Title: Purgatory (Prologue and Chapter One)
Summary: As if the comment Obi-Wan had made to Luke about Anakin 'dying' when he became Darth Vader was literally true, a newly dead Anakin Skywalker wakes in a new world—given the appearance of his twenty-three year old self. However, the self-sacrifice that ended his life has also given Anakin an unexpected boon that he isn't sure he can accept. Worse, it comes with conditions that might just be impossible to meet. A moment of redemption is one thing, but a full reformation another entirely. Set immediately after ROTJ.
Note (1): Huge Thanks to NIKEJ for the belated beta *hugs her*.
Note (2): This story was begun back in March and is about half way through. I hope you enjoy reading it.
Vader knew he was dead. He was blind and could feel nothing of his body. As his thoughts were all that were left to him, he let his mind wander. With surprising complaisance, he recalled the peace of the last few minutes of his life. Ironically, they'd been full of sirens blaring and punctuated by blasts and explosions, all under-toned by voices ripe with panic and confusion. He'd been in pain, he remembered, although he felt none now. He dwelt on that memory aboard the doomed Death Star, and the fact that dying had felt oddly euphoric. For the first time in twenty three years, he had been suffused with light—through love for his son.
His last weak-voiced request echoed in his mind, You were right… you were right about me. Tell your sister… You were right…"
He hoped Luke did, and prayed it would be enough for his daughter to begin to forgive her father.
He drifted a few moments until another memory butted in, rife with confusion; his own. He'd been in a forest. The glade had been full of jubilant noise and Master Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi were standing beside him. For a split-second it had been as if he had never become Darth Vader, instead remaining Anakin Skywalker and a Jedi. But, of course, he had become Vader, dedicating himself to fulfilling the demands of his Sith Master; corrupted, addicted, monstrous. Nothing could change that. No-one can wipe out the past.
Still, it had been worth the illusion to see Luke one more time. The bonus had also meant he could lay eyes on the daughter he hadn't realised was his own flesh and blood. He should have guessed he thought now, she had Padmé's eyes.
That name—one he hadn't allowed himself to even think of in decades—caused him to feel a bittersweet poignancy that was a thousand times more painful than dying. If he was truthful, she'd been hovering at the edge of his mind ever since their son had come into his life. He'd managed to keep her out by sheer force of will, habit and necessity. Palpatine would have sensed it and some small part of Vader had not wanted to hear her name on his master's lips. Still, in all of those years while he'd hunted for Luke and hatched plots, she'd refused to disappear. Now, because of his daughter, he could no longer keep her out.
They had created wonderful children, he and Padmé. He suffered another flashback, short but lancing; liquid brown eyes shining in a face that glowed with youth, beauty and wonder, and trepidation. "Something wonderful has happened. I'm….Ani, I'm pregnant."
It was a pitch-perfect memory of her voice with every nuance captured. This time he actually moaned—a long, low sound that his mask could never have reproduced. "Padmé."
His love for his son had paved the way and the door had remained open even in death. Every painful emotion he'd let atrophy for so long slammed into him. It was too much. He couldn't think about her. He wouldn't. He hadn't since the day he'd been told that she was dead. Blind to anything else and twisted already by his new master, he'd committed atrocities to save her and killed her himself. On that day, in that moment, his overwhelming despair burnt every single shred of emotion left to him, except for hate, anger and malice—leaving only a vessel to the dark side. There hadn't been room for anything else because there had been nothing left to live for. His choice had been made. He had only ever really suffered when he'd still been Anakin Skywalker.
It is the name of your true self. You've only forgotten.
The pain woke both his body and his senses.
Before he'd even opened his eyes impressions bombarded Anakin; rough, course weave chaffed under his shoulder-blades and across his loins, covering his face. A chill breeze like ghostly fingers traced his chest under the covering. The loamy smell of dirt mingled with the musk of body odour. Opening his eyes, he jack-knifed upright so fast his head spun sickly. As he did, the shroud fell from his head.
What he saw made no sense. He was still lying on the hanger-bay floor onboard the Battle Star. Only now it was completely, eerily silent. White-armoured stormtroopers raced past in urgent groups, powerless to fight back at the destruction going on all around them, yet their yells and pounding feet were utterly soundless. There was no dirt, nor a breeze to explain the scents still present.
Anakin took a breath, expecting it to be an impotent action. Only to find cool, crisp air slide easily into his lungs. There was no rasp of a respirator to accompany it. Confused, he looked down at himself and froze. He appeared to lying on a wooden pallet, but that wasn't what caused him to gape and stare. He was naked under a greyish-white sheet of cloth. There was no sign of his mask, black armour or life support system. In their place he had two arms, what looked like two legs under the covering, and an unmarred chest.
How could this be possible?
Bewildered, he held out his arms, twisting and turning them, and staring. The smooth skin, sinews and muscle felt alien to him. "What is going on?" he asked out loud.
No answer was forthcoming. He got to his feet, wrapping the sheet around his waist several times to cover his nakedness. As he did so, it occurred to him that he had never taken the time to consider what happened after death. At first he'd been too young and convinced of his invulnerability, and later he'd been a Sith.
Sith Lords only worry about the here and now.
Here and now was a part of his problem. "Where am I?" He expected no answer and was shocked when he got one.
"Don't worry about that. This is only an illusion that I thought might ease your transition. Your body is actually elsewhere."
An old man wearing Jedi robes was striding towards him. Seeing the familiar, smiling face, Anakin's heart leapt in his chest before being smothered by confusion. He'd been so disoriented he hadn't sensed his one-time mentor's approach. "Obi-Wan? I—what are you doing here?"
The smile grew wider, lighting warm blue eyes. "Hello, Anakin. It's been a long time."
"I wouldn't say it's been that long since our last encounter," he said stiffly, referring to their later, deadlier dual. The confusion didn't clear. Anakin had loved this man like a father for fourteen years, and then hated him as a betrayer and nemesis for twenty three more. The hate was gone, but the memories remained. His response had been knee-jerk and it shamed him. "I'm sorry," he added. "I shouldn't have said that."
Having found a shuttle to lean against with his arms negligently folded, Obi-Wan brushed off his apology. "No, no. I should be apologising to you. For one thing, I'm late."
Anakin quirked a brow. "You always were if I recall correctly."
"Occasionally," Obi-Wan conceded with a rueful smile. "But with you there to save the day without me it hardly mattered."
That statement threatened to drown him in both memories and remorse, so Anakin ignored it to ask, "What did you mean about this being an illusion? I don't understand."
"I'll be happy to explain it all to you." Obi-Wan pushed away from the shuttle's nose. "But first I suggest we move to somewhere a little less busy." He gestured towards the roof over their heads which was shaking ominously. "I have a feeling that thing is about to come down and while it won't hurt, it would certainly be distracting." He paused, then tacked on with a twitch of his lips, "Actually, I wouldn't mind seeing where Palpatine met his end, if you're willing?"
The request was no more surreal than the circumstances and so Anakin agreed. They wandered up towards the throne room, retracing the steps the dying Vader had taken with Luke. Around them the illusions of Imperial panic still raced pointlessly. As they walked, Obi-Wan began his rambling explanation.
"Your body is currently lying on that same pallet you woke up on here. Only instead of being inside this battle station, you're in what we think of as a way station between two entirely different planes of existence. It is known merely as the second world. The one below it is home to those who are considered irredeemable—a thoroughly unpleasant place. The one above is for the more enlightened beings. You, and many others like you, are in the middle." He continued before Anakin could think of a response. "In a very real way you're being given a second chance to decide your eventual fate."
The elevator that would take them up the tower to the throne room opened seamlessly. "My eventual fate being to go up or down?" asked Anakin as they moved inside. The doors shut again with a subdued hum.
"Exactly. However, I must warn you that there are real dangers in that place and to die again, before you are ready, would mean going straight down with no chance of an up."
Having arrived at their destination, the doors opened again. Anakin made no move to exit the enclosed space. "Atonement," he intoned, blankly, disbelievingly, "Is that what this is about?"
In the feeble light, Obi-Wan inclined his head in agreement. "Precisely."
"But that's insane," Anakin said flatly, whirling on his one-time master. "You of all people must know how impossible such a thing must be. The things I did—"
"A few days ago…no, mere hours ago, you would have said there was nothing to atone for; that everything you've done is to bring peace to the galaxy and maintain order. The fact that you feel differently now is definite progress in my eyes."
Anakin took no comfort from that statement. Pointedly, bitterly, he shot back, "You call it progress that I realised decades too late just how monstrous I had let myself become. I have no defence, no excuse. If Luke hadn't come here I might never have done so. How is that redemption?"
Agitated, Anakin stalked out into the blackness of the now empty throne room. He didn't notice the debris that now littered the walkway bridging the abyss that had swallowed the emperor. How to possibly explain the lure of the dark side of the Force, of an insidious craving for power that knew no limit, and the strength of a master who had literally lifted you out of the jaws of death and rebuilt you? It just wasn't possible, and neither was explaining its opposite—the self-abhorrence and remorse he'd felt upon his release from the emperor's influence.
Instead of answering, Obi-Wan followed and stopped at the rail over which Palapatine had been thrown. "It was this spot if memory serves me."
"You were watching?"
"I was cheering," Obi-Wan corrected, with a smile.
That image was heart-warming, but it changed nothing. "As I said, it was too little far too late. I should have killed him when I first found out what he was." Saving Padmé, saving himself and far too many others. Atonement couldn't possibly be further out of reach. Full of despair, Anakin shook his head and turned away, walking up the steps to the Dais holding the throne itself.
"Tell me why you killed your master?" requested Obi-Wan, changing the subject with his usual aplomb.
"To save my son and because I'd seen myself through his eyes—bad and good," Anakin told a patiently waiting Obi-Wan without looking at him. "I suppose it made me see things in another way. It cleared my mind. I didn't like what I saw."
"Then this shouldn't be too hard. You were an incredible Jedi once, Anakin. Many of us agree that you were the best of all of us in a lot of ways. Surely you remember the tremendous amount of good you did before your fall to the dark side."
I am a Jedi, like my father before me. Luke's statement in refusing the emperor, spoken right in this room, both soothed and goaded.
Memories of his previous Jedi existence had been repressed for too long to be easily, or painlessly, retrieved. Anakin was not up to digging them up just yet. "Atonement," he repeated, moving over to stare out of the webbed, circular viewport from which Luke had been forced to watch the battle between Alliance and Imperial ships. "You really believe it's possible for me?"
"You wouldn't be here otherwise." Silently, Obi-Wan closed the distance between them. "I believe in you. More importantly, there is no longer a destiny to get in the way. The Chosen One is done—finished. You accomplished what needed to be achieved and now it's up to Luke and the others."
The hand that settled on his shoulder was surprisingly solid, comforting and painfully familiar. "I failed you once before." Anakin had to swallow to finish, "I'm still that man. Worse, I've spent half my life consumed by darkness. My memories of being a Sith Lord are far clearer and stronger than that of my previous life. What if I can't forget and revert to the dark side?" He turned to the man who'd been both father and victim. "I'd hoped to end my existence on a good note." His voice held both complaint and plea. "I thought I was finished."
"By all accounts there was supposed to be no turning back from the dark side," countered Obi-Wan, softly. "Yet you found a way to love again right here in this accursed place. I once told Luke that his father had been killed by Darth Vader. Why not reverse it and start again…consider yourself reborn exactly as you were when you died and became him?" His smile was half wry and half amused as he waved his free hand at the reflection of Anakin's bare chest, "After all, you look the part. Better even."
That was news to Anakin. He'd been too concerned with other things to worry about his reflection. Now he did and it was like looking into a window to the past. He didn't just have an organic body back, but his youth as well. He'd been twenty three years old when he'd succumbed to the dark side, with scars already and a prosthetic arm—not anymore. Nonplussed and with simmering impatience, he shook his head, "I still think that this is impossible."
"I saw you achieve the impossible in this infernal Death Star. I have faith in you," said Obi-Wan, stepping away. "Now it's time that you found some in yourself."
None of this was making any sense. Unable to stop himself, Anakin turned to follow, arguing with the older man as he been wont to do as a frustrated padawan, "Love turned me to the dark side, how can you now say that it also saved me from it? It's contradictory"
"Perhaps, my linear loving friend, but it is also true. At the last minute love redeemed you from the mire of the dark side of the force." Folding his hands in front of him, Obi-Wan sighed and shook his head. "There were many and myriad reasons why Palpatine was able to corrupt you. The Jedi order must take some of the blame too. We—I—underestimated your capacity and desire for love. That was our first mistake, but there was another. We also failed to realise that our fear of love was in itself a weakness. The emperor exploited that. He knew that you would have no-one to turn to with your fears for Padmé."
"That is an oversimplification."
"You'll have plenty of time to meditate on the more complex elements on the second world. Understanding where we went wrong is an essential step to redemption."
Anakin didn't know what to say, so the silence lengthened.
Obi-Wan broke it. "I have to go soon and so do you for that matter. Apart from anything else, this battle station is well overdue blowing up into a million tiny smithereens." He smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry about where you are going. Even as we speak there is an old woman called Tenku waiting for you to wake up. With any luck, she'll have some clothing for you, but first I want to give you this."
From beneath his voluminous robes, he pulled out a large drawstring bag and held it out. "As I said before, the second world is a dangerous, treacherous place. I don't doubt that you'll need it."
Anakin could only stare at it, sensing the crystals inside. "You're giving me a lightsaber?" As before he felt for a brief, dizzying moment that the dark years had never happened and he was merely taking a gift from his mentor and friend. It only lasted a moment before reality once again intruded.
"Consider it an aid to meditation," smiled Obi-Wan. "Besides, you really will need it."
Finally reaching out to take the heavy bag, Anakin was embarrassed to feel his eyes burn. He had to duck his head to hide the telling reaction. Inside, uncertainty churned with fear. "Will you come and talk to me again?" he asked finally, hating the thought of being alone.
"If I can I will." Turning to go, Obi-Wan hesitated, apparently debating with himself and then turned back, his face grave. "I have one more warning for you. Padmé is there too, Anakin."
"Padmé?" The shock of it stole his breath, then the implication sank in. "How so? She was blameless—"
Holding up a hand to still the heated protest, Obi-Wan explained, "Once the children were safe, she exiled herself there rather than constantly see you as Vader. Believe me, there were attempts to persuade her to change her mind, but she was too distraught to listen. She blamed herself for the unwitting part she'd played in your downfall. She's still there and has no idea about your imminent arrival. I thought you should know."
He woke to soft rain soaking the sheet-shroud draped over his body. One again he smelled earth and living matter. Lifting his hand, Anakin pulled the cloth away from his face and sat up.
He found himself at a crossroads converging two primitive dirt paths. Walls of towering forest pressed in on all sides. The bag Obi-Wan had given him was clutched tightly in his left hand. He lifted it, testing its weight. "So I wasn't dreaming."
"You're dead," replied a harsh voice. He jerked his head up and focussed on where the voice had come from. There, a few feet away, squatted an old crone with tufts of white hair framing a face the colour of ancient parchment. "And before you ask—you can't go back. Get used to it."
That he hadn't sensed her immediately bothered him. He frowned. "I knew that."
"So, why ask if you're dreaming then?"
"I didn't ask if I was dreaming. I said I wasn't dreaming."
"So did I."
Dismissing her before his temper went orbital, Anakin inspected his arms and legs, running his hands over his face and hair, checking that what he'd seen in his vision was in actual fact true. It seemed so and it still baffled him.
The crone cackled at seeing him inspect himself. "What's the matter, got blasted to pieces did you?" With surprising nimbleness, she got to her feet and ambled creakily over. "Well, and so what if you did? You can hardly come through to this side in little itty bits can you? What good would that do anyone, eh?"
"I suppose." Frowning, Anakin tried to marshal his thoughts and adjust. What had Obi-Wan said was the woman's name? Tenku or something? He hadn't paid enough attention to be sure. It seemed more efficient to ask than get it wrong. "What's your name old woman?"
"Ha, listen to you." She gave a derisive snort." Maybe I don't want to give you my name, oh demanding one."
He'd become too used to instant, fearful obedience, Anakin realised when his first instinct was to punish her defiance. While they glared at each other, he worked on loosening the muscles that had tightened with rage. He was no longer Darth Vader, but knowing it and feeling it would take some time to mesh.
Instead of fear, he saw amusement slide in bird-like black eyes as she shuffled closer and canted her head. "You look like you're thinking of snapping my scrawny neck, young one. Are you?"
Despite the lingering dark rage, Anakin's lips twitched, "Maybe."
She gave another, longer cackle and eyes buried deep in a wrinkle-folded face gleamed. "I could tell you I'm not worth the trouble, but you don't know me well enough to know if that's true. My name is Tenku." She tossed a bundle of rags at him. "Here's your clothing. Get dressed and I'll take you to where you need to go. Hurry, it's going to be dark soon."
It was a jungle planet and the rainforest seemed to go on for hours. Ground cover was sparse as the towering trees almost totally blocked out the sun. Tenku had told him there were large settlements dotted all over the place. The nearest one was called Junga Roth and it was within a half hour walk. Anakin trudged along behind the old woman in his borrowed brown pants, scuffed brown boots and oatmeal-coloured tunic. The leather utility belt Obi-Wan had put in the bag along with the lightsaber was already coming in handy.
Under the canopy of dense tree foliage, the heat and humidity was thick and cloying, but his mind wasn't on his surroundings.
It felt odd to be in Obi-Wan's debt. Too much had passed between them for it all to be swept away so easily. Still, Anakin reasoned, he was grateful for a lot of things, and he had to admit that his old mentor had trained his son well. Luke had told him to let go of his hate and he had done, but the rancour had left deep scars that had to be smoothed out before he was free of it completely.
Irrational it may have been, but the emperor's new apprentice had blamed his old master for all of it; Padmé turning from him, Vader's own anger that had led to Padmé's death, and finally his imprisonment in a cybernetic shell. He'd fed that anger with despair and nourished it into a cold, hard, vengeful hate that had served him well as a Sith lord. Now it was gone, but two decades was far too long to stretch back to a former friendship and heal it instantly. Even if a part of him yearned for it.
It didn't matter. He had another former relationship to worry about.
Padmé. He had thought her gone forever. How could he face her?
Despite the heat, cold sweat dripped down his back at the thought. Fate had chosen to return him to the way he'd looked when he'd broken her with his anger, would she look the same too? Did it matter? No, it didn't, he decided and he was afraid to face her. The same span of years bridged this love as for that of Obi-Wan, but it was vastly different. Vader had brooded over his old master's perceived betrayal, twisting it over the years. Padmé had been locked away, fresh and untouched, until now. Twenty days may as was well have passed instead of twenty years. Would the first part of his atonement be to see the wife he'd loved too much look on him with abhorrence? He wouldn't blame her if she did, but he didn't think he could bear it.
A finger jab to the middle of his right arm jerked him out of his anguished thoughts. The odd pair halted and Tenku planted her hands on her hips. "You won't last long here if you don't pay attention, boy. It'd be a pity to see that pretty face ripped off by a Narzgh just before they dragged you off to join them in the pit."
The admonishment was just—and the distraction welcome—so Anakin merely scowled at Tenku and started walking again, asking, "What is a Narzgh?"
She was forced to trot beside him to keep up with his longer strides. "A demon that was once like us, or whatever species it was originally," she told him, chillingly matter-of-fact. "They come from the lowest world and hate any who live above. Unfortunately for us, this hatred is virulent and strong. Through it they have found numerous ways of splintering the veils between us to raid our homes and snatch us away."
The hairs on Anakin's arms rose at the mention of beings who used hate to make themselves powerful; just like a Sith. "What kind of weapons do they use?"
She shrugged a bony shoulder that started a sea-change in the rags she'd draped herself in. "Whatever comes to hand, the same as us." He knew she hadn't finished answering when she slid him a sly sidelong glance. "Except for the ones that carry those." She pointed to his lightsaber. "They're the worst and even the other Narzgh fall prey to them if they get in the way."
That information had him slowing to a crawl again. The lightsaber wearing Narzgh could only be dead dark Jedi or Sith, Anakin thought numbly. He'd almost been one of them. He still could be.
Ice settled in the pit of his stomach and radiated out with cold fingers. "Why do they want to take you? What's the point?"
"There is no point." The look she gave him suggested he was either slow or stupid for thinking there should be. "They are obscene and unnatural, driven mad in the pit and wishing to share that torture with us. Share and share alike. Pain begets pain. Yadda Yadda Yadda. It is also said that they are always ravenous and their appetites are not just about food."
"That's…horrible. Thanks for sharing that with me." Anakin shuddered, disgusted and appalled.
She shrugged again. "You asked, I answered."
Unwilling to pursue the topic, he changed it, "Are there any other…lightsaber wielders among your own people?"
"Not in Junga Roth, but I can't say about the other cities. There are a lot of dead people here and we don't all socialise. I wouldn't do too much of that yourself or you're liable to get your fingernails stolen just for the fun of it. Thievery is a common past-time here and so is fighting and lots of other nastiness." Tenku grinned, revealing several gaps in her teeth. "We're not exactly a big happy family, or we'd be in the first world."
Anakin bared his teeth in a reciprocal grin entirely lacking in warmth. "I appreciate the warning, but I assure you I don't need it."
Seeing his cold grin, her own faded and the expression on her face was, for once, not mocking, but considering. Saying nothing more, they continued making their way through the gloomy wall of heat.
The rainforest gradually started to thin, allowing a dense tangle of vines, shrubs and smaller trees to grow. Pushing his way through behind Tenku, Anakin was reminded of the jungle Moon of Yavin 4 and his duel with Asajj Ventress, a dark Jedi with ambitions of becoming a Sith. The fact that he'd later fallen in the same way made the association distinctly unpleasant. The first sight of habitation came as a welcome distraction, and another big surprise.
Standing at the top of a steep downward incline, he stared down into a valley. He'd been expecting a rough-and-ready settlement several steps down in civilisation from what he'd known on the desert moon of Tatooine. What he saw was a large, fortified city spreading out far and wide and complete with airspeeders and transport ships buzzing around like bugs. Under a bright sun, the city shimmered, surrounded by the dark, ever-widening ring of dense, green jungle.
"You weren't wrong about the dead being numerous," he told Tenku.
"People have been dying since the dawn of time. What do you expect, eh?"
As he looked down on the city, Padmé once again intruded on his thoughts. Was she down there? Could he find her? Did he want to find her? Anakin didn't need to search his feelings. Fear and longing swamped him.
NOTE (3): You will have probably noticed that while Padmé is referenced a fair bit in this chapter, she isn't physically present. I promise that will change.
Thanks for reading!