Vader can be forgiven for not realizing the fact that this is, in fact, reality and not a dream purely based on the fact that half his nightmares start on Tatooine. The shift of sand beneath his boots, the heat trapped against his skin underneath his dark robes, the light piercing into his retinas; it's all exactly as he's dreamed ever since Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi saved him from this pitiful planet. He's striven to tear away from the terrible excuse he had for an existence ever since he left and now here he is, back where he started.
Or, not exactly where he started. Anakin Skywalker never once tread foot in the Sand Wastes, the stories his mother was willing to let slip enough to terrify the stupid child he had been away from the edge of unknown territory. Maybe if he'd been here long as a young man, maybe if he'd come back after the Jedi Order fell, maybe then he would have-
But that's not true. Vader knows it as soon as he turns his thoughts to the concept; he'd never out of his own volition enter the Sand Wastes. It was one piece of advice his mother gave him that stuck with him through his Fall.
'The Sand Wastes can drive the sanest man mad.'
Vader can still hear his mother's voice when he looks about him; the dunes stretch on for miles as a glance, and heat rises off them in sickeningly thick waves. As he wipes sweat from his brow, Vader watches in fascination as the drops of moisture simply evaporates right off of his glove. This desert wrings a person out like a sponge, and the Wastes are the worst of it.
If he touches any part of his own skin with his mech hand, Vader muses, he might burn right through to flesh at this point. He'll have to get out of the heat soon or risk heatstroke and an addled mind from the sun.
If only Master could see me now he'd laugh himself into a heart attack, the old fool, Vader thinks and must resist the urge to hiss in anger. He's not sure exactly what's happening here, why this dream has lasted so long, but he's had enough of these games. His Master is manipulative at best and sadistic at worst (not that that's a very far stretch) and he knows if anyone is behind his consciousness's sudden ability to produce truly vivid horrors, it is his Master.
Obi-Wan used to keep our quarters close to freezing, says a traitorous little voice in the back of his mind, one that has persisted in becoming louder and louder these few weeks, and Vader smothers it with righteous vigor. But it always comes back.
He'd keep blankets on the couch for when you were cold; he'd say-
"It's easier to come in out of the cold than to escape the heat within," Vader mutters. "Yeah, yeah. Fat lot of good that wisdom did him in the end."
The old ache in his chest throbs with new life at the thought and Vader crushes that ruthlessly, too.
Presently, he stops. His thoughts are too emotional and he's not looking where he's going and by the Force, will this blasted sand ever end? The horizon seems to stretch for miles.
Focus. Pull yourself out of this.
He's had enough of this game. When he wakes up, he and his Master will certainly have words.
The old man's getting to be too much trouble than he's worth anyway.
Vader closes his eyes, breathes deeply and lets the Force roll over him. In his sleep it should at least be muffled, but his connection is as loud as ever. The Force pulls at his mind, swirling around and through the Sith. Vader almost smiles, but some strange feeling simply refuses to let him sink into the Force.
The Force is dark, as it has been since that fateful day all those years ago- but this darkness is true. It feeds into his anger, his pain simmering too close to the surface and instead of reflecting it back off of the Light of a surviving few, swallows Vader's emotions with a hunger that speaks of a deep wealth of rage, an all-consuming pool of Dark that threatens to devour the world.
Vader almost jumps at the revelation, his training sessions with his new Master the only thing that stops him from stumbling back in shock.
The Force has never belonged so fully to the Dark when he has been alive; it has been very grey, of course, but the few lights left in the galaxy- Yoda, for one, although Vader also suspects Mace Windu and Shaak Ti might have made it out alive, to say nothing of Ahsoka- are bright and burning, lighting the path of the Jedi through the darkness.
Or they were bright. This Dark is something completely unfamiliar. It licks at his consciousness, seeps in and twists about Vader's heart, trying to whisper poison in his ears. He feels his own power in the Force surge in response and knows without seeing that his eyes flare orange where they are usually gleaming yellow.
Vader forces the Dark Side back, ripping free of its seduction as he physically thrusts himself forward, only his years of experience stopping him from falling face first into the scalding sands. He has never felt this way; he has never needed to separate himself from the Force, Light or Dark; he has always been in control, always had the ability to bend the Force to his will, has never been overwhelmed by its power. Now, Vader feels very close to an edge he previously never would have considered existed.
There's something wrong here.
This is not home.
You're not dreaming.
"Yeah, no banthakark," Vader mutters to himself. The Dark sings around him, responding to his ample connection to the Force, and Vader is left with no choice but to accept that this is reality. Something has happened when he wasn't looking- possibly the meddling of his Master, or possibly Vader was too deep in his meditation to recognize a Force nexus opening close by, and wouldn't Obi-Wan get a laugh out of that-
An old instruction, given with a sense of safety and comfort, floats through Vader's mind. 'Search your feelings, padawan. Trust in the Force.'
Without a second thought, Vader does. Ready as he is now, the Force cannot make the Sith falter underneath it's pull. He resists the undertow, searching, looking, hoping to find what he has not in all this time.
A brief, bright spark in the Darkness. A star about to go out, a candle burning too low, guttering. A warmth that melts the ice in Vader's bones, a sense of such grief it chokes him.
The Force sings in Vader's heart and the Dark Side recedes in a way Vader has not felt since- since-
Where? Where, after all these years-
In the end, he is so very close.
The Darkness Vader thought just moments ago to be all-encompassing is banished even further from the Sand Wastes as he locks eyes with the man Vader had thought all but lost.
He crosses three sand dunes in a matter of seconds, his childhood memories making it easy for him not to sink into the sands that want to suck him in, wring his bones dry. But as he bounds across the Sand Wastes, Vader cannot appreciate the deadly nature of his home, cannot think about his new Master's mechanisms, the fact this may be a test or a punishment or a dream-
Because here he is. Here is Obi-Wan Kenobi.
He is almost exactly as Vader remembers; his hair shines copper and golden in the light of twin suns Vader never wanted to shine upon his old Master. His eyes are the brightest blue Vader has ever seen. His palms are worn but soft and Vader knows what their weight will feel like when they rest on his shoulders. His robe is dusty, but underneath all the dirt, it is brown and familiar and comfortably threadbare.
He is almost exactly as Vader never wished he was; his mouth is a thin line, his brow is wrinkled and strained, his face is gaunt. His shoulders hold some great, terrible weight he cannot let slip, even for a moment. There is tragedy etched in his every line. He is battle-worn and tired and so very alone.
Obi-Wan, who had up until the moment Vader moved been watching from a distance, startles back now as Vader lands before him. Sand sprays out from beneath his boots and Obi-Wan jerks in surprise as the dust billows between them, head turning as if looking for somewhere to run, somewhere to flee. Vader steps towards him again, hands coming up to waist height- he doesn't know what he wants to do just yet- but Kenobi throws his own hand forward.
"Don't," he rasps and oh, but his voice is just as Vader remembers it, "I know- what you are. You're not him. You can't trick me into thinking you- that you're-"
His Master never stumbled over his words. Poised, precise, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi could cut a man to pieces with a few well-placed words. This man-
This is not your home.
This is not your Obi-Wan.
"You're not Anakin Skywalker," the man who could be no one but Obi-Wan Kenobi says. His hand never strays towards his lightsaber even as Lord Vader approaches slowly. His eyes are sharp, though, and follow the Sith's every move intently. "You are not my Anakin."
"No." Vader takes a great risk to rest a palm as gently as he can against the Jedi's face. The black of his clothes looks so dark against his pale cheek.
"But you," Vader decides, feeling the Dark in him swell with a roar of satisfaction, "are my Obi-Wan."