Chapter 1: Quen
The market bustled around Padmé. Hundreds of people and aliens alike wandered through the cobbled streets. A muddy, slush of snow covered the stony road. Huge, fully, banthas lurched through the crows, weighed down by all kinds of wooden crates and packages. Tiny, monkey-like men clambered through its thick fur and screeched at the people below. Market stalls lined the brick walls. The loud clamour of voices thundered in her ears. Everyone was bundled in layers of clothing, their heads down as they ventured about their business. There were a few clusters of people, but they drew cold glares at others as they walked by. The sky above was grey, dark clouds blocked out the light from the sun. A chilling wind blew through the streets. Small, granite houses with cracked walls and snow-covered roofs rose tall beside the streets.
Padmé was swaddled in rough, itchy fabric. Her breath rose in plumes, cradling her red cheeks. A deep hood was pulled down to her nose. Her long cloak flapped about her heels. A woven basket hung from her elbow and squeaked every time it collided with her hip. It's lid was shut over. The contents rolled around and thumped the edges in time with her swaying steps. Her frozen finger tips poked out of her woollen gloves and were bright red. The end of her nose nipped and ran, causing her to sniffle every once in a while, despite the thick scarf that was wrapped around the lower half of her face. The hair that was squashed into her hood itched at the back of her neck.
A squad of white storm troopers were marching down the street behind her, shouting orders and commands at all those who got in their way. Her heart was hammering in her chest, her breathing hard and heavy. The clanking of their armour sent chills colder than the bitter wind racing down her spine. The harsh, metallic voices made her stomach twist. At the sight of their blasters, her stomach tensed.
Weaving through several familiar streets, her shoes clicked against the solid ground. Keeping her head down, she slipped out of the village. The noise of bartering and screeching faded to a gentle whisper that was drowned out by the wind. Breaking out of the last row of houses, she was faced with a vast, white landscape. The glittering snow rose into peaking dunes. A mucky, pebble road cut through the shimmering plains. Distant forests could be seen poking out of the never ending whiteness. The brown bark was just visible. Not far from Padmé, a huge wolf was tied to a wooden pole. It's fur was void black and tufts of its grey undercoating poked out around its mane and on its belly. When it saw her, it's ears perked up and it's long tail swayed from side to side. It's golden eyes fixated on her. It let out high pitched whines, bouncing from paw to paw. "It's good to see you too, Max," Padmé chuckled, approaching him with a renewed spring in her step. The canine towered over her. His powerful jaws could easily swallow down her whole torso in one bite.
Padmé could hardly feel the rough rope beneath her fingers as she struggled to untie Max from the wooden pole. He licked her face, knocking back her hood and leaving her features covered in hot slobber. "Max," Padmé groaned, wiping her face with her sleeves and returning to untying him. The moment he was free, she turned and scratched his gargantuan head. His fur was thick and soft. Once again he licked her, soaking her face once more. Laughing, she wiped her face clean and tugged her hood back up. "Alright, that enough you," she scolded him gently. "Down," she commanded.
Max lay down on the floor instantly, his tail still whipped frantically from side to side. Smiling to herself, Padmé sat down on his back, placing the basket over her lap. "Let's go," she told him, patting his thick neck. Max stood, effortlessly lifting her clean from the ground. His hard muscles shifted beneath his fur. Cocking his head up, his golden eyes stared back at her. "Home," she instructed. With a huff of air, he began trotting down the stone path. Padmé swayed with his movement. His shoulder blades moved under her legs. Pinning the basket with her forearms, she wove her fingers into his fur. The heat from his body immediately began thawing her frozen hands. Max let out a low grumble the moment her cold skin touched his. "Sorry buddy, but I've got to hold on to you somehow," she chuckled.
They rode for a long time. The icy landscape yielded some glittering wonders. Frozen lakes that wooly, antlered creatures pranced across. A white mountain range that disappeared into the grey clouds. Leaning trees that had icicles dripping from their leaves. The chilling winds cut her to the bone. Her forehead ached with the cold.
Eventually, they peaked over the top of a snow covered hill. At the base of its towering height, a small cluster of houses were nestled in its shadow. Their brick chimneys blew out plumes of dark smoke that dissolved into the greying, tangerine sky. The snow on the thatched roofs was thinner than the ground. Dangerously sharp icicles dangled down from their edges. Orange light glowed in the windows. The slope levelled out into a flat valley that stretched into the distance before rising into a dark forest. Huge herds of the wooly, antlered animals, known as Quen, browsed the landscape and dug at the snow. They were closed in to an expanse of the flat ground by sturdy, wooden fences. A smile curled her lips.
In the open fields, a white blur was hearing Quen into an open barn. Max's head lifted towards it, his ears perking and his tail wagging. He let out a pitchy whine and craned his fluffy head up to look at Padmé. "You'll see Willow tomorrow when we are milking the Quen," Padmé promised him, gently patting his neck. The white blur stopped for a moment, revealing itself to be a pure white wolf with glossy fur, and peered up towards them. She too was ginormous in size, but not quite the giant Max was. After a few seconds, she resumed her herding duties.
Max padded carefully down the hill, using his wide paws to stop them from falling. The snow crunched beneath their weight. He stopped before the cottage that was furthest from the rest. Halting by the door, he lowered himself to the ground and Padmé clambered off. "Good boy, Max," she praised him, scratching behind his ear. He leaned his head into her touch. Dusting some snow from her clothing, she stepped up to the rickety wooden door. Warm light seeped out of its edges. The sound of childish laughter permeated through the wood, melting her heart. She stamped her boots to knock off the powdery snow. With a contended sigh, she grasped the door handle and swung it wide open. A whoosh of heat rushed over her. Behind her, Max let out a gentle whine. "Shake off," she told him, staring back over her shoulder. Instantly he flicked all the snow from his paws and shook out his fluff. "Alright," she sighed, stepping into the house and allowing the huge canine to cram himself through the doorway and into the small residence.
The house beyond was small. A wide double bed, with a rickety frame and animal fur blankets, was pushed against one end of the stone floor. An open fireplace was opposite the door, it's flames were crackling away beneath a bashed, metal pot. Padmé could practically taste the savoury scent of stew that lingered in the air. A little table was shoved into the opposite corner of the house with three stairs around its splintering surface. Animal pelts lay across the floor, where Max automatically flopped down onto his side. In front of the open fire, two little children were staring up at a man with shaggy, blonde hair and a long, scruffy beard. The moment the kids saw her enter the room, they were up on their feet and racing towards her. "Mummy!" they squealed in delight. Padmé flicked her hood back and lowered her scarf as she dropped into a crouch. The basket was all but thrown to the ground.
The two children flung themselves into her arms, nearly knocking her clean off her feet. Padmé pulled them into the folds of her cloak, inhaling their sweet, fruity scent. They wrestled themselves out of her grip and bounced excitedly on the balls of their feet. "Unca Obi was telling us about you fighting a scary monster on Geonosis," a little boy with a sandy blond bowl cut and thick, woolly clothing squeaked. His blue eyes gleamed in delight and his childish voice tripped up over the words.
"He said you were shooting a blaster, like pew pew," the little girl with dark pigtails demonstrated shooting a blaster by clasping her hands into the shape and pretending to fire it off. A little dress swung around her ankles.
"That was a long time ago," Padmé chuckled, pulling off her thick cloak and hanging it on the hooks by the door. Long, curly locks of chocolate hair fell down to her waist. Obi-Wan rose to his feet, stretching his hands high above his head. His beige robes rippled with the movement. "Nearly nine years," she sighed beneath her breath.
"It has been some time," Obi-Wan sighed, his eyes darkened and his face went stiff. A somber stare passed between the pair of them.
"Would you show me how to use a blaster?" the little girl asked. Both twins stared up at her with twinkling eyes and cat like smiles. They clasped their hands together. Padmé's lips quirked upwards.
"You're far too young for that," Padmé responded, ruffling their hair. They sent her a disgruntled glare. "Those days are long behind me anyway." Obi-Wan strode over. "Thank you for watching them," Padmé dipped her head. The children clung to her legs tightly, nearly disappearing into the ruffles of her dress.
"Any time," he smiled. "Good bye little ones," he waved down at them, placing his hand on the door and swinging it open. A stream of cold air whooshed in, washing over her.
"Goodbye unca Obi!" they called in unison, waving madly back. A smile split the older man's face and he slipped out into the frozen air.
The heat was unbearable. Thick air swirled around her. Padmé was choking. Something was constricting around her throat, coiling tighter and tighter. Two, shaded and angry eyes leered at her. An angular face was illuminated by the orange gloom. There were loud voices yelling, booming. Tears brimmed her eyes, gliding down her cheeks. She scratched frantically at her throat. Her mind was concerned with only one thought. The children.
Padmé burst awake, lying on her back and covered in hot sweat. Her heart was pounding and her chest heaving. Tears itched her skin. Initially, she was disoriented by the orange glow that lit the dark interior of her little home, but the heavy, reassuring warmth of the two children nestled into her side grounded her into reality. The gentle whooshing of their breaths eased her racing heart. The wind howled outside, making her door rattle. She swiped away the tears on her face. Untangling herself from the twins, she slowly sat up. The bed squeaked and creaked beneath her. Peeling the furry pelts away from her legs, she carefully clambered out of bed. The stone was cold beneath her feet, the air refreshingly tepid.
Taking in deep gulps of breath, she padded over to the stone fireplace. A few, vibrant orange embers were glowing amidst the blackened aftermath of the roaring flames. Picking up a few logs, she placed them atop the embers and watched carefully as the wood began to smoulder. Her thin nightdress hugged close to her body. The sweltering heat diffused out of her flushed skin, allowing the cold to creep in. Flames flickered to life atop the wood and began to gnaw away at the crusty bark. It quietly started to crackle and pop. Squatting to the floor she wrapped her arms around her legs and watched the fire dance. On the floor behind her, the hulking form of Max was curled up neatly into a little ball.
Padmé crouched in front of the fire, as she did most nights, absorbing what little heat was produced by the burning log. A longing was clenching her heart in its unbreakable grip. Biting down on her lip, she pressed her eye sockets against her knees. "Oh, Anakin," she whispered. Although he had fallen to the dark towards the end of his life, she knew there was good in him still. If only she'd stayed conscious, she might have been able to talk sense into him. He'd have come around eventually, she knew he would have. Padmé knew Obi-Wan had done what he felt necessary when he killed Anakin, but she couldn't smother the small part of her that resented his actions.
In the silence, the feint noise of shouting could just be made out over the roaring wind. Padmé stood up, her body tensing. The loud voices were hardly audible, so she didn't even know if they were really there. It was only when Max lifted his head and perked his ears that she knew for certain there was something going on outside. Creeping over to the door, she cracked it open and peered out into the darkness. Cold air washed over her, chilling her to the bone. There was a wild snowstorm blowing. The snow was already up to her knees. In the darkness, it was nearly impossible to see anything. White shapes were shifting around, lining up several darker shapes. There were brilliant cones of bright light flicking around the place. They were torchlights of some kind and they were slowly spreading out, coming towards her. Light flashed across the shifting, dark shapes. Padmé's breath caught in her throat and her eyes widened. They were troopers and they were lining up the farm hands for execution. Her heart thumped in her ears.
Closing the door over she leaned her head against the rough wood. Padmé could easily wake the children, collect Obi-Wan and ride Max to safety, but the rest of the farm would be left to fend for themselves. Hissing between her teeth, she made a decision she knew she was going to regret. Racing back over to the bed, she shook the twins awake. They stared up at her with bleary eyes. "What's going on mummy?" Leia asked, her mouth stretching into a wide yawn.
"Get under the bed," she ordered them. Immediately they sat up, their eyes rounding and filling with fear. "It's a game," Padmé strained a wide smile. Their faces lit up. "Whoever can stay under the bed for the longest without making a sound is the winner," she explained slowly. They nodded, prancing to their feet and diving beneath the bed. Padmé got down on her hands and knees. They lay flat on their stomachs, their tiny forms dissolving into the darkness. "Remember, no matter what happens. Stay under the bed or you'll lose," she whispered. "I'm going outside for a little while, but I'll still know if you cheat."
"Okay mummy," they responded in unison. Pushing herself to her feet, she lifted the corner of the mattress slightly, pulling out a small blaster. It's cold metal in her hand was familiar and reassuring. Scampering back over to the door, she thrust her bare feet into her boots and swung her thick cloak over her shoulders. Shoving open the door, she put one foot out of the threshold and momentarily turned back. Max was staring at her with gleaming, golden eyes. Just as he shifted to leave, she raised her hand and stilled him.
"Max, stay," she commanded. Turning over to the bed, she was thankful that there was no evidence of the children on display. "Goodbye babies," she spoke. With that, she slipped out into the night a closed the door over being her. The wind crashed into her, obscuring her vision with snow. Pulling her hood over her head, she got down into a low crouch. Creeping away from the door, she squatted down by the side of the house. A pair of troopers were marching closer. Their torches illuminated the building's dark wood. Lifting her blaster, she shot two bolts. Her arms jolted with the movement and there was a green flash. The noise was buried by the wind. The troopers had no time to react before they were hit. They collapsed to the floor with smouldering orange holes in their chests.
Padmé blew out a steady sigh. Sneaking over to their bodies, she switched off the flashlight. Her cloak flared out behind her and flapped aggressively in the wind. Long strands of her hair tumbled out of her hood. There were several other beams of light. Steeling herself against the cold, she began sneaking up behind each pair of troopers and blasting them dead. They never saw her coming and they only realised they were under attack when it was already too late. Before long, there was only one beam of light remaining. It was by the main farm house, where she had first seen the troopers lining up the farm hands. The winds had died down. Only delicate flurries of chunky snowflakes drifted down from the dark sky.
With her heart still pounding, she snuck around the edge of the farmhouse. Several people were lined up in the snow, forced down onto their knees. They were muffling sobs, their shoulders shaking. Several bodies were slumped to the ground, spacing out the survivors like missing teeth. Every single one of them were people she knew. Lifting a hand, she placed it over her mouth. All the survivors were all in tattered clothing and completely defenceless. There were even children. A single pair of troopers was marching in front of them, barking down a communicator.
"All my men have been picked off," a trooper shouted at his wrist comm. "We need reinforcements!" Padmé's gut sank. That was exactly what she didn't want to happen. "What do you mean the storm is too heavy? It has just blown over," he growled, his stomping footsteps crunching the snow.
Tightening her grip around her blaster, she shot off two bolts. Only one landed. Only one trooper fell. Padmé's heart leapt into her throat as the trooper on the transmission leapt to one side after seeing her shot incoming. The green bolt sailed harmlessly past him. The trooper's head snapped around to look at her. "So you're the one killing my men," he snarled, aiming his gun at her. Padmé threw herself through the snow to dodge his blaster fire. She swung her body back around the side of the house, out of his view. There were several loud bangs as bolts sailed past her and crashed into the wall behind her. Padmé's heart was hammering.
Suddenly, it all went quiet. A feint, crackling hum filled the silence. Her shoulders relaxed. Poking her head around the side of the building, her eyes immediately found the trooper. His body was impaled on a brilliant blue blade made completely of light. "Jedi!" the trooper managed to hiss before the blade retracted and he collapsed to the floor. Behind him, stood a tall man with brown robes. His lightsaber hilt was clenched tightly in his hand.
Padmé waded through the thick snow towards him. The captives began to struggle out of their bindings, leaning against each other for support. Obi-Wan walked over the them, the dead trooper's lights still illuminated the area. "Why were they here?" Obi-Wan asked gently, clipping his lightsaber to his belt.
"They were raiding our Quen wool," one of the women cried, holding a tiny infant close to her chest. Padmé felt some of the tension in her chest loosen. Obi-Wan and her traded a look of mild relief. The troopers weren't after them.
"You should flee from here," Padmé told them. "The empire will return."
"Who even are you?" one of the field hands she knew vaguely asked, his young face scrunching up.
"Nobody important," Padmé responded truthfully, her chest aching. To these people, she had always just been one of their diligent workers. For the twins, she had hoped it would always remain that way.
A warm hand landed on her shoulder, giving it a tight squeeze. Padmé flicked her eyes up to Obi-Wan. "We need to leave," he told her, his eyes crinkling with pain. She nodded, pressing her lips into a thin line. Obi-Wan turned, beginning his trek back to her home. Padmé followed him, but a glint of metal caught her eyes. A rounded helmet was resting in the snow. There were tiny slits around the mouth area and a glinting, golden visor for her eyes. Reaching down, she scooped it up into her hands. It was light weight and sleek. The butcher often wore it when he was killing the Quen for meat, as was the tradition for the Quen herders of planet Voss. Cradling it in her arms, she carried it with her as she followed in Obi-Wan's trail through the deep snow. Her heart was heavy. This place had been part of her life for six years, she would be darned if she had nothing to remember it by.
Chapter 2: Rebellion
Padmé trudged through the deep snow. By her side, Max was easily plodding along. Large packs were strapped to his back and two children slept, peacefully slumped onto his shoulders. They nearly vanished into his dark fur. Obi-Wan was walking on the other side of the giant wolf, peacefully caught up in his own thoughts. Huge trees rose tall around them. The thick trunks were covered in flakey, dark, bark. All of the branches that criss-crossed above their heads were weighed down with an impressive layer of snow. Intense, golden light streamed in through the canopy and spotted the glittering ground below.
With her hood low, she wrapped her cloak tightly around her body. It dragged over the top of the knee high snow. Padmé couldn't feel her feet any longer. It was as though she was walking with two, metallic blocks instead. Huge plumes of breath seeped out of the itchy scarf she wore around the lower half of her face and curled up around her cheeks. Birds were twittering happily in the tree tops. Their voices tweeted a lively melody. The air was frigid in her lungs. Her nose was nipping.
Throughout the duration of their journey, Padmé had been replaying the events of the previous night on a loop in her mind. A grimace was etched into her face. Several people she had grown to appreciate and care about had died to the Empire's hand. Over the past six years, it had been so easy to simply pretend the Empire didn't exist. The most she had seen of it was the occasional patrol in town. It had also been so easy to act as though she really was just another farm hand, but the Empire was very real and she wasn't just a Quen milker. Padmé had been respected and esteemed by billions once. Her fight for peace had always been headlining the holonews. Now, when the people needed her more than ever, she had chosen to hide. To cower. To pretend as though this mess Anakin had helped create was all just a bad dream.
"Obi-Wan," Padmé spoke suddenly, but not loud enough to waken the children. Reaching out, she patted at Max's rear, causing him to pull ahead, revealing the Jedi behind him. His arms were folded into his sleeves, his cloak trailed behind him.
"Yes, Padmé?" he responded softly, his blue eyes regarding her gently.
"I'm going to join the rebellion," she told him with a steely tone. Obi-Wan's brows shot up, his mouth fell agape. Even his step faltered.
"It's not safe Padmé. If the Emperor finds out about the twins he will lust after their power," Obi-Wan objected, pulling his brows down. Her eyes flicked to her childrens' sleeping forms and her heart grew heavy. They were so peaceful. A peace she wished she could shroud them in forever.
"As long as the Empire exists, they will never be safe," she responded calmly, returning her eyes to him. "What happened last night only proves it. The only way I will ever know for sure they are not in danger, is if the Empire is gone and I can't just sit and idly wait for that day to come."
"Padmé, it's out of our control now," he argued, sternness creeping into his voice. "The best thing we can do is make sure those children do not fall into the Emperor's grasps like Anakin did." Padmé flinched at those words. Indeed, she had pondered many times if she could have done more to stop his fall. Maybe if she'd just listened closer or maybe if she'd taken the time to reassure him one last time she would be fine, he wouldn't have felt the need to turn to Palpatine.
"Obi-Wan, we have the ability and the knowledge to fight for peace," she responded sharply. "There were so many that respected us, relied on us. Just think about how we could aid the fight against the Empire. It's our duty to fight for what we know is right and we can." Padmé reckoned their names alone would be enough to influence more people to fight for freedom. "We cannot turn out backs on the galaxy now. Not when it needs us so badly." She let out a long sigh and pressed her lips together. "I won't force you to join with me."
The Jedi's face twisted with pain. A forlorn sadness danced behind his eyes. "You're determined to do this, aren't you?" he sighed. Padmé nodded, offering him an apologetic smile. Reaching a hand up, he dragged it down his face. "If I can't stop you, then I have no choice but to join you," he spoke calmly once more, folding his hands back into his robes. Padmé opened her mouth to object and remind him he didn't need to be saddled with her decision, but he was talking again before she could. "I swore to keep those children safe. Even if it’s my final mission."
Padmé sent him a warm smile. "Thank you, Obi-Wan."
"I will say that you should at least conceal your identity," Obi-Wan added with a soft sigh. Padmé frowned, cocking her head to one side. "The Emperor knew of your relationship with Anakin. If he sees you alive, he'll begin searching for the children. Then they will be safe nowhere." Padmé nodded grimly. If she had worked up public confidence in herself once, she could certainly do it again by a different name.
Every hissing breath Vader took brought a stab of pain to his chest. Every move he made tugged on his tight skin. Every inch of him was weighed down by his cumbersome suit and cybernetics. The planet around him was completely crimson. The glistening snow was blood red, the clear sky a darker shade of crimson. Even the beaming sun that rose high into the sky was like looking into a red lamp. His black armour glinted in the brilliant light. The freezing air was kept away by the hot air that circulated through his suit. With his heavy arms folded over his chest, he stared down at the snow before him. Two sets of deep footprints, accompanied by a pair of paw prints led into the dark forest before him. The force was swirling around him, urging him to follow.
Far behind him, on the other end of a wide valley that was filled with bellowing, antlered beasts, a little farm was nestled at the bottom of a steep hill. It had been several days since the farm had been abandoned, but there were still tracks trailed all over the snow. Each and every single one of the troopers were killed with one, concise blast to the chest. It was done by someone who has trained with a blaster. He doubted any of the simple farm hands could have killed an entire unit of clones under the cover of darkness. That however, wasn't the reason he had been called in. From the scorch marks on the barn, it seemed a short fire fight had taken place. The last trooper was killed by a lightsaber through his chest. The mere thought made his blood boil. Whatever Jedi was foolish enough to reveal himself to the empire would meet a swift end. Vader would slay that scum.
A pair of crunching footsteps approached him from behind, stopping several meters away. "Lord Vader, we have completed our sweep of the area. No survivors were found and there is no sign of resistance occupation," a trooper informed him. If the Jedi wasn't aligned with the rebellion, then they were probably taking refuge and working at the farm. Luckily, the troopers just happened to stumble upon them and flush them out. Vader turned around slowly, his dark cape flapped at his heels. Fear radiated off the trooper like a strong cologne. He was standing stick straight, his posture perfect and arms ridged by his sides. The wintery, white armour blended in with the white snow.
"Find the farm hands that fled. I want them alive," he pointed a gloved finger, his metallic voice booming around the open landscape and echoing back to the houses.
"Yessir," the trooper responded, raising his hand into a salute then marching towards the little farm. Vader turned back towards the footsteps. Although the force whispered for him to follow, it was just that. A whisper. A feint memory of something that once was. There were no intelligent life forms within a range he could sense. If he chased after the Jedi on foot, he would never catch up. Turning away, he dragged his heavy cybernetics back across the open expanse of land.
Chapter 3: Naga
The blue streams of hyperspace flooded past the wide viewport of Padmé's Nubian ship. The complex console curved before her. It was covered in colourful buttons and levers. She was constantly redirecting the twins' hands away from them. The engine purred. An occasional whine could be head from within the belly of the ship where Max was protesting at being left alone. He was too big to fit in the cockpit without endangering all their lives. Sitting in the pilot's seat, Padmé had a twin on each knee. Their starry eyes stared out in wonder at the hyperspace tunnel beyond. The sweet, sugary scent they always carried filled her senses. Their heads rested on her shoulders and their heat warmed her like a blanket.
In the copilot seat, Obi-Wan was reclined backwards, stroking his beard with glassy eyes. Padmé assumed it was for much the same reason she was constantly peering around her and absorbing all the information she could. It had been six years since she had hidden this ship in forest of Voss. It was exactly as she recalled, but there were so many things she had forgotten. The rumble of the ship's ignition had opened a trickle of memories in her mind. When she found herself watching the white planet disappear to a pin prick behind her, the floodgates of the past she had been suppressing swung open. For a while, she had been sitting in a daze, fondly recounting some of her best memories. Like the first adventure she and Anakin had to Tatooine, before they raced to Geonosis to rescue Obi-wan from certain doom. They had faired no better than the Jedi master, but it birthed their relationship by encouraging Padmé to admired how deeply she had fallen for him. The sight of a little dent in the console Anakin had made when he dropped a spanner on it stopped her dead. She stared at it for a long time. The way he had pouted when she laughed at him made her smile still, but it also brought watery tears to her eyes. It pained her that she knew if she looked into the ship's closet, she would find one of his hooded robes hanging.
Lifting herself to her feet, she placed the two children into her seat. Her body creaked and groaned. "I'm going to go and check on Max," she told them as they peered up at her with bright eyes. "Remember, no touching," she gestured to the control panel. They nodded their heads profusely, returning their sights to the blue glow of the viewport. With a sigh, she turned to Obi-Wan, who gave her a gentle nod.
Slipping out of the cockpit, she entered the belly of the ship. It was a long, slender space, with a bed cut into its side. The walls were lined with brown panels that would collapse inwards when pushed. A yellow light shone down from above. Max was curled into a corner, by the back of the ship. When he saw her, he lifted his head high and perked his ears. His long pink tongue flopped out the side of his mouth and his tail thumped against the ground. "Hello Max," she chirped a greeting. Creeping over the floor, she pressed on a tall, wooden panel. It let out a hiss of air and slid back into the wall. The space beyond was just large enough for her to stand in. Hanging from the ceiling was a long, black cloak. The second she laid her eyes upon it, her bottom lip trembled. Reaching out a shaking hand, she gingerly grasped one of the dark folds of fabric. It was velvety soft beneath her touch.
Carefully removing the cloak from the hanger, she draped it around her shoulders. It's warmth cradled her like an embrace. Lifting a sleeve to her face, she took in a deep breath. It smelt like him. It had the same intoxicating cologne with a hint of machine oil. Hot liquid sprung to her eyes. Sniffling, she held it tighter. Tears tracked down her cheeks. A tremble rattled her frame. "Anakin, why?" she whimpered, choking back a full sob.
A whine from behind her made her lift her head over her shoulder. Max had clambered to his feet, ducking his head so he didn’t hit the roof. He padded over to her, his ears pinned to his skull. Padmé took off the cloak and safely stored it away in the closet. Closing the door back over, she turned to Max. He sat down on the floor in front of her. Tears were still flowing freely from her eyes. His eyes were fixed on her, his head cocked to the side. Stepping towards him, she wrapped her arms around his neck and burrowed her face into his soft fur. Padmé drew in ragged, unsteady breaths. His heart thumped a gentle melody and his heat warmed her skin. Fur stuck to her wet cheeks.
Slowly, she managed to collect herself. The tears stopped flowing and she managed to tuck her grief into the back of her mind. Max shifted from paw to paw, letting out a soft whine. Pulling away from him, she scratched behind his fluffy ear. His tail began wagging enthusiastically behind him. "You're such a good boy, Max," she whispered to him. In response, he trailed a long, wet lick up her face. Chuckling under her breath, she swiped the slobber off of her face. Padmé stroked his huge head for a while, waiting for the itch in her eyes to leave and the heat in her cheeks to evaporate. When they did, she planted a kiss on Max's wet nose and returned to the cockpit.
The twins had migrated to Obi-Wan's side of the control panel and were staring up at him with wide eyes and open mouths as he spoke down to them softly. They were seated by his feet, their legs crossed into baskets and their backs haunched over. Their eyes flicked up to her, but instantly returned to Kenobi. Dropping back into her chair, she watched the twins closely. They were completely captured by Obi-Wan's words. "That's why the Mirr of Glethden have golden skin," he concluded, leaning back into his chair.
"Wow," both children cheered simultaneously.
"Unca Obi," Luke began, "what's that thing on your belt?" He pointed at the shiny lightsaber that was freshly clipped to the Jedi's clothing. Obi-Wan glanced up at Padmé, who gave him a gentle nod.
Pulling out the hilt, he displayed it cautiously before their eyes. "This, is a lightsaber," he told them. Their eyes instantly lit up. He ignited it. The brilliant, blue blade burst out off the metallic shaft with a hiss. "It is an elegant weapon that is very, very dangerous," he spoke sternly. "One touch from this could kill you." The children's bright eyes tracked the humming blade, their face warped with awe. Sheathing it, Obi-Wan returned his lightsaber to his belt.
"Will you teach us how to use one?" Leia asked, clasping her hands together and batting her eyes at him.
"Perhaps one day when you are older," Obi-Wan chuckled. As they pestered him more about the weapon, Padmé stared out at the viewport before her. They were just like their father.
The warehouse was cavernous and wide. Huge crates were piled in towers that tickled the ceiling. The musky scent of dust lingered in the air, itching at Padmé’s nose. The lighting was dim and dark. Any noise made ricocheted around the room. She stood at its centre, wearing a dark cloak that smelled faintly of machine oil and piquant spice. It was long and trailed on the floor behind her. The sleeves hung past her fingertips and the large hood concealed her head nearly completely. A metallic mask was on her face. It's visor glinted golden and tiny slits were carved into the mouth area. Wrapping the cloak around her, she stood in the dark shadow of a particularly tall tower of crates. Several paths intersected before her, creating a large square of open space.
Loud footsteps were approaching her slowly. They scuffed along the floor, taking hesitant steps. Padmé bounced on the balls of her feet, her heart raced in her chest and her breathing was heavy. The noise drew closer and closer until finally a tall man stepped into the open square. He wore a rich, purple tunic that complemented his dark skin. His black hair was styled back perfectly out of his stern face. The moment his eyes landed on her, he rose to his full height and went ridged. "I came alone, but you should know I have security all around the building that will charge in with a single word from me," he warned her.
Stepping out into the light, Padmé flicked back her hood and pulled the mask off. His eyes grew wide and his mouth hung agape. Taking a step back from her, he scanned their surrounding. "Padmé?" he whispered softly, his eyes cracking with pain. She nodded slowly, sending him a small smile.
"It's me, Bail," she told him gently.
"How?" Bail's eyebrows pulled together. He was still completely stiff and leaning away from her. "I saw your funeral. Your body." Liquid glittered in his eyes.
"It was fake," Padmé responded. "The body was a droid covered in synth skin." Reaching out, she grasped his hands into her own. "I'm so sorry to have misled you, but I'm alive. I swear it." Bail's warm, dry hands grasped hers tightly in his own.
"Why?" his voice crackled, a single tear falling from his eyes.
"I have children and their father was a Jedi," she admitted. Bail's eyes grew even wider. "If the Emperor were to find out I had them, he would do everything in his power to corrupt them and I couldn't let that happen." He stared down at the floor. His jaw hung agape. For a few moments she felt him carefully processing her words.
"I understand," Bail sniffled, tilting his head up to the ceiling and blinking back his tears. Wiping away the stray one with the back of his sleeve, he peered down at her curiously. "Skywalker?" Padmé nodded, her heart drooping. He placed a hand on her shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. "I'm so glad to see you alive," he told her. "I really missed your calmness in a galaxy gone mad."
"I missed you too Bail," she smiled up at him. "There were many times over the past few years I found myself wishing for your advice," she chuckled.
"What brought you out of hiding?" he asked, once more scanning their surroundings as though a fearsome beast was lurking in the shadows.
"The imperials," Padmé grumbled, her face pulling into a scowl. "I want to help you and the rebels." His eyes lit up, but a dark shadow quickly smothered their twinkle.
"I'm afraid there is not much use for us politicians anymore," Bail sighed, his lips tugging down. "The Emperor has complete control over the senate. I wouldn't be surprised if he eventually dissolved it." Padmé gritted her teeth. The senate might have been a den of snakes and backstabbing fools, but a lot of good politics had happened in the auditorium. Millions of lives had been saved and trillions provided aid.
"I want to do it anonymously," she informed him. "Obi-Wan Kenobi would like to join with me, and we both agreed it would be for the best if I kept my name and face," she gestured to the mask and cloak, "hidden." Shifting her weight, she continued, "I don't think Obi-Wan knows wether or not he wants to remain anonymous."
"A Jedi and a politician in any way shape or form would be of great value to our ranks," he assured her. "I will find a position for you both."
Chapter 4: Nota
Vader sat atop a ridged, wide, throne of a chair in an orb-like containment chamber. White lights shone down on him intensely. His helmet rested on his lap, the sharp edges dug into what remained of his legs through his thick trousers. He relished the cool touch of the air on his bare skin. Although every breath felt like swallowing sand, he was grateful to be out of his tight helmet. Despite being in a tiny room, it felt very spacious. In many ways, he was glad for his suit. It kept him isolated from the rest of the world. It kept him in constant pain, boosting his hatred and power. Most of all, it acted as a constant reminder of his failure. On Mustafar, all those years ago, he had foolishly allowed himself to fall into the well of the darkside. That was the day he had learned to temper his connection to it. Too much and he would act rashly, out of impulse.
One day, he would get his vengeance on the man who put him in this torture chamber. Kenobi was out there somewhere in the galaxy and Vader was going to to make sure his death was painfully slow. For all the years he held Anakin back, preaching control. For all the times he berated Anakin's relationship with Padmé. For turning her against him. Kenobi would pay.
The moment his mind turned to Padmé, blinding fury erupted within him. After all he'd done to keep her alive, it was him that had killed her in the end. His foolishness and arrogance. He could picture her so clearly. She was choking in his grasp. Her hands desperately clutched at her throat in an attempt to relieve the pressure. Those warm, welcoming eyes of hers were stretched wide in horror. A desperate plea twisted her face. His chest tightened. He stared down at the very hand he'd held out to choke her. He kept it open wide. A phantom sensation tingled over his metallic palm. Squeezing his eyes shut, he allowed the feeling to linger. He allowed it to torment him because he deserved every morsel of pain it provided.
A loud beep on his gauntlet pulled him out of his musings. With a hefty sigh, he lifted his helmet and slotted it back on top of his head. It clicked into place with a definitive snap-wheeze. Once again, his world was submersed in scarlet. Metallic breathing filled the air around him. Curving his fingers around the arm of his chair, he pressed down on a button concealed beneath the sturdy lip. The chamber around him groaned. The orb halved and began lifting towards the ceiling. A large slit opened in both hemispheres, the perfect size for him to exit. The room beyond was bare. A black, glossy floor reflected the bright lights from above. An imperial officer stood several meters back from the chamber with his head held high and arms clasped behind his back.
Rising to his feet, Vader strode out of the tiny chamber. The officer stiffened as the Sith towered over him. "You had better be bringing me good news, Admiral," Vader told him in an emotionlessly harsh voice.
"We managed to capture two of the field hands that fled from the Quen farm on Voss," the officer told him. His age-speckled features crinkled when he talked. Pride glimmered within his twisted features, sparking annoyance in Vader. Capturing a few measly farmers was nothing to be proud of. They were part of the imperial grand army. It was hardly even a show of competence.
"Take them to interrogation chamber one," Vader barked a command. "I will question them myself."
Padmé's heart pounded in her chest. Her ship's ramp was slowly descending to the floor. She was grasping a thick, rough rope that looped around Max's neck. He was behind her, his ears pressed against his skull and his hackles raised. Beside her, Obi-Wan stood tall. His robes lay perfectly on his shoulders and his scraggly beard had been cut short into a much neater trim. The twins were holding onto one of her hands. Their eyes glittered in wonder, for beyond the door of her ship was a cavernous room. Probably the biggest they had ever seen. Brilliant, white lights shone down from above. There were ships of all kinds scattered all over the rebel base. Some small and nimble, others large and chunky. The clanging of metal and buzz of chatter hummed in the air. There were all sorts of people and aliens lingering around the hangar. Some were tinkering and others off loading ships that were stacked with hefty crates.
Padmé was the first to step down on the ramp when it touched the ground. Waiting by its base was a man clothed in purple robes. Bail's face lifted into a smile the moment he saw her. Making her way down, Obi-Wan was quick to follow. The moment they were all on the ground, the ramp lifted back up into the ship. A warm draft washed over her and her face lifted into a wide smile. "Padmé, Kenobi, I'm so glad you've decided to join us," Bail offered out his palms. Padmé released the twins, giving his hand a warm shake. Obi-Wan mirrored her movements.
"We're glad to be here Bail," she responded softly, dropping her hand back to her side. The twins grasped at her legs, warily eyeing Bail and the space around them. Behind her, Max began to shift. He cowered away from the ships, pressing his ears to his skull and letting out a soft whimper. With her rope still in hand, she scratched at the back of his head. He leaned his sturdy body against her, nearly knocking her over. Bail glanced at the canine with wide eyes. "Don't worry about him," Padmé chuckled. "He is a Lupus from planet Voss. They are known for being softies."
Bail nodded slowly. Max whined as a ship sailed in through the open hangar door, cowering behind her. It was sleek and slender, soaring as effortlessly through the air as a bird would. "Whoah," the twins whispered as they watched the vehicle gracefully lowering itself to the floor. Obi-Wan chuckled at their amazement.
"There was someone who wanted to see you," Bail hummed, looking around the hangar and glancing over his shoulders. "I just commed to tell her you were here so she should arrive at any moment." Padmé and Obi-Wan traded a glance. The majority of their friends and allies were dead or in hiding. Who could possibly want to see them? Just like that, she caught sight of a red togruta, with blue and white horns, weaving through the ships. Her heart leapt into her agape mouth. "Ah, there she is now," Bail chuffed.
The togruta picked up pace the moment she saw them. "I don't believe it," Obi-Wan whispered beneath his breath, his eyes twinkling. "Ahsoka." When she arrived before them, her dark lips were pulled into a wide smile. Padmé couldn't comprehend what her eyes were showing her. Ahsoka had grown taller, her horns dangling down by her hips. Her eyes no longer shone with youth, but they had maintained their mischievous glint. The light armour she wore hugged close to her body and two lightsaber hilts dangled from her hips.
"Obi-Wan, thank goodness you're alive," Ahsoka spoke softly, sending him a warm smile and grasping at his arms. He immediately followed her lead and tenderly grasped her elbows. He stared down at her like a poor man would his last credit.
"I don't think I've ever been so happy to see those pointy little horns of yours," Obi-Wan chuckled, pulling away from her and folding his arms into his sleeves. The warmest smile Padmé had seen in a long time graced his features. After a moment of eye contact, she shifted her sights to Padmé and sent her a wide grin. Max shifted, taking a timid step back. He had never seen a togruta before. The way the grasped tightly at her legs reminded her that the children hadn’t either.
"Padmé," Ahsoka greeted her, immediately pulling her into a tight hug. Padmé wrapped her free arm around Ahsoka's back and gave her a firm squeeze. The floral scent of perfume drifted past her nose.
"It's go good to see you Ahsoka," Padmé sighed. Pressure built behind her eyes but she cherished the moment with all her heart. They pulled away from the embrace. "You've definitely grown up," Padmé laughed, noting Ahsoka was now looking down at her.
"It had to happen sometime," Ahsoka shrugged with a chuckle. Stepping back slightly, she stared at the two twins hiding behind Padmé's legs. "And who are you little sweeties?" she asked, dropping into a crouch before them. Luke hid further back, but Leia's dark eyes shifted up to meet Padmé's. She sent her a reassuring nod.
"I'm Leia Naberrie and that's my brother Luke," Leia spoke, her childish voice tripping up over the words.
"It's okay Leia," Padmé spoke down to her softly, patting at the little girl's soft hair. "You can tell her your real name." The twin's eyes brightened as they stared up at her. Ahsoka's brows twitched together.
"I'm Luke Skywalker, and that is my sister Leia," Luke spoke in a quiet mumble, pointing to his twin.
A wistful sadness blossomed in Ahsoka's eyes that she covered over with a warm smile. "Oh, I see," she chuckled, hardly seeming surprised. Reaching out a hand she offered the twins her palm. "My name is Ahsoka Tano, nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you too Soka," Leia agreed, stumbling over the Togruta's name. Grasping Ahsoka's hand with both her own and giving it a vigorous shake. Luke only took Ahsoka's hand with one of his own and his shake was much gentler. She beamed at them. A wide smile wrinkled her face.
Standing to her feet, she shot Padmé a grin that revealed a set of gleaming teeth. Throwing her arms out to the sides, she gestured around her, "Welcome to the rebellion."
Chapter 5: Naberrie
Vader's mechanical breath boomed around the tiny, black, plastisteel room. The bright lights gleamed from the ceiling, causing the glossy floor to reflect the light harshly. A square of mirror-like material was cut into the wall. There were two interrogation tables angled towards him. The occupants wore thick, scruffy clothing. Their arms and legs were strapped down by sturdy cuffs. A young woman was staring up at him from the table. Her breath was uneven and her eyes wide. On the other table was an older man with a scruffy beard and shaggy, peppered hair. He was glaring at Vader with a set jaw and narrowed eyes. "Where is the Jedi fugitive you were hiding?" Vader's voice boomed, his arms hung taught by his side.
"We were hiding no Jedi," the man snapped, screwing up his face.
"One of the stormtroopers was killed by a lightsaber. There was a Jedi and you will tell me where they went," Vader told him sternly.
"Why the grek would we do that," the older man spat, bearing his yellowed teeth. Wordlessly, Vader lifted a hand and stretched it out towards the girl. He curled his fingers in towards his palm. She let out a shriek, folding in on herself. The veins on her neck began throbbing and her face tinged red as she choked on thin air. "Stop!" the man shouted, thrashing in his bindings and staring at the girl with wide eyes. "She's innocent, please stop!" the man begged desperately. That made Vader's blood boil. There was no such thing as true innocence. To claim as such only proved his foolishness. The girl's choking and spluttering grew worse. Blue began to colour her face. "I don't know where the Jedi went," the man cried, his wide eyes rapidly flicked between Vader and the girl. The Sith's hand tightened and she let out a strained scream. "He left with one of our other field hands before the end of the night."
Vader released the girl. She automatically took in deep gulps of air, her whole body shaking. "What other field hand?" he spoke in a deceptively calm voice. The man's mouth fell open and he hesitated. Vader began lifting his arm towards the girl once more. "A woman," the man answered quickly. "Her and her children came to work with us at the same time the Jedi did. Six years ago." This man was pathetically easy to break. It had taken no more effort than snapping a measly twig.
"What where their names?" Vader pressed, turning his body towards the man.
"Kenobi," he answered quickly. "Ben Kenobi." Vader's hands curled into tight fists. Ben was the name Obi-Wan had used when he went undercover to pose as a bounty hunter to uncover a separatist plot. Fury burned in his chest. They had been days apart. Six years of tirelessly searching, and he had missed him by days.
"And the woman?" Vader pressed.
"Padmé Naberrie," the man admitted, cautiously eyeing the Sith. Vader went completely still. His mechanical breathing picked up pace. His chest tightened. Naberrie was Padmé's family name. Could this woman be his Padmé? No. She was dead. Why would Sidious have lied about her death? Perhaps it was a coincidence. At Vader sudden silence, the man slunk back against the interrogation table. "That's all I know, I swear," he added. "They were quiet and kept to themselves but did good work so we never asked questions."
"The children, how old were they?" Vader asked, his hands clenched so tightly they creaked.
"They were twins, just babies when she first came to us," the man answered, his brows pulling down into a frown. "They would be six now." Vader's respirator quickened once again. Had Padmé lived to deliver their child, it would be six this year. If it really was her with Kenobi, they would be his. His children. Twins. Two children. Fury like never before burned inside of him. The mirrored glass shattered. The lights crackled and burst. The prisoners stared around with horrified eyes.
Turning on his heel, he exited the room. His dark cape swirled around him. He stepped out into a long, brightly lit corridor. Two troopers were standing guard by the door, their backs straight and their weapons held perfectly over their chests. "Lord Vader, what would you have us do with the captives?" one of the troopers asked.
"Execute them," Vader snarled before thundering down the corridor.
Obi-Wan stared out at the arid landscape before him. A huge plain of land stretched as far as his eyes could see, lifting to form blue, white tipped mountains on the horizon. The sun was high in the sky and spotting his vision with bright light. Tall, yellow grasses swayed in dusty breeze. A single river meandered through the landscape, curving around the huge, pale, cathedral of a building that rose tall enough to scrape the sky's belly. Obi-Wan was standing on one of the curving balconies. A tan, sandstone fence walled it in. Behind him, a small set of metallic doors were closed over. A small, green light on the access panel blinked. The air was warm, and dry leaving his mouth and throat completely parched. Even his eyes felt like they were loosing moisture. The sandy, Jedi robes he wore lay loose on his body. Leaning down on the intricately carved fencing, he closed his eyes and relished in the warmth.
The door behind him whooshed open, but he didn't need to turn around to know who it was. Ahsoka's unwavering brilliance washed over him from behind. "Enjoying the view?" she asked, walking over to his side and leaning her hip against the fencing.
"I am," Obi-Wan chuckled, opening his eyes and smiling up at her. "It's been a long time since I've seen anything other than snow."
Ahsoka's lips tugged upwards. "Padmé had to explain to the twins what grass was," she chuckled, amusement glittered in her eyes.
"Just like their father then," Obi-Wan snorted. "When we first took him to Naboo, my master Qui-Gon had a terrible time explaining what plants were because he grew up in a dessert." The memory flashed across his mind. A sad smile curled his lips and his shoulders dropped. That was when Anakin was so young. When he smiled so easily and trusted with his whole heart. When he was filled with potential and hope. He'd had such a bright future ahead of him. Only time and fear had twisted him.
"Obi-Wan," Ahsoka spoke softly. He looked up at her. Her head was tilted down, her horns hanging forwards. Her white eyebrows were pulled together, the corners of her features taut with tension. "I haven't been able to sense Anakin in the force for a very long time," her voice cracked. "Is he-?" she turned her head away, not finishing the sentence.
"He is dead," Obi-Wan confirmed, giving her shoulder a gentle squeeze. She let out a long sigh, pained eyes turned to meet his. Small wrinkles formed between her pinched brows.
"How?" she uttered, disbelief dripping from her voice. Obi-Wan squeezed his eyes shut and gritted his teeth. Anakin's desperate screams as he burned on Mustafar's shores rang in his ears. It was a sound he heard every night, so vividly he almost couldn’t tell that it wasn’t real. That Anakin wasn’t with him, writhing in pain.
"I killed him," Obi-Wan admitted, curling his hands into loose fists and glaring at the landscape beyond. Ahsoka's eyes flicked over to him. They were wide and rounded. Her mouth fell open, her question not forming. "I had no choice," he told her quietly. "Anakin had fallen to the darkside and committed so many atrocities at the Jedi temple that I was forced to hunt him down and put a stop to his violence." Ahsoka clench her jaw tightly, reaching up and pinching at the bridge of her nose.
"Darth Maul told me that would happen,"she spoke like a mouse. Quiet and timid. Obi-Wan's brows lifted. "He said Anakin would be the key in the rise of the sith and I ignored him." Her hands curled into tight balls. "I thought he was trying to get under my skin and I wanted to speak to Anakin about it before I told anyone else but..." her eyes flicked back to Obi-Wan's. They shimmered with water. "I was too late."
Obi-Wan reached out a hand and placed it gently on her shoulder. "Don't blame yourself Ahsoka," he assured her softly. "Anakin made his decision. We cannot hold onto the past or we will get stuck. We must keep moving." Her large, blue eyes blinked back a few tears. If anyone was to blame for Anakin's fall, it was Obi-Wan. He simply hadn't been the mentor the boy needed. He wasn't enough. He wasn’t Qui-Gon.
"I never should have left the Jedi order," she sighed, her face twisting with pain. "Then maybe none of this would have happened."
"Jedi do not dwell on the 'what ifs'," he commented, squeezing her shoulder one last time and dropping his hand back down to the stone banister.
"I'm no Jedi," she whispered back.
"Yet somehow, you are much more of a Jedi than so many others that were loyal to the order," Obi-Wan observed. Ahsoka's expression only darkened. "Let us focus on rehabilitating the galaxy," he stood up, stretching his arms off. "I'm beginning to realise it needs us more now than it ever did during the clone war."
Chapter 6: Dispatched
Vader stared up at the huge, tomb before him. His respirator was running at twice the normal rate. His heart was pounding so fiercely in his chest it rocked his whole body. Thick mist shroud the grassy area. At it's base, lay the dark shadows of limp bodies. Their blasters were scattered across the scorch mark spotted ground. A set of glossy, circular steps led up to the open shelter. Within it, a marble coffin rested, overlooked by a colourful stained glass window. The blocky colours depicted a woman of incomparable beauty and immense grace. Sleek hair flowed so easily around her dainty shoulders. Piercing, dark eyes peered into his very soul. He cursed his red lenses, knowing they could never show him her true beauty. There were flowers all over the tomb. They were pink and white, still in full bloom. Vader’s lips twitched down. Padmé’s favourite colour of flower had always been yellow.
Stepping up to the coffin, he ran a hand over its glossy surface. Never before had he been able to will himself to visit this place. It didn't seem right. He was the one that put her there. The ghosts of the past would only have pestered him. With a finger, he traced the republic insignia carved into the top of the lid. Could Padmé really be out there somewhere? After all these years thinking she was dead, it turned out she was still very well and alive?
Taking a step back from the coffin, he lifted his hands towards it. Drawing the force through him like a string through a needle, he wrapped it around the coffin's lid and began lifting it open. The hard stone ground against each other, filling the air with the sound of rocky churning. The moment the two halves began to separate, he hesitated. The lid hovered in mid air. If Padmé really was dead, then he was going to see something he didn't want to. Something he would never unsee. Still, it had to be done. He had to know.
Angling the coffin lid so that it displayed a sliver of its contents, he crept towards it. Every muscle in his body went taut. His respirator picked up. He chewed on his tongue, causing spikes of pain to race throughout his tight face. Timidly leaning over the coffin's edge, he peeked inside. Vader dropped to his knees with a loud thunk that reverberated around the whole tomb. His hands gripped the edge of the coffin tightly. Within was the perfectly preserved body of Padmé Amidala. Too perfectly preserved. Her milky skin was still supple and soft. Her face was angled and full. Gorgeous locks of glossy hair rested around her head like a halo. Reaching a hand down, he gingerly pressed on her skin. Beneath, there was something hard like bone, but ribbed and sharp. Carefully, he placed a thumb on her chin and opened the mouth. Within was nothing but the shiny, hard casing of a droid. Vader's respirator picked up again. Padmé was alive.
Standing to his feet, he clenched his hands into tight fists. Padmé was alive. Obi-Wan had hidden her. Hidden her from him. The emperor had lied. Vader hadn't kill her. Six years of his life he spent mourning her, when they could have been together. The building around him began to rumble and shake. Thick cracks appeared in the delicate marble, webbing across it. Turning on his heel, he strode out of the tomb. It continued to groan behind him. Huge chunks of the ceiling clattered down to the floor, shattering into tiny pieces. Within moments the whole thing crumbled, sending a rushing cloud of marble dust into the air with a deafening clatter.
Stopping by the base of the cracked, circular steps, he tilted his head up towards the sky. It was partly obscured by the thick mist, but he could make out a sliver of blue. His clenched fists loosened. Out there, somewhere, Padmé was alive. They even had children. Twins. For the first time in so long, his heart lifted. Vader hadn't killed her. Internally, he swore to her that they would be reunited. If he had to tear apart every last planet in the galaxy to find her, then he would.
Padmé stared into the blue light of a flickering holoprojection. It was a flat, cylinder that had a long tunnel protruding from its side that expanded into a cube. The projection hovered above a circular table. Obi-Wan and Ahsoka were by her side and a few high ranking rebels were standing opposite them. Since the holo was the only light source in the room, their faces were all lit in an eerie, blue glow.
"This is the 13-H7 space station," an older looking man in formal attire gestured to the odd shape before them. "It is being used to stop emigration from the outer rim to the mid rim by charging an extortionate toll, his voice crackled with age. He leaned his hands down in the table, his wrinkled eyes reflecting the dim light. "It's causing millions to remain trapped in the impoverished religions of the outer rim and is allowing the empire to gain the alliance of some of the largest manufacturing planets in the galaxy like Cymoon One and Vrogan Von."
"If this space station is destroyed, it will be a huge loss in profit for the empire and will help those seeking relief from war and poverty stricken worlds through emigration,” a Twi-leki woman with stern features and cyan skin explained, her arms crossed tightly over her chest. “It will cripple the Empire’s weaponry production.”
Padmé’s lips pressed together. No matter how much she researched and discovered about the empire, it seemed there was no limit to the evil the would commit for their own gain. She crossed her arms tightly. “We are sending you three to destroy it,” the man spoke, his lips pressing into a thin line. “You must be wary. It is a prized possession of the empire that they will have heavily guarded.”
“That’s the way we like it,” Obi-Wan chuckled, his arms slotted into his loose sleeves and an amused smirk turning up his lips.
“No harm in a challenge,” Ahsoka shrugged, her hands on her hips. The two rebels sent them small smiles. Padmé didn’t care if it was nearly impossible, that space station was falling. For the people and the peace.
Chapter 7: Fear
Padmé's heart was hammering as she slowly trudged down the access ramp of an imperial transport ship. The imperial uniform she wore was tight and uncomfortable. The thick cotton itched at her skin and scratched at the back of her neck. It was grey and modest but hugged closely to her body. Padmé's hair was tied back into a tight bun. A cap was pulled down over her features, concealing them from prying eyes. By her side, Ahsoka and Obi-Wan were wearing the same dull clothes. Their arms were clasped behind their backs, their bodies stick straight.
The hangar they walked into was huge and buzzing with imperial ships and stormtroopers. There were so many bodies crammed into the large space it felt small. Vehicle fumes were toxic in the air, nipping mercilessly at her senses. Loud chatter, commanding voices and the powerful rush of engines filled the air. The noise pounded at her ears, making them throb and ache. Keeping her breath steady and her head down, she strode through the buzzing hive of imperials. From the few faces she glimpsed, they were all stern and stoic. A few of them even looked plain terrified. "I wonder what all the clamour is about," Obi-Wan kept his eyes trained forwards but spoke just loudly enough for the other two rebels to hear.
"We've been stripping back the number of immigrants that want to sneak through the checkpoint and telling them to wait a little while longer," Ahsoka answered in a tight lipped, stern voice. It blended perfectly with the imperials around her. The corners of her lips twitched nearly imperceptibly downwards. "Our spy planted here was discovered recently. I think they've realised the rebels are going to strike." Padmé let out a steady breath. With the space station on lock down, they were going to have a lot more trouble completing the mission. Clenching her jaw, she felt determination rouse within her. This was her first assignment for the rebels. She was going to complete it.
"Still, this seems a little excessive for a potential threat," Obi-Wan responded, speaking in the same harsh voice. "Could they have figured out our plan?"
"No," Ahsoka assured him. "Only us and the high command knew of this mission." Obi-Wan let out a low grumble.
A wide opening in the wall allowed a heavy stream of imperials to flow in and out of the hangar. Joining in the stream heading out, the three rebels were forced to stand shoulder to shoulder as it converged onto a long, metallic walkway that stretched across the open expanse of space to another huge space station at the other end. A huge, bubble like cylinder encapsulated the length of the walkway. Beyond it was the inky, blackness of space, speckled with glittering constellations of distant stars. A gargantuan, giant of a green planet loomed over them. Powerful, blinding lights shone from the railing that fenced the bridge in. It caused the intense beams to flicker and flash with every passing body that obscured it. The further along they went, the dimmer the noise of the hangar became. The sounds of marching feet still thundered around her. A plain, female voice was repeating the same words on loop from obnoxious speakers built into the fragile railing. "This is checkpoint thirteen of the H7 hyperlane. All imperials will be expected to show identification before entering the midrim checkpoint." By the time they reached the other end of the bridge, Padmé could have recited it word for word as the woman did with a perfect copy of the her intonation and accent.
When they reached the other end, they were forced into a single file que and herded like cattle towards a small set of imperial officers that were scanning identification chips. A simple wave of Obi-Wan's hand, with a sprinkle of the force, and they slipped effortlessly into the checkpoint beyond.
It was a large room, with a centre open space. It was even more crowded than the hangar, with imperials and troopers constantly weaving through one another. The heat was sweltering, causing her to break out in a sweat. There were hundreds of docking bays jutting out of the walls. Civilian ships hovered by it, only to have the occupants dragged out, forced through several rigorous and invasive scans all whilst a team of troopers ran on board to ensure the ship was secure. There was a queue of ships backed up as far as her eyes could see.
Although she kept her head down, she wasn't worried about someone recognising her. Padmé was, after all, known to be dead and had been for some time. So if anyone did happen to recognise her, they would surely think themselves mistaken. Anyway, her image would be warped and morphed in the memories of those who knew her. She highly doubted anyone would look for her in the midst of an imperial checkpoint anyway.
With a nod, all three rebels separated pathways. Padmé crept up to a small door in the corner of the room. A key card scanner sat like a gaping mouth at its centre. Standing to attention by the door, she kept her posture completely ridged. After only a few moments of waiting, an older imperial with wispy grey hair strutted up to the door and swiped his key card. The door whooshed open. The imperial stepped in, Padmé hot on his trail. She had barely managed to get through the doorway before it clicked shut once again.
The new space she found herself in was a long, narrow hallway that was lit by blindingly bright lights from above. The glossy metallic floor gave an abstract reflection of the old imperial who trotted over it. He hadn't heard her enter behind him. Blowing out a steady breath, she waited until he was at least halfway down the corridor before following with the false bravado and suffocating pride she had seen every imperial officer walk with.
After following through a series of maze-like, thin corridors, she found herself at the very core of the space station. Huge consoles lined the walls of the small, circular room. Their screens blared with green text that displayed all kinds of analytical figures. The room was filled with a low hum and sweltering hot. A huge cylinder of white, crackling light rose through the centre of the room. It shone harshly on the black, glossy floor. A few imperials were toying with some of the hundreds of colourful switches and buttons that decorated the consoles. One of them lifted his head to see her as she stepping through the small, rectangular doorway. "Are you the next on shift?" he asked, cocking a brow.
"Something like that," Padmé shrugged. Whipping out the blaster on her hip, she shot several silent bolts. All of the imperials lay dead on the floor with smouldering holes in their chests before they even had the chance to draw their own weapons. Lifting her wrist to her face, she tugged back the rough sleeve of her uniform. A wrist communicator blinked green. Pressing down on it, she spoke quickly. "I have secured the core," she announced, releasing it and scurrying over to one of the big consoles, beginning to punch down on buttons and keys.
"I have the security room captured," Ahsoka's voice spoke through a little device nestled into Padmé's ear.
"I will engage the evacuation sequence," Obi-Wan told them softly, through the same earpiece.
Padmé flew across all of the screens, pressing buttons and flipping switches with steely determination. All of a sudden red lights began blaring on the walls and a siren sent out a deafening screech. Groaning beneath her breath, she did her best to tune out the repetitive, wailing noise. All of the doors lifted and she heard the stampeding feet of imperials thundering through the hallways. After flipping a lever, the blinking lights on the control panel turned grey. All that remained was single button, glowing with red light. Lifting her wrist to her mouth, she pressed down on the little, oval comm. "The system is ready to shut down. Give me the que and I'll cut the power to the engines," she yelled over the deafening alarm.
"Not yet," Ahsoka's voice responded as a loud shout, making Padmé's wince. "Not all the civilians have evacuated." Padmé's remained there for several moments, her hand lingering over the red button. Her heart was pounding in her chest. All the sounds of imperials had completely vanished. The longer she was forced to wait, the harsher her breath got. Every her palms became slick with sweat. "Okay, deactivate them." Padmé slammed her hand down on the button.
Immediately, the red lights stopped flashing and the alarm fell eerily silent. Rubbing at her ringing ears, she turned on her heel and began pelting a sprint back the way she had come from. Her feet hammered against the floor. Familiar corridors and rooms flashed past her vision. When she broke out into the checkpoint from the tiny little door, she almost didn't recognise the empty room. It was startlingly devoid of life. No ships were waiting in the docking bays. No imperials were bustling around. No civilians were shouting and protesting as their stuff was searched. The only sign of movement was the grey streak that was Obi-Wan. Their footsteps echoed around them. They joined together, racing towards the wide exit that led out onto the bridge. "Where's Ahsoka?" Padmé asked, panting as she ran and scanning her surroundings.
"Ahsoka will catch up," Obi-Wan assured her. "We must focus on fleeing before this station gets pulled into the planet's orbit and crashes into the surface." Padmé nodded, keeping her head down and swinging her arms fiercely.
They zipped across the bridge. The white dots that were stars formed streaky lines. The green planet was growing closer and closer. Just as they got three quarters of the way to the hangar, a voice called out to them from behind. "DON'T GO INTO THE HANGAR!" Ahsoka yelled as she appeared at the bottom of the bridge. Obi-Wan and Padmé skidded to a halt, staring back at the young togruta who was powering towards them with impressive speed. "HIDE!" she cried as she approached, frantically waving her arms.
Padmé and Obi-Wan traded a wide eyed look. Simultaneously, they gripped the metal railing and hauled themselves over it. Using her momentum, she threw herself onto the thick pipes that ran along the underside of the bridge. She pulled herself up to lie across a thick one. Her chest pressed against it and her back was squashed against the hard underside of the bridge. It's intense heat seeped through her clothes and nearly burned her skin. They were submersed in almost complete darkness. Padmé could just make out the silhouette of Obi-Wan as he draped himself over a set of pipes. Below her, the expanse of space stretched into the thousands of glittering stars. One wrong move, and she would be torn apart by its vacuum. There was a metallic clang and Ahsoka swung into their hiding spot. "Hide your presence Obi-Wan," she whisper shouted. He had no time to question her.
The bridge to rattle as several sets of footsteps began marching across it. They were all fast paced and perfectly in time. All but one. There was one set of footsteps that were lumbering and heavy. They grew closer and closer. The nearer they came, the clearer the sharp wheeze of a metallic respirator became. Padmé clenched her eyes shut, placing a hand over her mouth and stifling her harsh breathing. The gentler, sets of footsteps ran right over the top of them. The louder, thumping ones that rattled the whole bridge stopped directly above them. The snap-hiss of the respirator made her heart race. Goosebumps erupted on her skin and a cold feeling washed over her. Sweat puddled in her palm and prickled her hairline. The rebels were perfectly still.
The heavy footsteps plodded over to the edge of the bridge, closer to their hiding spot. The handrail groaned as thought something big was weighing down on it. "I feel..." a baritone voice spoke quietly. "A disturbance." Padmé's stomach tightened. The voice sent a stab of fear straight to her heart. It spiked, beating wildly out of control. Fighting to keep her breath steady, she willed herself not to think about the potential evil looming above them. The metal hand railing creaked once more, even louder than before.
There was a beep and a stern voice spoke through a crackling communicator. There was a deep rumble of disapproval. "All troopers retreat," the deep voice boomed, making her jolt at its sudden volume. "The space station has succumbed to the planet's pull, it is lost to us." With that, the steps thundered back the way they came. Mere moments later, all the quicker footsteps raced back over them. The bridge jostled with the movement. The footsteps vanished eventually, leaving the bridge unnaturally quiet.
"Let's get out of here," Obi-Wan spoke quietly. Padmé clambered down from the pipe, climbing her way back up to the bridge with shaky hands and refusing to look down at the dark abyss below her. Kenobi and Ahsoka easily flipped back up to the surface and they helped pull her with the use of the force. Padmé's heart leapt into her throat when she realised the planet had drawn so close that its poles could no longer be seen. All three of them zipped towards the huge, hangar. When they arrived, they saw a few tail ends of some T.I.E. fighters vanishing into the open space above. The only ship left was their little, stolen, imperial shuttle. They threw themselves in and Padmé nearly fell into the pilot's seat. Her hands raced across the controls, staring up the engine with a smooth purr. "Who was that man?" Obi-Wan asked Ahsoka, the pair leaned against the walls of the cockpit, sucking in deep breaths.
The ship lifted steadily from the ground and shot up through the open hatch in the ceiling, out into the safety of space. "You don't know?" her voice hitched and her brows lifted. With the flick of a few switches, the ship jumped to hyper speed and the viewport became a blurred mess of blue streaks. Padmé spun around in her chair to face them, leaning back into it. With her forearm she swiped away the cold sweat on her brow. Her uniform clung slickly to her hot, damp skin. A mild tremble shook her body. There was something about that man with the respirator. Something that terrified even although she hadn't seen him. A horrifying darkness buzzed around him, radiating nauseating power.
"Should we know?" Padmé asked, sucking in steady deep breaths to ease the burning pain in her chest. The cockpit was tiny, only having on seat for the pilot. The Jedi had their arms crossed, perfectly mirroring each other's posture. Padmé's heart rate was steadily dropping. The ship's engine hummed them a gentle lullaby. The swirling blue of hyperspace hypnotised them into relaxation.
"Have you been living in a sarlacc pit since the rise of the empire?" Ahsoka scrunched up her face,
"We have lived in a place with no holonet for six years," Obi-Wan hummed, stroking his beard. "I'm assuming there is a lot we have missed."
"Well, that was the Emperor's second in command," Ahsoka told them, her top lip curling and deep grooves forming between her brows. "They call him the Jedi slayer because he hunts down every one he catches wind of and mercilessly murders them. It's his job, but I've always felt it was more of a dark obsession," there was angry bite to her tone. Obi-Wan's face fell slightly. A pained sadness danced across his eyes. "His name is Darth Vader."
"Darth Vader?" Obi-Wan repeated, his voice hitching and his posture straightening. Terror flashed across his eyes and his brows lifted to his hair line.
"Have you heard of him after all?" Ahsoka asked, tilting her head to one side.
"Yes, I-" his eyes flicked over to Padmé and his expression fell neutral. "I think I have heard it somewhere before," he explained in a weak but calm voice. Completely different from how he had just spoken. The two women traded a glance, Ahsoka's eyes narrowed slightly. "His appearance explains why the imperials were all so frantic," he suggested.
"Even the thought of him is enough to strike fear into most," Ahsoka agreed, cocking her hip to one side. "Even his own men."
Chapter 8: Whisper
Vader's knee dug into the black, polished floor. The room around him was dim. The only light source was the huge hologram of Sidious's head that flickered in front of him. Through the lenses in his helmet, the face was scarlet like blood and the rest of the room was nothing more than a hazy mess of darkness. The Sith apprentice’s breathing was steady and slow, his head tilted down towards the floor. "What is thy bidding, my master?" Vader drawled, his hands clasped over one knee as he knelt submissively.
"It has come to my attention that the tomb of dear Padmé Amidala was broken into and destroyed," Sidious spoke sweetly, but the acid bubbled under his tone. Vader's shoulders tensed beneath his thick armour. His upper lip curled. Palpatine had no right to even say her name. Not after he had blamed her death on Vader. The armoured Sith remained completely silent, his head tilting up to meet his master's taunting gaze. "The tomb seems to have crumbled from intense pressure, but there was no evidence of heavy machinery in the area around the time the act was committed."
"That is very unusual," Vader responded, fighting to keep his tone passive. "Do you require me to hunt down the vandal?" Sidious's eyes narrowed, the corners of his lips curling downwards.
"No, we have much larger problems currently. I have just discovered that the 13-H7 checkpoint was destroyed on the very rotation you were supposed to be doing a review of the rebel spy found in its midst," he hummed, wrinkles forming over his nose.
"By the time I arrived, the station had already fallen into Hoke’s orbit," Vader responded calmly, tilting his head low like a submissive dog.
"With the damaged caused by the station crashing into Hoke surface caused, we are lucky the planet didn't withdraw its allegiance to the empire," Sidious bit, his eyes leering down at his apprentice. "There has been a huge influx of immigrants and fugitives into the midrim and its populous is growing restless. We must reestablish the checkpoint before we loose any of our allies." Vader clenched his jaw. The politics of running an empire sometimes mean they had to roll over and show belly. It was infuriating. They were in control of the galaxy. It should be everyone else heeling to them. With a frown, he reminded himself to be patient. They had to play the game of politics if they wanted complete domination. "The wreckage of the 13-H7 space station is salvageable. You will go and supervise it's reconstruction. It must be operational again." Vader's blood ran cold and his heart went still. If he was forced to remain on Hoke, he couldn't search for Padmé and Obi-Wan. His fingers curled into his mechanical knee.
"As you wish, my master," he sighed, but his vocoder spoke with the same, stubborn drone.
Obi-Wan found himself cross legged atop a flat rock that over looked a winding river. Tall, sandy grasses swayed in the dry breeze that blanched his skin with gentle heat. The sun shone intensely, reflecting off the glassy surface of the water. It tinkled and swished as it ran over muddy banks. Dark pebbles were just visible through the murky gloom. The sky was a perfect blue. A high pitched, squeaking melody sang from within the bushy shrubbery. Behind him, the tall, sand stone rebel base rose from the ground. It's jagged spires poked at the occasional fluffy cloud that drifted by.
Taking in deep breaths, he felt dread weighing down on his gut. The rock he sat on was painfully ridged and his skin was beginning to burn. Only one memory looped in his mind. Anakin's burning body on the gravel banks. His metallic hand grasping at the loose rocks, offering him no grip. The screams of pain. The stare of a rage that burned hotter than the molten magma. The flames eating away at skin and clothes. Screwing up his face, he tried to shake away the memory but it just kept returning. It was on a never ending loop in his mind.
"I could feel your distress from the other side of the planet," Ahsoka's voice spoke from behind him. Obi-Wan jolted, peering back over his shoulder. The togruta was wading through the long grasses, her concerned eyes peering up at him quizzically. Under such intense lighting, her red skin glowed with an orange undertone. Obi-Wan had been too absorbed in the past to feel her approach or hear the rustling of the rough grass she pushed aside. "What's on your mind?" Letting out a sigh, he turned away from her and back towards the ever shifting river. He struggled to find words to express his emotion. Walking around his rock, she pulled herself up to sit beside him. Her blue eyes fixated on him with a tender kindness. "You've been upset ever since I told you about Vader," she hummed, dangling her legs over the edge and leaning back onto her hands. "Do you know who he is?"
"He should be dead," Obi-Wan spoke in a gentle whisper. A few strands of his hair fell into his eyes as he tilted his head to his lap where his hands were kneading one another. "I left him for death." He craned his neck up to look at her. Her eyes had gone wide, fear glittering within them and her lips cracked open. "I saw the security holos of Anakin murdering the Jedi of the temple," Obi-Wan's voice cracked. "In them, Sidious called Anakin Darth Vader." Just saying the name made his stomach lurch. It felt wrong and foreign on his tongue. He shifted his weight, wobbling from side to side.
Ahsoka stared at him for a moment, her brows shooting up. Her expression shifted. She clamped her jaw shut and her eyes cracked with pain. "No," she mumbled, shaking her head, causing her horns to swing. "Anakin could never-. He wouldn't-" she let out a pained sigh, doubling over herself and pressing her face into her hands. Reaching out, Obi-Wan gently patted her back. "What corrupted him?" her voice wavered.
Obi-Wan let out a deep sigh. Often, he found himself reflecting on his friend's fiery fate. He lamented over all the things he could have done differently. All the changes he could have made to his teachings. In the end, it simply didn't matter. It was the past. He couldn't change no matter how desperately he ached to do so. "He saw visions of Padmé's death in child birth," Obi-Wan began, his heart clenching. "It made him lust for the power to save her. A desire that blackened his soul."
Ahsoka lifted her head to look at him. Her chin wobbled in dismay. "Does Padmé know he is..." she trailed off, a frown wrinkling her features.
"No." Obi-Wan responded, shaking his head. "As I did, she believes him to be dead and we must keep it that way." Ahsoka scrunched her features, objection flashing across her face. "I've sensed upset within her at my decision to kill him in the past. If she were to find out, I have no doubt she would go to him," he elaborated gently. Ahsoka began kneading the bridge of her nose. "There is no Anakin left in Vader. I felt how consumed he was by the dark when I confronted him. He nearly killed her." Ahsoka's head snapped around to face him, her eyes widening. "If Padmé revealed she was alive to him, it would just be endangering the lives of her and the twins."
Ahsoka wrapped her arms around her body and closed her eyes over. "I understand," she whispered.
Chapter 9: Reassigned
The rebel hangar was quiet. Dormant ships were dotted all over the glossy floor. Brilliant lights shone down from above. Padmé's reflective, nabian ship was on the outskirts of the cavernous room. It's belly lay open, the access ramp lolling out like a loose tongue. Inside, she knew Obi-Wan and Ahsoka were waiting. Padmé was pulling on the huge rope that was tied around Max's neck with one foot on the access ramp. He was leaning away from the ship, his ears pinned to his skull and his wide, golden eyes staring at it like it would jump to life and consume him. "Come on, Max," Padmé sighed, pulling at the rope gently and beckoning him to follow her. He let out a high pitched whine. "Max," she spoke sternly, putting a hand under his jaw and lifting his gargantuan head to meet hers. His eyes rested on hers and he let out another whimper. "On the ship," she pointed up the ramp.
With a defeated huff, the huge Lupus padded up the ramp. His tail was between his legs and ears pressed to his skull. "Good boy," she praised him, guiding him up with the rope. The moment he entered the ship, she tied the rope to a handle on the wall and scratched him behind the ear. He let out a whine, pushing his head into her arms. "I know," she chuckled, patting him gently. "This mission will just be easier with you sweetheart," she purred.
"Mommy!" two child-like voices called desperately, echoing through the hangar. Padmé's head snapped around. Her dark eyes scanned her surroundings. Two little children were weaving through the ships towards her. Their feet pattered along the floor and their ragged breathing made her heart clench. Striding down the ramp, she dropped to one knee just in time for the two children to fling themselves into her arms. They collided with her so hard she rocked backwards and the wind was knocked from her lungs. They were both sobbing violently, their cold, wet cheeks burrowed into the crook of her neck.
"What's wrong babies?" she hummed gently, stroking the backs of their heads. Their hair was silky soft. "I only saw you half an hour ago."
"We don't want you to leave," Luke cried, hugging her in a death grip.
There was an approaching sound of quick footsteps and Bail Organa appeared from behind an old, rusty x-wing. He halted upon seeing them, his chest was heaving with breath. "I'm sorry Padmé," he puffed. "They were too quick for me." His lips curled down and guilt glimmered in his eyes. She sent him a warm smile and waved away his apology with the back of her hand.
Leia lifted her little head. A halo of frizz already sprouted from the perfect buns Padmé had constructed just that morning. Her face was red and blotchy. Tears shimmered in her eyes and her bottom lip trembled. "You just came back," she choked out between a sob, lifting a tiny hand to rub at her puffy eyes.
"I know sweetheart," Padmé spoke calmly, brushing away a tear from her daughter's rounded cheeks with the pad of her thumb. "I'll only be gone for a few weeks and Bail is going to take you to see Alderaan." Luke lifted his head from her shoulder. His bloodshot eyes still leaked tears. "It's a very pretty planet and you'll see lots of grass," their expressions lifted a little. "I promise you will have lots of fun."
"But you won't be there," Luke protested, his bottom lip sticking out into a trembling pout. Padmé's heart warmed and a little smile brightened her features. For the first time in their short lives, they had been forced to spend a few days without her when she destroyed the 13-H7 checkpoint. When she returned, they wouldn't let her leave their sight for the next several days.
"I will be with you," Padmé assured them, placing her hands over their hearts. "I will always be with you." Their crying was dying down to the occasional soft whimper and hiccuping cry. "The time will fly by and before you know it, I'll be hugging you tight again."
"What if you get hurt?" Leia asked, more tears flooding her eyes.
"Don't worry kiddo," Ahsoka spoke from above. Padmé glanced back. The two Jedi were leaning in the open mouth of the ship, staring down at them with warm eyes. Max was peering between their heads, his gigantic, fluffy ears perked. "We will make sure nothing happens to your mother."
"We will return her to you safely," Obi-Wan added with a faithful smile.
"You promise?" Luke asked with a wobbly voice.
"We horn promise," Ahsoka grasped her two front horns and pulled them over each other into a cross shape. "That's the way my people form pacts and all Togrutas take it very seriously," she added. If Padmé remembered correctly, a horn promise was one made between elder Togrutas to the younglings who could not yet cross their horns. It was sign of knowledge gained by age. Something children often found comforting. The twin's nodded softly, wiping the liquid from their faces with their forearms.
"Okay," they blubbered, hugging her close.
"I'll see you soon my darlings," she chuckled, taking in one last deep breath of their sweet, fruity scent.
Vader had his arms crossed over his chest as he stared out a rectangular window that overlooked rocky crater. It was filled with the gargantuan carcass of the 13-H7 space station. Huge machinery hovered over the crumbled metallic building, plucking away debris and rubble. A blue sky filled with intense sunlight beat down on the hundreds of slaves in shackles that worked tirelessly. They were of all races, but predominantly they were the tiger-like species of Ming that were native to the planet. Anger boiled within him as he observed them. His mind was filled with the memories of a young Anakin Skywalker. A weak little boy that couldn't even defend himself from a bug of a man.
The room he stood in was small. A large, oval conference table with a glossy surface was placed at the centre and surrounded by a ring of padded chairs. Everything was monochromatic. The only light came from the window, the majority of which Vader's hulking figure blocked out. This was the room all the rats that called themselves officers of the grand imperial army would come to stab each other's backs and stroke each other's egos. It made his skin bristle to know such snakes were rewarded for being cunning with no regard for their achievements in battle or their prowess. They were all spineless fools that cowered up in their safe space stations and cruisers whilst their men slogged on the ground, pulling their slack and doing the dirty work. His respirator spiked at the thought.
A beep from his gauntlet caught his attention. A green light flashed on his communicator. He pressed down on one of the flat, grey buttons and crossed his arms tightly over his chest. Pushing his musings from his mind, he rolled his shoulders beneath his heavy armour. Behind him, the door to the conference room slid open. A light set of footstep pattered in, halting on the opposite end of the conference table. Armour jangled and clacked. "I have a job for you, Boba Fett," Vader's vocoder vibrated through his chest and he remained staring out at the construction sight below him. "I want you to track down and capture Padmé Amidala and her children." Boba's armour clinked as he shifted on his feet.
"The dead Senator?" he asked blandly.
"She is alive," Vader corrected the bounty hunter, forcing his voice to remain calm. "The alias she lives under now is Padmé Naberrie. The last known sighting of her was on Voss in a remote Quen farm. I want you to bring her to me. Alive," he stressed the last word, turning around to stare at Boba. His Mandalorian armour was scuffed and rugged. A wide array of weapons dangled from his body and were strapped to his limbs.
Boba nodded his head. "I'll be in touch," he responded, taking a step back towards the door. Vader silently returned to the window. The bounty hunter slipped from the room, the door clicking shut behind him. Once more, Vader was completely alone.
Chapter 10: Hoke
The rebel base on Hoke was small. A few tattered tents propped up amid a dense wilderness. A huge canopy stretched high above them. There were layers and layers of bushy, green leaves that overlapped to block out the majority of the sapphire sky. Vines dripping with moss webbed between the trees. Huge fountains of foliage burst from the trampled dirt floor. Flowers hung like fairy lights from the smooth bark. They were all kinds of colours, shapes and sizes. A wide range of birds and animals jumped effortlessly from branch to branch. A large number of rebels bustled between the tents. They were huddled in groups, cleaning off their blasters and muttering between each other.
Padmé was holding onto a thick rope that was tied around Max. His tongue hung from the side of his mouth and his golden eyes stared all around them. His ears remained perked upright atop his head. She was guiding him through the undergrowth towards a large tent. Sweat was beading her hairline. Humid moisture was unbearably thick in the air. The fabric of her white catsuit felt too tight on her damp skin. Her hair was sleeked back into a tight bun. Just in front of her, Ahsoka and Obi-Wan were leading the way. Their lightsabers dangled from their hips.
Max pushed his snout to the ground, sniffing and puffing as they went. Padmé stroked at the thick fur behind his ears. He flinched, letting out a yelp when a green monkey sprung from the bushes and scampered up a nearby tree trunk. His ears pinned back and he leaned into her for support. "It can't hurt you," she giggled, resuming her patting. He let out a low grumble.
A man slipped out of a large tent nearby. He was in commander’s clothing. His youthful face shone as he sauntered over to them. He had brown hair that was brushed back and an innocent smile. Outstretching a palm for them, he spoke warmly, "Beta squad, I assume." They each took it in turn to shake his hand. He had a firm grip.
"Reporting for duty," Ahsoka beamed.
"Brilliant, come on in," he gestured to the tent and slipped behind the entrance flap. Ahsoka and Obi-Wan ducked in behind him. Padmé took Max to the side of the tent and planted a kiss on his warm, wet nose.
"Lie down," she commanded him and he immediately dropped to the floor. His dopy eyes peered up at her, his tongue hanging out one side of his mouth. "Stay," she continued. He let out a grumbling huff and laid his head down between his paws. With a smile, she walked back around and entered the tent. It was gloomy within. The air was stagnant and unbearably hot. At it's centre was circular table with a glossy top. Its surface stretched all the way down to the floor and a flickering holo of the damaged 13-H7 base flickered over it. By the sides of the base were huge towers that overlooked the mass destruction from atop the mighty crater it created from its crash landing. There were a a few rebel commanders collected around the display, Obi-Wan and Ahsoka with them.
"This is what remains of the 13-H7 checkpoint," the young man spoke, gesturing to the holo. "From what we can tell, it has a large squadron of troopers stationed to defend it. Tomorrow, we plan to strike from both land and air in one simultaneous attack to destroy what remains of the station." Padmé's gut stirred. It didn't sit well with her that they were straight out attacking such a heavily fortified base. Still, she had been out of the war game for years. "Ahsoka and Padmé are on the ground teams, Obi-Wan is in the air."
Vader strode through the long, black corridors of the 13-H7 construction site watch tower. His dark cape billowed out behind him. Bright circles of light were imbedded in the walls, hidden behind a metallic grating. His boots thumped on the ground, accompanied by the drone of his respirator. Troopers and imperial officers alike had moved out of his way long before he reached them.
Internally, his mind was fizzing. Every inch of him longed to leave this wretched place where nothing ever happened but the occasional uprising from pesky locals. Somewhere out in the galaxy, Padmé was alive with their children. He would do anything to be with them. To see her brilliant smile. To feel her hair beneath his fingertips. To smell her sweet perfume. His heart clenched at the memory of her beauty. Her warmth and grace. The suppleness of her skin. The loving embrace of her dark eyes. The melody of her voice. His hand clenched as he realised he would probably never experience most of those things. The world of touch was bland and textureless to him. Even without his mask, all air smelled like burning flesh. When she saw him, there was no doubt in his mind she would not be smiling. Especially after the way they left things on Mustafar. He would apologise and convince her to join him. Together, they could kill the Emperor and reign as the new leaders of the galaxy.
Vader couldn't help but wonder how she thought of him now. Since Anakin Skywalker was declared dead, she probably didn't even know he lived. That was a thought that pained him. They had both spent so much time apart, not knowing the other was still breathing. Would she have mourned him despite the way he lashed out on Mustafar? Did her soul ache for him every waking moment of every day, the way his did for her? Did she miss the little things about him, like the way he pouted when she teased him? Did she look for him in large crowds and reach out to his side of the bed in the middle of the night, only to find he wasn't there. Did it tear her apart each and every time? Would she wake up in a hot sweat, shouting his name? Would she beg and plead the universe to turn back time and let him live? Vader knew he sometimes wished that he was going to wake up in her arms and discover that this had been nothing more than a nightmare. Would she think the same? Would she even be happy he lived?
Despite how he wanted to scour the galaxy, he knew disobeying the Emperor and leaving Hoke would be a terrible mistake. Sidious would get suspicious. If he found out Padmé was alive, he would use her and the children against Vader. He might even kill them to ensure his apprentice's absolute loyalty. That was a thought he couldn't linger on without falling into a terrible rage. After years of misery, he had just discovered his wife lived. He would not let Sidious take her from him. Not again.
A tremble in the force caught his attention and stopped him dead in his tracks. It was distant but it was familiar. A gentle light that ran like a stream over smooth pebbles. Flexing his mechanical hands, his respirator hitched. It was a Jedi no doubt, but from so far away it was hazy. Like trying to identify a face in an incredibly dim room. His body tensed. If they ventured close enough for him to locate them, he would make sure they never made it off this planet.
Chapter 11: Battle Front
Padmé's heart thumped in her chest. She sat atop Max as he peeked out of the sparse tree line that overlooked the carnage of the 13-H7 crash site. Fallen trees filled the charred landscape that dipped into a wide crater and stretched as far as her eyes could see. In the distance, she could make out the distinct, dark shape of a tall watch tower that overlooked the huge hole where the space station lay. The sun was sinking behind the horizon, leaving the sky a crimson orange. The shadows cast were long and thin. The air was still unbearably hot, leaving her skin slick with sweat.
Curling her hands into his fur, she pressed her heels into Max’s sides. With a grunt, he began padding through the desolate land towards the rim of the crater. Padmé was wearing Anakin's cloak, the hood pulled down low and covering her hair completely. The silver mask from Voss with a golden visor was secured tightly to her face. Despite the heat, the cloak had a reassuring weight on her shoulders. It's spicy scent, mixed with a little machine oil, took the edge off her nerves.
The further Max crept, the lower she kept her body. There was a beep in her ear, an abrupt whooshing sound from behind her and a small fleet of ships burst out of the forest, zooming towards the crater. The treeline cracked and crumbled as a wall of rebel tanks rolled out of it, easing over the debris and following the ships’ trail. Almost immediately, green bolts came raining down on them from the tower. Padmé lifted a hand and the tanks covered themselves with glowing shields. Throwing her hand forwards, the cumbersome beasts of a machine rolled beyond her. They let out loud huffing noises as they hovered over the floor. A rush of hot air blew over her when they floated by. In moments they had disappeared over the edge of the crater.
Padmé urged Max to the edge of the hole, her eyes widening as she saw the carnage below. Stormtroopers were pouring out of the watchtowers and space station like a disturbed ants' nest. Within moments they covered the ground like a layer of snow. The tanks were under constant fire. A few had already been lost. The rebel soldiers were racing down the sloping sides of the crater, firing mercilessly at the empire. White bursts of light accompanied by loud explosions caused the very ground to rumble. Colourful blaster bolts whizzed all over the place. Bodies were constantly dropping dead. In the skies above, fighter planes were swooping and diving like birds or prey, concentrating their fire on the construction site.
Max shifted on his feet, pressing his ears to his skull and letting out a low whine. Reaching forwards, she gently stroked his neck. "At ease, Max. You'll be okay," she reassured him, raising her voice over the deafening din. He grumbled, but remained where he was.
Padmé lingered at the top of the crater, commanding from above and monitoring the progress of the rebels. The golden lense of her mask allowed to to zoom in close and observe the action as though she was standing there with them. So far, it had been mostly the imperials suffering loss, but they still far outnumbered the rebels. She raced around the rim to obtain visuals for the several tanks with limited vision. On the odd occasion, she would fire off a bolt from her small blaster or dodge one that was incoming.
A flash of red caught her attention. There, down in the thickest part of the battle, was a giant clad in black armour. He looked like just a speck with her own eyes, but using her modified mask, she zoomed in to see him as clearly as if he were right before her. The way he swung his scarlet lightsaber looked clumsy, but every swipe met its target. Every jab and flick was deadly. Despite his robotic, lurching movement, he still seemed elegant and graceful. She also noticed he was using the force with great aptitude as well. He flung entire chunks of broken down tanks and rubble at unsuspecting rebels. As if sensing her eyes, he turned to look up at her. The emotionless mask peered into her very soul. Her stomach clenched and her heart picked up pace. Cold fear rushed through her veins. Lifting her hand, she pressed against the little device in her ear. "Observer to rebel command," she spoke in a rush. The Sith returned to the battle, batting away incoming blaster bolts. She had to force Max to side step as a few of those bolts were directed up towards her. They missed by the clothes on her skin and caused her heart to skip a beat. There was a beep of response. "Vader has appeared on the battlefield. He was not factored in the original plan." She took her hand away from her ear piece and continued watching the Sith. He deflected another red bolt with his light sabre and it zoomed up towards her. Padmé had to duck as the bolt skimmed over her head. A moment of silence rang out. Within that time, he had slaughtered several rebels and dismantled a tanks.
"Perhaps a retreat is in order," a stern female voice crackled down the earpiece.
"No, our troops are still making progress. We shouldn't give a hasty retreat," a youthful, male voice objected. Padmé bit her lip as she stared down at the lumbering Sith. By his appearance alone, the troopers appeared to have perked up. They were becoming more reckless and wily. The rebels were suffering more and more loss as time progressed.
"I will engage Vader. Keep your attack focused on the base," Ahsoka spoke abruptly down the comm link. Padmé's hands curled tightly into Max's fur. She took in deep breaths to calm herself. Ahsoka was a calm and capable Jedi. She had been trained by Anakin. She was more than capable of facing off against the Sith. A whir of white blades began slashing at Vader. Pulling her eyes away from the pair, Padmé refocused her attention on the battle at hand. There was work to be done.
Ahsoka felt a strange nostalgia, being stuck amidst the heat of a fierce battle. The ground rumbled and shook with explosions. Bright flashes of light blinded her from all directions. Screams and booms filled the air, ringing in her ears and rattling her bones. Bodies were dropping to the ground all over the place. Chunks of machines rained down on her from above. Her vision was filled with colourful blaster bolts whizzing through the air. The stench of burning rubber and charred flesh was thick enough to choke on.
All her eyes cold focus on was a hulking, black figure that sliced mercilessly at the rebel soldiers. He used the force with ease, choking one man to death as he filleted three more. Ahsoka's heart was pounding. She raced towards him, fighting to keep her breath steady and holding her white, twin blades high. As she approached the giant, she leapt into the air and swung her blades down to meet his. The Sith spun, catching her blades at the very last minute. She used the pressure on his weapon to flip herself over him and sweep for his legs, but once more he caught it. With a brutal strike of his own, she was forced to jump backward.
They stood a body’s length apart, slowly circling each other and brandishing their weapons. She flicked away any bolt that veered to close. He was still slicing rebels where he could, using the force to crush an approaching tank. If Ahsoka really wanted to give the rebels a chance, she was going to have to remove him from the battle all together. Once again, he lashed out, chopping and hacking at her defences with well placed, powerful blows. She lured him towards the edge of the crater, slowly backing up the steep hill whilst constantly countering and evading his vicious attacks.
As she fought the masked monster, she found herself wondering if Kenobi had been mistaken. Vader's presence was a boiling pot of venomous rage and untamed power. One touch would sear you. It was nothing like the warm, although unstable, light of her master. Part of her itched to ask him, to confirm if this monster really was a man she had once respected, but the noise was too loud. She could hardly formulate any thought without it being blasted away by a loud explosion. Despite his intense shields, she still caught traces of frustration and terrible pain. A loneliness like no other was tattooed deeply into his soul.
A fighter plane fell from the sky in a spinning dive. It trailed smoke from its tail and whistled as it went. Ahsoka had to jump away as it crashed into the dirt where she stood, churning it and burrowing deep into it's depths. Vader was on her in seconds, constantly slashing. Once again, she lured him up to the rim of the crater. Behind him, the crashed fighter exploded into a fiery ball of burning metal. His dark armour reflected the light. His cape whipped to one side because of the intense blast wave of heat. Throwing her hands over her face to protect from it, she staggered back a few steps and returned to fighting.
The closer she assessed Vader's consciousness, the more she begun to recognise who was within. The blinding rage. The stubbornness. The pride. All qualities Anakin had. When she struck out, it was as though he knew every move she would make before she did. Maybe he did. He could have been the one that taught her them. Her heart twisted. As they drew further away from the battle, the snap wheeze of his respirator became audible. Once again she could hear the hissing hum of her blades as they tore through the air. Every strike she blocked jolted her whole body. Her hands stung and her grip on the metallic hilts were become hot and loose.
After a long and arduous journey, she managed to lure the wheezing Goliath out of the crater and onto the flat landscape that was covered with fallen trees and upturned muck. No longer could he slaughter the rebels, but now they were far enough from the chaos to hear one another without screaming. Ahsoka was distinctly aware that Padmé was also somewhere around the rim, but she knew that the ex-senator had enough sense to keep her distance. Ahsoka didn't know how Vader would react to seeing Padmé. Would he kill her or would he be startled by the sudden revival of his love? It wouldn't matter. They had to be kept apart. For Padmé's safety just as much as the twins.
"So, the apprentice lives," Vader's mechanical voice drawled as he stared down at her with his blank helmet. A voice that sounded nothing like Anakin's. It was much deeper. Much colder. Ahsoka stared up at him defiantly, her blades crossed protectively over her chest and her body low to the ground. They were still quite a distance from each other, but she could feel the pressure of his presence like an expanding balloon. Her heart pounded in her chest and her breathing was uneven and ragged.
"I don't believe it," she growled, deep wrinkles forming on her nose as she straightened up and dropped her ignited blades to her side. "My master could never be someone as vile as you."
"Anakin Skywalker is dead." Vader responded sternly, his grip on his lightsaber tightening. "I killed him."
Pain stabbed at her heart, tugging down the corners of her lips. "Then I will avenge his death," she spat, readying her weapons once more.
"Revenge isn't the Jedi way," he tutted. Lifting his own blade.
"I'm no Jedi," she sneered, lunging at him. They were thrust into vicious battle. Ahsoka flipped and dodged around him, constantly utilising her blades. He was less mobile, but by no means slow. He caught every one of her attacks and was constantly firing back swipes of his own. It didn't take long for her to work up a sweat. He predicted her every move, knowing exactly how to counter it and where to strike at her weak spot. Vader's fighting style was very different from Anakin's. There was a lot less movement and it incorporated a lot more defensive styles. He also relied more heavily on the force, making full use of the debris all around to fling at her.
Vader swung down on her, forcing her to lock her blades together to hold back his overwhelming strength. She trembled beneath the pressure, digging her heels deep into the ground. "I sense Kenobi nearby," Vader snarled. "Since you've united against the empire, you must know. Where is she?" With each word he spoke, the power grew. Rage shifted around him like a snapping beast. Ahsoka narrowed her eyes, her blood running cold. There was a number of people he could be speaking about and of them all, she really hoped it wasn't Padmé. Still, the force assured her that she was exactly who he was speaking about. He shouldn't know she was alive.
Luckily, Vader wouldn't be able to feel Padmé on the battle field. Over the past few years, her presence had changed. Dimmed. It was more reserved and darkened. It bled pain and grief at all times she was without the twins. Even Ahsoka had struggled to recognise her at first, so Vader would have no hope unless her really focused on her. Padmé also had impressive mental shields, no doubt taught to her by Anakin himself, so her thoughts would not betray her if they met face to face.
Just as she opened her mouth to ask who he meant, Padmé's voice erupted in her ear. "We are beaten. The imperials have demolished our forces. We must retreat if we are to fight another day." Ahsoka shoved away Vader's blades, flipping back out of his striking range. Irritation flickered in his force presence.
"All troops retreat!" another female voice spoke in her ear. At that, the rebels began scrambling up the sides of the crater and making a break for the cover of the treeline. Vader's deceptively impassive mask peered over his shoulder at the fleeing soldiers.
"Your battle is lost and you will not escape me," Vader stated, taking a threatening step towards her. "Tell me where she is and I will make your death quick." Ahsoka's heart twisted. That didn't sound like something Anakin would have said to her even after the worst of their fall outs.
"You'll have to a bit more specific," Ahsoka grunted. "I know more than one female."
Vader's body went ridged with rage. With a bark of anger, he swung at her aggressively. "Obi-Wan, cover me," Padmé's voice yelled in her ear piece. "Ahsoka, get ready to jump." Ahsoka felt Padmé's presence approaching at a terrifying speed. Her heart clenched and her breath caught in her throat. A rain of heavy fighter jet fire peppered the ground around them, throwing up dirt in powerful blasts. Vader turned his full attention to batting away the deadly bolts.
Ahsoka trusted the force, jumping back up into the air. From the corner of her eyes, she saw a black wolf with a caped rider racing towards her. Twisting her body around, she landed on Max's back, behind Padmé, with a thump. Instantly changing course, they raced towards the trees. The lupis's feet thumped a static rhythm on the ground. He weaved any blaster fire with ease. His loping pace jostled Ahsoka, forcing her to wrap her arms around Padmé's waist. The planet around her dissolved into a hazy blur of motion.
Glancing back over her shoulder, she saw the dark shape of Vader observing them from afar. Obi-Wan's fighter zipped over the top of them, blasting them with hot air. The armoured giant's cape billowed out behind him. As the sun set behind him, it cast his armour in a brilliant light and gave him a golden outline. The ground around him was a churned, smoking mess of blackened earth. His crimson blade sunk back into his hilt but she could sense him promising her to finish this at a later date.
Chapter 12: Tigger
Thank you for all your lovely comments recently. They’ve been brightening my day! I am glad you have been enjoying the story. I won’t respond unless it is a direct question because more often than not, I have no idea what to say! Anyway, I hope you like the chapter 😊.
Padmé's head hung low. What was left of the rebels had collected in a little group, far away from their original campsite. It was too risky to remain in the same spot. Especially when the empire would be looking for them. They were dotted around the shaggy undergrowth. Glowing, green lamps illuminated the darkness. All the colourful flowers looks ghostly pale and devoid of pigment. The tree's cast deep, murky shadows that crisscrossed over the floor. The majority of the rebels were slumped against trunks or curled into little balls that vanished underneath the plant life. There couldn't have been any more than thirty of them left and the high command had been wiped out as they fled. It left the Jedi and Padmé in charge of the remaining few stragglers.
The creatures of the night let out low, whooping calls and shrill whistles that echoed through the jungle. Insects chirped and creaked constantly. The air was still warm and thick with moisture. Max was curled up on the ground and Padmé leant back against his stomach. He was firm but soft beneath her. His breath whooshed out in steady huffs. The heat from his body rose to cradle her. His heart beat was a steady thumping. She wrapped Anakin's cloak tightly around her body, pulling the hood down to her nose. Close by, Ahsoka and Obi-Wan were lying. He was flat on his back, half submersed into a bush. She was leaning against a huge rock that led into a gaping cave, her eyes staring blankly at the ground. She had been quiet ever since the battle. Most of them had. A somber silence over them all.
All their attack ships and tanks had been destroyed. Even Obi-Wan's fighter had sustained too much damage to be of any more use. The escape ships were still hidden in the jungle, but Padmé wasn't certain they should give up just yet. Vader, although powerful, was just a man. There was a way to get around him and his men. The rebels couldn't abandon their mission just yet. Not all hope was lost. As long as they had each other and their lives, there was a reason to keep on fighting.
A loud crack caught her attention. Padmé lifted her head, surveying the darkness. There seemed to be nothing out of place. Letting out a hefty sigh, she cursed her jumpiness. It was probably just a rebel going to the toilet. Just as she was about to lay back down, a dark shape shifted in the corner of her vision. The bushes, concealed by the pitch black of night, rustled. This time, Max lifted his head and perked his ears. Ahsoka began glancing around, her eyes meeting Padmé's. Reaching a hand down, the togruta shook Obi-Wan awake. He sat up slowly and scrubbed at his eyes with a yawn.
A vicious growl erupted from the darkness. All Padmé saw blur of black and orange rocketing towards her. Ahsoka jumped to her feet, force pushing the creature back into the darkness. There was a yelp and more growls rumbled within the bushes. "Everyone, up!" Padmé yelled, staggering to her feet. Her heart pounded in her chest. Max rose, standing protectively around her. "We're under attack!" The rebels began jumping up. Streaks of orange cut them down, dragging them into the darkness. The air was filled with screams. "Get into the cave!" she yelled.
Obi-Wan and Ahsoka drew their lightsabers. The rebels filed past them, still being picked off by an unseen threat. Fierce growls filled the air. The brilliant light from the Jedi weapon's illuminated several pairs of glowing eyes. A tall, tiger-like man rose from the grasses. Orange, black striped fur was pulled tight over his muscular body. His muzzle was curled into a snarl, revealing rows of yellowed teeth. Necklaces of bones were dangling from his neck and cloth was secured around his waist. It was a Ming. The nomadic natives of Hoke. A rebel drew his blaster to fire, but Ahsoka lifted a hand to halt him. "Don't shoot, we don't want to aggravate them further." The rebel nodded diving into the cave.
The moment the last of their troops had hidden in the caves, the Jedi and Padmé followed. Max was hot on her heels. They had no light, but a cold upward draft told her it stretched down into the depths of the planet. Together, Ahsoka and Obi-Wan used the force to tug down a huge boulder, sealing them in.
Vader stood in the small conference room, staring out across the 13-H7 construction site. Brilliant lights illuminated the building's carcass. Machines hovered around it, picking at its exterior like scavenging birds. Troopers were dragging rebel bodies away from the site. The dark sky loomed above them, but only a few stars could be seen in the inky blackness. The room around him was lit only by the weak light streaming in through the windows. It was all a scarlet haze to him. He could hardly pick out the oval table that was surrounded by sturdy, padded chairs. The only noise was the hissing of his respirator and the occasional crinkle of his clothing.
The rebel attack had taken him by surprise. They were foolhardy for opposing the empire, but he had never expected them to attack so openly. So recklessly. The imperials had suffered more losses than he would have liked, but more troops were on their way. His skin bristled when he remembered he encounter with Ahsoka. So many memories flashed before his eyes. Memories that ought to be killed and buried. They belong to Anakin and they would serve Vader no purpose but hinderance. If anything, they infuriated him because it reminded him of the weak little boy Anakin had been. The weak little boy that could only watch as his mother die. The same one that fell for Sidious's false promises.
Padmé was alive. Vader hadn't needed Sidious's teachings. The dream really was just a dream. He didn't regret betraying the Jedi. Their order was corrupt. It needed to end. The empire brought peace and stability to the galaxy. Something the Jedi had never been able to do, they would never be able to do. They couldn't make the decisions necessary. They were too soft and passive. When Vader found Padmé, he would convince her of this and he had a distinct feeling he would see her soon.
Vader's eyes shifted out to the looming darkness beyond. Out there, somewhere, was Kenobi. His presence was undetectable and he was no doubt obscuring it from the Sith. There were platoons of troopers out scouring the jungle for the rebels. No matter how much the Sith wanted to search for him, he couldn't leave his post in case of another attack. He clenched his hands into fists and his respirator picked up. His chest grew tight and hot. He gritted his teeth. The rebels would strike again. Neither Ahsoka or Kenobi would give up so easily. It was just a matter of time. Then, he would make them tell him. He would flay them limb from limb until they revealed where Padmé was. Ahsoka wouldn't be able to feign ignorance any longer. If only that cloaked rider hadn't intervened. The whole battle, she had been spinelessly observing from above. Although she was probably pulling rebel strings, he saw no point in devoting effort to go after her. She had hardly seemed worthy of a second thought at the time. Something he now deeply regretted. Had he been diligent in his pursuit of the rider, Ahsoka would never have escaped. Next time they crossed paths, he would not make that same mistake again.
A beep from behind startled him. Turning away from the window, he strode over to the edge of the table where a circular, holo communicator lay. A little light blinked green on its side. Reaching down, he pressed hard on the surface. There was a click and a holo of Boba Fett shimmered to life above it. "Bounty hunter, I hope you have good news for me," Vader spoke with a note of threat, sticking his thumbs into his belt.
"I found no clues on the senator's whereabouts on planet Voss," Fett told him, crossing his arms over his chest. "I intend to visit Alderaan to investigate Bail Organa, a close associate of Amidala's." Vader let out a low growl, internally wishing he could interrogate Organa himself. If the senator knew anything about Padmé, then Vader would have been able to draw it out.
"I trust you'll keep me informed?" Vader rumbled. Boba's success didn't matter greatly to him. Not when Vader knew he would be able to hunt down Kenobi for the same information.
"If I find anything," Boba responded sternly. With that, Vader pressed down on the communicator and cut the transmission. There was no point in lingering in ifs and buts when there was a very tangible answer on the very same planet. His heart pumped faster as he thought of the fight to come. He would get his revenge and his wife. He would get it all.
Chapter 13: Mingin
The hard rocks dug into Padmé's back. The sparse remainders of the rebels were crammed into a narrow tunnel that lowered down into inky blackness. The only light they had was the few beams of morning sunlight that streamed in through the gaps around the huge boulder that sealed them in. The wind whistled through the gaps and a cold breeze blew over them. The air smelt of dank must. Slimy moss covered the walls. As Padmé sat on the ground, Max had his gargantuan head placed in her lap. She absentmindedly stroked the sort, silky fur on his snout. Across from her, Ahsoka and Obi-Wan sat side by side. Only the contours of their faces reflected the meagre light. The rest of the rebels had gathered further down the tunnel in a little huddle and were whispering between themselves.
The whole night, there had been scratching at the rocks and ferocious growling. If she listened close enough, she could hear the heavy steps of a creature pacing on the dirt outside. The Ming were relentless. The rebels had been waiting since the peak of the moon to escape the caves and head towards the evacuation transports, but there had been no opportunity to do so. What Padmé couldn't understand was why they were so aggressive. They were a peaceful species. If they had been simply hunting for food, they would have relented by now. This was as though they had a vendetta against the rebels. "How much longer do you think they are going to keep at it?" Padmé whispered to Obi-Wan and Ahsoka. Both of which turned to face her, the light on their faces shifting.
"I sense an overwhelming amount of rage," Obi-Wan sighed softly. "They keep taking shifts of waiting for us to emerge and I feel at least a few hundred of them spread around the area."
"They are blaming us for something," Ahsoka added, crossing her arms. "They are seeking revenge." Padmé scrunched up her nose. What could they possibly want revenge for? The rebels had only been on the planet as few days and to the best of her knowledge they had no interactions with the native Ming.
"Well, we can't just sit and wait until they give in," Padmé's sighed, scratching behind Max's ears. He let out a satisfied grumble and leaned into her touch. The heat of his skin warmed her fingertips. "Do either of you have any plan for getting out of here?"
"Not for our immediate situation, but I believe I have a way to destroy the remains of the space station," he told them softly. Padmé's interest peaked. Ahsoka turned to face him, the rocky floor crunched beneath her. The light rimmed the edge of her horns, her expression not yet visible. "If we lure the imperial troops into the jungle, it would leave room for a rebel to sneak into the construction site and explode the main reactor core." Padmé supposed that made sense. The entire thing would go kaboom. The only reason they hadn't done that whilst it was in space was because they hadn't thought they would have enough time to flee and a trigger signal from space would never have reached. Looking back on how they nearly ran into Vader on the bridge, it had been a wise decision.
"Vader wouldn't leave the site of reconstruction if he is overseeing it, surely?" Padmé asked, tilting her head to one side. A beat of silence passed between the Jedi. She furrowed her brows.
"Vader's obsession with killing the Jedi will compel him to come after us," Obi-Wan explained, shifting his weight awkwardly. "Especially if there are two of us. I think he'd appreciate the challenge." Padmé nodded. From the way the Sith recklessly threw himself into battle, she could imagine him as the type to let his passion get the better of him.
"I'll take Max and destroy the core then," Padmé sighed, crossing her arms. Obi-Wan let out a hum of discontent. "I'm not much use in an all out battle anyway and I will be able to flee the blast radius much quicker than another rebel on foot."
"It's a good idea for her to destroy the core," Ahsoka added quickly, her eyes flicking over to Padmé and her hands rubbing softly at her upper arms.
"Alright," Obi-Wan sighed. "Just make sure you come back safely, I don't want to break my promise to the twins." Padmé let out a little giggle.
"How are we going to lure out all of the troopers?" Ahsoka asked. "What's left of our soldiers isn't much of a threat." Padmé bit down on her lips. Obi-Wan fell silent. She lifted her eyes up to the cracks of light sleeping around the boulder. Epiphany struck her.
"I think I could convince the Ming to join us," Padmé spoke suddenly. They both turned to look at her as though she had told them she was a living ghost. "Just think, we haven't had any meeting with them whilst we have been on Hoke. They probably don't have much interaction with the rest of the galaxy. How could they know we are separate from the Imperials that have probably clashed with them several times?"
"A good theory, but it's risky," Obi-Wan hummed. Padmé gently pushed Max's head from her lap and rose to her feet. He let out a low rumble, but obliged her. "You want to do it now?" Obi-Wan's voice squeaked.
"What are we waiting for?" She asked with a shrug. Dusting herself off, she stepped over the two Jedi and headed up the tunnel towards the huge boulder. Getting down on her knees, she peered through a tiny gap at the base of the rounded rock. All she could see was a pair of clawed paws pacing back and forwards. The leaves of the floor were churned by every step. When she rose back up to a stand, her body creaked and groaned. The Jedi crept up behind her, stretching off their own bodies. She could make out the glint of Max's eyes as he peered over their shoulders. "Can one of you-" she jutted a thumb towards the boulder.
"Of course," Obi-Wan hummed. He raised a hand and squeezed his eyes shut. The boulder rocked and trembled but began to slowly lift from the ground. More light streamed in, causing her eyes to burn and ache. Behind them, the rebels began to shift and grow restless. Ahsoka turned back to them, explaining what was happening in a hushed voice. The thudding pacing of paws stopped. Padmé's heart began pounding. A cold sweat broke out along her hairline. The moment the rock lifted, she was forced to squint against the light. All she could see was a blur of orange lowering itself to pounce. It let out a loud roar.
"Wait!" she cried, throwing out her arms. "I just want to talk!"
The feline halted. It's shape sharpened into a hulking creature that stood on two paws. It was decorated from head to toe in bones. A cloth hung around its waist and teeth dangled from its small, rounded ears. Its huge body was outlined in golden light, illuminating each individual strand of its fur. "You did not talk before you started cutting down our trees and abducting our people to use as slaves on your fallen, metal monstrosity," the creature spoke with a low, growling voice. Huge, yellowed canines flashed as he spoke. More Ming were rising from the bushes and appearing from behind the trees. Their powerful bodies were tensed to pounce.
"That wasn't us," Padmé objected, slowly lowering her hands to her sides.
"All you humans are the same," a much older Ming with long braids that trailed down his back spoke. His muzzle was peppered with grey fur and his eyes were slightly milky. He walked with a tall, wooden, gnarled cane. "You take, take take until there is nothing left. Then you move on to another who is willing to give and drain them if all they have too."
"I am sorry for all the pain and suffering you have faced at the hands of the empire," Padmé spoke calmly, rising to her full height. "But we are not like them." The older Ming stepped around the one that had been keeping guard and padded closer. Padmé's back tensed as he stopped only a few paces away from her. "We are trying to bring the empire down, those people that have been clashing with you. That metal monstrosity is a space station that is being used to inflict misery and pain on millions in the galaxy."
The Ming's ears flicked and his eyes narrowed to slits. "If you help us, we can destroy that construction site. The empire will have no reason to remain here and will leave the planet," Padmé elaborated. She clenched her fingers around her thumbs and squeezed them hard.
"Why should we trust you?" the elder Ming asked, lowering his head to her level. A half broken fang hung awkwardly from his drooping lips. Deep scars ran the length of his face. "All your kind ever does is lie," he growled, hot breath whooshed over her face.
"We want to destroy that space station," she argued, shaking her head and placing a hand over her heart. "The empire is our common enemy, making us allies." The Ming sniffed the air around her, his tail flicking behind him. With a low rumble, he rose back up to his full height.
"You speak the truth," he grumbled, his hanging tooth flicked every time he spoke. The bone necklaces chimed with every breath. "We will not charge blindly into battle. We must know your plan."
"Of course," Padmé nodded. "We are going to lure the Imperials from their base by rallying a huge army," she gestured to the Ming. "We will draw them into the forest, where you have the advantage. That distraction will allow me to sneak into and blow the space station up from inside."
"Will one little human be able to succeed with such a might task?" The Ming tilted his head to one side.
Padmé pursed her lips and squared her shoulders. "I will not fail you."
The Ming and the Rebels had banded together. The sun was sending golden rays through the thick canopy that spotted the green foliage on the floor. Looping vines, crept around the mossy trees and the birds were happily twittering away. The Ming had collected in the hundreds and were loitering about the forest, sharpening sticks to use as spears and fashioning arrow heads from rock and stones. Several of them were braiding the longest parts of their mane that hung off the back of their muscular necks. The rebels were clustered together, checking their weaponry and loading their bodies for battle. A buzz of anticipation lingered in the air, making Padmé's hair stand on end. She was strapping fabric bags around Max's waist, securing them with a metallic lock that whirred when it clipped together. The contents of the bag jingled and clanked.
"A fine beast this is. I've not seen one like it before," A voice washed over Padmé. She turned to see a female Ming standing over her. A decorative bone poked through her nose and a pale scar ran across her forehead.
"He's a species native to a winter planet," Padmé smiled at her boy, patting his side. "They are called Lupus." The Ming let out a rumbling, purring noise and gently placed a hand atop Max's head. She was just tall enough to peer at him in the eyes. His tail began swishing behind his body and his tongue fell out of his mouth. The Ming immediately retracted her hand, her ears perking upwards.
"My apologies if I upset him," she let her hand fall to her side.
"No, no," Padmé chuckled scratching behind his ear and causing his tail to wag harder. "When his tail moves like that, it is a good sign," she smiled. "It means he is happy."
"Ah," the Ming hummed in a crackling voice. "Very different from us then."
"I'm Padmé," Padmé introduced herself, "may I ask what your name is?" The Ming blinked down at her with golden eyes. Her muzzle stretched into what Padmé assumed was an imitation of her smile. Huge canines flashed.
"My name is Ranan," she responded, dipping her head. Padmé copied the gesture. "You have cubs?" she asked, tilting her head to one side.
Padmé's brows lifted. "How could you tell?" she squeaked. She began to stroke Max's side, enjoying the soft touch of his fur beneath her fingers.
"All mother's have the same smell," Ranan commented, tapping a talon tipped finger on her snout. "It makes them softer. More susceptible to big blinking eyes," she chuckled. Pain flashed across her expression. She once again patted Max's head and he let out a pleased whine.
"Do you have cubs of your own?" Padmé asked, cocking a brow. The pain in Ranan's expression intensified. Her shoulders dropped.
"My cubs were stolen by the Imperials," she explained, her voice cracking. "They had had only just begun learning to hunt." Her ears pinned back against her skull and her eyes glared down at the floor. Padmé's gut twisted. She couldn't imagine what it would feel like to have her twins ripped from her. It would tear her apart. That would be the final blow she could never overcome. Reaching out a hand, she placed it softly on Ranan's arm. The cat's sorrow filled eyes flicked over to her.
"When the Imperial's are drawn out to battle, the construction site will be put on lockdown," Padmé began, holding the Ming's gaze. "The slaves will be locked in their quarters. We were planning to make a strike team to free them. You should lead it," she told her. "If you're cubs are still on the planet, that is where they will be." Padmé knew there was not many more forces more terrifying than a mother fighting for her children. If anyone could free her young, it was Ranan herself.
Ranan's ears lifted and the bottom of her tail curled. "I might see them again?" she chuffed. Padmé nodded slowly. The delight that flashed across the Ming's eyes warmed her heart.
Chapter 14: Battle Back
Ahsoka and Obi-Wan sat segregated from the Ming and rebel troops that were spread across the jungle, readying themselves for battle. The clanging of rock battered against his ears, accompanied by the low rumble of speech and chatter. The Jedi could feel their comrades fear and anticipation humming in the force. They were sitting cross legged with their eyes closed over. The dirt was squishy beneath them and huge, feathery bushes rose from the ground and gave them a screen of privacy. Obi-Wan was trying to meditate and calm himself, but he could feel pain leaking from Ahsoka. He peeled an eye open, even her resting face was downturned. Fighting Vader couldn't have been easy for her. He could feel dread making his gut clench at the prospect of facing his former padawan. The man he had left burning on the shores of Mustafar. Blowing out a huff, he knew it was best not to dwell on the future. What was going to happen, would happen. He couldn't change that.
"Ahsoka," Obi-Wan spoke softly. Her vibrant eyes blinked open and she raised her white eyebrows towards him. "What's bothering you?" he asked gently. The togruta cast her eyes to the floor. Small wrinkles developed on her forehead.
"When I fought Vader, he asked me where 'she' was," Ahsoka sighed, wrapping her arms around herself. Obi-Wan's brows shot up. His heart skipped a beat and hot panic became molten in his blood. He leaned in towards her.
"She?" his voice hitched. Reaching into the force, he felt Padmé's steady light nearby. Completely safe and unharmed. "Did he mean Padmé?"
"He didn't mention her by name, but I could sense that was what he meant," Ahsoka responded, clenching her jaw. Obi-Wan sat backwards slowly. Vader shouldn't know Padmé was alive. Just like the rest of the galaxy, he should have been fooled by her fake funeral. Lifting his hands, he ran them down his face and let out a deep sigh. Padmé and the twins were at much greater risk than he thought. His gut began twisting itself into knots. If Vader knew, then the Emperor probably did as well. They should never have come out of hiding. If Vader was anything like Anakin, he'd pursue them to the edges of the galaxy and back. "He also seemed to know that you knew where she was." His gut churned. How much did the Sith know exactly?
"Ahsoka, I was going to tell you this anyway, but it's so important now more than ever. We must kill Vader," Obi-Wan tried to swallow the panic and dread rising within him and keep a steady voice. The only way to ensure the twins never fell into Vader's grasps was to kill him. If he twisted them to the darkside, the three of them would be unstoppable.
Ahsoka's wide eyes lifted to meet his. The corners of her lips curled downwards and water twinkled in her eyes. "Don't ask that of me Obi-Wan," her voice wavered. "I can't ki-..." she turned her her head away as a tear rolled down her cheek.
"I know it isn't easy, but Anakin is already dead," Obi-Wan assured her softly. A lump developed in his throat. What he wouldn't do to see his friend as a shining Jedi Knight once more. "Vader is just a husk of the man we once knew, filled with anger and hatred." Swiping the tear from her cheek, her reddened eyes caught his unwavering gaze. "I know you felt it too. There is nothing but darkness and pain locked away in that suit. He is too dangerous to be kept alive. Especially after all the people he has hurt. After all those he has murdered. After all the families he has torn apart," he gestured loosely to the Ming around them.
Ahsoka nodded her head, pressing her lips together. "We should tell Padmé," she sniffled. "Shouldn't she at least get to say goodbye?"
Obi-Wan shook his head. "There is no one to say goodbye to anymore."
Vader's heart was skipping in his chest. His respirator was wheezing with the beat of his heavy footsteps. The jungle around him was filled with storm troopers. The majority were marching on foot, but there were some driving AT-ST's that plodded further into the jungle and a few were even on speeders. The green foliage was a mucky brown in his scarlet lenses. Plants whipped at his shins as powered through them and trampled them to the ground. His cape flared out around him, occasionally snagging on a twig or bush. His sheer pace ripped the fabric out of the entanglements moments after they occurred. The birds screamed shrill alarm calls. The crunching of twigs beneath the hundreds of troopers' boots filled the air. Sunlight made the leaves of the canopy glow with green light and become partly see through.
When he'd received the message that the pesky locals had rallied to fight with the rebels, Jedi leading the helm, he knew he had to face them. To strike them down before they had the chance to pounce and to find out where Padmé was. This was it. This had to be it. One more day spent looking for her and he would loose his mind. He felt like he was going to see her soon. Very soon. A comforting thought. He'd rallied what remained of the Imperial forces and ordered them to the the last sighted location of the Ming army. It occurred to him that he shouldn't leave the construction site unprotected, but in his mind, he was going to eliminate its greatest threat. The rebels didn't have enough soldiers to fight on two fronts anyway.
The sound of a trooper's scream snapped his head to one side, halting him in his tracks. Blurry, orange streaks leapt from the bushes, tearing into his soldiers. He used the force to summon his lightsaber to his hand, immediately igniting it and swinging it around in an arc and slicing a Ming in half just as it sprung from the bushes toward him. It landed with two thuds. The jungle descended into chaos. Blasterfire shot all over the place. Troopers yelped and screamed as the tiger folk dropped from trees and sprung out of the undergrowth. Vader's fists tightened. This was a trap. A last bid attempt at wiping out the imperial forces. Pathetic. Even if they eradicated these troopers, more would appear in days. Their victory would be short lived.
With a grunt, he began slicing and hacking away at all the Ming, keeping an eye trained for Kenobi or Ahsoka. It wasn't long until he caught a glimmer of them in the force. Vader had a tiger in a force choke, its clawed hands grasped desperately at his throat and his tail flicked behind him. Even his feet kicked aimlessly at the air. That's when he felt it. The cooling prickle of the lightside. It skirted his mind, drawing on his attention. He turned his helmet towards it and he saw them. There, just far enough away that he couldn't make out their faces, the two Jedi stood. Their lightsabers glew and their sights were trained on him. Their intention to kill him was thicker than the stench of a sewer. With a flick of his fingers, he snapped the Ming's neck and dropped it to the floor.
Vader turned, effortlessly bulldozing through the battlefield, slicing any enemy that got in his way and pulling entire trees from the ground to fling out of his way and into the midst of the battle. His heart pounded so fiercely that, had he been in a clearer headspace, he might have feared it would overwhelm his suit. Both Jedi lowered themselves into fighting stances, their weapons raised and ready.
Before he had even reached them, they jumped upon him. They were attacking from all angles, using slick, acrobatic slices to try and wear him down. They fought well together. Instead of two fighters, they acted as one warrior. As one attacked, the other defended. If frustrated Vader to no end. His body was growing warm with fury, his respirator struggling to keep up. The longer they fought, the more memories sprung to his mind. Long days spent in training halls, fighting side by side in battles just like these, celebrating every win because they never knew if it would be their last. It angered it further, his temper spiralling wildly out of control. Nothing around him was of any consequence any longer. He wanted them dead. He wanted those memories erased.
Spinning his lightsaber, he cut clean through a mighty tree and launched it at the pair. They dodged it easily, but it created a gap between the two opposing forces. As he held his lightsaber high, the two Jedi began pacing around him. "Where is she, Kenobi?" Vader growled. The Jedi master's face was stoic, steely determination glinted in his eyes.
"You must know, I will never tell you," Obi-Wan responded sharply, his brows pulling down into a frown. Vader's metal fists creaked as he clenched them tightly. Ahsoka peered at him as though he was a rabid, raving beast.
"I will find her," he promised, tracking the Jedi with his eyes. "You cannot hide her from me forever." Obi-Wan grimaced at this. "For your sake, you should just tell me now."
"We put other people before ourselves, Vader," Ahsoka snapped, spinning her blades. "With what you did to her on Mustafar, it's not safe for you to be anywhere near her." With a roar of rage, he lashed out and sliced at them mercilessly. The darkside was thrumming within him, completely devouring him. It's cold tentacles filled him with power and pushed him beyond the limit of his limit. The Jedi were forced on the defensive, evading his attacks constantly. Ahsoka's words ran like a reel in his head. It wasn't Vader that had choked Padmé, it was the stupid, young and reckless Anakin. The one that had allowed himself to become so absorbed in the darkside that he throttled the very person he turned for. The boy that Vader had purged from his mind.
Both the sith and Obi-Wan threw out their arms to push each other back. The force trembled. The dark and the light clashed, sending tidal waves of power thrashing away from them. Vader's metallic hand had no capacity to shake, but Obi-Wan's quaked beneath the strain. The plant and bushes around them whipped away violently. The trees creaked and groaned with pressure. It was all released abruptly. Obi-Wan was flung back, crashing into a tree and falling into a messy pile by its base. Vader was thrown back several feet, but his heavy boots dug into the ground, churning the soil and steadying him. It did however, knock him to his knees and off guard. Ahsoka took full advantage of his lowered defences, swinging her blade around in an arc. Vader's heart skipped a beat. He couldn't react fast enough to defend himself.
Ahsoka's white blade froze at the base of his neck. Her eyes were wide as they stared down at him and her whole body tense. Pain and guilt flashed across her face. "I don't want to fight you," she whispered, her brows pulling together. Vader narrowed his eyes.
"Then you will die," he barked. Hoisting up his lightsaber, he batted hers away and used the force to fling her back. Moving with surprising speed, he brought his blade down like a guillotine. She crossed her own lightsabers over her head, stopping the strike before it reached her face. "There will be no cloaked rider to save you now." He pushed all his weight onto his lightsaber. Ahsoka's eyes went wide. Her arm's were trembling beneath him. Her jaws ground against one another. Obi-Wan was lifting himself to his feet, his face was warped with horror. The blades kept creeping closer to her face. Vader froze, lamenting over his own thought. Keeping his guard up, he glanced around the battle field. There was no sign of the rebel riding a Lupus. His heart stopped beating in his chest. If she wasn't here, then she could be at the construction site. His body tensed. If it was destroyed, his master would tighten his leash and it would be nearly impossible for him to find Padmé. The station was critical for the empire's progress to domination. Ahsoka let out a strained grunt beneath him.
Reaching out with the force, he could sense a light presence near the construction site. The same one that had lingered around the rim of the crater in their last battle. The one that was riddled with grief. His respirator picked up pace. He was correct in assuming this was a trap, but the kind of trap had been a long shot from the truth. Obi-Wan approached him slowly, twirling his lightsaber. His cautious eyes stared between Ahsoka and Vader. Using the Sith's state of distraction, she thrust her blades upwards in a surge of power. It allowed her to slip out from beneath his overwhelming strength and stagger back to Kenobi's side.
Vader turned back to face them. Every inch of him long to see their heads mounted on pikes, but the force was ushering him to return to the construction site. It would do Vader no good to know where Padmé was if he was dead or chained up in whatever torture dungeon Palpatine thought fit for failing him again. "You tricky fools," Vader growled, lowering his arms to his sides.
"We learned from the best," Ahsoka responded, pain glinting in his eyes. "It's a shame he isn't around. He would have seen this trap coming a solar system away." Although Vader wanted to make her pay for such a comment, he didn't have time.
"You shouldn't place blind faith in dead men," Vader snapped. "They are dead for a reason." Turning on his heel, he moved to walk away from them. In the bushes nearby, he saw a lone speeder bike. It's rider was dead beneath it.
"Where do you think you're going?" Obi-Wan shouted, lunging at him from behind. Vader hit the strike away. Lifting a hand, he called the speeder to him. He created a powerful wave that knocked Kenobi back a few steps and allowed him to get on the speeder. In mere seconds, they were left tasting his dust. The forest dissolved into a green blur around him. His cape flapped out from his shoulders. That cloaked rider was, very painfully, going to die.
Chapter 15: Comparison
The core of the 13-H7 space station was gargantuan. Even larger than the senate auditorium. A huge, metallic cylinder rose through its centre. Its outer casing was notched, but through slitted windows Padmé could see blue flashes of light cracklings between power rods. The whole area was slanted. One of the walkways that curled around the outside of the room had fallen into a crumbled heap. Metallic scaffolding was propped up in many places and the majority of the rubble had been removed. The glossy floor was covered in scrapes and muck.
Padmé was on the underside of the leaning cylinder. Her forearms were magnetised to the surface by the thick gauntlets she wore. They were sleek and veins of blue light webbed across its surface. Her boots were made of the same material, allowing her to stick to it with ease. Every noise she made echoed loudly around the chamber. A bag rustled on her back, its contents clanking together. The cylinder above her was covered in blinking, circular detonators in a spiral shape that lead down from the roof. She was shuffling to the side, sticking the bombs down, as she moved, in rapid succession. They secured themselves with a high pitched whine. A red light flashed at their centres.
Padmé's forehead was beginning to sweat. Her body ached and trembled. The cloak she wore hung towards the floor. The mask on her face was pressed tightly to her features. The fabric of her white catsuit stuck closely to her skin. Even in here, the air was unbearably hot. She was breathing shakily. Padmé's had stuck bombs to over half of the core and she was making steady progress to the bottom. Falling into a rhythm, she found herself wondering how the battle was going. Obi-Wan and Ahsoka were capable warriors. She had no doubt they would be able to handle the masked monster, but she found herself thinking of the Ming. They were armed with only natural weapons and, even although they knew the forest well, they were at a disadvantage for not having many long ranged attacks.
A beep in her ear pulled at her attention. By this time, she had worked her way around to the upper side of the cylinder and could sit on it fairly comfortably. Lifting a hand to her ear, she pressed down on her ear piece and returned to her rhythm of placing bombs. "Padmé, Vader figured out it was a trap. He is on his way to the construction site right now," Ahsoka's voice spoke with abrupt pace in her ear. The noises of battle echoed down the line.
Padmé's chest tightened and she momentarily froze. "What?" her voice hitched. If he caught her, it would all be over.
"Get out of there now," Obi-Wan barked. Padmé's heart began beating fast and she broke out into a cold sweat. "We will try to find a speeder to chase after him, but you don't have long. Run!" he urged her. Padmé stared at the dizzying distance down to the floor. After they had done all this work, she would be darned if they gave up this easily. Furrowing her brow, she began working faster. The bombs were placed quicker and quicker.
"I'm nearly finished," she told them. Even by speeder, it would still take at least half an hour for the Sith to reach her. That was going to have to be enough time to place the rest of the bombs. "I'll see you on the other side," she promised. Their voices lifted to object but she pressed on her earpiece with her knuckle and silenced them. Chewing on her lip, she moved rapidly. Her heart was pounding and her mind continuously running through all the possible things Vader might do, should he catch her. The most likely option was just killing her, a thought that terrified her greatly. Although she was willing to die for her cause, she didn't want to break her promise to the twins. She didn't want to orphan them. They wouldn't be alone, of course. Bail, Obi-Wan and Ahsoka would be there to guide them but to loose a parent so young would surely be something they carried throughout life forever.
Eventually, after what felt like hours, Padmé reached the base of the core cylinder. There was only a few bombs left and they slid around in her pack every time she moved. Creeping out into the hallways of the space station, she sped for her closest exit. The hallways were lit by stick on lights that were temporarily glued to the dented, metallic walls. Piles of rubble had collected in the hallways, but her shoes made hardly any noise as she padded over them. Peeling off her gauntlets, she shoved them into her pack.
Finding herself in a long, narrow corridor, she kept herself low to the ground as she raced through it. Padmé passed by several open doorways that she knew would lead her out of this maze, but straight ahead was the quickest exit. She hoped and begged the universe that Vader hadn't made it to the crash site just yet. When she reached the end of the hallway, her heart sank. The final door was closed over and without power there was no way she could open it. Just as she was about to turn away from it, a brilliant, red light burst through the permacrete. Her breath caught in her throat and she froze. She knew the blade of a lightsaber when she saw it. The weapon began cutting upwards. The metal around it turned molten orange and hissed a sharp wheeze.
Padmé staggered backwards, turning on her heel and bolting down the corridor. She made it a respectable distance away, to the first open doorway before the force wrapped around her neck. Her whole body snapped forwards, jolting in the motion and lifting her from the floor. Her hands shot to her throat in a desperate attempt to alleviate some of the tension. There was a loud bang that thumped in her ears, echoing all the way down the hallway. Her heart battered so hard against her ribs that she feared it might get impaled. The grip on her throat tightened, making her wheeze for air. It didn't help that her chest was already stiff and difficult to move. The snap-wheeze of a respirator rose goosebumps on her skin. Her gut tensed. Heavy, lumbering steps drew closer to her with rapid pace.
Spinning her in the air, Vader drew closer and closer. The moment she saw the dark, armoured giant storming towards her, regret set in. She should have left when Obi-Wan told her to. His cape flared out behind him and the emotionless helmet peered into her soul. As Padmé grasped desperately at her throat, memories flashed past her mind. Sweltering heat. Utter horror. Orange glow. Grey skies. Yelling voices. Terror. For a moment, Vader's looming form was replaced with Anakin's haunched form. His face was warped with a scowl. Madness glinted in his eyes. Padmé's gut twisted and fear shocked her system. A cold trembled rattled her frame. "What have you done?" the Sith roared, now only a few paces away. Padmé could see her distorted reflection struggling in his blackened lenses. "What have you done?" he shouted louder, his fingers curling in towards his palm and the grip around her neck tightening.
Pulling a hand away from her neck, she reached back into her pack and whipped out one of the bombs. Igniting it with a flick of her thumb, she threw it at him. It exploded right before it hit. His grip on her was released and she was sent plummeting to the floor as a wall of heat smashed into her. If not for Anakin's heat resistant cloak, she would have burned badly. When she collided with the ground, she didn't even wait long enough for the burst of pain to register in her mind. Scampering to her feet, she dove through the open doorway close by and began racing down the hall. Padmé drew in deep breaths of air, her arms swinging hard by her side. Her footsteps beat against the ground and her lungs ached.
Weaving through several different corridors and not staying in any for too long, she evaded Vader for long enough to burst out into the open air. Huge machines and levitating cranes were spotted all over the place, abandoned in several states of haste. The colossal space station rose tall behind her, blocking out the light of the sun. Max was tied down to a sturdy, hovering platform. Whipping out her blaster from her belt, she shot at the rope binding him. He jolted, but the rope snapped, freeing him. "Run!" she yelled, gesturing for him to start moving. The lupus turned, beginning to trot away. She raced up the levitation platform, launched herself off of it and onto Max's back. Instantly, he broke out into a sprint and away from the space station. She had to lean forwards and squeeze his chest with her legs to stop herself from being bucked off.
Padmé grabbed a handful of his mane, using her other arm to fish around in her bag for a long, cylindrical device. Pulling it out, she peered down at the object in her hand. It was a slender trigger with grooves for fingers. With her thumb, she popped off the clear casing on top of it which concealed a glowing, red button beneath. By this time, Max was already beginning to power up the steep wall of the crater. His paws dug into the ground, propelling them forwards. Looking over her shoulder, she saw Vader striding from the maze of machines. He had become a tiny, black figure to her but the intensity of his glare rose the hairs on her back. Narrowing her eyes, she pressed her thumb down on the button.
A boom so loud her eardrums rang erupted in the air. A mushroom of flaming clouds shot up into the sky from the centre of the wreckage. A chain reaction of smaller, but still deafening explosions trailed out from the first one. They blew chunks of machinery and fragments of metal so high into the air that they were lost to her eyes. The ground quaked and the sky was filled with dark plumes of smoke. The space station continued to implode for several minutes. It was torn into a skeletal frame that burned with flames brighter than the Mustafar magma. The tiny speck that was Vader had turned around, staring up at the disaster before him and using the force to protect himself from the blast. Gritting her teeth, she faced forwards.
When Max clambered up the edge of the crater, her heart lifted. Hundreds of people in chains were staring at the explosions with either a slack jaws or a wicked smile. The majority of them were Ming, but she could see all kinds of species from all over the galaxy. Their clothes were ragged and torn, their faces gaunt and pale. Upon seeing her rising from the crater, they all turned to face her with gleaming eyes. Lifting her arms victoriously over her head, the cloak blew out behind her. She let out a loud whoop of glee. It was met with screeching cheers and delighted squeals. They copied her, throwing their chained arms high into the air and jumping up and down with glee. Padmé's let out a laugh and rode Max, at a slower place, through them. Her hands curled into his fur once again and she led all the freed slaves towards the treeline. They jumped hoped and skipped behind her, their face burning bright with joy.
There was the whoosh of an approaching speeder bike and the two Jedi burst from the forest. They manoeuvred their bikes to travel beside her. Padmé could see the relief in their faces. The moment they caught sight of the cheering ex-slaves their expressions brightened. Still, she could tell that they were mildly distressed. Whatever was bothering them could wait until later. For now, they had to get these people to safety.
Chapter 16: Take Off
Padmé's face was aching from smiling. Rebel ships were scattered all throughout the thick jungle. Their engines were running with a rumble. Hot air whooshed out from mighty machines, rustling the bushy undergrowth. A colloquial chatter filled the air. The Ming had collected around them to wave them off. Padmé's ship was lying open. The access ramp lay flat. Max was tied down in the belly of her ship, his head poking out as he watched his surroundings with dopy eyes. His pink tongue hung out one side of his mouth as he panted for breath. Several of the Ming and rebels were embracing, giving tender goodbyes.
Padmé was just lifting the last of her packs up onto her ship. She trudged up the ramp, her feet clanging on the metal. The stomach of her ship was boiling hot, much warmer than the humid outdoors. A short while in space, and that would certainly by fixed. Dropping the boxes down onto the bed that was cut into the wall, she dusted herself off. Anakin's cloak was already back in the cupboard, but her mask was lying on the bed with the rest of her stuff. Sorting it all away would give her something to do on the journey back to the rebel base.
The moment she thought of the flight ahead, her heart clenched with excitement. One stop at the rebel base for a night and she was picking up her children the next rotation. A buzz of joy coursed through her veins. She long to feel their warm embrace. See their rounded, rosy cheeks. Hear their giggling voices. Smell their sweet scent. Her heart ached and she assured herself it would be soon that she saw them next.
"Padmé!" a heavily accented, growly voice called. Padmé straightened up, peering out of her ship. At the base of the ramp stood Ranan. Her head was high and striped shoulders back, her hands concealed behind her. On either side of her were two other Ming with huge eyes and scruffy fur. They were smaller, only reaching Ranan's shoulders and wearing significantly less amounts of jewellery. Their disproportionately large paws were clasped in front of them and wide, rounded ears poked out from the top of their heads. All three stared up at her with the same, golden-brown eyes. "I hope you do not mind if we say goodbye?" Ranan asked, tilting her head to one side.
Casting them a friendly smile, Padmé brushed past Max and gave him a pat before skipping down the ramp and stopping before them. "Are these your cubs?" Padmé asked, gesturing to the two smaller Ming, that still towered over her. They were perhaps the same height as Anakin had been. Her heart clenched, so she brushed the thought aside.
Ranan peered at the two beside her, delight and pride twinkling in her eyes. "They are," she purred with a nod, wrapping her arms around them. The two cubs stared sheepishly at the floor, curling their arms around her back. "I wanted to thank you personally," Ranan spoke gently. "Without you, they would still be in chains." Her eyes watered at this.
"It was a team effort," Padmé chuckled, scratching at the back of her head.
"We made you this," Ranan pulled her hands out from behind her back. A necklace dangled from her clawed fingertips. It had ribbed bones that spiked out of the thick string that bound it. Three animal skulls had the string threaded through their eye holes and were lined up at the centre of the necklace. The outermost two were small and had huge eye sockets. The inner one was larger, still no bigger than the gap between her two middle fingers, and had impressively sharp canines. Padmé's brows shot up. Ranan moved the necklace closer and Padmé dipped her head to allow the Ming to place it over her shoulders. "It is the spiritual necklace of family," Ranan explained. "It is made from the skulls of a Dewdewin nest." She pointed her claws at the two smaller skulls. "These connect you to your cubs. An eternal bond that transcends death as they carry part of you with them forever." Next, she placed her thumb on the large skull. "This connects you to your partner. They will forever be bound to you through your children and you created the most beautiful thing of all. Life."
Padmé's heart squeezed. Water warmed her eyes. Lifting a hand, she traced the yellowed skulls with her fingers. They were smooth and glossy. "Thank you," she beamed up at Ranan, who's eyes sparkled with delight. "It's magnificent."
"Padmé!" Obi-Wan called as he and Ahsoka approached from afar. A few of the ships were beginning to take off and rocket towards the sky. Her heart lifted, she hadn't seen them since they had guided the slaves to freedom. A wide smile split her face and she waved over at them. Their expressions brightened a little. "It's good to see you," he chuckled as he stopped by her side, nodding to Ranan and her cubs. "We should probably leave soon. It's a long journey to Croft," he folded his arms into his sleeves.
"Of course," she nodded. The Jedi began stalking up into her ship. Turning to face the Ming she gave them a wide smile. "I hope we meet again," she said.
"As do I," agreed the Ming. With that, Padmé followed the Jedi and walked up the ramp. It closed behind her, sealing them in with a hiss. With so many people in the ships belly, it felt claustrophobic and tight. Especially with a gargantuan lupus. Max shifted from paw to paw, pushing his head into her arms. She giggled and scratched behind his ears. She looked at Ahsoka and Obi-Wan, they were standing with their arms crossed and their hips cocked to one side.
"What you did at the base was very risky," Obi-Wan scolded her, pulling his brows together. Padmé's jaw went slack. She felt like a youngling being scolded for disobedience.
"It was worth it," Padmé argued, stroking the underside of Max's chin. "I managed to escape from Vader in the end anyway."
"He caught you?" Ahsoka's voice hitched and she took half a step forwards. She traded a wide eyed look with Obi-Wan. He seemed startled, his face paling a few shades. Padmé's didn't blame them. It had felt like she was staring death in the face. "What did he say?" Ahsoka spoke quietly, peering at her curiously.
Padmé failed to see how that was relevant, but she obliged them none the less. "He only asked what I'd done to the space station before I fled from him," she replied. Max lifted his head from her arms and sniffed at the bone necklace. He moved to nibble at it but a grumbling huff from her stopped him in his tracks.
"How... did you escape?" Obi-Wan asked, tilting his head to one side. Padmé screwed up her face, annoyed at their continual interrogation of her. Her mind flashed to being held in Vader's force choke. Images of Anakin on Mustafar came tumbling down with them. Squeezing her jaw shut, she pushed them away. There wasn't time to think about that. Not in front of empathic force users.
"I threw one of my bombs at him and ran away," she responded bluntly. "I got to Max and fled before he could reach me again." Both Ahsoka and Obi-Wan visibly deflated, their expressions washing in relief.
"You must be more wary of Vader," Obi-Wan informed her sternly, leaning back against the ship wall. "He is a lot more powerful than you know and had he not needed you alive to tell him that you'd rigged the space station, you would be dead... or worse." His face twisted like he'd bitten into a sour fruit.
"But I'm not," she responded sharply, placing her hands on her hips. "The space station is destroyed and hundreds of lives have liberated." She jutted her jaw to one side. "Vader may be powerful, but he is just a man. He has weakness and he can be beaten. Today proved that."
Ahsoka let out a timid sigh, wrapping her arms around her waist. "We are just concerned for your safety," she spoke quietly, regarding Padmé with pained and sorrowful eyes. The annoyance that had risen within her was instantly extinguished. Guilt mellowed her emotion.
"I know," she responded quietly, leaning against Max's sturdy shoulders. "I'm sorry I was reckless, but it payed off."
Chapter 17: Epiphany
The rebel base was silent in the early hours of the morning. Hundreds of rebels were snuggled into their makeshift beds throughout the cathedral's many chapels. Though none of them slept peacefully, due to the ever constant fear of death that accompanied opposing the empire, they were dormant. There was just as much movement and buzz in the cathedral as there was in the dark, winding catacombs beneath it. The only rebels awake were those monitoring the scanners in space, and Padmé. She had risen with the sun. No, not risen. Risen implied she had fallen asleep in the first place, which was simply not true. She had spent the whole night tossing and turning in her squeaky cot, trying to fend off the horrible thoughts that drifted into her mind. Terrible lies that she didn't want to spend even a moment dwelling on. When it grew bright, she had decided her battle was lost and got up to find a place of peace where she could confront her mind.
Wandering aimlessly through the untouched portion of the cathedral, her only company was the echoing noise of her footsteps. When she happened upon a huge chapel, her heart settled on it. It had huge, open floors that were made of tan, dusty rock. Large, sandstone columns rose from the ground, joining together and forming glorious archways that supported the peaking roof. Intricate murals covered the ceiling, displaying a familiar arid landscape and lots of sun kissed humans. Rows of wooden pews were angled in towards a curving alter. Impressively tall, human, stone statues stood on either side. Their faces were stoic, but still displayed a welcoming warmth. Above the angular alter was three, incredibly bright stained glass windows. They let in streams of coloured light that illuminated the room in all different shades.
With a sigh, she slowly wandered down the centre isle and ran her hands along the tops of the rotting pews that had begun to splinter and fall apart. The air was dusty and dry, but wrapped her close in a warm embrace. Her foot steps bounced from every wall before jumping back into her ears. The thing that had been bothering her all night was a pair of memories. A very specific pair of memories. In both, she had been choked with the force by a man completely absorbed in anger. Goosebumps prickled her skin and she squeezed her eyes shut. Those men were two very different people to her. One was the love of her life, the other a mass murderer who wanted her dead. They couldn't be further apart, but, the more she thought about it, the more she question how true her perception really was.
Standing at the base of the alter, she stared up at the stained glass window. It depicted two people. A man and a woman smiling as they held each other close. Her heart grew heavy. Padmé couldn't deny the similarities between Vader and Anakin. Both were reckless beyond belief, quick to rage and undoubtedly skilled in battle. Both of them were the poster boys for their military factions. Both of them had become pets to Sidious. That is where she had hoped their similarities ended, for Vader was cruel and callous where Anakin was warm and loving, but she knew it simply was not.
Slumping down into one of the pews, the wood creaked dangerously beneath her. Out of what she thought was innocent curiosity, Padmé had done research on Vader after their first encounter on the 13-H7 checkpoint. Even back then, her subconscious must have known. Must have felt. What she discovered was still rattling around inside her head. Vader had only appeared as an enforcer of the empire several weeks after it was founded. Several weeks after Anakin had been killed. Her head turned to the bone necklace that rested on her chest. Lifting a thumb, she ran it over the large, centre skull.
Padmé had never been brave enough to ask Obi-Wan how exactly he killed Anakin. It hadn't mattered anyway. He was dead and nothing could change that. Knowing would only have hurt her. There was no doubt in her mind that Kenobi really had thought Anakin was dead. He had gone to Mustafar to kill him and he wouldn't have thrown his mission aside for anything. He could have however, walked away before Anakin properly died. Perhaps he impaled his former padawan with his lightsaber or cut him clean in half. Maybe Anakin fell too close to the magma river and caught alight. They were all grim possibilities and Obi-Wan wouldn't have struck down a man who couldn't defend himself, even if it was an act of pity. So, he may have left him to succumb to his injuries. That thought alone made her stomach clench.
Her mind drifted to Vader's suit. Although it was terrifying, she knew it was for more than just effect. The snap hiss of his respirator told her it breathed for him. It was a walking life support machine. Perhaps one that could have kept Anakin alive had he been found on Mustafar's shores.
Clenching her teeth, she doubled over herself and planted her head into one hand, grasping the large skull with the other. This was all just speculation. Pure speculation, but her stomach tensed so tightly she became nauseous. A little voice within her whispered that she knew exactly who was in Vader's suit. It was one of those gut feelings she couldn't explain, but knew she should trust. Huffing out a breath, she squeezed her eyes shut and kneaded her forehead. Before her mind could delve into the consequences of it really being Anakin who was Vader, she brushed away the entire thought. It was too soon to jump to conclusions. Her heart wouldn't be able to take it.
Vader sat silently in his orb of a meditation chamber. The spherical structure was pure white internally with a large angular throne at its centre. His helmet lay in his leather covered, half metal lap. The prickle of breath poked in his lungs. His gloved hands gripped tightly at the arms of his chair. The pale, scarred skin that was pulled tightly over his skull was set with an intense glower. Yellow eyes stared down at the vague, abstract reflection in his helmet. He gritted his teeth.
Palpatine was more furious with him than he ever had been before. Vader had been demoted several ranks and now had a leash so tight it was choking him. These were all set backs, yes, and humiliating, but that failure fell miserably flat of his own personal failure. Not only were Ahsoka and Obi-Wan still alive and aiding the rebels, but he hadn’t procured Padmé's location from them. Whatever was left of his heart was crumbling. He ached for her so badly that the thought of her haunted his every thought. He'd felt so certainly he was going to see her on Hoke, but he must have lets his hope and desire lay out a belief he couldn't help but fixate on. It wouldn't be the first time either. The dreams of Padmé's death were what drove him to become this masked monster, yet she had lived without any intervention from him. They were false prophecies. Just like that ridiculous prophecy Anakin was 'the chosen one'. No, he was just a foolish boy.
Vader's grip on the arm of his chair tightened so intensely, the cog in his hand squealed in protest. As it was, Vader wasn't fairing much better than Anakin. He'd sacrificed finding his wife to save a space station for a master that had done nothing but lie to and deceive him. His heart thundered in his chest, making his aching lungs race to catch up. To make matters worse, he hadn't even been able to stop the cloaked rider, who was quickly becoming the bane of his life, from blowing up the construction site. He let out a low growl. His vision became sharp and red. His head pounded as his lungs desperately wheezed to catch up. Closing his eyes over, he tried to soften his anger. Much more, and his body would not be able to keep up.
A beep from his gauntlet caught his attention. Blowing out a huff of air from his nose, he slotted his helmet back on. Pain prickled his face as little needles slid under his skin. Once more, all he saw was scarlet red. The wheeze of his respirator filled the chamber. He pressed a thumb on his gauntlet and straightened up. One of the arms on his chair beeped in response and a small square of plastisteel retreated into the metal. A circular holoprojector lay beneath it. Immediately an image of Boba Fett flickered to life. His mandalorian armour was clean and polished. With a straight back and arms crossed over his chest, he stared up at the Sith. "Bounty hunter, what news do you bring?" he asked, his chest tightening in anticipation.
"I have found twin children with Bail Organa," Fett spoke calmly. "Wether or not they are Amidala's, I don't know but I could use them to lure her out of hiding." Vader's jaw tensed and it took all his self control not to snap at the bounty hunter. If those were his children, he would not let them be used as bait. Not when there were still other, valid options. Why Padmé would separate herself from the children, he didn't know, but she wouldn't be able to stay away from them for long, if her relationship with her family was anything to go by. "No." Vader responded coldly. "If they are Amidala's children, she will return for them. There is no need to remove them from their current situation."
"Then, for now, I will observe," Boba responded, his holo dissolving. Vader's heart soared, although he knew he should ground it. Perhaps the trail on Padmé wasn't as cold as he thought.
Chapter 18: Willow
Padmé kept the hood of Anakin's cloak pulled down low. The underbelly of Aldera, Alderaan's capital city, was bustling with life. The doors were grimy and the ground covered in puddles. Huge stalls lined the stone streets, selling all kinds of goods. A few of the miniature shops were cobbled together with a variety of items being sold, none seeming to match in the slightest. Pulling the soft fabric of the cloak around her, she tried to ignore the smokey stench. Creatures of all species shouted and hollered, bartering with each other in a variety of languages. Only slivers of the blue sky could be seen through the towering, reflective buildings.
Despite her surroundings, Padmé had a delighted skip in her step. She was, after all, going to collect the twins. This had been the longest they had ever been apart and her heart ached for them. Although she completely trusted Bail, she couldn't help but worry about all the mischief and bother they could have gotten into. As much she wanted to just land her ship at the royal palace where Bail and his wife lived with the royal family, it would attract far too many eyes that might remember her. So instead, she had to trek through the city to a little back entrance crafted by Bail himself.
A glimer of light caught her eyes. In a small, side alley, she caught sight of some holografitti that nearly made her halt in her tracks. It was an image of her, cape, mask and all, riding atop Max with her arms raised in victory. Her brows shot up. Padmé knew holopics had been taken of her as she rode away from the exploding 13-H7 space station that had been leaked to several underground news outlets, but to be used as rebel propaganda so soon was baffling. The rebel taggers sure acted quickly.
Letting out a huff of air, she kept her head down and continued onwards, weaving through the constantly shifting mass of beings. She didn't get long to enjoy the relative peace. Vicious snapping and angry howls caught her attention. It was a noise she knew well. There were even a few screams. Pushing through the shifting crowd, she came before a huge cage. The bars were made of crackling electricity. Within was a huge lupus with pure white fur like snow and sharp golden eyes. She was snapping angrily at pig-like men who squealed and wheeked, poking crackling cattle prods at her in an effort to force her into submission. Every shock only made her angrier. Her ears were flattened against her skull and her white teeth bared with a bone rumbling growl.
Slipping by the pig men she moved towards the Lupus, for this was one she thought she knew well. "Willow?" she called. The beast's head tilted down towards her, her large ears perking upwards. Immediately she began whining, her desperate eyes begging for help. She got as close to the electric bars as she could without touching them.
"How'd you get that damn beast to stop?" One of the pig men turned to her, his green face twisting with intrigue.
"Well I didn't poke her with a cattle prod, for one," Padmé snapped, her jaw tightening.
"You don't like the way we treat the damn thing, why don't you buy it," another grumbled and they slowly began crowding around her. Each and every one of them stood at least a meter taller than her. Although their bodies drooped with fat, she knew raw muscle lay beneath. Money was of no concern to Padmé. The funds she had shifted to a secret account upon her death were sufficient enough to ensure she would be able to create multiple different lives and start afresh on nearly any planet. The price for one lupus would be child's play, but she had no desire to give these filthy beings any of her money. Not after the way they'd treated Willow.
"What's your name?" Padmé asked, putting on a deceptively sweet smile.
"Ur-gro Shrub," he snorted, squaring his shoulders.
"Well, Ur-gro Shrub, you are going to give her to me free of charge" Padmé responded, crossing her arms over her chest and cocking her hip to one side.
"Oh really?" One of them leaned down to her level, his rancid breath washing over her face. Grime and drivel dripped from his yellowed tusks. Slime coated his pink snout. Padmé clenched her fists to stop herself from gagging.
"Yes, really. She was stolen from Voss, a planet protected under the galactic wildlife act that was passed in the senate seven years ago," she told them firmly. The pigs' faces screwed up. "It's illegal to remove the wildlife native to the planet that have not been bred in captivity." Willow has come from a neighbouring farm’s first litter, but they didn’t need to know that. The pigs traded a wide eyed stare. "I'm sure the Alderaanian governing body would not be pleased to hear of your black market transactions, Ur-gro Shrub."
"What you going to do, tattle?" another pig oinked, his large ears flapping atop his rounded head. They drew closer, but Padmé knew they wouldn't attack her. Their were the same spineless type of mercenary she had seen over and over again. They wouldn't try it in a market so busy. Not when enforcement droids would be on them in seconds.
"I'm an ally of Bail Organa," Padmé told them darkly. "I could put you out of business for the rest of your lives. You should be thankful I only want her," she pointed to the Lupus that was still staring at her with desperately pleading eyes.
"Why should we believe you. That thing cost us money," Ur-Gro growled, his beady eyes narrowing.
Lifting her wrist, she brandished a communicator. "I could send call him right now," she warned them, her brows raised sternly.
"You're bluffing. No way a peasant like you has access to him," One of the pigs remarked snidely.
"Don't say I didn't warn you," she sighed and lowered her finger to the communicator.
"All right!" One of the pigs grunted, holding up his hands. The others turned to glare at him. "The damn mutt isn't worth it," he explained slowly. "No one's gonna by that rabid thing anyway." Ur-Gro let out a low grunt. Turning to the cage, he pressed hard on a button that disabled the electrical bars. Willow crept out, glaring between the pigs. She snuck over to Padmé, standing in front of her and bearing her sharp teeth. With the movement, it became painfully obvious how far her ribs protruded from beneath her skin.
"Get that thing out of here you neet guzzler," one of the pigs yelled at her.
Rolling her eyes at the insult, Padmé gently patted Willow's side. "Come on girl. Attacking them is a waste of your energy," she huffed and began walking away, vanishing into the crowd. Instantly, Willow began trotting at her side. The white lupus pushed her head into Padmé's arms and let out soft whines that Padmé felt in her heart. Stroking her head softly, she planted a kiss on the side of the canine's head. "It's all right girl, you're safe with me now," she reassured her. There was no way the farmers on Voss would have given up Willow willingly. She was their pride and joy. That could only mean two things. One, she had been stolen, or two, the empire had caught up to them. The thought left a bitter taste in her mouth. Shaking her head, she knew better than to ponder over it. It would only upset her and she probably never find her answer anyway.
Boba Fett couldn't believe his luck, or skill. He sat above the jagged roof of the royal palace, perched precariously atop a rocky ledge. The glassy roof rose and fell like a choppy sea, reflecting the tangerine sky. The sun was beginning to sink behind the distant mountains, casting everything in golden light. After only a day of observing the Aldera royal palace, a cloaked person had snuck in through the back entrance with a gigantic wolf on her tail. She'd hardly entered the secluded courtyard when two tiny children came bursting from the house and flung themselves into her open arms. They sobbed and wailed, burrowing their heads into her neck. Their embrace was long and deep. The white wolf watched with calm, curious eyes. The moment the children spotted her and called out her name, her ears perked and her tail began wagging. They threw themselves at her, wrapping their arms around the slender legs and bouncing in delight. The wolf chuffed, soaking their tiny bodies with her pink tongue.
The cloaked woman began talking hushed tones to a man, Bail Organa, in purple robes that had just exited the palace. Using the lense on his visor, he was able to zoom in close and glimpse beneath her hood. That was Padmé Amidala, no doubt. He would recognise the stoic scowl of a Senator anywhere. What Vader wanted with this happy little family, Boba didn't dare to ponder. He did the job. He got paid. That simple. If Vader wanted to something to the little family that would send rickets up even the sturdiest of spines, it wasn't any of Boba's business or even remotely his problem.
Eventually, Amidala shepherded the children under her wing and guided them out of the palace. The white wolf plodded along behind her. Boba followed them closely, his eyes tracking them as they began weaving throughout the city. Using his jet pack to propel him from angled rooftop to angled rooftop, he sustained his sizeable vantage point. The family blended easily into the crowds, but his trained eyes never left them.
After a while of patiently waiting, he found his time to strike. Amidala led the unit into a dingy back alley that was covered in grime and litter. In this seedy part of the city's underbelly, not many would care if he swooped down and snatched her away from where she stood. The only other occupants in the dim alleyway were homeless beggars that were curled into shivering, little balls. Raising his blaster, he modified his intensity adjuster to stun and angled it towards her. Taking in a deep breath, he perfectly lined up his shot and clicked the trigger.
Simultaneously the children grabbed their mother's cloak, pulling hard on it and tugging her back several paces. The stun bolt sailed over her head and collided with the floor. Amidala's head snapped up in his direction. How had those brats known? Lining up another shot, he curled his finger around the trigger. Amidala scooped both twins up into one and and threw them up into the wolf's back before hauling herself up behind him. He shot again. Instantly, the mighty beast took off down the alley way. Its paws thundered against the wet ground. The stun bolt hit cold stone.
With a grunt of annoyance, Boba took chase. He used his jet pack with same ease a bird would its wings. Amidala's beast was swift, dodging in and out of alleys and crowds, never remaining on a straight path for too long. Boba fired a few more shots, but they only grazed the hem of her flapping cloak. The two children gripped tightly to the arms wrapped around them and hugged each other close. Occasionally they would pull their mother down, allowing a stun bolt to sail over her head when it was on target. When she neared the landing platforms, his heart began to race. Jumping from a neighbouring skyscraper, he used his jet pack to lower himself gracefully to the ground like a falling petal. Amidala wove through different docking bays and charged into the open belly of a silvery, reflective ship. People all around gasped and pointed.
Just as Boba drew close to the ground, the ship's access ramp locked shut and the powerful engines ignited. Cursing beneath his breath, he whipped out a small pistol from his belt and shot at the flying craft. A tiny dart shot from his gun, imbedding into the hull of the silvery ship. He landed just as it took off and slipped up into the sapphire sky. Gritting his teeth and clenching his hands, he ignored the commotion around him and glared up at its retreating form. A cold feeling washed over him as he realised he was going to have to report to Vader. Letting out a steady huff of air, he supposed he should at least find out where she was headed before he broke that bad news to such a wrathful man.
Chapter 19: Calm
Padmé watched the ramp of her ship slowly lower to touch the flooring of the rebel hangar. The kids were bouncing on their feet by her side and Willow was cautiously peering over her shoulder. The moment the ramp was down, the children went skipping out with squeals of delight. Padmé chuckled, following after them. By the time she had reached the glossy hangar floor, the twins were already throwing themselves at Max's mighty head, that he'd lowered for them, and squealing in delight. Ahsoka and Obi-Wan stood beside him smiling down at the children's delight. Max's tail wagged and he let out pleased whines, a similar noise to the children's cries.
Willow padded slowly behind Padmé, her large head surveying the huge, mostly empty rebel hangar. The odd ship was having some repairs done, accompanied by the appropriate clang or bang, but the majority of the rebel crafts were unattended. The twins then threw themselves at Obi-Wan and Ahsoka, pulling them down into a big group hug. The Jedi laughed as the children wailed tears of joy in their arms. "Max," Padmé called, finally drawing his attention to her and Willow.
When he saw her, Max went ridged. His tail stopped wagging and his eyes trained on the white lupus. Willow mirrored his movements. Padding closer, he delicately sniffed the air around her and she, him. Max let out a yipping yowl, dropping into a play bow and frantically whipping his tail from side to side. Willow reciprocated and they were off like a shot, racing through the hangar in a blur of black and white, playfully wrestling one another. Padmé giggled, placing a hand over her mouth as she watched them. She walked over to where the children were just releasing the two Jedi. Obi-Wan stood up, craning his head around to watch in wonderment as the two Lupus danced all throughout the room. "I see you've found him a companion?" he asked, stroking his beard gently.
"That's Willow," Padmé informed him, wrapping her arms around herself. His brows shot up and his mouth hung ajar as he stared between the white streak and her.
"That explains Max's reaction," he chuffed.
"An old friend?" Ahsoka asked from the floor, with two children nestled into her crossed legs.
"Max and Willow are best friends, although he started out as more of a creepy stalker," she laughed, watching them go. Indeed, when Max was just a puppy he had spent the majority of his free time staring out into the fields whilst watching the slightly older Willow getting trained. The first day they properly met, they played long until the stars gleamed in the night sky. It was a beautiful sight that her freshly damaged heart, at the time, had cherished.
As the pair got a bit too rowdy and their barking a little too loud, she noticed the few rebels in the hangar sending them disgruntled looks. Padmé put her fingers to her lips and gave out a long, shrill whistle. Max's head lifted to see her from where Willow had him pinned on the ground. Their golden eyes locked onto her and within moments the white Lupus was obediently trotting over, the black one trudging a little further behind. Smiling to herself, she was glad they were reunited. It would give Max a good outlet for all his excessive energy.
Letting out a gentle sigh, she turned to Obi-Wan. "I think there is something you should know," she told him. The Jedi's eyebrows lifted and he shared a concerned look with Ahsoka. "On Aldera, I was chased down by Boba Fett," she explained, crossing her arms over her chest. "I got away, but I don't know if he knows who I really am."
Obi-Wan's face became ash stricken and deep lines were carved into his forehead. "If someone does know you're alive, then perhaps it would be best for you to remain low for a little while," he spoke abruptly, folding his arms into his sleeves. Ahsoka glared down at the floor. Her arms going stiff around the twins. Padmé paused. The encounter with Boba had scared her. Terrified her. She was lucky to get away. What fate would have befell her had he succeed was not a thought she wanted to spend much time on. If someone did somehow figure out she was still alive, then the children were in great risk. The twins began playing with Ahsoka's horns and trying to slap each other with the thin tips, which lightened all their expression substantially.
"Maybe," Padmé sighed. It wasn't clear if Boba really did know who she was, and the rebellion still had use of her, but the last thing she wanted to do was endanger the children’s lives.
Vader sat in his meditation chamber, impatiently awaiting a transmission from Boba Fett. This time, he hadn't bothered to remove his helmet and the plastisteel harshly reflected the blinding lights around him. Gripping the arms of his chair tightly, he wiggled his metallic toes within his boots. The hum of the super star destroy he cruised through the galaxy on buzzed through his veins. Fear was thick in the force, emanating especially from those that directly reported to him. A sensation he was more than used to.
Over the past several days, Vader's mind had been completely dominated by Padmé. The thought of her, the memory of her and the hope he would see her soon. After the 13-H7 space station had blown up, he became determined to find the rebel that had evaded him. That cloaked rider. Tags of her had appeared all over the imperial cities. When his master had first rubbed Vader's nose in their appearance, the Sith apprentice had been furious. An anger that only grew with time. She'd so easily flaunted her success over him, making him want to hunt her down and crush her beneath the heel of hid boot. No matter what, he was going to kill her and ensure that the galaxy knew it. Then, they would realise this resistance was futile. Especially with no more symbol.
A beep on his gauntlet made his heart rate spike. Pressing down on the holoprojector built into the arm of his chair, he began chewing the insides of his cheeks. Almost immediately, Boba's image flickered to life. His blaster was strung over his back, his arms crossed and his hip cocked to one side. "Amidala appeared to recover the children, but they escaped me," Boba informed him. Vader's heart dropped from his chest. The corners of his lips curled downwards.
"This is most disappointing," Vader hissed, his hands clenching into fists.
"I placed a transmitter on her ship and scoured the area she landed in. It appears to be the rebel base," Boba added quickly, shifting his stance. Vader's pulse escalated. His respirator picked up. If she really was within the rebel base, then he could use this as an excuse to employ the Empire's military might and bring down the rebels, securing her at the same time. A flicker of hope ignited within him. So close. So tangible.
"Send me the coordinates and I will take it from here," Vader commanded, crossing his arms over his chest. He would see Padmé soon. That he was sure of.
"I should mention, I believe her to also be the cloaked rider you are searching for," Boba commented. Vader's eyes narrowed, but he held his tongue. "The mask the rider wears is traditional for the Quen butchers of Voss." Vader's respirator spiked. Shifting his weight, Boba spoke one last time. "We're done here then," his hologram dissolved, leaving Vader to process the news he had just been told. His heart hammered.
Vader's chest tightened. How he hadn't seen the truth, felt it, before was beyond him. That pesky, irritating little rebel was Padmé Amidala. Of course it was. He couldn't think of many other people that would be able to repeatedly outwit and out manoeuvre him. His blood curdled when he thought of their last meeting on Hoke. When he'd throttled her into the air and come so close to killing her. He clenched his hands into fists. A terrible ache stabbed in his heart. He didn't know what he would have done, had he actually killed her. A tingle spread across his skin. They'd been close. So close. Their meeting however, explained the feeling he had that they would be reunited. The force hadn't failed him, he'd just failed to recognise her. Her presence had certainly changed. It was waterlogged with grief and it wasn't the pure blinding light he recalled so clearly. There was a little darkness sowed in. Anger and pain. It shouldn't have, but part of him was comforted with the thought that the grief might be angled to him and his apparent death.
Chapter 20: Before
Padmé watched through one of the slitted windows as an AT-AT plodded across the arid landscape towards the rebel base. By its feet were hoards of imperial tanks and fighters that glided effortlessly over the yellowed grasses. Wailing alarms blared in her ears and all around her the rebels were stampeding about. Shouts deafened her, accompanied by thundering footsteps. She was sitting in an enlarged window sill cut out of a long stone corridoor that was flooded with people racing to and fro. Her heart rattling inside her chest. On either side of her sat a twin. They were watching with huge, terrified eyes. They clung to her like a monkey to a tree, letting out the occasional whimper. All she could do was whisper them soft assurances. She cursed herself from bringing them here. When she'd joined the rebel alliance, she should have put them somewhere else. Somewhere safer. Perhaps she should have left them with Bail for good. She'd let her own desire to keep them close cloud her judgement and now they were staring down certain doom.
The lead AT-AT was powering towards the cathedral. From this far, the ground rumbled with every step it took. It's hulking silhouette blocked out the first rays of dawn. Her gut clenched. Something within her whispered a quiet warning. Could Vader be on that mechanical beast? Could Anakin? Lifting a hands to the bone necklace, she delicately grasped the largest skull.
"Amidala!" A voice called. Padmé peered back over her shoulders. On the other side of the stream of traffic, a rebel general was waving her down. General Rigs, if she remembered correctly. His dark hair was peppered with grey and a grim look warped his aged features. Sighing to herself, she clambered off the edge and lifted the children down onto her hips. They gripped her shoulders tightly, keeping their heads upright and alert. Weaving through the rush of rebels, she made her way towards the general. With a nod of his head he guided her through the huge, arching hallways and into a little side chapel.
It was dim, lit only by the coloured light that poured through the stained glass windows. There were a few other generals, accompanied by Ahsoka and Obi-Wan. They were huddled around a human sized, stone sculpture. A few rows of wooden pews circled around it and the scent of musty air tickled her nose. Following Rigs, she delicately placed the twins down on a pew and joined the little circle of discussion. "Padmé," Obi-Wan and Ahsoka dipped their heads in greeting.
"We have an escape planned that will take the majority of the rebels through the catacombs and to a few escape vehicles on the other side of Pekinskie Ridge," Rigs explained, catching her up on the conversation. "We should be able to evacuate before Vader and his troops reach us, but getting behind the space blockade in the upper atmosphere will be difficult,"
Padmé's stomach tightened. So the Sith was comming. "We should be able to set up a distortion frequency that will allow us to slip under their radar," a younger, female general spoke. "But we need a much louder transmission to hide the output of the initial frequency."
"We were thinking about broadcasting to the holonet and we wanted it to look as though the rebels are conceding," Rigs spoke once more, his hooded eyes scanning her face carefully. "We want the cloaked rider to appear and give a final goodbye but we can't agree on wether or not the empire will allow the transmission to run long enough to allow us to set up the disturbance frequency."
"It won't," Padmé sighed. Even if Vader wasn't Anakin, she was going to have to approach the situation as though he was because the pair were undoubtedly similar. She glanced over at her children. If that frequency wasn't set up and the empire didn't allow the transmission much time to run, then they would die. "The cloaked rider alone isn't enough to capture their attention. Vader hates her, but if I show my real face the shock factor might buy us enough time." The two Jedi shared a wide eyed look, their jaws falling open. To reveal to, a possible, Anakin that she was in fact alive would be risky. She had no doubt he'd hunt her down, for good or bad. Even though she should, she didn't mind that. She just wanted to know for certain if Vader really was Anakin's fate.
"Are you certain?" Rigs asked slowly. Padmé nodded her head. Casting a look across the other generals, he sent them a grim salute. "Then we will await you in the broadcasting station." Padmé gave him a quiet affirmative. The generals began filing out of the chapel and Padmé stooped low to pick up the twins who were watching her with wide eyes, but Obi-Wan lightly grasped her shoulder, stopping her in her tracks. Glancing up at him, she saw a note of urgency burning in his eyes. Ahsoka was standing by his side, her lips curled down. Straightening herself off and turning to face him, Padmé waited until everyone else filtered out before she cocked an eyebrow.
"Padmé, revealing yourself will endanger the children," Obi-Wan spoke calmly, but she felt a nervous edge to his voice. Her brows pulled together and her hip cocked to one side. The twins began clambering over the pews and making fun of the strange paintings on the walls.
"If Vader cuts the transmission before the frequency is set up, they'll die," she responded flintily, keeping her voice low so the kids couldn't hear her. Obi-Wan's lips pressed together and he let out a long sigh.
"Padmé, your name will make the assault on the base worse," Ahsoka whispered, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot. Padmé paused, staring between the two. Their faces were grey and she could practically feel the angst rolling off of them in waves. They knew something. They were holding their tongues. Her mind shifted to her own revelation about Vader. Could that be it? Did they already know?
"Maybe," Padmé responded, crossing her arms. "But it will buy us the time we need and possibly more recruits."
"Padmé, please," Obi-Wan begged, stepping towards her. "You don't want to bring Vader's wrath down upon yourself and the children. He's vindictive and cruel. He'll pursue you relentlessly." Obi-Wan looked unhinged. His eyes twinkled a plead. Her stomach clenched. That sounded an awful lot like they knew exactly who was behind the mask.
"How do you know that?" Padmé asked, leaning close and narrowing her eyes. "You speak like you know him personally." From the way their gazes dropped to the floor, she knew. Vader was Anakin. Her stomach tightened and she let out a whimper. Running her hands down her face, she gritted her teeth.
"Padmé..." Obi-Wan whispered.
"You told me you killed him," she spoke lowly, keeping her features pressed into her palms. All this time, she could have gone to find him. All these years spent torn apart, miserable. For so long she'd lived as only one half, just to find out her other side was out there somewhere. Did he miss her as she missed him? Did he care that she was dead or was he too consumed by the dark side? The only way to know the truth was to find him.
"I don't know what you-"
"Spare me," she snapped, dropping her hands to her sides and swivelling around to face him. "I am not stupid Obi-Wan." He watched her with somber eyes and Ahsoka flinched away. The children ceased their play, staring over at her with wide, rounded eyes. "Did you really think I wouldn't recognise him because of that ghastly suit?" Obi-Wan's mouth opened to respond, but he quickly clamped it shut. "Have you known all these years and hidden it from me?" her voice hitched, brows shooting up. Her hands clasped over her aching heart.
"No... I thought I had killed him," Obi-Wan admitted, pained eyes taking in her own. "I only discovered the truth after our first encounter."
Padmé pressed her lips together, clenching her jaw tight. "Why didn't you tell me?" her voice cracked.
"Because I knew you would seek him out," he responded quietly. Padmé blew out a long huff of air through her nose. Obi-Wan may have completely given up on Anakin, but she would not. She never could.
"I won't run head long into an imperial army," she grumbled. "But if I do come across him, I won't leave him." The Jedi grimaced. "I know what I felt on Mustafar. There is good in his blackened heart somewhere." They opened their mouths to protest, but she turned heel and strutted from the room, beckoning her children to follow suit.
Chapter 21: La
Vader stared out of the rectangular window at the huge cathedral poking out of the yellowed grasses. It's spires stabbed at the undersides of the occasional white cloud that drifted by. The head of the AT-AT he resided within swayed from side to side, forcing him to constantly readjust his weight. Inside the dimly lit control room, two Imperials with scooped helmets were working away at a control panel filled with blinking, red lights. He could feel their terror as he loomed over them but he hardly registered it. His chest was tight, his respirator much quicker than normal. Somewhere in that building was Padmé. She was so close. Through the force, he could feel her presence. It was annoyed and riddled with fear. Vader's jaw clenched. He wasn't going to hurt her. He wasn't going to let Imperials hurt her either.
Continually, he tightened and released his fists. This lumbering giant was slow. So slow it was draining the very life from him. It was still however, faster than walking on foot. The invisible, doming field around the cathedral protected them from any ion charges or preemptive strikes. Within, he could feel the ever calm Kenobi and the burning good of Ahsoka. Fury sizzled in his veins. Dead. He wanted them dead. The last of the Jedi order needed to be scourged from the galaxy. They were a toxic stain of a by-gone era. It was a huge mercy their hypocritical claws had been plucked from the senate. His respirator picked up again, causing the two Imperials to stiffen.
Suddenly, he felt a new, powerful light skirting around his mind. It took him by surprise. Although it was one huge power, he realised it could be split into two separate chunks. They were youthful little sprites with very poor control over the force. They were children. Their curiosity seemed endless but it was also interwoven with crippling fear. How could they reach out to him from the distant rebel base? His heart fluttered. This seemingly unnatural connection could only have been forged through blood. They were his children.
There was a beep from the console, drawing his attention down to the comms unit. One imperial was quick to respond, pressing down on the activation. "Lord Vader," a voice crackled through and the blue hologram of an imperial officer standing to attention displayed above a circular screen. "The rebels are broadcasting a message through the holonet. Would you have us block the transmission?" he asked. Vader gritted his teeth. Spineless fool. What did he think the answer would be? It was growing hard to find people with good initiative in the army. Still, the thought of a rebel broadcast intrigued him. Was it their final goodbye to the galaxy? That was certainly something he'd want to see.
"Show me the transmission," Vader instructed. The thought of them using this as a last ditch effort to run away did cross his mind, annoying him. The empire’s might would never be defeated by words alone. The hologram changed. It flickered to show a woman in dark robes with a glinting, metal mask. Behind her stood a huge beast of a creature with a mouth so big it could chomp her head clean off and had layers upon layers of thick muscle concealed beneath spikes fluff. The sharp points of its teeth looked as though they could cut as sharply as a lightsaber.
Vader's whole body stiffened. It was her. It was Padmé. Upon closer inspection of her cloak, he realised a startling truth. It was one of his own from his time as a Jedi. Was she wearing it to commemorate him? Did she still think him dead? His heart twisted. Around her neck appeared a strange, bone necklace with animal skulls threaded in. "High command is asking if you want it blocked," one of the Imperials asked. Vader could have throttled him for speaking then and there.
"No. Let it play," he growled lowly, watching with continued interest. Padmé lifted her hands to her mask, slipping it off with a hiss of air. Every inch of him was completely frozen over then and there. She pulled the mask away from her face, tucking it beneath her arm, and flicked back her hood. There were the delicate features he remembered so clearly. The doe eyes. They weren't dead or lifeless, but pulled into a solemn stare. They burned straight into his soul. Long ringlets of dark hair fell from her hood, cascading down to her waist. He lifted a hand, pressing it against the side of the control room, suddenly feeling unsteady on his feet. No longer was he just chasing a hope or a theory, but a real, live person.
"Citizens of the galaxy," she began. Her voice tickled his ears and twisted his stomach into a knot. His anger evaporated from right beneath him. It was exactly as he recalled, if a little more husk was added through age. "Today, the rebellion against the empire has been cornered. Our fate looks grim." She glanced down, the lupus put its head into her arms and she began to absentmindedly stroke it. Instantly, Vader was struck by a pang of jealousy. He wanted, craved, to feel her touch once more. Even if it was just through his blasted suit. "But even though we may not make it through, hope is not lost. Where there is tyranny, justice will always rise to meet it." Her voice was strong, certain. "The rebellion will not be gone forever. It will rise from the dead. It will not back down."
Taking in a deep breath, she rolled her shoulders. "I, Padmé Amidala, former queen and senator of Naboo, have been in hiding since the empire's foundation." Vader's shoulders tensed. "I regret it deeply, but it was for the safety of those closest to me." Vader's brow crinkled. Who was she keeping safe by disappearing? The Jedi? "I will fight the empire to my dying breath because I know now that the galaxy needs me. Just like it needs every single one of you. We must unite against the injustice." She threw her arms out in emphasis. "Millions of lives are being ruined by the Imperials as we speak. Whole worlds are being drained of resources and their populations are forced into slavery. Well I say, no more!"
Vader couldn't take his eyes away from her. He didn't even want to blink for the fear she might just disappear. "This might be my last stand, but don't let my legacy fall. Fight!" she raised a fist into the air. It struck him how hard he was going to have to work to convince her of the empire's value. "And to any imperial watching that might be marching upon us, I hope you know that you are guilty for allowing the empire's vicious reign to continue. With no army, they would be defenceless!" A cold feeling stirred within his gut. "Never forget, its the people that have the power because with no people to reign, the empire is nothing," she growled. Just like that, the transmission cut off. Instantly, he longed for it to return, but he soothed himself by acknowledging that he would see her very soon.
"Lord Vader," one of the Imperials turned to him. "The geometric scans reveal there are huge catacombs beneath the cathedral that stretch all over the land. Our troops have found an access point that will take them straight beneath the base."
Vader let out a low hum. No doubt the rebels would be using those tunnels to escape. So that was the purpose of the transmission. How devious. "Then that is the route I will be taking."
Padmé's chest was uncomfortably tight. The twins and the lupus were watching from the stomach of her fighter as she hurriedly loaded boxes on. Ahsoka and Obi-Wan were aiding her in her tasks. The underground hangar was swarming with panicked rebels that were fleeing into ships. Huge, rock walls rose tall around them and a musky, earthen scent tickled her nose. Thundering footsteps and the rushing of engines filled her ears. The occasional loud boom rattled the catacombs. The rebels were explosively sealing off the tunnels behind them, She couldn't believe their plan had worked. Not only had her transmission lasted long enough to set up interference, but it had been allowed to run until she had finished her speech. It made her stomach stir, to think of Anakin watching it from the other end. What would he have thought? Obi-Wan and Ahsoka had told her that Vader was seeking her on Hoke. It baffled her to think he had force choked her without ever realising who she was. The very person he wanted to find.
Although she wished they'd told her earlier, she understood why the Jedi had hidden Anakin from her. She was annoyed with them, but she knew better than to hold onto. Anakin had taught her that lesson well. She itched to see him. To run and find him, but she also didn't want to do it with the children so near. Padmé didn't trust him enough to let them meet him. She didn't even know if his motives for hunting her were pure. An awful thought struck her. Did he even know the twins existed? Her heart clenched. It took everything in her not to find a way to tell him right then. The Anakin of the past would have been delight at the idea of twins. This twisted version of him, she had no idea how he would react.
"Jedi," General Rigs called from the base of the access ramp. Padmé had just stooped down to pick up one of the last few boxes. Ahsoka and Obi-Wan were walking back down from the ship’s entrance. "We've managed to seal off the tunnels, but Vader got through. We can't do any further explosions without risking the hangar collapsing. He's separated from his troops but he'll be upon us before we manage take off," he explained in a rush.
Ahsoka and Obi-Wan traded a look. Immediately, they began striding towards the tunnel entrance. "We'll distract him. Take off!" Obi-Wan called and they broke into a spring. Padmé's heart skipped a beat. It pained her to think that Anakin caused such panic by the mere mention of 'Darth Vader'.
"I'll remain back here to help them flee," Padmé told the general.
Rigs's eyes flicked to her children and the lupus tied down in the belly of her ship. "Are you certain?" he asked. Padmé bit down on her lip and scanned her eyes across all the fleeing rebels. If Vader somehow made it beyond Ahsoka and Obi-Wan, he would kill any other person with no hesitation. Although he might also kill her, she had a much higher chance of coming out of such an encounter unharmed.
"I'm certain," she responded with a nod. The general placed a hand on her shoulder, gave her a nod of thanks and vanished back into the stampede of rebels. Padmé had faith in the Jedi anyway. She believed they were more than capable of stalling Vader for long enough. Obi-Wan has bested Anakin in a fight before after all. Her gut clenched. Would Obi-Wan kill Anakin? Would Ahsoka? Squeezing her eyes shut, she pushed those thoughts away. She had to focus on the here and now.
Scooping up the last of the boxes, the trudged back up the ramp, squeezed through Willow and Max and stored them in the large compartments of her ship. Padmé padded down the ship’s ramp to double check she hadn't forgot anything. Sitting against the ramp, she watched as the last few dregs of rebels piled onto their own ships. The longer time went on, the tighter her chest grew. Her eyes kept flicking back to the hangar entrance, her heart hammered in her mouth. The children came down to sit by her side. They dangled their legs limply over the sides and clung to her arms. Eventually, the ceiling cracked open and blinding rays of light shone through. She watched with stone features as the ships began taking off. Their engines roared as the lifted off and powered away into the sapphire sky beyond. Soon enough, it was just them left in the huge, cavernous space.
Standing from the ramp, she stretched her arms over her head and turned back to face the twins. They instantly replaced her with each other. Their eyes were glossed over with fear and they hugged each other close. Letting out a long sigh, she crouched down before them and grasped a hand each into her own. "What's wrong babies?" she asked softly. Although she already knew the answer, she thought it best to let them express the way they felt for themselves.
"I'm scared," Luke told her, his bottom lip wobbling.
"I'm scared," Leia agreed, her own eyes watering over.
Padmé stroked their faces. "You won't get hurt," she assured them gently.
"Not us," Luke shook his head.
"Soka and Unca Obbi," Leia finished. Their features began blushing red. "They in big trouble," she squeaked, sniffling as a few tears rolled out of her eyes. Padmé's heart clenched. She ran her thumb over the curve of their cheeks.
"They are big, strong Jedi," Padmé told them with a light hearted bounce. "They'll be fine."
"They in big danger," Luke spoke again, more tears slipped from his blue eyes. "I feel something bad," his voice cracked. Padmé lifted her brows. Was this something to do with the force? It was more than possible. Anakin told her that force users that were emotionally connected could often feel each other at a distance. They could probably sense the two Jedi in battle.
"You need to go help," Leia lifted a chubby hand and swiped the tears from her rounded cheeks. Padmé's jaw slackened. They evidently thought a lot higher of her than they should. In a lightsaber battle, she was useless.
"Honey, I can't fight like they can," she responded softly. They shook their heads in unison.
"The angry man wants you," Leia told her. Her breath caught in her throat. Only one man fit that description currently. Anakin. They could sense Anakin. Was it because of their blood tie or was it through their connection with the Jedi?
"You can make him not mad again like you did when you talked to the whole galaxy," Luke spread his arms out wide. Padmé had to pause, not quite understanding what they were trying to say.
"Pardon?" she asked softly, tilting her head to one side.
"When you talked to the galaxy, the angry man went calm," Leia reiterated. "If you go do the same, he won't be so mad and then won't kill Unca Obi and Soka." Padmé's mouth fell open. They had been able to sense Anakin's emotions during the transmission? It was certainly the blood tie connecting them then. Although she wanted to scoff at their childish logic, it made sense. If Anakin was calmed by a simple holo projection of Padmé, then he would definitely be less aggravated if she appeared to him in person. Her gut clenched and her eyes drifted to the dark tunnel leading out of the hangar. If she could find a way to make both Vader and the Jedi relinquish their fight, then she had to do it. She'd never be able to live with herself, knowing she could have done something, if one of them got hurt.
"You're both so smart," she praised them and their little faces lit up. "I'll do exactly that, if you promise to stay with the ship." They looked a little put off, their expressions falling. Just like their father. "Willow and Max need protecting," she told them sternly.
"Okay," they sighed, clambering to their feet and trekking up the ramp. "Only because we love them," they patted the huge lupus on their way in, earning them a loving lick.
"Thank you," she called. Just as she turned to leave, she halted. Her mind hazed with the memory of Anakin choking her, then Vader. This could be the last time she saw her babies if she wasn't careful. Glancing up at them one last time, she gave them a warm smile. "I love you babies."
"We love you too," they chimed. With that, Padmé turned on her heel and raced into the dark tunnels beyond. Her heart thundered in her chest. After all this time, she was going to be reunited with Anakin.
Chapter 22: Storm
Obi-Wan raced through the dark tunnels, Ahsoka keeping step beside him. The tunnels were wide enough to allow a small shuttle to fly through. The craggy darkness was lit by glow rods that were jammed into the ground. They overlapped at all different angles. A gust of cold wind blew over him. The area smelled of musty earth. His heart pounded in his chest, his footsteps echoing loudly around him. The dark, writhing presence of Vader was close.
Obi-Wan rounded a sharp corner, skidding to a halt as he saw a giant clad in black armour only a few paces away. His breath caught in his throat. Vader halted, summoning his lightsaber to his hand. Ahsoka and Kenobi righted themselves. He glanced at the Sith Lord. Where they had once been of a similar height, Vader now towered over him. "You've gotten taller Darth," Obi-Wan remarked. "New legs?" With a growl of rage, the Sith lunged after the Jedi and hacked at the air.
Obi-Wan ducked beneath the blow, whipping out his own lightsaber. The blue light mixed with Vader's red and Ahsoka's white, illuminating the area a pale purple. The three engaged in an intense lightsaber duel. The tunnel floors and walls were crossed with glowing scorch marks. Vader hurled jagged stalagmites at them mercilessly. His vicious attacks were brutal and efficient. The strength was overwhelming, even more so than Anakin's had been. It rocked Obj-Wan’s joints. Probably because they were both cybernetic. With one powerful force push, Vader slammed them back against opposite tunnel walls. Obi-Wan's vision hazed and his head spun. His sight only sharpened when he saw a flash of red bearing down on him. He ducked his head as it slashed the wall where his neck had been. He distinctly heard a few strands of his hair sizzle.
Before Vader could strike again, Ahsoka leapt over him. Her white blade slashed out. Moving on instinct, Obi-Wan hurled himself to his feet, jumping back from the imposing Sith. Ahsoka hopped to his side. Vader had been knocked back a few paces. When he turned to stare at them, there was a long sliver of his mask that had been disintegrated by her lightsaber. From beneath it, a single eye that glowed like the magma of Mustafar. Pale skin was pulled over a high brow and cheekbone. His stomach clenched. It had been a long time since he'd seen those eyes. Anakin's voice screaming as he caught fire echoed in his mind. Sith eyes glared up at him from a gravel bank with venom so toxic that it still chilled his soul. Obi-Wan blinked the memory away, grounding himself in the present.
"You will not keep her from me forever, Kenobi," Vader growled lowly, his eye narrowing to a tiny slit. Obi-Wan clenched his teeth. That was a fact he was already aware of. The moment Padmé had revealed she knew who Vader was, he had known she would try to find him. The only saving grace he had currently, was that Padmé would do anything to protect the twins. Even forfeit a chance to see Vader.
"You're doing a pretty good job of that yourself," Ahsoka snapped, twirling her blades.
"She knows... I live?" he asked, leaning away from them slightly. Obi-Wan paused, his jaw clenching. To tell him the truth was cruel. So very cruel, but Obi-Wan was not a liar.
"She does," Obi-Wan confirmed. Taking advantage of Vader's surprise, he leapt at the Sith Lord swinging his lightsaber. Once more they devolved into battled. The hissing buzz of their blades echoed all around them. Ahsoka flipped and twirled all over the place, Obi-Wan focused on wearing the Sith down. If he could be worn down. With that ridiculous suit, who knows. Vader's anger began building, rocketing to dangerous heights. The more intense his rage grew, the stronger he got. The darkside was rushing through him like water over the edge off a waterfall and thundering into them like the jets when it hits the ground.
They tore through the tunnels, their blades clashing violently. Obi-Wan felt the majority of the rebels leave, but if he turned to flee to the rebel hangar now, Vader would strike him down. So they needed to wait until the time was right. Until they found an escape route. It was a matter of patience and time. The latter of those they were running short on. The interference frequency wouldn't last forever.
Their fight came to a stand still as they reached a junction in the tunnels. Theirs was horizontal but another came down at a sharp angle from above and joined to another, much higher pathway. It was wide, all three standing below its gaping exit. They could only see a tiny amount of the tunnel above from their angle and the majority of it was the thin, rusting metal handrail. It allowed an intense stream of dust-speckled light to form a spotlight around them.
Vader's anger had reached a threatening peak. He moved with startling speed. Cutting his blade across, Ahsoka was forced to catch it with two of her own, rooting her to the spot. His free hand whipped out towards Obi-Wan, smashing through his shields and gripping his throat with the force. Obi-Wan was startled, his whole body lifted from the floor. Vader's rage was feeding him power. Black dots began dancing before his eyes. Ahsoka let out a strained grunt, calling Obi-Wan's name. It was no use, he was beginning to grow light headed.
"Anakin!" a female voice called, echoing throughout the whole cave. Vader dropped him instantly, taking a wide step back from Ahsoka. Obi-Wan fell to his knees. All their heads craned upwards. Even though he wasn't being strangled any longer, he couldn't breathe. There, up in the adjoining tunnel, a slender, female silhouette stared down at them. The curves of her form were highlighted by the blinding light behind her.
Vader's respirator hitched and he grew to be so still he could have become one with the rocks around them. It seemed that was all the invitation Padmé needed. Planting one foot on the metal grating, she launched herself over it. Obi-Wan's heart burst into his mouth. Staggering to his feet, his eyes widened as she plummeted towards them. By the time he'd thought of catching her with the force, Vader's hand was already out. He smoothly slowed her decent until she landed with the impact of a feather.
Padmé stood an arm length away from him, her dark gaze peering up at his mask. When Obi-Wan caught sight of Vader's eye, his heart stopped beating within his chest. No longer was it the revolting Sith yellow of a man burning on gravel banks, but it was the light blue of a brother and an ally. "Anakin?" Padmé spoke quietly, cocking her head to one side.
"Padmé," Vader's robotic voice responded so softly that the whisper of his real voice could be heard. Padmé approached him slowly, paying no heed to the deadly weapon hovering before him. He automatically moved it out of her way and sheathed it before returning it to his belt once more. Obi-Wan and Ahsoka deactivated their blades, but kept them gripped in their hands.
"What have you become?" she asked him sharply. His gaze was completely fixated on her face. Lines of grief folded his under-eye. When she received no response, she took a tentative step towards him. Vader's respirator spiked again, echoing around them with a hissing wheeze. Obi-Wan's heart was thundering in his chest. It would only take the Sith a split second to kill her and they could do nothing about it. "Why are you serving a corrupt empire? Why are you hurting so many people?"
Vader's eye slid away from her, towards the floor. "It is necessary," he responded gently, but it sounded like he was reciting a mantra.
"Necessary?" her voice hitched and her brows rocketed upwards. "How is any of this necessary?" she threw her hands out to the sides in emphasis. Fear prickled Obi-Wan's skin. Padmé was playing a dangerous game. The last time she'd stood up to him like this, he'd nearly killed her. Beside him, Ahsoka shifted from foot to foot.
"Without the Empire, criminal scum would run the galaxy. Crime would go on a rampage," he responded coldly, his gaze flicking back up to meet hers.
"What about all the families you've ripped apart?" she pressed, her voice getting sterner. "What about the planets you've drained dry?" His eye narrowed. "What about the people you enslave?" her tone lifted slightly. "I saw what you did to the natives of Hoke. You of all people should be opposed to that cruelty," her hands were emphatic and open, punctuating every word.
"They are collateral damage," he informed her like it was a simple fact, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Collateral damage? They are living beings," she snapped, her face twisting like he'd struck her. "Anakin," she spoke it like a curse word.
"Anakin Skywalker is dead," Vader growled.
"No he most certainly is not," she contradicted him. His frown deepened. Obi-Wan and Ahsoka traded a wide eyed look. What was she getting at? The man before her was clearly not the same one that worked to fearlessly save lives with reckless regard to his own. "Darth Vader would have let me hit the ground," she pointed to the gaping hole above them and spoke his title as though it was completely ridiculous. "Darth Vader would have cut me in half for speaking about the empire so truthfully." Jutting her jaw to one side, she continued, "Darth Vader would have finished what he started in the remnants of the 13-H7 space station, regardless of identity." Vader's brows shot up and Obi-Wan senses a string of guilt had been plucked within him. Padmé lurched forwards, grasping Vader’s arms. His eyes widened, the pace of his respirator doubling. "You know as well as I that the man I love is in you somewhere." Vader's eyes crinkled with pain, "hide him as best you can, because I will find him," she threatened him. Obi-Wan forgot how to breathe.
Lifting a hand, Vader pressed two fingers against her temple. "I'm... sorry," his voice crackled. His darkness coiled around her and she fell limp. He caught her easily with one arm. The pain reflected in his eye left an imprint on Obi-Wan's soul for they were same eyes as his scared, little padawan. Although he appeared reluctant to let her go, Vader floated her body away and placed her delicately by the cavern wall.
"Did she say something that hit a little too close to home?" Ahsoka asked, a bitter bite in her tone. Vader let out a low growl and tore his eyes from Padmé to glare at them, but it was a weak imitation of its former malice. Especially without the burning, yellow eyes.
"One day, you'll learn to hold your tongue," Vader hissed, drawing his lightsaber and igniting it's crimson blade with a hiss.
"You never did," Obi-Wan responded sharply. By the time Obi-Wan and Ahsoka had activated their lightsabers, the Sith was upon them. When they fought this time, Vader was significantly less aggressive and the dark side didn't quite thunder through him as it had before. Like comparing a river to a stream. Even his emotions were more stable. Where his anger had once been a bone crushing tsunami, it was now a mild wave. Their battle was significantly easier. Ahsoka drew Vader away from Padmé expertly, whilst Obi-Wan angled himself between the unconscious woman and the Sith. By the time Vader realised what was happening, it was too late. Reaching his hand up, Obi-Wan tugged on the rocky ceiling above them. It cracked and crumbled, huge boulders filling the passageway. Ahsoka kept Vader from stopping it by hacking at him relentlessly. The Sith let out a shout of renewed fury. Obi-Wan stooped down and scooped Padmé into his arms, then began running. Ahsoka jumped through the very last gap in the filling tunnel, landing in a roll and taking off behind him.
Vader's howls of rage rattled around the tunnels. The very ground rumbled and shook. Obi-Wan and Ahsoka ran faster, pushed harder. That blockade wouldn't hold him for long. Especially not with the ocean of anger that was fast pouring out of his mechanical suit. Obi-Wan was thankful for Padmé's short stature. It made her easier and lighter to carry.
They made it back to the rebel hangar, raced into Padmé's ship, placed her on the bed and jumped behind the controls. With his heart pounding, Obi-Wan lifted the mighty ship form the ground. It spent very little time pulling up into the air and shooting into the blue sky. Within no time at all, they had safely jumped to hyperspace. Vader was left alone in the crumbling catacombs.
Chapter 23: After
Vader was in agony. Both physically and mentally. The repair droids had him strung up in the centre of a dark, sweltering hot work room. All around him were metal benches that were covered with all kinds of machine parts and little gadgets. They clanged loudly whenever one of the droids set something down upon them. He dangled from the ceiling. Tubing was connected directly to his mouth, limiting his ability to talk but breathing for him with a hiss. His pale, stiff skin appeared like a snail relieved of its shell. His bare torso had long scars that stretched around his sturdy body. The little droids had wide mouths and mechanical eyes. They zapped at stub ends of his legs, joining lost connections to his neurons but causing him intense pain. He flinched and gritted his teeth every time it happened. The high pitched sound of their drills rang in his ears. Their robot voices warbled to each other.
Squeezing his eyes shut, he focused his mind on Padmé. Just the memory of her hands lightly gripping his arms was enough to fill him with a tingling buzz and numb the pain. The whole time they'd spoken, he'd closed the eye that was covered by his red lens just to look at her with his own vision. The twinkle of her brown eyes, the glossiness of her dark hair, the fullness of her pink lips. It made his heart squeeze. Just like her beauty, it seemed like she hadn't lost any of her fire over the years either. She'd been completely unafraid. She'd even thrown herself down a huge tunnel to get to him, which had delighted him to no end.
Padmé had wounded him. He'd expected her to be opposed to the empire and all he'd done, but that didn't mean it didn't hurt. If he'd asked her to join him and kill Palpatine, she would most definitely have said no. It was a matter he would have to work on.
It had shocked him, how well she'd dissected his character. She called out the Anakin within him just by looking him in the eye. Vader thought he'd destroyed that foolish little boy years ago, or at least, he thought he had him buried so far down that nothing could rescue him. It had only taken her half a second. Now, as he tried to meditate on the dark, his mind was filled with butterflies of light. Guilt was rising within him. Guilt that crippled him so terribly he shuddered. For all the things he'd done. People he'd killed. Families he'd torn apart.
In the end, he'd put her to sleep because she'd scared him. She'd made him want to fall to his knees and beg forgiveness for all the terrible wrongs he'd done. It also put her out of the way. She'd have been less likely to fight him if he'd taken her back to his star destroyer whilst she was unconscious. Then again, nothing with her is ever certain. All he'd had to do was defeat Obi-Wan and Ahsoka, but he was too taken by the light to even accomplish that. Now, he and Padmé were separated once again. Vader ached for her even more than before because he now had a fresh memory that was imprinted on his mind, tormenting him from within.
The droids began to rebuild Vader and attach his cybernetic limbs. It sent of a shock of pain racing up his nerves. A shout of pain escaped his lips. He let out puffs of air and focused his mind. The minute he escaped this torture chamber, he was going to find Padmé. The tracker was still on her ship and curtesy of Boba Fett, he now possessed the means to follow it. Internally, he promised her they would reunite again.
* * *
The cockpit of Padmé's ship was silent. Everything around her was cast in a grey hue. Through the front viewport, she could see the streaks of black and white that loped through the long grasses. They happily tumbled over one another, playfully pinning each other to the ground. The world outside the ship was beautiful. With glittering lakes and bushy forests, it reminded her a lot of Naboo. They'd landed as a pit stop to let the lupus out on their long journey to the rebel fleet. Spending hours on end in a cramped ship with two huge canines hadn't been easy and it had ended up becoming sweltering hot.
Never before, had Padmé felt so heavy in her life. Everything around her was cast in a grey hue. She sat, doubled over herself, with her elbows planted on her thighs. Her fingers kneaded her aching temples. There was no possible way she could deny it anymore. Vader was Anakin. He'd fallen to the dark and committed mass atrocities whilst claiming it was necessary. Necessary. His mind was far more warped than she'd known.
Even despite it all, despite the awful, awful things he had done, she missed him. Her heart bled for him. To see him trapped in that suit tore her apart, but it was his own doing. The choices he had made led him to the eternal imprisonment of his body. Padmé would give her soul to see his goodness to return. To see that playful, happy twinkle in his eyes. To see his compassion in action once again. Of course she wouldn't give up on him. She knew she'd struck bone when she'd told him she knew there was good left inside his awful suit somewhere. He wouldn't have been so rattled by that statement, were it not true. Lifting a hand, she brushed her temples. So rattled, he'd knocked her out.
There was no doubt in her mind that he was looking for her. If Anakin was one thing, it was certainly persistent. She'd learned that the hard way, all those years ago on Naboo. When they'd first fallen in love. The corners of her lips tugged up, but her stomach twisted. They'd been so happy then. Peaceful. Before the darkness fell.
The cockpit door slid open and in stepped Ahsoka Tano. Lifting her head, Padmé mustered the best smile she could. Ahsoka returned it with pained eyes. Sitting down in the co-pilot seat, she leant back into it. "An electrical storm has started brewing in the upper atmosphere," she sighed. "It would be safest if we remained here for a few days." Padmé nodded glumly. She needed a few days to clear her head before she faced other people again anyway. "Padmé," Ahsoka cleared her throat, glancing down at the floor. "I'm sorry for not telling you the truth," she apologised sincerely.
"It annoyed me, but I understand why you did it," Padmé sighed, wrapping her arms around herself. Her ears tickled with the distant sound of children laughing. "It's in the past now anyway," Ahsoka sent her a small smile.
"About Vader... I'm sorry you had see him like that," Ahsoka whispered, a ghost of pain dancing across her eyes. Padmé reached out, grasping Ahsoka's hand into her own.
"He meant a lot to us both," she fixed the togruta with a warm, unwavering stare. "I know it can't have been easy for you to have to fight him." Ahsoka nodded slowly, the corners of her lips curling down. They sat in a moment of silence, sombrely remembering the masked monster that used to play such an important part in both their lives. In many ways, he still did. He was the very face of the empire. The corrupt governing body they fought to overthrow.
"You were right," Ahsoka spoke quietly, drawing Padmé's full attention. The togruta's blue eyes were crumpled as they stared out at the glittering lake before them. "When you confronted Vader, I felt the good in him as well. It's buried, but it's there." Padmé's eyebrows shot up. "I think you could save him Padmé, I really do," Ahsoka sent her a faithful stare. "Obi-Wan knows it too, but I think he is having a more difficult time accepting it after what happened on Mustafar."
Heat blushed Padmé's eyes. After being told so many times that her husband was dead, gone, it filled her with relief to hear someone else that knew the truth as she did. Anakin was alive. Reaching out, she placed her hands on Ahsoka's shoulders. "We are going to redeem him," she told her sternly. "I know we will."
Chapter 24: Collision Course
Vader stared at the green planet below him from the cockpit of his imperial craft. It was only him, floating in the darkness of space like a tiny moon. Around the planet was a bright, blue glow. An electrical storm, if he'd ever seen one. His arms were crossed over his chest and his respirator was was repeatedly wheezing. If he flew through that storm, he'd crash land directly into the planet's surface. It was a risk he was more than willing to take if it brought him closer to her. Even if it would limit his ability to leave until the storm passed. No communications would get through the storm.
Vader could feel the bright lights of Ahsoka and Obi-Wan below him. They pulsed and purred, swirling around each other. He could also feel the two, youthful little lights that he knew to be his children. The two groups were separated. Why, he didn't know, but he did know that Padmé was significantly more likely to be with the children. So, when he tipped his ship into the atmosphere, that was where he aimed.
Immediately the ship was pulled into the planet's gravity. The viewport became streaked with orange and red as the planet drew closer and closer. Vader steered the controls carefully, angling it towards the twins. The moment he entered the blue haze, his ship began juddering and shaking. Red alarms blared and wailed from the console. The engines gave a shrill shriek of warning. It was like flying through blue mist, only bolts of energy violently crackled throughout. Vader gripped the controls tightly, flipping a switch. The screaming wheeze of the engines stopped.
There was a crackle and one of the energy bolts collided with the ship's hull. A loud pop rang in his ears and the ship's screens and scanners went blank. Even the alarms fell silent and the lights stopped blinking. Vader let out a low grumble. The ship burst out from the storm, still plummeting towards the surface below. He was so close now, that Vader could no longer see the outer curves of the planet. Slamming his fist down on a glass capsule and shattering it, he tugged the striped lever within. Just like that, a few of the screens returned. Their diagnostics were flashing and blaring. A loud wheeze escaped the engines. They'd burst to life, gradually slowing his immense speed.
Throughout the whole decent, he kept the ship steady. Occasionally it went through a bout of trembles of shakes, but a few switches were flipped, fixing it instantly. By the time he was low enough to brush the tree tops, he realised he was traveling too fast for a safe landing. Anything in his way was promptly blown to pieces. Sensing the approaching presence of the twins, he angled the ship above them slightly in order to sail harmlessly over their heads. What he didn't expect, was to come face to face with a huge, rocky outcrop. The grey stone poked out from beneath lush, green grasses and rose into a moderately large hill.
The ship rammed into the side. Vader locked his arms against the console, preventing himself from being thrown out of the window. The ship tore through the ground, burrowing into the side. The noise of crunching and loud bangs deafened him. His whole body was shaken about by the force of impact. The ship slid forwards several meters in the dirt, its nose digging deep. The muck poured in through the shattered viewport. The ground beneath him began to rumble and shake. Cracking noises filled the air. Once again his ship fell as the earth around him caved. Eventually the ship settled, only letting out the occasional creak and groan. The entire front half was completely buried.
Vader had to blink away his daze before he could unsteadily lift himself to his feet. The whole cockpit had crumbled inwards. Sparking wires and hissing tubing dangled from the ceiling. Clambering up the steep slant to the back of the ship, he drew his lightsaber and began cutting a circular hole in the wall. The metal hissed and turned molten around his blade. Grunting with effort, he pushed all his might down on the weapon. Before long, there was a glowing circle. Using the force, he blasted it outward, opening a gap into the planet beyond.
Vader stepped through, instantly greeted by fields of green and sparkling lakes. It startlingly reminded him of Naboo. Close by, he could feel the light of the twins twisting in distress. The ground around him was a mess of rock and rubble. Huge plumes of dust rose into the air. Clambering over the boulders and down towards the grasses, it didn't take him long to locate the children. They were seated together in a little huddle by the base of the collapsed, rocky outcrop. Vader didn't pay them much heed because he was searching for Padmé. Further up the mess of rubble and rock, two Lupus were frantically digging at the debris and letting out high pitched whines. Vader's stomach tensed. The children's wails made his heart falter. Reaching out, he sensed Padmé's light somewhere deep beneath the rubble. His chest tightened. Instantly, he lifted a hand hand began pulling back the rock and boulders. He was going to find her.
Padmé didn't know how long she'd been trapped in the darkness. When the tunnel had collapsed, she'd been lucky not to get completely crushed. The space around her remained relatively open. There were rocks pinning her waist down and some particularly heavy debris weighed down on her chest. She couldn't expand her lungs far enough to breathe properly so she was stuck taking in sharp, short pants. That, combined the the dust filled air, was making her head ache and pound. She was doing her best to keep calm, because she feared she would collapse from terrible breathing conditions if she became too stressed. With her free arms, she tried to lift the rock slightly, but it was of no use. It was just like pushing the ground and expecting the planet to move.
The twins and her had been in the caves to look for a location that they could bunker down for the next few days. The Lupus had been happily tagging along. Next thing she knew, the twins were freaking out and telling her something bad was going to happen. They seemed certain that the sturdy cave system was going to collapse. Even though it was rather implausible, she knew better than to ignore them. So, she'd loaded them onto Max and sent them out of the cave. Padmé had been following behind on foot because of the the low ceilings. One moment she'd been watching the lupus trotting away and the next she'd been buried beneath rock.
Although Padmé was terrified for her babies, she had to keep herself calm. She knew in time that Ahsoka and Obi-Wan would return from their reconnaissance in the woods. No doubt they would sense her beneath the ground and find a way to get her out. Even if they didn't manage it in time, she knew they would definitely find the twins. A thought that soothed her fear greatly.
Distantly, she could hear the ground groaning and rumbling. Part of her hoped it was Ahsoka or Obi-Wan, but a feeling down in her gut told her it most certainly was not. She chalked it off to the ground just settling after the collapse. The longer she spent down there, the worse the ache in her head became. Her chest was growing tight. Pressure built behind her eyes. Ringing erupted in her ears. The noise of grinding rocks was growing closer. If it really was the ground settling itself, then she was going to get crushed. It became so thunderously loud that her heart began pounding and she found herself running even shorter on breath. She gritted her teeth and tried desperately to steady herself. The pounding pain in her head only got worse. It felt like someone had cracked her in the temple with a rock.
The crunching of stone finally reached her. Instead of being crushed as she expected she would, light streamed in around the edges of a shifting boulder above her. It moved out the way, illuminating her little cavern. Padmé's eyes burned, but her vision was also hazy and spotted with red. Standing in the hole where the boulder had been, a tall and wide silhouette was highlighted. Accompanying it was a repetitive snap-hiss. It took her muddled mind longer than she would like to recognise who it was. When she did, her heart beat violently within her chest. Her aching lungs did their best to sustain the required uptake of oxygen, but they were failing miserably. Her chest was still compressed by that unmoving rock.
There was a heavy thud right by her ears and Vader landed in a crouch beside her. His cape gracefully swirled down behind him. Padmé dug her palms into the ground in an effort to get free and lifted her head. That was a mistake. The planet spun aggressively around her and darkness crept into the corners of her vision. A cold, leather glove cupped the side of her head, instantly causing her to still. She lifted her eyes to peer at the hulking form that towered over her. It was a blur of black and white. "Anakin," she whispered softly, her voice crackling. The pain in her head had grown to be overwhelming.
"I'm here, Padmé," his deep voice uttered. It's severity still hurt in her ears. He began shifting rocks, but the blackness pulled her under. She was left completely at his mercy.
Chapter 25: Conflict Aside
Vader emerged from the hole in the rubble with Padmé limp in his arms. She was covered in dirt and silt from the collapse. It streaked over her pale skin but did nothing to screen out her beauty. His skin prickled with relaxation, holding her so close. The two lupus watched him warily, their ears and tails perked. Rubble rose like a hill around him and not too far away he could see the smouldering remains of his starship. Huge plumes of grey smoke bellowed upwards, dissolving into the blue sky. At the foot of the hill, a huge forest sprouted up from the lush grass. The fluffy canopy swayed in the breeze. The children were watching him with wide eyes. Trudging down the rocks, he ventured several paces into the treeline where the foliage was soft. Lowering himself down to his knees, he reluctantly placed her on the ground.
There was the gentle pitter patter of feet and the two, tiny children warily crept closer to him. It appeared to be a little boy and a little girl. Their faces were mucky and lined with tear tracks. Her hair was pulled back into an unruly bun, her soft rounded features instantly reminding him of Padmé. Including her large, brown, Inquisitive eyes. The little boy however, had short blonde hair that was sleek and well kept. Two blue eyes peered timidly from his childish features. He cursed his scarlet lenses that stopped him from seeing them as they really were.
At first, Vader was dumbstruck. These were his children no doubt, their presences were thrumming with untapped power, and yet he had no idea what to say or do. He observed them silently, his heart racing inside his chest. They'd been alive for six years, and this was how they met their father?
"Is mommy okay?" the little girl asked, pointing to her mother. Vader's helmet tilted down to Padmé. He delicately brushed a lock of hair from her face. She'd collapsed because of the oxygen depravation caused by one of the rocks compressing her chest.
"Your mother will be fine," Vader responded calmly. He knew she would wake up soon, after being released from her stone prison. The mechanical voice concealed the shake of his real one. The children crept closer, lowering themselves to the ground on the other side of Padmé. He went tense. They were less than an arms length away. The children grasped Padmé's hands gently.
The little girl peered up at him, scrunching up her tiny features. "You the angry man from the rebel base," she told him, her little voice tripping up over specific words and phrases. Vader was startled again. He'd sensed them at the base, but it hadn't registered in his mind they would sense him also. They'd picked up on his rage from such a distance. It was rather impressive.
"He not angry any more though," the boy argued. "He with mommy now," he pointed down at Padmé. Vader was struck dumb. He didn't know what to say to these intelligent little creatures that knew so much about him despite never meeting. The blood bond they shared must have been a lot stronger than he perceived.
The sudden hiss of a lightsaber made Vader tense. From the corner of his lens, he saw a blue blade hovering just before his neck. He'd been so caught up observing the twins, he had failed to realise that Kenobi and Ahsoka were closing in. He could feel them now, hovering just behind him. It was Obi-Wan who had the blade to Vader's neck, naturally. Fear and worry bubbled within them. Annoyance flickered to life within Vader. He had been quite enjoying this little conversation he had going between his children.
Both children let out big gasps. "Unca Obi, I thought you said lightsabers could kill you with one touch," the little girl scolded him, putting her hands in her hips and pulling her brows down. The corner of Vader's lips curled upwards. Although she wasn't wrong, her horror at Kenobi amused him.
"Yeah, you said they were very dangerous," the little boy added, though he spoke much softer.
"Well, this is a very dangerous man," Obi-Wan responded, shifting his grip on the weapon slightly. "They cancel out."
Once more the little girl screwed up her face. "Mommy says that violence only ever breeds more violence," she responded matter of factly, stumbling over s few words. Vader was still captured by the twins. That was a phrase Anakin had barked at him many times. To hear it come from such a young mouth was rather jarring.
"She says no problem can ever be solved with aggression," the boy spoke the last word with some difficulty, but the message was received.
"That's a very good lesson, but not one that can be applied right now," Obi-Wan told them gently. Their little faces warped in confusion.
“Obi-Wan, I don’t think this is the best appro-”Ahsoka began to object, but Vader had enough of Obi-Wan's blade lingering by his neck. Using the force, he shoved both Ahsoka and Kenobi back several steps. Rising to his feet, he drew his own weapon. It buzzed aggressively in the air. The children let out squeals of terror, clinging close to their mother. It guilted him a little, to have scared them so, but he knew he needed to dispatch of the Jedi if he ever wanted to reconnect with Padmé.
Wordlessly, the three engaged in a saber fight. Their blades were nothing more than coloured streaks that cut through the occasional, unsuspecting tree trunk. Vader tried to tug on his connection to the dark side, but it was hampered by his memory of Padmé and the twins. Although he could keep up with both his opponents, he was finding it difficult to keep his mind focused on them. The light swirled within him, twirling and dancing just out of reach of the darkness. He found himself with reservations about fighting Ahsoka and even fear of Obi-Wan. Previously, those emotions had been masked by sheer rage. He found himself with no particular desire to fight his former padawan, but he did still want to extinguish his former master. No. Anakin's former master.
The twins were crying, tugging desperately at Padmé. They were blubbering about an angry man and needing her. He was vaguely aware they were talking about him, but it hadn't yet registered in his mind why. The fight continued through the forest and bushes. The two large Lupus were barking and growling from a distance. They stood protectively over the children, their hackles raised.
"Stop!" a familiar voice called, and Vader faltered. He broke away from Ahsoka and Obi-Wan just as Padmé pushed herself between them. Her hands were raised, keeping them apart. Her dirt streaked face peered between them incredulously. "This needs to end."
"I agree," Vader growled, taking and aggressive step towards the other two. Padmé planted a hand on his chest, momentarily stunning him. She fixed him with a stern glare.
"In case you forgot, there is an electrical storm around this planet right now so none of us are leaving for the next few days," she snapped. "There is no need for any more death and I refuse to play a game of cat and mouse." The twins ran over, throwing themselves at her legs and clinging to them closely.
"I’d be peaceful if I could," Obi-Wan spoke calmly, pain flashed across her eyes. "That isn't an option." Vader moved to agree, but his wife beat him to the punch.
"There is always an option," Padmé objected, her brows furrowing.
"What would you have us do?" Obi-Wan asked, cocking a brow seriously.
"Put down your weapons for a start," she informed them, her hand still pressed against Vader’s chest which sent tingles down his spine. Ahsoka did as she asked instantly, but Obi-Wan remained hesitant and peered at Vader with visible distrust. Padmé stared up at the Sith with pleading eyes. Wether or not his blade was ignited didn't matter to him. He could summon it to his hand in seconds. He supposed he could endorse her until he found a way to get around her and kill Kenobi. The least he could do was listen to her, he supposed. Then, she would be more likely to listen to him. Smothering his anger and frustration, he clipped his weapon to his belt. Kenobi followed suit.
"Fighting will get us nowhere," she spoke calmly, dropping her hands to the twins' heads. Vader immediately missed her touch.
"We can't just not defend ourselves," Obi-Wan spoke, folding his arms. "I can feel darth's murderous intent from here."
"I appreciate that," Padmé told Kenobi and turned to Vader. "Please let go of that anger and hatred. It's just hurting you," her face twisted with pain. Vader reared back slightly. How could she ask him to do that? How could she ask him to do that when Kenobi had left him a scarred, twisted shell on Mustafar's gravel banks. When Kenobi had taken absolutely everything from him and forced him to live in misery for years.
"Because of him, I thought you were dead for six years," Vader growled, crossing his arms so tightly the leather squeaked. Anger rose within him as he recalled endless nights of constant agony. Days spent walking around as an empty zombie. Pain so terrible he silently wished for death.
"It was me who organised the fake funeral," Padmé told him, and he stilled. "I went into hiding to protect the twins from Palpatine. I did it so he couldn't corrupt them like he did you." Vader remained silent, but internally flinched. It was wise to hide the children from the emperor. He'd find a way to exploit them. "I thought you were dead," she added, tears springing to her eyes. His heart drooped. "We all did," she gestured to Ahsoka and Kenobi. Their faces were grave and forlorn, but still sharp with alert. The twins stared up at him with watery, fearful eyes. "Please just put your anger aside for now at least. There is a peaceful solution to this where nobody has to get hurt."
"If I let them live, then the minute that storm lifts you will flee with them back to the rebels," he argued, his mind leaden with the thought.
"No," she shook her head, clenching her jaw. "I won't leave you," she promised and his heart skipped a beat because he felt that she meant it. She really meant it. "I know you understand that the empire is wrong and that you've done terrible, terrible things. I believe you'll come back to me. The real you. Not this monster in a mask." Vader clenched his teeth, uncertain of how to respond. If he told her he would never let Anakin back, she might leave but he also refused to admit to having light within him. "Hold your fire until the storm ceases, please."
"Alright," Vader growled. He supposed it would at least give him a few days of being on her good side to convince her to join him in the empire. That opportunity alone was enough to will him to put up with Kenobi's insolence. Obi-Wan and Ahsoka traded a wide eyed look, but Padmé blew out a long sigh of relief. Dread settled over them all because they knew these next few days would be tense.
Chapter 26: Introducing Me
Palpatine sat in his throne, kneading his chin with knobbly, talon tipped fingers. The vast room before him was dim, lit only by the pale glow of the moon Sidious's super star destroyer orbited. The throne itself was angular and sat atop a raised platform that towered over every other being in the room, had there been other being in the room. Instead, it was just him on his own. He listened to the hum of the ship's engines, allowing it to lull him into a deep meditation and submerse himself within the force.
Just recently, he'd been delivered shocking news. Padmé Amidala was alive. Sidious was greatly concerned for his apprentice. With her still breathing, it would be significantly more difficult to keep Vader trapped in the dark side. Her death had been a source of great power for the young Sith. If only that blasted women had stayed dead. She was going to be a great setback. If Vader was lost to her, Sidious would have no heir. The darkside lineage would be lost. He gritted his his teeth. Perhaps not all was hopeless. If Padmé was alive, then maybe Skywalker's child was alive. They would make very powerful Sith and they would have inherited Vader's raw talent in the force, but wouldn’t be bound to a life support machine like their father. They could be unstoppable.
A plan began to formulate within Sidious's mind. If he was able to find a way to kill Amidala without it being obvious it was him, then Vader would be thrust back into his rut of misery and self hatred. He would eternally be bound to Sidious and would no doubt loop his child in for they were the only thing he would have left of his precious Padmé. Then, the child would grow strong enough to overthrow both Sidious and Vader, making them the rightful ruler of the empire and the Sith. A smile twisted Sidious's face, revealing a rotten set of yellowed teeth. It was a thought that was almost too sweet. The force couldn't have aligned this any better.
A beep on the arm of his throne caught his attention. Pressing down on a flashing button, a hologram of grand moff Tarkin appeared at the base of of the steps leading up to the Emperor. He was blue and flickered every so often. Tarkin's hands were clasped behind his back and his posture perfectly straight. "Emperor," Tarkin dipped his head into a bow. His sunken features appeared even more sunken. "I regret to inform you, that Vader has gone missing," he explained. Palpatine let out a low him. His apprentice was with Amidala. Vader's usual rage and misery weren't thrumming in the force. Sitting back into his chair, he placed the tips of his fingers together and let out a low chuckle.
"Bring me the best bounty hunter you can," Sidious purred. Amidala was going to die.
"Of course, my Lord," was Tarkin's response.
* * *
Although he'd thought it impossible, Vader was tolerating Obi-Wan's presence better than he ever thought he could. They had moved to the edge of the lake. The vast body of water twinkled under the sapphire sky. Tall, green grasses swayed in the breeze. Flowers sprouted from all over the place, little insects flying from petal to petal. On the horizon, he could make out the blue hue of a mountain range that tickled the underside of the occasional passing cloud. The air was hot, because the cooling systems in his suit were whirring loudly.
Vader sat back from the edges of the lake, half submerged in the long grasses. Padmé had taken the children into the lake to wash the dirt off of them. They'd heavily protested at first, but somehow she had turned it into a game. The twin's ended up engaging in a vicious water-fight, splashing each other relentlessly from the shallows. It had amused him greatly, to watch them play. It had been so long since he'd witnessed such innocence. Such purity. Padmé herself watched from the pebble banks, shouting a warning if their play got a little too rough. Kenobi and Ahsoka were close by, muttering between themselves. No doubt about Vader. The mutts however, were lying neck deep in the water and panting profusely.
Just as the sun peaked, the children came clambering from the water. They were shivering and their clothes were dripping. Padmé fixed their hair and squeezed the liquid from their clothes the best she could before she sent them off to dry in the sun. He watched in amazement as they tumbled around the long grasses. Their childish giggles left a warmth in his heart. One that took him several moment to recognise. It was completely foreign to him. Padmé waded into the water and began washing the dirt from her face.
After a little while of play, Vader noticed the children curiously eyeing him from afar. They began creeping closer and his chest tightened. What could he say to such tiny little creatures? How was he supposed to interact with them? What if he scared them again? A little fear would do them good, he supposed. Before he could really prepare himself, he found the children standing before him. Their tiny heads were cocked to the side. "Hello," the little girl spoke.
"Hello," he responded awkwardly. The children traded a look and perched on the ground in front of him, imitating the way he sat with crossed legs and a straight back.
"I'm Leia Naberrie and this is my brother Luke," the little girl put her hand on her brother's shoulder. Vader's heart twisted at the last name. Padmé had probably given them her family name to protect them from the empire but it didn't wound him any less. Their names were one of the only ties he should have had to them.
"What's your name?" Luke asked timidly, his blue eyes peering cautiously up at the imposing Sith.
"Vader," the Sith responded gently. The twin's peered at each other, scrunching up their faces.
"That's a silly name," Leia spoke, causing Luke's eyes to widen. Vader reared back slightly. Although he hadn't chosen the name himself, he had never though it silly. In fact, he'd always thought it held a note of threat. A note of power. What could this little girl hear that he could not?
"It's not your real name though," Luke added, shrinking in on himself. "She didn't mean to say to sounded silly," he pointed to his sister. "Because, that's not nice." Leia rolled her eyes but offered no further comment.
"What makes you think it's not my name?" Vader asked calmly, leaning down towards him.
"We just know," Leia shrugged. "It doesn't feel like your name. Calling you Ader is weird," she stumbled over the word. Vader cocked his brow. Was the force telling them his real name wasn't Vader? Had they detected a lie in his statement? There was no lie. Anakin Skywalker was dead, no matter how much Padmé protested.
"If we tell you our real names, will you tell us yours?" Luke asked in a whisper, cautiously glancing in Padmé's direction.
"Yes," Vader responded instantly, curiosity getting the best of him. It seemed they had picked up bargaining tricks from their mother already.
"We're Luke and Leia Skywalker," Luke told him softly and Leia nodded her head, eyes glinting with pride. That brought a smile to Vader's face. So their name was Skywalker. Padmé hadn't cut him from their lives.
"My birth name is Anakin," Vader responded, holding true to his word. Although they were little, he wanted their trust. He wanted them to have faith in him. That meant keeping his promises.
"Akin?" Leia mumbled the name incorrectly to herself. Her face lit up with delight. "Mommy says that name in her sleep sometimes," she commented quietly. Vader stilled. He glanced over at Padmé, who was squeezing the water from her long locks of hair. Sadness settled over him like a wet blanket.
"It's nice to meet you, Akin," Luke said, offering a tiny hand for Vader to shake. The Sith took the child's palm in his own, shaking it with the least possible pressure he could. He did the same with Leia and was mildly terrified. Their hands were tiny, dwarfed by his own. It scared him, how delicate they seemed.
"It's nice to meet you too, little ones," he responded. In truth, his heart was swelling to see them finally. Although he was frustrated he'd missed so much of their lives already, he was grateful to finally see them. After so many years of dreaming and wondering what his child would have been like had they lived, he didn't need to imagine now. He could see their rosy, rounded cheeks for himself. Even if it was through a scarlet lens, it was better than nothing.
"What are we talking about?" Padmé asked, jolting Vader. She was striding over to them, her wet hair fell into loose ringlets and her skin was still dewy with water. The children's eyes went wide and their bodies stick straight.
"Nothing," they said in unison. They were more afraid of Padmé than they had been of Vader when he was fighting with a Kenobi and Ahsoka. Padmé lifted her brows and pursed her lips, lowering herself into a seated position beside them. Vader's eyes followed her the whole time.
"We were introducing ourselves," Vader told her calmly. Padmé lovingly flicked a lock of hair from Luke's forehead.
"I suppose they couldn't just call you the angry man forever," she chuckled. The children were staring at the floor, their eyes incredibly wide. "Why do you two look like you've hit a hunder?" she asked gently.
"We told him our real names," Luke blurted, terror leaking from his presence.
"Luke!" Leia hissed, narrowing her eyes.
"It's alright," Padmé patted their heads. Her dark eyes rested on Vader, making his chest tighten. "He's one of the few people who are allowed to know." Luke slumped with relief but Leia's eyes lit up with intense curiosity. "You should practice more caution in the future."
"Yes, Mommy," they replied in sync.
Chapter 27: Machine
The sun was sinking below the distant hills when the little group decided to move to the cover of the trees. Orange light seeped in through cracks in the canopy. Ahsoka and Obi-Wan sat across from one another, seemingly in deep meditation. The white lupus was foraging through the undergrowth, digging away at the ground behind the bushes. The black lupus was lying down, belly in the air and tongue hanging from his mouth. Padmé was stroking his stomach and he let out deep rumbles of pleasure. Had Vader focused on that, he might have been jealous. Instead, his attention was captured by the two tiny children before him.
Their hair had dried to be fluffy and glossy. They were sitting cross legged before Vader, asking questions about the buttons on his control panel. Although he had no particular desire to divulge the information, he didn't quite have the heart to tell them no. "What does that do?" Luke pointed to one of the knobs on his side pouches.
"It lets me adjust how fast I breath," Vader responded. Had he been monitoring the force, he might have picked up on the pity from Padmé and Ahsoka or the guilt from Obi-Wan. Still, he was too captured by the children to even register his own emotion, never mind anyone else's.
"What about that one?" Leia asked, pointing to another knob.
"That lets me change the temperature in my suit," Vader responded calmly, crossing his arms.
"You can do that?" Leia's voice hitched. The Sith nodded.
"Wow," Luke sighed in awe. Vader had never been particularly amazed by his suit. It kept him alive, but its parts were outdated and old. The cybernetics were clunky and cumbersome. It caused him tremendous pain, but he wasn't going to tell them that. He supposed it was best to let them revel in their amazement. "What does that one do?" Luke pointed to a grey switch.
"It turns off my voice," Vader informed them. The twins traded a wide eyed look.
"Your voice is fake?" Leia asked, her brows shooting up. "Do you have a real one?"
"I do have a real voice, but it's very quiet," Vader sighed. Their faces twisted in curiosity. "That's why I need the fake one that you hear." The suits voice was good at intimidation, but it irritated him to no end when he tried to speak softly and it came out as a harsh bark. Before now though, he’d had no real reason to speak softly.
"Can we hear your real voice?" Luke asked timidly, his eyes twinkling a plead. Vader's heart clenched. He supposed they were his children. They should know what his voice sounded like. In fact, they had heard him talking before, but that was whilst Padmé was still pregnant. Maybe part of them would subconsciously remember? He doubted that.
"Alright," he sighed. Padmé's eyes lifted over to land on them. "Press the switch." The twins reached up together and their tiny, little hands flicked the switch down. There was a beep inside Vader's helmet to tell him his voice had been turned off. He beckoned them closer. They stood up and leaned their ears down in front of his mask. Their little hands rested on his shoulders. "Luke, Leia, can you hear me?" Vader spoke, keeping his voice as loud as he could. His throat prickled in pain.
They stood up straight, their eyes twinkling in delight. "We hear you," Luke giggled. Vader couldn't help the smile that tugged at his lips.
"You sound funny," Leia scrunched up her nose. "Luke, Leia," she imitated the way he had said their names, the Tatooine accent rang through. It must have been very accurate because all three of the other adults stared around at her, their shock ringing through the force. With his thumb, he flicked the switch that turned his voice back on.
"Do you sound like that when you take you helmet off?" Luke asked, cocking his head to the side. In truth, Vader had never spoken without his helmet. He hated how pathetic and weak he sounded. Not that he had anyone to speak to anyway.
"I suppose I would," Vader's vocoder rumbled in his chest.
"Do you take your helmet off?" Leia cocked her head to one side.
"Very rarely," Vader replied gently, suddenly unnerved by how close the children were to him. They stood on either side of his knees, their tiny hands resting on his shoulders and their heads tilted down towards him. This close, he could make out the fine wrinkles that formed around their mouths when they smiled.
"Why?" Luke asked. Vader's eyes flicked to Kenobi and Ahsoka. He wasn't keen on divulging exactly how weak he was in front of his enemies. Then again, it was probably common sense. He'd be disappointed if they hadn't figured it out on their own. The respirator was a definite give away.
"Without it, I would die,"
"Then how do you eat?" Leia scrunched up her face.
Both twins looked horrified. Their mouths fell open and their eyes grew wide. After a moment of being frozen, they leaned down and pulled him into a tight hug. He went ridged. "I'm sorry," Luke spoke. Padmé peered over at them, an amused twinkle glittering in her eyes. Automatically, Vader drew her a dry stare but it took him a moment to remember she couldn't see his face. His heart skipped a beat. It had been years since he'd done that.
"That's rough," Leia added, gently patting his back.
"Alright you two," Padmé called. "Leave him alone, it's time for bed." The twins released Vader and let out a simultaneous groan.
"Bye bye, Akin," they said and trudge over to their mother. He gave them a gentle farewell in return. Almost immediately he missed them, but he was still happy to watch from a distance as they pulled themselves into little balls by Max's side. Although Vader wasn't fond of the idea of the children staying so close to such a giant beast, he was appreciative of the tender way the Lupus licked their faces and curled up around them. Perhaps it was a gentle giant at heart.
Boba Fett knew he had been making a name for himself amongst the bounty hunters of the galaxy, but to be called on by both Vader and the Emperor in such quick succession was mind blowing. He owed a lot of it to his father of course, for training him to be so brutally efficient from such a young age. He was doing his best to reign in his nerves, after all, the Emperor was the most important person in the galaxy.
The throne room was large, but gloomy and dark. Pale light shone in through the huge, curving windows. Coruscant twinkled like a speck of glitter distantly, a white moon took up the majority of the view port. It's pitted surface turned slowly. The Emperor himself sat atop a dark throne that was raised from the ground. Two red guards stood on either side of him. Their backs were straight and their posture perfect. Boba couldn't help but wonder how they would put up in a fight. If they were protecting Palpatine themselves, then surely they would be fearsome in battle. Standing at the base of the throne, he kept his arms loose by his sides.
"Young Boba Fett," the Emperor's voice crackled out from underneath his hood. "I've heard many great things about you." He laid his hands down on the arms of his chair. "If I give you a job, worth your weight in credits but dangerous beyond belief, will you succeed?”
"I will do my best," Boba responded gruffly.
The Emperor let out a low hum. "I want you to kill Padmé Amidala," he hissed. Boba froze. What was it with the empire's high command and their obsession with Amidala? Perhaps her connection to the rebels and high profile name was concerning them. More importantly, why had Vader and the Emperor requested these jobs separately? Was there in fighting amongst the empire? Probably. If Boba had to get around Vader to get to Amidala, he reckoned it would be worth it. Especially for such a hefty bounty. Vader's contract was over anyway, so Boba owed him no loyalty. As an addition, Boba still knew exactly where Amidala was.
"Alright," Boba replied. "I'll take the bounty."
Chapter 28: Boom Crackalackin
Padmé lay on her side with her back pressed against the trunk of a tree. Darkness had fallen, nearly engulfing her vision completely. She could just about make out the shape of Max and Willow curled up together, the children wedged between them. Rain fell in thick dollops from the sky, splattering on the forest floor and slapping the tree leaves above. Padmé was soaked to the bone, her clothes clinging tightly to her skin. The air was still warm however, so the wetness was tolerable.
The jedi were lost to her sight, but she knew Obi-Wan would be sleeping with one eye open. Anakin was easy to spot in the darkness, even though the respirator was drowned out by the pitter patter of rain. The lights on his control panel were flashing. He was sitting upright against a tree, close by to Padmé. Wether he didn't want to lie down for fear one of the Jedi might attack him or simply because it was easier for him to remain seated, she didn't know. Either way, he sat like a security droid and remained impossibly still.
Padmé had no idea how she was going to get Anakin to repent and see the error in his ways. He had always been stubborn and she knew she was really going to have to work hard to make him see her point of view. No doubt he would also try to convince her of his, but she needed to remain patient. There was a good man in that suit of his somewhere and only compassion and care could lure him out. It might take her years of persuasion, but it would be years worth the time.
Another saving grace for Anakin was the children. He was just as infatuated by them as they were of him. He'd sat patiently for hours as they'd pestered him relentlessly with questions about his suit. It was rather impressive. Padmé didn’t know if she would have had the sanity for that. Especially considering it was a sore spot for him. Of course she had one ear trained into the conversation the whole time, but she found her confidence growing in his ability to be civil around the children. Their children.
There was a flash of light suddenly, followed by a deafening crack of thunder. It made her jolt and her heart picked up pace. The twins let out shrill screams, bolting upright. The Lupus raised their heads, their ears perking. The twins staggered to their feet and propelled themselves towards Padmé. She hardly had any time to sit upright before they crashed into her, knocking back against the tree. They buried their faces into her neck and they wrapped their arms so tightly around her that for a moment she couldn't breathe. "Hey," Padmé stroked the backs of their heads gently. "It's okay," she reassured them, having to shout over the sound of the rain. There had been storms on Voss, but never thunder and lightning. This was their first time experiencing it. The lupus crawled over to Padmé, curling up around her and pressing their bodies against her own. Their ears were flat against their heads. The wolves and the twins were shivering profusely.
Blowing out a steady breath and holding in a smile, she reached her hands out and gently stroked the lupus. Their damp fur clung to her fingers. The twins lowered themselves into her lap. More thunder and lightning rocked the ground. The reaction was more subdued than the last time, but the children were still terrified. Planting gentle kisses on their foreheads, she wrapped her arms around them and held them close. Their heat seeped through her clothing. Padmé remained like that for the rest of the thunder storm.
The next morning, Padmé awoke to the twittering noise of birds. Peeling her eyes open, they were greeted by the golden light of dawn. The grass was dewy and wet. Water dropped from the leaves of the trees to splatter on the ground. The air was thick with damp. Padmé was curled into Max's side, the twins bundled up in her arms. Willow was lying close, but her mighty head rested in Anakin's lap. He was absentmindedly stroking her behind the ears. The sight brought a smile to her face. Anakin, probably sensing her amusement, tilted his head down towards her. Padmé winked at him and pulled the twins in closer. She wished she could see under his ghastly helmet to understand what he was thinking. As it was, she could only take a wild guess. For now, she assumed he was rather contented because he continued to stroke Willow and was not put off by her entertainment. It was rather odd, to see a dark lord of the Sith gently stroking the head of a white wolf. Willow's tail was happily swaying behind her.
Later that morning, Padmé found herself braiding Leia's hair. She delicately folded the silky strands together, humming as she worked. Leia was fidgeting with a stick, stabbing it into the ground and digging up the grass. Luke was with Ahsoka, trying desperately to succeed in an arm wrestle. Ahsoka had let him win a few times, pretending to be a sore looser with each loss which sent Luke into fits of giggles. Their battles were long, the upper hand constantly swaying between the two. Obi-Wan was sitting further away, his legs folded and his eyes closed over. Probably in deep meditation. Anakin was behind her somewhere, probably biding his time by sulking.
"Mommy," Leia asked, setting her stick down. "Are we ever gonna go back home? To the farm?" Padmé faltered for a moment. The farm had never really been anything but a hiding place to her, but it was all the children had ever known. "I miss the Quen," she added with a sigh. "They were so fluffy."
A smile curled Padmé's lips. The Quen were good natured beasts, if skittish, and the children got on tremendously well with them, even stealing the occasional ride. "I don't think so sweetheart," Padmé sighed, continuing on with Leia's hair. The little girl's shoulders fell and Luke peered over from where he was arm wrestling Ahsoka. A mild sadness lingered in Padmé's heart. She couldn't take them back to the farm because there wouldn't be anyone there any longer. The whole thing would have been pillaged by the Empire. "You might get to see more Quen in the future," she assured her.
Before Leia could respond, there was some vicious growling from behind Padmé that rattled her bones and made her hair stand on end. Instantly, she craned her head around. There was vicious barking that battered her eardrums. Her first thought was that Anakin had done something to upset the lupus, but he was nowhere near them. Max was making himself small, his ears pressed to his skull and his tail squeezed between his legs. Willow was bearing her teeth at him, her ears perked and her tail up. Padmé got to her feet instantly, it wasn't like those two to fight. In fact, they never had before. "Hey," Padmé called, drawing their attention to her. She strode over to them. "Break it up," she ordered. Max backed away a little more, but Willow still remained alert.
Padmé slipped between them and turned to Willow. "What is up with you?" she planted her hands on her hips and used a biting tone. Willows tail dropped and her ears flipped back against her skull. She let out a long whine and licked her lips. "What's wrong?" she asked softer. Willow pressed her head into Padmé's arms and she was panting profusely. Once again she let out a high pitched whine. "It's alright," Padmé responded, her eyes widened when she caught sight of the churned dirt below her. It looked like Willow had been digging at it. The same way pregnant Lupus would burrow into the snow when they were going into labour. "Willow, lie down," she ordered.
The huge, white Lupus lowered herself to the floor and instantly flopped onto her side. Padmé knelt down on her knees and began searching through the long, thick fluff on the wolf's belly. She found several teets that were red and swollen. Her mouth fell open. "Is everything alright?" Obi-Wan asked as he and the rest of their little group huddled around. Even Anakin joined, despite standing a little further back.
"Well, that depends on your definition of alright," Padmé chuckled nervously, smoothing down Willow's fur. Max crept a little closer, whining. "Back off Max," she told him sternly. He whined, but did as he was told. Ahsoka gently patted his neck. "It seems we're about to have cubs."
"Cubs?" the twin's cheered, stars twinkling in their eyes. Ahsoka's mouth fell open, but there was a glimmer of excitement that flashed over her face.
"What?" Obi-Wan's voice hitched and his brows shot up. "Wasn't Willow spayed like the rest of the working animals on the farm?"
"I thought so," Padmé responded with a shrug. Her mind thought back. The Lupus gestation period was several months long. She took in a sharp breath. "Remember when Max snuck out that one night and we found him in the barn with Willow?" she responded.
"Max," Obi-Wan scolded the black Lupus who let out a confused whine. The poor thing probably had no idea what was going on and why everyone was getting on at him. Padmé bit down on her lip to stop herself from laughing or smiling.
"Well old bud, you're going to be a father," she chuckled. Max blinked at her, obviously not understanding. She blew out a long breath, she had some experience birthing Quen, but she had a sneaky feeling this would be a much different game. Padmé turned up to Ahsoka and Obi-Wan. "Can you two take Max and the twins down to the lake?" she asked, and they immediately nodded. "Don't let him come back up," she pointed to the soon-to-be father. They nodded and began herding their little group away. Padmé turned her head up to Anakin, who was staring down at Willow. "Will you stay with me?" she asked gently.
"Of course," he responded.
Chapter 29: Support
Obi-Wan watched as the children splashed around in the shallow waters. A hill of long grass and blossoming flowers stretched up into a thick treeline that concealed Padmé, Vader and Willow. Max was shifting from paw to paw, his ears perked up towards them. Ahsoka had her arms around his neck, patting him gently to calm him, but it did nothing to stop his high pitched whines. "It's okay, Max," Ahsoka assured him with a gentle voice. "She'll be okay." Obi-Wan wonder mutely, if this was the way Anakin might have acted when Padmé gave birth all those years ago, had he not turned to the dark side.
After, what felt like, hours of gentle coaxing, she finally managed to get Max to lie down. She sat with him, pulling his head into her lap and scratching behind his ears. His monstrous head completely concealed the lower half of her body. With a sigh, Obi-Wan sat down beside her and began patting Max's side. The twins had clambered up onto the pebble banks and were playfully chasing one another.
"Obi-Wan," Ahsoka spoke, her eyes trained on the beast before her. "Padmé and and I were talking and... we are going to try and redeem Anakin." Her blue orbs flicked up to hold Obi-Wan's. The Jedi master's brows rose slightly and his body became a little ridged. "I know you don't think there is anything left of him that could be saved, otherwise you wouldn't have left him on Mustafar, but I do." Her jaw set and her eyes became steely with determination. "I won't leave him again."
Obi-Wan let out a long sigh and leaned back onto his arms. "I've seen it too," he murmured, and her eyes lit up. "The way he is around the children, around Padmé, it’s the closest to Anakin I've seen him since before he turned." He rubbed a hand over his fore head.
"When the thunderstorm hit last night, did you sense what he was feeling?" Ahsoka asked.
"He was protective of the children, but not in an overbearing, evil way," Obi-Wan responded. "It was the same thing I always sensed off Anakin when Padmé was in danger during the clone wars." Ahsoka sent him a joyful smile. "He was also very contented this morning, just to see his family together." Obi-Wan hung his head back and looked up at the sky above.
"Will you help us save him?" Ahsoka asked, her voice suddenly very serious. Obi-Wan blew out a long sigh and stared deeply into the blue sky. His eyes tracked a fluffy, white cloud as it blew past. For so many years, he'd hoped and dreamed he'd see Anakin again. The real him. The little padawan boy he'd grown so fond of. The wise Jedi Knight that was the beating heart of hope to millions. For so long, he would have loved to share their witty banter just one more time or just see his padawan smile. He would do anything to turn back time and set things right. Even if a Jedi wasn't supposed to hold onto the past, he couldn't help but think of it when it replayed in his mind every time he closed his eyes.
"I want to help you save him Ahsoka, but he hates me now," Obi-Wan responded calmly, the truth of his words pinched his heart. "I'm the one that got him trapped in his suit. I'm the one who condemned him to death. I'm the symbol of his turn to the darkside in his mind. I cannot help you."
Ahsoka reached a hand out and placed it on Obi-Wan's shoulder. Her eyes twinkled with sadness. "Perhaps for the first while you'll have to take a back seat, but he'll need you. You were his master. His rock. His best friend," she told him softly. "It might take months or even years, but he will come to you. So be prepared."
Obi-Wan lifted a hand and placed it over Ahsoka's own. A sad smile curled his lips. "I've been prepared since the day I cut him down."
* * *
Padmé was seated on the ground, next to Anakin. They were shoulder to shoulder and a few paces back from Willow. The lupus was lying on her side, panting hard. She let out the occasional whimper, but for the most part was silent. If Padmé was right, she would start giving birth soon. How long it lasted depended on how many puppies there were, she supposed. The sun was high above them, roasting them in sweltering heat. Well, roasting Padmé at least. Vader had temperature regulation in his suit after all.
"Padmé," Vader spoke suddenly, making her jolt. She craned her head up to stare into his dark lenses. "Why did you ask me to remain here, I'm not going to be able to help much. Calming down situations like these are not my forte." A little smile wriggled itself onto her face and she suppressed a giggle.
"I asked you to stay primarily because I don't think it would be wise to leave you alone with Obi-Wan and Ahsoka," she responded. Vader leaned back slightly, in what she assumed was mild offence.
"I gave you my word I would cease fighting them until the storm lifts, which is still a few days away," Vader responded with a grumble, crossing his arms tightly over his chest. Padmé pressed her lips together, a little guilt rising within her. How could she ask him to trust that she wouldn't leave when she had shown she didn't trust him enough to be civil with the Jedi.
"Just a precaution," she responded. "I know you have a way with animals anyway, like the Reek on Geonosis." He cocked his head to one side, or at least as much as his helmet allowed. "You seemed to be getting along well with Willow this morning so I thought your presence might be calming to her." His rigidity seemed to melt away at her words and he peered down at the white Lupus. "I wanted you here anyway," she leaned against the thick tree trunk behind her. The rough bark dug into her back.
Vader turned to stare at her again. "Would you have wanted me there, when it was you giving birth?" he asked. Padmé paused for a moment, startled by his question. It seemed he’d read into her word to find a hiding meaning. One she hadn’t even realised was there.
"Of course I wanted you there," she responded as though it were plain as day. Vader stared down at her and even though she couldn’t see his face, she felt his guilt. His pain. "I think you were in a situation of your own at that moment in time," she sighed, glancing up and down his suit of armour. No, his suit of life support.
"You gave birth whilst I was in the operating theatre," Vader concluded, staring down at a gloved hand and reflexively clenching it.
"After Mustafar, Obi-Wan realised I was dying and took me to a medical outpost," Padmé informed him. Vader startled, lifting his head back to look at her with one jerky movement.
“Dying?” his voice hitched and his guilt increased tenfold.
"The droids couldn't explain it, but they also knew I didn’t have long left," she sighed and rubbed one of her arms. "They performed emergency surgery to remove the babies, and I died. For several minutes at least," she said. Vader drew back slightly, obviously slightly confused. "I'm not sure how, or why, but my heart suddenly started beating again and I became stable." From the slight squeak of his clothing, she knew his shoulders had dropped.
"So my dream was correct... it just wasn't the whole picture," Vader hummed, the mechanical voice carrying through the air. Padmé stared down at her lap. That dream. That darned dream. It had been the catalyst for all this. For everything. For all the pain and suffering they had been through.
"My situation wasn't quite the same as little Willow's," Padmé chuckled. A heavy beat of somber silence passed between them.
"I know you collect strays," Vader grumbled. "But how did you end up with two huge beasts?"
"I worked at a rural farm on Voss," Padmé began, blowing out a long sigh. "I was out collecting lumber when I came across a little black Lupus cub all on its own, so I took it back to the farm with me because I thought it was going to freeze." A little smile sprang to her face when she thought of how small Max had been. "The head farmer told me black Lupus stand out against the snow and they rarely ever make it to adulthood. He told me it could only survive as a working animal, so I kept him," she shrugged. "Willow, on the other hand, didn't belong to me. She worked to shepherd the Quen. I came across her later on in Aldera, and she was being held in a cage. I freed her and brought her back to Max because they always had a close relationship." Setting her jaw, she crossed her arms over her chest. "Now I'm realising just how close," she huffed.
"I don't think we have the right to criticise," Anakin responded calmly. Just for a moment, she could picture him sending her a wry grin. With a smile of her own, she peered up at him.
"I guess you're right."
Chapter 30: Bowow
Luke wasn't sure what to expect of cubs. He'd never seen any before. Somehow, they met every expectation and smashed beyond. When he returned to his mothers side, he was instantly enamoured by the two, squirming pups that were nestled into Willow's pale fur. They were half the size of Luke, their eyes were closed over and their pudgy bodies covered in a fine layer of fur. One was black, the other white. Willow was nuzzling away at them, licking them tenderly.
Although Luke didn't know Willow very well, she was a friend of Max's and Max was a friend of Luke's, so he was very happy for her. The twin's were sitting on their mother's lap, watching the cubs with wide eyes and open mouths. Akin was seated near them as well. His temperament was very mellow if a little sad. Luke couldn't understand why. He was very confusing. His emotions got all muddled all the time. Luke could still feel that he was happy to be with them though, even if he was occasionally angry. Another thing that confused him about Akin was why Unca Obi was so wary of him. The armour was quite scary, but Akin didn't feel scary. At least not when mommy was around. When they were together, Luke felt warm. He felt a hug.
Max was allowed to see the cubs not long after the twins were introduced. He crept up to Willow slowly, his snout near the ground and his ears perked. As he neared, she lifted her head to see him. His ears automatically flicked backwards and he froze, but she placed a lick on his snout and his tail lifted into a vigorous wag. Next, he leaned his head down to the pups and gently sniffed their fur. One of them let out a squeal and he flinched away in fright, prompting a giggle from the twins.
When Max stooped down to sniff them again, his reaction was vastly different. He dropped into a play bow, opening his mouth and letting his tongue hang out. His tail whipped frantically from side to side. "They're too young to play just yet, Max," Luke's mother laughed. "You'll have to wait a few months at least." Max let out a long, pitchy whine and cocked his head to one side. Willow placed another lick on his snout and he lay down by her side. With that, he began to pepper her in wet kisses. She let out a grumbling groan, but accepted it none the less.
Boba stepped out of the smoking wreckage of his ship. A mess of metal and rubble had been blown all over the dirt ground. He'd crashed in an open field of long grasses and blooming flowers that swayed in the wind. It's green colour stretched as far as his eyes could see. The hot sun bore down on him. The stench of burning rubber and exhaust fumes clogged his senses. A tracker beeped on his gauntlet. Bugs and insects whistled and croaked from the foliage. Dusting himself off, he stared back at the wreck behind him. He let out a sigh of discontent, but brushed it aside. This planet, Crubo, had no major cities because of the frequent electrical storms - just like the current one - preventing any stable trade routes from being formed. Still, he could make a call to a friend of his and request a pick up once the storm passed.
Rolling back his shoulders, a series of loud pops and crackles followed. Boba let out a shrill whistle. Instantly the wreckage began to shift and groan. There was a streak of blue and a creature burst from the rubble, landing with a loud thump on the ground. It was a large, felinoid creature. It had striped, blue fur that shifted over bulging, tight muscles. In its huge maw were several rows of razor sharp teeth, the size of Boba's hand. It had thick quills that protruded around its neck like a mane and rattled together to form a spine tingling racket. Two yellow, beady eyes peered out of its impressive skull.
The creature, a strik, immediately trotted over to Boba, dipping its head in offering. Giving it a short pat, he hauled himself up onto the beast’s back. It let out a low rumble, shifting from paw to paw. Boba kicked at the beasts sides, grabbing at the two longest quills on either side of its head and using them to steer. The creature's paws thumped heavily at the ground. The grass whipped and rustled around it. The air whooshed past. Boba squeezed the creature tight to prevent himself falling.
Facing off against Vader would not be easy. This was perhaps the most difficult job he had ever taken on. That was part of the reason he had brought the Strik with him to this rural planet. It would provide a good distraction and allow Boba to sneak in and shoot down Padmé Amidala. If she was still alive, of course.
Boba would have waited until the storm on the planet faded, but the Emperor had impressed on him the importance of job being completed quickly. Boba decided a crash landing was worth the credits he'd get in return. At least enough to buy one hundred more of those stupid ships.
Shifting on the Strik, he adjusted their course slightly, following the beeping of his tracker. He'd purposely crashed quite far from Amidala's signal, not wanting to be spotted and loose his advantage of surprise. Bounty hunting when force wielders were involved was a very difficult task. His father had impressed that upon him the moment they had come across Kenobi on Kamino. The most difficult challenge, was keeping himself hidden. The Jedi had a strange ability to know whenever danger was present and close by, so he had to take extra precautions to distract them, much like the Strik he would sic on Vader. For reasons he didn't really understand, he would also have to keep himself perfectly calm and not think too much about the upcoming kill, as his father had told him. If his father had taken time to impress on him that lesson, then it was important. Very important.
Boba leaned into the air gritting his teeth. This would be the fight of his life.
Chapter 31: Munch
Padmé was walking through the forest, Anakin by her side. By now, she'd learned to tune out the mechanical breath and lumbering footsteps. The sun was just setting. Bright beams of golden light shone between the thick trunks that cast long, dark shadows. The birds were loudly twittering and happily jumping between the branches. The air was growing hot, but not unbearably so. The mild temperature was just right. Padmé's loose hair blew about her face, forcing her to tuck it behind her ear to stop it blinding her. There was a conversation between them. A conversation that needed to be spoken, but it seemed neither of them had found the right way to start it. So instead, they remained completely silent.
The children were smitten by the cubs and had been watching them all day. Max had been amazing. He was constantly grooming Willow, wether she wanted him to or not and he would happily nuzzle the cubs when she got up to stretch her legs. Watching their happily little family had made her reminisce over the twins as babies. They were adorable, with fat, little, chubby cheeks a bright eyes. They'd been the only things that could distract her from her grief. She just wished Anakin had been able to see them like that.
"Padmé," Anakin spoke suddenly, startling her back into the present. She peered up at him, cocking a brow. "Don't believe everything you hear about the empire. It's not as bad as the rebel fools make it seem," he grumbled. Padmé lifted a brow.
"I don't need to believe what they say, I've seen it for myself," she responded harshly, folding her arms over her chest. "The galaxy is slowly rotting from the inside. The empire is a tyrannical ruler and I don't understand why you're supporting it. Why you've murdered for it." Anakin's blank mask stared down at her and she could see the light speckled ground reflecting in his lenses, framing her scowling features. She let them soften a little, realising anger probably wasn't the best approach. He was too used to anger and fear being show to him. It was something else he needed to bring him back to his senses.
"The Empire brings peace and stability. It stops war from occurring all across the galaxy. You of all people should appreciate that," he responded calmly, but she heard the strained note of desperation in his mechanical voice.
"I do appreciate the peace, but you're draining planets dry. Enslaving entire populations. Keep it up and you'll have no more people left to rule," she argued. "I also don't approve of the way it was founded. The means did not justify the ends."
"The Jedi were a worn out, corrupted order. They needed to be stopped. Their presence in the galaxy only made matters worse," Anakin replied, his voice sharpening. Padmé reminded herself to stay calm and keep her temper at bay. It would take them nowhere.
"That didn't mean they deserved the terrible fate you gave them," Padmé responded, her voice crackling. She knew how torn apart the surviving Jedi were because of the decimation of their order. Although it wasn't completely Anakin's fault, he had played such a huge role in their destruction. Without him hundreds, maybe even thousands, more would still be alive. Would still be fighting for freedom and peace. "They were people you trusted. People you fought with. People that I know you cared about."
"They always hated me Padmé. I never fitted in. They were jealous," he growled, his respirator picked up, raising the hairs on the back of her neck. She'd heard him say these things before, but she'd never thought something so terrible would come of those beliefs. Perhaps she should have tried harder to convince him they weren’t true. Then again, maybe they were.
"What about Ahsoka and Obi-Wan?" she challenged him calmly. "They were your best friends. Your family." Vader halted, spinning around to face her and forcing her to stop walking also.
"My mother was my only family. If it wasn't for Obi-Wan, I would have gone to her sooner. Saved her," despite his robotic voice, she could feel the pain that crackled through. "The only other family I've ever known was you."
"That's not true," she shook her head, speaking slowly and softly. "I remember how devastated you were when Obi-Wan had to fake his death. I'd never see you so upset in your life." Vader shifted on his feet, his hands curling into tight balls. "You were miserable when Ahsoka was wrongly convicted of the temple bombing. You came back to me every night either furious or hopelessly desperate to prove her innocence."
"Ahsoka left," Anakin barked, throwing his hands out to the sides. The forest around him shifted and groaned. The grasses began whipping violently back and forth. "Kenobi left me to burn on Mustafar's banks!" Padmé cringed, finally finding out the reason Anakin was trapped in the suit. He'd been burned alive.
"Ahsoka had to leave to rediscover herself," Padmé responded shaking her head. "You gave Obi-Wan no choice. How could he let you continue to spread such violence and hatred through out the galaxy." Anakin hunched inwards, the foliage was still aggressively flapping. "Obi-Wan had no desire to see you in pain like that. It tore him apart to kill you, Anakin. Your betrayal has left scars on us all."
"I betrayed no one," he hissed. "I did what was best for the republic and I eliminated those who sought to stop me."
"You betrayed me, Anakin," she couldn't help the way her voice shook. Anakin reared away from her. The trees around them began to crack and splinter. The unease grew within her, but she held her ground, never taking her eyes away from where she assumed his were.
"I did it for you," he growled, his large cape flicked out behind him. "I did it to keep you alive," He jutted a gloved finger in her face."
"No you didn't," Padmé's voice was straining not to shout. "You did it for yourself. You were too afraid to loose me so you betrayed everything you stood for. You betrayed all of your own morals. You betrayed yourself and turned to murder, genocide, and in doing so you betrayed me too. You knew I would never stand behind the slaughter of younglings Anakin. You knew that!" she pressed her hand against her chest, no longer able to control the wobble in her voice.
"What did you expect me to do?" he yelled. "Let you die?"
"Yes," Padmé bit, no longer able to stifle the years of outrage and upset she'd bagged away. The questions she'd never been able to ask and thought she never would because Anakin was dead. He took a step back from her, his body stiff and ridged. Then again, that might have just been the cybernetics. "People die Anakin. Sometimes you have to loose. It's part of life and no amount of power can change that, no matter how much you wish it could." Padmé was beginning to realise they should have had this conversation years ago. When his mother had just died. When he'd first revealed to her his desire to learn how to stop people from dying. They hadn't been as close then, so she hadn't known how, but that shouldn’t of stopped her. She’d inadvertently allowed him to walk down this path.
"Padmé," Anakin spoke her name quietly, the grasses and the forestry settled. "I couldn't live without you. I can't live without you. I'm just an empty husk."
"That's not true," she responded flintily, her jaw clenching tight. Stepping closer to him, she placed her hands on his upper arms. "You were a hero. My hero. An amazing man. With flaws? Ye, but there was so much more to you than me. We lived the majority of our lives apart. Your heart beat with kindness and compassion. You were always saving other people, putting others before yourself, and you loved it. I know you did. That was the man I loved." His head turned away from her and he stared down at the ground. "I am begging you to let go of that hatred and set yourself free." Her grip on him tightened and she could feel the rods of metal in his cybernetics. He couldn't feel her touch. Gritting her teeth, she stretched up and grasped the sides of his helmet, angling it towards her. He went completely still. "Come back to me Anakin, please," her voice wavered and heat pooled into her eyes.
"Padmé," he spoke softly, lifting his hands to place them over hers.
A huge, blue felinoid sprung from nowhere and clamped down on Anakin's shoulder, dragging him to the floor. Padmé let out a scream of fright as he was torn from her and tugged into some bushes, vanishing from her sight. Her hands flew to her mouth. She was so absorbed by the creature, she failed to see the glint of a blaster aimed directly at her face. The shot was fired. Padmé threw her arms over her face when there was a flash of light in the corner of her vision. The sound of a lightsaber buzzed in her ears.
Padmé pulled her hands away from her face. Obi-Wan was standing in front of her, his lightsaber glowing. She exhaled a long breath she hadn't known she was holding. "Obi-Wan?" Padmé's voice hitched.
"It seems Mandolorian’s are fond of trying to kill you," Obi-Wan commented in a rush of breath. Before Padmé could reply, he jumped forwards, slicing away blasts from a man in Mandolorian armour. Boba Fett had found her here? How? Lifting her hands to her belt, she tugged off the small pistol blaster attached and ducked behind a tree. At the same time, the huge, blue felinoid was blown out from the bushes, landing with a thump on its back. A glowing hole smouldered in its chest.
A dark figure emerged from the bushes, like a Phoenix rising from its ashes. His lightsaber was burning red and his whole body was haunched forwards. Padmé's skin prickled. Anakin instantly went after Boba, his lightsaber swinging hard. Unlike Obi-Wan's careful strikes, the Sith was aiming to kill. They wove through the trees, colour flashing all over the place. Anakin and Obi-Wan were completely disjointed. They had no semblance of team work and nearly hit each other several times. It was painful to watch and allowed Boba to escape from what could have been winning strikes.
Eventually, with one good swipe, Anakin lopped the hands from the bounty hunter. Boba fell to his knees with a hiss of pain. The stubs of his wrist blew out pillars of sizzling steam. Anakin lifted his blade to kill the bounty hunter. Padmé forced herself into motion, sprinting to stop him. Luckily Obi-Wan was there to deflect the blow, giving Padmé just enough time to slip in between the Boba and the Sith. Anakin let out a grunt of anger and Obi-Wan took a tentative step backwards. "Stop. You've won. Enough," she clipped her blaster to her belt and slowly lifted her arms.
"He tried to kill you," Anakin growled, his blade still angled forwards. Padmé slowly turned her back on him and tugged the helmet from Boba's head. Below was a a very familiar face, the face of all the clones they had fought beside, only it glowed with youth and was not yet crinkled with age like his father's.
"He is foolish and young," Padmé spoke, dropping the helmet to the ground. "He was just doing his job." Boba glared up at them with menacing eyes. "You've already taken his hands, don't you think that's punishment enough?"
"When are you going to start caring about your life?" Anakin hissed angrily. Padmé's narrowed her eyes.
"My life has no greater value than any other person. No matter what you think," she jabbed a finger at him, lifting her brows dangerously high. He moved to argue, but she kept going. "Can you back off for a while, I want to talk to Boba," she gestured down to the boy, who stared up at her like she was mad.
"Padmé, he is dangerous," Anakin protested, throwing his hands up in exasperation. "He just tried to kill you!"
"What's he going to do now? Stub me to death?" she gestured down to his severed hands that sat by him on the ground.
"You'd be wise not to underestimate him," Anakin responded darkly.
"Then Obi-Wan will stay with me," she gestured loosely to the Jedi. Anakin reared back slightly. Obi-Wan stiffened as well, his blade still glowing in front of him. "Don't take that the wrong way," she warned him. "You still want to kill him, I know you do, Obi-Wan will not." Anakin stared down at her. Wordlessly, he sheathed his blade and stormed away into the bushes, cape flapping out behind him. Padmé blew out a long breath, casting a wide eyed stare to the tired looking Jedi. Obi-Wan sheathed his blade, picking himself up to stand straight.
Padmé dropped to her knees before Boba Fett, who eyed her with wariness. "Who hired you to kill me?" she asked gently, locking gazes with the young boy. His face lifted into a scowl.
"That would be highly unprofessional of me to tell you that," he responded gruffly, his brows furrowing together. Even his voice was identical to the clones, if he spoke with a slightly different accent.
Casting him a dry look, she jutted a thumb over her shoulder in the direction Vader had vanished. "There is a very angry Sith Lord who wants you dead. At the moment, I am the only thing stopping him killing you," the boy's eyes dropped from hers. "I will not be able to hold him at bay without any leverage forever."
Boba pressed his lips into a thin line. "I'm more scared of my employer than I am Vader," he laughed. Padmé and Obi-Wan traded a fearful look. There was only one person in the galaxy more feared than Anakin, as much as it pained her to say.
"The Emperor," Padmé muttered, pinching the bridge of her nose with a sigh. The look on Boba's face told her she had hit her mark in the bull's eye. The bounty hunter shifted slightly. Obi-Wan visibly greyed. "Hold on," she spoke, lifting a hand. "The Emperor knew I was alive before the attack on the rebel base?" her voice hitched. Boba held a straight face.
"No. I can sense it was someone separate who hired him," Obi-Wan spoke, stroking his thick beard. Padmé's brows furrowed. Who had known she was alive? An epiphany struck her like an open palmed strike. Anakin had been looking for her on Hoke. It must have been him that hired Boba to find her and the Emperor who hired him to kill her. It seemed Fett was a boy in demand.
"It was probably just Vader trying to find me," Padmé sighed and Boba narrowed his eyes. She'd hit the mark again. "I'm guessing they found me in the same way," she commented to Obi-Wan.
"You should ask Darth," Obi-Wan hummed. "He'll be able to provide further insight." She nodded in agreement.
Glancing over her shoulder in Anakin's direction, she turned back to Fett. "Boba, run and hide until the storm passes," she told him sternly, holding his stare. "Don't try to come after me again because I will not be able to stop Vader killing you a second time."
Boba pressed his lips together and gave her a grim nod. "Thank you," he sighed. Using what was left of his charred nubs, he picked up his helmet and slipped away into the forest. Padmé stood up with a sigh, stretching her hands far above her head. The bones in her back crackled and popped.
"Padmé," Obi-Wan spoke, concern twinkled in her eyes. "If it really is the Emperor after you, then both you and the children are in great danger."
"I know," she uttered softly, pulling a hand down her face. "I think this is something we need to discuss with Anakin." Obi-Wan nodded slowly and began to rub his fingers together. "I think I'm going to need to give him time to cool off first," she added, remembering the way he had stormed off.
"I'm not sure Padmé," Obi-Wan responded, his brows pulling together. "That would only give him time to work himself up. He seems to remain a lot calmer when he is in your presence." He folded his arms together. The twins had told her the same thing. "I came running, not because I sensed Boba's threat, but because I felt Vader getting very angry. I was worried it would turn out like Mustafar," his eyes dropped the ground and Padmé felt like he'd dropped stones into her stomach. "He's learned more self control. He didn't harm you in the slightest. I think you'll be safe to talk him down from his anger."
Padmé nodded. "I'll go see him then," she sighed. "You should update Ahsoka on the situation."
"I will," Obi-Wan agreed. "Good luck."
"Thanks," Padmé let out a humourless chuckle. "I'm going to need it."
Chapter 32: Talk Down
This chapter might be one of my favourites yet...
When Padmé found Anakin, she was struck by a wave of nerves. He was seated alone in the centre of the forest, atop a large rock. His back was to her, his body haunched inwards. The intense, evening sunlight highlighted his helmet. The birds were happily twittering away. The feint, minty scent of tree bark was strong in the air. In the heat of the moment, Padmé could always find the right words to say. They came to her as easy as breath. Before an argument, when she had to time to think about it, it was like she was struck dumb. Nothing would come to her. How was she supposed to talk to him? What would she say? She knew how to calm the younger Anakin down, but over the last six years he'd obviously changed. What could she do?
Anakin lifted his head, peering backwards at where she was observing him from the bushes. A mild wave of embarrassment washed over her, but she pushed it to one side and approached him slowly. Of course he'd sensed her in her moment of mild nerves. Well, she'd caught him staring more times than she could count. He probably never felt embarrassment, so why should she? Still, words wouldn't form on her tongue. She wouldn't apologise because she knew what she had done was the right thing, but she couldn't help feeling a little guilty.
"You let Boba Fett go," he spoke, turning away from her and saving her from her twisted tongue. He could probably feel the bounty hunter fleeing. She could only hope he wouldn't decide to seek vengeance one night when she wasn't looking.
"I did," she responded quietly, stopping to stand awkwardly beside him.
"That was foolish," Vader grumbled. "He could return at any moment to kill you. We might not get lucky again."
"He won't come back. He isn't stupid," Padmé responded calmly. "He knows he stands no chance against both you and Obi-Wan. I'm sure he'll be more focused on his missing hands now anyway." Although the wound was cauterised, it could probably still rip and get infected. He was going to have to find a way to take care of himself. That would certainly be his priority.
"It's still an unnecessary risk," he protested, lifting his head to peer up at her. "What if he goes after the children to force you into a spot? Or maybe even the cubs?"
"Anakin," Padmé spoke softly lowering her hands down to his shoulders. She went ridged when she felt something warm and wet soaking his clothing. She immediately retracted her hand, finding it was coated in a layer of scarlet blood. Her mouth fell open. "Anakin!" she scolded him. "You're hurt and you didn't say anything?"
"It's a scratch," he grunted. Padmé sent him a threatening glare.
"If my hand is covered in your blood, it is certainly not a scratch," she snapped. "Can I take a look?" she gestured to his shoulder, which she could now see gleamed with slick blood. He turned his head away from her, saying nothing. She assumed that was his way of saying yes. With a gentle sigh, she began delicately pulling apart the folds of his clothing. They were soggy and squelched under pressure. She found several little cuts that didn't bother her immensely, but she also found one deep wound that ran from the top of his chest over the curve of his shoulder. "That is not a scratch," she repeated again, anger lacing her voice. His head turned up to look at her, but he didn't say anything. She took a step back from him, both of her hands covered with a film of his blood. "I think I have a medical pack in my ship," she said, stepping away from him. "I'll be back in a moment."
Just as she said she would, Padmé sped back to wards her ship and found the pack. She was careful not to track blood on anything, because the twins asking questions was the last thing she needed. When she returned, he was sitting in the same place. His helmeted head followed her every move, only glancing down once to look at the little, red pack she carried in her hand. Placing it down by his feet, she pressed the button at the centre and several long compartments slid out, displaying a variety of tools. Cleaning her hands, she picked up a few iteams and turned back to Anakin. He was blankly watching her and she found herself wishing she could see under that blasted mask to look at his face. To see what he was thinking.
Crouching beside him and pinning back some of the shredded fabric, she began dabbing away the blood around the largest injury with a disinfecting cloth wipe. Beneath the scarlet liquid was a layer of tight, pale skin. It seemed waxy and featureless. It was a far cry from the supple, tanned skin that used to cover his body. She supposed being burned alive wasn't ideal skin care. When she'd cleaned away the majority of the blood, she used a gel spray that coated the wound and stopped any more leaking out. She hadn't mentioned it might nip, assuming Anakin would already know that. He stiffened a little but didn't complain.
The gel created a thin twinkling cast over the injury that wouldn't last long, so she had to work reasonably quickly. Stooping down to the kit, she picked up a needle and a thread. Sterilising it, she moved back to the open wound. The gel had a numbing effect, so hopefully he wouldn't feel too much of the needle work. She began to work away diligently, sewing him back together. His skin was tough and difficult to pull together, but she found ways around the problem and made sure to knot it a few extra times. Due to the way he was haunched inwards, it became impossible to line up the wrinkled edges of the wound that ran over his chest. "Can you put your shoulder back?" she asked him gently. He didn't move. He didn't even say anything. He just stared up at her defiantly. She straightened up and clenched her jaw. "Anakin, you're acting like a child." Still no response. She gritted her teeth. It he was going to behave like a little boy, she was going to have to stoop to new lows to force him to act like an adult.
Padmé let out a rushing sigh, giving him one last chance to comply to her wishes. Nothing. "Fine," she snapped. In one slick movement, she swung her leg over his and sat into a straddle over his waist. He went stiff, his helmet tracing her every move. Even his respirator hitched. "Shoulder. Back," she commanded. This time he moved, rolling his shoulder back and allowing her access to his chest and stretching out his injury. With grim satisfaction, she continued her work. It was much easier from this angle and she could get a much closer look. Perhaps she should have done this from the beginning. As she went, she began to hum softly.
Anakin's legs were hard beneath her and she could feel the ridges and bumps of his cybernetics. Just how much of him was robotic now? His chest was also rock solid, but she knew from the extensive amount of blood that stained her clothing that it was human. No doubt he'd had to build muscle to lug around those heavy cybernetics all the time. She could imagine them driving him completely insane when he was learning to use them. After all, Anakin had been very light weight and flexible as a Jedi. It was a big change. One he seemed to have more than compensated for.
When she finished the needlework, she carefully tucked her tools away and plucked up a few bacta strips without leaving his lap. Carefully, she placed them over the stitching, smoothing out the green strips with her fingers. It occurred to her, this was the closest they had been in years. All that time thinking she would never even be able to see him again and she was sitting on top of him. It struck a chord in her heart. A chord of surrealism. Her heart squeezed with joy, but was also leaden and heavy.
When she'd finished with the bacta strips, she layered it with a few bandage patches for extra protection and coverage. It was only then that she moved to get up and lift herself away. Anakin's hands grasped her upper leg suddenly, pulling her back down. She turned to look at him in surprise. "Don't go," he spoke as softly as his vocoder allowed. Padmé's heart melted, because she felt it to. They had just connected after so long of being apart. The last thing she wanted to do was leave him.
Padmé smiled at him softly and wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him in close. He curled his arms around her back, squeezing her tight. His control box dug into her stomach, but she didn't care. His armour was cold and inhuman beneath her, but she didn't care. His respirator was loud in her ear, but she didn't care. She was hugging him. Holding him close. Just like she had craved for so many years. Although it wasn't quite as she remembered it, it filled her need. Her need for him.
They stayed like that for some time. Two halves of the same body finally merging. Darkness began to descend and the birds' evening chorus went silent. Orange light flooded around them. The gentle breeze carried dancing, colourful petals. The trees creaked gently. It was them and only them.
When they finally released each other, Padmé's cheeks were wet with tears she hadn't know she’d shed. They were tears of relief. Years of anguish seeping from her eyes in liquid form. She wiped them away with the back of her hand, still seated on his lap. Grasping his helmet, she traced the contours with her thumb and looked straight into his lenses. "If you're hurt, please tell me. I don't want to loose you again," her voice wavered.
"I'm sorry," he apologised, brushing hair from her cheek and tucking it behind her ear. Padmé's mind slowly came back to her. The gravity of the new information Boba had revealed shocked her. Even though she didn't want to ruin the moment, she felt she had to tell him.
"We discovered who hired Fett," she told him gently, her face wrinkling.
"The Emperor," Vader responded calmly. Her brows shot up. How did he know? "I hired Boba Fett to find you when I couldn't," he explained. "The only person he would betray me for is the Emperor." Padmé nodded slowly. It was just as she thought.
"Is that how Boba found me here?" she asked, cocking her head to one side.
"There is a tracker on your ship," he informed her, resting his hands on her hips.
"Why didn't you tell me that?"
"You would have removed it and I was afraid I'd have to use it to find you again," he said. Padmé's heart sank a little. Was he really so certain she'd run from him? What could she have done to make him feel that way? Then again, maybe it was more likely something he'd done. A few force chokes sprang to mind.
"Obi-Wan, Ahsoka and I are going to make a plan to get around this," she informed him. "Will you help us?"
"You know I will," he responded instantly, drawing a smile to her face. Anakin was returning.
Chapter 33: Planakin
The forest was lit by the pale moonlight that reflected eerily from the tree bark. The breeze was warm. Distantly, animals could be heard whooping and bellowing. There were a few shrill screams that sounded scarily human. The smell of mist was thick in the air. Vader was sitting atop a rock, Padmé at the base by his feet. Obi-Wan and Ahsoka were leaning against trees opposite her. They were locked in deep conversation about the empire and the logistics of evading the Emperor's wrath. Vader knew he should be listening in, but his mind was elsewhere. It was trapped in the past. Just hours earlier.
Vader could still feel Padmé's weight on what remained of his legs as she sat atop him. He could hear her as she hummed softly. He could see the way her dark eyes were turned golden brown by the dying light of day. His heart squeezed. Her fingers had been warm on his skin. It had been so long since he'd felt anything but the cold touch of metal. The last time he really felt it was when he was throttling Obi-Wan amidst their heated Mustafar duel. His skin was badly damaged now, and the sensation of her touch had been muted and distorted, but he had cherished every moment of it.
It also scared him. Ever since that moment, he hadn't felt the tug of the dark side or the desire to rule it all. The only thing he wanted was her. To been near her. To hear her laugh, see her smile. Vader had tasted power with the empire and he knew just how lonely it was. How it corrupted the soul and bled his heart so dry it refused to beat. With one touch, she'd filled it with life once more. Now, that was all he could think of.
"We could always fake your death again," Ahsoka suggested to Padmé. He scolded himself for loosing focus once more and brought his attention back to the conversation at hand.
"That might work for me, but it's the twins I'm really concerned about," Padmé responded, gesturing to the two infants curled up in the fuzz of Max's fur.
"But its you the Emperor wants dead," Obi-Wan protested. "We can keep the children safely hidden because he does not know for certain they exist. You, however, are in great danger."
"Obi-Wan is correct," Vader added, three pairs of startled eyes landed on him. It had been a while since he'd chipped in. Though, he ought to be leading the conversation since he knew the empire and the emperor much better than them all combined. "My master will no doubt search for the children but he is disadvantaged because he doesn't know anything about them. He will want you dead not only for fighting with the rebels but for drawing me away from him." Padmé's eyes dropped down in thought.
"What do you suggest we do then?" she asked softly, lifting her eyebrows. Vader paused, mulling over the situation they had found themselves in. It wasn't looking positive, that was for sure. Sidious was a master of deception and treachery. It would be difficult to out manoeuvre him. Unlike the last time they were toe to toe, the Jedi had the advantage of at least knowing who they were facing.
"If you truly want the children safe, you must kill him," Vader responded. Their eyes went wide one more.
"And then you take control of the whole galaxy? I presume," Obi-Wan responded bitterly, lifting his brows. Vader clenched his jaws, stifling the anger that bubbled within him. It wasn't the time to fight and considering many of Vader's latest endeavours it was a justified concern.
"The Emperor will hunt the children to the edges of the galaxy and back," Vader grumbled. "You may hide Padmé by faking her death again, but he will hunger for the power of the twins, as he did mine, forever more."
"We could fake their deaths too," Ahsoka suggested.
"The Emperor would not be fooled by such convenience," Vader grunted.
"How could we even get close enough to the Emperor to attempt killing him?" Padmé asked, raising her brows. Obi-Wan sent her an incredulous look, but she'd paid it no heed.
"By now, The Emperor will have been informed of my disappearance and realised I am with Padmé," Vader began, pressing his lips together as a plot began forming in his mind. "If we want to be as inconspicuous as possible, then we should make the Emperor feel as though he is winning. His pride will blind him." Obi-Wan's face was grim, but he dipped his head in agreement. "If the Emperor believes Padmé is dead, then he will expect me to return to his side. So I will. From the inside, I can find a way to sneak all three of you on board the Emperor's ship. Then, we simply strike when the time is right."
"Wouldn't the Emperor feel us?" Ahsoka asked, scrunching up her face.
"If you hide your presences well, he'll only find them if he is looking. So we must give him something to distract himself with," Vader replied. Padmé narrowed her eyes, already understanding where he was going. "I should bring the twins with me to see him. Their power will infatuate him."
"Absolutely not," Padmé responded within the same heartbeat he had finished speaking. He didn't blame her. The thought of the children being anywhere near Sidious appalled him. Unlike her however, he had insight into his master's cunning and twisted mind.
"The Emperor would not risk hurting them," Vader told her. "Not at first. He'll want to win their trust to gain their power. That would give us more than enough time to kill him." Padmé's face was still twisted with doubt. "He'll think of them as an investment. It might be one of the safest places in the galaxy for them at the minute."
"We would all be with them as well," Ahsoka added. "They would still have our protection."
"You're certain they'll be safe?" Padmé asked Vader, upset stirring on her features as she twisted her body around to peer up at him.
"I swear it," he responded. Padmé bit her lip and cast her eyes over to the sleeping children. He placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
"Alright," she sighed, leaning back against his legs. Some part of him wished they weren't metal just to feel the pressure of her touch. "I trust you," she told him, staring up into his eyes. He felt the weight behind her words. He wouldn't fail her. He refused to fail her.
"How are we going to convince the Emperor that she is dead?" Ahsoka asked, lifting a white brow. "As it is, I think Boba Fett is our best opportunity." Vader was about to reprimand her for being foolhardy, but he paused and thought it through. If Boba had the chance to claim his bounty without having to do the job, then surely he would.
"Hold on, before we commit to this plan I think we should address one thing," Obi-Wan protested and all eyes moved over to him. "What is going to happen with the Empire once the Emperor is dead?" They turned their gazes to Vader. Part of him was still clinging to the idea of taking complete power. Once the plan was completed, they'd all be right where he wanted them. Still, he glanced down at Padmé's brown eyes that were staring at him hopefully, faithfully, and he couldn't betray her. He couldn't even think of betraying her without feeling nauseous. She'd placed her faith in him, he didn't want to loose it. Not again. He'd listened to her objections about the Empire and his turn and although he hadn't wanted to, he saw the truth in them.
"What do you think should happen?" he asked Padmé. A delighted smile twisted her face, lifting his heart. Obi-Wan and Ahsoka traded happy, although shocked, expressions.
"Power needs to return to the senate," Padmé responded. "It would be the only way to keep the galaxy from falling into mass chaos whilst democracy is restored."
"The senate is corrupt," Vader grumbled, his stomach tightened.
"Then our next goal will be to fix it," she smiled at him. He pressed his lips together. That could be years of work, but it could be worth it. Finally, a galaxy that would thrive in peace. Real peace. To top it off, he'd have his family with him the whole time. If the last six years of perpetual isolation taught him anything, that was all that mattered.
"Then we'd better start planning," he replied.
Chapter 34: Lineage
The forest roused with the light of morning. Trees creaked and groaned. Animals and birds like twittered and sang. Leaves drifted down from the canopy, sailing through beams of light and casting long shadows. Vader sat with his back against a tree, watching as their little group woke slowly. Willow was tending to her cubs, Max faithfully laying beside her. The twins had wandered into the bushes to play games. Padmé was lying next to Vader, slowly picking herself up from the ground. He gently patted her shoulder in greeting. Ahsoka was mumbling to Obi-Wan, rubbing at her eyes.
Although Vader normally didn't sleep much because of his suit, that night had been particularly difficult. He'd been tracking Boba, well Boba's pain at least, for the majority of the night. While Padmé was confident he would stay away, Vader was not taking any chances. Especially when there were so many vulnerable members of their little group. His lack of sleep didn't matter much anyway. Vader was used to operating on practically none. Even in his days as a Jedi it had been fleeting.
A childish scream tore through the air, putting them all on alert. Boba was still fairly far away. Padmé straightened up, her eyes narrowed as she scanned the bushes before them. There was more screaming and shouting. Vader was smashed by a tidal wave of fear and rage, neither of them his. Padmé pinched the bridge of her nose, letting out a long sigh. The twins burst out of bushes nearby, Luke was running from Leia, who had a stick raised menacingly above her head to strike. She chased him with determination and speed. Vader nearly snorted. It seems like she was already taking to lightsaber combat. Definitely his daughter.
"Luke, Leia," Padmé's spoke lowly. Although she hadn't spoken very loud, the children heard her and halted in their tracks. They turned to her with wide, fearful eyes. Even Vader was a little shocked. He'd never heard her use that tone before. Then again, she'd probably developed it just for the twins. "Come here," she commanded, beckoning them to her with the curl of a finger. The twins sent each other a foul glare before sulking over to their mother with heads hanging low. Leia was still clutching the stick. "Drop it," Padmé told her, and the little girl did as she asked instantly.
The twin's halted before Padmé, their eyes focused on the grass. "Why were you trying to hurt your brother, Leia?" Padmé asked sternly, her brows lifted high.
"He said my buns looked like poo-doo," Leia huffed, crossing her arms over her chest and pulling her face down into a frown. Vader's eyes lifted to the buns on either side of her head. The did have the same unique, curling pattern that most cartoon poo-doo had. He pushed a smile down, when Leia cast him a mean glare. He couldn't hide his amusement behind a mask with them like he could Padmé.
"I apologised," Luke protested, swinging his arms out wide.
"He didn't mean it," Leia growled, her narrowed eyes shifting to her brother. The twins seemed to have a very strong force connection. It came as no surprise to Vader they could sense each other's sincerity.
"Luke, why would you say something like that?" Padmé asked, her tone still strong but not as stern as before.
"Because it's true," he responded, earning him a snarl from the feral little girl. His eyes widened in fright. Behind them, Vader could see Obi-Wan and Ahsoka stifling smiles. He couldn't tell how Padmé was keeping a straight face. This entire argument was ridiculous.
"Luke, if we can't make criticism constructive and polite..." she began.
"We don't say anything at all," Luke sighed, his shoulders dropping a little. It seems Padmé had them trained well. There was a glimmer of grim satisfaction in Leia's eyes. Vader wasn't sure he'd be able to keep the twins from killing each other on the Emperor's flagship, never mind the Emperor.
"Did you hurt Leia's feelings?" Padmé asked gently.
"Yes," Luke responded, kicking at the ground. Leia's face was still dark with storming rage.
"Are you happy you hurt her feelings?" Padmé pressed further. Luke shook his head, sadness began bubbling out of him. Padmé turned her head to Leia, who gave a nod of confirmation. "Then you are sorry," Padmé told him. He nodded his head glumly. "So apologise."
"I'm sorry Leia," he spoke sadly, dopey eyes staring into his sister's venomous glare.
"I hate you," she hissed back. Padmé immediately began to reprimand Leia, but Vader's mind was thrown elsewhere. For just a moment, he was limbless on a black bank of sand. The air was so thick with heat it sizzled his hair and melted his clothes. Fire ate away at his skin. Pain he could never have imagined in his darkest nightmares mercilessly bore down on him. He throat ached as he screamed. Vader and Kenobi caught each other's eyes. The Jedi's face was pale, the corners of his lips tugged downwards. Ahsoka stared between them. Anger boiled inside of Vader, but he smothered it down. It wasn't the time or place.
Vader turned his head back to the children. They had their heads snapped in opposite directions, arms crossed tightly over their chests and bottom lips pouting. "Leia, that was very rude. Luke apologised. I'm disappointed," that was all Padmé needed to say and Leia's eyes went large. Her anger slipped away into upset and guilt.
"I'm sorry," Leia responded sadly.
"It's not me you have to apologise to," Padmé informed her.
Leia turned to her brother sadly. "I'm sorry, Luke," she told him. His face lifted into a smile and he pulled her into a tight hug. She hugged him back.
"I love you too," Luke grinned. Vader lifted his brows, assuming some non-verbal communication had happened between the pair that he simply hadn't picked up on. His heart lifted at the surprisingly sweet moment.
After a few seconds, a mischievous grin lit Leia's face. "Zip," she chuckled, patting his back and immediately running away. "You're the zapper now." Luke was stunned for a moment, but he jutted his jaw out to one side.
"You cheat!" he yelled and immediately began chasing after her. "I'm going to zap you!" They vanished into the bushes but their giggled flowed around the forest. Vader blinked, perplexed by such a sudden change in mood. Obi-Wan and Ahsoka returned to their conversation with wide smiles.
"Do they argue like that often?" Vader asked Padmé.
"Occasionally," Padmé chuckled, stretching her arms above her head. "They are both quite sensitive and honest to a fault. Luke may seem a little more reserved than Leia, but don't let him fool you. He can be quite boisterous himself,"
"Luke has your temperament," Vader commented. "You share the same peace and ferocity." Padmé sent him a wide smile and a twinkle of gratitude shone in her eyes. She leaned onto his shoulder and every muscle in his body went tense.
"Luke definitely looks more like you," she chuckled. Vader paused. He hadn't picked up on much resemblance. Then again, it had been years since he'd seen himself without burns coating his skin. "Sometimes I catch sight of him in the middle of the night and think it's the same little boy who called me an angel on Tatooine." Vader's heart lifted at the memory. He'd never seen such beauty in his life as Padmé Amidala when they’d first met. So, of course he had thought she was an angel, with those honey brown eyes of hers. "Leia is more like you in personality though," she hummed. "Before I knew you were alive, I used to think it was you stomping around in the body of a little girl." Vader let out a short grunt at that, though it wasn't a noise his vocoder picked up on.
"She has you beauty," Vader told her. She intertwined one of her hands with his own. His heart stuttered. For a moment, he imagined he could feel the heat of her palm, the pressure as her fingers slid between his, but he couldn't. He never would know what it felt like to hold her hand again and all she would have forever more was cold metal but at least they were together.
Chapter 35: Recruitment
Boba had taken his hands for granted without knowing he was taking his hands for granted. He'd never used his teeth so much in his life and his feet were becoming more and more useful. He sat in the wreckage of his ship, the nubs of his wrists were tied tightly in cloth. He'd been lucky it was a lightsaber that cut them off and not a sword. There were dead wires hanging from the roof of the crumbled cockpit. It was dingy and dark, but still warm. Glass littered the place and huge chunks of bent metal were scattered throughout. The scent of fuel and ion charges still lingered in the air, but it was nowhere near as intense as it had once been.
Boba was using his elbows to repair a dent on the side of his helmet, but he just kept accidentally making it worse. He let out a grunt of fury when the caved metal just got deeper. That damned Sith Lord. Cybernetics were expensive. Boba hadn't been told there would be other Jedi along side Vader. Just to make matters worse, it was Kenobi. The Jedi Boba's father had wrangled with. The Jedi that forced them to leave Kamino, which resulted in Jango Fett's death. Boba gritted his teeth. His father's voice reprimanded him from within. He should have been prepared for every possibility.
It was astounding Boba was still alive. Vader was notorious for taking no prisoners and showing no mercy. Amidala must mean a great amount to him. There was no doubt about that. The way she'd stood up to him could be done by no other being in the galaxy, Boba reckoned. Vader would have cut down anyone else where they stood. So why then, did the Emperor want her dead? There was definitely something twisted about the Empire's high command. Not that it surprised him.
What did surprise him, was Amidala's desire for him to live. She'd saved his life when he'd just tried to take hers. It confused him greatly. He'd never encountered or even seen such a selfless act before. For all she knew, Boba could have appeared the next night and shot her in her sleep. Not that he would have. For one, he owed her for saving his life and for two, she wasn't an easy woman to kill. If his father hadn't succeeded in killing her, how could Boba? He was deluded to have taken up this job. Especially on his own.
"Boba Fett!" a familiar voice cried from outside his ship. Boba stiffened. Sliding his helmet over his head, he clambered up the mess of rubble and poked his head through a hole in the top of the wreckage. On the ground below him, Amidala and Kenobi stared up at him from the back of a huge, black wolf. The beast looked uneasy, shifting its weight from paw to paw and staring back in the direction Boba knew their camp to be. "We want to make you a deal," Amidala spoke again, her face tight with seriousness.
"What kind of deal?" he drawled slowly, cocking his head to one side.
"What if we told you there was a way you could collect my bounty from the Emperor without having to kill me?" she asked and Boba. Kenobi was watching him closely also.
"I'd listen," Boba responded coldly. If he could salvage anything from this disaster of a mission, he would be quite proud. Although betraying the Emperor went against the bounty hunter code, Boba assumed Amidala was doing this to fake her death again. As long as she remained this time, his reputation would stay intact.
"All you have to do is tell the Emperor you killed her and the bounty will be yours," Kenobi spoke, assuring him sternly.
"What's in it for you?" Boba asked, narrowing his eyes.
"Escaping the Emperor's wrath," Amidala explained. "You don't have to worry. The Emperor will never learn of your deceit." So it was just as Boba predicted then.
"Alright, but I can't just strut in and claim to have killed you," Boba snorted, rolling his eyes. "I need proof. The sort of proof you only get from dead bodies." The pair atop the wolf traded a look. Amidala pressed her lips into a thin line. Sinking her fingers beneath her neckline, she pulled out a necklace with a tattered string. She threw it up to him. Boba caught it with the end of his stump. It had a carved, rectangular wooden pendant attached. If Boba was right, this was a symbol for good luck on Tatooine.
"That necklace will be enough," Amidala straightened up, her eyes fixating on it. "It hasn't left my side in nearly a decade. The Emperor will know that." The certainty in her voice brushed away any doubts Boba may have had.
"Then it's a deal," Boba a responded. With a nod from Amidala, she turned her beast around and sped away across the open landscape. He watched the black streak vanish into the horizon and couldn't help but wonder what he had just gotten himself into.
* * *
Padmé was seated with her back against a rock and her head on Anakin's shoulder. They were in the long grasses, staring out at the glittering lake. The sun twinkled in the sky above them. She basked in its warmth, letting it place gentle kisses on her skin. She counted the blue mountains in the distance and marvelled at the odd, wispy cloud that floated by. The breeze tickled the grasses, making them sway softly from side to side. Creatures in the grass sang a gentle melody. The twins giggled as they played the shallow water, splashing around and spraying each other. The lupus were still in the trees. This part of the day was too hot for them.
As she'd suspected he would, Boba had agreed to their deal. Now all she had to do was find a place to safely keep the Lupus and to find a way to break it to the children that they were going to be separated from her once again. The thought left a sour taste in her mouth, but they would be with Anakin. They would be fine. As fine as they could get, at least, when under the scrutiny of the Emperor.
"Padmé," Anakin's fake voice said her name as softly as it could. She lifted herself up onto her elbow so that he could see her. "Have you told the children who their father is?" he asked timidly. As timidly as a giant man in black clad armour with a robot voice could get.
Padmé shook her head. "They've only asked me about you once," she hummed. "You should tell them who you are." She didn't need to see under his mask to know he was hesitant. He was afraid of rejection. He always had been. "I think they probably somehow know already," she added with a snort, picking away a small leaf that had landed on his helmet.
"I don't doubt that," Vader sighed, turning to look as the children clambered out of the water. "I'll tell them when the time is right." Padmé smiled. So he was still one for dramatic timing. Some things never changed, she guessed. Suddenly, something in the lens of his helmet caught her eye. With her shadow blocking the glare from the sun, she could see right through, to see the eyes beneath. Although the colour was warped because of the scarlet in the transparisteel, she recognised his eyes. Their shape. The blue. It startled her into silence. "Is everything alright?" he asked. A loopy smile curled her lips.
"I can see you in there," she whispered, staring into his lenses. The pace of his respirator quickened. His eyes widened and she could tell from the shift of his skin that he'd raised his brows. Delight rose within her. It might not be a full expression, but at least she could see some of it. His gaze steadily held her own. She recognised that stare. It was the look that had disarmed her of her senatorial nature. It was the one that made her heart skip a beat every time it was sent her way. It was Anakin.
Sitting back, she blinked slowly. She was hit by a wave of nostalgia. Suddenly she realised just how much she'd craved to be with him when they were apart. Heat sprung to her eyes. Her bottom lip quivered. She was so glad they were together now, that it hurt. "What's wrong?" Anakin asked, clearly perplexed by her sudden change in mood.
"I missed you," she whimpered, a single tear falling from her eye. He lifted a gloved hand and wiped it away with a brush of his thumb. She leaned forwards and wrapped her arms around his neck, hugging him close. He returned her embrace tightly. They stayed like that for some time, just enjoying the proximity. The tear dried into her cheek and a contented smile curled her lips. The snap-hiss of his respirator lulled her into a sleepy state. His hands gently stroked her back.
"Mommy," a little voice spoke to her from behind. Padmé pulled herself from Anakin's arms and turned to see Luke and Leia sheepishly watching her. Their hands were behind their backs.
"Hello, babies," she smiled, turning her body to face them and sitting forwards. They were both dripping with water still.
"We got you this," Luke handed her a yellow flower with wide, curving petals that shone under the sun. "We thought it would make you less sad." Padmé's lips curved into a smile. Of course they could sense her upset. They always could.
"Thank you," she spoke sincerely, delicately taking the flower from him and tucking it behind her ear. "What do you think?" she displayed the new placement of her flower.
"Beautiful," Luke cheered, throwing his hands up in celebration and causing Padmé to giggle.
"We got you this, because you were sad too," Leia handed a flower to Anakin. He didn't react immediately and Padmé assumed it was probably shock. "We know mummy likes yellow flowers but we didn't know what one you liked so we just picked the one that reminded us of you," she rambled. The edges of the flower were black and dark but the centre was a brilliant, pure white.
Anakin delicately took it from her, holding it as though he was terrified he would crush it. "Thank you," he responded gently. "I would put it in my hair, but I don't have any," he shrugged. This made the children erupt with giggles.
"Let me help you," Leia laughed, taking the flower back and tucking it into a little crook of his mask. "Beautiful," she cheered, imitating the gesture of her brother. Both children burst out laughing. Padmé smothered a grin when he turned to look at her. A dark lord of the Sith wearing a flower was defined not something she would have ever thought she would see. The children ran away in fits of giggles. Their wet clothes let out sprays of water.
"The flower suits you," Padmé beamed at Anakin.
"I think you pull off yours better," he responded. She shrugged innocently. Vader pulled out the stem from his mask and peered down at the monochromatic petals.
"Padmé," Ahsoka called from behind. Padmé stared over her shoulder to see the togruta wading through the long grasses towards them. "The storm is fading. It'll be gone by nightfall," she called. Padmé's chest tightened and she stared down at Vader. Once again, she found his eyes through the lenses. They were calm, collected and steady. A sense of confidence washed over her. They could do this. They could kill the Emperor.
Chapter 36: Partition Coefficient
Padmé crouched between the access ramps of two ships. The ground was cracked and dusty, the air dry and filled with grit. Behind her was her own, sleek ship. The silvery surface reflected the harsh sun. Ahsoka and Obi-Wan stood in its mouth. Before her was a stubby imperial shuttle. Anakin was standing by it's base, his dark cape flapping in the cold breeze. The flat plains they were in stretched far and wide, only rising into distant, beige mountains.
In her arms, the twins were crying softly. She rubbed her hands up and down their backs gently. Her face was down turned and she swallowed a lump in her throat that just kept bobbing back up. "Don't cry, you'll see me soon," Padmé reassured them, brushing away their tears with her thumbs.
"You said that when we went to Bail's," Leia protested, sniffling. "But you were gone forever." She stretched her arms out as wide as they would go to emphasises her point. Padmé felt guilt churn within her. They had been separated several times over the past few months. That was a lot for children who had never left her side since the moment they were born. Hopefully after the Emperor was dead, she wouldn't have to leave them again for some time.
"Who's gonna pick you flowers when you sad?" Luke asked her, his chin trembling. That prompted a smile to her face.
"You won't be without me long, my darlings," she stroked their faces. The leaned into her touch, their rounded cheeks fitting perfectly into her palms. "You must remember, everyone is going to tell you I'm dead but I won't be." The nodded, sniffling and wiping their eyes. "You can't let anyone know I'm still alive though," she told them. "It's our little secret and I'm trusting you to keep it." She dropped her arms to her knees. They nodded, running their fingers along their mouths like they were sealing a zipper.
"Why is everyone gonna think you dead when you not?" Leia asked, scrunching up her features. Padmé paused. If she told them the truth it would scare them, but she didn't want to lie to them. She had to make them understand how important it was that she remained dead in the public eyes. She wouldn't make them think she was really dead either. For one, they'd probably sense she was alive and for two she didn't want to scar them for life.
"Well, a very bad man wants to hurt me," Padmé told them and their eyes widened to saucers. "If he thinks I'm dead then he can't."
"We won't tell anyone you alive," Luke shook his head furiously. "Bad man not gonna hurt you."
"I'm glad to know it," she laughed, patting their head with a smile. Her eyes flicked up to Anakin, he was waiting patiently by his ship with his arms crossed over his chest. "You two had better run along now," she placed a gentle kiss on their foreheads and rose to her feet. They hugged her legs tightly.
"I love you mommy," they chirped in unison.
"I love you too," she smiled down at them, burying her upset deep down inside of her. With that, they released her and reluctantly scampered up into the belly of the imperial craft. She walked up to Anakin, who automatically unfolded his arms so she could wrap her own around his waist. She rested her ear on his chest. Within, she could hear the buzzing wheeze of machines, but they didn't drown out the noise of his steadily thumping heart. "Keep them safe, please," she murmured into his chest.
"The Emperor will not touch a hair on their heads," he assured her, running his hands up and down her back.
"What about you?" she craned her head up but his clunky helmet prevented him from being able to look down at her, so he didn't even try and cuddled her close instead.
"I will be fine," he promised her. Releasing him, she took a few timid steps backwards and stared up into his lenses.
"I'm holding you to that," she informed him, mustering a small smile. He ran a thumb along her cheek bone and she could picture him smiling down sadly at her. The way he always did when they parted during the clone wars.
"I'll see you soon," he offered her one last goodbye and followed the twins up into his ship. Padmé retreated back to her own access ramp, sitting by its base as the huge ship lifted off with a hot rush of air that blinded her and shot up into the blue sky above. She let out a withering sigh. The twins were in Anakin's hands now.
* * *
Boba Fett was not a man that lost his nerve easily, but he was fighting to keep it under the scrutiny of the Emperor. The throne room was just as he recalled. Gloomy and dark, filled with the pale light of Coruscant's moon. As always, the Emperor sat atop his heigh throne, Imperial red guard dotted in strategic places throughout the room. Boba stood stiffly at the base of the stair case that led up to Palpatine with his posture ridged and his back stiff. The cybernetic hands at the ends of his wrists were covered with thick gloves, but he felt them whirring every time he twitched a finger.
"Young Boba Fett, how wonderful to see you," the Emperor chuckled, leaning back into his seat and pressing his fingertips together. "I trust you have completed the job I set you?"
"Amidala is dead," Boba responded gruffly, impressed by the false confidence in his voice.
"Do you have proof?" Sidious narrowed her eyes, a wide smile displayed a rotting set of yellowed teeth.
Boba dove dug into one of the side pouches on his belt and pulled out the necklace Amidala had given him. It's wooden pendant dangled from the tattered string. He outstretched an arm displaying it before the Emperor. His heart rate picked up a little. "This is Amidala's necklace," Boba explained. "She was buried with a fake copy, so I gathered it was of enough value to use as proof." He had done digging on Amidala and the necklace before this meeting, not wanting to get caught unaware.
The Emperor outstretched a gnarled hand. The pendant was pulled from Boba's hand, seemingly by the air. The bounty hunter straightened up, watching in startled amazement as the necklace floated like there was no gravity up to the Emperor. The old man brought it close to his face, running a thumb over the intricate carvings. A smile twisted his features. His eyes flicked back down to Boba. "Well done, young man," the Emperor praised him, a smile curling his lips. "You've killed a queen and finished what your father could not."
Chapter 37: Empire’s Heel
The Emperor stared down from atop his mighty throne at the twin children Vader had brought before him. They were tiny, little, soft pudgeballs of the light side. Nothing a bit of training couldn't fix. Still, when he stared down at their moonlit features with the towering form of their father behind them, something felt off. Wrong. They were scared, yes. He could practically taste their reservations for being so close to him, but for children that had just lose their mother, they didn't seem terribly upset or miserable.
The pendant Boba had given him was Amidala's, the Emperor could feel her all over it. The lingering love she had for Anakin Skywalker diffused out of that thing like a bad smell. Still, the Bounty Hunter had been nervous. More nervous than the first time the Emperor had met him. At the time he'd brushed it off as eagerness to please, but upon reflection he realised it most certainly was not. There had been no pride of a fresh kill in Boba. Surely a man as well renown as Fett would have been able to hold his nerve better when handing in a contract. Then, there was the issue of his cybernetic hands. The Emperor had sensed them before he'd even seen the bounty hunter. How could he have completed the job with no hands? Vader wouldn't have cut them off and just let him go if Amidala has been killed. Had Fett not succeeded, the Emperor was certain Vader would have killed him anyway. Perhaps the only person that could convince him not to was Padmé.
Sidious pressed the tips of his fingers together as he stared down at the little family before him. Something wasn't right but, momentarily, he didn't care. All the pieces of his puzzle were slotting into place. Vader himself was a twisted ball of dark fury. More so than Palpatine had even known. Grim delight spread through him. "You have returned, my apprentice," Sidious spoke and the children flinched.
Vader got down on one knee and dipped his head. "I apologise for my brief disappearance," he said, filling Sidious with satisfaction. "It will not happen again."
"I'm very sorry for your loss, my old friend," Sidious spoke. "Amidala will be missed by many." There was a shift in Vader's emotion. Some of the anger dimmed into upset.
"She would not listen to reason," Vader responded darkly and Sidious could feel his apprentice's pain. It was as tangible as the very air they breathed. "There was nothing for me with her." The Emperor faltered at that statement. Vader had been obsessed with Amidala since the moment he discovered she was dead. He'd even searched for ways to resurrect her and and the Emperor recalled, Amidala had travelled halfway across the galaxy to find him on Mustafar when he turned to the darkside whilst heavily pregnant. Sidious severely doubted there was nothing for Vader with her. Especially if the love from Padmé's necklace was anything to go by.
"Then we must move on from this," Sidious spoke gravely, leaning an elbow down on the arm of his chair. Although he wasn't fully certain if Amidala was actually dead, Vader was being obedient for the moment and the Emperor would keep a close eye on him. Sidious could focus on keeping the Sith lineage strong for the moment. "There are more important issues that require our attention." His yellow eyes narrowed on the two children who automatically shrunk from his gaze.
"I believe Amidala's children could be a great asset to the Sith," Vader explained, gesturing to the twins.
"Indeed," Sidious cleared his throat. "What do you say, little ones? Do you want to be powerful?" The twins glanced at each other, shifting slightly on their feet. They nodded mutely but he could feel their uncertainty burn like a bonfire within them. "Then you have certainly come to the right place."
Vader's quarters were devoid of life. The furniture was black and angular. An entire room was dedicated to his meditation chamber alone. There was a bed, but it was solid because he could not remove his armour. A few chairs were scattered around a low table and blinding lights shone down from above. Vader sat in one of the chairs, the twins were huddled in a different one next to him. Their fear and discomfort was prevalent through the force but he was trying not to think about it or ease it because it would help them keep their cover for Sidious.
With his eyes closed, he was focusing on keeping his own emotions unstable and erratic. He was forcing himself back into the mindset of the Vader that had just stepped off the operation table. The Vader that had just lost everything. The Vader that was stuck in the trap of the darkside. It was difficult and painful but he was learning to maintain it. He had to learn to maintain it. For Padmé's sake.
A sniffle beside him made him turn down to see the two children desperately fighting back tears. His heart clenched. They were so scared. He was supposed to make them feel safe, secure. He was their father, not their jailor. "Are you alright?" he asked them softly. Their wide eyes peered up at him.
"We just miss mommy," Leia answered, wiping tears from her face.
"But we are going to be strong," Luke assured him. "So that bad man can't get her."
"I'm sure she will appreciate that," Vader responded. He felt his heart melting. He gritted his teeth and tried to focus on something, anything that would hurt him. All he could think about were the twins. An idea sprung to his mind. The twins were exactly what he needed to close off his heart again. "Did your mother ever tell you much about your father?" Vader asked suddenly, pulling their inquisitive eyes back to him for a moment.
"We asked once when we were little," Leia shrugged. The thought of them being any littler amused him greatly. It didn’t seem possible. "Mommy just said he was dead." There it was. The pain he needed. His children had grown up thinking he was dead. Padmé had thought he was dead. He could have been with them the whole time.
"She was so sad when we asked that we didn't ask again," Luke added, wrapping his arms around himself. Vader's heart clenched and he gritted his teeth. As much as it wounded him, he needed to hear it. The hollow, empty sadness clawed its way around him.
"Maybe one day she'll tell you more," Vader sighed, leaning back into his chair.
"I hope so," Luke spoke and Leia nodded in agreement.
Padmé felt nerves bubbling away within her. The bridge of imperial class super star destroyers were huge. Larger than the republic's had been. Hundreds of people sat in the dipped trenches on either side of the walkway that led up to the huge viewport. It reminded her a little of the sweatshops run by the crime lords in the outer rim. Coruscant's pale moon shone in through the transparisteel windows and Coruscant itself speckled like a single particle of glitter in the all consuming darkness of space. The light outlined a looming figure cloaked in black. Anakin was staring out at the moon, his arms crossed tightly over his chest.
At the very back of the room, Padmé was cleaning a black scorch mark from the floor with the help of a drill shaped droid. It seemed one of the astromechs had self destructed. The reports said it was just a malfunction, but whispers in the pits said it was from a stress overload. Obi-Wan wasn't far away, repairing a few lights in the walls that had been damaged in the blast.
Their faces had both been morphed by technology to look like completely different people. She had found it very difficult at first to recognise Obi-Wan with his different face, but over the course of the past few days she had learned to accept his appearance as he had adapted to hers. Calling each other by their fake names had become second nature. Ahsoka was working in the hangar as a mechanic. Perhaps one of the few places on the ship that non humans were allowed. Not many people knew her face so it had been deemed safe enough to not have hers modified. Not to mention, the only time the Emperor went near one of the hangars, it would have been pre prepared so she was safe from his scrutiny.
An Imperial Officer strutted by, his arms clasped behind his back. From his tight lipped, pale expression, she could tell he was nervous. Incredibly nervous. His ridged form stopped just behind Anakin. The giant clad in armour turned around slowly to look at him. Padmé continued on manoeuvring the droid around to clean, but she kept Anakin in the corner of her vision. It was the same thing the majority of the Imperials did, though for very different reasons. She was keeping an eye out for him, they were keeping an eye out for themselves.
The two men spoke in hushed tones, Anakin's progressively getting more irritated. The imperial shrunk away from his wrath but with one last word, Vader wrapped him in a force choke and lifted him from the ground. Padmé's breath caught in her throat and she continued her work, tearing her gaze away. Her chest tightened a little and memories of Mustafar jumped to her mind. Obi-Wan glanced back at her, probably sensing her discomfort, but there was no instruction on his face. It was a blank look. Sucking in a deep breath, she calmed herself. Anakin had to do this sort of stuff to remain true to his Vader persona. If he didn't, there would be suspicion and that was the last thing they needed.
Focusing her attention on her work, her muscles went taut as she waited for a tell tale crunch or a thump, but it never came. Instead, she just heard the Imperial officer's feet scuttling along the ground away from them. Relief washed over her. The poor man had just been doing his job. When she glanced back up at Anakin, he was staring back out of the viewport. She pressed her lips together and reminded herself that she was supposed to be just another Imperial janitor.
Later that very same day, Padmé was pushing a cart of spare parts down an empty hallway. It was nightshift on the star destroyer and the majority of workers were in their quarters. Only the security teams and janitorial staff were up and about. From up ahead, she heard lumbering footsteps powering towards her accompanied by the snap-hiss of a respirator. Keeping her eyes trained on her cart, she kept on pushing. Although she did want to glance up and see Anakin, she knew better. There would be nothing for her to react to and if anything it would just make his job of remaining the Emperor's steel fist more difficult. Not to mention that there were eyes and ears everywhere.
What she didn't expect, was for him to step in front of the cart and force her to halt completely in her tracks. She lifted her eyes in surprise, peering up at his inscrutable mask. "You should watch where you are going," he growled. Padmé nodded slowly, understanding this was his way of telling her he had been trying to catch her attention but she hadn't looked up to see it. That's why he'd stepped in her way.
"My apologies, Lord Vader," she dipped her head. She hated having to call him that name and she assumed he probably hated it too. He'd always hated it when they'd been forced to call each other ‘Knight Skywalker' or 'Senator Amidala' during the clone wars. She thought he'd always been quite proud to have the privilege of being able to call her by her first name and the fact he couldn't drove him insane.
"Another droid self destructed in my quarters," he spoke coldly. "I would like it seen to immediately." With that, he lumbered past her down the hall. Padmé blew out a low breath and continued pushing her cart. It seemed it was time for them to start planning the Emperor's demise.
Not much later and Padmé was pushing a different cart of cleaning supplies and droids through the gaping doors of Vader's quarters. Initially there wasn't a lot for her to react to. The room Vader had led her into was dominated primarily by a huge orb that had a single chair within. Everything was white except from those standing within. There were other doors that she guessed led off to where the children were staying. Anakin stood with Ahsoka and Obi-Wan by the back of the orb. Their faces were grim.
"Padmé," Obi-Wan dipped his head in her direction. She dipped it back, left the cart by the door and joined their little circle.
"We must keep it down," Anakin spoke quietly. "The twins are sleeping and if they wake up they'll come to you. They've already sensed your presence on board." He explained quietly. Padmé nodded slowly. The twins always had a strange way of knowing exactly where she was. They had to remain apart. If the children's unease were to lift then the Emperor would surely grow suspicious. "I believe we should corner the Emperor soon. The longer we wait the longer he has to figure out the truth," Anakin announced.
"How are we all going to get near the Emperor without him getting suspicious?" Ahsoka asked, raising a brow.
"Leave that to me," Anakin replied. From the look on Ahsoka and Obi-Wan's faces you'd have thought he'd suggested he was going to take on the Emperor himself. Padmé pressed her lips together. Anakin's plan so far had been drastic, but it was working. Just like it always did. She needed to have faith in him. They all did. "Padmé," he spoke and she turned to look at him. "You should remain here with the children, if we are beaten then their freedom will be in your hands." Padmé's mouth went dry. Although she didn't like the idea of losing the three of them, she knew she was no use in a battle between force users. The place she could do the most good was with the children.
"I'll be here," she promised him. A stiffness she hadn't noticed in his posture loosened off.
"Now, the Emperor will fall," Anakin announced.
I’ve grown quite fond of receiving all your comments on the chapters I post every day. It never fails to make me smile. Thank you, to those of you who have been leaving your thoughts despite my lack of responses! There isn’t too much left in the story and I’m currently writing the last two chapters, but thanks for sticking around so long 😊.
Chapter 39: It Begins
After speaking to Padmé briefly, Vader was finding it a lot harder to keep his angry facade going. As he knelt rigidly at the base of the Emperor's throne, the majority of his attention was spent on dragging painful, rage inducing memories to the forefront of his mind. Sidious peered down at Vader with his glowing eyes. A little droid was milling around the edges of the room, dusting away at the floor. The Royal Red Guard had vacated, leaving only the two Sith.
"I believe it is time we discussed the training of Skywalker's children," Sidious leaned back into his chair, pressing the tips of his fingers together. Vader's anger broiled. They were his children.
"I do not know if they are suited to Sith teachings, my master," Vader responded, his head tilted forwards.
"Everyone is suited to Sith teachings," The Emperor responded coldly. What would make you say something so obviously untrue?" Vader's jaw jutted to one side, but he did his best to ignore the scolding.
"It was Amidala," Vader huffed, he began forcing his anger to mount, dragging up the worst memories from the depths of his mind. "She has been poisoning their minds and whispering her ideals into their ears. They cling to her words like a mantra." With one last tug, he pulled the memory of burning alive on Mustafar's shore to mind and allowed himself to revel in it. Although it didn't have the same impact it normally did, it caused his anger to peak unbearably high. He dug a hand so tightly into his knee that the metal groaned. "She made them weak," he snarled. The droid in the corner of the room took the brunt of Vader's rage, exploding into several hundred little pieces that scattered across the room and left a smouldering black mark on the ground. One of the fragments lodged itself into the wall. The tension in his shoulder's eased.
"Control you anger apprentice," Sidious scolded, buying right into it. "Don't let it control you."
"My apologies, Master," Vader begrudgingly dipped his head a little lower. He allowed his anger to siphon away a little, but not completely.
"Skywalker was raised by Jedi, was he not?" The Emperor spoke calmly. "They teach nothing but moral philosophy and he turned." Vader wanted argue that there was a little more than light persuasion that went into his fall. More like years and years of emotional manipulation and a desperation to save the life of someone who wasn't going to die. The Emperor seemed to pick up on his train of thought. "They are still young. Their minds can be changed." The thought of that sickened Vader to no end. The twins were perfect as they were, he didn't want their minds the be twisted by the Emperor as his had. He wanted them to be pure forever but that simply wasn't possible. "You must begin their training soon. This is valuable time."
"As you wish, my master," Vader dipped his head. He hadn't given much thought to training the children, but he supposed it would be a conversation to have with Padmé. The thought of her raised warmth within his heart. Vader squashed it down as quickly as he could, his whole body tensing inside his suit. If the Emperor had sensed that, it could have been a fatal mistake.
"Go and inform maintenance of the mess in here," The Emperor grumbled, placing his hands atop the large arm rests.
Vader dipped his head for a final time and rose to his feet. He whirled around and vanished through the throne room entrance.
The Emperor watched his apprentice leave with unease bubbling unease him. That little display of rage from Vader had been strained. It was years since he'd let his emotions out of control in front of the Emperor. Not to mention, he would never speak of Amidala so poorly. So spitefully. No matter how much Palpatine wanted to believe his apprentice had finally cut his attachments to her, he could tell it simply wasn't true. Over the last few standard weeks, Sidious had felt feint flickers of joy and happiness within Vader, although they were quickly suppressed. The last time he had been genuinely happy was when Amidala was alive. With her recent resurfacing, and their meeting, it didn't escape his mind that she could very well be alive. If she was alive, then why were her children here? Why would she let them come alone with Vader?
Unless, they weren't alone at all. Perhaps the reason the children weren't terribly upset was because they knew their mother was on this ship, close by? Sidious's gut clenched. His apprentice was up to something, that much he was certain of. The crackle of tenseness in the force told him that whatever it was Vader had planned was imminent. Leaning down to the communicator imbedded in the arm of his throne, he pressed it hard. Immediately the holo of a Red Guard popped up before him, flickering in and out of focus constantly. "How may I serve you, my lord," the guard dipped his head, a long pike clutched in one hand.
"Search Vader's chambers and bring to me anyone who resides within," Sidious spoke, clasping his hands over his chest. If Vader was planning something, a little leverage would do Sidious good. "Do not let Vader know you are there." The red guard dipped his head and The Emperor ended the transmission.
Closing his eyes over, the Emperor submerged himself in the force. What he sensed was anticipation. Fear. There was indeed something coming. Allowing the dark side to flow through him, he tried to taunt the future into his grasps. He saw lightning, flashes of red, death, mourning. Someone was going to die. No, more than one person was going to die. He could see his apprentice lying flat on his back, people screaming his name. Shouting, there was a lot of shouting. Sidious felt dread settle in his stomach. He wasn't certain what to make of this future.
Sidious hadn't been meditating long when he heard the entrance to his throne room open. Peeling his own eyes open, he stared at a pair of lower class Imperial's that were pulling a janitorial cart into the room. One of them seemed to be a Togruta. There weren't many non-human's within the Empire. For her to be accepted into the ranks, she must be exceptional at her job. Then again, why wasn't she higher ranking if that were the case? Alarm bells rang in his head.
Narrowing his eyes, he began prodding at their presences. They were heavily shielded. So they were trained in the force? Panic rose within him. A togruta, a togruta of red, blue and white colouration none the less, who was well trained in the force and just happened to appear whilst Vader defected. Ahsoka Tano.
Before Sidious could react, the doors the the throne room slid open once more and in strutted Vader. The Emperor's lip curled and he stood to his feet. "I forgot to mention one thing, my master," Vader drew his saber and with one well placed slice, sealed the door behind him. The Emperor did not panic. There were many other hidden entrances and exits in this room that only the Red Guard and him knew of. "Padmé was not the only person I found in the rebel base." Just like that, Ahsoka and the other man who the Emperor did not recognise but assumed was Kenobi drew out their own sabres and pointed them threateningly at Sidious.
"As you wish," Sidious growled, summoning his own blade to his palm and igniting it with a hiss. The scarlet light filled his vision. This battle was long over due.
Padmé crept into Vader's chambers, skirted around his meditation chamber and slipped into one of the rooms beyond. It was dim and sparsely decorated with a bed shoved into the corner. There lay a lump in a tangle of eight limbs. A smile graced her face when she heard the gentle whooshing of tiny breaths. Padmé supposed she had better let the children know she was there. It would make their escape quicker if needed. She bit down on her lip, her chest tightening until she couldn't breath. She couldn't afford to think of loosing Anakin, not again, but she still needed to be prepared to flee. It was getting more and more difficult to separate the ideas in her mind.
Creeping over to the twins, she knelt down by their bedside. Before she could even reach an arm out to shake them awake, their eyes lazily blinked open. They craned their heads up to see her and squinted against the darkness. For just a moment, her heart stopped beating. Although it had only been a few months, it had felt like centuries since she'd seen them last. Her worry must have aged her at least a decade. "Mummy?" Luke croaked. A lump formed in Padmé's throat.
"I'm here baby," she whispered.
Leia peered up at her cautiously. "You look funny," she scrunched up her features.
"I'm wearing a device that hides my real face," she responded calmly, reaching out and stroking their cheeks. They automatically leaned into her touch, a gesture that was greatly appreciated. "It's me though, babies." They pulled themselves to their knees and threw themselves on her. She giggled quietly, wrapping her arms around them.
"I missed you," They cried in unison. She deeply inhaled the fruity scent, purring as she did so.
"I missed you too," she squeezed them a little tighter. Sniffling, she pulled away from them. "We need to wait here for a little while, and if Anakin doesn't return then we need to flee," her voice cracked as she explained. Their inquisitive eyes bore into her own.
"Akin is worried," Leia whispered. Padmé squeezed her eyes shut, wishing she hadn't heard that. Her throat began constricting and she pulled in a few deep breaths. Of course Anakin would be nervous, it wasn't going to be an easy fight. Then again, they hadn't said nervous, they said worried. As though he was decently certain there was a high possibility he might loose. She opened her mouth to respond, but before she could the door behind her slid open.
The children let out squeals of fright and she swivelled around on her feet. The huge form of three royal guards stood in the doorway, their outlines illuminated by the glow beyond. Padmé whipped out a blaster, but before she could fire any shots, the sharp point of a pike was pressed against her throat. She stopped breathing. The other two guards rushed in, grabbing the screaming children. "Don't hurt them," Padmé's yelped, lurching to protect them. The guard roughly gripped her, pressing the cold metal of his pike to her neck. The other guards each held a thrashing child, stalking out of the room with them. "No!" she yelled, reaching out for them.
"Stop fighting us and we won't have a reason to hurt them," the guard behind her snarled. The blade at her neck dug a little deeper, causing her to still. She let out a hiss of air through her teeth and allowed the guard to push her along and out of Vader's quarters into the long corridors beyond. The children were crying, but they'd stopped fighting their captors and had fallen limp in their arms. That relieved Padmé a little because she knew they were less likely to be hurt if they complied. She managed to catch Leia's eye, sending her a confident smile and mouthing that she would be okay. The little girl's tears slowed and her cries mellowed to whimpers. Luke copied her, calming slightly. No doubt he could feel the reassurance she had given Leia as well.
The walk was short and painfully quick. The whole time she was thinking of ways to escape and over come the red guard. There were three of them and they could kill the twins if she wasn't careful. When she realised where the guards were taking her, her heart plummeted. In this part of the ship, where the Emperor and Vader resided, there were hardly any staff. Only the occasional maintenance droid bumbled past, oblivious or used to the sight they were witnessing. Gritting her teeth, she tried to remain calm when she found herself before the huge doors of the throne room.
The guard holding Luke pressed at the access panel, but it was unresponsive and blank. The three traded a look. One she could not read underneath their red helmets. Yet she could guess it was panic from the way they stiffened. Their pace picked up and they practically dragged Padmé down another set of small winding corridors. One she didn't recognise from the floor plan Anakin had given her. This space was different. Cold. Devoid of all life. Her heart began pounding in her ribs, her breath getting caught against the cold metal of the pike.
In minutes they burst through another small door. What Padmé saw beyond made her heart sink. The throne room was just as dim and vast as always as they stepped into it from a door beside the base of the throne. It's vacancy made her feel small. Pathetic. At the centre of the room, a fearsome battle raged between two opposing forces. The sizzling clash of sabres thrummed in the air. Bright flashes nearly blinded her. Vader and the Jedi were fighting like a disjointed limb. They had no coordination and nearly struck each other several times in the few seconds she observed them. The guards roughly shoved her to stand at the bottom step of the throne, the pike still held at her neck.
The fighting stopped in an instant. The Emperor let out a maniacal cackle as Anakin backed away a few steps, his saber still held at the ready. The two Jedi mirrored his movements, their eyes wide and expressive. Padmé's gaze fell to the floor. Guilt pooled within her. She'd failed them. All she had needed to do was kept the children safe and she couldn't even manage that.
Sidious crept over towards her and Padmé felt coldness stir her insides. She wanted to shrink inside herself at his approach, but she did not. She would not. Instead, she rolled her shoulders back and stared him in the eye. "What do we have here," he chuckled. Anakin and the Jedi began nervously edging closer. "I don't recognise you," Sidious taunted her with a smile. She bore her teeth. With a grin, he reached down and hooked a finger around the metal wire that hung from her uniform. With a tug, he snapped it. There was a beep, a flash of light and Padmé knew her real face was on display. "Ah, there's a pretty face I rememberer."
"I wish I could say the same for you," she spat. His smile only widened. Anakin took a protective step forwards.
"Don't be so hasty, Lord Vader," Sidious berated him. All he got in return was silence. Stooping down, he picked up Luke by his collar. The little boy screamed, his legs flailing. Padmé lurched forwards, a low growl escaping her lips. The likes of which she had never made before. She felt a nip of pain as the Emperor's guard dug his blade into her neck. It cut through the first layer of skin causing a few beads of warm blood to dribble down her exposed throat.
"Let him go," Anakin roared, his fist clenching tightly. In response, Sidious lifted a hand dangerously close to the dangling boy. Electricity crackled between his fingertip, making Luke cry out in sheer terror. No, Padmé would not let Sidious hurt her son. Not even if it killed her. Gritting her teeth, she thought fast. She was the only real bargaining chip in this hostage situation because they all knew just how much Sidious wanted the twins' power. It was only her life at risk.
"How cowardly," Padmé spat. Sidious turned over his shoulder to glare at her. "You pick on the defenceless child? Are you too afraid I would fight back?" Just like that, he dropped Luke. She drew in a sharp breath. Luke's body hovered for a few moments above the ground before he was gently set down. His eyes were wide in shock. Padmé peered up to see Anakin holding a glove out towards them. He had caught him.
There was no time to be relieved. Sidious grabbed her by the back of the neck, roughly pulling her forwards and levelling a scarlet blade at her throat. She withheld a squeal of fright. He dragged her across the throne room to stand a small fighter ship's length in front of Anakin. His helmet followed her every step of the way. Using the force to blow out the back of her legs, she fell to her knees. His gnarled hands gripped her neck, nails digging into her skin. An invisible grip wrapped around her body, holding her in place. "Let her go," Vader snarled.
There was a crackle in her ear and pain erupted within her. Every muscle seized in her body, becoming painfully tight. Lightning danced across her skin, her vision went white. Sidious's grip on her neck was the only thing keeping her upright. She was vaguely aware of a scream tearing from her throat. It felt like every nerve ending in her body had been set alight. After a short while, the crackling ended but the pain did not. She drew in ragged breaths. Dark shapes danced across her eyes. "Kneel, Lord Vader," Sidious's voice could just be heard over the ringing in ears. The children were wailing. A noise that twisted her soul. They shouldn't have to see this.
There was a thump accompanied by the familiar clunk of armour. Her vision focused on the sight of Anakin on one knee before them. His head lifted so that his lenses were peering straight at her. She shot him a look of apology. It was her fault he was kneeling to another master. "If you want her alive, you will kill the Jedi," Sidious hissed. Ahsoka and Obi-Wan took a tender step back. Anakin's head tilted up sharply before falling back down to the ground. It seemed he was taking too long to respond because another jolt of lightning crackled through her. Only this time, it lasted longer and acted much stronger. By the time he was finished, Padmé's body was going numb and darkness crept in around the corners of her vision. She hadn't even heard Anakin begging his master to stop.
White light danced across her vision. The only thing she could really make out was the sound of Vader rising to his feet and the hiss of his lightsaber being reignited. "Don't," she whispered to him, her brows furrowing. "Don't let him control you anymo-" the last half of her word was cut off when Sidious dug his nails into her neck and squeezed the air from her throat, silencing her.
Padmé wasn't even certain Anakin had heard her. She had hardly heard herself. Darkness crept around the corners of her vision and although she valiantly fought against it, she eventually succumbed.
I have finished writing this story now and have four more part that I could either just publish all in one tomorrow or day by day as I have been. I’m undecided as of yet, but let me know your thoughts.
Chapter 41: Vow
Vader's hand was clenched so tightly around his lightsaber he was surprised it wasn't crumbling. He fought to strike down Obi-Wan and Ahsoka who were keeping themselves alive but were reluctant to strike out. The children were still crying, trapped by three imperial red guards. The Emperor himself sat in his throne, Padmé's unconscious body floating by his side. The sight was driving Vader insane. How dare his master harm her like that?
Padmé's screams still rang in his soul. That look, that look she'd sent him. The way she'd apologised with her eyes. She thought she'd failed him. It twisted his gut and tugged at his conscience. No. She hadn't. It was him who had failed her. His act must not have been convincing enough. He hadn't been able to keep the twins safe. Her safe. That was nothing she had to apologise for. If he hadn't fallen in the first place, they would never have been in this situation. His anger was crippled by distress. If he couldn't kill Obi-Wan and Ahsoka, Padmé would die. If he did kill them, his chances of defeating the Emperor were slimmed.
Blowing Ahsoka away with the force, he used a vicious downward strike to trap Obi-Wan beneath him. "Stop this," the Jedi grunted quietly, out of the Emperor's earshot. "Or you'll forever be his puppet." Ahsoka jumped back into the fray, forcing the pair apart. They kept dodging his attacks, keeping out of his range like the were playing a game.
"This is not what Padmé would want," Ahsoka spoke in a strained voice, twirling her blades as she evaded his. "You heard what she said, I know you did." Of course he did. Padmé's last whispers still resonated within him. She wanted him to free himself, but how could he when the she was the chain he had to break? Keeping silent, he lashed out again and swung his blade in a large, scarlet arc that nearly took their heads from their shoulders. They retreated away from him and distanced themselves further from the Emperor.
"All he wants is the power of the twins. In time he will kill both you and Padmé," Obi-Wan tried to reason with him. Vader clenched his teeth. There was much truth to that statement, he was no fool. The Emperor would betray him in time, that much was as certain as death. Upset welled within him. He would do whatever he could to protect Padmé, but eventually even that wouldn't be enough.
"What else can I do?" Vader snapped, keeping his voice quiet and out of the Emperor's earshot. Despite the mechanical tone, his distress must have rang true because Obi-Wan's eyes shifted. Instead of looking at Vader like a backstabbing friend, it was as though he were looking at a troubled younger brother. Even Ahsoka's expression contained traces of pity. Had Vader not been so focused on Padmé, it probably would have enraged him. He was not a little boy with a sprained wrist. Not anymore.
"Don't give up," Obi-Wan responded finally, his eyes twinkling with hope. "Hold on, Anakin, we'll get through this somehow." Vader's gut clenched. He wasn't the man they once knew because that man, Anakin Skywalker, would never have let this happen. He was beginning to realise that although Skywalker might have been more foolish and brash, he was ten times the man Vader was. He wouldn't succumb to blackmail, he'd find a way around it. Maybe that's exactly what they needed. Obi-Wan and Ahsoka were part of a deadly trio once upon a time. They required their third member. So for the first time in a very long time, he allowed himself to indulge in hope. With it came a tirade or other emotions he had no time to process.
"Alright," Vader mumbled quietly, "but you must keep fighting me for now." He saw a glint of delight in their eyes as they continued their battle with renewed vigour. He felt them reaching out towards him with their presences, seeking to form a connection that would allow them to read one another's intentions. A little reluctantly, he accepted their light into his mind. Their emotions became his own. The delight. The hope. The devastation. All of it. It was a connection more intense than the tightest of hugs. A connection he hadn't know his soul was craving and withering without. No longer did he feel alone. It made tears nip his eyes, but he shoved down the cool relief their presence washed him in. Later. There was time for that later.
For a while they entered a seesaw battle. One side attacking as the other fell back. It happened naturally. Easily. As simply as breathing. His mind began to plot a way to rescue Padmé from the Emperor who was watching with grim delight. His jaw clenched when an idea came to him. It was risky and if done wrong put her in grave danger. A reassuring nudge from the connection he had formed bolstered his confidence. There was no time for doubt. Only for action.
Just like that, Vader switched sides with the Jedi and forced them back towards the throne with relentless parries and aggressive strike. Although they appeared to be near misses, none of them were. It was like they were performing a dance they had practiced one thousand times over. They knew what he would do even before he did. Their faces were grim and grey, but together all three had formed a tight shield over their bond that stopped Sidious from feeling anything. The crazed grin on his face showed just how clueless he was.
They indirectly neared the throne, and in that moment Obi-Wan used the force to shove the red guard away from the twins and diverted his attention to cutting them down. Vader let out an audible growl to imitate the rage he might have felt at such and action just a month prior. Ahsoka increased her barrage on Vader, continually hacking at him and blocking any of the potential exits he could have used to get to Obi-Wan. She pushed him away from the twins, flipping around him like a nimble tree mouse. Through their bond, she wore a smile. A warm smile. One he remembered so well.
Two of the red guard had fallen. Reaching out with the force, Vader propelled one of their spears at Obi-Wan who intuitively waited till the very last moment to dodge it and even allowed the blade to slice a thin line across his cheek. Just moments later, he cut down the final member of the guard. Now, all they had to do was liberate Padmé and the Emperor was on his own. Vader's heart pounded uncontrollably.
When they had been fighting him before the guard arrived with hostages, it had been a shambles. Obi-Wan, Ahsoka and Vader had been completely unable to coordinate attacks. He had thought they were going to die. Now, he had a feeling they would fair a lot better.
Obi-Wan leapt back into the battle and allowed Ahsoka to ease off her assault. They cornered Vader back towards the base of the throne. In a movement of complete synchronisation, all three halted the battle threw their hands out and grabbed Padmé with the force. Only their combined strength could spearhead through the Emperor's defences and yank her from his grasps. She sailed through the air, landing safely in Vader's arms. Tension slipped from his body.
"That was quite a little show," The Emperor hissed, baring yellowed teeth and rising steadily to his feet.
"Nothing compared to your performance as chancellor," Obi-Wan snipped, raising his blade. The Emperor's eyes darkened and he began to slowly descend the steps. Vader reluctantly released Padmé and floated her, and the twins, over to a corner of the room. The twins immediately burrowed against her body, curling in on themselves. Their impressively bright force presences shielded hers and acted like a barrier to the Emperor. As long as Vader kept Sidious occupied, he couldn’t exploit her like that again.
All four jumped into a duel. Lightsabers hacked and slashed with buzzes and bright flashes. Where the Emperor was unpredictable and erratic, the trio were steady and planned. Their movements fell together like it came from one mind. Strategies happened with out being plotted. The Emperor however, was slippery and still difficult to keep up with. His speed was unmatched, his power raw but controlled. Vader's respirator wheezed to keep up.
After a short while, the trio pushed the Emperor into a corner. Like a rat, he lashed out and sent bolts of lightning crackling towards them. All three were hit. Vader's suit and cybernetics sizzled and spat. He fell to one knee, every muscle in his body tense. Ahsoka and Obi-Wan collapses to the ground too. Despite the way his ears rang, he could hear their cries of pain. It caused something within him to shift, like a moving gearstick falling into place. He couldn't let the Emperor kill them, he wouldn't. They deserved to live.
Vader moved in a flash, leaping to his feet, calling his lightsaber to his hand and plunging the scarlet blade deep into the Emperor's chest. So engrossed in the darkside he was, that the Sith didn't even notice until the lighting stopped crackling from the tips of his fingers. The maniacal grin dropped in to and expression of shock, his eyes snapping open wide. The Emperor let out on last hissing breath before he fell from Vader's blade.
Dropping his lightsaber, Vader staggered back a few steps. The breaths he took were ragged and uneven. Blackness crept around the corners of his red tinged vision. Falling onto his back, he felt all his muscles slackening. Ahsoka's face appeared above him, her eyes wide with worry. She was speaking, but it was just muffled noise. His suit wasn't picking up on audio anymore for his damaged ears. He didn't know what she was saying, but he could feel her meaning through their bond that had yet to be severed. She was begging him to hold on. To stay strong. Help was on the way.
To see her staring at him with such pain stricken eyes twisted his heart. He had been her master and he'd tried to kill her. It was then, the emotions he had been suppressing during their fight truly swamped him. Grief like never before and guilt beyond belief. They smothered him, crushing the already meagre breath from his lungs. Ahsoka's pleading became stronger, more desperate. Beside her appeared Obi-Wan, his face no longer cloaked. His words were soft and gentle but held the same meaning. Stay strong. His eyes focused on their scarlet faces from through his red lenses. He became all too aware of how trapped he was within his ghastly suit. He just wanted freed of it. A heavy hand was placed on his side and Obi-Wan's pained eyes stared down at him. It was a very different look from the last time Vader had been this close to death.
Vader's mind startled. No, that wasn't right. The moment he opened his mind to them, Vader had died. The Sith tyrant was no more. It was Anakin now. Only Anakin, and he was crushed by his own betrayal of not only the order, but his best friend. His brother. The brother that was right beside him even now. "I'm sorry, Obi-Wan," Anakin managed to choke out, his breath catching in his throat. None the less, his crackling, wheezy vocoder projected. It sounded like nothing more than a deep rumble to him, but Obi-Wan's face twisted and his eyes collected tears. "I'm so sorry. To you both. To you all." Anakin felt warmth blush his eyes and tears of his own collected there. He absently wondered if they could see through the mask to his eyes as Padmé had. Ahsoka had liquid streaming down her white, marked cheeks. "Tell Padmé... I love her..." he murmured, the darkness consumed his vision and began pulling him under.
Anakin absently felt them reminding him that he would be able to tell her himself if he held on, but his mind had already gone blank.
Chapter 42: Scout
Obi-Wan watched with a heavy heart as the twins curled into their mother's side. She was lying on her back in a hospital bed. Her expression was completely blank. He and Ahsoka sat in chair on either side of her in the small, white room. Antiseptic was so thick in the air it made his eyes water. Machines beeped distantly. The last few days had been rough and the twins had hardly left their mother's side despite the harsh reprimanding they received by the droids. It seemed time had just blended together into a never ending cycle of panic and reprieve.
Closing his eyes over, Obi-Wan sucked in steady, rhythmical breaths. The force began flowing through him like a steady stream. His nerves were smoothed out and eased. Already, he could feel the effects the death of the Sith had on the galaxy. There were many rejoicing. The claws of darkness had been removed from the force, leaving it less like a murky swamp and more like the crystal waters of a tropical ocean. The clarity of the light was returning.
There was a stifled gasp and the children shifted. Obi-Wan's eyes cracked open. Padmé was stirring, the expression on her face twitching. He traded a glance with Ahsoka and they both sat forwards. The children pushed themselves up in her arms. Their lips tightened in anticipation and their gazes glimmered with hope. Padmé's eyes slowly blinked open. They lazily flicked around, assessing faces and observing her surroundings. After a few slow breaths, she wrapped her arms around the children and pulled them in close. She took in one deep breath and stroked the backs of their heads. They let out soft whimpers. "You okay now," Leia spoke. "We okay too."
"The bad man can't hurt you anymore," Luke agreed.
"The bad man..." Padmé's voice trailed off, her brows pulling together. Her eyes suddenly snapped to Obi-Wan. "Sidious?" her voice crackled.
"Dead," Obi-Wan responded calmly. Although her expression was washed with relief, it only lasted a few seconds before it was twisted in panic once more. Her eyes scanned the room and when she didn't find what she was looked for, she warily glanced between the two Jedi. Obi-Wan's gut tensed.
"Anakin?" she asked so softly that Obi-Wan wasn't certain he'd heard her. He traded a long look with Ahsoka who pressed her lips into a thin line and nodded her head. Padmé's fear was so viscous it made the force around her tremble.
"He's still alive," Ahsoka told her calmly. Padmé relaxed slightly, but kept her eyes trained on the togruta. "We don't know his condition or the depth of the damage." Her face greyed. Obi-Wan could feel Anakin distantly. A dim, tiny little flicker of life.
"Why?" Padmé asked, furrowing her brow. "Where... where is he?"
"He's in the same med centre as we are, but he is being heavily guarded by imperial troopers," Obi-Wan explained with a lengthy breath. "We convinced the rest of the Empire that a group of rogue Jedi burst into the throne room, attacking and killing the Emperor. We said Vader fought well but was ultimately defeated." Padmé nodded, as that had been part of their original plan. "It means Anakin is more or less next in line for the throne, so he is being extensively guarded throughout his recovery. Until he wakens and asks to see us, there is very little we can do to get to him." A look of resolution flashed across her face and Obi-Wan's gut sank.
Pushing herself up and planting a kiss on each twin's head, she swung her legs over the edge of her cot. "Whoah," Ahsoka lifted to her feet and placed a hand on Padmé's shoulder. "Take it easy. What are you doing?"
"I'm going to go and see Anakin," she responded. Obi-Wan's mouth fell open. Was her brain still scrambled from the lightning? Hadn't they just told her she could not go and see him? "Come with me, or don't. The choice is yours," she said to them as she hauled herself up to her feet. The white gown she wore fell just above her knees and her loose hair tumbled around her shoulders.
"Padmé," Obi-Wan spoke a low warning as she took a moment to steady herself on her feet. Instead of responding, she stepped around him and strode over to the door. Obi-Wan shared an incredulous look with Ahsoka. He rose to his feet, asking Ahsoka to stay and mind the children whilst he dealt with this. She nodded, sitting on the edge of the bed and drawing the twin's attention to her.
"Where is he?" Padmé asked. Blowing out a sigh of defeat, Obi-Wan shook his head. This was going to be a failed adventure.
"The royal ward," Obi-Wan grumbled. With that, she stepped out into the pale corridor beyond. Obi-Wan followed her throughout the winding maze of the coruscanti med centre. "Padmé," he scurried to catch up. "What are you planning to do? You are the face of the rebels. You cannot just walk up and demand to see him."
Padmé clenched her jaw. "As far as the galaxy knows, the rebel fleet perished in the Imperial attack. My transmission made sure of that," she huffed. Pausing, she ran her hands down her face. "Can't you just use a Jedi mind trick to let us past the guard?" Obi-Wan sighed, that was a course of action he had given much thought to.
"I could get us beyond the troopers, but I am not able to influence the medical droids tending to him. If they saw us, they would raise the alarm," he argued.
Once again, she stubbornly shook her head. "I can manage the droids."
"Padmé this is an unnecessary risk," Obi-Wan pleaded with her as they wove through a crowd of people.
Padmé halted in her tracks, her eyes glimmered and her jaw was set. Obi-Wan faltered, his tongue too loose to form words. "I will not abandon him," she told him sternly. More tears pooled into her eyes. "We don't even know what condition he is in. I'm not just going to wait to find out if he lives or dies. If he wakes up, I will be there and if he doesn't..." her voice hitched and she blinked back tears. "I'll be there." With no further argument, she powered down the hall. Obi-Wan let out a weary sigh, but followed after her. There was no changing her course of action. He was simply going to have to tag along to make sure she didn't get herself into too much trouble.
It didn't take Padmé long to find the royal ward. She got a variety of strange looks as she passed with bare feet and what looked like an oversized t-shirt. There were two ridged storm troopers standing at the entrance of the corridor. "Halt," one of them said. "This is an area of restricted access."
Stepping in front of Padmé, he delicately lifted a hand. "You will let us through and forget you have seen us," he wove the force though his voice. The trooper went ridged for a moment and Obi-Wan's breath caught in his throat.
"I will let you through and forget I have seen you," the trooper repeated robotically before stepping to one side and allowing them past. Padmé shot Obi-Wan a look of thanks. The pair began creeping through the deserted hallways of the royal ward. Obi-Wan was forced to mind trick a few more troopers before they found themselves stepping into a small room towards the back of the ward. It was larger than Padmé's had been, but felt smaller because of all the machinery pressed against the far wall. A bed took the centre of the room, a pale figure lying atop it. Obi-Wan didn't have much time to observe because a medical droid that was leaning over a machine in the back wall snapped around to face them. His heart leapt into his throat.
"What are you doing in here?" the droid droned, floating closer. "This is a zone of restricted access. Leave or I wi-"
"Does that restricted access included family members of the injured?" Padmé asked calmly, but Obi-Wan could feel stress bubbling within her which only ticked his own nerves. The droid paused for a moment, gears ticking in it's head.
"The right for family visitations has not been stripped from this part of the hospital," the droid responded.
"I'm family," she pressed her hand against her chest. "I'm his wife,” she pointed to the pale figure. Obi-Wan's brows shot up. Wife? He knew they were exceptionally close, but to have actually gotten married behind the council's back was... typical of Anakin. The droid paused for a beat. "I can provide you with any evidence you need."
"Who would claim to be that who is not?" the droid responded sharply. It seems even the droids knew of Vader's terrible reputation then.
"How is he doing?" Padmé asked softly, her posture relaxing. Part of Obi-Wan was still exceptionally shocked that they had managed to sneak into the heart of imperial territory completely unnoticed.
"The patient is being kept in critical care and in an induced coma until the appropriate homeostatic regulators can be fitted within his body. His older ones have been damaged beyond repair," the little droid chirped. "We believe he should be secure enough to bring back out of the coma within seven standard days. The outlook for the patient's recovery beyond that will be much better."
"Thank you," Padmé dipped her head, pressing her lips into a thin line.
"Don't touch anything," the droid informed them harshly before scampering out of the room. Now that there was no threat, the repetitive noise of raspy breath caught Obi-Wan’s attention. Padmé was by Anakin's side in seconds, he remained a little more hesitant. Part of him did not want to know the extent of the injuries he had inflicted upon his fallen brother. Then again, it could be nothing worse that watching his body catch alight.
Creeping to the edge of Anakin's bed, his breath caught in his throat. Pale skin was pulled tightly over a familiar jaw and high cheekbones. Even the arch of his nose was so startlingly familiar. Large scars ran around the curves of his bare scalp. A wide pair of chalky, strong shoulders poked out from beneath a thin blanket. Wires and tubes were fed down his throat and snaked underneath his blanket, all connected to the large machines. From the abrupt ends to his arms and legs, it was clear his cybernetics had been removed. For a moment, all Obi-Wan could hear were Anakin's pained screams. Flames danced before his eyes, taunting him as they devoured a man he loved as a brother. His heart twisted. Padmé delicately traced a finger down the curve of Anakin's nose, pulling Obi-Wan from his trance. "Oh Ani," she whispered.
In the force, Anakin felt meagre and weak but bright. Light. The bond they had forged in the Emperor's throne room was still there but hardly detectable. Feeling Anakin brought a wide smile to Obi-Wan's face. The droids had whisked him away so quickly, Obi-Wan had no idea if he'd live or die. Closing his eyes over, he sent reassurance to Anakin through their bond. Even if he couldn't feel it, it would surely help his recovery, and Anakin would recover.
Chapter 43: Awake
Anakin woke slowly, his head buzzing with fairies. He was floating in and out of consciousness, only partly aware of the low murmurs and mechanical beeps. It startled him slightly, when his skin detected a cold breeze. His body felt heavy, but not weighed down. Warmth of a thin blanket was draped over his chest and body. The familiar rigidness of his armour was missing and he couldn't feel his helmet pressing against his head. Not to mention, he couldn't hear the snap-hiss of his respirator. Something felt different, very different, but not wrong.
Peeling open his eyes, he nearly hissed when the light burned them. All he could see was white. The arching curve of a mask blocked out the lower half of his vision. It was placed delicately over his mouth and nose, allowing him to pull in steady, filtered breaths.
Something warm was placed gently on his shoulder. His whole body jolted in shock. It was a foreign sensation. One he hadn't felt in years. A gentle voice murmured an apology. He tilted his head down to look at his shoulder, surprised by the ease of which he could do so. What he found was a delicate hand placed over his pale skin. His brows furrowed. He wasn't in maintenance or a bacta. Why wasn't he wearing his suit? Still, he followed the slender arm up to a smiling face. His brows lifted and his heart stuttered. Padmé. It was Padmé. Golden-brown locks of hair framed her olive skin. Dark eyes so rich in warmth they made him giddy bore into his own. He was vaguely awhare of the smile that stretched his skin.
For a moment he was entranced. He could finally see her with his own eyes. He stared at her wide grin and watery eyes until a sudden realisation hit him. If he could see her so clearly, she could see him as well. His stomach churned when he remembered the pale, scared face that grimaced at him in the odd occasion he had seen his reflection. His eyes dropped from hers and heat rushed to his face. He turned away from her slowly. "Hey," Padmé whispered gently. She placed a warm palm on the side of his face. Once more, the sensation startled him so much he flinched. There was a squeak as Padmé rose to her feet. Before he knew what hit him, she had placed her lips tenderly against his forehead, between his two brows. He was startled at first, his heart pounding and his eyes stretching wide. The softness of her hair brushed the sides of his cheeks.
A wave of emotion slammed down on him. Love shot through his veins like warm blood, but it was coupled by grief. It was only now he was really struck by how much he had missed her. How empty and lost he had been without her light. How frozen and cold his heart had become without her love. He closed his eyes over and allowed himself to enjoy her touch. The feeling of her warm breath blanching his skin. A few stray tears leaked from his eyes. With the delicate touch of her fingers, she brushed them away.
When she pulled back and returned to her seat, he immediately missed her touch. He said nothing of it because something else caught his attention. Soft whimpering noises. Turning his head to peer over the edge of the bed, he caught sight of two little people staring up at him with tear streaked faces. He smiled at them, which appeared to be all the reassurance they need. They sniffled and began wiping away the tears on their faces. "We thought you were gonna die," Leia whimpered. Her voice was clear, free from the mechanical enhancements of his helmet. It brought tickles of joy to his chest.
"You became so small," Luke added with a nod of his head and a trembling lip. Anakin's brows furrowed. Small?
"Your presence was very dim for a while," a familiar voice explained. Anakin's eyes flicked around, landing Obi-Wan and Ahsoka who were sitting on the opposite side of him. He could feel the tug of their bond through the force. Tears were glittering in their eyes, but not of sadness. They were joyful, delighted. Their presences thrummed with relief. Years of anguish were slipping out their minds. It shocked him mildly to see Ahsoka's blue and white Lekku. Of course he had known they were blue and white, but he hadn't seen them without scarlet distortion in so long that he had simply forgotten. "You are stable now," Obi-Wan's voice assured him softly.
Anakin's brows furrowed. Had he been close to death? What were they talking about? The answer was right on the tip of his tongue but his hazed mind couldn't quite reach it. He moved to lift himself off the bed, only to find his limbs were a lot lighter than he recalled. He lifted an arm to hover over his face, only to discover he had no arm. It ended as a stump a short distance below his shoulder. "They took the cybernetics off for your own comfort," Ahsoka told him, the rhythmical lull of her voice bouncing around his consciousness.
"They have replaced the respirator and other system regulators you had in your suit, but they've put them within your body this time," Padmé informed him. His head snapped around to face her, his brows furrowing. That had been a surgery offered to him, but it was deemed to risky. He would be without his life support for too long and it would have killed him. "Since your suit was fried by Sidious's lightning, the medical droids thought the risk would be worth it." His brows shot up. Of course. The fight with Sidious. He'd been hit by force lightning. He'd lost consciousness. He'd thought he was going to die. His chest tightened.
"I lived through that?" his voice came out as a strained whisper. He cringed at the noise, but didn't feel any of the normal prickled of pain that accompanied it. He still sounded so weak. So frail. Delight twinkled in Padmé's eyes upon hearing him talk, washing away his shame.
"You did indeed," she responded with a chuckle. "Soon enough, you won't even need the mask anymore." His brows lifted. Life without a mask? He almost shied away from the thought. His face would be so exposed. People would be able to read his expressions. He would be able to feel the sun again, though. He would be able to feel a cold, ocean breeze. He would be able to- his eyes landed on Padmé's lips. Heat rushed to his face and he shoved the though from his mind.
Part of him was curious to know how much of his new machinery was visible. Using his arm stubs, he lifted the thin blanket and stared down at his chest. His brows lifted in surprise. There wasn't a scrap of machinery visible at all. He poked delicately at his abdomen with the force. There, he could feel ridges and sharp edges of metal plating. The only sign externally he was different was the thin scars that lined his skin. He dropped the blanket back down, his brows pulling together in amazement. Childish giggles caught his attention. The twins were watching him in amusement. Their cheeks were rosy and red. Leia took a timid step closer, gently gripping the edge of the bed and peering into his eyes. Her little face screwed up. "You have Luke eyes," she commented.
Anakin drew his head back slightly. He peered over at Luke, who's eyes were a brilliant sapphire blue. A sapphire blue he used to see in the mirror every day. So his irises were blue again? That was... relieving. Amusement rose within him as he thought of the little girl's words. "No, Luke has my eyes," Anakin argued.
"That would only work if you were our dad," Luke argued, scrunching his little features up. Anakin flicked his eyes up to Padmé, who gave him a reassuring nod.
"Are you our dad?" Leia asked, clearly sensing his nerves.
Anakin's heart thrummed in his chest. "Yes, I am," he responded calmly. Their faces brightened and he could feel excitement bubbling off of them in waves.
"I told you," Leia gloated to Luke, who promptly rolled his eyes.
"I agreed," he protested. Amusement bubbled within Anakin. Padmé was right. They somehow already knew. The woes of having force sensitive children, he supposed. Then again, it had proved very useful in the past so he wouldn't complain. He couldn't complain. The twins were perfect the way they were.
"How did you know?" Ahsoka's voice hitched as she stared down at the children in wonder.
"Well, Mommy loves him very much," Leia began. "She told us that kids happen when two people love each other very much and the-" she was stopped when Padmé placed a hand on her shoulder.
"You don't need to say anything else," she told her daughter, heat blushing her face. Anakin's face stretched into a smile once more. It seemed they were going to have their hands full with those twins. How Padmé had coped so far, he had no idea but she wouldn't be on her own any longer.
Chapter 44: At Peace
With this chapter, the book is finally concluded! Thank you for coming on this journey with me and I hope you enjoyed!
Anakin let the sun plant kisses on his face, relishing every moment of it. He was alone, for the first time in a while. The mask was secured to his face, the tubing running into a hovering IV unit. The breeze played with the hem of his thin gown. This tiny balcony was secluded and out the prying eyes of the rest of Coruscant. His hands gripped the fencing that kept him from falling over the edge. He was shocked by the cold feeling of the metal his synth skin could project. Taking the time to absorb the sensations, he relished in all he had missed. Traffic buzzed by far below him. Anakin couldn't wait until he was free from the medical centre.
With a deep sigh, he peered down and flexed his cybernetic hand. It looked so real, down to the ridges on the nail, but he knew that there were cogs and screws deep within. His legs looked incredibly life like. He'd woken and gotten startled many times over. Part of him felt like it was all a crazy dream. That one day he would wake up and be trapped in his suit whilst being called to do the Emperor's bidding. His grip on the fencing tightened when he though of all the terribly things he'd done for that man. That creature. Guilt swelled within him, drowning him. He could see so many faces twisted with grief. So many voice screaming for help. So many people begging for mercy. A mercy he never gave.
Pressure built behind his eyes. He was unworthy of the love and care his friends and family had given him. They should have been slaughtering him along side the Emperor. For six years he'd rained terror down on the galaxy, not caring about who or what he had to destroy to get what he wanted. He hadn't been human. He'd been a creature with no remorse.
Behind him, the door whooshed open. A calming light poured out onto the balcony. Anakin tensed slightly, his eyes focusing on the traffic below. Obi-Wan stepped up to the fencing beside him. He too stared out at the traffic, his brown robes blowing in the wind. "It's nice to see you up and about again," he commented, folding his arms. "Though I would recommend not just vanishing without a word. I think you nearly gave poor Padmé a heart attack."
"Sorry," he responded gruffly. Anakin had just needed a moment to steady his mind and thoughts. He'd been drowning in guilt and no amount of smiles or gentle touches could distract him from the awful things he'd done.
A silence fell over them. Both men shifted, clearly uncertain of what to say. Anakin was pressed by the urge to apologise. When he'd been on the verge of death, it had been so easy because he wouldn't live to see the consequences. Now, he found his tongue limp in his mouth. Squaring his shoulders, he decided to take inspiration from the twins. They had apologised so easily and they were only six. "Obi-Wan?" Anakin began, his heart hammering in his chest. Obi-Wan turned to him slowly, his face genial and his presence encouraging. "I'm sorry," he spoke abruptly. "For everything. For all of it."
"You have a lot to atone for... but I know you will," Obi-Wan responded, a sad smile curling his lips. Anakin dipped his head, a cold feeling pressing down on his chest. He didn't know if he ever would be able to make up for all the wrong he did. There might not be enough breath left in his body.
“I will do my best to fix what I can,” Anakin spoke.
“That is all we need,” Obi-Wan responded, placing a hand gently on Anakin’s shoulder. He seemed to immediately regret it, drawing the offending limb back into his body. Anakin hadn’t minded, but he could feel through their bond that Obi-Wan feared he had overstepped his boundaries. “Although I cannot apologise for trying to stop you, I will for giving up.” Anakin was startled, his brows lifting. “Thankfully Padmé never did.” Anakin felt a smile tug his lips. Yes, she had been loyal to him in a way he could never repay.
“I understand why you did it,” Anakin sighed. “I think it may have been the best of several possible outcomes.” Obi-Wan cocked his head curiously. “Had I won that duel, I would have made sure you were dead.” The Jedi’s face paled. “If you had finished the job, we wouldn’t be here today and I’d have never met the twins,” he explained, letting out a long rush of air. “I think there will always be a part of me that is bitter, but I understand why you did it anyway,” Anakin added, glancing over at his former master.
Obi-Wan nodded slowly, shifting his weight. “I am so very glad you are back, Anakin,” he said. “I missed you greatly.” The sincerity of his words rang through the force. Anakin felt his heart touched. Even after everything. After all he had done, his master had missed him. A wry grin twisted his lips. Grabbing Obi-Wan’s shoulders, he pulled him into a tight hug. In the past, they had never hugged. It was against the Jedi code of attachment, but the Jedi order was no more. It had gone extinct for a reason. If it was to overcome, it had to adapt.
Obi-Wan was stiff at first, but he slowly loosened of. He returned the embrace and warmth lit their bond. His soft hair brushed Anakin’s scarred cheek. They stood there for a short while, neither one particularly willing to pull away. The door whooshed open and Ahsoka stepped out onto the balcony. Both men parted, though still standing close like they used to. “Sorry if I interrupted something,” she spoke with a wide smile. “The medical droids want you back in the room now,” she said to Anakin. He held in a groan. They were like blood sucking flies. They never left him alone. Then again, they were the reason he was still alive. He shouldn’t complain.
Anakin was about follow Ahsoka as she turned away, when he halted. If he was apologising to people, then he definitely owed her one. “Ahsoka,” he spoke, she froze, glancing back at him from over her shoulder. “Padmé told me you were keen to help her redeem me. Even after I tried to kill you.” She turned to face him, offering a sheepish shrug in response. “Thank you... and I’m sorry.” Her face stretched in shock. After blinking the surprise she offered him a warm smile.
“I was just following your teachings, Skyguy,” she teased him. He shot her a dry glare.
“You follow them a lot better than I ever did, Snips,” he responded with a chuckle. Before Anakin knew it, she’d wrapped him in a hug so tight that he feared she would bend his cybernetics. He was quick to return it. She reached a hand out, dragging Obi-Wan in to for a huddle of hugs. It seemed, they had forgiven him.
* * *
Padmé was lying back onto Max, staring up into the darkness of the sky. His chest rise and fell in gently rhythm. Stars twinkled in the inky blackness. Tall grasses rose all around her, swaying in the warm breeze. Insects of the underbrush chirped and sang. Not far away, on the hill behind her, was a little cottage that glowed with warm light. The only light in the bumpy, grass covered ground. Lying next to her was Anakin. His hand was intertwined with her own. It had been covered in a layer of synth skin that was soft, warm and scarily human beneath her finger tips. With her thumb, she carefully traced circles on it because she knew how much he enjoyed it. The easiest way to calm him when he was upset was simply to take his hand.
Letting out a contented sigh, she smiled at the stars because they were free. They were all free. The empire was dissolved and power had been returned to the senate. The galaxy had been shocked, but it seemed to lapse into happiness and relief. Now, they were going to have to work on straightening out the senate itself. That however, was a battle for another day. For now, she was going to enjoy her holiday with her family. They needed time to relax together and really form that family connection.
"Padmé," Anakin spoke. She turned to look at him. He was half submerged in Max's black fur, but she could pick out the pale glint of his skin and the twinkle in his eyes. She let out a low hum of acknowledgement. "I love you," he whispered to her. It was such a relief to hear that voice. His voice. To see his face and know what he was feeling. Her lips curled up into a wide smile. She gave his hand a strong squeeze.
"I love you too, Ani," she responded, feeling her heart swell with the truth of the statement. Lifting herself from Max's warmth, she curled herself over Anakin and hovered her face inches above his own. He smiled up at her with that dazzling smile she knew so well. The one that had comforted her in her darkest of moments. It made her heart hammer within her chest. She'd been giving him time to adapt to his new cybernetic system. It had been at least a few weeks and she could tell he wanted to be closer than holding her hand but he had no idea how to approach her. All of his people skills needed to be retrained and she was more than happy to help.
Padmé peered down at his lips than glanced up at his eyes. They were alit with anticipation. She closed the distance and pressed her lips against his. Goosebumps erupted over her skin, racing down her spine. His hands gently gripped at her sides, trailing up towards her shoulder blades. Her breath hitched. She was thrown back years in the past. To the times they snuck desperate kisses whenever no one else was watching. She wanted to freeze the moment in time. To live it forever with him.
The noise of a door slamming and childish giggles filled her ears. Pulling away she let out a breathy chuckle. "I think we have incoming," she told him. He let out a low hum of agreement. His glittering eyes were locked on her own. Lifting a hand, he tucked a loose curl behind her ear. She pecked his forehead once more and laid back down on Max's side. The sound of thundering footsteps drew closer. She practically blinked and there was a child sprawled across her lap. "Hello Leia," Padmé greeted her daughter. Luke threw himself into his father's waiting arms. Chasing behind them came two Lupus pups. One black and one white. They were now the same height as the children, their eyes wide open and their jaws filled with rows of little sharp teeth.
"We missed you," the twins spoke in unison. Max lifted his head, his muscles shifting beneath Padmé, to lick his children a ginger greeting.
"We saw you just a few hours ago," Padmé reminded them gently. The children burrowed in closer and lay down in their parents arms.
"I still missed you," Leia respond sternly. Padmé chuckled and ran her hands up and down the little girl's back. She placed a gentle kiss on the silky crown of her daughter's head. Anakin was gently toying with a strand of Luke's hair. The puppies dipped into a play bow and let out loud barks.
"Not now, Fluff and Tuff. Settle," Padmé spoke softly. The continued their barking, their tails frantically whipping behind their backs. Max let out a scolding growl, but they continued. It was a that moment a streak of white sailed over their heads and landed with a thump behind the twin Lupus. They let out yelps of fright as Willow bore down onto of them. With a gruff bark from their mother, their tails drooped and they padded over to curl into their father's side. Willow licked Max's muzzle, making his tail wag enthusiastically. With a chuff she lay down beside him. Once again, the family unit descended into silence. They were at peace. Finally and completely.