Metallic footsteps echoed down the dark corridor of The Executor. They were lonely, paired only with the pained breathing of an old machine. The man inside of the machine became drowsy with the late hours of the night upon him, but sleep was far out of reach. The day crew had been tucked away in their quarters for hours, leaving only the night crew to work the ship. Vader actively avoided the crew. Though he sought the company of another, The Executor offered him no aid.
Vader walked the length of the corridor several times, trying to reach a destination that wasn’t there. He hoped the physical activity would shake the uncomfortable thoughts from his head. He focused on moving his legs forward, a task that had become more and more difficult through the years. The machine that sustained his breathing pumped faster as he continued to walk. Each breath sent pain throughout his body, but it was nothing compared to the pain he felt in the company of his thoughts. After what seemed like hours of the endless walking, Vader succumbed to his exhaustion.
He retired to his room where he could surrender to his mind. The aged man sat heavily onto his bed, wishing he could sleep. The world looked red through his eyes, a consequence of wearing the mask that barely kept him living. In that moment, he remembered a time when he could breathe in his own skin. The world looked just as red back then. His world was obscured from the anger that blinded his youth. All that time he wasted hating those who deserved nothing from the boy. It had consumed him. He would have been completely lost without his anchor connecting him to the peaceful world.
I try not to think of you, Vader spoke in his mind. But it is impossible.
His thoughts encompassed him as he sat alone. They first lingered on his youth. When he was a young boy on Tatooine, he knew he would lead a great life as a free man. Now, aboard the lonely ship, he realized he had done just that. If only he could have freed his mother. Maybe then he would have made it. There were many promises he had broken in his life, but one of the worst was the broken promise he gave to her. He wasn’t strong enough to keep her from death. That was the first time the world around him turned red. The young boy began collapsing within himself when he found her broken body, but it was Padmé who kept him stable.
Padmé. His life with her had been far too short lived. He remembered the dusty arena on Geonosis, the place they first confessed their love for one another. Padmé had been targeted for death only moments later, and the young boy had feared he would see the end of her. Even then, so long ago, the thought of losing her tore him apart. It was unfathomable. After all, how is one expected to live when they cannot breathe?
The day he married her was the first time he ever felt like he was more than his destiny. Everything in the boy’s life had been focused on his career with the Jedi. It taught him to seek power over anything else. The moment he took Padmé as his wife he knew he was good for more than just serving the Jedi. His life meant something, for Padmé loved him just as much as he loved her. He never imagined he could be happier than he was then.
I am lost without you, Padmé. What can I do? I will do anything…
Finding out he was to have a child with the woman who kept him living changed the boy forever. He vowed in that moment to never fail her and that child. She had saved him, gave him a reason to exist in the chaotic universe, and he swore he would do the same for them. There were things he had always wanted to say to that child, but never did he have the chance to look upon it in the clarity of his true sight. Another promise he had broken.
Vader attempted to halt his mind before it reached the place he vowed to never return, but he lacked the strength needed to keep himself stable. After all, he never was any good and that. The memory was composed of rivers of molten lava below him, but he only saw her. The smooth face of the one he cared for most was clouded with pain.
“Come back, I love you!”
The young man was buried in fear and too far gone to truly hear the woman. He had believed that he was saving her, that he was keeping his promise. Instead he had destroyed the only thing he cared to live for. His actions broke her along with his promise. That was the day he ceased to live.
“Anakin, you’re breaking my heart.”
Vader let his head drop, overwhelmed by the past he made himself forget. Being faced with their final moments terrorized him, and he became gravely aware that he never had the chance to hear her last words to the world. A part of him wondered if they were about him. He never told her that he loved her. Instead he left her unconscious on the ground, wounded by his hand. He wondered if she even knew how much he still cared for her.
With difficulty, Vader quieted his mind and stared numbly into the endless dark of his quarters. It was rare that he let himself become this vulnerable. He found that suppressing the thoughts of Padmé made it easier to keep breathing for one more day. He couldn’t help but think about how much easier it would be to breathe if he still had her in his arms.
Do you still have that necklace I made for you?
He wished for nothing more than an answer, but he accepted that none would be heard. As the remaining hours of the dark neared dawn, Anakin sunk into a restless sleep.
Happy birthday, Padmé. Until next year.