This part of this world exists in perpetual twilight, covered by mists and steams: half the planet is always bathed in deadly light from the too-near star, the other half freezes in eternal night. In the median strip between the two, a riot of plant life has evolved, marking the planet in a strip of damp green and grey, buzzing with insects and gelatinous life forms which haunt the myriad lakes and swamps with floating webs. It is isolated and eerie.
Padmé estimates they have about two months before Anakin traces them here.
Luke fusses in the small portable crib, drawing her quickly from the bedroll. If she soothes him before he wakes his sister, she and Obi-Wan will get more sleep tonight. Her son is needier than her daughter, more inclined to cry when he's not immediately attended to, closer to cuddle when she draws him into her arms. Leia already watches the world around her with more detachment, although she's just as happy to wail when she's upset.
Had things gone differently, had Padmé's life not gone to hell, had Anakin not fallen into evil, had Obi-Wan not found her in the midst of the destruction of everything and everyone he loved and taken Padmé into exile to bear her babies alone, she would have had help. Padmé would have leaned on her husband's strength and his joy at raising their family together. She would have gone to Naboo for a few months and let her mother and sister dote on her and the twins the same as she'd doted at the births of her sister's children.
Might have beens stretch across the stars, her father always said.
She settles Luke at one breast, wincing at the mild pain as he latches on. He'll be wet and needing changed before he falls back to sleep. Keeping them fed, keeping them clean, keeping their infant minds from accidentally reaching out to their father, these fill her hours as sure as meetings and plans for the blossoming Rebellion ought to.
Obi-Wan hasn't dared contact the others, not since three worlds ago, and the four of them had only barely escaped Imperial capture that day. The children weren't spied, she's sure. Anakin, draped in black and raging at their betrayal, still believes he has only one heir.
She fears she must split them soon, send one into hiding with Obi-Wan and take the other with her into whatever danger looms before her.
Luke begins fussing again, perhaps picking up on the turmoil in her mind. "Sh, baby," she says, petting his soft hair. "Mother's here." He fusses more, tiny face scrunching up into what promises to be a vicious cry. She jostles him, rocking him, checking his bottom for a mess.
Quickly, Padmé sets him safely onto the bedroll before returning to the crib. A large insect, all stingers and sharp claws, has climbed in and approaches Leia's face. Her daughter's eyes are wide open and she holds very still, watching the attacker in silent terror.
Padmé grabs a spare diaper and uses it to snatch up the awful creature, crunching it as she tugs the insect out of the crib and away from her baby. She tosses diaper and dead insect into the pail before picking up Leia. Luke has settled now that his sister is out of danger. Padmé looks between them for a moment before bringing Leia into the bedroll and cuddling with them both.
"I can take them for a while," says Obi-Wan. "They're keeping you awake again."
"They're fine now. We should bug-proof the tent better in the morning."
"Short of setting up a forcefield, this is as bug-proof as we can have." He doesn't say they'll have to pick up and leave soon. He doesn't point out their next location will be worse. "Let me see what I can do."
He climbs out of bed and digs through their supplies until he finds adhesive. As Padmé rests, Luke back asleep and Leia nursing, she listens to him diligently patching the small holes and edges of the tent that had been their home these last several weeks. Worry rolls off him, palpable in their near confines. The children are in as much danger in their bed as from their mad father. The rest of the galaxy is in great danger if the latter discovers them and seizes them and raises them to the Emperor's dark purpose. Obi-Wan's own life means little to him now after the deaths of everyone he knew. He considers himself merely a tool by which Padmé and her infants continue to survive. If he cannot keep them safe from a deadly bite, what hope does he have to protect them from Anakin's designs?
"Hush now," she says, placing the babies back into their crib. Leia is already mostly back to sleep, and she twitches until she and Luke are curled together, fingers entwined as they must have done while still growing inside Padmé's body.
They're a miracle. They shouldn't have been conceived, shouldn't have survived birth, shouldn't be thriving here in the semi-darkness of their hideaway. But they did, and they do, and Padmé has hope as long as her children are alive and safe. She'll slip from planet to planet, she'll dig into damp mud or arid sand, she'll stay ahead of Anakin's spies, all for their sake.
"There." He's tired. He spends his days searching for food and purifying their water, then spending hours in meditation, seeking out any trace of other surviving Jedi. Master Yoda is in hiding. He believes the others are dead. That leaves himself, Anakin, and the babies. He'll do anything to keep them safe.
Obi-Wan climbs back into the bedroll. He's warm, she's chilled from the eternal half-darkness and the fear, and this is how they always find each other.
Her body has changed since the birth, swelled and torn and as poorly-healed as her heart. His hands are gentle, with soothing energy pulsing through each touch. Padmé will not compare Obi-Wan's kind, sad touches with Anakin's passionate grasp, will not contrast how he hesitates before sliding sweetly into her with the surety of her husband's thick, deep stroke, will not wonder how much of their coupling is filled with Obi-Wan's griefs and regrets over his dearest friend.
They never kiss. When they finish, they hold each other, and don't speak.
They've lived on this desert world for fourteen months. Padmé lets herself believe they have finally evaded their pursuers for good. Her children are growing like flowers, thin-stalked and beautiful. Her heart breaks a little each time her dark-haired daughter chases her brother down in what are barely more than rags. Had they stayed on Naboo, had they lived on Coruscant, her children would wear only the best clothes to play in and grow. Instead, she can hardly keep them dressed before another day adds two more inches in height.
Obi-Wan is pleased to see them grow. He spends every night teaching them, as he would have at the Jedi Temple, two more younglings gifted with great power.
"You would have taken them from me already, wouldn't you?"
He glances over at her, understanding the question, and the sorrow. "It would have been better for them and for you. I can only teach them so much, and as long as they are connected to you and to each other, there's a chance someone could use that to turn them." Like Anakin turned, he doesn't say. They've stopped saying his name where the children can hear. Her children call Obi-Wan 'Father' and they have no idea of their true identities. Padmé claims the man beside her is her husband, but she will not marry him, not while Anakin lives.
"That's why he opposed you."
"It's one reason." He stands. The desiccated soil of this world is poor for farming. If not for Padmé's skills at weaving and writing, they couldn't live off the little he cultivates. As the children grow, they'll need more food, and clothing. Padmé and Obi-Wan can educate them, but education doesn't matter if they starve.
This world has been safe. They cannot stay.
They wind up in the middle of a skirmish between the Empire and the Rebellion entirely by accident. They've lived in this village on this Outer Rim forgotten world for almost a year. Leia plays with the other children at school, dragging Luke in her wake as she naturally bosses around the rest. Padmé works as an administrator for the village council, allowing the petty squabbles of warring clerks and laborers to substitute for the intense political battles she once arbitrated.
One angry clerk calls in the Empire, claiming a handful of laborers have been sneaking supplies to the Rebellion.
The skies above them blaze with weapons fire. Padmé drops everything to hurry to the school. Obi-Wan teaches there, and has already chanted a calming incantation to the students, keeping them from running in panic.
"They've found us," he says, but she shakes her head.
"This isn't about us."
They should run. Instead, they take all the children in the school to the shelters, and their teacher tells them stories of the old days of the Great Republic until the blasts cease. They don't know who won. They could open the shelter and find some scrappy Rebellion pilots. They could open it to Anakin's mad eyes.
Padmé places her hand against the dark blond hair on her son's head. She presses the open switch.
"Hi, there!" says the plucky pilot. She's got red hair and a great smile, and Padmé has never seen anything so wonderful.
Bail doesn't look like he believes his own eyes. "There were rumors. Vader has been on a quest, but none of our sources knew for sure." He kneels down to meet Leia's eyes. She glares back, unimpressed. "Hello, little one."
"I'm not little."
He laughs until he sees the sharp look in her eyes. For a moment, Padmé watches his face very clearly remember these are Vader's children. She sends them to play in the next room, and listens with a mixture of delight and sorrow as they squeal over the few toys.
"You're a sight for very sore eyes, all of you. Padmé, we could use your tactical advice for the Rebellion. General Kenobi, we've missed your skill."
"We're not with the Rebellion," Obi-Wan replies with more snippishness than necessary. "I don't use that name any longer."
Padmé glares at him. "What he means to say is, we'd be glad to help, but our first priority has to be keeping the twins safe. Anakin knows we had a child. He doesn't know we had two."
"Did you consider separating them?"
"I won't give up either one."
Obi-Wan says, "They're more powerful together. The Force flows between them. I'm worried their father will sense them sooner if they remain together," he meets Padmé's eyes, "but they're happiest when they're together."
"We can keep you hidden," Bail says, catching the undercurrent of their conversation. "We can keep all of you hidden together."
When he leaves the room briefly, Obi-Wan squeezes her hand. "I'll leave tonight."
"We need you." She doesn't want to say more, not with her friend so near. He'll learn from the children. He'll see when she allows herself to cry.
The Rebellion begins to accrue more victories with the help of Padmé's knowledge and her determination. Anakin can call himself whatever he wishes, but she will not permit him to intimidate the galaxy. She goes by a series of codenames. The children stay with her as much as possible.
Obi-Wan has been gone for half a year when the twins steal their first fighter together.
"We were going to find Father," Luke says, when they are both standing in front of her, knowing how much trouble they're in. Deep down she is just grateful they're alive.
When the children are eleven years old, Leia goes missing.
At first, Padmé doesn't accept the truth. Her daughter was traveling in a separate shuttle, heading to the next Alliance stronghold where they would be reunited. Instead, the shuttle doesn't make its appointment while Padmé and Luke wait for hours.
She hates using their powers this way, not with the man they called their father too far away to help them learn how to use those powers safely. "Luke, I need you to find out where your sister is."
"All right." He closes his eyes. A terrible sadness crosses his face, and a sickening fear fills her. "She can't see. She's scared." He keeps a link with Leia, listening to what she hears, obediently telling his mother everything.
When Leia is allowed to see, there's a man. His eyes are horrible and his smile is worse. "He says he's her father," Luke says, and looks to his mother. "Who is he?"
The stars in the sky have all gone dark. She takes Luke's hand. "Your father."
Padmé isn't surprised when the Imperial Network proudly announces Lord Vader has been reunited with his long-lost daughter. The other Rebels they're with look at Padmé and Luke with new respect and fear. Vader is a dark legend. For Padmé, Anakin is both the lost boy she couldn't save and the vicious creature who has stolen away her beloved child.
"She hasn't told him about me," Luke says when they're alone. He's withdrawn. Leia has always been the more forceful, outgoing one, and without her influence, he hides in whatever quarters they're assigned and sits listening to his sister's fears.
"What can she tell you about him? Where does he have her? We can try to rescue her."
"She won't tell me."
"She doesn't know."
"She knows. Leia won't say because she thinks we'll try to save her. She's scared of him. He won't hurt her, but she's afraid he'll hurt you or find me."
Padmé pulls her hand to her mouth. When she can speak, she says, "Tell your sister she is very brave."
The Rebellion steps up their assaults on Empire supplies. Padmé sends spies everywhere she can think of, officially searching for information about the rumored space station they are constructing but honestly any information she can track down on Anakin and Leia's whereabouts means more to her.
She doesn't have Jedi powers. That doesn't stop her from sending her thoughts out into the stars every night. Luke speaks to Leia. Padmé calls for Obi-Wan. "Come back," she thinks. "Come home."
Finally a spy discovers both the base, which is still only a quarter of the way completed, and Anakin, who keeps his daughter with him as he travels from base to base.
Padmé kisses Luke and gives him into Bail's care. "Do as he says. Be brave for me."
"I should go with you," her son says in his serious voice. "I can find her inside the base."
"If he finds out about you both, we'll never be free of him. I love you." She cannot promise him she'll ever come back to him.
Mon Mothma disagrees strongly with Padmé's decision, but nothing will prevent her from leading the strike team herself.
"You are more valuable to us alive."
"He won't kill me. I have to get my daughter back."
There's a disturbance outside the room, and Padmé realizes their secret base has already been uncovered. The robed and cowled figure steps into the room. "I'm coming with you."
Obi-Wan has aged in the two years since they last saw each other. She doesn't have time to wonder if she's aged, too. "He'll be able to sense you."
"If he's focused on me, you'll be able to slip past him."
It's not worse than the plan she'd already concocted. They leave together with her tight team of three others. They've almost reached their destination when a small sneeze from under the control panel informs them they have a tow-headed stowaway.
Padmé's heart falls. "We're aborting the mission." But Luke has already thrown himself into the arms of the only father he's ever known.
"I can find her, Mother."
This plan gets worse with every passing moment, but it's too late to stop. They won't have another opportunity. "If I tell you to stay on the ship, will you listen?"
Luke refuses to answer.
Leia lives inside a doll's house. Her very pretty prison has stuffed animals of every size covering the bed and the floor and the shelves. Clothes stuff the closet, all heavily-embroidered frippery she has no interest in touching.
"I wish you would smile," says the man who isn't Father.
"I want to go home."
"Of course. Tell me where your traitorous mother is and I'll bring you to her." He smiles, and it's a hard, sad smile. "You and I both know she'll be coming for you. I searched the galaxy for you. I know Padmé will do no less. I've foreseen that she'll come here. Then the three of us can live together as a family."
Leia won't show how awful that sounds to her. She won't think about Luke. Vader doesn't know about him, and won't. He killed the pilot who was transporting her, and stole Leia's name and her mother's identity from the poor man's dying mind. Vader doesn't know the rest.
"If Mother does come, she'll kill you."
There's an anger deep within him. His fists never raise to her, and he doesn't reach out with the Force to hurt her. "I won't strike a child, not ever," he says over and over to her, like a horrible promise, and she knows it makes him happy, makes him believe himself to be a good father because of this. Under his thought is blood and the memory of small bodies falling to a desecrated floor.
"You're a lucky little girl," says Darth Vader, his eyes cold. "I had no father. You're going to grow up under the care of a father who loves you."
Leia has foresight sometimes, too. She says, "Yes. Daddy." He can't read her smile.
Their cloaked vessel perches awkwardly against the outer shell of this half-built monstrosity, betting on the confusion of construction vessels and cranes and pillars to obscure their landing, and the quick, hot digging through like a parasite sucking into flesh.
Padmé won't watch Obi-Wan go. Her heart tells her he's come here to die. "Find Leia and get back to the ship." She lets him give what sounds like an order, just this once.
She ought to leave Luke here where he'll be safest, but he's the perfect compass to locate her daughter. Both have grown up so courageous it aches. "Stay close to me, do precisely as I say, and if I say run to the ship and leave, you will do it. Do you understand?"
Luke agrees solemnly, and follows her into the space station. Corridors end in empty air. Catwalks loom half-built, jutting like abandoned skeletons. This station feels even larger on the inside, echoing in booming, empty spaces that are busily being filled with the engines of war. It's horrible, and her little girl is in here, somewhere, trapped.
Her son keeps next to her, quiet, only closing his eyes now and again before opening them and directing where they should turn. Padmé expects prisoner cells. Luke leads her to the private quarters where the Moff and his senior staff keep their rooms. Anakin's quarters are locked. Padmé can break it but uses her lockpick device to avoid the noise. Within, she sees a chamber where her husband clearly still does much of his work, and a side of the room is framed for meditation and practice. The door to his bedroom is ajar. Luke walks towards another door. Padmé wants to look, wants to see if Anakin still leaves the covers messy, if the pillows smell of his hair and the things she once loved about him.
"I told you not to come," Leia says as soon as her door is unlocked, but she throws herself into her brother's arms.
"Are you hurt? Are you all right?" Padmé has no time to weep, but the tears won't listen as she brings Leia into an embrace. Surely she hasn't grown taller in so short a time?
"I'm all right. We have to go. Daddy's coming back soon."
"'Daddy?'" Padmé doesn't like it.
"I will not call him Father." Leia's chin juts into the air. You could cut gems with her tone. That's her girl.
They hurry out. Padmé has a blaster with her. If anyone gets in their way, she'll shoot to kill with no regrets.
They're midway to their goal, almost free, when Luke flinches. "Father's found him."
Padmé closes her eyes. This mission is to save her daughter and get away. Obi-Wan cannot, must not, be her priority now. "He'll be fine," she lies. "He'll meet us back at the ship."
"The man is going to kill him."
"Luke, come on." She drags each child by a hand, and they follow, but she can tell they're having another conversation she can't hear.
"He knows about me now," Leia says. "He will never stop hunting me, or you. It's a matter of time before he discovers Luke. If we run away, he will chase us."
"Let him try."
"We need to help Father," Luke says.
Padmé does not want to waste her time arguing with her children. She wants to flee, wants to get them to safety, wants to have stayed hiding forever.
"Where are they?"
It's bad. By the time they reach the precarious catwalk, Obi-Wan is bloody. He's tripped to the ground, crawling backwards as Anakin advances on him with rage. He never intended to survive this assault. He has only come to give Padmé the chance to free Leia without attracting Anakin's attention. She is throwing away that chance.
"Stay here," she breathes to the kids, and steps out from the doorway. "Anakin, stop this."
He freezes. He turns and his eyes are deep-set and mad, a coolly-focused insanity which burns his gaze into her. "Of course. Both traitors would come together." He yanks her towards him with his power. Padmé lifts her feet to keep from falling, then Anakin holds her suspended in the air over the edge. A stomach-dropping distance falls below her feet.
"I'm going to kill him. I swore that years ago. I should kill you for hiding our child from me, for turning her against me." He pulls her closer, almost back to the catwalk, near enough to bend forward for a kiss if he so chooses. "Padmé, my dearest love, tell me why I should let you live."
"Because you don't want to kill me." It's the truth. She knows he'd rather she return to his side, that she bow her head to him and be the same bride he once hid away. Anakin wants their family back together, in a twisted distortion of what a family should be.
Leia steps out into his view.
"Go back to your room."
"I want to go with Mother."
"Your mother is staying here. With us."
As he's distracted, Padmé catches Obi-Wan's eyes. He can attack Anakin now, but if he does, Padmé will fall. She tells him with her eyes, with her soul, that she can take care of herself.
"Mother doesn't want to stay. I don't want to stay. I want to go home."
"Go to your room," Anakin repeats in a dangerous voice. "Bad little girls get punished when they disobey."
"You wouldn't dare," says Luke, stepping out to join her. Anakin stares at his son, and that's the moment Obi-Wan attacks. Padmé is ready for the sudden drop, stretching out her arms to catch herself. Her hands slip. She can hold on, barely, as the two Jedi above her return to their battle. The children press back against the safety of the door as Padmé climbs, every muscle aching.
"You stole everything from me!" Anakin snarls as he fights, all emotion and quick jumps, scorching inside himself as he churns through all the disappointments of his life. He turns to strike Padmé but Obi-Wan's lightsaber blocks the blow.
He spins back to fight, and he's exposed.
Padmé kicks out with all her strength, plowing into him and pushing them both off the edge of the catwalk together. The air hurtles around her, and she doesn't have time to scream or pray.
Warm hands, guided by the Force, gather her like a child, lifting her away as Anakin falls past and down into the distant core of the station. She floats up, ill in her stomach and sore in her heart, landing gently on the catwalk again. Her children drop the hands they were holding and their faces lose the strange cast as they blink from their trance, then run to her, clutching her neck.
"Tell me he's gone," Padmé says to Obi-Wan, who nods.
"We must go now. It's a miracle the guards haven't heard us yet." He's weak, bleeding from a dozen wounds. But he's alive. Padmé stands and helps him walk.
She hesitates one moment as they reach the doorway, and she brings his face in for a kiss. The kids sigh, but children are always put out by affection between their parents.
When they reach their ship, the rest of the team has already retrieved plans for the unfinished space station.