Author's Notes: A huge thank you to cariel for beta reading this tale for me =D Also a huge thank you to Starfoozle for suggesting the idea of Kitster having/running a Tzai tea house from his own home! Also to Fialleril who initially came up with the idea that Kitster was a thespian!
Also given that this is an AU so I've taken the liberty of suggesting that Anakin's eyes are capable of withstanding the dim lighting of nightfall on Tatooine and the warm lighting of Kitster's home, which is why he is not wearing anything over his eyes. *blushes*
On Tatooine, the Empire rose and fell without ever leaving its mark on the people who called it home. For Kitster, it meant a new freedom, one that enabled him to go where he wanted and perform the classics he enjoyed most. It also meant an influx of new visitors to his humble abode.
The Banai Tzai house never closed its doors. Even when its famous owner was off-world, performing the galaxy's greatest theatrical classics, the little teahouse remained open. Someone was always there to ensure that no troubled soul, no weary traveller, or curious visitor, would be turned away.
It came as no surprise when Kitster awoke to the sound of the front door opening. He did not know who would be waiting for him at the bottom of his stairs. He was used strangers coming at all hours of the night; it never bothered him. The cloaked stranger who stood at his entrance, however, was oddly familiar.
The man's fingers nervously fiddled with his utility belt while the respirator that covered his mouth gave a telltale hiss-hush that would have filled even the bravest men with fear. The man carefully removed the hood of his cloak, revealing pale white skin riddled with burn scars and marks that almost resembled strands of lightning. It was the man's haunted blue eyes would not let him look away.
Kitster knew those eyes.
It had been a lifetime ago since he last saw Anakin; yet, in that moment, it felt like only yesterday.
He did not ask why his old friend was here or how he arrived without drawing attention to himself. Kitster knew Anakin--or Lord Vader as he was known now--was a wanted man. The New Republic had quite the price on his head. He was considered one of the most infamous war criminals; one who would receive the death penalty with or without a proper trial.
Kitster did not speak a word as he brewed a fresh pot of Tzai tea.
The former dark lord did not move; yet his childhood friend could feel his blue eyes on him, watching and waiting.
With great skill and care, he mixed a variety of dried leaves together. Proportion was the key to a perfect cup of the desert tea and Kitster had long since mastered it.
As a child, his friend had never been a fan of herbal mixes, but even Anakin could not resist its rich taste. Now Kitster wondered if the years had robbed his friend of this simple pleasure as well. It did not stop him from preparing the soothing drink just the way Anakin used to enjoy it.
He set the fresh pot of tea onto the table nearest his friend along with a ceramic sand mug.
"It is not often that I find myself in the company of an old friend."
The cloaked man snorted in reply as gloved fingers carefully removed the respirator from his mouth. "You are a fool if you think there is anything left of the boy you once knew."
Kitster sadly smiled as he prepared his own favourite Tzai mix. "Only a fool judges a man by the armour he wears and the masters he serves."
Upon steeping the tea, Kitster took his seat across from his friend who still stood, towering over him. Anakin took in his surroundings in silence, leaving the thespian to study the fallen Jedi as Vader had studied him only moments ago. It was difficult to see the innocent boy in the hardened man's visage and yet even now it remained.
Anakin may not have looked anything like the old Republic holo's Kitster had seen during those rare moments when the news of the galactic war reached Tatooine, but some things had not changed. He still had that haunted gleam to his eyes, the sort that came from experiencing or witnessing unspeakable horrors. There was hardness to them as well; a trait Kitster knew had been well-earned.
Now those fierce, blue eyes were filled with regret and a world-weariness Kitster had seen in far too often in far too many good people. It reminded him of the message Anakin sent him shortly after the Empire rose to power.
The words on the old datapad had long since been put to memory. Kitster wondered if his friend had ever received his reply. The thought was quickly dismissed. Anakin was here and that alone was proof enough.
Upon glancing about the room and taking in the array of books that decorated the shelves, Anakin took his seat as though resigning to the decision to remain. "Why do you remain here?" Anakin asked in raspy tones. There was no malice in his voice, no anger either, only curiosity with an edge of uncertainty.
Kitster wondered if his old friend ever wished he had remained on the desert world. Life would have been so much different, for so many if he had. Kitster had thought of leaving in the past, but could never bring himself to do it. He knew his wife would have joined him had he chosen to leave, even though he knew she loved the desert world. It would have also meant leaving their surrogate children behind. They were adults now with families of their own, but Kitster was still close to them. All of their children had lost their families by one means or another and had been slaves. When the galaxy had all but abandoned them, the Banais had not and Kitster was not about to start.
Yet, he did not speak of his family, his home, or the dreams he had as a child that had become reality. He knew of all that Anakin had lost because of mistakes he made and the fact he had spent the rest of his life paying for it. There was no need to rub his blessings in his friends face so Kitster spoke the one truth he had known all along.
"This is where I belong."
Lord Vader's eyes fell to the tea mug in his hands. His black gloves tightly wrapped around the sand ceramic mug slightly shook.
His blue eyes met Kitster's dark orbs and for a moment, Kitster saw his brother, the innocent boy who used to plot great adventures and share secrets with him.
"I don't know where I belong. I don't think I ever did." His voice was filled with disillusionment, sorrow and loneliness.
Kitster did not know how to respond. The answer was clear to him; yet, Kitster was uncertain if his friend still remembered when he used to dream of freeing the slaves. Or if he still felt the call of the sands.
He tried another approach. "I imagine your son would say that you belong with him."
Kitster could still recall the fervency in Luke's voice, the blind faith and love he saw in the boys' eyes whenever he spoke of his father. Even when the truth had been revealed, the boy never gave up on him.
"Of course he would; he's naïve and utterly incapable of facing the truth.
"To Luke, Lord Vader is one man; Anakin Skywalker is another. It is the only reason he ever accepted me. My daughter may hate me, but at least she knows who and what I really am." Anakin said with a frown before taking a long sip from his tea.
There were no words of wisdom to share for such a statement, no brilliant quotes at his disposal that could fully explain a child's love or the struggle that came with accepting the sin's of the father. He respected his friend far too much to patronize him with empty words of comfort.
"And what about you? What am I to you-old friend?"
Kitster ignored his sarcasm. It had always been easier for his friend to hide behind an air of challenge than face his own vulnerability. It did not mean he had to take the bait. "I may not agree with all the decisions you have made, but I'm not about to hold them against you. If you are looking for judgment, Anakin, you have come to the wrong place."
Kitster did not know what to expect from his childhood friend in response. Anakin did not respond, but the lines on his brow softened and the tzai in the cup he held no longer shook. An unseeing weight had been lifted. It was short lived.
His breathing grew increasingly laborious and soon his mouth clamped over his respirator allowing his damaged lungs to rest from the strain he had placed on them. The familiar hiss hush greeted Kitster's senses, but it was not long after that Anakin freed himself of the machine to have another sip of his tea.
"You--are the only one's who knew how to make Tzai drinkable."
It was difficult to ignore Anakin's attempt to avoid mentioning his mother. She was the one who first taught them how to make and drink the desert tea. Kitster smiled sadly as he thought of simpler times. It seemed like another life time ago now since they were innocent boys. He could not heal Anakin from his experiences, nor could he erase his crimes. So he did the only thing he could do; give the gift of distraction, a momentary sanctuary from the weight of the galaxy.
Without hesitating, Kitster began to recall the moments of innocence they had shared in their childhood. He spoke of their silly secrets and the way they would signal to each other with old flashlights before sneaking out of their huts at night to meet at the scrap heap. He spoke of how Anakin always knew how to fix anything and the stories old Lady Jira would tell.
The blank, pained, stare he saw in his friend's eyes as he spoke of the past made Kitster's heart heavy. It was as he feared. Perhaps this was too much, too soon.
Pausing for a moment, he took a sip of his tea and cleared his thoughts. Kitster never considered himself a master storyteller; his wife had always been the skilled one. It left him uncertain if speaking of the past would do more damage than good.
The look in his old friend's eyes said otherwise and it gave him the courage to continue.
Kitster spoke of their childhood adventures, the games they played and the mischief they got into. He tried to paint a picture of innocence and friendship. He was mindful to avoid the ugliness that had once been a part of their everyday lives. Anakin had experienced more than his share of pain and darkness without the tea-maker reminding him of it.
The broken warrior held onto Kitster's every word, as though hoping to relive a little of the past, or find some forgotten peace within it.
Anakin had no memories of his own that he wanted to share and the aging thespian respected his silence. He knew that was not why the former slave had come all this way.
There was no rest for Kitster that night, but it did not matter. By second sun's rise, their pots of tzai tea were empty as well as their mugs. Words had faded into a comfortable, silence. It was this silence he would remember most, and the almost peaceful look in his friend's eyes.
The familiar sense of weariness had begun to set in when Anakin rose to his feet. It was time for him to leave, yet it was clear neither man really wanted to part ways. Kitster tried to encourage him to stay at least until nightfall so he could rest, but his friend politely refused. He did not want to put his friend in any position of compromise as he was a wanted man.
Kitster had a feeling Anakin also feared ruining what remained of their friendship should he over stay his welcome. It would take a lot more than that.
There were no words of parting, or promises to return. It was not necessary.
The former Dark Lord was about to step back into the desert sands when he suddenly paused to meet Kitster's gaze. "Thank you.," he said with a small, sad smile and a hint of a nod.
Kitster smiled in return his own eyes filled with a sincerity that matched his friend's own.
Slipping his respirator over his scarred lips, Anakin gave his friend once last look before departing into the streets of Anchorhead.
Kitster watched as Anakin's silhouette gradually faded into the bright light of the Tatooine suns as a small smile slowly crept into his features. Perhaps everything, in its own way, had come full circle.