Author's note: A huge thank you to Cariel for beta reading this fic for me!
Vader knew his time had come; there was no fear in him. It seemed his entire life had been built and carved from the death of others. It was ironic that he should die while protecting this place, these people who were strangers, who meant nothing to him, from an enemy who claimed to be their allies. That wasn't entirely true and he knew it.
The Sith Lord struggled to remove the stifling prison that was his mask only to feel petite hands aiding him.
"Hold on, you're going to be okay." A soft voice, accented and gentle, caught his attention, but it was the loving mercy found in the beautiful stranger's eyes that kept it. Anakin was certain he had seen her before, if only he could remember when.
His hands shook violently as fingers not his own fumbled with the clasps of his helmet. Vader could taste warm iron on his broken lips and knew he didn't have long. The wounds were deep and beyond repair. It didn't matter; his surroundings were beginning to fade leaving Vader feeling as though his entire life had been but a terrible nightmare.
With bleary eyes, Vader watched helplessly as the beautiful stranger, whose eyes were so familiar, carefully removed the last layer of his mask. Younglings surrounded her petite form, watching on with guarded curiosity evident in their eyes. Immediately, Vader closed his eyes to block out the memories he had forgotten so many years ago, but the scars he had made from Order 66 and the temple massacre were just too deep to completely bury. Anakin always told himself that he felt no guilt, no remorse; a Sith Lord never did. Anakin was never a good liar and even his delusions had limits.
He hadn't been here to save them and yet he had. What started out as a routine reconnaissance mission swiftly turned into a full out battle. Anakin still didn't know why the rebels chose this location for their attack nor did he care. All that mattered was that they had all fallen prey to his lightsaber, even the one whose lightsaber had caught him.
For as long as he could remember, Anakin had wanted to protect, to save lives, to be the knight he never was or ever could be. Yet for the first time in his life, the young Sith Lord had done just that, though it came at the price of his own life. While a part of him believed it was worth it, a greater part of him was just too dismayed by the kindness shown to him to register much else.
Frantically, the young woman asked some of the younglings, orphans he slowly realized, to get bacta, a needle, and thread. Her voice sounded so distant to him as though she were a million light years away. Couldn't she see that it was too late?
His hands were as heavy as stones and as shaky as leaves in the wind, but still he managed to reach out and take her hand into his own. Her fingers were calloused but warm; Anakin found he rather liked how they felt, as though they were meant to fit in his hands. It was a fleeting thought as there was much to say and little time to say it in.
"It's too late for that now…Just let me rest," he hoarsely whispered as he struggled to breathe, let alone speak.
Unshed tears came to the woman's eyes and his heart broke at the sight of them. What was even more unnerving was the younglings who openly wept, not only out of fear and confusion or obvious sadness witnessed by their ama, but for their hero who was dying before their eyes. It was only then that he fully realized just how undeserving he was of their compassion.
"I do not…deserve your sympathy," he rasped in desperate tones. The ground beneath him seemed to spin now and he could feel his body growing cold. It was a struggle to focus on the freckled beauty before him, but after a moment, he found her eyes and held their gaze. She was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen and the thought made him smile.
There was recognition in her eyes, a recognition that he couldn't quite grasp. It was as though she was peering into his very soul or reaching to a part of him Anakin thought had died a long time ago.
"I…am not who you think…I am…I'm not a good man," Anakin pressed on, wanting her to understand that he was hardly the hero they now mistook him for.
The Force was calling to him more strongly now and Anakin found it increasingly difficult not to answer its invitation. It was time to leave his broken body, but a part of him longed to remain if only to feel the young woman's calloused fingers cradling his head a moment longer. Her sympathy, though misplaced, was touching, but even Anakin knew that such sorrow should only be reserved for those far more deserving of it: real heroes, whoever they may be.
But in her amber eyes, Vader saw that the petite beauty knew of his crimes and was not bothered by them. A sad smile crept into her features as she leaned in, letting her warm lips brush against his own. She tasted bittersweet, a perfect mix of compassion and love.
"To us, you are and will always be," she whispered softly as she smiled sadly down at him, her fingers now caressing his scarred cheeks.
His sight began to fade as her tears began to splash against his pallid skin. As his spirit began to return to the Force, the Sith Lord couldn't help but wonder if her tears could cleanse his tainted soul. As he breathed his last breath, a slow smile crept into his features. For in that moment, Anakin knew he had been cleansed, not by her tears, but her forgiveness.