About 15 years after the events of RotS, Darth Vader discovers a way to time travel backwards through the Force and create an alternate timeline where he has the opportunity to change his and Padmé's tragic fate. He does not have complete control over this method of time travel, however, and does not know exactly which point in the past the Force will take him to… only that it will be one of the moments he most regrets. (There are so many to choose from!)
Inspired a bit by the method of time travel portrayed in The Butterfly Effect, i.e. there are not two Anakin Skywalkers in one place, but his consciousness is able to rejoin his younger self so that he returns to the past but retains the memories of Darth Vader from the future.
Please note that this story will not just focus on Anakin and Padmé but will eventually be heavily focused on Luke and Leia as well. It is a Skywalker Family AU with mild Anidala and LukeMara elements. Rated T for violence and dark themes.
Chapter 1 - Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death
He half expected to die. He was willing to take the risk. But he didn't know just how violent and disorienting it would feel and how impossible it would be to stop once it began.
He only knew that he was being ripped apart and put back together again over and over and that it was terrible, nearly impossible to endure, something that would have caused a lesser man to succumb to the darkness and become one with oblivion.
It was dreaming. It was waking. It was endless pitch black. It was the harsh light of a thousand suns.
It was nothing he could have prepared himself for and nothing he could have described if someone had asked him to recount it later. It was something—and nothing—like traveling through hyperspace without a spaceship. Violent and disorientating and surely, supremely fatal.
It was death. It was life. It was the self coming undone.
He was in hell, fire all around him, the air a choking hotness that burned his suddenly unprotected hair and skin and lungs.
It was over. It had just begun.
Was he alive?
Had tampering with the Force in such an unnatural way killed him? Was he, after all, just a lesser man?
The shock of breathing through his own lungs… a long forgotten sensation… was almost enough to convince him that he was indeed dead. It took a few confused gasps to understand that his respirator was no longer there, was no longer feeding him oxygen—that he was doing this all on his own.
He was not dead. He wasn't in hell – no, he was on Mustafar.
And Padmé was standing before him.
Was she real? He had seen her face so many times in dreams, cursed dreams he could not avoid no matter how many different ways of suppressing them he tried. He could hardly believe that this mad attempt had worked and he was looking at the real Padmé, not just another fever induced dream version.
Many different things were converging on him all at once. The sight of his long dead wife. The oppressive heat of Mustafar, its volcanic atmosphere churning around him and the hot air touching his skin. (His skin!) The feeling of being in a different and foreign body – no, not a foreign body. HIS body. The one he had lost all those years ago. Blood flowed through his limbs instead of electrical charges and he could feel the light touch of his Jedi tunic rather than the suffocating seal of his life support suit.
The Force seemed to have all but deserted him.
He found himself struggling just to remain standing. His legs felt so different, so wrong, after teaching himself to balance on prosthetics for so many years. Intense exhaustion hit him like a hammer to the heart and he staggered a little before tenaciously holding onto his equilibrium. Was this really his younger body? He didn't remember it being so… weak?
Padmé was speaking to him but couldn't hear what she was saying. Couldn't focus. Blood was rushing through his head like a thousand beating hearts churning up a maelstrom inside his veins.
The Force was most definitely gone, though. Had he depleted it with his attempt to revisit the past? It was true that he had called upon every ounce of Dark Side power he could muster to himself in order to accomplish the feat. The last thing he could remember before hurtling through the pseudo-hyperspace was a feeling of immense power assaulting him. The last thing he could remember was the realization that he had no control over what would happen next.
Padmé's voice finally broke through his tumultuous consciousness.
"Stop! Stop now, come back! I love you!"
That's what she was saying. And he'd heard it so many times, over and over, tormenting him. That's what she almost always said in his dreams. Come back. Come back to me. So this was a dream, then, wasn't it? He had failed. He was dreaming of that moment again, dreaming of that horrible sickening moment when everything had finally toppled in upon him and he had realized that he was going to lose Padmé. Not to death. It was that she had turned against him. That she didn't love him anymore because of what he had done (for her!) and that she had sided with Obi-Wan against him.
Anakin looked past Padmé's haunting, tearful face and saw Obi-Wan standing in the hatch of the Nubian cruiser. His hands were placed sanctimoniously on his hips as he glowered with all the wrath of the Jedi Council down at his former Padawan.
It been a long, long time since he'd seen Obi-Wan. The last thing he could remember about his former master was his face, twisted in agony as he screamed, "You were my brother, Anakin! I loved you!" The past tense. Then Obi-Wan had proved how in the past those feelings were and had turned, walking away while the flames consumed Anakin. It was a memory that was seared into his ruined flesh forever.
Or at least, that had been the case with Darth Vader.
Perhaps this was real, after all.
Obi-Wan strode down the gangplank, calling, "Padmé! Get away from him!"
Anakin knew that in the past, in another life, he had snapped and begun to choke his wife. Right now he could barely stand upright and his thoughts were not on silencing Padmé's lies as she claimed to love him but on the fact that he hadn't prepared at all for this moment. And he should have. He should have known that this was the moment he would find himself reliving.
For years he had thought about it and wished that he had not killed her. For this was the moment he killed her, according to Palpatine. It was true that he had felt her life force even after that moment, but the violence had been too much for her and she had succumbed to death while he was on the operating table. She had slipped away then and he had felt it, but he knew, and Palpatine knew, that it was this moment right now which had killed her. He had thought oh so wrongly that he was in control and that he had let her go before his grip could have possibly caused her lasting harm, but it had been too late. He had been wrong. It had killed her. It hadn't been long but it had been long enough.
He understood now. This was what he had come back to stop himself from doing. Not to side with Mace Windu. Not to stay his hand when the younglings asked him what to do. Not to avoid going to Mustafar altogether. Not to redeem himself. But to save Padmé.
And now he was standing there and he was not killing her. He was succeeding purely through inaction. But in all the times he had wished he'd stayed his hand he had never looked beyond that moment and thought about time continuing to spin, Obi-Wan walking towards him, Padmé turning with an incredulous look and a shout of "No!" as Obi-Wan repeated his order that she remove herself from Anakin's side.
And he hadn't counted on being so drained of the Force from recently hurtling through time and space from the distant future that he feared toppling over and simply dying at any moment.
In the past he had screamed at Padmé, had accused her of being with Obi-Wan. Even though he had never doubted thereafter that Padmé had indeed come with Obi-Wan, leading him to Anakin in order to avenge the Jedi and her precious Republic, he had no desire to repeat his tirade now. It didn't matter anymore. It hadn't mattered for a very long time. He had spent years thinking that he would let Padmé kill him with her own two hands if only he could see her alive and well again.
Now, watching the two of them, he couldn't quite convince himself that it was real. That they were back here, again, retracing those dance steps that had led to Padmé's death and his own ruin. And now that he was doing nothing it was all changing, but the dance went on without him. He found himself watching Obi-Wan and Padmé with a curious detachment, as if this was merely a play-act. As if they were actors pantomiming a scene around the fire in the slave quarters on Tatooine. What would happen next?
"Padmé please, for your own safety, step away from him!" Obi-Wan said. He stopped at the bottom of the gangplank and divested himself of his robe, in that way he had always loved to do before a fight. "He is not who you think he is!"
"No! Obi-Wan, please!" Padmé did the opposite of his request, which surprised Anakin. She had been drawing away from him but now she rushed back, placing herself and her pregnant girth between him and Obi-Wan. Was she… protecting him? Anakin stared at her in shock. She had brought Obi-Wan to kill him, he had never doubted that, so why should she protect him now? Had she changed her mind when the moment arrived? Could it be that a part of her still cared for him, despite it all?
"Anakin," Obi-Wan said, changing his tack, "leave her out of this."
A sudden surge of irritation brought Anakin out of his stupor. Padmé's care for him was surprising, but his former master's obtuse shouting of orders was not. So like Obi-Wan to tell him to "leave her of out this" when Anakin was literally standing there doing nothing. Truly, his old master was as predictable as he was sanctimonious.
"You shouldn't have come here, Obi-Wan," he said. His own voice caught him by surprise. He hadn't heard it in years. He had almost come to think of the deep rumble of the vocabulator in his helmet as his, because when he tried to speak without it his words only came out in a hoarse whisper from his scorched throat.
He put his arm around Padmé's slim shoulders. Touching her reinforced that this was real, this was happening, she was alive. He gazed steadily at the Jedi before him. "I don't want to fight you."
Obi-Wan looked vaguely surprised, but it was the truth. Of course Anakin did not want to fight – he was too weak. There was no way he could recreate that vicious duel of the past now, when the Force had all but deserted him and he was using every ounce of his strength to stay in the moment. He still didn't feel at one with this body, his body. His spirit was tethered to it but loosely, like a visitor from another place (another time) and this was no time to tempt a lightsaber duel.
Not to mention, the last time he had fought Obi-Wan without adequate thought behind his actions, he had lost.
Oh, he had dreamed of a rematch with his former master for years. But that was as Darth Vader, with all the power of the Dark Side flowing through him. Whatever he was in this moment, he was feeling distinctly more Anakin Skywalker, weak and human, barely even a Jedi, than fearsome Sith Lord.
Obi-Wan might not give him a chance. This he knew. Kenobi had travelled all this way with the sole purpose of killing him. Last time, in that other lifetime, he had failed out of a sheer miscalculation. He had thought Anakin would burn to death in the lava and he wouldn't have to strike the final blow. But now they were nowhere near the molten river, and if given half a chance, Anakin was sure Obi-Wan would drive his lightsaber through his heart.
At least I have saved Padmé, he thought. Saved her from myself. How bitter it would be to come all this way only to have Obi-Wan ruin everything (again) but at least Padmé would live. Their child would live. He would die with finality and would not have to live a half-life in a cage. He would never have to live without Padmé again.
Still, he didn't want to die. Not really. Padmé was in his arms, proclaiming that she loved him, and that gave him a sudden, intense desire to live. Now that she was out of danger, why shouldn't he live?
"Anakin," said Obi-Wan, crossing his arms. "I cannot let you walk away from here. Even now, Yoda is putting an end to your new master's reign of terror. The Sith must be destroyed."
"Yoda will fail," Anakin said. "The Emperor will live."
It was a simple fact, one that he knew from having lived through the future. He did not particularly care if the Emperor lived, not anymore. In fact he had often thought that it would have been better if Master Yoda had succeeded. Then there would have been no one to "save" him from death. And now that he had a second chance at life with Padmé, the Emperor could only get in the way. But he had traveled back to this moment, not the one in which he could have ended Palpatine himself, so it didn't matter. Nothing would change, the Empire would rise, if he were there to help or not. He had already done the worst he could do by helping to exterminate the Jedi. There was no one now who could overthrow Darth Sidious.
Obi-Wan couldn't know that, of course, and his former master reacted about the way he expected. "You underestimate Master Yoda," he said. "He will deal with Palpatine. I must deal with you."
"Please, Obi-Wan," said Padmé. She was shaking. "Please don't do this." She turned back to look up at Anakin. "Don't fight him, Anakin. Please."
Did she really think they could talk this out? He had killed so many Jedi. Obi-Wan would never, could never understand why, and so he would try to kill Anakin. Don't force me to destroy you, Anakin had said to him in a former life. Now saying Please don't destroy me seemed absurd. (I will do what I must, Obi-Wan would say, just as he had in that past life.)
"I'm sorry," he said to Padmé, and gave her a gentle push away. So gentle, because he had once been so violent, and he was terrified of causing her death again despite it all. "I don't have a choice."
"Of course you do," she said as he took a few steps away from her, keeping his eyes focused warily on Obi-Wan. "You always have a choice!"
"Stay out of the way, Padmé," said Obi-Wan, in his kind yet condescending Jedi Master voice. "Go back to the ship."
Anakin shed his own robe, letting it waft away from him in the stifling Mustafarian breeze, his eyes locked with Obi-Wan's. But inside he was trembling, because his could barely move his legs. Such exhaustion! Where had it come from? Why did his young body feel ten thousand years older than even his wrecked and burned body had? Had he really been relying too heavily on the Force in those days that he was a weakling without it?
He vaguely recalled that he had not eaten or slept for days leading up to this fateful battle. He hadn't been able to sleep for the nightmares and he hadn't been able to keep down food or drink as his stomach roiled with the all the stress of fearing Padmé's death, the council's obstinacy, Obi-Wan leaving for Utapau without him, Palpatine's whispers of the dreaded Dark Side being the only way to solve his problems. What a young fool he had been, in retrospect. Going into battle with nothing but the Force to keep him on his feet! Well now the Force was gone and he was paying for the foolishness of another lifetime.
Obi-Wan was still arguing with Padmé about returning to the ship. "He is a very great threat!" Obi-Wan told Padmé with desperation in his voice. Anakin laughed suddenly, a high and crazed sounding laugh which silenced both of them and made them stare at him.
"Obi-Wan," he said. "You overestimate my power."
And with that, he felt incredibly dizzy. He let go of his last vestige of strength. His vision darkened and the world around him became unreal, except for the warm certainty of the landing platform rushing up to embrace him.
Sidenote: The idea that Anakin didn't eat or sleep during RotS is taken from the Stover novelization.
I made a playlist to go with Anakin in this story (up till around chapter 17), so have a listen if you enjoy character soundtracks. I always listen to them while I write. (On 8tracks under Out of the Dark Valley by user irhinoceri.)