A/N: Gotta go fast on these updates!
That was the answer. To have heard myself saying it was to be answered. Lightly, people talk about saying what they mean. Often, when he was teaching me, Obi-Wan would tell me "Anakin, to tell the entire truth of what it really is, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what the truth is; is what a Jedi should strive to do." A glib saying. Till that truth can be dug out of us, why should we babble the half-truths and lies that we think are true? How can we meet each other face to face, till we have faces?
Ahsoka attaches herself to his side after that.
"Don't worry, Rui," she tells his guard, and there's humor in the crow's feet around her eyes, "I'll keep an eye on this one."
He can't quite help the squawk of protest he makes at that, and both women laugh at him.
"You're a Jedi," Rui says, "if he was a spy, you'd be much better equipped to handle him than I am."
Ahsoka mutters something under her breath about never being able to get the upper hand in the first place, but pastes on a smile for Rui. "Of course I would. This guy wouldn't stand a chance." And she says it all with a grin, knowing he can't defend himself or argue otherwise without blowing his cover.
"E chu ta," he hisses at her, then looking back to Rui, he smiles sheepishly. "It's true. I've never been this close to a Jedi all my life. I've never even seen their laser swords. I'd be terrified if I ended up on her bad side."
Ahsoka digs her elbow into his ribs. "Of course you would be. I was one of the strongest Jedi back at the temple. They made me a Knight, and then a Master before my own Master was made one."
Talking through his forced grin, he says; "I have no idea what that means, I don't know anything about the Jedi."
Rui casts a glance between the two of them. "It looks like you two are gonna get along just fine. I'll see you round, then, Tano."
Ahsoka waves as Rui walks off, before she whirls on him, just as he turns on her, and in seconds they're both hissing at each other in Huttese.
"What were you thinking! She saw right through you, just because you had to go one up me where I couldn't defend myself!"
Her eyes go wide, disbelieving. "Oh, you're really going to pin this on me? You were the one who started playing stupid, you're supposed to have interacted with Vader at some point. What was that lie you sold everyone while you were him? Oh yeah, it was," And here, Ahsoka pitches her voice low and raspy, tucking her chin low and strutting around the hallway, her hands on her hips in what is definitely the most mocking iteration of his former self he's ever seen.
Not to say he's seen a lot of mocking iterations of his former self.
"My name's Vader, and I'm not like those other Jedi. I killed them. And I killed Anakin, because he was 'weak', and also I'm pretentious and mean and talk like an asshole."
It's equal parts horrifying to watch her totter around in the hallway and amusing, and he can't help the huff he lets out, nor the curl of a smile that pulls at his lips.
"Okay," he says, softly, and in basic. "Okay, I deserved that one."
Ahsoka stops and stares at him for a moment, before slumping, a weak smile on her face. "Yeah, you did. And don't forget it."
"I see you two have met up, finally," Rex's voice comes and they jump, spinning around defensively.
Ahsoka settles in at his back, familiar, and he can't help the tired, happy smile that crosses his face at that.
Rex holds up his hands. "Easy, you two. It's just me."
Ahsoka sighs and relaxes, stepping forward to stand back at his side. "Sorry, Rex, you know how it is."
"Yeah," Rex says, and there's amusement hovering in the lines around his eyes. "Don't worry, our friend, ah, Ben, here, told me enough."
"I doubt he told you the full story," Ahsoka mutters, shooting at glare his direction, and he winces.
"I, uh, didn't have time?"
Rex folds his arms across his chest, looking thoroughly unimpressed. "Really? Is that so, Commander?"
He jumps, looking around to see if there's anyone in earshot. "Keep your damn voice down, Rex!" he hisses, and Rex's eyebrows shoot up and he shares a look with Ahsoka.
"Oh, this is fun. I see why you used to do it so often."
Ahsoka's smirks, and it's so viscerally, overwhelmingly familiar. "Right? For all that talk, he's so easy to get riled up."
Rex laughs. "Oh, I know. You've been doing it since you two first met up. I was there for that, remember?"
Ahsoka looks at the ground and shuffles her feet, and it's so familiar, it's so much like it used to be, that he can't help it.
He laughs. Weak, unsteady, but really, truly a laugh. "Force be damned," he says then, soft, like a promise. "I kriffing missed the two of you."
Ahsoka leans against his side, and Rex claps a hand on his shoulder and shares a smile with him, and he wonders if this is what home, if this is what freedom feels like.
"Anakin," Ahsoka says later, because she really doesn't care about his cover, despite how he jumps and frantically looks around for anyone in hearing range. "Let's get drunk."
Rex laughs. "A good idea. I haven't been challenged to a drinking competition in years. I bet I can still kick both your asses."
Ahsoka smirks again, that curl of her lips and slant of her eyebrows. "You're on."
"You- you guys, you can't just- we can't just go and get wasted at the bar! Also, no one said anything about a drinking competition, Rex! And keep your voices down!"
And then Ahsoka turns to him, sly smirk still on her face, and she quirks one eyebrow up, her eyes still half lidded and smug. "What. Scared you're going to lose? You almost sound like Obi-Wan."
Sets his jaw.
"I'm going to kick both your asses. You're both going down."
And so, the three of them end up in one of the Rebellions many bars, going shot for shot with each other.
It starts off laid back, as it always does. The bartender hardly acknowledges their gossiping or their amusement at each other's old inside jokes.
"And then," he says, throwing back another shot. "And then, Halcyon said 'Does your curiosity stem from incompetence?'" he burps loudly and slams down his shot glass. "I was so kriffing mad. Like. Why the hell would you say that!"
Ahsoka and Rex burst out laughing, wheezing from their force of their delight.
"Oh, Nejaa. He never changes does he," Ahsoka says, wiping a tear from her eye.
He just grumbles into his whiskey, and orders another round from the bartender.
"Hey, hey!" Rex shouts at the rest of the bar, and they go quiet. "You know what I think? I think this calls for a toast to Commander Skywalker!"
"Yeah! To Commander Skywalker!" Ahsoka chimes in.
The rest of the bar erupts in cheering, and through the din, he can hear Luke's name popping up, and sure, they all think the toast is to Commander Luke Skywalker.
But he knows better.
"E chu ta," he curses at both of them. "You two are the absolute worst. I hate you both."
"Maaayyybe if you could hold your liquor better you wouldn't be in this position. This is because I'm kicking your ass."
He snorts into his whiskey. "Yeah, it's about the only thing you can maybe even come close to me in."
He looks over to where Rex is leading the bar patrons in a rousing rendition of a Clone-War era drinking song. He puts his head in his hands. "Rex doesn't know how to age properly, does he. No matter how old he looks, he's still a clone."
Ahsoka giggles. "That he is, Master. That he is."
"Commander. Commander," Rex says, leaning over into his space and swinging a free arm around him. "Commander, it's soooo good to have you back. Some of the boys put blasters to their heads because of the guilt. So that you. You and 'Soka are alive? It's enough. It's worth it."
He grins and slings his arms around Rex and Ahsoka, pulling them both into his sides. "Rex, I'm damn glad you're still kicking too. It's not a war unless you're here, is it now."
Ahsoka is giggling breathlessly, her face flushed from the alcohol, and Rex is laughing too.
"Maker, I must be getting old if Commander Skywalker just complimented me."
Immediately, he feels the spike of shock, anger, betrayal through the Force.
And he turns-
To meet Leia's horrified gaze head on.
"No," she says. "No, no no."
"Leia-" he starts, but she's turning, sprinting from the room. He pulls himself free from Rex and Ahsoka and shouts an apology over his shoulder as he tears after her, the Force purging the alcohol buzz from his veins. "Leia, stop! Please!"
He doesn't dare use the Force to compel her, she already hates him enough, hates him so much he can almost taste it in the air around them.
But, he is faster, years of battle-ready etched into his body, and with cybernetic legs that don't tire, he catches up to her, and grabs her by the wrist, pulling her into a side utility room. "Leia-"
She punches him. Hard. Across the face.
He stumbles to the ground, his ears ringing, trying to balance himself against the wall.
"How dare you!" she yells. "How dare you show your face here. How dare you spit bantha shavit at me about apologies and your children." Her voice is breaking, cracking under the weight of her anger, and he cannot bring himself to tell her otherwise.
Lying isn't who he is anymore.
"You're here as a spy, you have to be. All that poodoo about you being dead. You even had Boba fooled! And Luke- Luke is a fool, and you're only here to drag him down with you! You monster. You absolute-" she makes an inarticulate sound of rage and punches him across the face again.
He doesn't resist. Doesn't even try.
Just sways as his head cracks dangerously to the side, and pain blooms, bright and hot across his cheek.
She punches him again, and again, and he just takes it, until she jogs his oxygen tube loose.
Oxygen comes in thin, weak gasps, and he can see the way she flinches away from his rasping breathing that she can hear it. The old echo of who he was. The old echo of the suit, and he scrabbles to adjust the tube.
"Sorry," he rasps out. "Sorry I-" his breath is clogged in his throat, and his hands shake and shake and shake as he tries to right the twisted cord. His left eye is swelling shut and he can hardly see, but he must try.
Finally he manages to right the tube, and slumps back, sucking in deep breaths through his nose, his lungs stuttering, his hands trembling.
Through the Force, he can feel the fresh waves of rage, and pain, betrayal and hurt radiating from Leia, like salt rubbed in an open wound.
"I'm so, so, sorry, Leia," he rasps. "I know- I know I don't deserve to apologize to you, and I don't deserve your forgiveness, but I'm- I'm sorry."
"About what?!" she all but shrieks at him, the Force flaring violently around her.
"Everything," he rasps. "Absolutely everything, Leia. It's my fault, I know that. I couldn't save Alderaan, I knew Bail and Breha. I'm so sorry. I'm so-"
She punches him again and his tilts sideways, blood dripping from his nose, staining his oxygen tube red.
"I couldn't have stopped it if I wanted to," he whispers.
"You tortured me!" she shouts.
He can only nod, pain knotting tight around his heart.
"Did you. Did you know then?" she asks, and her hands are clenched into fists at her side, and her eyes burn like the dark wood of a forest on fire.
"No," he whispers. "I didn't know either of you existed until a two years ago. I only found out about you last year. I wouldn't have let them hurt you- I wouldn't have let anything hurt you if I had known you were my daughter."
"I was still someone's daughter," she snarls. "I was still someone." And she hits him again, and he just takes it. His nose is badly bruised, and aches like it's broken, his breathing stilted and uneven. His lips are split, and there's blood dripping down his chin, but he's been in worse ways than this, for worse reasons.
Leia takes in a deep, rattling breath, and flexes her fingers, curling them into fists and straightening them, as she tries to shake off the weight of her own suffocating anger.
"Why'd you hire Boba to protect us," she asks. Except it's not a question. Not really.
He grins, and it's an ugly, vicious thing. "The Emperor was going to try to kill you both. And I wasn't going to let that happen."
"Why," she demands, and there's frustration, and anger, and confusion written in her brow, her eyebrows pulling together just as Padmé's used to.
And truly, all the more the fool he is for not seeing it sooner. "Because," he says aloud. "Because, you are my daughter. And no matter how much you despise me, or wish me dead, or worse. I will always love you. And do everything I can to keep you safe."
"You killed other people's sons and daughters. You cut off Luke's hand!"
He looks at the floor. "I know. I've been taking what knowledge I have and what funds I have and paying reparations. Freeing the folks I can. It's not much, but I have to do something."
"Wobani. That was you?"
He nods once, still looking at his hands, where they rest, bloodied, against the cold durasteel floor.
Leia sighs out, and the anger around her evaporates in a rush, and he blinks, startled, as she crouches down and works on fixing his oxygen cord.
"I don't know if I can ever love you. Or even forgive you."
He shrugs a shoulder. "I expected as much," he rasps out.
Her hands are steady, strong, where they are pressing a batcha patch to the bruises on his cheek.
"Force, you look so much like your mother," he whispers.
Leia breathes in.
"Tell me about her. For real, this time."
Later, he limps back to his bunk, exhausted, battered, and drained.
He's asleep before his head even hits his pillow.
The old temple rises before him in his dreams, smoothed, and polished.
"Come here often, Anakin?" Obi-Wan's voice teases from behind him.
"Something like that," he says, and starts the journey up the many stairs.
On the Coruscanti horizon, the sun sets, painting the sky scarlet, fuchsia, and gold. Overhead, the indigo haze of the smoke is softened, gentled by the golden glow of the sinking sun.
He breathes in.
"It was home once," he says.
"It certainly was that," Obi-Wan responds from behind him. "But not any longer, I don't think. For either of us."
He glances back to catch Obi-Wan's gaze. "No?"
Obi-Wan's eyes go gentle, soft. "No, Anakin. My home has always been elsewhere. I've just been a fool for not realizing it."
He quirks a sad smile at his former master. "Yeah?"
Obi-Wan scoffs and folds his arms over his chest. "Did you really think turning to the dark side would get me off your back so easy? Did you really think even killing me would get me to stop nagging you? Honestly, Anakin, it's like you hardly know me."
He laughs then, a hiccupping awkward laugh. The memory of Obi-Wan disintegrating under the blow of his blade will always burn in his mind's eye. But Obi-Wan is laughing at him, in a kind, idiotic sort-of-way, and all he can really do is laugh along with him.
The inside of the temple is smooth, polished over, the tapestries rich in color, beautiful where they hang along the walls. The murals are vibrant, glittering in the soft light, and the holos of the old Jedi glimmer where they're framed along the sides of the halls.
At the end of the hall, Darth Vader lays, crumpled on the floor, the squeaking puff of his broken respirator loud, harsh in the still air.
He takes a step.
In moments he is at Vader's side, lifting the broken behemoth and moving him to prop him up against one of the columns.
"Easy now," he finds himself whispering. Vader's head lolls to the side, those cavernous eyes boring through him.
"Don't," Vader's voice rasps, and listening to the warp of the vocoder fade into his own vice sends chills up his arms. "Do not pretend to feel sorrow for me. It is your fault I have become this way. Leave me."
He sets his jaw. "I won't. I can't."
Vader laughs, and the grate of it is visceral, and blood soaked. "Then you are ruined, truly. Not dedicated enough to the light. Turning your back on the Dark. You are but a loaded blaster, and have no one to pull your trigger. No aim, no direction."
"No," he says softly, his hand still resting on that giant, armored shoulder. "I am not a weapon. I am a person."
Vader's hand shoots up and knots in the front of his clothes, dragging him down to stare into those red, red lenses. "Promise me," Vader husks. "Promise me you will not forget me. Forget what I am. Who you are, and what you have sacrificed, and what you have wrought to arrive here, in this life."
He curls his fingers around Vader's gloved hand. "I promise. I will not forget."
Obi-Wan makes a soft sound from behind them, and Vader's head turns to stare at him.
"Obi-Wan. My old friend," Vader rumbles then, and there's something smug in his voice. "Have you come to finish me off this time? Or have you come to clamp him back into chains?"
"Neither, actually," Obi-Wan says, brushing back his bangs in a posh, sophisticated motion. "I'm just here to admire the architecture."
Vader laughs like the ominous rumble of thunder on the distant horizon, and it trails into a wheezing, hacking cough. "Lies. You always did lie so easy, Obi-Wan." Vader turns his gaze back to him. "Promise me," Vader says again. "Promise me that this time, you will not be a slag. You will promise me that in this life, this time around, you will not be a slave."
He takes Vader's hand, and gently cradles the side of Vader's helmed skull in his other.
"I am a person," he says, soft, powerful. Confident.
The Force sings through the air, through his soul.
"I am a person, and my name is-"
I wanted this to end on a cliffhanger because as always, the story takes me places I don't expect to go. I hope you enjoy! I guess this story's getting extended out longer than I expected. It be like that sometimes, I guess.
Anyways, I hope you enjoy this quick bit! Let me know what you think!