Darth Vader watched as the flames licked at his black armor. It seemed fitting. His soul, the soul of Anakin Skywalker died in the fire of molten lava. Now his body will crumble in fire as well.
From behind the funeral pyre Luke's gaze wandered through the darkness of the night and for a moment Vader almost believed his son could see him. A wry smile grazed his lips at the thought. It was silly, of course. Vader was dead, for good this time and Luke wouldn't ever be able to see him again. The Sith Lord didn't know how long he would be able to hold onto the force with his mind alone. Soon his spirit would be whisked away and then he wouldn't be able to see Luke anymore either.
But then his son smiled back at him and actually waved.
Vader blinked in shock. He looked down at himself. No, he was still nothing but a blue-white spirit. He looked just like he had done the day before he'd had his limps severed. It was the form he had chosen when he found out he could give his soul an appearance, even if just for himself. Nobody else seemed to be able to see him – he had wandered around the remains of the imperial navy and later the rebel celebration for almost half an hour in search for his son only to find him far away from the feast, taking care of his dead body. He'd stayed true to his word after all. Luke didn't leave him alone, he'd brought his body back from the Death Star before it blew up, even through he risked his own life doing so. Such loyalty, undeserved too, simply eluded Vader. He did not understand how his son could be such a shining light. He was so pure, so innocent and believed in the good where darkness had been at home for decades.
He was weak too. Vader had been able to easily overpower him in every of their duels. The only time Luke had been able to get an advantage over him had been when he'd drawn on the dark side in his anger, when he for just a moment, attacked with the intent to kill. It had thrown Vader off his track. He'd been reminded of his own fall and the pain of the memory had distracted him for just a second. A second that had cost him his hand – not that it was a great loss, it being mechanical and all.
Yes, Luke was weak. He wasn't a great sword fighter like Darth Maul. He didn't have much finesse like Darth Tyrannis. He didn't have Vader's raw power and he most certainly wasn't a genius like Sidious. He had a lot of potential but the force didn't obey him as it did Vader. He didn't even know how to reflect Sith lighting. Then again, Luke had only had a few month of Jedi training. Considering that, his progress was mind-boggling. He was weak for a Jedi but incredibly powerful for a Padawan. The sad thing was that as the only Jedi alive, he would never get any further teaching, light or dark. He would never reach his full potential.
Luke had turned away from the funeral pyre. He went to join the celebration again and Vader turned away as well, ready to go to wherever the force let him. However, as he started paying attention to his surroundings again, he was suddenly met with the white spirits of two Jedi he knew all too well. Master Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi both stood there, the first gripping his glimmer stick while the latter one had his arms crossed in front of his chest.
"You..." he muttered, resentment raising its head immediately. His shock was momentarily overriding his instinct to draw his lightsaber. Nonetheless he felt the weapon materializing at his hip – or not materializing, since he was but a projection. Why hadn't he heard or sensed them before? It must be a side effect of being dead.
"There is no peace, there is serenity," Kenobi said with a slight smile. "Have you forgotten?“
Vader shook his head mutely.
"Turned back to the light, you have," Yoda explained and nodded to the pyre. "Rid yourself of the darkness in your heart, you have, Skywalker.“
"That is not...“ That is not my name, he wanted to say, but found the words died in his throat. He hadn't turned back. Or had he? He'd certainly turned against his Master and he'd done so not to take his place but to protect his son. That is not how a Sith would act. At the same time, it was not how a Jedi would act either, what with the fear of attachment and all.
"It is good to have you back, Anakin," Kenobi said smiling.
Vader stared at him. He'd spend so many years hating this man. Hating him for mutilating him, for taking Padme from him, for hiding his son – his children – from him. Now Kenobi looked at him as if he'd forgiven him.
Kenobi had no right to forgive him. It should be the other way around!
The Jedi's smile faltered as if he could sense the rising darkness in Vader's heart. Maybe he could.
"Am I going to spend the rest of eternity with you now?" Vader all but spat. He would love to kill Kenobi again and again but he doubted it was possible in their current state.
"If the will of the force it is," Yoda answered. "The only Jedi whose spirit the force has kept near the mortal realm, we are not. Surprise me if you, as the Chosen One, will join us, it will not.“
"Is that so?" he asked with a scoff. "How many darksiders have joined you in the force?“ His non-existing stomach clenched painfully at the prospect of having to face even more Jedi, a large part of whom he had probably killed himself.
"How can you still insist that I am the Chosen One after everything that happened?“ He'd done everything he could to go against that damn prophecy. A part of him had always enjoyed doing so just because it meant opposing the Jedi.
Yoda shook his head. "Misinterpreted, the prophecy has been. For hundreds of years, ruled the light has. To bring balance to the Force, chase away the light you had to. When the darkness got too overwhelming, chase away you did it as well. Now nothing is left of both Sith and Jedi teaching. Rise to new heights unhindered by the past, a new generation can.“
"Then all this time," Vader asked with a growl, "it was my destiny to destroy both orders... so they can be rebuild?“
"I think it is very much obvious with you," Kenobi replied, "that nothing, not even fate can tell you what to do. Even if your destiny might have been set, the way of how you go about fulfilling it was always up to you.“
"Told us about your wife, you should have," Yoda mused. "Tried to rebuild the order, we might have.“
If KenobiIs words were like a knife to his stomach, Yoda gave it a good twist.
"Even if I told you, it would not have made a difference!" he insisted. "You never trusted me, you would have expelled me from the order! You, all of you, you were jealous and afraid of my power! I could not count on help, that is why I did what I did!“
"But you didn't even ask," Kenobi replied sadly.
“Blinded by our fear of the darkness, we have been. Failed, we all have," Yoda said. "Know this, I do now.“
And wasn't that even worse, because it meant that no matter what he did, he had always been destined to fall-
"It is time for us," Kenobi whispered and looked into the distance. "The force is calling for us.“ He turned to Vader again. "Will you come with us?“
"Do I have a choice?" he snarled.
"I believe you do. At the very least, I believe you deserve one," his old Master said sadly.
"Then I refuse to go with you," Darth Vader answered resolutely. "If I have followed the will of the force for all my life, let me follow my own will in death at least.“
Kenobi didn't look surprised but he looked sad still. Vader couldn't figure him out. Anger he would have understood, fear he would've welcomed. But Kenobi's... mourning was unsettling.
The two old Jedi took their leave and Vader watched as their spirits faded away. He felt the force tug at his mind and he raised his head to look up into the sky.
"If I am truly your Chosen One... let me chose for myself just this once! Let me go.“
His old Jedi Master had often said that the force loved him because of the way it clung to him. It was a side effect of being spawned by midi-chlorians. The force had always easily replied to his every command, both as a Jedi and as a Sith. He had often heard it whisper during meditation, guiding his way. The problem was that he'd heard it whisper both from the light and from the dark side and at that time, the dark had simply been louder.
Now he wanted nothing more then for the force to finally shut up. He wanted to be free. He hadn't been free as a child, bound in slavery. He hadn't been free as a Jedi, first bound to his Master as a Padawan and then bound to the Council as a Knight. He hadn't even been free as a Sith, bound to the Emperor. He was so sick of having a Master. He was too emotional to give up on all attachment but he yearned so much to be the one doing the binding himself.
And for once in his life, he felt a faint sense of acknowledgment from the force. A faint breeze seemed to brush over his face. His wish would be granted.
Letting out the breath he hadn't known he'd been holding, Vader felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. He gave up all resistance and allowed the force to take a hold of his spirit. Wherever it would take him, it had better be a damn good place. Preferably one where he would be able to see his family again one day.
When Darth Vader felt his senses return to him, he felt momentarily overwhelmed. He was lying on his back in the middle of an empty wasteland but there were so many information storming at him. He could feel the sand and the heat on his bare skin. He could smell the dust and Sith had it been long since he last smelled anything! He took a deep breath and other then in his spirit form, this time he actually felt how the air flooded his lungs and it felt incredible!
Slowly the Sith Lord sat up and marveled at his organic hands and feet, covered by his black Jedi robes. He looked around and enjoyed the sight of the Tatooine twin suns, unblemished by the red tint of his mask.
Wait a moment. Tatooine?
Indeed, he would recognize those suns anywhere. It seemed he was on his planet of origin – he would never call it home – and he had no idea how he got here.
A bit shakily he got to his feet. He could feel the force in the air around him but curiously, the underlying whisper that usually came with it was absent.
Vader resumed a meditation pose and silently posed his questions.
Am I on Tatooine?
He got a sense of agreement, further cementing his suspicion.
Is this my afterlife?
Afterlife, this word echoed in his mind a few times, but there was something wrong about it... This wasn't his afterlife, but his life.
What did that mean? It could not...
Am I alive again?
The force hummed in contentment.
For a moment, Vader felt his jaw slack. Could it even do that?
Why am I here?
The force never actually spoke, but it usually nudged his thoughts in one direction or another. He expected the light to tell him he had to right his wrongs, or the dark to finish what he began. Sometimes it was hard to ascertain which side spoke to him, but it had gotten easier during the years – mainly because he'd learned to shut out the light.
But now, he got nothing. Not the slightest push. His mind was completely blank.
What should I do?, he asked again but the force stayed silent. He thought maybe he'd lost the connection. In which direction can I find life forms the fastest?, he asked next and this time he got a nudge of the force to go west. He hadn't lost his connection but then, why wouldn't the force tell him what to do?
It was then that he realized, there was nothing for him to do. He'd fulfilled his destiny and the force had granted his wish. It had set him free. He could still use the force and had all his powers, but there were no responsibilities connected to them anymore.
Just to test this Vader called upon the dark side and it filled him up instantly, chasing away the ache in his body from lying in the sun for so long, sharpening his senses and filling him with excitement – but not much else.
Usually he had to bait the dark by offering it intense feelings such as pain or anger and it swallowed these emotions, returning them to him tenfold. Nothing of that sort happened this time. The power was there, it filled him up but it didn't take him over. He felt no need to fight any murderous urges either. When he let go of the power it was like... It was like coming down from a high, but without the painful crush at the end. It was beyond puzzling.
In the end, it was up to Vader himself to make a decision. Even though he had yearned it for so long, he didn't actually know how to be free. What would he do? Where would he go? He could do anything. He could take over the Empire in Sidious' stead. It would prevent a civil war while at the same time he wouldn't have to give up any of the power he got so used to.
But Vader was more of an action person, he knew he didn't have the patience to sit on a throne the whole day. It was one of the main reasons why he hadn't betrayed his Master before.
He could try to find his children and work with them and the rebels to reinstate a republic. Maybe together they'd be able to prevent most of the bloodshed. But despite everything Vader felt he didn't really want the Empire to be destroyed, the empire he had spend so much time building with his own two hands. He had spend so much time hunting down rebels and his disgust for them was real. He – dare he say it? - loved his children. But that had nothing to do with his political views and he could still hate the rebels. No, it was probably best if they believed him to be dead, at least for now.
Maybe he would just stay out of politics. He knew he couldn't do it for long, he always longed to be in the middle of everything but he felt he needed some time to decide where his way would lead from here on. Tatooine was as good a place as any to hide on.
Vader sat down and began to draw a miniature map of the planet into the sand. Then he let his finger hover over it, letting the force guide his movements. As he knew it would, he got no incentive on the question where to go, but he could at least ascertain his position that way. He wasn't too far away from the hut that he had inhabited together with his mother when he was a child. Luke grew up at a similar place. He'd researched that after finding out who the daring pilot was that blew up his Death Star. He wasn't too far from Mos Eisley either, the city where he was most likely to get a transport off the planet if he so wished. The force did indeed leave him a choice.
Vader hesitated but in the end, decided he would go to the hut. He needed to meditate. When things come to a close you think back to the beginning.
It was a long walk and while he grew thirsty with time, he could use the force to strengthen his body and made it to the hut in record time. It still seemed to be inhabited. Someone else must've taken the site for himself.
Vader felt a rush of anger at the thought but it was a lonely spike and he didn't feel the darkness rush to his side to feed on it. It was strange to have his anger just vanish like that. As a Sith he would've searched for the new owner and killed him just for daring to live here. Wait, that sounded as if he wasn't a Sith anymore. But he was. Or was he?
Shaking his head, Vader closed in on the pathetic abode. It reminded him so much of the place he was raised at. He felt only one presence in the hut. Deciding he would find out who lived here before going on a killing spree, Vader knocked.
A few seconds passed before the door was opened.
Vader felt a chill settle in his stomach. This was not... it was not possible! In front of him there stood his mother!
Or at least, the woman strongly resembled his mother. She was a lot younger and it was strange not seeing her in pain. His most recent memory of her was the one of her dying at the hands of the Tusken and it was this memory that had overshadowed each and every other until he could barely remember what her face looked like without blood stains on it.
Shmi Skywalker was clearly surprised to see him but she didn't seem to recognize him.
"Hello, what can I do for you?" she asked, carefully neutral.
Vader just stared at her. How could she be alive? Had the force lied? Was this the afterlife and he was just as dead as her? But then why didn't she recognize him? He looked barely a few years older then when she had last seen him, shortly before dying.
"You don't know me?" he made sure, failing to keep the incredulity out of his voice.
"I'm sorry, Sir... I don't remember ever seeing you.“
Vader flinched back as if she'd hit him. It felt so wrong for her to call him Sir!
"It is me...," he hesitated, "... Anakin. Don't you recognize me, mother?“
She looked him over carefully. "I'm sorry, but my son is six years old. You must mistake me for someone else...“
Vader took a step back, staring at her with a mixture of horror and shock.
"Six years old?!" he repeated. "That can't be... Oh force, what happened?!“
After a few moments, his mother took a tentative step forward and laid a calming hand on his shoulder. "Maybe you should sit down for a moment. You look very tired.“
Vader nodded mutely and let himself be lead into the hut. He looked around and everything felt so incredibly familiar. Without him having to ask, his mother handed him a cup of bantha milk. He drank it automatically but stopped as soon as the first drop grazed his lips. It tasted absolutely wonderful.
Maybe it was the long walk through the desert that had left him dehydrated. Maybe it was the fact that he'd been fed intravenously while in the suit and hadn't had the pleasures of actual food and drink let alone any good ones for two decades. Maybe it was the sudden rush of emotions from being reminded of his childhood. The taste of this milk, the milk his mother would always make for him, symbolized happiness and safety for him. Vader looked up from the cup at his mother and for the second time in his life he felt like seeing an angel. This was the one person who had always believed in him, who had never betrayed him even when he had left her behind in slavery and been an overall bad son. She had been proud of him when she had seen him as a Jedi. He liked to think she would've been proud of him as a Sith too. After all it was unlikely she knew he had managed to get to her unnoticed. When he held her in his arms in the Tusken village, she must've thought he fought his way free to her, even though he had only started killing sand people afterward. He was sure she knew and yet she said she was proud.
"I'm your son," he stated breathlessly because he needed her to know, he needed her to believe him. "I was freed from slavery and joined the Jedi for some time but left the order. I had a wife and two children. When I died... When I died, the Force granted me a wish and sent me here.“ Hesitantly, as if she'd fade if he touched her, he covered her hand with his, just to see if she was real.
"Tell me... Are you dead?“
"I-I'm not...," his mother stuttered, clearly not knowing how to respond to his speech.
Vader let out a breath. "In that case... It seems I have been transported into the past.“
"You mean like time travel?“
He nodded and took another sip from that fabulous milk. The shock was slowly receding. He was still surprised but then again, he was the Chosen One. Impossible things always happened around him. All the pain he had to go through... Maybe the Force agreed with Kenobi.... that he deserved another chance. Not to set things right or be punished for his mistakes but simply to make his own choices.
The Force hummed around him and made him smile.
Meanwhile, Shmi leaned forward, carefully studying his face.
"Anakin?" she asked, shocked that she could actually recognize her sons features in this stranger.
Vader nodded, feeling a ridiculous spike of happiness in his heart. His mother was alive! Wait, did that mean he could prevent her from dying? Was he actually in the past or in some kind of alternate universe?
Suddenly he had his hands full of Shmi as she hugged him tightly. He almost spilled his milk from the onslaught – he had to force-levitate the liquid back into the cup.
"What was that for?" he asked shakily when she finally let go of him.
"You looked like you could use it," his mother said with a happy smile. "And it's not every day your son visits you from the future.“
Vader chuckled and was surprised by himself a moment later. That had been the closest he'd gotten to a laugh in ten years.
"So, a Jedi, huh?“ Shmi smiled mischievously. "Wait till Ani hears that! He's at Wattos shop till sunset but when he comes home...“
He did a double take. "He is still here?“
His mother nodded. "You're surprised. Does that mean he... he's going to leave soon? He'll be free?“
I got freed when I was nine...," Vader muttered. "But he
can't hear about this.“
"What? Why not?“
Yes, why not? If Vader met his past self, that erased all chances for the past to play out as it was supposed to. After all he didn't remember ever meeting an older version of himself. On the other hand, he didn't want it to play out exactly as it used to. He still hadn't decided what to do but he would be damned if he let Padme die again! She would live and so would his children.
"I'm not sure if the young Anakin will even come home," Vader admitted. "It is possible that my presence in this time replaced his. If it hasn't, I need to stay close to him to be able to influence certain events that he plays an important role in. He mustn't know I'm his future self because the Jedi would get me in trouble if they found out. I'm using what they call the dark side of the Force and while that isn't forbidden by any law, it would draw unwanted attention.“
"But you look so much like him and it will only become more obvious as time passes. If you want to visit again, how do you want to explain that?“
"I suppose I could pretend to be his brother...," he suggested hesitantly.
looked affronted. "I am not nearly old enough to be able to be
your mother. If anything, you'd pass for Ani's...“ She stopped
there and Vader hurried to say:
"No! No, I'm not going to-“
"But it would be the perfect explanation. My pregnancy was... unexpected to say the least, his father – your father is unknown, if there even is any and it would explain all the similarities.“
That was wrong on so many levels!
"Mother, I absolutely refuse.“
"I'm not saying that you should be my husband, silly. You can say you came back out of a sense of responsibility once you learned of Ani and that you only stay because of him.“
"I...“ That was such a strange thought. Being back in the past he would've liked to find Padme but his wife was currently a child. Would always be a child, compared to him. His children, his whole reason for giving up his life, would never exist – except of course if his younger self fell for Padme again. Vader could never be a father to his son but... but he could be a father to young Anakin. He remembered how as a child he'd always dreamed of having a father. A powerful father that would just sweep his mother and him up, would rip this junk dealer a new one and free them from slavery. It was funny that he had become a man that could easily follow up on those dreams now.
is not only because of Ani," Shmi said. "Watto isn't likely
to allow you to come by to visit. But if you pretend to be Ani's
father, I might convince him...“
"What are you talking about? I'm going to free you, mother! You're not staying with that dealer any longer and neither is my past self!“
"But... Ani, you know we can't escape. Think about the transmitters. Unless you traveled through time with a huge amount of money, I don't see how this will work.“
"I have something better then money," Vader said with a smirk. "I have the Force.“