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Notes: Part 3/3.
Templa Otmena: I kind of always got the sense that Vader missed the time when he could feel emotions beyond hate and anger. There's one part in the movies where he tells Luke that it's too late for him (Vader), like he kind of regrets it. It's like he's just given in and accepted that he'll always be evil, even if he doesn't like that about himself. It sort of seems as though he wishes it were different, but he doesn't ever expect it will be.
ObiBettina7: Here's your part after ROTJ. :)
Hazelcloud: I think that's really a key: Anakin hates himself as much as he's ever hated anyone else.
Earthwhisper: It would indeed be awesome if he were still alive, but I've already done that plot line. I do my best to diversify. :)
the Maelstrom: Wow, thank you. I'm certainly not sure I'm worthy of all that, but I'm appreciate just the same.
During all the years that Anakin spent with Obi-Wan, he can never recall a time that his master deliberately abandoned him. If he was forced to leave, he always came back. Always.
The first and only time that Obi-Wan left Anakin of his own free will was a time when Anakin was no longer really Anakin at all.
That doesn't make Vader hate him any less for it.
Mustafar will always be a constant memory in his mind, hovering just below the surface, torturing him with the promise of what he could have been if only things had turned out a bit differently. If he'd won, his powers never would have been halved. Today, if Mustafar hadn't happened, he could be the most powerful being in the galaxy, and he certainly wouldn't have to know the horrible frustration of depending on machines for life.
He will never forget the agonizing pain of liquid fire searing across his skin, charring it to the bone in some places until he hardly knew where he ended and the fire started. He could smell himself burning, a sickly sweet stink of immolated flesh. He saw his skin and hair go up in flames.
And Obi-Wan stood there and let it happen.
It does not matter to Vader that he gave Obi-Wan little choice. Neither, in his mind, is it relevant that, had he called for help, he is sure Obi-Wan would have answered. Most importantly, it doesn't matter that Obi-Wan has finally come back now, years after he walked away.
And he has come back. Again.
Vader saw him as he informed his son of his intentions to deliver him to the Emperor. Luke didn't realize it—of that Vader is sure. He never glimpsed Obi-Wan standing just beyond him, a quick vision that could almost be attributed to a trick of the light. Like the flick of a cape when the owner has just hurried around a corner, he was there one moment and gone a second later.
But for at least a moment, he was there.
Vader caught sight of him again as Sidious taunted Luke with mentions of his friends, with thinly veiled threats and promises, all steeped in the dark side. This time, he was nothing more than a hazy image, filling in slowly until he reached clarity for a few moments only—just long enough to give Vader a long, undecipherable look—before he faded out again, leaving nothing in his place.
But, once again, he was there.
And now, as Sidious tortures Anakin's son with lighting that crawls over nerves like molten fire—how horribly ironic—he appears again.
"Anakin," he says simply, old and young all at the same time, tired and energized, but with eyes so clear that Vader can read the hope hanging in them. "Come home, Anakin. Let yourself come home. Let your son bring you home."
Home. It's been so long.
Inside of him, just for an instant, something flares, ignited by the spark of hope that comes with the promise of something that he once had, but that he lost years ago. He has been alone for so long, and like a candle lit in the darkness, the light brought on by hoping for a cessation to that loneliness pushes back the darkness just enough to snatch a modicum of sight, though it can hardly overcome the inky black. Still, it is enough.
The light is not for Obi-Wan. Too much has happened between them, and Vader has nursed a hatred of him for too long for that to be possible. That Anakin once loved him is irrelevant. What Vader feels and what Anakin felt cancel each other out.
For the moment, that is sufficient.
To feel nothing for Obi-Wan—not love, but not hatred, either—allows him to regard his words without weighing them in relation to the person speaking. It gives him the chance to see the logic—the logical promise—in them.
It allows him to see that his son truly can bring him home.
"Father!" Luke screams, calling for him, his handsome face twisted in agony. He can see the echoes of his own visage in that face. Once, he looked a bit like that. Is that why Obi-Wan cares so much? Does he see Anakin in Luke?
Or is it something else entirely?
Does it even matter what Obi-Wan sees?
Or is it about what he sees?
Obi-Wan can't save him. Vader can't even save himself. But in his son—in Luke—he sees things he thought gone forever. In his child, he glimpses a flicker of the man he once was; he sees the echoes of Padme. The simple innocence he lost so long ago hangs there; and a promise of something more cannot be denied.
He sees the possibility of redemption.
All he has to do is accept it.
And, finally, he does.
He just does.
He doesn't take time to think about it, because if he pauses for that long, he will consider all the ways he's failed before, and he knows he will fail again. Instead, he throws himself forward, clinging to the tiny piece of light that still exists within his soul, wrenching it forward and dragging it to the forefront with all the energy he has left. It is, he somehow knows, the last thing he will ever do.
As he feels lightning sear over him as the fires on Mustafar did so many years ago, he can sense Vader being erased. Like the fire before it, the lightning burns away his old self—only, this time, it's not Vader that's left intact.
This transformation is killing him, of course. His body can no longer withstand an assault of this magnitude. Soon, he will be dead.
That, in an odd way, is as comforting as anything he's ever felt. The darkness has receded, and he is no longer cold. He will die warm, and when he does, he will stay warm. He will not die as a creature of the dark, alone and hated. After twenty years of solitude, how can that not be a comforting prospect?
When his son's face finally begins to fade from his vision—when he finds himself taking his final breath—he concentrates on that, clinging to that promise as he never has to anything before.
He's not alone anymore.
He is not alone.
Death is so simple. There's no fanfare, no ostentatious entrance. There are no crowds of people come to greet him—or to protest that he deserves an eternity far, far more painful than this one is shaping up to be. Instead, he simply is, and nothing's better than that.
Because just to be? It is a state without pain or the ache of loneliness.
"You knew you couldn't save me."
Once again, simple, because Obi-Wan is here, and any complications involving awkward greetings would be… well, complicated, and that's not what this is about.
"Oh, Anakin," he says with a kind, warm smile, his aura pulsing with satisfaction and happiness in a way that doesn't take sight, but that Anakin can still very much see. "It was never my job to. I was only there to point you in the right direction. In the end, it was Luke's destiny to do what I never could."
"You know how sorry I am, don't you?" It's not so much an apology—though he certainly is sorry—as it is a confirmation of renewed affection.
Obi-Wan gives a light chuckle and gently rests his hands on Anakin's shoulders. Force, Anakin has missed touch, the contact of person to person. In his suit, he felt nothing; here, he can feel everything. This is the Force, and there is nothing corporeal, but touch is not obsolete. It simply exists, in a way that defies explanation, which is quite fortunate, as he's far past caring enough to attempt to provide one, even to himself.
"Anakin," Obi-Wan says slowly, still smiling, "if you were not sorry, you wouldn't be here."
But he is sorry. And he is here, which means he's not alone, nor will he ever be so again. Through Obi-Wan's refusal to abandon him, and Luke's timely redemption, he has found himself in a place far better than he ever expected. In this place, he will never experience the darkness.
Here, there is only light.
He turns into Obi-Wan's touch a little more firmly. "I've missed you, you know. I didn't know it at the time—I hated you too much—but that doesn't make it any less true."
"I know. It's why I came back."
"You came back because you knew I wanted you to, even if I didn't realize that?"
"No. I came back because I knew you needed me to."
He doesn't require a better answer than that. Truthfully, there is no better answer than that. "And my son?"
Obi-Wan gives a slight shrug. "I knew he was a chance for redemption. And, selfishly, I was sure he was the only one left who could save you."
"And that mattered?"
"Anakin, it always mattered."
How good this feels. This homecoming. This feeling of being cared for again, after going so long without it. "Can I see him? Once more?"
Before he's even finished speaking, the edges of reality are already beginning to blur around him, fading into smudges of light. Obi-Wan steps back away from him, gesturing towards the growing burst of radiance. This is the Force, he realizes, in its purest form.
He's never seen anything more perfect.
"After all this time, Anakin," he murmurs, a smile twisting his lips, "I can't think of anything else that you should do." With a final chuckle, he lets himself fade into the brilliance around him. The expectation that Anakin will follow hangs in the Force behind him.
With absolutely no hesitation, Anakin walks into the light.