This was a Christmas challenge on the Force . net.

My prompt was to write a story during The Saga featuring:

1. Must include a Christmas theme

2. Must include one Christmas song

3. Must include some humor/angst/mush

You were never quite what you were supposed to be. Too reckless, too rude, too emotional—too *human* to be a Jedi. But Obi-Wan took you, because what else could he do? I know something about that, I suppose. A good deal about it.

I gave him a present once during one of the Fete Weeks, the Festival of Life. I'm sorry to say I don't quite remember what it was, though I do recall that it wasn't planned: we had been assigned to help monitor the festivities, and something at one of the vendor's tables caught Obi-Wan's eye. He was fourteen, maybe fifteen, at the time, I believe—young enough to still be caught in the excitement of the festivities, even if he was there to monitor them, not to take part.

Obi-Wan undoubtedly would remember what I gave him, even if I do not, and that is the heart of the matter, I think. Obi-Wan always remembered. I would also wager that, whatever I gave him, he kept it.

He always kept what I gave him.

He shouldn't have. Or it shouldn't have meant so much. But Obi-Wan… he was more like you, at least in some ways, than he should have been. People will tell you that you were so prone to attachments because you lived your early life with a mother, but Obi-Wan never knew a mother, and he was, I'm afraid, as prone to that sort of thing as you were.

He did, of course, hide it better. That is, he learned to manage it.

You never did.

Whatever he hid or did or did not feel, that proclivity was there, and so when, with my dying words, I gave you to him, what else would he do but take you? He resented you, at first, I know—who can blame him? I do, after all, have reason to regret how I handled the situation—but he *did* take you, and because Obi-Wan never does his duty to any less than his greatest capability, he threw himself into the task I gave him.

And he loved you.

Against his better judgment; his training; and, eventually, even his duty, he *loved* you.

It is, of course, ironic that he would do so. I did not love you. I do not say this to belittle or insult the person you were—it was no fault of yours. I simply did not know you long enough or have enough of myself wrapped up in you. I believed in you as the Chosen One, yes, but that is not love so much as a desire for you to succeed.

But Obi-Wan—he loved you. He loves you still. You raged against him for not being me, but had you known that he loved you as I never would have, even if I *had* grown to love you—Obi-Wan's inclination toward attachments ran far deeper than mine, I suppose—I wonder, would you have thought differently?

You should have. But, then, there are a great many things that a great many of us should have done differently.

That, I think, is what you need to realize.

Kenobi is dead. If he tries, Vader can still almost smell the burning of air caused by a lightsaber, which is painfully ironic, as memories like that—they can only come from Anakin. Vader can no longer smell, not behind this mask. A life support system does not smell. His oculars see, but in red. When he touches, it will never again be with skin. Though he hears, that too filters in through a mechanical system. And what could he taste? Nothing. He has not eaten real food since he became Vader. It is intravenous now, always repetitive, and if he can remember a time when he had a texture on his tongue, he cannot realistically recreate it in his mind.

A machine does not feel.

"Which should tell you that you aren't a machine. Not entirely."

Some days, Vader curses the black prison that is so conveniently also his source of life. Other times—now being one of them—he is almost thankful that his mask hides any sort of expression. If he were to show his face now, it would be painfully expressive, he is sure, given how unused to checking his expressions he has become.

If one could see his face now…

"I imagine they would comment on your surprise."

"Stay out of my head," he growls out. Talking to an illusion? Perhaps he's further gone than he thought. It's true that he hasn't believed himself to be completely sane in years, but this—how can he be seeing this, even if he is insane? Even in insanity, this…

"Can you be so sure this isn't what you'd see?"

A smile, just a quick twist of lips, and Qui-Gon's hair slips down over his shoulders when he inclines his head, not quite hiding that smile, but more apologizing for having it in the first place. Not that he is sorry. He's not. Vader can read that in his face. It is simply a courtesy—the knowledge that an expression like that reads as mocking, and Qui-Gon knows that perhaps he should be sorry for that.

"My own mind would not do this to me."

Oddly, Qui-Gon seems pleased with that answer: crossing his arms over his chest, he smiles a little more and moves toward Vader. "Then it seems you'll have to accept this is real."

"You're not real. You're dead."

And Vader is having a conversation with a dead man.

"You're right of course," Qui-Gon concedes. "But it is called the Living Force for a reason."

And that—it brings all sorts of realizations. Of course, yes, it would: Kenobi, right before he died, had to have known this. That self-satisfied, mocking smile, almost pitying, so like he used to look at Anakin when the boy was on the brink of making a mistake that he'd been warned against. I dare you to do it that smile would say, though of course Kenobi meant nothing of the sort. It was always more of a question: will you take the consequences I have told you will come if you do this?

"You were bright enough," Qui-Gon continues, sinking back in one of the chairs of the room where Vader has sequestered himself in hopes of some mediation. However, if this is mediation, he may have to rethink what he intends. "Quick to learn new things. But you never did learn that Obi-Wan's warnings were never meaningless." He pauses then, drumming his fingers thoughtfully on his knee. "What kind of person gives his opponent fair warning in a fight to the death? And I think we will both agree, he told you not to try that jump. And he meant it. More than most anything else, I think, at least in the sense that what he gave you in that moment was the closest he could ever get, given the circumstances, to a plea for you to stop."

Anger boils deep in him, and Vader spins away, turning to face the wall opposite Qui-Gon. "Kenobi did what he did without hesitation."

"His hesitation was in warning you at all."

"He walked away and left me to burn."

Qui-Gon smiles again now, and if Vader didn't know better—hadn't seen his body on a funeral pyre—he would never believe that Qui-Gon is dead. He's too real, too entrenched in life, from the way his fingers rasp against the cloth of his pants to the chapped skin of his face, probably blown raw from Tatooine, just before he died. That planet touches everyone, no matter how brief his or her stay.

"Had you asked, he would have put out the flames. You don't ask, and yet he still tries." He raises both his eyebrows, eyeing Vader speculatively. "Do you even know that you're still burning?"

"You know nothing, and even if you did, I have no use for the dead, even if they can speak from beyond the grave."

"You don't have much use for the living either, it seems, Vader." The name trips off his tongue in a sense that's terribly mocking, and while Vader doesn't acknowledge it, he can't fail to note the reprimand inherent in it. "You threw away your life for a living death. Anakin for Vader."

"Anakin means nothing to me."

"Hmm," he hums, smiling again, this time more knowingly than Vader is comfortable with. "The dead mean nothing to you?"

"They are of no consequence." Liar.

Later, he could never quite say how things changed. Only that the scene shifted in a blurring of color that he didn't note until after it had stopped moving, the pale grays settling into muted browns and yellows. Steel became sand, and Qui-Gon was standing at his side, though he had never moved from the chair that no longer existed.

"No use for this, then?" he asks wryly, nodding his head in the direction of the scene before them.

"But, Mom!" the boy before them complained, shaking his sandy-haired head, locks flopping. "'M not tired!"

His mother sighed, deeply enough that the years she'd yet to acquire in chronology but had more than earned in burdens seemed to read more prominently on her face than before, written in every wrinkle. Still, there was still fondness there when she looked at her son and reached down to pull him up onto her lap, back to chest, so that he could stare out at the sky from where they sat on their outdoor platform.

"You will be tomorrow."

"Mom, it's my birthday! I'm supposed to be able to stay up late! I'm five now! That's old enough!"

"Yes, you're practically ancient."


Vader's chest tightens painfully. Anakin's mother. Once, he'd been able to remember things like this, but the dark side—it was not conducive to happy memories. It was far easier to remember how she'd felt in his arms, limp, so broken when he'd found her. He'd never really explored all her injuries—she'd been dead, there had been no point—but on the occasions that he does think about it, he wishes he had. At least then he would know. Instead, he is left with what his mind conjured… and it is very creative in what it envisions, so often because Vader has, at least on one occasion or another, inflicted on some nameless prisoner most of the tortures he imagines his mother must have gone through.

It is easy to superimpose her face over the nameless screaming ones.

It is easier still to forget her altogether.

No use for the dead.

"If I sing you a song, will you go to sleep?" she murmured, rocking Anakin a little.

Despite his protests that he wasn't tired, Anakin snuggled back into her chest, small fingers clutching at the arm she wrapped around him.

There is no hint of what he would become in the way he smiled when she rested her chin on his head, holding him as close as was comfortable.

"'M not tired!" he protested, yawning, then giggling a little. "'M not."

She smiled. "Of course not."

Anakin squirmed then, looking up at the stars. His small eyes flicked back and forth as he looked from spec to spec, trying to take it all in. Against his back, his mother's chest began to rumble pleasantly as she began signing.

"Do you see what I see?" Her voice was sweet, light, smooth in a way that seemed so at odds with the landscape in front of them. With their position in life. With everything. Just smooth… and beautiful.

"Do you see what I see?" Anakin echoed back, tracing a path up her wrist with his finger.

"A star."

"A star!"



"—in the night. With a tail as big as a kite. With a tail as big as a kite."

He smiled and snuggled closer. "Again."

"All right. But you count the stars while I'm singing."

He nodded into her shoulder and looked up at the sky, his face scrunching in concentration as his eyes skipped from star to star, counting, some twice, then starting over, going in circles, his gaze lost among the pinpricks of light.

Shmi sang the song again. And again. And again. And Anakin grew more lost each time, losing his way in the stars until his eyes began to flutter closed and his head lolled against his mothers chest. She stopped then, gently stroking his hair, and began to count herself. "One, two, three, four, five…"

"So many," he murmured after a few minutes, his eyes finally closing all the way.

"Yes," she agreed. "Yes, there are, Ani, and some day you will see them all. Maybe not really, but you'll have the chance to go to the ones you want, and that will be like seeing them all, because you could see any one of them you wanted."

He didn't answer. His eyes were closed, and his breathing was evening out.

It was enough for her, at least: she stood up, child in her arms, and with another half-glance at the sky, she turned to go indoors. Even when she reached Anakin's bedroom and slipped him down on his bed, he didn't stir, not even when she brushed his hair back and planted a kiss softly on his forehead.

"I love you," she murmured. "My little boy. My big, five-year-old boy. And one day, you will see the stars."

And then the brown is gone, like the color has drained out of it, sliding back into the desert, leaving nothing but gray in its wake. Qui-Gon is sitting again, leaning back in his chair, a serious look covering his face this time as he watches Vader almost sadly.

"No use for that?" he asks quietly.

"It is only a memory. Anakin's memory."

You lie. He's not gone—not as much as you say. Not completely.

Qui-Gon nods, though he is not agreeing—not in any sense. "So you say."

"I do say."

"But do you mean it?"

"Why wouldn't I?" he snaps, turning away again, folding his arms across his chest, trying to ignore the rasp of leather against leather. What he would give for skin, for the ability to feel with what was really his.

"That's something you need to answer for yourself."

He leaves then, or Vader assumes he did: when he turns around a minute or so later, prompted by the silence, Qui-Gon has left the chair empty, and he is nowhere in the room. Vader can't feel a trace of him… though, when he thinks on it, he realizes he hadn't been able to feel him before. Not really. And why should he be able to? The man is dead.

And he has no use for the dead, because they do not connect to the living.


You were never quite what I wanted you to be. But if you had been, it wouldn't have been right, and I never would have wanted that either. I loved you because you were imperfect, and in never being quite what I wanted, you were exactly what I *needed*. I wanted to change your flaws, make you better—that is, after all, the job of a master—but that inherent *difference* you possessed—that thing that made you a less-than-ideal Jedi in mind—I'm not sure I would have changed it, because if I had, by some miracle, been able to, you would not have been *you*. For that fact alone, I would have left you as you were.

But I would have changed where your differences led you.

I think you would too, now. You're too proud to admit it, perhaps… but Padme was right—there is still good in you. I can feel it. You are alone, and that eats at you. But the company you crave—it's not born from misery's need for company. You could have that easily. There are many miserable people in this world, and the fact of the matter is, you yourself leave a good deal of misery in your wake. If you wanted, you would have quite a selection to choose from.

It's something else that you want. I am sure of that, at least. If you didn't want something else—if there weren't the possibly for change—I doubt I would have been granted this request.

There is, of course, the possibly that I am wrong. Dead or not, I still do not know the Force completely. I likely never will, not in all its intricacies, not until I fade completely into it—and then I will simply become it, so it will only be knowing myself then, yes? A complicated matter, but not one so relevant to the moment. Not really.

You're shaken. I can see it. I don't need an expression to know, and, yes, your mask does hide a good many things from the world, but, Anakin, I have always known you better than most. Known your silence as well as your words.

And you are silent now.

Qui-Gon has just left you. As your past, he was first. And I—*I* am your present. Your last kill. Oh, not in the technical sense: you have killed many others after me. But none of them mattered nearly so much to you, and that is always the crux of the thing, isn't it? It's your redemption that I am here for—it's about what the killing does to *you*. I am not making light of the effect of your atrocities on others—but for my purposes, now is not the time to address that. Some other day, perhaps it will be. But not now.

I was the last kill you cared for. You love and hate me together, did you know that? You loved me as much as you hated me, even at the end. And you killed me for that, because I think still being able to love—you didn't know what it was, and you made it serve hate. An odd conundrum, certainly—you loved me enough that it made your hate greater, because that was how you used it.

But there is still good in you. Good. Not love. Because even love can fuel hate, but goodness—it cannot be made to serve hate. Not ever.

And there is still good in you. I will cling to that.

Maybe, someday, you will too. I hope. But, for now, I can only show you what *is*.

But, please, Anakin, *don't* cling to *that*.

Because that is what needs to *change*.

Vader drifts, somewhere between meditation and sleep, the purity of a real sleep—a deep, restful one-lost to him at the same time as the ability to breathe on his own.

Sleep a man can wake from, but meditation, when it's this deep, draws a person in, holding him in that state until he finds what it wants to tell him. And in this meditation, entered after Qui-Gon left, he is hearing things. Songs, memories, things that he no longer wants to recall. Qui-Gon may have left, but the Force is not done, and Vader drifts with it, restless, aware of how it holds him in this state, and even more attuned to the fact that he cannot break from that. Men may jump at his commands in life, but the Force is still an entity entirely its own: it does not bow to him, his commands, or his wishes, not ultimately, and not in the ways he would want.


"She loved you, you know."

If Vader has a body in this state—in this place of meditation—he can't see it. But he can see Kenobi, though that's not such a surprise—the man has, since his death, haunted Vader's thoughts and dreams, even his waking moments, always vanishing and leaving Vader staring at what seems to be a trick of the light. Qui-Gon had never been here before, but Kenobi… Vader has lost count of how many times he has turned, seeing the flicker of a presence, of reddish hair and somber blue-green eyes, only to have that twist into a window pane or a reflection of the light. Just a trick—a riddle, nothing more, but always enough to set Vader's blood boiling to the point where things around him tend to find themselves in pieces.

"Stop haunting me."

Obi-Wan has the sheer audacity to laugh. He would. Force, sometimes, Vader almost thinks he remembers Kenobi laughing on Mustafar, and so what of the fact that when he comes back to reality, he—Vader—is the one laughing, bitterly, as much as his mechanical system will allow. It's not Kenobi who laughed—it's him--Vader—laughing when he considers things from Kenobi's view, considers how it all turned out.

Considers himself.

Oh, no, he is not laughing for joy.

No one had joy on that day, Vader. Not even *you*.

"You are, as always, far too literal, Anakin."

"That is not my name." Qui-Gon had not called him that. Why should Kenobi?

Because he, more than Qui-Gon, never accepted the idea that you are no longer Anakin.

Where are they? They are nowhere… and everywhere. The Force. A place where his mediation has brought him, though certainly not somewhere he has gone before. By mediating, did he open himself for Kenobi? At this point, it's impossible to tell. He shouldn't have tried this—not after what had just happened with Qui-Gon. He only opened himself up further. Foolish.

"No?" Obi-Wan asks, smiling. He looks young now, but his eyes—they're old. Older than they ever were when Vader knew him.


"Then who is Vader?"

"I am Vader!"

"And just who are you?"

This is absurd. Kenobi has always talked in circles, but death seems to have magnified that tendency, and if possible, Vader hates it more than Anakin ever did. "I have told you. I am Vader."

Kenobi smirks, and how odd that he suddenly appears as clean-shaven, probably just to make that look a bit more pronounced. Odder still, Vader never saw the beard disappear. It just was… and then it wasn't. No transition.

"And you don't see the lack of logic in that? You define yourself as Vader, but Vader is defined as you. A thing can't be defined by that which it is defining. You've got yourself twisted up in knots, Anakin."

"Leave me be, Kenobi."

"No." It is the first truly frank thing Kenobi has said since he appeared, and, yet, it is anything but simple. In his expression, however, it is entirely uncomplicated: his eyes are calm, stoic, but set, and he stares at Vader with a sort of steel in his gaze. He won't leave.

Vader knows.

He argues anyway. "I don't want you here."

"I think most people would agree that what you want has taken you to a place that even you are not content to be."

"I am satisfied with what I am."

You're lying.

"Oh?" he asks, quirking an eyebrow and brushing his hair out of his face. "Are you? You're not miserable? You built yourself on the people you cared for—you needed people to care for. And you have no one now. Would I be so remiss in guessing that is why you can't define yourself as anything but Vader? You have nothing else left, Anakin. Nothing but misery. Right now, you are nothing that you want to be."

He was able to hold his temper with Qui-Gon. Certainly, he was motivated by the fact that he could physically do nothing to him, but Kenobi—he pitches Vader over the precipice of that knowledge, and he falls, lunging forward to try and grab at Kenobi. He cannot see his own body—it seems metal can't follow him here—and a sense of it is not enough, not to get a hold on his old master, anyway.

Not unless Kenobi wants to let him.

For whatever reason, it seems that he does.

His body is his. Skywalker's. Arms. Flesh. Touch. Force, he hasn't seen his fingers in so long. The shock is enough to yank him up short, though his hand does catch on Kenobi's arm: the other man only grabs that hand's wrist in a light grip, smiling.

"Miss this?" he asks, very deliberately looking at the flesh hand in his grip.

"Cruelty, Kenobi? How very like you," Vader spits out. Nothing so cruel as hacked limbs and burning skin, of course, but still, he hadn't expected Kenobi to mock him in this.

"Only with the intention of eventually being kind."

Never kind. He has never been kind enough. Mercy always fell to duty in his mind.

He would have given you mercy if you'd just *asked* for it.

"I never wanted you," he snaps, because he wants to hurt Kenobi. This goes beyond killing him. That was different. Simply practical—revenge on a surface level. Darth Vader did not have enough of Anakin left in him at that point to make that fight on the Death Star truly personal. Barbed words about who was the master, whose powers were weak—it never clawed at what Kenobi would have felt, because those things never mattered much to him. It was a fight devoid of any memories beyond Mustafar. And Mustafar taken alone—Vader could have been fighting anybody. It only mattered that it was Obi-Wan because they had a history, and for so long, Vader has blocked that history.

Not now, though. Now, he can't help but remember, and he finds that he hates the memories of warm smiles and kind words almost as much as those of burning skin and severed limbs.

"I hate you."

But he remembers—remembers when he loved him. He remembers it now.

You should never have forgotten.

"You're feeling again," Kenobi murmurs, eyes locking their gaze with the black oculars of Vader's mask. "You're hating me. Not just the man you fought on Mustafar. Because for the last twenty or so years, he wasn't me—not in the whole sense, not in your memory. He was a half hour in time, and not the sum of the things that had gotten him—or you—to that point. He was not my relationship with you. He was just a symbol you hung your hate on. But now you're hating me, the man who was your master, your friend, your brother, your father—not just what happened on Mustafar."

"I never wanted you," Vaders declares again, louder this time, shoving his wrist harder into Kenobi's grip until he presses it back against Kenobi's shoulder, pushing into the man himself. "I never wanted you to be my master. You were a terrible master. I deserved better."

You don't mean that.

Kenobi doesn't flinch. He merely meets the place where Vader's eyes should be, blinking, once, twice, the colors in his eyes shifting quicksilver fast, all blues and greens and a little gray. "You did deserve better, you're right. I was not the perfect master for you, though I did try. But you wanted me, Anakin, in the same sense that you wanted all of anyone that you loved. Not in the way that you wanted all of Padme, of course, but more in the same sense you wanted all of your mother, I think. You couldn't stand not to be my focus. To have anyone else be my focus."

"No. I hate you. I never wanted any part of you. I always resented you."

Kenobi nods. "You did, yes. But it was for what you thought I wouldn't give you. You always gauged the affection of others by what seemed obvious: what was said and blatantly done. If someone didn't verbally tell you they loved you, you resented that."

"You didn't love me."

"I did. Too much."

There is no reason to be trading these words at all. Vader does not care whether Kenobi ever loved him or not. He hates the man. Everything about him, and of what consequence is it if that hate culminated at and is now embodied by what happened on Mustafar? Hating the man he fought there is the same as hating the Kenobi who was his friend.

Isn't it?

The answer to *that* is what is of no consequence, Vader. The separation exists only in your own mind. Obi-Wan never sought that, and neither did he desire Mustafar.

"I did love you, Anakin, but you always wanted more than I was capable of. More emotion, more words. More of anyone you loved. That's not love, Anakin—that's selfish."

"I want nothing of you—"

Kenobi had a habit of proving him wrong with results, when words failed to have their desired effect. Oh, he lectured, but Anakin never listened, and Kenobi would always eventually fall silent, taking a step back and waiting until Anakin's actions proved his point. Sometimes Anakin would learn from that, sometimes he wouldn't… but Kenobi doesn't seem willing to wait for Vader's actions in this case.

And so he will use Anakin's instead.

Anakin Skywalker was a striking child. All blue eyes and sandy hair, and, at age ten, the baby-fat on his cheeks had yet to slim into the more angular facial structure that he'd gain in adulthood, leaving him with, for the time being, a nearly angelic appearance, though the look in his eyes—that spark of pure something—crafted the look into something more elfin.

Vader had forgotten how Anakin looked, but seeing it now, he cannot deny that what he is seeing—it was Anakin. And this scene? It did happen.

Anakin was standing in between the posts of the door, blue eyes wide enough that they caught the light sneaking through the slats of the window. It was hardly enough to see by—just passing speeders—but it reflected there, and, as Vader watches, the child blinked it away, turning his head, small mouth opening in surprise.

Yes, Vader remembers. He hated that woman in the bed.

But Anakin—his face was nearly comical, and the situation might have been humorous later as well—Anakin had laughed about it later, when he'd been older, though Kenobi never had if Vader recalls correctly—if taken in the right frame of mind.

Kenobi was in the bed, sheets twisted around his waist… and around the waist of the woman under him. He didn't see Anakin, and the boy didn't make a sound to alert him to his presence. Rather, Kenobi's eyes strayed down to the right of the woman, to someplace off the side of the bed—an area that had, to Kenobi, gotten inexplicably lighter when Anakin had opened the door. He stopped there like that, squinting against the sudden brightness, before slowly—almost as though he knew what he'd find and was giving Anakin the chance to run—turning his head over his shoulder to fix his gaze on Anakin's small silhouette in the doorway.

No one moved. Not at first. When it happened, it was a flurry of motion, coming all at once, and if could have been more awkward, Vader cannot see how. Perhaps if there had been no sheet. Though, if that had been the case, it is entirely probable that they never would have reached Mustafar—Kenobi would have died on the spot.

A tempting potential scenario.

Anakin was the first to move. His face collapsed into something like hurt, then rose back up in rage, lips twisting and eyes narrowing, and before Kenobi had an opportunity to begin breathing again long enough to utter any sort of thought, Anakin had launched himself forward in a storm of fists and nails, forcibly trying to push the woman away from his master and out of the bed.

The room, predictably, descended into chaos.

Apparently shocked at being the target for all the fury of an inexplicably irate child, the woman let out a yelp—probably of indignation compounded with surprise, though sheer shock might have been more accurate—though she made no move to fight back against the small hands shoving at her. Instead, she grabbed at the sheet, yanking it away from Obi-Wan, who predictably turned bright red and fumbled for the comforter, pulling it over his lap before lunging after Anakin, his hands closing on small arms and yanking the boy back away from the woman.

Anakin hadn't known her. She'd been a Jedi, to the best of his knowledge, but not one he knew, and he'd never asked. Obi-Wan had never brought her around again (no surprise there), but, at the time, now that Vader thinks on it, he can remember thinking that she was attractive. Dark-eyed with straight black hair—lots of it, enough to tumble down her back—and very tanned skin, so dark as to be almost caf colored—the kind that Kenobi drank when he was terribly tired but needed to stay awake, the variety without anything in it to make it less potent. Even her hands were pretty, small and delicate, though surprisingly strong in how they clutched the sheet to her body.

Anakin had despised the sight of her. He hadn't cared who she was—it didn't matter, because she was, unquestionably, not good enough for his master. And Obi-Wan should never have wanted her anyway.

"Get out!" Anakin spat, straining against Obi-Wan, who was holding him securely against his chest, looking for all the galaxy as though he'd like to die on the spot. As it was, he was frantically glancing down to make sure the blanket covered him completely while still desperately trying to keep a hold on his apprentice, apparently torn between preserving his modesty and insuring that the woman who had just been in bed with him did not discover just how sharp the nails of a ten-year-old really were when said ten-year-old decided to scratch one's skin.

"Anakin, stop it!" he snapped, apparently regaining control of himself once he was sure the comforter was securely in place. "What are you—?" He cut his own words off when Anakin gave another jerk against him, intent on pushing the woman out of bed, "Stop it!"

Anakin needn't have worried: the woman was already stumbling back out of the bed, sheet clutched tightly to her, her already dark eyes even darker when combined with the lack of light in the room and her shock: her pupils seemed wide enough to fill the whole space of her irises.

"He—you do this with your apprentice in your apartment?" she managed to sputter as she summoned her tunic to her with the Force.

If possible, Obi-Wan reddened even more, and his hold tightened on Anakin. They made quite the sight: a small, furious child and his master, who was, as of yet, completely uncomprehending of the cause of said child's anger, both seated on a bed, the man's eyes comically wide as he physically restrained the struggling child.

"What? No! NO! He—he was supposed to be staying the night at a friend's," he finished rather lamely. "He was—Anakin, stop that!"

Anakin stopped kicking and trying to twist free, at least for the moment. Perhaps it was because Kenobi's voice had finally reached a crescendo… or, more likely, it was because he'd succeeded in getting the woman out of Obi-Wan's bed.

"Next time," she snapped, "make sure!"

Of course, her tone indicated that any sort of "next time" was highly unlikely.

Vader watches, something inside of him rolling at the memory—confusion tumbling over itself, perhaps—as Anakin smiled, pleased, eyes narrowed at the woman as she stormed from the room, tunics clutched in one hand, sheet clutched in the other.

Once she was gone, Kenobi and Anakin sat quietly for a moment: Anakin shifted a little, glancing up at his master, but Kenobi's gaze remained firmly fixed on the wall across from them, his face almost twitching as he strove to pull his emotions back under control.

When he finally did move, it was to shove Anakin away from him.

"Turn around," he snapped, waving his hand toward the opposite wall.

Clearly angry at being pushed away so emphatically, Anakin nevertheless did as he was told and climbed off the bed, standing facing the other wall, though he did petulantly cross his arms. "Why? You seemed to think it was just fine to take your clothes off with that woman. You couldn't have been that concerned about being naked."

"Anakin, I am an adult, and what I do in my spare time is no concern of yours!"

"Yes, it is!" he cried out, throwing his arms out to his side and spinning back around. Kenobi had, by this time, at least gotten his pants on, though as Vader remembers, Anakin wouldn't have cared if he hadn't. Nothing about this situation had to do with any sort of sexual desire—how Obi-Wan looked naked was no affair of Anakin's, nor had he ever cared for it to be. The entire crux of the matter lay instead in the idea that this woman—this strange, unknown woman—was taking Obi-Wan away from him. Taking his time, his thoughts, his attention. "I don't like her!"

"You don't know her!" Obi-Wan exclaimed in exasperation, pulling his tunic on over his head. Once dressed, he seemed to calm somewhat, at least to the point that he was willing to try to dig down to the heart of the matter: "What is this really about, Anakin?"

"Why'd you do it? You don't need her!"


Anakin was working himself back up into a fury. It was easy to see, obvious in the way he balled his fists, face strained as he yelled at Obi-Wan. His tone was hateful; his eyes were hurt, and Obi-Wan must have seen it, because he sighed, raked a hand through his hair, and sank back down on the edge of the bed, slumping there like he didn't quite have the energy to hold his shoulders up.

"Come here, Anakin," he said after a moment, reaching his hand out toward Anakin, beckoning for him to approach. Anakin did, calming somewhat at the display of undivided attention, and turned his face up toward Obi-Wan. "Anakin, what I was doing with her—it has nothing to do with you. Nothing at all. I care about you very much, and it shouldn't bother you if I care for a friend enough to find myself comfortable releasing some tension with her. I promise that it won't affect you. I am still your master, and—"

"But I don't want you to do things like that!" he protested, reaching up toward Obi-Wan and gripping his arms. He was gripping too hard, but Obi-Wan hardly even reacted, apparently recognizing that Anakin was not clinging in an attempt to hurt him, but rather to reassure himself that Obi-Wan wasn't going anywhere.

"And can you tell me why?"

"Because you don't need anybody else! We're—we're a family! Why do you need her too?"

"It's not nearly the same thing, Anakin."

Vader knows how Kenobi tried to explain. He knows all of this, and he is well aware that the answer wasn't particularly relevant—it resolved nothing. In all likelihood, that is probably why Anakin—and the scene—vanishes. Faded, just like it did on Tatooine with Shmi. And in what remains of the scene—in the nothing that it leaves—Vader is left again with Kenobi, though this time back in the room where Vader was meditating—where he has been ever since Qui-Gon appeared.

"It wasn't the same thing, and you knew that," Kenobi says quietly, glancing sadly over at Vader once the moment has settled. "You were the child I was raising; she was a woman I occasionally slept with. But she scared you, because it took a piece of me, and you didn't share well. Even if it wasn't a part of me you wanted, you didn't want anything given away."

He cannot deny that—not in the face of that memory. Kenobi has trapped him with a memory, and the man knows it, tells him with every blink; every breath; every calm, infuriatingly patient look as he waits for Vader to respond.

But that entrapment is not complete.

"Perhaps that was true of Anakin, but that name no longer has any meaning to me."

"None at all?" Kenobi asks, turning away from Vader and drifting toward the edge of the room, though when he reaches it, he snaps back around sharply, so in contrast to his slow steps of a moment before, facing Vader with a sharp, deprecating look.

How dare he question, as though he knows better? He knows nothing of the man Vader is—nothing of the dark side or how it consumes. "He is my past!" Vader snaps, the leather of his gloves creaking as he clenches his fists. "What you just showed me—it is my past!"

Kenobi is unmoved. But, then, he always was when faced with Anakin's bursts of temper.

"It's your present, Anakin, not in the sense that it's happening now, but in the reality that it is what formed you. You deny any connection to Anakin Skywalker, yet his actions and choices formed your present. Anakin Skywalker is your present."

Enough. This should have ended before now, before it even began. Kenobi can talk, but Vader does not have to drift along with his madness, allowing Kenobi to steer his thoughts in whatever direction he wills.

"Is that your intention, then? Qui-Gon Jinn shows me a picture of my past—a characteristic that you find very different from Vader—while you show me something about Anakin that you believe formed my present?" He would laugh if he were not certain his respirator would ruin the sound of it and turn it into a mere mockery of himself—of his wasted body—rather than of Kenobi, as it would be meant to be.

Kenobi shrugs. "Perhaps, perhaps not. Past and present, cause and effect—it all seems to run together eventually, don't you think?" He pauses then, his stare intensifying. "Perhaps that's what I'm trying to show you. Either way, Anakin, what really matters is that you would do well to concentrate on the future."

He leaves it at that. Or, rather, he just leaves, and Vader is left alone in the room again, with nothing but the sound of his respirator reaching him.

He does not miss Kenobi's voice.

He does not.

But you *do*.

You are not what I should have been. You are not a savior, but rather a child's nightmare, come to life in a wave of black and the noise of a death rasp. You are a vision of death—my *own* death, and that of so many others as well.

The irony is that, as he has a habit of being, Obi-Wan is correct: I *am* you—at least to some degree—though not at your point in time. Rather, I am a shadow of what you could be, of what you could make your future. You have the makings to be me—the piece inside of you that will become me if you let it.

*I* am from you, but *you* will only fully become me—unfettered by the dark side—if you chose to.


But it is your choice. I am only one of many possible futures, though I take heart in the fact that the Force chose me to go to you. It wants you, even now—not the darkness, but the light. Or maybe I'm only speculating—wishful thinking. Obi-Wan did always tell me I was good at that.

Obi-Wan is right, you know. It's the future that will save you. You can't change your past or redeem your mistakes, but you *can* redeem *yourself*.

I am not a sure future, but I am a *possibility*. A possibility gives hope. There is hope for you yet.

And it seems I am your best hope. And why not? I *am* you, and *was* you—I am what you *will* be if you chose correctly. I am your past, present, and future. No one knows you better than I do.

Neither Obi-Wan nor Qui-Gon have seen me. They cannot—I do not yet exist, and I may never exist… though I would very much like to. This is happening at Obi-Wan's behest, and I would like to exist properly just for the chance to thank him for that, I think. To see him again.

And not just him.

You would know of whom I speak.

You would never forget. Lie to Qui-Gon. Lie to Obi-Wan. Lie to me. Lie to yourself. But you will never forget her.

You cannot.

And as long as you remember her in anything more than indifference, Anakin is still a part of you.

So *remember*.

Vader is hardly surprised to see a third figure. Qui-Gon showed him something of the past, Kenobi something of the present—it logically follows that a future would be next. He knows it, and this time, he doesn't hesitate to slip back into meditation: given that this all seems to be Kenobi's doing, it will culminate no matter whether Vader wants it to or not. Best to be prepared.

However, there are simply some things one cannot prepare for. Seeing the dead—it is casual, very expected, when compared to this.

He is seeing himself.

Wavy brown hair, blue eyes, just over six feet tall. No leather glove. Real limbs. Anakin Skywalker.

"I know," Anakin says, grinning, showing all his teeth, prompting Vader to run his tongue over his own, remembering what it was like when they could still be seen. "Not what you expected."

Vader suppresses the desire to clench his fists. He was handsome, well built and with an innate charm before he burned. Still, it is entirely strange to see what he was, standing before him, dressed in tan and brown robes. "I should have," he says with blatant anger—when isn't he blatant in his anger?—as he averts his eyes. "Kenobi would be this cruel."

Anakin frowns at that and crosses his arms, one finger tapping impatiently on an elbow. "This wasn't Obi-Wan's doing. Or not entirely. It was the Force that allowed it. Is the Force cruel?"

"It can be."

He laughs—though, not happily—and Vader cannot entirely ignore the similarities: Anakin's face reflects the look Vader knows his own face twists into beneath his mask when he laughs without humor. When he tries to laugh, that is. He can—but it is not nearly so effective with a respirator.

"The Force is never cruel. Even the dark side is not inherently cruel—in that case, it is we who are cruel. The dark side is only the Force distorted, polluted by greed and evil, did you know that? And that is us. Not the Force. We—our misuse of the Force—are what made the dark side. Over the years—millennia, even—we made it until it was its own entity. And it is cruel, but only because that is what we made it."

"It is not the dark side that is cruel."

"Oh? Because you think the light side allowed Padme to be taken from you?"

He has no right—none. He may be Anakin, or Vader, or a shade of him, but Vader still twists inwardly at the roiling anger in his gut when he hears her name. No one speaks that name. Even Kenobi didn't have the audacity—

Or perhaps I simply didn't have the strength to be the one to force you to face that—to be the one who brought you back that pain.

-to speak her name. But this—him, himself, something—does. No matter. Vader has always hated himself as much as he hated anyone else. There is nothing novel in this wave of hatred that is rising toward the shade of him with whom he is now faced.

He hangs onto his control, but only barely.

"Ironically," Anakin continues, "I don't hear Qui-Gon cursing the Force because it failed to steer you into becoming the chosen one he envisioned. And Obi-Wan doesn't blame the Force for what he's endured. And I don't blame the Force for my failures—your failures. You know this, Vader. I am you—no one will ever know what's in your head better than I will. And I know you only blame the Force in order to shift the blame off yourself for your failure. You failed. You fell. It was you."

"Shut up!" Vader roars, finally losing his composure completely and lunging toward himself. However, unlike Kenobi, Anakin does not seem inclined to allow Vader to touch him, and Vader sinks through him, hands meeting nothing but the opposite wall. He stays there, hands on the wall, breathing as rapidly as his respirator will allow, trying to pull himself back under control before he turns to face Anakin.

But Anakin isn't done. "You may not have killed her when you wrapped the Force around her neck and choked her," he continues, crossing his arms and staring harshly toward Vader when Vader turns around to face him again, wishing fervently that he could somehow just wrap his hands around that neck and squeeze… "But your actions killed her. Your decisions killed her. You killed her. You killed Padme."


He lunges again, and this time, to his shame, he overbalances and, finding Anakin no more solid than the first time, he plunges to the floor. He catches himself with his hands, but the pressure ricochets up his limbs, and metal groans in protest.

I couldn't have done this to you, Anakin. Forgive me for not being strong enough to tell you everything you need to hear.

That duty falls to himself, Obi-Wan, and only to himself. Not to you. This was not for you to do. He wouldn't have listened to you in this. It has to come from *him*.

"And you're still killing her," Anakin says, his voice rising to a fever pitch, the words coming faster as he stalks to where Vader is sprawled on the floor, standing over him almost imperially, "You're killing everything she stood for and believed in. And your son? Will you kill him too? Will you kill her son? The last living bit of her? Finish the job, Anakin. Finish it, because it is you. It was always you. So you end it."

Anakin is gone then, at least from in front of Vader, and Vader is left sprawled on the floor, but not the same floor, because the scene has shifted again, and this time the surface beneath him has become more expensive and decorative.

He knows this place—will never forget it. 500 Republica, and even before he looks up, he knows what he will see.

"What do you think about names, Ani?"

Force. She's as beautiful as she ever was. Absolutely stunning. Today her hair is worn loose, tumbling down her back in a cascade of curls. He wants to reach out, run his flesh hands—the ones that no longer exist—through those curls, wrap them around his fingers, bury his face in them and just sigh, long and deep. She always smelled so wonderful, like springtime on Naboo.

She turned to face Anakin, smiling, her eyes alight with good nature. She was dressed in green, and it made Vader think of earth, the smell of life right after a rainstorm.


His self of twenty years ago smiled, slipping forward to slide up behind her, wrapping his arms around her and positioning his hand over the large bump on her stomach. "I like Leia."

Laughing, she arched her neck around to kiss him, her own hands settling on top of his. "It's going to be a boy, I just know it."

"Then you pick the boy's name if you're so sure," he teased, kissing her.

Yes, Vader remembers that. He'd been so certain it was going to be a girl. Padme had been right, as always—and she had named their son. He hadn't been there to witness it, but Padme had clearly named him.

She wanted you there, Anakin.

"Luke, then. I like the name Luke."

He nodded and slipped his lips down to kiss at her neck. "So do I. But it's gonna be a girl."

"Then we'll name her Leia. But it's going to be a boy."

He laughed, hugging her a little more tightly. "If you say so."

"You should know better than to argue with a Senator."

"Oh, I do."

What had happened? This was just days before the world fell apart. They'd loved each other—Vader will not, even now, try to deny that. For years now he's vowed that love was pointless, and that it only made him weak, but that is not what this scene screams at him. This Anakin—he's finding strength in his wife.

And maybe that was what it all came down to. He was afraid of losing the strength he found in her. Yes, he was terrified of losing her, but at the heart of the thing, did his motivations eventually—maybe not at first, but eventually—deteriorate to power? To a fear of losing strength and being broken?

"Anakin?" Her voice had turned serious, and she pulled away from his embrace, sliding her hands up to rest on his shoulders as she tilted her face back, locking her gaze with his.

Anakin apparently sensed the seriousness of the situation: his lips thinned, and his eyebrows pinched together, but he did bring his hands to rest on her hips in a gesture of silent reassurance. "Yes?"

"You love our baby, right?"

He frowned. "Of course I do."

"And you'll protect him?"

"Of course I'll protect her," he joked, trying to smile, but the mood didn't lighten. She'd wanted a serious answer, Vader remembers. And he'd known that. "Of course, Padme," he said finally, more seriously. "Of course."

"What if you had to die for him?"

"Then I'd die. Gladly. Just like I'd die for you."

Instead, he'd killed her. A cruel, cruel twist of fate.

"No," Anakin says—not the one from the memory, but from the Force—suddenly beside Vader again. "Not of fate. A cruel twist from you. You killed her. No one else. It was your decisions that did it."

Vader chokes down his response. He knows what Padme is going to say, and he wants to hear it. Anakin can wait.

Padme relaxed at her husband's words, sinking down against him, smiling. "You're going to be a wonderful father, Ani," she whispered.

Vader half expects to find himself back in the meditation room this time. The memory was shorter than the others, but it has hit him in a way he hadn't anticipated—and that he can't entirely deny-and that impact is what Anakin was reaching for. His purpose has been accomplished. It is logical that the scene would end.

For once in this twisted, confusing night, Vader is right: the memory is gone—Padme is gone—and he's again faced with the cold metal of the room where he's been for the better part of the night.

What time is it? He finds he doesn't know. Time has escaped him, just as surely as reality has.

The better question, of course, is how long has reality been escaping him?

Now you ask the correct questions, at least.

Now you need only find the correct answers.

"You promised her," Anakin says from across the room. "You promised. Did you lie?"

Did he? Would he protect his child now? Now that he's Vader?

You are *Anakin*. Remember that. Just remember.

"Lie, Anakin. Lie to her," he spits out, eyes narrowed and angry. Still, he doesn't approach Vader, but merely stands on the other side of the room, propped against the wall, eyeing Vader with distaste. "You killed her once. Why not finish the job? After all, you're not Anakin, right? You're Vader. And Vader never promised." He pauses, laughing coldly. "Except, oh, wait—the reason you became Vader in the first place? What was it?"

"You have no right—"

Anakin explodes into a flurry of motion then, shoving himself away from the wall. Lines of anger are etched in his face—not hate, though, and Vader would know the difference—and he stalks forward, sweeping his hand outward like he's trying to wipe away all that is disgusting before him—like he's trying to wipe away Vader.

"I have every right! I am you, Vader! I know all your thoughts, all your motivations. You're fighting with yourself. I know that you became Vader to save her. So for once make something good come out of your mistake. Keep a promise. It's the only thing you have left to give her… and you did supposedly become Vader for her, to save her,remember? So do something for her. Keep your promise."

And he is gone.

Vader is alone again. Or nearly. Somewhere, just barely within his hearing, there is a song, a lullaby that was sung to him a long time ago in a desert land, back when this all started. It's the root of everything. It's not a lullaby now, though: the way it drifts and pulls—it's a promise. What he was—and could be—is promising.

But there is no one singing. No one at all. And he is alone again.

Alone. Alone. Always alone.

You needn't be.

Come home, Padawan.

Keep your promise.

Do you hear what I hear?

A song, a song high above the trees

With a voice as big as the the sea,

With a voice as big as the the sea.

A few months later, high above the forest moon of Endor, he does.