Peace, he supposed, shouldn't be a strange concept, but to Anakin Skywalker it was. The actual word in and of itself was grammatically simple enough, and its meaning should have been just as easy to grasp, but it wasn't. Not really. Not to him, at least.
In his youth, he had associated peace with the word 'boring'. After all, to his young mind, peace only came through activities that just couldn't keep his attention. One should find peace in meditation (for which he could never seem to sit still enough). One should find peace by letting go of slights (something that tended to get one killed or at least drove one into debt on Tatooine). One was supposed to find peace through inner reflection (something that tended to only remind him how inadequate he had been).
Peace was calm and balance, but Anakin had liked his world wild and unbalanced to the point that only his unique skill set could walk the tight rope between life and death. He'd craved recognition and he'd always been good at doing things other people couldn't (or wouldn't) do. He'd worked hard to be worthy of recognition—to be someone everyone else could look up to because that would validate what he'd given up.
He'd wanted to be someone a slave could never be.
He hadn't cared for boring, and so he hadn't much cared for peace even though he'd gone through the motions, at first in memory of Qui-gon and later for Obi-Wan.
Around the time of the Clone wars was when he really started to understand now necessary and desirable peace was. He had wanted racing and sparring for fun rather than to hone the edge that would keep him alive. True, he hadn't exactly rejected the attention everyone had thrown at him, but that had always been offset by the troops he left behind on each battlefield and the innocent civilians who had lost home and family and their lives.
He'd wanted to end the fighting and death and destruction and that had become his definition of the word: the lack of fighting.
He had tried to bring peace back by fighting for the Republic, with less than spectacular results, no matter what the holovids said. Then the end of the war, the so-called peace he'd so desperately wanted, had come at such a high cost—one he did not often wish to revisit.
And yet he had.
He'd gone over the memories of that day time and time again because they never ceased to make his vision go red with anger and (somehow, simultaneously) his stomach churn with guilt. They brought the blinding pain that never truly went away to the surface—a ripping, searing agony that shot through his chest and would have taken his breath away had he not been on a respirator. It had given Darth Vader strength because it tore apart whatever had been left of his heart every single time he thought about it.
It hadn't been worth it. The end of the war hadn't brought peace. Not truly. While there hadn't been as much conflict during the Imperial Reign, the Empire was not synonymous for peace, no matter how much he'd wanted it to be. He'd never dared acknowledge it, even to himself, but in that black little thing that harbored the pieces of his heart, he'd known that the galaxy had gone from a proverbial supernova to a black hole.
He'd ignored it because he'd stopped caring, giving the whole ideal of peace up as a bad job—a misleading, unobtainable dream. And if he as a person no longer needed such a childish ideal, why should the rest of the universe?
Yes, in his life, he'd resented the idea of personal peace, fought and rejected it, and then as a Sith, thoroughly abandoned it.
Which was probably what made the whole idea that he may have actually obtained it now that much more incredible. He had somehow managed to turn his back on all of those darker tendencies and he had just come to realize why people—why Jedi—actively sought peace. It wasn't boring and it wasn't as simple as a state of "not fighting". True peace was an anchor in a stormy sea, a safe port for an otherwise doomed ship, and a light that drove away the metaphorical darkness. It was the best of everything and nothing and he knew now that he had only preferred other states of being because he had not known what true peace was.
And 'freeing' didn't even begin to describe how it felt.
He found it odd that only by abandoning the darkness had he begun to find real freedom. The Sith code stated that the dark side Force would set the user free. He certainly hadn't ever felt like he'd been free. Funny how he hadn't been able to see that before when it seemed so obvious to him now. At the end.
All of his childhood insecurities, his teenage frustration and his adult life in general had subconsciously plagued him simultaneously for decades. The roots of many of those problems that had been so important before somehow now seemed to have grown...insignificant. He felt warmth, and courage, and a soft stillness that called him home—to a place where he could rest; where everything he'd done didn't matter anymore.
There is no death, there is the Force.
His eyes didn't seem to want to stay open, and even when he could pry the eyelids up, he could hardly see out of his own helmet. His lungs were not getting the oxygen they needed and his limbs barely responded to his thoughts anymore. He was sure the lightning that had run rampant through his body when he'd picked up the Emperor had short-circuited far too many systems and there would be no possible way to save his life, not in the time they had in any case.
In short, he was dying.
He'd always hated the idea of dying before and had struggled against the idea with a fervor that put other sentients to shame. Now, though...now that he had finally made a decision he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt was right, now that he'd acted and destroyed the man he had mistakenly at one point considered his rescuer and confidant, now that he had done what he should have done years ago, the thought of dying didn't seem so distasteful. He could die in peace...and that went far beyond okay and into 'miracle' territory.
The person beneath him—Luke (it was Luke, right? Yes, that was his Force signature)—buckled under the strain of carrying his father's dead weight. Vader...no, Anakin. He was Anakin now. Anakin somehow saw a change in view and realized he'd fallen to the floor. It hadn't hurt in the slightest. Then again, he couldn't really feel anything except for his burning lungs. And Luke. He could feel Luke and the Force again. Not the darkness that had raged and burned for so long but the blinding light and calm...
He could sense men hurrying around him, all of them on the verge of panic but sticking to the training and the protocols set in place. For the first time in over two decades, Anakin felt pride for the men he had trained and sorrow that they would all be lost. Funny how everything else seemed so calm. No one would be able to tell that the stable station they were on would soon be destroyed.
He closed his eyes for just a moment, savoring these last few moments as his son dragged him along. Perhaps he should just tell Luke to leave him. He would deserve no less for his crimes and somehow he knew that Luke would leave the station alive, but Anakin wouldn't. The Force? Probably. He didn't care. As long as his son lived, he could handle anything else.
And then they stopped and Anakin forced his eyes open again. Where were they? He recognized the underbelly of a ship. Why had they stopped? Luke looked exhausted. Why hadn't he used the Force? Perhaps he couldn't concentrate? The boy did only have a few years of training under his belt and he had just almost been electrocuted to death.
A flash of anger and annoyance rushed through him at that, but he pushed it away—refusing to let such things sour these minutes for him—and smiled up at the worried features so similar to his own, despite knowing that his son couldn't actually see him.
"Luke..." he hadn't realized how much it would hurt to try and talk, but it only took a moment for him to push past it. He'd lived with worse before. "Help me take this mask off," he finished.
His son's brow furrowed. "But you'll die."
Anakin smiled sadly. "Nothing can stop that now. Just for once..." he faded off and forced air into his lungs, "let me...look on you with my own eyes."
Reluctantly, Luke conceded and reached over to take the black helmet that had been his identity for his entire life as a Sith. His nimble fingers searched for the mechanical releases and found them. Then slowly, almost reverently (although Anakin couldn't begin to understand why) he lifted it away and placed it beside them. Then he reached back for the second piece and managed to gently pull that off as well.
Anakin hadn't seen anything but the inside of his hyperbolic chamber without the mask for what felt like centuries and the sight before him almost took what little breath he still had left away. He hadn't really expected any color from the Death Star. Color was, after all, a frivolity that the Emperor wouldn't stand. Thus his son's head stood out in such stark contrast to the drab, gray background. His eyes, however, were what really drew his attention; clear blue, unmarred and so determined.
Hadn't his own eyes been like that once? He knew the answer should be 'yes', but sometimes his early life seemed like a far-off dream that had never really existed.
Apparently whatever Luke had been expecting had not been what he'd gotten because he looked surprised and sad—probably wanted to see more than the pallid, scarred ghost of a man who probably didn't resemble him at all anymore.
Still, Anakin couldn't help but smile, albeit tiredly. He had gotten his last wish, and the sight before him couldn't have been more magnificent.
"Now go, my son," he managed to voice his previous thoughts. "Leave me."
Luke shook his head. "No, you're coming with me! I'll not leave you, I've got to save you!"
"You already have," he wheezed, trying to ignore the fact that it was getting harder and harder to speak. "You were right. You were right about me. Tell your sister...you were right..."
Unable to hold on any longer, he closed his eyes and allowed himself to do something he'd never been able to do before: he let go, and slipped into the waiting arms of the Force.
He found his consciousness set adrift in calming waves that he—for once—had no problem trusting. It felt good to trust again. As he floated in the warmth of the Living Force several thoughts began to meander across his mind. The first was how grateful he felt towards his son; the son who had believed in him and who had loved him enough to look past the monster he had become. The second thought had a much darker connotation as something whispered that he did not belong here; that he did not deserve this. At the moment, though, he found he didn't care and so he left the thought behind with the rest of the darkness. A third thought wondered when his consciousness and sense of self would cease to exist. When would he fade into the light and become truly one with the Force? Part of him disliked that idea, but part of him couldn't help but look forward to it. He would be truly free of his burdens then.
Then, strangely enough, a forest, full of life in a way he'd never begun to consider before, slowly faded into view around him. Where was this? Was he still in the Force? Was this a part of the Force? It was so dark around him, after all, but it wasn't the cold darkness he'd grown so used to. No, he could still feel the peace of the Living Force.
Almost without thought, he found himself moving towards some nearby lights the closest one flickering through the deep shadows—a fire. He drew closer and saw that someone had erected a funeral pier.
He recognized the mask on top.
As the flames burned, he began to feel as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. The burning of the body relieved him of his final burden: the final connection he had with the material universe. A figure moved on the opposite side of the fire; the lone mourner...his son. The boy—no, young man—apparently felt his duty had been done because he turned to rejoin to the obvious festivities.
Luke's friends, the smuggler and the princess of course, danced and laughed as they dodged the little fur balls native to the planet. Luke wove gracefully through the crowds as he approached them and received a warm hug from both of them. They began to steer him towards the food the ewoks had laid out—a feast that looked surprisingly palatable for humans and Anakin would bet his newly found peace that the drinks going around were alcoholic. Even the droids looked happy.
Of course they would. They were all celebrating the deaths of two men and consequently, the end of a tyrannical reign of terror.
A reign of terror he had helped to create.
A reign of terror he had helped to destroy.
He watched for a few more minutes with a content expression, and then his son seemed to sense something. Breaking away from the group, he walked to the edge of the large clearing and leaned against a tree, eyes focused directly on Anakin...and the two presences beside him.
That rather surprising thought brought the first real smile in years to his mouth, and he turned to see both Yoda and Obi-wan grinning right back. He could tell in their smiles that they'd forgiven him, and that brought even more relief to his once heavily-burdened heart.
Looking back at Luke, his own grin widened, as the boy had a smile himself. A cheek-to-cheek grin of pure happiness.
He got that smile from his mother.
For a moment, everything was right and good. How he reveled in it. So this was what he'd sought all along? He wanted to say so many things, but before he got the chance, the scene faded, far faster than it had appeared, and he went back to his aimless floating in the light.
He would have been happy to stay that way, but a voice interrupted the endless stillness.
"Anakin, if you could change anything in your life, would you?" That sounded like Obi-wan.
He paused, thinking. Faces of countless Jedi flashed across his mind; people cowering in fear of him; people dying as he choked the life out of them. Padmé...
"Yes," he responded simply because really, that should have been obvious. Still, he appreciated that his old master had asked instead of merely assuming.
"Then consider this my gift to make up for leaving you behind."
"Leaving me..." he started as he sensed the presence that belonged to his oldest friend withdraw, and reached out to pull it closer. "Wait...Obi-wan! Master!"
Then, before he knew anything else, the light faded from his consciousness, leaving a gaping hole in his soul.
Consciousness came back to him slowly. The world seemed to spin around him and part of him wished for nothing more but to continue his rest. His dream had been...lovely. No other word could describe it, and he wished to hold onto that before returning to the vile existence that was his life. He had learned long ago, however, that doing so never brought desirable results, and so he refused to let go of his growing awareness.
Eventually, he noticed that said awareness didn't feel right.
His lethargic mind fell back onto habit and took a moment to run down and address what exactly had gone wrong. He started with his breathing and ran into his first major difference. No respirator sounds met his ears. No harsh hissing aided his strangely painless chest with breathing in the dry, harsh air that he could practically taste...something he hadn't been able to do since his fall.
Then he realized that he could feel his hands...and his legs.
Any thought for remaining asleep was shoved harshly aside as he fought his way into the physical world. His eyes flew open, and he struggled to sit up. Color bombarded him and he had to shut his eyes again. It wouldn't have been particularly bright or eye-catching to anyone who hadn't been looking through red lenses for almost a quarter of a century. Of course, in the next instant his hand moved to his face. His fingers touched soft flesh, not a hard mask.
Bracing himself, he forced his eyes open for the second time and looked down at his chest...where he found clothes. A tunic and sleep pants to be precise. He did not find a panel of blinking lights signaling the status of his life support; no black suit and no mechanics. As a matter of fact, he recognized the worn, tan and brown outfit now covering his considerably smaller frame. He hadn't seen it in more than 3 decades.
Eyes widening, he whipped his head around again, taking in the warm, monotone shades with surprise. An old room in an old house, small but homey and comfortable. From the threadbare rugs to the mismatched curtains by the discolored transparisteel window, he recognized every single inch. It screamed of poverty and of despair and yet, this was home. More precisely it was his home from Tatooine. His home that he hadn't been in for nearly 40 years.
He sat there for several seconds as his mind tried to process all of these observations and make sense out of them. It failed rather miserably. So what was this? A vision? Or was he really dead after all and this was some sort of memory he was reliving? Or he could have been captured (by whom, he had no idea) and his consciousness entrapped in a simulator or some kind. Or—
"Ani?" A soft voice from the other room simultaneously cut through his inner rant and practically stopped his heart.
He had to be dreaming. Had to be. Involuntarily, his eyes drew towards the door where the sound had come from. Someone was approaching. He could both feel them and hear their footsteps, but he didn't—couldn't—believe. It just wasn't possible. She was dead and not sensitive and so couldn't retain her consciousness in the Force. Right? So there was no way this could be...
And then she walked through the old doorway with a towel over her shoulder and hands lingering on the walls as she'd walked, something he remembered she had done often.
"I thought I heard you," she said with that kind smile that still haunted his dreams and those tired eyes lighting up as she focused on her son.
He couldn't answer her. She couldn't physically be there, and he knew he was probably looking at the projection of a memory if anything and yet... He didn't want to chance opening his mouth and chasing her projection away. Half of him wanted to run to her, hold her and never let go. The other half wanted to run in the opposite direction in shame. He didn't deserve to see her again, but still, he couldn't take his eyes off of her.
His mother's apparition apparently noticed something off about his reaction to seeing her because she frowned in worry. He'd always hated seeing that look on her face and noted how her hands found each other and clenched tightly like they always had when something had gone awry.
"Ani, are you alright?"
No. But he couldn't even seem to be able to cause this immensely painful, realistic dream version of his mother any more worry. He had to respond. He couldn't force himself to speak to her, but he did manage to nod.
Her frown turned skeptical. "Are you sure?"
She continued to study him, completely ignoring his reassurance. Then she walked over to his bed and knelt down beside him. He flinched and looked away from her. He knew that would only make her more worried, but he couldn't help it.
"Oh, Ani, please tell me what's wrong," she said softly, her voice pleading.
And then she touched him, her hand resting on his cheek and jaw. He actually jumped at that point, scrambling away with a gasp. Part of his mind noted with a dry sort of disgust how he, a dark lord of the Sith, panicked at the sight of this mere woman. The other part of him did not care. This could not be real, and yet...it was. How...?
"Ani?!" she asked, a mixture of confusion, fear and hurt obvious in her tone.
"Y...you're real?" he asked in a high, course voice.
"Of course I am, Ani," she replied slowly and held out a hand towards him again. He froze unable to move away—refusing to accept what his mind continued to tell him, but not wanting to cause her more distress. "Why wouldn't you think so?"
She seemed to realize that his reactions would be unusual because her hand froze a few inches away from him, hovering in the air in invitation.
He shook his head. "You were dead. You died. I saw you. I felt you!"
Recognition came to her eyes. "Oh, Ani, it was just a dream. I'm right here. I'm alive."
Anakin balked. That had all just been a dream? His entire life? The Jedi, the Clone Wars, the Sith, the Rebellion, the Empire...no, he couldn't accept that. Ever. That had been too real. He knew too much. He could still recite Sith teachings (and Jedi precepts for that matter). He couldn't get that from a vision...could he? And he'd never heard of any vision being so detailed...
"Ani?" His mother's voice broke through his thoughts. She still hadn't moved. His eyes followed her hand and arm back to her face.
She'd touched him. That meant she was physically here. Right? His mind ran over the options he'd come up with. This couldn't be a vision or a memory. A simulation? No, it was too detailed. Some sort of mind-trap? Something to do with the Force? He could accept that...but it didn't feel right.
Could he have woken up in the past somehow? Was it possible? He glanced back at the hand in front of him and reached up with his own fingers to touch it reluctantly, almost expecting it to not be there. His hand met real flesh and bone, warm and tanned and calloused...
Her hand closed around his and her gray eyes shone with just a touch of relief. She was real. She was real. Oh, Force...what did this mean? The implications went beyond mind-blowing, but it felt right. How did this happen?
He remembered Luke...and he remembered what must have been him dying. And then the party and then...Obi-wan? Something about another chance? Had that been real? What...?!
"Do you believe me now?" his mother asked, cutting through his train of thoughts.
And then it truly hit him. This. Was. Real.
In the days and months to come, he would reprimand himself multiple times a day for his lack of control. He'd been General Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight and commander in the Republic, and Darth Vader, second only to the Emperor himself. His actions should never be reduced to anything so undignified. However, in that moment, he wasn't a Sith or a Jedi or a General or a Commander. In that instant his mind reverted to the equivalent of his body and he was nothing but a nine-year-old child. He'd moved before he could think about it, throwing his arms around her neck and clutching tightly to her tunic as he buried his head in her shoulders.
"Mom," he whispered, barely able to make his throat work at all.
"Oh, Ani," she said as her own arms enfolded him. "It will be alright. I'm right here and I'm not leaving you."
He knew she couldn't keep that promise. She didn't have the ability or freedom to do so, but he nodded anyway, wanting to do nothing but hold onto someone he didn't think he would ever see again. She was here, alive and whole and sturdy, not the weakened, tortured person who had barely been able to lift her hand and tell him she loved him. This was the woman his heart remembered; a strong, dedicated woman with an iron will and an all-encompassing heart despite her hardships.
"Shh," she whispered, lifting him up and turning around to sit on his bed while cradling him in her arms. She rocked back and forth on the worn bed and even began to hum. The long forgotten tune immediately sprung back to his mind as her deep voice lightly brushed the notes. She must have sensed that he needed this, because they sat like that for a long time, and he couldn't have been more grateful.
A/N: SO, here I have the revamp. Hey, I started writing this one a good 5-6 years ago. I hope I've improved since then. :) In any case, here are my rules for when you're reading this fic. Please note that this is important:
I like constructive criticism. That means if you tell me what you like or what you don't like, I'll take it into consideration so long as you are polite and give me the respect any person deserves. That DOES NOT mean I will agree with you or think something should be changed. I wrote what I wrote for a reason, but I will give what you say serious thought.
However, if you get on and just say "It's great, more!" then I probably won't respond. Actually, I'll say it right now, 'Thanks'. If you get on and start flaming me and telling me this isn't original or that I haven't changed anything in the actual story, well this IS a time-travel fic, so nothing is going to immediately change just because someone wakes up with future knowledge in their heads. Thus a lot of this first story will be very similar to the original story to establish the character and is written so you can compare his character here to his character in the movies.
If you reiterate this or start telling me that the story is stupid or what not, I'll simply think you have no patience or grasp of the significance of nuances and disregard whatever you say as unintelligent rambling before blocking you and (if you are belligerent and degrading) reporting you. I have no problem doing this and you have been warned.
Also, I would like to note that I've dealt with a LOT of people who have lived through traumatic circumstances. In many cases, when someone (especially a child) lives through something their mind cannot handle, their mental and emotional progress is severely restrained. So, even years—decades—later, when someone is reminded of that time, their mental and emotional state reverts to the status it was at the time of the original trauma.
Anakin being separated from his mother was something he saw as traumatic, and then he was told to just let her go instead of working through the feelings he had regarding her, and then (yes, years later, but he still had issues from his childhood) she died in his arms. Yeah, I can see him reverting to a child-like state for a few minutes here in the story. If you're disappointed because big, bad Darth Vader isn't acting like Darth Vader, well that's kind of the point of the story and this may not be for you. Just FYI. However I do think it is more than plausible and if you disagree, well we'll just have to agree to disagree.