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Reincarnation

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Chapter 1: Padme’s Funeral

 

The silver blue sky was tinged with pink, yellow and orange. It was dawn in Theed, the capital city of Naboo. The streets and canals were lined with thousands of mourners holding flickering flames of light in remembrance of their beloved Queen. The city was silent, except for an occasional sob that could be heard from the onlookers. The air was heavy with grief.

She was dressed in a turquoise blue gown that shimmered like the ocean waves. Her hair cascaded in ringlets around her face, and white flowers were strewn in her hair, which made her look like she was floating in water. Her hands were folded on her swollen stomach, clasping the japor snippet. Her beauty had not faded, even in death. She rested inside an open casket, so that her beauty was not hidden. Her coffin is carried in a carriage by six regal white beasts, and hundreds of thousands of mourners line the streets of Theed watching her float pass them. The Queen of Naboo and her handmaiden, and several dignitaries followed behind Padme’s carriage. Her parents, Ruwee and Jobal Naberrie, her sister, Sola, brother in law, Darred, and two nieces followed the funeral procession on foot.

It seemed as if all the citizens of Naboo came to Theed to bid their final farewell to their beloved former Queen and Senator. As her carriage passed through the streets, a shower of petals and flowers rained on her carriage from the crowds. The streets were littered with flowers, with colors ranging from white to yellow to crimson.

Her carriage finally arrived to the Grand Palace Cathedral, where all the other former Queens were laid to rest. The Cathedral was grandiose, with vaulted stone ceilings and stained-glass windows. A special tomb was set aside for Padme inside the Chapel. Six palace guards, dressed in blue uniforms adorned with gold ribbons carried Padme’s coffin to her final resting place inside the tomb. They were followed by her former handmaidens, dressed head to toe in deep purple, the Naboo color of mourning. Her family stood outside her tomb, silently weeping.

The guards gently laid her coffin on a pedestal in the middle of the room. Her family slowly filed in, each carrying a white lotus, the flower for which Padme was named after. They tenderly placed the flowers on her coffin, six in all, in a random pattern. They each said a silent prayer bid their final farewell before leaving the room. The guards closed the stone door, and everyone bowed in silence. The door was engraved with the words: Padme Amidala Naberrie, beloved Queen and Senator.

The mourners heard the chiming of the Cathedral bells, rung 27 times, one chime for a year in her life.

With the first chime, Jobal Naberrie saw her daughter as a baby, cooing softly for her Mother… 2nd chime, she saw Padme as a dark haired toddler taking her first steps…8th chime, Padme had entered the Naboo Youth Legislative League…11th chime, she was an apprentice legislature…14th chime, Jobal saw Padme in heavy makeup, with regal dresses, ruling Naboo with youthful idealism…19th chime, she sees her daughter mature into a thoughtful young woman, her whole future ahead of her…24th chime, she remembers her daughter’s visit to Naboo, bringing home a handsome suitor, and with the 27th chime, her daughter is gone.

With heavy hearts and broken spirits, the people of Naboo left their former Queen to her eternal sleep.

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He was dressed in a black cloak and helmet, looking like the grim reaper himself. It was twilight in Theed, and the streets were empty. Vader stood outside of Padme’s tomb, staring at the heavy stone doors. With a wave of his hand, he used the Dark Forces to open the doors. He walked in, his footsteps echoing in the small tomb that she rested in. There she was…his beautiful fallen Angel that he gave his soul to save, only to have killed her in the end with his own anger. I did this to her… he thought to himself, and felt a heavy sinking in his heart.

He was filled with gut-wrenching grief, and sobbed inside his mask. “Padme…” he whispered. “Padme, you were my life…” He gently reached out his hand and caressed her hair, then her face, and slowly outlined the curves of her lips with his gloved mechanical finger, imprinting a mental picture of her features into his mind. “Padme, I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to…”

His beloved wife did not answer him.

He saw the bulge of her stomach, and lamented the loss of his child. He had wanted a little girl, and hoped that she would have brown hair and eyes like her mother. He would have cherished his little cherub. His mind filled with anger again, especially toward Obi-Wan. It’s all his fault! Vader thought. He turned her against me.

He was still brewing with hate when he finally noticed the japor snippet in Padme’s hands. She was holding on in death to what she held dear in life. He thought of the day that he had given her that snippet. He had spent hours working on it, making it as beautiful as he could to befit an angel as beautiful as Padme. She told him that she didn’t need it to remember him by, but took it as a gesture of friendship much to his delight.

Vader untangled the japor snippet from her hands and took it into his. He held it to his heart, and grasped it tightly, wishing that she would just wake up and come away with him. He was going to put the snippet back into her hands, but couldn’t bear to let it part from him. This was the only object that he could still hold on to that belonged to her. He gently wrapped it in a leather bag, and placed it inside his cloak. “You don’t need this to remember me,” he told her, between his sobs.

He turned around to leave her tomb. Loving her was too painful. The emptiness he was feeling inside was unbearable. Any trace that was left of Anakin Skywalker stayed behind in his wife’s tomb, buried next to her side, never to see the light of day again. It hurt him too much to remember her love, and he closed off his heart with the darkness that was ever present around him. He embraced the Dark Side, which was like a drug to numb the pain he felt in his soul.

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Ruwee and Jobal Naberrie received their daughter’s personal belongings from her apartment on Coruscant in brown boxes. Their eldest daughter, Sola was there to help them sort through Padme’s things. Jobal wept as she held each of Padme’s dresses, hugging them. There were many boxes filled with her clothes, but the last box that they opened had them intrigued. They found a locked metal box intricately engraved with flowers. There was an inscription that read, “For my Angel, with all my love” on the bottom of the box. The Naberries were very curious, but they were unable to open the box.

Ruwee said, “It’s private, maybe we shouldn’t open it…”

His wife replied, “I have to know…she was pregnant and she didn’t tell us. There has to be a reason.”

Sola agreed with her mother.

The Naberries went to a locksmith to help them with the box.

They all waited in anticipation, and after many hours, the locksmith was finally able to open the box. He told them, “This has got to be the toughest lock that I’ve picked. Whoever designed it was a genius!”

The Naberries decided to open the box in the privacy of their home. When they finally reached home, they were all very pensive of what they would find inside. Jobal gingerly lifted the lid. Inside, she saw a matching metal hairbrush that was also intricately carved, a small leather-bound book, and there was a holo in the box. She activated the holo and saw Padme in her wedding dress, tenderly being kissed by Anakin on the Naboo Lake retreat.

“Why didn’t she tell us about this?” Jobal asked. They were all stunned that Padme did not tell them about the wedding.

Sola answered her, “She must have her reasons, Mother. I’m sure she wanted to, but duty probably prevented her from saying anything. Jedi knights aren’t supposed to marry, anyway.”

Deep down, everyone was hurt that Padme didn’t confide in them, but they understood her need for secrecy.

Jobal then took out the leather-bound journal, and said, “I want to know how this all started.”

The family cried as they read through her memoirs. They realized how torn Padme was for not telling them about her marriage to Anakin. She wrote of her love for him, and her worry for his safety during the Clone Wars. They felt her excitement about her pregnancy, and learned of her plans to return to Naboo to have her baby, and to finally tell her family everything.

Jobal sobbed as she read the final entry in Padme’s diary aloud to Ruwee and Sola:

“I wish I can tell Mother and Father about my joy! They’ll be so excited to know that there is another grandchild on the way for them. And Sola, she’ll be an Aunt. Ryoo and Pooja will have a little cousin to play with! I wish I could tell them about Anakin and our marriage, but I cannot risk him losing his position as a Jedi Knight. The Republic needs him to win this war. I don’t know how long I can hide my pregnancy. I suppose I’ll travel to Naboo and have the baby there with my family. They need to know sooner or later. I can trust them to help me.”

They were happy that Padme found true love with Anakin, but were saddened that they would never have a chance to embrace their son-in-law. They all believed that he died during the Jedi purge. They bemoaned the loss of their daughter, their son-in-law, and their grandchild.

Jobal cried out, “She didn’t deserve to die! I want my baby back! She hasn’t even started living her life yet. I didn’t get a chance to accept Anakin as my son. She loved him so much, she was still holding on to that pendant that he gave her ten years ago! Why did she have to die?”

Ruwee and Sola both wrapped their arms around Jobal to comfort her, and the family wept again for their loss.

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The sun rising and the sun setting across the azure Naboo sky no longer brought any joy to Jobal. Simple pleasures such as observing a flower bloom or watching a bird in flight only reminded Jobal of Padme. A month had passed since her funeral, and the Naberries were still grieving for her. They could not accept the fact that she was gone from them forever. Jobal, in particular, had the most difficult time dealing with her daughter’s death. Her heart ached every time she thought of Padme, and sorrow overwhelmed her when she thought of Padme’s premature departure from the world.

Ever since Padme’s death, Jobal was having variations of the same dream each night. She felt like she was watching the dream through a wall of water, and the details were a bit muddled to her. However, each night that she had the dream, the details became clearer. At first, she only saw a brown-haired little girl trapped inside a white building. Jobal eventually recognized that it was her daughter, Padme. Padme was saying something to her, but she couldn’t hear her. The only thing that Jobal could hear were the sounds of raindrops pelting on the roof, and the loud roar of thunder. However, as Jobal continued to have the same dream, she was finally able to hear Padme speak. Jobal heard her calling out, “Momma, where are you? I’m here! Please find me!” Every time Padme called out to her Mother, Jobal saw visions of a planet drowned with torrential rains. There was nothing but water, and several white City-Pods on the surface of the water. She had never seen that planet before, but believed that Padme’s spirit was somehow trapped there.

Jobal eventually told Ruwee and Sola about her dream.

Sola remembered Padme telling her stories about a planet on the Outer Rim called Kamino.

Sola told her parents, “Padme told me once that the storm troopers were cloned on a planet called Kamino. She said that it rained there every day, and the planet was a large ocean.”

Ruwee said, “You know, before I taught at the University, I was a builder. A long time ago, before I met your Mother, I was sent on a secret mission to Kamino. I was part of a team of builders who helped the Kaminoans design and build their stilt-mounted cities. I was friends with a young Kaminoan named Lama Su, who is now the Prime minister of Kamino. I believe he still watches over the clone factories.”

Jobal felt the rays of hope color her life again. She said, “It’s a sign from Padme. She wants to come back. She has unfinished business. She called to me in my dreams. We have to clone her and bring her back!”

Sola said, “Mother! That is unnatural. We can’t do that! How could you suggest that Padme would want to have herself cloned?”

Jobal scolded her, saying, “How can you say that about your sister? Don’t you miss her? Wouldn’t you give anything to have her back?”

“Yes,” Sola replied, “I would do anything to have her back but this just isn’t right! It wouldn’t be Padme, it would just be someone who looked like her.”

“I don’t care. I just want my daughter back. And, you’re wrong, Sola. It would be Padme.” Jobal said adamantly.

Sola told her, “Mother, I love her, but I think your grief has clouded your judgment.”

“Sola, if you love me, if you loved your sister, you would agree with me. I need to have her back. Please. Sola, I can’t do this without your blessings.”

Sola looked at the pain that was in her Mother’s eyes. Jobal had been weeping every day for a month. Her Mother was losing weight, and her sorrow was immeasurable. She thought of her sister, Padme. She had spent her whole life serving others. She didn’t even get a chance to enjoy motherhood. She felt that Padme missed out so much in life. It was only fair that she could have another chance. Sola reluctantly said, “I guess you’re right, Mother. It would be nice to have Padme back again.”

Jobal turned to Ruwee and said, “What are you waiting for? Please contact Lama Su. My daughter is calling for us to bring her back.”

Ruwee didn’t argue with his wife. He knew what he was about to do was probably not the right thing, but the emptiness in his heart from his daughter’s death left such a fierce aching that he wanted to stop the pain by having Padme in their lives again.

The decision was made. They were going to clone Padme. Ruwee contacted Lama Su for a favor.

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Ruwee, Jobal, and Sola undertook the long journey to Kamino and the Clone Factory.

Lama Su had sent Ruwee the coordinates, and as the Naberries traveled to the distant planet, each person was immersed in their own thought about the implications of what they were about to do.

Jobal was excited about the whole idea of having Padme cloned. She didn’t want to think about the consequences or future problems that may arise. She just wanted Padme back, to fill the void in her heart. Although scared of the consequences, Ruwee’s heart ached whenever he thought of Padme’s death. He wanted his wife to be happy, and the thought of holding Padme in his arms again justified the process that they would have to go through to have her. Sola was a bit more apprehensive than her parents. She felt that there were going to be consequences to her action. She thought of scenarios where Padme would find out the truth. She vowed that she would never let anyone know the truth except her parents and husband. She would not even tell Ryoo and Pooja. They were too young to understand. Sola sighed as she thought of all the lies and deception that they would have to tell by undergoing the cloning process. But they had come so far, and she wasn’t going to let second thoughts affect the overall decision that the family had made.

When they arrived at Kamino, they saw a grey planet with swirling clouds. As they approached the surface, all they could see was a vast sea of turbulent ocean water. Thunder and lightning flashed in the sky. They saw several white city-pods in the water, and landed on the pod numbered 118254 as Lama Su had instructed.

As the gate of the city was opened for their arrival, they were personally met by the Prime minister, Lama Su.

“Hello my old friend…It has been a very long while since we have seen each other. Welcome to Kamino.” Lama Su greeted them.

“Thank you, Lama Su. It has been so long. Forty years, perhaps? Let me introduce you to my wife Jobal, and my daughter, Sola.”

“Very pleased to meet you,” Lama Su said.

Jobal and Sola bowed their heads and both said, “Pleased to meet you too.”

“I am sorry for your loss.” Lama Su told them.

“Thank you, Lama Su. It has been so tragic. We cannot bear the pain. Padme was so young, so full of life…” Ruwee told him. “It has been very difficult for our family, which is why we come here for your help.”

Lama Su told him, “You have helped us so much by rebuilding our city to withstand the harsh environment here. It still stands after all these years. I will forever be grateful for that. Anything that we can do for you, please ask.”

Ruwee decided to be direct, and said, “Lama Su, please help us clone Padme. We have strands of her hair from an old brush that you can use.”

“Is this something that you have thought about carefully?” Lama Su asked.

“Yes.” Ruwee answered.

“Then consider it done.” Lama Su told them.

Lama Su took the intricately carved hair brush that had been in Padme’s locked box. There were still strands of her curly brown hair in the brush. “This will work nicely. We will extract her DNA from the hair bulb” he told them, and led Ruwee, Jobal, and Sola into the cloning laboratory.

In the cloning facility, the Naberries saw hundreds of clones being manufactured. They surmised that these were the Empire’s Storm Troopers. The clones were in different groups; some were learning computer skills, others marching in formation. Sola had reservations when she saw all the embryos being grown in jars, but one look at her parent’s hopeful faces was all it took for her to steel her resolve to clone Padme. They had already traveled so far, and was so close to having Padme back again. She didn’t want to disappoint her parents, especially her Mother.

The scientists at the clone factory extracted DNA from Padme’s hair sample, and at Ruwee’s request, cloned her DNA into only one embryo. The Naberries wanted an unaltered clone of Padme. They knew that the clone troopers’ DNA were altered to change their personality, but for Padme, they wanted pure genetic replication. They also didn’t want to have Padme undergo rapid growth acceleration like the storm troopers. They wanted her to enjoy her childhood, and they wanted her to grow up like any normal little girl. It was already decided by Sola and her husband that they were going to implant the embryo in her womb to be Padme’s surrogate mother.

It took several days for Sola to undergo hormone therapy to ready herself for the implantation. As Sola laid on the procedure table to have the embryo implanted into her uterus, she had many thoughts run through her mind. It was too late to turn back now. Now that the deed was done, and Padme was already cloned, Sola refocused her thoughts from the ethical question of whether they should have done this or not, and focused instead on having a healthy pregnancy. She felt an overwhelming sense of protection for her baby. She wanted to shelter her, to let her have a normal childhood, and not be a civil servant to Naboo. Sola knew that no one could replace her sister, but she hoped that the cloned embryo would fill the aching void in their hearts and bring them as much joy and happiness as Padme had.

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Sola saw Padme in a simple white gown, clear as day. Padme was beckoning to her sister, and said, “I have to turn him back to the light. There is still good in him.” There was love and hope in Padme’s soulful brown eyes. Sola didn’t know what Padme was talking about, but knew that her sister was determined to do what she said.

Sola woke up from her strange dream. The early morning sun was just pouring its diffuse light into the bedroom when Sola suddenly felt the contractions. It was exactly nine months to the day that the embryo was implanted. That’s odd, Sola thought. The baby isn’t due for another 10 days…However, the contractions came stronger, and her dream quickly faded from her memory. Sola called her husband to take her to the medical center. They were met at the birthing center by Ruwee and Jobal, who also brought Ryoo and Pooja to witness the birth of their baby sister.

Sola was nervous yet excited about the baby that was about to be born. She knew that genetically, it was her sister, but her maternal instincts had taken over the second she felt the baby kick in her womb. Although she had loved Padme, she felt a different kind of love for this baby. She felt that it was her own daughter, and she was going to cherish, love, and protect her like any mother would. She and her parents had decided that Sola and her husband would raise the baby as their daughter, and Jobal and Ruwee would assume the role of doting grandparents.

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Jobal was in the delivery room with Sola while Darred and Ruwee waited outside with Ryoo and Pooja. Sola had an easy delivery, and a beautiful baby girl was born. As the baby was placed in her arms, Sola felt complete devotion to the little girl. She kissed the little baby on the forehead, and said, “Welcome to the world again, little one.” Sola looked up at Jobal, and saw tears of joy streaming down her Mother’s face. She handed the baby to Jobal, who was overjoyed as she held the bundle that contained her daughter. She beamed as she rocked the little baby in her arms.

Jobal said, “Do you remember what today is Sola? It is Padme’s birthday today. She would have been 28. This is my Padme. This is my daughter. I can feel it. She came before her due date because she wanted to be born on her original birthdate! As a matter of fact, I remember having her early in the morning too!”

Sola looked at Jobal, and couldn’t explain the coincidence of the baby’s birth.

Just then, Darred and Ruwee came into the room with the girls.

“Congratulations, darling!” Ruwee told his daughter. He came over to kiss the baby who was sleeping soundly in Jobal’s arms.

Darred came over to kiss his wife. “How are you doing, love?” he asked.

“I’m just fine.” She told him and squeezed his hands.

“What shall we name her?” Sola asked her parents.

Jobal said, “Let’s name her after the Queen. Amidala. Amidala Padme Naberrie.”

Ryoo, who was nine years old, and her seven-year old sister Pooja, were excited with the addition to their family.

“Yay! Now we have another sister to play with! Are we naming her after Aunt Padme?” they asked.

“Yes,” Jobal said. “Your Aunt Padme would have wanted this.”

After the healers were sure that baby and mother were well, Sola took baby Ami home to give her a second chance at life.

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“Look, she even blows out the candles like Padme used to.” Jobal said to Sola.

They watched as the brown-haired little girl blew out five candles on her cake, one at a time, from left to right.

“Yes, Mother. She seems to follow every step that Padme used to take.” Sola sighed. Sola didn’t think of the little girl as her sister, but as her beloved daughter, and was a little bit concerned that she was so similar to Padme. She was afraid that her daughter would have tragedy befall her if she followed in Padme’s same footsteps. Every fiber of her being wanted to protect the little girl from the same fate as Padme, and she did everything she could think of to steer her in a different direction.

Jobal, on the other hand, was very pleased that the little girl not only looked like Padme, she acted like Padme as well. She knew that her daughter had come back to her. Ami Padme Naberrie was the top student at her school. She was articulate and intelligent beyond her years, and her loving and compassionate nature was clear to everyone around her. Jobal was very happy that her daughter could relive the childhood that she had lost. Of course, there were some differences too, since it was Sola who raised the child, and growing up with two older sisters sometimes took some of the attention away from her. She was more playful and had quite an active imagination. She was also very creative and artistic, and was a little bit more demure than Padme had been. Nonetheless, Jobal loved her just the same.

“Let’s open presents, okay Padme?” Jobal asked the little girl.

“Okay, Grandma!” The little girl replied. She knew that her name was Ami, which was what everyone called her at school. However, at home, her parents, grandparents, and sisters called her by her middle name, Padme.

The first present she opened was a coloring book given to her by Sola. She clasped her hand in delight, eager to start coloring. “Thanks, Momma!” She told Sola. “It’s just what I wanted!”

“Here, open Grandpa’s present next,” Jobal told her as she handed her a box.

Padme pulled out a little doll with blonde hair. He was wearing a tan robe. She hugged the little doll.

“I’m going to name him Luke!” she said. “Thanks, Grandpa!”

“Now open my present, Padme.” Jobal told her.

She opened another box, and there was a little baby girl with brown hair in pigtails, wearing a white dress. She grabbed the doll, and hugged it along with her first doll.

“This is his sister! I’m going to name her Leia!” She squealed with happiness.

After all the presents were opened, Ami played with her two new favorite dolls, Luke and Leia. She was teaching them how to color.

Sola and Jobal were in the kitchen when Ruwee came up to them. He chuckled, and asked, “Wherever did she get those names from?”

“You mean her dolls?” Sola asked.

“Yes, her dolls.” He said, still laughing. “It seems like Padme has a name for all her dolls and stuffed animals.”

“She probably heard it at school somewhere.” Sola told him. “As a matter of fact, I like those names.”

“Speaking of school, what did you tell her when she asked you to join the Youth Legislative League that her school was promoting?” Jobal asked.

“Well Mother, I told her ‘no,’ of course. I don’t want her following the same political path again. She really likes drawing and coloring. I’m going to enroll her in an art program for the summer. I think that would be fun for her.”

Jobal and Ruwee nodded in agreement with Sola. They didn’t want Padme to sacrifice her life and personal happiness by serving Naboo like she did before. This was one issue in which Sola, Jobal, and Ruwee saw eye to eye. They wanted her to have a happy childhood, grow up, find love, get married, and have a family.

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Ryoo and Pooja heard that there was a traveling carnival visiting Naboo for one week. They knew that this famous carnival traveled around the galaxy, gathering strange and exciting animals and performers to entertain their audience. Since Padme always wanted to see the world, they thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to take her for her fourteenth birthday. The three sisters had a wonderful time eating the different foods of the galaxy, playing games, and watching the acrobats and jugglers perform.

“How hard is it to juggle 15 balls when you have six arms?” Pooja asked sarcastically.

The three girls laughed at Pooja’s comment.

Padme said, “I sure would like to see what his home planet is like, though. I’d love to see the rest of the galaxy.”

Ryoo said, “Oh Padme, you and your silly dreams of traveling the galaxy. Why would you ever want to leave the beauty that is Naboo?”

“I didn’t say I wanted to live in another place. I just said I wanted to see it!” Padme said, exasperated that her sister didn’t share her views. “Don’t you want to see what’s out there?”

“Not really,” Ryoo told her. “I’m perfectly happy here. Besides, that’s what this carnival is for. Seeing the galaxy from the comfort of your own home planet!”

“Look!” Pooja said, changing the subject. “Let’s get some bantha burgers!”

“You want to eat again?” Padme asked. “Didn’t we just eat shaak-a-bobs about ten minutes ago?”

“Well, it just looks so good!” Pooja told her.

The three girls walked around the carnival for the next several hours enjoying the sights and sounds around them. As the day was winding down, they rested on a bench outside a red and white striped tent. They were surprised when a short green woman came out of the tent and said, “Come in, and tell your fortune, I will.” The girls all said “Okay,” in unison. Padme smiled at the old woman. She sensed familiarity and trusted the old woman right away.

The inside the tent looked like a meditation room. The girls could smell burning incense, and there was a simple, short wooden table with a crystal ball on top of it in the middle of the room. Red and purple velvet pillows with gold trim were scattered on the floor. The girls all sat down in front of the table. The fortune teller looked like a gypsy, with a snubby green nose and gold coins embroidered into her head scarf. Her ears were long and pointy, and moved when she spoke. Her hands were knotted, and she had three fingers on each hand, each with long purple fingernails.

She looked at the three girls, and said, “Today, who’s fortune will I read?”

Ryoo chimed, “It’s Padme’s birthday today. Why don’t you read her fortune?”

The old lady looked at the beautiful girl and said, “Ask a question, you must, and tell you about your future, I will.”

“Well, why don’t you tell her who she’s going to fall in love with? A dreamy-eyed artist, perhaps?” Pooja said with a smirk on her face. She knew that Padme had a crush on her art teacher, Palo, and couldn’t help but tease her about it.

“Stop it, Pooja,” Padme said, blushing. She looked at the old green woman who looked very kind, and Padme felt brave, so she said, “Yes, I am a little curious. Why don’t you tell me who my soul mate is?”

“Ah yes…” said the old woman.

She waved her green hands over the crystal ball, and the ball suddenly turned cloudy. However, the cloud never cleared and all that the old woman saw was blackness, and for a flash, the old woman saw a black armored evil-looking mask. The old woman closed her eyes in fear, but when she opened them the image was already gone.

She did not want to tell Padme what she saw, instead she said, “That far into the future, I cannot see. Curious about your past life, are you? Tell you about it, I can.”

Padme smiled, and said, “Sure, why don’t you tell me? Was I a beautiful princess who married a knight in shining armor? And don’t tell me…we lived happily ever after in a castle in the clouds….”

The old woman said, “Your hands, you must give me. Then your past, I will see.” Padme gave the little green lady her hands and closed her eyes, trying to stifle a giggle that was forming at her throat.

Padme felt a strange sensation when the old lady was holding her hands. She could feel a rush of energy coming from the old woman into her. She felt the hair on her skin stand up. Her mind suddenly became blank, and she was no longer aware of her surroundings. Then Padme saw images. The images were of a young Queen, of a little boy, of a handsome young warrior. The images were all jumbled together into a confusing collection of thoughts. Padme was startled at what she saw, and pulled her hands away from the grip of the old woman.

“What is the matter, child? Tell me you must.” The old woman asked her.

“I…I don’t know. I just saw so many images. It was all so confusing.” She told the old lady.

Curious, Pooja asked the old woman, “What did you see about Padme’s past?”

The old lady told them, “A Queen she was, in her past life, beloved by her people. A knight she married, dressed in black armor, he was…”

The old woman stopped mid-sentence. She did not want to tell Padme that the vision she saw of the Queen ended in tragedy, and that her castle was actually swirled in yellow acid clouds.

“Now go, you must…other fortunes to read, I have!” She did not want to look further into the beautiful girl’s past, or her future.

Padme and her sisters left the fortune teller’s tent.

“That was strange,” Padme said. “She thought that I was a Queen.”

Ryoo said, “Oh Padme, that crazy lady was just having fun with you. She just wanted our credits! You don’t seriously believe what she said, do you?”

“No…no, I guess not,” Padme told her sister. She didn’t want to tell her sisters about the strange images she saw when the old woman held her hands either, thinking that they would make fun of her if she did.

“Wasn’t our Aunt a Queen?” Padme asked.

“Yes,” Ryoo told her. We were very young when she died. I remember that I adored her, but other than that, I don’t remember much else.”

“How come no one ever talks about her? And how come there’s no holos of her around?” Padme asked her sisters. She couldn’t get the image of the painted face of the Queen out of her mind.

“I don’t know,” Ryoo said. “I guess it’s too sad to remember.”

“What did she look like?” Padme further inquired.

Ryoo told her, “I have a faded memory of her. She wasn’t around that much. She was pretty. I think you kind of look like her.”

“Isn’t it strange they named me after her?” Padme asked.

“Not really.” Ryoo told her. “I was named after Great-grandmother Naberrie.”

“And I was named after Great-grandmother Jansen.” Pooja said.

“I guess Mother and Father have no imagination whatsoever when it comes naming their children!” Padme said.

“I know,” Pooja said, laughing. “You’d think one of us would have a name that didn’t belong to someone else.”

Chapter Text

As she readied for bed, Padme was thinking about her meeting with the fortune teller earlier that day. She couldn’t explain the strange sensation she felt when the old woman held her hand, and she couldn’t explain the images that she saw either. It was as if the old woman opened an untapped area of her mind. Padme was still trying to recall the images she saw when she fell asleep.

She was dressed in a long scarlet velvet robe and her face was powdered white. There were two symmetrical beauty marks on her face, and a red mark on her lower lip. She was walking down a long aisle, and royal guards dressed in blue uniforms lined up around her. She knelt in front of the Prime Minister, who bestowed a heavy crown upon her head. As she turned around, she heard the cheer of her people.

Suddenly the cheers turned to cries, cries for help, and cries of despair. Naboo was in trouble, and she was not there to help her people. She was somewhere else far away, with two men whom she didn’t recognize. All she saw was sand; miles and miles of sand.

Then she saw a precocious little boy who was trying to help her. She didn’t know what his name was. He was piloting a strange craft in a race, and it was important that he won. He was doing all of this because he wanted to help her. She wondered why he was risking his life for her.

When Padme awoke the next morning, the dream was still fresh in her mind. She could remember every single detail clearly, which was unusual for her because she normally only had an impression of what her dreams were about, and not the full specifics.

She heard her mother calling to her, “Padme, are you up yet? It’s time to go to your art school.”

“I’m still in bed, mom.” Padme called out.

Sola went to her bedroom, sat on her bed, and said, “What are you still doing in bed?”

“Oh, I just had a really strange dream.” She told Sola.

“What was it about, honey?” Sola asked her.

“I dreamt about Aunt Padme, when she was Queen, except I was her.”

Sola’s face turned white, and her heart skipped a beat. She tried to hide her fear, but her hands and voice started to shake. “Tell me more,” she said.

“Are you alright, Mother?” Padme asked.

Sola nodded, and said, “Go on…”

“Well, I was at my coronation, I mean her coronation, and then all of a sudden I was stuck on this desert planet, and there was a little boy who was trying to help me. I don’t know who is, but all he wanted to do was help me.”

“Padme, it was only a dream.” Sola told her.

“Mother, can you tell me more about Aunt Padme?” She inquired.

Sola was dreading the day that her daughter would ask this question.

“There’s not much to say. She was away from home since she was 10 or 12, serving in various government jobs. When she was 14, your age, she was elected Queen of Naboo. After her term as Queen, she served as a senator on Coruscant, where she died. I only saw her a few times in between. We didn’t know much about her.” At least she wasn’t lying about her sister.

“I don’t know her at all, and yet I just feel connected to her somehow.” Padme told her Mother.

“Well, I’m sure she’s watching over you right now, Padme” her Mother told her.

 

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Ever since the run-in with the fortune teller, Padme always had strange, vivid dreams where she was in one adventure after the next. Some of the dreams were very pleasant and sweet, others would have her waking up in a sweat. They always seemed so real to her, and she often thought that she had two lives.

Her favorite dreams were of the little boy with sandy blonde hair. She knew that he was very intelligent, and he adored her. She felt very protective of this little boy. Padme never knew his name; every time she asked him what his name was, the little boy would tell her, “My name has no meaning.” Padme never understood what he meant by that, but his answer was always the same. In her dreams, Padme and the little boy were always having some sort of adventure. He always wanted to save and protect her, and Padme was very fond of him.

As Padme became engrossed in school, however, her dreams of the little boy soon began to decrease in frequency. The last dream she had of him, she remembered that he had given her a little pendant that he had made for her. “Something to remember me by,” he told her.

Her dreams were also mixed with nightmares. Padme would see assassination attempts on her life, and she would see people killed or hurt who were close to her.
Padme always woke up crying, because the nightmares were so real.

Padme had on several occasions recounted some of her dreams and nightmares to her Mother, telling her about the little boy and the adventures that they would find themselves in. Sola told her that he must be her Guardian Angel, looking out after her. Whenever Padme had the nightmares, Sola was always there to hold her and comfort her so she could go back to sleep, but she never told Padme the real meaning of the dreams. Sola was very deeply troubled, because she felt that Padme’s emotional health was in jeopardy by keeping the truth from her.

Through the years, her dreams of the little boy eventually came back, and increased in frequency. The little boy became older, taller, and more handsome each time she dreamt of him. As she became older, her feelings for the little boy turned from protective to romantic. Sometimes Padme would just look at his handsome face and melt. He was very charming, and always put her on a pedestal. She dreamt of him almost every night and soon he became as real to her as any person who passed her by on the street.

Padme channeled all the dreams she had into her art. She was a student at the Naboo Art Academy, where she studied to become a classical artist. She was one of the most gifted students in the school, and she often painted scenes that she saw from her dreams, from the royal coronation of the young queen to frolics in the fields of Naboo with her handsome knight. She knew that it was silly, but she always yearned for his touch, and painting him made him more real and more tangible to her. By the time she graduated from the Art Academy at 18 years old, her paintings were being sold throughout Naboo and the nearby systems.

Every time Sola saw a painting that had Anakin Skywalker’s face in it, she became very nervous. She had a name for the face, but never told Padme what it was. Sola kept referring to him as her Guardian Angel, because she believed that he was still watching over her. She didn’t know what else to tell Padme. She and Jobal often discussed whether to tell Padme the truth or not. Jobal wanted to, but Sola was too afraid that Padme would never speak to them again. They both knew that eventually they would have to tell her the truth, they just weren’t sure when.

Chapter Text

It felt good to have his mask off. There weren’t many places where he could do that. Here, in the sanctuary of his home, he was afforded this luxury. He had converted most of the rooms in the castle into a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. With the flip of a switch, he was able to pump enough oxygen into each room and pressurize it so that he was able to breath without the mask. He looked at the mask with pride and hate. Proud that it instilled fear in his troops, and fear in his enemies as they gazed upon the dark menacing orbs of his mask. Proud that it commanded respect and power. Hate because it symbolized betrayal and loss. It was his former Master, Obi-Wan Kenobi who put him in the prison of his dark suit. He could not survive outside Bast castle without it. He could never feel the sun shine on his face, or feel the wind blow in his hair.

The Emperor had awarded Vader this castle on Vjun. Vader liked the solitude that this desolate planet gave him. He liked looking outside his window at the twirling yellow clouds that brought on the acid rain. Nothing could live for long on the planet surface. The acid rain that fell upon the planet eventually killed any type of vegetation that tried to emerge from the ground. The acid even seeped through the earth, and not much could live below the surface either. The rivers and streams bubbled and hissed with acid. His fortress stood tall and proud against the foreboding landscape that appeared as evil as its tenant. Vader had all the necessary amenities to sustain himself at the fortress for 6 months, although he never had enough time to stay there that long. He had food stored inside the castle walls, and in order to have a fresh water supply, his castle was equipped with an acid neutralization plant. He had a central command station inside his castle, where his orders could be carried out by his officers, and an impressive fleet of star destroyers and Imperial shuttles. Vader felt safe in his castle, because he had rigged the castle with numerous traps and had equipped it with a strong defense system in case it ever came under attack.

Here, in Bast castle, Vader was able to rest and recuperate from his many battles. He came here to meditate, and to call on the powers of the Dark side to strengthen him and to heal him. He was badly scarred from his battle with Obi Wan, but he had been working on his physical healing at the castle. The hyperbaric oxygen worked to regenerate his skin cells, healing most of his scars. He only had a few burn scars left, mainly on his legs. With the new cybernetic technology, his limbs looked like flesh; there were also neurosensors on his fingertips so that he could feel and experience sensations such as touch, texture, pressure, temperature, and vibrations. The only thing that he couldn’t improve much on were his lungs. It had been too badly damaged from the sulfuric smoke inhalation on Mustafar. He would require a stem cell regeneration of a new lung and a complete lung transplant. It would take him three to four months to recuperate, which was time that he could not have. He had a rebellion to crush. Maybe when the Galaxy was in order, the Emperor would grant him the leave of absence. Until then, he would have to wear his suit and mask. Mustafar…that name only brought anger to his blue eyes and made it flash yellow. Mustafar where he was betrayed and left for dead by his old master. He smiled at the thought that he was able to kill Obi Wan in revenge for cutting off his limbs. “I would be so much more powerful if it weren’t for you,” Vader thought.

Whenever he thought of Mustafar, his thoughts always drifted to his wife. That was the last place he had seen her alive. Even after 23 years, the pain of her death still tore at his heart. He had killed her. But he could have sworn that she was alive. He could feel her Force signature as if it were his own.

Bast castle was the only place where he allowed himself to think about his wife, the woman whom he would have given anything to have back again. He tried to block her memory from his mind, but whenever he rested at Bast castle, in the comfort of his bed without his mask, he would always dream about her. She would haunt his nights at the castle. He still slept only on the left side of the bed, which had always been his side, and never encroached on her side. He didn’t know why he did it, perhaps he was secretly wishing that he would wake up one morning to find her next to him again. All the power and wealth that he had acquired in the past two decades didn’t bring him happiness. It brought him satisfaction, but never happiness. The only brief moments where he felt a sliver of happiness was the five seconds after he had awoken from a dream where he was Anakin Skywalker again, and his wife was there to love him with her warm embraces and gentle kisses. He was always her valiant knight and protector in his dreams, and not her murderer. After the few seconds of waking up, harsh reality would set in, and he would cloak himself in Darkness to numb the pain.

He had built a shrine for her in a secret chamber of his castle. It was a simple room. There was a wooden table, and a box on the table that he kept locked with the Force. Only he could open it. Inside the box was the japor pendant that belonged to Padme. Once a year, he would go into that room and open the box. Her happy memories seemed to have etched themselves within the carvings of the japor pendant. Every time he held it, a flood of memories would come back to him. He could almost feel her touch, caressing him, filling him with a longing that only served to magnify his loneliness. Once a year, on their wedding anniversary, Vader would allow himself to think and daydream about her.

And now, he realized that he had a son. The Emperor had told him that Luke was his son, and when he searched his feelings, he knew that was true. He couldn’t explain the circumstances of Luke’s birth. He had hired a bounty hunter to check the records at Polis Massa, where his wife died, but nothing could be found. All Obi-Wan’s fault, he surmised. He turned his wife against him, and now is turning his son against him. No matter, he would find Luke, and show him the powers of the dark side, and have his son join him.

His stops at Bast Castle were becoming increasingly infrequent. He had more important things to do than relive the past. He had a Rebellion to crush, a son to find, and a new death star to rebuild.

Chapter Text

Lord Vader maneuvered his ship expertly to land on the Imperial Building on Coruscant. He had to meet with several builders and weapons specialist to discuss completion of the construction of the second Death Star. His eyes flashed yellow at the thought of the destruction of the first Death Star by the Rebel Forces. At least the second one will be larger and even more powerful than the last, he thought to himself, and headed towards the meeting hall.

He was thinking about the second Death Star when something on the wall stopped him dead in his tracks. There, on one of the hallway walls, was a painting of brown-haired maiden dressed in a white flowing gown. He had not seen that beautiful face for over 20 years. Next to this fair lady was a knight in black armor on a speeder. They were on a field with cascading waterfalls in the background. The knight’s helmet was lifted, and Vader saw that he was tall and handsome, with piercing blue eyes and blond hair. She was holding out her arms to him, and he noticed that she wore a crudely carved trinket on her neck. There was a smile of pure delight on both their faces. Vader was startled, and his heart skipped a beat. How was that possible? Who would have known about them? And how did the japor pendant end up on the painting?

Lord Vader summoned the building administrator for questioning.

“I am curious, where did you get this painting from?" Vader asked the administrator.

“My Lord, it was purchased from Naboo. One of our designers visited there, and brought back this painting for us,” he replied.

“Who painted this?” Vader questioned.

“She’s very well known in the art community, my Lord. Her name is Ami Naberrie. I believe she lives out in the Lake Country on Naboo.”

“Do you have any other art pieces from her here?” Vader asked.

The administrator answered, “Yes my Lord. There’s one more painting in the library.”

“Thank you, that will be all.” Vader told the administrator.

The administrator left, and was puzzled at the dark Lord’s interest in Naboo art, but knew better than to dare question Darth Vader.

Vader had to attend his meeting for the new Death Star, but he found it impossible to focus on what any of the builders and weapons specialists were saying. His mind raced with questions. He felt his pulse quickening just thinking about the painting. He had to find out how the artist knew about him and Padme.

After his meeting, Vader went to the library to see the artwork of Ami Naberrie.

The second painting was of the maiden again. She was wearing a sweeping yellow dress, her hair cascading in curls down her back. She was standing on a balcony that overlooked a magnificent azure lake. She was looking up towards the sky with a wistful, longing look on her face. Around her neck was the japor pendant again, and her right hand was tenderly caressing the pendant.

Vader could feel an ache in his heart as he remembered how his wife would have waited for him to come home much like the lady in the painting.

He vowed to find this Ami Naberrie to question her about her art.

 

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

 

He heard a shriek of laughter coming from her alabaster throat. He could hear the thunderous waterfalls in the background; he could smell the green grass beneath him and the scent of the first spring wildflowers. Best of all, he could feel her touch on his skin. He was young and handsome again, the sunlight highlighting his golden hair as he lay in her lap amidst a grassy field speckled with yellow and orange flowers. She was laughing at something he said, her eyes sparkling with the love that she had for him. She was feeding him a sweet berry that they had picked earlier in the day, and he felt complete serenity and complete devotion to her. “Open up, Ani, here’s another berry for you” she told him as she placed the juicy fruit in his mouth with her slender fingers. He grabbed her hands, and tenderly kissed each of her fingers to thank them for feeding him so well. She ran her finger through his hair, and was about to say something when he heard a load ringing sound.

His comlink was buzzing. “My Lord, we’ve arrived in Naboo. We await your orders,” he heard his commander telling him.

Angrily, he said, “Prepare my shuttle. I will land on Naboo alone. Wait for me here.”

Half awake, he was still trying to recall and remember the vivid dream that he just had. He actually felt something, joy perhaps, maybe it was happiness, for a brief moment when he had the dream, but the details soon faded from his memory like sand through his fingers.

He circled around the Lake Country in his shuttle, taking in the beauty of the Naboo landscape. He felt a hint of nostalgia, as he remembered all the precious memories that he had of Naboo. His intelligence officers had located the artist precisely to the lakeside retreat that belonged to the Naberrie family. He felt his heart beat faster when he landed his shuttle on a field next to the Lakeside retreat. As he entered the building, a wave of emotion hit him so hard that he found it difficult to breath, even with his respirator. He hadn’t been here since they were married so long ago. He came to the front door, and noticed that it was open. He stepped in. The retreat was as beautiful as ever, but showed signs of the passage of time. He found his way to the balcony, and was greeted by the breathtaking view of the lake. As he stepped out on the balcony, a flood of memories flowed through his mind. He remembered his past life, his love for Padme, and the happiness she had brought him. He had suppressed any memory of her for so long now, that remembering her again brought that dull ache back into his heart. He allowed himself one moment to think of her again before he bottled her away in the deep recesses of his mind. He was on a mission to find Ami Naberrie.

Chapter Text

Vader was brought out of his daydream when he caught a movement out of the corner of his eyes on the sand below. In the distance, he saw a woman with curly brown hair, holding a basket to collect seashells. Then it hit him. He felt her. He felt her force signature, and he felt her presence.

It can’t be, he thought. My mind is playing tricks on me.

He looked again, and saw that the figure was moving up the path to where he stood. She hadn’t noticed him because he stood in the shadows behind a large tree.

As she approached, his heart skipped a beat as he saw her face.

How is it possible? She hasn’t aged a day since I last saw her…

He thought that being on Naboo and reminiscing was causing him to hallucinate. He thought his past was coming back to haunt him. He called out her name, “Padme…”

To his surprise, she looked up, was startled, and dropped her basket of seashells.

When she first saw the black figure on her balcony, she was taken aback. She had never seen anything that looked like this before. His black uniform and black mask looked terrifying. Who is this creature? She wondered.

He noticed that she had a frightened expression on her face, and noticed that there was no hint of recognition in her eyes. He told her, “Don’t worry, I will not hurt you.”

For some strange reason, she believed him. She managed to ask him, “May I help you?”

“I am Darth Vader.” He told her. He didn’t know what else to say. He had come here expecting to meet a Naboo artist, and the shock of seeing this beautiful replica of his wife had him shaking under his suit, his heart pounding, and sweat beading on his forehead. He tried to remain calm, but it was hard for him to contain his curiosity and excitement.

She bowed before him and said, “My Lord, forgive me, I didn’t know.” She heard of Lord Vader, second in command of the Empire. All those stories of him made her blood curl. She didn’t care too much for him, or for Emperor Palpatine for that matter. They were just a pair of tyrannical dictators to her. On Naboo, secluded in the Lakeside retreat, it was easy for her to forget the plight of the galaxy. However, with Lord Vader standing before her, she was terrified.

He could sense her fear. She didn’t know he was the former Anakin Skywalker, and he would never hurt her again.

He asked her, “Please tell me who you are.”

“I am Ami Naberrie,” She told him. She was surprised that he called her Padme, but was too nervous to ask him how he knew.

He wanted to spend more time with her, to question her about her artwork, and ask her about her family, but he didn’t know of an appropriate way to ask her directly. He figured that the only way he would get to know her better was if she came to work for him, and he could have her to himself. He told her, “I have come to request your services for the Empire.”

She answered him, “My Lord, I don’t know how I could be of service to you.” She did not want to serve him or his Empire.

He asked her, “Are you not an artist?”

She answered, “Yes, I am.”

He told her, “I am impressed by your work. I want to commission you to work on my castle in Vjun.”

She was stunned, and a bit flattered that Lord Vader personally came out to ask her to work for him. But the thought of working for him gave her chills down her spine. However, she heard enough stories to know that he didn’t take no for an answer, and tactfully tried to think of ways to avoid being commissioned by him.

She told him, “you are welcome to any of the paintings that I have right now. I could produce more of them, and they can be shipped to your castle.”

He told her, “I want something grander than a canvas painting. I want a wall mural for Bast castle.”

She told him, “My Lord, I am inspired by the beauty of Naboo. If I was not here, I don’t think I would be able to create work that was befitting for the Empire.”

“Then you will repaint previous works until you feel inspired to do something new,” he told her.

“But my Lord, my family is here on Naboo and I’ve never left this planet. I would miss them terribly.” She couldn’t think of any other excuses.

He told her, “I will grant you visitation with your family every standard month. I will provide the shuttle for you.”

Padme didn’t know what else to say. She could only nod and accept his offer. She hoped that her family would be able to help her convince him not to take her.

He told her, “You have one day to gather your belongings before we leave.” He had so many questions for her, but figured that he could wait to ask them once she was settled in on Vjun.

The next day, Padme had most of her belongings packed in three trunks. When he arrived, Vader saw that her family was with her. He saw the familiar but aged faces of Sola, Ruwee and Jobal. He did not recognize the two young women who were with them, but concluded that it must be Padme’s nieces, Ryoo and Pooja.

He was surprised when he heard Ami calling Sola “Mother.” So she's Padme's niece, Vader thought to himself.

Jobal was unconsolably crying. She was afraid that if Padme left her and Sola’s watchful eyes, something bad would happen to her. And now going to work for the Dark Sith Lord, that was too much for her to bear. She had cried and pleaded, even begged him not to take her granddaughter, but her requests fell on deaf ears. After all the pleadings from the entire Naberrie clan, she couldn’t take it anymore. She flailed her frail arms at his armor, yelling, “You can’t take her from me! Do you hear me? You can’t take her from me!”

He could see flashes of images going through Jobal’s mind as she was crying with sorrow. He saw Padme’s funeral procession through Jobal’s eyes, he saw the grief of burying her daughter, and then he saw the joy when Ami was born. Then he felt guilt coming from Jobal. He used the dark forces and probed deeper into Jobal’s mind, and he saw flashes of a rainy planet with pod-like cities. And that was all he needed to see. He knew. They had cloned her. All of his questions were answered with that one image.

Vader was too stunned to say anything else to Jobal. Hundreds of thoughts and emotions filled him when he realized the truth. How dare they clone his precious wife? He wanted to lash out and punish all of them for desecrating her memory. No one could replace her. However, when he looked over at Ami Naberrie, and felt his Padme’s force signature, any anger he had at them for cloning her was replaced with gratitude. She was here wasn’t she? Having a clone of her was definitely better than not having her at all. He didn’t know how she would react to him, or how he even felt about this cloned version of his angel. He would have to take her away and find out more about her.

Jobal was still beating on his armor, yelling incomprehensibly. If it were any other person who dared touch him, let alone hit him, he would have crushed them with one blow. However, he didn’t think the clone of his wife would ever forgive him if he killed Jobal. Instead, he pushed her away from him, but in the process, caused her to fall to the ground.

Padme was very angry that he pushed her grandmother. She glared at him, and he could feel the hate and disgust she had for him. She ran to help Jobal up, and put on a brave face so that her family would not worry so much. She told Jobal, “Grandmother, everything will be all right. I can take care of myself. And I’ll be home to visit before you even know that I was gone.”

Jobal said between sobs, “Brave child, promise that you’ll come back to me.” Jobal feared that Padme’s fate in this lifetime would be the same as the last. Her heart broke again at the thought of possibly losing Padme a second time.

“I promise,” She told her grandmother. “I’ll come back.”

Padme bid a tearful farewell to her family.

“Come, the shuttle is waiting for us.” He told her.

Vader and Padme headed towards the shuttle. She was still livid and was glaring daggers at him. He could feel the anger seething from her as she followed behind him. He couldn’t stand to have her angry at him, so decided to restore the peace by apologizing to her. He turned around, and said, “I am sorry for hurting your grandmother, Ami.” Even though he heard her family refer to her as Padme, he decided to call her Ami for now, since that was the name that she had given him.

She was still fuming, and said “She’s an old woman! You didn’t have to be so rough with her!”

“I didn’t realize how hard I pushed her. If you remember correctly, she was the one who was attacking me.”

She said, “Oh, like she could do anything to hurt you!”

Vader became impatient with this Padme look-alike, and said, “I apologized. Do not test my patience.”

Padme knew better than to push her luck with the Sith Lord, but was too upset to care. She was starting to miss her family already. He was taking her against her will. She glared at him, and decided to give him the silent treatment.

Vader gave up trying to be nice. He just walked faster, and let her trail behind. He realized that it would take time for her to forgive him for taking her away to Vjun.

When they reached the shuttle, he had her sit next to him, in the co-pilot chair. When he looked at her frightened face, his pride, anger, and stubbornness left, and he wanted to befriend her again.

He said to her, “Have you ever flown a shuttle before?”

She told him, “Of course not. How would an artist know how to fly an Imperial Shuttle?”

He decided to ignore the sarcasm in her comment and proceeded to explain to her all the functions of the buttons and switches that were in front of them.

Padme figured this would be useful knowledge to have, so she listened to his explanations, but still refused to say anything more to him. She did wonder why he was being so nice to her.

Padme was angry at him for pushing her grandmother, angry that he forced her to work for him, and she was most angry that she could not do anything to stop him from taking over her life. He could feel her anger, and when they reached his command ship, the Destroyer, he had a droid show her to her room, and he left to take care of his business.

By the end of the day, they had reached Vjun. Padme sat alone in her room the whole time. What a fine mess I’m in right now, she thought. Her anger towards him was still there, but it was not in her nature to remain angry at anyone or anything for too long. Her rage lessened with each passing hour.

At least my family is safe, she thought. And I’m not in any grave danger. And, I did want to travel the galaxy, didn’t I? Not exactly how envisioned my travels, but it is an opportunity. I’ll just finish my work quickly, then I’ll be home in no time. He can’t keep me forever, can he? She became nervous at the thought of never seeing her family again, and tried to suppress that thought from her mind.

Chapter Text

When they arrived at Vjun, Vader’s men had prepared an Imperial Shuttle for them to fly to the planet surface. When they were in the shuttle again, Vader asked Padme, “Would you like to fly the shuttle? Do you remember what I taught you this morning?”

She wanted to stay mad at him, but she thought that it would be fun, just this once, to fly an aircraft. “I do remember,” She said curtly.

“Good.” He told her. “I’ll take off, then you take over the controls. Ready?”

Vader maneuvered the aircraft out of the hanger bay, and Padme saw a million stars in front of her. She couldn’t help but smile at the beauty she saw. Vader saw her face light up out of the corner of his eyes and thought that her beauty outshone any of the stars that he had crossed.

“Okay, Ami,” he said. “Go ahead and guide it down to the planet.”

With a little bit of trepidation, she took over the controls, and the feeling was exhilarating to her.

Padme had never left Naboo before, and was a little bit excited about seeing another planet. Vader told her that he had a castle on Vjun. From her studies, she knew that no one lived on that planet. Something about the acid rain. From afar, Padme could see yellow twirls of clouds that looked like a lemon meringue pie. However, when they reached the planet surface, Padme became disappointed. There was not one hint of green or blue on the planet. The sky was a sickly yellow, and what she thought looked like a lake was bubbling with acid. The landscape was barren, except for the massive stone fortress jutting out into the sky.

He let her fly the craft to Bast castle, and said, “Do you think you can land it?”

Padme had a determined look on her face. She said, “Yes.” Her landing was a little bit bumpy, but she managed to land the Imperial shuttle exactly on its parking spot.

“Quite impressive for an artist.” Vader told her.

“Thank you.” She said. She reminded herself that she was still mad at him. She kept a cool demeanor on the outside, but inside, she was excited and proud of her first flight. If Vader wasn’t there, she would be beaming right now.

Vader took her into Bast Castle, and showed her the main hallways and rooms. The castle was very cold and sterile to her, and she immediately missed the warmth of the Lakeside retreat on Naboo. She occasionally saw protocol droids roaming around the castle, but did not see any form of life. Vader warned her not to go exploring because the castle could be a very dangerous place. She nodded in compliance.

He finally took her to a room high inside the tower with a grandiose view of the barren landscape. “This will be your room. I hope it meets to your satisfaction.”

“It’s fine,” Padme told him.

He left her to unpack. “I will send someone to accompany you to the dining hall later today.” He told her.

“I’m not hungry.” She told him, and kept herself busy by unpacking her belongings. She was lying. She was starving, but she wanted to avoid him.

He silently turned around and left the room, leaving her alone with her thoughts.

Later that evening, a droid came to her room and brought some food. The droid said, “Lord Vader asked that I bring you this in case you changed your mind and wanted something to eat.”

Padme was going to send the droid and food away, but decided she was too hungry to be stubborn. At least she didn’t have to see him tonight. She told the droid, “Thank you, if you would just leave it on my desk.”

The droid replied, “Yes milady. Please call if I can be of further assistance,” and promptly left the room.

Padme ate her dinner in silence. The food isn’t so bad, she thought. Maybe it's because I'm starving.

After dinner, she was a little tired, and decided to retire early to bed. Nothing else to do, she thought. It didn’t take long before she drifted off to sleep, still unsure what her stay at Bast castle would be like.

 

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

 

Vader was still unsure of everything that was happening. So, the Naberries had cloned Padme and named her Ami. He wondered if she knew the truth. Probably not, he surmised. He knew that Ami was not his Padme; just a genetically similar person, but he couldn’t fight the feelings he had for her. She not only looked like his wife, she had her mannerism, strong will, and had her aura as well. No, he kept reminding himself. My wife was a politician who loved me, not an artist who despises me. But he still felt a connection to her somehow.

That night, Vader had another dream about Padme.

He was out of his suit again, but this time he was in a gray room, and she was sitting on a couch. She looked so sad and forlorn, that he asked her, “My love, what is wrong?”

She ran to him, and between sobs, said, “I’ve been taken away from everything that I know and love. I don’t know if I’ll ever see my family or Naboo ever again.”

He stroked her hair, and tried to console her as best as he could. He told her, “I promise, Angel, everything will be all right. Don’t worry.”

“Angel?” She asked. “I thought you were my Angel.”

She gave him a weak smile, and told him, “Well, I’m glad to see you again. It’s been a while hasn’t it?”

“Yes”, he told her. “Too long.” He looked into her brown eyes, and wiped the tears from her eyes with his fingers. He still had her head in his hands, and couldn’t fight the urge to lean down and kiss her. The kiss was sweet, but caught her by surprise. After a few moments, she broke away, and suddenly she disappeared from right under his hands.

Vader was left alone in the empty room, and when he looked down, he no longer saw flesh on his hands, but instead saw his gloved mechanical fingers, and he heard the sound of his respirator reverberate loudly in the room.

The Dark Lord Vader woke up and held his head in his hands, his heart was pounding, and there was no way he could fall back asleep. He got up and went into his secret chamber. He opened the box that contained the japor snippet and took it out, running his fingers through it. Instead of putting the pendant back in the box, he decided to take it to bed with him. He placed the snippet on the pillow next to him, and tried to recapture his dream again.

Back in her room, Padme awoke from her sleep with a start. This dream had to be the most vivid one she had of her guardian angel. She smiled, comforted that he appeared once more when she needed him. She was surprised that he kissed her this time. He had never tried that before. Padme touched her lips, where he had kissed it, and fell back to a dreamless sleep.

Chapter Text

Vader arrived at Padme’s room the next morning. “Good morning, Ami. Did you sleep well?”

“Yes.” She told him.

She was going to be curt if he asked her anything personal, but she figured the sooner she finished her work, the sooner she could leave, so decided to speak with him professionally.

“I’m eager to start work for you, My Lord. Where would you like me to work?” She asked him.

“I’d like you to start by painting a mural for my room.” He answered her.

“What would you like me to paint?” She asked him.

“Whatever you want.” He told her. He didn’t really care. He just wanted to be around her. “Follow me.” He commanded her.

She silently followed behind him as he took her from her room and led her through the maze that was Bast castle to an isolated corridor with giant metal doors. He punched in a code, and the door opened. Padme sneaked a peek at the numbers that he used, and thought that it was such a coincidence that it was the same number as the month and date of her birth. It can’t be, she thought. He doesn’t even know when I was born.

He led her down the corridor, and at the end of it, there were two large metal doors. With the wave of one hand, Vader opened the door on the right.

Inside, Padme saw a large room with a couch and small table. There were two doors in the back of the room, one was the fresher, and the other Padme assumed was his bedroom. The walls in his room were completely bare, and there were no windows in the room.

He told her, “I’d like you to paint a mural for this wall,” pointing to the wall that faced the couch. “One of the droids will bring all the equipment and painting supplies that you will need shortly. I will return at the end of the day to check on your progress. Remember, don’t go wandering in the castle. It is not safe.”

Padme didn’t say anything. Vader could see that she was still apprehensive about him and the whole situation that she was in. He remembered her voicing her concerns to Anakin about her fears of never returning to Naboo again. He wanted to reassure her, and said, “I will not keep you here forever, Ami. After you finish with the projects I assign you, you are free to return to Naboo. If you wish to return for future work, you’ll be welcomed back. You will be very well compensated for your time.”

Padme couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She breathed a sigh of relief, and said to him, “Thank you, my Lord.”

Vader told her, “Ami, I just want you to be happy while you are here.”

Padme just looked at the ground, and didn’t say anything. She was thinking, how can I be happy when I’m here and away from my family?

Just then, a droid entered the room with Padme’s art supplies, and Vader left to attend to the construction of the Death Star.

Padme sat on Vader’s couch for a moment to collect her thoughts. Vader almost sounded sincere when he told her that he wanted her to be happy. She couldn’t believe that she was working this closely to the tyrant known as Darth Vader, and he was doing everything he could to try to make her stay less daunting. She shook her head; she was relieved that he would let her go after she finished her mural for him.

She decided to paint the Naboo Lake for his wall. She was so homesick, that painting this could remind her of home. She still had a mental image of the Lake from her balcony, and decided she was going to paint the view of the Lake from the vantage point of her balcony. Padme got up, and decided to work on the mural right away. The sooner I finish, the sooner I get to go home, she reminded herself. She figured that it would take her about two standard months to complete the mural, maybe even less if she worked extra hours on the project.

She had to prep the walls for her painting, and so proceeded to put the primer coat on first. She worked tirelessly without stopping for a break. She was finishing up with the last coat of primer when she realized how tired and hungry she was. She got up to wash up in the fresher.

When she came out, Vader had returned and was just stepping into his room. He was carrying a box in his hands.

He said, “Hello, Ami.”

Padme was silent. She just looked straight at him. She was still a little angry at him for taking her to Bast Castle, even though he was trying really hard to compensate her. Vader looked into her angry brown eyes, and smiled under his mask. He remembered that it was her unfaltering spirit that made him fall in love with her in the first place.

He told her, “I’ve brought you dinner. I hope it is to your liking.”

Padme said, “If you don’t mind, I’m very tired right now. I’d like to dine in my quarters.”

Vader was disappointed that he couldn’t spend more time with her, but said, “As you wish, milady.”

He escorted her back to her room, and handed her the box that he was carrying. He said, “Enjoy your dinner,” and turned to leave.

“Thank you,” Padme said. She was angry, but she still remembered her manners.

He turned around, and said, “You’re welcome.”

She managed to give him a weak smile, and said, “Good night,” before she closed the door.

Vader stood for a moment outside her door. He was happy that she was a little bit nicer to him. He knew that it would take time for her to forgive him for taking her away and for hurting Jobal.

Inside her room, Padme opened her box. She was surprised that it looked like a Nubian home cooked meal. It was a meal that her Grandmother cooked whenever she had guests over. Padme smiled, and ate her dinner, thinking about the mysterious Darth Vader and how he seemed to read her mind sometimes.

Chapter Text

The next week was routine for Padme. She would wake up early, and a droid was present to escort her to Vader’s room. She usually didn’t see Vader in the morning, but every evening, he would bring her a different delicious meal. She always requested to dine alone in her room, and he always escorted her back, sometimes trying to linger at her door, hoping that she would say something more to him. She thought that his behavior was odd. She wasn’t being particularly nice to him, and yet he was always trying to please her and make her happy.

Padme had just finished sketching the Naboo landscape when she started to fill in the background with blue paint. She worked feverishly, and didn’t notice when one of the droids came in bringing extra paint supplies.

“Milady,” the droid said.

Startled, Padme turned around and knocked over a can of paint that was precariously perched on her ladder.

“Oh no!” Padme exclaimed. “I’ve got to clean this up before Lord Vader comes back!”

She ran into the fresher to get some paper towels to wipe up the paint, but it was not enough. Desperate to clean her mess, she went into Vader’s room hoping to find a larger towel she could use to wipe up the paint. She ran to the closet, saw some towels, and in her rush, pulled out all the towels out onto the floor. Great! She thought. I’m going to have clean this mess later too.

She worked feverishly to mop up the spilled paint on the floor, and hoped that Vader wouldn’t get mad at her for staining his floors. After she cleaned the paint as best as she could, she went back into his room to clean the mess she made on the floor. She picked up all the towels, and neatly placed it back into the closet.

When she was done, she let out a sigh of relief and looked around his bed chamber. The room was as stark and bare as the sitting room outside. He had a simple bed with gray sheets, but she noticed a little leather pouch on one of the pillows. She went to take a closer look at it, and picked it up. When the pouch was in her hands, she saw a flash of her Guardian Angel as a little boy again, telling her “something to remember me by.” She felt her heart flutter, and her curiosity took the better of her.

She opened the small pouch to see what was inside that made her see the little boy. Padme gasped as she dropped the content of the pouch. She stooped down to pick it up, and cradled the pendant that was inside the pouch. She couldn’t believe what she saw. It was the same japor pendant that was in her dreams and in her paintings. She had never seen it anywhere else before. She wondered how and why Darth Vader would possess such an object.

Just then, the door opened, and Vader walked in. He saw all the towels on the floor, and saw her holding the trinket in her hands. She had found her necklace. He asked her, “What are you doing?”

Padme was scared. He had caught her going through his personal belongings. She hoped that he wouldn’t kill her for that. She said, “My Lord, I was cleaning some spilled paint on the floor when I saw this pouch. Forgive me for opening it.”

He walked over to her, and took the japor pendant from her hands. Her heart was pounding as she looked at the floor. She couldn’t face him, and closed her eyes, bracing for a strike from him or something worse.

To her surprise, he took the pendant and clasped it around her neck. He said, “I was going to give it to you when you left. I made it for you. I want you to have it.”

Padme was dumbfounded. She told him, “My Lord, I don’t know what to say. Thank you. It’s beautiful, but how did you know…”

He said, “I saw it in your paintings.”

Padme was relieved that he wasn’t going to hurt her for going through his things. She was even more surprised that he had given her the pendant. She looked at him with her big brown eyes, and for the first time Vader noticed that there was no longer any anger in them.

He said, “You have some paint on your face. Let me help you.” He took a towel and placed his left hand behind her head to stabilize it, and tenderly wiped some paint off her cheek with his right hand. She was surprised that his mechanical hands could be so gentle. She heard stories that he could break a person’s neck with his fingers. Padme noticed that his hands lingered on her face a little longer than she was comfortable with.

“Thank you, my Lord.” Padme told him. She hurried back to her room to mull over the day’s events.

Padme was very confused. She couldn’t explain why Vader was being so nice to her. He already had a parting gift for her, so she felt reassured that he was going to let her go home once she finished her commission. She thought about his thoughtfulness and his gentleness with her. It was hard for her to believe that he was the second most feared man and second most hated in the galaxy. She thought about her rude behavior towards him, and felt ashamed that she wasn’t nicer to him. She held the japor snippet in her hands, and noticed the intricate detailed carvings. Did he say he made it himself? She wondered.

Padme wanted to thank him and apologize for her behavior. Not only did she go through his things without permission, he didn’t even say anything about it. He even gave her a gift. She knew that she couldn’t go to bed without seeing him, and decided to go find him. The droid that normally accompanied her to his room was not there, but Padme was pretty sure she remembered where his quarters were and decided to go there by herself.

Padme stood in front of the metal doors, her heart pounding. She was thinking about what she was going to say to him. Just thank him and apologize for being rude, she told herself. Just then, the double doors opened, and Padme walked in. The doors closed behind her before she realized that she was in the wrong room. She turned to leave, but couldn’t get the door open. She tried pressing some of the buttons on the wall, hoping that it would open the door. Instead, she heard a loud siren and then saw a red light flashing in the room. She heard a monotone voice say, “Advanced training sequence activated.”

Padme looked around in horror as she saw a large menacing droid with two phasers, one in each hand coming towards her. She grabbed a gun from the rack on the wall and shot at it, but then two more droids came out from behind closed doors. Just then, lasers started shooting throughout the room. She tipped over a table that was in the training room, and hid behind it. She tried to shoot at the advancing droids from behind her table and managed to hit one of them. However, two more came out and started shooting at her. As Padme lifted her arm to shoot at the droids again, she felt a searing pain run through the right arm. She was hit by one of the lasers. She cried out in pain, but tried to keep her composure as she saw her attackers advancing. She grabbed her gun with her other hand, and started shooting again, trying to nurse her wounded arm. More droids came out, and more lasers were aimed at her.

Just when she thought she was going to perish, the door opened, and saw a flash of red slicing through the droid that was closest to her. The other droids refocused their fire and were shooting at Vader. He blocked the fire with his light saber, but more training droids shot him in the shoulder and he dropped to his knees and lost his lightsaber. Padme shot at the droid that had taken aim at his chest. Just then, Lord Vader stood up, waved his hands across the room, and all Padme saw was flying metal. He used the Dark Forces to destroy all the droids that were in the room.

He ran to her, and said, “Are you alright?”

The pain in Padme’s arm was excruciating. She looked at Vader, and tried to say “Thank you,” but the room started to spin, and everything turned black. Padme slumped onto the floor from where she was sitting behind the table.

Vader’s heart was racing. His Angel was lying on the floor, unconscious. He thought to himself, that he can’t lose her again, especially not to some senseless training droid. He carefully lifted her limp body up in his arms and carried her to the medical droids.

Chapter Text

Padme finally woke up two hours later. She was in a lot of pain, and her arm felt like it was on fire. The medical droids had given her a pain killer to deaden it a bit. She was in her room again, comfortably situated in her bed. She blinked, trying to remember what happened, then it all came back to her. She heard a constant, mechanical breathing nearby, and turned to look at the man who was in the chair next to her. He was holding her hand in his. She turned to him, and gave him a warm smile. She whispered to him, “Don’t you have a galaxy to run?”

He told her, “You could have died.” He was still holding her hand with his mechanical fingers.

“I’m sorry, Lord Vader, I was trying to find you, but I got lost. It won’t happen again. I won’t leave my room without an escort from now on,” Padme said.

“Good,” He told her. He released her hand, and stood up, ready to leave.

Padme was still shook up from the incident, and didn’t want to be by herself just yet. She asked, “Do you have to go now?”

“Would you like me to stay?” he asked.

She answered, “Yes, please.”

He looked at his frail Angel lying in bed with her hair flared around her head on the pillow. How could he refuse her request?

“If that is what you wish,” he told her, and sat back down in his chair again.

“My Lord, thank you for saving my life,” she said.

“You had me very worried,” he told her.

“How did you know where I was?” she asked.

“I felt you calling out to me for help,” he said.

She told him, “I’m glad you came.”

She glanced at him one more time, and noticed that he had a tear on his shirt, and there was dried blood on his shoulder.

“You’re hurt,” she said.

“It’s just a minor surface wound. I’ve had worse things happen to me,” he told her.

“Like what?” she inquired.

“Let’s not go into that right now. Right now, I just want to make sure that you’re comfortable.”

“I am, thank you.” She was getting tired now. The effects of the painkillers were starting to take effect on her. Her eyelids were getting heavy. She asked him, “Will you stay with me until I fall asleep?”

She thought she heard “Yes, Angel,” but was soon fast asleep.

When Padme awoke the next morning, her room was filled with flowers. How thoughtful, she thought. She knew it was Lord Vader who did this for her. How in the world did he get flowers to Bast Castle? She thought about how ironic it was that this Lord Vader was the most feared man in the galaxy, and yet he had a side to him that was so nurturing and sweet. “There’s some good in him,” she mumbled to herself.

Her arm was still throbbing, but was not as painful as it was before. It was set in a sling. She slowly got out of bed. She went to smell the flowers, which were so fragrant that they reminded her of Naboo in the spring. A wave of homesickness washed over her. I wonder how everyone at home are doing, she thought.

She waited in her room for several hours, and soon became restless. Because her arm was hurt, she couldn’t work on her mural for Vader’s room.

Just then, there was a ring at her door. She hoped that it was Vader. When her door open, she was disappointed to see that it was just a droid. It came to bring her breakfast. It was all her favorite foods, down to the drink and dessert. She ate her meal in silence. Although it was delicious, she thought it would have been more savory had she been able to enjoy her meal with some company. She was starting to become lonely without anyone to talk to.

Later that night, Padme was drifting into sleep when she heard her door open. Lord Vader came in, and stood over her bed. She sat up, and asked him, “Would you like to sit down?” and motioned to the chair next to her bed.

He sat down beside her, and said, “I wanted to make sure that you were alright.”

She told him, “I’m doing well. Thanks to you.” She gave him a shy, appreciative smile, and absent-mindedly fingered the japor pendant that he gave her. She looked over at him, and suddenly felt overwhelming compassion for the man who saved her life, even though she knew that he was an evil person. She slowly reached out to his shoulder and caressed his wound, where he also was shot. She told him, “Lord Vader, you were hurt because of me. I’m sorry.”

Vader barely heard what she was saying to him. He was just focused on her hand, caressing his shoulder. With each movement of her hand, he felt his heart pounding, and the knots in his stomach made him inwardly shudder. He felt a tightness in his chest, and his breathing became more labored. Only she could make him shake like a shy school boy with her touch. He thought that he may faint if she kept the gentle caresses on his wounds. He took her delicate hands in his, and held it with both of his hands.

She continued on, trying to explain to him why she left her room unescorted. “I was trying to find you. I wanted to tell you that I’m…I’m sorry if I wasn’t nicer to you, because all you’ve done was shower me with kindness. And I wanted to thank you for making me this necklace. I sometimes see an image of it in my dreams, and I paint it, but you seem to have captured its essence.”

Vader just sat in his chair, holding her hand, watching her youthful beauty, and fell deeper in love with her. He was thankful that she didn’t try to pull her hand back from his hold.

Padme was confused. She didn’t know what to think. Her heart was racing from his touch. She didn’t exactly know what that funny feeling in her stomach was that felt like butterflies fluttering about.

When it was time for him to leave, he pulled the blankets over her shoulder. He gently caressed her hair and face, and then quietly left the room.

Chapter Text

Padme spent the next several weeks recovering from her injuries. Because she wasn’t working, she was able to spend some time with Vader, and felt more at ease and comfortable around him.

Even though Vader thoroughly enjoyed his time with Padme, he was still away from Bast castle frequently, trying to capture the leaders of the Rebel Alliance. He also really wanted to find Luke, and try to convince him to join him in the Dark Side. He had told Padme during one of their conversations that he was traveling to the ice-planet Hoth to find some rebels. She had asked him to show them some mercy, and he merely nodded, not promising her anything before he left.

She had become attached to him since he was the only companion she had in Bast Castle. She started to miss him on the days that he wasn’t there. She was very happy when he returned from his missions, eager to have some company. She found him intriguing, and it seemed that underneath all his evilness, there was a gentle, human side to him that was afraid to show itself to anyone else but her. She was getting used to his looks by now; his black mask and mechanical breathing didn’t scare her like it did when she first met him.

On this particular return trip from Hoth, he had a gift for her. He headed straight to her the minute he landed on Vjun, eager to gain her approval with whatever small token he could find for her. He had sent two of his men on a recon mission to find the Hoth Crystal Plant, a delicate plant that was the symbiotic relationship of protozoa and ice crystals, forming delicate chains of a crystal lattice that fanned out like an ice coral. This rare plant could only be found on Hoth, and he had it in a glass container to maintain the temperature at freezing so that the plant could be taken off the planet.

Padme only heard of this beautiful plant, and never imagined that she would ever see or even own it.

“Thank you, my Lord. It is beautiful,” she told him when he presented the plant to her.

“It is beautiful and delicate and complex, like you,” he told her.

Padme blushed at the compliment. “I wish you wouldn’t say things like that, my Lord.”

“Why not, Ami?”

“Because it makes me uncomfortable,” she told him.

“How has your recovery been, Ami?” he asked, not wanting to make her feel uneasy.

“Oh, I’m doing better. I’ll be able to start work in a few days.”

Padme paused, then said “Lord Vader?”

“Yes?” he answered.

“Can you call me Padme? That’s what all my friends call me.”

“Then I am your friend?” he asked.

She blushed, and looked at the floor before turning her gaze towards him again. “I would like to think of you as my friend. But if you preferred to call me Ami, that’s fine too,” she told him.

“No, Padme is a beautiful name. If that is the name that you prefer, then that is what I shall call you from now on.”

“Thank you, my Lord,” she told him.

“Now that we are friends, Padme, please don’t call me ‘my Lord’ anymore. Vader. Just call me Vader.”

“Yes…Vader.” She repeated with a shy smile.

“How has your stay at the castle been, Padme?” Vader asked her.

“Oh, it’s fine. But sometimes I wish I could just get out of this room!” she said.

“What’s wrong with this room?” he asked her.

“Oh nothing, it’s a perfectly fine room. I just miss nature, seeing the fields and water on Naboo. It’s kind of gray and sterile in here.”

“Well then, come with me. I have something that I’d like to show you.” He told her.

He led her to a different floor of the castle that she had never been to before. There was a giant metal door that opened at the wave of Vader’s hands.

Inside was a large empty room with metal walls. There were some control panels on one side of the wall.

Vader said, “I think you will enjoy this. Now, close your eyes until I tell you to open them.” Padme heard him punch several commands into the control panel.

Suddenly, she heard birds chirping, and the sound of water in the distant. The air was fragrant, and smelled like spring flowers. She heard the muffled sound of some Shaaks in the distant.

“You may open your eyes now,” he commanded.

The view before Padme left her speechless. It seemed like she was on Naboo again. There were waterfalls behind her, and a field of flowers on her feet. In the distant, she saw wild Shaak roaming the fields.

She squealed with delight, “Oh, this is so wonderful! Thank you, Vader, for bringing me here!” She took several steps into the field, and impulsively turned around and gave Vader a hug for his kindness.

He was taken aback by her actions. He was glad that he was able to make her happy. He knew what a drab place Bast Castle must be for her. He didn’t know how to respond to her hug, but having her arms around his neck felt so heavenly to him. He tentatively placed both his mechanical arms around her waist to return her hug, and holding her like that gave him an emotion that he hadn’t felt in 24 years; it was a mix of joy and happiness.

He was afraid of this new feeling, and abruptly released her from the hug. He said, “You’re welcome. You can come here anytime you like. I can teach you how to program this holo-room so you won’t feel so trapped in your room.”

“Yes, that would be lovely.” She said. She was surprised at her own action of hugging him, and she was more surprised that he responded to her hug.

He turned to leave, and said, “You may stay here as long as you wish. I will have a droid waiting outside to escort you back to your room when you are done.”

She said, “You’re leaving already? It’s so beautiful here. I don’t want to spend time here alone. I’ll be too homesick. I’d rather share this moment with you.”

He turned around, and said “If that is what you wish.”

She grabbed his gloved hands and pulled him towards the direction of the lake where there was an enormous waterfall above. She started running faster, still holding his hand, laughing as she dragged Darth Vader one step behind her. She didn’t know that under his helmet, he had a wide grin on his face. When they reached the edge of the lake, Padme sat down, and put her feet into the water. She felt the cold water, and it felt refreshing to her. She told him, “This is amazing technology that you have here.”

He told her, “I have the best scientists in the galaxy working for me.”

She wondered how many of them were here against their will, but shook that thought away when he sat down beside her.

“So, what do you do in this room?” She asked him.

“I come here to meditate. Sometimes I come here to practice lightsaber drills.”

“Did that take long to learn?”

He hesitated, thinking of all the training that Obi-Wan had imparted upon him. His heart filled with hatred at the thought of his old master. He curtly replied, “Yes.”

Padme could feel his change in mood, and so decided to change the subject. She said, “It didn’t take very long for me to learn how to paint. But it did take me some time to master it. Naboo just inspires me. There’s so much beauty, that I have to capture it somehow.”

Vader asked her, “So you always wanted to be an artist? You didn’t consider doing anything else?”

“Don’t laugh, but I wanted to go into politics. My Mother was just so opposed to it that instead of joining the Naboo Youth Legislative League, I enrolled in the Art Institute. I haven’t regretted my decision, but sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to be a politician.”

Vader told her, “You would have made a wonderful politician.”

He decided to change the subject, and asked her, “So tell me, Padme, who is this man that I keep seeing repeated in your artwork?”

“Oh him? I don’t know his name. I call him my Guardian Angel. I haven’t talked about him to anyone for years. I started dreaming about him when I was 14 years old. Sometimes I would dream about him every night, sometimes it would be months before I would see him again.”

Vader asked her, “What about now?”

“Well, lately I’ve been dreaming about him very frequently. I feel connected to him, even though I don’t know who he is.”

Vader’s mind was racing at this point. This woman has Padme’s soul, he thought to himself. He didn’t believe in reincarnation before, but now he couldn’t help but wonder if the Force sent her soul back into her new body. She even retained some of her memories of her past life, even though it came to her in dreams. He asked her, “Do you love him?”

“I never thought of that before. I don’t know if I can love someone who is not real, but I suppose if I met him, I would love him.”

“What about you, have you ever been in love before?” She figured one personal question deserved another.

Vader paused for a moment, taken aback at her question, and replied, “The Sith don’t love.”

“How did you become a Sith? She asked him.

“I was chosen by my Master to become one.”

Just then, Vader was paged through the intercom, and the pair had to leave their make-believe Naboo room.

Chapter Text

As Padme’s arm felt better, she resumed work on her mural for Vader. Her routine was pretty much the same. She would paint all day, and Vader would bring her dinner and visit her in the evenings. However, now, she would eat in his company instead of by herself in her room. He loved to hear her talk about herself or her family, and would drink up every word that she said.

Padme also tried to get Vader to open up to her, and although he was sometimes guarded or evasive about his answers, she did find out quite a bit about him. From the tidbits of information that she gathered from him, she figured that underneath the masked half-man, half machine was a lonely and tortured soul who was fighting a lot of demons from his past. He had a thirst for power, and relished in his conquests. She concluded that underneath all the exterior evil, there was some good in him, and she tried to explore and understand that side of him. She also developed feelings for him, although it was confusing for her because logic told her that she shouldn’t care for a man as dark as Vader, yet his actions sometimes tugged at her heartstrings. She also realized that he cared deeply for her, because he never forgot anything that she said, and sometimes seemed to know her better than herself.

One night, during one of their dinner conversations, Vader said, “There’s something missing from your painting.”

“What is it, Vader?” Padme asked, concerned that he didn’t like what she was doing. “Don’t you like it?”

“I want you to paint yourself in this painting,” Vader told her. “Then, it would be perfect.”

Padme smiled at him, relieved that he didn’t hate her artwork. “If that is what you wish, my Lord,” she said in a deep voice, trying to mock the way that he spoke.

That was when she heard him laugh. A deep, uncanny sound that was strange,
yet beautiful to hear.

“I’ve never heard you laugh before, Vader. I didn’t think it was possible,” she said, smiling.

“I haven’t laughed in many years, Padme. You make me want to laugh. You make me…happy,” he told her, matter-of-factly.

“But you’re so powerful and wealthy. I would imagine a man in your position would be very happy.”

“There are things that I have done that prevents me from being happy. Being near you makes me momentarily forget.”

“Does serving the Emperor make you happy?” She pressed on. She wanted to know the reasons for his allegiance to the Emperor.

“I don’t know if ‘happy’ is the right word for my service to the Emperor. I do it for duty. I do it because I believe that it’s right. I’ve seen the incompetence and inefficiency of the Old Republic. The Emperor has brought peace to his Empire. That is why I serve him.”

“I’m sorry for saying this, and I hope you do forgive me if I cross the line but…” she paused, afraid to say anything more.

“Go on, Padme, I want to hear what you’re thinking,” he prompted her.

“…the Emperor rules with an iron fist. People are afraid of him. They are afraid of you. There is peace because the alternative is death. There is peace, but no freedom,” she continued.

“There is always a price for peace, Padme. War, greed, corruption, and suffering, that was the price of peace during the Old Republic. Freedom is but a small price to pay for peace in the New Empire. Besides, it’s not that people are enslaved by the Emperor. They are free to do as they choose. It’s just that some choices have consequences.”

“But why must there be so much violence and destruction? People live in fear of you and the Emperor. That is why you are unhappy. Is that any way to live?”

“It is better to be feared than loved, Padme. That is the nature of power.”

“Would you rather that I feared than love you, then, Vader?” Padme asked.

Vader was taken aback. He wasn’t prepared for her question. “Do you fear me, Padme?” he asked.

“No.” She replied. “And please, don’t answer my question with a question. What do you prefer from me, fear or love?”

“I see you as my equal, Padme. I do not want to be in a position of power over you. I do not want to rule you. I prefer fear from my men, from my enemies, from people that don’t know me. But from you, I prefer love.”

“I cannot love someone who hides his face and his past from me.” She said. “I want to see you. I want to know you and understand you.”

“I’m afraid that is not possible, Padme. I don’t deserve to be seen by your eyes. You will see right through me, and you will not like what you see. If you knew my past, you would judge me.”

“Vader, please let me know. I may judge you, but let that be my choice. You are not giving me a chance, and you are not giving yourself a chance.”

“Padme, I want to, but I am not ready for your judgement right now. Please give me more time.”

“Very well, Vader, I will grant you that.” Padme cared for him. Although she did not agree with his views, she admired him for his convictions; he was doing what he thought was his duty. As for his past, she didn’t know what he did that he was so ashamed of. She didn’t want to be too judgmental of him, but she was afraid of knowing what he was capable of.

She knew that he wanted love from her, but she wasn’t sure if she could give it to him. She valued his friendship and companionship, but still her head prevented her heart from giving in.

 

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One evening, Vader seemed distracted during one of his visits.

“Vader, you seem so far away, is everything all right?” She asked him.

“I’m afraid I must leave you again. I’ve located the rebels to the city of Bespin. I must go there to find them. Have you ever seen Bespin, Padme?”

“No, I’m afraid I haven’t. I never left Naboo, until I came to Vjun.”

“It’s a beautiful place, Padme. It’s a city in the clouds. It feels like you’re walking in the heavens, if such a place exists. You would love the vivid sunsets and the sunrises there. I shall bring you there one day under less urgent circumstances.”

“How long will you be gone for, Vader?” She asked.

“Until I find the rebel leaders that I am looking for. It could take several weeks.” He thought of his son Luke. He wanted to reunite his family again. He was determined to make Luke see the power of the Darkside and join him.

“When do you leave?”

“Tomorrow.”

She reached out to where he was sitting and took one of his gloved hands in both of hers. Looking directly into the orbits of his mask, she said, “I’m going to miss you.”

“And I you,” he told her. He saw the sincerity in her eyes, and wished that he could hold her close to him and kiss her.

She suddenly had a thought. Still holding his hand in hers, she said “Vader, I need to ask you for something. I hope that you will grant it to me.”

“What is it Padme? You know that I will give you anything that you wish for.”

“I’d be too lonely here without you. While you’re gone, will you let me visit my family on Naboo?”

Vader felt abandoned by her request. He was afraid that her feelings for him would change once she was on Naboo, far away from him, but he tried to be understanding. “How long do you wish to go for?”

“Perhaps one standard month? I do miss my family. And this way, you can do what you need without my getting in your way.”

One standard month seemed like an eternity for him to be away from her, but he granted her the request. “If that is what you desire, Padme.” When he left her room, she felt how hurt he was at her request.

That night, Padme couldn’t sleep because he misunderstood her request as wanting to leave him. She thought that he was hurt by it, and didn’t want both of them to leave on a bad note. She didn’t know what to say to him to make him feel better, but she knew that she needed to see him before they both left Vjun in the morning. She had made so much progress with getting to know him better, and she knew that he would just retreat in his shell if things remained as they were.

She called the escort droid, who took her to Vader’s room. As she stood in front of his door, it slid open as if it recognized her presence, and she walked in.

The room, without any windows, was pitch black, and Padme couldn’t even see her hands in front of her face. She heard a constant hissing sound coming from the ceiling, and figured that Vader had turned his room into a hyperbaric oxygen chamber at night so that he could rest without his mask on.

She timidly called out his name, worried that she would wake him. “Vader…”

She heard him answer her, “Are you all right, Padme?”

Now that her apprehension of waking him was gone, she said, “Vader, I didn’t want to leave here with you thinking that I was going to abandon my work. I know I haven’t finished my work here, but I’ll get to it soon as I come back.”

“Was that all, Padme? You came here because you were worried about your mural?”

She sighed. He knew her so well. “Well, if you must know, I was more worried about you,” she said.

“What were you worried about?” He asked.

“You just seemed so sad and disappointed at my request to return to Naboo,” she told him. “I just wanted to make sure that you would be all right with my leaving.”

She heard some rustling, and was surprised to feel his mechanical hands holding hers. His leather gloves were off, and even though his hands were not really flesh, they felt warm to her. He slowly raised her hands to his lips, and she felt him softly kissing the top of both of her hands. She felt shivers run down her spine with his kiss.

“Don’t worry, Padme. I just have a lot on my mind.” He told her. “Everything will be alright when we come back. Your family will be very happy to see you.”

He was holding both of her hands to his heart, which was beating rapidly. He wasn’t wearing his suit or even a shirt, and she could feel his muscular chest under her hands. His skin felt soft and smooth. Without his mask and leather suit on, he seemed vulnerable to her, and any defenses that she had against him were gone also. This monster had a heart, and his heart was beating wildly for her.

With one hand still on his chest, she freed her other hand from his hold, and slid it up his chest, caressing his skin as she worked her way up to feel the nape of his neck. She softly traced her fingers on the back of his neck for several moments before she languidly ran her hand through his wavy long hair. She noticed how still and quiet the room was, the only sound was the oxygen being pumped into the room. She wasn’t used to not hearing his mechanical breathing; instead his breathing came in short, shallow breaths. Vader closed his eyes, enjoying the feel of her skin against his. He had not had any human touch for so long, and savored each stroke of her hand on his skin.

By now, she had freed both of her hands from his hold, and was caressing his face. She ran her fingers through his brows, then down to his chiseled cheekbones. She slowly explored his face without any resistance from him, feeling his strong jaw and playing with the cleft that was on his chin before she traced the outline of his full lips with her fingertips. Vader kissed the pads of her fingertips as they passed by his lips. She was mentally building a picture of his face through her hands, and sensed that there was a familiarity about him that she couldn’t quite place.

When she was done exploring his face, Padme wrapped both of her arms around his neck, and buried her face in his chest. He had wrapped his arms around her waist, tightly holding her to him. It was still hard for her to picture what he looked like, but she didn’t care. He could have had three eyes, and it would have been all right with her. They stood like that in the dark for a long time, with her listening to the sound of his heartbeat, and every beat breaking down the wall of defense that she held up for him. She couldn’t believe that she was falling for Darth Vader.

Just as she was about to break away from their embrace, she felt Vader’s mechanical hands run through her hair, gingerly playing with her curls. When he reached her waist, she felt his fingers caressing the small of her back, gently massaging it. She could feel his breath on her, as he kissed the top of her head. She raised her face up, as if to look at him, but could not see anything in the dark. She felt his hands cupping her face for a long moment, then, she felt a warm sensation spread throughout her body when he gently kissed her for the first time. His lips were soft, and he kissed her with so much tenderness and restrained passion, that she felt her knees go weak. His lips lingered on hers for a long time, and Padme just closed her eyes, enjoying the closeness that they were now able to share.

He took her hand, and led her to the sofa that was in his living room area. He sat down, and gently pulled her down beside him. She sat in his lap, her head resting on his broad shoulder, her left arm wrapping around his waist, her right hand caressing his muscular chest and arms. He held her closely to him, and she felt butterflies in her stomach every time his hands caressed her arms and back.

He broke their silent embrace, and said, “Padme, I love you. I’ve always loved you.”

Her heart raced as she heard those unexpected words, but her reason told her that that could not be. Trying to deny her feelings, she told him, “I don’t know how to respond to that…you’re…you’re Darth Vader, and I’m just an artist from Naboo.”

“Yes, an artist that I have come to respect, admire, and love. I treasure our time together, and when I am away from you, my only thought is to return to be by your side. What are your feelings for me, Padme?”

“I don’t know, Vader. I care deeply for you. I just don’t know how this would work out. I have to be honest with you. I’m confused. You’re a feared man, yet you are so kind to me. I like the person that you are when you are near me, but you have a different side when you are away.”

He told her, “you would not be here if you didn’t want to be, Padme.”

“I know.” She said.

He kissed her again, this time more passionately, his lips burning on hers, and she returned his kiss.

“Will you ever let me see you?” She inquired.

“Perhaps in time…” he told her.

“Do you know what love is?” she asked him.

“Yes,” he told her.

“But I thought the Sith don’t love,” she replied.

“I wasn’t always a Sith,” he answered her.

She had to know. “Did you ever love before?” she asked him.

“Yes,” he told her again.

“What happened to your love?” she inquired.

Vader wanted to say, she’s sitting in my arms right now, but instead said, “She died.”

Padme didn’t want to push further. She said, “Thank you for telling me, Vader. I know how difficult this must be for you.”

She snuggled closer to him, and he gently massaged her neck and back as he kissed her again and again. All he cared about was that she was in his arms willingly. He knew that she had feelings for him, and that was all he needed to know. They both wished that this moment would last forever, but they knew that when morning came, he would have to return to his suit, and she would have to leave Bast Castle to go back to Naboo. Now, more than ever, Vader wanted to find Luke, and reunite his lost family once more.

Chapter Text

As Vader’s shuttle sped away from Vjun and Padme, the warmth in his heart was slowly replaced with a darker, sinister presence as he tried to block the memory of Padme so that he could concentrate at his task at hand. The Emperor would be very displeased if he failed to capture the Rebel leaders again. He was devising a plan to capture them when his thoughts came back to Luke. The Emperor had told him that Luke was his son, and he felt it in every fiber of his being. He had to tell Luke, and convince Luke to join him in the Darkside. He wanted to teach his son all that he knew, and one day, they would overthrow the Emperor, and his family would rule over the Galaxy. He smiled at that thought, and headed out towards Bespin.

On Bespin, Vader was able to capture Han Solo, his companion, the Wookie, and Princess Leia Organa. He was very pleased with the capture, and knew that Luke would seek out his friends to try to free them. It was just a matter of time before Luke would show up.

When Luke came, Vader didn’t quite have the reunion he had anticipated. In the heat of battling his son, Vader accidentally cut off Luke’s right hand. He cursed himself for doing so, unsure if Luke could ever forgive him for his action. When he finally told Luke the truth that he was his father, Luke had chosen to fall to his death than join him in the Dark Side. Vader was not surprised that Luke survived the fall, but he realized that it would take a lot of convincing for Luke to join him.

Dejected that he had lost the rebels and his son again, Vader returned to Vjun to regroup and rethink his strategy. At least he had Han Solo frozen in carbonite, and not all was lost.

 

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

 

The Imperial Shuttle, piloted by a droid and carrying Padme, landed in the field of the lakeside retreat. Padme stepped out and took in a deep breath of the fresh Naboo air. Her home planet seemed more beautiful than ever, but the beauty of the lake was marred because she actually wished Vader was there with her. She missed him, but tried to shake the thought away as she quickly unpacked before heading towards her parent’s home.

She was greeted by her overjoyed parents and sisters, who were relieved to see that she was safe.

“Oh Padme! We’re so glad you’re back! How long can you stay for?” Sola asked her.

“A whole standard month!” She replied with a smile.

“Do you really have to return to that monster?” Sola asked.

“He’s not so bad,” Padme said. “I’m here, aren’t I?”

”Yes, that’s what’s important,” Darred chimed in. “We are so happy to see you! Come her and give your Dad a hug!

“We’ve got to tell Grandma and Grandpa! They’ll be so happy to see you, Padme!” Pooja said.

“I can’t wait to see them either,” Padme told her sister.

“Let’s go surprise them!” Ryoo said.

“That’s a wonderful idea!” Padme said.

The Naberrie clan had a wonderful reunion knowing that Padme was safe and was treated well on Vjun. They still didn’t like Darth Vader too much, even though Padme tried to tell them that he had a gentler, kinder side. She didn’t tell her family about her relationship with him just yet, because she figured they would probably need more time to adjust to that fact, and wouldn’t take it very well. She thought she would wait to the end of her visit to tell them about her feelings for Vader.

Two weeks had passed since Padme’s arrival. She tried to spend every day with her family, but yet a part of her wished she were back on Vjun to be with Vader. One day, when she was spending time with Jobal, the japor pendant slipped out of her dress, and Jobal asked, “Where did you get that?”

“Lord Vader gave it to me,” Padme told her. Maybe now was a good time to tell her grandmother more about their relationship.

Jobal felt the foreboding. Her daughter had died wearing that pendant. She couldn’t explain, it but she had to tell Padme the truth. It had been eating away at her ever since she left. Sola was just going to have to understand that she couldn’t keep this secret from Padme any longer.

“What is it, Grandmother?” Padme asked when she noticed Jobal’s mood change.

”Padme, do you remember you Aunt whom you were named after?”

“All I know is that she was a Queen and senator, and she died when she was very young,” Padme told her.

“Yes,” Jobal told her. “She was my beloved daughter. She spent her whole life serving others. She was the Queen of Naboo. She saved our planet during the Naboo War.”

“Yes, Grandmother, but what does all this have to do with me?”

“She had that same pendant, Padme. She was wearing it when she died. It is cursed. Oh, please, take it off.”

Padme fingered her pendant and held it protectively from her grandmother.

“Why do I always see it in my dreams, and why didn’t you tell me when you saw it in one of my paintings?” Padme asked her.

“I think it’s time you knew the truth, Padme.” Jobal said.

“The truth about what?” Padme asked. She was getting a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.

Jobal took Padme back to Sola’s home. One look at both of their faces and Sola knew what was going on.

“Mother, can I speak with you privately please?” Sola pulled Jobal into the kitchen and asked her, “What is going on here? What have you told her?”

“Nothing yet! But she deserves to know the truth. You can’t hide the secret from her any longer. Have you seen what she has around her neck? Take a look, Sola. We should have told her years ago. I just hope its not too late now.”

Just then, Padme came in and said, “What’s going on in here with you two?”

When Sola saw the pendant on Padme’s neck, she burst into tears.

“You two better have an explanation for all this whispering and odd behavior,” Padme said. She was afraid they had figured that she had feelings for Vader, even though she was hiding it from them.

Resigned, Sola took Padme, with Jobal trailing behind, into her bedroom, and proceeded to take out a silver box well hidden in her closet.

Sola pulled out a holo, and what she saw startled Padme. There in the holo, was a picture of her Guardian Angel kissing a woman in a white wedding gown that looked exactly like her. Padme didn’t know what to think. How could her Mother have possessed this holo? That meant that her Guardian Angel was a real person, and who was this woman who was a spitting image of her?

Padme barely heard what her grandmother had to tell her next.

“Queen Padme, my youngest daughter, died a tragic death. She was so young, so full of life. I couldn’t bear to be without her after she died. So I...we took a sample of her DNA, and we…we…we cloned her.” She said, in between tears.

The reality of the situation sank in for Padme. She understood what her grandmother was saying.

Tears filled Padme’s betrayed brown eyes.

“How could you? You…you’re my mother, and Mother…you’re actually my sister? No! This can’t be true! Please, Grandmother, please tell me it’s not true!”

“I’m sorry Padme. I’m so sorry. Can you please forgive us? We should have told you earlier, but we didn’t know the right time.”

Padme blurted out, “I was just a replacement for your daughter! My whole life has been a lie! And all those dreams and nightmares that I had, they were actually memories of my former life, weren’t they? You knew, you both knew and you didn’t tell me!” The tears were stinging her eyes, and streaming down her cheeks. “How could you do this to me? How could you let me go through life feeling so confused and lost?”

“Padme, I’m sorry. We cloned you, but we did it out of love.” Sola said, trying to console her.

“No,” Padme said. “This isn’t love! It’s selfish, and it’s wrong! Now tell me, who was that man in the holo?”

“We don’t know much about him. We know that his name was Anakin Skywalker. He was a Jedi Knight. He and Padme were secretly married. We didn’t even know about their marriage until after she died. He died the same time as she did, During the Jedi Purge when the Empire came to being.”

“So that’s why he haunts my dreams every night. He is trying to find me.” Padme said.

Padme turned and ran out of the room. She had to think. She was given a hard blow. She realized that all those dreams she had were memories of her past life revealing themselves to her. She felt like she no longer had an identity. Who was she? Padme, former Queen of Naboo and wife of Anakin Skywalker? Or Ami, the artist, a replacement clone for a dead daughter? The thought was too painful to bear.

She wanted to run to Vader, to tell him everything that happened to her. He would hold her and tell her everything would be all right.

She ran away from Sola’s house. She couldn’t believe how her family had betrayed her. She couldn’t look at them anymore, and she had to get away. Having nowhere else to go, she went into the Imperial shuttle that was waiting for her. With tears, she asked the droid to fly her back to Vjun and her castle in the acid washed land.

When the Naberries realized that Padme was gone, they all hung their head in shame. Because of their lies, they had lost their little girl to a Sith Lord. All their hopes for Padme to have a normal family life were erased.

Chapter Text

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 Text

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. Ethereal, orange-red, and glowing. Is she in hell? Pain, she felt pain and sadness. Something is choking her. She can’t breathe, 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 Text

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 midichlorians 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 Text

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. I don’t want a ghost of the past. All I want is you."

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.

Chapter Text

"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 creek bed, well away from the house, played its 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 curiosity 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 occasionally 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 its 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 occasional 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 slack-jawed. It took her a moment to regain her bearings. She slowly walked the room, occasionally 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 suit less. He seemed to read her thoughts. "They all are, Ami. Every room has the accommodations, 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 its 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 Oracle. This building is the only one in this area, relatively isolated. There are numerous aerial 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 its 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. Vader’s 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 disembarked 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. A surge of pure joy flowed through the Force 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 occurred. 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 midichlorians, 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 stormtrooper 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, beginning a new life together.

Chapter Text

"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 holo-room and had chosen something a little different, more exotic, for their latest venture. Purely a figment of imagination, the beach stretched on almost indefinitely 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, so nice to imagine. 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 existence 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 was so very, very 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 privileged 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 interacted 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 woman’s 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 irreverent 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 squeals and flailing the only noise in the room. He enjoyed the easy comradery they were able to share during these more domestic times; vacillating 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 XXXX, the XXX 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 XXX, 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 holo receiver. 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 eavesdropped. Integrity was useless, she determined growing up, when it came to overhearing conversations. If you were within earshot, and what was occurring 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 its 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 XXX 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 every day, 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 dependent 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 holo receiver 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.

Chapter Text

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 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 its 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. Accommodations have been made." She pointed to the ceiling, which was already releasing oxygen.

The Emperor had told her of his disability and made accommodations? 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 accommodate 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 over vest 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 repulsive and old, not a blond man with striking features 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 privileged 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 coolly 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 existence, 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 severely 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 forever 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 noticeable 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 curiosity 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 curiosity 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 depressurization 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 data pad, 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 data pad 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 acquiesced, 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 data pad 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 data pad. "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 data pad 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 intravenously, 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 unconscious 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 absence 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 data pad 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 didn't do what the Emperor wanted. I wouldn't sleep with 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 power lust 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 dark side. 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 Text

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 its 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 power lust.

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 desperately, 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 baby’s 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, devastated 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 data pad 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 apparatus 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.

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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 occasions 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. XXX BY" Vader said slowly, and to his surprise a holo file 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, fast-forwarding 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 data pad in the wall. Yoda looked at him reproachfully, with sadness and a distinct warning in his eyes. "If into those holo-recordings 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 vengeance 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 a whole 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 its 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 one’s 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 its 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 its 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 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?

Chapter Text

The heavy silence hung between them as they lay in their bedroom together. Gone were the carefree days of love and laughter, and blissful ignorance, where they would look forward to time spent together.

For now, she knew, their days were numbered.

Padme didn't ask many details on her upcoming mission. Vader had asked her, eyes pleading, if she trusted him. Of course she did, with everything she was. Her life, her soul, her fate.... She would do whatever he asked, and knew innately that this decision was the right one.

What bothered Padme was the possibility that the plan would fail, that they would lose each other, again....

Padme was the first to speak, her voice heavy. "I'll speak with Jael. I'm sure she'll want to see her family again, be released from duty."

He nodded quietly.

She slowly got up and left, walking the palace to knock softly on her handmaiden's door when Jael approached her; she had gotten herself something to eat.

"Mi'lady," Jael said softly.

Jael studied her mistress, someone she had come to regard not just as a superior but a dear friend. Padme's eyes looked sad and drawn, she seemed to have aged in the last day or two. Jael had sensed a difference in her and could only presume it had something to do with Vader.

She asked few questions but from her limited observations knew that Padme and Vader carried on some sort of relationship; for the most part Padme had seemed upbeat, and pleasant. Not for the last day. She had never seen her as sad.

Padme faltered slightly; Jael was the first to extend her goodwill, she sensed her mistress needed something. "Would you like to talk about it?"

Padme smiled, a small smile that didn't reach her eyes. It was kind of Jael to care about her, but at this moment she could barely feel it. The pain of impending separation from her husband was beginning to permeate her entire body.

Jael did not expect what Padme said next. "Actually, I have just come to release you from duty. I appreciate your services, you have done a wonderful job and...the Empire thanks you. You are free to leave tomorrow."

As Padme turned and began to leave Jael stopped her by placing a hand on her shoulder. Many would have jumped at the chance to leave the employ of Vader and Jael would normally have thought herself crazy to push her luck. She knew she had no right but wanted to know more; she cared about this girl.

"Mi'lady....." her voice lowered. "What is happening? Why...am I leaving and what will happen to you?"

Padme squared her shoulders slightly and put up a brave front. "Things are changing, Jael; I have to go soon." She paused, "I will be joining the Rebellion. This should have few repercussions on you, I believe you will be able to peaceably resume life where you left off. I will be fine" she added with a small smile, hoping to assure her handmaiden.

"Does Lord Vader know?" Jael asked.

"Yes."

"You should not be without some form of protection."

"I have Commander Hur." Padme said reassuringly, and turned to leave.

Jael's hand caught her wrist gently. "I will go with you," Jael said softly.

Now it was Padme's turn to be surprised. She turned around and felt the first trickle of emotion-gratitude-that she had allowed herself to feel for the past day. "What?"

Jael smiled slightly, she had been surprised with herself for her decision, but only for a split second before she understood why. She didn't understand this girl’s connection with Lord Vader but knew she was a kind and honorable person; Jael could feel it. Her life before had been fine, but held little significance. Jael wanted to stay with Padme, and realized she would sacrifice her life to protect her in the future if need be. She believed in her, and felt somehow that she was serving a cause greater than herself.

Padme nodded and allowed herself to feel some relief that she would not embark on her journey alone. "Ok" she said softly, before squeezing Jael's hand. "We depart soon; you must gather your things."

"Do you need assistance with yours, Mi'lady?"

"No thank you, I’ll be fine for the time being."

They looked at each other and their friendship was strengthened. What once had been simply servitude had evolved into something genuine, and where once existed obligation now was purpose. Padme understood, and remembered what she'd had with her handmaidens in the past life and was grateful history was repeating itself in this one small way. Padme nodded and turned, before returning to her quarters while Jael set about preparing for their trip.

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

That night Padme had her last dream. Eclipsed by darkness, she could feel herself lifted higher and higher, free from all the constraints of the living world and all at once her former life flashed before her in a series of images with a clarity she had never experienced. She recognized it as a life review, but knew she was not dying. Feelings from each image, both her own and of those she interacted with, were immediately understood.

One particular moment came into clear focus; she wore her Senatorial robes and embraced Anakin in the Senate building, hidden for the moment by a large pillar. He had just returned from his most grueling mission yet during the Clone Wars and it was the first time in six months they had seen each other.

She told him of her pregnancy, and shared her concerns. His face lit up, relaying all the emotion of surprise, disbelief; then joy. He was happy, simply overwhelmed, that they had created a life together and she watched as the mix of emotions crossed his face, knowing that despite the hardships of appearances and war, he was still her Ani. All of his previous concerns seemed to melt away as he told her this was the happiest moment of his life.

Padme was not as easily assured. Our secret is getting harder to hide...what are we going to do?

We're not going to worry about anything right now....our baby is a blessing.....

He leaned in to kiss her and she held him back, reminding him of the discretion they had to keep in public.

Not here, Ani.

Yes, here! I don't care who knows...I'm tired of hiding this..

Don't say that, Anakin. I won't let you give up your career for me. The Republic and this war need you too much...

Padme could this time feel the hurt emanate from Anakin as a result of her rebuff. She thought that she was making the right decision, and they could maintain it all-her position as a Senator rallying for democracy, his status as the Hero with No Fear. And perhaps now, a family too.

Her priority was on the war and how this would endanger their arrangement while his was on......on her.

She now understood that this was the greatest of her mistakes, and her sole regret. This was the pivotal turning point at which she had truly failed him. He'd always respected her wishes to keep their marriage a secret, all the while just wanting to be with her and live their lives openly. Perhaps if they had come out, right then and there, he would have been expelled from the Jedi order and she would have faced repercussions as a Senator. But later events would not have ended nearly as tragically as they did.

Anakin was never evil, or truly power hungry. He sought respect, but love had been imprinted on his heart early on by his mother until the day of their separation. Since then, he craved what he needed but could never attain-Obi-Wans approval, Padme's complete devotion....the burdens of war and manipulation were finally too great for him to bear, until he turned to the one person for guidance who never seemed to judge him. Palpatine.

Padme could feel herself being pulled back and woke with a start, wiping away the tears with the pads of her fingers. She lay there in bed for a few minutes before realizing that he was also awake beside her.

"I couldn't sleep," he said quietly, and she nodded, lying beside him in bed for what seemed like eternity.

Silently they turned and reached for each other in the dark, divesting each other of their clothing with a quiet desperation and intensity unparalleled. She pressed her lips to his as he explored her, bodies smoldering and breathing growing shallow until again, they were one.

In this lifetime and the last, Anakin had always been unsure if Padme fully returned the feelings he had for her; this lay at the heart of his weakness, the sole factor Sidious had used to manipulate him.

This night they joined, their feelings a culmination of love and lust, passion and tenderness, each belonging to the other. Every kiss, every touch, drove deeper down her pain, and pushed further away his doubt until no more remained. Anakin wished he could remain this way forever, lost inside Padme, absolved and safe from his mistakes, but reality would eventually resurface. When they finished and lay together, exhausted, he finally knew that she loved him as much as he loved her.

They pressed their foreheads together and remained that way for some time.

"I'm scared." Padme whispered.

"Me too," he finally admitted, tracing her cheek with his thumb and twining his fingers in her hair.

There were no assurances in this, only principle and an elusive path to follow. Padme realized that just because the right decision was underway didn't make it any easier, and dreaded the coming day. She encircled his waist with her arms and held him more tightly, ignoring reality as sleep overtook them.

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Padme sat in front of the vanity as Jael stood behind her, silver brush in hand. Jael's brown hair was pulled back tightly and she was styling Padme's in a similar, but slightly more ornate, fashion. Padme's eyes met hers in the mirror. "We'll only be traveling today," she gently reminded her.

Jael nodded and took out some of the jeweled barrettes she had affixed around the edges, gathering what remained behind in an intricate bun. Padme’s eyes wandered the room, their bedroom, eyes resting first on her suitcases that lay on the bed, most of them packed and ready to be closed....

Her eyes drifted front the plain settee to the dark walk-in closet next to it. Jael finished her hair and patted it softly with a murmur of approval.

"Is that alright, mi'lady?"

"Yes..." Padme said absently, rising and walking to the closet. She felt herself being drawn in. Uniforms of Vader's hung to one side, some of her clothing to the other, although most had been cleared in the course of her packing. She walked to the end where the used linen container was placed and slowly pulled out his most recently worn tunic, holding it to her chest like it was something precious. Silly, she thought to herself with a slight chuckle, and imagined him laughing, but she wanted to take this one thing, this remnant, with her. She held it to her face and was still able to smell him; that seemed to comfort her.

"Mi'lady?" Jael's concerned voice came from the other room, interrupting her thoughts.

"I'm fine," Padme said, exiting the closet with the garment. Jael was finishing packing her bags and Padme moved to the remaining one that was about to be closed, gently folding the tunic and placing it on top. Jael shot her a quizzical look, then recognition seemed to dawn on her and she nodded slightly, closing the remaining bag for Padme. Her sympathetic eyes swept over the girl.

The door opened and Lord Vader entered. He had been in another part of the castle, giving instruction to Commander Hur. Jael had grown used to, though not entirely comfortable with, being around him. He and Padme conversed, Vader filling her in on recent details, while Jael discretely arranged the bags. Commander Hur would be taking his storm trooper uniform, and gear, but would not be dressed in it most of the time. He was to appear as a civilian and blend in, although he would flank Padme closely for protection.

Finished with her duties for the moment, Jael moved the luggage out of the room systematically, going to meet with Commander Hur to prepare the ship on the landing for boarding.

Padme and Vader were left alone in the bedroom and the door closed with a wave of his hand. Readying his oxygen, he removed his helmet and breathing apparatus so his face was exposed. Padme understood the mission, he had thought it out well and supplied her with all of the details. She was given an ample amount of credits to be used during her travels; if for some reason she ran out or the credit account was frozen she was supplied with various items that could be sold or bartered for large amounts in any location. He was giving her a craft that he had personally prepared with additional speed and armor, although he'd advised her to go into towns and change crafts frequently so she could not be traced.

He handed her a com unit. "You can reach me anytime with this, but don't use it in any event but an emergency. Even though I've encrypted it, it increases the likelihood you could be found..." his voice trailed off slightly.

She nodded numbly, understanding everything that had to be done but at the same time not wanting to do it. She sat down softly on the bed, after a minute he knelt down so he could look her in the face.

"Come with me," she said suddenly. It was the only time she had allowed herself to offer any resistance.

"I can't yet, Padme. There's more information I need to obtain before I can leave.....the second Death Star is almost operational, and it's very dangerous. I can't expect Luke and Leia to try to fight this with what they have now. It puts them in too much danger."

She nodded over the lump in her throat and could see the pain in his eyes as well. His blue eyes brightened a little as he pulled two dark objects from a pocket, placing them in Padme's hands. She recognized them as holos, and looked at them curiously for a moment.

"Go ahead, activate them," he said, seeming eager for her to see. They were both able to fit in the palm of her right hand; with her left she pressed the buttons, and two still green images appeared. Padme recognized them immediately.

The first, handsome, blond and blue eyed but attired mostly in black, his face possessed a solid integrity but a slight world weariness due to his experience with war and piloting. He looked so much like his father, she thought proudly, even though his hair was a little straighter, features slightly more broad. The second, a beautiful princess dressed all in white. Her gown flowed to the ground and covered most of her arms; she wore an overcoat with a hood drawn over her immaculately groomed brunette hair. She held her head high, posture regal, her features so like Padme's own, although she saw something of Anakin in the chin and the eyes.

Even though she had never met them as adults, Padme thought with some sadness, she got the impression Leia possessed more of her father's drive and temper, while Luke got his gentle nature and capacity to forgive from her. Speechless, Padme nodded, eyes starting to brim with happy tears. Only Anakin, she thought, could make her feel this way in such a difficult situation.

"Thank you," she said simply.

Seeing how much she appreciated the gift, he continued. "It's a basic file on them I obtained; I thought you'd like to have it. It has all of their histories, their accomplishments." She could hear a semblance of pride in his voice, and surmised he'd been over his children's information many times. "I wanted to surprise you with it," he finished.

She nodded and put her arms around him, placing a kiss on his neck before reaching back and turning off the holos, placing them gingerly in her cloak. She couldn't stop her chin from quivering and brought her eyes to meet his.

"Anakin..." she began shakily.

He took both of her hands in his before speaking "This isn't goodbye, Padme. What you've given me....it's more than I ever thought possible, a part of me I believed was lost forever. I promise, I will do my best to stay safe. I will find you," he added with determination.

"I'm afraid I'll never see you again," she admitted.

He swallowed, before he felt his fear release and fill with a sense of Deja vu. "What does your heart tell you?"

She searched her feelings and nodded. He was right. She knew somehow this wasn't over. Silently, they rose together and made their way towards the front of the castle.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The craft's engines started as they observed from the front entryway, Padme absently looking at it and listening to the muffled hum of the engines through the glass. Commander Hur was outside preparing last minute details, Jael was in the castle doing final organizations. Vader had walked her to the front door but couldn't come any further. It was prepared with oxygen and pressure; he wanted their last meeting to be face to face.

He leaned back against the wall slightly, suddenly looking young and forlorn. They were both silent for a long time.

"Do you really think it's possible, Padme?"

She turned her head slightly to look at him.

"Turning back, I mean. I don't know if you remember it all...I've done so many things," he said, face darkening in shame when he thought of the younglings he'd slaughtered. He'd told himself that they had died a quick and painless death, that they were just orphans anyway like he had been, and he was really just doing them a favor by allowing them to join the Force that much sooner. That, like so many other deeds, was just another excuse he'd made; a justification, an evil means to an end.

"Nobody's promising it will be easy, Anakin." she said softly. "But nothing can take away your humanity unless you let it. Not one evil act, not a hundred."

"Yoda said that once you started down the path to the dark side, it would forever dominate your destiny" he said, and in terms of dark forces, he was deep in it. This was no doubt something that Sidious had used to hammer him into servitude.

"Then he was wrong." she said simply. Maybe that's why the Force allowed the Jedi to fall, she pondered. They were unbalanced themselves, and wise though Yoda may have been, she did not believe he was infallible.

To say there was no turning back was the greatest lie of the Sith, Padme believed. It was never too late, for if one person could become trapped and enslaved by an escalating series of mistakes, if forgiveness was not possible, then there was no hope for anyone.

Jael made her way around the corner and to the front foyer and involuntarily flinched before regaining her composure. She saw Padme and Lord Vader speaking near the front entrance, him leaning back against the wall and Padme standing slightly between his legs, her hand resting on his arm. She was startled when she saw his face. What had she expected? Jael wondered. There was no mistaking it was him, the large frame and lower half of his uniform was on. But the face....he was so handsome, so normal....and looked sad somehow.

Luckily they were focused on each other didn't seem to notice her, paying her little mind when she excused herself out the front entrance with the remaining luggage to board the craft.

Vader stared at some blank space in front of him and finally looked at Padme, nodding. It was time, but neither one of them could say goodbye. Padme leaned forward and closed her eyes, bringing her lips to his. She let them linger that way, burning this image and feeling in her mind for reasons she could not consciously admit to herself.....that perhaps this would be the last time she would ever feel him....

Finally, they broke and she turned, not looking back or she wouldn't be able to do it. One foot in front of the other, fists at her side, she forced herself to walk to the craft. He watched her, feeling a wisp of pride; memories resurfacing of the warrior she had been and now was becoming again.

She entered the craft and sat at the console. Jael was in the rear, preparing their sleeping quarters, Commander Hur was at the front with Padme, making recommendations on planets they could depart to begin the journey. When they reached hyperspace he turned to her, ready for a decision.

Padme was deep in thought, before she finally spoke. There was someplace she had to go, a place to start.

"Set course for Naboo." she ordered.

Chapter Text

The craft, co-piloted by Padme and Commander Hur, landed with ease on her Naboo family estate. The pleasant atmosphere and lush scenery surrounded them, but Padme's thoughts were elsewhere. Her family's residence in view, she leaned forward, looking out the console with her head resting on her palm. Her stomach had started doing flip-flops, and she reached up to touch the necklace that held both her Japor pendant and wedding ring.

Padme didn't know how her family would react to her arrival, or even if they were there. She just knew that as she began her journey that would lead her to safety and hopefully back to her husband, she owed it to them to let them know how she was doing, where she was going....and offer them to chance to join.

For if she could be in danger from the Empire, Padme realized, they could too.

Be strong, Padme.

She took a deep breath and unharnessed herself, walking down the ramp with Jael slightly behind her while Hur stayed behind, guarding the craft. The footsteps that carried her closer and closer to her beloved family estate were slow, unsure, but deliberate.

Suddenly, a noise resounded on the deck; the door opened and Jobal appeared, followed closely by Sola. There was a stunned silence, followed by sounds of surprise, happiness, and then tears as Jobal ran forward first, throwing her arms around Ami.

Slowly, automatically, she brought her arms up to embrace her....Jobal. Padme felt strangely detached, feeling emotions of love, longing and betrayal all compete at the same time.

How did she feel about them now? Padme wondered. She didn't know how to define the relationships anymore.

She stood quietly as the rest of the Naberries came out and she was welcomed and embraced by Padme's family....Ami's family.....her family. Padme knew she felt more like the sister and daughter they had once had, but had no idea how to explain it to them. There was a lifetime, literally, of insight to fill them in on, and as much as she'd loved and trusted her family, she wasn't sure they could understand or believe her if she tried.

So, she settled for saying nothing, simply gathering her belongings and following them into the estate.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Vader sat in his quarters, alone in the silence. His illness had healed quickly, and the Emperor had recently commed him, informing him of an upcoming mission. No inquiry was made as to the status of his health. He was due back at the Executor to oversee a new mission within a standard week.

He'd woken up that morning, instinctively reaching for Padme.....and kept reaching.....

His momentary pain and rage at her marked absence caused him to lash out with the Force. A cold sweat had broken out over his body, causing him to question his sanity. Had he been so stressed by the Rebellion and immersion in the dark side that he had finally lost his mind? Did the ghosts from his past rise again to haunt him, causing him to imagine that his wife had returned?

His eyes drifted to her side of the bed and he could still see her imprint, smell the scent of her hair, and exhaled softly. His wedding ring hung on a chain around his neck, for even though he had slipped it on her finger when they were married as Skywalkers, they still wore it around their neck, close to their hearts, just as they'd done in the previous life. Anakin knew it had been real.

Now he could only look at the objects that lay strewn around the room-some intact, some shattered-and hear the deafening silence that permeated the castle now that the life had left it again. Anakin held in his hands the black helmet that was Darth Vader and stared directly into the orbs that were its eyes. This suit had never been his idea, or choice. Decades earlier, he'd went down in flames and days later, simply woken up in it.

It was horrifying. He shuddered, studying the grotesque angularity of the black mask, coupled with the helmet and mechanical breathing, more menacing and foreboding than any storm trooper. He'd liked the way beings shrank away from him, trembled at his mere appearance and did as he ordered. It was, he'd felt, as far from being a padawan learner and young slave as he could get.

Now he knew better. Lord Sidious created this monster, this facade, to cover up what was nothing more than a walking corpse. The suit kept others at bay, virtually guaranteeing that he would never be close to anyone. Sidious wanted him polarized, and isolated; soon Vader learned how it felt not to feel. To forget what happiness was and lose his humanity was a frightening thing, a numbing and never-ending spiral towards Sidious' dark oblivion. It had almost worked.

And then Padme.

Remembering how to care for another person, to have human contact, and know what it was to be forgiven and loved unconditionally reopened Anakin's eyes. He had been lost, drowning, for over twenty-three years before she had extended her love and brought him back to the surface. Breathing the air again that was the light side, contrasted with manipulation and darkness, told him just how far he'd fallen. He wondered why he hadn't died sooner, being immersed in such a Hell.

Vader threw the helmet across the room and it hit the wall with a sharp thud and landed, rolling back and forth slowly on the ground until it came to rest on its side, the vacuous orbs blankly returning his stare.

Anakin was without options. He would have to wear this thing, perhaps permanently, for his own survival. He would have to pretend, at least until he could gather the data he needed and join Padme, and then......he didn't know what would happen to him. Perhaps he would be held and tried for war crimes, even executed, but those consequences he was prepared to face. He knew he deserved them, and serving Sidious wasn't a life he wanted anymore.

The night Anakin joined the dark side he was a danger to her, he knew that now. His actions were irrational, and for twenty-three years he had acted out in a manner that wasn't truly him. He felt as though she had left him, but realized that he had left her first. The dark side had given him insanity.

Insane, he thought, ruefully. He had gone insane. In so many ways, he and Padme were the same age in mind because when she had died and he had been cut off emotionally, he had stopped growing too.

The Force, in its wisdom, forced him to spend those two decades miserable and alone so he could know in it's entirety the gravity his mistakes. No amount of power had ever satisfied him, no conquest ever filled his heart or gave him the solace the Sith had promised. As hard as it was for Anakin to admit, he was too arrogant to realize then, and needed a lifetime apart from his wife to finally understand.

He had learned his lesson.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Padme paced her family's house restlessly, as Jobal, Ruwee, and Sola watched her. They were elated to see her and full of worries, which finally gave way to questions and a tentative sense of relief. Padme knew she didn't have much time before she had to move on and was unsure of how to broach the subject. She thought for a moment before she began.

"I'm going to have to leave soon," she said slowly, and her families faces collectively fell. "There is a danger, and I don't have much time...."

"Honey," Jobal interjected, "You're away from Vader, you're safe now. Even if we have to hide you, he won't get you again, I promise."

Padme took a terse breath, and tried again. She felt as though her every assurance she was treated well had fallen on deaf ears.

"It's not him, it's the higher-ups within the Empire. I tell you this because if I'm a target, I fear you may be too." Padme knew how much Anakin valued her and how the Emperor could use her as leverage against him. Likewise, her family could be her leverage, tortured and killed, whether they knew her whereabouts or not.

"You have to believe me. I'm not delusional, or acting out." Her voice dropped an octave. " I understand why you cloned--....why you did what you did. I can't say it hasn't hurt me, but I will promise I will try to come to terms with it." Padme said, looking directly at Jobal.

Jobal closed her eyes and sighed, grateful for the chance Ami was giving her. She had not forgiven herself for the deception since Ami had left, and it had been close to a standard year. Only a divine act of mercy had brought her back to them, she was convinced. Now more than ever Jobal wanted to protect Padme, keep her close, and show her how much she was loved. She supposed she owed it to her granddaughter to at least hear her out, and try to see things from her point of view. She held a weary hand over her brow, cursing the involvement of the Empire that had drawn Ami into this mess.

Jobal nodded. "Ok. At least you're safe, and away from that monster-"

"He's not a monster, stop calling him that," Padme snapped, her demeanor changing in an instant. Her posture was defensive and voice razor sharp. Jobal blinked, shocked at the nerve she seemed to have struck and the way Ami spoke to her.

It's now or never, Padme...she told herself. She was tired of keeping secrets, both in this lifetime and the last. If she were to mend her relationship with her family, they would have to know, truly know, and accept her. And to accept her, they would have to learn to accept him too.

She looked at Jobal for a moment and her expression relaxed. "He's my husband," she said softly.

The room fell so silent, the sound of a pin dropping could have been heard. Ruwee and Jobal were stunned, Sola looked to the side and exhaled slowly. Jael, who had met the family but was now silently seated in the corner, clasped her hands in her lap and nodded to herself. She was never told outright but had suspected all along.

After a moment, the sound of Jobal's sobs filled the room. "W-what.....how....what do you mean? Were you forced?"

Padme knelt in front of her, drawing on all of her patience to deal with Jobal's emotional outburst. She had known they might not take it well, but couldn't help being disappointed anyway. She loved him with all of her heart and wanted to convey that to them; her ideas of bringing home a suitor for her family to accept and embrace had never gone this way.

"No, no coercion," she said quietly. "I'm loved, taken care of....I wish you could hear and understand me when I tell you that."

Jobal shook her head, comprehension still not dawning. "But, why? What could he possibly want from you?" Her head spun. She didn't know the horrors of what Padme may have went through, or even if Vader was a human species. Her mind turned to the worst.

"What.....what does he make you...." her voice trailed off shakily, and she looked at Padme.

Padme stood up and narrowed her eyes, studying Jobal for a long moment. She understood exactly what Jobal meant and could feel her anger growing; her jaw clenched. Her patience was wearing thin and she could feel the closeness she'd shared with her family begin to slip away. This was her marriage, not a spectacle.

"We do everything married people do," she said tersely, and the tone of her voice silenced Jobal.

Ruwee spoke up then. He was normally silent, but could not sit back and watch this happen to her. "It could still be annulled. Even if it's the Empire, there are ways out-they can't enforce these things against your will. I have a friend who handles law; he can provide more information and help us."

Padme had heard enough.

Shaking her head slightly, she turned and strode to the other side of the room, nodding at Jael, who stood and followed her. As she was leaving, she turned to face her family again, but her expression had changed. She had already begun to withdraw from them.

"I will stay the night, but tomorrow I depart. Goodnight," she said quietly, and turned on her heel, leaving them in stunned silence to contemplate what had happened.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Sola fidgeted with her hands, wringing and relaxing them intermittently, while staring at the floor. Ruwee and Jobal had been talking, and although her mother's emotional state had calmed, Sola thought, she still wasn't much better. Everything her parents had said seemed to set Ami off, and widen the chasm between all of them. Sola had wisely stayed silent throughout the whole exchange and watched Ami, although she had been just as shocked as the rest of them.

She saw a difference in her since she came back, a hardness and an edge, like she had matured years in the time she had been away. She could not quite put her finger on it. And the marriage to Lord Vader......still, Ami did appear to be well healthy and well taken care of. She arrived wearing some of the finest garments Sola had ever seen, reminding her again of the sister she had lost.

Sola sighed. She had no idea what to do now. The sound of her parents arguing that she had drowned out with her thoughts came into focus, and she was back in the moment.

"This is crazy, there must be some mistake." Jobal was telling her father. "And we can't just leave-"

"I think we should go with her," Sola said suddenly, and both her parents quieted, looking at her as though she was insane. Her mother began to speak and Sola stood, holding up her hand in a gesture of silence.

"Mother, I can't understand it, but I want to go with her. I don't feel as though we've given her a chance really, heard her out. She chose to come back, please remember that." she paused, and her voice lowered as she met Jobal's eyes. Ami was the only thing that seemed to matter at this point. "We have to give her the benefit of the doubt now. We're losing her again."

Jobal nodded her head softly. Perhaps Sola was right. She looked at Ruwee and could see he felt the same. They had to take this chance. They would have done it for their first Padme and they owed Ami at least that much. That night they went to Ami's room, where she and Jael were exchanging quiet conversation while packing. Ami was surprised at their decision, but agreed that they could accompany her in the morning.

Perhaps it was Sola's imagination, but she thought Ami looked relieved, even happy, that they were coming along. She hoped so.

_________________________________________________________________________

The following days passed into weeks, during which their travels took them into different towns, planets, even parsecs. The Naberries grew very friendly with Jael, a sweet and protective girl who seemed to look quite a lot like Ami, although a bit more shy. They were weary of Commander Hur at first, but since he simply followed orders, never wore storm trooper armor and seemed to lack a personality altogether, their weariness soon turned to amusement.

It struck Sola one day as she was watching Ami converse about destination with Commander Hur that they were essentially the same creation. Clones.

Her heart grew heavy when she thought of that, imagining the pain it had caused Ami. Sola refused to believe that she was anything less than special, her little girl. An individual. She didn't bring up the topic to Ami and thought she probably never should again, that decision was their fault and their burden to carry. Sola only hoped that she could lessen it for her as time passed.

The day Jobal got in touch with one of her neighbors, she received the news. Storm troopers had been seen in Theed more frequently, and finally the inevitable happened-their house was raided. The official story was that they were performing an investigation currently underway for the Empire, and it was for the safety of all citizens involved. Jobal and her family were shocked, as much by the fact that they had made the right decision as by their estate being violated. As she looked at Ami, she saw pity, mingled with resolve, cross her features. She had been right all along.

Ami ensured they changed locations, and even crafts, frequently enough to avoid detection. She remembered what Vader told her about using the Force, and drew on this when she sensed it was time to go again. She prayed that it would serve her well in helping her find a legitimate Rebellion cell. Vader had given her some weapons and combat training before she left, but she knew use of the Force would be the essential element that would either make or break them. She had to trust that she would know when the time was right.

They stayed on a desert planet one night, similar to Tatooine, and ventured far enough from the local city to establish camp. A fire was made and soon everyone was sitting around it, relaxed and exchanging stories. Ami smiled absently, listening to them, before slipping away from the group to sit by herself on a berm and look up at the stars. They shone brightly tonight through the clear atmosphere, like jewels set against a velvet backdrop. She hugged her knees to her chest and shivered slightly.

He's out there somewhere, near one of them, she thought as her mind drifted to her husband again. She'd tried to keep focused on the mission, but he was in her heart always; watching, waiting, and moving to the forefront at every opportunity. She wanted him, so much, and fought the urge to reach out with the Force to feel his reassuring presence.

A memory resurfaced of when he had returned from a mission and brought her a rare necklace, a Chandyrri stone found only in one place in the galaxy that changed colors with every emotion. He beamed when he saw she liked it and gently placed it around her neck, followed by a long kiss. It was times like these he seemed to live to make her happy.

I thought you deserved a romantic moment, being stuck inside so long, he'd said.

You're one big romantic moment, Anakin, she'd teased dryly, watching the color flush his cheeks. She couldn't imagine him any other way.

Time spent apart had not lessened her need for him. She wanted to wake up every day for the rest of her life and see his face beside her. Aging together, settling down, simply being left alone; these were luxuries so many beings took for granted that always seemed well beyond their reach. She missed his lopsided grin, how young and spontaneous he was around her, the way he would make her laugh and keep her laughing.....

Exactly where he was right now, Padme didn't know. Every night they'd cohabited, it seemed, she would wake up and feel his arms around her, his face buried in her neck. She would look at the tousled, tawny head beside her and rest her lips on him, feeling almost maternal during these times when his attachment was so clear. He needed her. He murmured her name, reached for her whenever he was upset, whenever he was happy, whenever he was scared. Who would be there to hold him now?

I love you, Anakin. I'm still here.

The sound of Sola's steps beside her pulled her out of her thoughts.

"Hi," she said softly, sitting beside Ami, who shifted slightly to allow her more room. They both gazed up at the sky for a long moment, each to their own thoughts.

Sola had seen Ami leave the fire camp and had watched her for a while, studying her. Sola still wasn't sure what to make of the situation, but thought she knew what had happened. She'd heard of traumatic situations, mostly hostage, where the victim would grow attached to the perpetrator and convince themselves a bond existed. She felt this was what had probably happened to Ami, and wanted to be there to help her through it. As far as she could tell, simply listening and reserving judgement was what Ami needed right now. Anything more, Sola would gladly provide, but first she would give her space.

"How are you holding up?" Sola asked, and a small smile formed on Padme's lips. Padme knew they still worried about her, about her involvement with Vader. She didn't answer the question, instead her gaze returned to the sky.

"Do you remember when we used to watch the stars at night, and give our own names to the constellations?" Ami asked.

Sola's mind started racing. Had she done that with Ami? She remembered doing that with her sister, but not Ami....perhaps she had forgotten. Sola nodded and smiled benignly. "They're beautiful tonight, aren't they?"

"That one there," Ami said, pointing to one group in particular. "I think that's Kolaris, but from a different angle. I just figured that out."

They were quiet for a moment before she continued. "Your first boyfriend, Corinn, he named one of them after you. I gave you such a hard time about that, you were probably relieved when it ended." She laughed at the memory.

Sola's heart skipped a beat. How could she know that? She had only ever told Padme. Not her parents...not her friends....not her husband.....

Not anybody else.

Padme placed a gentle hand on Sola's knee before continuing. "And you repaid the favor in kind by teasing me mercilessly about Anakin Skywalker. You even told him he was the first boyfriend I'd ever brought home. Remember?" Her voice was soft, haunting. Her brown eyes rose to meet Sola's, which shone with unshed tears.

Speechless, Sola could only nod her head as she finally understood. By some miracle she was back with them, not just their Ami but their Padme. And she was more than she ever had been.

"How is it possible?" Sola finally asked.

"I don't know," Padme said. "I meant it when I said there was still good in him. I will turn him back to the light, and he needs me now more than ever."

Sola nodded as she remembered her dream, the one she'd had after they'd lost Padme but before Ami had been with them. The tears, unbidden, parted from her lids and trailed down her cheeks.

"How?" Sola asked.

"Darth Vader" Padme said, looking at Sola. "He's not who you think. Don't define him by the suit he wears."

Sola's stomach turned; she could tell what was coming, even though she could not put it into words. Ami did for her.

"It's him, Sola. It's my Anakin. I didn't know how to tell you."

Sola nodded and reached for Padme, burying her face and her tears of happiness in her shoulder. This time, she returned the hug in full, feeling as close to Sola as they ever had been. When they embraced, they embraced as sisters.

Later that night, when Sola returned to her family, she spoke to them in private. Jobal and Ruwee would not take to this lightly, and she hoped they could understand the gravity of what she was saying.

Padme's with us, Mother.....it's her. It's her.

Sola, always the rational one, was convinced. And suddenly, no more explanation was needed. They began to open their minds, to finally understand. Accepting the unorthodox situation wouldn't be easy, but it was far better than never having had Padme return. It was a blessing. As a family, they started to heal that night. They would welcome Padme back and in the process, begin to put the missing pieces of themselves back together.

Chapter Text

Leia leaned over the balcony in the ship, taking deep breaths. The words Luke had spoken still echoed painfully in her mind. The Force is strong in my family. My father has it...I have it......my sister has it... Deep down, she had always felt the connection with Luke and known that a missing part of herself had returned when she met him. Now that she understood Luke's relationship to Lord Vader, it was a bitter joy. For while she was completed by the twin brother she had never known, she now grappled with the truth that he was a part of that monster. And when her brain processed the information, she realized, she was too...

Luke's blue eyes shone with hope and forgiveness; whatever interactions he had with Vader, he was clearly willing to overlook his flaws and embrace his estranged father. How little he knew, Leia thought bitterly. He had not been captured, tortured, and seen fundamental parts of the galaxy destroyed like they had never mattered. He could not bring back someone who had never been good in the first place.

Her thoughts went to Bail Organa, now lost with the destruction of Alderaan inflicted by none other than her despised enemy in black armor. Oh Father, how much I want to ask you. Why didn't you tell me? You trusted me to handle your position in the Senate, and then leading the Rebellion. Why didn't you feel you could tell me this?

Another, familiar face drifted in and out of Leia's mind. A face so full of love, beauty, kindness. And sadness too. This was the face of her birth mother. Leia had no idea how long she had known her. As she looked out the portal and viewed her galaxy from the remote parts of the Outer Rim, she clung to this image. This was what would sustain her during periods of loathing and self-doubt, Leia thought.

The only redeemable part of her.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lord Vader stood at the bridge of the Star Destroyer, looking out into the darkness at everything and nothing in particular. An officer approached, informing that his presence had been requested by the Emperor.

Vader made his way to the throne room, the sharp clicking of his boots and mechanical breathing signaling his presence to all around him. The hypocrisy, the lie that was the Sith Code, reverberated in his mind.

Peace is a lie, there is only passion.

What was passion anyway, and what had it been worth? In Padme's presence, he knew peace, he had always known peace but had forgotten how it felt. Through the solace of her embrace, he didn't have to be the Emperor's Fist, or be the Chosen One, he could just.....be.

Through passion, I gain strength.

His strength as a feared man was intangible, and a mixed blessing at best; he could never trust anyone not to throw him. Strong in theory, not strong in body, and not truly strong in mind.

Through strength, I gain power.

He would never be powerful enough to overcome the demon that was his Master now, and he could not wish the same on Padme or his children.

Through power, I gain victory.

The faces of victory.....one pale, maimed and disfigured, the other burned and scarred in his youth. Both hateful with yellow eyes, until one discovered hope and their paths diverged.

Through victory, my chains are broken.

Black armor-a constant reminder of his distance from humanity. Mechanical limbs, which once were awkward and snagged on the interior of his prison, as if to frustrate and taunt him of all he had lost. That is, until they were replaced with something synthetic, something more realistic, more similar to those he had been born with. Weak, frail lungs, dependent on the armor in most places just to sustain the basic necessity of air.

The Force shall free me.

He'd never been free. Power, fear, intimidation, and possessions-these were not freedom. These were the fruits of his malice, an ever-present reminder of how far he was from that which he held dear. He was born a slave, and perhaps he would die one as well. For years he'd embraced this code, swallowed it whole just like the willing fool Sidious knew he had been.

A fire burned within Lord Vader; a bright, blinding love for Padme and a white-hot hatred for Sidious. He'd never had a friend in him, he was a tool and a pawn, just as Dooku had once been.

Did Sidious know how much he hated him, how much he had always hated him?

The walls of deception erected themselves in Vader's mind moments before he entered the throne room, almost effortlessly. He knew how to shield his Master from particular thoughts, and that skill had never been more imperative. He could show Sidious exactly what he wanted to see, and needed to see now, to buy time and accomplish his objective. Patience, that too would be utilized; Vader realized, it was the only good thing Sidious had ever taught him.

The door opened and he approached the Emperor, kneeling in submission.

"What is thy bidding, my Master?"

He received his orders tersely for the second Death Star, and then he left, putting welcome distance between himself and his Master. Vader boarded his personal craft and departed, feeling a strange but warm presence pushing against his mind the further he was from the Sith. He allowed the walls to fall, and the presence to enter, tentatively at first and then fully when he realized what it was.

You will know when the time is right. The Force is with you, Anakin.

If he hadn't been wearing the mask, anyone would have seen the shock and awe plainly registered on his face as he flew numbly through space. It was moments later that he finally gave a name to the voice he knew but had so long forgotten.

Qui-Gon.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"In here." Padme quickly waved her hand towards her family, and they followed. They were on a planet in the Bormean system, and had stopped in a store for goods. The shopkeeper attracted the attention of Padme; mostly it was through her connection to the Force that she felt drawn to him. They conversed, Jael standing closely by Padme's side, noting how the conversation took on casual and then gradually more cryptic meanings.

The shopkeeper eyed Padme cautiously. "They say there's been several Rebellion cells springing up in these areas."

"That is interesting. Particularly for people wanting to join." She met his eyes directly, all but outright stating what she meant.

"Yes. I've heard rumors of such a cell meeting later this afternoon, beyond the Borshyke Cantina at around 1350 hours. Again, they are only rumors," he said, glancing nervously at his supplies and retreating back into his shell.

"Thank you for your assistance." Padme gathered the supplies cordially and finished the transaction. She turned as she was leaving and gave an appreciative smile. "All of your assistance."

"Hey," he called suddenly, and she turned at the door, quirking an eyebrow. "They aren't always.... receptive to certain civilians. But I do understand they enjoy Orion; the first time is a bravo performance, although the second seems to echo. It can be useful information"

"Thank you. I will indeed," she said, and then they departed.

Padme's heart drummed steadily; the Force was turning, undulating in currents around them and she could feel it. This would be the day, the day she may be joining the Rebellion and might finally meet them. Butterflies flew madly in her stomach for just that reason. She'd never had the chance to hold them as babies, and hadn't even thought about how to know them as adults.

Her family knew about her children, she'd shown them the holos. They were initially stunned, but happy at the discovery of their relatives. There was so much they realized they didn't know, and could only numbly follow her guidance. Padme told them to seek Luke Skywalker or Leia Organa as a contact should any of them ever be separated. Even as she thought, her insecurities regarding the twins writhed inside her; would they know her, would they accept her? Was she even equipped to be their mother, being the same biological age?

Padme glanced down at her watch. The time was approaching. She met Hur's stare. "Let's go."

They headed over towards the Cantina, through the thicket and to the clearing where they had been told. A group of what appeared to be mechanics were working on a craft, and when they noticed her approaching eyed her wearily.

"Greetings." She said quietly. "I am Padme, these are my family and friends." She stopped speaking and looked directly at the man who appeared to be in charge. He stepped forward slowly, glancing over her shoulder beyond even her family to ensure she'd not been followed. He crossed his arms.

"Hello, what brings you to these parts." His gaze was soft but firm, delving for information that would separate her from a spy to a potential Rebel.

"I understand the Orion have visited this area." she said levelly. It was all he needed.

"I pass you two," he said, seeking authentication.

"Echo," she replied.

He took her gently by the elbow and motioned towards the craft. "We've been here for about twenty standard minutes, but I don't know how much time we have. We must move quickly. There have been more troopers in this area as of late." He eyed her family. "They can board the craft now. Do you have all you need?"

"We do."

She motioned her family, and they entered the craft; she stayed behind with Jael. Padme motioned to Hur, then glanced at the pilot. "He can help you, he has mechanical skills. Hur, inside" she said, and he acquiesced, heading to the cockpit to handle the controls.

The pilot nodded, starting final preparations. Nobody heard at first the parting of the grass, or even the winds pickup. The sky seemed to noticeably darken.

Nobody noticed anything until the first blaster fire sounded on the craft.

"Down!" Padme yelled vehemently, looking at the pilot and his crew to check their status. Jael grabbed her a moment later and pulled her into the prone position, Jael's body mostly covering hers.

Padme's eyes met those of the momentarily astonished pilot. "No interrogations, just preemptive firing, huh?" he said dryly. "They're picking up the pace these days." He shook his head. "Dammit, they were tipped off quick"

She smirked and reached in his direction. "Blaster?" He nodded and tossed one in her direction; she held it expertly and fired upon the legion of stormtroopers; although she hit them with regularity, they seemed to be growing by the second. It was clear backup was arriving and their numbers would continue to swell.

"Your men go first, then you, then us. I'll cover you while you go. It doesn't look like the craft has sustained enough damage to prevent a jump. My family's safe inside; keep them there." He gave her a strange look for just an instant, but nodded and continued to cover the craft with her. Her plan was a sound one and it was obvious she had experience as an on-scene commander; that was all that concerned him at the moment.

Padme ducked between shots. "On my mark," she said tersely.

"...two, three....go!" she yelled, rising to the kneeling position and covering him and his men while they went in. She continued to fire and held them back, Jael assisting with her own weapon while they both back paced up the entrance. A wind swirled, signaling an impending storm. They were almost inside.

Jael saw movement flicker from the corner of her eye. It took her mind a moment to register what it meant and act on it, but as it turned out, that was a moment too late. Stormtroopers had arrived from the side.

The blast that targeted Padme sounded unlike any of the others, it was solid and sharp and, in that moment, seemed to stretch an eternity in Jael's mind. Then she and Padme lay, on the ramp, and Jael could see the blood slowly staining her own dress. She hoped it was hers, but knew better; Padme's eyes were closed, the blaster fell from her hand, and she was unconscious. Jael leaned closely over her, eyes wide with guilt and desperation. Her motion to protect her mistress had failed.

No!

With all the strength and logic she had at that moment, Jael pulled Padme's limp form up the remainder of the ramp and covered her while the door sealed and they made the jump to hyperspace.

And then, she sobbed helplessly.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Luke walked the length of the aisle, alone to his own thoughts. He told Leia about their relationship, and their relationship to Vader as gently as he could. She'd taken it with difficulty, perhaps even more than he initially had. It hurt Luke when his ideal of a Jedi father and hero fell from the pedestal in his mind and was replaced by one far more dark and menacing. But he could feel the connection, the potential and the hope, and loved him anyway. Despite any of Yoda or Obi-Wan's warnings, there had to be a way to help him and bring him back to the light.

He could sense no such inclination in Leia. Her hatred for the Sith Lord ran deep, so much so it almost consumed Leia in that moment; Luke felt sorry for her.

He sighed and considered meditation to clear his thoughts; as it turned out, meditation found him first. He recognized the voice in his mind instantly.

"Yoda?" he asked, astonished. He had been privy to Obi-Wan's consult and telepathy before, but not Yoda. It had not been that long since his training ended on Dagobah and Yoda passed on.

"Arrived, a presence from your past has. Be here soon, she will."

Luke's mind raced, he could feel a shift in the Force, and something important was happening. "I don't understand, Yoda."

"Joining the Rebellion, another Skywalker is. When first you meet, know her you will." Luke took a deep breath, he hoped his intuition was correct. He started to speak to Yoda, but it was too late, he had already disappeared back into the Force.

Luke was deep in his thoughts when his comm sounded. "Commander Skywalker," Lt. Caveas announced.

"Go, Lt."

"We've received another group of Rebels. They've specifically requested your presence."

"Alright." he said slowly. "What is the matter at hand?"

"They arrived from the Boream system. Right now the family is housed in the general populace, and....there is a patient being treated in the med center. Name of Padme Skywalker. Do you want me to handle the situation."

Luke's eyes widened slightly as he considered his words. "Thank you, commander....I'll take this. That will be all."

"Yes sir," he said, and the transmission ended.

When Luke thoughts settled and he gathered his bearings, he went to find Leia.

This was something they needed to do together.

Chapter Text

"Luke, what’s going on," Leia implored as they tread briskly down the hallway.

He walked straight ahead, not looking at her. Something was on his mind, Leia surmised, but she couldn't determine what. He was leading them to the med center, where they would first cross a waiting area.

"Luke, I'm serious," she took on a more demanding tone. "Today hasn't been easy for me either," she added evenly, grabbing hold of his sleeve to stop him midstride. He looked at her reluctantly. "Wait. Tell me what's troubling you," she said.

"Someone by the last name of Skywalker has been taken into medical care onboard." he finally said.

"A relative of yours?" she asked.

"A relative of ours."

She glanced up for a second, then exhaled and nodded. She knew he was right, but it would still take getting used to for her. "Do you know who it is?"

Luke sighed and brushed his hand over his mouth briefly. The Force, the living Force, was breathing all around him and today, he chose to listen. "I think it's our mother."

Leia glanced at him, incredulously, and would have laughed if it hadn't hit so close to home for her. She adopted a pragmatic approach, and looked at him with sympathy. Clearly he was under too much stress. "That's not possible, Luke. She was gone a long time ago; if she was alive she would have been with you, or I, but not just show up inexplicably. I'm sorry you never got to know her as I did, but that's just the way it is."

"The Force has spoken, Leia. Someday you will understand and be able to hear it as well."

"I've heard enough about the Force for today, thank you Luke," Leia said, her impatience growing. The more Luke spoke of the mystical entity, his training with Ben, and the power they inherited from their.....father....the more she was beginning to adopt the galactic approach that it was just a crazy old religion, fading from existence.

"Leia..." he began quietly.

"I mean it, Luke." she seethed. "I'm trying here--truly--but your claims are remote at best. The next time the voices in your head talk to you, maybe you should stop listening to them and seek medical care."

The tone of her voice and her words stung Luke. He had some of his own. "Now listen-"

"Excuse me," a soft voice said, interrupting both of their thoughts.

The twins turned to see a middle-aged woman, thin and pleasant looking, watching them. It was then that Leia realized they were standing right outside the med center waiting room. They must have forgotten where they were and, not paying mind to any audience their argument may attract as their voices grew louder, disturbed the visitors.

"Yes?" Luke asked.

"You're Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa" the woman said, not so much a question, but to confirm it for herself. Luke nodded slowly. She smiled softly then, seemingly looking at Luke and Leia but also a fond distant memory in her mind.

"I'm Sola Naberrie, sister to Padme.....I'm your aunt."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Luke rubbed his forehead tiredly in slow circles as he struggled to grasp what his newfound family members had told him. His mother. Deceased. Cloned. Returned. Married now to.......his father. It hit him moments later that she was actually younger than he was. Luke sighed and asked the Force for strength. His head was beginning to pound and he needed more time to wrap his mind around the situation. He wanted to rest.

But more importantly, he still wanted to see her.

He looked up at Leia, who was still taking in all of the information while getting acquainted with their grandparents. Despite her politician's facade, he could tell she wasn't taking it much more easily than he was.

The healer entered the room, and he stood up.

"Is she alright?" Luke asked.

"She's....in serious but stable condition. But the wound missed all of the vital organs and it looks like she will be fine. We are adjusting the pain medications, she's just now coming out of it but I wouldn't expect coherent conversation for at least a few days. She was very lucky" he added.

"Can we see her now?" Luke asked, glancing at Leia. She looked hesitant but with Luke's encouragement rose and came to where he was.

"I'll allow it," the healer said, somewhat reluctantly. "For a few minutes, but please be brief. We're starting a round of pain medication now."

Luke nodded and took Leia's hand softly. His stomach turned before he ever entered the room, wondering what she would look like, what she would sound like, if she would know him and like him. Her family assured him she would, but deep within Luke was a child's insecurity, a child who had never known a mother or a father but had always wanted to. He wondered how similar or different Leia's feelings were to his. She was a master politician; her faced revealed little now as they entered the room.

There Padme lay, so still and fragile, clad in a simple white medical gown with her long chocolate curls flared loosely by the side of her face and behind her head. The IV in her arm and all of the surrounding machinery ensuring her survival made this reunion that much more tragic. And beautiful.

Leia froze. Her stomach tightened into knots and her breath caught in her throat. She intended to be every bit the diplomat but was not prepared for the emotional reaction she had upon seeing the girl. Her face. That face. Beautiful, kind.....but sad. The same one she'd seen in her dreams and written off as a fairy godmother, or her very own ethereal angel. Just like she'd told Luke she was.

Luke's legs carried him slowly to her bedside and he saw the flitting of eyelids. Was she awakening? he wondered. Lips parted, no sound at first before she spoke, "An-..Ani?"

Luke knelt down by her bedside. "No." he said gently. "I'm Luke."

She breathed softly and her head turned to his side; ever so slowly her hand came up, tracing her fingers across Luke's forehead. His eyes closed. He knew her already, he remembered that touch; whispered in the Force, returning from his dreams, reflected in his hopes. From so long ago.

A smile played on her lips. "Luke," she whispered.

Leia was at her side now. "Leia," Padme murmured, and Leia nodded, tears starting to fill her own eyes.

Every second Leia spent with her, more of her own walls and defenses were breaking down. Maybe she was a clone and Vader's wife, Leia reasoned, but she was blameless and Leia could not keep from feeling connected to her. She wished no harm on this girl. Maybe Padme was trained to believe she was the real thing, who she had been previously, Leia thought, but who was she to dissuade her and throw reality back in her face? It was not her place. Leia was pragmatic, but would not be cruel.

Padme's pain medication was taking effect almost as soon as she had awakened, and she drifted back into sleep. They both stayed with her, almost protectively, until the healer came back in and told them visitation was over.

And then, reluctantly, they left.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The days turned into weeks, and the weeks into months, during which time Padme endured a slow but stable recovery. Her first lucid memories were of the twins; Luke, Leia, or both, by her bedside, and she felt complete in a way she hadn't experienced since she'd been with Anakin. Padme was soon well enough to sit and speak with them, and when discharged and given her own quarters, she chose to share with Jael by mutual agreement. Being alone was too much for her right now.

Leia was polite, and always concerned, but reserved. It wasn't hard for Padme to see she wrestled with her own personal demons regarding their complicated situation, and Padme resolved to be strong for her sake to give her time to work through it.

In Luke, Padme found a kindred spirit. He and Padme shared the same views on most things and he was the only person who didn't view her marriage to Vader with fear or repulsion; she was unyielding on her feelings for him and he seemed to understand and even share them. He looked so much like his father but was shorter like her, she thought with some amusement. And more in control of his emotions, she thought with some sadness.

More than anything Padme wanted to talk to them, touch them, know them, but didn't want to push anything on Luke or Leia too quickly. It would be best, she decided, to let them make the first move when they were ready. Padme held herself back, biding her affection carefully; they had adoptive families who had cultivated them into the people they were today, and she respected that. She could not have been more proud of who they became.

She needn't have worried. First Luke, and then Leia, began to open up to her and ease the transition until it was like no time had passed between them at all. They got along well and shared the same views, their closeness only diverging on one thing-Leia's views on Padme's marriage. Leia didn't think much of Vader, detested him in fact, and it hurt to watch.

Padme always knew Anakin would come, and save them; she had always known it was his destiny somehow and her faith on this never wavered. She didn't know how to approach Leia about the subject, and could see that as strong willed as she was, talking about him would drive her further away.

So, with regret, she chose to say nothing at all.

Leia found that the more she spoke with Padme, the more they had in common. Like her, Padme was strong in her convictions and would not bend them for anyone or anything, including herself. Padme's politics and sense of humor mirrored that of Leia's, but her marriage and loyalties to Vader had Leia uneasy. It wasn't hard to see how her father could be attracted to a likeness of her mother again, how anyone would want this lovely girl, but she couldn't dismiss the notion that he was using her.

She's 23 years younger and he is a Sith Lord, Leia thought disgustedly. He knows every quirk, every insecurity Padme has and she's nothing more than a manipulation of his to throw the Emperor and achieve galactic dominance. It made Leia hate him all the more that he would take advantage of her this way.

But she cared for Padme, and didn't want to hurt her. For this reason, Leia kept these feelings to herself.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Everything is going according to plan, Lord Vader." Moff Jerjerrod stated, pulling him out of his thoughts. Vader stared out the portal at the green serenity of Endor below, and it's unsuspecting occupants. He was glad the Emperor was away, and entrusted him to handle this much. He was also glad for the privacy of the mask and the complacency of Jerjerrod. Jerjerrod was an easily controlled man, and Vader sensed his fear and desire to please as he addressed him. He could not even stand at attention without frequently blinking and the occasional shudder. This would work to his advantage.
"Show me to the Command Sector. I want to see personally the progress that is being made," Vader ordered, intentionally putting a displeased air in his voice.
"As you wish, sir," Jerjerrod acquiesced, and escorted him immediately. Vader stood as Jerjerrod explained the construction, the remaining work, and the weaknesses contained therein, pretending to listen intently. His mind was elsewhere; far elsewhere. No one knew how nervous Vader himself truly was, and he thanked the Force at this moment that he was not amongst Force sensitives.
When the Commander completed, Vader dismissed him and requested time alone to review the schematics. There was much information there pertaining to both the strengths and the weaknesses of this new Death Star, the prize of the Empire. The second death star was far more dangerous than the original, and compensated for any weaknesses the first contained. Without it, the Empire would be at a severe disadvantage, compared to what they were accustomed to, anyway. It would be a matter then of Rebel might against Imperial might, and Vader didn't have to guess which side had more integrity and more heart.
He quietly gathered all the information he needed, knowing that as soon as his deception was discovered, it would have a rapidly dwindling shelf life. He turned to leave the room when his comm sounded. It was Jerjerrod.
"Lord Vader," Jerjerrod stated. There was urgency in his voice.
"Go," Vader said.
"There's been a rebel sighting on Endor. We believe they may have information on the whereabouts of the Rebel command ship. Our forces are currently working to detain them, but it appears that they have separated. Do you want me to handle this,"
Vader's heart skipped at the mention of Rebel command ship; he quickly pushed those thoughts away. "I will personally handle this, Commander. That will be all," he said, and proceeded to the craft that would take him to the surface of Endor.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Emperor sat, still regarding the data pad he had received from his most trusted spy. He wanted eyes and ears everywhere, but to accomplish this and have discretion at the same time was proving impossible in the instance of Vader.

"You have nothing new to report on the clone," he said evenly, looking at his spy.

"No, my Lord. She has not been seen outside of the Bespin or the Vjun locations. Our sources have been thorough."

"I see," the Emperor said, carefully considering his words. His latest interactions with Vader had been interesting, very interesting indeed. Vader's feelings were shielded from him, as they had always been, but there was a new intensity there. A hatred to replace the obsession Vader had in years of late towards the Jedi, and that hatred was directed at the Emperor himself; that thought made him smile. This was good. If Vader and his son came to confront each other as he had foreseen, if Vader remained focused and his son remained passionate, he would be inheriting a fine apprentice indeed, regardless of the outcome.

The clone the was only uncontrolled variable that threatened his plan. She could serve no purpose but to thwart his plan for Vader or Luke with emotional entanglements. Vader had long ago learned to watch his back; both of his residences were equipped with extensive security measures and spying within their walls while maintaining discretion was now impossible.

"Very well, then," the Emperor said coldly. "I want you to send two different ambush teams, one to the Vjun and the other to the Bespin location. Lord Vader is busy at the moment with an assignment he's been given. Use Lord Xizor's equipment; Vader will assume it is an attempt by Xizor to overthrow him."

"Yes, my Lord," the spy said.

The Emperor smiled to himself, satisfied. Perhaps he had entrusted Vader with too much, but he wouldn't let this slip out of his control. Vader's life as he knew it would shatter while he was overseeing the Second Death Star, and the Emperor would once again gain the complete advantage. But first a more aggressive approach would be needed.

He regarded the spy, who was ready to depart, and issued his final order.

"If you find the clone, eliminate her."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The grasses crushed relentlessly beneath Vader's boot heel as he surged forward, the team of stormtroopers obediently following with weapons at the ready. A planet, a forest full of lush green life surrounded them, on this beautiful day that would know only casualties. Vader's four-man fireteam were split up; two with him to cover, the others to find the rebels. His comm sounded, "Lord Vader, we've pinpointed their location. Your one o'clock, approximately fifty meters. We're two mike away. Do you want us to proceed."

"Yes commander. We will meet up with you at their location and surround them from the sides. Good work."

"Yes sir," he said, and the transmission ended.

There was only so much stealth Vader could accomplish with his breathing apparatus; he made the most of it. He walked steadily, stormtroopers to his front, and within minutes was able to see the rebels. They were heading in a direction lateral to his, and had not heard or seen his team. He gave his leader the definitive hand gesture. Now.

It is time, Anakin. Go, now. It was Qui-Gon's voice. You must move quickly.

"Halt," stormtrooper one stated firmly, holding up his weapon. The rebel troops froze; their team leader visibly flinched, before they reflexively brought their own weapons up. It was immediately clear this would be an aggressive negotiation. Vader sprung to action and leapt to the forefront, his saber hissing to life as he deflected their rapid fire. He covered his stormtroopers with quick actions to the sides, to the top and bottom, holding off the rebel fire before it ever became a threat. His troops obediently stood to his sides, blasters at the ready but ordered not to fire.

Vader heard the ominous shk of the blaster barrels from the other half of his fire team; they had arrived, unbeknownst to the Rebel fire time, at their rear and now held the blasters to the back of their heads. The Rebel fire ceased, and one at a time they stood slowly, first dropping their weapons before putting their hands obediently on the back of their heads. Vader's saber remained ignited, now the only sound in the otherwise silent forest.

They were escorted slowly to where Vader stood and as standard precaution searched by his troops for additional weapons; none were found. The Rebels looked defeated, resigned, and the expressions on their face indicated to him they clearly expected imminent death if not worse.

What Vader did next was something no one would have ever expected.

The deadly hum of his lightsaber filled the forest as he spun, in a blaze of red light, striking down the stormtroopers who had stood protectively beside him. Their bodies crumpled slowly to the forest floor. The stormtroopers apprehending the Rebels barely had time to react before they, too, were targeted, one by a strike with a thrown lightsaber, the other by a deadly Force push as Vader extended his right palm.

All four white bodies lay uselessly as the saber returned to Vader's hand; he looked at them and silently apologized for betraying their obedience. He had no other choice.

The Rebels hands slowly, tentatively lowered to their sides and they stilled, not fully comprehending what they had seen. No sense could be made of it.

Vader turned his lightsaber off, it sounded with a hiss at it retracted back into its hilt. Then he took a step forward before placing it into the hands of the disbelieving Rebel leader and uttering the words they never thought they would hear.

"I surrender."

Chapter Text

He walked with them through the hallways leading to the detainment cell, a dark figure with cloak flowing behind him, physically dwarfing all of those who had him in their custody. They could have put him in restraints, but any common sense dictated he could have easily broken those. Instead, they chose to take him at his word.

Sometimes pragmatism prevailed over policy.

An uneasy truce existed between them; Vader, and the Rebels, the men given a second chance at life who walked beside their one time enemy. They sought galactic peace. He wanted inner peace, and a chance to make things right now that he knew he could.

They took him to the containment area and they waited, unknowingly turning him over to his son.

Commander Skywalker.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Padme rubbed her forehead. She was tired and had felt different for the latter part of the day. Listening to Leia sometimes made her more weary; the girl was an endless well of ideas and could work all day without rest.

"...with these schematics we can try a different approach." Leia looked up at her. "Are you listening?"

Padme nodded and shifted her folders. "Yes."

"You seem distracted. Break?" Leia offered.

Padme smiled. "Sounds good." They both began organizing paperwork. Padme flinched and looked up; the feeling pulsated through her strongly and her heart began to pound. Leia didn't notice at first, she was still talking about Rebellion contingency plans and Padme had again retreated, drowning out her voice to a muffle.

Leia looked at Padme; her eyes narrowed. "What is it?"

Padme's brown eyes met hers. "He's here."

Leia was quiet for a time.

Padme turned on her heel to leave and Leia caught her hand. "Where are you going?"

"He's here Leia, I know. I can feel it." Padme said, and her soft brown eyes had a light in them, Leia thought. She suddenly appreciated how beautiful Padme could be. She also knew better than to try to argue with Padme or Luke. They're damn stubborn on this Force issue, she thought wearily.

"I told you he would come back and he has," Padme added, and Leia was mutinously silent. If this pans out, this is something I have to see, she thought. She also felt the need to stay by Padme's side.

"Fine," she said, and hurried to follow Padme, who was already a few steps ahead of her.

 

Luke saw them as they approached the containment area, Leia a few steps behind his mother, who was almost jogging.

Padme reached him and looked up to Luke, her large eyes compassionate and hopeful. "It's him," she breathed, inquisitively.

Luke nodded. He put his hand on Padme's shoulder softly. "Are you ready for this?"

"Yes."

Luke gave the approval, and the containment doors opened. Padme trembled. There he stood, large and dark, flanked by Rebel guards who'd apprehended the high-profile detainee and returned alive, seemingly by a miracle. His head jerked up suddenly, and Padme knew he was looking right at her.

Her legs were frozen at first and then, moving as if by their own will, carried her slowly in his direction. Then she was herself, truly herself, again, and covered the remainder of the distance separating them in a moment.

They embraced tightly, Anakin lifting her and turning slightly so her boots didn't even touch the ground. She buried her face in his neck, and didn't realize she was close to crying until she felt the wetness on her own cheeks. Sometimes emotion caught her by surprise that way. In that instant she knew how very afraid she had been that this would never come to fruition, and how one can tell themselves they could do without something just to forge through each day.

They held each other that way, oblivious to the confused stares of those around them. They hadn't noticed the guards by Vader's side motion to stop her, or seen Luke hold them back to allow her access. They didn't notice Luke watch them and smile slightly, feeling more complete as he saw his parents and the missing pieces of his life brought back together. Or Leia, as she regarded Vader coldly and crossed her arms, saying nothing at all.

"I was worried," Padme admitted, loudly enough for Vader to hear but too softly for anyone else to discern more than a quiet murmur.

"I know." he said.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Padme was in a conference room with four beings, beings who would be considered the backbone of the Alliance itself. She sat, with Leia and Luke at her sides, Mon Mothma, and Mon Calamari Ackbar across from them. When Mothma spoke, she largely sought Leia's recommendations; Padme understood they had worked together a long while, probably Leia's entire life. They currently discussed the housing arrangements for Lord Vader, the Rebellion's newest detainee.

"This comes as quite a surprise to all of us, and we must decide collectively how to handle the situation," Mon said smoothly; Padme smiled to herself. She didn't think there was anything Mon couldn't handle with serenity, and justice. Even when Padme herself had emerged to meet her one-time colleague again, Mon had been surprised but polite and interacted with her well. Mon kept an open mind to anything, and Padme had never seen her lose her bearing. For these reasons she made an excellent leader for the Alliance and a fledging new Republic.

Mon looked in Leia's direction, "Princess Organa," she said.

Leia was quiet a moment, and then shook her head. "I don't know, I didn't expect this either. I wouldn't trust the situation," she added pointedly, looking at the Senator. Mon nodded.

"Was he searched for weapons?" Leia asked.

"Yes," Mon said.

"Tracking devices?"

Luke, who was in charge of security, leaned forward, "None, Leia. Thorough scans were performed, and the only weapon on him was the lightsaber. It is being held in evidence," he added.

Leia shot him an angry look, then bit her lip thoughtfully, not responding. This was the balance that always seemed to be struck, she thought with agitation; Padme and Luke sympathizing with Vader, leaving Leia to stand as the lone voice of reason and common sense. Something wasn't right here, Leia insisted to herself. It could not be this easy.

"He's here to help," Padme said, sounding more argumentative than she intended.

Leia gave her a condescending look. "You would think--"

"Enough," Mon said, breaking it off before a problem erupted. She had at least three opinions to consider that she valued highly, but domestic disputes weren't her forte. She'd met Padme, her cloned colleague, and then learned of the twin's parentage, recognizing that this situation must be handled carefully.

"Regardless of personal feelings on this issue, we should hear him out and see if has information that could be of use to the Rebellion. I won't raise my hopes as of yet, but a valuable opportunity has presented itself."

Leia, subdued, shook her head and then nodded. "I agree. It is late; he can stay in containment. A thorough interrogation should be performed tomorrow."

Padme blinked and bit her lip; she had hoped Vader could be with her and be accepted unconditionally but kept her silence; at this point that would be pushing it. Despondent, she looked at Luke, who nodded reassuringly.

Luke cleared his throat. "He has special medical circumstances, Senator Mothma." He looked at Padme. "We respectfully request accommodations for him."

Leia watched Luke curiously. Commander Ackbar spoke up then, "What issues are we considering?"

"He....has burned lungs and cannot function without a respirator. By extension, he can be in an oxygenated environment. The same applies to pressure." He glanced at Padme and continued. "From what I understand he functions in a 12.5 psi environment. There is too, of course, the standard cyberkinetic maintenance," he added, glancing at his own synthetic hand. Padme reached over and held it reassuringly.

Leia was suddenly seized by a wave of spite and jealousy. "We're not here to offer him a vacation, Luke. He's committed atrocities against the Republic and individual persons for years, I'm sure his accommodations will be fine as they are."

"Leia, it's the least we can do--"

"No! The Empire wouldn't provide medical care for someone if they were dying, let alone make them comfortable." she spat.

"We're not the Empire," Luke said, and she was quiet for a moment.

Leia turned to Mon. "I think we should leave things as is and commence questioning in a standard day,"

"We need to hear this information as soon as possible, Leia," Padme said. "And Luke's right; we don't need to be treating detainees like the Empire would, we're better than that."

Leia felt her resolve erode. "He has everything he needs for now; a basic cell, and food..."

Padme felt for the first time disappointment in Leia and a burning anger rising in her chest. "You can't expect him to go to bed in that suit unless he's sleeping upright." she said tightly, and was met with silence from the entire panel. Leia looked away and shook her head slightly.

"We will make these accommodations, with Commander Skywalker's assistance," Mon said decisively. "I also think he can be questioned by all of us in the main control room and that will be adjusted as well. It costs credits, yes, but we have and will certainly utilize them for special circumstances such as these. I don't think anyone here particularly wants to speak to the black suit," she said, looking at Leia. "This could help facilitate more open discussion. That is all."

Mon rose, and with a dismissive action, everyone stood and adjourned quietly, lost to their own thoughts.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Padme felt as restless as she could ever remember. She still found it hard to believe that he was here, in the very same vessel as she was, and that they were together again, under these circumstances. She looked out her window, heart aching in her throat, amazed proximity to him could make her feel this way. They were near no solar bodies and had no light from which to gauge day or night; still time had passed and this standard day was drawing to a close.

"What are you waiting for?" Jael said softly, and smiled. Padme turned to look at her.

"Go." she urged. Padme, nodded, and involuntarily broke into a grin. The galaxy was at war, changes were in progress, but tonight...this was theirs. Whatever else happened, they were brought together and Padme could believe now they would be alright. She grabbed her cloak and, throwing it about her shoulders as she exited her room, quickly made her way to the detention area of the vessel.

Padme was able to appreciate with each successive step the difference between her life and Vader's, and saw markedly how much he had given up for her. These detainment areas, while humane, were different in scale from the quarters she and Jael had been afforded. There was no comparison to the opulence of Bespin or Vjun. She reached his cell and paused for a moment. Guards stood in front and after a brief request allowed her access; she was now a trusted member of the fleet.

The door opened and she saw him for the first time in months without his suit, sitting on the cot. His blue eyes met hers and lit up; he was rising to come to where she was but her instincts were quicker; she crossed the small area and sat beside Anakin, putting her arms around him.

"Ani," she breathed.

She heard him laugh a moment later as he returned the embrace. "I'm alright," he said, then grew a bit more serious. "Luke had them fix my detention cell. I'm sure you had something to do with that," he added after a moment.

She nodded and looked around, regarding the small but efficient area. There was a cot with ample bedding, a sink, a fresher, and even a small portal from which a view of the galaxy shone. Yes, Luke had made sure he was taken care of. In this area, this small portion Anakin would have to call his for an undetermined period of time, he had his privacy and would not be forced to do anything.

Words seemed inadequate but Padme tried. "How are you doing?"

Anakin nodded. "Fine. I retrieved everything I thought would help. I...." he paused and shook his head. "How are Luke, Leia? Have you been safe?" He was glad they were all together, and had met their mother; yet another dull pain tore at his heart as he realized he wasn't there when she met them the first time, or the second.

"They're good. Luke's been a Commander with the fleet for awhile now; he's in charge of weaponry and military actions. He's really something with his lightsaber. Leia....I don't think she ever tires. She's got so much strength and so many ideas, but sometimes I can get her to relax. She has such a dry sense of humor, like you....” her voice trailed off and she looked down.

Regret tinged his emotions. "Leia hates me." he said suddenly, but there was no bitterness in his voice, only remorse as he accepted the realization. "It's my fault." he said softly.

Padme was silent for a moment. "She doesn't know you, Anakin. She's never had the chance to know you as you really are." Padme said, and the unspoken sentiment was not lost on him. Anyone who truly knows you loves you.

Anakin was holding her hands in his own. "I've missed you, Padme," he said, and she could see in his eyes the endless well of love and tenuous faith. He traced her cheek with his hand and something in Padme ignited; she leaned forward to kiss him. The kiss became deeper, and slowly but firmly she pushed him back on the bed. He didn't resist as she shed her clothing, or when she began to unbuckle his garments.

"Is this allowed..." was offered as a faint protest before she leaned forward, pressing her lips to his.

"I don't care," she swore, meaning it as she closed herself around her husband, allowing this one escape from reality.

 

Later, when she woke in his arms, it took her a moment to realize where she was. His breathing was slow and easy, and she could tell by looking at him that he was at ease, perhaps for the first time in years. It was a different kind of freedom, she supposed, being incarcerated by a benevolent force than being responsible for a malignant one. He was with her, and would answer only to the end that would free a galaxy rather than oppress it.

Padme gently disentangled herself from his arms, not wanting to wake him, and went over to the portal, looking out in silence for a long time. She placed her finger over one star, then another, and then a larger one she believed to be a planet. The planets always shone brighter. She played this game as a child and now as a woman wondered where her residences on Bespin and Vjun were and what became of them. Where they still there, or had the Empire had them destroyed? Her heart ached as she thought of it, all the memories and all he had done for her; she missed the beauty of Bespin and the isolated romanticism of Vjun. Had they made the right decision?

She looked back at Anakin, who was still sleeping peacefully. They had chosen to join the Rebellion, and had to stay this course. She had no doubts as she left his room that he had once before stood at a crossroads and faced the very same feelings.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was late, and Padme couldn't sleep. No bed, no cell, nor anywhere else could still her restlessness. In approximately twelve standard hours he was going to come before the leaders of the Alliance, and offer his assistance. Padme knew in no uncertain sense it would set in motion the path of his fate. She felt nervous, like she was on trial; whatever happened to him, happened to her too. Padme was so engrossed in her thoughts she didn't even hear Leia approach until she sat down beside her.

Padme inhaled and then laughed, "You startled me," she said.

Leia grinned good-naturedly, and sat beside her, both of them observing the view in one of the observation lounges. She had been searching, against her better judgment, for Padme for over an hour before she found her in the observation area. Leia knew she herself should be in bed but couldn't seem to sleep; as she looked at Padme she realized she had the same issue.

"Can't rest either?" Leia asked. Padme nodded. They were both quiet for a moment, enjoying each other’s company.

"I couldn't find you for the last standard hour," Leia said softly. "I was a bit concerned."

Padme squeezed Leia's hand. "You needn't worry about me. I was restless, so I walked about the ship,"

Leia was quiet for a moment, and something was bothering her. "You went to see him. Didn't you." Leia said hollowly, and Padme could see her demeanor instantly change.

"Yes." Padme wasn't sure if the admission brought her fear or shame, though there was reason for neither.

Leia took a deep breath and pushed her logic forward; diplomacy in this situation was proving so hard for her, due in no small part because it was family, she surmised. She looked back at Padme and her tone was dry. "I know I won't change your mind, any more than I could change Luke's. I suppose I don't have to tell you what a bad idea that is."

Padme turned her head away slightly and could feel tears burn her eyes, tears she realized were for her daughter. Leia was a good person, and led a good cause, but she struggled with herself. She was so much like Anakin, Padme thought, but at the same time she was afraid they could never accept each other. Every time Leia saw him, spoke of him, she was filled with loathing and it pained Padme to see. For Leia to hate him, she would have to hate a part of herself, too.

"The first time...." Padme said softly, then continued. "The first time we met, he asked me if I was an angel. It was so strange, meeting him." She shook her head. "Not like any other child. I wanted to believe that he was a silly little boy, and told him so. Even if I didn't acknowledge it at the time, I felt like I had found a thread of my fate when I entered that store."

Leia studied her, slightly mesmerized. She was too sound of mind to buy into the Force concepts that Luke did, but knew inherently that these memories Padme spoke of were authentic. Had the Naberries versed her on her old background? In spite of herself, she was curious and wanted Padme to continue.

"Store?" Leia asked.

"His master's store. Watto. He sold things for him, but assembled parts on the side."

Leia's mouth hung open slightly. "Master? You mean....He was a slave?"

Padme looked at her benignly and smiled. "Yes."

Leia suddenly felt ashamed. She looked down. "I didn't know that." Somehow, when she had pictured the beginnings of Darth Vader, if she ever had, she imagined someone young and arrogant, born into wealth, privilege, and training. But a regular person, a slave....that had never crossed her mind before. That would mean that sometime, in the past, he had been forced to do what he was told, to swallow his pride. Beaten perhaps. Sometime he had been human.

Padme spoke suddenly. "Why do you hang on to your anger, Leia?" There was no judgment in her voice, but a sad curiosity. Padme truly wanted to understand; perhaps if she knew what drove Leia, she could understand Anakin himself better.

Leia shook her head and bit her lip slightly; she was at a loss for words. She'd never had that problem before. When she spoke, it was not with the resolve she previously had and she did not meet Padme's eyes.

"It's unwise to lower your defenses so quickly--it...could be a trick..."

Padme had no wish to embarrass or scold her daughter. She only wanted her to understand that there were greater things. "It's easy to hate someone, to be angry for the wrongs committed against us. What's harder is finding the good in someone. It's there, Leia. I know you wouldn't think that a young slave boy could grow up to be Darth Vader, but it happened. The best part is that it can be undone; I believe that. I need to, not just for him but for myself. All the steps that led him to where he is today are a puzzle, known only to him." She paused. "It's easy to demonize our enemies, while forgetting the potential to be good or bad is in everyone. The hardest thing to face is that the real monster could be ourselves."

Leia didn't say, couldn't say, anything else as she stared ahead, her stony gaze on the unflinching stars. She couldn't bring herself to say anything when Padme slowly rose, and returned to her quarters.

But Padme's words never left her.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When the next day arrived, the air was thick with anticipation. Though not acknowledged outright, everyone felt it. Mon, General Ackbar, and Leia were seated at a conference table to one side of the command room, discussing plans and alternatives in low voices. In yet another portion of the deck Mothma's personal assistants and pilots plotted their course, and routinely screened for traffic or any potential threats.

Padme and Luke stood with the mechanical officer, studying the control panel. Luke punched in a couple numbers and activated the pressure as had been explained to him. His face was tight with concentration. "....alright. This should work." he said softly, and looked at Padme, who nodded.

Luke pressed a button on his comm. "Bring him in,” he ordered, and took his mother’s hand as they went to be seated at the table. The table fell silent and Padme waited anxiously for what seemed like an hour before she heard the door open and the sound of mechanical breathing filled the room. Two guards, each a foot shorter than their detainee stood at his sides.

Mon stood and motioned for him to have a seat. Then she addressed the guards before they departed. “That will be all. Thank you.”

She looked pointedly at Vader and nodded. “You may remove your apparatus if you wish. Everything is ready.”

He took a breath and slowly reached behind his head, unhinging the upper helmet and removing it, and then the lower breathing apparatus. He took a moment to adjust to his environment. The room was still.

Leia regarded her father. She knew from speaking with Luke and information she’d gleaned that he’d been badly damaged, and wore the suit for more than just intimidation purposes. What was it Luke had said about his disabilities...damaged alveoli....scarring of the lungs? His appearance was something else that had her taken aback. She knew not just from Luke but from conversations with Bail he was disfigured from a fight with Master Kenobi. He didn’t look terribly disfigured, but more like a taller, older, rugged version of Luke. She could tell Luke had gotten much of his looks and coloring from Vader; they shared the same blond, wavy hair. She could see slight traces of scars, particularly one than lined his left eyebrow but knew enough of reconstructive surgery to deduce he’d had them fixed over the years. The best medical care the Empire could afford, she thought bitterly. If only every citizen had been given that advantage.

“So,” Mon began. “We understand you wish to help us.”

He nodded silently and Padme found his hand under the table, squeezing it. She knew none of this was easy for him; surrendering and coming, unmasked, before the Rebellion left him open and vulnerable. It made her love him more.

Mon went straight to the point. Her smooth hand moved a black data schematic across the table; a moment later it light up into a holographic image of the second Death Star. “I’ve been over the file you brought; there are some parts I need clarification on.”

He looked at it for a moment before speaking. “A lot of the problems from the first were corrected with this construction. The firing mechanisms are able to regenerate within minutes, rather than an hour....and at rapid fire rate.”

Admiral Ackbar leaned forward. “We have teams on Endor working on dismantling the shield generator. I understand the gravitational field affords it some protection.”

Anakin smiled ruefully. “No, that’s what The Emperor wants you to believe.”

“Are you saying he’s baiting us?”

“Yes.”

Leia leaned forward; his apologetic eyes met her icy ones. “Wait a minute. You’re telling us now to pull back from the Endor mission, because we’re exactly where the Emperor wants us? That’s ridiculous. We received this information from trusted spies--”

“Your Bothan spies were known to the Emperor.” Anakin interjected. “He also knew they would return to you with the plans and lead the Rebellion straight to it. He killed a few of them as a token, a ruse to put up the illusion that they were top secret plans. The reality was that they were purposely leaked.”

Leia opened her mouth to say something but Luke gave her an uncharacteristic hard glance. Don’t--he warned silently, and she quieted, instead sitting back and crossing her arms. Her brother had this effect on her. She knew she was pressing her boundaries.

Mon grappled with the information; she had not only valued the contribution of the spies, but the fact that they had lost their lives for the acquisition of this information, information that now was just another pawn in the Emperor’s plans. “So it was on purpose then.” she said softly. Anakin nodded.

She turned to him, and lowered her politician’s facade for a moment. “What should we do now, Lord Vader?”

He looked down, and took a deep breath before speaking. “Please don’t call me that.” he said quietly, acknowledging for the first time that he wished to shed his Sith identity. He didn’t know what would become of him, or where he would go from here. What he did know was that he no longer wanted affiliation with the Empire or what it stood for.

She nodded softly and older memories returned. “Of course. Anakin, I’m unsure of the best course of action at this point.”

He looked again at the holo. “The new Death Star has compensated for the weaknesses of the first, and it is strong, but not infallible. There are no gaps in this star’s shield, so extra caution must be taken. Most significantly, the exhaust vent is heat sensitive now. It is divided into many smaller fragments, which seal if they detect excess energy. The concentration of turbo lasers is now near the throne tower--” he pointed to a part of the holo. “To defeat this, the best way would be to use heat sensitive craft. And your best pilots. The target is much smaller, and the Death Star’s targeting abilities much greater.”

She nodded and considered the information for a moment. “It seems sound.” she concluded and looked at Ackbar. “Keep two teams on Endor to supervise the shields; have the rest pull back, return to station, and set out on thermal controlled craft.” She spoke slowly, comprehending the new information and formulating plans as she did so. “We’ll use the same tactics as last time, but different equipment. Our strategy lies in blind ambush. If we succeed, they will never see us coming.”

Everyone was quite for a time as Mon spoke with her bridge officers and teams were reassembled. Anakin marveled at the efficiency of the Alliance, and would have been proud if he could claim any part of it. Mon and Padme; they succeeded where he had failed. They ruled through respect rather than fear, and the net result was the same efficiency, but more teamwork among the Alliance. He had demanded compliance, but Mon had earned it.

Mon returned to the conference table and everyone was adjourning before Anakin felt it; the slow, cold presence creep through his entire body. And then he knew. They were discovered, and it was all because of him.

Mon was the first to notice his stricken expression and took note. “What is it?”

“The Emperor.” Anakin said. “He’s here.”

Chapter Text

"The walls start breathing
My minds unweaving
Maybe it’s best you leave me alone
A weight is lifted
On this evening
I give the final blow
When darkness turns to light
It ends tonight"

Tyson Ritter~Move Along

 

Ripples of the Force could be felt in the room by even those who weren't inherently sensitive to it. First, the uneasy shifting. Next would come the announcement. Anakin looked at Mon and swallowed; she wore an unreadable expression and slowly turned her gaze to the command module viewport. Noises on the control panel would sound, she knew, and then they would find, in one way or another, that they had been cornered.

"Senator Mothma" Lt. Haldis said. "I've detected....it looks like an Imperial ship." He turned to look at her anxiously.

"I know." Mothma said softly, despair and resolve both crossing her features.

Without thinking, Anakin moved closer to Padme and took her hand. Now the entire room had Haldis' attention.

Haldis held the receiver to his ear, listening intently. He looked up at Mon. "He's requesting access onto the vessel."

Mon raised her chin slightly, considering her options quickly before realizing there really were none. "Well, I suppose we don't have another choice, do we?" she said, almost sadly. "Allow him in."

Leia jerked her head in Vader's direction, wearing a startled expression, before looking back at Luke. He reached out through the Force for assistance, and, finding his answer, turned to Leia. "It wasn't him." he said, shaking his head. "The Emperor must have followed his Force signature."

Minutes passed before the doors opened with a hiss and shut behind the Emperor, everyone in the room now facing him with baited breath and grim uncertainty. Anakin was surprised he didn't bring any of his guards, but considering, knew they never would be much assistance in defending him against Force sensitives.

"Emperor," Mon said without ceremony, letting his name linger and die in the air. He was smaller in person than she had remembered, but emanated no less darkness. The room seemed more oppressive, and Mon knew without asking that his fleet was watching their primary vessel even as they congregated. She briefly considered the plight of the pilots, now far from the danger they were in, who had been sent to target the Death Star. Mon quickly pushed the thought out of her mind, not wanting the Emperor to be privy to that knowledge.

The Emperor was brief. "I seek counsel with Lord Vader," he hissed, then turned to where Mon, Admiral Ackbar, and the twins were standing. Anakin heard a warning whispered in the Force and, without thinking, summoned his crimson lightsaber from where it rested on Luke's belt. It reached his hand almost instantaneously, just a moment before an omnipotent hum filled the room and Force walls were erected, separating the area where Anakin, Padme, and the Emperor stood from everyone else.

Padme gasped and placed her hand on the blaster holstered on her hip, Anakin stood beside her and placed his arm out in front of her in a protective gesture, even before Commander Hur reached her. Behind the scarlet Force wall, Luke and Leia had done the same. Luke ignited his lightsaber and touched the wall tentatively; he could see what was occurring, but probing attempts with his lightsaber appeared to have little or no effect; each touch reverberated with an electric shock. He looked at Leia helplessly, but her eyes were glued to the scene unfolding in front of them.

The Emperor turned to face his former second in Command, his rage well-hidden now beneath a dark and frigid demeanor. When he had considered how Vader could defect without his foresight, he realized the truth-he was guided by the Light side of the Force; by love rather than greed, by compassion rather than power. And the Emperor had to admit, infuriatingly, that the Jedi were not dead. They would be soon.

His eyes shifted to the reason for Vader's defection and he saw her, his former colleague, standing beside him, and tentatively reached with the Force in her direction before he stopped abruptly. He knew exactly who she was, and how she had come about. It was the same signature, the same aura that Padme had, but now there was something, someone....else there as well, building another dimension onto her character.

She was a threat to him. The Skywalker twins were a threat to him. They were all there, and he had reason to be afraid.

The Emperor's lips twisted into a sickening smile before his cackling laughter filled the room, causing everyone unease. Anakin stared stoically at him, still standing close to Padme.

"I must congratulate you on your marriage, Lord Vader," the Emperor said coldly, and Anakin flinched a bit at the use of his former title. "I'm sorry I wasn't there to support you."

"It won't work," Anakin stated calmly. "I reject everything you have to say," he added, knowing the Emperor might try to draw him back to the Empire and yet uncomfortable with it anyway.

The Emperor looked at Padme and smiled innocently before he pulled out his most vile manipulation. "I never told you about the upgrades made to the facilities on Kamino shortly after the Clone Wars began, did I?" Anakin's stomach started turning; he knew that there were many secrets the Emperor hadn't told him. "You've fought alongside the clones for years, they've proved effective comrades but just as....shall we say...dispensable, when the time came. Didn't you ever question how or why they were so synchronized in their actions, and required little or no supervision in carrying out their orders?"

"Cut through it," Anakin said tersely, hating his mind games. The Emperor relished providing the information slowly, seeing how it strained his apprentice.

"It turns out they all share the same experience, without exception. The memories of every protocol are downloaded into the new ones for authenticity. Even the clones grown at a natural rate glean this advantage, we've found it makes them stronger and more effective...." he paused and looked at Padme, his voice dripping with condescension. "But I suppose you knew that already. It turns out clones can serve a variety of uses."

Anakin shook and tried to catch his breath while the Emperor's words settled. The repercussions of everything that meant swirled and fermented in his confused mind, causing him to question the cause of every action. Did this mean all of her recollections were false...that she was not Luke and Leia's mother? Where did she belong? He glanced out of the corner of his eye at Ami, who stood solidly, staring down the Emperor without vacillation. He was just as proud standing now, fighting beside her as he'd been beside.....beside Padme at the battle of Geonosis.

Newer, vivid memories flooded his senses. Dinner at Vjun with Amidala, her triumphant smile, her tears and pain as she ran to him for support after the fallout with her family.....that was real. Whoever she was, he loved her. He hoped the doubt that had flickered and threatened to break him had gone unnoticed, because if she'd known, it would shatter her.

"It makes no difference." Anakin said slowly, and the Emperor's smile faded. "She's my wife."

The Emperor studied him for a moment, before his concession at the loss of his apprentice. "Very well then."

He raised his hands and Anakin brought his lightsaber to the ready, igniting the crimson blade. He prepared to face down the Emperor's fire before the Emperor turned slightly, targeting Amidala with the Force lightning. It caught Anakin off guard as she pummeled against the wall and fell into unconsciousness. Anakin intercepted the Force lightning moments after it started, and struggled to keep it at bay with his lightsaber. The Emperor was powerful, and the lightning a skill Anakin could never have because of his prosthetics. Moments later the Emperor ceased the lightning, facing his former apprentice yet again.

Anakin looked over at Amidala, who was weak but in stable condition; her Force signature was there, and he had been able to step in before too much damage was done. His angel....beautifully broken, lay still with Hur at her side, providing as much assistance as a stormtrooper could. She stood by him, she'd always been with him; and now because he had fallen, she had fallen too.

The Emperor laughed smugly.....that infuriating laugh that Anakin had always hated, that made him want to tear his Master apart and never put the pieces together again. Anakin's breathing was labored, his stance was rigid, and a turmoil of black emotions filled him as he was this close to the cause of all the pain and loss he'd ever had in his life. Anakin wanted his family, but the Emperor wanted him; he would follow him and destroy every good thing that ever came into his life. Ami lay, harmed by his Master, and Anakin saw red; all he wanted was revenge.

He looked up at his former Master, despised, and his eyes were yellow.

Leia gasped, and Luke took her hand.

The Emperor looked pleased. "Welcome back, Lord Vader. I knew you had not strayed too far."

Vader glowered at him as he walked back and forth, his movements sure and predatory, never taking his eyes off the Emperor. He could feel the hate for his former Master flow through and strengthen him; the saber shifted and twirled idly in his hand, begging for use.

"You are going to regret that," he vowed in a low voice, and the Emperor knew he had a worthy opponent on his hands. Vader had not been this emotionally invested in battle in a long while.

"We shall see," the Emperor said, and raised his hands to administer his weapon of choice.

Force lightning was an interesting animal-powerful and strong, but like the Dark Side of the Force administered in short, potent bursts. The Emperor was surprised that Vader held his own for this length of time, and his anger seemed to give him a quicker reflex and powerful edge as he seamlessly kata'd and parried the blows, moving ever closer to his destiny. As Vader came towards Palpatine he could see the glee wane from the eyes of the sickening old man; that too failed to elicit any sympathy this time as he owned his hatred and relentlessly pummeled the dark being.

One blow, two blows, three blows came in quick succession before Vader drew a cry of pain from the Emperor as his right hand was severed. Vader summoned the lightsaber on the Emperor's belt and assumed the stance of victor, an inch away from the death of Palpatine as the blades came together and crossed, threatening his neck in a deadly V formation.

The Emperor's breaths were heavy and drawn, his ugly pallor features now that of an elderly man rather than a dictator. "I'm....too weak...I can't...." he pled pathetically.

"Liar," Vader growled. "That's exactly what you said before I came to your defense with Master Windu, before he was thrown to his death. You're a LIAR, I had no choice after that!"

"I can help you, Anakin. I will show you immortality, for you and your family, I've learned how to clone and transfer a consciousness. You can be the Master..." he said, but his words fell on deaf ears. The dark side was whispering something far more seductive in Anakin's ear. He could take back his life, he could topple the Empire and protect his family, and annihilate this disgusting creature once and for all....

Vader flexed, hungry to administer the killing blow before he felt it; the warm, firm presence of Qui-Gon hold him back, showing him with feelings what the Jedi never could with words. This isn't where it started, Anakin, he heard Qui-Gon say, and was filled with flashbacks of the Tusken Raider slaughter, then the battle with Count Dooku and his death at the hands of Skywalker. He'd wanted to end him; he'd only needed the justification, the permission, to finish him. The Dark Side had given it. If he fought evil with evil, only evil would win.

Fate couldn't be met this way. Anakin hated politics, he never would understand it, but he had to abide this time. He would not dishonor Amidala, or his family, by taking this path again. There would be a trial, for everyone involved. Measures would be slow, and painstaking, and bureaucratic. But it was justice, and the only way a democracy could survive.

He numbly deactivated the lightsabers, and slowed his breathing. "You are under arrest, Emperor." he said slowly. "For war crimes, and for crimes against humanity. This ends here."

Palpatine looked at him for a long moment in disbelief, before triumph filled his features and he took advantage of the opening. A resurgence of blue lightning came out of his remaining hand--it only took one--and Anakin was vulnerable. Memories of pain, white hot searing pain, came to rest with him as he felt it again and was thrown back. He briefly realized that the mechanical part of his body was in danger, and failing, before his fears melded with unconsciousness and he saw no more.

Luke and Leia, who had been watching the scene with a horror that immobilized them, came to life. Leia's fear and anger culminated in a torrent of emotion, and she was untied. It didn't matter to either of them if their efforts were futile, they both used sabers, fists, anything, to pummel the Force wall. Luke realized vaguely as he unleashed his own desperation that Leia was channeling the Force without even realizing it.

The Emperor held many powers, but even he had limitation. Partially unarmed, and targeting Vader, he was unable to maintain the focus necessary to maintain the Force shield. It flickered, strengthened, and died, releasing Luke and Leia to jump into the fray. Luke ran to capture the Force lightning with his green blade while Leia ran to assist Amidala. She knelt at her side with Hur, and could already see her mother begin to stir; the damage wasn't bad. Luke's efforts lasted less than a minute as he steadily held the Force lightning back. One moment, a break in the Emperor's defense, was afforded and Luke neatly severed the remaining hand, leaving Palpatine wholly unarmed.

Medical personnel summoned by Senator Mothma began to arrive, assessing the damage. Leia was tending to Amidala; her eyes were opening and she knew where she was. Remaining members of the medical team were working on the other victim needing assistance. Ami knew something was wrong, very wrong, and could see them begin resuscitation attempts on the black figure out of the corner of her eye; she lost composure.

Ami was sobbing. "Oh, God. G-God no-....." she wailed between gasps, and started quaking. Leia's attempts at diplomacy, to sooth her, were futile, and she felt a cold stab of pain strike her heart as she saw what they were doing to her father.

"Please....it'll be alright," Leia pleaded, but Ami was inconsolable and grew more frantic every moment. "Sedative," Leia said, softly at first and then in a more demanding tone over the cries of her mother. "Sedative! Now; I need one, here. Now." A medical assistant obliged and Leia was barely able to hold Ami back from her efforts to crawl towards Vader as she bit the cap in her mouth, secured the syringe in the other hand, and released the agent into the largest muscle she could safely reach. Her mother went limp in her arms, just as she watched them carry the large figure of her father to the medical center.

The atmosphere in the room after the battle between the Sith Lords, the cries of Amidala, and the mystical effects had died down was strangely anticlimactic. Luke looked at the Emperor, who was now quiet and using the Dark side of the Force to subdue the pain of his severed hands but rendered powerless regardless. He felt whispers of hatred and the Dark Side stir in his own heart as he saw the haughty gaze of the Emperor, and used the Light Side to calm himself. Force bindings would be needed to restrict him, Luke thought numbly, and he had no idea, at that moment, what type of a trial they could have to dismantle the current Empire and bring the Emperor to justice.

Luke looked in Senator Mothma and Admiral Ackbar's direction. "Should I move him to the med cells?" he asked quietly, and he and Mon regarded each other for just a minute.

"No," Mon said, and Luke was surprised. "We'll do what we do with garbage. We get rid of it." She turned to her commanding officer. "Put him out the airlock."

Luke watched her, stunned, before looking at the stricken expression of the Emperor as two Alliance officers lifted him from opposite arms and put him in the adjoining room, ignoring his threats and cries as the doors on either side of him closed and sealed.

Mon gave him one final glance--that was all he deserved--before nodding at Haldis. The main door to the aside opened, and everyone watched as for just a moment the air left his room, the Emperor's robes were tousled, and he was pulled into the vacuum of space. His body thrown out, the dark energy released into the vast blackness surrounding the Alliance vessel in shades of green, blue, and invisible dark matter, before it imploded on itself, and all they saw was his figure, growing smaller the further away it drifted.

Haldis turned again to Mothma and Ackbar, his expression one of shock and awe. "I just got word from Bravo Team. They managed to destroy the second Death Star and pull away safely."

And for the first time that historic day, Mon smiled.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Anakin opened his eyes; he felt no pain. He didn't even need time to adjust to his surroundings; his feeling, if it could be called that, was one of drifting but static, suspended in warmth. There was white all around him, brilliance beyond comprehension, and yet it didn't hurt his eyes. Was he dead?

No, Anakin. Qui-Gon's amused voice said, and he almost jumped. He couldn't see Qui-Gon, he couldn't see anything but light, but the voice had never sounded as real and close to him as it did then. He couldn't see Qui-Gon but he could feel, sense, the voice around him. Nowhere. Everywhere.

Anakin looked down, and could tell that he had a form, and hands of some type, although not what he was used to.

I don't understand, he said simply.

You're hurt. Your health is in danger, but you are not ready yet.

What happened....Master? Anakin asked timidly.

Look, Anakin. Over there. he said, and suddenly Anakin was able to observe everything that was going on in his medical room. He lay there, surrounded by an oxygen tent and numerous equipment. People came and left the room often, and Amidala was at his side.

Anakin watched numbly. How long? he asked.

Time is not important here, only events, was Qui-Gon's reply, and Anakin felt frustrated.

I am trying, Master. I don't know what else...what else I can do.

I know, Anakin, and I am very proud of you. Sometimes it is not up to us to do anything. Yet our work is not done, and we must wait before we move on.

Anakin watched for a long while, content to just be in the presence of Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan was there, too, and he could find no hard place in his heart towards him. He knew now that Obi-Wan had the shortcomings of any person, but had truly loved him and done only what he had to. When Anakin had embraced the darkness and broken his heart, he moved on to guide Luke. It was no treachery or desire to possess his son; Luke was the only part of Anakin Obi-Wan had left, and he'd projected all of his love for his lost apprentice onto his son.

Amidala didn't look well. Healers came and went, Luke and Leia checked on them often, but she was reluctant to leave even for a rest break. Her eyes were sunken and she looked thinner, although she was slight of frame to begin with.

She cares for you, Qui-Gon observed, and Anakin humbly nodded. The Emperor was lying about her identity, you know. She is who she always was.

Anakin smiled slightly, tinged by sadness, finding that revelations didn't matter as much in this place. He was not run by emotion as before, and just accepted every new truth with love and knowledge. It was evening, and Amidala was prepared to sleep in the chair next to his bed; she placed her hand in his. Anakin looked down at his apparitional hand in amazement.

I can...I can feel her.

Yes, Qui-Gon said simply.

The flow of time continued and Leia came in to see Amidala, encouraging her to leave the room again. "There's celebrations on Endor...the galaxy is free. Please, come with me. Just for a little while," Leia said, heartened by the news. Amidala smiled, tried to smile for her sake, before she gently declined the offer. Somehow, leaving to celebrate, while he--the cause for their liberation--lay there.....she knew she wouldn't enjoy any of the festivities anyway. Although the healers said they didn't believe he would wake again, the possibility of him waking while she was gone was a thought she couldn't bear.

Leia persisted. "You've been here too long." Luke entered the room. "You need to at least get out to go stretch, eat something. I can stay while you go." Leia added. Amidala shook her head slightly and looked at Luke; she was fatigued, and finding excuses almost impossible in her state of mind. It was then that Leia realized; they didn't trust her with her father. Her anger, her hatred palpable, she had given Luke and Amidala no other impression...now she stood, outside their circle. What had she become?

Leia took Amidala's hand. "Please, it will be alright....Mom." She had never called her that before. Amidala looked up; her eyes locked with Leia's, who nodded gently. After a moment she hugged Leia, and then left the room with Luke.

Leia stood at the foot of the bed, looking at this man who had given her life. Anakin's spirit watched her with empathy. She moved to the side of his bed and looked at Amidala's seat, as though it was the first time she had seen it, before quietly sitting down.

This was Darth Vader. This was what was left of him, what he'd become. Leia didn't know how she looked on the outside, but inside her emotions were both tumultuous and unreadable, even to her.

Leia was finding it very hard to hate him. He lay vulnerable, surrounded by machinery, intubated by oxygen and unlikely to survive. He had a wife who grieved him, and a son trying to hold them all together.

He didn't even wear black.

She was silent a long moment before speaking. "I'm angry at you, you know. I don't know how I'm supposed to think...how I'm supposed to feel. When you tortured me, watched the destruction of Alderaan...that I thought I could survive. But when you froze Han, pawned him off like an Imperial possession.......I loved him." she said, and started to choke up.

The corporeal form bowed his head. What have I done? I know the love I have with Padme, and what she has for me. How could I ever think of taking that from someone else, whether they're my child or not?

"And yet....Han forgives you. He encouraged me to come here tonight, to let it go. It's like he forgot it happened, like it bothers me more than it does him. I-I feel....ever since I learned you were my....like I've been getting further away from myself." She looked up at the ceiling for a moment, eyes holding unshed tears. "I blamed you for that, but I know now you were just an easy target."

It's alright, Leia. You owe me nothing. I'm so sorry, Anakin said. How he wished she could hear him.

"I can't do it anymore. I don't know what type of relationship we have, or can have. But Luke was right; if I hold this anger inside, I will become the very thing I set out to destroy. I'll try to let it go; I will."

Leia looked hesitantly at her own hand before slipping it into Anakin's; his corporeal form seemed to pulsate, to glow a little brighter, and he could begin to feel the touch of love and compassion fill the room.

Finally, Leia spoke. "I forgive you, father."

Things were changing. The voices were further away, the events less immediate, and Anakin realized his environment was blending and fading, morphing into a placid abyss.

It is complete, he heard Qui-Gon speak, and Anakin felt himself slip away.

 

 

Next: Epilogue

Chapter Text

Epilogue

 

A flurry of voices accompanied Anakin as he began what he knew would be his journey into the Force. But it wasn't what he expected--the sounds were harsh and garbled, hard to discern one from another but growing more distinct every moment. The light changed from luminescent to glaring, and he found himself holding back. Then came the pain...Force, was it strong. He had difficulty breathing--perhaps something was invasively breathing for him--and he felt the effects of warmth slip away, replaced by cold, uneven reality.

Why did he hurt so much?

Voices. Coming in focus. "He's waking up....get a healer....now..."

Machines were beeping, monitors sounding, and Anakin felt the peace and certainty remove from him; he instinctively wanted to reach back to where he came, to feel Qui-Gon again.

Then he heard Padme's voice, mingled with her tears, becoming more coherent. Her hand was on his forehead.

"Open your eyes," she whispered softly, a prayer.

Reaching in her direction, he willed his eyelids to comply.

Leia stood near the corner of the room, unable to help the healers as they rushed in and out but unwilling to leave, and watched her father. As his eyes opened and slowly came into focus, she smiled, without hesitation or uncertainty.

They were blue.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Like the Alliance to Restore the New Republic, recovery time for Anakin was slow, fragmented, and not without setbacks. Healers realized the extent of his dependency on machines, and worked in his convalescence to repair them, a little at a time. The fall of the Empire, while challenging, freed up resources previously unavailable to the Alliance, and Anakin was among those who benefited from them. Unlike the Empire, they were not miserly in their issuance of medical care, working diligently to help all of their patients. Anakin knew only the Republic would show such mercy. Deep down, he'd always known.

One day during his physical therapy, Mon came to visit him.

"How is your recovery coming along?" Her concern seemed genuine.

"Fine," he admitted, a little shyly.

"I've been considering your situation...we can't pressurize and oxygenate every place you go. It's just not possible." she said softly.

He nodded and felt sadness settle. Of course she was right; he would have to be quarantined, and pay the consequences for his crimes. His fate was in their hands now.

"Therefore," she continued. "A healer specialist has been located. Quite innovative and renowned in his field, from what I understand. He has the capabilities to give you the stem cell lung transplant you need to function normally."

Anakin looked up, unable to speak. His wish to return to normal, while serving the Empire, had always postponed until it seemed an impossible goal, forever out of reach. Faced with the prospect of gaining freedom from the suit....able to feel immersion in water....to breathe real air again. No more meditation chambers. He could go anywhere. He found it hard to believe.

He looked up at Mon and nodded; words couldn't adequately express his gratitude. "Thank you." he said simply.

A small smile crossed her lips. "Well....I have to attend to business now. I wish you a speedy recovery." She turned to look at him once more before she left. "Anakin."

He felt an understanding, unspoken, pass between them. After the moment passed he grinned to himself, thinking of Padme, Leia, and Mon.

Perhaps politicians weren't so bad.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Many changes took place with the rise of the New Republic, and would continue to form and reform for years to come.

Luke, now a Jedi Master and leader of the New Jedi Order, was starting a training Academy on Yavin IV, the planet nearly destroyed by the first Death Star. Bast Castle, former home to Vader and Amidala, was a Force Sensitive region and with Anakin's support, Luke had it rebuilt into a secondary Jedi training facility. Luke's policies were reminiscent of the Old Jedi Order, but reflective of a new age. No longer would Jedi be trained strictly from birth without familial contact, and no longer would personal attachments be forbidden. Luke believed, like his father, that to deny love, to deny the need for companionship, was to deny one's own humanity.

He'd achieved what the Jedi or Sith never could--a balance between passion and peace.

Luke asked his father to serve alongside him, to be a Jedi Master on the new council, but Anakin gently declined. Luke may have been right in his belief that he'd mastered both darkness and light, but Anakin no longer felt the desire for power, or the need to fight. He would help, and mentor, his son in any way he could, but in the end just wished to quietly retire.

Padme felt the same. With the rise of the New Republic, Leia had taken on more Senatorial duties before she was appointed to the position of Minister of State by new Head of State Mothma. Leia could see her mother's political leanings, her potential, and asked her to join the high committee for the New Republic. Padme felt a stirring at the thought of the political arena she'd always loved but realized that being a leader to millions, while rewarding, was no more important in the end than being a role model to one family. She and Anakin were soon to build a quiet life together on Naboo, and enjoy the solitude they had fought lifetimes to have but never found.

Luke and Leia would visit their parents and extended family, sometimes just enjoying their simple activities in companionable silence, trying to learn each other slowly and recapture a lost childhood and years. The Bespin residence Anakin had created for his wife had been damaged, but was soon rebuilt to completion. It was often here Anakin and Padme went if they wanted to recapture the aerial planet of their union, or see Luke and Leia during a rest stop on one of their travels.

The official story released by the New Republic was that Anakin Skywalker, the Hero With No Fear, had been captured and imprisoned by the Empire after the end of the Jedi Purge and was recently freed. In a way, it was true.

Mon issued a general pardon to those working for the Empire who wished to come forward and support democracy. There were still factions, Imperial loyalists, who would challenge their cause. Perhaps there always would be. Predominantly, the New Republic was met with relief and overwhelming support, culminating in Galactic celebrations expressed through the traditions of each planet.

The cloning facilities on Kamino were shut down shortly after the rise of the New Republic. It was with acceptance, and some sadness, that Amidala marked this event, for it had been the place of her origin. But she knew life was too unique, and too fragile, to be manipulated anymore. In the end, while it brought her life and Anakin's redemption, it also yielded needless war and death for so many others. Anakin understood, as much as he loved her, that the unnatural continuity of life promised by the Sith was not as it should be.

A phrase of Luke's Jedi Code echoed in his mind. There is death, but there is always the Force.....

He knew this was true, both by experience and in his heart. Vader--the anger and fear unleashed--would always be a part of him, but like anyone it was imperative he acknowledge and control his feelings. He could not allow even the loss of a loved one to consume him.

In the end, there is always the Force. The waiting, while painful, was only temporary.

The clone troopers that had served from the Clone Wars through the end of the Galactic Empire were decommissioned and placed in a transitional program to help them lead a normal life. Like children, they lacked the life skills to work and take care of themselves outside of a battlefield, trained only to follow orders. Some, recently born, would have an easier time learning how to have an opinion, how to think, and how to feel. Some would never fully regain their humanity.

Commander Hur was taken, much like R2D2 and C3PO had once been, into the custody of Anakin and Padme. Once his original programming was stripped and security orders removed, he was free to be a normal person.

Freedom was a relative thing.

It was sad and endearing to Padme, watching how lost he was sometimes, and how other times just needed to be told what to do. The most meaningful gift she ever gave him was a first name--Byyorn. It was Nubian for new life.

Then came the day, when the celebrations on Endor had long since passed and life resumed its normal flow, that Anakin stood before a funeral pyre with Padme. The Force felt different now; the spirit of hope and festivity still permeated the air around them, a resonance. They stood in the forest where it began and ended, and slowly he brought the torch forward to ignite the pyre, watching the flames consume the dark suit as he symbolically laid his former self to rest.

Anakin would never have thought that, a year ago, he was Darth Vader and had every intention of ruling the galaxy as Sith. Years before, he was thoroughly immersed in darkness without hope of ever returning, light and love all but forgotten.

Sometimes, the changes in one's self are so slow, so gradual that he didn't realize how far he'd come until he looked back. When he looked to his side and saw Padme, it made sense again. It was her strength that had made him unafraid to be Anakin.

The flames were dying, lessening, and Anakin felt a presence; he raised his head and saw the blue apparitions standing in the distance. Two. The first, small but wise, radiated peace and contentment even more so than in life. The second, ever the same as when Vader had taken his life on the Death Star, smiled proudly at Anakin, and he couldn't help but smile back. A third form phased to life beside the others, stepping forward to join them, and Anakin held his breath. He never thought he'd see the man he'd considered a hero and father figure again.

Without words, he understood he'd found Yoda, Obi-Wan, and Qui-Gon's forgiveness.

Then, as suddenly as they'd appeared, the apparitions flickered and were gone, dispersing into the Force and leaving Anakin alone. For a moment he felt sad. Padme slipped her hand into his, and when they were ready, they turned and departed into the twilight forest.

He would see them again. It wasn't final, there was only the Force. Forever. Here and now, he had a future to look toward.

The Empire had fallen, and in its wake, his children's legacy was rising.

Long live the Republic.