If people could wake up on the last day of their life and know that they were going to die, they would probably do things differently. Anakin Skywalker, for one, would have woken up his mother, who was asleep on the couch after a night shift, instead of leaving her with just a quick kiss on the cheek and a note letting her know he was going to buy eggs on his way home. In fact, he probably wouldn't have left home at all, choosing to spend what would be the rest of his life having breakfast with his mother. But then he wouldn't have been where he needed to be to die, which is probably why people don't wake up knowing that it is the day that they're going to die.
However, a small group of people do wake up knowing who is going to die that day. Well not exactly when they wake up, they learn who is going to die in a small, homey diner, every day over their morning coffee.
But what matters on the morning that Anakin dies is that he doesn't know what is going to happen. He doesn't change his schedule and spend the day with his mother. He gives her a kiss on the cheek, leaves her a note, and drives to work, like every other day before and none of the days to follow.
Despite being a high school dropout working as a mechanic in a hole-in-the-wall car garage in Coruscant, the biggest city in the country, Anakin is convinced he has a bright future ahead of him. He loves his work, he is studying for his G.E.D, and at just nineteen he feels invincible. He isn't actually invincible, something he learns very quickly. Most days are predictable for Anakin. Wake up, go to work, fix some cars, take his lunch break, fix more cars, go home, dinner with his mom, sleep, and repeat. The one day something unpredictable happens to Anakin, he is completely unprepared.
He's on his way back to the garage, a taco from his favorite cart halfway to his mouth when somebody bumps into him. As if in slow motion, Anakin watches his taco crumble to the ground, "Shit," he hisses, under his breath, before turning to head back to the cart and buy a replacement lunch. Whoever bumped into him is already gone, but he does find himself face to face with the most serene looking man he has ever seen.
A soft smile is on the man's face, he says absolutely nothing, just glances down at Anakin's nametag, still pinned to his greasy coveralls, pats him on the back, and says in a deep accented voice, "Have a nice day now, Anakin."
Perplexed, Anakin doesn't say anything to the odd man as he walks away. Shaking his head, Anakin decides to forget about odd Jesus look-alikes he meets in the street and just get his taco. He's handing the money over to the food vendor when the cart starts rattling. The vendor curses under his breath and steps away, Anakin's money being slipped into his cash box and cell phone in his hand, prepared to call a repairman for the second time that month. Anakin glances down at the shaking cart and hears an odd sound emitting from a gas canister. He squats down, wanting to get a better look, when someone walking by flicks their cigarette butt directly over his head. There's a spark and for a moment everything is black.
The next thing Anakin is aware of is lying on his back on the sidewalk, with the world feeling like it has stopped moving, the sound of screaming laced with sirens, and the smell of smoke and something burning clogs his breathing. He presses his eyes shut as tight as possible and recites the terrifying mantra of, "I'm dead, I'm dead, oh god, I'm dead, I've died, I'm dead."
He has every intention of staying on the cement for the rest of eternity, eyes shut and terrified to acknowledge the universe, until there was someone leaning over him. Slowly, he opens his eyes and instead of seeing the pearly gates and a bearded old man like he expected he sees the most beautiful woman he's ever seen. She has warm chocolate eyes and even darker curls falling softly over her shoulders. Dazed and dead, Anakin can't help but ask, "Are you an angel?"
With a sardonic quirk of her lips and an outstretched hand to help Anakin up, she replies, "Not quite."
Climbing to his feet, Anakin looked around in a daze. His usual taco cart was in flames, the owner was on the phone, presumably calling the police as he panicked, people were running in all directions, and laying directly at Anakin's feet was a hand, detached from a body and wearing his watch.
"That's… not good," Anakin said, staring at what seemed to be his hand while feeling both infinitely numb and the intense urge to vomit.
Ignoring the chaos around them, a bearded man casually approaches Anakin and the mystery woman. "Yoda told me to come," He said, motioning to Anakin, "This the new guy?"
"Yep," Stretching out her hand towards Anakin, the woman introduced herself, "Padmé Naberrie," Glancing down at the severed hand that Anakin was still staring at she confirmed, "That's yours, but I wouldn't recommend keeping it."
Chest heaving, Anakin is on the verge of the biggest panic attack of his life, as he asks, "Am I dead?"
Nodding, the man replies, "As a doornail."
"But I didn't feel anything!"
"Popped your soul out beforehand," Padmé explains, "Makes violent deaths easier."
"But I'm not ready to be dead! I'm only nineteen!"
Sharing on odd look with Padmé, the man says, "People rarely are. That doesn't change that fact that it happens."
The next question Anakin asks gets the same reply as his first, a quirk of Padmé's lips and a "Not quite."
The man, who introduces himself as Obi-Wan Kenobi, talks about the importance of coming to terms with what has happened and finding closure. Anakin doesn't say anything aloud, but he's pretty sure whatever the guy is saying is bullshit. He doesn't need to be sitting on his couch as a crowd of close friends and distant acquaintances mills around his mourning mother. Almost moments after dying, an event that still seems unreal to Anakin, Padmé left. She patted Obi-Wan on the back as she pushed him towards Anakin, wished them luck, and disappeared into the crowd. Already upset with being, well, dead, Anakin wasn't pleased to see the beautiful women who seemed to save him leave him. Obi-Wan promised Anakin would see her again before suggesting a way to cheer Anakin up.
Which was how Anakin had ended up watching his own autopsy, which was surreal, but did make the reality of the situation settle down around him. Anakin was embarrassed to admit the fact that the first person to see his naked body was the woman conducting the autopsy. He was dead. He'd just have to get used to it. But Obi-Wan's next suggestion threw the newly dead off balance. Convinced that Anakin had to move on, he brought Anakin to the gathering at the Skywalker house, post funeral. One thing Anakin had realized, with his being dead, was that he was noncorporeal. Time wasn't moving normally for him either. But Obi-Wan, despite also being dead, could easily interact with the living, as if he was one of them.
"That's not fair," Anakin mumbles as Obi-Wan takes another gulp of wine from his glass.
Obi-Wan shrugs, "Like life, death isn't fair, my young friend."
Rolling his eyes, Anakin huffs. As he turns away from Obi-Wan, his eyes fall on his mother. Red rimmed and puffy eyes are the most noticeable feature of his mother now, as well as the heavy black dress she wore for the funeral. In his entire life, Anakin had never seen his mother look so broken. She's leaning against a man Anakin has never seen, crying softly against his shoulder. Anakin doesn't quite understand how she can be close enough to seek comfort from a man he had never heard about.
"What are we even doing here?" Anakin asks.
Obi-Wan is about to answer when someone, Anakin distantly recognizes as a kid from his high school, sits in the exact spot Anakin occupies. Unseen by the living, Anakin manifests into something smoke like, only returning to his normal form after Obi-Wan shoos the stranger from the spot. Anakin's chest is heaving and he glares at Obi-Wan's persistent smirk. "We're coming to terms so we can move forward," Obi-Wan replies with a slight lift of his eyebrow, as if the entirety of Anakin's death and subsequent wake was a joke.
"If I'm moving on why does it matter if I come to terms," Anakin snaps.
His infuriating quirk of lips still present, Obi-Wan simply takes a sip of his wine. Huffing once more, Anakin rises from the couch and marches towards his bedroom. The door is closed but Anakin finds he can simply walk through it. Hurting in ways he never thought possible, tears stinging at the corner of his eyes because he's here he's alive he's fine but his mother doesn't know Anakin lets out a pained scream. He tries to slam his fist against his closet door like he did so many times when he was an angry kid always picking fights but his hand simply goes through the wood. He tries to kick the door and the same happens to his foot. Giving up, he crumbles to his knees, and for the first time since dying, Anakin cries.
As if sensing the distress of her ghost like son, Shmi creeps into Anakin's bedroom. He looks up at her pained eyes and begs every power in the universe for her to see him, for her to know he's there, but she doesn't react. Instead fresh tears follow the well tread tracks down her cheeks and she stumbles towards Anakin's empty bed. Once she's sitting, her head held in her hands and sobs wracking her body, Anakin rises and sits beside her. Cautiously, as if a single breath will make her leave, Anakin wraps his arms around his mother. While she can't feel him, his arms don't go through her and he can feel her. They cry together for much longer than Anakin is willing to later admit to Obi-Wan.
When Anakin finally emerges from his room, his mom in a heartbroken sleep atop his comforter, he makes eye contact with Obi-Wan. An understanding passes between the two. Rising from the couch, Obi-Wan joins Anakin. Together they exit Anakin's former home, being all that closer to moving on.
Anakin's mind wanders back to the gleam in Padmé's eyes when she told him they weren't angels. The curl at the corner of her lip as she explained that she and Obi-Wan weren't angels and they certainly weren't demons. He barely understood what she was saying then, fresh out of the shock of his untimely demise, so listening closely as he sits close to the wall backing their corner booth in a homey diner, Anakin tries to make sense of everything.
"You're grim reapers," He asks, unbelieving. Both Padmé and Obi-Wan nod. "Like scythe holding, soul taking, hood wearing, reapers?" They both nod again. Despite being dead for at least the length of a day, Anakin isn't entirely sure about how steadily time has been passing for him, the new information being presented seems even more absurd than the pre-dating events. According to Padmé and Obi-Wan, both seemingly certain in their convictions, there is no single grim reaper. Instead, there's a handful of undead people across the world whose job it is to collect the souls of people moments before death. Padmé and Obi-Wan insist that they are grim reapers, the diner they're sitting in is where they learn who they need to collect for the day, alongside their boss, Yoda, and a fellow member of the undead, Mace Windu.
"And why exactly are you telling me this?"
"Because now a reaper, you are, too," Comes the ancient sounding voice of a short old man with large ears sticking out from stark white hair that resembles somebody who was recently shocked.
Sitting down in the booth beside Anakin, the old man, who has the oddest speech pattern Anakin has ever heard, starts talking about destiny and fate. Everything goes over Anakin's head, still stuck on the fact that he's becoming a grim reaper.
"If I'm not moving on what was the point of seeing my autopsy and going to my funeral?" Anakin snaps.
Smiling, the old man, who Anakin realizes must be Yoda, replies, "Moving on is necessarily dying not. More than one way to move on, there is. Beginning a new life, which doing, you are, of those ways is one."
"And I'm moving on by becoming a grim reaper?"
A resounding yes is Anakin's answer.
Grim reaper training starts immediately. He's led out of the diner by Obi-Wan and as they walk he explains the new world Anakin lives in. Obi-wan promises him as they share a coffee and walk through the city together that the hurt will fade, that he'll get used to living his life without her, but Anakin doesn't believe him. But he also doesn't have time to dwell on how much he misses her. He's thrust into the life of reaping where he quickly learns that people can die in incredibly bizarre ways. The group of grim reapers he joins are assigned to the external influence division, meaning people who die from murder, suicide, or accidents of any kind.
In fact, the first-person Anakin watches die is killed by a falling piano. He's standing beside Obi-Wan, who seems completely unfazed by the tragedy. The poor woman killed by the fall has her soul collected by Mace, who waits until after the collision to retrieve her. Obi-Wan tells him that it's impolite to wait until after the accident to take the soul but that Mace does it anyway.
"Why?" Anakin asks, not understanding the morbidity of his new life.
Obi-Wan shrugs, "I guess it's just his style. I don't recommend it, though, takes away their dignity."
"What dignity? They're dead."
"Living people need to respect the body, the undead need to respect the soul. Everybody deserves a little dignity, Anakin." Obi-wan replies.
Anakin glances back to where Mace is leading the flustered soul of the now dead woman away from her body and asks, "Is this fun for you? Dropping pianos on people and making taco carts explode?"
Obi-wan chuckles and shakes his head, "Oh no, that's not our job. We just collect the souls and help people move on."
"Then who kills people?"
Obi-wan explains that gravelings are demon like creatures, the type of things that are visible just out of the corner of the eye but seemingly invisible, that put events into motion. It was the gravelings that dropped the piano and it is the gravelings that will cause all the events, except for murder and suicide, that lead to the deaths of the people Anakin will be tasked to help.
"This is crazy," Anakin says, keeping pace with Obi-wan.
The other grim reaper shrugs, "It's your reality now, so crazy or not you better get used to it."
Anakin opens his mouth to protest because he doesn't want to get used to it, he doesn't want to be undead, he wants to be alive or he wants to be someplace better he doesn't want to kill people, but then Padmé walks up to them and all his words die off.
"Padmé, great, so glad you could meet us here," Obi-wan says, "I need you to take Anakin with you for a bit, find him a place to stay, show him your next retrieval? He needs an observation." Patting Anakin on the back he adds, "You're great, kid, but I've got to take a break. You know how it is."
"Yeah," Padmé says, "I've got him, don't worry. We'll catch you later, Obi-wan." Anakin wants to protest but he still finds himself completely speechless in Padmé's presence so he ends up walking with her, not knowing where to. She talks to him as they walk in the opposite direction of Obi-Wan. She tells Anakin about the different living options, seeing as grim reapers don't have paperwork like birth certificates or social security cards, there aren't many options. Padmé tells him that most grim reapers end up squatting in the apartments of the deceased. She shrugs and tells him that she managed to snag a decent house from a soul she sent on and, if he turns out not be a freak, he could stay with her, most nights Obi-wan usually ends up drunk and on her couch, anyway. Anakin barely manages to stammer out a thank you. She smiles softly at his appreciation, confessing that she wishes someone had offered the same hospitality when she first died.
She leads Anakin into a bank and pulls out a post-it note as they both sit down.
"What's that?" He asks, looking over at what's written down, "A. Sing, 2:15, And the address? That's all you get?"
"We can't know too much," Padmé replies, "Might try to change something. 2:15 is the ETD, estimated time of death. There's so much that could cause somebody to die and any more details than this is a liability for the universe. Look around, anything in here could be the reason they die. That ladder could fall on someone, or the person on it could fall off. Maybe that lady over there is A. Sing, she's hurrying to the bathroom, maybe a drug overdose."
Anakin scans the lobby and his eyes fall on a banana peel laying on the ground. A feeling churns in his gut, "Or they can slip on the banana."
She shrugs, "Not likely."
"Then why don't I go move it," Anakin starts to stand up and Padmé grabs his wrist, pulling his back beside her."
"Okay, so it might be the banana peel."
In the end, Anakin is right. Aurra Sing comes into rob the bank, her gun hidden in the high ponytail she's wearing. But, at the same time, Cad Bane, is also trying to rob the bank. With all the bank patrons on the ground, including Padmé and Anakin, the two of them argue, their guns pointed at each other. Distracted by each other, neither robber notices the bank manager walk into the lobby from the second floor, turn around, and retreat to call the police. As the police storm in, Aurra hid her gun back in her hair and tried to join the masses of bank patrons being ushered out. She's almost out safe when her foot landed on the banana peel and she fell to the ground. The impact of her landing caused the band in her ponytail to pull the trigger. The next thing she knew, she was standing beside Padmé and Anakin, as a spirit, looking at her dead body.
"I told you," Anakin said, "Banana peel."
Interlude: The Death of Mace Windu
Historically, there were so many cases of political uprisings causing a person to be tossed out of a window, that the word defenestration was created to mean just that. Defenestration was a big deal in Europe, if someone was disliked, just throw them out a window. For some reason, it never became a fad in America. Despite that, Mace Windu did indeed die in the United States of America and his cause of death was, in fact, defenestration.
Mace Windu's death happened surprisingly quickly. One moment he was a courageous civilian, a freed slave attempting to stop the British from destroying the White House. The next he was being hurled from the window, glass shattering around him and the sound of flames cackling in his ears. He was just trying to protect the President and First Lady, what he didn't know was that they had long before left the city to protect themselves.
When Mace shared the story of his death with his fellow reapers, Padmé's reaction was nothing short of disbelief. "You've got to be shitting me. You died during the war of 1812 and you're still a reaper? You haven't reached your quota?"
"Life sucks," Mace replied, taking a sip of his milkshake, "And so does death."
"That motto is why you work at the DMV, isn't it?" Obi-wan asked.
"Ready, you are, to take a soul today," Yoda says as he passes the death assignments around the diner table.
Anakin shakes his head, as if he has the option, "I'm not really all that ready."
"It's not an option, my friend," Obi-wan says, patting him on the shoulder. The gesture would have been comforting if he isn't sipping from his mug of tea with a slight smirk as he does so.
It feels, for a moment, as if the universe is closing in on Anakin as he reaches across the table to take the post-it from Yoda. In theory, Anakin has accepted that he's now a grim reaper, but there's a difference between accepting that reality and actually taking someone's soul. As Anakin reaches his hand across the table to take his assignment, it feels more like his death sentence than anyone else's.
"Here's hoping it's not a bloody one," Mace says as he shrugs on his jacket, needing to get to his day job, "My first one was a mess, let me tell you, being a reaper during war time is not fun." At Mace's words, Anakin has to fight back the urge to vomit.
The feeling follows Anakin throughout the day and to the train station that night, where the person whose soul he has to collect is waiting, not knowing that they're about to die. Ever since he's died everyone has been throwing around words like destiny and fate but it isn't until this moment that Anakin truly realizes that he has no choice. He has to take someone's soul. And no matter what the other reapers say about gravelings and predetermination, Anakin feels like he's the one killing the person on his post-it. Obi-wan is still in charge of Anakin and he's the one who buys the train ticket.
"How do I know who it is?" Anakin asks, hoping the fear in his voice doesn't sound as obvious as it seems like to him.
"Car six, seat 3B. Once they sit you must make sure they stay there," Obi-wan says, "ETD is 8:06 and it seems like Mace jinxed you because it's gonna be a violent one. Make sure you pop the soul before then, okay?
Anakin fiddles with the ticket in his hand and glances at Obi-wan, "How violent."
Obi-wan shrugs, "You'll be fine, you're already dead."
"That's reassuring," Anakin mutters, the churning in his stomach growing stronger with every passing moment, "Is it okay if I throw up?"
Obi-wan sits on one of the benches on the train platform and motions for Anakin to sit beside him. Anakin sits down beside him and rests his head in his hands, breathing deeply. "The first one is never easy," The older reaper says, "I remember mine and the poor guy was cut in half with a machete, it was gruesome. I cried for the next three days and it's okay if you do too, Anakin, as long as you get the job done first." Obi-wan stands and brings Anakin with him, leading the nervous and nauseous teenager to the right train car, "You'll be fine, I promise. Just do everything like Padmé and I showed you. She'll be waiting for you at the next station.
As Anakin climbs onto the train, it feels like the world is moving in slow motion. He moves down the aisle, convincing himself that whoever is going to climb into seat 3B is a terrible person, hated and reviled and deserving to die. He feels as if he's moving on autopilot, his head was screaming for his body to stop but he kept moving. But he doesn't stop. Instead he sits on the opposite side of 3B, three rows back, with a good view of whoever is victim was going to be. He watches a woman approach the seat, she's older than him, around his mother's age most likely, and well dressed. He is willing to convince himself that she deserves the violent death she's about to experience, when the woman steps aside and helps a little girl, traveling alone, into seat 3B.
"Fuck, no," Anakin says under his breath. But no denial in the universe can change the fact that the person whose soul he needs to take is a six-year-old girl. Her name's Bene and she's on her way home from her grandparents' house. She's in kindergarten, she likes karate and baseball, and when she grows up she wants to be a princess. And she's about to die. She has to die. And Anakin is the one who has to take her soul. Bile rises from his stomach and it takes all of his strength not to finally cave to the feeling of nausea he had since the morning. For a moment Anakin glances out the window and considers making a run for it. What would happen if he deserted? If he just abandoned being a reaper and left? But before he can act on his impulsive thoughts, the train starts to pull away from the station.
Staring at the seat Bene sits in, unaware of her imminent future, Anakin decides destiny sucks. There shouldn't be some all-powerful force in the universe that causes old reapers to hand out post-its with the names of six-year-olds on them. People should just die, no interference, no reapers to take their souls. Anakin would prefer no afterlife at all than fate dictating who dies and when they die. If he hadn't died, Anakin would be spending his night at home, watching television and waiting up for his mother, instead he's watching the back of a little girl who he knows is going to die.
The train ride feels like hours. And as each second ticks by as he stares at the back of the seat with the little girl who is going to die, Anakin falls deeper into a longing to be home. To not be on the train. To be alive. He glances at his watch, it reads 7:59. Seven minutes until the little girl dies. He stands and moves down the aisle, ready to take her soul early like Obi-wan said, but when he reaches her, he can't do it. He can't take her soul. For fucks sake, she is six-years-old, Anakin can't just let her die. Instead of applying the light touch that removes her soul, Anakin sits beside her and says, "Hi."
"Do you work for the railroad?" Bene asks, her eyes wide.
"No?" Anakin replies.
Bene looks away from him, "I'm not supposed to talk to you unless you work for the railroad."
"Then, yes, I work for the railroad."
She looks him up and down, interest in her young eyes, "Then why aren't you wearing your uniform."
"I, uh, forgot it today." Anakin says, "I just wanted to sit with you, um, as a railroad employee I'm used to traveling alone and sometimes it gets, uh, lonely, I figured you might want some company. I'm Anakin."
"Bene," She says with a smile and for god sake she's missing her front two teeth how can Anakin let her die.
Without thinking, Anakin grabs her hand, "Why don't you come sit with me?" She follows him willingly. As they're moving down the aisle the train jerks and a terrible grinding sound starts to come. Looking out the window of the door, Anakin realizes their car, the one on the end, has become detached from the others. Both Anakin and Bene fall to the ground as the train car tumbles off the tracks, the rest of the passengers go falling as well, but it's only the little girl he's worried about. Free from the tracks, the train hurdles full speed off the side of the hill and down through the forest. Inside his head Anakin hears a mantra reminding him that he can't die because it feels like he's about to. As the train continues to plow through trees, the door is ripped off the hinges and the seat that Bene was supposed to be in, 3B, is ripped from the train. The car flips three more times before coming to rest near a clearing in the woods.
One of the train conductors, who had happened to be in the car at that moment, stands among the wreckage and asks, "Is everyone okay? There were ten of us in this car, is everyone alright?" He goes through, counting the battered passengers, including Anakin and the still alive Bene. Despite only knowing Obi-wan for about a week, although Anakin wasn't entirely sure on how long he had been dead, the time before becoming undead passed strangely, he knew he was going to be in trouble next time he saw him. But he decided, looking at Bene, that it was worth it, if it meant a little girl didn't need to die.
"Are you okay?" Anakin asks her, dusting her off a little. She nods, despite the tears in her eyes, and Anakin helps her out of what's left of their train car. The conductor finishes counting them off. All ten still alive. And what the conductor doesn't know is that it was one more than there should be. Bene clings to Anakin as the passengers climb away from the train car. One of the passengers, a former boy scout, sets up a fire for them to keep warm around, as they wait for a rescue team. Once everyone was settled around the fire, Anakin heads into the woods, for some reason knowing Obi-wan is there waiting for him.
"Why didn't you tell me?" He asks, fury lining his voice, "Why didn't you tell me it was a little girl?" Anakin towers over Obi-wan, due to the older reaper half reclining on a fallen tree. He's pacing, a little like a caged animal, the emotions of having to take the soul of a little girl course through his body like lava down a ridge.
Obi-wan shrugs, a gesture Anakin is quickly becoming tired of, "What different does it make?"
"What difference does it make?" Anakin snaps, "Difference? It makes all the difference! She's six! Why her?"
Rising, Obi-wan climbs over a log and meanders over towards Anakin, "Why do you think? She showed up for appointment."
"Well we should have rescheduled. She's six, Obi-wan. She shouldn't have had an appointment." Anakin seems to vibrate from his pain and rage, he's stopped pacing but it feels like fire is bursting from under his skin.
Shaking his head, Obi-wan sighs, "That's not how it works, kid. You can't change fate." He moves to sit back down on another fallen log, his back is hunched and his forearms propping him up against his knees.
"Then fate is bullshit!" Anakin all but screams. Tears burn at the corners of his eyes and he feels raw, "Apparently you can change fate because I did!" As Anakin fights his emotions, he resumes pacing among the trees, staying in front of Obi-wan. He's so desperate to change it, to make Obi-wan understand. Bene is so young, she has so much to look forward to. Anakin tries to squash the voice in his head that says he did too. Bene doesn't deserve to die. Neither did he. And while he can't change the fact that he's dead, he's sure as hell trying to keep Bene alive.
Taking a moment to glance towards where the other passengers are and then back at Anakin, Obi-wan asks, "What did you do?"
"She's not dead. I saved her. And I didn't take her soul. I'm gonna let her live."
"Everybody dies, Anakin. That's the first rule to life. And sometimes it's six-year-old girls and sometimes it ninety-year-old men but it doesn't matter who because it will happen, no matter what. Now you need to go back over there and take her soul."
"I'm not going to kill her, Obi-wan! If you want her to die so badly you go do it!"
As if to collect his thoughts, Obi-wan closes his eyes and shakes his head, "I can't. Nobody else can. Death is non-transferable. She's your soul to collect. Only you can do it."
"Well then, I guess Bene is gonna live for another eighty years," Anakin replies.
"It doesn't work that way, Anakin. She doesn't want those eighty years. She won't belong. Her fate has already been sealed, her soul has expired. Expired souls go bad, Anakin, just like milk. If you don't take her soul it's going to wither and die. Her life will be miserable, Anakin." As Obi-wan speaks, tears start to run down Anakin's cheeks, "Do you wish to condemn her to that? A half life? A rotten life?"
"She's just a little girl," Anakin chokes out through his tears, "She can't just die. It's cruel. It's wrong." All the anger has dissipated and Anakin's shoulders slacken. The rage was only really there to mask his sadness and now that the tears are free he can't maintain the overwhelming fury. Instead he just feels empty, as if it's his soul that's being taken. He can't remember the last time he cried, years ago probably, as a little boy leaning against his mother. But Anakin can't go to her for comfort anymore and so he stands surrounded by the trees and Obi-wan and he cries.
"It is cruel. It's cruel that she's never going to know what life is really like, that she'll never fall in love and that she'll never know deep pain, it's cruel that she won't get to experience any of it. But it won't matter to her. Not really. She's going to be doing something different. Maybe something better. We don't know. But she can't stay here, Anakin."
"I just wanted to save her," Anakin says, still crying.
Obi-wan sighs again and looks up at Anakin from the log he's sitting on with such a deep expression of empathy that it's clear he has had the same battles, "We can't save them, Anakin. Not by the time we're involved. We can't save any of them. But what we can do is make it easier. And while that doesn't seem like a lot, it really is. And that is what you need to do now."
Anakin smiles a little, wiping away his now drying tears. He can help Bene move on, if that's the only thing he can do, he sure as hell is going to do it well. He takes a deep breath and steels himself. Obi-wan lets him know that he'll be there waiting for when he's done. Nodding, Anakin moves back towards the fire with a heavy heart. The sounds of the forest feel like a blanket wrapped around him and all the other passengers, it softens the sounds of his footsteps and soothes the guilt in his stomach. When he reaches Bene, Anakin squats down beside her and smiles at her for a moment, asking her how she's doing, before he's running his hand down her back and pulling her soul out. As Anakin walks away, Bene's collected soul walking beside him, holding his hand, the now empty body collapses on the log where she sat. The other passengers panic, but Anakin and Bene don't turn away as the walk into the woods. Obi-wan joins them as they leave, taking Bene's other hand.
"Where are we going?" Bene asks Anakin as he leads her away from her dead body and deeper into the trees.
"I don't know," He says, honestly, hoping she doesn't see the fresh tears in his eyes, "Some place better, I hope."
The lights that lead souls onward glitter before them. Swirling blues and whites promising something unknown and mystical. They form the shapes of a Ferris wheel and of rollercoasters and of something that seems to lack definition. "Like Disneyland?" Bene asks.
"Yeah," Anakin says, as he watches her walk into the light, wanting to follow her to protect her, but knowing he can't, "Like Disneyland." Once she's gone and the lights fade, Anakin asks, "What is it?"
"It's not for us to know," Obi-wan replies, leading Anakin away from the painful experience of his first soul collection and back to the comfort of his new home. Anakin's mind swirls with thoughts about the fact that this is his life now. He's really a grim reaper. He took his first soul, he helped her go onward, and he's left behind. It still feels absurd, thinking about the fact that he's dead, that his mother is alone, that his job is now to collect souls. But despite the looming words of destiny and fate and all their implications, he isn't so scared anymore. The drive back to town is quiet. Obi-wan hums along to an old song playing softly on the radio as Anakin rests his head against the cool glass of the window and thinks. He falls asleep before they get home, lulled to a deep sense of comfort by the motion of the car, Obi-wan's calming presence, and the thought that destiny, while looming and overwhelming and filled with more responsibility than a single person should carry, still might not be that bad.
He wakes to the sight of Padmé's smile as she gently shakes his shoulder. He hopes he doesn't look as gross and grumpy as he feels. He doesn't want her to see him like that.
"Hey," Padmé says softly, "Obi-wan told me you had a rough night. I've got a room made up for you, come on inside."
Despite the ache in his chest and the exhaustion spread throughout his body, Anakin smiles a little and asks in jest, "So, decided I'm not a freak?"
Helping him climb out of the car, Padmé takes his hand to lead him into the house, "Jury's still out on that." Anakin nods his head and silently follows her. Half asleep and emotionally drained, he doesn't take much time to look around the house but from what he can see on his way upstairs it is small and homey, seeming to exude the same welcoming aura Padmé carries. He stops walking when Padmé does and she motions for him to go into the room in front of them. "This is yours," She says, "I managed to snag a pair of pajamas for you from Obi-wan, they're on the bed. The bathroom's down the hall and if there's anything else you need, I'm the door next to yours. I'm a light sleeper, don't be afraid to knock."
She turns around to leave, bidding Anakin good night, when he shoots his hand out to grab her wrist. His heart is pounding in his chest and his eyes are wide. He seems as surprised by his actions as Padmé. "Stay," He says softly, "Please. I don't think… I don't think I can be alone right now."
There's a beat of silence where Anakin swears he can hear her heart pounding in his head before she nods. Neither taking off their jeans, they move to the bed. While Anakin climbs under the blankets, Padmé sits lays down on top of them.
He speaks softly, so much so that Padmé almost misses it, "If this hadn't happened—"
"If's won't get you anywhere, Anakin."
He doesn't reply, instead he stares up at the ceiling, letting his thoughts swirl within his head. Beside him, Padmé's heart aches for him, remembering her own struggles when she first became a reaper. Time passes in silence, the streetlight outside the window flickers off. The darkness the coats the room seems heavier as neither of them speaks.
"It gets easier," Padmé whispers, not even sure if Anakin is still awake, "I promise it does."
"That's what I'm afraid of." He replies. For his sake, Padmé pretends not to hear him cry.
There's a way for reapers to be unseen. It's important, for if a death happens in solitude, a reaper can't just strut in looking like a random person to collect the soul. Anakin doesn't understand how it work and nobody explains it to him. It just seems to be another part of being undead that he has to get used to. But he realizes that if he wills himself not to be seen, he'll be invisible. As soon as he knows how to do this he takes advantage of his new-found skill.
Moving through his old house like a ghost, Anakin sits down on the floor in the living room. His mother lays on the couch asleep, tissues scattered around her and a picture of her and Anakin still clutched tightly in her hand. He reaches out towards her, just barely touching her face. He can feel her but she can't feel him. Even if she was awake she wouldn't know he was there. Alone with his mother, he lets himself cry again. She seems just as broken as him. He wishes desperately that she could know he was still there. He's gone before she wakes up, not strong enough to see the pain that remains behind her eyes.
Interlude: The Death of Obi-wan Kenobi
Obi-wan Kenobi did not plan to die. He swore it was an accident. But after he told the other reapers how he died, none of them believed it was entirely an accident. He told them they could fuck off. It was the 1960s. Nobody was thinking clearly, especially Obi-wan, who had about every drug possible coursing through his system at all times of day. He called it meditation, he believed he was reaching a deeper level of understanding of the human condition, of life itself. He was in a cult. None of the other reapers knew which one but Padmé firmly believed it was the Manson family. Obi-wan always denied that.
But because of the drugs and the meditation and his connection with what he called the living force, Obi-wan insisted his death was an accident. It wasn't his fault that when he heard drilling a hole into the brain unleashed the greatest high humanly possible he had to try it. It wasn't his fault that it didn't work. And sometimes, after drinking enough with the other reapers, Obi-wan insisted that in some ways he had been right, drilling that hole in the side of his brain connected him to the world on a whole new level.
Quickly, Anakin learns important details about being a reaper. The first being that being a reaper doesn't pay but being undead means you need a place to live and things to eat. Despite Padmé's insistence that he doesn't need to pay rent, as she doesn't pay anything either thanks for an easily forged will, Anakin wants to help the new household financially. He was used to helping with his mother and he wasn't planning on stopping being helpful after death. Hence Anakin's need for a day job. The only thing he knows how to do is mechanics for cars so he ends up working at the only place he knows where a job is available, his old garage.
"Won't they recognize me?" Anakin asks, when Obi-wan suggests he just take his old job.
Obi-wan shakes his head, "We look different to the living, guess it's the universe's version of witness protection."
"I look different?" Anakin all but screams. Padmé laughs at the fact that it took him an entire week to notice, asking him how he managed to avoid the mirror in his room and bathroom.
She's standing by his side as he stares in the mirror at his new reflection. Having his new confidant by his side makes the process of seeing a different face where his own belongs marginally easier.
"Do you think he's more attractive?" Anakin finally asks, after closely analyzing all of the reflection Anakin's features.
Responds so quickly it's obvious she didn't take a moment to think, "No." She flushes when she realizes her reaction time.
Anakin glances at her, "Do you think I'm attractive?" He asks. Coming from anyone else the question would have seemed flirtatious but from Anakin it just seemed like pure interest, that he wanted her honest opinion. And maybe a little flirtatious. Neither really realize this, though.
"Maybe," She replies, teasingly, "You're no George Clooney, though."
He smiles at her response, knowing she's joking with him. That maybe she does find him attractive. "You're more attractive, by the way," Anakin blurts out, his cheeks growing as red as hers were a minute before, "Than the reflection you, I mean. You're beautiful." Both struggle for words after that, their cheeks warm from blush and aching from the wide grins they both wear.
So, Andy Starkiller easily fills the gap left by recently deceased Anakin Skywalker and the actually undead Anakin Skywalker picks up his life exactly where it was, minus his mother. At times, his day to day life is so similar to how it was before that it feels more like his mother died than he did. But, at the same time, his daily life changes so drastically Anakin barely feels like himself. He's living in the same city, working the same job, but he looks different to everyone living, and there's also the little detail that he's retrieving souls from people right before they die. The retrieving soul business does have the tendency interfere with his day job.
Three times a day Anakin needs to slip away from work to meet the other reapers in their diner booth and receive Yoda's assignments. While those meetings coincide nicely with his work hours, being able to go before work, during his lunch break, and after hours, people's deaths are less well planned. His second retrieval he has with Obi-wan's supervision again, a forty-five minute drive out of the city and at three in the afternoon. Anakin makes an excuse about a family emergency and leaves the shop sitting in the passenger seat of Obi-wan's beat up pick-up truck. Like last time Anakin was in the car, an 80s station is playing on the radio and Obi-wan sings or hums along to every song. Obi-wan insists it's the best decade of music that he's lived through but Anakin thinks the real reason is that the other reaper abandoned his hippie ways long ago and became a punk at heart.
"Isn't this a little far away?" Anakin asks as Obi-wan parks the car at a rundown gas station which matches the address written on his post-it that morning, "Like, shouldn't it be out of our jurisdiction or something? Aren't there, I dunno, other reapers to handle this place?"
Obi-wan shrugs as his eyes scan the area, "I just go where Yoda tells us to, that's the job, Anakin." He ignores Anakin's quiet and mocking grumble, "Now why don't you go into the store there and grab me a coffee, listen to what the people are saying, see if you can find that S. Keto you're supposed to collect."
Rolling his eyes and feeling more like an underpaid intern than a grim reaper, Anakin hops out of the truck. As he closes the door behind him he comes face to face with a bear. It's caged, which Anakin is relieved by, but as he looks at the depressed looking creature he knows in an instant that S. Keto was going to face death by bear. He shudders at the thought and heads into the gas station store where he finds a group of protesters arguing with the cashier over freeing the bear. One of them barks at Anakin not to give them any money but Anakin ignores them and buys a coffee. His eyes roam over the five protestors as he's leaving, Obi-wan's coffee in hand, and he notices that they're all wearing name tags that read MY NAME IS _ ASK ME ABOUT ANIMAL RIGHTS.
His eyes land on her. Serra Keto. She's at the front of the line of protesters and clearly the leader of the group. Anakin's heart drops a little at how young she is. Yes, she is without a doubt older than he was when he died the other week, but she can't be any older than twenty-five. She leads the protesters out of the shop and back outside to shame people filling up their cars. He freezes for a moment, thinking about Bene, thinking about how he doesn't want to do this. But he knows he has to. It's what's best for Serra and it's his duty, his destiny as the other reapers would say. His grip tightens on the cup of cheap coffee as he walks past the protesters, purposely rubbing shoulders against Serra's and pulling her soul out as he goes by. Obi-wan looks up lazily when Anakin raps his knuckles against the driver's side window. Slowly, the window lowers and Obi-wan reaches out for the coffee.
"I found her," Anakin says as he passes the drink over, "Retrieved her soul, too."
"That simple?" Obi-wan asks, disbelief evident in his voice, "No… hesitations on your part?"
Anakin shrugs, "I guess I'm learning."
Obi-wan nods, "Good, now get in the truck, I'm willing to bet that this one won't be pretty."
"I've yet to see one that is." Anakin replies as he starts to walk around to his door. It's too late though. As Anakin is rounding towards the passenger door of the truck he hears the caged bear roar. His head shoots up in horror and he watches the hinges on the cage gave way and the bear break free, swiping at the crowd of protesters but only hitting Serra, dragging claws against her neck and chest, causing massive blood splatter as she dies. Anakin gets hit with the bulk of the blood. The gas station owner has stormed out as this happens, a shotgun in hand, and puts the bear down with three shots, causing more blood to paint Anakin's face, hair, and clothing.
"You've got to be kidding me," He says as he looks down at his work jumpsuit, now stained red with the last of Serra's life, "How am I going to explain this to Watto when I get back to work?" There's a twinge of guilt in the pit of his stomach, that he's more upset over the blood on his jumpsuit than on the death of a person. He doesn't let himself dwell on it, because even the single fleeting thought makes his stomach churn.
As Anakin complains about his return to work, Serra's soul materializes next to him, looking at the scene in horror. "Am I dead?" She asks, her eyes wide as she looks at her mangled body, "Is the bear dead?" She asks a moment later, seemingly more horrified about that loss than the loss of her own life.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Anakin replies, rubbing blood off his hands and onto his jumpsuit leg, "Get in the pick-up truck and I'll explain as we drive."
"You did better, Anakin," Obi-wan says, in what seems to be the best praise he can give. Anakin nods. He doesn't let Obi-wan know that he's swallowing down his urge to vomit as they drive away. It is easier than his first one. Which is scarier than the prospect of it being equally as hard.
It isn't always easier. Anakin's fifth retrieval is a middle-aged woman. A school teacher named Shaak Ti with kind brown eyes and a wide smile. His heart clenches when he realizes she's the soul he's there to collect. There's something about her, the way she holds her head high or gently places a guiding hand on a student's shoulder, that reminds him of his mother.
Padmé is in charge of him for the day. It's supposed to be Mace but that morning the older reaper had looked Yoda dead in the eye and said that there was no way in hell he would train Anakin. She seems to be able to sense the struggle within Anakin about taking Shaak's soul. She slips her hand in his and pushes herself on her toes, reminding him in a soft and reassuring voice, "Think of Bene. It's better for them if we help them move on. We can't do anything to change their destiny, only make it easier."
"It's gonna be the chalkboard," Anakin replies, his eyes following Shaak as she moves around her classroom, "It's gonna collapse." Padmé nods but pushes him forward a little, urging him to take the teacher's soul, "It's not fair," Anakin says, his eyes welling with tears that he doesn't want to let fall, "She could do so much good."
Padmé smiles softly, "I know Anakin, but—"
He cuts her off, "Don't worry, I'm not going to make the same mistakes as before. But that doesn't make this any easier."
Anakin moves forward, unseen by anyone in the room except Padmé who waits outside, also unseen. He traces a hand over Shaak Ti's shoulder, following the same motion she had done on a student struggling with an assignment who needed reassurance and pulling her soul out as he moves by. She holds his hand as they stand at the classroom door, waiting for the inevitable.
"I visited my mom the other day," Anakin confesses. Padmé blinks up at him in surprise for a moment, ready to warn him about telling Shmi about being undead. "Don't worry," Anakin says, as if he knows exactly what is running through Padmé's mind, "She couldn't see me. I just — I just had to be near her. Being away from her, I feel like I'm missing part of myself. Being dead isn't what hurts, being dead and so close and far from her is what hurts."
Padmé nods, "I know the feeling. I still miss my sister nearly every day. The first year after I died I spent all my free time just following her. Trying to breathe her in, I guess. But I realized, with some well-deserved advice from Obi-wan, that it was hurting me more than helping me. You have to let go, Anakin. You have to."
Tightening his jaw, Anakin seems to ignore her cautionary story. Instead, he glances down at his watch and sees the time, "ETD in one minute."
Just like the other deaths Anakin saw or, in a sense, participated in, he was right about how Shaak died. The board behind her, with her erratic chalk scribbles about the French Revolution scattered across it, collapsed, and at the angle it fell, managed to decapitate her.
"It's ironic." Padmé says.
Anakin shrugs, as Shaak's spirit appears beside them, "This first one I saw was Mace and a woman who died with a piano falling on her. Death seems to have a sense of humor."
"You might be right," She replies, with a twinkle in her eye, "I mean, you did die from an exploding taco truck."
"Don't remind me." Anakin groans, before turning to Shaak. The recently deceased teacher is staring at them with a slack jaw and wide eyes. He leads her down the school hallway, Padmé follows a little way behind, and explains that she needs to move on. With a kind smile and personable warmth that seems to exude from her, even after death, Shaak accepts her fate easier than Anakin can fathom. The light begins to call to her before they even reach the end of the hallway. As she fades away, into the beyond that Anakin knows nothing about, he feels a cold fear in his chest, twisting around his heart, picturing his mother with the same warmth accepting death as easily. He chokes back a sob and the only thing that stops him from breaking down is Padmé's comforting hand as she threads her fingers with his, leading him out of the school.
"Are you sure this gets easier?" Anakin asks as he drops down onto the couch, in between Padmé and a snoring Obi-wan. He's toweling his hair and in a fresh pair of pajamas, having had to shower after his last death of the day being a particularly bloody one. Padmé nods, unable to reply because of the large bite of lo mein she just took. Instead she offers Anakin the container of fried rice that he asked for her to order when he came home soaked through from blood after an unfortunate incident with a woodchipper. It was his twenty fifth death. He's been doing unsupervised retrievals since his tenth death, but most times he really misses the reassurance of Padmé or Obi-wan at his side to remind him that it's better to let them die. Sometimes it seems easier. And sometimes there's a kid watching their mother go through a woodchipper.
Just sitting beside Padmé and a drunk and passed out Obi-wan, is a comfort. Her home is starting to feel like his as well. Every night before going to sleep, he leans against the door to her bedroom and talks to her, thanking her for letting him live with her. Every night she rolls her eyes and says goodnight, promising that her home is now theirs. Some days it feels like he's a stranger, living some place he doesn't belong, but some days are like this, teasing over who gets the last egg roll and a b-rated horror movie on the in the background. The other reapers, they are what makes it easier.
Reaping isn't the only hardship in Anakin's afterlife. His day job isn't always smooth sailing. Sure, he knows what he's doing as it is the same job he had when alive, but the interactions with his co-workers sometimes seem like an impossible task. Multiple times a day he catches himself, biting his tongue, and reminding himself that Andy Starkiller doesn't share the inside joke or memory with Kitster and that Watto doesn't know all of his abilities. It's even hard to reply to Andy. But the hardest part of the job is his mother.
When Anakin first takes his job at Watto's, after death, he doesn't think he will see his mother because of it. But he is wrong. It hasn't occurred to him that her old barely running car that he always fixed up for free, would be brought to Watto's all the time without him alive to fix it up. The worst day is the one where Watto tells him to do an emergency roadside fix, a very special customer he's told, and Anakin pulls up behind his mother's car.
"Shit, fuck, fuck," Anakin says under his breath as he walks toward the car, not ready to interact with his mother for the first time since dying.
He gently raps his knuckles against her window, to let her know that the help Watto has sent is there. Anakin realizes too late how terrifying it must be for his mother, to have a strange man walk up to her broken down car and knock on the driver's side window, since the next thing he knows her window is rolled down just far enough for her pepper spray to hit him straight in the face.
"Jesus Christ, mom!" Anakin yells automatically, not even realizing the slip in his language.
Her eyes go wide when she recognizes the Watto's Repair Shop logo on his jumpsuit. "Oh my god," She says, swinging her door open and accidentally hitting Anakin directly in the stomach as she does so. She's so panicked about hurting him that she misses the fact that a stranger called her mom. Eyes still burning from the mace, Anakin doubles over, one hand covering his injured eyes and one holding his now bruised abdomen. "I'm so sorry! Oh god, I've made it worse." Shmi says, "I knew Watto was sending someone but I panicked and now I've hurt you and I've hurt you again! Oh, dear, oh I'm so sorry." She places a hand on Anakin's upper arm to steady him and Anakin is almost glad for the pepper spray for giving him an excuse for the tears that fall from being close to his mother.
"It's fine," Anakin lies, as he blinks the tears and pain away, "It's fine. Not the worst thing to happen to me at work." Which is true, seeing as he died during a lunch break.
She smiles at him, "Still, you're only here to help me out and here I am, beating you up!"
"Really," Anakin says, "No need to worry." Reapers heal fast. The burning in his eyes is already almost gone and it feels like he was never hit in the stomach. One of the perks of being undead.
Giving him a once over, as if to check that he isn't lying about alright, Shmi finally steps away from him. Anakin feels like crying all over again at the loss of contact. He would die all over again if it meant he could have one more hug from his mother. "I'm Shmi," She says, reaching out to shake his hand.
"Ana—" He manages to catch himself this time, right before he says his real name, "Andy Starkiller. Watto just hired me, there was an open spot in the garage." Again, Anakin is thinking slower than he acts, when he sees Shmi tear up.
She sounds choked up when she replies, "Yeah, my, um, my son used to work there."
Anakin feigns ignorance, pretending that he didn't realize Shmi was the mother of the young boy who died so he could have his job at Watto's. His heart breaks a little when their conversation ends and he gets to work on the car. When he was Anakin, he would talk to his mother as he worked, instead she waits inside the truck from Watto's shop as he replaces her tire. He pretends he doesn't see her crying in the car. When he finishes his work, Anakin knocks on the window of his own truck. They both laugh about the fact that she doesn't pepper spray him this time.
"Works all done," He tells her, "And it's on the house, Watto insisted that before I left." More tears threaten to spill from the corners of Shmi's eyes and she thanks Anakin profusely. They part with a quick hand shake. Shmi drives away and Anakin watches, waiting to cry until she's out of his line of vision.
When he gets back to the shop, he asks Watto to leave early, citing a family emergency. Anakin knows he can't spend any more time working. As he leaves, he calls Padmé. She meets him back at home and sits in bed with him, holding him as he cries. She whispers soothing words and runs a hand through his messy curls. She tells him about the first time she saw her sister after her own death and that she vomited on her sister's shoes she was so twisted up at the sight of her again. Despite it all, Anakin laughs at the story. In Padmé's arms, he feels lighter.
Interlude: The Death of Yoda
None of the reapers knew how Yoda died. The oldest reaper is so odd, so mysterious, they weren't even sure he was ever alive. None were ever brave enough to ask him about his past. Some things are better left unknown.
Anakin's thirty-second soul is the only death he has that day. It is a warm sunny Saturday, so he has no work, and the death takes place just after 2pm at an amusement park. Padmé goes with him, having to retrieve a soul at the same place, at the same time. Whoever they are, they are dying together. After Yoda gives them their assignments, Anakin looks up at Padmé, smiling slightly, and asks, "Would you want to go earlier? I mean neither of us has work, we could make a day out of this."
The other reapers have already scattered, Obi-wan to collect a soul, Mace to work, and Yoda to whatever he does when they aren't at the diner, none of the reapers willing to ask the mysterious older man. Leaning forward across the table toward Anakin, a playful smirk pulls at the corners of Padmé's mouth, "Are you asking me on a death date, Mr. Skywalker?"
A hot blush spreads across his cheeks, "It depends," He replies, "On whether or not you would say yes if it were a date."
She replies with a nod and a spectacular smile as she grabs one of his hands and links their fingers, pulling him from the booth as she goes. Anakin knows his grin is so wide that he must look like an absolute and complete dork, but when he tightens his grip on Padmé's hand and looks to her, he sees the same joy on her face. Neither can help but laugh, the happiness in their chests so warm that they need a way to express the feelings, as they leave the diner. Padmé, despite the years of life and afterlife, feels like a teenager again. And Anakin, still very much a teenager, thinks that this must be what love is. If he said those words aloud, Padmé, with all her years of experience, would still agree. After two months of living and reaping together, they're both falling hard for the other and falling fast.
The day at the amusement park turns out to be the most fun Anakin's had since dying. Throughout the morning Anakin and Padmé have fun taking guesses at which ride is going to break and cause the two deaths of the day. This game would be morbid to some, but to the two reapers it is a daily pastime made more fun by the company. They go on rides together. The carousel is so shaky that Anakin falls off the fake horse he is riding. Padmé jumps off her own stead and races to his side. Despite logic dictating he can't get hurt due to being undead, she panics seeing him lying on his back. She shakes him for a moment, rolling him onto his back so she can see him. As soon as he's rolled over, Anakin starts laughing. Jokingly, Padmé smacks him. The carousel stops moving with the two of them still on the ground, laughing hysterically.
When they walk past a carnival game booth, Anakin insists he needs to win a prize for Padmé. A deep brush colors he cheeks as she follows him towards a water shooting game. It takes him three tries and twenty dollars to win Padmé a teddy bear that is barely worth five dollars. She kisses him on the cheek as a thank you, telling him it's the best gift she's had in forever. As they're walking away from the carnival booth, Anakin's eyes fall on one of the rickety roller coasters at the park. "That's the one," He says pointing at the wooden monstrosity that seems like it's been without maintenance for decades, "That's the one that's gonna cause the deaths?"
"I'll take that bet. Loser buys cotton candy?" Padmé replies.
Half an hour later they're walking out of the park, two confused souls following them, as Anakin haughtily eats the cotton candy he rightfully won. The roller coaster car they had been in derailed, decapitating booth passengers, and winning Anakin their bet.
"How do you always do that?" Padmé asks, stealing a bite of cotton candy.
Anakin looks at her, confused, "Do what?"
"Know how they're going to die. You've never gotten it wrong, have you realized that?"
He shrugs, "I just, I get this feeling when I'm looking around. There's just this moment where I see it and I just know. Like there's a force or something telling me that this is where it's going to happen. I don't know, it sounds kinda weird aloud."
"Not any weirder than being a grim reaper," Padmé reassures him.
Death dates, as Padmé first dubbed their excursions, become frequent. Every time either of them is assigned a reaping at a fun, or potentially enjoyable location, the other joins them. The two of them sneak into a family reunion barbeque where the grandmother dies by choking on a hot dog. Each different family member they meet they establish a more and more elaborate way they could be related to the family. As soon as the grandmother dies, the two leave, laughing hysterically despite the confused old woman's soul that trails after them.
There's a mass casualty at a movie theatre where all the reapers have multiple souls to collect. The other reapers don't arrive until close to the ETDs but Anakin and Padmé come early to watch the movie. They experience the explosion from inside the theatre, having already reaped their souls, while watching the movie with their victims. While everyone else leaves the theatre in a body bag, injured, or traumatize, they leave complaining about how bad the movie is and stale popcorn. Mace rolls his eyes at the two of them while Obi-wan doesn't even give them a second glance.
Even run of the mill deaths are turned into dates. An evening death in midtown is used as an excuse to go out to a fancy restaurant Padmé wants to bring Anakin to. Deaths in the park are used for picnics. Anakin's assigned a death at a spa and insists Padmé uses it as a reason be pampered, she admits halfway through the couple's massage that he has good ideas, sometimes.
When Padmé is given a post-it with the location of the ETD at the local ice rink, she convinces Anakin to join her. He's hesitant, having never ice skated before, but one please and smile from her and he agrees before his heart can finish the next beat. At the rink, she can lap him without even trying as he clings to the walls, hoping not to fall. After a few laps around the rink and an impressive twirl to show off, Padmé comes to a perfect stop next to Anakin. He complains to her, saying this was a bad idea, but instead of letting him wallow in his angst. She takes his hand and gently leads him away from the wall. Both his hands are up in hers and she skates backwards, pulling him forward and teaching him how to move.
Each time he loses his balance and stumbles a little the absolute terror in his eyes causes laughter to bubble up in Padmé, the now nearly constant emotions of admiration feeling exceptionally warm in her chest when compared to the frigid air of the ice rink. Anakin stumbles a couple times on purpose, just to hear more of her laugh. They are so wrapped up in each other that the ETD sneaks up on them. The sounds of screams pull them apart from each other and they turn just in time to watch a woman collapse, her neck slit from the high kick of a fellow skater. The woman is dead before Padmé can get to her to retrieve her soul. She helps the woman's spirit move on, severed throat and all, and says to Anakin as she watches the lights fade, "I know I should feel guilty, for not really doing my job. But I'm not. I'm really not."
"Don't be," Anakin replies, "You did what you had to do, you helped her move on."
She shrugs, feeling a little guilty despite her words, "Still, I should have pulled her soul out before. If we weren't—"
"If's won't get us anywhere. I've been learning that since dying. In fact," He smiles down at her, "You're the one who's been teaching me that. Besides, Mace has retrieved souls after much more gruesome deaths than this." He starts to regale Padmé with one of the early deaths he witnessed, the only one Mace agreed to take him on before deciding he was too much of a nuisance. Padmé laughs so hard that the side of her chest hurts. As she laughs, she turns to the side and catches a glance of Anakin, he's a radiating source joy and comfort. For a moment, she can't help but wonder how she did this for nearly twenty years without having him by her side.
In the moment, she can't help but kiss him. He freezes for a second, shocked when she leans forward and presses her mouth against his, but as soon as his brain process what is happening he returns the kiss and wraps his arms around her, pulling her tight. She's spent decades not knowing if heaven is real or not, but as she kisses Anakin for the first time, she thinks it might just be here on Earth with him.
The days fly past and time moves on as Anakin comes to accept his afterlife. Collecting a soul or two, or sometimes five depending on mass casualties, a day doesn't take away from the good parts of his days. He has friends who, more often than not, feel like his family. He has a mentor in Yoda and Mace. In Obi-wan he has a friend, brother, and teacher. And, as ironic as it is happening after death, in Padmé he's found the love of his life.
In fact, as he helps his sixty-seventh soul move into the light, he realizes that maybe, no, definitely, being a reaper is one of the good parts of his new life. While alive, Anakin cared so much about other people, he wanted to help, he just didn't have a way to help. He was nineteen, without a high school diploma, and working as a low paid mechanic. He couldn't help people the way he wanted to. But as a reaper, Anakin realizes, as he watches the teenage girl he is helping move on wave goodbye and step into the swirling and bright beyond, he is helping people. He isn't helping people in a conventional way nor in the way he wanted to when he was alive, but he is helping in a way only a handful of others can.
He thinks of his mom, how the last time he visited home there were less tissues around her. That she's healing. He thinks of Bene and the mistake he almost made letting her live despite her time being up. He thinks about each and every death he's witnessed and all the souls he's collected. As his mind whirls it all seems to click.
Anakin isn't sure if there's a destiny like the one Yoda speaks of or if it's all just chance. All he knows is that what's done is done, there's no changing it. But there is changing the future. There is helping the heartbroken souls, the confused souls, the relieved souls, there is helping people come to terms with their own tragedy and move on.
He comes home with a smile, still dwelling on the fact that he's helping, that he's doing something good. His smile only brightens when he sees Padmé, waiting for him on the couch. The death was late at night and she really should have gone upstairs, but instead there she sits, her head lolling in her hand as she tries not to doze off, making sure he makes it home safe.
"Hey," He says, coming around the couch and leaning against the arm, waking her up. Gently, Anakin brushes a curl behind her ear and she hums happily, leaning into the contact, her eyes fluttering open as she does so.
"You're home," She smiles softly as he comes into focus.
Anakin presses a kiss to her forehead, which she again leans into, "You were right," He tells her.
"Of course, I was right." She replies while holding in a yawn, "Just, out of curiosity, what was I right about this time?"
"It gets easier."
Still sleep addled, it takes Padmé a moment to process his words. When the gears in her mind click together in the right place and she realizes what the it Anakin is talking about — which, is of course, reaping — Padmé seems to come to life. Her sleepy smile turns into a wide grin, her eyes shining with so much adoration that his heart aches because he feels the same way, and Anakin is completely unprepared for her surge forward to kiss him hungrily. He automatically catches her, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her flush against him, in part to return the kiss and in part to make sure she doesn't go tumbling over the edge of the couch and land them both on the floor. Her kiss is so sudden and so urgent, Anakin can't help but gasp against her lips. She takes the opportunity to deepen the kiss, slipping her tongue against him.
Anakin feels like he's being consumed, emotionally and physically. It takes all his inner strength to put his hands on Padmé's shoulders and hold her back, breaking the kiss to ask what is happening. She smirks and he isn't entirely sure he's ever seen that look on her face, a look of seduction.
"We're celebrating," Padmé replies, already moving closer to him, her lips not even a breath away from his. The warmth, the constant feeling the floods his system when he's with her, turn to fire. Without hesitation Anakin returns her kiss, lifting her off the couch, and pulling her flush against his chest. She wraps her legs around his waist, as she pulls her mouth from his and starts peppering his neck with kisses. She doesn't need to say tell him where to take her, he clearly already knows as they're already moving up the stairs and towards her bedroom.
Later, so late that it's early in the morning, Anakin lays on his side and stares at Padmé in wonder. Her entire body is still flushed pink and Anakin thinks that she is, without a doubt, the most beautiful thing he's ever seen. He tells her just that and she hits him with a pillow, her blush deepening even though it seems impossible, as she tells him that she looks like a mess. In reply he kisses her, softer than their earlier kisses that night, and she sighs happily against his lips. Both of them have finally caught their breath, despite their giddy grins that would imply the opposite, but neither has any intention to roll over and go to sleep. Instead, they're covered by the comfort of Padmé's sheets and, more importantly, by the comfort of the other's arms.
"What brought this on tonight?" Anakin eventually asks, lazily tracing patterns along her bare arms, her shoulders, down her back.
She shrugs, despite knowing full well why she did it, and shyly confesses, "I just, when you came home tonight, with that silly smile on your face, telling me that you understand your role as a reaper, I just, I realized that I'm a little in love with you."
"I'm a little in love with you, too." Anakin replies, pressing his lips against hers, "More than a little."
"More than a little," Padmé repeats, "Anakin," She says, her tone becoming more serious, and honesty swirling in her dark eyes, "I was so unprepared for you. You were the last thing I ever expected to find. You're young. You're brash. You're so full of emotions I sometimes wonder how you don't explode. And despite all that, no, because of all that, I love you. I truly, deeply, love you." She's so thankful she says those words because Anakin's smile, in that moment, is brighter than the sun that is just starting to peak out over the windowsill. Basking in the moment, Anakin pulls her close to him. She rests her head against his chest, listening to the heartbeat that shouldn't be, and settling comfortably against him.
Anakin lazily rakes his fingers through her curls, they're both starting to drift off to sleep when his fingers still and he asks quietly, almost scared to say the words, "Padmé," She hums, letting him know she's listening, "How did you die?" She tightens arms around Anakin, pressing a kiss against his chest, before beginning her story.
Interlude: The Death of Padmé Amidala
Like most people, Padmé Naberrie had not planned to die the day she did. She was twenty-five, looking towards the future, and incredibly optimistic. So optimistic that she was running for congress. If elected she would be the youngest member of the House of Representatives in twenty years. It was a week away from the election and she was five points above the sitting representative, the Republican candidate, Sheev Palpatine. The people in her district had rallied around her, inspired by her dedication to democracy and her desire for change, even though the district had historically been red.
The day she died Padmé was holding her last rally until election day. A large crowd stood before her, cheering as she spoke, and supporting her endeavors. It was an empowering feeling. The last thing she would remember, from being alive, was that rush of pride she had as she finished speaking and the crowd exploded into applause. It was that same applause that covered the sound of the gun shots. So no one realized it had happened until Padmé's hand was pressed against her chest, blood began to stain her shirt, and like a puppet cut from its string, she crumbled to the ground. It was only three shots, but it was enough, one missed, one entered right between her ribs, and the other tore through her heart. Even if there had been a chance to save her, it was lost with the chaos of the crowd slowing the help of the medics.
Her funeral was massive. Hundreds of her supporters came, in part, because her death felt like the death of hope in a republican era. It took two years for the police to connect the clues and realize Sheev Palpatine had ordered the shot. Two years that Padmé had to spend watching him vote in favor of everything she had stood against and watching him destroy everything that she had been days away from creating.
When Padmé died, Obi-wan and Mace constantly gave her pitying stares that said more than words could, that she was too young, that she had so much potential, that she could have made the world a better place. She hated those looks. She knew what she had lost. When Anakin heard Padmé's story he did not know how to react. He didn't give her pitying looks because he knew what it was like to die young. But she hadn't just died, she had been assassinated. She didn't deserve to die. He tells her just that. She shrugs, still holding him tight, it's been just under twenty years and she's come to terms with it. "Neither did you," She says, "And besides, the man who won Palpatine's seat after his arrest was a close friend of mine. I was lucky to watch him do what I didn't have the chance to do." Anakin asked who it was. "Well, I just knew him as Bail, but you'd know him as President Organa."
Waking up, for as long as Anakin can remember, has always been a struggle. That is, until he started sharing a bed with Padmé. That cheesy song about not wanting to sleep because you'd miss your girlfriend feels a lot less cheesy to Anakin. He still hates mornings, he'll never like mornings, but he likes morning with Padmé. He likes waking up with his arm draped around her waist or with her head nuzzled in the crook between his neck and his shoulder. His favorite way to wake up is when he wakes up first. Those mornings he just props himself up on his elbow and watches her for a moment. Not in a creepy way, he always insists when she wakes up, but in a romantic way. He always thinks about how lucky his unluckiest day alive turned out to be. His death turned into this, the soft morning light falling on her, catching the traces of gold in her dark hair, and making her look like the angel he thought she was when the first met. Although, Anakin does enjoy the mornings she wakes up first and his own eyes flutter open as the feel of her fingers lazily raking through his hair stirs him from his sleep.
This is one of those mornings, where his eyes open to her laying on her side, leaning towards him and smiling, but instead of the usual good morning, she smiles, almost sadly, and says, "Happy Anniversary."
"Anniversary?" Anakin asks, sitting up a little as he tries to figure out what she means.
For a moment, there's pity in her eyes and Anakin knows exactly what she's going to say before the words leave her lips, "Of the day you died."
Guilt, regret, sadness, and what feels like a thousand emotions he can't even name, wash over Anakin. It's been a year since he died. A year without his mother or his friends. A year of taking souls and helping people. A year of coming to terms and moving on. A year of falling in love.
"Oh," Anakin whispers. He doesn't know why and he can't explain it, but tears start to well at the corners of his eyes. Padmé pulls him close to her and for split second it feels like his first reaping again, being cradled in Padmé's arms as he cries. But only for a second. Because no matter how difficult or lonely the past year was at times, it was also the best year of his life. Anakin can't help but wonder, what that says about a person, if the best part of their life is what happens after it. There also isn't much time to dwell on the fact it is the anniversary of his death. It's a normal day and there are things to do. Once his tears are dry, they both get out of bed and start their day with an already well tread routine.
Nobody outside of the group of reapers know how difficult this day is for Anakin. To everyone else it's a normal Tuesday and Anakin has to act like it. Like every morning for the past year he gets his breakfast at the diner, today opting for just a black coffee, not sure if he can stomach anything else. Obi-wan and Mace both congratulate him on reaching a year, making the day feel more like a strangest birthday of his life instead of the anniversary of his death. Yoda hands out the post-its, the others banter, and Anakin nurses his slowly cooling cup of coffee, thinking about the past year. Like every morning for the past year, they leave the diner and go their separate ways, to reap, to work, or to do whatever Obi-wan does throughout the day. Anakin holds Padmé's hand a little longer than necessary before letting go. She presses a kiss to his cheek, promising that it will all be okay.
The mood in the garage is weird. All the other mechanics, Watto included, seem to be in a daze. When Anakin asks Kitster what's going on, he's speechless when told that everyone is mourning him. Anakin blinks in surprise. He's spent the entire morning thinking about himself, thinking about the fact that he's been dead, that he hasn't thought about the people in his life. He shakes his head for a second, clearing his thoughts, before racing to Watto and telling him he has to leave early, for a family emergency. On the way to his so-called emergency, Anakin reaps his soul for the day, and leaves voicemails for each of the reapers telling them to meet him at the graveyard at six. But he does have a family matter to deal with.
His heart, which still seems like it shouldn't be beating, is pounding louder than the knock on the door. He stays on the front steps but wills himself to not be seen. When the door swings open he sees his mother, a tissue in hand like he had seen her so often months ago, and the look of confusion on her face at the sight of the flowers. She reads the note he left and when she starts to cry, Anakin is surprised but glad to see a man he doesn't know come from inside the house to comfort his mom. Shmi buries her face in the man's shoulder and as he comforts her, Anakin knows, just as the note he left said and just as she had said so many times to him as he was growing up, Skywalkers are always alright.
Anakin's at the cemetery well before six. He has the blanket spread out on his grave and the flutes of champagne filled. When the others arrive, one by one, he gives them all, even Yoda, a large hug. They were right to have congratulated him earlier. He realizes he hadn't been thinking clearly when he woke up, that he was so focused on mourning his own death he didn't think about the fact that for some reason, be it destiny or luck, he's still here. He's still here and he's had a good year. He's fallen in love. He's made a family. He's helped.
"It's not so bad," Anakin says as a toast, lifting his champagne air, "Being dead with you." The others say cheers and clink their glasses. Anakin's gaze falls to Padmé, pressed up against him. With her wide giddy smile in the fading light is more beautiful than the sun setting over the hill, with Obi-wan's laugh is a better sound than the birds singing their final songs for the night's, with Mace's voice more comforting than the evening breeze that's starting to blow, Anakin thinks that this is exactly where he wants to be, exactly where he's meant to be.
It starts as a normal Sunday morning. Obi-wan and Mace are both furiously writing across the newspapers in front of them, trying to finish the crossword puzzle before the other. Anakin and Padmé are going through their own newspaper, trying to decide on a movie time and what they actually want to watch. Yoda fills out his post-its with the assignments. Breakfast sits before them, only half eaten, all too distracted with their Sunday morning activities.
Like always, each reaper pauses what they are doing to take their assignment. Anakin grumbles when he sees that one of his deaths takes place when they had just agreed to see a movie. He's no longer keeping track of what number death it is, it feels right, it's his life. Obi-wan rolls his eyes when he is handed post-its with ETDs close together and locations far apart. Padmé nudges Anakin and suggests they go bowling instead of seeing a movie, since one of her deaths is at the third sketchiest bowling alley. But all the Sunday routines stop when Yoda speaks, "Been reached, your quota has."
"Mine?" Mace asks, his crossword puzzle already forgotten. It doesn't matter anymore, not when he might be moving on.
"Mmmm," Yoda nods, "Completed your responsibilities, you have. Your last death, this is. Move on, you will."
Everyone else turns to look at Mace. After nearly two hundred years of death, he will finally die. Nobody knows what to say.
If people could wake up on the last day of their life and know that they were going to die, they would probably do things differently. Ahsoka Tano, for one, would have stayed in bed, the right way to spend a weekend as she always insists, and later watch B-rated horror movies with her father, Plo Koon, as they often do. In fact, she probably wouldn't have ever left home again, more than pleased to never go back to high school and to never have the chance to die. But then she wouldn't have been where she needed to be to die, which is probably why people don't wake up knowing that it is the day that they're going to die.
However, a small group of people do wake up knowing who is going to die that day. Well not exactly when they wake up, they learn who is going to die in a small, homey diner, every day over their morning coffee.
But what matters on the morning that Ahsoka dies is that she doesn't know what is going to happen. She doesn't stay in bed all day like she believes you should on weekends and she doesn't spend the rest of her life at home. Instead, she asks her dad for an extra few dollars, begrudgingly receives a kiss on the cheek, and heads out for the second date with the girl she really really likes.
Ahsoka is confused enough after the strange man down the street insisted on giving her a handshake, but suddenly being crushed by a falling flaming toilet from a space station is more than she can process. Especially when she finds herself standing a few feet away from the site of impact, where under the smoldering toilet seat she presumes her dead body is. She's so focused on the fact that the single shoe, which presumably still holds a now disembodied foot, most likely belongs to her, that she almost misses the strange conversation taking place behind her. Almost.
"She's younger than me, Padmé, me, she can't be a reaper!"
"We have no control over it, Anakin."
"Well we should!"
"Please don't make us do this again! If we have to do this every time someone young dies…"
"We haven't had to do this since my first death and that was different, she wasn't a reaper."
"Babe," the woman says, seemingly to end the conversation, "It's gonna be okay. You weren't alone and she won't be either."
Ahsoka spins around to see perhaps the most outrageously attractive couple she has ever seen holding hands and staring directly at her. They seem to be the only people to be able to see her and Ahsoka finds herself blurting out, "Am I dead?"
The beautiful woman shrugs, her dark curls bouncing in her shoulders, "Yeah, you are."
"Are you angels?" Ahsoka asks next.
"Not quite," The man says, glancing down at the woman by his side, there's a twinkle in his eyes that makes it seem like something she said was funny. The woman laughs a little and nudges him, both have soft smiles on their faces. He glances back to Ahsoka and finishes as he squeezes the woman's hand, "But I asked the same question when I died."