nightfall, all the way down to the prison blocks below ground level. His mechanical hand laying restlessly on the handle of his lightsaber, he was reveling in his bitter, burning hatred for that cursed name and its tainted legacy. No one dared to disturb him until he reached the lower levels, where he was stopped by an active ray shield and the prison warden, Rancarl Foulorga. Vader remembered him vaguely from the days of the Republic. The man had been a mere social climber back then, always lurking around the old Senate Building, desperately hoping to get his foot in the door.
“Lord Vader,” Foulorga greeted him, looking slightly surprised at his late visit. “Pardon me, but as the commanding officer of this facility, I must ask you to state your business. We were not expecting–“
“I have come to perform an execution.”
“An execution?” Foulorga swallowed loudly. “I–I was unaware… There is no indication of… My Lord, may I ask the name of the prisoner in question?”
Foulorga became absorbed in his files for a while. “Unfortunately, my Lord, there is no such order filed in our system,” he said nervously as he turned his attention back to Vader. “Therefore I must decline your request.”
“I believe there is a misunderstanding between us,” Vader said. “I shall be more precise then. If you value the life of yours and your subordinates, you will take down this ray shield.”
“I–I can always run another check,” Foulorga hurried to reply, his face visibly sweating. “Yes, yes… That much I can do. I’m quite sure I’ll find the right file if you just let me—“
“I—very well,” Foulorga muttered. He reluctantly took down the ray shield and let Vader pass, as he had finally figured out that he would prefer losing only his job, not his life. “I must say, this is a very unusual situation, my Lord, and I’m afraid I must file my objection—“
“Your objections do not concern me.”
As soon as Vader reached the right cell, he heard the faint noise of rustling fabric and sounds of some kind of fighting. The cell door was open, which was not something he would have expected to see. Judging by the sounds, it was clearly not because of an escape attempt. He stayed outside, observing the ongoing situation from the shadows of the hallway.
“Hands off me—!“
“Shut your pretty little mouth already, rebel scum!” One of the two stormtroopers in the cell hit the prisoner across her face with the flat of his blaster.
“You shouldn’t have done that.” The prisoner’s voice was hoarse from exhaustion. “I still have legal rights, you ignorant piece of—!”
“You gave up any rights you might’ve had when you decided to team up with those rebels, sweetheart,” said the other stormtrooper. He was holding the prisoner firmly in place. “Should have thought that before ending up down here with us, shouldn’t you?”
“Leave me be.” It sounded more like an order than a plead.
“Shut up, woman!” The first stormtrooper barked at her face. “Or do I have to make you?”
The prisoner lowered her gaze as if she was trying to hide behind the messy cascade of her raven hair, even though she must have known that her efforts were in vain. There was no place to hide from her assaulters. One of the stormtroopers blocked Vader’s view, but he needed not to see her face to know that she was in great pain because, surprisingly enough, he could sense her agony flowing freely within the Force, as if there was something familiar about her. It was unexpected since the sole connection between him and this stranger was her obviously feigned name.
The stormtrooper who was holding the prisoner suddenly groped her backside. “It’s not very often we pretty ones like you down here, you know.”
Vader watched silently from the shadows as the prisoner apparently found her will to fight again. She writhed against her restraints and kicked the stormtrooper holding her in the shin, forcing him to focus on holding her in place with both of his hands again.
“Now, now,” the other stormtrooper cooed mockingly. “There’s no need to put up a fight. Can’t we just be friends for a while, lovely? You must know how lonely a soldier’s life can be…”
“Do know that I will not submit to your acts of crime,” the prisoner stated in confident, unexpectedly poised tone, considering the situation she was in. “I know my rights.”
“C’mon now…” The stormtrooper who was holding her grabbed a fistful of her hair and forcibly tilted her head upward. “How about a little kiss, eh? Just one, and we’ll let you be, okay?”
When the pale light hit her face, Vader recognized her immediately, despite the bleeding wound on her cheek and an assortment of rapidly forming bruises all over her face.
She was Anakin Skywalker’s wife.
Vader ignited his lightsaber, as for the first time in a long time everything was crystal clear for him. There was no room left for confusion in the storms of his mind. In the flow of the moment, his unawareness of all the facts did not matter. There was no room for questions, such as how he could have not known that he did not know that she was alive.
He needed no other guidance but the Force itself.
No one would touch her, a mere ghost or not, and live.
The stormtroopers were way too slow to even attempt to defend themselves from his fierce attack. He ran his lightsaber through the nearest trooper, no questions asked, and the other he choked to death – not with the Force, but with his gloved, mechanical hand instead. He could feel the trooper’s life force rapidly depleting, yet he did not loosen his grip until Padmé interfered.
Reluctantly he let the lifeless body of the stormtrooper drop to the floor as he slowly turned to Padmé, bracing himself for facing her after all the years and after everything he had done.
“You had no right to kill those men,” she remarked.
If she was afraid of him, he did not sense such thing. All he could sense was her intense loathing for him, which drowned her every other emotion, if there were any.
“Those troopers were overstepping their boundaries,” he commented. “Yet I do not expect you to be grateful.”
Why would he have expected such thing? He was well aware of his reputation of a dreadful Sith Lord. It was more than likely that she detested his presence even more than she had detested those troopers and their atrocities. A sudden wave of anger swept over him. She should have been grateful, should she not? Had he not saved her from those brutes?
“Grateful?” she snapped. “Grateful for what? I didn’t ask for more manslaughter. You have destroyed enough lives as it is, Lord Vader.”
“No,” he said. Suddenly, his thoughts were with the Emperor and his lies. “Not enough.”
He was utterly relieved of the fact that she could not see his scorched face or recognize his deep, highly processed voice. Part of him felt hollower than ever since his fall into darkness. The part that was dying to reveal himself to her, though a much larger part of him that was too ashamed of what he had become.
After a swift thought process, he realized that he could never do such a thing. In his reality, there was no room left for such boyish fantasies. He might have saved Padmé from harm for now, but the longer she would stay in an Imperial prison, the more vulnerable she would become. The best he could do for her now was to hide his true identity from her, and also her true identity from everyone else. He owed her that much, and she deserved better than being forced to learn the macabre truth of her husband.
He could do nothing but harden himself. Anakin Skywalker died years ago, and that was the end of the story. There was no reason to dig him up from his fiery grave. There was nothing but scattered remains left of the shining Jedi Knight who Padmé had been married with. The only thing there was left was the pain, which Vader did not wish to share with the only woman he had ever loved.
And then there were other, even more pressing reasons.
"It seems, in your anger, you killed her."
The Emperor had taken Padmé from him once. He would not let that happen again, whatever it would take. He could not bear the thought of Padmé in the hands of the Emperor, who would, without doubt, use her as leverage to tighten the leash around his neck even further. Or perhaps the Emperor would simply kill her for sport, to ensure his undivided loyalty. He was not going to allow any of it to happen.
“They should have been court-martialed, not murdered in cold blood on your whim!” Padmé’s sharp tone interrupted his dark thoughts and dragged him back to reality.
“That would have changed nothing. They deserved punishment for their crimes,” he said. “I delivered.”
“And what about your crimes, Lord Vader?”
“You may rest assured...”
He finally turned off his lightsaber and turned with a flourish of his black cloak. “As I am already punished… Miss Skywalker.”