Endor is vibrant in the wake of the Rebel victory against the Empire and the death of the Emperor. The news wouldn’t truly hit the rest of the galaxy until sometime in the following day, perhaps even the following week; regardless, it was bound to leave the government and the population in disarray.
In the meantime, those who had fought and lived to tell the tale celebrate drink to their fallen companions and laugh louder than ever before. Although the moon’s midnight had passed quite a few hours ago, with dawn making her swift approach, the festivity was still going strong -- and Anakin doubted the coming of the sun would abate the people’s spirits.
He pauses to laugh at the antics of a drunk man, hearing Obi-Wan chuckle beside him. The sound fills Anakin with a mixture of joy and sorrow -- joy, because he had always loved to hear it; sorrow, because the years he had gone without being graced by it had been his own fault.
Anakin looks at his old Master once again, taking the time to study his features. Obi-Wan had changed his appearance to match Anakin’s as the night progressed, presenting himself as the Jedi Master of twenty years ago.
Anakin had started to tease the other about the switch, but then he remembered everything he had done and stopped short. Obi-Wan had only smiled a small, sad little thing and accepted the silence with ease; even after all that had happened, he still refrained from asking for something he thought Anakin wasn’t ready to give.
And so they sit side by side in a part of the forest not touched by the celebration, close enough to watch it progress and far enough to not be truly bothered by the yelling and awful singing.
Anakin had caught glimpses of his children more than once as they weaved a path amongst the others, receiving congratulations and heartfelt thanks at every turn. He’s proud of the people they are now, even though he has no past versions of them in his memory for comparison -- no way to point out the many ways they’ve grown and matured.
Even so, he can’t help but think about how young they are, already bearing the weight of the world on their shoulders. A part of him points out that at their age he had been fighting in the Clone Wars, already in the way to become half of the most well-known duo at the time, with the other half fighting right there at his side.
Hypocritical as it may be, Anakin clings to his observation. He doesn’t think he’d be able to let go of it even if he tried -- they are his children, after all, and he’s pretty sure that this protective instinct comes with the territory more often than not.
In the distance, he sees a familiar blond head turn towards them and start making their way closer. Luke smiles and ignores the calls of his name as he walks unhurriedly to the corner in which Obi-Wan and Anakin sit.
Anakin flails internally as he watches his son approach. How do I greet him? This would be the first time they exchanged words after what happened on the Death Star -- after he died. Does he even have to right to call Luke ‘son’, after all that’s happened? Force, he wants to; but he would not assume to have such liberties.
So when the boy finally reaches them, smiling genuinely -- and sparing a briefly surprised glance to Obi-Wan’s appearance -- Anakin doesn’t take the risk of somehow insulting him.
“Hello, Luke,” he greets, seeing the boy’s eyes widen marginally at the sound of his voice, so different from how it had been as Vader.
“Hello Father, Old Ben,” Luke greets back. Obi-Wan tilts his head in reply, but Anakin is too busy basking in what Luke had called him to truly notice.
“I feel like you may have things to discuss, so I will take my leave,” Obi-Wan says, standing up. His lips curl when Anakin turns to him abruptly.
Anakin reasons that he’s probably seeing the slight panic at being left alone with Luke that surged upon hearing those words. Two decades spent almost entirely in a full body suit had left Anakin out of practice when it comes to hiding his emotions; he is most likely an open book to the older man due to all the years they spent together -- before Mustafar.
He does his best to bring his face back to a neutral expression, finding it in himself to smile before Obi-Wan disappears to… wherever Force ghosts go when they’re not in the material world. Anakin hasn’t done that yet to know.
“Thanks for the company, Master,” he says, feeling a spark of pleasure at seeing Obi-Wan’s shock due to the use of his old title. Then the man smiles, fond and content.
“Whenever you have wish for more of it, just call upon the Force for me and I shall appear,” Obi-Wan says, tilting his head once more before fading out of sight.
The silence he leaves in his wake is uncomfortable, to say the least. Anakin stares down at his hands as Luke fidgets in place until he finds the will to ask if he may sit on the spot Obi-Wan had just vacated. Anakin fumbles to give him permission, cursing his awkwardness in the aftermath.
The party feels even farther away now, as Anakin’s focus shifts inwards. He scours his brain in search of something to say -- of a subject that would be more or less safe to breach; a path without any eggshells or glass shards to slice at his feet.
It’s a fruitless endeavor, as expected. All it does is lead him again and again to the topics that would be best left alone; to the well-known spirals of ‘what if’s that at times seem to exist solely to torment him. But the silence and the pressure to say something, anything, are too much to bear, and so Anakin throws himself into the gundark pit all the same.
“I looked for you in the databases,” he starts, in a volume that is barely above a whisper. “Once I knew you were still alive and saw you with Obi-Wan, that is. It took some digging -- Tatooine is too far from the Core to be as stringent with IDs and the like as the Inner and Mid Rims are but, eventually, I found you.”
Luke shifts in place, uncomfortable, and says nothing. Anakin remembers that a similar search had led to the address of the Lars homestead, and consequently to the death of the boy’s aunt and uncle -- an order Anakin himself had given -- and feels the first glass shard pierce his skin.
Still, Anakin continues. “There are so many things that I regret. So many things I ought to apologize for, so many people I’ve hurt, so many choices I wish I could undo. Even if I live -- or, well, exist… for another thousand years, I would still not deserve their forgiveness. Even if I did everything in my power to make things right, it would still forever pale in comparison to all the wrong and bad things I’ve done.
“And I know that it’s probably unfair to unload this on you after all that’s happened. I should be begging for your forgiveness, not burdening you even further. But I… I would like to ask you one thing, if you are willing to tell me the answer.”
Luke nods after a beat, turning in his seat to make eye contact with Anakin.
Anakin smiles, bittersweet. “Did you ever feel the pull of gravity, back on Tatooine? The urge, the longing to leave, to explore -- to visit every planet and every moon you possibly could?”
Luke lowers his head and laughs once, short and rueful. “Every hour of every day. It was always there, almost like a physical weight in my chest,” he says, scruffing his boot on the ground.
Anakin looks up to the brightening sky, letting his eyes catalogue every speck, every star. “I felt it too, when I was a child. Granted, I felt it for considerably less time than you did -- I was only nine when the Jedi crashed on Tatooine; but I did,” he sighs. “It’s a terrible thing, to know how that feels.”
Luke breathes out what might have been a ‘yes’, and one of his hands starts to poke at the rotting bark they sit upon. Anakin’s mind continues to spiral.
“If I had done things differently, you wouldn’t have had to feel it,” he blurts out eventually. “You could have grown up as a Senator’s son, knowing you had a sister, and travelled as much as you wanted. You wouldn’t have been locked in between the weight of family and the pull of gravity; yearning to leave but unable to take off. Force, there are so many things that would be different if only I hadn’t screwed up so spectacularly,” he laughs mirthlessly.
Luke fidgets more, scraping off some moss if only to have something to do.
“Your mother would still be alive, as would so, so many others. Obi-Wan wouldn’t have had to all but exile himself to Tatooine, to keep watch over you. The galaxy wouldn’t be this fractured, almost broken thing,” Anakin says, letting the familiar self-loathing drag him down its depths.
“You don’t know that,” Luke points out after a minute. “There’s no way to guarantee that everything would be alright, if you had chosen differently back them. Maybe it was all bound to happen, one way or another.”
“Even if that’s the case, the fact that I was the catalyst to all this mess -- in this reality, in this universe -- doesn’t change. It doesn’t lessen the fault that rests on my shoulders, or the blood the stains my hands. Doesn’t erase the countless consequences of my choices,” Anakin shakes his head slightly, watching as his hands clench and unclench. “My legacy to the galaxy and my heirlooms to you and your sister remain the same.”
“Maybe so,” Luke concedes. “But we’re here now. Today we’re celebrating, and eventually we’ll all be caught up in helping the galaxy get back on its feet. After that, who knows?” he shrugs. “We have the opportunity to make things better, to learn from the past -- and dwelling on how things could have been won’t help us with that.”
Anakin smiles, feeling pride rise in his chest once more. To hear something so wise come out from someone so young -- from his son -- gives him hope for the future. Anakin isn’t stupid enough to think that the galaxy will never recover from the wounds left by the Empire, of course -- but to see how skillful and resilient his children’s generation is makes him think that those wounds will heal and fade away into scars faster than expected.
“You’re right,” Anakin admits. “Going down that path gives us nothing of use -- I know that quite well, and yet…”
“We all have our moments of weakness. We just have to make sure they’re just that -- moments.”
Silence falls upon their little corner of the forest once again. This time, however, it isn’t nearly as awkward as before; Anakin would dare to say that it’s almost comfortable, even. The sounds of the celebration are brought back into focus -- a quick glance to the sky confirms that dawn had already come and gone, making Anakin’s smile grow.
“They won’t be stopping any time soon, will they?” Anakin asks, gesturing to the dozens of people still wide awake and partying.
“Probably not. It might take them a few days to simmer down completely,” Luke chuckles.
“I certainly don’t blame them for it,” Anakin says. Luke nods.
After a few more minutes of quiet, Luke speaks up.
“Father, I… I was wondering if you’d mind telling me some stories from your time as a Jedi? Uncle Owen used to tell me you were just a navigator on a spice freighter, and all Ben got to tell me was that you were a Jedi Knight that fought in the Clone Wars.”
Anakin blinks, momentarily taken aback by the request, then grins. “I wouldn’t mind at all. There are plenty of stories to tell -- some of them feature Artoo and Threepio, even, though I don’t think that will be very surprising if you’ve been around them for any period of time,” Anakin chuckles.
“It’s not very hard to imagine them getting into trouble,” Luke nods, smiling wide.
“One time, your mother was organizing a party for another Senator, and Artoo forgot to buy fruit to use in a dessert. So we send the two of them to buy it....”