|Echoes of the Dearly Departed
Author: Shawn30 PM
Some things in life are simply too heartbreaking to imagine. Too painful to even consider. But the essence of life is what if... Complete, APRated: Fiction T - English - Drama - Anakin Skywalker & Padmé Amidala - Chapters: 3 - Words: 29,607 - Reviews: 31 - Favs: 44 - Follows: 16 - Updated: 08-04-06 - Published: 04-13-06 - id: 2891035
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Title: "Echoes of the Dearly Departed" (3/3)
Written by: Shawn
Summary: Anakin battles his inner demons over Shmi's return to the land of the living.
Category: Drama Rating: PG-13 for very mild sensuality Ship: Anakin and Padmé Skywalker forever
Timeline/Spoilers: Revenge of the Sith AU from the moment Mace Windu allows Anakin to accompany him when he goes to arrests Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. The fight that ensued ended with Palpatine being killed. Anakin never turned to the dark side. The official investigation into everything and everyone associated with Palpatine has been ongoing for six months following Revenge of the Sith. Anakin and Padmé are still married in secret, but Obi-Wan knows about and has accepted it. The Jedi Council, following its near massacre at the hands of Palpatine is reevaluating the Jedi Code. No official decision has been made as of yet.
Special Note: This chapter does contain violence.
Disclaimer: George Lucas and Lucasfilm own everything.
Authors Notes 1: Luke and Leia Skywalker were born on Naboo and are six months old.
Authors Notes 2: Padmé confided in Queen Apailana concerning her post as Senator of Naboo. Due to her impeccable service record, intelligence, and the support of other key Senators she has been allowed to remain the Senator for Naboo. Her post is secure if and when it is revealed that she is married to Anakin.
Authors Notes 3: Darker aspects of Anakin are explored in this chapter.
Authors Notes 4: I have decided to conclude this story in three chapters rather than four.
Special Thanks: To my Jedi Master beta reader Anne. You are the very best of the best.
Blazing toward the North-West Quadrant
Galactic City, Coruscant
At this point, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi felt that closing his eyes to the dizzying blur of Coruscant's numerous, frantically-driven repulser-traffic lanes might just reign in the queasy fury that was building in the pit of his stomach. In his modest opinion flying was for droids. Flying at this death wish sort of extreme speed across massive streams of oncoming midday transit was nothing less than suicide.
Then again, his best friend was known around the galaxy as the "Hero Without Fear."
Neither had spoken a word since leaving Padmé and Shmi behind at the apartment. Knowing him as well as he did, Obi-Wan allowed Anakin his inner seclusion as they flew to an unknown destination. He assumed that their long ride through the sprawling west-quadrant had more to do with a need for his former Padawan to skim the surface of the immense transparisteel structures that reached high into the atmosphere. He often dared those massive buildings, blazing past, around, and sometimes over them with such a grand display of piloting skill it bordered as much brilliance as it did insanity.
Today he was racing from the past. From the one thing he did in fact fear.
Obi-Wan knew all too well that the HoloNet-proclaimed "Hero Without Fear" had them, though they were buried deeply in his very soul. His heart went out to the man he played father to as a boy and then later evolved into a brother. In the eyes of the Republic, Anakin Skywalker was a war hero and respected as a great Jedi. He was idolized by what the citizens of the Republic presumed to know of a Jedi's life, goals, responsibilities and the Code.
A select few knew the real Anakin: the husband, the father... the son. Those titles were the truth of his character. They were who he truly was. Being a Jedi, as fulfilling as such an honor was, woefully paled in comparison. The powerful heart that beat a tribal drum beneath his chest breathed for four now rather than one. Padmé, Leia and Luke were his life.
All else is the façade he allows those outside his family to see.
Obi-wan slipped into a half-meditative state hoping to ward off the vertigo while the speeder quickly barrel-rolled through twin skyscrapers. He remembered the day the rumors began to surface. Slowly, as gentle as the winds of a beautiful Naboo morning, word had begun to spread... foul, hateful words detailing Anakin Skywalker's hidden life and not the one known to the public. Who and how were questions he'd shared with his former master in recent weeks.
The why was well known. Power. Absolute power and control was wrenched from the hands of those who were promised it from Palpatine. The would-be Emperor slain by his forthcoming apprentice, and now the balance of galactic influence had forever shifted. Those who made vast fortunes off the war were now being vigorously investigated by the Jedi, had their assets frozen by Senate prosecutors, and faced execution if found guilty of crimes against the Republic. They were angry, vengeful, and knew exactly who was to blame for their current state of affairs.
When Anakin only had himself to worry about he could have cared less who placed a bounty on his head. Spurred on by his immense strength in the Force, and with a chest full of pride, he eagerly boasted that anyone who wanted to try and collect was welcome to speak with him over the matter.
Six-month old Leia Skywalker could not defend herself, however. Neither could her brother, Luke. It was up to Anakin and Padmé to do that, and as the number of their family grew, so did the targets for those who wanted revenge against the Chosen One.
None of those situations were lost on Obi-Wan as he felt the speeder finally begin to slow on a descent course. He knew why Anakin was unwilling to accept Shmi back into his life. Truth be told he would probably react the same way had he lived his former Padawan's life. There were many ways to gain vengeance on an enemy, and all of them did not include violence. In fact, the worst, most damning sort of revenge, was often the most subtle.
Killing the body would end the pain one seeks to inflict on his or her enemy forever. But agony and deceit could prolong the torture. Could sweeten the pain as only a broken heart could. Thus were the hallmarks of true revenge.
Grateful eyes opened to the five sectors of lush, sparkling Cypherious Lake near the Aquarium Gromorum. The heavily populated area, as expected this time of day, included many who turned to see the Jedi depart the speeder parked near a cluster of cloned, auburn-Fushen trees. Seeing two of the most popular, acclaimed Jedi in all the galaxy in the flesh was like a celebrity event as many drew holo-cams to snap pictures of them.
Obi-Wan followed a silent Anakin away from the small crowd that had begun to gather. Thankfully, security in the area quickly arrived to disperse the onlookers. As Coruscant's massive orbital mirrors rained warmth down upon them the teacher trailed behind his former student, patiently awaiting him to open up when he was ready.
Anakin gazed out over the beautiful lake as a flock of blue, long-winged ghore birds flew just over the water, seeking any sea life daring to creep to close the surface. Created and modeled after the Lake Country on Naboo, Cypherious Lake gave him as much of Padmé's homeworld as he could have while on Coruscant. He needed the calm that the lake provided as his inner thoughts were anything but. At last, he turned to his best friend with a grim determination clouding his blue eyes. "Give me all the facts of what you have found."
"There are many," Obi-Wan began in a tone of voice he often used when delivering his report to the Jedi Council. Anakin didn't want his best friend here. He needed the great detective to lay out his case. "First and foremost is our Jedi knowledge that a clone cannot possess a soul. It is an impossibility that the Force has given us as further proof of its existence. As you well know, the most Force perceptive being alive is Master Yoda. I personally brought Shmi to him as soon as we arrived on Coruscant. He meditated with her alone in his private chambers, and his final conclusion is that she is Shmi Skywalker. She possesses a soul and a Force-bond to you. He could sense no malice within her."
Anakin's flesh hand brushed over his weary face as he tried wrap his mind around the idea of this being real. Shmi's death had lived within him as a quiet torment he had never made peace with. Why must this happen now when his life had never been better? "Continue."
"You were present when Master Windu selected me as part of his team of Jedi to personally conduct the official inquiry into Palpatine's dealings for the past twenty years. I interrogated Mas Ammeda, and he told me of Palpatine's intense interest in the Chosen One prophecy and his feeling that your mother's pregnancy was an abomination of the Force itself." Anakin stared at Obi-wan in stoic silence, an unnamable emotion filling his heart. "Mas Ammeda helped Palpatine plan Shmi's kidnapping. He was present when Palpatine ordered Shmi's clone to be created as well as where it was to be delivered back to Tattione. He personally attended to the clone's mental programming if she were to ever come into contact with you. He has given me intricate details about every aspect of the plot and, from my best interpretation of his emotional state at the time I interrogated him, I think he was telling the truth. He has his life to lose due to the death sentence given to him for aiding Palpatine. I can see no reason for him to lie."
Obi-Wan's interrogation record was beyond impeccable, and Anakin knew that. Lying to a Jedi Master was nearly impossible for someone not trained in the Force arts. Mas Amedda's skills were solely meant for the political arena... or a Sabbac table. "You said Prime Minister Lamu Su backed up his story?"
"Yes," Obi-Wan nodded before him. "She was granted amnesty from execution in exchange for her full cooperation in all matters dealing with Palpatine. She provided me with records and journals the doctors in Rothana kept concerning the tests they ran on Shmi. We have three of Shmi's former guards in custody as well. They have provided sworn testimony in the face of consecutive life sentences that what Lamu Su and Mas Ammeda stated was true."
Anakin swallowed hard in the back of his throat. Whoever planned this went to great lengths. Or did they... He just wasn't sure. "What about the biological evidence?"
Obi-Wan rubbed gently at his beard as he circled his friend, detailing the facts he discovered. "I personally ran several DNA tests on Shmi and cross matched it with your own. You are a perfect match as a blood relation. A very close one. I have consulted with my old friend Reyes Fortune at the Micro-Dyocide Labs as well as Marunes at the Republic Science Ministry. I sent them samples of Shmi's blood and your own under false names. Both came back with the same results that you were a match and that neither DNA came from a clone."
Anakin felt as if the air in his chest was on fire. "Anything can be faked," he concluded as much because he needed to as that he truly felt that way in this case. "The Kamino scientists created six million clones of Jango Fett. I wouldn't put anything past their dark talents."
"They cannot clone a soul, my friend," Obi-Wan offered as gently as he could. "Master Yoda cannot sense treachery within Shmi. But the love she holds for you is very real."
"Master Yoda and Master Windu conducted weekly meetings in Palpatine's office for years and never even considered he was a Sith Lord for well over a decade."
True as that statement was, Obi-Wan had to counter to that argument. "The Force was out of balance, Anakin. The Jedi were not as deeply connected to it as we are again now. We have learned from our mistakes and fallen back onto the right path. Master Yoda is not perfect nor is anyone else. But in this instance I feel he is the best, most credible judge. He has concluded that yes, Shmi Skywalker is alive and is the woman I brought before him and you."
Unable to hear anymore, Anakin walked away, now trailing the lake's shoreline. He felt Obi-Wan's presence follow close behind. Long legs came to a halt as he shut his eyes, blocking out the world. On the wing tips of a deep breath he reached out through the Force to his angel. As if he were by her side, he picked up on the scent Leia's baby powder as Padmé finished changing her diaper. In his mind's eye he saw her pause for a moment as she felt him... and then she smiled.
"We will be alright," was all that she conveyed to him through the Force, yet again instilling within him that there is nothing they could not face together. Her love was ever present, and as valuable to his continued existence as the very air he breathes.
Obi-Wan slowly came around him, arms behind his back. Anakin lifted his gaze. "I'm afraid, Ben."
Obi-wan could count the number of times Anakin had called him Ben on one hand. Whereas Padmé used his undercover name quite often as a show of genuine friendship, his former Padawan struggled to move past calling him master even now. Perhaps he needed the detective to leave. "I am as well, my friend."
"If I allow myself to believe and then later on it is proven to be false I'll..." Anakin struggled to finish as he hands shook by his sides. His jaw clenched powerfully as the emotional turmoil swirled within him. "I've had to deal with her death for years now."
"I understand that."
"DO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW THIS MAKE'S ME FEEL!" Anakin didn't intend to shout as his feelings got the better of him. "I have ached for my mother since the day I left her. Some days the only thing that kept me going was the dream of going back to Tattione someday and freeing her. So imagine my horror at finding her beaten, bloody, and tortured body bond to rigid stumps inside a dirty tent!" He faced Obi-Wan, towering over him nearly in a fit of rage. The images of that dark day assaulted his very soul. "She was unkempt and barely fed. Her face was swollen, as were her wrists and ankles. She had only enough strength to recognize my face and... and..." he fought off a wave of tears as the agony burned anew. "She said that she was complete. It was as if she held on long enough to see my face one last time and then let go. And when she let go, I let go!"
The savage slaying of the sand people would always be a mark between them. While Anakin hated his inner weakness that manifested itself in rage, Obi-Wan often wondered if he had been a better teacher then maybe Anakin would have had control over himself. In his quiet moments he often saw that day as a failure for himself as much as his Padawan.
"Your dreams were of Padmé dying in childbirth," Obi-Wan began in a comforting tone of voice. "And yet she survived and delivered Luke and Leia."
"Your point is?"
"Miracles can happen," Obi-Wan offered simply enough. "We are not bound by misery and sorrow. We have seen, fought, and survived a brutal four year war, Anakin. We know the depths of suffering and violence that exist."
Not for the first time Anakin felt Obi-Wan just didn't understand. "Nothing I have ever witnessed would compare to this if I allowed... if I allowed her into my heart and lost my mother all over again."
Obi-Wan had no answer for that, as he understood it all to well. Instead, he sought a different approach to reach his friend. "My parents are deceased, but I have three sisters who live on Helos in the Hatarian system."
Anakin's hard expression melted away into genuine surprise. His arms crossed his chest. "How do you know?"
"I was going to tell you something upon my return, but I had no idea I would find Shmi. Nonetheless, I am pleased to inform you that the Jedi Code is about to be re-written. Not only will marriage be allowed, but contact with family members will no longer be forbidden." As the clear sky seemed to shine just that much brighter, Anakin appeared on the verge of smiling. "The vote was taken just before I left Coruscant."
"You looked into your family, didn't you?" Anakin concluded.
"You inspired me with your own. I felt I suddenly needed to know where I come from, to maybe understand where I'm going. I don't have the future all figured out. I'm afraid as well."
Honestly, Anakin hadn't ever considered that. "What are your sisters' names?"
"Karol, Sula, and Vovel." His sincere expression of awe fell over his former Padawan as well. "Between them I have several nieces and nephews."
"Are you the oldest?"
"Is that an insult?" Anakin joined his good mood at last, smiling. "Yes, I am. And they do not know that I am their brother. I was named at the temple, so they have no clue which Jedi I became."
"What are you going to do?"
Obi-Wan sighed. "I'm not sure yet. Part of me wants to seek them out just to get to know them. Another part of me fears this new freedom I have been granted. It opens up all sorts of possibilities I've never considered before. I could have a family of my own someday. It's almost beyond my comprehension."
Anakin looked upon his former master in many ways, but never as simply as seeing him as a middle-aged man who was fast becoming lonely in his life. Especially now that he'd seen how the other side lives. Anakin suddenly felt as if in life he were looking at a Padawan, in a manner of speaking. He gained some perspective. "You need to see them, Ben. As soon as you can be granted leave time seek them out and introduce yourself. Get to know your family. I'd be happy to accompany you when you do."
As appreciative as he was of the sentiment, Obi-Wan added, "I think you have your hands full enough as it is."
Anakin lifted a comforting hand to his shoulder. "You've been wonderful to my family. I'd love to meet yours."
"And what of you? What will you do now?"
"I have someplace I need to go alone," he expressed somberly, but with a bit more hope than he'd felt since he left the apartment. "And then I will open my heart to possibilities."
"That is all that any of us can do."
Coruscant Maximum Security Holding Center
144th Floor Mas Amedda's cell
Galactic City, Coruscant
Another day and another threat against his life.
After exhaling an impatient grunt, Mas Amedda crumbled the folded note he found shoved under the two-foot thick paristeel door of his cell. Crushed in the palm of his pale blue hand, he dismissed it across the room, watching it fall into the shadowed corner near the sink.
The note was simple enough. If he testified against any member of the board governing the Intergalactic Banking Clan he will (would) have his limbs torn from his body by a hoard of Gore-Wolves.
Alas, the native Chagrian paid the threat no more mind than the fifty others that had come his way the moment word was leaked he was cooperating with Jedi Master Windu's formal investigation into the Palpatine's rise to power. Mas no more feared the Intergalactic Banking Clan board of directors than he did a dust mite. They were cowards. Wealthy beyond measure and above getting their hands dirty. Palpatine often referred to them as useless sewer cretins, whom he allowed to believe held some great importance. The stability of the Republic in a time of war hinged on a "business as usual" appearance of leadership, though behind closed doors the Supreme Chancellor ruled.
The Intergalactic Banking Clan's guild of assassins was hardly a threat against the Jedi who personally guard his cell. In addition, attempting to kill him would only raise more inquiries that would eventually lead back to them. A lose/lose outcome was inevitable no matter what took place.
Mas Amedda possessed more than enough evidence to provide, should he choose, to have the entire board executed. As it stood he intended to reveal little more than enough to get them fined a hefty sum of credits and be leveled with far-reaching sanctions for years to come. After all, he did want a job when he finally brokered for his release. But after this frivolous gesture he'd love nothing more than to watch them all die in the neo-gas chamber, sniveling worms that they were. His long, forked tongue flickered across his lips in an act of defiance.
Clad in the garb of a common criminal, the grey jumpsuit he wore was a far cry from the tailor-made attire he was well known for as he presided over the Galactic Senate as its Vice Chair. Second only to Palpatine himself, his booming voice towered throughout the cavernous Senate hall whenever he called for order. He carried a powerful presence about himself. Sophistication in the midst of chaos. He was a man to be feared, admired, and sought after for counsel.
When Palpatine first revealed to him that he was a Sith Lord his only reaction was that he would need another glass of brandy. And while he would never classify himself as a friend of the now deceased Supreme Chancellor, such as he didn't have any, Mas enjoyed his time being around Palpatine as the man commanded an Empire long before he actually attempted to rename it that.
The cell's small window to the west now haunted him as it revealed the sprawling megapolis of Coruscant that he once owned nearly as much of as anyone ever had. The bustling city that couldn't sleep if it tried provided him with everything any being could have ever wanted. The immense wealth once at his disposal was now a memory. His influence carried enough weight that he could have almost anyone arrested or killed at a moments notice. His taste for Syorian women was sated whenever he took any and sometimes all of the seven slaves he owned to his bed chambers.
As Palpatine's right hand, Coruscant was practically in his back pocket.
Now, he was literally begging for his life on a daily basis. Begging like a lower-level homeless whelp. His secrets were his bargaining tools, used to stave off execution. His crimes came to light in the form of a detailed Jedi report some ninety pages long, revealing events as far back as two decades when he served as Vice Chair under Chancellor Valorum. He chose to defend himself in the only way he knew would be effective.
He offered up everyone he knew on a silver platter to save his own skin.
Standing by the window, his eyes sought the massive domed structure of the Galactic Senate Hall in the distance, and then just to its far right the towering skyscraper known as Five Hundred Republica. Only the most rich and powerful called that place home, as he once did. On the 179th floor he had a view of Coruscant to be rivaled by Palpatine himself.
Now he had a 14 wide by 28 foot square holding cell. Its drab grey permacrete walls, simple bed and bathroom fixtures were as far away from the extravagant luxury he was accustomed to as anyone could possibly imagine. Nonetheless he was still breathing, and that did count for something.
His visitors were either Jedi or guards paid a great sum of credits to deliver death threats. All of his assets had been frozen and his name had been shamed across the galaxy. He was now known as a traitor to the Republic. Scandal would stalk him like a predator for the rest of his days. He would never know peace of mind ever again. Nonetheless, he had one final card to play. When the time was right he would offer the Jedi all the information he had on the construction of the Death Star, as many powerful individuals would kill to own the schematics. That alone might afford him his freedom. Until then he could only bide his time, wait, and rat out everyone he had ever come into contact with.
In some small way it was all too similar to politics, minus the pomp and circumstance. Turning from the view as the orbital mirrors shifted the capital city's daylight, he ran his hands over the fully extended lethorns extended from his head. His current surroundings were a temporary situation at best. He needed to exercise patience while earning the Jedi's trust that he would reveal any truth to save his life.
Hardly a problem seeing as he would.
Suddenly a metal grating noise signaling the huge cell doors opening caught his attention, his back to them. Breakfast had already been served, so he assumed yet another interrogation was about to begin. And to think he had hoped to finish his newest book before lunch. "How may I assist the Jedi today?"
When Mas Amedda came about he recognized the tall, grim form of Anakin Skywalker standing across the room. His face was hidden in the shadows of his cloak as if he could fade into them at will. Skywalker's posture was eerily ominous. "The prodigal son of the Sith returns." He offered a slow bow to accentuate his point.
From left to right Anakin took in the sum of his humbling surroundings. "This looks like a good place to die."
Mas Amedda arched a brow. "I wouldn't know about that. I have no intention of dying here."
"If that is true then you would do well to do exactly as I tell you." Anakin slowly moved out of the shadows. "For I swear by the Force your life is hanging by a slim thread this very second."
Mas carefully stepped closer to his bed sensing that he would do well to keep his distance from the Jedi. He sat down on the edge, his green eyes tracking the Jedi's every movement. Palpatine considered Anakin's potential to be limitless, as well as his capacity for angry violence. Provoking him now would not be a smart thing to do. "How can I help you, my lord?"
"How much do you know about my life?"
"You took Senator Padme Amidala as your wife just before the Clone Wars began, and you have now welcomed twins into the world. I suppose congratulations are in order."
Anakin sensed the fear and curiosity that laced Mas Amedda's emotions, though he kept a calm reign over his thoughts. "Who else knows of this?"
Something far darker than he expected in a Jedi echoed through Anakin's voice. "Everyone in Palpatine's inner circle, as well as the leaders of the Intergalactic Banking Clan, the Commerce Guild, and the Techno Union. In total, I would say eleven individuals know of your true life."
He feared and expected as much. "Were any of them involved in the plot concerning my mother?"
The reasons for this visit were fast becoming crystal clear to Mas. "No. Only myself and Palpatine orchestrated that. They are not aware of Shmi's survival." Anakin stormed before him in a heartbeat, his blue eyes cold and fearsome as they bore into his own. "I am a flea compared to the power you wield effortlessly. Lying to you would only see me killed. So trust that I won't."
"I wouldn't ever trust you. But I do trust you understand your current predicament."
"You want to kill me, don't you?"
"All of Palpatine's closest staff committed suicide the day I slayed him. You are the last."
"I hold no allegiance to the Sith." Mas Amedda soon found the green blade of an activated light saber by his neck. The heat's intensity seared against to his skin. His throat clenched in response. "I'm... I'm listening."
"Is the woman Obi-Wan brought back from Rothana truly Shmi Skywalker?"
"Do you swear?"
"On my life. I hand-picked the best of Palpatine's personal security detail to abduct her, and I programmed the clone that was left in her place."
Though possessing a deceitful heart, here and now Anakin could feel he was telling the truth. "If this is a plot against me, and Shmi is not who you are telling me she is I will make you beg for death."
"Of that I have no doubt."
"No," Anakin whispered so softly his voice was barely audible, though the threat of his gaze spoke volumes. "You don't."
The most subtle of sensations began at the tips of Mas Amedda's fingers... a tingling awareness that saw the muscles and tendons up and down his arms begin to warm... and then tighten painfully until the excruciating heat began to manifest itself as sweat over his face. "This isn't necessary, Anakin," he quickly declared in a shaky tone of voice. "I swear to you I am telling you the whole truth." His words came less bravado and calm than they had before. As he gazed down his hands suddenly went numb as the blood seemed to rush from them as the fixtures in his cell seemed to rattle and shift in the wake of some unseen force.
Mas Amedda screamed when the bones in his wrist cracked and then broke, the sounds of which lifted about the cell. His body slumped to the floor as he writhed in searing pain. Anakin took a dominant stance above him, his hands clasped behind his back. His blue eyes offered no compassion at all. "Those bones that just broke beneath your skin are now floating in your bloodstream," Anakin told him in a tone of barely restrained rage, as if removed from the moment entirely. "Look at your wrists and forearms. The way your hands now hang limp. Brace yourself."
"Arrrrrgggghh!" Mas Amedda cried out in blunt agony as the bones that made up his forearm shattered inside his arm. They lost some of their rigid form, now hung loosely from his shoulders as he sobbed shamelessly, convulsing on the floor from the unimaginable horror of what was being done to him. He could never have fathomed the suffering he felt as violent spasms overcame his entire body. "MERCY, ANAKIN! MERCY!"
Anakin inhaled a deep breath above Mas and then spoke slowly. "You aided Palpatine in murdering billions. Your begging and pleading fall on deaf ears with me. You deserve to rot in a prison cell for the rest of your life and then be put to death as painfully as possible."
"MERCY! I BEG OF YOU, MERCY! PLEASE! I AM TELLING YOU THE TRUTH!" His elbows suddenly bent inward, as if against nature itself, and then again at an awkward angle. Mas Amedda's teeth nearly cracked from how hard he bit down as the torture continued. His howling groans of agony blared loudly. There seemed no end to this absolute anguish.
He was being mutilated from the inside out.
"Listen to me closely, as I will only say this one time. Padmé, Luke, Leia and Shmi. Those are names you would do wise to forget exist. If anyone ever asks you about them you should pretend you know nothing and then contact me immediately. If anyone expresses to you that they are interested in harming my family you are to contact me immediately. I will destroy any threat to my wife and children."
"They are my lasting link to any humanity I possess," Anakin declared in a soft tone of voice amidst the grimacing pain devouring the man at his feet. "If I were to lose them I would lose that part of me which holds the angry beast in check. I would be without caring or compassion. I would seek bloody vengeance upon my enemies and any they hold dear... no one would be safe. Nothing. Anywhere. Death would surround me as I drowned in it."
"Hear me well. I won't consult the Jedi Council. I won't inform Republic officials. I will simply and violently eradicate anyone seeking to hurt my family and anyone who aids them. I will do what must be done. I will not hesitate. I will show no mercy. And if I find out you are involved then what you have just experienced next time will be real and one hundred times worse."
That very second Mas Amedda's went wide as he gasped for air. His lungs burned deep within his chest. His heart stopped as he realized he was still sitting up on the edge of his bed. His hands and arms were perfectly normal. Not a trace of pain could be felt. He lifted them, turned them over, squeezed his fists and moved his arms about. He hadn't been crippled at all. His head lifted to the Jedi standing in the corner of the room. There was only one thing to say after such an incredible show of the Force. "I will comply, my lord."
"I am not a Sith wearing a Jedi robe, but if believing so keeps you loyal then so be it."
"I am loyal to whomever has a blaster to my head."
"Then consider me the blaster's owner." Anakin made his way to the cell door, and with a gesture of his hand it opened. The two guards standing outside seemed as if they were in a trance. "This meeting never took place. And you will answer to me from now on. Won't you?"
"Good. I will reward any warning that prevents harm to my family with protection for you. Keep that in mind. And never speak of this day."
The large metal doors slammed shut and Mas Amedda was alone. His head lowered into his hands as the agony of moments ago was still fresh in his mind, if not his body. His hands were shaking and his breathing came ragged. His clothing was now soaked in sweat. He thought he once held power, but now he was sure that he never had. His best hope was to get out of this place any way he could and disappear forever. One thing was for certain. Anakin Skywalker was indeed Palpatine's heir.
He was now the most dangerous man in the galaxy.
Unofficially: Anakin and Padmé Skywalker's apartment
Located in the Republic Plaza
Galactic City, Coruscant
Padmé was greeted with Coruscant's breathtakingly endless cityscape as she walked out onto her apartment veranda. The warm, sunny afternoon settled peacefully before her, surely a welcome sign after the terrible years during the Clone Wars. Innumerable repulser shuttles, hover-taxi's and star ships forever filled the blazingly hectic Galactic City skyline in winding roads of air-traffic. Brilliant shimmers of reflected light from the billions of windows stretched as far as the eyes could see in the distance. Towering buildings of such intricate, exotic architecture dared the heavens above, reaching far past the clouds themselves, seemingly into infinity.
The impossible seemed as if it had a right to live in such a place of awe. Padmé hadn't always felt so welcome and or at ease.
The mysterious, extravagant, and darkly electric atmosphere of Galactic City once intimidated her when she took her post as Senator of Naboo. Visiting this vastly intimidating world was one thing but making a home for herself, especially being the first away from her parents'security presented one of the greatest challenges of her entire life. To be so young and on her own for the very first time, especially with the hardened emotional shell she'd grown comfortable living in, made making friends difficult and many lonely nights.
Having little to no social life certainly didn't help matters either.
Nonetheless, she was more than up for the task at hand. And if she could make it on her own in Galactic City then she could make it anywhere. Face any obstacle. And come out stronger because of it. Being a petite-humanoid female thrown into the combative political arena that was the Galactic Senate Hall, where she was expected to be no more than a nice, new piece of Naboo window dressing, tested her in ways she'd never been tested before.
It dawned on her one morning how ironic it was that she was far more accustomed to having attempts made on her life than being verbally disrespected, talked down too, and insulted to her face.
Padmé stood at the railing, a gentle breeze brushing her long, brown hair, as memories of her early years on Coruscant played out in her mind's eye. She remembered being so scared her first day at the Senate Hall that she got lost trying to find her platform floor. She was prepared and determined but inexperienced in that sort of volatile environment. Afterward, that night, she felt as alone as she ever had in her entire life. She'd been verbally dismissed and even laughed at whenever she argued a counter point of view on issues being discussed. The arrogant, rude, and even outright ignorant treatment by some of her fellow Senators was a shock to her system. They talked above her, louder, and seemed to enjoy her obvious discomfort at being unaccustomed to such people.
She'd withdrawn quietly into herself as the day came to a close in what many around her thought to be a symbol of defeat. Instead, she closely observed her peers while considering their criticism.
Defiance of that criticism led her back the next day and every day after as her emotional skin grew tougher, her voice bolder, and her mind sharper as her understanding of how to work the political machine to her advantage took shape. She was without her mother's gentle counsel, her father's wisdom, and her sister's comforting sisterhood. Here, she only had herself to rely on, and so she did. She threw herself headfirst into her work, never looking back.
She had found her place in a world so starkly different than the one she grew up in.
Now Shmi would have to travel that same long, hard road to finding her place in a world nothing like the one she came from. She would have to reconnect with the man her son grew up to become and get to know him all over again. She would have to make peace with the unfair things done against her will while facing what must look like an insurmountable task of rebuilding her entire life. All done in the midst of nursing a broken heart over her beloved deceased husband who gave her the first taste of true freedom she had ever known.
With genuine intent and compassion, Padmé had already promised to be there for her every step of the way, as she knew Anakin would be also when he was able to accept that the impossible was undeniable. The days to come wouldn't be easy or without pain, as life never was. But somehow they would make this work and rebuild what was thought long lost.
As a massive Republic Battle Cruiser lifted off in the distance, Padmé considered what an amazing day it had been so far as a soft smile lifted about her lips.
Moments ago she left Shmi in the nursery with C-3PO and the twins. Padmé needed no biological test nor Master Yoda's valued opinion to accept the utter, limitless love shining in Shmi's eyes while gazing upon her grandchildren. They had already focused on her and fond her so pleasing they did not cry when she picked them up and held them snug to her chest. It was as if they knew her and simply understood she was family.
The simple joy of watching Luke and Leia's grandmother hold them for the very first time only underscored how sweet the miracle of her return truly was. Padmé shut her eyes to the city and breathed deeply the air of a joyful home. Nothing in her life was perfect, nor would it probably ever be, and yet in so many ways it was more perfect than it had ever been before. Having grown accustomed at a young age to a life dedicated to public service and nothing more, to find herself four years after having been reunited with Anakin that she was a wife and mother now was nothing short of remarkable.
Padmé sat down on the short white bench by the railing and began exercising Anakin's training in using the Force. She cleared her thoughts and focused her mind solely on him, seeking him out, and found him, surprisingly enough. He could always "reach" her through the Force-bond they shared, but she had only recently begun to gain a "feel" for him. The mystery of just how she was able to do these things were a private matter they never discussed, only accepted as yet another miracle they saw no reason to dissect.
Miracles were to be rejoiced, after all.
Padmé could see her towering apartment complex through his eyes as he quickly approached. He'd left several hours ago and was finally coming home to her. She listened to the calming beat of his heart, instantly recognizing its familiar rhythm. After a moment of gentle probing she sensed that he had recently touched the darkness he tried to hard to hide from her. That very same darkness she had always known existed.
The angry dragon that burned a fiery trail through his tortured soul could not survive the powerful light Padmé illuminated until it was no more.
His utter need for her grew stronger as his speeder drew closer. Padmé opened her gaze to the east and caught sight of the yellow and silver speeder whisk up, over, and around other ships until it ascended the immense height of the apartment complex and slowed as it docked at the edge of the veranda. She remained still on the bench, watching her husband's tall, graceful form swing his body over the side, his soulful eyes now locked with her own. From the serious expression on his face she could tell he had decided upon a course of action and had taken it. His mental exhaustion was open to her, as well as the fact that he simply missed her.
Anakin's slow advance toward her was met with silence as she appreciated the beautiful sight of him. Draped in his heavy, dark Jedi robe she knew that someday he would not only become the youngest Jedi Master ever to sit on the Council, but the most powerful Force being that had ever lived. Rightly fully justified or not he was the new image of the Jedi to the whole of the Republic and widely considered the hero of the war, along with Obi-Wan. Count Dooku, a Sith Lord once trained by Master Yoda and Palpatine himself, had fallen before him in battle as testament to his unmatched abilities.
Anakin Skywalker was handsome, strong, moody in a way that only amplified his sex appeal, and arguably the most dangerous man alive.
Yet when he reached his beloved Padmé he casually fell to one knee and simply laid his head upon her lap, eyes shut as her small hand brushed over his long, sun-streaked hair. All of the boiling rage and fear inside him slowly ebbed away, fading into twilight because she was with him. Here, in her tender embrace, he would always find his solid ground and peace of mind.
Even the light scent of her rose perfume was precious to his heart.
The gentle sway of her fingers through his hair was something Padmé knew he enjoyed to no end. She took such great pleasure in feeling him convey such trust and need in her. No master, Jedi or Sith, could bring him to his knees. And yet the Chosen One bowed before her alone, seeking her always. The love she held dear for him was timeless and without measure. She privately vowed with her very life to protect him any way that she could, as she knew he would always protect her.
Anakin's silence hadn't hurt her feelings nor frustrated Padmé in the least. He was like this sometimes, and she knew how to handle him. She knew her husband well.
He felt her hand pull at his right shoulder just enough to grab his attention. He stood upon her subtle request and then back a step as she did the same. Padmé reached for his gloved hand, though she knew he often wished she would never acknowledge that part of him. Her intent was always for him to never be ashamed as she loved all of him with the sum of her very being.
Taking his hand into her own, she led him away, down the long curving sweep of stairs lined by her collection of rare sculptures and back inside the apartment. They walked past the center circular fountain and made their way into the spacious kitchen area.
Padmé gently squeezed his hand and then lifted his robe off his shoulders and hung it up for him. With a simple gesture she motioned for him to sit at the head of the table and was pleased he did as he was told for once. The loving smile he wore for her alone gave her a sense of feminine pride that he trusted she would take the best care of him. Men needed that from time to time. Having sensed that he hadn't eaten all day, she set about preparing him a feast of a meal confined to a single plate. Having a husband who would literally eat anything and enjoyed her discomfort at telling her about things she didn't want to know, at least her lack of culinary skills would never be a problem in their marriage.
She opened the refrigeration unit and retrieved a tray of Dex's deep-fried hot meat strips and a slice of his double layered Syn-fudge cake. She placed the tray in the quick-heater device, and then returned to the table with a pitcher of blue milk and the slice of cake. When Anakin immediately reached for the sweets she playfully slapped his flesh hand away. She knew she would do the same to Luke one day, though she had more faith that Leia would take after her in the matter of table matters.
At least she hoped so.
Through the Force Anakin enjoyed her whimsical internal monologue while laughing softly behind her back. She heard him and turned around, gracing him with a knowing smirk that he better cut it out. A few moments later she was before him again, setting down a steaming plate full of his favorite food from Dex's Diner. The unmistakable growl emitted from his stomach gave her something to giggle at him about.
Suddenly, she found in his blue eyes the anticipation for what was to come. There was something about seeing her use the Force that seemed to, for lack of a better term, turn him on. She certainly didn't mind. The politician and the mother didn't require his heady desire, but the woman certainly did.
Coming around the other side of the table, Padmé sat down and then looked to the cupboard across the kitchen, just above the sink area in the corner. She inhaled a deeply calming breath, mentally centered her thoughts on channeling the Force, and then focused her intent as she lifted her hand toward the cupboard. Ever so slowly the small brown door swung open, revealing inside an assortment of tall, exotically sculptred Fylis glasses given to them as a gift from Jar-Jar.
While sensing his wife through the Force only deepened their connection, the sheer sight of her controlling it captivated Anakin in ways he couldn't possibly explain. Opening the cabinet had become easy as Padmé now was able to press buttons and enact other small actions using the Force. Actually moving objects was the hard part as she struggled with the immense amount of concentration needed to wield something she shouldn't even have access too.
Concentrating fully now, Padmé turned her outstretched hand at an angle as the fourth glass from the left shifted against another, and then gracefully lifted up and out of the cupboard now hanging in mid-air. Her mind strained to maintain its hold on the object, as she controlled her steady breathing while enforcing her will that the glass move toward the table. It did, albeit at a methodical pace. Across the kitchen it floated, strengthening her confidence that she could gain such a measure of control over the Force. She'd never done anything like this before, but with every small accomplishment due to Anakin's training she became greedy with learning more.
As the glass came within two feet of the table Anakin sensed Padmé's strain becoming too great as her Force-link began to dwindle. Suddenly, the glass stopped moving at all, and then fell. Using the Force, he easily caught it with a simple wave of his hand, and found Padmé with a grateful expression that their floor wasn't covered in broken glass.
Padmé sighed as she watched the glass reach the table and land in front of Anakin. She hated failing at anything she tried, and yet knew she wouldn't quit. The mystery of how she was able to call upon the Force at all was one they were exploring together. Privately, of course.
Surprisingly enough, a slightly-muffled snicker came from across the table. Padmé inclined her head and then noticed that the chair she sat on was now hovering a foot off the floor. Her arms crossed her chest as a scowl attempted to form on her face when the piece of furniture smoothly moved around the table until she was sitting right beside her now eating husband. Not only had he failed to look up once, but he didn't even lift his hand.
"Showoff," Padmé accused him in a tone far more playful than she wished it to sound. He made a noise while stuffing his face that sounded one part teasing and another part pleased with the taste of his food. At least he was satisfied, now devouring his plate as if the food were about to stand up and run from him. She'd favored Obi-Wan with more than a few glares whenever he attempted to tell her stories of Anakin's eating habits during the war as she wanted no part of knowing any of it. She'd review any legend or prophecy concerning her husband, but she drew the line at anything to do with bugs as dinner.
After all, she did have to kiss him.
Suffice to say, despite his many imperfections, she adored him utterly.
Anakin finished a second glass of blue milk, and then had the audacity to try and push a glass full over to Padmé. She had maintained many times milk was to be white only and she would never, ever drink the blue variety that hailed from his homeworld. It was a matter of intimate domestic squabbling as they often argued over which was more healthy or tasted better. All of them ended in purchasing both, of which Pamde took no small amount of enjoyment in reminding Anakin who bought things around here.
Later on in the evening, when they retired to their bedroom, Anakin reminded her who was the boss.
At least in the bedroom.
Upon finishing his meal, Anakin wiped his face with a paper towel. He left its crumbled remnants on the table. She'd given him his space and allowed him to digest that had happened at his own pace. Now he needed to face this.
Padmé felt his hand close around one of hers. He brought it to his lips for soft kiss and then covered it with his other between them. He turned to her, his most trusted counsel, and asked, "Do you think this is real?"
"I think," Padmé began seriously, "That if a friend had this happen to them and needed someone to look into every aspect of what happened I would recommend Obi-Wan first and foremost. I feel that when the facts are absolutely needed he is as thorough, trustworthy, and clever as they come in discovering the complete truth. So in that regard, if Obi-Wan says he has interrogated those involved, run the necessary blood tests, and examined her himself I can only conclude that his findings are probably accurate."
"But what do you think personally?"
Padmé exhaled a deep breath and then squeezed her husband's hand. "I talked with Shmi at great length, Ani. I asked her many, many questions, and I explained why we are so cautious about believing this. I informed her of the enemies who would strike at us in the most painful ways possible. She seemed very sincere to me. She was compassionate, concerned, and forthright."
If his Angel beleived believed Shmi to be who she said she was then... this was all so much for him to take in. "I went to see Mas Ammedda." She nodded in reply. "I... I did what I had to do in order to obtain get the information he had. He is sticking to his story that Shmi is alive and the woman I found dying in that camp was a clone of my mother."
"What did you sense in his presence?"
"Fear... absolute fear and blunt honesty as he sought to save his life. Though he possesses a treacherous nature at heart, he was not lying to me today. I trust the Force in that regard."
"So we have a mountain of evidence that clearly supports that Shmi Skywalker is alive," Padmé offered, and then continued, "But only you will know for certain. Only your heart will place my mind at ease that the woman in the nursery is your mother. In the face of all the evidence to the contrary, if in your heart of hearts you feel she is not Shmi Skywalker then she will not be a part of our lives. I trust in you always."
That was why he cherished her every heart beat as a reason for him to live. He had survived a savage war because her love meant everything to him.
Anakin rose to his feet, taking Padmé with him. His free hand gently cupped the back of her hair as he brought his lips down softly upon hers. The sweetest taste, joy from her lips as they swayed to a loving rhythm all their own. They embraced for the longest time, holding each other closely, a single shared soul rejoicing.
After pressing a final kiss to her luscious lips, Anakin gazed into her warm, brown eyes. "I need to see her."
"I don't want to cause you anymore pain than you have already suffered."
Still and breathless, Anakin stood motionless in the nursery's entrance while gazing at the woman claiming to be his mother. With a guarded heart, and Padmé by his side, he hated the fear clutched tight to his chest as much as appreciated how it grounded his emotions against having his hopes dashed to the far winds. Yes, the lovely face and the warm voice perfectly matched what he remembered from his youth, but at one time he had felt there was no more a kind, compassionate individual in all of the galaxy than Palpatine. How wrong he had been then and if he was now... "You're a victim as well."
Her back to the curved glass hub facing Galactic City's hologram-lit eastern quadrant, Shmi still couldn't get over how tall Anakin had grown. Though she knew he was a young man, the harsh cruelties of the war he fought in for years were evidenced in the strong pose of a proud, fearless Jedi before her. Equally powerful and fearless was the woman who stood by his side, ever vigilant that he face nothing alone. "Am I to take that statement to mean that you believe I am your mother?"
Anakin didn't answer right away, choosing to focus his intense scrutiny upon her as he began circling the nursery. Padmé stayed by the door, watching as he felt her tender caring surround him. He checked in on Luke first, and then Leia. Satisfied they were sleeping peacefully he soon found himself standing before the woman whose mere presence was still shocking. "All the evidence I have been able to gather points to you being my mother. I can come to no other conclusion than that it is the truth."
"But do you want it to be?"
"I don't know what I want," he sighed, now peering past her to the brilliant setting suns over Coruscant. From the moment he left Tattione with Qui-Gonn and Obi-Wan a reunion with his beloved mother was his life's goal, along with becoming a Jedi Master. To have that dream possibly perverted into a cruel nightmare left him with a deep wrenching bitterness in the pit of his stomach.
Anakin sorely wished he could banish certain memories from his soul forever even though they had shaped who he was and what he almost became. "When I found my mother in that Tusken-Raider camp she was near death." His voice trembled as that dark day swept over him again. "She looked..." he swallowed painfully in back of his throat, nearly unable to continue. "No child should ever see his mother treated that way. She was severely beaten and scarred. She was covered in dirt and her own dried blood. She was bound tight by her wrists and ankles, and was too weak to even lift her head. She was able to open her eyes for a brief moment to recognize me. Her last words were that she loved me, and then she died in my arms."
Shmi's heart went out to him, as the longing she felt to hold him and chase away his grief nearly overwhelmed her. He'd witnessed so much horror, all in the hopes of pushing him over a precipice from which he could never return. Her son had been forced to suffer in the worst way possible, a fact that made her feel sick.
"Moments after my mother died I felt something so cold and hateful come over me," Anakin attempted to explain through barely clenched teeth. "I became something more... a dragon's fire scorched my soul. I slaughtered the entire camp of Tusken Raiders." Dark eyes captured Shmi in their grasp. "I killed every living thing, even the animals. I spared nothing and no one."
Shmi struggled for the words that would give him some perspective. "You were grieving and filled with rage over what you thought they did to me."
"I lost control of my emotions that night. I willingly gave into hate, fear, and aggression. Something I've been taught all my life was a path to the darkside. And I didn't care."
"Had anyone ever harmed you in that way I do not know how I would react if I were in their presence either. Rest assured I would not be without a vengeful heart." Shmi gave a wistful look as her voice began to falter. She could tell Anakin needed her to know all of this for himself as well as her. As bad as what she had heard already was, she knew it would only get worse. Nonetheless, this was about him.
His voice, a shadowy hurt echoed just how broken Anakin was that night. "I walked back inside the hut I left my mother in and wrapped her body in one of the Tusken's old blankets. I tied two ropes around it to secure her and then carried her out of the hut and up a nearby hill where I had hidden my speeder. That was the longest walk of my entire life. I accepted hate in my heart every step of the way."
For the very first time Padmé allowed the Force-bond she shared with her husband to access part of his memories of that sad day. These were the feelings even she hadn't had the courage to face as of yet. Now she could see what he saw and feel the utter despair he drowned in as he carried his dead mother past the dismembered bodies of the Tusken Raiders. Even after nightfall, Tattoine's intense, oppressive heat created a miserable climate for him to travel carrying his mother's dead body. Her heart pounded inside her chest just the same way his did that night, as he wanted more things to kill so that he could fill that bottomless, empty hole his mother's death left in his life with something... anything more than grief. She was with him afterwards, but now, in this very moment, she was with him during... and she never knew that anyone could ever hurt so bone deep as her Anakin.
Though he towered over her, Anakin's face betrayed how humble he truly felt in her presence again. "My mother's body felt so light in my arms. I remembered begging her for forgiveness when I left the camp. You have to understand, I was too late to save her. Too weak. Less than what she needed me to be, for if I was more she would never have died. I wanted someone to tell me her death wasn't ultimately my fault, even though I knew I wouldn't ever believe them. I didn't even believe Padmé."
"But it wasn't your fault," Shmi tried to get him to see.
"I've disobeyed my master many times," Anakin declared. "I had plenty of opportunities to make a side trip to Tattione to check on you and see that you were alright for myself rather than simply hope for the best. But every time I thought of going home I remembered that I was still a padawan and not a Jedi yet. Obi-Wan still hadn't recommended me for the trials, and until he did I didn't want to come home. I left you as a padawan. I wanted to return a full-fledged Jedi Knight with the power to set you free. I wanted to see pride in your eyes so I followed my own. I allowed what I wanted to get in the way of making sure you were alright. I carry that guilt with me every single day of my life. It will never leave me. Never."
Slowly, Shmi began to understand the man before her, his complexities, regrets, and life experiences. Instead of trying to change his mind she decided to let him lead the way. "What else do I need to know?"
For some reason hearing her ask that lifted a weight off his shoulders. "I strapped my mother's body to the back of my speeder and tied it just over the engine. I flew away as fast as I could, covering the entire desert in one night non-stop. I don't even remember knowing where I was going. I barely recall the trip. It was as if my mind was in a fog, and I wasn't conscious of anything but my mother's death and my failure."
"I arrived at the moisture farm just before daybreak," Anakin sensed Padmé's sadness and Shmi's emotional torture through the Force. In kind, he allowed them to feel what he felt at that time, sharing his state of mind in a way he never had before. "Everyone came out to meet me, but I didn't say a word. I never even looked up, not even at Padmé. I just took my mother's body inside and then grabbed a shovel."
Undone by the severity of what he had gone through, Shmi shook her head as tears descended her cheeks. "Damn Palpatine!" she swore in her mind.
"I dug my mother's grave all by myself," Anakin confessed to her. "I mindlessly tossed dirt until the hole was big enough. It took most of the morning. I heard the questions and the condolences, but I ignored all of them. I walked back inside the house and carried my mother to her grave. I laid her into it and then covered her body myself. All we had at the time was a simple marker for a simple woman, and yet she meant more to me than anything in the galaxy."
Lifting his flesh hand to Shmi's cheek, his thumb smoothed away her tear drops as he stared into eyes so like those he saw in the mirror each day of his life. "It's not your fault that you didn't know any of those things, but I lived them. I experienced every excruciating second of that time in my life. I had a face and a voice and a body to go with my anguish and pain. I wasn't spared with news of a fatal accident or the lack of a body to bury. I was a part of every second of what took place. I will carry those memories to the day that I become one with the Force."
"I am so sorry you had to experience that," Shmi offered through a fresh fall of tears as Padmé quietly joined them.
"My mother's death became the symbol of my failure and lack of power. Then soon after I lost something else." He lifted his other arm and removed the thick black glove covering his mechanized hand. The electro-drivers whirred as he demonstrated how it moved before Shmi's stunned expression. "I raced off into battle unprepared against a greater swordsman. I was impatient, fueled by my inflated ego, and wanted to prove to myself that I wasn't a failure."
"Does it..." Shmi began gently as she traced his fingers with her own, noting the feel and coolness of the metal. "Does it hurt?"
"My vanity, at times," Anakin replied with as much of a somber grin as he'd mustered all day. "No, it does not hurt. It's only a reminder that I need to think before acting out. It was a harsh lesson learned, I assure you."
"Obi-Wan told me you defeated Count Dooku the next time to battled him."
"I defeated and disarmed him, yes. I should have arrested him." A shameful slump of his shoulders spoke volumes. "Palpatine told me to kill him. Dooku was the one who severed my arm, and I did want revenge. I took it by slaying him. That was the beginning of my fall."
Palpatine... That name would forever leave Shmi's filled with disgust and rage. He had almost cost her son everything he held dear. She hoped he knew unimaginable suffering until the end of time. For now though, her duties were clear. She gently squeezed his mechanical hand as a sign that it didn't matter at all. "I am so proud that you were able to rebuke his vile influence. Your true character shined through the darkness he attempted to shroud you in. You are a strong, honorable man, Anakin. I could not be more proud to call you my son."
There was a certain feeling, an emotional sense of accomplishment in a son's heart when he pleased his mother that Anakin thought would be foreign to him for the rest of his life and now had blissfully returned. He witnessed such protectiveness in Shmi's eyes, as well as her pure inner being that was unmistakable. She was without deceit or treachery. Her love for him and his family overwhelmed him as they stood together.
Anakin knew her... from her familiar scent that comforted his entire world, to the gentle voice that lulled him to sleep at night. He knew the inner strength with which she lived a truly hard life as a slave, all the while possessing and endless kindness and compassion when so little was shown to her. He knew love because she had given it to him with all her heart, even so much that she gave him away, so that he would live a better life, the one he was meant to live, even though it shattered her heart to do so.
Yes, this was Shmi Skywalker. Not because Obi-Wan's investigation said so. Not because the blood tests confirmed it. Not even because Master Yoda himself stated it was true.
But because Anakin felt it in his heart of hearts.
"Welcome home," was all that he said upon drawing her into his arms as she began to sob against his shoulder, his hand slowly stroking her back in a calming motion. He held her tightly as the pain of her loss was replaced with the joy of having her in his life again. Padmé's sweet joy joined his own. He looked to her, and then she was in his arms as they all embraced.
Shmi favored her son and Padmé as the purest relief she had ever known filled her soul. She hugged them hard as her tears fell freely and then released them to compose herself. "I know all of us will need time to adjust to this. I don't have any expectations."
"You can expect to have anything that you need, as we need you here with us," Padmé assured her. "We're family, and we're going to stick together."
Anakin took Shmi's hand in his once more. "Mom, how are you doing?"
Her smile eclipsed the whole of Coruscant after being called that again. "I am exhausted, hungry, and at a loss as to where to begin to rebuild my life," she answered honestly. "I am overjoyed at being reunited with you, and to see you happily married and with your own family has validated every sacrifice I have ever made. I feel sincerely blessed."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Nothing," she shook her head. "I just want to see you, hear you talk, and be around you again. Time will take care of everything else. The will of the Force has led us here. It will lead us onward as well."
Suddenly, the will of the Force paled in comparison to Leia's blaring wail that soon woke her brother.
Padmé laughed at how they seemed to at least wait until all the serious adult talk had ended. Perhaps that was a tad deeper than the truth, but she enjoyed the idea nonetheless. She was their mother, after all. "It looks like feeding time has arrived again."
"I'll give you a hand," Shmi offered. Padmé thanked her.
"Can you take Leia while I get Luke?"
"Of course." Shmi reached into the pale blue crib and lifted Leia to her shoulder. The crying infant's sniffles were cute as she seemed to calm down, now looking all around the room. She found her father and smiled.
"Come here," Padmé whispered softly to her son, his eyes already as blue as his father's. "I assure you that your sister is sorry to have woken you up."
"He wants blue milk, Padmé." Anakin nodded while suppressing a grin. His wife had the nerve to glare at him, albeit playfully.
"He wants white milk," she asserted with a regal tilt of her head. "And so does Leia."
Anakin paid her no mind. "Just wait until they get older and can talk. You'll see."
The intimately loving banter between husband and wife underscored a happy relationship they obviously enjoyed. That made Shmi feel so good as they seemed genuinely, deeply in love. As Padmé left the nursery while murmuring to Luke about the benefits of white milk, Shmi watched Anakin lean down to kiss her cheek, and then Leia's. "I love you, Ani. I'm so happy to be with you again."
"So am I," he offered in return. "I'll be with you both in a moment. I just need..."
"I understand, son. We'll be waiting."
As grand as the miracle of Padmé, Luke, and Leia were to him, Anakin now had a fourth miracle to acknowledge and now protect. It was too late to go back. His heart had accepted Shmi and loved her in the here and now despite the fears of the days to come. Nonetheless, he felt no regrets, only hope for a future that somehow looked even better than it already did.
Before he was the Jedi's Chosen One.
Before Palpatine began leading him towards the Darkside.
Before he was Obi-Wan's best friend.
Before he even belonged to Padmé, he was Shmi's son first. And he was again.
The echoes of the dearly departed were replaced with the voices of the truly beloved... the living... his family in the other room. Wearing a smile no force in the universe could ever hope to overcome, Anakin Skywalker left the nursery to join them.
Finally, he was complete.
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