STANDARD DISCLAIMER/CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE: The characters belong to George Lucas. This fic was inspired by the song "Wonder", which belongs to Natalie Merchant - I always thought it would make a good "Anakin song". The lyrics to that song follow this fic, if you're interested.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: You asked for it - here it is, the sequel to 'Til Death Do Us Part. It takes place immediately after the events of that fic, so you might want to read it first. This fic is part of my own AU in which Anakin never turns.

Several hours into their return journey to Coruscant, Obi-Wan left his quarters to search for his former Padawan. He found Anakin standing at a viewport, staring out into space.
"Well," he said softly, moving to stand behind Anakin. "They will speak of last night's banquet for years to come on Naboo. Would you like to tell me what's gotten into you recently?"
"No," Anakin said, choosing to interpret Obi-Wan's rhetorical question literally. Obi-Wan decided to try again.
"Look, I can see something is troubling you. Your own meditations are not sufficient to resolve the matter. I would like to help." Anakin snorted.
"Yeah, I'm sure," he said snidely, turning to face his former teacher. "That's what we Jedi are all about, isn't it? Helping people. Unless they're just slaves or other insignificant, pathetic lifeforms." Obi-Wan winced.
"You continue to hold against me words spoken in childish resentment?" he asked. Anakin shrugged.
"You never wanted me. I was an unwelcome burden thrust upon you by your dying teacher." Obi-Wan put his hand on Anakin's shoulder.
"That was years ago," he said quietly. "After all we've been through together, do you truly think I still feel that way about you? We've both grown up a lot since then."
"You have no idea what it's like to be me, Obi-Wan." Obi-Wan sighed.
"No, I don't suppose I do," he admitted. "Nor do I have any idea what it's like to be Yoda, or Padmé, or Bail Organa... well, you get my point." Anakin shrugged noncommittally.
"Yeah, I guess so. But I think you've missed mine."
"Then tell me, what IS your point, Anakin?" Anakin sighed.
"It's not important, Obi-Wan. I am sorry for my behavior. I need to meditate to clear my mind." Obi-Wan nodded.
"As you wish," he replied, giving Anakin a pat on the shoulder. "But know this, Anakin: I will always be there for you, anytime you need me. Just ask." Anakin watched Obi-Wan walk back up the corridor towards his quarters. He sighed. Obi-Wan doesn't know what it's like… he probably thinks I'm lucky to be the Chosen One. I'd gladly change places with him, just to be normal, to have a mother AND a father like everyone else. Not to have these expectations placed on me.

Troubled, Anakin returned to his quarters. He pulled off his brown outer robe and tossed it on a chair. Inexplicably tired of his Jedi robes, he stripped them off as well, exchanging them for a pair of jeans and a gray sweatshirt with lettering that proclaimed, "Property of the Jedi Temple Athletic Department". He went to the cabin's wet bar and poured himself a shot of single malt. Staring at the crystal tumbler, he suddenly recalled his outburst at the banquet, and his face reddened in shame. How could I act like such an asshole? What the hell was I thinking? he wondered. And I didn't even apologize to Padmé or anyone else. What a dickhead I am. With the sudden certainty that the answers he sought would not be found at the bottom of a glass of whiskey, he poured the liquor down the drain and placed the glass upside down in the wet bar's chrome sink. It suddenly struck him as odd that he was able to think clearly. He could not remember the last time his mind was free of doubts and confusion. He knew the first thing he had to do. Mentally composing his apology, he left his quarters and headed for the ship's communication suite.

"Padmé?" he asked timorously. Though the hologram was transparent and fuzzy, Anakin could see the worry and confusion on her face and the exhaustion in her brown velvet eyes.
"What is it, Anakin?" she asked, sounding tired.
"Did I wake you? I mean, I know it's night there."
"No," she sighed. "I have not been able to sleep." Seeing the anguish in her eyes and the fading bruise on her cheek, Anakin's heart felt like it would burst.
"Padmé, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I don't know what's wrong with me…"
"Anakin, I am so worried about you," she said, her voice trembling. "You have no idea what this is like for me, watching you in pain and being unable to help." A single tear slipped down her cheek. Anakin wished he could reach out and wipe it away. "I just wish you would tell me…"
"The Jedi Council let my mother die!" he blurted out. "They stood by and did nothing! And worst of all, I did nothing! I should have defied them, gone to Tatooine…"
"One lone Jedi against the Hutts?" Padmé asked. "How long do you think you would have lasted?"
"Long enough, maybe! Long enough to get Mom out of there! And Watto… they're dead, and it's my fault!"
"It is not your fault, Anakin. If you want to place blame, place it where it truly belongs: with the Hutts."
"And the Council," Anakin said bitterly. Padmé sighed.
"If that is how you feel, you should leave the Order," she said quietly. "It seems to me that they have done little for you in exchange for all they ask of you."
"I will think about it," he promised her. "And I want you to know how sorry I am about…" He was unable to name what he'd done, so deep was his shame. "About everything," he finished lamely. "I don't know what came over me. You're the most precious thing in the Universe to me, Padmé. Knowing I hurt you is like a knife in my heart."
"I forgive you, Anakin. Now you must learn to forgive yourself - not only for your behavior these past few days, but for things that were out of your hands." He nodded, unconvinced.
"I love you, my angel," he said. "I hope…" he sighed.
"Know that you are loved, Anakin," she said quietly. "Even if you forget all else, remember that you are loved."

Deep in thought, Anakin made his way back to his quarters. He suddenly felt tears spring to his eyes as he recalled how the young Padawans had teased him when he'd first gone to the Temple. They had called him "bastard " and worse. They had ostracized him for the crime of being different. When they had learned he was the Chosen One, the teasing had escalated. They had all wanted to know what it "felt like" to be "made out of midichlorians". They had dared him to demonstrate his "superior" powers and mocked him when he fell short of their expectations. Despite what Padmé had said to him, he knew he was a weirdo, a bastard-born freak of nature conceived by microscopic organisms, and no matter what his friends may say, that is how they saw him. Yes, he was powerful and talented, but at the end of the day, he was nothing but a freak with no father.
He paused at the viewport where Obi-Wan had found him standing and gazed out at the stars again. Why me? he wondered. Why was I given this burden? He was, he suddenly realized, angry at the gods, the Universe, Fate… with whatever force had singled him out to be the Chosen One.
He heard approaching footsteps and turned to see Palpatine coming up the corridor towards him. When the Chancellor spotted Anakin, he moved to the other side of the hallway so that when he passed Anakin, he would be as far from the Jedi as possible. Otherwise, he gave no indication that Anakin even existed.
"Palpatine - " Anakin called as the Chancellor continued past him. Anakin sighed. Well, I suppose I deserve the snub, he thought. He turned back to the viewport, leaning forward and resting his forehead against the cool transparasteel. "What an ass I am," he muttered. He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Palpatine standing behind him.
"It is not well done of me to turn my back on a friend who obviously needs help," the Chancellor said quietly.
"I'm sorry," Anakin said. "For everything."
"I can see that," Palpatine said, nodding. "What concerns me more than an apology is why you've been behaving as you have." And after the things I've said, the way I've acted… ah gods, I don't deserve such friendship. Anakin found it difficult to swallow around the lump that had formed in his throat.
"I don't know," Anakin finally admitted. "Sometimes I just get so… so angry. And I just can't control it. Sometimes, I…." He flushed with embarrassment at what he was about to admit. "Sometimes I don't WANT to control it." Obi-Wan, Anakin knew, would be horrified by this revelation. But Palpatine was not Jedi trained and had no knowledge of the Force; the true significance of what Anakin was telling him was completely lost on him. As such, he simply listened, giving Anakin a sympathetic, nonjudgmental ear. Encouraged, Anakin plunged on. "The anger flows through me, and the Force flows with it. I've never felt power like that, Palpatine. I know I should meditate, try to control the anger, but…"
"But you like the feeling," Palpatine finished for him. Shamed, Anakin nodded.
"Yeah. I've never felt anything like it. It's better than spice, better than booze, better than sex even."
"It is like a drug, and you are becoming an addict."
"The Dark Side is worse than any drug, Palpatine," a new voice said. They turned to see Obi-Wan standing behind them. "Drugs can only destroy the mind and the body. The Dark Side destroys the soul."
"This is a private conversation, Obi-Wan!" Anakin flared. "How long have you been standing there, anyway?"
"Long enough," Obi-Wan replied quietly. "Anakin - "
"Don't you dare speak to me in that condescending tone, Obi-Wan!" Anakin yelled, suddenly furious. He strode forward, his hand on the hilt of his lightsaber, his vision red with rage. Palpatine grabbed the back of Anakin's sweatshirt, restraining the much larger man as best he could. "Dammit, Palpatine - " Anakin cried, whirling with Jedi speed. Suddenly Palpatine found himself sitting on the deck, feeling dazed and tasting blood. He looked up and saw Anakin standing over him, fists clenched at his sides, breathing heavily in fury.
"Well," Palpatine said quietly. "Did that feel good, Anakin?"
"I…" Anakin exhaled as though he'd been holding his breath for hours. His shoulders slumped, and his fists unclenched. "Yeah," he said, ashamed. "It did." Obi-Wan shook his head in disgust as Palpatine rather shakily hauled himself to his feet, rubbing his jaw and wincing.
"Oh, Anakin," Obi-Wan sighed. "What are we going to do with you? You have been told time and again that fear and anger are the path to the Dark Side. Do you WANT to destroy yourself? is that it, Anakin?"
"No… I… I don't want to destroy ANYONE, Obi-Wan. I just want…" He sighed.
"What?" Palpatine asked.
"You'll think it's stupid," Anakin said, not looking Palpatine in the eye. "You'll laugh."
"I won't, I promise," Palpatine said. "Hand on heart."
"Me too, Anakin," Obi-Wan added. "We're your friends. We won't laugh at you. We want to help you."
"Oh gods," Anakin whispered, his eyes filling with tears. "I just want to be liked for myself. I want to be worth something, not because I'm the Chosen One, but because I'm a person."
"Anakin, we all care about you," Obi-Wan assured him. "And Padmé… in her world, the sun rises and sets on you. I don't think she's even aware that other men exist! She loves you so much that she would forgive you anything."
"I know," Anakin said, shame swelling within him again. "I called and apologized to her, and she forgave me. She seemed more sad than angry."
"And so she was, Anakin," Palpatine said quietly. "It is obvious that you are in pain, and she cannot bear to see you suffer."
"He's right," Obi-Wan agreed. "Watching you suffer and not being able to help causes her more pain than the bruise on her cheek ever did."
"And if you believe that she - and I - only value you because you are the Chosen One, you can think again," Palpatine added. "As you know, the Naboo do not hold Jedi Knights in the same esteem as the rest of the Republic. I doubt she's given much thought to your being the Chosen One. I can say with certainty that I haven't."
"And as for me," Obi-Wan interjected, "I'm not sure I ever even believed that you ARE the Chosen One. Qui-Gon was a fantastic teacher, but he often allowed his imagination to run away with him, and I am afraid that wishful thinking frequently got the better of him. He saw Sith Lords lurking in every shadow and Jedi prodigies in the bulge of every pregnant woman's womb. And," he concluded, "You are not the first 'Chosen One' he that he discovered, though you are the first he ever brought before the Council."
"Really?" Anakin asked, goggling at him in astonishment.
"Really," Obi-Wan said with an ironic smile. "There are two others - you know them both, Anakin, though I won't tell you their names - who Qui-Gon honest-to-gods believed were the Chosen One of the Prophecy. Well… they weren't. And I am not completely convinced that you are, either. So I can assure you that our friendship is not built around any desire of mine to feel important by befriending the Chosen One."
"But I have no father," Anakin said, as though reminding himself. "How can that be?"
"Your mother said that she can remember no father," Obi-wan reminded him. "That doesn't mean you don't have one."
"Yes," Palpatine agreed. "It's true that in cases of great trauma, the mind often protects itself by forgetting some or all of the particulars of the traumatic event."
"Yeah, I've heard that," Anakin said, nodding. "We had some psych courses at the Temple, you know."
"I'd be surprised if you hadn't," Palpatine said. "It's possible," he continued slowly, "that the act leading to your conception was not mutually consensual." Anakin nodded. They were silent for a long moment.
"There's something I need to tell you," Anakin finally said, directing the comment at Obi-Wan but including Palpatine as well.
"Yes, I think there is," Obi-Wan agreed. "Are you ready to talk about it?"
"I think so," Anakin said.

Over brandies in Palpatine's cabin, Anakin told them the whole story about the mysterious new friend he'd made on Coruscant.
For the past few months, he had had secret visits from a dark-shrouded figure that always managed to find him when he was alone and feeling down. For reasons that were unclear to him, Anakin had found himself pouring out his troubles to this mysterious visitor. Whoever he was, the man was a very sympathetic listener. He was not like Master Windu or Obi-Wan. Never did he tell Anakin to pull himself up by his bootstraps, to quit his complaining, to stop feeling sorry for himself. In fact, the man was happy to feed Anakin's doubts and resentments, to confirm his deepest fears and insecurities. Yes, the man agreed, the Council saw Anakin as their pet, their prized possession. He was the Chosen One, not a human being with intrinsic worth of his own. His only worth to them was the power he had and the prestige the Council felt they gained by harnessing it for their own purposes. And Padmé? Of course Anakin was correct to believe that she never would have even looked twice at him had he not been the Chosen One, a powerful Jedi singled out by the Council for greatness. Yes, it was clear that Anakin had no value of his own, and he might as well get used to it. But then… the man had told him of another option: Leave the Jedi Order and allow him to teach Anakin what true power and greatness were. Together they would avenge his mother's senseless death. They would wipe out the Hutts who had murdered her, and yes, Anakin would even have his revenge on the Council for their inaction in that matter. He could prove his worth to all, and none would dare mock him again. Until this evening, it had been a tantalizing proposition, but now Anakin was having his doubts.
"And that is the whole of it," Anakin said. "What do you think?" he asked, glancing over at Obi-Wan, who had grown quite pale.
"It's the Sith Lord," Obi-Wan whispered. "The other one."
"There are always two," Anakin said automatically. He saw that Palpatine was watching him with sad, tired eyes.
"Not yet there aren't," the Chancellor said quietly. Anakin nodded.
"Yeah," he agreed just as quietly. "You're right."

It had not been easy, Anakin reflected a few years later. Obi-wan had thought me doomed. He did not believe I could turn back from the Dark path I had chosen. I did not succumb to the lure of the Sith, but when I think about how close I came to turning, to giving all this up… how close I came to destroying it altogether. He shuddered.
"What's wrong?" Padmé asked solicitously. They were sitting together on a stone bench in the Palace gardens. On a blanket at their feet, little Luke and Leia played happily with their toys. "Are you cold?"
"No," he said quietly. "Just thinking."
"Maybe a goose walked over your grave," she suggested.
"What's a goose?" Anakin asked curiously. Padmé giggled, shaking her head.
"Never mind."