It was raining.
He woke up to the sound of fat drops of rain falling on the metallic roof. It was a soothing sound that inevitably brought to mind happier memories of Naboo. Rain on Naboo was usually a gentle shower that washed the planet clean - making everything new again. The sounds of the rain soothed and cradled, lulling to a restful sleep where even nightmares could not intrude. He had never known rain like that as a child. When it did rain on Tatooine, it was a vicious, living entity with winds that destroyed, forging sand into a weapon.
It took a moment for him to orient himself, to remember where he was. He had been waiting here an eternity, and yet it had only been a moment. Memory came as it always did, with a sad and melancholy sigh that seemed to originate from his very soul. It was raining and he was alone - by his own hand and will, but alone nevertheless. The knowledge that he had done this thing, that he was the author of his own misery did not ease his pain one bit. If anything, the bitterness of that truth sank its teeth into him without mercy, worrying at the wound so that it would not heal.
Getting up, resigned to facing yet another day, Anakin Skywalker walked to the window to look out at the rain-drenched forest that surrounded his little hut. It was going to be a beautiful day, he mused with detached pleasure. Beauty was wasted on him for the most part; he appreciated it only from an indifferent perspective. He could no longer immerse himself in the wonder of it, marveling at its majesty. Anakin could look at something and know it was beautiful, but he could no longer feel it inside, which was where beauty was best realized.
"It's raining here, Padm?," he said quietly. From behind him, he heard soft laughter. He smiled, unable to help himself, for the sound of her joy never failed to move him. She did not often let him hear her; it was a rare gift and he savored it.
He turned, half-expecting to see her, but as always, she had skipped out of his sight. Shaking his head, the smile still lingered on his lips, hovering there like an uneasy bird. One day he would be quick enough and he would see her, he thought to himself. She would not elude him forever; he loved her too much to let that happen. She would forgive him one day, and then...
Looking back out the window, he noted that the rain was letting up, falling to a drizzle now that would soon be a mist and then just a memory. "You're doing well, Padawan," a voice said quietly.
Anakin answered without turning, for he knew he would never be swift enough to catch sight of Obi-Wan. "Thank you, Master," he replied just as softly. "I am trying."
There was the comforting warmth of a hand on his shoulder and a light squeeze. "I know, Anakin," Obi-Wan said. "I'm proud of how far you've come."
His eyes still locked on the verdant trees that swayed gently in the breeze, Anakin confessed, "I'm lonely, Obi-Wan."
"I will never leave you, Anakin," his Master reassured him. "I promised you that and I will hold true to my word."
"I know you will, Master," the younger man answered. "But sometimes...sometimes it is not enough." His shoulders stiffened beneath that warm hand, waiting for the admonishment that his Master was sure to offer. Obi-Wan never lost sight of serving the will of the Force. He was strong and could not be moved from the path of righteousness, unlike his Padawan.
"It will get easier in time, Anakin," Obi-Wan said instead, and Anakin felt unaccountably grateful for his Master's understanding.
From the corner of his eye, Anakin thought he saw the shifting of a sand colored tunic and longed to turn. He wanted to see his Master's beloved face just one more time, look into those kind blue eyes that shone with wisdom and understanding. That comfort was denied to him, however, a part of the penalty he must pay for his sins. At moments such as this, it felt like a heavy price indeed.
"Is Padm? happy?" he asked quietly, knowing his Master would be both truthful and kind, no matter how difficult that might prove to be.
"She is...adjusting," Obi-Wan answered carefully.
Honest and compassionate as always, Obi-Wan had not changed, the young man reflected and was silent for a moment. "She won't speak to me," Anakin said at last. "I think she hates me."
The hand on his shoulder withdrew and Anakin felt bereft at the loss. "No, she does not hate you," Obi-Wan comforted. "She loves you...deeply. Give her time, Anakin, and let her find peace in her own way."
His head dropped down as he acknowledged the wisdom of Obi-Wan's advice. "I will, Master. I will try."
"That is all I can ask of you, my Padawan," Obi-Wan said fondly, a note of pride lacing his words. Anakin felt his heart lighten in his chest - maybe there was hope after all. Maybe.
The rain had not stopped as he expected but had picked up force, and the winds were making the limbs of the trees sway wildly. He could hear the drumming of the drops against the roof, now gathering more power and speed, beating out a staccato rhythm that he felt echoed in his blood. Anakin found words forming in his mind, daring and terrible words, the question he had not dared ask in all this time. "Have you seen them, Obi-Wan?" he asked quickly, before he lost his newfound courage.
"Seen them?" Obi-Wan asked.
Anakin bit at his lip so fiercely that he felt blood trickle down his chin and his lip began to throb in protest. He did not shrink from the pain, instead he savored it - just another little ache, and what was that tiny agony compared to what he had already endured? "My children, Obi-Wan, have you seen my children?"
There was silence from the Jedi and once again, Anakin had to fight the temptation to turn around, to see his Master's face as he answered. The truth would be there in those compassionate blue eyes, the horrible and awful truth. "Yes," Obi-Wan answered at last. His voice was heavy with regret and sorrow. Anakin's heart once more became a fearsome weight beating sluggishly in his chest.
"Padm?...does she stay with them?" Anakin asked reluctantly and yet compelled to speak the words.
"No, Anakin," Obi-Wan murmured. "They have moved on, they have no unfinished business."
Screwing his eyes shut, Anakin brought one fist up to hit the wall. He used his flesh hand, seeking the pain, courting the sting of it. "You saw them though," Anakin said, half in protest.
"Yes, I saw them before."
"Before they became one with the Force, before they passed beyond the final veil that lies between this existence and the next." Obi-Wan's voice was as patient as ever.
Anakin swallowed hard, his dreams of Padm? watching over their children destroyed in an instant. "I'm sorry," Anakin whispered. "I didn't know..."
The hand lowered to his shoulder once more and Anakin felt a moan ripped from his throat. This half-life was unbearable, and he knew that eventually it would break him, they would break him and he would shatter into a million pieces and finally disappear. "Why do you stay, Master?" he dared to ask.
It seemed that the hand on his shoulder clenched briefly, a mere spasm that might not have even existed. "I stay because I am not done," Obi-Wan answered. "When the time comes, I shall lead you to where you must go."
"It is a long journey?" Anakin asked.
"It is both long and short," Obi-Wan answered enigmatically. The answer, confusing as it was, still made a sort of sense to Anakin.
"Will I like it there?" Anakin asked, unable to help the plaintive note of longing in his voice.
"Yes, I believe you shall," his Master answered kindly. "I look forward to it very much myself."
Anakin absorbed this with a nod of his head, still driven by the desire to look upon Obi-Wan's face once more. "And Padm?? Why does she stay?"
Obi-Wan sighed heavily and Anakin could almost feel the air stir about him. "She must reassure herself that you have changed, that you will not return to what you once were."
"Tell her that I love her," Anakin whispered.
"She knows, she hears."
"Padm??" He called out her name, as soft and loving as a bridegroom's whisper on his wedding night, pleading with her to forgive, to appear to him. "Padm??"
The wind gusted outside, blowing against the hut with violent force. The rain continued to batter the roof, almost drowning out his call for his beloved. It mourned along with him. The weather lashed out his grief, sang his sorrow.
"I'm here," she called at last, her voice in the wind itself.
"Padm?..." Anakin said as he held out his hands, a supplicant for her mercy, her forgiveness. "I'm sorry. I didn't know how wrong I was until it was too late."
Even the wind and rain seemed to pause, the galaxy holding its breath, waiting for her response. "I know," she whispered at last, her answer coming to him in the raindrops on the roof.
"Can you forgive me?" he asked.
A shriek rose up in the wind, causing the small hairs on the back of his neck to rise in response. He heard the crack of a tree as it lost its battle against the storm and felt the ground shudder as it fell. Then he heard her voice once more, a mere whisper. "Yes, I forgive you, Anakin."
He swayed with relief and then fell to his knees, tears falling as rapidly as the rain outside. "Thank you, Padm?," he whispered. "I'll never forget the lesson I learned. I will be a better man."
The door crashed open, thrown back upon its hinges by the ferocity of the storm that howled outside. "Padawan?" Obi-Wan asked quietly. "Are you ready?"
Lifting up his eyes, Anakin saw his Master's kindly face hovering over him. Anakin help up his hand, reaching for the familiar callused grip of his Master. "I see you, Obi-Wan," he said in bewildered wonder. "I can see you..."
The two men clasped hands and Obi-Wan pulled Anakin to his feet. "Come along, Anakin, we've been waiting for so long." A tender smile softened Obi-Wan's usually stern expression as he led Anakin out of the little hut into the storm raging outside. "Don't be afraid..."
"I'm not afraid," Anakin whispered hesitantly. "I'm not afraid." The words were more confident now, because for the first time in his existence, the Chosen One was no longer afraid.
Then there was a blinding light and Anakin felt himself falling up, spinning round and round like an out-of-control fighter, rotating at a dizzying speed. His hand remained firmly grasped with Obi-Wan's, however, an anchor in a stormy sea.
"I'm not afraid," Anakin murmured, his voice reflecting his wonder at the gift.
There was the shrill cry of a medical alarm and the droid looked up. "That's it, sir," the droid said. "He's gone."
Palpatine shook his head wearily, his mouth pulling down into angry lines. "Very well, then," he said. "Dispose of the body." The Emperor walked out toward his shuttle, drawing his cloak up over his face as he stared out at his newborn Empire.
It was raining.
Original cover by Gina. HTML formatting copyright 2006 TheForce.Net LLC.