Title: The Long Road Back
Summary: AU. After four years as Vader, Anakin has a change of heart. He begins a journey back into himself. Padmé finds a way to help him.
Chapter 25 and Epilogue: The End of the Road
Disclaimer: Star Wars is the property of George Lucas. No disrespect is intended.
Notes: There are alternate versions of the previous two chapters up on my website if anyone is interest. Also, thank you to my beta, GemL. Any gramatical, etc. errors are mine alone.
The time had come. Anakin knew it as soon as he woke. He was ready to face Vader a final time. Determination traversed his veins. After today, Vader would be gone. He had breakfast and headed for his appointment, kissing Padmé on the way out the door.
Anakin looked at Doc, then beside him. Vader was there in all of his ruined glory. He saw the scarring, the streaks of blackened, dead skin and open wounds. Vader stood without the suit, looking as he must have just after the new limbs had been attached. His features were grossly distorted with rage and hate, his eyes bright with Sith yellow and red. When he spoke, spittle flew from his mouth.
Don't do it, Anakin. Don't shove me away. You remember how it hurt, how you failed her. You can't face this alone, without me.
"Anakin? Tell me how you felt when your mother died."
I cared for you then, didn't I? I made them pay for what they did and you let me. You let me!
He took a deep breath. "Helpless. I felt helpless."
Her body was beaten, tied. Remember the marks? It was an injustice, Anakin. They didn't try hard enough to save her. How hard could it have been really? They didn't want to save her. But I…I helped you. I made them pay for their actions. I cared enough to do something for you. No one else cared like I did, like I do.
"If I had gotten there sooner, would she have died?" Anakin licked his lips with a frown. "I think now that she would have. She'd held on as long as she could and I found her right as her will finally gave out. I even wonder if Palpatine somehow arranged her abduction. I felt overwhelmed, at war with myself over my feelings. I thought that as a Jedi, I wasn't allowed to feel a wanting of revenge or deep grief. I'd misinterpreted many things they tried to teach me. When I did succumb, I felt guilty."
Vader growled. No, no, I won't let you do this! His hands raised, slashed at the air as though trying to use the Force to throw objects about the room.
Anakin felt the surging of Vader inside him, as helpless in desperation as he had been at the Tusken camp. Vader helpless. How long had he waited for the moment when Vader would no longer hold sway over him! Anakin blinked. "I loved her so much, Doc. I never stopped missing her, not one day. Obi-Wan tried to give me the parental affection, but it was her I needed. I can even see how I used Padmé as a partial substitute. I can accept that."
"Can you let your mother go, Anakin?"
The question had been one he'd been considering for quite some time. Letting go did not mean forgetting. He knew that now.
Anakin please, Vader switched tactics, his voice pleading in a gentle, mild tone. Don't do this. Don't send me away. I am the only one who fully understands you. I protected you from so much pain. We've been together for so long--
True. Once, however, they had been a single person. They would be so again, only this time, Anakin had the skills he needed to deal with anger and emotional pain. This step did not frighten him anymore. "Yes, Doc. I can let her go. I will let her go."
Vader fell to the floor, one arm and both legs gone, flesh smoking. I hate you! I hate you! His remaining hand stretched out to touch Anakin's boot….
They tumbled backwards together in time, reliving key moments, those that had caused Vader's rising.
First, Mustafar. Anakin chose not to fight Obi-Wan, nor did he choke Padmé or kill the Separatists. Moving backwards, making choices in his -- their -- memories, negating Vader's power little by little until they reached his earliest memories of Vader persuading him.
The adult Anakin looked at his child twin, the dark part of him that had first grasped the lure of temptation. "This isn't death, you know." He crouched down so that they were eye to eye. "I know now that it's okay to feel these things, but I'm not going to let you take over. I'm giving you a choice, Vader. You can live in isolation forever or you can be a part of me. Isolation means loneliness. You know what that feels like."
The child's brows came together in a frown, yet adult eyes glared at him. I do. The words were clipped.
"If you choose to be a part of me, it will be a normal part, the one you should have played from the beginning. No separation. Your choice Vader. I don't need you."
The malice crumbled away from the youth's face and Anakin saw himself as a boy, whole and a bit uncertain. What he'd been for a short while. But I need you, Anakin. I have always needed you to live. Slowly, the boy came to him. The choice is no choice and you know it. Either way, I die.
You have me cornered.
"In a manner of speaking."
I could resist.
"You could," he agreed. "But you won't be able to grow. You'll be forever insignificant, small and powerless."
The child laughed. I'll be that regardless. Separate and imprisoned or part of you and gone. There is no difference. However, I will choose, since you insist. I will be a part of you." The malice returned, twisting his features. And may you forever wonder if I'll find a way free.
As the child's hand took his, Anakin replied, "It doesn't work that way, Vader. You're absorbed into me and we are whole. Finally. You no longer exist."
There was no final tug of resistance, Vader melting into Anakin, merging with him until only Anakin was left in the tiny slave quarters he remembered from childhood. Without pausing for a final glance backwards, Anakin strode back through his memories into the present.
He heard the worry in Doc's voice and looked up, smiling. "I'm okay, Doc." The session continued and Anakin reflected upon how he felt. There was a complete peace inside him that had never before been there and later, with his wife and friends around him, he knew that the process was nearly completed. He was whole, yet one thing remained.
Soon, he would have to go to Tatooine.
Anakin planned the trip for a few weeks in the future, enough time to arrange matters to his satisfaction, but in the end, it was set later due to Bail and Owen's requests. Bail wanted Leia to finish her quarter of schooling without interruption and Owen had objections due to the busy farming season. Anakin had an idea in his mind as to what this trip should accomplish and once it was laid out the way he wanted, he relaxed, making trips to the Jedi Temple to watch the construction and easing back in to a Jedi style of living -- one that included his wife, of course.
He meditated regularly, eventually staking claim on a room in the Temple and was surprised to find Jedi that had hidden and survived the purge returning to the Temple. They greeted him with congratulations on his part in disposing of Palpatine and expressed an interest in returning to the Temple. Anakin had Obi-Wan contact Yoda for directions. He didn't know what to tell them. The Order, as it had been, was no more. This small band of Jedi, many of whom were teenagers, needed direction and focus and Anakin didn't want to be the one to give it. He'd tired of doing so while pretending to be Vader.
Yoda's response was unexpected and it was on a warm sunny day that Anakin found himself in the former Council chambers thinking about that response and the events leading from it. Yoda's message had been long and filled with proposed changes to the rules of the Order. If such changes had been put into effect when Anakin was a child, then he would not have experienced much of his feelings of guilt as an adult. Gone were the rules of a child leaving family behind. Removed was the restriction on marriage. Also left to the past was the rule regarding age. Each case would be evaluated individually and the specific needs of that person scrutinized.
Back and forth they went through Obi-Wan until that one refused to be a messenger any longer. Yoda then returned to Coruscant, coming to speak to Anakin personally. He'd rested his hands on his cane and nodded in that wise manner he had as he looked Anakin up and down. "Progress completed," he'd said and turned immediately to the matter at hand.
Anakin was left in charge of those returning to Coruscant. With the new rules in place, he simply had to give gentle direction. There was no need to watch over them, only to be ready to advise should it be needed.
He considered it all as the hours passed, until the Coruscant skyline was teeming with rush hour traffic. Twilight descended, lowering to meet the bright city lights and painting the sky brilliant shades of red and purple.
Anakin watched it all with an impassive gaze, his thoughts finally turning inward, dwelling upon the changes in himself since absorbing and negating Vader. This was not a brood, but rather a time of joyful meditation, a glorying in his condition and how far he had come from what he had been. With full integration behind him, it was as though the Force had fully embraced him, re-shaped him and ultimately turned back the clock. The process he'd felt occurring during the Clone Wars had begun again, power shooting through him at an accelerated rate.
He was at peace, flowing in unison with the swelling crests of the Force. At times in the past, he'd felt outside of time, able to look forward and backwards with ease and see what was going to happen. Vader had done it often, though his experience had been tainted by the dark side. This feeling was constant now. He was fully balanced and fully himself.
I am what I was supposed to be, he thought with a nod. There was only one path before him and he saw glimpses of what it held, some certain and others possible. The glimpses did not frighten. He knew that Padmé was pregnant, that she was at home this moment working with the chef to prepare a fancy meal to tell him. He knew that Luke was progressing already in his exercises and wanted to please his parents and he knew….
A presence was approaching. He waited patiently for the man to arrive. After a moment, he smile and cocked his head, using a greeting from the far past. "Hello Mister Qui-Gon, sir."
He turned, feeling very much like a boy before his father. Indeed, Qui-Gon had been a fatherly influence for a brief period, giving direction when he'd needed it.
"Hello Anakin. May I join you?"
Qui-Gon's appearance was as Obi-Wan had said and what he already knew from those quick glimpses he'd had in the night, a bit blue and ghostly, yet having a solidity that defied that spectral appearance. He looked for all the galaxy like a holo-transmission. In a way, Anakin supposed he could be considered such.
"Much redecorating has occurred since I last set foot in the Temple." Qui-Gon sat, stretching his legs out. "Much has changed."
"It has." Rather than make conversation to reach the question he wanted to ask, Anakin began with it. "Why did you wait so long before seeing me, Master? I know you've watched me at night, but you never stayed to talk."
He smiled. "It's simply Qui-Gon now, Anakin. Titles mean little, as they should. And as for why…." His smile faded, lips pursing as he thought. "You have always been gifted in so many ways, extraordinary. Those night watches were to get a sense of you and of the remaining dark side in you. I was hesitant to stay too long once you began to regain consciousness, for I didn't know how far suppressed Vader was. As you've said, he was you only the flip side. Your powers under dark sway. That meant he had your gifts, your extraordinary talents. I didn't want to chance him understanding my continued existence. That is why I arrived and left when I did."
"Obi-Wan told me what's needed. Your caution was unnecessary."
A measuring gaze was slipped over him. "Obi-Wan didn't tell you everything. There is further instruction needed. Was rather. It's a moot point at this time. You've become what you were intended, balanced in the Force. I can see it. You have the knowledge inside you, the answer to your questions."
Anakin sat in the chair beside him. "You sound very positive on everything. Didn't I disappoint you when I fell?"
"You took a detour off the path, Anakin. It happens to many. Unfortunately, few manage to right themselves to the degree you have. Any disappointment I felt is gone and I can truly say that I am proud of you. You have prevailed and triumphed, returning from the deepest darkest pit of the dark side a whole man. That is not a matter to be taken lightly."
He nodded. There was a comfort in knowing this man believed in him after all that had happened. "I don't know if I can take charge, Qui-Gon. These men and women returning need someone. Master Yoda put me in charge, but…"
"You can do it, Anakin. Remember, we are all here if you need us. Simply ask for help and it will be given."
Wise words and words he intended to follow.
Anakin Skywalker had thought many things difficult in his life. The range was great and depended upon his age at the time. In his mind, he'd imagined that walking to his mother's grave would feel like stones being dropped onto him. In reality, it was nothing of the sort.
Padmé, Luke and Leia went with him, the children holding his hands. There was no sense of weight as he knelt, no immeasurable grief that made him wish to rage at the injustice of her death. He simply remembered. Not the pain of losing her, but rather the good times. Her gentle smile, the quiet reassurances she'd given him and the warm strength of her hugs. He drew Luke and Leia to him. Where to even begin? He had so much to tell her.
"It's been a long time, mom. I have some people I'd like you to meet. These two children here, they're mine, your grandchildren. You already know Luke and the girl is Leia."
Leia settled down beside him, resting against him. Luke remained standing. Anakin and Padmé had explained what they were going to do on the short walk from the Lars homestead to the grave.
"You would be so proud of them both. I am." He talked for awhile, telling her about them both and also their hopes for their as yet unborn child, then told the two they could return to the house. Once they had gone, he looked at Padmé. She knelt slightly behind him, one arm bracing against his back. She pressed a kiss to his shoulder in support. "You remember Padmé, don't you? She's my wife now, but…." He returned his gaze to the stone. "I've done some things I'm not proud of over the years, evil things that hurt a lot of people, but I guess I just wanted to tell you that I'm finally the man you always knew I could be."
The suns lowered in the sky as he talked and when the air cooled and the sky was awash in deep jewel tones, he let Padmé lead him inside. Much later, after the children were asleep and Padmé was helping Beru in the kitchen, he sat across from Owen at the table and cleared his throat. He didn't think they two could ever be friends exactly, but they could get along. They had Shmi in common, and Luke. "Would you tell me what you loved most about her? Please?"
Owen's brows raised. He considered the matter and nodded, a smile turning his lips. "Am I limited to one thing only, because I don't think I could limit myself."
Late into the night they shared memories of Shmi. It was a comfort to Anakin to know that others had loved her with as much emotion as he did. Anakin's journey had ended, that long road back into himself. He was whole once more and there were new journeys to begin with those he loved.
He was ready.