INTO THE LIGHT
Darth Vader—now Anakin Skywalker again—moved slowly through the forest, away from the ashes of his armor and mortal remains. He didn't know where to go or what to do now, but he wasn't really surprised that he hadn't joined the Force at his death. After all he had done, he would probably have tainted it with darkness.
He heard the sounds a celebration in the distance and moved towards it. Fireworks burst overhead, bathing the forest in light for a moment before fading away again.
The Emperor was dead. That was what the celebration was about—the end of Sidious' reign of terror. The end of the empire he had built on the smoldering remains of a democracy already nearing its end when he had taken power.
And he, Anakin Skywalker, had killed him.
It had been one of the hardest decisions of his life—should he stand at the side of the man who, in spite of all the evil he had done, had been a father figure to him since he was nine years old, or should he defend his son, the young man who had believed in him despite his actions, who radiated light in the Force, who had been born of the love he and Padmé had shared?
In the end, his son had won out, and he had fulfilled his destiny, destroying both the Emperor and himself, and in doing so, destroying the Sith.
But where did he go from here? Were there others like him in the galaxy, or was he the only one? Was this the ultimate fate of a Sith—to wander alone forever? Was this the immortality Sidious had hinted at?
He stopped, startled, as two blue figures shimmered into view ahead of him on a ridge overlooking the celebration. Still keeping himself invisible, he crept forward, surprise filling him as he realized who they were.
Obi-Wan and Yoda.
It seemed impossible. Obi-Wan and Yoda had both been Jedi, strong in the light side of the Force. There had been no darkness in either of them—none that he had ever sensed, anyway—and yet here they were.
Neither had vanished into the Force as he had always been taught that Jedi did.
He stepped up beside them, seeing Luke gazing up at them. He wondered if he, too, should make an effort to become visible, but the decision was taken out of his hands as the two ghosts sensed his presence and, looking towards him, drew him into view.
Anakin looked down at his son, smiling as Luke's eyes met his, the expression in them unmistakable—gratitude and pride in him, even after all he had done.
He stood there for a few moments more, watching the celebration, before he felt a ripple in the Force and began fading away, realizing that Obi-Wan and Yoda were no longer beside him.
He was surrounded by darkness now, broken only by the twinkling of distant stars. He should have felt cold, he thought, or afraid, but strangely, he felt neither. It was as though he had finally found the serenity that Obi-Wan had tried so hard to teach him as a Padawan.
Then, as he turned slowly, he sensed something opening in the Force, brightening and lighting his way. He turned fully towards it and found a beam of light, not the straight, focused beam of a lightsaber, but something brighter and all-encompassing, beckoning him onward.
No longer hesitating, he moved into it, feeling it envelope him and push him forward, faster and faster, until he emerged into a broad plain of green grass and flowers, not unlike the one in which he and Padmé had picnicked so many years before when their love had been budding and innocent, before wars and darkness and the lure of the Sith.
There was a lake nearby, just as there had been in those days on Naboo. He started towards it, only then realizing that he was not alone. A group stood nearby, waiting for him.
He moved towards them, smiling as he recognized them. Yoda was there, but green and solid now, as he had known him in life, a look of approval on his face—something Anakin had rarely seen in his days as a Jedi. Obi-Wan stood beside him, no longer looking like the old man Luke had known and Vader had killed, but once again the young Jedi who had been Anakin's mentor and best friend.
Beyond them stood the Lars—Owen and Beru, Cliegg—and standing beside them, Shmi. She stepped forward, enveloping him in her arms for the first time since he was nine years old.
"Ani," she murmured, her facing lighting in a bright smile. "I'm so proud of you. I knew you would make it. I knew I would see you again."
Anakin was overwhelmed. He had never expected to see her again, and she looked so different now from her appearance in the Tusken camp—whole and healthy again, with no sign of the agonizing injuries that had taken her life so many years before.
"Mom," he whispered, returning the embrace with all his strength. "I missed you."
They stood that way for a few moments before Anakin felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned, finding Qui-Gon standing there, his eyes twinkling approvingly.
"There's someone else waiting to see you, Anakin. She's waiting down at the lake."
Anakin turned towards the lake, seeing a dark-haired woman gazing out over the water, her curls cascading down her back and her elegant gown billowing slightly in the breeze.
She turned to him, smiling, and Anakin hurried towards her, his steps slowing as he reached the shore, then stopping a short distance from her. Was she really waiting for him? How could she want to see him after all he had done? His turn to the Dark Side, his first actions as Vader—all had been for her in a misguided attempt to save her life. An attempt, he realized now, that had actually brought about her death.
Padmé saw his hesitation and stepped towards him, taking his hand in her own and bringing him to her. She touched his face, her eyes shining with a love that had never ended, no matter what he had done.
"Ani." She drew him into her arms, her eyes on his. "I knew there was still good in you. You did it. You came back."
Anakin smiled as he leaned down to kiss her, knowing that all was forgiven now. The past, the years of darkness, were over, and he had truly returned to the light.