Hello Darkness My Old Friend
The first time his father locks him in the pitch black maintenance closet, he is confused. What possible point could this serve, his mind of three years ponders in not so many words.
They had been hunting with Father's friends. He had only laughed when Father had missed the shot and scoured a deep hole in his favorite speeder. He had laughed harder at the dumbfounded look on Father's face, until the storm clouds gathered over the hawkish features. He hid behind one of the largest greysors, but Father found him. He always finds him.
Now he sits here in the dark silence, which doesn't really bother him, except it does. He has never experienced such utter blackness before, but he shoves the blooming discomfort into the small, quiet place where all his dark thoughts go. The action is automatic. He is learning.
Experience is a wise master. The small, quiet voice that speaks to him in furtive whispers knows best. He mustn't let anyone ever see, not until the time is right.
He is curled up in the back of the closet, small arms wrapped tightly over his knees. The hem of his rich robes lies in a congealing puddle of droid oil, but he barely notices. Father will just replace them, though he will probably be angry.
Father is almost always angry with him, it seems.
Sometimes he wonders why Father doesn't just replace him. After all, Father threatened to once, when Brother and Sister were born.
He sighs, pulling himself into a tighter ball and blinking patiently into the darkness. Brother shows him up in everything when it comes to Father. Brother smiles and obeys. Brother follows Father and doesn't ask questions. It makes him sick.
He wants to hurt Brother sometimes, to push him when he totters across the high wall of the gardens. It's such a long fall on the side into the bushes. He wonders what Brother looks like broken. Would Father prefer him then?
Most likely. Father seems to prefer almost anything else. He doesn't cry at the thought anymore because he was cured of that weakness almost two years ago. Crying doesn't do any good, it never did.
It's so easy to make Father upset with him, but he wasn't trying this time. Not really. He had been looking forward to assembling his new speeder bike model, and then this mess happened. Now he is stuck without his speeder bike, but that's pointless because he can't build it anyway without a light to see by.
…Perhaps he shouldn't have laughed. Next time he will be quiet when Father does something so foolish, and then he will be able to avoid this place. He looks around even though he can't see anything, because he can feel. So much. The air is thick in here, thick and suffocating. His discomfort is growing, and the small voice has gone quiet.
If he could see himself, he would laugh at how large his eyes are, but he only knows that he wants out of here. It's too dark, too quiet. Has Father forgotten about him? Slowly, he unfurls his small limbs and creeps across the greasy floor to where he knows the door panel is. Maybe he can sneak out. His small hands locate the smooth seam, fingers seeking purchase and tugging fruitlessly.
Locked. Locked in. He isn't surprised, but he doesn't like it, not at all. He can't fight a locked door because brute strength is something he has never possessed. Even Brother, a year younger, is almost as strong as he is. Already he is learning that his mind is growing powerful – he outwits Brother and Mother easily, and even Father sometimes – but his body is…another matter altogether.
He tugs again and gives up, hating the door in that moment and then resigning himself and pressing up against the back wall in sullen rebellion.
Time passes, but there is no way to tell how much.
He tries to sleep, but sleep has never come easily to him. He barely remembers that Mother used to carry and rock him when he was much younger, until Father gruffly told her to stop coddling him and give him to the nurse droid. The floor is hard and cold too, cold as the droid's spindly fingers.
Almost as hard and cold as his anger. Father did this to him, took away his sight and the world and his speeder bike. Maybe someday he'll do the same to Father and take more besides. Surely he'll be bigger and stronger someday.
And suddenly, in the curious way he can, he senses a presence at the door, lingering and malignant. Father? A door can't be reasoned with, but perhaps Father can. He struggles with himself for a moment because he doesn't want to beg, and the darkness is crowding him so tightly that he fears he will.
So he bites his tongue until he can taste blood, and the presence leaves. The darkness caresses him and laughs at him. The small voice is silent.
Time passes. He's glad he didn't drink much this morning.
He makes his way around the tiny closet, clutching for any sign of a power switch or a droid that can be activated. Nothing, and he realizes that he is probably much too short to reach a light if there is one. It feels like the darkness is trying to choke him, he can sense the shadows tightening his throat. He shoves the fear ruthlessly down, suppressing the whimper that bubbles up in his chest.
It doesn't make sense to be scared of the dark.
It doesn't make sense.
Then why is he shivering? He takes a deep, ragged breath and backs into a corner of the closet, and yet the feeling simply won't leave. "Just a room," he tells himself softly. Still… what if Father has forgotten about him? He'll have to spend his life in here, and the thought scalds him, makes him hate with new vigor. He stares into the black pitch, raises both hands in front of his face and can't see a thing. Maybe they aren't his hands.
He shakes the silly thought away. Tries to.
It won't go away. Maybe nothing in here can be trusted. Maybe not himself. He doubts with frantic thoughts, his breath becoming rapid and his hands growing sweaty. He crawls to the door to find the seam again, to remind himself that a door can always be opened again, somehow.
He can't find it. Panic. Panic until he realizes he must have become disoriented and found a side wall. Doors don't just disappear, and he is proven right when he follows the wall and discovers the small indentation that teases his freedom. He lays small, slender fingers against the groove and refuses to move them. The seam is real, right now, when he touches it. It might not be real if he leaves it behind.
The time stretches like a great, lethargic tusk-cat until he senses a presence again, this one smaller and more unfocused than Father. It lingers by the door and he can feel the smug satisfaction.
"Let me out," he says, swallowing his pride because he wants nothing more than to be free of this dark place.
Brother giggles, the sound so faint as though he is drowning in a deep pool.
"Get Mother," he says, louder. Mother will open the door if Father isn't there, surely. Surely she wouldn't leave him here to rot. Would she?
Brother laughs. "No" wafts through the door, but it hits him with the weight of a landspeeder, and he knows he won't ever forgive Brother, not for this.
Brother's presence begins to fade; he is leaving.
"No!" He shouts and slams his hands against the panel, enraged as the younger child toddles away.
Enraged and frightened. The darkness is closing in on all sides and no one is coming. The reassuring voice is gone. He sinks down, nails scraping raw across the metallic surface as though he will pull the door apart with his will alone. That will never happen.
It's going to suffocate him, he knows it! He's going to die. "Mother," he whispers into the inky dark and wonders why he does because she never answers anymore. Father has made sure of that. He curls tightly onto the floor and clasps his small hands with bruised fingertips over his mouth so he won't call to her again. Useless.
He hates and loathes and fears.
The darkness presses down on him. Let it in, the small voice encourages, suddenly back with him as though it never left, and he flinches. The voice is always right, but this… this is too much. He can't.
You'll go mad trying to stop it. Let it in, he hears again. It is your destiny.
He doesn't really comprehend that word – destiny – but it sounds final and cruel… and beautiful? When the voice says it.
He is tired of not knowing, of being afraid. Of Father. Of Darkness. Of anything.
Trust me, the voice whispers, and after all, it is the only thing he can.
He doesn't want to hold it out, so he lets it in.
He forces his mind and limbs to uncurl and embraces the darkness and lets it choke him, lets it choke the fear and the pain and the uncertainty away, and it hurts but he doesn't die, and that surprises him. He lays his cheek against the cold floor and lets the cold seep into him, all of him. If he is cold, then the floor can't be any worse.
And it isn't.
He laughs, no longer afraid, and the voice laughs with him. The darkness cannot hurt him anymore. The darkness is his friend. It knows him like no one else does, and the shadows that once tried to choke him now fold protectively around his limbs. He feared for nothing.
The small voice returns with a soft See? and he smiles into the dark with all the coldness of the floor. He sees, oh yes, he sees. The voice is like the darkness, quiet and infinitely strong. It is there for him.
Only the darkness knows how long he lies there smiling at it.
The door grinds alive without warning and slides open, revealing a sliver of white that grows into a chasm.
The sterile light of Convergence hurts his eyes, sharp and piercing, and he turns away instinctively until his pupils adjust to the inflow. He peers up at the silhouette of Father outlined in the doorframe and looming large, thick brows bristling with arrogant satisfaction.
"Learned your lesson yet, boy?"
He nods. Yes, he's learned. But Father hasn't.
Writing Tiny!Palpatine is very difficult. He's both childlike and jaded, manipulative and naïve, murderous and vaguely innocent, etc., etc., etc. It's a disturbing mindset to climb into. And he's probably claustrophobic too after this… sorry, Palpatine.
For some reason the twisted relationship between him and his father has been fascinating me of late.
Apologies for any errors or typos. This was an experimental plot bunny that wouldn't leave me alone. Any reviews and feedback are greatly appreciated.