What would you do if you could live your life over again, starting at the point where you made your biggest mistake? Anakin Skywalker is about to find out.
PART 1 - The Sky is Wild
Slowly, sounds returned.
Rain was falling. Anakin heard it splattering against the transparisteel before he opened his eyes. It was a pleasant sound, or at least it should have been. If there should have been any sound at all.
But there shouldn't have.
Soft voices murmured in the background. A man and a woman. Familiar. Comforting.
With his eyes still closed, Anakin's brow furrowed. Something wasn't right.
The murmurs had ceased. There was the sound of materials shifting. "He's waking!" the woman's voice announced.
Upon the sound of her voice, Anakin's eyelids flew open of their own accord. Nothing in the galaxy was going to keep him from seeing the origin of that voice. That sweet voice. The angelic face....
"Morning, Anakin." A man's aging face, outlined by ginger hair and laced with grey appeared over him. "Or perhaps I should say 'evening'?"
Anakin's furrowed brow became an outright scowl.
"Obi-Wan?" Anakin found his voice. A normal voice. But not normal....
"We're so glad you're feeling better, Anakin!" the woman's voice came from the foot of the bed. Propping himself on his elbows, Anakin stared incredulously at the source. So young. So beautiful.
"Padm?! You're...all right?" he called as his eyes grew to bright blue orbs. His wife. His former master. Alive. As they were before....
"Of...course." Padm? glanced to the older man and spoke quickly, as if trying to cover up Anakin's indiscretion. "You were right to come here, Master Kenobi. With the Separatists scattered and the Senate up in arms over the revelation about Chancellor Palpatine, who knows?"
"Revelation?" mimicked Anakin.
The two other figures stared at him as if he had grown a second head.
"What revelation?" Anakin repeated.
"That Chancellor Palpatine was a Dark Lord, Anakin," Obi-Wan said as if explaining why the sky was blue to a child.
Anakin blinked at his former master. This wasn't right. This wasn't the way it went. Was it? Anakin's mind raced, trying to remember the events that had happened so long ago....
Yes, yes, that was right. By the time Obi-Wan discovered Chancellor Palpatine's true nature, Anakin had already made his fatal decision. Or was about to. Anakin had been ready to sell his soul for the secret. The secret to save Padm?.
"...Anakin? Anakin?" Obi-Wan was trying to prompt him out of his reverie.
Anakin's lanky frame shot up from bed as he exclaimed, "The children!"
Instinctively, Padm?'s hands flew to her abdomen.
"What children, Anakin?" The older Jedi eyed the exchange suspiciously. "Are the Younglings in danger?"
Padm? promptly dismissed herself. "Excuse me, gentlemen. I must attend to...other things...."
Anakin watched her go, the way her body swayed with the weight of their unborn children which she hid beneath the bulky robes of her clothing. The tall doors of her bedchambers opened just enough to let her through, and she disappeared.
None of it went unnoticed by his former master.
"Anakin?" Obi-Wan prompted him again, looking rather cross with just a barely perceptible crease in his brow. It was as much impatience as he ever allowed himself to show.
"No," Anakin turned his attention to the Jedi Master and answered the previous question. "Not anymore."
Obi-Wan rose an eyebrow to that as his back straightened.
Suddenly, the door to the bedchamber opened again, and a dark-skinned man stepped through. With a bright smile despite his bandaged wounds, Mace Windu strode confidently to the bedside.
"Master Windu!" exclaimed Obi-Wan as he turned and raised a hand to place on the dark man's shoulder. "Shouldn't you be resting?"
"I'll be fine, Master Kenobi," Mace assured his fellow Council member, then turned his attention to Anakin. "Skywalker. Senator Amidala informed me you were awake. I wanted to thank you personally."
Anakin blinked. "Me? For what?"
With a strange seriousness, Mace replied, placing his bandaged hand on Anakin's leg, "For not killing me."
Anakin looked at the hand. The hand he had severed in the duel.
Suddenly everything came flooding back.
He was running. He had felt the presence of other Jedi, and a great draw upon the Force. A very strong and powerful calling of the Force that had shocked and amazed Anakin. What was its source?
Anakin burst through Palpatine's offices. Bodies of Palpatine's red-cloaked guards and Jedi strewn everywhere. Mace Windu stood over a helpless Palpatine, the Jedi's sabre pulsing over the old man.
"Return to the Jedi Temple, Skywalker," Mace's deep voice instructed, never letting his eyes fall away from his prisoner. His victim. Anakin's confidant. His advisor. His friend.
The Jedi Knight looked down upon Palpatine's kind, elderly fear-filled face.
"Please, Anakin! Save me from this madman! He's going to kill me!"
Anakin's eyes drifted back to the Master Jedi, whom he had trusted for so many years. Believed in. Feared.
"Anakin, do as I say!" The dark man's voice was a twisted bark, a command...a plea?
"Do you remember the story of Darth Plagueis the Wise?" the old man on the floor pleaded.
Anakin glanced down at Palpatine, ignoring the Jedi Master.
"Darth Plagueis was real," breathed Palpatine, a smug sneer tugging at the corner of his mouth.
"Real... ?" The word escaped from Anakin's lips.
"Anakin!" Mace commanded, "He's telling you a lie! Don't believe him!"
Inexplicably, Palpatine appeared even older, even more fragile. He pleaded again for his life, cowering before the buzzing blade of Mace's sabre.
Conflicted, Anakin stared at the two men, trying to know what to do. The Jedi had freed him from slavery, trained him in the ways of the Force, and opened the doors to a greater life. But they impeded him, blocked his progress, and prevented him from being with those he loved. Palpatine, on the other hand, was honest, loyal and willing to share the secret of life...to save Padm?....
Anakin's lightsabre flashed. The Jedi Master against the Jedi's Chosen One. Fear was in the master's eyes. The Chosen One had indeed stepped forward and tipped the balance of the Force.
To the Dark Side.
Anakin looked into Mace's stoney face. Slowly, deliberately, Mace's lips curled into a grin, then a smile, and finally he chuckled. Mace patted Anakin's leg as if they were life-long friends, comrades, brothers-in-arms.
"I'm...afraid Anakin took a nasty bump to the head, Master Windu," Obi-Wan explained, as if he were covering up a young padawan's foolish prank from the prying eyes of the Council.
"Ooooh," Mace acknowledged, still in a playful mood, "you don't need to remind me, Obi-Wan!" He smiled down at the young Jedi on the bed. "Get your rest, Anakin. You deserve it!" Mace turned to go and called over his shoulder, "See you back at the Temple, Master Kenobi."
Obi-Wan watched Mace go, his thoughts on the recent mission, the sudden change in galactic politics, and his duties to the Jedi Council. He also thought of what he had seen pass between his former padawan and the senator from Naboo.
"...Master?" Anakin called out to him.
Obi-Wan cocked his head to look at his former padawan. "I'm not your master any more, Anakin," he gently reminded.
"I know...Obi-Wan." The younger man's eyes flashed with a hint of humour. Or was it something else? Anakin looked away, cleared his throat and asked, "What happened? I thought you were on Utapau?"
"I was. It was apparently a plot to draw me away from Coruscant," Obi-Wan confirmed what Anakin had later learned. Would learn. Or was he about to... ? Obi-Wan was still explaining, "...Of course, I had to defeat General Grevious first."
"Of course," Anakin peered up at his former master, forcing a half-smile upon his lips as he struggled to understand why things seemed so different than the way he remembered them.
Silence fell between the two Jedi, the older one pondering the younger. Obi-Wan spoke, "How did you know, Anakin? When did you know Palpatine was a...Sith Lord?"
"Darth Sidious...," Anakin hissed the name out through his breath.
Obi-Wan frowned. "Yes."
With a faraway look in his eyes, Anakin answered, "When he told me, himself."
Obi-Wan's frown deepened. "He told you...himself?"
Anakin looked up as he remembered where he was...when he was...and certainly he shouldn't have been able to remember his Sith Master if it hadn't happened...should he? "It's...rather complicated. I'm tired."
With a quirk of his mouth, Obi-Wan chuckled and replied, "I have no doubt. Master Windu insists that if it weren't for your defiance of his orders to return to the Temple, he would be dead now. And the Republic would be in the hands of a madman."
Oh, if Obi-Wan only knew, Anakin thought silently as the older Jedi turned to go.
"Master!" the young Jedi called after his friend. The man who raised him. The man he killed.
"I mean...Obi-Wan," Anakin said with a slight smile. "Good night."
"Good night...my padawan," Obi-Wan returned with a gentle smile.
PART 2 - Trying to Fly
Anakin spent hours turning around what he thought were his memories in his head. A whole life of pain stretched behind him, filled with sadness and regret. Force-dream? Hallucination? Or perhaps the whole thing was a Dark Force vision, caused by the attack against Sidious....Or was it Mace?
Anakin frowned. He couldn't quite put it together. Either way, the Chosen One had finally corrected the balance in the Force. Just a little sooner than he remembered.
Padm? had returned to the bedchamber and snuggled up beside him once her Jedi guests had all departed. All save the conquering hero who undoubtedly needed to gather his strength before returning to the Jedi Temple, or whatever diplomatic riffraff she came up with to keep him home with her.
Her soft, dark hair falling from her sweat-drenched face.
Her face twisted in pain.
Strange greyish-white creatures scrambling around her fragile frame.
A child placed in her weak arms.
She called out his name.
Her head bent back as the death-throws took her away.
He didn't come at her cry. He couldn't help her.
He wasn't strong enough to save her.
"NO!!!" Anakin howled as he sprang up from bed, his body drenched in sweat.
"Anakin!" Padm? woke with a terrifying start, worry marring her perfect face.
His head fell into his mechanical hand. Everything else had changed, but not this. The dream remained the same. The dream was still real.
Padm? stroked his bare back, trying to soothe him. "What is wrong, my love?" Although she tried to hide it, fear made her voice quiver. Her younger, more impudent self wanted to shake him, to get him to tell her the dream, to find a way to erase it from his mind. But she was older, now, and a soon-to-be mother. And with the secrets she held within her, she had learned when to hold back. She had learned to live the lie.
Anakin thought of the secretive paths they had walked together to this moment as he pulled his hand away and stared at it. A permanent reminder of a failed mistake. One of so many.
He thought again of the apparent Dark Force vision that had preyed upon his desire for power, his desperate need to keep those he loved from falling away from him. The Dark Force had twisted his need to become the greatest Jedi into a vision of a pitiful tortured shell, half a man encased in a machine. Was it a warning not to make another mistake?
Watching his metallic hand ball into a fist, Anakin spoke, "I must return to the Temple."
As Anakin threw the covers off to fumble for his clothes in the near-darkness, Padm?'s shaded eyes fell.
The clouds from the previous night's rainfall were dissipating in the brightening skies over Coruscant. Dawn was just breaking over the surface of the Temple spires as Anakin approached in a borrowed 'scooter. It seemed strange to Anakin to see this sight again. Shivers ran along his back, still questioning his reality.
This is real, he reminded himself. Of course, the terror and horrors of the vision he lived encased in leather and durasteel felt just as genuine.
Anakin landed on a docking platform. He entered the Jedi Temple, a sense of d?j? vu washing over him. It felt like a lifetime since he had been home. He wasn't even sure anymore which level his old master's apartments were.
Closing his eyes, Anakin allowed his mental shields to lower, sensing the life-energies of the Force of the Jedi around him. All at once, it was both comforting and terrifying. Part of him longed to feel this sense of belonging, of being home again. Disturbingly, another part of him would rather have seen this place turned to rubble.
With an exhale of breath to clear away the dark thoughts, Anakin centred his mind, focusing on the image of one man, his former master, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Anakin received the clear vision of the Jedi Master in the training rooms several levels below.
When he entered the training arena, Anakin found Obi-Wan just as he had envisioned him?performing simple katas within a glass-encased room. Anakin pressed the entry panel, and the transparisteel slid back. Although he obviously sensed the approach of his former padawan, Obi-Wan continued his exercise without interruption.
Anakin removed his outer robe and placed it on the hook beside his master's, then moved beside the man, and with a single glance, determined Obi-Wan's position in the flow of movement. Anakin mimicked the kata positions with mirror precision.
Side-by-side, Obi-Wan and Anakin fell into a routine well-worn into memory?the precise movements, the sound of breathing, the shuffling of feet as they each moved from one kata stance to another. The comforting familiarity relaxed Anakin.
Obi-Wan sensed Anakin's tension fall away, and reacted by moving to a more complicated kata. Anakin responded to it instantly, as if anticipating the change. The rhythm between them quickened, and Anakin felt himself begin to smile.
The katas progressed, Anakin challenging Obi-Wan who in turn challenged Anakin. Obi-Wan still moved with surprising ease in the jumps and tumbles that Anakin pushed him into. Anakin found Obi-Wan still capable of surprising him with new moves and tricks.
Like disappearing in his Jedi robe when the death-blow struck him.
Anakin found himself falter, if only slightly. The Jedi faced each other in the begin-end position, both breathing hard from the exertion. Slowly, each of the men lowered their arms, contemplating the other, but never really communicating in the moments that passed between them.
"Couldn't sleep?" Obi-Wan prodded with polite chit-chat.
"Neither could you," Anakin remarked as both men retrieved their cloaks, unconsciously still moving in sync with one another.
Obi-Wan continued as they exited the glass room into the larger arena, "The Council will be convening shortly. Unfortunate news has arisen about the clone troopers?"
"I know. They turned on you," Anakin said softly.
"You knew?" Obi-Wan was taken by surprise. "Why didn't you say anything?"
Anakin's piercing gaze locked on to Obi-Wan. Anger strove upward from his belly, like hot magma finding its way to the surface. The tone of the reprimand brought Anakin back to his days under Obi-Wan's tutelage. Why couldn't his old master see he was a Jedi now? Didn't Obi-Wan just say the night before he was no longer Anakin's master?
The reason why he was here floated up to the surface?Padm?. Her words spoken so often when he begrudged his tension-filled relationship with his former master echoed in his ears: "You might be a Jedi Knight now, but he will always be your master." Yes, Anakin realised, and he would always be Obi-Wan's padawan.
"Obi-Wan," Anakin's anger faded and he looked away. His eyes shifted over the training arena where a handful of other Jedi and padawans were making use of the facilities. "May we go...some place more private?"
Obi-Wan regarded his former pupil silently, sensing the urgency behind Anakin's veil of composure. With a nod, he led the way back to his apartment. Obi-Wan had been assigned to new quarters in the Temple spire leading to the Jedi Council chambers.
Out of reflex when going into a new place, Anakin looked over every detail of the room. Like all Jedi apartments, the rooms were designed for function and simplicity rather than recreation and comfort in mind. The small space seemed larger with an open view of outer Coruscant and its endless streams of traffic flowing like blood between the 'scrapers.
Anakin turned and faced his former master. In a voice barely above a whisper, he said, "I need your help."
Obi-Wan met his gaze, his eyebrows pressing together in a worried arch. His former padawan had never been one to ask for help; in fact, he resented it when offered, always trying to prove to everyone that he was the greatest, the strongest...the Chosen One. "What is it, Anakin?"
"I...don't remember defeating Sidious," Anakin began hesitantly, his iridescent blue eyes finding it more comfortable to contemplate the lines of furniture and scattered datapads on Obi-Wan's desk.
"I don't understand. Master Windu won't stop talking about how you joined him in the fight against Palpatine...Darth Sidious. He said he was fortunate you came along when you did. He even said you resisted the temptation to join Sidious?"
"But I didn't!" Anakin spat darkly. When his eyes met Obi-Wan's, his former master thought he saw a flash of another colour in the young Jedi's eyes, one that sent shivers down his spine.
Anakin dipped his head, struggling against the dark tide that suddenly stirred within him, threatening to overtake what was left of him. He felt the tenuous bond he once shared with Obi-Wan reach out to him with compassion and patience. At first Anakin thought to bat it away, but Padm?'s angelic face swam above the swirling dark ocean. Anakin grabbed ahold of what was left of his bond with his master and held on tight, dragging himself out of the muddied waters.
Lifting his head, Anakin looked at Obi-Wan, azure eyes meeting the misty sea. "Please," Anakin's gruff voice pleaded, "help me save...my wife."
PART 3 - Alone in the Rainfall
Anakin braced himself for the tirade he expected from his master?the utterance of the Jedi Code as if it were some holy writ?but it never came. Instead, Anakin watched as all the blood drained away from Obi-Wan's face. Stepping to his desk, Obi-Wan sank down in the chair, his face a blank. With a faraway look in his eyes, he whispered incredulously, "Wife...."
Anakin frowned. Why wasn't Obi-Wan telling him how much of a disappointment Anakin was to him? Why didn't his former master take him to task? Where was the typical Obi-Wan reprimand, the one that belittled him and made him feel as if he could crawl under a rock and remain there until he turned to dust? Anakin thought it would be easier to take if Obi-Wan didn't look so defeated.
Focusing on the cityscape reflected in the window, the older Jedi asked quietly, "What is the danger to the senator?"
Anakin felt his whole body flush with something akin to embarrassment. Despite all the measures he and Padm? had used, Anakin's former master was not fooled by their performances of friendship and piety. Swallowing hard, Anakin answered, "Padm? is with child."
Obi-Wan slowly blinked and looked up. "...Child... ? !" The word came out like a breath of wind. The older man's eyes squinted with a questioning frown. "...When... ?"
Anakin's eyes flickered to the floor and back again, a pronounced frown creased on his brow. "After the battle at Geonosis."
Obi-Wan closed his eyes, pain etched over his features. Anakin watched as his master's hands gripped the folds of his robe and pulled tight. Then with a sigh, Obi-Wan released the robe and the conflicting pain within him.
Anakin bent down to one knee before the older Jedi and beseeched, "Please, Master. Padm? will die if she bears this child...."
Obi-Wan's cold eyes rose up to meet Anakin's. "You should have thought of that before you took her as your wife."
Anakin shuddered, the emotionless rejection of his master passing through him. Why had he thought he could turn to Obi-Wan with this? Visions of his master's horror-stricken face drenched with sweat from their furious fight on Mustafar swam before his eyes. It didn't happen like that, Anakin reminded himself as he clamped his eyes shut, willing the remainders of the Dark Vision away. He didn't hate Obi-Wan.
...But he did.
"...Please, Master...," he pleaded again, keeping his eyes averted, hoping that whatever was happening to him wouldn't drive him to insanity before he secured help for Padm?.
Obi-Wan sighed and glanced down at the floor. Shaking his head, he informed his former apprentice, "It is not within my power to say what will happen to Senator Amidala, Anakin." Sorrow filled his blue-grey eyes as they rose again, trying to meet Anakin's. "Nor what the Council will decide what to do with you."
The Council chamber doors opened, and Anakin's skin prickled at the back of his neck. The near-180 view of Coruscant, the seated masters in a semi-circle, but most especially the earthly yellows and reds of the ornamental pattern etched into the floor brought back a floodgate of memories. Forever would he remember the days he stood in the centre of this room, humbly taking whatever admonishment and judgment the Council administered.
Today he would be condemned.
Anakin strode into the middle of the room and paused. Two chairs to his left remained vacant. One was Obi-Wan's, the other meant for him. Supreme Chancellor Palpatine had insisted the Council allow him a voice?he was a great war hero and destroyed a Sith Lord, after all. Reluctantly, the other Council members had agreed, just as they had reluctantly conceded to Qui-Gon's dying request to allow him to be trained in the Jedi arts thirteen years before.
Mace Windu began, fully expecting the two empty chairs to become occupied in a moment now that they last two Jedi of the Council had arrived. "As many of you are already aware, the clone army has suddenly?" Mace stopped, eyeing Anakin and Obi-Wan who had both remained in the centre of the room. "Is something wrong, gentlemen?"
Anakin turned away from his chair to face the Jedi Master. In a low tone, he spoke, "I do not deserve to be on this Council, Master Windu, and we both know it."
Mace's mouth deepened into a pondering frown. "Why do you say this, Knight Skywalker? You've earned your place here?"
"No," Anakin interrupted, turning again to look upon Obi-Wan who continued to stand behind him. "No, I haven't." The learner and master exchanged a look?Anakin's face full of steely anger, Obi-Wan's face reflected sorrowful defeat.
Anakin continued to circle the room, looking upon each master one-by-one. Each Jedi met his eyes, their thoughts reflected back to him as each made contact. Finally he came to Yoda, and for a moment, Anakin realised how good it was to see the little ancient gnome. Then their eyes met, and Anakin knew the Jedi Master saw right through him. Yoda lowered his eyes, his face sullen.
Yes, Anakin realised, Yoda was remembering what had transpired between them only a few days ago.
Anakin had approached the old Jedi Master in the garden of the thousand fountains where he sat in his daily meditation.
"Master Yoda," Anakin interrupted as he bent down on one knee beside Yoda. The elder gave him a warning glance, reminding the petulant young one the virtues of patience. This forced Anakin to sit still and endure several long minutes of silence until the Jedi Master finally addressed him.
"What urgent matter is this that wait until after meditation you cannot, young Skywalker?" Yoda spoke in his strangely stilted voice, a mix of gruffness from old age and a lighter lilt from his endless amusement with which he viewed the world.
"Master," Anakin implored, "you are the most knowledgeable of all the Jedi, with great abilities to see into the future. I need your help."
"Hmm! Flattery suits a Jedi not!" Yoda reprimanded Anakin for trying to influence him with platitudes. He took up his gimmer stick and stood from his meditative position. He began to walk down the path through the garden. Anakin rose and followed him.
"Master," Anakin continued, "I've had a troubling vision."
"A troubling vision, have you? Think of consulting me, you did?"
"Yes, Master. I?" Anakin realised Yoda had stepped off the path to visit the plant life beside it. As the Jedi Master enjoyed the fragrance, Anakin lowered his voice to confide. "Someone I know?someone very important to me?is going to die. It's something I can't prevent."
"Hmm," Yoda was genuinely concerned, but more so at the implied request than for the young Knight's dilemma. "Seek me out, you have, to save one you cannot."
Anakin bowed his head in humility and shame. "Yes, Master."
Yoda turned to the young man and patted his gimmer stick at the ground to indicate that Anakin sit. Anakin did so, waiting for Yoda to continue.
"Many trials, a Jedi faces," Yoda began, "all of them difficult. None more so than that of losing a friend. Test you, it will, Jedi Skywalker. For all the knowledge your training gives you, preventing death, you cannot. To this, bend to the will of the Force, you must."
You lie, Anakin had thought at the time. Palpatine had told him the tragic tale of Darth Plagueis the Wise?a Sith Lord who had discovered the secret of life. The Chancellor had warned Anakin he would not hear this story from the Jedi?they would not reveal its secrets. Palpatine had been right. When Yoda had refused to help, Anakin realised he had just been a tool to the Jedi Order?someone to fulfill some crazy prophecy. A prophecy Anakin doubted had any credence.
So Anakin had decided that if they were going to use him to spy on Palpatine, he would use the Jedi for his own purposes. His training made him a great Jedi?the greatest of all time. When Palpatine had revealed he was, in fact, Darth Sidious, a master of the Dark Sith arts, Anakin have given himself to the Dark Side to grow in power and discover the secrets of life from the Dark Lord.
But he hadn't.
It had never happened.
And Anakin stood before the Council as a defeated man.
Rage began to build within his tall frame. His lightsabre dangled precariously at his hip, so easy to clasp it, ignite it and end this conflict in one fell swoop. It took all of Anakin's strength not to act on the impulse, his body drawing tautly as he spoke slowly, "I broke the Code. After the Battle of Geonosis, I was secretly married." Anakin's eyes seemed to turn dark as he glared at the Jedi Masters surrounding him, who watched him in stunned silence.
"Master Kenobi," Mace's incredulous stare moved to Anakin's former master who continued to stand patiently in the middle of the Council chambers. "Were you aware of this??"
"Of course not," Anakin spat impatiently.
Obi-Wan reprimanded him, his ice-cold eyes bearing down on his former padawan, despite the fact that the older man was a head shorter. "I can speak for myself, Anakin."
The two men glared at each other, Anakin's hands balling into fists before he ducked his head and looked away.
Obi-Wan addressed Mace, "I had been aware of Anakin's adolescent crush."
Beside him, Anakin haughtily verbalised his disagreement of Obi-Wan's statement with a simple "Ha!"
The Jedi Master ignored him and continued, "Although it nearly caused a problem at the Battle of Geonosis, I believed his defeat against Count Dooku humbled Anakin."
Anakin startled at Obi-Wan's words. Did Obi-Wan really think Dooku had put Anakin in his place? His efforts to double his lightsabre training had been an act of vengeance. One he gleefully enjoyed when the recent opportunity had come again to challenge the former Jedi. And Anakin had made Dooku pay dearly. Although Obi-Wan instructed his former padawan to take the leader of the Separatists alive, Anakin had had other plans. The burn of his missing limb still lingered in his mind and tore him asunder every time he lifted his right arm to do battle or caress his wife when they made love. In repayment, Anakin had taken both of Dooku's hands and finally his head?proving he was the stronger of the Jedi.
But not to Obi-Wan. And not to the rest of the Council. To them, Anakin was still reckless and foolhardy. Someone who needed to be put in his place, taught a lesson. Controlled.
Obi-Wan continued, "He was more earnest in his training afterward. And more...mature in regards to relationships." The older Jedi looked humbled, as if Anakin's disobedience was his own personal failure.
"Why tell us this now, young Skywalker?" It was Yoda who asked, although he already knew they answer.
Anakin replied, "She is with child. If she bears the child, she will die."
Every Jedi within the Council chambers responded to that with profound sadness. A Jedi respects all life, and yet it was a Jedi's choice that would cause this pain and death.
Mace began to deliver the fatal blow: "It is regrettable when lives are lost?"
"You're going to condemn Padm?? !" Anakin burst out angrily.
"Padm?... ?" Mace's eyes grew wide. The rest of the Council murmured and glanced at one another with shock. Mace continued, "Your wife is Senator Amidala of Naboo?"
Anakin opened his mouth to continue to rebuke the Council, but Obi-Wan placed a gentle hand on his shoulder and spoke in his steed, "Yes, Master Windu. I'm afraid this is true."
Mace closed his eyes for a moment, feeling the Force for guidance. Reopening his eyes, he spoke, "The state of the Republic is at a turning point. Senator Amidala has been key in keeping many worlds from joining the Separatists. Her death would be most unfortunate."
"Then do something!" Anakin shouted, leaning forward against Obi-Wan's outstretched arm.
Mace gave Anakin an admonishing look, then sighed and looked at the other Council members, one-by-one. In turn, each of them nodded after a moment of introspection, silently communicating their agreement with the suggestion he had relayed to them via the Force.
Ending with Yoda, Mace returned his gaze to the two men who stood before him. Obi-Wan continued to hold Anakin back, who very desperately wanted to run out of the room, seek out his transport, and return to his wife in order to steal her away from whatever fate the Jedi would impart.
"Obi-Wan," Mace addressed him, "you will bring the senator here to the Temple, and our healers will attempt to save her and the child's life." Relief washed over Anakin like a wave, until Mace spoke again, addressing him, "Anakin, when you return, the Council will decide your fate." Mace's dark eyes met Anakin's, his face stern.
Anakin's face became a blank, his eyes like steel.
He had been right. He would be condemned.
>PART 4 - End of Time
Exiting the Council chambers, Anakin followed Obi-Wan out into the reception hall and found himself up against a giant wall of fur. A demanding roar issued from the creature, something about a great devastation of his people. Anakin looked up in surprise. Certainly, he had seen Wookiees before, but somehow this one was familiar.
"Calm, you must be, Chewbacca," Master Yoda commanded the beast as he came out behind Anakin, undaunted by the fact that the Wookiee towered over him by two meters.
Chewbacca. Friend and first mate to Han Solo. Fear gripped Anakin in a way that even the nightmare about Padm? had not. These names were from his Dark Vision.
"Your concerns the Jedi Council will address," Yoda assured him. "Your loss our loss is."
Chewbacca hung his head low and followed the venerated Jedi Master into the Council chambers, and for a moment, Anakin irrationally feared the Wookiee would recognise him. With barely a glance, Chewbacca scarcely noted Anakin's presence and moaned dejectedly as he brushed past him.
As Obi-Wan took Anakin by the elbow to lead him away, the young Jedi looked over his shoulder through the closing doors at the Wookiee standing in the centre of the Council circle. He looked as forlorn and lost as he had on Bespin when Han Solo had emerged from the carbonite chamber.
No, that didn't happen, Anakin tried to convince himself as his boots lead him to the turbolift.
But what if it had?
The doors of the turbolift closed, and Obi-Wan spoke with hushed tones into his comlink. Anakin stood beside him, lost in his own fears.
When he had awoken the night previous, Anakin had found himself in what he thought was his past, his wife and former Jedi Master at the foot of his bed, the bed he had shared with Padm?. Anakin's last thoughts were not of fighting against Sidious beside Mace, but of dying in his son's arms aboard the Death Star II. The fight with Mace and Sidious was over two decades ago in his mind. And it ended badly. Indecisive, Anakin had finally chosen what he believed was the lesser of two evils?remove Mace for Palpatine, and the Chancellor would provide a way to save Padm? from his dream-vision of her demise.
Last night, Anakin discovered he hadn't thrown Mace out the Chancellor's parapet, but Darth Sidious?his friend, Chancellor Palpatine. His friend who had never revealed the secret of manipulating midi-chlorians as he had promised. His friend who had asked him to kill the Jedi in order to stop the corruption spreading across the galaxy. His friend who had pulled Anakin's reins, drawing him back into deceitful slavery. His friend who had tried to murder his son.
Anakin and Obi-Wan were joined by four more Jedi as they exited the turbolift. They made their way as one unit to the landing bay and hailed an airbus to take them to Amidala's private apartments.
Anakin glanced at the man sitting beside him. Obi-Wan kept his own thoughts wrapped around him like a cloak. He had sensed Anakin's gaze, but refused to return it. The same painful dagger that Anakin had felt while growing up under this man's tutelage pierced his heart once more. Every fibre of his being wanted nothing more than Obi-Wan's twinkling gaze to shine down on him and tell him how proud he was of Anakin. Now Anakin knew it would never be.
Staring at his hands in his lap?one real, the other artificial?Anakin felt bereft in a sea of strangers. Now that Palpatine was gone?by his own hand, it seemed?he had no one in which to confide.
Silence stretched on as the Jedi exited the airbus on the lower security level of the apartment complex. Already known to the security officers of the building, Obi-Wan gave a brief nod, and they were allowed to pass to the turbolift. Anakin felt as if feathered creatures were uncurling in his belly, just like it had the first time he rode a lift like this to Padm?'s apartment with his master three years before. Only this time it wasn't nervousness at seeing Padm? again, but fear for her future.
"Obi-Wan," Anakin's voice sounded distant, although the two men stood side-by-side in the lift crowded with Jedi.
The older man looked up into the dark stormy blue eyes of his former apprentice. It was eerily quiet for so many bodies presently crushed in a such small space. "Yes?" replied Obi-Wan, breaking the silence.
Anakin continued in hushed tones, "When I fought Sidious...I...I had a vision."
"A vision?" Obi-Wan parroted.
Absently, Anakin nodded. "In my dream...when I saw Padm?...die...there was only one child. But...in the vision...there were two."
Obi-Wan waited, knowing Anakin had more to say.
"Padm? wanted the sex of our child to be a surprise. I...have never looked." Anakin's eyes shifted to his boots.
Obi-Wan glanced at a fellow Jedi standing to his right who politely kept his eyes forward, giving the air that he wasn't listening to the private conversation. Returning his attention to Anakin, he waited for the younger man to speak again.
"Please," Anakin barely breathed above a whisper. "I need to know."
"If she allows it." Obi-Wan made no promise with his answer, breaking eye contact with Anakin. The older Jedi wondered if his former padawan's sanity would hinge on knowing.
Anakin approached the door. Hesitating, he glanced back at Obi-Wan. The older Jedi's stern eyes met Anakin's. Blue eyes met with blue, Anakin pleading like a child, Obi-Wan not able to relent. With a sharp breath, Anakin turned back to the door and requested entry.
"May I inquire who is calling on Senator Amidala?" came the protocol droid's pleasant lilt from the comm panel.
"Threepio, it's me," Anakin spoke with layers of emotion held in check.
The door opened, and Threepio turned away to delightfully announce, "Mistress! Thank goodness, it is only Master Anakin!"
Anakin stepped through the doorway to find Padm? and her handmaiden struggling to get her to stand. Dorm? held a robe, and they were obviously trying to hide Padm?'s condition.
Threepio turned back to shut the door to discover that behind Anakin, Obi-Wan entered along with several other Jedi. "Oh, dear!"
"Ani!" Padm? exclaimed happily, her back still half-turned away from the door. To Anakin, the smile on her lips appeared to brighten the whole room. With deep sadness in his heart, he couldn't return it, especially as she continued to turn, and her eyes fell upon Obi-Wan. The luminescence faded, Padm? eyes turning to rust as a dark fear entered her. "Oh, Ani...."
Dorm? moved away, her head bowed with shame that she had failed to protect her lady from this humiliation.
With long purposeful strides, Anakin moved to stand directly before Padm?, every part of him yearning to scoop his wife into his arms, dash out the patio, and leap off the precipice.
Yet another mistake he knew would cost him if he gave into the impulse.
Anakin stood still before her, trying to memorise every part of her: her heart, her soul, the way her aura felt in the Force, the way her energy would respond to his when he was near.
Obi-Wan slowly walked across the stately apartment, his eyes filled with sadness as he regarded the two lovers. Anakin felt Obi-Wan's presence push gently through the Force. Anakin glanced at his master once again, the plea lingering in his eyes. Steel-grey eyes met the storm-restless eyes of the sky, and Anakin knew there would be no reprieve. He stepped aside.
Obi-Wan bowed his head and stood in front of Padm?. Her hands instinctively flew to her abdomen, as if somehow she could protect the life within her with will alone. Raising his gaze, he addressed her softly, "Senator.... Padm?." He lifted his hands, but stopped from making actual contact with her. "May I?" he requested.
Padm? turned her dark eyes to look up at her husband who gazed sullenly at Obi-Wan's boots. Feeling her eyes upon him, Anakin nodded to indicate it would be okay, his glance mournful.
She turned back to the Jedi Master, her eyes betraying her fear and worry, but her hands fell to her sides, allowing him to touch her.
Obi-Wan's hands softly pressed against Padm?'s belly. He closed his eyes, reaching through the Force to feel the individual energy of the life within. His eyes flew open with a sharp inward take of breath. His gaze met Padm?'s again, then as he removed his hands and with a slight turn, Anakin's. The two men regarded each other momentarily before the older one spoke.
Padm? looked confusedly between the Jedi men before her. "How...is that possible? Anakin... ?"
Obi-Wan placed a hand on her shoulder. "Senator Amidala, you will need to come with us."
The Jedi hadn't let Padm? and her entourage fretter over what items to bring with them. Brought up from near birth at the Jedi Temple, they hadn't the concept of possessions. Anakin smirked at his wife's one true vice?her collection of clothing and costumes. In the end, she was forced to do without. Only three items were allowed her, leaving her flustered and out-of-sorts.
She used her anger as a wall between herself and her husband. His mind butted up against it when he pressed his thoughts against hers. Anakin realised he should have taken a private moment with her when he had the opportunity. Or perhaps this was best. Pending the Council's decision, he had no idea if he would be allowed to see his angel again. If Padm? survived, Anakin never wanted her to think it was the Jedi who had forced them apart. Let her think it was him and him alone.
Anakin stood in the expansive hall just outside the medcentre where Padm?, Dorm?, and Threepio had been taken. One of the Jedi who had escorted them remained with Anakin a short distance away. Anakin vaguely remembered him?a Sabre-Master. The flowing white-haired man was teacher to the Initiates. Anakin's only memory of their acquaintance seemed to be of them fighting?right here, Anakin mused?where the Sabre-Master looked up at him in a fear he had likely not expressed since his own days as a padawan. The fear had remained etched on the older man's face as the creature Anakin had become cut him down with his sabre.
Wrapped in his dark thoughts, Anakin watched a bird take flight outside the towering transparisteel window that looked out over the eastern horizon of Coruscant.
A gentle hand touched Anakin's sleeve.
Anakin turned, a frown of irritation piercing his brow. Obi-Wan's shimmering eyes looked up with sadness and whatever was left of his compassion.
"I thought...you would like a moment to speak to your wife alone."
Anakin regarded Obi-Wan with some confusion and trepidation. Why would he do this? Did the Council already contact him and tell him of their decision? Anakin considered refusing Obi-Wan's offer, but thought better of it. He acquiesced with a slight nod.
Padm? turned when she heard the door open. Seeing Anakin standing in the door frame, her eyes flashed fire before she turned back to the Coruscant cityscape.
"I thought you wanted this out in the open," Anakin whispered tightly.
"Not like this!" she hissed, glaring at his reflection in the transparisteel.
Anakin hung his head low. It seemed no matter what he did, things only got worse.
Padm? lifted off the ground as an unseen hand shook her like a leaf in the wind. Her hands clasped her delicate neck, though there was nothing she could do to remove the crushing force that stole away her breath of life.
Anakin waved his hand, and tossed her aside like a broken toy.
No, Anakin realised, it could be worse. A lot worse.
He ventured another step toward her. Sensing Padm? tense at his approach, he stopped, his piercing eyes gazing at her with longing and sorrow.
"It's the dream, isn't it?" Padm?'s voice was barely audible.
"Yes," Anakin's voice cracked.
Protectively, Padm?'s hands rubbed her abdomen, her brown eyes filled with worry and fear. "What?what's wrong with the baby?"
Anakin closed the gap between them and took one of her hands from behind, turning her gently to face him. "Nothing. The baby...the children...they're fine."
Worry creased Padm?'s brow as she met Anakin's gaze. She didn't need to have Force sensitivity to know he was holding back. "Then why??"
Anakin wrapped his broad arms around the tiny frame of his wife protectively. Pressing his mouth to her cheek, he sobbed, "I'm sorry, Padm?. So sorry. Please...forgive me."
"Anakin...you're scaring me!"
Anakin pushed back from her to look at her beautiful angelic face. He suddenly realised the few years of their secretive marriage, the war, and constant worry had significantly aged her. His gloved hand traced her cheek, wishing he could remove the lines of fear and tragedy from her face. "Please, Padm?," he spoke again, his voice soft and low, "know that what I've done, it was meant for you. I love you, Padm?."
Anakin drew her close for one last kiss. She placed her hands on his chest and gently pushed him away. Her dark eyes pierced his soul. "What, Anakin? What did you do?"
PART 5 - Don't Try to Fight
Anakin looked down at his wife's worry-lined face and considered what to say. How could he possibly tell her that he had foreseen her death? How could he explain the evil vision of his life as a Sith Lord? Their children stolen away from them? A Republic in ruin? His life in shambles, filled with longing, death and destruction?
No, Anakin could not tell Padm? these things.
"I'm leaving the Order," he said at last.
"Oh, Ani... !" Padm? sighed with sadness. Her hand caressed his cheek.
Anakin's eyes closed and he leaned in to her, cherishing what might well be their last touch. That, too, was something he could not tell her. So a lie to protect the lies seemed to be the only solution.
Padm? pressed herself to his chest. "You shouldn't have to give up what you love to be with the ones you love."
With bitter resolution, Anakin agreed.
"Anakin," Obi-Wan's voice spoke softly from the door frame, interrupting their embrace. "The Council is waiting for us."
Anakin's hands traced along Padm?'s arms as he backed away from her. He loved her. He would always love her until the end of time. Words failed to connect to the truths welling in his heart. They held hands at arm's length as he memorised the moment.
"Come back to me as soon as you can, Anakin," she pleaded her request.
"Of course, I will," he lied.
Their eyes met, and the light in Padm?'s eyes died when she saw the coldness lurking behind Anakin's fa?ade. Trying to hide his bitterness, Anakin let her go and turned away, following Obi-Wan out into the corridor.
"Still making promises you cannot keep?" said Obi-Wan quietly.
"You don't need to remind me," Anakin snarled softly.
Anakin glanced at the man walking beside him. As if feeling his gaze, Obi-Wan looked up, concern and worry clearly written in the older Jedi's eyes. Anakin glanced away, and they continued their journey in silence.
Anakin felt Obi-Wan's concern like soft whispers in the Force. Once, they were friends, very close. Even after his Knighthood, the Council had placed them together on missions, recognising the two's ability to work in tandem. Obi-Wan had been the closest thing Anakin had ever known to a father, and now that they were equals, Anakin finally realised the respect Obi-Wan had for him as a fellow Jedi.
Just a few days before, the two of them were laughing and joking. Anakin felt they were inseparable. Then yesterday happened. His friend, Palpatine, his enemy, Sidious, had become one person. He had faced the man and made a decision that had changed the course of the galaxy.
Only he hadn't made it. This Dark Vision was maddening. His memories returned time and again to it; its realness affected how he thought and felt.
Like how he felt about his mentor, Obi-Wan.
When had things gone so horribly wrong?
Anakin remembered the Dark Vision in perfect clarity.
Padm? had come to warn him. Obi-Wan was looking for him.
"Obi-Wan is alive?" Anakin, now appointed Sith Lord Darth Vader by Palpatine, asked incredulously.
He had his answer momentarily when he felt his former master's presence lurking in the shadows. Igniting his lightsabre, Anakin lunged at the apparition, sparks flying as his blade slashed at a durasteel support, revealing Obi-Wan's hiding place.
Padm? had betrayed him.
With all the power the Dark Side could muster, Anakin reached out his hand toward Padm? and closed it in a fist, lifting her with his power, crushing her delicately perfect neck.
Anakin caught a flash of blue in his peripheral vision, distracting his concentration. Anakin turned his attention to it, lifting his sabre to meet it. He found himself blade-to-blade with Obi-Wan.
Feverishly, former master and padawan fought. This was no sparing match with quick feints and unveiled smiles; there were no jests, only harsh taunts, vicious lashes of barbed tongues. All of his pent-up rage and frustration poured out of Anakin, and it was all Obi-Wan could to hold his own against his younger and stronger pupil.
Anakin pushed against Obi-Wan's defences, the older man giving ground, unable to do what he was sent to do?destroy the Dark Sith Lord. Finally, the older Jedi tricked the Sith Lord to a steep slope, and Anakin lost his footing on the soft lava sand. As Anakin leapt overhead, Obi-Wan took the tactical advantage. With tears in his eyes, his blue blade flashed, taking Anakin's limbs one-by-one from him.
Falling into the ash, Anakin felt the superheated cinders burning at the edges of his cloak as he desperately held to the shifting black sand beneath his artificial arm's grip.
Anakin felt his hand slip, flames licking at his hair. Toxic fumes burned his lungs. He choked out, "Obi-Wan?!" He desperately called out through their bond, crying for his master's hand.
It was too late. The bond had been severed.
"You were the Chosen One!" Obi-Wan screamed down at him, his hands balled to fists around both their lightsabres, one in each hand. "It was said you would destroy the Sith, not join them! It was you who would bring balance to the Force, not leave it in darkness!"
Anakin could no longer hear above the roar of spewing lava around him. A burst of searing hot molten metal hit Anakin's flesh. He burst into flame.
"I hate you!" He screamed at his adversary, the Dark Side carrying his words where sound could not.
Whatever was left of the man known as Anakin Skywalker died that day.
Anakin didn't even try to push away the Dark Vision any more. The memory of his searing flesh, the anguish of betrayal, were all too real. As real as his footfalls along the long dark corridors of the Jedi Temple, as real as the breath in and out of his lungs. As real as Obi-Wan beside him now.
Balling his hands to fists, Anakin stopped in mid-stride. He loved Padm?, but she had betrayed him. Obi-Wan was his brother, his father, his master, but Anakin hated him.
Obi-Wan glanced back, seeing Anakin's conflict written on his face. Gently, he reminded, "The Council is waiting for us?"
"Don't tell me what to do!" Anakin barked.
Feeling the darkness spiraling around him, Anakin drew it to himself almost gleefully. With all the anger and anguish within him, Anakin howled as he whirled away from Obi-Wan and struck his power like a fist against the marbled hall staircase. The column trembled and cracked from the base. The floor shook beneath their feet.
A youngling clan was coming out from under the archway when Anakin's Dark Force fist struck it. Shrill screams pierced his ears as the children recoiled in pain and fear.
Anakin glared down at the children, seeing himself reflected in their eyes.
A blonde boy with electric blue eyes stared back.
Shock shivered down Anakin's spine as he thought of another boy, yet unborn.
Obi-Wan reached out a hand to the children, trying to send a calm reassurance to them. "It's going to be all right?"
Anakin turned on his heel and fled down the long hallway.
"Anakin!" Obi-Wan shouted, following. The Jedi Master's heart beat heavily against his chest as he ran to catch up with his former apprentice. "Anakin!"
With inhuman abruptness, Anakin whirled to face his former master, and in a deep, dark voice, projected, "Anakin is dead!"
Obi-Wan stopped where he stood, pulling back from the cold energy emanating from Anakin. Blood roared in his ears, the sound repeating over and over again, You failed. You failed. You failed.
Sinking to his knees, Anakin spoke aloud his own mantra. "He's dead.... I'm dead...."
With palms held open, Obi-Wan stood there before Anakin, unable to reach out, but unable to leave. A contingent of Jedi was running from both sides of the hallway, converging on them.
For the second time today, Anakin found himself before the Council. Although unshackled, Anakin felt he might as well have come before them as a common criminal. He had tapped into the Darkness and used its power within the Temple walls. The last time these hallowed halls had felt the power of the Dark Side was over a millennium ago when the Sith seized the Temple and nearly wiped out the Jedi.
Anakin glanced over his shoulder. Two Jedi flanked him, their finely-tuned senses trained on him. The Council was so complacent. How did they think two meagre Jedi could guard him?
Go away, Anakin commanded his Dark thoughts. I'm not listening. But he was listening and had been listening for a long time. Even before the Dark Vision, Anakin had heeded the call of anger and hate, borne out of his fear. The Darkness felt him on its doorstep, and was calling his name. How could he resist the call of such an intimate friend?
I will resist. I must, Anakin vowed.
For Padm? and their unborn children.
His escorts guided him to the centre of the circle, Obi-Wan following to join him. Anakin met Mace's gaze. Despite the calm exterior of Mace and the rest of the Jedi, the air was charged with cautious energy.
"The healers have finished examining Senator Amidala," Mace explained matter-of-factly. He raised the arm he had propped on his chair and waved it, palm up. "They find no signs of injury nor illness."
Yoda continued, "Why think you harm shall come to her? Hmm?"
"I told you, Master," Anakin replied, his voice controlled, his lips pressed tight.
"Ah, yes, your vision," Yoda nodded solemnly and tapped his gimmer stick at the base of his chair as he contemplated how to continue. Looking up, he pointed at Anakin. "Through the Force, past and future you may see, but be wary the credence you place on them."
"Visions may come in dreams," Mace added coolly, "but Jedi are still women and men, too. Sometimes a dream is just a dream."
"Aaah! Yes!" Anakin's voice raked over his words like durasteel pulled along transmorphic shielding. Anakin whirled on the Council members, the flaps of his tunic flying. Accusatory sarcasm dripped from his words as he continued, "It's only sleep. It's just a dream." Anakin now faced the man standing beside him?his former master, Obi-Wan. "And dreams pass in time," Anakin mimicked the older man, icy shards of long-held anger openly exposed in his eyes.
Obi-Wan's eyes widened. Anakin had fumed in front of the Council before, but with a sharp word from one of the Masters, a quick glance from Obi-Wan, and Anakin would duck his head and recoil to some place else, some place more peaceful, Obi-Wan had hoped. Now he finally understood. Anakin had simply reacted like a defeated slave, holding the pain of anger inside, letting it fester like an untreated infection. The dam he had created held too much, and now it was breaking.
The taller man pressed his presence against the Jedi Master, breathing hotly down his neck. Obi-Wan stood calmly, very still, like prey trapped under a predator's paw. The rest of the Jedi felt the Force energy shift, dark tendrils clinging to Anakin. "I'm so sick of you! All of you!" he barked, tossing a dark glare over the serenely quiet Masters around him.
"Anakin?" Obi-Wan spoke calmly, raising his hand to place on Anakin's shoulder.
"No!" Anakin shrugged him off. "You tell me what to do, what to think! How to eat and how to sleep! You tell me I'm the Chosen One, yet you tell me to follow your lead! Enough!" The last word rose to the rafters, echoing with the power of the Force Anakin placed in it.
Silence followed, Anakin's ragged breathing the only sound. He closed his eyes, his brow furrowing in dismay. This would do Padm? no good. Nor him. Anakin slowed his breathing and released his frustration to the void.
Reopening his eyes, Anakin took a step toward Mace Windu and drew his sabre. Suddenly the whole room was ablaze in the fading light of Coruscant as ten Jedi leapt to their feet and lightsabres came to life. Anakin paused a moment, staring down the defensive posture of Mace's lavender blade. Placing his palm up, Anakin fell to one knee and bowed his head.
Lifting his sabre to the Jedi Master before him, Anakin spoke, "I am unworthy of this weapon; take it from me."
Mace's dark eyes flickered up to meet Obi-Wan's?confusion in the dark man's gaze, sadness in the other's. Deactivating his blade, Mace returned it to his belt, and then with reluctance, took the sabre offered to him.
The only Jedi in the room to remain seated throughout, and one of the only two who drew no lightsabre against Anakin, Yoda sighed and bowed his head with remorse. "The deed is done. A Jedi Knight, Anakin Skywalker is no longer."
PART 6 - By Your Side
In the morning, Obi-Wan felt as if every bone ached in his body, an ache that was rooted in his very soul. A part of him knew this trouble with Anakin was a very long time coming, yet somehow he'd managed to ignore it, push it aside without confronting the truth.
Now it was here, and Obi-Wan was still unsure how to face it.
The Jedi Master made his way through the Temple, dwarfed by the soaring heights of the archways above him. Other figures made their way to and from various assignments, looking as miniscule as he felt.
One figure in particular captured Obi-Wan's attention. A figure dressed in white struggled her way up the long stairs leading to the upper spire that lead to the Council chambers. With one hand, the woman gripped the stair rail while the other supported her swelling belly.
"Senator!" he called out to her, dashing through the remainder of the distance to her side. "My lady!"
Padm? paused, leaning her weight upon the railing as she turned to the familiar voice. "Obi-Wan," she addressed him, slightly out of breath.
"Padm?, please," he requested, offering a hand to support her. "You should be in the medcentre."
Ignoring his efforts to get her to return to her rooms, Padm? spoke, "I asked to see Anakin this morning. I was told he was in 'temporary quarters' and was not allowed visitors. Is this true?"
Unable to look her in the eye, Obi-Wan lowered his gaze and his voice. "Yes. It's true."
"Why, Obi-Wan?" Padm? questioned. "Why is he being kept as a prisoner? What possibly could he have done??"
"He used his power to strike out in anger, Padm?," Obi-Wan explained quietly. "He almost injured younglings."
For a brief moment, shock and disbelief flashed across her face. She frowned and shook the image from her mind. "But he didn't, did he." A statement, not a question, issued from her lips?a resolute conviction.
"Obi-Wan," Padm? pleaded as she gripped his shoulder. "You of all people can't believe he is capable of doing harm to others?"
Looking her squarely in the eye, Obi-Wan soberly responded, "He does."
Her lips parted with incredulousness.
"Padm?," Obi-Wan continued, "Anakin is very powerful. He has always had an innate ability to attune himself to the Force, and...." Obi-Wan's eyes flickered guiltily as his voice lowered to a whisper. "He is a very well-trained warrior."
Padm? stared sternly at the Jedi Master for a long moment, her lips pressed tightly together. With determination lighting her eyes, she whispered back, "Surely you still remember that little boy from Tatooine, Obi-Wan."
Pain filled his eyes as he returned her gaze. "Of course I do. I look upon Anakin and wonder?'When did he grow up and become a man?' I still see that innocent heart yearning with the desire to single-handedly change the galaxy. But, Padm?, that's part of the problem."
The senator never learned how to take no for an answer. "It is also part of the solution. Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You and I may be Anakin's only hope."
Anakin opened his eyes. He found himself kneeling on the cold durasteel floor of a factory. A multi-legged droid scuttled by him like some impossibly massive beetle. The sound of metal grinding against metal clamoured in the distance.
Anakin's face was warm. Steam vents poured out tremendous heat all around him. The smell of sulfur and rock permeated his senses.
This place was forever etched in his mind as well as his soul. It was in his Dark Vision. Although he had already taken Palpatine's offer to become his second in command, and willingly went to slaughter his Jedi brothers as a Lord of the Sith, it was at Mustafar where Darth Vader was truly born.
Anakin had returned.
A piercing scream cried out in the distance.
Jumping to his feet, Anakin crossed the long hallway past the conveyors out into the open field were molten lava bubbled and burst up from a hellish pit.
The cry called out again. "Anakin!"
Shock coursed through his body as blood drained from him. His sight caught notice of a lithe figure clothed in white struggling up the rock face of a cliff.
"Padm?!" he shouted back.
Anakin gauged the distance he needed to push himself to get to her. It seemed so far away. Even with his Force abilities and Jedi training, he wasn't sure he could make it. One miscalculation would send him tumbling to his death?or worse.
Anakin ran along the crossways built up over the cliffs, trying to find a better vantage point. Padm? was alone on an island, separated from the rest of the cliffs that made up the gorge. And the tide of lava was rising.
"Padm?!" he shouted to her from her left, still too far away to make the jump under his own power. "Hold on! I'm coming!"
Anakin deduced he should be able to reach her?if only just?if he used his liquid cable launcher. Only problem was the sizzling heat. Over the lava pit, it was likely the launcher's rope would deteriorate quickly. He could certainly use it long enough to get him half-way to his destination; the Force could give him the rest. But how could he possibly get her back to safety?
Padm? screamed in surprise and terror as liquid fire licked at her boots.
Anakin decided it didn't matter?he would find a way to save her or die trying.
Reaching for his utility belt, he found his cable launcher missing. In a panic, he checked the back of his belt, too, but it was gone.
"Anakin," a deep voice spoke softly.
Whirling about, Anakin found himself face-to-face with Qui-Gon Jinn. Nestled in the crook of each arm was a sleeping child.
Anakin's eyes flickered briefly to the children, then back to the Jedi Master's face. The man was just as Anakin remembered?stalwart and tall, resolute and quietly determined. His deep blue eyes pierced Anakin's soul with a gentle caress.
"Qui-Gon?" Anakin breathed incredulously.
"Let her go, Anakin," Qui-Gon's voice was soothingly stern.
Anakin frowned and shook his head in disbelief. "No. I can't."
"You must." Qui-Gon's voice was matter-of-fact more than a command. "Let her go," he repeated.
Anakin looked again at the sleeping children nestled peacefully in the powerful man's arms. These were his own progeny, he knew. To embrace them into his life, Anakin would have to let go of his past.
He would have to let Padm? go.
Swiftly turning away from the vision of Qui-Gon, Anakin looked back at the cliff and saw?
Padm? was gone.
"No...," Anakin whispered, trying to will her back to existence.
But the dream was done.
Sitting up from the single cot that extended from the wall of his windowless and featureless cell, Anakin wiped the perspiration from his face and stared up at the white walls surrounding him.
With the briefest of efforts, Anakin reached out into the Force and felt the life energies of the fellow Jedi outside. Not only the guards just outside the door, but throughout the whole Temple. With a little more effort, he could reach out to touch Padm??
But he couldn't.
Despite all the powers he had learned to harness, despite the fathomless mystery that was the Force, Anakin could do nothing to save his beloved.
Anakin clasped the hair at his temples, his whole body shuddering with an anguished sigh. He dropped to his knees on the floor. Lowering his arms to his sides, although his hands were still balled into fists, Anakin's brow creased in concentration to empty his mind. Try as he might, the serenity that should have flowed through him in meditation as Master Obi-Wan once taught him never seemed to come. Instead, Anakin's soul filled with fear, anguish and despair.
What was it that Yoda once said to him?
"Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering!"
How could he possibly let go?
Attachment is forbidden.
That was the Golden Rule. That was the reason why Anakin shouldn't have married. That was the reason why he hadn't been allowed to return to Tatooine and find his mother in time to save her.
Anakin couldn't separate his feelings from his attachments. His feelings were his attachments. He was attached to his emotions as he was attached to...to...his arm.
Anakin opened his eyes and raised his mechanical arm, clenching it before him. How easily his arm had been separated from him in his impetuous attack against Dooku.
"The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers."
His daughter had said that in his Vision. Now her phantom words mocked him.
The tighter he held on to Padm?, the more she seemed to slip away.
"No!" Anakin's tortured soul cried from his mouth as he doubled over and lay his head on the ground, tears falling unbidden to the floor.
Why couldn't he let go? !
Inside the Council chambers, Obi-Wan stood behind and to one side of Senator Amidala who, despite his protests to bring her case to the Council himself while she remained in the medcentre, managed to make it up the stairs and across the great hall. If the Council was to keep Anakin imprisoned, they would have to face the family he would leave behind.
"Master Windu, I don't understand," she spoke as diplomatically as she could, considering her emotional state. "If Anakin has freely left the Order, why is he being held prisoner?"
Mace looked pained to answer, but he realised only the stark truth would make the senator understand. "Senator, your...husband is undeniably strong in the Force. There is no guarantee that he would be capable of restraining himself from using his powers. He already demonstrated his inability yesterday?"
"But I know Anakin!" Padm? interrupted flustered. "He's incapable of injuring others!"
Silence hung over the Council chambers as Padm?'s worried eyes pleaded with the Jedi to take back his words.
In a moment of decision, Obi-Wan licked his lips and stepped forward. "I'm afraid I have a confession to make," he announced before the Council. "I, too, have broken the Code."
Mace flashed a surprised look at Obi-Wan, then exchanged a look with Yoda. The green Jedi seemed to be the only Council member who was not the least bit stunned by Obi-Wan's proclamation. Mace returned his attention back to Obi-Wan.
Hands crossed in the edges of his cloak, Obi-Wan continued, "I have an attachment. I...I love Anakin like a brother." He looked down and swallowed. Raising his head, he met Yoda's gaze with determination and purpose. "I would sacrifice my own life for him?spend the remainder of my years watching over his children on a remote world if I had to."
Yoda's ears twitched as Obi-Wan continued.
Obi-Wan's eyes drifted out to the flowing cityscape beyond the Temple. He continued in a whisper, as if he were speaking only to himself, "Qui-Gon once told me he foresaw me becoming a great Jedi Knight. It is only now I realise?" His voice broke for a moment as he held back his emotions. "It is only now, this very moment, I realise that I would not be the Jedi I am today if it were not for Anakin."
Silence ensued as Obi-Wan's voice faded away like a wisp of breath on a chilly morning. Uncertainty tainted with guilt hung in the air between the fellow Council members.
Padm? took a step forward and broke the silence with her commanding voice. "Anakin is your brother, your friend. You filled his ears with prophecy about being chosen. You made him into your Jedi saviour?yet not one among you has shown a gram of compassion for him like Obi-Wan has!"
Yoda bowed his head, his chin resting pensively on his gimmer stick as he accepted the blame Anakin's wife placed on them. "Correct, you are," his saddened voice acknowledged. "His trust we lost with our suspicious nature. Faith in the Force?and in young Skywalker?we had not."
"It's not too late, Master Yoda!" Padm? pleaded. "Show him the faith you have in him?! Uhh!" Suddenly Padm? lurched forward, her hands clasping her abdomen.
Obi-Wan instantly bounded to her side, placing his arms around her to prevent her from falling. "Padm??"
The senator gasped as another spasm hit her. Looking down, Obi-Wan realised Padm?'s water had broken.
"We must get her to the medcentre?quickly!"
PART 7 - The Blinding Light
Obi-Wan stood in the medcentre's reception area, absently stroking his beard. It had been over an hour since re-admitting Padm? to the Jedi healers, and he had yet to receive word as to her condition. Master Yoda went in to check on her 15 minutes before and had yet to come back out.
Obi-Wan's real worries were not with Padm??she would receive the best medical care in all of Coruscant at the Temple, after all?but for Anakin. After bringing Padm? to the medcentre, Mace Windu returned to the Council chambers where the rest of the Council still deliberated Anakin's fate.
This is what troubled Obi-Wan. He felt he should be in the Council chambers, speaking on Anakin's behalf, but he felt responsible for Padm? and the children. More than anything, Obi-Wan wanted to be by Anakin's side when the news came through from the Council.
Obi-Wan didn't know what to do.
He leaned a hand against a column, as if trying to find strength in the structure of the Temple itself.
The click-clack of taloned feet was heard behind him. Obi-Wan turned to find Yoda looking up with gentle concern.
"Realise, you do, this is necessary?" Yoda spoke softly but firmly to the man who had started as his initiate as a youngling.
"No. No I don't," Obi-Wan replied in a strained voice that held his emotion in check.
"But you do," Yoda corrected him. "For you and him both, necessary it is to heal."
Obi-Wan's eyes lifted to gaze down the hall at the medical theatre. "And Padm??"
"Hers, the choice it was. Faith in him, she has."
Obi-Wan's eyes flickered to the floor as the crease in his brow became more pronounced. "And I don't?"
"Answer that, only you can."
Obi-Wan's eyes closed for a moment as he found his calming centre in the Force. He had trusted Anakin with his life. In the end, it was the faith in himself he lacked. Now the opportunity presented itself to start anew with his old apprentice, and he was afraid he would squander the chance all over again. This was the possibility Obi-Wan could not face.
Re-opening his eyes, Obi-Wan met Yoda's patient gaze.
"Go to him, you should," Yoda directed. "Contact you, I will if things change."
"Yes, Master." Obi-Wan bowed in respect to the elder being. "And thank you."
He had lain prone on the floor for a long time after his dream-vision of Padm? on Mustafar, but now Anakin was pacing the white-walled room. He had felt Padm?'s pain and distress of the beginnings of childbirth through the Force. He could not help but feel that he should be with her, doing whatever needed to be done to save her. Anakin didn't trust the Council to do what needed to be done. The Order, like the rest of the Republic, was currently diminished by the ravages of war orchestrated by Chancellor Palpatine?Dark Lord Darth Sidious. If the Jedi Order had failed to change its ways over the past millennium in order to protect the Republic against the Sith, how could they possibly help Padm? in the here and now?
Let go, Anakin, Qui-Gon's words from his dream reverberated in Anakin's mind. Such a simple task, but so hard to do.
Yet, still, with a task as important as Padm?'s life, Anakin could not release his need for control.
Did he not trust his fellow Jedi? Anakin pondered this question. He thought of the masters who served on the Council whose guidance and advice he relied upon. He thought of his fellow Knights who had fought by his side in his years of training and as warriors in the recent war. Friends they had all been to him, but not as close as family. Only Obi-Wan had earned that distinction.
Obi-Wan, Anakin's father-figure, mentor, and ultimately his brother, bonded in the trenches of war, cast in spilt blood?did Anakin trust him?
With my life, was Anakin's response.
Yet nagging at the back of his mind was the cackle of doubt he couldn't easily push aside. Through the incessant memories brought forth by the Dark Vision, he felt as if he'd spent a lifetime wishing for the death of the one who had betrayed and murdered his very soul.
But who is that?who is that, really? Anakin asked himself as he buried his face in his hands, the sweat of his brow causing his unruly hair to tangle in his fingers. Images of his mentor standing on the high ground of a blackened ashen beach flashed before his mind's eye.
"Don't do it," Obi-Wan pleaded to the shreds left of the man who was once Anakin Skywalker. Unspoken, Obi-Wan's eyes implored, "Don't make me kill you."
Removing his hands from his face, he slapped bare skin and leather glove against his leggings. He released a long sigh, trying to find a calm centre in himself when the door to his cell slid back to reveal Obi-Wan.
Anakin's heart leapt to his throat. "Padm?... ?" The name came out of his lips breathlessly.
"In the medcentre. She has begun labour," was Obi-Wan's answer.
Anakin's eyes went wide with fear. "Is she??"
"She is undergoing the usual difficulties faced by millions of women throughout the galaxy, but nothing out of the ordinary." Obi-Wan entered the room, the door closing behind him. He walked just beyond where Anakin stood, unable to meet his friend's steely gaze. "Certainly nothing the healers can't handle."
Anakin's piercing gaze bore through Obi-Wan's back. He recognised Obi-Wan's tone of voice?that flat emotionless chatter the man would put on to keep his stoic Jedi mask in place.
"Why aren't you with her?" Anakin asked accusatorily, pacing behind Obi-Wan as if he were interrogating the Jedi Master.
Obi-Wan clenched and unclenched his jaw, his eyes darting over his shoulders to catch glimpses of Anakin pacing like a caged animal. "Master Yoda asked me to see how you were doing." In a softer voice, Obi-Wan spoke, "He is genuinely concerned about you, you know."
Anakin snorted disbelievingly as he stopped pacing and rolled his eyes at the closed door. The fact that Anakin was being kept hostage by his fellow Jedi proved to him how "genuinely concerned" they all were.
"I?" Obi-Wan spoke again, swallowing down his pride, "I'm sorry, Anakin. I know how much being a Jedi meant to you."
Anakin turned his hardened gaze at the older man. "Do you." His voice remained cold and disparaging.
Obi-Wan frowned. Regret filled his features as he turned to meet Anakin's stoney countenance.
"Forgive me," Obi-Wan spoke after a long silence. "I thought I could train you as well as Master Yoda. I was young. Foolish. Na?ve."
Anakin's eyes squinted disapprovingly at his mentor. He circled Obi-Wan with dark eyes. "You were only fulfilling Master Qui-Gon's dying wish."
Obi-Wan lifted his eyes in surprise and turned to face Anakin with trepidation. They held each other's gaze for a moment longer before the elder Jedi spoke again. "I failed you, Anakin."
Anakin's nostrils flared as he looked down upon Obi-Wan. Even with his apologetic request to the young man, Obi-Wan only thought of his duty, his commitment to the Order.
"Can't you stop being a Jedi for one second? !" Anakin spat.
"This is who and what I am!" Obi-Wan declared, but the strain in his voice betrayed his true feelings. After a moment's pause, he asked more quietly, "What would you have me be?"
Anakin struggled with his emotions before he answered, turning a back on his mentor. Placing hands on his hips, his legs apart, Anakin frowned at the white wall before him. "A man. The man who raised me and tried to teach me right from wrong. The man I grew to love as a father."
The charged emotions sparked the energies of the Force between them.
"I am still that man, Anakin. I never stopped being that man."
Anakin closed his eyes, pain etched across his face like deep scars. He brought forth the Dark Vision willingly, as if comfort could be found within its dark shadows. He recalled the moment on the first Death Star when the Millennium Falcon had been captured, the lingering touch of the Force as it rippled with the presence of Obi-Wan's nearness. That touch had both elated him and frightened him. His master, alive, after all that time.
It saddened the creature known as Darth Vader to know he had to be the one to kill Obi-Wan.
Anakin sighed. He was being unfair to his friend by clinging to these twisted memories of their past. Obi-Wan truly was still his friend, perhaps the only one Anakin had ever made in his life who was not constructed by his own hands.
Anakin closed his eyes, bowed his head and confessed, "Obi-Wan...remember I told you about a...vision? When I fought...Sidious?" Anakin's voice was small, as if he had regressed back to that little boy who had been taken so long ago from Tatooine.
Obi-Wan cocked his head, instinctively reacting with worry for the younger man. "Yes?"
Anakin took a breath and swallowed. "I?it's crazy," he said, this time with a sad smirk as if trying to make light of the whole situation. "I...I thought I...." Anakin gave a dry laugh. "I joined Sidious. I fought against Master Windu. I cut off his hand. Then Palpatine...Sidious...destroyed him."
Anakin blinked, fighting back the tears that formed in his dark blue eyes, unable to turn and look into the eyes of his master. His first master. The one before his dark master. "At least?that's the way I remember it."
Anakin gave his mentor a sideways glance over his shoulder. In the Council chambers when Anakin had unhooked his sabre, the rest of the Council members had taken up defensive stances against him; their fear had tasted like metal in his mouth. But not Obi-Wan. Even now, all Anakin could feel emanating through their tenuous bond was worry and concern from his older friend. And sadness. Immense sadness.
"Aren't you afraid of me?" Anakin's voice rasped. "Of what I'm becoming?"
Quietly, Obi-Wan answered, "There's a beast inside all of us, Anakin."
Surprise flashed across Anakin's features as the two men's eyes met. He saw a knowingness in his master's eyes that he had never seen before. It was something that bespoke volumes of years in solitude, a haunted man whose only companions were dark thoughts and regret. A feeling Anakin knew far too well.
Anakin's head bowed with his own regret. "What will happen to me now?" he said, echoing the words he had spoken thirteen years ago upon the death of Qui-Gon Jinn.
Obi-Wan pulled out his hand from under the folds of his cloak; his knuckles were white from holding on so tightly. Reassuringly, he placed it on his friend's shoulder and spoke softly, "You will fulfill your destiny."
Pain pierced Anakin's features again as if he had been stabbed by Obi-Wan's declaration. "Destiny!" Anakin turned his dark frame away, allowing his mentor's hand to fall away from his shoulder. Quietly, he beat his artificial hand against the white wall. His deep voice was horse with unleashed emotion. "Chosen One! Chosen for what? !"
Obi-Wan silently watched his friend, his mind a chaotic jumble of worried possibilities. Then with a soft sigh, he turned his tired frame and shuffled to the door. It opened at his request, but the older Jedi stopped in mid-stride, suddenly realising he had an obligation to his former padawan, the boy who had grown up under his wing. Turning, Obi-Wan stared at the back of the man who continued to silently berate the Force or fate or whatever drove him.
"You were chosen, Anakin," Obi-Wan's voice came from a deep within his belly, cracked and nearly broken by the raw emotion that drove him to say it.
Anakin made a "pfft!" noise and shook his head, his black gloved hand sliding down the wall's surface in defeat.
"Not just out of obligation to Qui-Gon. Not just my duty and honour as a Jedi," Obi-Wan continued, despite his former padawan's obvious resentful demeanour. "But you were chosen. I chose you, Anakin. I chose you."
Anakin turned round in shock and surprise, wanting to see his master once more, wanting to look upon that aging face, deep into those tourmaline eyes to tell him...to say....
With that, Obi-Wan spun on his heel, facing the open door as if to leave, before the emotion became too much. His hand flew to his lower lip and he faced the door blindly as tears welled in his eyes. He had felt Anakin's stunned reaction through the Force, and the power of it immobilised him.
"Wh?why speak to me of this now?" questioned Anakin.
Obi-Wan sighed softly, an apology reflected in his eyes though his back was to Anakin and the younger man did not see it. "Because I?I suppose I didn't really understand?until now." Slowly, he turned to face his friend. "You're not only my brother, Anakin. You are my son."
Time removed itself between them. With those words, Obi-Wan had washed away the fire that had forged the dark creature known as Darth Vader.
A solitary tear broke free from Obi-Wan's eyes and fell.
The sound of Obi-Wan's comlink made them both jump.
"Yes?" Obi-Wan answered it far too loudly than he needed to do so.
"Senator Amidala, delivering she is," Yoda's voice announced from the other end.
Storm-filled eyes again met with a misty-sea of blue. Once again they were Anakin and Obi-Wan. Kenobi and Skywalker.
There wasn't a moment to lose.
PART 8 - The Sun Will Rise
"Stop!" the Jedi who had been guarding Anakin's cell called after the forms of Kenobi and Skywalker. They came streaming out of the cell without a word, putting forth Force-acceleration to speed their way through the Great Hall of the Jedi Temple. The young Jedi raced after them.
All three Jedi made it to the medcentre's reception area before they were stopped by a stern-looking Master Yoda. Putting hand on hip, the eldest Jedi of the Order assessed the situation quickly.
"Master Yoda?" began the youngest Knight, slightly out of breath.
"Let them pass, you shall," Yoda responded.
The Knight bowed respectfully and answered before departing, "Yes, Master."
"Where is she?" Anakin questioned the old Jedi Master without even an acknowledgement or thank you.
Yoda's eyes grew wide as he looked up at the ex-Jedi towering over him. "Learned patience, you have not, I see."
Anakin licked his lips and bowed his head in acquiescence. "Forgive me, Master." He raised his eyes to meet Yoda's determinedly as he continued, "But she is my wife. And she's giving birth to my children." His steely gaze bore into Yoda's golden-greenish hues as if to remind the centuries-old master that despite Anakin's own youth, he had lived a far richer life than the elder.
Yoda seemed to concede the point. "At the end of the hall, she is. In the operating theatre."
Anakin hastily brushed past Yoda, Obi-Wan on his cloak-tails.
Sighing, Yoda leaned against his gimmer stick and followed them as best as his tired old legs could carry him.
At the end of the hall, Anakin stopped cold before the room where his wife lay. Her hair cascaded around her head as a warm glow reflected off the white of her dress. Anakin shuddered. The same sense of sickening d?j? vu he had experienced when he saw his mother in the Tusken camp, beaten and alone, tied against a stake, had returned.
Anakin watched the medical droid, Too-OneBee, and a Jedi healer working by Padm?'s side. Where, he wondered, were the little grey creatures that attended to her from his dream? Even the room seemed different, although he could not recollect specific images from the dream to compare this reality to it.
As a child, Anakin dreamed of becoming a Jedi and returning to Tatooine to free all the slaves?most especially his mother. His mother was dead and buried in the scorching sands of Tatooine. And now, Anakin was no longer a Jedi.
Suddenly Padm? cried out, and Anakin could feel her distress ripple around him like pinpricks in the Force.
No, Anakin decided, it didn't matter about the details in the dream. Padm? was in there, in pain, on the operating table.
"Padm?!" Anakin shouted through the transparisteel that separated them. Obi-Wan's arm blocked him from rushing to her.
"Anakin!" she shouted his name clearly, a clenched hand reaching out in his direction.
Yoda hobbled his way in behind Anakin.
With extreme concern on his face, Obi-Wan looked down at his elder master, questioning, "Master?"
"Let him pass, you should," Yoda instructed.
Obi-Wan barely let his arm fall away when Anakin pushed past him into the operating theatre. The ex-Jedi took Padm?'s hand into both of his own as he leaned his tall frame over her.
"It's going to be all right, Padm?. I'm here," he tried to reassure her.
The Jedi healer looked up from her meditative trance. She spoke, "There is a disturbance in the Force."
Anakin frowned at her. "But you can save her," he stated plainly, a plea hidden in the dark folds of his soul.
"If the Force wills it."
Anakin's frown turned into a scowl.
"Ani... ?" Padm?'s voice floated up to him weakly.
He looked down at her with fear in his heart. "It's going to be all right, my love," he promised. "I'm going to make it all right."
"Ani...no...," Padm?'s features twisted in pain as she spoke.
Let go, Qui-Gon's words echoed in Anakin's mind.
Instead of heeding the dead Jedi Master's words, Anakin squeezed his wife's hand tighter.
No, Qui-Gon, Anakin thought to himself. He had almost let go of Obi-Wan, of their friendship. Now their bond was stronger than before. Why couldn't it be the same for him and Padm??
With Too-OneBee's assistance, the healer began to ease the first child from the womb. Anakin could feel the healer reach out into the Force toward the child. Hesitantly, but growing stronger, tendrils of energy unfurled from Padm?'s womb back to the healer.
The child was answering!
Anakin gasped in surprise and joy to feel the tiny strands of life reaching out in the Force. Instantly, he recognised the undeveloped pulses of energy.
It was Luke.
Padm? cried out again and dug her fingernails into Anakin's flesh hand. Anakin winced and looked down on his wife, the soon-to-be mother of his children.
Horror filled Anakin's eyes as he understood?he wasn't the cause of her death, not from his lack of strength nor from his unbridled lust for power. It was the strength of Luke's untrained power that was killing her.
Anakin looked back to the healer, then his wife. The Force was making him choose between his wife and his unborn children? !
"No..." he whispered to the void. "No, please...."
"Ani..." Padm?'s voice pleaded weakly. "Let me go."
Shocked, Anakin stared down at Padm?. It was unfair! his mind screamed. He had finally released himself of the mental tortures of the Dark Vision that threatened to engulf his soul only to discover his future path remained clouded and possibly one he would have to tread alone.
No, not alone, Anakin told himself as tears welled in his swollen eyes. He blinked them away as he looked upon Padm?'s sweat-drenched face, her dark curls knotting themselves around her as she tossed her head back in pain.
Realising that he could lose not only Padm? but the children as well if he continued to hold on to their souls through the currents of the Force, Anakin finally let go.
At that moment, Padm? screamed Anakin's soul's agony as Luke was born.
As Anakin's forehead pressed against Padm?'s, his voice whimpering, "Padm?...Padm?...," he failed to noticed Mace Windu's entrance beside Masters Obi-Wan and Yoda.
Looking up at the taller man, Yoda asked, "The Council, a decision has it reached?"
Mace's jaw clenched beneath his stoic fa?ade as his dark eyes regarded Anakin. "Anakin's fate depends on him," he spoke quietly. Yoda nodded in silent agreement to Mace's mysterious statement.
Padm? cried out one last time, and with that, Leia was born.
"Ani...," Padm?'s voice was too weak to be anything above a whisper. "Ani...I love.... I love...."
Anakin's features twisted in pain, his wife's final words echoing those of his mother's. When Shmi had died, she tried to tell him her life was complete. She tried to say how much she loved him. She tried to tell her son she was happy.
At the time, he hadn't been listening. What about his happiness? Why couldn't she stay alive for him, so he could be complete? He had loved her ten times more. Why did she have to die?
Selfish thoughts, all of them.
Anakin dropped to his knee before Padm?. She was so pale, a sheen of sweat covering her still form. Wrapping his left hand around her dark tresses, Anakin pressed his lips to her brow and whispered a prayer.
"Please," he pleaded with the void that had the power to create and destroy, "Please take me instead. Not her. Let the children have their mother."
Anakin closed his eyes tight, his forehead pressed against that of his wife's, his will echoing his prayer into the strands of the Force that entwined around them, and coursed through them.
Nothing but terrible silence answered his call. Once, Anakin would have responded with anger and rage. He was the Chosen One. He was the most powerful of all the Jedi. Why would the Force not give him what he wanted?
But the fight had left Anakin. If Padm? were truly gone, he would have no choice but to let her go. For the first time, Anakin understood why. He would let go not because he was choiceless, not because it was inevitable, not even because he felt powerless.
No. Anakin would let go because he had faith.
Despite all the horrors that had been his life in the Dark Vision, a ray of hope shone through it. Although he had lost Padm?, his children survived. In that horrific life as half a man, the children had been shielded from him, but they grew up in loving homes. Whether out of guilt or obligation, even Obi-Wan had lived out his final days protecting his son, Luke.
So Anakin now accepted that Padm? had breathed her last and he would likely be separated from his children forever, because he had faith?that stubborn, irrational compassion the adult Luke had bestowed upon his evil self in the Vision. Anakin finally accepted the willingness to release control to the Force, without remorse and without regret.
A soft voice called to him. "Ani... ?"
Anakin's breath gasped as he pulled his face away to look down upon Padm?. A blush had returned to her cheeks, her dark eyes fluttering and focusing on him. Slowly, with weak but growing strength, Padm?'s lips drew upward, and the dawn of her smile broke upon him.
Padm?'s small hand found its way to his tawny hair. "Oh, Ani! I knew...I knew you'd come back!"
Anakin's breath caught again, his face twisted between elation and disbelief. "Padm?... ?"
"Yes, my love." Padm? smiled sweetly, her fingers delicately touching the side of his face, her eyes lighting on his face with utter joy.
A joy that reflected in Anakin's own heart. "Oh, Padm?!" he cried with elation and buried his face in her hair. "Oh, Padm?! Padm?! You're alive!" His voice was muffled as he planted endless kisses on her.
She giggled lightly. "Whatever is wrong, Anakin? You're acting as if I died...or worse!"
Anakin choked out a laugh as a tear fell from his eye.
Obi-Wan stepped forward and took one of the swaddled bundles from Too-OneBee's multiple arms while Mace followed and took the other.
"There are two someones I think are eager to see you, Senator." With a gentle grin, Obi-Wan lowered the white-clothed boy from his arms into hers. On the other side of her, Mace brought forth the girl.
Her mouth wide in a glorious smile that would forever be burned into Anakin's consciousness, Padm? took the children into her tired arms and kissed them both gently in turn on their foreheads.
Mace looked on the scene with personal repentance. He witnessed Anakin's power of faith within the Force?something the Council had not been able to place in Anakin. He realised, as did the rest of the Council, that they had failed to protect the Republic from the Sith's wrath because of this simple lack of faith.
"Skywalker," Mace spoke with a heavy heart, filled with regret.
Anakin looked up into Mace's dark eyes in apprehension. Padm? and the children were alive. But would they be safe from the Council's unrelenting slavery to ancient codes and beliefs?
Mace swallowed and continued, "Tell me, Skywalker. If you could be a Jedi again?would you?"
Anakin blinked. He wasn't expecting a question like that. "I live my life," he answered from his heart, "where it takes me. I am what it makes me. If a Jedi or not a Jedi?so be it."
Mace lowered his gaze and nodded, knitting his long fingers before him. Touching his first fingers to his lips, he pondered a moment before raising his eyes to the young man again. "If you are able...to find it in your heart...to forgive...," Mace spoke slowly as his face began to brighten, "then I promise you?there will always be a home for you within the ranks of the Jedi."
With those words, Mace finally smiled down upon Anakin with all the trust and confidence in his heart.
A myriad of emotions swam over Anakin's features as he took in Mace's words. He was being given a second chance. He had been forgiven.
Anakin felt Padm?'s fingertips on his hand that rested upon the table beside hers. He looked down upon his wife, the glorious mother of his two beautiful children.
"Do you want to hold him?" Padm? asked softly, her strength sapped from the ordeal.
Anakin's eyes glistened as tears clung to his eyes, afraid to fall, as he looked incredulously at her. The children born?both of them?nestled in her arms. Padm?'s life miraculously saved by the mysterious Force.
Mace had withdrawn to allow them privacy, but Anakin felt his master's presence behind him, sending him thoughts of comfort and reassurance through their re-initiated bond. Anakin clung to it like a man dying of thirst.
He felt Obi-Wan's hand rest upon his shoulder. "Go ahead, Anakin," the man's voice soothingly reassured him.
Anakin smiled at his wife and she at him as Obi-Wan lifted the boy babe from her arms and handed him to his father.
Taking the small boy in his large hands, Anakin looked down into the squinting folds of the newborn's skin. "Hello, Luke," Anakin whispered to the boy who gurgled and thrashed his tiny balled fists in the air. The Jedi's smile spread like wildfire across his face, and his eyes lifted to meet the kindly gaze of Obi-Wan who grinned back. For the first time, the two men understood the connection between father and son?master and padawan.
Looking down at the delicate life in his arms, Anakin marveled at the child who would become the man who would save him. The child's life-Force energy was already evident, tendrils of light streaming forth as they reached outward through his aura. Anakin laughed in spite of himself, his spirit light as if a heavy burden had finally lifted from his shoulders.
Anakin closed his eyes, letting go of his shields, allowing the Force presence of his wife, his children, his master-father to flow through him. A greater presence grew beyond it all, like a quiet undercurrent. It lifted him, embraced him, and accepted him in a way he had never felt accepted before. This was the true light of the Force?the Ashla. Unlike the Dark Side, the Bogan, the Ashla gave of itself unconditionally, without judgment...with love.
Anakin felt the glow of light rise within him, carrying his spirit away, embracing him in eternal light.
When he opened his eyes, Anakin was no longer kneeling beside his wife, holding Luke in his arms. Instead, he found himself standing in a forest grove of gigantic trees, deep green moss covering the reddish bark and forming bridges between the spaces. Music played triumphantly in the distance, accentuating the sound of voices calling in laughter and song.
Looking down, Anakin found himself dressed in traditional Jedi robes. No longer did he wear the dark clothing that hid his soul's stains, but glistening white. Blue-white light streamed through him.
A familiar presence approached. Looking up, Anakin saw his son, now a man, leaning against a tree post. Luke was dressed in the same dark clothing Anakin saw him in last on the Death Star II before Anakin died in his son's arms. Scorch marks and ashes from a recently-burned fire soiled the dark cloth, but the stark white of the inner tunic showed through from the open flap.
Anakin felt the Force wrap around him like a mother protecting its young. His second chance at life, the return to the past that allowed him to put right all that he had done wrong, was given to him?a gift from that limitless power that bore all life. It had given him a chance to make the choice again. He had chosen the light, and the Force accepted him, burning away the last visages of Darth Vader to leave the pure soul of Anakin Skywalker.
Luke and Anakin's eyes met, and wordlessly they communicated through the Force. The weight of darkness had been lifted, and they were both free. The balance had been restored.
Anakin smiled to his son, Luke to his father.
The presence of Obi-Wan and Yoda appeared next to Anakin, and he exchanged glances with them of understanding.
Anakin faced his son again to watch his daughter draw Luke away, back to the land of the living, back to his friends?his extended family. With a warm but sad smile, Anakin watched them go, knowing he could let them go, knowing that through the Force, everything would be all right. Wherever their destinies took them, Luke, Leia and the rest of the galaxy would find the hard-earned peace for which they had fought so diligently.
And he was happy to give it to them.
Turning once more to his friends, Anakin looked into the old face of his former master, the face he had last looked upon before swallowing Obi-Wan with his anger and rage. Although the lines of age and worry circled Obi-Wan's features, there remained a light within his eyes, a light recently sparked anew when his burdens, too, were lifted from him.
As the Jedi's grin broadened, Obi-Wan's image shimmered and changed. Now the man Anakin remembered so vividly from his childhood, his longer reddish locks and youthful appearance, stood before him. A smile of unrestricted delight lit him from the inside out, a smile Anakin thought he would never see again for the rest of his life.
Now he would see it every day throughout eternity.
The man's colour-shifting eyes solicitously held Anakin's gaze. Holding out his arm, Obi-Wan took Anakin by his shoulder. Anakin swallowed hard, his eyes falling to his master's feet.
"Forgive me, Master," Anakin pleaded softly to his mentor, his father-figure, his friend.
"Forgive you?" questioned Obi-Wan with a playful spirit. "Only if you can find it in your heart to forgive me, my prodigal padawan!"
Anakin chuckled and smiled back, their eyes meeting as they drew closer together in a shared embrace.
Foreheads pressed against each other, Anakin's deep blue eyes met the mystic waters of Obi-Wan's gaze. The emotions each had held in check burst forth, the final barrier of the physical world broken. Waves of comfort, compassion, and devotion flowed between them, speaking the volumes that had never been spoken before.
Never again would hate or distrust enter into them.
For they had eternity.