Autheor's Note: There are actually two storylines in this fic, I realized soon after I started writing it. The first is obvious, comparing Anakin's upbringing to his adult life. The second is in the second halves of each section, which, when read together, form an introspection of Vader's at the end of Return Of The Jedi. Anyway, if I haven't confused anybody too much, please read and review! I hope you like it!

Disclaimer: Star Wars belongs to George Lucas, no matter what I write about it. And the poem Children Learn What They Live belongs to Dorothy Law Nolte.

Children Learn What They Live

"Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn." -- CS Lewis

If a child lives with criticism --

"I've heard this lesson before . . ." you groan as you wish he would just give you back your lightsaber. It's not like you meant to lose it. Things just happened that way. Besides, it didn't really matter that much. You are still alive, after all, no matter what he spouts about your weapon being you life and all.

He narrows his eyes at you as if he can sense your thoughts. You quickly check your shields. They are still strong. "But you haven't learned anything, Anakin," he says as he finally hands you your blade.

"I try, Master," you protest, but you can tell he doesn't really believe you. "I do try," you whisper at his retreating back.

He learns to condemn.

You stare into her big brown eyes, and she stares defiantly back at you. She can't see your eyes; the mask makes sure of that.

"You are part of the Rebel Alliance and a traitor," you inform her harshly, hoping for a reaction. "Take her away!"

She only clenches her jaw as she is led away. You watch her go until the commander at your side draws your attention away.

If a child lives with hostility --

As much as you respect the Jedi, you think he is wrong. Here on Tatooine, fighting always changes things. If you had won that fight (and you would have) he would have been forced to admit you hadn't cheated.

But because you respect the Jedi, you step back and walk away with him.

"Keep this up, Greedo, and you're gonna come to a bad end," you hear one of your friends say to your opponent. You smile at the thought.

He learns to fight.

"Don't make me destroy you," you hiss at he boy as he shivers mere feet away from you. Your bloodlust demands that you do just that, but you fight it. You've had your fun, you've maimed your son; isn't that enough?

Yet you still itch for a fight.

He throws himself into the depths of the city, and your mechanical limbs sag, no longer humming with anticipation. Your son has left you, rejected you . . . you straighten your spine and stalk back to your ship. His mother did the same thing, years ago. You will not let it happen again.

If a child lives with ridicule --

You don't understand why they ask you all these questions, as if they are important. Why does it matter if you worry about your mother, who is all alone now that you've gone. So what if you are somewhat leery? You've been taken off a world of sand dunes and set down in the middle of a planet you doubt even has natural soil of any sort.

They keep saying you're afraid. Maybe you are. But they are Jedi. Shouldn't they be trying to help you get over it, rather than rubbing it in your face?

They are talking about your mother again. You wish they would stop. You miss her so much it hurts.

He learns to be shy.

"I see you have accepted the truth," you say hesitantly, unsure of what he will do or say. He does not seem like the kind of person who would flippantly set you up for rejection, but you, more than anyone, know that appearances can be deceiving.

You are relieved when he replies politely, if coolly. Now you wonder how to address this man who is your child. It is the first civil conversation the two of you have had in his twenty-three years of life.

You look down at he lightsaber in your hands. His lightsaber. You switch it one to inspect it. Lightsabers are always a safe topic of conversation.

If a child lives with shame --

"You're a slave?" she asks, and for the first time you are ashamed of the life you were born into.

"I am a person, and I have a name!" you reply hotly, then drop your gaze to your lap, where your hands are busy cleaning a small scrap of metal. "It's Anakin," you finish softly.

"I'm very pleased to meet you, Anakin," she says sincerely. You know she means well, but you are still upset. If only you hadn't been born a slave!

He learns to feel guilty.

"Then my father is truly dead," he says quietly, and he walks away, leaving you alone.

You lean on the railing, and to your dismay you are near tears. You can't remember the last time you cried.

Everything is your fault. Because you believed the liar you call Master, because you nearly killed your wife, because you sought to destroy your best friend, because you hurt your son . . . that is why your life (or what passes for your life) is in such disarray.

You bow your head and allow memories of the old days to return. Maybe they can give you the answers you so desperately need.

If a child lives with tolerance --

"Sit still, Ani," he says, but it's a request, not an order. That alone makes you attempt to stay still. The Jedi obviously remembers what it's like to be a young boy.

You can't resist looking up at the stars, though. They fascinate you; they always have. "Has anyone been to them all?" you ask.

"Not likely," he replies, chuckling a bit.

"I want to be the first to see them all." You peek at him to see what he thinks of that, and are relieved when you see him smiling as if he hopes you re the first, too.

He learns to be patient.

"I say patience," you declare firmly as your Master mutters about being smarter than this. The Chancellor is still horrified over the fact that you called this a plan. Well, it had been a plan. Being caught in a ray shield box wasn't exactly part of it.

"You say patience?" he sounds incredulous. You can't really blame him. Patience was never your strongest virtue.

You give him a bright smile.. "You know what Master Yoda says: 'Patience you must have, until the mud settles and the water becomes clear.' So let's wait."

He is not reassured. "Wait," he says disbelievingly. Your smile turns slightly wry. He's probably still waiting for the punchline.

If a child lives with encouragement --

You watch him as he approaches your Podracer, to make sure you are ready for the race that will commence in mere moments. You warm inside as he tells you to do things you would have done anyway. At long last, someone finally understands the connection you have with everything around you, living or not.

"Concentrate on the moment. Feel. Don't think. Trust your instincts. And may the Force be with you."

The Force. You aren't quite sure what it is, but you like the sound of it. Smiling, you focus on the stretch of sand before you. You will win this race for your new friends if it takes everything you have.

He learns confidence.

"I couldn't find a speeder I really liked, with an open cockpit and the right speed capabilities . . . and then I had to find a really nice colour . . ." you taunt your Master as he collapses in the passenger seat, already teasing you (in a completely serious tone of voice) about being late.

He rolls his eyes. "If you spent as much time working on you lightsaber skills as you do on your wit, young Padawan, you would rival Master Yoda as a swordsman," he retorts.

You shoot him an insulted look. "I thought I already did!"

He snorts. "Only in your mind, my very young apprentice – careful!" he yelps as you dive so steeply the speeder protests, partly to punish him for that remark and partly because you caught sight of the assassin. "Hey! Easy!" he protests. You smirk before opening your mouth to reply.

If a child lives with praise --

"You have brought hope to those who have none," your mother says, her eyes shining with love. "I'm so proud of you."

You smile broadly, glad she is is happy. You know she hates it when you race, and you don't like making her worry. You look over at the beaming, excited faces of your new friends.

"Just feeling this good was worth it," you say.

He learns to appreciate.

You watch her brush her hair, the long strokes pulling at the curls that immediately spring back into place. You don't understand why she brushes her hair before going to sleep – it's only going to get tangled again anyway, in sleep, but you don't complain. You love watching her.

She glances at you, and you smile broadly. You are so blessed. If only . . .

No. No if onlys. Not now. You'll worry later. Right now, it's just you, and her, and the baby. Just a family.

If a child lives with fairness --

"Clean the racks, then you can go home," your owner says gruffly.

You grin widely, knowing he means it. He is not the type to go back on his word.

And maybe, just maybe, you'll see those really nice people again; the girl, the man and the funny-looking alien. You were really curious about them.

You run off to do the chore, eager to leave.

He learns justice.

You sit on the sand, in the middle of the carnage you created, yet you are perfectly calm. Not as single tear makes its way down your cheek. All the anger and hate and sorrow are gone. You feel nothing. You are numb.

For ten years you have been shaped and schooled to uphold justice in the galaxy, to be fair and unbiased in your judgments. What you have done here was not justice for your mother, revenge for the injustices committed against her, for many of them were just as innocent as she was.

Can you fight injustice with injustice? You do not know, but you doubt it.

If a child lives with security --

Your vision wavers as you struggle to hold back tears as you watch his body go up in flames. You are old enough – or perhaps young enough – not to attempt to fool yourself into thinking they are caused by the smoke.

"What will happen to me now?" you ask, half to yourself, but a voice answers you.

"You will become a Jedi, I promise," his student says, holding your gaze, and for the first time since leaving home you feel truly safe. You lean into his side and realize that the tears are no longer threatening to overflow. As long as you stand by his side, the flames of loneliness and abandonment cannot touch you.

He learns to have faith.

"My Master is tracking down the assassins," you tell her father with confidence. "He'll find out who they are."

"I don't want anything to happen to her," he replies worriedly.

You smile reassuringly. He doesn't know your Master like you do; in fact, he doesn't know him at all. This assassin will be found. You do not even feel the need to be out there with him, searching. He knows what he's doing.

If a child lives with approval --

Your fingers fly over the control panel, dancing among the switches, buttons, lights and screens as he mutters in your ear, "Not to worry, we're still flying half a ship." You ignore him, even though you started this conversation, and concentrate on your task.

The cruiser plunges toward the city-world below, and you try to compromise with the ship: it can crash, as long as it crashes in such a way that keeps the three of you alive.

It's over in a heartbeat. "Another happy landing," he declares, picking himself up from the wreckage. He looks at you, eyes twinkling with praise. You smile back, basking in his approval. You know he hates flying.

He learns to like himself.

"You owe me," you object, but you are smiling. "And not just for saving your skin for the tenth time."

"Ninth time," he corrects you sternly, but he is grinning too. "Cato Neimoidia doesn't count; it was your fault in the first place."

You part ways with a light heart. Maybe this time you will get a nice long vacation without any wartime emergencies. You hope so. Your life is good; you wouldn't trade it for anything.

If a child lives with acceptance and friendship --

"I'm not speaking of your power, Anakin, but of your heart. The greatness in you is a greatness of spirit. Courage and generosity, compassion and commitment. These are your virtues. You have done great things, and I am very proud of you." He pauses and looks down, then attempts to lighten the moment. "I believe I hear General Grievous calling my name. Goodbye, old friend. May the Force be with you."

"And with you," you reply reflexively, deeply touched by his words. Your feelings of inadequacy are eliminated and the pressure on your shoulders eases at times like this, when he hands you the warmth you so desperately crave. With him, you can be human, rather than the hero everyone expects you to be.

You watch him walk away and wonder how you are going to stay grounded and keep things in perspective without him here to guide you.

He learns to find love in the world.

"I can't leave you here. I've got to save you," he insists desperately, clinging to your armour as if he can physically hold you to life.

You smile weakly. It hurts so much to smile, and you haven't done it in years; you're out of practice. But you do it anyway. "You already have, Luke," you tell him honestly. "You were right about me. Tell your sister . . . you were right."

He says something else, but you are overwhelmed by the brilliant light that fills your mind. You see familiar figures in the distance, and when you smile this time, it is painless. You take a step toward them, once again young and whole, and then another, and another. They smile back, loving and forgiving, as the Force welcomes you home.