"Ben. Ben, listen to me. Ben! Grandson! Kid, Kylo Ren, whatever, look -- will you just listen to me for one kriffing second? Ben Organa, I'm talking here. Obi-Wan Chewbacca Organa, you are going to listen to me or so Force help me..."
Ben was Not Listening to Anakin. He was Not Listening so hard that he wasn't even aware of Anakin's presence, which meant Anakin had a front row seat to all of Vader Junior's temper tantrums and nothing he said or did had any effect.
Anakin was never telling Obi-Wan how much he empathised with him, now that Anakin was the one a whiny rage-monster wasn't listening to.
Obi-Wan would have kept trying to reach out to Ben, like he'd kept reaching out to Anakin. As a ghost, Obi-Wan had had no more luck than Anakin currently had.
Could Anakin get Luke to talk to Ben?
No. That was how they'd gotten into this mess in the first place -- because Ben wouldn't listen to anyone who wasn't Darth Vader. Anakin, despite having the very dubious honour of being the only person to have ever been Darth Vader, apparently did not qualify.
He'd just have to find someone who looked the part enough to qualify as a Person Ben Organa Will Listen To.
So far the criteria seemed to be: Tall, Evil, Has A Cape (the amount of trouble Ben had gone to in order to retrieve one of Vader's capes was both impressive and deeply creepy), Wears A Mask (ditto with the creepy) and Not Anakin.
Phasma fit all of these, so she was his first try. He manifested in front of her. "Hey."
"You have five seconds," Phasma said, blaster aimed at his head.
"It's about Kylo Ren --" The blaster bolt went right through Anakin's head. He raised an eyebrow. "Ow."
Phasma just stared.
"Joke," Anakin said. "No? Okay."
Phasma shot him again, right through the heart. It wasn't any more pleasant than when she'd shot him through the head. It didn't hurt, it was just deeply unpleasant in a plasma-hot kind of way.
"You have to tell Kylo Ren I'm very disappointed in him," Anakin said. Force help him, he sounded like Obi-Wan.
"I will do no such thing," Phasma said. She put on her helmet and that was the end of that conversation.
Obi-Wan, Anakin decided, deserved a fucking medal.
Phasma was the only person aboard Starkiller Base besides Ben -- excuse me, "Kylo Ren" -- who had not gotten the memo that capes had gone out of fashion when the Republic had. Anakin was blaming Darth Vader for both of these and for why his plan of finding someone who fit the criteria of Tall, Has A Cape and Wears A Mask was not working out so far.
The closest thing to a cape anyone who might listen to Anakin was wearing was the coat from Whatshisface, the base commander. He didn't wear a mask, but two out of three wasn't that bad.
Anakin passed a hand in front of the man's eyes, to no reaction whatsoever. Being dead and a ghost didn't mean he couldn't be offended by this; he got far too much of that from Ben. (If Ben wanted to be like Vader so much, he could take a datapage from Vader's holobook and at least react to the ghost trying to lure him away from the Dark Side -- and while he was at it, he could go right to the ending of said holobook and skip everything but the redemption.)
Anakin cleared his throat.
General Ginger twitched but refused to turn to look at Anakin.
Blast it! Anakin was going to have to remember the man's name. Flux Capacitor? Close, but no. Hux -- whatever, Hux would have to do.
"Hux," Anakin said.
"State your business," Hux said. He still wasn't looking at Anakin and he probably wouldn’t even see him if he turned to look, but at least he was listening.
"Kylo Ren --" and that was as far as Anakin got before Hux was off on a rant of his own.
It was more than just a rant. It was A Rant, capitals well deserved. It was long, it was bitter, it was punctured pride getting prickly, it blamed Vader for everything about 'Ky Loren', it involved the phrase "lifts in his boots for the sole purpose of being taller than me".
Anakin checked out five minutes in. No one was worth this amount of whining.
Trying to find somebody who Had A Cape and listened to him had been a complete bust, so now Anakin was down to Tall and Wears A Mask. Luckily, Starkiller Base was staffed by about 90% Stormtroopers, so there was no shortage of people filling both of these criteria.
Yay. Woohoo. And other expressions of unbridled joy.
Anakin kept thinking he saw people he knew from back in the Clone Wars, or from when he'd been Vader, but of course all of the Stormtroopers from that time were dead. Much like Anakin himself.
Possibly there was an excellent reason for that and maybe trying to do it all over again Once More With Feeling! -- like feeling hadn't been exactly the problem the first time -- was a very bad idea, do you hear me, Ben?
Anakin was starting to understand why Obi-Wan had stopped talking to Vader and started monologuing at Vader at one point. Anakin hadn't even been monologuing at Ben, just a random Stormtrooper, who'd jumped when Anakin had shouted at the end there.
Anakin sidled up closer to the Stormtrooper. "'Sup?"
"There's no one there, there's no one there, there's no one there," the Stormtrooper said, like a datatape stuck on a loop.
"Wow," Anakin said, "rude."
The Stormtrooper turned around and surveyed the room. "There's no one -- Why are you blue?"
"Because I'm dead," Anakin said. He hadn't expected that line of questioning. The odds of a random Stormtrooper being Force sensitive enough to see him were so low that -- yeah, because the Force cared so much about odds.
"I'm sorry," the Stormtrooper said and tried to pat Anakin on the shoulder.
Despite what Yoda had to say about trying and doing and doing not, the Stormtrooper was very much trying. Anakin was incorporeal though, so his hand kept going through.
"I'm sorry," the Stormtrooper said a second time. He had better not be getting stuck on loop again.
Anakin shrugged. He squinted at the trooper, trying to find a call sign or something. Padmé always said asking people to do things worked better when you used their names. Not that troopers had names, technically, but Anakin wasn't about to be picky.
"I'm FN-2187," the trooper said. He was still wearing the mask, but Anakin could hear the brilliant wide smile behind it -- like being a nameless cog in a mass-murdering machine was anything to be proud off. Where would the galaxy be if Anakin decided to be proud of having been Vader?
Even when he'd been Vader, Anakin hadn't been proud of it, so why was Ben, huh? Leia was smart. It was all Solo's fault.
"Look, FN-2187," Anakin said, "can you do me a favour?"
"Doing favours for dead people is against regulations," FN-2187 said. "Captain Phasma published the memo three days ago. I'm not even supposed to be listening to you."
This was supremely unfair, so Anakin decided to try desperate measures. Desperate times and all that.
"Please?" he asked, trying to imitate Obi-Wan at his most convincing as best as he could.
FN-2187 shook his head sadly and walked off.
Screw the medal, Obi-Wan deserved a blasted trophy.
Anakin couldn't even blame Ben murdering his way through a desert village on Vader, because he'd done that before he was Vader. This sucked.
Anakin kept ranting at Ben and Ben kept Not Listening. Eventually, Anakin settled on glaring holes in the back of his head to no greater success.
Next up on Ben's internal Jukebox of Darth Vader's Greatest Hits was "Ineffectually torture a Resistance prisoner". Anakin clapped slowly once Ben exited in a huff, because that had been very poor form. Look. If his grandson was going to torture random people, he should at least do it properly. This family had a reputation to upload.
"You are the worst good cop ever," the prisoner said. "Seriously. You're Darth kriffing Vader."
Anakin looked down at himself. He was still Anakin Skywalker; his only prosthetic a single hand.
"How do you know that?" Anakin didn't bother asking how the prisoner could see him, despite having all the Force sensitivity of a brick; the man was half-dead.
"The general has a holo of her birth family -- she showed it to me once, when I asked why Ben's name was so weird. There's you, there's her mom and there's Old Ben Kenobi," the prisoner said.
Anakin was pretty sure he knew exactly what holo that was -- it had been a rare calm evening during the war, just the three of them and the golden Naboo sunset. If Leia only had one picture of them, Anakin was glad it was that one.
"His name's Obi-Wan," Anakin said.
"Mine's Poe. You going to get on with the interrogation?"
Poe conveyed disbelief with every line of his body, which was pretty impressive given how tied down he was.
"I won't hurt you," Anakin said. Ben was very unlikely to listen to his prisoner, but Anakin had to try.
"I have my doubts," Poe said.
Why was no one believing him when he said that? It wasn't fair!
"I couldn't even if I wanted to. I'm a ghost!" Anakin shook his arms. "Boo."
"I'm bored with this hallucination, now. If I'm going to hallucinate long dead Jedi, I want to hallucinate the hotter one," said Poe.
"You're afraid," Ben's current prisoner told him, because it was apparently Amateur Hour At the Torture Chamber. "You're afraid you'll never be as strong as Darth Vader."
Yeah, Anakin could have told her that. To Ben he said, "Darth Vader was a sad, pathetic, bitter mess of a human being who only ever did one admirable thing. That's nothing to aspire to."
The prisoner's eyes flickered briefly towards Anakin, but Ben remained, as ever, Not Listening, and left in a fucking huff, because why not, I guess.
The girl made the trooper release her and Anakin rushed after her. She looked a bit familiar and was blazing in the Force so hard that he just knew Obi-Wan was going to laugh him right out of the afterlife, if he ever learned Anakin had missed the obvious. Obi-Wan was never finding out.
"Go left," Anakin said and the girl went right.
"I know you can hear me," Anakin said.
"You're Darth Vader," the girl said.
And to think the fact that Anakin Skywalker was Darth Vader had once been the galaxy's closest kept secret.
"So you want me to go back to Darth Junior."
"Do not. But even if I did, I could just tell you to go in the opposite direction to the one I want you to go in, so let's save us both the hassle."
The girl narrowed her eyes at him and when he said "Go right" she went straight ahead.
+1 (or: Obi-Wan)
The Force sang like it had not sang in years; it was a deep, resounding note that dug into your bones and echoed there.
It reminded Anakin of Mustafar, the perfect clarity of it.
Out there in the forest, out there in the snow, his ancient lightsabre, the accursed, bloodied thing, had flown through the air into the girl's hand and the Force sang.
Ben and the girl fought and oh yes it was exactly like Mustafar. The air was thick with snow and burning cold, not ash and scorching heat, but the harsh, implacable will of the Force was exactly the same and Anakin couldn't take it anymore.
"Don't," he told the girl.
She was looking at Ben, lightsabre in her hand, hatred in her eyes and deadly grace in her predator stalk. The Force wrapped around her, clung to her skin like sweat or snow or ash. Anakin had been on the receiving end of a similar stare, once.
"He doesn't deserve it." Anakin couldn't quite tell if he meant Kylo Ren didn't deserve to die or if he didn't deserve the girl's mercy. There had been mercy, on Mustafar. Look where that had gotten Anakin. Look where that had gotten the galaxy. For all their faults, the Sith knew nothing of mercy.
Kylo Ren deserved no more mercy than Vader ever had.
He closed his prosthetic hand against his shoulder. His arm felt living and whole under his fingers. He let his hand drop and squared his shoulders. Beneath his feet, the ground split open.
"Obi-Wan," Anakin said. "I know you're here." It had better be the real Obi-Wan and not just echoes of him on Mustafar Anakin was feeling in the Force, or this would be really embarrassing.
"Anakin," Obi-Wan said from behind him. It was fond and it was kind; Anakin wanted -- deserved -- neither.
Anakin turned around to face Obi-Wan. "You're old."
"And you're not." There was a note of accusation to it. He deserved that, Anakin knew.
"I can go Full Vader, if you want," Anakin said, letting the mechanical rasp of Vader's artificial monotone slip into his voice, making it sound raw, as if from endless screaming.
"I'd rather you didn't," Obi-Wan said.
"I thought as much," Anakin said, while at the same time Obi-Wan said, "I'd rather you never had."
"Way harsh, dude," Anakin said, before he could think better of it. As always, he was acting before he thought. You would have thought being Vader would have taught him patience, if nothing else. You would be wrong.
"Anakin," Obi-Wan said again and if it was still fond, it was at least a little exasperated too.
Obi-Wan pointed behind Anakin, who turned around to see Kylo Ren bleeding in the snow, black on red on white.
"You can try talking to him," Anakin said. "Might listen to you more than me."
Obi-Wan flickered and took a step back as if struck. Bantha poodoo. Anakin and his big mouth had once again framed things the worst possible way.
"Because he hasn't been listening to me, not because I didn't listen to you, -- I mean, obviously I listened to you, but clearly I wasn't listening enough or else I wouldn't have become a Sith Lord --" some small part of Anakin's brain was yelling at him to shut up, but Anakin had gotten really good at ignoring that voice "-- awesome family tradition we got going there, by the way, A++ legacy, Skywalkers -- I mean you trained Luke too and did Luke end up a Sith Lord?" He paused for breath. "No, he did not."
"Arguably, much like the going into exile, it tends to skip generations," Obi-Wan said.
"Arguably, one could consider going Dark Side a form of exile," Anakin replied.
"Arguably," Obi-Wan said.
There was a great silence and Kylo Ren bled out onto the snow while the girl ran for safety. His breathing was laboured, wheezing -- maybe his mask would actually serve a purpose now, Anakin thought viciously.
Around them the planet broke apart, like Alderaan in slow motion.
"Thank you," Anakin said, finally.
Obi-Wan was silent. The silence hung between them like snowflakes fluttered in the too still air, like ash on Mustafar, like sand on Tatooine.
"For everything," Anakin said. "For making me a Jedi, for making Luke a Jedi, for being there for Padmé when I --"
His voice caught and crackled like Vader's breathing apparatus, the air smelled of burning flesh and Obi-Wan's eyes were the same, kind and sad. Anakin looked away.
"When I couldn't," he finished.
"You were --" Obi-Wan started.
"If you say 'you were my brother, Anakin', I will fucking punch you," Anakin said.
"If you strike me down," Obi-Wan said and Anakin's metal hand went right through his head, to no avail. Obi-Wan continued, "I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."
"I am trying to have a conversation here," Anakin said. He rubbed his flesh thumb against the knuckles of his synthleather glove.
"Good job," Obi-Wan said.
"Like you're so great at those, Mr Agressive Negotiations."
"That's Jedi Master Agressive Negotiations to you, Anakin."
What Obi-Wan seriously pulling rank? The nerve on him. "And that's Lord Vader to you."
A small squad of Stormtroopers passed between them at a run and went to check on Kylo Ren. The ground opened again and one of them fell through. Anakin tried not to think of Rex or any of the clones who had been his friends, before Order 66 had turned each of them into just as much of a puppet for Palpatine as he had been.
Talking about puppets. Kylo Ren was picked up and carted away.
"I'm sorry," Anakin said. "For becoming Vader, for being me. You didn't fail me. I did."
"I did my best," Obi-Wan said. "Sometimes it's not enough."
Anakin nodded. The road to the Dark Side was sometimes paved with good intentions; in his particular case, he'd slipped down that slippery slope so hard he'd given himself whiplash.
"I lost my way on Mustafar just as much as you did," Obi-Wan said.
Anakin laughed. He laughed and laughed and laughed, like he hadn't since the war began -- the Clone Wars, not Palpatine's sham civil war against the Rebellion. Finally, he stopped laughing and said, "Not even Yoda was as great a Jedi as you were."
"Did you think I was being kind, on Mustafar?"
"You let me live."
"I let Vader live. That was kindness to no one, not even me, least of all you."
"If you hadn't, I'd never had met Luke," Anakin said. He touched his fingers to his throat, just because he could, just to prove they were still there.
"If I hadn't, Luke wouldn't have been necessary," Obi-Wan replied, looking as old as he had when Anakin, as Vader, had killed him.
Anakin flinched. If this was what Obi-Wan thought of Luke, as nothing more than a necessary piece on a board, what did that make Leia? What did that make Anakin? You could take the man out of the Jedi Order, but you couldn't take the Jedi Order out of the man.
"I destroyed the Sith," Anakin said. "Not Luke."
"You would not have done it without Luke there. You were always kinder to others than to yourself," Obi-Wan said. No one had ever accused Vader of being kind before. Obi-Wan continued, "You were too kind and I not enough."
"We better stick together, then, so we can average as normal."
"I suppose we must." Obi-Wan smiled. It had been a long time since such a smile had happened. Perhaps since Mustafar. Perhaps earlier, as the war had worn on -- perhaps Mandalore had done sounded the knell for those smiles. Perhaps it had been something as simple as the words "General Kenobi". It was a welcome respite from the war to see Obi-Wan smile now.
Around them the Starkiller finished falling to pieces, slower than Alderaan, faster than the Death Star. Vader smiled back. Their war was over.
Some mercies he could be thankful for.