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this too shall pass

Chapter Text

Flame

            And ruin

                        And pain

 

He knows agony beyond measure—a furious hurt so deep he is cooked to his marrow with it, blackened and charred to nothing but ash and misery. He knows hatred—so all-consuming he would sink his teeth into the corded tendons of his once master’s throat and rip them out like an animal if he knew he could watch him bleed out from it. He knows a hatred for himself that runs so pure and tantamount that death feels a tasteless benediction for what he’s done. It all feels terribly unreal, like a faraway nightmare, but he knows what he did to his wife, to those children—to his own child.

He knows heartbreak and loathing and despair as if he were made of nothing but flesh boiled off the bone and the muzzle over his face. He knows his very soul shredded to bleeding ribbons of darkness—he knows the force and the new despair and unending cold bleakness it brings, like the eternal vacuum of space, spinning forever around him.

 

“Anakin, you’re breaking my heart. You’re going down a path I can’t follow.”

 

            “Come back. I love you!”

                       

                        “Well then you are lost!”

 

                                    “You were my brother, Anakin. I loved you!”

 

He hates them—and he hates himself—and he hates and hates and hates till he is nothing but a black hole of all-consuming darkness and rancor and venom.

Anakin Skywalker once knew fear—but the boy he once was only knew a spark against the supernova of terror that lives in Darth Vader’s gutted and blistered heart. He is nothing but a walking corpse of it—a foaming mouthed monster with a bit in his teeth, held by the master he hates more than himself.

He is not just a Sith

            not just an abomination against everything he knew to be true

                        not just a betrayal against all he once loved more than life itself

                                    he is an empty suit of nothing

                                                but dust

                                                            and fear

                                                always

                                                           

                                                            fear.

 

And then Anakin Skywalker opens his eyes—and he is whole—and it is all a dream—and he lives it again.

oOo

 

Anakin opened his eyes and took a shuddering gasp as he flipped to his stomach and clawed at his throat, taking in panicked lungfuls of air so deep he gagged around them. “Oh!” He cried, sobbing, and heaving for oxygen that somehow came to his lungs as his chest rose and fell of its own bidding. And then he openly wept, hiccupping through wracking cries and hysterical hitches of breath while he held his throat and choked bile onto the bed.

It burned like acid past his cracked mouth and he pulled his lips back in some silent continuous and keening wail. Spit drooled from his bottom lip to join the tears and bile and he dug durasteel fingers into the mattress to keep from dry heaving around the turbulent and sick rolling of his stomach.

Padmé—” he screamed, “PADMÉ!”

The door flew open and she burst into the room, her hand on her pregnant belly. “Ani! Ani what’s the matter?”

He gagged around more bile and drool and sobbed out, “oh force—oh gods—Padmé—

She went to her knees by his side and her soft and gentle hands frantically went to his face. “Ani, what’s wrong?

The noise that crawled out of him came from an animal—wounded and frightened and afraid. “Mmmhghghh—where’s Obi-Wan?” He reached out and shook her. “Where’s Obi-Wan!”

She startled and yanked out from his durasteel hold, rubbing her shoulder with the same fear from Mustafar glimmering with tears in her eyes. “At—at the temple? Where else would he be? Was it a vision, Ani what’s happening?”

He rolled from the bed and yanked on his clothes, cinching the press of his tabards under his belt before he grabbed his saber hilt from the nightstand. “I have to go,” he rasped.

An odd look passed over her face, like cold trepidation, like she knew. She didn’t ask what for, didn’t ask why Obi-Wan or why he clipped his saber to his belt like that or why, past the spittle and tears, he wore fury like an old friend. She sat back on her haunches; legs parted to make way for the weight of her low hanging belly.

“Ani,” she said slowly.

“I don’t want to hear it,” he gritted, “I don’t want to hear anything you have to say.”

He still wore Anakin Skywalker’s face, still walked with both flesh legs, still retained one flesh arm and the skin on his body. He still filled his own lungs by his own volition and without the cage of a machine, and his wife still breathed too, but it was not gratefulness or relief that lit him inside—it was hate that burned cold, and a maul of darkness so deep the entire universe could be sucked inside of it and consumed by his rage.

He left his wife there on the floor of their apartment, with tears in her eyes in their bedroom—where they held one another and whispered their endearments, where they made love and he came inside her to create the life swelling her stomach.

But she lived and breathed and despite her betrayal she could wait. Obi-Wan Kenobi could not.

He found him pitifully easy in the Jedi temple, drinking a mug of morning tea as he read a datapad in his living space.

The door cracked against the wall with the strength it flew back, and he pulled Obi-Wan from his low couch and shoved him against the wall with a blue plasma blade to his throat before he could stutter a question. His eyes glinted huge and filled with bafflement, but still he looked at him with no fear—no hatred or disappointment or regret. He did not know the things that were done, did not know the breaking of their bond.

It did not matter that his wife lived and breathed, that Mustafar—somehow—had not yet come to pass, though he knew it would. Obi-Wan took everything from him, he—betrayed him, more than he could ever have thought, more than comprehension. He butchered him like meat to be sold at market and left him to char to ash, he left him to die. Coward—COWARD, that he could cut him apart and watch him scream and writhe in flames. This man had been his master, his brother, his friend, the other half of him—his everything. And through all of it, bleeding together, crying together, he touched his wife, he conspired behind his back and used him—lied to him. He betrayed him.

It ate at him like starship fuel in his chest, hotter than flaming anthracite and deeper than the midichlorians in the foundations of his atoms.

“I want you to know,” he snarled over the sizzling blue of his blade, staring into the glowing light within his once master’s eyes, “that I hate you—and I will always hate you.”

He slit his throat and cauterized the wound in one movement and Obi-Wan died with heartbreak written on his face.

oOo

 

He woke gagging and screaming and thrashed from the bed, hacking bile and foaming fury to the floor. His wife found him scrambling from the ground and seething from behind a snarl as he pulled on his clothes and grabbed up his saber and pushed past her. She stumbled against the wall and cried out, “Ani!” As she grabbed at her stomach in surprise.

He didn’t say a word as he wiped his mouth and left their apartment. He found Obi-Wan just the same, drinking his morning tea before the council meeting, before they chose him to leave for Utaupa and he made his decision to truly betray Anakin. He didn’t even give him the chance to set his tea aside in surprise before he drove his saber blade through his chest and watched him slump sideways on the couch with glassy and vacant eyes. The sunrise of his presence in the force winked out like a star shuttered from existence.

oOo

 

“Why won’t you stay dead?” He screamed, plunging plasma into his once master’s heart.

oOo

 

“Anakin,” Obi-Wan said unsurely, with Anakin’s hand wrapped ‘round his pale throat. He swallowed and the movement pressed against his sweating palm, the undulation of adrenaline he refused to show in his eyes. “Padawan—what are you doing?”

Anakin snarled and dug his fingers against the tender stretch of his throat, the vulnerable thud of his once master’s pulse fluttering against the pressure of his fingertips. He squeezed and watched Obi-Wan’s eyes widen fractionally, his force signature sparking with startlement and alarm. He bore his teeth at the feeling and drew on the tempest of the darkness around him to squeeze at his windpipe with the force and drive him further up the wall.

“Ana—”

“I hate you,” he choked out from behind his teeth, tears gathering hot and spilling down his cheeks, “I hate you.”

oOo

 

He woke sobbing and stayed on his back as he threw hands over his eyes and wept, body jerking with the racking and jolting cries. That dark hunger and blinding fury chewed on his insides like some creature lived behind his ribs and feasted itself on any happiness or peace he ever felt. It birthed hatred and anger from the goodness it consumed and the pull of that darkness sat like a heap of coals in his heart.

Past the panic and blinding shroud of confusion in his mind, past the open and oozing wound of himself, past his grief-stricken loss and horror—he tried to think. Four times he had woken and re-lived, though he knew to the very core of him that Mustafar transpired, that it was more than a nightmare beyond any other. The oily-slick darkness coiling inside him, the ease with which the dark side of the force tilted its head to his lazy beckoning, was proof enough of what he had done.

He felt greased by its hold on him, submerged and drowning in its suffocating miasmic glue. And that’s what is was, a pit of black tar for which there was no escape, no chance in the world of climbing out of.

He spared a brief thought of why and how he laid on his bed, why the force deemed to keep him here. It wanted him to fix his mistakes, he assumed, and one stood out the most. He rolled from the bed, pulled on his clothes, and grabbed up his saber, pushing past his wife as he left the apartment.

He found Darth Sidious in his office and the old man looked up from the datapad he read at his desk with that sickly smile plastered on his lined face. It seemed laughably obvious in that moment, the darkness around him, the façade of him, the coldness and unfeeling to his eyes.

“My boy!” He trilled, moving the pad to the side as he straightened in his seat, “how lovely to see you. I expected you to be meeting with the council about Utapau—”

Anakin didn’t give him the chance to finish speaking before he ignited his saber and plunged it through the bastard’s throat. Sidious choked one startled sound before his head lolled back limply. He wrenched the blade from his neck and watched his pale body slump to the floor as some staggering sense of relief filled him, twining with the darkness in his soul crowing at the victory of slaying his master and destroying the man who took everything from him.

The relief and despair and grief washed over him for only a moment.

oOo

 

He opened his eyes and screeched with fury, “NO NO NO—”

He lunged from the bed, pulled on his clothes, and grabbed up his saber to do it all again.

oOo

 

 

And again—

oOo

 

 

            And again—

 

oOo

 

                                    And again—

 

oOo

 

 

He opened his eyes and seethed, grinding his teeth around the fury bubbling in his mouth like bile. Perhaps—he admitted, he needed to think this through. Perhaps the force wanted him to undo a past decision made, to retrace his steps.

He sat on the edge of the bed and dropped his face to his hands, frantically thinking of how those days passed what felt like a lifetime before. It started with the council meeting in the morning, and then Obi-Wan, his wife, then Sidious, Master Windu, contemplation, Darth Vader, then the temple. And then death and flame and agony beyond the definition of language, beyond comprehension outside of that moment. And then a pain that ran deeper as loathing settled in his bones to twine with his marrow when he realized he failed, that his wife had died at his hand even—that their child—

Then again, maybe this was punishment. Some of the old religions in the Outer Rim believed in purgatory, a place to suffer and earn forgiveness for acts of wrong in the previous life. It felt only fitting, that the force thought to make him suffer the worst days of his life—over and over again.

“Ani?”

He lifted his head from his hands to eye his wife warily hovering in their bedroom doorway. Had he never noticed her cautiousness before, the hesitancy in the very way she held her body? There was fear in her eyes, he knew it well, watching her eyes glint back at him filled with terror while he pulled at the cords of her throat.

“Another bad dream?”

He fought a laugh. “A nightmare,” he grated out.

She hesitated and then crept into the bedroom to lower herself beside him, hand on her low belly as she plopped awkwardly from the weight. “My darling, they are just your fears plaguing your dreams.”

“I have many fears, but this nightmare made apparent ones I had never considered. I once feared your death more than anything in the galaxy.”

She cupped her belly and blinked at him with her wide, doe eyes. “Then what was the nightmare?”

“Betrayal.”

Her flinch told him all he needed to know, spoke of the things his wife and his once master had done behind his back. He wondered if they fucked in their bed, if Obi-Wan put his cock inside his wife where he sat, if he raked her nails down his back and moaned like she did for him. He wondered how they must have laughed, at how gullible, how easily manipulated and fooled he was, how desperately he wanted their love and attention. Obi-Wan must have lowered his head between his wife’s legs, here on the bed, and licked inside of her cunt and drew out sounds she never gave to Anakin. She must have fallen between his knees and taken him into her mouth and tasted his come down the back of her throat. He wondered if they loved each other.

“Did you fuck him here?”

Her mouth went slack for a moment before her expression went wholly horrified. “Ani—I never—what are you talking about?”

“Obi-Wan,” he said slowly, “did you fuck him in our bed?”

Her face slanted pale and horrified. “How could you ever think that? We love you, Anakin. I would never—Obi-Wan would never do that to you.”

He stood from the bed and left his wife sitting there with tears in her eyes as he pulled on his clothes and clipped his saber to his hip.

“I don’t want to hear your lies. I heard them before.”

“Ani—ANI!”

He left her on the bed crying and cursed Obi-Wan Kenobi’s name from his wife’s apartment to the temple. He found his once master just like the other mornings, drinking his morning tea before the council meeting. But instead of running him straight through with his lightsaber blade he hovered in the doorway and watched him for a moment while hatred ate a hole through his stomach like acid.

Obi-Wan glanced up from his datapad and smiled, though he looked bruised under his eyes and worn thin and frayed around the edges. “I was not expecting you so early.”

“Nightmares,” he rasped.

Obi-Wan set his tea aside with a grim expression. “Would you like to talk about it?”

His feet anchored to the floor and he stayed hovering in the doorway, watching Obi-Wan sit, relaxed with one boot propped on the opposite knee, without a care in the world. Stomach bile burned at the back of his throat and he swallowed around a mouthful of saliva.

“I dreamed you fucked my wife,” he took a step forward, “and then sought to be rid of me,” another step forward, “by cutting me apart limb by limb,” another step, “then left me to burn alive by a river of lava and then be locked in a metal cage.”

Obi-Wan blanched paler than a corpse and blossomed sheer horror into the force. “Anakin—”

“I don’t want to hear anything from you.”

Obi-Wan had the audacity to look hurt. “Anakin—I would never—”

“Don’t tell me that you would never,” the words ached as if choked from a raw and bleeding throat. “I know you would carve me apart and leave me to die because you’re too much of a coward to take my last breath with your own hands. Instead you would leave me to burn to death.”

It startled him a little to see open tears in Obi-Wan’s eyes. “Anakin you must be hurt terribly by these nightmares, but I would—”

He had his hand squeezed around Obi-Wan’s throat before his former master could strangle the words past his lips. He seethed from behind pulled back lips and clenched teeth, so close to Obi-Wan’s face that spittle flecked his cheek.

“You and the Jedi speak nothing but lies.

He squeezed and squeezed until he felt something crunch and Obi-Wan’s head lulled in a limp circle, like a puppet with cut strings, before he dropped his body to the floor.

He wept afterwards, over the corpse of his former master, until his face burned and swelled from endless wracking sobs, till mucous ran down his face and saliva flooded his mouth and strung from his lips. He felt utterly empty then—and wished the despair with its teeth in his soul would truly consume him until he was nothing. He wished the black hole of his rage might finally swallow him entirely so body and mind he could disappear into nothing.

oOo

 

Some things hurt worse than death. Opening his eyes and staring at his ceiling felt crueler than dying on that lava bank, felt just as despairing as watching the shadow of a black mask lower over the remains of his face. Hate bubbled inside of him like its own roiling river of magma, dripping fissures of golden flame into the spiderwebbed, busted open cracks of his soul.

That morning he made no changes. He dressed and clipped on his saber, sat quietly in the kitchen, and drank caf with his wife, who peered at him warily, unnerved by his silence. He attended the council meeting and spoke of his outrage and from behind clenched teeth, he apologized to his former master, who wished him farewell with a smile. He met with Darth Sidious—who fed his sugared lies, then returned to the temple to inform Mace Windu. He killed Maced Windu too, with far less guilt clawing at his insides than the first time. The feeling when he fell to his knees and earned the title of Darth Vader remained the same, though when he bowed his head the second time, he knew he deserved the aching despair in his heart, and his self-hatred burned somehow deeper as if soldered and beaten into the framework of his very being.

The temple—the temple did not feel the same as he ascended its steps with the emptied shells of his soldiers behind him. They felt, in the force, as gutted and scooped hollow of all emotion as he felt and so they stepped through the pillars as one, automatons pantomiming humans with souls.

He did not burn with the same rage as the first time, did not fuel himself from livid and sparking fury that chewed on the darkness around him. When he looked into the Jedi’s eyes as he slaughtered them, victory did not crow in his mind though the darkness coiled in its well-fed pleasure. He did everything he could to trace the same steps, to mimic the actions of a Darth Vader from a world before, but as he looked down, with tears slipping down his cheeks and listened to a small voice, filled with terror say, “Master Skywalker, there are too many of them, what are we going to do?” Something deep inside himself—deeper than his hate and fury and hurt—deeper than the darkside slithering its oiled promise in his ear—something inside himself flinched.

This he could not relive. This he could not pantomime.

Inside the cold and hollow cavern of his chest, something broke that had somehow not been broken before.

The temple and the younglings who cowered and hid in its underground tunnels still led him to Mustafar. He did not hold his wife with the same adoration when she fell into his arms and gripped his shoulders and said, “I was so worried about you. Obi-Wan—told me terrible things.”

“I’m sure Obi-Wan has told you many things,” he said.

He wants to help you. All I want is your love.”

“And yet love won’t save you,” he answered blankly, “and neither will I.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You die, Padmé,” he whispered, “because of me.”

She shook her head, “No, they’re just dreams, Anakin.”

He looked into his wife’s eyes and hated himself and he opened his mouth and hated himself more. “It isn’t a dream, Padmé, not this time.”

He didn’t have the heart to choke her to the ground as he did before, hardly had the heart to touch her at all. So when Obi-Wan descended the ship’s ramp, he brushed her aside and goaded his once master with the same words he had spoke before.

“I love you!” She cried as he engaged the plasma blade of his saber. “Please stop—don’t do this!”

Liar,” he snarled over his shoulder, “you are with him—and you turned her against me,” he cried, as Obi-Wan gazed at him with an expression of open horror.

Reliving the same hurts did not lessen them—did not lessen the agony of their betrayal. Somehow, he ached for their forgiveness to ignore the blood on his hands so that somehow, they might welcome him into their arms even as he could not forgive them for their own betrayals. Forgiveness was a fickle thing and he had no room in his heart to offer it, though he longed for it for himself all the same. But there was no forgiveness here, not ever, from them or for him and though rage and pain still clawed at his insides, like a dragon of frothing fury locked away behind his breastbone, he longed for an end to that too.

He lured his once master with the same words as before, “I have brought peace—freedom— justice, and security to my new empire.”

“You’re new Empire?”

“Don’t make me kill you.”

“Anakin my allegiance is to the republic—to democracy!”

“If you’re not with me—than you’re my enemy.”

“Only a Sith deals in absolutes. I will do what I must.”

“You will try—”

Somehow, watching the blue of his once master’s blade ignite felt just as shocking as it did the first time, that a part of him still—for the strangest reason, believed that Obi-Wan would stand with him no matter what. But Obi-Wan’s loyalty did not lie with him and in the moment that their blades clashed, he could not find it in himself to care. He was not here, after all, to make Obi-Wan pay for his disloyalty.

He found it a small thing really, opening his guard, practically tripping, or lunging onto the tip of his once master’s thrumming, plasma blade. It plunged a hole straight through his chest and had he not endured the agony of his limbs hacked from his body and his skin and muscles melted from the bones underneath, then he might have thought it the worst pain imaginable. He gasped around it as Obi-Wan made a far louder and wounded noise as he disengaged his saber and caught him as he slumped against him.

Obi-Wan lowered him to the lava rock and he groaned with it. It hurt, nothing like burning to cinders and waiting for death, but it hurt all the same. And maybe even more, Obi-Wan’s heartbroken and tear streaked face cut deeper than the hole in his chest.

“It wasn’t supposed to go this way. I was meant to walk away from you. Anakin I never—I could never—”

In that moment, for the first time in what felt like an eternity, he opened himself beyond the darkness of the force to feel his once master’s presence. He felt his agony too—though he welcomed the feel of pain that at last, was not his own.

“I know,” he breathed, like the relief of water to a throat singed by the desert heat. “I did it myself, so you wouldn’t have to—not again.”

And Obi-Wan wept and Anakin died at peace in his master’s arms, thinking finally and at last.

oOo

 

He opened his eyes and screamed, and when he wailed the words—

 

 I hate you—

 

I hate you

 

 they were meant to be heard by him alone.

 

He grabbed his saber from the nightstand and pressed the silvered hilt to his chest and hoped—with any hope he had left, that his own blade might actually end it all.

oOo

 

When his lightsaber did not work, he boarded a GAR vessel and when they breached the atmosphere of Coruscant, he stepped into an emergency airlock and sealed the doors.

Space did not ache nearly as cold as the emptiness in his own chest.

oOo

 

He placed a knife into his wife’s hands in their kitchen and went to his knees before her, pressing his forehead to the round swell of her belly, to let himself feel the warmth and flickering force light of his child. It was a selfish gesture he did not deserve, but he allowed himself the moment all the same. It was one selfish gesture out a lifetime of them after all.

He looked up at his wife, who betrayed him, who had loved and allowed the touch of another he loved just as fiercely as her. He looked at her and only hated himself.

“I want you to kill me,” he said.

She dropped the knife with tears in her eyes and cupped his face between her hands. “Ani—I could never. What’s wrong, my darling—tell me what’s wrong?”

He grabbed up the knife himself and slit his throat before she could scream.

He found the process much slower than dying from a lightsaber wound as he bled out across their floor. His wife screamed and held her hands over his gaping wound and called his name between her hiccupping sobs.

Bleeding out felt as cold as falling from an airlock, but not cold enough for what he deserved.

oOo

 

“Master Windu,” he went to his knees in the council chamber, as morning light filtered across the gathered Jedi masters, casting them in pastel and honeyed tones.

“I am the Sith Lord you are looking for.”

He could only look into Obi-Wan’s eyes to watch the bewilderment and fear play across his face.

The Jedi did not kill him as he wished—but they put too much trust in the clone trooper’s ability guarding his cell—and though he felt a blaster wouldn’t work any better than a lightsaber or a knife, the cold press of it under his jaw felt like a reprieve all the same.

oOo

 

He woke and spilled no tears, did not cry, or wail or curse the force or himself. Instead he felt nothing—utterly nothing—and he slipped on his clothes and left his lightsaber on the nightstand as he walked from his wife’s apartment.

He took a ship from the temple and left the hazy glow of Coruscant far behind him. Through the blackness of space and then the cerulean blurred lines of hyperspace—he still felt nothing. Through the ship’s jumps and the jarring intersection into Outer Rim hyperlanes he continued to fill nothing. A ringing stillness seemed to reverberate in his chest as he broke through the smeared brown atmosphere of Tatooine.

He felt nothing when he landed his ship outside of Mos Espa, amongst the wavering sand dunes that bled into feverish mirages on the horizon. And he felt nothing still as he walked the docking ramp and brushed past the outer buildings of a moisture farm that haunted his dreams and nightmares and memories.

He went to his knees on the scorching hot sand and looked to the twisted bit of durasteel that barely emerged from the ground, almost entirely covered after so many years. He thought that he might—feel something here—folded over on his mother’s grave beneath the blistering morning heat of twin suns. And perhaps he did feel something besides a cold and mind-numbing hollowness, though it was not tenderness he felt from his butchered mother’s memory.

He closed his eyes and wept precious tears onto the sand, wasted water that evaporated the moment it met the sun-scorched ground. He did not seek benediction from a long-buried corpse that sat beneath the ground because of him—there were many corpses buried courtesy of him after all—many times over.

But he gasped out, with open tears over his mother’s grave—

           

I’m sorry

 

And it was then that he finally understood that the words were not meant for his long dead mother, but himself. And he felt something besides emptiness under a twin sunrise—a longing for forgiveness, though he felt he had none to give.