Title: The Fatal Hour Author: devilinthedetails Timeframe: Saga-PT. Set before TPM, during TPM, before AOTC, and during AOTC. Characters: Anakin Skywalker; Shmi Skywalker; Obi-Wan Kenobi; Padme Amidala; Owen Lars; Beru Whitesun; Cliegg Lars Genre: Family, Tragedy, General Summary: The fatal hour approaches for Anakin and his mother. Author's Note: Written for the Songs of the English Theater Restoration Challenge. My prompt was Henry Purcell's "The Fatal Hour Comes on Apace." Parts appearing in parenthesis and italics are lyrics from the song I have incorporated into my story and used as inspiration for this fic. Special thanks to @Findswoman for offering this challenge since this story would never have been written without the Songs of the English Restoration Theater Challenge! The Fatal Hour (“The fatal hour comes on apace…”) Anakin lingered in the communal courtyard of the slave quarters, hunched over the contraption he hoped would one day be a Podracer long after the twin suns had set in the Tatooine sky and after all his friends had scampered off to play games after assuring him in the most mocking of terms that his Podracer would never fly. Unfazed by their taunts and the growing darkness as night fell over Mos Espa, he tinkered steadily until his mother called from the doorway to their quarters, “Come in now, Anakin. It’s time for you to go to sleep!” “Coming!” he shouted back. Pleased with the evening’s progress on his most ambitious project, he covered his future Podracer with a tarp and collected his medley of tools to be brought into his room to rest beside him as inspiration as he slept. He ran inside, buoyed by visions of completing his Podracer and going onto win enough races that he could buy his freedom and then his mother’s from Watto. There weren’t many paths to freedom for slaves on Tatooine, but the Podraces were one of them. It was just that there had never been a human good enough to finish nonetheless win a Podrace, but Anakin was determined to change that so he could alter his fate and his mother’s. He dashed across the threshold into the softness of his mother’s waiting arms. Wrapped around her in a good-night hug, he heard her murmur, “You weren’t meant to be a slave. You were born to be far more than a slave. I can feel it in my bones like Jira can an approaching sandstorm.” “Nobody was born to be just a slave.” Anakin clung tightly to her as he did his visions of freedom. “I’m going to win enough Podraces to earn my freedom and then free every other slave on Tatooine. I’ve seen it in my dreams.” “Then let’s hope your dreams come true, son.” She held him at arm’s length to tap his nose affectionately, but her sad smile told him that she hated to see him Podrace because she believed he was more likely to die than win doing it. He knew that his mother was only pretending to believe in his dreams because she couldn’t stop Watto from ordering him to Podrace in pursuit of the credit Watto could win off him. She was bravely facing what she was powerless to change as she always did. (“Which I had rather die than see…”) Anakin tried to remember his mother’s words about how he couldn’t stop the change any more than he could stop the suns from setting as he followed Qui-Gon away from her, but that only made him more resolved to defy the destiny that seemed determined to rip them apart. Hurrying back into the sanctuary of her arms that he realized he never wanted to leave, he only pulled away from her to remove his backpack and declare—tearfully and with a wobbling chi rather than a proudly uplifted one as he had planned—“I can’t do it, Mom. I just can’t do it.” “Annie.” She stared into his eyes with a sorrow that said he had to do it—he had to leave her as a slave on Tatooine. “Will I ever see you again?” Anakin could feel his face and heart crumbling like a smashed sand castle. He hated how small he sounded since it seemed to affirm to his own ears how insignificant he was in a cold universe that didn’t care if he lost someone he loved with all his heart. “What does your heart tell you?” she asked as she always did, encouraging him to trust in his impossible dreams and deepest feelings. “I hope so.” Anakin found that for the first time he couldn’t trust in his broken heart or his now empty dreams. Sniffling, he choked out the words he sensed she wanted to hear, “Yes. I guess.” “Then we will see each other again.” She gave him a slight smile that faded swift as memory. “I will come back, Mom.” He wanted to make her and him believe in his dreams again. “I promise.” She cupped his cheek, brushed his shoulder, and then stared at the sand before lifting her gaze to his again. “Now be brave and don’t look back.” The doubt must have shown in his eyes, because she repeated more firmly, “Don’t look back.” Determined to make her proud of how brave he could be in the face of things he couldn’t change just like she was, he slung his backpack over his shoulder and allowed her to steer him around so his back was to her as he strode after Qui-Gon. He wouldn’t look behind him, he told himself. He would only look ahead until it was time for him to meet her again face-to-face. That was what she would want him to do. (“For when fate calls you from this place, you go to certain misery…”) Anakin dreamed fitfully of his mother in nightmares that were so real he knew they were truly happening on an Outer Rim world nobody on the bustling ecumenopolis that was Coruscant. She was tied to a pole, tears streaming down her bloodied face as she called out his name through cracked lips…She needed him to rescue her, and he wasn’t there to save her, an inexorable destiny of failure… Screaming in silence, heart pounding in the cavity of his chest, he woke in a cold sweat. Throwing his suddenly stifling blankets off him, he rose from his sleep coach and stumbled from his room into the common area of the quarters he shared with Obi-Wan. He massaged his temples as he thought that nothing his Master had suggested to banish these nightmares had worked. Not training to the point of exhaustion. Not studying until his eyes blurred the words of the holobook beneath his nose. Not meditation that tried to replace his inner turmoil with calm. Of course he didn’t want to lose his inner turmoil any more than he wished to banish his nightmares, he realized, alone in the dark where he could be truthful with himself at last. His turmoil was proof of his endless guilt and sorrow at leaving his mother in slavery, and he wouldn’t want to push away the nightmares that had to be the only plea for salvation that she could give him across the galaxy. Biting his lip until it bled like his mother’s in his haunting nightmare, he sank onto a sofa across from the holoscreen. He felt a lump on the cushions below him, and, cursing under his breath, he removed a remote that controlled the holoscreen on the wall opposite him. Mindlessly, he switched on the holoscreen, muting the volume so that he didn’t awaken his Master, who would no doubt try to offer some more useless advice Anakin didn’t want to hear. Barely seeing what was on the holoscreen, he flicked desultorily through the channels, finally settling on a vapid holodrama in which overwrought actors and actresses sobbed over everyday stresses and problems Anakin would happily have traded for his own in a heartbeat. “Anakin?” Obi-Wan’s voice tore Anakin’s attention away from the holodrama as his Master emerged into the common room, normally bright eyes bleary with interrupted sleep. “Did you have another nightmare?” “No, I’m experimenting with a sleepless lifestyle.” Anakin was too bone-tired to even try to be polite when replying to a question with answer that should have been obvious to anyone with half a functioning eyeball. “Nightmares about your mother?” Obi-Wan crossed the common room to join Anakin on the sofa. “She’s suffering and dying.” Anakin locked his gaze on Obi-Wan, willing his stubbornly rational Master to understand that his dreams were strong enough evidence that he had to go to Tatooine and save her. “She needs me to save her, Master.” “Dreams aren’t prophecy, Padawan.” Obi-Wan shook his head as if Anakin were suggesting following a prediction he had read in the horoscope section of some tabloid. “The truths they show us are often symbolic representations of our subconscious fears and desires. They aren’t maps for how we should behave.” “There’s nothing symbolic about my mother dying.” Anakin’s grip tightened around the remote he hadn’t noticed he was still holding, and the channel changed to a holonews show aired at all hours on this planet that never slept any more than Anakin did that dissected the minutia of Senate politics Obi-Wan found so fascinating. “Her death felt real as this conversation we’re having now.” Even realer in fact, he thought, but didn’t say because he knew it would make him sound more crazy than convincing. “Dreams always feel real.” Obi-Wan’s patient face showed none of the horror Anakin felt, and that was perhaps the most frustrating thing that proved how little Obi-Wan would ever understand about him or the harsh world he had come from as a lucky survivor of slavery. “That doesn’t mean they are real.” “You’d know this dream was real if you’d been a slave on Tatooine.” Anakin couldn’t keep his voice from rising along with his frustration at his Master’s implacable obtuseness. “Do you know that half the slave children on Tatooine don’t live to their ninth birthday? No, you don’t because nobody cares about slave children on Tatooine enough to record that statistic in any holobook, but I know it from experience. I know how many slave die on Tatooine every day.” “I understand what you went through as a child.” Obi-Wan placed a hand on Anakin’s shoulder, and Anakin, nostrils flaring, twisted away, thinking that Obi-Wan had said the worst thing—the biggest lie—he possibly could have, and it didn’t matter if it had been said in a clumsy effort to be comforting. “What you need to understand…” “You were never a slave,” snapped Anakin, interrupting before he had to listen to some blood-boiling nonsense about what he had to do to be serene while his mother suffered and died on Tatooine. He lurched to his feet and stormed back to his room before Obi-Wan could recover his wits enough to speak. As he slammed his door behind him, he heard Obi-Wan call out his name, but he ignored it without caring if it was followed by a useless apology or a demand for a hollow one. He didn’t want to listen to a lie or tell one to his Master so he fell back onto his sleep coach, knowing that he wouldn’t sleep again that night because he didn’t want to be tormented by a nightmare of a suffering mother Obi-Wan wouldn’t allow him to save. He knew that his mother would say Obi-Wan meant well, but that didn’t matter to Anakin right now, because he knew the truth she refused to acknowledge that the space lanes to suffering and death were made with good intentions. (“The thought does stab me to the heart and gives me pangs no word can speak…”) When the Naboo cruiser landed on the beige patch of sand Watto had provided as coordinates for the Lars moisture farm, Anakin and Padme debarked, silent and somber. They had traveled only a few steps from the ship, however, when Artoo emitted a series of inquiring whirs and beeps. Unwilling to explain the grim nature of this journey, Anakin glanced over his shoulder at the droid, but was spared the necessity of a reply by Padme ordering, “Stay with the ship, Artoo.” The droid’s head spun, processing this command, and then it turned in the sand, rolling back onto the cruiser, as Anakin and Padme continued to stride toward the main buildings of the moisture farm. As they approached, Anakin saw a protocol droid who appeared to be a Threepio no longer living with the indignity of nakedness. He felt a second’s flash of happiness that his mother had been able to cover the parts of the droid he had left behind to care for her then found worry settling over him again as he began to ponder all the ways Threepio could’ve failed to carry out that impossible task… “Oh.” The prim surprise in the droid’s tone as he realized Anakin and Padme’s presence wiped away any doubt Anakin could’ve had about its identity. “Hello.How might I be of service? I am C…” “Threepio?” Anakin finished, coming closer so the droid he had created so many years ago when he was still a small boy with big dreams of freedom for all slaves could recognize something in his face that hadn’t changed. “Oh…um.” Threepio’s astonishment seemed to give way to elation. “The Maker! Oh, Master Annie! I knew you would return! I knew it!” Leaving no question that he was still his excitable self, Threepio gestured at Padme. “And Miss Padme! Oh, my!” “Hello, Threepio.” Padme’s slight smile sparkled in the sun. “Bless my circuits, I’m so pleased to see you.” Threepio’s excessive delight at their presence was starting to make Anakin impatient. “I’ve come to see my mother.” Anakin could hear the terseness in his own tone. “Oh.” Threepio’s joy was rapidly replaced by discomfiture that left a sinking feeling in Anakin’s stomach as the droid went on, “I think perhaps we’d better go indoors.” Without waiting for Anakin or Padme to respond to this invitation, Threepio turned, leading them down a stairwell into a courtyard between the main buildings of the moisture farm. As they climbed down the staircase, Threepio announced them to a solid young man who was probably wondering who the unexpected visitors were—unexpected visitors being an especially rare phenomenon in the hinterlands of Tatooine. Anakin couldn’t help but eye this young man Threepio had introduced as Master Owen suspiciously, wondering how this Master Owen might be complicit in his mother’s fate. “I’m Anakin Skywalker.” Anakin finished his descent, Padme at his side as a young woman with brown hair tied in a braided knot at the back of her head strode across the courtyard to stand beside this Master Owen. “Owen Lars.” Owen abandoned the piece of machinery he was rubbing with a cloth to wave a hand at the woman next to him. “This is my girlfriend Beru.” “Hello.” Beru nodded and smiled at Anakin and Padme, but Anakin was too fearful of his mother’s fate to make any reciprocal effort at politeness. “I’m Padme.” Padme had the diplomatic training to be polite even in situations as uncomfortable as this. “I guess I’m your stepbrother.” Owen made another awkward gesture that only tightened the tension coiled inside Anakin. “I had a feeling you might show up some day.” “Is my mother here?” Anakin narrowed his eyes, watching Owen for signs of guilt as he walked past the young man who claimed to be his stepbrother. “No, she’s not.” The answer came not from Owen but from a heavyset man in a hoverchair. The reason he was in the hoverchair was plain in a missing leg and a thickly bandaged remaining one that spoke to a recent wound. Anakin’s throat went dry as dust as the man maneuvered his hoverchair closer to extend a hand to Anakin, who took it out of numb habit, “Cliegg Lars. Shmi’s my wife. We should go inside. We have a lot to talk about.” Dread settling deep into his skin, Anakin ducked his head and followed the man who had bought and freed his mother inside to sit at a table beneath a painted dome ceiling. Anakin was grateful to be sitting for his knees weakened as Cliegg began to relate a story that sent shivers down Anakin’s spine: “It was just before dawn. They came out of nowhere, a hunting party of Tusken Raiders. Your mother had gone out early as she always did to pick mushrooms that grow on the moisture vaporators. From the tracks, she was about halfway home when they took her.” Anakin stared across the table, not seeing Owen, who was across from him, but his mother: captured by Tusken Raiders. Her hands would have been full with baskets of mushrooms so she wouldn’t have been able to defend herself when they launched their surprise attack on her. She would’ve been helpless to fend off the mighty blows of the Tusken Raiders’ staffs because he hadn’t been there to protect her. She would’ve screamed for help, and nobody would have come to her aid. She would have been beaten until she passed out and then taken off to a Tusken Raider camp for further tortures so terrible Anakin didn’t want to imagine them. “Those Tusken Raiders walk like men.” Cliegg emitted a sigh that held a helplessness, a defeat, Anakin wasn’t ready to admit. He would track down the Tusken Raiders and bring back his mother. “But they’re vicious, mindless monsters. Thirty of us went out after her. Four of us came back. I’d be out there with them, but, after I lost my leg, I just couldn’t ride any more until I heal.” Anakin, unable to stare into the face of raw grief that reflected his own, gazed down at his hands as Cliegg continued in a voice raspy with sorrow, “I don’t want to give up on her, but she’s been gone a month. There’s little hope she’s lasted this long.” Anakin felt the weight of this final sentence like a vibro-ax swinging across his neck, but he couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t give up hope on his mother even if she had been gone for a month—a month of torture by inhuman Tusken Raiders. He would find her. He would save her. Even if it meant killing every Tusken Raider on Tatooine. He rose, ready to do so. “Where are you going?” Owen asked from across the table. “To find my mother.” Anakin couldn’t understand how this wasn’t obvious to someone who claimed to be his stepbrother. “Your mother’s dead, son.” Cliegg’s words were ones Anakin never wanted to hear or believe. “Accept it.” Anakin refused to accept it. He refused to believe that he or his mother could be subject to cruel death. His mother couldn’t be dead. She was the woman who had given birth to him. The woman who had raised him to be gentle on a rough world. The woman who had taught him to always share what little he had. The woman who had made sure there was always food for him to eat even when she went without a meal herself. The woman who had tucked him into bed and told him stories about life on other worlds. The woman who had admired all of his projects and nourished all his dreams. The woman who had mended his torn clothes and cleaned his cuts. She couldn’t die. She had to be eternal because he needed her too much and would always need her too much. He would find her where Cliegg’s rescue party had failed, he would save her, and he would make the Tusken Raiders pay for every bit of suffering they had inflicted on his mother because he was no longer a slave. He was the all-powerful Chosen One who could subdue even death and a Jedi who could bring justice even to the Tusken Raiders of Tatooine. (“It wracks me in each vital part, sure when you go, my heart will break.”) He had flown across kilometers of desert wasteland to find her, bribing Jawas for directions to the Tusken Raider camp. He crouched in the dark shadows of the canyon, staring down at the blood-red glow of their campfires, feeling his mother’s presence, now so frail, in a tent on the edge of the camp. Unafraid of being detected by any Tusken Raider sentry who would be no match for him, he rushed to it, ignoring the sounds of beasts that announced his arrival to their more monstrous masters. Igniting his lightsaber, he carved into the tent, wishing it was a Tusken Raider hide, and entered to find his mother tied, bleeding and unconscious, to a pole. Fury and determination pounding in him like a second heart, he freed each of her cold hands from the pole, brushing them against his cheek to warm them and cradled her in his arms on the tent floor. “Annie?” She stared up at him as if he were an hallucination manufactured by her tortured mind. “Is it you?” “I’m here, Mom.” He was even more desperate to save her now than he had been when he sped across the desert. Trying to make himself believe it as much as her, he assured her, “You’re safe.” “Annie?” she repeated, gazing up at him and drinking in his return. “Annie?” Reaching a too-cold palm that should have been warm up to cup his cheek, she said as he kissed her, “Oh, you look so handsome. My son. Oh, my grown-up son. I’m so proud of you, Annie.” “I missed you.” His heart would be broken beyond repair if he had to say good-bye to her again, he thought. “Now I am complete.” Her soft words would echo in Anakin’s head forever, haunting him for an eternity. He knew it deep in his soul. “I love…” “Stay with me, Mom.” Trying to stay calm, trying to smile soothingly down at her, he was panicking inside. He had to persuade her to stay with him. To never leave him. To let him save her. “Everything…” The lie that had been on his lips—that everything would be all right—faded as her ragged breaths—how long could she live when each breath was a battle?—told him that nothing would ever be all right again. “I love,” she managed before her eyes went blank—blank of suffering but also of love. Her head sank back and her hand fell from his face. Tenderly, because he couldn’t bare to gaze into her lifeless eyes any longer and wanted to pretend she was sleeping serenely, he closed her eyes. His tears seared his cheeks as he stared down at her lifeless body. The Tusken Raiders didn’t deserve to live when she was dead. They needed to be wiped out, and not just the warriors. The women and the children too so that none of them survived to inflict this unbearable pain and loss on any more people. He had a lightsaber on his belt and determination in his heart—determination that no more mothers would be tortured captives in Tusken Raider camps, no more sons would have to hold their dying mothers in their arms as they proved powerless to save them, and no more families would be torn apart by such unspeakable grief. His grief that couldn’t be spoken found expression in violence. With every stroke of his lightsaber, he vented his rage against the Tusken Raiders, he felt that he was channeling his fury into something almost sublime. As he slaughtered every last Tusken Raider in the camp, he told himself this was justice, not vengeance. It was only after he had murdered them all that he realized what he had done was wrong, and, even then, he didn’t regret it as much as he knew he should. As much as he knew a Jedi should, because he wasn’t the perfect Jedi he should’ve been. He was an angry, grieving son who could never be a perfect Jedi or a Chosen One. (’Tis you alone these wounds can cure, which are the fountains of my grief.”) Anakin felt as if he were bleeding from a thousand wounds that would never heal because it had always been his mother who cleaned and bandaged his cuts and now she was gone from him forever. He gathered her in his arms, lifting her off the speeder bike and across the moisture farm that harvested nothing but the salty dampness of tears to rest inside until she could be buried in the red sand she had never been able to leave now matter how much Anakin had wanted to rescue her from this brutal planet because he had failed to save her. She alone could comfort him, and now she was dead, leaving him alone in his grief forever. Once he had been a fatherless boy quick to seek the approval and affection of any man who could fill that hole in his life. Now he was a motherless man, his mother’s death leaving a void in his life he knew no one could fill. Part of him had died in that Tusken Raider camp along with his mother, and another part of him would be buried alongside her in the red sand as a comfort and a companion to her so she would never have to be without him again when he inevitably left Tatooine and its broken dreams and ruined lives behind him to try to be the perfect Jedi he knew he could never be in a final effort to make her proud of him.