The Cave of the Dark Side.

It was strange in an objective way. The cave was physically well hidden. If seen with only eyes, most might mistake it for being only a hollow space beneath a large tree. But it wasn't hidden, not at all. Anything living could sense this place, even without the Force. The unease, the dread it gave off. The Dark Side luring and warning in equal yet contradictory measures. Beasts it did not affect, as if they knew instinctively that the cave would do nothing to them. That it only desired to toy with those of a higher awareness, of a stronger connection to the Force.

"Do you remember what I told you, Anakin?" Qui-Gon asked softly.

"Only what I take with me," Anakin answered, looking down at his lightsaber. "It's weird though. I feel like I should bring this. Not because I might need to fight, but because it's...important? Somehow?"

Well, that was interesting. Qui-Gon glanced at the dragonsnake again and found Lu-Gal slowly crawling toward the cave, nodding to Anakin to follow him. "Be careful, Padawan. It seems the Force is not done giving us more surreal experiences."

"Joy. Look, if I "AM" the Chosen One, it'd be nice if the Force would give me time to process this stuff before throwing more at me," Anakin grumbled, more to himself. Or perhaps to the Force itself.

He felt the pull stronger now. The Dark Side wanted him to enter and the Light was...

In the Cave as well? Like a flicker in the dark, he could sense something bright and kind in that dark vergence. That was not normal.

Such was the story of his life though.

"Come on, Lu, since you wanted me to come so badly," Anakin said as he began to walk in.

"Be careful, Anakin," Qui-Gon said in concern as he watched Anakin head into the cave.

Anakin said nothing, his focus too keenly on the Force to think of doing anything else. Lu-Gal trailed near his feet, looking all around with bestial curiosity.

Anakin knew what to expect. He had been in the cave once before. This was bound to be a vision of some sort.

He found himself in the darkness of the cave and came to a half. Lu-Gal had his fangs barred cautiously, scanning the area but otherwise did nothing. By all normal senses, they were alone.

Normal senses.

"Hello?" Anakin called out with bewildered eyes. "Are you real or just some trick of the Force?"

"That's funny, I was about to ask the same thing," a voice called back, kind yet confused.

Meanwhile

"This complicates things."

As they entered hyperspace, Vader looked from the controls to regard Plagueis pointedly. "You certainly have earned the moniker of The 'Wise.'"

Plagueis decided to let that go. "Yes, yes, I'm stating the obvious to broach the topic. What shall we do then? We've at least established that time isn't unraveling, nearest anyone can tell."

"I've ruled out a cosmic-level natural disaster in exchange for confirming an intentional attack by an unknown party that can manipulate time to some degree," Vader clarified. "Along with adding on a timetable to prepare for an invasion from outside the galaxy."

"Yes, that's my immediate concern," Plagueis agreed, stroking his chin. "Though, something struck me as interesting."

"You will need to be incredibly more specific given everything we just learned," Vader pointed out.

"The Ai'ing refer to the Force as the Veil. Yet Rona'Ba said these invaders were...torn, banished from the veil," Plagueis reminded meaningfully.

Vader suddenly came to a stop. "Banished from the Force," Vader repeated, facing Plagueis fully. "Do you-?"

"The Slivilith is one of the oldest mysteries of the galaxy. And immune to the Force," Plagueis mused. "I used to be skeptical of the Force having a true will of its own, but I have never been one to trust coincidence."

"If they have been sighted for as long as you say, these outsiders have been scouting our galaxy for a long time," Vader deduced.

"So, we have something of about fifteen years to prepare for them," Plagueis stated.

"The Clone Wars ended in three years. Even if there will be more chaos this time, I'm confident the galaxy can be stabilized in less than a decade," Vader commented. "The issue remains, however, that the war has not yet sparked."

"And you don't wish to start it yourself," Plagueis mused. "So we have three courses of action. One, do nothing and hope it happens on its own. Truthfully, not a bad thing to do in the short term. Two, we try to keep the galaxy united in the face of this external threat. I can feasibly pull it off, but it would not be easy. Option three, we find something to spark this war, ideally something that isn't actually connected to the Sith."

Vader looked out into the lights of hyperspace. "There is a fourth option."

Plagueis cocked his head. "Amuse me."

"We prepare."

Plagueis raised an eyebrow. "Yes, obviously, but what do you..." he paused, his eyes darting back and forth for an instant. "Oh? Is that what you have in mind?"

Vader said nothing as he continued to stare into the void.

"Sidious was wise to place you in charge of the militaries," Plagueis praised with a chuckle. "With all of our grand schemes and long-term planning, he and I both sometimes overlooked how effective the simplest solutions could be if done in the right manner."

Now Vader's silence was growing odd.

"What is it?" Plagueis as his brows furrowed warily.

"I am unsure," Vader answered, mostly honest. "But there is a disturbance in the Force."

Plagueis reached out and, to his perplexity, couldn't sense anything amiss. "Disturbances" were a broad term with the Force, but most could be categorized in one of two ways. A disturbance that everyone could sense, due to the scale of it, versus a disturbance only a few felt due to the cause being personally related to them.

The question became, just what had caused a "personal disturbance" in the Force for Vader.

Meanwhile

Anakin squinted, and could just barely make out a humanoid shape, which seemed to be doing just the same to Anakin. "Wait a minute, I have...it's a weapon, but it's the only light I have. Don't be scared."

"The same to you," Anakin returned in kind as he held up his lightsaber.

He wasn't at all surprised when a green lightsaber ignited to reveal a human, a young adult male at that.

However, the stranger seemed to be completely UNPREPARED for when Anakin ignited his own. Anakin watched curiously as the newcomer stumbled back in shock.

"What's a child doing here, on a planet like this? And how did you get a lightsaber?" the man asked in alarm.

Anakin held up his lightsaber a bit higher while tugging at his robes. "Because I'm a Jedi? Well, Padawan. My Master brought me here to train."

"A...Jedi?" the man asked slowly. "I didn't think there was anyone else on this planet."

"Neither did I," Anakin returned. "You know this is a bit of a bad place to walk into, right? It's about the Force equivalent of walking into a Rancor den, and the mother thinks you're after her kids."

The man managed to chuckle. "I suppose that's true. I just...felt like there was something in here. Something that wasn't...dark. That was you, right?" he explained before shaking his head. "Sorry, I should probably introduce myself. My name is Luke Skywalker."

Meanwhile

Plagueis couldn't hide his alarm when Vader put a hand on the wall. Vader didn't show physical signs of weakness. Not even staring into death itself, he was defiant until he could not be anymore.

"Vader?" he asked warily, reaching out with the Force to look for signs of injury to his body or damage to his cybernetics. "What's wrong? Are your limbs malfunctioning?"

"I'm fine," Vader said forcefully, and Plagueis almost believed him.

"Vader, you look closer to collapsing than you did after closing a Force Storm," Plagueis insisted, turning the pilot chair around, and moving forward to physically nudge Vader in its direction. "Sit. What's going on?"

Vader didn't answer, looking outside at the hyperspace. "I don't feel like I'm here."

"If you were anyone else, I would think you mean just emotionally," Plagueis said with a frown, waving a hand over Vader slowly, a green glow about it. "You're fine physically, but..." he paused with a perplexed frown. "You feel almost like you're meditating. Almost, but not quite."

Vader's breathing rang louder in the cockpit than it should have. "Something, or someone, is demanding my attention."

Meanwhile

Anakin stared for a good long time. "If this is one of the Dark Side's mind games, I'm going to be very annoyed."

"What?" Luke asked in surprise.

"Sorry, it's just...my name is Anakin Skywalker," Anakin explained. "And I'm starting to think you're just this cave playing a trick on me."

"I...I'm sorry, you're Anakin Skywalker?" Luka repeated in disbelief. "Did someone name you after the hero from the Clone Wars?"

Anakin raised a brow. "The what wars?"

Luke stared, stupefied and uncertain. "Now I'm beginning to question if you're real."

Lu-Gal suddenly chortled, looking between the two.

"Wait, you have a dragonsnake? Is it a...pet?" Luke asked, cautious from prior experience.

"He's a friend. I call him Lu-Gal," Anakin introduced, glancing down at the creature. "And I think he thought he was leading me to my kin. I don't suppose you're my long-lost father who finally showed back up?" he asked sarcastically.

"I mean...I think I should be the one asking that," Luke explained awkwardly. "I was told my father was Anakin Skywalker. "

Anakin stared for a long moment. "Anakin, the Son of Shmi Skywalker?"

"Yeah. Yeah, that was my grandmother's name. A slave from Tatooine, before she was freed," Luke confirmed. "What...is this?"

Meanwhile

Vader was no longer aware of Plagueis. Not really. He knew he was there in the cockpit, confused, but Vader himself was lost in the Force, adrift in the currents and waves that would bash him all about.

A lesser soul would have drowned in it.

"Enough."

The Force about him stilled at his command.

Vader spoke with no mouth, breathed with no lungs, glared with no eyes, and walked without limbs.

Any who could peer deeply and truly into the Force would perceive him as a giant of smoldering, dark power that waded through the vastness.

The searing gaze searched through the web that connected all life in the galaxy and searched for what had called him forth.

It didn't take him long to find the answer, if only because it was very...noticeable to any that might be watching.

Three nexuses in the Force were overlapping, two of light pulsing brightly within the shadows of another, one of darkness.

Nexuses overlapping happens all the time, especially if a living nexus travels to a place nexus. But certain ones had interesting interactions when they grew near.

And these two were bright in the Force, even against the dark nexus they were within.

Meanwhile

"What...is this?"

Anakin took a deep breath and looked at the ceiling of the cave. "Entertainment for some entity or another, no doubt," he muttered. "What year is it?"

"What?" Luke asked in surprise.

"Luke, I obviously don't have children. So unless something really convoluted or nefarious is going on, I think we're somehow having a shared force vision across different points in time," Anakin explained bluntly.

"That's less convoluted?" Luke asked skeptically.

"On my last adventure, I was split into sixteen copies of myself through a spatial anomaly," Anakin answered evenly. "My definition of convoluted is much more evolved than yours is."

"You're not even sixteen," Luke observed. It was not mockery or skepticism, just pure shock. He suddenly had a look on his face. It was...kind of sad? Longing? Almost insecure. "25 AFE. The year, I mean," he answered absently.

"AFE?" Anakin questioned without comprehension.

"Huh? Oh, right. Sorry, you wouldn't know that. Umm, what zero-point are your calendars using? Ruusan? Great Resync?" Luke asked awkwardly.

"Does anyone really use Great Resync?" Anakin asked, half joking but half curious.

Luke paused in thought, doing some minor math. "1006 RR."

Anakin almost gaped, despite everything. "It's...it's 973 RR," he explained in disbelief.

"I'm...in the past?" Luke asked slowly, still trying to comprehend this.

"No, I don't think so," Anakin said with a thoughtful look. "You feel real, but at the same time not. Like you're the projection of someone real."

"You...you can sense that? At your age?" Luke asked in amazement.

Anakin looked at him for a long, long moment.

"What? What is it?" Luke asked in concern.

"Sorry, it just occurred to me. I'm talking to my son, from the future...and you've been implying we never met. I...like to think I know myself enough to say that I wouldn't just abandon you, Jedi Code or not, so..." Anakin smiled a sad smile. "I'm guessing I'm not around."

Now it was Luke's turn to stare again. "Yeah. Uncle...Uncle Owens never told me much about you. I think he was always worried I run off and follow in your footsteps. Headlong into trouble, I mean."

"I get the feeling you did that anyway," Anakin answered before looking confused. "I don't know an Owens?"

Luke frowned. "I probably shouldn't say-" he stopped as if he was finally comprehending the situation. "What am I doing...?"

"Luke?" Anakin asked curiously.

"Father! Listen! Something terrible happens in eight years!" Luke started imploringly.

Anakin grew grim, but it was telling to Luke that the child that would one day sire him was not alarmed or surprised.

"In eight years, the Clone War ends, and the Republic is turned into a Galactic Empire-"

Anakin raised both his eyebrows at that but held his tongue.

"-after the Jedi are all but wiped out!"

That, that did get Anakin's alarm. "What do you mean wiped out? How?"

There were tens of thousands of Jedi. Even if combat wasn't the forte of all or even most Jedi, killing off that many Jedi would not be easy or low in body count, sans insanely careful planning.

"I don't know all the details. They were framed as trying to overthrow the senate, most taken out while they were spread across the galaxy because of the war. The rest were hunted down by the Empire's inquisitors. The worst of them, the man that killed you, Darth Vader-"

"Wait, wait, wait!" Anakin held up his hand. "Stop there. Vader killed me? Are you sure?"

"Yes, I-..." Luke furrowed his brow. "Father? Do you know Darth Vader already?"

"Luke? Tell me exactly what you know about Vader and who told you," Anakin said with utmost seriousness.

"Huh? I...okay? He's the supreme commander of the Empire's armies, second only to the Emperor. I was told he betrayed you towards the end of the Clone Wars and killed you. I was told this mostly by Vader's Jedi teacher, the man who started my training, Obi-Wan Kenobi."

Anakin's mind was still a full stop at that, trying to proccess and make sense of that error in logic. He held up a finger before ultimately wiping the free hand over his face. "Obi-Wan told you that he taught Vader? Obi-Wan "I have a bad feeling about this" Kenobi?"

"Yes? Why?" Luke asked in concern. "Did Obi-Wan lie to me?"

"No, I think this just a got a lot more convoluted," Anakin said with a sigh, sitting down on the moist ground. "Take a seat, Luke. I don't know how long we have, but the Force wants us to speak for a reason."

"Okay," Luke said, unable to resist interacting more with his father, albeit a young version of him.

"First off, up until you mention Obi-Wan teaching Vader, I thought you were just fed a very... biased story from certain Jedi," Anakin said with a sigh. "Luke, it's kind of impossible for Vader to betray me, at least from my point of view."

"What do you mean? You don't think Vader will betray the Jedi Order?" Luke asked with a scowl, trying to understand how his father could trust the man while trying to remember this was before anything should have happened.

"Luke, Vader isn't a Jedi. He's implied he used to be, but that was well before he met Obi-Wan," Anakin said bluntly. "As for what I mean? Luke, Vader is the one who helped free me from slavery. He helped me become a Jedi."

"I...what?" Luke said with a scowl. "How can that be...?"

"I'm not surprised that he might kill me. The Jedi were once at war with Dark Siders like him, the Sith, and it never really stopped. Until Vader came to the temple just to tell everyone it was over, and he would not seek to attack us unless provoked," Anakin explained.

"But don't you see? That's it! He'll break it during the Clone Wars-" Luke continued until Anakin waved his lightsaber up.

"Luke! Listen!" Anakin insisted. "A lot of Jedi don't believe him. They are constantly provoking him and he still hasn't broken the peace yet. But after he freed me, he told me very bluntly how things stood. That one day, I'd have to decide if he was someone I should consider an enemy. You can't betray someone while openly telling them that you will both potentially be enemies one day."

"I...Okay, so maybe Obi-Wan just saw it as a betrayal?" Luke tried, even if he felt like this was all very off.

"About that? Obi-Wan was still a Padawan when we all first met five years ago. Obi-Wan isn't teaching Vader, or anyone else," Anakin said bluntly. "Vader was already a Sith Lord, a Master of the Dark Side, and one of the strongest people in the known galaxy."

"That doesn't make any sense though. There's no record of Vader existing before the Empire was founded," Luke said, cupping his chin.

"That's another thing. This empire, Vader isn't running it? Is the Emperor just a figurehead? Because I find it hard to imagine Vader willingly playing second to anyone," Anakin asked pointedly.

"No? The public doesn't know it, but the Emperor also uses the Force. To the public, he's Sheev Palatine, but he also goes by-"

"Sidious. Darth Sidious," Anakin started, getting Luke's surprise. "Luke? I need you to brace yourself because I was very wrong."

"Father?" Luke asked in concern.

"I'm...not technically your father, I think," Anakin said awkwardly. "Luke, I don't think we're from different points of time, but different universes altogether. Because Darth Sidious? He's dead. Vader exposed him five years ago and helped the Jedi Council kill him."

"...Vader did that...?" Luke said with wide eyes, disbelief clear in his eyes.

"Yeah. It's small from space, but you can actually see the scar the battle left on Coruscant," Anakin explained.

"So, you...this is another reality? One where Vader is...older? Good?" Luke asked uncertainly.

"Good and evil are a bit too simple," Anakin said boldly. "He's ambitious and definitely not selfless, but he saved me more than once and more thana few worlds too. He might have his own agenda, but I don't think that's inherently a bad thing."

"But the Dark Side, it's evil, isn't it? A quick and easy path to power?" Luke said with a frown.

"No," Anakin said, glancing over his shoulder at the darkness of the cave. "It's an unruly beast that you should either refuse or wrestle into submission if you embrace it. Even then, it'll constantly be whispering dark impulses to you. But it ultimately is just that; an extra voice, another motivation to give into your darkest instincts."

Luke inhaled as he...saw, felt, heard, and purely sensed the Dark Side curling around Anakin, like an eager friend, a loyal pet. "You...Father, you-"

"I don't use the Dark Side," Anakin assured, rolling his eyes not at Luke but at the Dark Side itself. "It just calls to me more than most…which is good. I think that's why I can help dispel Force-induced nightterrors from younglings."

Luke truly didn't know how to process that. "I've...felt the Dark Side before. I've nearly given into it on occasion. But I never knew it to be so-"

"The Dark Side is a wild animal, the Light is a gentle giant. You need to respect both for very entirely different reasons," Anakin said with a chuckle before humming. "You were trying to tell me how to stop the Empire from forming. I don't know about a Clone War, but the Republic looks like it's splintering into a mess of factions that'll start duking it out. Your time has absolute tyranny; we're looking at total chaos."

Luke sighed. "I suppose this is just destined to be an interesting era, no matter the timelines. Stars, I'm still trying to wrap my head around that. Why would we be having this vision if we're not from the same timeline?"

"I don't know," Anakin answered honestly. "...What happened to Vader? Your Vader?"

Luke shrugged. "I don't know. He disappeared a few years ago. The Empire had a new battleship, we think there was a malfunction and it was either destroyed or lost."

Anakin snorted. "Luke? If he's anything like the Vader I know, he's alive. Though, if he's anything like the Vader I know..."

Luke blinked, cocking his head in boyish curiosity.

"Luke? Vader, My Vader? He hated Sidious. Deeply, more than anything, I think. So it's entirely possible that yours would be willing to help kill him. I wouldn't be surprised if he was in hiding, plotting that."

"You're saying you want me to...work with Vader?" Luke said with a frown. "Father, I know he's different in your timeline, but even if he didn't kill my father, he's butchered millions and helped the Empire oppress billions. I don't think the rebellion could trust him. And we definitely can't settle for the Empire remaining in power. Force aside, the empire IS evil."

"Luke, I looked into Sidious's force signature before he died. That is basically his soul. If that man was running a galactic empire, then yes, it's going to be evil. It felt like he fed off his own sadism and pettiness," Anakin said with a shudder. "But think of it this way. If you find Vader and team up with him, the people you'll be fighting against will probably be the worst and most loyal followers of Sidious. You know, the people you would NEVER want on your side, because you can't trust them around civilians. Or soldiers. Or anything sapient. No, anything sentient, period."

"That is...a good point," Luke said, albeit hesitantly. "It's just that...It's Leia. She's a friend of mine, like a sister even. She is one of the leaders of the Rebellion. Her home world was destroyed by the empire, and Vader himself tortured her personally to get information out of her. I think she could forgive the torture, but she places a lot of blame for her planet's fate on him. I think she...needs to, to cope sometimes."

"That's something you'll have to sort out with your Vader. Again, assuming he's like mine. But I get the feeling he is, if only because we're meeting," Anakin mused.

"What do you mean?" Luke asked with a scowl.

"I don't know, but it sounds a lot like Vader's age is the only difference in this timeline. If that's the only difference, well..."

Luke nodded, understanding the point somewhat. "If they're the same in every other respect, maybe you're right."

"Just don't take my word for it. My timeline or not, you're my son and I don't want you getting killed over your younger old man's stupid idea," Anakin cautioned. "...I know I shouldn't ask, but your mother? Do you-"

"I don't know. They said she died in childbirth. But with everything else, I'm not sure if that was just a lie they told me to keep me safe," Luke answered apologetically. "Force, there are so many things I want to ask you still. Because, well, how different can you be? If Vader's age is the only difference?"

Anakin frowned as he thought back to all the most important moments he had with Vader; Saving him from Sebulba, giving him the transmitter to destroy, telling him to be his own Jedi, and so much more. "Luke, I don't know who I'd be without Darth Vader."

Luke looked a little put out by that.

Anakin smiled though. "But I know one thing that wouldn't have changed. I would have loved you before I met you."

Luke flushed awkwardly before smiling. "That...means a lot. I always worried and wondered, growing up."

"If everything was the same before Vader arrived on Tatooine, then my mother taught me by example what a parent should be," Anakin said softly.

There was a soft, gentle howling through the cave.

"I think our time is up," Anakin said reluctantly.

"Do you...think we'll ever meet again?" Luke asked uncertainly.

"Maybe. If the Force can reach across realities like this, not much is impossible," Anakin said with a smile as they both rose and deactivated their lightsabers. Yet, somehow, the light lingered in the darkness. "For what it's worth? I'm sorry I died before we could meet in your timeline, Luke."

Luke chuckled. "How is it you're so young and sound so wise?"

"I've had a lot of wise people to learn from," Anakin said with a bright smile. "Good luck, Luke. May the Force be with you."

"May the Force be with you, Father," Luke said with a sad yet content smile.

"And kick Sidious's ass!"

The cave echoed with Luke's laughter.

End of Chapter

Hah! Admit it, none of you saw THAT coming. Alter-Anakin got to talk with Canon-Luke. Well, Canon-Luke where Vader and the Death Squadron went missing before the Battle of Hoth. Don't worry, that timeline isn't full on crossing over into the new one. It's more like the two timelines are "aware" of each other in a metaphysical way, allowing certain people to speak to each.

But yeah, Luke got to have a heart-to-heart with his Alter-Father as a kid and Alter-Anakin got to peak at what his future could have been. But also , yes, canon timeline has Absolute Tyranny, Vaderline has Total Chaos on the horizon.

Hope you all enjoyed this surprise! Until next time!

Early viewing of chapters 14-15 avaliable on my pat-reon:

p a treon . com (slash) akumakami64