Chapter 10. Escape 
Two days ago…
Two days ago…
The Imperial Palace was the home of the Sith, the evil ones, the lovers of the Dark Side of the Force. Nothing else could have lived in this rankness, in this decay, in this den of hatred and despair.
Kenobi felt the hand brush against his throat, the hand that was not there, and he almost failed to pull from that Dark grip in time.
The effort cost him the strength he didn't have and he leaned against the damp walls of the tunnel to catch his breath.
Next to him, the young Jedi apprentice whimpered in pain, clutching at her throat frantically.
“It is only in your mind,” he said softly. “You can fight it off.”
“I can't,” she whimpered. “I'm dying…”
He grabbed her chin fiercely, forced her to look him in the eye. “No, you are not. Fight, Padawan! Fight!”
He held her gaze, all but forcing her to accept his own will to live, refusal to let the Dark Lords win, until he could feel the answering strength burn back from her eyes. She shook her head as if she was getting rid of a pesky insect.
Obi-Wan smiled. “Exactly. They are little more than parasites.”
“Parasite, are we, Jedi?” bellowed a voice from the end of the tunnel.
Both Jedi spurn violently. So caught up in fighting against the Force-choke, they had had no awareness of the approach of their adversaries until they were almost on top of them.
Obi-Wan peered into the darkness of the tunnel mouth, into the darkness that cloaked the six waiting there and his heart filled with hope. The Sith was not amongst them. They still had a fighting chance.
“What do we do, Master?” The Padawan asked. She was standing so close to him that he could feel the violent tremble of her limbs.
Obi-Wan placed a hand on her shoulder, tried to communicate his own serenity to her and answered the Dark One instead, “Plague is more like it,” he retorted. “A plague on the face of the Republic, but like every disease, you will either be wiped out with a cure or you will wipe out your hosts and starve. Either way, you die.”
“Jedi scum!” shouted a male voice.
Obi-Wan laughed. “How eloquent.”
The fool charged, as he had expected. These adepts had no restraint.
“Whie, no!” shouted Thel-Tanis.
“Ready, Padawan?” Obi-Wan whispered to the young apprentice.
Her eyes widened as she saw his outstretched hand but she set her jaw and stretched out her own hand.
The tunnels blazed with unsteady light as the young Hand ran the length, his lightsabre swinging wildly in his grip. He was within cutting distance when the two Jedi struck, raising their hands, letting Force lightning flow from their fingertips.
The lightning struck the Hand in his chest, flung him off his feet and backwards, sending him flying down the tunnel. Obi-Wan raised his other hand to the air, and called the lightsabre from the other's slack grip before he flew out of reach.
The Jedi stopped their attack but the boy was still a glowing, spinning figure of electricity when he crashed against the floor.
“You'll pay for that, Jedi!” Thel-Tanis roared.
Obi-Wan laughed, as the lightsabre came alive in his grip. “Any more toasts?”
One day, a few hours ago…
The Emperor was only an electromagnetic beam poised on a fragile receiving instrument but his rage was enough to shake the walls of the Throne room.
“The Jedi escaped!”
Vader flinched despite himself. It was not always that the Emperor displaced rage for less than demonstrative purposes. But each time he did, it was seared in Vader's memory.
“One Jedi escaped,” he said all the same, even though he should have known better than to speak.
The Emperor lashed at him, sending him flying across the Throne room.
(Not unlike the way the Jedi Kenobi had sent Whie flying down the tunnel but at that time, Vader did not know that).
He kept his apprentice pinned on the floor, his powers a dead weight on Vader's chest.
“How dare you show insolence!” he roared. “A Jedi apprentice in exchange for the lives of three of my most promising Hands! How dare you!”
“I-I,” Vader gasped as the Dark Side seemed to strangle his very ribs. “I will get him b-back, my Master. Al-already, I have people on his trail.”
The grip only increased until Vader was sure his ribs would crack and tear his lungs. (You see, it won't have been the first time it had happened).
“You didn't get him in the first place,” the Emperor reminded him. “He came here first and still you don't know why.”
A rib cracked and blood rushed into Vader's mouth. “I-if you kill me, you will n-never g-get a more powerful…”
Another rib cracked.
“I'd rather have competence than power.”
i]You won't kill me. Not now. Not after everything you've invested in me.[/i] Vader said with his mind. His mouth was filled with blood and the pain was too much for him to even lift his jaw.
“You have much to learn, my very, very young apprentice.” The Emperor snarled.
And everything went black.
One day ago…
He woke up several times in the past twenty-four hours. First to drag his damaged body on all fours through the length of the throne room to his adjoining private chambers. When he had slid through the doorway, he had lost consciousness again. Then he woke up to Threepio's anxious babble as the droid dragged him to the med centre. He had lost consciousness the third time Threepio had dropped him.
When he woke up again, he was lying on the med-bed, bright light pouring into his eyes, his chest stripped bare as the most excruciating pain racked his body. He had closed his eyes from the light and held onto consciousness with all the tenacity that the Dark Side provided him.
Pain is my gift. Pain is my strength.
The med-droids were cutting him open, mending his bones and stitching his lungs without anesthesia. Vader won't have had it any other way.
When the operation ended, he finally let go and closed his eyes for the last time.
He dreamt of her… and he woke up so violently, that he fell out of the bed and opened his stitches.
“Master Vader, really you must take better care of yourself!” Threepio nagged as he helped Vader back on the bed. “The EM-DEE recommended at least three days of complete bed rest.”
Three days. How long do I have? A day?
The bounty hunter had said 72 hours. Even now, she was probably on Coruscant. Waiting for him.
If his ribs had not already broken with his tumble, they might have snapped again, against the pounding of his chest.
“Get me the Jedi.”
Threepio gasped. Apart from his droids, no one ever knew when Lord Vader was injured. His private chambers contained his personal med centre. He would trust none of the Hands to come near him when he was injured. Every week, Threepio ran a scan on the black-bodied medical droids that Vader had built himself.
The way of the Sith was the way of treachery.
The droid left. Vader breathed in the pain, feeling his lungs fill with blood.
Pain is my gift. Pain is my strength.
She came in a few minutes, looking almost as bad as he felt. Her face was scarred, and he could see scorch marks on her wrists. As she walked towards him, her eyes wide and her very aura in the grip of fear and awe, she was limping painfully.
“Tell me again why I don't just kill you,” she said after he had explained to her what he wanted.
Vader looked up at her damaged face. “Because you’ve killed three Hands and without me, you'd be dead right now. Without me, you’d have been dead from the moment they brought you here.”
Her chin lifted. “I don't fear death.”
“You don't have to fear death. You should fear the way you die. You think you've been tortured now? You think you know pain?” He laughed and coughed out blood. “You know nothing.”
She flinched, her face twisting, but she said nothing.
He held her gaze. “Choose now, Jedi. To live and avenge your enemies. Or to die – alone and forsaken, in great pain – and for nothing.”
She swallowed hard, her eyes never leaving his face. Then without a word, she laid her hands on his chest.
The pain of his broken ribs was a distant memory in Vader's mind, something he would recall when he needed strength, when he lacked motivation.
It was nothing compared to the pain he felt when, despite the Jedi Healer's skills, he still arrived at the rendezvous point one hour behind schedule - but still in time to see the bounty hunter's ship consumed in flames.
No! He said in his mind even though he could feel the two beings that were even now, being suffocated by the flames. No!
He began to run.
 The timeframe - two days before, one day before etc... are counting down to just after the bounty hunter's ship landed on Coruscant. 'Now' is a few hours after the last scene (Padme making her move).