Padmé wakes to the feeling of crisp valley air tickling her face. Her eyes crack open at the sensation and meet the streams of sunlight flowing in through the open balcony. They bounce off the pale gold walls of the room and make everything painfully bright, even with her face now buried deep into her feather down pillows. And thus ends the most restful sleep she’s had in months.
But that was just fine; because it doesn't take her very long at all to realize where she is and how she got there. In fact, she spends a solid fifteen standard seconds basking in the blissful glow of being in her favorite place in all the galaxy, with her favorite person in all the galaxy, before she realizes that the space beside her is cold.
And that’s when she hears the crash.
It’s muffled and far away and really not all that loud, to begin with; but reflex sends Padmé scrambling out of bed and rushing down the hall to confront whatever this next disaster might be.
Upon arriving at the scene of the “disaster,” she breathes a heavy sigh of relief that leaves her winded and sagging against the wall beside her as all of her nightmare scenarios were instantly swept away by the welcome sight in front of her.
Her husband, shirtless. Little beads of perspiration trailing down the taut muscles of his back as he used the Force to levitate a very old and very hefty-looking antique desk out into the hallway. It must have been even heavier than it appeared, as he soon gives up and lets the thing drop and drag along the floor. The awful screech of wood against marble pierces Padmé’s eardrums and makes the baby do several somersaults in protest.Thankfully, Anakin works fast and soon had the desk positioned up against the wall adjacent to the doorway he’d just walked through. Satisfied with his work, he straightened up, raising his arms above his head in a long, languid stretch. Padmé, seeing an opportunity, crept up behind him and trailed her fingertips down the ridges of his spine.
“You’re up early.”
Anakin jolted mid-stretch at her touch, his joints snapping audibly as he spun around to face her. He flashed a small ‘good morning’ smile that she returned with a quick peck on the lips.
“No,” he teased lightly. “You’re up late. It’s lunchtime.”
Padmé, naturally an early riser, felt her face flush in embarrassment. She pulled back.
“Why didn’t you wake me?”
Anakin shrugged in half-hearted apology.
“You slept the whole way from Coruscant,” he said. “You didn’t even stir when I changed you into your sleep clothes.”
The tiny smile on his lips thinned into a sober line.
“I figured you needed your rest after everything that happened last night,” he said quietly.
Padmé arched a concerned eyebrow. “And you didn’t?” she asked pointedly.
“I did,” he said quickly. His voice halted and stilted in that way it always is when he’s guilty of something. “Sleep, I mean. The Sun woke me up.”
Padmé “hmm’d” knowingly, waiting with bated breath to see whether or not he’d come out with the truth.
“Also…” he said slowly. His eyes shifting to the floor. “I was having dreams…that woke me up…Before the Sun.”
Her brow furrowed in concern. “Were they about me again?”
“No!” he answered quickly. Too quickly. Earning him another raised eyebrow.
“No,” he said again. “No, they were about…you know… What happened in the Chancellor’s office…”
Padmé felt the probing look on her face intensify as she waited for him to elaborate. He didn’t. Disappointed, but still feeling encouraged, she decided to dig a little more.
“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked carefully.
“Not really,” he grumbled, stepping away from her and heading back into the room for more furniture.
Padmé moved over to the desk and sat down on top with a frustrated huff. She rubbed her temples tiredly as she watched Anakin peter back and forth with more random articles of furniture, skillfully avoiding her pointed gaze each time he passed her. The baby gave her a sympathetic kick to the bladder.
Bitterly, Padmé wondered if Anakin was self-aware enough to realize that this pattern of behavior was exactly what had led them here. Him, refusing to open up to her; her, letting him go off and sulk instead of trying to help him work through whatever was bothering him. He would come to her when he was ready, she would assure herself during those times. And she was right, he always did. But only after the storm had passed and there was nothing she could do but try to make sense of the wreckage.
Like last night, for example. When Anakin had come barreling into their apartment, all wild eyes, and quivering limbs. He’d practically tumbled into her lap, too keyed up to even speak. And so Padmé had done what she always did when her husband was distraught. Held him. Comforted him. Assured him that everything was going to be alright and that together they could fix whatever had gone wrong. But that familiar tune struck a sour chord as soon as Anakin had calmed down enough to reveal exactly what it was that he had done.
Everything that happened after had passed in a panic-fuelled frenzy for Padmé. Knowing that the Jedi would soon be hot on Anakin’s trail, her only concern had been getting the two of them off-planet as quickly as possible. And while dimly, she could feel the hot coils of anger and horror and uncertainty cloying at the furthest corners of her mind, in those crucial moments, logic and rationality had given way to pure instinct compelling her to get her idiot husband to safety. And after, once they’d reached hyperspace and were, for the moment, home free, Padmé had been so relieved and elated and exhausted that she’d apparently passed out for the rest of the trip.
But she could make time for introspection now that things were settled. And she could start by letting herself acknowledge that one nagging thought that had been hammering away at the hardened shell of her conscience from the moment she’d heard Anakin’s tear-choked confession.
This was her fault.
She had seen Anakin’s Fall coming for years now. Or rather, she should have seen it coming for years now. She, who knew better than anyone just how deep the cracks in her husband’s psyche ran. She, who knew better than anyone how fragile he had been at the onset of the war. She, who knew better than anyone, how every subsequent conflict and crisis Anakin had been embroiled in for the past three years had been chipping away at his already tenuous emotional stability. She, who knew better than anyone of the darkness that lay dormant beneath that delicate band of stability. She, who had been the sole witness to what had happened the last time that darkness had been roused. She, Padmé Amidala, wife of Anakin Skywalker, and the person who loved him most in the galaxy, should have seen this coming and done something to prevent it.
But no. For years now Padmé had deluded herself into believing that every heated outburst or act of recklessness or bought of depression was just Anakin being Anakin. That he had his faults, sure, but so did everyone. And besides, what did it matter so long as the good far outweighed the bad?
Last night had been the answer to that question.
The trouble, she supposed, was that compared to normal couples they’d had so little time to spend together since they’d been married. Especially in these last few months when Anakin had been away fighting in the sieges. But to compensate for the irregularity of their reunions, they made every precious moment they spent together into their wedding night all over again. Nothing but soft kisses, lazy lovemaking, and heartfelt professions of love and devotion. Of course, during those times there had also been some mention of battles and of missions and of Senate bills. They couldn’t ignore the war completely, not when it consumed every aspect of their daily lives. But the tacit, unspoken agreement between the two of them had from the very beginning been that, for them, their marriage was to be a refuge from the burdens of reality. A place where the Senator and the Jedi came to rest. Where there was no war. No Republic. No sacred duty to place before themselves and one another and their happiness. A place where all that mattered was their love. Obviously, this meant that the compromise had to be that the hard stuff, the real stuff—Anakin’s increasing instability, his frustrations with the war and disillusionment with the Order, the toll the lengthy separations were taking on the both of them, the reality that one day they would have to choose between their relationship and their careers—could have no place in their sanctuary.
Only now was Padmé beginning to see just how ridiculous they had been. How selfish and naïve and short-sighted. They were grown adults, for the goddesses’ sake! Married adults, with a child on the way, and for three years they had been treating their relationship like some torrid love affair out of one of those trashy holomovies Anakin loved so much.
Well if nothing else, the events of last night had proven that it was time for their little fantasy to end. Time for them to burst their protective bubble and take responsibility for themselves and for one another. Time for them to start having the sort of conversations they should have been having from the start. Time for them to face the real stuff.
Padmé looked up from her lap to see Anakin coming back out into the hallway, two desk chairs balanced carefully in the air in front of him. He continued to avoid her eyes as he set one chair down carefully beside the desk and stacked the other on top. Before he could escape back into the room, Padmé reached out and grabbed his arm, stopping him in his tracks. Trapped, he finally deigned to glance back at her.
Now that she had regained his attention, Padmé suddenly found herself unsure of how to proceed. There were so many things she wanted to say to him, she wasn’t quite sure where to start. Her mouth opened, and the words that came out weren’t what she’d intended, to begin with. But they’d do.
“Ani, I’m scared for you.”
“I thought you said it was safe to come to Naboo,” he said. His voice hardening into a tight, panicked edge. “I thought you said no one would come looking for us here.”
“They won’t,” she assured him for what felt like the dozenth time. “Anyway, that wasn’t what I was talking about.”
She tugged him closer, holding his gaze the entire time. Silently willing him not to turn away from her again.
“I want to talk to you about last night,” she began carefully. “What you did. What you almost did. Thinking about it…It frightens me—“
Anakin scowled. “You don’t trust me.”
It was a true testament to the long, tedious years she’d spent training in diplomacy and courtly etiquette that Padmé did not roll her eyes.
“Of course I trust you,” she sighed, growing a tad exasperated. “We wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.”
Momentarily pacified, Anakin shut his mouth, bidding her to continue. She hesitated before starting again, choosing her words carefully so as not to rile him up again.
“I know why you did what you did,” she said softly. “You were hurting. And angry. And confused. You felt like no one except Palpatine was hearing you. You thought he was the only one who could help you help me.”
Anakin nodded earnestly.
“I swear, Padmé,” he said. “I swear to you if I thought there was another way. O-or if I’d had any idea that Palpatine was misleading me, I never would have—“
“But you did,” she moved right over his fumbling attempts at apology. She’d heard them all last night. “And so the only question I have Anakin is, say you didn’t see the truth. Say you went through with your and Palpatine’s plans. Say you did everything he told you to do. Committed every murder, every massacre, every heinous action, and in the end, you became a full-fledged Sith. Say you did all of that, and Palpatine actually did reveal Plagueis’ secrets to you, and you did manage to save me from dying. What then?”
At Anakin’s confused frown, she elaborated.
“What about us? What about me? Did you expect me to be happy that you committed this great evil in my name? Did you expect me to be grateful that you helped destroy the Republic? Was I supposed to weep for joy at the prospect of my child being raised by a Sith Lord? How did you honestly expect me to--?
“Alive!” Anakin burst out. “I expected you to be alive, alright!”
“And that’s it?” she said flatly. “Just alive.”
Anakin made a strangled noise in the back of his throat and began to pace angrily along the narrow corner at the end of the hallway they were in.
“I don’t know,” he growled, wringing his hands fitfully. “I wasn’t thinking, alright? Is that what you want to hear?! I was stupid and dumb and immature and rash and so so so stupid!
He turned back at her, then. Throwing his arms out in supplication.
“But Padmé, every time I closed my eyes I saw you die. It was exactly the kind of visions I’d had about my mother. I could just feel your life force slip away. I could see myself holding you in my arms as you breathed your last breath, just as I had with my mother. And I just couldn’t-I couldn’t go through that again. I know it was selfish, but I needed you. I need you. I—“
“You needed me,” she said dully. “To the point that it didn’t matter what you had to do or what I myself would have wanted, so long as you had me in the end.”
The truth tastes like ashes in her mouth. But she felt better speaking it aloud. It was something she had known all along about Anakin. How deeply he loved and the lengths he would go to for the sake of it. It was awe inspiring. And overwhelming. And intimidating, at times, to be loved so fiercely, especially when she herself didn’t always know for certain if she would go to the same lengths for him. But suffocating as Anakin’s love could be, it had never actually terrified her as it did now.
“Would it have really been so bad,” he asked. The weakness in his tone belying the fact that he already knew the answer to his own question. “We would still have been together. We wouldn’t have had to run away or hide our love from anyone. We would have been free to remake the galaxy as we saw fit.”
He pleaded for clemency with his entire body. Hands clasped. Face watery and wan. Hunched over and shuddering in that way that always made her want to gather him in her arms and assure him that everything was alright. But she couldn’t give that to him right now. Everything most definitely wasn’t alright. Least of all between the two of them.
She doesn’t want to say what she’s going to say next. Not least of all because she isn’t sure it’s true, and she’s afraid her words might lack conviction if they aren’t truthful. But Anakin needs to understand the severity of what he almost did, and she doesn’t know any other way to get through to him.
“Do you really think I still would have wanted to be with you, after all that?” she asked quietly. “Honestly, had you gone through with it, I wouldn’t have been able to look at you, much less still love you.”
The words have their intended effect. Anakin slinks back against the wall and slides down to the floor like a lifeless ragdoll as if her words had ground every bone and muscle in his body to dust. Again, she felt the urge to gather him up in her arms and reassure him that this was all hypothetical. Of course she loved him. Of course she would always love him. There was nothing in this galaxy that he could do to ever earn her hatred or indifference.
She pushed that part of her aside. Those words were harsh, but Anakin needed to hear them. And besides, saying them aloud just now made Padmé feel like maybe they weren’t as false as she’d first thought.
“I love you, Anakin,” she said softly, purposefully. “Because of who you are. Kind, and generous, and selfless, and brave. You’re a man with principles and morals. Someone who, until very recently I believed would die before betraying the people he cared for. How could I want to be with you, build a life with you, raise a child with you, were you to destroy everything that made you the man I fell in love with?”
Anakin remained silent. He was a pitiful sight, slumped against the wall with his head bowed so far inward he was almost curled in on himself. Padmé didn’t need to be Force sensitive to feel the waves of shame and misery radiating off of him.
“Casting everything aside—your values, your principles, your teachings, your friends and your comrades—is never worth it, Ani. I’m not worth it.”
Anakin looked up at her, mystified. His eyes brimming with tears and doubt. She went on before he could object.
“You came so close to throwing everything away. Yourself most important of all. That terrifies me, Ani. It sickens me. It’s more than I can bear to watch you destroy yourself.”
She pinned him with a hard, unyielding glare.
“Never again. Especially not for me.”
Anakin looked down again. For a long moment, he sat bowed over in silence. When he looked back up, dry-eyed and purposeful, Padmé was afraid it was to dive into some half-baked rebuttal. Instead, he surprised her by shuffling over to her on his knees and taking her hands into his own. For the first time that day, he looked her directly in the eyes.
“Never again,” he vowed solemnly.
Padmé grinned. Thinking that was the end of it, she made to pull him up off of the floor. He resisted. Clearly, there was more he had to say.
“You’re all I have left now, Padmé,” he said remorsefully. “You and the baby. I don’t want to lose you, or dishonor you, or fail you. Either of you. I never wanted that. Never, I promise, that was never what I—. Not even when…I just. I got so caught up and—I just-I need you. I do. And I know that I can’t ever let that lead me astray again, and I don’t expect you to ever forgive me if it does. But sometimes I just get so lost. And I need you to be here to point me in the right direction again. Especially now that I’ve lost Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka, and the Order. I just…I need you and the baby to…”
His voice broke. His cheeks streaming with fresh tears. His mouth forming the words he couldn’t get past the lump bobbing in his throat. Need. Need. Love you so much. But Padmé had heard enough. She tugged gently on their hands until Anakin stood up, and then she slid down off of the desk and into his arms, pressing herself to his chest.
“I know,” she said. Stroking the tiny curls at the base of his neck in that way she knew always calmed him. “I know. And I love you and I need you, too, Ani. Don’t think I don’t feel the same way. But I need to be able to trust you.”
“You can,” he promised. “Please, Padmé you can trust me. You know you can. I’ll never do anything I know you won’t approve of ever again, I promise. Please, just—“
“You can’t promise that,” she said, suppressing a chuckle at his innocence. “And, I don’t need you to.”
She pulled back, and placed her hands on the sides of his face, mopping at his wet cheeks with the pads of her thumbs.
“What I need,” she said. “Is for you to stay true to the good man I know you are. I know you’re capable of doing that, Ani, with or without my help. I believe you still know right from wrong. And I think you know all this too. You just have to find your balance again.”
She planted a soft, lingering kiss to his wet lips. When she pulled back, Anakin still looked dubious.
“I’m right here,” she promised, settling herself against his chest. “I’m not going to leave you, and I’m not going to die. And if I believed you weren’t still a good person, we wouldn’t be here right now.”
He relaxed some at her words, the aura of misery surrounding him starting to wane. He took one of her hands in his and pressed butterfly kisses along her knuckles and rested his head atop hers’.
They stayed like that for a while, neither of them saying anything. Padmé felt infinitely better now that they’d had this little chat and had cleared the air. But she could tell that there was still something bothering Anakin. She was just getting ready to start grilling him again when he spoke up.
“You’re sure that no one’s going to come looking for us here?”
This time Padmé did roll her eyes. Of all the concerns she’d been expecting him to voice, he’d brought up the least important one.
“As far as anyone knows, I’m taking a seven-month sabbatical at a resort on Corellia,” she reminded him. “I put in the request for leave months ago, as soon as I found out I was pregnant. No one will think it’s suspicious that I left Coruscant the same day you disappeared when I was already supposed to be leaving soon anyway. And even if they do think to check, Sabé is there now in my place.”
“But just say that they do find—“
“It’s not likely.”
“But if they do,” he said insistently. “I think you should deny everything. Tell them you didn’t know anything about what happened with the Chancellor and the Council. Tell them I mind-tricked you into—“
She cuts him off with a sharp swat against his chest.
“Don’t you dare finish that sentence, Anakin Skywalker,” she hissed.
“I don’t want you to get dragged into my mess,” he said.
“Ani,” she said wearily. “We’re married. Your messes are mine, and vice versa.”
“Your career,” he protested. “If word got out that you’re married to a Jedi—a Fallen one at that. Let alone the one who assassinated the Supreme Chancellor, you’d be—“
“It’s a risk I’m willing to take. I knew that I was jeopardizing my career when I married you. I decided a long time ago that you were worth it.”
“I’m just trying to protect you,” he said, irritation creeping into his voice.
“And I’m trying to protect you,” she countered. “It was my idea for us to hide out here together, don’t you recall?”
He sighed and wrapped his arms around her again.
“I still don’t like it,” he grumbled. “You should have just let me go off on my own.”
She raised her head and fixed him with a meaningful look.
“Never,” she swore vehemently.
Padmé could tell that this particular argument wouldn’t be won for a long time. But she had had her fill of filibustering for the day, and so made to change the subject before Anakin could continue it.
“So why the early morning renovation?”
“It’s lunchtime,” he reminded her and gestured into the cluttered room. “Anyway, this was the room you had picked out, right? The one by the gardens?”
He wrapped an arm around her waist and led her into the room. And Padmé’s attention was immediately drawn to the huge bowed windows on the opposite wall that looked out onto sprawling fields of flowers just below them. Stars, how had she not recognized it until now?
“Oh, Ani,” she breathed, wiping at irksome tears pricking the corners of her eyes. “You remembered…”
“Of course I did,” he said, puffing out his chest. Suddenly all earnest and pleased with himself. “Anyway, since I couldn’t sleep, I figured I might as well get started. I thought I’d move all this stuff out of the way first, and then you could tell me more about what you had in mind.”
He looked down at her, a wide grin plastered across his face. Ecstatic at having gotten something right, and eagerly anticipating further instruction. Padmé, having had months to plan and design the baby’s room down to the last intricate detail, opened her mouth to tell him about the exact shade of buttercream yellow she had picked out for the walls. But before she can get started, her stomach interrupts her with a low growl.
Anakin, still believing himself to be on thin ice, does not laugh. But she does.
“How about lunch first,” she suggests through belly-shaking chuckles.
Anakin shrugged. “I made egg sandwiches a little while ago,” he offered.
“Pair that with some Chadian dressing, and I think you might be on to something.”
Anakin looked horrified, but gave her an indulgent “As my lady commands,” and looped his arm through hers, and together they headed downstairs to the kitchens.
It hits Obi-Wan like a blaster bolt point blank to the temple. One minute he’s strapping himself into the pilot’s seat of his starship, and the next thing he knows, his vision goes white and his head is on fire. Leaving him slumped over, panting and moaning in agony against the control panel of the cockpit, as icy hot bullets of electricity blaze through his brain like cold fire, singing every nerve in their path. Pounding against his skull like a drum. He feels constricted and scattered all at once, as though Death itself were crushing his head in Its cold, invisible hand.
Cody is at his side in an instant, dragging him out of his seat and onto the floor and shaking him over and over again, crying, speak to me! Tell me what hurts, General!
Obi-Wan tries to answer him, but his jaw is locked and his tongue feels rubbery, and all he can do is sputter and flail like a fish on dry land. Cody and a few other clones that have gathered around them look panic-stricken. He can hear running and shouting and arguing and shoving. Were Obi-Wan able to speak, he’d order them all to settle themselves. He’s done what he’d come here to do. Grievous is gone. The Separatists are all but defeated. And they, the clones will carry on in his absence. He is at peace. He’s ready.
Until Anakin’s face flashes in his mind, and Obi-Wan imagines his boy all alone in the galaxy now that both he and Ahsoka have moved on without him. And though molten cords of liquid fire are currently slicing his brain into little chunks of gray matter, Obi-Wan’s heart is holding fast because no, he is not ready. Anakin is not ready.
Mercifully, Obi-Wan does not die there on the floor of the cockpit of his starship. The pain fades almost as instantly as it set in, and aside from the minor injuries he actually did incur while fighting Grievous, physically Obi-Wan feels as good as new.
Strangely enough, though, as soon as the last vestiges of pain leave him Obi-Wan begins to feel…empty, somehow. Like he’s lost something precious to him, although he can’t even begin to guess as to what it could be. But far away in the recesses of his mind, he knows that there is now a void, cavernous and barren. And though he can’t for the life of him discern where it came from or what it once held, Obi-Wan has a very Bad Feeling about it.
It’s not until he arrives back at the Temple, and he finds Master Yoda waiting for him at the entrance to the hangar. Hunched over, grave and Older than Obi-Wan’s ever seen him before, that he knows for sure that something is definitely wrong.
He refuses to believe them when they tell him. There’s just no way. No possible way that this could have happened. Anakin had been pricklier than usual, yes, but that hadn’t been cause for alarm. His former padawan often fell into Moods every now and then. That in no way meant that he was capable of what the Council was accusing him of.
Blast Mace Windu’s word as eye witness. Obi-Wan wouldn’t believe it. He couldn’t. Not until he had hard evidence in front of him.
“If view the holorecording you do, only pain will you find,” Master Yoda cautioned him.
Obi-Wan ignored him. And his eyes.
Because no. That wasn’t his Anakin kneeling at Palpatine’s feet. Pledging himself to the Dark Side, forsaking everything he had been taught and believed in and fought for. That wasn’t his Anakin murdering his Jedi brethren in cold blood. That wasn’t his Anakin choking Mace Windu into unconsciousness. It wasn’t. It wasn’t. It wasn’t.
“The boy you trained, gone he is.”
“I was there, Obi-Wan,” said Mace. “I saw it myself. Do you doubt my word, and what your own eyes tell you is the truth?”
“You realize what this means, don’t you, Obi-Wan,” said Shaak-Ti. “Sidious got to the boy. He’s been turned.”
No. Oh, Anakin, no. No. No. No…It couldn’t be. It couldn’t be. The void. The pain. It would mean that…No, no, please. Anything but that. It couldn’t possibly be...
“Why would he kill the Chancellor, then?” Obi-Wan protested weakly. “Why would he—“
“Think, Obi-Wan,” Mace gritted through clenched teeth. “Of course Skywalker took out his master at the first opportunity. He’s always been an upstart glory hound!”
‘His Master.’ Just when Obi-Wan thought he’d been completely hollowed, those words come along and scrape out whatever’s left of him.
“But then why would he leave you alive?”
“Don’t ask me to make sense of a Sith’s logic,” Mace waved his hand impatiently. “Least of all that boy’s. You’re the only one who’s ever been able to get inside his head.”
“For all we know it could have just been for show,” Ki-Adi-Mundi’s hologram chimed in. “Sidious may not even be gone. He could have faked his death and be hiding out in some remote system right now, waiting for Skywalker to rejoin him—”
His tirade was cut short by the sharp clang of Yoda’s cane against the floor reverberating throughout the Council’s chambers.
“No time for suspicion,” the Grand Master snapped. “Rational, we must be.”
He leaned pensively over his cane.
“Count Dooku, gone. Darth Sidious, gone. General Grievous, gone. Without a military leader, the Separatists are. Vulnerable, they are.” His eyes shifted to Obi-Wan. “Open to negotiations they will be.”
Obi-Wan avoided him, his head spinning. No. How could they—It was too—Anakin was missing—How could they expect him to just—
“Any idea of where Skywalker could be, have you?”
He shook his head miserably. For the first time in longer than Obi-Wan can recall, Anakin’s presence was completely out of his reach.
“Severed his bond with you, Skywalker has,” Yoda says knowingly.
Having the truth spoken aloud for every member of the Council to hear leaves Obi-Wan gutted and numb. He hides his face in his hands. Too ashamed to even look at the Grand Master any longer.
But then there was a soft touch on his knee, and he lowered his hands to find Yoda’s all-seeing eyes boring into his.
“Much work, there is still to do,” he said. Brisk, but not unkind. “To the Mustafar system, you will go. Others will search for Skywalker. Too close, you are. Lost, he is. Let him go, you must.”
Obi-Wan, raw and gutted and tired in a way he has never been before, just nods. Bitterly, he wonders if this is only just a mission, or a poorly veiled temporary exile so that they can hunt Anakin down without his interference. Yoda’s hand tightens for a second—only a second, but just long enough for Obi-Wan to catch his eye to find the condolence there. Chastised, he throws the mutinous thought away and reminds himself that if anyone understands the pain he’s going through right now, it’s Yoda.
He casts a final glance around the room, and notices for the first time the stares at once both pitying and incriminating directed at him from every pair of eyes in the room.
Humiliated, Obi-Wan stands and pulls the hood of his robe over his head, gathers together the shreds of his dignity, and leaves the Council chambers, and Coruscant as swiftly as he can.
“Go now, Lord Vader. Do what must be done. Do not hesitate.”
The words fall from Anakin—now Vader’s lips before he can catch them. The perverse sneer of triumph he sees slide across Sidious’ face as soon as they’re spoken makes him want to gag. But Vader swallows the urge and rises to carry out his new Master’s orders.
And that’s when it starts. This irritating voice that rings in his ears like a siren, doing its best to distract him, to weaken his resolve. Whispering to him over and over again that this is Wrong. That he will soon regret betraying Obi-Wan and the Order and the Republic and himself. As if he doesn’t already know.
Quiet. He tells it. I have to do this. I have to. I can’t let Padmé die.
You’re missing something, it answers back. You can’t even see it. Palpatine and his promises have blinded you.
Vader shrugs it off and focuses on the mission.
As expected, Mace Windu orders him to stay behind while he and the other “more experienced” members of the Council go to confront the Chancellor. Typical.
But Vader is strong with the powers the Dark Side have bestowed upon him. He won’t be cowed like his old self would have been. He has a new Master now. He doesn’t have to take orders from these pompous navel-gazers anymore. He asserts himself and wins.
The situation is dire; the other masters tell Windu. There’s no time to argue. And so they allow Vader to come along. Unknowingly sealing their fate.
You’re missing something, the Voice warns him again.
Vader won’t hear it. He can’t afford to. Because now he’s standing in the middle of the Chancellor’s office, and it’s time for him to prove himself.
Do not hesitate. This is the only way, his Master’s voice—or is it his own?—whispers in his head.
His Master sends him a Look, and Vader puts his saber straight through Saesee Tiln’s chest. The three remaining Jedi barely have time to process what has just happened before Agen Kolar and Kit Fisto are also cut down.
And Vader, he’d been expecting this to be easy. Tiln, Kolar, and Fisto are old, tired. Sluggish. No match for him. He’d known from the start that they stood no chance against him. But he hadn’t been expecting it to feel so good. The looks of surprise and horror on their faces. Their fear. Their resignation. It sends shockwaves of pleasure surging through his veins. Vader lets it flow. Let's take him over. He can feel his Master’s approval and it makes him hungry for more. He needs more.
Luckily, one still remains.
Mace Windu’s stony expression says all too plainly that he’s seen this coming all along. The Jedi’s vindication makes Vader’s blood boil. It’s not fair of Windu to have expected this as if this is what Vader has wanted all along. They did this. They left him no other choice. This is not a betrayal; it’s an act of love. Can’t they see? It’s for Padmé. It’s for Padmé. It’s for Padmé. Why does no one understand?!
You’re missing something, the Voice whispers from somewhere far away.
Windu’s stance is guarded. His focus split between Vader and his Master. Dread and righteous fury waft off of him and Vader sinks his teeth in and savors it like he would a trim bantha steak. He is the master now. He has all the power. There is no way for Windu to win and he knows it. Knows that he will soon be joining his fallen brethren and that there’s nothing he can do to save himself. And he’s afraid, Vader thinks triumphantly. What of all your teachings, now, he mocks silently. There is no fear, remember? Just release it into the Force.
Vader can feel his Master watching him from the sidelines, growing increasingly impatient. Urging him to hurry and dispose of this last one so that they can carry on with their plans. Vader heeds his Master’s command, and slowly inches toward his prey.
But before he can make his move, Windu relaxes his stance and deactivates his saber.
“Before we do this,” he says. “I just need to know how long. How long have you been plotting your betrayal, Skywalker? Have the Sith had their claws tangled up in you from the moment you landed on Coruscant all those years ago?”
Vader burns with fury and mortification but remains silent. His weaker former self would have bitten back at the old master’s baiting, but Vader has his eyes on the prize. His Master is eager to see what he can do, and Vader is eager to show him. He readies himself, waiting for Windu to make the first move. But his Master has grown wary of his dalliance.
“Now is your chance, Lord Vader,” his voice whispers into Vader’s mind. “Make your move, and prove that you have embraced the Dark. It is the only way you will earn the power to save Padmé and your child from your visions.”
At his Master’s warning, Padmé’s tear streaked face flashes in his mind. And Vader’s hands tighten around the hilt of his saber. He readies himself to attack and—
YOU’RE MISSING SOMETHING
No, he isn’t! He’s seeing clearly for the first time in what feels like forever. The Jedi have been holding him back all this time, and the Dark Side is going to free him. He’s going to have everything he ever wanted. Padmé, a family. A life. Love. Respect. Peace. He just has to complete these small, simple tests and then his Master will show him the way to save his wife and child, and—
And the world around him suddenly bursts in a whirlwind of light and color as the shroud that had been clouding his vision for so long finally lifts. And now, now he is truly seeing things clearly, as he asks himself the question he should have asked several days ago.
Padmé. His visions.
How does Sidious know about Padmé? How did he know about the dreams? How did he know that Padmé needed to be saved… when Vader has never even once told him anything about her…?
Anakin’s blood runs cold. He sees red. He lunges. He strikes. And Palpatine crumples to the floor.
If Mace Windu is caught off guard, he predictably doesn’t show it. He stands stock still and saber raised above his head, ready to strike Anakin down.
He doesn’t get the chance.
With a wave of his hand, Anakin sends the Jedi’s saber flying through the wall behind him. And then he raises his other hand, curling it into a tight fist. The Jedi struggles against his grip. He fails and falls.
And Anakin runs.
He wakes drenched in a cold sweat.
His heart races in his chest, his head snaps from side to side as he takes in several desperate gulps of air. The blankets he’s wrapped in are hot and irritating against his skin. Suffocating him. He tries to brush them off, but his limbs feel like they’re bolted down by durasteel weights, his muscles and tendons all stiff and swollen. For a few terrifying moments, he wonders if this isn’t another panic attack, but that he’s been stunned. That the Jedi or one of Palpatine’s other cronies have found them, and are here to take them before the Council or the Senate to stand trial. Or worse.
Padmé’s gentle breathing brings Anakin back to reality. He feels around for any hint of an unfamiliar Force signature and finds nothing. The night air is still and silent. They are safe.
His limbs start to loosen as he slowly comes back to himself. Gingerly, so as not to disturb Padmé, he lifts up the covers, exposing his clammy skin to the cool night air. His body is free, but his mind remains locked in the prison of his own memories. As it has been all day.
He closes his eyes and watches himself submit to Palpatine and his depravity. He opens them and sees the broken bodies of the Jedi he slew. He exhausts himself with preparations for the baby’s nursery and any joy he feels gets sucked into the deep, vacuous hole where Obi-Wan should be. He fixes Padmé lunch and remembers the look on her face when he’d first told her what he’d done. And on and on and on in a hellish, never-ending loop. Bringing with them not only retribution and regret but also more uncertainty.
Have the Sith had their claws tangled up in you from the moment you landed on Coruscant all those years ago?
More than likely.
Thinking back on every interaction he’d had with Palpatine with the enhanced lens of hindsight made Anakin tremble with revulsion.
It shamed him beyond the telling of it to know that every time the Chancellor had offered him praise, or guidance, or a friendly, compassionate ear, it had all been under the guise of grooming him for his eventual Fall. Ever since he’d been a little boy, newly freed from the deserts of Tatooine, the Chancellor had been there in his ear. Stoking the fires of his anger and resentment. Twisting his Jedi teachings. Sewing doubt and restlessness.
It unnerved Anakin that even now he still had trouble differentiating between the thoughts that were purely his own, and the ones that were there because of Palpatine’s manipulations. Or had he been under his thumb so long that they were now one and the same? Had the Chancellor really been responsible for his dreams? Or was that just Anakin’s paranoia getting the better of him again. Was the Sith so powerful that he could see Anakin’s thoughts and worries as plainly as if they were being broadcast on the nightly holonews? Or did he know about them because he put them there? Had Anakin really submitted to the Dark Side all on his own? Or did Palpatine use Sith magic to push him over the edge?
Well, he knew the answer to that last one at least. But that only opened the door to even more questions.
He had seen the truth of Palpatine on his own, but did that really mean he was free from the pull of the Dark Side for good? Padmé seemed to think so, and Anakin wanted so badly to believe her. To have the same wholehearted faith in whatever goodness she saw in him. But how could he, when he could still so vividly recall the pleasure he’d felt while murdering his fellow Jedi?
Normally, he would go to Obi-Wan about all this. He needs to talk to Obi-Wan about all of this. But a naïve stretch into that empty space in the Force where his Master once dwelt reminds Anakin that he no longer deserves the comfort of their bond, not when he’d gone to such despicable lengths to destroy it.
He may have found sanctuary on Naboo and absolution in Padmé’s arms, but Anakin knows he would be a fool to think that he won't be paying for his crimes for the rest of his life, in one way or another. And Anakin's done playing the part of the fool.