Title: My Iron Lung Author: windu4 Genre: AU, drama/angst; action/adventure Timeframe: Approximately ten years after the Vong War. Characters: EU Characters Plot: This is an AU story where Anakin Solo never died and wound up playing a major role in winning the war against the Vong. However, Jacen Solo was still captured by Vergere and after years of captivity managed to escape and wound up stumbling on Kesh and discovering the One Tribe. At 28 years old he has joined the Sith and his motivations and even he doesn't know his motivations. This is mainly a character study wrapped into a grander plot involving the major players in the galaxy. I hope you guys enjoy!. Note: I shifted the ages around a bit. Hopefully it's not too noticeable. Disclaimer: Just playing in the sandbox. Pain invaded Jacen’s pores like ice cold water and seemed to freeze in his veins as he continued to hover in the Embrace of Pain. The experience was different every time. Sometimes he felt as if he was being burned alive in an ocean of fire; other times he was falling towards his death waiting for the ground to swallow him and end his suffering. Other times the experience was as simplistic as him lying on the forest floor of an unknown jungle dying from severe wounds given to him by a strange animal. Yet every experience was the same. Each and every time he was right on the verge of death but death refused to accept him. It was if the Force had something more twisted and sinister in store for his life. Lately all the Embrace of Pain had to tell him was that more suffering was to come. Jacen wasn’t sure how long he had been floating in this constant environment of suffering but he wasn’t as enlightened as he had hoped he would be. It was always telling him the same thing. Death would always be at his doorstep but it would never actually enter and relieve him of what could only be described as some vague pathetic form of existence. “Master.” Someone spoke to him and Jacen’s eyes flickered open and with great effort he craned his head forward and stared down at the hooded girl before him. “Vestara.” He smiled at his apprentice. At sixteen years of age she had grown into an attractive young woman. Shapely, alluring and deadly. Her only single flaw was the scar in the corner of her lip. The Tribe frowned down upon those with physical weaknesses and scars. Vestara had proven that it did not affect her time and time again. Jacen figured that when he seized control of the Lost Tribe he’d have to do away with such stupidity. It had taken him years to prove himself simply because his body was riddled with scars. “The Council is ready to meet with us.” Jacen closed his eyes and inhaled slowly before exhaling. Meeting with the Council of Lords was more of a painful experience than the Embrace of Pain. He supposed that even the Sith had to have this annoyance process of bureaucracy and formality. They just had a habit of being a little more violent. <Release me.> Jacen barked in Vong. The slithering tentacles stopped stimulating his body and slowly slithered out of his pores. Jacen fell a good three meters from his suspended position in the air and landed on his feet. He grunted and stumbled one step forward; his body was still aching in pain after all. It would take several minutes for the sensation to wear off. “I still don’t understand why you so willingly subject yourself to pain.” Vestar said as her lips curled upwards in clear disapproval. Jacen walked across the length of his personal chambers and towards his closet. It was nearly three meters tall and was fashioned of an ancient oak wood that was nearly as durable as permacrete. Jacen could crush a Wookiee under the closet if he wanted to. Not that a Wookiee had ever wound up on Kesh. He grasped the handle with his hands and threw it open. He was naked save for a pair of string pants that were loosely tied for his body. As he undressed Vestara continued to stand there almost as if he were fully clothed. Jacen would always be somewhat uncomfortable with the extreme intimacy of the One Tribe. “Pain rules others. Everyone fears pain. Even the Sith. Discomfort is inconvenient and clouds judgment. Yet it inevitable. If you make pain your ally then nothing can hurt you.” “But pain warrants caution.” Vestara began to say. “Fearing pain ensures that you are wise during a battle. If you don’t fear pain you open yourself to injuries that can hinder you.” Jacen chuckled as he reached into his closet and pulled out a dark pair of pants. “If you fight cautiously simply because you fear pain you are not a fool. I do not actively seek pain. I just understand that it is unavoidable. In a battle I don’t fight recklessly and open myself to injury. But it is not because I want to avoid pain. It is because I need to completely my objective. And I do not simply speak of physical pain…but emotional.” Jacen pulled on his pants and as he reached for his tunic he paused for a fraction of a second. He had yet to conquer that. He still ached for his family even though he knew he had reached a point in his life where they would never accept him again. Nor he them. “But I don’t need to lecture you on the merits of coming to terms with emotional pain. I murdered your father and here you are as my apprentice.” He felt a sudden flash of rage before Vestara bottled down her emotions. Jacen smiled as he pulled on his tunic. When Jacen had crash landed on Kesh over a dozen Sith Sabers had approached him. Vestara’s father was the first to attack. He had been the first to die. As Jacen pulled on his tunic he felt a stab of pain on the lower right portion of his chest, where Vergere had stabbed him with the hook. He had suffered a lightsaber wound there and ever since it had always been difficult to breathe without feeling significant pain. Not without the aid of his breathing apparatus. He reached into the top of his chest and stared at the square machine that was several centimeters long. He pushed it against his chest and hissed as the hook on the back of the machine hooked into the hole in his skin. Heat spread across his skin as it fully attached to his body. “He attacked you first and was killed. He died with honor. He died at the hands of a Skywalker. When I learned that you decided to join us I knew you would be my teacher. The man who proves himself to be stronger than my father has to have the skills necessary to train me in the art of the Dark Side.” Vestara’s was calm and even. “It’s funny.” Jacen continued. “Because in the real Sith Order the apprentices would kill their masters and as a result usurp the title of Dark Lord of the Sith. I know that this is a different organization but are you going to try and kill me one day?” He pulled on his cloak and lastly hooked his lightsaber to his belt before he turned and strode out of his personal chambers and down the hallway. “There is a popular misconception that we regularly give into our anger and rage.” Vestara said. “That is not true.” Jacen was toying with her. He had spent all this time trying to push her to her limit until she finally snapped. Yet her anger still simmered beneath the surface and she refused to indulge in her passions. He idly reflected that this wasn’t unlike the Jedi Order. In many ways they were essentially the same. You just had to question whether the Jedi were willing to admit how far they were willing to go as an Order for power. The Sith were simply honest about it. Yet they lacked the resources to do anything. This was why Jacen was here. You could call it the will of the Force or whatever. He just happened to be smart enough to convince them that he was of value and over time he had come to actually prove it. “One day you will. And when you do we’ll both learn valuable lessons about each other. Until then I refuse to believe that you’ve managed to bury your hatred for me, Vestara. You have to confront it and indulge in it before you can move beyond. Until you do you’re just as crippled by pain as your peers.” Vestara inclined her head. “Yes, master.” They stepped infront of the massive council doors and Jacen turned towards her. “Prepare our shuttle. If all goes well we’ll be leaving by nightfall.” Vestara scowled. “I should be in this meeting. They invited the both of us.” “Prepare the ship, Vestara.” Jacen said in a tone; making it clear he would not ask again. Vestara stared at him for a long time and Jacen again felt that cold hatred simmering underneath the surface. He knew that hatred was directed at him but deep down he wished it wasn’t. Their relationship was based on their need for each other. She needed him to teach her and he needed her to do his bidding. That was as shallow as a relationship could get but at the end of the day the Sith were shallow. They were willing to reduce themselves to a stereotype because they were a stereotype. Pure greed and exploitation of abilities that culminated in most society’s definition of evil. As Vestara turned and walked away Jacen opened the oak doors. Maybe life really was that simple. Shadows and Light. Good and Evil. Right and Wrong. Years of philosophy had brought him to that conclusion and the reality of that had been so jarring that he had ended up fighting on the wrong side. Jacen shook his head quickly to banish those thoughts from his mind as he strode into the chambers. It was time for him to become the conniving politician that his mother had always been. One of the few times where he at least allowed himself to think that there was some ambiguity in the role he was playing. “My Masters?” He questioned as he drew himself to his full height. It was time to do the Council’s bidding.