Star Wars Love

Adult Star Wars fanfiction

Chapters 20 - 23

Chapter 20: I truly deeply love you

Padme flew back to Bast Castle with a heavy heart. She shook her head at the irony of her situation. Here she was running away from her loving family to be with a Sith Lord. She just felt so abandoned and betrayed by them. She wanted to distance herself so that she could figure out who she was. She couldn’t help but feel jealous of her former self. She seemed so perfect, to be a Queen and Senator at such a young age. How could anyone live up to those expectations? And yet, sometimes she felt as if she had lived that life before with her dreams.

Vader was surprised to see Padme’s ship arrive back on Vjun so soon. He wasn’t expecting her for two more standard weeks, and even then, he wasn’t sure that she would come back, even though deep down he trusted that she would. She had given him her word, after all, and it was not like his Padme to not keep a promise.

The ship was cleared for landing, and Vader was anxious to see Padme. He did wonder why she came back so early. He hoped everything was fine, but he could feel that there was trouble brewing. He went to the landing pad to wait for her arrival.

Padme saw the black figure waiting for her from the window of the shuttle. Seeing him standing there made her heart beat faster. Here was a busy man running the galaxy, and he was waiting for her as if he didn’t have anything better to do. She hoped that he would accept her, even if she was a clone. She hoped that he could help her sort out her feelings, but most of all, just love her for who she was. When the ship landed, she ran out straight to him, eager to have him hold her again like he did the day she left Bast Castle.

He held her in a tight embrace, and he could feel her grief permeate her whole body. He figured that her family had told her the truth, and his heart ached because she was in so much pain.

She was sobbing uncontrollably on his chest. He just held her close to him, and told her that everything was going to be all right, and he softly stroked her hair as she freely let out the storm of tears that was building in her eyes, still unable to say anything. He picked her up as she went limp in his arms, and carried her back to his quarters. He sat down on his couch, with her still in his arms, and sat there embracing her silently as she wept.

After she had no more tears left to cry, Padme became silent, and just laid in his arms. She felt safe here. He was going to protect her from the world. She heard him say, “Tell me what’s wrong.”

She didn’t know where to start, so just blurted out, “My family…they…they’ve been lying to me my whole life. I found out that I’m not who I thought I am. They told me that I was a clone of their daughter, who died at a young age. I was just a replacement for their grief.”

“I’m glad they did what they did,” he told her, “because now you are in my life.”

Padme sighed. Vader always knew what to say to make her feel better.

“I just feel so lost. My life was a lie. I don’t even know who I am anymore. I have my own pursuits and interests, yet sometimes I feel like another person. And now I can’t help but feel second best to the person that I was cloned from.”

“Your family loves you, Padme, no matter what they did,” he said, trying to console her.

“I’m just so angry at them right now. I was a replacement. And they knew the whole time I was growing up with my nightmares and my questions, and they lied to me. I couldn’t face them anymore. They’ve hurt me so much.”

She went on, “And did you know, she was married before? The man that I keep seeing in my dreams, my guardian angel, he was her husband. They told me he died too, but then why does he haunt me? Shouldn’t he be with her, wherever she is?”

Vader didn’t know how much more of the truth she could handle in one day. He realized that if he was to have a relationship with her, he would have to tell her who he was. She would find out sooner or later, and judging from her reaction, Padme didn’t like being kept in the dark. He said, “Padme, there’s something else I have to tell you.”

“What is it, Vader?” she asked.

“This is going to be another shock for you, but I want you to know the whole truth.” He told her.

“There’s more?” she asked.

“I want you to see me, and then you will understand.” He said. “I want to hold you and feel you and kiss you, without my suit. But when you see me, you have to promise not to be angry.”

“How can I be angry when I see you?” She asked. “I’ve been wanting to see what you look like.”

He settled her down on his couch, and went to turn on the oxygen to his room. He went into the fresher to change out of his suit and mask. After a few minutes, he stepped out, wearing a brown tunic, without his mask on.

When she saw his face, she just gasped. Here was her knight, just slightly older, but just as handsome. His hair was golden yellow, with sprinkles of grey at the temples. This was her husband in a former life. “Anakin…” she said, as the name just rolled out of her tongue.

“No,” he said, shaking his head slowly. “I am Darth Vader.”

“They told me you died during the Jedi Purge,” she said to him. “How?...Why are you Darth Vader?”

“I did it to save my wife. But in the end, fate has a cruel way of twisting things so that she died, despite my powers.”

Then suddenly, the gravity of the situation hit her. She said, “You don’t love me. You love Padme, your dead wife! I’m just another replacement for you too.” And the flood of tears fell from her eyes again.

“You’re wrong,” he told her.

He came towards where she was sitting, and kneeled in front of her and held her hands. She couldn’t face him either, and turned to look away, the tears still streaming down her face. “Look at me when I tell you this,” he told her. She turned around and looked straight into his blue eyes, which calmed her down a little bit. “I love you, Ami Naberrie,” he said. There was sincerity in his eyes, and she wanted to believe him, to trust him.

He continued on, “I must admit that when I first met you, I thought that you were her. That’s why I wanted to take you with me. But then I got to know you, so much more than I knew my wife. We were married for 3 years, but spent only stolen moments together. I never got to know her like I know you.”

“Yes, I did love Padme, my wife, with all my heart, and when she died, all the good that was left of me, of Anakin Skywalker, died with her.” He continued on, “But when I saw you, I fell in love all over again. You are her. I know that her soul is in you, but you are different from her. Your upbringing shaped who you are. And at first I thought that it was her that I loved, but I realized that it is you that I am in love with. Although you share many similarities, you are different from her. You’ve accepted me for who I am now. I know my wife would never have accepted that. That’s why I love you so much. I don’t ever want to be without you. You’re my beautiful, talented, loving artist.” He kissed her hands when he was done.

“If you knew I was a clone, why didn’t you tell me before?” she asked him.

“Because I wasn’t sure. It wasn’t as if your family told me their secrets. I saw images in their mind, and so I guessed that they had cloned you. As for telling you, I didn’t feel that it was my place to do so. Please believe me. Believe that I love you. You can be my Ami or my Padme, as long as you are mine. Anything that you want, I will give you. I cannot bear to live without having you by my side.”

A flood of emotions swept through her. She knew that she loved this man. He was her soulmate, both in her past life and in this one. When she looked at his face, she felt a connection with her past, and everything seemed to fall into place. All the dreams and nightmares she had, she realized, were memories of her past. She was like an amnesia patient, trying to put the fragments of her life into a whole that made sense. She realized that she truly was Padme Naberrie Skywalker, reincarnated into the same body, with the same face, and though her personality and thinking were subtly different from her former self, she was still the same person.

She told him, “My name is Padme.” She hesitated and said, “and I love you, Vader, for all your faults. I truly, deeply love you.”

He smiled, and leaned up to kiss away the tear stains from her eyes. He moved closer to her, and he held her close to him. She couldn’t believe how handsome he was, and her heart sped up when he was so close to her. However she knew she would have loved him no matter what he looked like.

He was still kneeling in front of where she sat. She caressed his face with both her hands, and looked longingly into his eyes. She leaned down to kiss him, softly at first, but then he wrapped her in his arms and kissed her back passionately. She didn’t resist his advances, which intensified his desire for her. He could feel her shudder under him, and he yearned for her even more. He scooped her up from the sofa, and she wrapped her arms around his neck. He carried her to his bed, and sat her down gently. “I love you, Padme,” he told her.

“And I love you, Vader,” she told him as she embraced him.

She pulled him to her for another gentle kiss. He could sense her nervousness, and wanted to take things slow for her. He sat down in bed besides her, and softly kissed her. She ran her fingers through his hair, sending shivers down his spine. He could feel his pounding heart, and felt his breathing become more shallow as he embraced her, and gently kissed her neck. His hands roamed her shivering body, feeling the softness of her skin and savoring each touch. Every caress, every breath, every kiss that he gave her sent tingling sensations throughout her body.

“Are you ready for this Padme?” he asked.

“I’ve been waiting my whole life for you,” she told him between kisses.

Vader looked lovingly at her and caressed her cheeks. “I am so blessed to have you here, Padme,” and leaned over to kiss her. They spent the night tenderly making love. Vader knew that he would never let any harm come to her, and would do anything to protect her this time around.

When they were done, he rolled her on top of him, and she lay with her head on his broad and muscular chest, listening to the sound of his heart beating. He was still slowly caressing the small of her back, lazily drawing little circles on her skin with his fingers. “I love you,” he told her again. She answered him by kissing his chest, a smile spread across her face. She fell asleep on his chest, and for the first time in her life, felt as if she knew who she was.

Chapter 21: A Taste of the Dark Side

When she woke up the next morning, Padme realized that she had never known so much passion in her life before. Love and passion for Vader, and anger and resentment towards her family for lying to her all these years.

Vader could sense her anger. He seemed to feed off of it.

“I can feel your anger, Padme.” Vader told her.

“I am still so angry at my family.” Padme told him. “They were holding me back from my true potential. They kept me in a golden cage called Naboo. They kept me from you.”

Vader kissed her, and said, “You know, Padme one day I will overthrow the Emperor and you will be my Empress.”

“What are you talking about?” She asked him.

“I want you to help me defeat the Emperor.”

“How am I going to do that?” Padme asked him. The thought of getting rid of the Emperor appealed to Padme.

“You can do it by joining me. I need you to convince our son to join me in the Dark Side. Together, we can defeat the Emperor.”

“We have a son?” She asked him.

“Yes, my love. We had a son. Luke. He is very strong with the Force.”

“Why didn’t you tell me this before?” She asked him

“Because I wasn’t sure who you were. Now I know that you are my Padme, I’m telling you. You wouldn’t have believed me anyway if I told you that you had a son who is older than you!”

Padme was trying to process all the information that Vader was telling her. A son. Luke. Then why did the name Leia enter her mind?

“Where is Leia?” Padme asked him.

“Princess Leia Organa?” he asked her. “She is one of the Rebel leaders that I am trying to destroy.”

“No,” Padme said. “She is ours.”

“Leia is ours? What do you mean?” Vader asked her.

“She is our daughter. Luke’s twin sister. Don’t ask me how I know. I just do.”

Vader smiled. So he had two Skywalkers two join him.

“Padme, together you and I and our children will rule over the galaxy. This has always been my intention from the beginning.”

“It sounds tempting, my love,” she told him. This would show her family. She didn’t need them. She had a new family of her own.

“I need to think about it,” she said.

Vader flashed her his handsome grin. “As you wish,” He said as he nuzzled close to her and started to nibble on her neck.

“Are you seducing me to the Dark Side?” she asked him.

“Is it working?” he asked her.

She answered him with a hungry kiss.

************************************************************

Heat, she felt the scorching furnace around her. Etherial, orange-red, and glowing. Is she in hell? Pain, she felt pain and sadness. Something is choking her. She can’t breath, and it seemed as if her heart had been shattered into a thousand pieces.

Then she felt his pain. The pain of having his limbs severed, the pain of being burned alive, but even that did not compare to the pain of betrayal. She felt the hatred and anger in his heart, sustaining him, giving him the willpower to live to exact revenge on the person who did this to him.

For the first time, she saw the medical tables. She saw the droids hovering above her. Then she saw the birth of her babies. Luke and Leia. So much love, so much hope. She heard herself say, “There is still good in him.” Then she felt her heart ache, an aching so ferocious that it took her breath away. She tried to fight the blackness that was enveloping her, tried to will herself to live so she could care for the twins, but she heard him calling to her in the darkness. He was dying, and she had to find him. His voice became dimmer, and suddenly she was alone in the darkness.

Then she saw the break of light. It was dawn on Naboo. She saw herself in a carriage, being carried to her final resting place. She saw the pain that her family endured. She kept thinking to herself, I must bring him back to the light! There is still good in him.


Padme woke up. So that’s how I died, she thought to herself, trying to save him from the Dark Side. She looked over at his sleeping form next to her. She smiled recalling the day that she had spent with him. They had made love that morning, and had spent the day lazily in bed, talking about their children, about themselves, about time lost between them. She thought of all the consequences if she were to join him. If she could convince Luke and Leia to join him, they could defeat the Emperor. His Empire would crumble, but from the ashes, Vader’s Empire would rise. The Darkside would not let him rule justly. It would still be a dictatorship. There would be no peace. She could not participate with Vader’s plan. Then her former life would have died in vain.

And to condemn her children to be Siths? No, they needed love in their lives. What kind of terrible existence would it be for them to only know power, and not love?

Just then, he stirred, and noticed that she was sitting up in bed. He shifted to her side, and pulled her in a tight embrace and kissed her cheek.

“What’s the matter, Padme?” he asked her.

“I can’t do it.”

“Do what?” He asked her.

“I can’t ask our children to embrace the Darkside.”

“Padme, I need their help if I am to destroy the Emperor.”

“Yes, but I cannot ask that of them. I want you and Luke and Leia to destroy the Emperor as Jedi, not Siths.”

“You don’t understand the power of the Dark Side, Padme.”

“I do understand,” she told him defiantly. “I understand that it has imprisoned you for the past 20 years. I understand that it tore our family apart. I also understand that it led you to try to kill me.” Her words tore through him like a knife. He felt the tears falling from her eyes as she spoke the last words to him.

“Forgive me, Angel. I am truly repentant for that action. I am so sorry that I did that to you. Padme, please forgive me.”

She felt him tremble as he repeatedly asked for her forgiveness. She knew that he was deeply ashamed of his actions. He must have carried that guilt for the past 23 years. She knew that she had already forgiven him in her past life. She was here again by the will of the Force to forgive him, to bring him back to the light.

“Ani, I know it wasn’t you who did it. You would never hurt me. I know that. But the Dark Side is evil and corrupt; it does not know what love is.”

She placed her hand over his heart. “The Dark Side does not claim you completely Ani, because you do love. Loving was your weakness when you were a Jedi, but it will be your strength as a Sith. I know there is still good in you. In time, you will see the same.” She kissed him, and said, “I have already forgiven you. Now you must learn to forgive yourself.”

 

Chapter 22: Political Differences

 

Anakin swallowed hard over the lump that had formed in his throat. Yes, his angel had forgiven him, he could feel the love emanating from her, even though he was not sure he deserved it. The thought of fighting as a Jedi, though, troubled him and brought a swirl of emotions he didn't understand.

He thought back to when he had first given himself to the Sith and the unfortunate events that followed; however the Force had seen fit to have her again at his side, and he knew that they could lead a perfect and just Empire with the new powers at his disposal. He was just unable to do it himself because of the injuries he had suffered, so long ago. How we wished he could have his family, not just his Padme, but his newfound twins, together as an alliance. A perfect union, loyal and complete, to run a perfect galaxy, he thought.

He looked into Padme's brown eyes, eyes that were at once pleading with him and embracing him to come back to the light side of the Force. He didn't blame her for her political beliefs and what she believed in didn't anger him either, he realized. She had grown up sheltered and protected in the beauty of tranquil Naboo with democratic values. How can he begrudge his Padme for her innocence and idealism?

He wished that running the galaxy could be as easy as Padme thought it would be, but he knew based on his experience that power politics was an ugly thing, a game which must be deftly played for an effective leader to either sink or swim. Democracy had, unfortunately, proven too dividing and not worked for the last Republic, the one in which he and Padme had attempted their first union and been torn apart.

"Padme..."Anakin began softly, "...we can't, there's no way...even if I tried to go back to the Jedi order, if there is even one left, I would be mistrusted, possibly terminated. The Dark Side isn't as bad as you think.." he said tentatively, hoping he could explain to her.

"As bad as what?" Padme said, feeling frustration rise in her throat and the blood rush to her face. She turned her head. "All I've seen or heard of the Sith is the obsession with power, slavery, domination, and oppression. You and the Emperor are feared galaxy wide. I don't want to be feared, and I don't even think you want that either, whether you are willing to acknowledge it or not."

"Angel," he said, holding her trembling hands, "It wouldn't be that way; it wouldn't have to be. Don't you see? I made mistakes, horrible mistakes that first day on Mustafar. I know this, and have no intention of making them again. We could bring peace, justice, and democracy to our new galaxy with the fall of this old Sith Order. There's no...blueprint..for how a reign has to be, Sith or otherwise. I know with you at my side it could be different...I want you to help me bring balance."

Padme sensed the lie of the Sith; even with her limited experience, she knew this was how it started, with a single seduction, a good thing, and then another, until you were completely lost. Once you looked back you could not even see where you had started. It had been the downfall of her Ani the first time he tried to save her. He had never started out with anything but the truest of intentions, the same as she had now.

Padme looked into his cerulean blue eyes and could see that he believed every word of it; he really thought that they could bring about good. A wave of sympathy washed over her, for before her she saw not a powerful Sith Lord but a good man trying to find his way home.

She ran her fingers through her long brown hair and sighed heavily. Anakin was quiet for a moment, still staring at her with her hands in his. He brushed his thumb over the small of her hand before he continued.

"...If we could overthrow the Emperor, the options are unlim-"

"Stop, Ani. Please." Padme said tersely. A chill ran up her spine that she didn't understand and she had a strange sense of deja vu. She knew she couldn't continue this line of conversation anymore. In a fundamental way, it hurt her to hear Anakin talk like this.

Vader looked down, defeated. Ami couldn't accept these beliefs of his, even though he knew they were right. She's scared, he reasoned. It would be hard for anyone in her position to understand. She went from the pacifist life of a Naboo painter to the politics of the Galactic Empire.

Maybe she just needed time, Vader thought. He knew he would never hurt her again or allow her to be harmed, even if she disagreed with him and railed against the Galactic Empire. He just didn't know how any change was going to be brought about with things being as they were. He was only 80% as strong as the Emperor and clearly incapable of using force lightning like his master because it would short-circuit his arm wires and life support system. He had made many improvements to himself over the years, but he still lacked the natural midiclorians he once had and was not capable of existing without the suit.

Perhaps his only hope of overthrowing the Emperor was through his children. It would be wise to keep his work and personal life separate for now, he reasoned. Padme could not understand why he had to do the things he had to do and it might pain her to hear it.

A pang of guilt washed over Vader, he had not intended to make Padme feel badly. He drew her tighter into his arms. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, kissing her temple. “It’s too soon, I should not have pushed you.” She softened and leaned her head against his shoulder. Heartened, he started to tickle her side, the same spot that he tickled countless times before to lighten the mood with her so many years ago.

It still worked.

She squirmed playfully away from him and pushed his arm. He kept up until a giggle from her evolved into a belly laugh. When their horseplay settled, and they both lay in bed, they looked at each other for a long while before drifting off to sleep. Vader had forgotten how good it felt to laugh and relate to another person. When had he become so joyless and serious? His last thought before sleep overtook him was that no amount of power could ever replace this.

Ami was grateful to have found her guardian angel. Or be found by him, she reminded herself. She didn’t even know what she was missing on Naboo until she had found it. She understood that they had political differences and loved him regardless.

At the moment, she didn’t want to think about them any more than he did.

 

Chapter 23: Reflection

Padme slowly woke up and let the light rouse her heavy eyelids. It was an artificial light, but it was soft and she felt relaxed. She turned her head to the left and Vader was there, leaning on the palms of his hands, looking at her with a small smile.

She smiled back and felt almost shy. "How long have you been watching me?"

"I lost track of time," he said, and he truly had. He woke up that morning, his consciousness having trained itself for an onslaught of sad emotions, and realized she was by his side. He no longer felt the emptiness that had plagued him for so long, and didn't have to surround himself in the dark side for comfort.

For the first time in decades, he was also sleeping without the benefit of drugs. Regardless of the biological improvements he had made over the years, he still suffered internal burn wounds, and his emotional problems had gone even deeper. Anger typically kept him awake and driven, but drugs had been necessary to achieve sleep.

Nestled against Padme, comforted by her sight, her smell, and the closeness of another person had given him a reprieve unlike any drug. Even his physical pain seemed small next to it.

He traced her stomach softly while she fully awoke and used the force to turn up the lighting in his room just a little.

"What do you want to do today?" he said, and the lilt in his voice sounded youthful.

Padme smiled.

**************

Padme and Vader stood at the entrance of the holo-room, the same one where he had first led her weeks ago to take her into a virtual world of Naboo. She grasped his gloved hand and looked affectionately at the black figure beside her. He returned the glance and nodded his head. There were a few rooms that had oxygen and pressure accommodations, but for the most part he was unable to exist, even in the holo-room, without his suit.

He had changed before they headed out, and noticed that Padme looked at him with an odd expression, a mixture of love and sadness. He knew even without asking that she felt badly he was confined to his suit much of the time. He realized that he now wanted it off too, but short of modifying every place he went, there was not much he could do about it.

Then an idea came to him....

The time Padme spent talking with Vader had given her yet a lower opinion of the Emperor. Ani told her when she asked about the improvements he had made to his body, beginning with his artificial limbs and finally with the cosmetic enhancements that healed most of the exterior burn damage and allowed his hair to regrow. The only thing truly remaining, Vader said, were his lungs. The necessary stem cell transplant would take a recovery time of probably four standard months and he was not allowed leave for that long.

Padme could not believe it. Yes, he was in an important position and oversaw many things, but the Empire was huge and undoubtedly in control at the present time. The rebellion, even without Vader's defense, wouldn't stand a snowballs chance in Mustafar of defeating the Empire. Surely there must be acting commanders to handle situations like these, she thought. A simple civilian on Naboo would not have their medical issues neglected that badly.

Yet when Vader told her this he didn't sound bitter or upset that he had to seek out the repairs himself and wasn't granted medical leave. He just sounded resigned, as he had long ago accepted it as a part of his duty. Padme surmised the Emperor cared little about his happiness and more about his functionality. She took a deep breath and pushed her angry thoughts away. This was her and Ani's time together.

The door opened and once again they were brought into a world of their own creation, escaping all other concerns.

***************

As the days quickly passed into weeks, Ami and Vader spent little time apart. She no longer had her own room and shared his bed every night. After their first night together, it was an unspoken agreement-neither one questioned how or why they had reached where they were. Despite Vader's hunger for power, it meant something to him that one person in the galaxy, if only one, didn't view him as a monster.

Vader periodically received transmissions calling him away on missions. Once before, he had been grateful to go away, to escape the quiet confines of Vjun castle where he was left alone for too long with his thoughts. Combat had been something he lived for, anger something he willingly drank in, and he had felt very close to alive and in his element when fighting.

Now the transmissions, although no more frequent than usual started to feel like work, and were an increasing burden to him. Vader considered assigning more of the duties to his executive commanders but upon further contemplation realized he should probably do them himself or risk arousing suspicion.

Suspicion, he thought ruefully. He always had to watch his back. That had been the way it was for as long as he could remember. Politics were harsh in the Empire, and it had not been without an effort that he was ahead. He convinced himself it was a necessary evil to achieve the galactic peace that now existed. Whether he liked it or not, he was the Chosen One, and was fulfilling his destiny.

The only place he let his guard down was around Padme, and that was probably one of the main reasons he slept naturally. For reasons he couldn't quite explain to himself, he hadn't let the Emperor or Tarkin know of her. Palpatine, once a trusted friend, was now his superior and Tarkin had no interest in sparing feelings or lives when it came to a mission.

Padme has nothing to do with them, he thought, She's a peaceful person, and should the opportunity arise he did not want the Emperor or anyone else using her as leverage against him. Every time he looked at her he wanted nothing more than to protect her from all the harshness in the galaxy.

During one of their outings, Vader was called away again on a routine mission, and returned to his quarters with Padme to start getting ready. She said nothing, but he could feel that she was missing him already, even slightly worried, and was heartened. He embraced her and left her with assurances that he would be safe and would return as soon as possible.

As his craft approached hyperspace, Vader's thoughts drifted to the order Tarkin had once issued to end Leia's life after Alderaan had been destroyed and involuntarily shuddered. How difficult it must have been for her to watch that, he thought, more than a small amount of regret surfacing. Tarkin had issued the order and was Vader's superior, but still he had stood behind him and done nothing to stop it. He worked with Tarkin, but he hated him. Tarkin was a snake. Vader thought of him smugly grasping Leia's chin between his thumb and forefinger and telling her how difficult it was for him to sign her execution order. She still remained defiant, even in the face of losing all that was important to her.

Vader smiled, thinking she must have gotten that spirit from her mother. He had been blind not to see the resemblance and sense their similarities before. If he had known that she was his daughter then, Vader thought, he never would have allowed Tarkin to torment her or speak to her that way. Thank the Force that none of it had come to fruition, he mused, Sometimes there was a greater wisdom that lay beyond his control.

****************************

The Executor arrived on schedule to oversee the development of the second Death Star and Vader received the standard updates and intelligence reports from his officers. There were positive updates, and a small amount of bad news-no new sightings of the rebels or information on the new rebel base. Vader was disappointed.

The officers around him were fearful, in particular the one who had given him the negative update, but today he couldn't care less. He tried hard to push the feelings he had for Padme below the surface, and found it difficult not to be distracted. For once he was grateful he wore the suit, it afforded him privacy from those who weren't force-sensitive. He took a moment to draw on his meditation techniques, and managed to effectively shield his feelings.

He strode purposefully towards the throne room, ready to give his report to the Emperor.

********************************

Amidala sat listlessly in the lounge room of Vjun castle, one of the larger rooms that bordered the exterior. It was simply furnished, but pleasant enough-two long settees, offset by a shorter one to the side, and a table in between. There was a fireplace near the large wall/window, though judging by the cleanliness she didn't think it had ever been used. She had started exploring while Ani was gone, although he implored her to take an escort droid wherever she went to avoid the risk of stumbling upon a danger similar to what she had before.

He had seen to it that she had all the accommodations she desired, including the finest painting materials available. Ami created a few things, although with Vjun lacking in much natural beauty she actually drew on the virtual worlds of the holo-room for more inspiration.

One of her first paintings, that of a city skyline at night, hung in the room she now stood. Vader had proudly insisted on putting it up, and told her it reminded him of Coruscant a long time ago. She had always wondered what the capital planet was like growing up. Maybe one day she would visit it, Ami thought, although upon further reflection she knew she already had.

She looked out the window at the acid soaked lands and her thoughts turned to her family. Sadness, rebellion, and nostalgia washed over her all at once. With Vader gone, she had all the time in the world to explore her interests, but beyond that she began to think. Why didn't they tell her earlier about her true biological nature? Did they not care about her enough or just not trust her to handle it? She felt deceived, but couldn't deny she missed them. They had always been a part of her life and always would be, but at the same time they had somehow used her. She wanted to focus on all of the happy memories she had growing up, but now those memories felt like a lie.

The only person who really knew and accepted her was Vader. Her need for him had never been as strong.

**********************************

Vader stood in the doorway of the Vjun lounge room, looking at Ami. After his standard report to the Emperor, he had handled some cursory duties and departed without incident. When he was alone in his ship and on course for Vjun, he had taken a detour to a Nubian post, just to get a food he knew was her favorite. He had planned to secretly come home and surprise her, and used one of the rear entrances to his castle before he accessed the changer adjoining the lounge room.

He didn't know if he could sneak up on her as she usually could sense him, but never one to pass up a joke he thought he'd try. After he was attired in regular clothing and his suit hung in the front changer, he turned on the oxygen and pressure for the lounge room and allowed it a few minutes to adjust before quietly stepping in near the curtains. The oxygen, located high near the ceiling, made a near imperceptible sound because of the vault of the roof, but if one concentrated enough they could sense slight pressure changes or ear adjustments similar to pilots changing elevations. He stood in the shadows for a moment to look at Ami, to drink her in before surprising her, but was suddenly stopped short.

Something was wrong. He could feel it. There was no imminent danger, but just an aching sadness and...a feeling of betrayal. He knew that painful mix of emotions all too well, he had felt it with Obi-Wan, although he thought he had fully forgotten about that and pushed it away.

Ami stood near the window, looking out at the barren lands and acid rain that poured down torrentially. It got fiercer as the night wore on, and the last remnants of orange light were fading away with the sunset; soon it would just be the sound of constant rain. Her arms embraced her small frame, and a second later her head bowed slightly. He knew her sadness, and didn't have to ask why-it was her family. Tied closely to that was her insecurity, her fear that despite everything she knew and learned, that she was still just a clone.

He walked quietly towards her, setting down the package he had brought.

"Ami," he said softly.

She quickly turned her head and her face lit up. Wordlessly she went into his arms and they embraced tightly. He could still feel her pain, although it had subsided a bit.

"I missed you," she whispered.

"I know," he said, and realized that he felt a little helpless. He wished there was something more he could do. He could tell the troubled thoughts were still on her mind and even though she attempted a brave face, she had been close to crying.

"How was your trip?" she inquired, trying to lighten things.

"Ami..." he said, looking down before meeting her eyes again. He knew that she was being strong and covering it; he didn't want her to have to do that for him. "It's your family, isn't it?"

Her eyebrows lowered slightly and the apparent sadness returned to her features. Still holding his hands, she turned her head to look out the window again. Her silence was all the answer he needed.

He didn't believe he was saying this. "Maybe you should see your family....I can tell you miss them a great deal." Vader trembled a little. It was uncharacteristic of him, giving up control of something so important, but he couldn't stand to see her in pain and somehow knew the only way through this was for her was to find resolution with them.

She turned and looked at him, surprised. "Do you not want me here? Is that what this is abou-"

He shook his head gently and put his finger over her lips. "Please, don't let your insecurities consume you, not around me. I love you more than anything, Ami, and would never send you away. I know the conflict you're in and I don't want you to be. It might be hard for you to see now, but your family cares about you and wants what's best for you. I felt it when I was there. You won't be right with this until you make peace with them"

Padme saw his sincerity, and also felt a twinge of nostalgia. There had been a situation like this with Anakin before, she was sure, although she probably wasn't able to persuade him out of his insecurities then. How easy it is to see the truth when we stand outside ourselves, she thought.

She considered what he had to say. He had a valid point - she wouldn't be able to allay all of her fears, not until she could interact honestly with her family and know they saw her as an individual. Yes, she was Padme, but she was Ami now too. She wasn't ready to face them yet. She felt hurt, afraid even of how she might react. A part of her was still angry and petulant. It wasn't time.

She slowly turned back to him. "Ani, I don't want to leave. This is my home now."

He exhaled, and his eyes filled with relief, she thought. He found himself stunned. He had never released anything important to him before, but now that he had it felt....stronger. He moved closer to her and cupped her face in his hands.

"You're not a replacement for Padme, Ami. You're all she was and all she ever will be."

He bent down, trailing soft butterfly kisses on her forehead, her closed eyes, her cheeks, and finally her lips. When Ami opened her eyes, they were dark with desire. She kissed him back, pressing herself against him, trying to get as close to him as she possibly could. He scooped her up, and placed her on the settee in the lounge room. He gazed lovingly at her beautiful countenance, and couldn’t believe he could feel so much love for a person. Somehow with this Padme, he felt a more protective love for her, rather than the obsessive love he had for her in his youth. Maybe time had mellowed him out, but his love for her only intensified in all the time that had passed. He kissed her longingly, and slowly undressed her, feeling her soft skin beneath him. He trailed more kisses down her body, and when desire overtook him, made love to the woman whom he had given his heart and soul to.

 

Chapters 24 - 25

Chapter 24: Across The Stars

 

"Ami," Sola teased.  "What are you doing?"  Her voice was childish but kind, the way someone would talk to their baby.  She smiled affectionately at the little girl playing near the creek.  The Naboo sun was starting to set over the ridges and it played brilliantly off the reflection of the water, looking like so many points of light dancing all at once.  Ami watched, mesmerized.

 

"You're a silly girl." she said, picking her daughter up out of the water, her features smiling and warm.

 

Ami threw her arms around Sola.  "I know, Mommy.  It's just so pretty this time of day."

 

Sola held her for a minute, then grew more serious.  "You know, whatever role I may play in your life, I love you very much."

 

Ami looked up, puzzled by her statement.  Even stranger was the fact that she now felt as though she were talking to her sister, and not a parent.  She looked down at her hands, no longer the small hands of a child, but those of a woman.  Long and smooth, they were the competent hands of a painter, a philanthropist, a warrior, and a one-time senator.

 

Sola placed her hands in Padme's.  "It's important to me that you know I care for you.  All I can ask is your forgiveness."

 

Padme twined her fingers with Sola's and opened her mouth to reply but her image was fading.  The scenery, though not the impression of the moment, had left them and she had been so focused on Sola she hadn't noticed.

 

"Wait..." Padme implored, but it was too late. 

 

The visage was gone and she drifted back to the darkness in her mind, consumed by the empty but peaceful oblivion of sleep.

 

*******

 

Sola woke up, her face wet with tears.  She looked next to her where her husband slept, his back turned and breathing constant, and then towards the window where the Naboo moonlight streamed in.  A lump caught and stayed in her throat as she thought of her dream about Padme.  It had been months since she was gone, and no word on when or even if she was returning.  Sola thought about her often during the days, but this had been the first dream she'd had of her.

 

Feeling a chill, she got out of bed quietly and put her robe on, coming to stand in front of the window.  The creekbed, well away from the house, played it's relaxing ambient gurgle.  Her eyes drifted to further in the distance, covered by the shadows and the night, where the ridges and waterfalls beyond the valley lay.  She couldn't see them but knew they were there.

 

That had been one of her favorite places to visit with her sister when they were young adults, together full of hopes and dreams and ambition.  She had also taken her Ami there often when she was younger to play in the water, harkening back to the special memories she'd had with her sister.

 

The dream continued to stay with her, as if she were still in the moment, the emotion freshly imprinted on her heart.  It had been so vivid to Sola, like she was right there talking to her.  Stranger still was that she had seen her Ami as a little girl; and suddenly, she was her sister-a grown woman sitting across from her, a woman she knew to be Padme.

 

Why? she wondered, the question encompassing not just Ami's whereabouts but also her own role in her departure. 

 

Sola was sorry, so sorry, for her deception and just wanted to tell Padme before she left.  Looking into her brown eyes, there was no judgement but only love, gratitude, and peace.

 

"It's alright....I know." Padme said, and suddenly she was gone.  

 

***********

 

Padme," Vader whispered.  His face was close to hers and he nudged her shoulder.  She stirred slightly but was still deep in sleep.  He kissed her cheek repeatedly before trailing down her neck.  The kisses rose to a nibble, something he knew would wake her.

 

She woke with a smirk but before she had time to fully stretch, his advances made her giggle and twist away reflexively.

 

"I thought you'd never wake up," he said, laughing. 

 

"You pulled all the stops then, I see," she grinned at him pointedly, her eyebrow arched.  He knew her neck was her weak point.

 

"Exactly."

 

His demeanor grew serious but there was an underlying excitement.  He leaned towards her.  "There's someplace I'd like to take you today," he said.

 

She could tell by the light in his eyes that this was new and different, probably not the holo-room.  Her curiousity piqued.

 

"Where?"

 

His mischievous grin returned.  "I can't tell you that."

 

"Why?"

 

He looked down for a moment and back at her.  "A surprise."

 

She cocked her head at him and smiled.  She could tell by the childish excitement he had and the fact that he woke her early that he had something different in mind, something he seemed very proud of.  This should be interesting, she thought.

 

"Alright....." she said slowly, still not sure what to make of it. 

 

He laughed softly and kissed her.  "Don't worry, I think you'll like it.  Come on....let's get ready"  he said, and in an instant was off the bed himself, getting dressed.

 

She smiled inwardly, caught up in his excitement.  She wanted to see what he had prepared.  Of more significance, she realized, was seeing him this happy.

 

*************************

 

They dressed, and boarded Vader's ship.  Like the first time Ami had ridden with him, he let her handle the controls until the point at which they were to jump to hyperspace and the demands exceeded her training.  Regardless, the portion she did fly gave her the same thrill and feeling of accomplishment as before.  This time, she wasn't afraid to show it.

 

Vader was impressed with her piloting ability and thought she was quick to pick up the techniques and anticipate changes, particularly in light of the limited experience he had given her.  He made a mental note to show her more in the future so she could pilot craft without completely relying on a droid.  Padme relaxed and closed her eyes, opening them occassionally to see the passing space until she felt the change in the craft and anticipated arrival. 

 

She looked at the forward portal and saw what appeared to be a pale blue marble of a planet, at first hazy, then coming more and more into focus.  When they neared orbit, she thought it looked like one of the more serene planets she had seen.  The only variant to the blue was the white array of clouds over the surface, in stark contrast to the dark colors and harsh weather of Vjun.

 

"Where are we?" she asked.

 

Vader pressed some controls and adjusted the throttle.  They were raising the heat shields and beginning their descent through the upper atmosphere.

 

"Welcome to the Bespin system" he said.

 

She grinned and leaned closer to the portal, taking in the entire view, as well as the somewhat nauseating descent, while he monitored the controls.  Travel was still a new experience for her, but she enjoyed it.  When the craft slowed to a stop, they arrived on a platform adjoining a private building and were greeted only by a stormtrooper expecting their arrival.  As he began to brief Vader on events, Padme focused on the scenery around her. 

 

She looked at the clouds set against the blue sky in a three-sixty spectrum around them and noticed that there was one sun for this planetary system, making the atmosphere very temperate.  She inhaled, immediately taken with the fresh air and the ethereal quality.  Perfect, she thought, different from Naboo, but just as beautiful, in it's own way.  She hoped that she would have the opportunity to see more.

 

After the stormtrooper finished the briefing on the arrival, Vader and Padme followed him inside the building and the door shut behind them.  She hadn't taken much notice of the building with the adjoining platform while outside but now inside she had the opportunity to look about.  It seemed modern, and structurally sound.  They were near the entrance in a bottom floor hallway that surrounding a middle portion.  She vaguely remembered from being outside that it was a multi-level building.

 

A good deal of light passed in through several large windows, with occassional silver partitions separating them.  They did seem to have a tinting or glaze, for radiation protection, she assumed.  After a moment she realized that the building was probably soundproof as well, as the winds she had heard outside came to a complete silence once they were inside.  In all everything was glossy, solid, and appeared brand new.

 

Padme and Vader walked side by side behind the stormtrooper through the white circular hallway before coming to rest in what appeared to be a lounge room.

 

The stormtrooper turned to Vader and stood at attention.

 

"We are here, sir.  I hope it meets to your satisfaction."

 

Vader acknowledged him.  "Very good, Commander Hur."  He paused for a second and motioned towards Padme.  "Commander, this is Padme.  Padme, Commander Hur."

 

A smile tugged at one corner of Padme's mouth as she politely extended her hand and looked at the storm trooper.  He regarded her hand for a moment, then shook it.

 

"Mi'lady," he said formally.

 

"Pleasure," she said, and brought her hands back to their casually clasped position.  She thought it odd to be introduced to a storm trooper, but figured Vader was trying to put her at ease.

 

"That will be all Commander, thank you," Vader said, and gave him a dismissive wave.

 

"Yes, sir," Hur said, and left them.

 

They stood quietly for a moment before Vader turned to Padme.  "What do you think?" he said, his baritone voice and breathing the only perceptible sound in the room.

 

"It's....very nice."  She wasn't exactly sure what they were doing there or how long they would be staying.  Perhaps it was a rest depot before they went to a particular sight on the planet.  "Are we going to be staying here long?  Did you plan on any sightseeing before returning to Vjun?"

 

She couldn't exactly tell but thought Vader felt disappointed.  "As long as you want," was all he said.

 

Puzzled, she glanced around, then back at him.  "Isn't someone expected back here?  I wouldn't want to impose."

 

"No one, Ami.  This is yours."

 

She knew her distraction accounted for her apparent loss of hearing. 

 

"Sorry?" she asked.

 

"I had this constructed for you....for us.  You can stay here as long as you desire."

 

She forced her mouth to close when she realized she was slackjawed.  It took her a moment to regain her bearings.  She slowly walked the room, occassionally placing her hand on things in disbelief, before looking back at Vader.

 

"Mine?" she asked.  "This....entire building....are you serious?"

 

"Yes." he said.

 

"But what....how..."

 

He could tell she was overwhelmed, and was relieved that she did seem to like it.  He'd thought at first she wasn't impressed, but realized now that it had gone over her head; she had never been given such a monumental gift.  He enjoyed watching her explore, like an amazed child, but didn't want to push too much on her all at once.

 

"Wait," he said, taking her hand in his gloved one.  "Come with me, this should make it easier."  He led her over to a control panel near the far wall of the room.  It appeared to have main controls, which linked to master ones, probably in a central room, Padme thought.  He pressed some buttons and Padme could hear a hissing sound coming from somewhere in the room intermittently spliced with the sound of his mechanical breathing.  A minute later, her ears adjusted.  It couldn't be, she thought....

 

She watched as he reached behind his neck and slowly removed the top of his helmet, then the main portions, exposing his pleasant countenance.  She felt better just seeing his face; his blue eyes were warm as they met hers.  The room was equipped to handle his particular problems so he could reside suitless.  He seemed to read her thoughts.  "They all are, Ami.  Every room has the accomodations, and they can be linked or separated accordingly.  I don't have to wear this while we are here."

 

She was speechless as she looked at him, and a feeling of happiness rose in her as she realized he could go anywhere with her in this building, and wouldn't have to be confined.  She could look at him and he at her.  Since being with Vader, she'd thought about how much some people took for granted, walking about their houses and outside on their home planets.  The only physical freedom he had previously experienced had been in his room, or in the meditation chamber.  An entire building they could walk about, by comparison, seemed a world larger to her. 

 

"This....it's so much....you didn't have to do this for me." she said, her voice rich with gratitude.

 

"I wanted to."  He grinned.  "I did tell you once that I would take you to Bespin.  I keep my promises."

 

They both regarded the room for a moment before he spoke.  "There's more." he said.

 

"More?" Padme asked.  She couldn't imagine what.  She quietly followed him while he led her up an elevator to a higher floor.  When they exited, they crossed what appeared to be an extended foyer lounge room before heading for the door on the opposite side.  He glanced at her with a small smile before opening it.

 

She went in and her eyes immediately focused ahead.  The majority of the room was comfortable, to be sure, and to the right was another door-a bedroom she presumed-but that was by far it's least remarkable aspect.  The wall in front of her was thick and translucent, affording a view of the entire city, and possibly the planet.  She moved closer and looking over the clouds, thought she could even see the curvature of Bespin itself.  The sun was close to setting and all she wanted to do was stand there and watch as it went down, seemingly from her eye level, then to the clouds below, then underneath to reveal what was surely just as impressive a moonscape.

 

His previous words returned to her memory, It's like walking in the Heavens, if such a place exists.  The only beauty she had seen that rivaled this was her family's lakeside retreat during particularly vivid sunsets.

 

Vader watched her for a long while, not having to ask to see how much she appreciated it.  Her back was to him as she gazed out the window, her arms at rest by her sides.  He couldn't give her the real outdoors, not with his restrictions, but he made every effort to come close.  The time he spent away on missions had him laden with guilt, for he left behind a lonely girl on a dark acid washed planet she was not used to.  He was sure it felt isolating, and knew she deserved better.

 

He moved closer and touched her arm.  "I thought you would like this.  Bespin is beautiful."

 

She spoke quietly, still in awe.  "This is the top level."

 

"Yes," he said.

 

"It's amazing."

 

He looked out towards the setting sun before speaking.  "I called this the 'view room', for lack of a better term.  This building is the only one in this area, relatively isolated.  There are numerous arial probes and perimeters of security, of course...Commander Hur, the officer you met, has been handling the security for this particular project until now.  What do you think of him?"

 

Padme was confused.  "He's fine."

 

Vader seemed hesitant.  "He's....assigned to you.  He's been programmed to protect you.  I wanted to make sure you knew and were comfortable with him."

 

She looked at him reproachfully, "Ani...."

 

"Padme, it's just a precaution with the Empire in these times....I know it seems a little strange, but it's necessary." He paused,  "Please, don't be mad"

 

She'd not had designated security before and it felt odd.  She'd never been involved with a high-profile Sith Lord either, she thought, not without some irony.  She looked at Vader and could see his blue eyes uncertain, waiting for her reaction.  He had gone to so much trouble for this, and she still was speechless.  She could not be mad at him, but only sighed.

 

"I don't think it's necessary....but if it makes you feel better, that's fine.  Commander...what was his name again?"

 

"Hur."

 

"What do I do with him, exactly?"

 

"He serves a variety of needs, including assisting you with piloting craft and any requests you have.  Most importantly, he is assigned to protect you."

 

She could see security was a large issue with him, but accepted it and shook her head, smiling.

 

"He will follow your orders, you know" Vader said.

 

"Of...course." she said.  Ordering anything around, be it even a clone trooper, would take some getting used to for her. 

 

"He will only follow your orders, or mine, and none else," Vader said, almost to himself, his gaze returning to the window.  He was aware, only in hindsight, of some of the things the Emperor was capable of.  Wholeheartedly he believed when he became Sith that the Republic was corrupt and ineffective, and that change was needed. 

 

What he didn't know was about General Order 66.  Though Vader played a large part in the Jedi Purge, by far the most effective blow had been all the storm troopers that immediately turned on the Jedi with whom they were posted.  All Jedi, including himself, had never seen it coming.  And Palpatine had planned it all along.

 

For Padme, he would have a pure clone, an unaltered troop that he was fully aware of; no dormant orders lying within.  He had requested prior to the construction of the Bespin building a special unit from the facilities at Kamino, to be grown at an accelerated rate so it was operational in one to two standard months.  It's genes unaffected, Vader personally oversaw it's design.  It answered to no one but himself and Padme.  He had covered his tracks well so the Emperor or Tarkin were unaware of it.

 

He looked back at her and she was still gazing out the window, a dreamy expression on her face.  "Do you like it?" he asked tentatively.

 

She placed her arms around his waist, and saying nothing, they watched the sun set for the first time.

 

*************************************************

 

Days later, when Vader and Padme had returned to Vjun, he was again called away on a mission by the Emperor.  For reasons unknown to Vader, he had been reassigned to the construction of the second Death Star.  Coincidentally, a rebel sighting was reported on the moon of Endor, which provided the Death Star's protective gravitational field.  Vaders excitement grew when he realized he was closer to finding his son Luke, and possibly his daughter.  There was nothing he wanted more than to reach and capture them, and reunite them with their mother.

 

He waited in anticipation aboard the Executor as the recent report on the search for the rebels was retrieved.  An officer by the name of Captain Koen approached him.  Vader easily sensed his nervousness, and although the red tint of the mask he wore made viewing difficult, he could swear he saw sweat on Koen's brow. 

 

"Sir.." Koen began "We were unsuccessful.  The rebels...we were close to catching them, but one retrieved a weapon and they managed to escape."

 

To say Vader was disappointed was an understatement. 

 

Anger and frustration immediately rose in him, and he felt his blood boil.  So close, he thought, and the mission would have been served.  They could have been together.  The Empire would have been stronger.  They could have been a family again.

 

All he saw in front of him was Koen, and resented his weakness, his fear, his incompetence.  Koen knew the standard for working aboard the Executor was high.  Perhaps if he had worked harder, perhaps if he took the mission seriously, perhaps if he had paid attention to detail, this wouldn't have happened....

 

Koen started gasping for breath and his hands rose to his throat.  The other troops aboard the Executor tried to hide their obvious discomfort by focusing extra hard on whatever task they were performing, no matter how menial. 

 

Vader continued the Force choke, relishing in squeezing the life out of this weak and ineffective man.  He had failed him, and an example needed to be set.  Incompetence wouldn't be tolerated, never, not on his watch.

 

The life was close to leaving the man's body, the blood vessels in his forehead stood out.  His face was red and his eyes glazed over.

 

It was then that her face flashed before him.

 

Padme.

 

Long brown curls, gentle expression, eyes full of forgiveness.  And sadness too.  She would not, could not, do this to a person.  What would she think of him if she were here to see this? 

 

He almost felt as though she were.

 

He abruptly released Koen, and he fell to the floor, unconscious.  Vader looked at him for a moment, contemplating the man.  Then he turned to his crew.

 

"There will be no more mistakes or the consequences will be severe.  Take him away,"  Vader spun on his heels and left, still trying to figure out what had happened.

 

When he departed, the other officers who went to Koen were surprised to find him still breathing.  They summoned medical assistance.

 

*****************************************

 

Vader flew his craft for hours to clear his thoughts before returning to Vjun.  He wanted to be calm, not confused, when he saw Ami again.  He unboarded his ship and walked to the castle, allowing himself to feel anticipation about their reunion.

 

Padme was one step ahead of him.

 

She lingered in the shadows when she became aware of the crafts arrival and restlessly waited until he entered.  When she saw the front door open and the black figure emerge, she ran straight to him and they embraced.  She wanted to bury her face in his neck and hold him closer, whisper to him, kiss the side of his head, but the helmet made it impossible.  She was impatient today, and didn't mind.

 

Vader released her after a minute and looked down upon the petite woman who was so happy to see him.  Her expression spoke volumes.  She did not even see the suit anymore; he felt no trace of fear in her.

 

Not hours earlier, he had returned from a duty were everyone cringed and shuddered away at his presence.  The stormtroopers, an exception, had not been trained to fear death.  They were indifferent. 

 

The irony was not lost on him.

 

She accompanied him to their bedroom and waited while he got undressed.  When they again met face to face she spoke lightly about what had happened while he was away.  She had started another painting, claiming Bespin had given her new ideas.  Commander Hur, now a regular fixture at her side, had not been much for company, but she enjoyed teasing him anyway.  He supplied materials for her to cook one of her favorite Nubian pastries.  She knew that it could have been prepared for her, but she wanted Vader to try it, because she had made it herself.

 

He was quiet while she told him all of this, just watching her.  She finally took notice that something was different about him.  Something was on his mind.  The children, she thought immediately.

 

"What's wrong?" she asked.  She felt her heart race, and her first thought was that something might have happened to Luke or Leia.

 

Vader had something important to tell her.  He just didn't know where to start. 

 

"Padme...." he began.

 

She trembled and couldn't wait.

 

"Luke...Leia...Are they OK?" the last part of her sentence was barely a whisper as fear gripped her.

 

He paused and a smile pulled at the corners of his mouth.  Luke and Leia were the last thing from his mind at this moment, but her motherly concern immediately brought  to mind images of Shmi.  She'd had the same reaction when he had raced pods too quickly, or tried to rescue Banthas from hunters as a little boy.  What a fine mother she is, he thought.

 

"No." he said slowly.  "They are alright.  We have not had any contact from them, in fact."  He looked down at her hands, which were holding his.

 

"What is it then?" she was confused

 

"I....have something to ask you."  he paused for a moment. 

 

All of a sudden he felt very vulnerable.  He was used to being in charge and had been for years, but this was different.  He wanted more from Ami; he would demand nothing of her.  He only wanted her to be his willingly.

 

"Marry me." he said quietly.

 

She stared at him for a long moment.  She loved this man, she belonged with this man, she had no doubt.  Her pragmatic side rose to the forefront, telling her of the terrible risks she would take to be the wife of a Sith Lord.  She was raised to believe the Empire was evil, that it crushed democracy, it killed thousands of innocents; that was not her. 

 

Her heart told her differently.

 

As she gazed at him, she saw no evil man but someone young, and nervous, afraid she would reject him.

 

This was the amalgam that was Anakin-part fearsome warrior, part vulnerable child.  She was chosen to find him, and save him.  There were risks, risks that she would be a target of the rebels, or the Empire, or the Emperor himself.  But now she didn't care.  Padme would love him and show him forgiveness, even if it cost her her life.

 

She could only smile as he continued to look at her.  His face took on a pensive expression; he misunderstood her silence.

 

"I love you, Ami....you're my best friend.  Marry me."

 

Her eyes filled with tears and she nodded.

 

His face lit up and a second later, he picked her up gently and spun her around , faster and faster until they were both laughing.  At that moment a point of light, a pure surge of joy flowed through the Force, commencing at the union of the young couple.

 

*************************************

 

Jobal Nabierre stood at the balcony of the family estate, looking out over the lake and mountains.  The day was bright and beautiful, and the weather temperate.  She hadn't noticed.  The past several months she had been consumed by thoughts of Ami, and felt disconnected from reality.  The family had spoken little to each other; there was not much to say.  But the same thing was on all of their minds.

 

She gazed absently towards the hills, thinking for the hundredth time of Ami and how she was doing.  Lord Vader had taken her to paint something for him, and Jobal knew what a talented and proficient artist she was. 

 

That was five standard months ago. 

 

The last time Jobal saw Ami she had run back to her ship, heartbroken, choosing to return to an evil Sith Lord over spending time with them.  Jobal almost couldn't blame her.  She thought of what Padme might be doing now-perhaps she was working on more paintings for the Empire, or performing domestic duties.....maybe he had personal uses for her....

 

Jobal shuddered and pushed the thought out of her mind.  It was too horrible to consider.

 

She forced herself to ponder the ethical issues of cloning; she felt this was her penance.  There was no doubt that she had been selfish when she chose to clone Padme.  She was still reeling from the loss of her daughter and wanted nothing more than to fill the void in her life.  She thought this would help, but knew now it was always a mistake to make a major life decision during a tragedy.

 

Yet she could not regret what she had done.  When her feelings settled, she felt a great deal of remorse, but never regret.  She thought of Ami's face, and her laugh, so similar to Padme's but different, and realized for the first time she loved her as a person in her own right.  It confused her sometimes because she thought of Ami now as not just her granddaughter, but her daughter.  She shared these thoughts with no one, not even Ruwee.

 

It's my fault, Jobal thought.  She had chosen to manipulate DNA as a substitute for her grief and had not given thought to who it would affect or how....it was not her role to play God and she knew it....but at the same time she did not regret knowing Ami and she never would.  At the middle of it all was a beautiful girl, conceived through no fault of her own.

 

Jobal thought of Ami and hoped she was cared for, she longed to see her again, she hoped she was safe.  Most of all she just wanted her to be happy.

 

***********************************************

 

Captain Koen sat in the med center aboard the Executor, droids attending to his wounds.  There was little topical work they performed since the Force choke had not broken the skin.  His were of an internal nature.  His trachea was crushed, and the droids were uncertain whether he would regain function of his voice ever again.

 

But he was breathing. 

 

He didn't know why Lord Vader had spared him.  He had seen on one instance and heard of countless others where incompetence under Vader's command was met by certain death.

 

Perhaps he would be relegated to mechanical duty for the Empire, or maybe he would be retired.  He was just grateful he escaped with his life.

 

**********************************************

 

The spy handed a slip of paper to Emperor Palpatine and he looked at it, his lips twisted in disgust.

 

"The officer.....he lives" Palpatine said flatly.

 

"Yes, my Lord"

 

"The Bespin project is completed then, I see.  Does the clone reside there?"

 

"Not full time, my Lord.  Her time appears to be split between Bespin and Vjun"

 

"Fine then...." the Emperor paused a moment.  "Dismissed."

 

"Yes, my Lord, " the spy said, bowing before retreating from the throne room.

 

The Emperor had not noticed anything unusual at first, only a blank absence of emotion in Lord Vader.  One of his most trusted allies, Vader had been reporting to him on the search for the rebel activity.  Then complications occured.  Luke Skywalker, son of Anakin Skywalker, was the rebel who had successfully destroyed the first Death Star.  The Emperor wanted to terminate him, feared him actually, but then reconsidered with Vader's input what a powerful ally he could become.

 

Skywalker was not injured like Vader.  His body, his midiclorians, were intact.  If he could be turned, he would make a perfect apprentice, and the Emperor could dispose of Vader.  He knew emotions were Vader's inherent weakness, and kept him from reaching his full potential as a Sith.  Contact with his son had sparked something in him the Emperor did not like, and he reassigned Vader to overseeing the second Death Star.

 

The latest report caught even the Emperor by surprise.  The Naberrie family, relatives of Anakin's late wife, had cloned their daughter.  And Vader had discovered the clone.  Now she lived with him, and he'd had a second castle constructed on Bespin, presumably for her benefit.  Lord Vader had few personal requests before.  Unlike Prince Xizor and the Emperor himself, he had refused for years to embellish any of his palaces.  The Emperor accepted this and fed his anger, honing Vader into a finely tuned instrument for killing.

 

This new development endangered his plans.  He had no personal knowledge of what affect the clone was having on Vader, but was sure it displeased him.  His interest had piqued when he learned of the officer Vader had recently spared.  So out of character for Vader, Palpatine initiated a secret investigation to look further into his activities when he discovered the rest of the details.

 

But the Emperor was nothing if not patient.

 

He would drive a wedge between Padme and Vader, but it would be more difficult than the first time.  This clone was a civilian, an artist.  Vader had sought her out, and now it appeared she resided with him full-time.  No, Palpatine could not convince Vader that she was keeping secrets from him, she was no senator this time and had no political agenda.  He would not even let Vader know he knew of her existence.

 

He had to be far more clever.

 

**********************************************************

 

When Ami had thought of her wedding as a small child, she pictured different things.  Maybe it would be a grand affair, attended by all of her friends and colleagues with a large ceremony.  Or maybe it would be more intimate, held at her beloved family retreat with only family and friends.  She had never thought it would be just her and her husband, high above the clouds, with only a stroomtrooper as a witness.

 

He stood in the view room beside the holy man that had been retrieved from Bespin, and wore only his basic trousers and a tunic.  He was nervous, unsure, as he waited for his bride, the same as he had years before at the lakeside retreat in Karykino.

 

She came out of the adjoining room and all he could do was watch her.  Her dress was white and simple, something she chose that was far from the most extravagant gown the Empire could afford.  Her hair fell down in ringlets on her shoulders and back, and had white Nubian flowers in it.  He had never seen anything as beautiful.

 

She approached slowly, and the holy man began.  As they repeated the vows, she reached out and took both of his hands in hers.  It did not matter if they were mechanical, she accepted and loved all of him, just as he was. 

 

He felt for the first time that maybe he had a future.  Maybe he had not been foolish in convincing himself once before that he was good. 

 

It was a feeling he recognized as hope. 

 

She believed in him, she had drawn him towards the light.  When the vows had been spoken, and he leaned down to kiss her, he was no longer afraid.  His lips met hers, all of their differences, cultural and age, fell away, all they saw were each other; they were just Anakin and Padme.

 

When they finished, they turned and looked outwards to watch the setting sun on the Bespin clouds, a glimpse a new life together.

 

 

Chapter 25: Shadows of the Sith

 

 

"Ani...you stop that!"  Padme laughed, putting her hands up to cover the spray of water.  He smiled wider and splashed her, just a little higher, this time above the waist.  He had that look, she noticed.

 

"Oh, no..." she said, getting up.  His grin was mischievous; it was on.  "You won't get me this time." she said, and darted down the beach.  Even though he could have caught up, he trailed a step or two behind, letting her give chase.  They ran in circles, alternating between water and horseplay, before coming to sit on the sand and catch their breath.

 

"Truce," he said, winded.

 

She smiled before getting one last splash in.

 

"Hey..." he said, before she giggled and put up her hands in a peace gesture.  They both settled down against each other before looking at the moonscape near the beach. 

 

They were in the holoroom and had chosen something a little different, more exotic, for their latest venture.  Purely a figment of imagination, the beach stretched on almost indefinately to a peninsula with palms in the far distance, and had a night sky with stars and planets; planets probably too close to be real in any other planetary system, Padme thought.

 

Like a painting, she thought, too perfect to be real.  It was, after all, their honeymoon.  Padme still marveled at the technology that allowed one to create something that looked, smelled, and seemed so real.  She could still feel wet from the water and grains from the sand in her palms, elements that didn't truly exist outside.

 

She and Ani laid down and looked up at the starry sky, faces close but their bodies facing opposite directions.  During more whimsical moments they would do this and talk, at other times just think quietly.  Their conversion drifted to the more philosophical; she spoke about what she had always wanted growing up and her inherent desire to help others.

 

Vader listened to her and something in him stirred, remembering when he grew up with Shmi; he had also promised to go back and free the slaves.  In a sense Tatooine had been the most peaceful time in his life.  He and his mother were slaves, but day to day he would work and build things, that gave him a sense of satisfaction.  He still had his entire life ahead of him.  And Watto had never really been that bad; impatient, rude at times, but never cruel.  Anakin and his mother were close, and always looked out for each other.  That was a long, long time ago but he still felt an ache in his heart thinking about it; he would never stop missing his mother. 

 

Padme was so like she was the first time, he thought, a humanitarian.  But he had long ago given up any right or obligation to help others; in this way he felt inferior to her.  He had always wanted to make his mother proud of him, but he couldn't let himself think of it now, not after all he had done.  He couldn't go back to the way things were even if he wanted to.

 

She noticed his silence and wondered if something was troubling him.  She tilted her head closer to his but said nothing. 

 

Ani wanted her to know his true feelings, feelings he couldn't even admit to himself until recently.  He had never truly wanted the acquisition of power, he'd wanted to be with those he loved; until recently fate had been tearing him from it.  It seemed someone always needed something from him.  Battle felt good, even natural, but like pod racing it was the adrenaline rush he sought.  When he had lost his mother, his friend, and then his wife, fighting was all he had.  It had fueled his anger-driven existance for over half his lifetime, and in the grand scheme of things he was lonely, and used. 

 

To his dismay he realized that becoming Sith never really gave him the freedom he sought, only and restless and continuing hunger.  He was powerful, and able to offer Padme his love and possessions, but they were still in need of protection, and hiding in a sense.  Always hiding.

 

There was no reason to be hesitant, he thought; she would not judge him in this moment of vulnerability.

 

"I wish I could return to simpler things" he said.

 

"What do you mean?" Padme asked.

 

"You...my mother....sometimes I wish I wouldn't have acquired any of this.  I never really wanted to be Sith, or Jedi.  If I could go back to a normal life with my family, I would."

 

Padme felt a lump in her throat, realizing that she wanted the very same for him.  The galaxy knew him as a Sith Lord; but the truth, at least partially, was that he was a victim of fate.  She recalled what she could from what he was saying....when he had called her his angel....his life as a slave on Tatooine....meeting him in Watto's store...

 

Watto.

 

Padme sat up abruptly and it took Anakin a moment to notice.

 

"What's wrong?" he asked. 

 

Padme slowly brought her fingers to her mouth as a small damn of recollection broke and intermittent memories returned.

 

Are you an angel?

 

What?

 

An angel....I hear pilots talk about them...they say they are the most beautiful creatures in the universe...

 

You're a very silly little boy....

 

"That's where we met."  Padme looked at him.  There was nothing wrong, she thought, just the opposite.

 

She had never been more alright.

 

"What?" he said, confused.

 

"Watto."

 

Now Anakin sat up.  "What did you say?"

 

Padme smiled, her voice was near a whisper.  "Watto's store....that's where we met.  You asked if I was an angel...."

 

He looked at her incredulously.  If there had been any doubt that Padme's spirit was in her, it vanished now.  He drew her in his embrace as she let it come back to her.

 

"Yes." Anakin said.  He felt good for himself, but better for her; she was regaining part of her identity.  He smiled, remembering.  "I heard pilots talk about them...they were from the moons..."

 

"...of Iego" she finished his sentence.

 

Vader marveled at her memory.  No, he corrected himself, not just her recollections.  Her latent force sensitivity.  Why hadn't he noticed it before? He thought when they were married the first time that he could reach out to her through the Force because of his Force prowess, or perhaps because she was carrying a Force sensitive child.    But she had been skilled with the blaster, more than one would have expected from a senator, and was highly attuned now to piloting craft.  A thought occurred to him.

 

"Come on," he said suddenly, taking her hand.  "I have something to show you."

 

Padme slowly got up, letting any and all memories she could come back to her.  It was limited in scope, but welcome.  She felt hopeful; she knew that more would come later. 

 

This was just a beginning.

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Vader brought her to a room she had not been since before they both knew the true nature of their relationship, the same one where she'd been wounded by droids.  She looked at him skeptically.  What were they doing here?  He'd pleaded with her since not to wander off or at least take an escort droid for her protection.

 

With a wave of his hand, the door opened and he went to program the controls.  Suddenly a vast blue-grey aura, similar to a fog, appeared.  It was peaceful, though Ami didn't understand the purpose of it.  Vader came over to her.

 

"Until you understand, just don't adjust the controls.."  He smiled nervously and added, "I would hate to have another incident between you and battle droids."

 

She nodded and, following his lead, sat down with her legs crossed.  Quietly, he placed himself behind her, almost as a guide.  She could feel his warm breath near her ear and his hands moving down her forearms; her eyes closed involuntarily and she exhaled.

 

"What are we doing here?" she asked.

 

He was silent for a moment and looked around, "I come here to meditate.  It gives me focus and strengthens my powers and abilities.  I become more in tune with the Force."

 

She understood; he was going to show her.  Hesitantly, she looked back at him.

 

"Don't worry," he said, seeing her discomfort, "You won't draw on the Dark Side; it's just basic meditation"  The focus of dark power had been his reprieve in the Sith and his connection to the Force, but he respected her boundaries and wouldn't go there.

 

"Close your eyes," he said softly, and began to guide her through steps of meditation she was unfamiliar with.  She was tense at first, but felt herself going lower and lower, deeper within, until at last she relaxed.  She thought she could even sense her own energy field; she was completely at ease with the ebb and flow of her body and that around it.  Ani's peaceful voice seemed to drift further away although it was still there, guiding her.

 

Padme wouldn't have minded staying this way for a long time, somewhere between the demands of real life and the netherworld of the Force.  She wished she had known about this before.  All of a sudden, something flashed before her.  An image.  Was it....her apartment....on Coruscant?  Then another.  Padme sat at her vanity, holding a padawan braid.  She placed it fondly in a box next to the japor pendant, the simultaneous pride in her husband and ache of missing him weighing down her heart; it was during the Clone Wars. 

 

There was no explanation needed for these memories; she understood them immediately.  They began to come faster and faster, intense but not unwelcome.  She felt dizzy.

 

"Padme...Padme....come back...can you hear me..."

 

She shook her head slowly; it felt so heavy and didn't want to move. When her eyes opened, the blue-green haze of the room come back into focus.  Warm arms were holding her; she felt his concern.

 

"You were relaxed at first," Vader said, "But then your breathing became shallow and I had to draw you back.  What happened?"

 

She took a deep breath and nodded.

 

"I'm alright, Ani." she said softly, then smiled.  "I'm remembering."

 

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

In the weeks that followed Padme was able, with Vader's help, to meditate more effectively, until she reached the point at which she led herself.  She learned that there were certain levels to meditation and ways in which to control the duration and intensity.  Some individuals, he explained, could stay in the meditative state for days or longer.  With her ability to control the depth of meditation, Padme recalled memories at a rate she felt comfortable with; she pulled herself in and out at will. 

 

Though Padme used meditation to relax, but it was rare she meditated when she did not recall something.  Some memories were of great significance or broad in spectrum, such as her role in the Battle of Geonosis.  Some were smaller and inconsequential, such as the names of her beloved handmaidens. 

 

All were important to her. 

 

Ami no longer had to wait for her dreams to regain that long forgotten part of herself, and realized that the more in tune she became with her former life through the Force, the less daunted she was by the prospect of being a clone. 

 

There was no need to be threatened by the idea of Padme Skywalker when she could own and embrace it.

 

When Vader was called away on smaller missions, they ranged from one to a few days in duration.  Padme enjoyed her living situation, but began to think about the outdoors and what the general population might be doing; she felt not exactly sad but disconnected from them.  It had been so long since she'd interacted with others.  Though her needs were met and her heart full, Padme wondered what lay in her future. 

 

Vader sensed her restlessness, the same thoughts had been on his mind for some time.  She was his wife, but not his possession.  He had given her the means to travel and protection of Commander Hur, but the world as she knew it was still relatively limited, especially while he was away.

 

He was not surprised the day he was preparing to leave on a mission that she approached him about outside travel.

 

"Would it make you uncomfortable if I traveled about Bespin?" Padme asked hesitantly.  She looked at him and could plainly see the answer in his face; he tried to be understanding but pressure was part of his life and she didn't wish to add to it.

 

Vader sighed.  "It would be better if additional measures were taken."

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"You told me about your handmaidens...Dorme, Sabe...how you remembered them..."

 

"Yes..." she said slowly; she knew where this was going.

 

"You should have a similar structure of protection if you travel about the city.."

 

"Anakin, I'm no senator.  This really isn't necessary."

 

"Maybe not a senator, but a Sith Lady." he said. 

 

The look on her face told him the title bothered her; he rephrased.  "You're in a high-profile position, that's all I mean...would you just consider it?"

 

"What are you thinking?" she was exasperated.  "An entourage...that may draw more attention than the protection affords."

 

"Padme." he sighed, " Three handmaidens."

 

"None are needed." she maintained.

 

"Two."

 

"One."  That was as far as Padme would go with this; she wondered if they would be working for her against their will but quickly pushed the thought out of her mind.

 

Vader rubbed his forehead with his thumb and forefinger.  "Fine.  One...but promise me you will take her with you and allow her to do her duty in protecting you."  He glanced at her, then smiled.  "You always were stubborn on those issues; it gave your security detail terrible heartburn."

 

Padme had to laugh at his last comment but agreed.  All things considered, she didn't wish to send him off distressed; she could only imagine the outside pressures he faced. 

 

-----------------------------------------------------------------

 

Jael Aderes led a relatively simple life in the Republic of Bespin.  The second daughter of a close knit family, she wasn't extremely priviledged but certainly not impoverished, either.  Her parents ensured that she attended the best schools and at some point she had even received self-defense and weapons training.  Of all things, stability was a staple of her life.  A library historian, quiet in nature, Jael had always steered clear from trouble or controversy and anticipated marriage and settling down in the years to come.

 

Her vision of the future changed one day when she was approached about duty for the Empire.  She held the small piece of paper, noticing it shook before realizing that the tremors originated from her own hand.  The details were scarce but still perfectly clear to her....protection for a dignitary....discretion imperative......Lord Vader....

 

When Jael read the last name, she involuntarily broke out in a cold sweat.  She was sure everyone in the galaxy had a similar reaction, but she wasn't everyone in the galaxy. 

 

This was happening to her. 

 

The summons Jael had been given was paramount to a military draft; she knew she had no choice.  And when she said goodbye to her family to begin her duty, Jael didn't know if she would ever see them again.

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Padme was in the palace on Vjun when the girl arrived.  Seated in the setee near the lounge, Commander Hur led her inside and stood there silently for a moment before Padme realized she was supposed to say something.

 

She looked pointedly at Hur and nodded, "Thank you."

 

He left them, Jael still standing nervously in the same place, almost rigidly, Padme thought.  She stood up and went over to her; it had been a while since she had interaction with another girl her age, but not so long that it felt unnatural.  She extended her hand in a friendly gesture and Jael shook it; she seemed distracted.

 

"Do you want to sit down?" Padme asked.

 

Jael looked at her absently and nodded. "Sure." 

 

She wasn't sure who this woman who had introduced herself was, but Jael felt some relief that at least she wasn't alone in this protective detail.  She didn't know the full nature of what she was supposed to do, just that she was expected to double for a dignitary and that it was not her place to ask many questions.  The girl she sat next to was approximately her size and build; the primary difference on first glance, Jael thought, was that her own brown hair was straight while the other young womans seemed to come down in waves.  They would surely resemble each other closely if wearing hooded clothing.  Whoever coordinated this assignment chose wisely, she thought.

 

Padme looked away for a minute and felt awkward.  The woman they brought seemed distant, like she had a lot on her mind.  Vader was away now, and she was beginning to feel lonely.  She determined she would try to know her better and put her at ease.

 

"Would you like something to eat?" Padme asked. 

 

Confusion crossed the girls features.  Perhaps she has been here longer than I thought, Jael thought.

 

"You know what we are allowed?  I'm not sure if there are designated times for mess, or sleep..."

 

Padme took a sharp breath; she realized the girl didn't understand she was working for her.

 

"No...." she said slowly.  "You may eat and move about anytime you would like.  I don't mind."

 

Jael looked up, startled.  The gravity of the situation hit her; this was no other handmaiden, this was her Mistress.  Quickly she bowed, hoping she was not in too much trouble.  She'd not understood and been far too irreverant and rude.

 

"I'm so sorry....I didn't realize"

 

Sympathy swept over Padme, she could feel the fear in the girl.  She moved to her and placed both of her hands in hers, urging her to stand. 

 

As Jael's eyes met hers a connection was forged; somehow she knew, looking at her Mistress, that she was kind and would not hurt her.  She stood straighter and relaxed.

 

"Thank you, Mi'lady," Jael said.

 

"Please," she said softly, "Call me Padme."

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Padme and Vader were in their bedroom on Vjun, performing casual domestic tasks.  The room was secured with oxygen; he sat on the edge of the bed in only his black lounge pants, flipping through the holonet channels.  He wasn't sure if Padme watched much of the holonet when he wasn't around, but he somehow hoped she didn't.  Lord Vader was often in the news and more often than not it involved the takeover of a colony or deaths of rebellion insurgents.  It was a part of his job he didn't want her to see.

 

Padme was folding some of her clothing and placing it in the dresser.  She knew that Jael would have helped her with it, but she enjoyed working and refused to have others do duties for her she wouldn't ask of herself.  Besides, Ami thought, she had seen Jael's obvious discomfort, if not fear, every time Vader returned.  Padme had gotten Jael to open up to her, to the point where they could tease each other and had a friendly relationship, but it all seemed to freeze when his ship arrived.  During this time Jael's preference, if given a choice, was to retreat to her personal quarters.  Padme allowed her this and spent this afternoon cooking and cleaning herself.

 

Vader settled on an entertainment channel and glanced at Padme over his shoulder.  "You needn't fold those," he said, "You could have a droid or your handmaiden..."

 

She threw a towel at him and it landed over his face.  "Or you." she said.

 

He removed it and saw her grinning.  At once he pounced on her and had her playfully pinned on the bed, her excited screams and flailing the only noise in the room.  He enjoyed the easy comradery they were able to share during these more domestic times; vascillating on the fine line between friends and lovers.

 

Vader didn't hear it at first but the static from the stand to his right caught his attention the second time it sounded.  It was a transmission, from the Emperor himself, waiting for Vader to open his secure end.

 

At once their play ended, her smile faded, and she returned to the dresser to continue her tasks.  He had been enjoying their time together and if he hadn't known better would have been irritated, if not angry, that this transmission interrupted.  He pressed the button to clear it and his Master's image appeared; he automatically knelt.

 

"Yes, Master."

 

Padme flinched and her jaw set when she heard that.  Her back was to Vader and she was out of the Emperor's sight range.  She didn't remember whether it had been her idea, Vader's, or neither, that she remain unnoticed by the Emperor and his organization in general.  It didn't matter; she hated him for all he had done to the people of the Empire over the years and mostly, to her Ani.  She was unsure whether she could hold her tongue if confronted with him, and was honest enough with herself to know that the less she understood about Vader's job, the better.  Power, rank, and prestige; these had never meant anything to her, not in this life or the last.  All she wanted from this was her husband.

 

"Lord Vader" the Emperor's image hissed.  "We have acquired a much anticipated alliance.  Do you recall Ms. Oadira, the Perlemian dignitary?"

 

The name was only vaguely familiar to Vader; she was a high-ranking representative of a sizeable league of outer rim trade planets.  Collectively, their assistance was influential to the Empire, and gaining control would be crippling to the fledging Rebellion.  "Yes," he said.

 

"It looks as though she is amenable to joining her league with the Empire.  Without trade and economic relief, this will prove an effective obstacle to the Rebellion."

 

Vader felt some satisfaction that the resistance seemed to be drawing to a close. 

 

The Emperor continued.  "Lord Vader, we need your assistance on this.  You are to meet with Oadira, be her personal escort and advisor, and do whatever necessary to secure this alliance."

 

Vader blinked; something about the word escort that he couldn't name bothered him.  But this was important and it was clear his Master was finished. 

 

He nodded.  "Yes, Master"

 

"Good," the Emperor stated.  His transmission flickered, and then died out. 

 

Vader dared a glance in Ami's direction and could see her back was to him and she was still handling clothing.  He thought something seemed off about her.  All of a sudden, he just wanted to touch her.

 

He got up and went over to where she was.  She was arranging things in organized patterns, her eyes down and posture steady.  He traced his hand down the side of her arm, but for once she didn't seem to soften or respond to him.  Her posture was still ramrod straight, her gaze determined.

 

"It looks like I have to go," he said quietly, hoping for some sign from her.

 

"OK." was all she said; she was still busying herself with the menial, unnecessary tasks at hand.

 

He stared at her for a moment, then drew her closer.  Her arms automatically went around him.  He whispered his love and intentions to come back soon into her hair, and she nodded.  She didn't seem sad, exactly, but somehow withdrawn.

 

After he had gotten ready and boarded his ship, Vader remained bothered.  The nature of the mission seemed strange to him, he had always been a troop on the front lines and was certainly no diplomat. 

 

Padme hadn't let him in for once; she had put a wall up, he could feel it.  As his ship flew away, he wondered if he had done the same.

 

----------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Padme heard the transmission behind her, the one that had broken the playful innocence she and Anakin had together.  She knew he resented it as much as she did, she could see the irritation in his face when he looked at the holoreceiver.  Then resignation crossed his features; this was a part of his job and he accepted it.  She resumed her task at hand near the other end of the room and freely evesdropped.  Integrity was useless, she determined growing up, when it came to overhearing conversations.  If you were within earshot, and what was occuring was interesting, it was impossible to tune out, no matter how hard you tried.  Sometimes trying not to hear even amplified it, so she had given up and just listened freely.

 

All conversations the Emperor had with Vader in her presence in the past had an underlying dark tone to them, but this one struck her as different somehow.  Perhaps it was the wording, or the uniqueness of the mission.  Or maybe it was the tone of the Emperor's voice, with it's uncharacteristic optimism.  Something about this was out of the ordinary, and bothered her; she could not name it.

 

Padme pushed the thoughts out of her mind and rubbed her forehead tiredly.  She shouldn't have taken any of this out on Vader, and she wondered if she had.  She looked at the holonet, then around the room, seeing nothing of particular interest to her, at least not now.  She flicked off the holo and sat on the edge of the bed where he had been with her hands clasped in her lap, staring quietly at the floor.  Her loneliness, her longing for him, was already beginning to set in.

 

A crackling noise sounded from behind her, coming from the direction of the nightstand.  She stood up quickly and moved to the side; it was from the Emperor.  Intended for Vader, she thought, but he had already departed.  The Emperor's image appeared and began to speak; whether it was live or prerecorded, she couldn't determine.

 

"Another thing, Lord Vader," he said.  "I needn't remind you what an important alliance this is.  I trust you will take care of any needs Oadira may have as well as you have in the past, particularly those of a personal nature.  May the Force be with you." he said coldly, and the holo was gone.

 

Padme inhaled, and felt as though cold water had been thrown on her.  It was only when her emotion settled that she swallowed and sat back down on the bed.  Her hands shook.  The way the Emperor had said the word personal made her sick, and she couldn't stop herself from thinking about it.  What did this mean?  Where was Ani going and what...was he doing?  Had he done...anything like that before? 

All of a sudden anger and disgust at herself set in.  Beings all over the galaxy were dying everyday, younglings too, and there was nothing she could or would do right now to help them.  Here she was, in a protected position with all of her needs met, and she could not stop choking on the thought that Vader might be with another woman.  How selfish was she becoming?  And what was she doing?

 

Ami's mind raced with all the conflicting thoughts that went through it, and soon she paced around continuously.  Her emotions rose to a panic that night as she had never experienced before, and she felt trapped within her own mind.  At times she could hardly breathe. 

 

Thinking of the past scared her, thinking of the future scared her, and she could not stop thinking.

 

------------------------------------------------------------

 

The Emperor sat in his throne room, pleased with himself.  Back when he had first created Vader, named him, he was a burned and crippled man, completely dependant upon the Emperor for everything.  Lord Vader had done his job well, with anger and focus, and the Emperor trusted him enough to give him a great deal of control.  After all, they had a long standing alliance, and the boy trusted him.

 

Vader did not ask the Emperor's permission when he set about repairing his body.  Functionality was the Emperor's primary concern, Vader could do his job with cyberkinetic arms and legs, even if they were a discomfort.  The fact that they hindered his abilities and reminded him of what he had lost was a good thing, it kept his anger strong at Obi-Wan and his drive intact.  Taking back control of his body was a step towards independence for Vader, and the Emperor was threatened by it.

 

Now that he had successfully rebuilt himself, even to the point where his burn damage was minimized and his original appearance restored, the Emperor was not pleased.  He would never let Vader know this. 

 

Of course, there always was a way to turn such a change around to his advantage, Palpatine thought.  And in light of the emergence of the Padme clone, he had initiated his plan.

 

First the seeds of doubt would be planted, and then the action, followed by self-loathing, would take place.  It was inevitable.  It always had been.

 

Palpatine sent the second transmission to Vader's Vjun holoreceiver minutes after he was aware of his crafts' departure.  He was also aware of who would be on the other end listening.  The transmission deleted itself minutes after it played.

 

After all, it was never intended for Vader.

 

 

 

Chapters 26 - 27

Chapter 26: Barely Breathing

 

 

Vader's craft pulled into the perlemian port of Cerea on schedule.  As he stepped off, he pondered the nature of the mission and the tension it seemed to cause between him and his wife, but pushed the thoughts out of his mind to focus on the duty at hand.

 

A storm trooper met him at the rafters to escort him up to the assigned area to meet with representative Oadira.  When he arrived at the quarters, Vader was surprised to find an empty lounge with settees and what appeared to be a various tables with a bar.  Off to the sides it opened up to further rooms.  He stood still and the storm trooper left him to his thoughts.

 

Were there any other dignitaries or officials involved in this? Vader wondered, looking around the empty room.  The Emperor had given him scant details on this assignment.  He had not been in contact with any other stormtroopers or guards of any kind, which was unusual for the nature of any mission he had ever been involved in.  He was still contemplating the situation, waiting, when he heard the door open behind him and representative Oadira enter.

 

"Welcome, Lord Vader," she said smoothly, and then waved off the guards that normally accompanied her.  They bowed and left the room, the door closing behind them.  "Prompt as always." she said with a slight smirk, more to herself.

 

Vader said nothing, and waited for details, beginning to feel ill at ease about the situation.  His first Padme had been attuned to meeting and greeting people, negotiating deals, and strove for diplomacy.  Politics was never his strong point.

 

She spoke again, filling the silence.  "So the Emperor and I have been in contact regarding the trade routes and their effect on this....Rebellion you face."

 

Vader did not know how closely the Emperor had been working with her, but got the impression from her tone of voice that the Emperor had given her a great deal of power; he wasn't pleased.

 

"Yes," he responded.

 

She turned to the bar and poured herself a drink.  "Hmmm...honestly I do not have a problem with placing my alliance with the Empire, and you'll find it is quite an influential one I've attained.  However, everything is business, and there are things I want."  She paused for a moment.  "There a few different ways we can close this."

 

Vader smiled to himself, thinking of battle.  Surely there was an individual or faction she was having difficulty handling or needed destroyed.  He was an excellent pilot, warrior, and had built long standing alliances with the top galactic bounty hunters.  There was no mission he could not target and demolish; that must be why he was here.

 

"Remove the suit."  Oadira said suddenly.

 

Vader turned his head, thinking he must have heard incorrectly.  Oadira smiled inwardly.  She had never seen the cloaked monster show any emotion, but if ever the dark suit could convey surprise this was it.

 

"I feel uncomfortable talking to it; it's unnerving." Oadira explained, and knew she was not lying.  Why had the Empire designed such a hideous visage in the first place? she wondered.  Ah yes, the intimidation factor. 

 

It served it's purpose, she was sure.  Just not here, not now.

 

"Don't worry," she said soothingly before Vader could speak.  "The Emperor let me know of your disability.  Accomodations have been made."  She pointed to the ceiling, which was already releasing oxygen.

 

The Emperor had told her of his disability and made accomodations?  Vader thought.  What was the purpose of this?  He felt his anger at his master grow as his discomfort rose, but refocused his attention on the mission.  Jumping through these hoops was surely needed to accomodate Oadira and form this Alliance, if this was the only way to bring a successful end to the war.

 

"There." Oadira pointed her finger towards the changer, and Vader complied after a moment, entering in a swirl of black cloak.

 

Oadira was a woman of few words, and relished control her entire life.  She'd started out simply enough, as a Cerean Senator before rising through the ranks with smart alliances and deft political maneuvering.  There were a few politicians who actually sought to do their job in the best interest of their people.  Most, however, fought to maintain and further their own individual positions and she was at the forefront of these. 

 

If Oadira ever had a conscience, it required little to satisfy it in her mind.  After all, she reasoned, the elected politicians were only a reflection of the desires of those who put them in office, and the longer she remained the longer a strong and capable being like herself would control the post.  In this way Oadira was like another representative she worked with at that time by the name of Palpatine.  Of course, he had risen to the top more effectively than she had; but she was nothing if not a shrewd businesswoman and their relationship had been a mutually beneficial one for years.  Her alliance of planets controlled possibly the galaxy's largest and strongest trade route, and with her connections her assistance was needed; she could not be destroyed easily without the Empire losing control over a number of planets as her carefully laid chain of command would unravel.

 

Vader removed his suit in the changer and looked at himself in the mirror, blankly watching his reflection for a moment.  He wore his dark tunic and trousers, attire he had once used as a Jedi but now without the leather overvest and belt.  This all felt strange to him, and he realized why-it had only been the Emperor, and then Ami, who had ever seen what was beneath the suit of Darth Vader.  The Emperor had spoken with him during some moments in the meditation chamber, but now mostly just caught him with transmissions in his personal time. 

 

Regarding his handsome visage, he realized that the persona of Vader afforded him protection from his own insecurities.  He was able to hide behind it and demand respect based on his appearance alone.  No one would dare challenge him; to a large extent, they feared the unknown.  Ami was the only person he trusted to get closer and see him as a person, in his entirety.  He was not comfortable showing anyone else.

 

He bowed his head and took a breath, preparing the exit the changer.  The orders came from the Emperor, he had no choice in the matter.

 

Oadira sat on the lounger, taking a sip from her glass.  She almost didn't hear the door to the changer open, suddenly aware of a presence she looked up and saw Lord Vader standing there.  She was always cool and in control of a situation, and hoped her face didn't convey her obvious surprise.  Aside from the dark clothing and tall stature, she would never have recognized what lay beneath the suit as it stood before her.  Somehow she pictured an alien, or someone replusive and old, not a blond man with striking feaures that she would have actively pursued if given a choice.

 

She smiled to herself, growing more pleased every minute by her arrangement with the Emperor.  He had promised her a priviledged position with the Empire if she arranged this dalliance, and she had wondered at first if she would even want to copulate with the monster.  But this would not be hard, she thought smugly, not hard at all.  She would not only gain more power and enjoy this, but know that she had achieved sexual and psychological dominance over the galaxy's most notorious Sith Lord.

 

"Have a seat." Oadira said smoothly, moving to the side to allow room for him.  He walked in her direction, then sat down on the settee opposite her, the glass table between them.  Ignoring the slight, she leaned forward and placed a manicured finger on the table.  "What do you think of the Emperor, Lord Vader?"

 

He regarded her icily, hating the way she changed topics.  Nothing she had done so far was mission oriented, and that was the only way he knew to function.  He would have just as soon Force choked her where she sat. 

 

"I don't see how my opinion of the Emperor has bearing on this alliance" he said.

 

Oadira continued, ignoring his comment, "I think he's pretty much a scoundrel myself, but he has an uncanny knack for governing and negotiating circumstance."  She paused a moment, then stood, moving over to where he was.  She lingered at his shoulder for a moment before lowering herself next to him on the settee.  Close.

 

"In this instance, Lord Vader, I'm the one in charge."  She traced a finger down his cheek as he stared ahead stonily.  "I think you know what happens next."

 

He was still and barely comprehending what was happening as he felt her lips on his cheek, then his neck.  She was beautiful, and sophisticated, and cold; so different from his wife.  He could smell the strong scent of her perfume, and was sure his clothes smelled of it now too.  He had to push the thoughts of Ami out of his mind or it would overwhelm him and he could not survive this.  The Emperor had ordered it....he had no choice....he had to....

 

His eyes closed and brow knitted as she moved her hand inside his shirt.  His mind flashed to when he had pledged himself to the Emperor to gain a power that promised to be greater than any Jedi.  It seduced him, ensured that he would never have to ignore his feelings again. 

 

Yet in all his time as a Jedi, or growing up on Tatooine, he had never felt as much like a slave as he did at this moment. 

 

She traced the musculature of his chest before slowly moving her hand down to his abdomen.....then lower....

 

He was unaware of what happened in the next few seconds, only knew that suddenly he was standing and Oadira lay in an unceremonious heap on the floor.  She wiped her mouth with her right hand and looked directly at him, eyes shooting daggers.  No one had ever resisted her advances before and she would not be humiliated.  "Get back here." she ordered evenly.

 

Vader couldn't do it, order or not, right or wrong.  It repulsed him, she repulsed him, this was not a part of who he was.  "This won't happen," he said, and gathered his bearings to leave.

 

Oadira propped herself up on one hand and watched him cooly as he was departing. 

 

She stated her warning when he left. "The Emperor will be informed."

 

-----------------------------------------------------

 

Padme never fully calmed from the panic that engulfed her that night, but found intermittent periods where she would forget, or be able to think of something else.  Then her reality would return, and the emotions would come back again full force. 

 

When she tired late that night, she hypnotically sat on her side of the bed and forced herself to lay down, taking slow breaths.  She was afraid to cry and didn't understand it, perhaps if she allowed the damn to break the intensity would frighten even her.  As Ami turned over, she smelled Anakin on the sheets; the very thin thread she clung to snapped and broke.  She cried, sobs racking her entire body for tears with seemingly no end.

 

She was not proud of herself, what she had been, who she was, or anything about her life.  She drew herself into the fetal position and wished she could shut out the world, her body shaking as she released emotion.  Her hands slowly rose to cover her ears, even though there was no sound in the room.  Ami cursed her life, rued her very existance, and could see no point in any of it. 

 

What was this power anyway, this omnipotence called the Force?  Perhaps there was no wisdom, no grand master plan tying everyone together, only a cold and cruel energy harnessed by those willing to step forward and take it.  Her fingernails dug into her palms, almost drawing blood, but she relished the feeling.  It distracted from her emotional pain, if only a little.

 

Exhausted, she could feel herself drifting into a darkness, sleep perhaps.  If she was lucky, she thought, she would not awaken.  The darkness surrounded her and her eyes drifted dazedly back behind her eyelids as she finally relaxed. 

 

She was not sure if it was the light, or the dark side that comforted her.  If it brought relief, she didn't care.

 

-------------------------------------------------------

 

Vader still tried to make sense of what happened back with representative Oadira.  Had the Emperor known, planned, for this?  Of course not, he told himself.  The Emperor had no use for him in that capacity. 

 

But how could he not have known?

 

Vader was startled, but not surprised, when he received the summons from the Emperor ordering him back to the throne room.  He had disobeyed, for the first time he could remember.  He charted his craft towards the Emperor's location, though Palpatine was the very last being he wanted to see.

 

He had no choice but to face him and accept the judgement.

 

It was the dead of night when he arrived back at Vjun.  Fitting, Vader thought vaguely, because night and silence was exactly where he felt most comfortable now.  He weakly made his way into the castle, glad that there was no one watching, or judging him at this moment.  Despite his stature and the appearance of his suit, he must have seemed the most pathetic creature alive.

 

The Emperor had been displeased with the failure of the new alliance, as was Vader, but for different reasons.  He was subjected to bursts of force lightning, enough to severly hinder his abilities for some time, though he survived.  He was glad, as he stumbled out of the throne room, that he was met only by the indifferent glances of the storm troopers.

 

Vader felt horrible, both physically and emotionally, and instinctively returned to the place he felt safest, his castle.  The door opened automatically and he made his way to his bedroom, pushing the buttons to activate the oxygen and pressure before attempting to remove his suit.  It seemed to take forevever to peel it off, but finally when it lay in a heap at the floor he walked towards the bed.  Something stopped him; as he went closer he felt an urge to look at Ami.

 

As he gazed at her face in the pale light, he could detect a noticable change.  Her eyes were swollen and she was curled up tightly.  The pillow she lay on was discolored near where her head rested and he realized why.  Tears.  If he reached out to the Force, even slightly, he could feel the ghost of unbearable heartache.  What kind of a monster was he, anyway?  Anyone he had ever been close to or loved ended up hurt, and for once Vader wished that the Emperor had just finished the job and killed him when he was subjected to Force lightning.

 

The Emperor was not that kind.

 

Vader sat weakly on his side of the bed, before allowing his body to fall and succumbing to his exhaustion.

 

-----------------------------------------------------------

 

Ami's eyes flitted open with the presence of a new day, and intrinsically she was filled with the same hope and curiousity she always had been.  Then she remembered.

 

The events from the previous day returned and she shuddered, recalling why she wished she would not wake up.  Ami placed a weary hand over her face before turning over, and was somewhat startled to see him in bed beside her.  Vader had come back, at what time she didn't know.  Her sleep had been a deep one, but she didn't have to guess what had happened.  The strong scent of a foreign perfume emanated from his direction, and she saw from his slow and steady breathing that his slumber was an unusually deep one.  He wore himself out, she thought bitterly, tearing away some of the sheets that covered Anakin for herself and turning back around.

 

It was some time later that Ami finally decided to get up and face her day; she lived and had no choice.  She didn't look at Ani, or attempt to wake him.  She wasn't sure what she would say, if she even wanted to touch him now.  She made her way to the changer, where she showered and dressed.  When Ami exited, the first thing she saw was Anakin's face as he slept in her direction, and was taken aback somehow.  He looked different; despite the fact that his eyes were closed and he was still sleeping he appeared gaunt.  There were dark shadows under his eyes, though Ami knew it would have been impossible for him to lose any amount of weight overnight, she surmised he didn't look well. 

 

Feelings of anger over what happened filled her, and she abruptly left the room, deciding to spend her day about the castle.  There were no decisions she could make right now about her present or future, and she kept hitting mental blocks, anything and everything too painful to consider.  The only thing she was sure of was that she wouldn't speak to him.  Padme dwelled listlessly all day, expecting Vader to come out and try to talk to her.  She was simultaneously surprised, upset, and relieved when he didn't.

 

Night finally fell, and Commander Hur and Jael returned to their quarters; for the first time Ami hesitantly made her way back to the bedroom.  What was she unsure of finding?  When she entered, the room was mostly dark, though she could still see the dark figure laying on his side of the bed, where he had been that morning.  She changed, and climbed in on her side, unable to contain her curiousity as she peered over at him.  She could hear his breathing, slow and steady as it had been the previous night, and wondered whether he had gotten up at all.

 

Padme lay in bed thinking numbly, before sleep finally overtook her.  Sometime during the night, her eyes opened.  It was not a slow half-awakening, nor was there any apparent reason she could see to have woken so quickly.  Perfectly aware, she assessed her feelings that something was off, before she heard it.  A cough, from his direction.  There was something pale and sickening about it; she stiffened.  Padme had helped her cousins with their ailments growing up and been around her share of illness being part of a large family, but heard nothing like this before.  It seemed to rack his entire being, and she could clearly hear the congestion and....fluid?.....as the disconcerting noise resonated throughout the room.  Startled by the sound, she reached towards Anakin, blindly feeling. 

 

Ami's fingers touched something wet and she brought them back before her face.  Even in the darkness, she could see that the fluid on her hands was crimson.  Blood.  She sat bolt upright in bed; all bitter memories and anger fell away, replaced by a protective urge.  Her eyes adjusted to the lack of light, she shot a glance in the direction of the ceiling, and then the control panel.  The room was sealed and was emitting oxygen; he was not suffering from any type of depessurization due to his condition.  In a single bound, Ami was over his body and headed toward the side of the room to manually turn up the lighting before returning to his side.

 

His coughs continued intermittently, and he was trembling.  On the pillow to the right and left of his head were splatters of blood, originating from his mouth.  Ami took a deep breath, forcing herself to be strong for the situation.  She couldn't let herself think of how deep the damage went.  Clearly he was sick, and if he had suffered from it earlier that day it had only progressed since.

 

"Anakin." she said forcefully, and his head turned only slightly.  "Ana...Vader" she tried again, and still he didn't respond.  She wasn't even sure if he was aware of her, or anything around him.  Padme laid a hand on his forehead and almost pulled it back immediately.  He was burning up. 

 

Without thinking she hit the comm button and a second later Commander Hur answered.  "Yes, Mi'lady" he said.

 

"Summon the medical droids." Padme ordered.   

 

--------------------------------------------------------------

 

Two medical droids hovered about Anakin, making their initial observations, while Padme paced the room.  Commander Hur offered her his assistance but all she could do was shake her head and wave him off.  He nodded and left the room.  The lead droid, who held the datapad, appeared to be getting updated information.  Padme came closer, she was impatient.  "What is it?" she said.

 

"There is some damage, severe congestion and internal bleeding originating from minor tears to the lungs and thoracic region-"  Padme cut the droid off as he led into technical jargon.

 

"Prognosis?" she said, her voice dropping an octave.

 

"Undetermined." came the monotone voice of the droid.  Ami momentarily wanted to throttle the droid for it's...indifference, in stark contrast to her own panic.  She reminded herself it was just a droid.

 

"Well, what other details?  What can be done?" she asked.

 

"He has been given preventative antibiotic injections, and his fluid levels are sustained.  All other levels are in range.  Monitor the vital signs.  Maintain hydration."

 

Padme persisted.  "What about the fever?"

 

"Under control, for the time being."

 

"Anything else?"

 

"Negative." came the reply from the droid. 

 

Padme looked at the datapad he was holding, which contained the information and monitored the vitals for his illness.  "Let me have that," she said.  The droid obliged, handing it to her.  She would handle this personally, she thought, looking back at the droid.  It was just a matter of waiting it out now.  "Leave us." she said, and the droid acquesced, exiting the room.

 

She slowly walked over to where Anakin slept.  The linens had been changed, and he looked slightly better, although he still perspired.  Without thinking, she laid a cool hand on his forehead and he moved towards her touch.  Ami didn't expect it and it startled her; she quickly withdrew her hand.  It unsettled her, feeling so much love and hatred for something at the same time. 

 

Being around Anakin, Ami felt as though she was at war with herself, but didn't want to leave.  She had never been so confused; a part of her wanted to slap his face and scream, another part just take care of him.  Would these feelings neutralize each other, or would she just go insane? 

 

In the end Padme settled for neither, pushing everything aside to handle the task at hand.  She had a responsibility to help him; it was her duty as a person to help another no matter what they had done. 

 

She stood there as he slept, just looking at him for a very long time.

 

---------------------------------------------------------------

 

Anakin's vision was blurry as his eyes slowly opened.  He felt horrible; his fever was such that every breath he took bypassed a dry and hot airway, harkening back to earlier memories of Mustafar.  His entire body seemed to ache, and as much as it hurt to stretch, it was just as painful to lay still.  He blinked slowly before his eyes focused on the form beside him.  Padme sat in a lounge chair that had been pulled up beside the bed.  Her head rested on her right hand, the datapad held precariously in her left, eyes closed.  She had been there, for how long he didn't know, but had fallen asleep watching him.

 

He tried to speak but it was a few attempts before he found his voice; a strained whisper came out.  "Padme....Padme.."

 

Her eyes slowly flitted open and focused on him.  Anakin thought he saw a flash of excitement, even love, cross through them, before they were replaced by a cold pragmatism.  He wondered if he had imagined it.

 

"Your fever went down a few degrees." she said, lowering her eyes to the datapad.  "You still need to maintain fluids; when you're well enough to sit up you can drink this."  She nodded at a glass sat on the nightstand.  Food was there, too, he could see, but he didn't feel like eating.

 

Padme rose slowly and moved over to where he was, checking things around him and adjusting his sheets.  She seemed to enter information into the datapad while Anakin searched her face.  She wouldn't make eye contact; suddenly he desperately just wanted her to look at him.  She took a cloth that had been placed in a bowl on the nightstand and wrung it, using it to wipe his forehead. 

 

Anakin slowly moved his hand, and caught hers as it lay at her side.  She stopped what she was doing and said nothing, eyes down.  His hand went higher, wanting to touch her face, seeking reassurance.

 

"Don't" she said harshly, and he stopped, dropping his hand weakly back to his side.  Her eyes rose to meet his a second later and he saw everything he was afraid of; the cold, hollow gaze borne of betrayal.  Ami had gone to a place that even he couldn't reach.  She thought that he had done the unspeakable when he went on his last mission, and she had good reason to believe that.  He couldn't blame her, he just wanted to tell her what happened so she wouldn't hate him anymore.  The judgement in her eyes too painful for him to face.

 

"Ami...about..the Perlemian..."

 

"Stop it." she said coldly, and her words sounded like an order.  Vader closed his eyes wearily and seemed to grow smaller.  He was tiring again, and couldn't find the energy or words to tell her.  He winced suddenly, a sharp pain in his abdomen taking hold; his chest tightened.  Every time he inhaled, it felt like knives cutting and it wouldn't subside, it started coming in waves.  Ami's concern level rose again as she watched him, she felt an undeniable urge to comfort and make it better.  But there was nothing she could say.

 

Instead she reached to her right where the morphine syringes lay, and discreetly brought one to the side of his neck.  It was strange, how she couldn't stand the thought of him feeling a needle, when he had endured so much already.  Ami leaned down and brought her face close to his and allowed her eyes to delve into his own; he could feel her breath on him and relaxed.  She gently plunged the fluid into his IV line, releasing it and watching as his eyes glazed and he fell back into the euphoria of sleep, where nothing would hurt him.

 

He lay there, looking like the little boy she had tucked in on her Naboo bound craft when he was only nine, she fourteen.  She was an idealistic young Queen and he a newly freed slave; no mistakes had been made, their entire lives were ahead of them. 

 

"Why" Ami whispered to his unconscious visage, her tears falling to wet his face and lips.  "Why couldn't you have left me alone, instead of finding me and making me fall in love with you.." 

 

He couldn't hear or answer her, and she could only be honest during this moment as she reflected on her feelings for him, feelings that were both a blessing and a curse.

 

------------------------------------------------------------

 

Anakin woke intermittently in following days, although he seemed to go back to sleep just as rapidly.  Time had lost meaning for him, he didn't know whether it was light or dark, day or night.  He didn't feel like eating or drinking when he was conscious, fluids were given intraveneously, higher in his arm since the lower parts were cyberkinetic.  The only constant was that Ami was there every time he woke up. 

 

During the times when he would drift between the conscious and unconsious world, he would see only the blur of a dark haired girl tending to his needs, watching and keeping him safe, who would never leave him.  He didn't know whether it was an angel, or Padme, or his mother.  Maybe it was all of them.

 

During periods of lucidity, Vader was forced to admit to himself for the first time that he could not keep Padme safe, he could not even help himself now.  Sick and vulnerable, it was he who leaned on her for support, and he was painfully aware of the fact that no one else in the galaxy would have protected him.  The Emperor sent him away, and he knew any number of subordinates would have jumped at the chance to have him killed.  Only this fragile girl had stepped forward to help him.  She meant more to him than anyone, and he had hurt her.  Again.  Still she was there, protecting him; he couldn't understand why.

 

Padme lamented the course of Anakin's illness, he seemed to be stabilizing but there was an absense of progress.  When she searched her feelings she knew.  He had made mistakes, repeatedly; perhaps this was his destiny, to fail.  Did he even want to live, or had he lost the will? 

 

No, he will live.  He has to. Ami thought when fear gripped her.  She would make sure he survived, this was paramount to her, though she didn't understand it.  As she watched him sleep she recalled stories she had heard on Naboo about the very ill, and premature infants.  When it appeared that they wouldn't pull through the only thing that would bring them back was touch.  From another person. 

 

This was what she told herself when she climbed in bed beside him, and rested her head on his chest.  She felt the rhythmic beat of his heart and closed her eyes, it felt so good.  Thoughts of another woman all over him threatened the moment and she drove them away, tightly squeezing her eyes shut.  Padme allowed her hand to touch his neck and buried her face in his shoulder.  If this would heal him and tip the odds in his favor, she would do it.  It was with these rationalizations she dwelled until she drifted into sleep with him.

 

The next time Anakin woke, he felt different.  After a moment he realized why.  Padme slept close to him, the same as she had before their relationship was torn by circumstance.  He turned his head, slightly, so his lips rested on the top of her hair.  But he wouldn't dare do more for fear she would pull away.  She slept, soundlessly, held close against his body, and he was grateful just for that.

 

-----------------------------------------------

 

Padme quietly sat up in bed, casting a glance behind her at Anakin.  He still slept, the datapad told her that progress in his condition was being made.  She allowed herself to feel relief about that much.  Perhaps now he would be able to feed himself and take a shower normally.  She hung her head, not wanting to think beyond the basic details. A rustling noise sounded behind her. 

 

Anakin was attempting to get up; his muscle apathy wouldn't allow it.  She went over to his side of the bed and put his arm around her shoulders, trying to lift him.  In spite of the illness, he was still large, and heavy.  After a moment she sank back down with him to catch her breath. 

 

Perhaps the assistance of droids or Commander Hur would be needed.  She started to press the comm button but he raised his hand, weakly motioning for her to stop.  He didn't want anyone else around now.

 

"I'm...fine.  I can do it myself," he said weakly.

 

"Would you just let me help you?" she snapped angrily.  He could be so stubborn sometimes.

 

He sighed and slumped his shoulders slightly; his illness wasn't out of the woods and he didn't have the energy to argue with her.

 

She cast an irritated glance in his direction when the sight of something caught her eye.  The tunic he had been wearing had shifted slightly and she thought she could see something red, a streak on his chest.  It looked unnatural and she was alarmed; she knew his body well enough to know that shouldn't be there, it wasn't before.  Padme placed one hand on his neck and started to move his shirt away with the other, her concern growing.

 

"What happened?" she asked.  It was the most basic of all questions, but they had not really spoken since he had returned.  Large silences and untold stories hung between them, but nothing was verbalized.  She started to remove his clothing and he resisted, wincing.  He tried to move away but she hung on tighter, not relinquishing her grip on the situation.

 

"I want to see," she insisted.

 

"Padme...just let me go to the changer.." he tried a last time, but she wouldn't.  Finally he gave up and allowed her to remove his shirt, grimacing as it made its way over his shoulders and head.

 

Padme was in shock when she first gazed at his chest, and saw that the marks tapered around to cover his back as well.  The streaks were long and broad, but seemed to not penetrate the skin.  If she didn't know any better, she would have thought them specific burn marks, but the very idea was ludicrous.  That made no sense.

 

After a moment she spoke.  "What are these?"

 

He swallowed and looked away.  After everything that had transpired, he didn't want to talk about it; whether it was his illness or fear of reality, he didn't know.

 

She was more forceful the second time when he didn't answer.  "Anakin...what happened?"

 

"Force lightning." he said.

 

She took a sharp breath; she had only heard of it, but knew it was the most severe and torturous punishment.  It was rumored it not only attacked the body, but tore at the soul.

 

"Why?" she finally asked.

 

He didn't answer, just shook his head.  He was starting to feel tired again and regretted getting up.

 

"Why?" she repeated.

 

"I wouldn't sleep with representative Oadira." he said quietly. 

 

Padme's face contorted with surprise, and she blinked, trying to process the information.  He hadn't slept with Oadira?  That meant....that Ani had received the force lightning as punishment for not following orders.....he had not betrayed her.....he received the force lightning, for her.  She had been horrible to him....she'd assumed the worst, and didn't even allow him the opportunity to explain himself.

 

Padme looked at him, eyes filling with tears as relief gave way to guilt; she was at a loss for words.  He had been watching her curiously, afraid somehow that she would be angry again, but saw her sorrow when she looked at him.  He was all too familiar with an emotion of which she was on the precarious brink of-self loathing.  He wouldn't let her punish herself that way.  It was an honest mistake.

 

Anakin opened his arms and she went into them immediately, his shirt soaking up her tears of pain and embarrassment.  "Ana...kin.....I'm so sorry...I should...never have..."

 

He shook his head and silenced her, kissing her on the forehead.  It was all he had energy for at the moment; sleep was close.  As she cradled him and he drifted away again, he was just glad that she was still his Ami.

 

-----------------------------------------------------------

 

Padme woke up sometime later and sat with her head in her hands, her feet slung over the edge of the bed.  She had felt love, and contentment, and whole again in Anakin's arms as the truth was revealed and her world made right again.  But those feelings had slowly given way to worry, then anger, and then....rage....like she had never felt before.  She thought of representative Oadira, and could almost remember her; she'd been only a drop in the bucket of corrupt politicians that caused her beloved Old Republic to fall the first time. 

 

And Palpatine....there were no words....

 

He had schemed from the very beginning, Padme was sure, manipulating to gain her support during the Naboo trade blockade, then joining with the despised separatists to create more of a challenge for the overextended Jedi.  He used everything good and pure about Anakin-being the father figure he never had, twisting his love for his wife and children-to manipulate him into a willing servant.  Palpatine enslaved him even today.  He would never leave them alone, in his bottomless misery and powerlust he would stomp out every hope or bright light the galaxy ever had until there were no more....

 

Something had broken and been reformed in Padme during Anakin's illness.  If it was fixed, it would never be the same again.  She despised the Emperor with everything in her being, and for once could see no reason not to bring him down.  He had to be defeated, he must be taken from power; everything was so thoroughly immersed in darkness it was close to collapse.  There would never be a leader as evil as he was, and in a fundamental way Padme had nothing to lose.  He'd almost destroyed her and Anakin's marriage, and it was all she had.  Leadership could not get any worse than it was now.

 

Maybe Anakin had been right in trying to turn her to the dark side.  What had she really been afraid of?  Anakin would listen to her and they could bring balance together; there was so much good in him and he would never hurt her, she knew this.  It wouldn't remain the dark side, there was no blueprint for leadership.  As long as Palpatine's reign continued, they would be persecuted, their children would be in danger, and a galaxy would be divided. 

 

Ami ruminated on these thoughts and as Anakin slowly awoke, he noticed her sitting off the side of the bed.  This time, he had the energy to get up and moved to where she was, drawing her in his embrace.  She closed her eyes and leaned against him.  He felt a strange vibe coming from her, a palpable anger.  For once he didn't reach towards it.

 

"I'll never doubt you again." she said, and meant it.  Ami's eyes met his and held all the sorrow and regret she was feeling, but he'd forgiven her. 

 

"I trust you, completely." she said quietly, and it took him a moment to comprehend.  "I love you, Anakin, and I'm not ready to lose you, not now.  Let's bring our children home, and bring balance to the galaxy."

 

His arms tightened around Ami and he kissed her forehead.  "Let's not think of anything else right now, just have this time together," he murmured, and slowly they both sank back down to the bed together. 

 

Anakin watched Ami as she drifted off to sleep, unable to shake the unease that settled over him.  They were alright, he reminded himself, they were together again, and she finally understood what he'd hoped for all along-the power of the Sith.  There would be nothing stopping them now from ruling the galaxy and reuniting as a family.  It was all he'd ever wanted.

 

Yet he could see a change in Padme as she slept beside him; she had walked through her own emotional hell and was slipping to the darkside.  There would be no returning once she started down that path.  They were aligned, and finally believed in the same thing.

 

That was what he wanted. 

 

Wasn't it?

 

 

Chapter 27: Revelations

 

 

Her heart ached as she piloted the Nubian craft towards his location.  She still reeled from the information she had been given earlier that day from Obi-Wan, a trusted friend, causing her own reality to shatter in pieces around her.  She knew he was right.  She knew it was her duty as a Senator to provide him the information he sought and end this threat to the Republic.

 

But she couldn't.

 

She was Anakin's secret wife, and his children stirred inside her; every fiber of logic in her being commanded her to give Obi-Wan the information he sought, information that could very well save the Republic, at the cost of her husband. 

 

She couldn't.

 

Obi-Wan had stood, giving voice to the open secret that had not been acknowledged her entire pregnancy.  "He's the father, isn't he?"  Sadness crossed his features and he seemed to age before her eyes.  "I'm so sorry," he said quietly, and then he was gone.

 

She sat that way for a long time, staring stoically at some space in front of her, perhaps for hours.  No amount of training or life experience prepared Padme to adequately deal with the emotions that surged within her.  When night finally fell, she slowly rose, changed her attire, and summoned C3PO.  Against the staunch wishes of her security captain, she took only this droid and boarded her craft to go find him.  No one else would accompany her, this was personal.  He'd told her to wait for him but she found that she couldn't even do that. 

 

More than anything else, she needed answers.

 

The sinister planet seemed to echo the dark side with it's every wind.  Padme landed her craft and rested her hand on her forehead while gazing disbelievingly past the console, eyes shining with unshed tears.  She couldn't believe what she had been told, and needed to feel his arms around her, explaining this horrible nightmare away and telling her what a huge mistake had been made.  Her feelings deep inside whispered of something different, latching onto what Obi-Wan had tried to tell her. 

 

But he was wrong.  He had to be.  There would be an explanation for this.

 

It was then that she saw the dark figure with the flowing cloak behind it running from the building towards her craft.  Her heartbeat sped up as she unlatched her harness, running down her ramp to fall into his familiar embrace.  They held each other tightly, but something was different.  She kissed him, told him of her fears, desperately seeking reassurance.

 

She found none.

 

He spoke of things abstract to her, promising her immortality, protection, offering her the galaxy itself.  It was as if she was in the arms of a stranger.  His eyes took on an unfamiliar gleam as he told of new abilities, and the corner of his beautiful mouth curled as his excitement grew, indicative of his powerlust.

 

Padme recoiled, feeling the tears burn and her entire being tremble.  She was standing before Anakin, but had never felt so alone.  He saw her disapproval and felt her disgust as she pulled away from him for the first time ever.  His demeanor changed to threatening, commanding, and the damn Padme held back broke free.  He'd never spoken to her this way before, like she was another possession and not his angel.

 

"You're breaking my heart," she told him, but he didn't rush to reassure her, only took on a strangely blank expression.  Padme reached out through the Force, finding a fine trace of something....pure?....within him.

 

The horrible truth was apparent, he had done all of those things Obi-Wan said, but she didn't care.  Padme Skywalker was the heart and soul of who she was, and she would give anything to save him.  She rushed forward again, rubbing the sides of his arms with love and desperation, and spoke to the good in him.

 

Come away with me...help me raise our child. 

 

Leave all this behind, while you still can. 

 

You're a good person, don't do this.

 

His blue eyes softened and for a moment she saw the young and vulnerable boy she so deeply loved.  Padme felt a flicker of hope, thinking she just might succeed.  He was looking at something over her shoulder.  She stroked his arms and reassured him again of her love, before his face contorted with rage and he became almost unrecognizable.

 

"LIAR!" he screamed.  Padme flinched and involuntarily jumped back before she realized what he had seen.  Obi-Wan was standing at the top of her ramp, gazing down at them.

 

Nooo........

 

How did he get here?  He must have waited, and stowed away on the craft when she refused to divulge Anakin's whereabouts. 

 

Then the horrible reality hit her.  Obi-Wan was going to kill him.

 

NO!

 

Padme turned back to Anakin desparately, but felt his hurt and rage directed at her.

 

You're with him!  You brought him here to kill me...

 

She opened her mouth to speak but no words came out; the pressure around her throat tightened and her hands grasped blindly at her neck, finding no relief.  She looked at him pleadingly, trying to shake her head, realizing vaguely that this was not her Ani and he wouldn't hear anything she had to say. 

 

Thoughts of the love they shared and her unborn babies safety passed through her mind, but she was powerless to help anyone.  As he adjusted the pressure of the Force choke in carefully varying degrees she felt the hope drain from her body.  Her heart broke for him, for all of them, for what he was doing.

 

Then all went black, and her galaxy collapsed.

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Ami woke up, gulping in deep breaths between sobs.  She trembled and tried to still herself, coming to terms with where she was.  The dream was so intense, so real, that for moments afterwards she could feel the heat and smoke scorch her skin.  She held her face in her hands and cried freely, devestated by what she felt.

 

A moment later his strong arms surrounded her and she heard his soft voice and lips on her hair, voice deep with concern.

 

"Ami what's wrong.....are you alright?"

 

She buried her face in his neck and he held her, afraid for what she seemed to be going through.  Her fear and all encompassing grief reminded him of the morbid visions that had plagued him so long ago.  It was a minute before she found her voice, raising her face to wipe away her tears.

 

All the pieces had fallen into place.

 

"Mustafar," she said. "I remember everything."

 

Vader hung his head as she calmed down.  He didn't know if he would ever live past that mistake of his, the one that had solidified his service to the dark side.  He filled with shame, remembering the Force choke he's gripped Padme with when he saw Obi-Wan emerge from her craft.  She was the one person left he'd trusted, his very reason for living.  He'd snapped when he saw his former master there, seeing betrayal in every corner.

 

Why did she bring him there?  Vader never intended to kill or even seriously hurt her.  He never would.  He just wanted to shut her lying mouth.  The first suspicion had been planted months earlier when he discovered Kenobi's datapad in Padme's apartment, and fermented over time with Palpatine's suggestions.  When Vader was told of his wife's death and all the emotion settled later on, he was filled with hatred.  Hatred for himself, for not being able to save her.  Hatred for the Jedi, for never appreciating his talent and treating him like a child.  Hatred for Kenobi, for holding him back and tearing apart his marriage. 

 

He had never been able to hate her.

 

He'd raged inwardly, wondering why Padme didn't just listen to him, blaming her for a plan gone so terribly astray.  But in the end he'd never hated her, no matter what she had done with Kenobi to hurt or betray him.  That was a low to which even he would not sink.  Years later, in his solitude, he would hold no grudges where she was concerned.  He just missed his wife and would do anything to be with her.

 

Vader swallowed and rubbed her back gently.  "Padme..." he began, looking away.  The emotions engulfed him but he reminded himself to keep it in check, particularly his anger.  Her mistakes were not her own any longer, that was a lifetime ago.

 

The question was not easy for him.  "Why....why were you with Obi-Wan?  What did he give you that I could not?"  His voice was not angry or even accusatory, but sad.  He needed to know why she had done what she had done; surely she understood that bringing Obi-Wan to Mustafar would result in certain death.

 

"I don't understand," Ami said quietly.

 

"Why did you bring him to Mustafar?  You must have known what would happen."

 

Ami absorbed his statement before the meaning hit her.  He thought that she had brought Obi-Wan to Mustafar to kill him, and suspected that she and Obi-Wan had been together, perhaps in an act of intimacy.

 

Oh, Ani, no....

 

Padme closed her eyes and bowed her head.  Her heart ached for what he must have felt when he put all those pieces together.  She slowly looked up at him.

 

"I didn't bring him to Mustafar." she finally said.

 

Anakin shook his head, thinking of ways to rephrase the question.  Perhaps her memories weren't flawless.  He felt like he was explaining it to a three year old.

 

"Padme, he was on your ship.  He exited the ramp shortly after you.  We fought as a result."

 

"I...didn't bring him to Mustafar.  He hid onboard without my knowledge.  I never knew he was there."

 

He looked at her, stunned, before the logic started flying into place and reality as he knew it turned upside down.  Insight after insight hit him, coming as quickly as he could process them.  She didn't bring Obi-Wan?  Of course not, Vader realized.  Like any clever Jedi Obi-Wan would hide, and follow her, to ascertain where she was going and find him.  Padme had not betrayed him.  Perhaps fighting with Obi-Wan wouldn't have been necessary and he could have remained whole, and healthy.  He could have saved her, held her hand while she gave birth, providing the protection he'd promised all along.

 

But in his rage he'd jumped to conclusions, and telekinetically throttled Padme for a perceived betrayal.  She was never even given the opportunity to explain herself.  So much time wasted as a result, so many lives affected, and so much opportunity lost, because of his ignorance.  He still didn't understand all of it.  Despite what Sidious had told him about Padme's demise, he still felt her Force presence when she fell to the platform.  He could have sworn she was still alive.  Again, maybe in his anger he didn't realize his own strength and got carried away.

 

Anakin bowed his head, the tears flowing freely.  "I'm sorry," he whispered.  It seemed so inadequate.  He was not worthy of her forgiveness.  Soft hands touched his face, wiping away the tears as quickly as they fell.

 

"Look at me, Anakin," Ami said. "You're forgiven.  You must leave it in the past."  She was firm and sounded wise beyond her years, almost serene.

 

"I-I killed you.  I should have listened-" he choked out.

 

"No, Anakin, you didn't do that either." she said simply.

 

He sniffed and looked at her.  "What?"

 

"I didn't die, not then.  I gave birth to the twins later that night.  I thought I had lost you, and then I left.  You needed my help, and I wasn't strong enough to stay, not for both of us..."

 

The twins.  They were born, not there or then, but later.  Of course.  How foolish had he been?  Anakin had blindly turned to Palpatine for everything.  He believed him without question when he was told he killed Padme, even though he'd discovered earlier that same night that Palpatine was a Sith Lord and a proven liar.  Anakin cursed himself for being so easily led.  Heavy with regret, he looked back at Padme, and she took his hand.

 

"Assumptions are dangerous, Anakin." she said quietly, and he knew she was right. 

 

He had made them, she had made them, but in the end they only distorted the truth and tore everything apart.  The faint memory of a Jedi code Obi-Wan had once tried to impart to him returned.

 

Question everything, even what I tell you; do not go forward blindly.  Search your feelings.

 

Anakin conceded, despite the source, that it was good advice.  He had been easily led and acted on emotion, with dire consequences for everyone. 

 

It would never happen again.

 

He needed answers, and knew where to find them.  He would begin his search for the truth. 

 

-------------------------------------------------------

 

Padme and Anakin sat side by side on the edge of the bed, his hand in hers.  His illness had recovered enough over the previous days and weeks to where he could move about and function freely, due in large part to the medical attention of the droids and her personal supervision.  The Emperor had not been in contact with him, and Vader surmised that he was allowing a standard amount of recovery time before he would be cleared to return to work and fight again.

 

This was good, because Vader had other plans for how he was going to spend the remainder of his convalescence, and the Emperor could not know about it.

 

Padme looked down at the black gloved hand that was in her own and slowly traced the top of it with her other hand.  He was attired in his suit, only his breathing apparatis and helmet would be needed before he could depressurize his quarters and leave.  She'd wanted to go initially, but finally promised him she would stay behind with security for her own protection.  Still she didn't like the idea of him going out now, under these circumstances and in his condition.  Her worried eyes met his.

 

"Are you sure you want to do this?" she asked.

 

"I have to, Padme.  I've been naive and trusting for too long...perhaps trusting the wrong people.  I need to know." he concluded.

 

She nodded and he squeezed her hand reassuringly before rising to don the helmet and mask.  The sound of mechanical breathing filled the room as he slowly walked towards the door and it opened.  He turned and looked back at her again.

 

"Be careful." she said quietly.

 

He stared at her a moment longer, before he nodded and left.

 

----------------------------------------------------------------------

 

The traffic of Coruscant streamed by busily as Vader's craft pulled into his palace.  He had been awarded this palace many years earlier by the Emperor but spent little time there, even before the reemergence of Padme.  He exited onto the ramp and entered his palace door, aware that he may be watched by any number of spies or Imperial probes, perhaps even rivals hoping to oust him and become the Emperor's new apprentice.  His entrance into his Coruscant residence, if noticed, would not arouse suspicion; this was part of the reason he did it.  What wasn't apparent was when Vader went to his discreet passageways underground to access various parts of the other buildings. 

 

First things first, he thought.  He made his way to the central partition of the Jedi Temple where the datafiles were stored, unsure of exactly what he would find, if anything.  It was here where all of the video and sound recordings from all areas were held, and he remembered from his experience as a Jedi that certain masters had spoken of it and visited on rare occassions to obtain information.  Upon further contemplation Vader realized this was probably where Obi-Wan went to reverse as much damage from General Order 66 as possible and warn the remaining Jedi to stay away.  It had taken Vader a long time to hunt down and extinguish them because of that.

 

Second in command of the Empire, Vader had no trouble obtaining the clearance to enter the room.  Slowly he made his way to the approximate section he sought.  "19 BBY, Jedi Temple" Vader said slowly, and to his surprise a holofile ejected.  He hesitated a moment, in part surprised that it was still available, and had not been destroyed.  The night of the Jedi Purge hovered before him and he took a breath before ordering it to play. 

 

He watched as Anakin Skywalker, new Sith Lord, marched into the temple followed by the formidable 501 legion of stormtroopers.  He was met by resistance, first by adult Padawans, who were no match for the Chosen One as he methodically struck them down.  Vader raised his finger, fastforwarding through the Jedi purge until he saw himself depart, leaving a trail of blood and slain bodies in his wake.  He kept the recording running for some period of time, seeing nothing, and was about to conclude his viewing and return it to the slot when the movement of something caught his eye.

 

Obi-Wan and Yoda.  They slowly entered the room, examining the carnage all around them.  Obi-Wan knelt down and laid a hand on a small body, before looking at Yoda. 

 

"Not even the younglings survived," he said sadly.  Vader's breath caught and he gritted his teeth, feeling something very close to guilt. 

 

They observed in silence for a while before Obi-Wan turned to the datapad in the wall.  Yoda looked at him reproachfully, with sadness and a distinct warning in his eyes.  "If into those holorecordings you go, only pain will you find." he said.

 

"I must know," Obi-Wan insisted.  Vader stilled, struck by the irony of viewing a holorecording of his former master viewing a holorecording, for the same reason he was now-to seek answers.  Obi-Wan opened the holo and watched as his padawan slaughtered the residents of the Jedi Temple, then as Master Windu was thrown to his death out the Chancellor's window, and finally as Anakin knelt before Sidious, becoming Darth Vader.  Obi-Wan's shoulders slumped and he finally ended the holo, turning around and bringing his hand to his mouth.  "I can't watch anymore," he said, and even through the blurry holo Vader could see that he was crushed.  He momentarily felt for Obi-Wan, before he caught himself. 

 

Fool, dark voices hissed at him.  He tried to steal Padme from you, he mortally wounded and confined you to your miserable suit.  You're in this predicament because of him.  He never wanted you.  He never believed in you, and turned them all against you.

 

But Qui-Gon hadn't, Vader thought, his feelings shifting from anger to sadness.  If ever he'd had a true father figure, it had been Qui-Gon.  He could still remember the easy comradery his mother and Qui-Gon had, the way they both looked out for him during that fleeting time on Tatooine before he went to begin his Jedi training.  Qui-Gon believed in him; he saw Anakin with a mixture of pride and confidence, with the trust he had so longed to receive from Obi-Wan but never could. 

 

Of course not, Vader thought bitterly.  Obi-Wan was jealous.  Jealous because Qui-Gon believed in him and wanted to take him as a padawan in place of Obi-Wan.  Jealous because his natural Force potential far exceeded that of his masters.  Jealous because he had a beautiful wife who loved him with all her heart; Obi-Wan never did.  Perhaps that was why Obi-Wan had tried to turn his Padme and children against him, and finally resorted to the underhanded tactic of stowing away to find him.  He wouldn't doubt it.

 

The holorecording continued and Vader watched as Obi-Wan composed himself, turning back to Yoda.  Yoda's eyes became resolute, and he pounded his small cane on the ground.  "Destroy the Sith, we must." Yoda said, and he was a creature of his word.

 

Obi-Wan shook his head, eyes widening.  "Send me to fight the Chancellor, but I won't fight Anakin...I can't.  He's like my brother."

 

Vader flinched, and pressed the button to repeat the last transmission.  Could he have heard that correctly?  The holo replayed, same as the first time, and Vader watched, dumbstruck.  Obi-Wan, the most by the book Jedi he knew, in the midst hard evidence and an order by Master Yoda....refusing, for Anakin's welfare? 

 

Love and hate were very close together.  Vader concluded, as he viewed the holo, that the actions Obi-Wan took wouldn't have bothered him nearly as much and caused him years of obsession and vengence if Obi-Wan's friendship had meant nothing to him.  A burning tear coursed down his cheek and he instinctively moved to wipe it away before realizing that he couldn't behind the mask.

 

"Gone, your padawan is." Yoda intoned sadly.  "Consumed by Vader, he has been."

 

As they discussed their options and left the Jedi temple, Vader slowly pressed the Off button.  This was not the Obi-Wan he knew for the past 23 years, the one he had demonized in his mind and blamed solely for all the transgressions and pitfalls of his life.  Obi-Wan didn't want to kill him?  He...loved him?  A brief memory of Mustafar flashed before Vader in his mind; their battle was at an end and Obi-Wan stood on the blackened slope, Vader glowering at him menacingly from his hovercraft.

 

It's over, Anakin...I have the high ground.  Don't try it.

 

He thought his master was taunting him, lecturing him even then of his superiority and claiming victory.  Determined to show him otherwise, Vader Force leapt over Obi-Wan's head to administer the killing blow but was instead left crawling on the hot coals, injured and legless, and burned alive before Obi-Wan left him there to die.

 

Now this memory took on an entirely different meaning.  Could Obi-Wan genuinely have been trying to help, to reach him one last time?  Anakin had superior dark side powers that night, but knew from his Jedi training that the person with the high ground almost always had the advantage.

 

Vader placed the recording back into it's slot and erased the log of data accessed, covering his tracks the best he could.  He had seen enough, at least for now, to change his perceptions.  He contemplated these thoughts as he returned to his Coruscant residence, and went to his meditation room. 

 

Meditation had always been something Obi-Wan pushed on him, and he had resisted.  Obi-Wan went strictly by the letter of the law, Yoda practically lived in a meditative state, but Anakin had no patience for any of it.  He wanted to be productive, to act, and could see little point in placing oneself in a quiet state for any period; it had seemed a waste of time, and drove him up the wall.

 

Now he began to see a different purpose in it.  Meditation wasn't always to calm ones self, to obey, or even seek answers.  It broadened perspective.  Vader sat, the way Yoda always had, and allowed his mind to open for the first time ever.  He didn't reach out to the dark side this time, but the Force in it's entirety, seeking any and all wisdom he could find.

 

This trance lasted for a long time, perhaps hours, before his eyes opened.  He took a deep breath, trying to center himself.  He had reassessed his life and what he really wanted from it; he'd been happiest around those he loved and only sought the powers of the dark side to sustain that.  But the dark side was fed by anger, and anger took so much energy.  It seemed to feed him lies and addictions, and he knew by it's very nature it would keep taking and taking until he had nothing left to give. 

 

Love was of the light side; it promised nothing, but gave everything.  In order to have it, he would have to learn to trust, to have faith.  He had been strong enough to do many things, but never that.

 

Could he be forgiven?  Vader wondered.  Was it even possible?  Padme thought so, but she was truly an angel to him, blind to all of the evil and disgusting acts he had committed.  He'd taken so much from her already, not just a lifetime but the opportunity to be a mother and raise their children.  She had deserved that chance.  He wanted more than anything to run away with her and erase all of his mistakes, but now it didn't seem possible. 

 

And it didn't matter anymore.  He wanted to be the good man she thought he was, a man worthy to call himself her husband.

 

He would no longer think of his needs when it came to Padme's welfare, only what was best for her.  Right now she was in danger, both from the emotional and physical treachery of the dark side.  That was his mistake to make amends for, not hers.

 

It was then that he realized.  The Jedi looked out for each other, and worked together.  The Sith worked against each other.  He could only trust his beloved Padme with the Rebellion. 

 

He finally loved her enough to let her go.

 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Padme saw the craft arrive much later at Vjun and restlessly paced, eager to see him.  She had watched the day, or what Vjun had of solar light, come, and wane, and rise again.  Finally the front door opened, and Vader entered.  She walked with him to their quarters, where the room was adjusted and he removed the suit.  They embraced, and kissed, but Padme could sense a difference.  As she looked up at Anakin, she saw a mixture of emotions reflected in his eyes that had never been there before-peace, a purpose, and sadness.

 

He whispered his intentions into her hair and her head slowly bowed to fall on his chest, tears falling freely.  Her body trembled and he held her close, assuring her that everything would be alright.  Her first instinct was to fight what he was telling her, to demand that they throw the Emperor, and cause change, and stay together.  Always.  She didn't want to leave him, any more than he wanted her to go. 

 

Deep in her heart she knew that she had to follow what he was saying.  It wasn't the easy decision.  It was the the right one.

 

Padme knew any resistance she offered could cause him to fall back, and take the easy path.  Anakin was growing, and learning, and returning to the light.  He found his faith, and was finally becoming the man he was meant to be.  How could she ever deny him that?

 

 

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