Author's Note: Brief fix-fic. Pure self-indulgence.
This place was full of dying Jedi. Two of the dead watched from a corner.
"Maybe – maybe if I just changed one more thing, I could save him," the remains of Tahiri Veila insisted, eyes fixed upon her living self. "Please, Jacen –"
Darth Caedus, that which had been Jacen Solo, barely held back his urge to roll his eyes. He could hardly blame her, since he had embarked on a deliberate and cold-blooded plan of corruption to turn a sensible, if traumatized, woman into this; to hold her in contempt would be as senseless as a sculptor railing at the stone for being weak enough to accept his great work. Even so, it was pathetic. Squalid.
The small part of him that retained a weak, feeble human conscience agreed: little could be more pathetic and squalid than trapping a woman within her own private Embrace of Pain, all while pretending to be a fellow mourner and a friend. It merely disagreed about what side of the situation those adjectives ought to modify.
He had grown very practiced at ignoring that part of him; Lumiya had taught him that such feelings were to be cherished only inasmuch as they provided a further sacrifice. And thus he reminded himself that, when he had reduced the welfare and happiness of the people he had once loved most in all the galaxy down to simple and necessary sacrifices, tolerating the tumultuous feelings of Tahiri Veila wasn't such a major sacrifice.
It only felt like one.
"I've told you many times before, Tahiri," he explained gently, not even bothering to correct her on his new, real name. The whole galaxy would know soon enough. "We can't make major changes. If we tried, we'd fail, and our imprints upon the past would cause more trouble than good." The last thing he needed was for the other survivors to see him fooling around with what they perceived to be the past. It wasn't the past, of course – if it had been, surely he, Jacen Solo, would have managed to alter it – but he'd long since accepted that other Force-users were rather childlike and foolish, quite unlike his educated self. "Come on, let's –"
"Please, Jacen! Please!"
Her face was wet with tears. More importantly, her voice was shrill, and Darth Caedus had endured enough of over-emotional females lately. His lover questioning his policy decisions, his daughter nagging him about never being home, his aunt doing her damnedest to reduce him to a smoking pile of disassembled meat … Oh, why couldn't more women be like Lumiya? "Jacen, I'll never ask you again," she continued, in the most blatant lie he had heard in a lifetime that had been lately dedicated to nothing but blatant lies, "just please, please –"
"Fine!" he snapped. She flinched – perhaps his eyes flashed yellow – but he couldn't even be bothered to take petty joy in that. "Fine, fine, fine, fine! Go make your younger self kiss Anakin again, or tell him she loves him, or any number of other things! I don't even care any more. It will be on your head. If absolutely anything comes of it, and I can assure you it will be only bad, I'll be certain to let absolutely everyone know it was your fault and because of your selfish stupidities!"
It was a bluff, since his reputation was mud compared to a hard-working loyal Jedi like Tahiri, but she was too far gone to notice. Disturbingly, she was too far gone to care. "That's all right," she croaked, looking at him with the broken adoration of a beaten pet. "I'll take responsibility for whatever happens. Just thank you for giving this chance, Jacen. Thank you."
And then she was off, running across echoes of long-gone time. Darth Caedus gave a sigh of disgust and turned his back on her. It wasn't like she could do much, not without disrupting the delicate balance of flow-walking. It was a fragile and subtle process, and she treated it just like thumping across sand dunes in her bare feet. Idiot.
He waited a bit longer, tapping his foot and wondering what was taking her so long, and then this little pocket of remembered time began to collapse. As expected; she'd probably done something dramatic. Hopefully the witnesses, if there were any, could be silenced. Likely, she had just stretched the preordained path too f–
He stumbled and almost lost his balance, but it made no sense. The surroundings were not actually changing or fading. Yet they seemed, even though both his mundane and metaphysical senses denied it, to be shivering apart around him. Otherwise, it wouldn't be so hard to maintain his balance – not to fall – to –
In the instant before the world went black, he dismissed the possibility that had just come to mind as absurd. If nothing was wrong with this bubble of time, and yet his perceptions were rippling –
Was it the flow that was collapsing, or him?
A thump altered the man that something was awry.
Stretching, he hopped off his seat and made his way to the living room. Probably just a decorative piece falling over – fortunately, the kids had helped him acquire a taste for unbreakable objects. Force-sensitive children had an amazing gift for testing the limits of the physically possible and then some – to say nothing of their parents' patience. He sighed. He'd have to do something for his own parents to show his appreciation for putting up with their Force-sensitive brood for all those years…
The door opened to find his wife helping his brother off the floor. At the sight of him, the two of them startled, as though ashamed; it reminded him strangely of a trite holo-drama depiction of cheating, but the very thought was absurd. His wife's heart was his alone, just as his heart was hers, but his brother –
Well, it was an open secret that his brother's body might wander the galaxy and his mind might wander the pathways of the Force, but his heart resided firmly in Hapes.
He shook off the lingering traces of the thought, like a bad dream. Tahiri and Jacen? Ridiculous. What did they even have in common?
Wartime service aside, that is.
"What's going on here, you two?" he asked, leaning against the doorframe. His brother looked and sounded loopy, shaking his head and moaning like he was coming out of a bad nightmare. He always was a little strange, after the final battle against Onimi, but this was something else altogether… something concerning. Did he have a concussion?
"It's my fault," his wife admitted, and he blinked. "I've been expressing curiosity about some of the alternative Force traditions and their techniques that Jacen's been investigating, and he finally decided upon one he wanted to demonstrate. He dropped by, and we… I know it was rude of us to get started right away, without you, but…" Confusion passed over her features. "I… No, that's not how it happened." She shook her head, briefly looking as concussed as Jacen. "You… weren't there. You were… gone, and…"
"Weren't there? I've been home all day." Now he was getting really concerned. "Tahiri?"
"You were gone… gone so long… and never…"
Then she threw it off, and the familiar radiant smile broke across her face. He felt nothing but relief; for those moments, he could have sworn a different woman looked out from behind his wife's eyes – a sadder woman, a battered woman, a woman whose reflection he prayed to never see in her face again. "I'm sorry – Jacen, you were right." Jacen looked as though he couldn't be sure of being right about anything at the moment, including his own name. "I shouldn't have rushed into that without more meditation and preparation first. Without proper detachment –" Her eyes started to go distant again, and she shook herself hard. "It's hard to remember the things you see aren't real, isn't it?"
"What things?" he asked. "What are you talking about – and is he all right?"
His brother looked up at him as though he wasn't sure Anakin himself wasn't some Force phantasm. "I'm fine," he muttered after a moment, not sounding fine at all. "Just went in too deep too fast –"
"Jacen, I'm sorry, it was my –"
"No, it was my fault." Some vigor came back into Jacen's voice. "It was my fault," he repeated. "I knew what I was doing. You didn't. It was my responsibility to guide the visions productively, and –" He shook his head, rubbing his forehead, and brushed away Tahiri's hands as he got to his feet. "I got full of myself and – thought I was more than I was. I'd proclaimed myself a Master based on my own petty feelings and philosophies and ignored the only thing that matters: practice." He nodded to Tahiri, looking as embarrassed as a child found amid the wreckage of a too-clever-by-half candy-stealing scheme. "She thinks she pressed me, but really I baited her into it," he admitted. "I kept hinting at all the things I could do, the sights I'd seen, until only a corpse wouldn't have been curious – and I don't know about the corpses. You know, the Sith tombs on Korriban–"
"You're going off-topic," he said, well aware that his brother would lose himself in anthropological discourse for an hour or more if he was allowed to get away with it. Under the circumstances, that was a heartening sign; it meant Jacen was returning to his usual self. "So Tahiri says it's her fault and you say it's yours. What is your fault?"
They both got a distant look again, though Jacen's wasn't the same as Tahiri's. It was – He'd thought hers was bad, the look of a lost and beaten woman who had lived with some unnamed, unendurable agony every day, never complaining and never speaking a word, until at last she had silently, finally broken beneath its weight, with no one around to hear a sound. Jacen's looked –
Hunted. Angry. Broken. Twisted.
In that moment, it was truly as though another man wore his brother's face, and he did not want that man near his wife.
Then Jacen shook it off, and he relaxed. Just a little. To his surprise, he found he already had a Force-grip upon his distant lightsaber, in the other room, and let go of it with an effort. Old instincts died hard.
"Visions," Jacen said, gazing at the ceiling as though he were looking out at an entire cityscape. "But the past, not the future. Things that might have been. Things that were. Things that weren't, and yet might yet…" His brother reached out, as though seeking to touch something only he could see.
"Always in motion is the future is the old line," Anakin said sharply, "not the past. We can't change that. We can only look towards tomorrow."
"It's not wrong to be mindful of the past," Jacen said, shaking loose of those strands of might-have-beens and looking back at him equally pointedly.
"From the sounds of it, the technique goes a lot further than being mindful. Or, at least, it can if you lose control."
"The people who developed it had good reasons, I'm sure," Tahiri said softly. "There are people in this world who don't have anything but the past. If it was a way of saying goodbye… letting go…"
Anakin sighed. "When do we Force-sensitives ever stop there? That's the great conflict of the Jedi Order, time and time again, isn't it – the people who can't let go, won't let go, even if it means the universe burns? Who won't say goodbye to what they cannot have, even as it destroys them and everyone around them?"
Since recent revelations – it might have been a few years past, by now, but it still burned – of why exactly his grandfather and namesake had fallen, such thoughts had weighed heavily upon Anakin in private. All his childhood fears of some inexplicable, indescribable inner darkness lurking in his line had been swept away, exposed to the light of truth and burned up like Tatooine atmospheric moisture beneath the twin suns, and yet… and yet that hadn't helped at all…
"But what if you could?" asked Jacen, flicking a glance over his shoulder, as though he didn't know whether he had glimpsed something or imagined it. "What if – what if, by refusing to let go hard enough and returning over and over again to the past, you could change it? What if you could make it right? In that case – wouldn't even you admit it was worth it?"
Anakin considered that for a moment, giving it serious thought, before shaking his head. "It's a moot question, isn't it?"
Jacen blinked. "What?"
Anakin shrugged and looked at Tahiri, who looked back at him with equal parts confusion and curiosity. "If something like that happened – brooding over all your mistakes and regrets so strongly that they actually erased themselves from existence, overwriting reality in your own image through sheer force of will – then how would we ever know it had ever been otherwise?"
Author's Note: If this wasn't self-indulgence, I'd have to explain what, precisely, Tahiri did that caused a divergence, possibly tie it into Anakin's brief state of oneness with the Force as he died (in the original timeline), sketch out a wider picture of how the ripple-effects from his survival changed the galaxy, etc. But others have done Anakin-Lives better and in more depth than I ever could, so - self-indulgence it is.
Hope readers enjoyed.