Colla. Dead. Deader than Count Dooku aboard the invisible hand. Deader than Mace at the bottom of that Mustafar Lava Pit. Deader than anyone at the temple the night of the massacre. Deader than his relationship with Padme.
But... did she really deserve it? What had he become?
A wave of nausea washed over Anakin. He sat on the bed again and fell back... his arm jerking unsteadily as though no longer under his control. Padme was right about him. Before, Anakin had justified his actions, in believing he only did what he felt was right, no matter the cost. Just as he had been trained by the Jedi... but now, his decisions seemed under the guidance of something darker and more sinister. Rage. Fear. Together this had evolved into a potent mix of evil. And the evil lived in him.
An evil that emanated and rippled in waves of fear throughout the Republic.
Again, there was more tugging on his arm. Anakin sensed through the Force that it was Colla. Perhaps she was not quite as dead as he thought she had been. Perhaps she tried to rise, seeking mercy. But he was not a merciful person. Especially when it came to putting this bad deed behind him. He wanted her dead. Too dead to tell Padme what happened between them. Too dead to tell anyone.
"Master Skywalker?" she called.
It was Colla's voice. But he couldn't make himself answer. He was on the brink of lashing out, but something held him back.
"Are you alright?" she asked.
Colla's voice small and distant. What did she mean by, was 'he' alright? Anakin tried to open his eyes. But the lull of sleep pulled them back close. He fought against its weight and opened them to realize he was staring at the ceiling of Padme's canopy bed. He brought his hand forward to rest on his head, shaking it to get his bearings... then he saw the blood stained skin beneath the soaked sleeve, and crude white bandaging.
Anakin forced himself to sit upright, his eyes falling to Colla, a look of shock within them at the sight of her flushed and very much alive face.
"What are you-"
"The cut on your arm... You lost too much blood and fainted, " Colla answered.
"You me, I didn't-, we didn't...?"
Colla sat on the floor, her knees tucked beneath her, scraps of bandage material in her hand. "I'm sorry my lord, but I don't know what you mean."
Anakin almost smiled. She was alive, thank the Force, she was alive... But the very idea that even in his imagination that he could entertain something so dark made him cringe. But he was grateful still, that this last bit of humanity, his humanity, was still in tact. That he would not debase a woman as loyal as Colla then leave her for dead. That he would not betray Padme or his family even if they were not with him.
Anakin tried to stand, almost shrill with relief... but was rocked by another wave of dizziness.
"Get out," he mumbled to Colla.
"Please sir, allow me to stand by until the med-droid arrives. You are not well."
"No, Colla. Don't stand by. You're fired," he spat.
"But sir-" she opened her mouth in protest.
Anakin didn't look at the woman. For he already knew she was on the brink of tears. That she wondered what she had done to cause him to terminate their business relationship so abruptly.
"The children have gone. I have no work for you. I'll take care of you, don't worry. But you are leave as soon as it is possible for you to do so..." he wanted to tell her that she wasn't safe. Perhaps his dream was yet another premonition. Like the one he had about Padme. Like the one he had about his mother. "The commander will see you to the Temple. Obi Wan and Dorme could use your help."
Colla sighed, feeling some relief. To work at the temple would be a great honor. But still. She would miss Luke and Leia.
"Perhaps...someday I might visit the children," she offered.
"Yes, of course. Leave me," Anakin answered.
Colla stood, a polite bow of her head. She walked out, the little med droid passing her by as it walked in. Anakin wished Padme had taken the med droid with her. At least, if one of the children, or if she had taken ill, they'd have a med available. Without money or resources, he couldn't be sure they had everything they needed. She wouldn't go to Ruwee... for she knows, that would be the first place he'd look.
D210 poked Anakin with needles, pulled at his eye lids, ran his vitals, then ran a tape in basic. Without Threepio to interpret, Anakin had no way of understanding D210. But this model of droid was the best there was in the Republic. So as far as he was concerned, she was irreplaceable.
Anakin squinted tired eyes as he read the scrolling tape.
Useless droid! How could he sleep with Padme and the children out there? What if they ended up on some desolate place like Tattoine, to end up like Schmii or some other helpless woman with children? To become some crime lord's slave? He'd turn the planet inside out if that ever happened!
Then there was the matter of that medical report he was waiting on. One that would lead him to the human in the black storm trooper armor. The life support suit. He couldn't sleep...
No... Anakin thought, doing his best to resist the lure of a deep slumber. Had D210 given him something?
Anakin mumbled, his body no longer under his control, and drifted off. Then suddenly he heard it:
"The Republic has a new enemy," a voice said.
Anakin sat up. Now fully awake. He looked about the room, his eyes inexplicably drawn to a soft blue light.
A stranger stood within its mist. "But you can save the Republic. Only you."
"Who is this enemy?" Anakin asked, immediately up for the task. Who would threaten his empire? Who would dare?
Anakin recognized the speaker. He'd seen him often but managed to shove him from his thoughts. But tonight... in this weakened state he could not.
"Who is this enemy?" Anakin repeated.
The blue ghost that was Qui Gonn Jinn, the man who discovered him, the man who put so much faith into his being the chosen one spoke again, his hand rising... index finger creeping up to point at him.
"You," he answered.
Struck by the blue apparition, which he had been unable to face in his years of being married to Padme after leaving the Order... To gaze at Qui Gonn was to gaze into a crystal clear well of all the sins he had ever committed. And when the man spoke, his voice was a pebble unto that water, that sent ripples across his heart. For this reason, Anakin felt compelled to cry. Qui Gonn was the Alpha, the beginning of everything that his life had become. The man to which all thanks were owed. But he was not the nexus of greatness Qui Gonn had foreseen. But something or someone much smaller. Despite the power he welded so effortlessly, for he was without wisdom. What good is power without it?
Anakin slipped from the bed to his knee, bowing his head reverently. This was the master of his master. Though bowing his head was an excuse, something to keep him from meeting the eyes of the Jedi Ghost.
"Master Qui Gonn, what is thy bidding? Why am I the greatest threat to the Republic when I have brought peace throughout, even to the stretches of the Outer Rim?"
"Where there is fear, there is unease. And where there is unease, there cannot be peace," the voice spoke. "Anakin..."
Qui Gonn moved from before the balcony where he had stood. Soft luminscent moonlight flowed into the room.
"I know, Master. I've been a disappointment to you. I... I don't understand how someone like me can be the Chosen One."
"You mean someone evil?"
The words shook Anakin to the core. He did not think of himself as evil, but as someone who only did what needed to be done. Someone who believed the end result was more important than the means. His eyes rose to meet Qui Gonn's face. Keeping his eyes to the floor did nothing to alleviate him of shame.
"There is still good in you, Anakin."
"How can that be? Can the dead become undead?"
"The past cannot be changed. Nor can decisions be unmade. But even bad people can do good things. You haven't been corrupted completely, Anakin. How do you think you are still able to love Padme? If good or bad is determined by actions alone, then can it be argued that Schmii evil because she made you?"
"My mother was good." Anakin tried to hide the contempt in his voice.
"Then by extension, perhaps you are too. Yes Anakin," he said, wagging his finger thoughtfully. "Just as evil people can do good things, good people can do bad."
Anakin wanted to believe he was a good person who had done bad things. Chancellor Palpatine was a bad person who had done many good things. Although, his reasons for doing good things, had everything to do with his wanting to do bad. Chancellor Palpatine was evil. But Anakin wondered, was there good in him too?
A look of confusion marked Anakin's face. "Master, the night we raided the temple-"
"I tried to stop you Anakin. In that, I have failed you."
Qui Gon turned his back, his hands folded behind him. He stared off into an empty starry sky. Anakin realized, he had hurt the man more than he could ever realize.
"I did this, Master Qui Gonn," Anakin pleaded. "You cannot be blamed for my failure."
"You were focused. Unstoppable." There was a firmness to his mouth.
Qui Gonn turned to meet Anakin's eyes. "I saw in you even as a child, a single mind. That of a man who could not be shaken from his path. The Universe was meant to be shaken. in yours. It is your actions that are unredeemable. You are not."
"Perhaps, my Master, I am undeserving of redemption."
"Only the future can determine that Anakin... As long as you love, there is chance for redemption..."
The voice hollowed and the blue ghost of Qui Gon Jinn began to fade.
"Master?" Anakin called. He reached, his Force powers nearly strong enough to pull him back. The gesture made the serious minded Qui Gon smile. The blue ghost wavered for a moment, blinking, then faded away.
"As long as you love, there is still a chance..."
The Master's final words echoed into the night. Anakin sank back, his knees folded before him, much like Colla's some time earlier.
What did Qui Gon mean by "only the future can determine that"? Anakin wondered. Was he to be tested again?
He stood then grabbed his light saber and clipped it to his belt. He ran from the room down the stairs and outside, where tufts of pollen and other dander rose to the sky like angels ascending to heaven. He looked up, searching the constellations for Padme. He felt her, or believed he did. Fo he saw her face in the stars.
He whispered her name, and believed... she heard. The way a stream caught a pebble or a flower caught a raindrop. She heard.
After a good night's rest and some time to clear his head, Anakin marched to the control room and searched communications for record of who ordered the Life Support Suit. And it was there. Finally, a breakthrough. But there was another communication sent to Anakin. A report by one of his Imperial Stations of ships requesting clearance at the various checkpoints stationed throughout the Republic on the night of Padme's disappearance. All ships flying through Republic airspace were required to seek clearance. There was no way around it. Anakin smiled, sensing he would finally learn the truth.
He opened the Report from the Outer Rim Med Center first, his eyes widening in surprise. A small green creature, a Whim by the name of Master Yoda!
Anakin's heart thundered in his chest. Then that could only mean... he sensed Yoda on Mustafar shortly after his fight with Padme, but had no time to deal with him. His wife was in need of medical attention, his fault, of course. But he couldn't look back. Obi Wan later confirmed Yoda's escape.
Anakin continued down the report, his eyes soaking the details in. A human male, severed limbs, badly burned, singed lungs, severe smoke inhalation... chemical analysis, sulfer burns and lacerations across skin.
Anakin bristled at the idea of Padme running away with his mortal enemies. Men who not only wanted to do him harm, but could hurt her as well as the children.
Anakin turned to his commander. "Have our local govenors search their planets for escaped Jedi. One who wears a black storm trooper life support system, the other a small green Jedi. Do attempt capture. They're far too lethal. I will deal with them myself."
General Tarkin smacked his lips and Anakin sensed the man's derision. Or perhaps, his envy. Tarkin was power hungry and vicious. In time he would deal with him too. But for now, he was as good a general an emperor could have.
"Yes, my lord," Tarkin replied.
He gave Anakin the other report. Anakin scoured the list... his eyes stopping on a clearance just beyond Naboo.
The identification key given by the pilot matched Obi Wan's old starfighter. The one stolen by Yoda on Kashykk when he escaped.
"There were five passengers aboard this ship," Tarkin offered.
Five would account for Yoda, Mace, Padme and the two children. Anakin's blood ran cold at reading the following line:
Ship 87592RE777009 crashed into asteroid field just outside of Rea.
There was a great rumbling in the force.
"This can't be right," Anakin said.
"What do you think , my lord?"
Anakin shook his head. "She was still alive... I felt her."
Tarkin saw the Emperor's knees were close to buckling and took the report from his hands. "Should I continue for you, my lord?"
Anakin's breaths were loud and unsteady. "You may continue," he growled. Tarkin deserved the blunt of his anger and rage. The man seemed far too satisfied with the results of the report. Gloating and rubbing his pain in his face.
"The report continues..." Tarkin started... "Padme Naberrie Skywalker also identified herself. Voice recognition analysis shows a 100 match."
Anakin quickly spun on the man, seizing him by the throat. Tarkin choked and gurgled, falling to his bony knees. "Master Skywalker-" he choked.
Anakin gazed into the man's evil sunken eyes. What would killing him do? Would killing this man bring his children and wife back? Anakin released him and Tarkin fell to the floor.
"Leave me!" Anakin screamed.
Was this the test? Was this what Qui Gon wanted? IS this the answer to all the wrongs he had done? The price he paid for all the innocent bloodshed?
Tarkin scrambled from the room, kicking the door closed behind him. Anakin fell to the floor, huddled against the communications station. She was dead because of him. He drove Padme away and she died. Their children, as innocent as any, died because of what he had done at the temple.
He caused all of it. He did. Decisions can not be undone.