AU Notes: Anakin doesn't turn to the Dark Side. In the chaos of the Temple Massacre, he and Padmé flee Coruscant and Palpatine's Empire.
Trigger Warnings: PTSD, Depression, Anxiety attacks
The hard belly of the transport jolted, shattering the cold, skeletal hands in Anakin Skywalker's nightmare.
His eyes snapped open. His breaths came raspy and loud in the silence.
Quiet had long fallen on the transport's inhabitants. The rest of the transport's refugees slept in curfew's dimness, on beds of fishnets and foodstuff sacks. A fluorescent light's shone a sickly gray pallor over the cupping metal walls.
Artoo's light switched from red to blue. Anakin moved his hands over his face to try to calm himself. Dead younglings again. Would he ever stop seeing dead younglings?
Artoo cooed mournfully.
Ignoring how his heart beat in his throat, Anakin sat up from the makeshift bed of fabrics. He needed to wake fully, to make sure reality separated itself from his dream. He needed to scrub the memories of that day from his mind.
The transport lurched again beneath him. Sometimes, the transport felt like a great coffin. Around him, the other refugees didn't stir, and in the dim light, Threepio's shining limbs hung limp.
Anakin worked to calm his breathing. "Go back to sleep, Artoo," he murmured to the astromech. "I'm alright."
Artoo's dome head turned. Anakin could hear the mechanical whirring inside.
Perhaps it felt like a great coffin because it might well be one. He and Padmé had been through so many Imperial outposts and security measures over the past three weeks. It had been three long weeks of traveling since… that night. And clonetroopers still followed them in the spaceports.
He felt Padmé shift beside him, likely from the chill of his absence.
"Anakin?" she murmured.
Her slender hand, pale in the dim, touched his thigh. She worried about him and his nightmares—he knew it. He leaned back on one elbow to kiss her temple, and watched her brown eyelashes flutter closed.
Her brown curls fanned their pillow of clothing sacks, smelling faintly of fruity shampoo, and Anakin brushed them aside so he could lie back down in her warmth. How long ago it seemed that they had been in 500 Republica. How long ago that he had parted from Obi-Wan—
Nausea gripped his stomach, and he pushed the painful memory from his mind.
Instead, he wound his arm around Padmé, and her refugee clothes itched against his bare skin as his hand found its way to her swollen belly. There, where the fabrics had pulled tight to accommodate the growing child within, Anakin somehow always found comfort. His grounding, perhaps. It reminded him that he still had something to fight for.
Their transport docked in Mos Espa, Tatooine, a week later.
Blinking back the glare from the twin suns, Anakin slung their sacks of clothing over his shoulders as he stepped off of the ship's ledge.
The spaceport bustled around them—a flurry of languages and colorful fabrics and the faint smell of imported shuura fruit. He held his hand out for Padmé, and she took it, holding her belly as she stepped down. The droids followed behind, Threepio chattering about the dryness in his joints and Artoo squawking impudent replies.
"Is there a registration station?" Padmé said, brushing back the scarf on her head. They drew a few feet in front of the droids to keep from Threepio's prattling questions.
"I haven't seen one."
She squinted at the blue sky above them. "It's… warmer than I remembered."
Anakin didn't bother to remind her that Tatooine had yet a month before winter's end. Amongst the smell of pallie fruits and the moans of lumbering banthas, a flurry of memories from his childhood had returned to him. He could already taste the sand in his teeth…
"Do you think they have our holograms?"
He hoped they didn't, or they'd have to switch transports and planets again. "I don't know."
He glimpsed a flash of white, and his head snapped around to see four clonetroopers rounding one of the nearby clay huts, heading towards the transport with blasters in their hands. Anakin's heart picked up, and he felt through the fabric at his waist for his familiar hilt, just to touch it, make sure it was still here…
"Come on," Padmé whispered, pulling at his elbow.
It'd been their fault. They had gunned down thousands of Jedi knights in one day. Anakin could still see the scorch marks on the Jedi tabards, the empty eyes, the limp hands, the abandoned lightsabers… All of the Jedi. Obi-Wan.
His stomach twisted inside of them. His throat tightened. They were here too, even on Hutt-controlled Tatooine. He wanted to get them as far away from his family as possible.
"It's the chip inside of them," Padmé said. "Please, Anakin."
Her grasp tightened, and Anakin allowed her to lead him away. The clones disappeared into the landing platforms' crowds.
"We need room for two," Padmé said to one of the docking attendants when they were certain that the clone troopers had left their area. "Do you know where we can go?"
The Rodian looked up from counting credits, his toothpick paused between his lips. "Sie batha ne beechee?" You talking to me?
"We—" Padmé withdrew a bit as the Rodian leaned toward her. "We're looking for an inn—"
The Rodian made a coughing noise. "Ootmian! Huh. Stoopa."
Threepio toddled up to them, Artoo at his heels. "Oh, my," he said, at what Anakin knew were the Rodian's insults. "How rude. Master An—"
"Threepio," Anakin said sharply. The last thing they needed were their names tossed around here. "That's enough."
He turned back to the Rodian with a glare. "Dopa na rocka rocka, sleemo?" he said, knowing that the native wouldn't treat them honestly if they looked liked offworlders. "Kava nopees do bampa woola?" Does this cause brain damage, idiot? How much for a room for the night?
The Rodian straightened. "Duhonocha," he answered, eyeing the sacks on Anakin's shoulder. Twenty-four coins. "It's right past the market."
Anakin didn't bother to thank him. He could feel the Rodian's beady eyes follow them as they turned towards where the colorful canopies peeked above the stucco domes. Threepio and Artoo followed, Threepio seeming distinctly ruffled.
"Better watch out," the Rodian called after them. "The Hutts have made a bargain with this new Empire. You can't get in without documentation now. The troopers are on all our tails."
The sick feeling deepened in Anakin's gut. Padmé glanced up at him, her brows furrowed. They trekked along the sandy path to the market, and her hand found his hand and squeezed it.
The clone trooper seated at the table glanced up. CT-3289, read his identification tag. "Surname Taa?"
Padmé nodded. "That's right."
"You just arrived on Tatooine."
Padmé set her hand on her belly. "Alderaan."
CT-3289 shifted through the papers on his table. "No transports from Alderaan today."
"We transferred halfway through," Padmé said. "Hyperdrive troubles."
"You have no papers from your homeworld?"
"We weren't registered there. …We lived up in the mountains."
CT-3289 shifted through more papers, and Padmé took the quiet moment to squeeze Anakin's hand. One of the clones standing behind the table had fixed his eyes on the Jedi when they had first arrived at the documentation center, and hadn't shifted his gaze since. Anakin could feel his eyes continuously on his neck.
The clone behind CT-3289 nodded towards Anakin, but looked at Padmé. "Does he speak?"
"Of course," Padmé said.
"He looks familiar," he said.
"Coincidence, perhaps," Padmé said. "We don't encounter the Republic's soldiers often."
"The Empire," corrected CT-3289.
"My apologies," Padmé said.
CT-3289 shifted through more papers. "We will have to document your family for three."
Padmé's hand felt clammy in Anakin's. "Why?"
The helmet looked up. "So his Majesty the Emperor has records for a census."
"Why are we being put down for three?"
"Your child." CT-3289 motioned to Padmé's belly. "It's due soon."
Padmé's hand moved over the curve. "Can't we register when the birth comes?"
"New orders from the Emperor. Besides, the folks never usually come back. The child dies half the time."
Anakin felt his stomach clench, his throat close. CT-3289 busied himself by marking some details on his holopad. When the helmet looked up again, Anakin forced his expression to remain steady.
"We'll have to register your droids too," he said as a side note, nodding to where Threepio and Artoo waited in the doorway on Padmé's instructions.
Padmé nodded agreement.
"Any criminal activities?"
"No," Padmé said.
"Any past incitements? Prison time? Traffic fines?"
"What's your reason for coming to Tatooine?" the clone behind the table interrupted. He watched them carefully, arms folded across his armor.
"Expenses," Padmé said. "Living out here is less expensive."
"It's not as conducive to raise a family."
"We don't plan to stay for long."
The clone didn't reply to that, but his gaze didn't leave Anakin as CT-3289 continued to make notes on his holopad.
"Do you have any affiliation with Jedi?"
Anakin felt his blood drain from his face. The breeze felt suddenly cold though the suns beat down on them.
"No," Padmé said.
CT-3289 stamped and handed them the papers, and they turned to exit the documentation center.
The clone behind the table watched them go.
"I thought you said they wouldn't find us here," Anakin said under his breath as he shut the inn's door behind them.
The inn's room didn't have much space; it looked more like a hallway or a closet than a living area. A small washbasin sat just behind the door, and a cot that couldn't have been meant for two had been pushed against the far wall.
Behind them, Artoo twittered dubiously. Threepio said, "Oh, my. It's rather small."
"They're not going to find us," Padmé said.
Anakin had less faith. "They might."
"Palpatine knows you would never come back here."
"He knows—he must know you're with me."
"Believe me," Padmé said as she reached for the bags on Anakin's shoulders. He allowed her to guide them to the floor. "The clones were just following orders. It's standard procedure."
"Why would the clones be under orders to document pregnancies?" Anakin said. Beside him, Padmé reached into the bags and pulled out the last of their rations. "Palpatine must know. Somehow he found out—he'll kill us like the rest of the Jedi—"
"Anakin, please," Padmé said. "We're not the only young couple with a baby on the way. There're bound to be others out there who are travelling like us. If he is tracking each one, Palpatine will have thousands to sort through—millions, maybe."
"Not if the clones have our holos."
"How can you be sure?"
Padmé paused in her rummaging. She straightened, and slowly moved into his chest. Her fingers nudged his chin up.
"We're going to be okay," she said, her eyes soft. Her hands smoothed the curls behind his ears. "We're safe here for the time being."
"He doesn't—he can't—"
Padmé didn't understand. She didn't understand how close Anakin had been to pledging himself to him. So close, so close…
"Padmé, if he finds us—"
"He's not going to find us."
"If he finds us," Anakin said again. "I—I need you to leave me and take the baby—"
Padmé withdrew from his arms. "No—"
"Please. Please, leave me so the baby has one parent—"
"Stop talking like that," she said sharply. "I hate it when you talk like that."
"If it happens—"
"It's not going to happen," she snapped. "Stop talking like it is."
"But if it does—"
"Stop it." She glared at him. "Stop it, Anakin."
They both fell into silence, and she angrily turned her back to finish unpacking. He knew she needed a little while to cool down, so he retreated a distance to ready their water.
"Come on, Artoo," he murmured, and the two headed out.
Their first night in Mos Espa settled thick and hot on them. Anakin had opened their only window a few hours before, but under the moonlight he could see sweat glistening on Padmé's brow. Her eyes stared up at the ceiling.
"Can't sleep," she murmured. She had rolled up her tunic, and he had long removed his shirt. They lay so close on the cot that he felt heat waves pulsing from their touch. "Isn't it supposed to get colder at night?"
Just out of their window, the nightbugs chirped. His mother had once told him that counting the chirps would tell one when the next sandstorm would arrive.
"The baby's kicking."
He rolled his head to look at her. Her fingers ghosted over her exposed stomach, and he could see her pebbled skin bulging with their child's kicks. He wondered if this served as her apology for their earlier argument.
"Here," she said, taking his hand and guiding it to a spot just bellow her bellybutton. He could feel the pulse on his fingertips. Once, twice, four times. A firm pulse, too.
The child would be strong in the Force. Its signature—a warm, fuzzy blur not yet quite distinct—brushed past his mind, and though he knew he should be excited, suddenly all he could remember was the darkness of Palpatine's touch. The child's potential scared him.
Padmé's eyes looked dreamy as she held his hand there. He hated to ruin the moment, but the sinking feeling in his stomach wouldn't let the worry drop.
"If this is about before," she said, her gaze still on their hands, "I hope you understand… I want us to stay together."
"But if he finds us—I just want the baby… the baby needs to be safe."
Padmé didn't look at him.
"If it happens…"
"I know." Her finger tapped his. "I don't want to live in fear."
"I don't know if we'll ever have peace."
Padmé watched Anakin move his hand along her stomach. "I know."
Her brown eyes finally met his, and a mutual resignation passed between them. Their lives might never be the same, but at least they could create a secure world for their child.
With a soft sigh, she turned over, wriggling as close as she could to him. He felt the heat of her skin as she curled up to his chest, and he breathed in the fruity smell of her hair. Slow and steady. Slow and steady.
Her belly pressed against his stomach, and he thought he could feel a few last kicks.
"Let's not worry," she said to his shoulder. "Not until we see warning signs."
"In the meantime, we'll find a house somewhere safe, find a midwife, prepare for this baby… We're going to take one thing at a time."
Padmé pressed a slow kiss to his neck. Anakin held her close, and he stared up at the ceiling.
Outside, the nightbugs chirped. In the documentation center across the town, CT-3289 received a call from Coruscant.
Less than a week later, Anakin found a house in the south district.
The place didn't have much space, and the previous owner had moved out with the place dark and dirty, but he knew they couldn't afford much else. Padmé's senatorial dresses had gathered them some credits way back from Tholatan, but most of it had already been used up on foodstuff.
Stucco walls and a rusted metal door greeted them upon arrival, and inside, corner piles of sand and dust shifted in the breeze. Anakin couldn't find any lights, and the small, grimy window by the door didn't let in much sun. A small cot had been wedged in what might have been the bedroom.
"I guess that's our bed," Anakin murmured to her. Less than half the size of their bed at 500 Republica had been, and covered in rags that they knew they'd have to change and check for bugs, it didn't look like much. "I can sleep on the floor for now."
"We can fit," she said. "We'll sleep tightly."
A kitchenette sat in the next room—a counter, a stove, and some other appliances—then a small sitting area, and a tiny closet that Anakin assumed was the fresher. On closer look, he found a washbasin and a drain. Black goo coated the drain's rim that he hoped wasn't dangerous.
Their first week passed. Sand got into their food, their bed, their clothes, and somehow found its way into their appliances as well, so the metal wore and squealed when moved and nothing cooked all the way through—not that Anakin or Padmé could cook in the first place, anyway.
Neither figured out how to work the water filtering system, so they ended up having to take water from the sink, tinted brown and tasting coppery. Their fresher drain continually oozed black liquid, even after being wiped with a cloth. Neither could wash their clothes due to a malfunctioning machine and the aforementioned water shortage, so for the length of the week they wore the same clothes they had brought aboard the transport—itchy and already too small for Padmé's growing midsection.
Then Anakin felt the constant stress of having to find a job with the baby's due date drawing near. They could barely support themselves; how were they supposed to support an infant as well?
A week later, their frustrations culminated when Anakin took out yet another burnt half-pound of banta meat from their oven.
"You're not even trying!" Padmé said.
"I am trying," Anakin said. "Do you think I'm burning it on purpose?"
"You said you could cook bantha," she said. "This is the third time you've burnt it since we've arrived in this blasted place—"
"If you can cook it better, you try," he said. "You've never cooked anything in your life—"
"I have!" she snapped, a vein growing larger in her neck.
Anakin slapped the slab onto the counter, and the smell of burnt meat filled his nostrils. "You're used to a pampered lifestyle, Padmé, and we can't afford that here—"
"I know that," she said.
"Then quit complaining and breathing down my neck-"
"We're short on funds, in case you've forgotten," she hissed, throwing a stained rag beside the meat. "Am I not supposed to notice that? We can't afford to do this any longer, Anakin! The baby's coming soon and I refuse to live in these conditions—"
The accusation laid on his name wound him up even further. "Then what do you want me to do about it?"
"I'm trying my hardest!" he yelled. "Nobody wants a mechanic around here!"
"If that's all you're good for, we might as well starve!"
"We're not going to starve!"
"We might!" Padmé's voice cracked a bit. "We might if we keep this up much longer!"
"It's not my fault that we're in this situation!" Anakin stepped closer to her until he towered above her, but she didn't retreat. "As if I asked for this to happen, as if I asked for the Empire to wipe out the Jedi—"
"This has little to do with the Jedi," she hissed, and fire leapt in her eyes. "But it has everything to do with the fact that the baby is coming any day now and we don't have income or food. This is about you finding a job to support us."
"Don't accuse me of not trying." Anakin flung out his arms. "I'm damn-well trying, Padmé, and you know it—"
"We wouldn't even be in this situation if not for the kriffing Senate. The Senators let this happen, Padmé. They kriffing voted for it!"
"Not all of them," she snapped.
"They're selfish, only looking for their own gain," Anakin said. "If it weren't for them, we wouldn't have places like this hellhole to live in!"
Padmé's jaw worked in disbelief. "That's utterly ridiculous! Don't argue politics when you know nothing of the system—even if the Senate had a say, it would have no effect on wastelands like these. The Hutts have the control here, no matter what the Republic believes. Or the Empire, or whatever the kriff they're calling it now."
Anakin felt his blood pulsing hot, but he knew she was speaking sense, as she usually did. Releasing his frustration through a vivid stream of Huttese curses, he seized the knife off the counter and began shaving off the scorched parts of the meat.
When he turned around a few moments later, he saw that Padmé had left. Not that he expected her to stay, anyway. He didn't know how she could bear him now that he struggled through each day.
He couldn't even provide for them. He didn't know how they'd be able to support a newborn. They didn't have any credits. He released the meat and knife and they thumped to the counter.
Perhaps she'd be better off leaving him. She'd be safe, the baby'd be safe. She could finally live in peace.
He couldn't even keep the younglings safe. He could still remember the smell of their burning bodies, see their glossy eyes in his mind…
He felt his muscles grow suddenly weak, and he slid down to the floor.
She would be better off without him. It'd be better if she never met him.
Something surged in his chest. He could feel his throat swelling.
If she left him she would finally find peace. The baby would grow up in Padmé's parents' home—in a loving, comfortable environment. Without him, she wouldn't have to be dragged to the far ends of the galaxy by a man who couldn't take care of himself.
What if she was going to leave him? Force, what if she left him?
His stomach plummeted, and his throat continued to press in on itself. He sunk into the feeling like quicksand, and it began to suffocate him.
He couldn't live if she left him. So many people had left him. So many...
Jedi falling to the ground like flies. Lightsabers extinguishing. Blank eyes. Smashed faces. Horrible stillness and fire.
His throat closed, and he struggled to draw breath.
Clones coming in like drones, lifeless and senselessly efficient. Bodies dropping.
He rubbed his face, his throat. He couldn't breathe—
Palpatine's skeletal fingers extending. Darkness, terrible darkness. Swirling around him, intoxicating him.
Jedi dropping. Fire raging. Obi-Wan's static radio signal.
A maniac laugh. Cold creeping up his spine. Young Skywalker.
Obi-Wan. The Jedi were dead.
Hands grasped his shoulder, and Anakin jerked away from the touch.
"Ani, Ani." Padmé's hands smoothed down his tunic as he gasped for air. "You're okay. We're going to be okay."
Murmuring comfort, she held his head to her chest as he gripped her.
Anakin managed a job a week later in a junk shop, and Padmé found to get a small job sorting fruit imports. Anakin didn't particularly like the idea of her straining herself, but pregnant or not they still needed credits, and she had become restless being home alone, anyway.
Soon, between the two of them, they had enough credits to clean the house up. They bought rugs to soften the cold stone floors at night, added fresh linens to their cramped bed, and put molding on the door and in the cracks in the floor so sand wouldn't get into their food. Anakin found time to dissect the fresher drain and seal up the pipes so they wouldn't leak, and Artoo managed to repair the water filter, so they had access to clean drinking water.
Yet somehow, to Anakin, the days seemed to be darker.
Maybe it was the nightmares that plagued him each night, or his decrease in appetite, or the fact that intimacy didn't interest him anymore. He began putting all his energy into his work at the junk shop so he didn't have to think before he slept—if he did sleep at all. It became harder and harder to go about each day.
Anakin knew Padmé worried about him. He didn't tell her that he had constant anxiety about their safety and the medical technology on Tatooine. He had guilt that paralyzed him by day, and faces that paralyzed him by night. He soon lost track of the nightmares she would shake him awake from.
He knew she grew anxious when that happened. On the nights he couldn't sleep, she pulled his head into what remained of her lap and ran her fingers through his hair. He could hear her breathing and the baby's swooshing, and for a blessed moment it helped to calm the demons that plagued him.
He saw Padmé slowly growing restless on Tatooine. Her family lived far away—they probably believed she had died. And politics continued in the galaxy; Anakin heard rumors of an organized rebellion called the Alliance, of Jedi survivors. Anakin saw how it made her frustrated to hear how her friends in the Senate had begun to move against the Empire without her.
Not that she said anything aloud. In their own private miseries, they scraped through their first weeks under Tatooine's blistering suns. And each night, they sat quiet and still as clonetroopers marched through the city.