6 hours later
"I hate this place," Anakin thought moodily. The Emperor's Throne Room in Imperial City reminded him of darkness, and sorrow, and rage, and cruelty, and Force Lightning ...
"I know, darling," the Senator commented back, raising his spirits. She didn't talk to him that often anymore.
"So what are we looking for, exactly?" Luke asked curiously.
Thrawn stood before the Emperor's throne, his brow furrowed, "This room was the nerve and brain center, so to speak, of the Empire; we would do well to hack pertinent codes and search for hidden data cylinders."
"R2?" Luke asked.
The small astromech, whose slicing skills would have been legendary if they'd been widely known, rolled forward and plugged himself into a data port on the Throne itself.
"Prince Xizor of Black Sun took over my palace," Anakin commented irritably, "which frankly annoys me. Can I chase him out? If so, we can regroup there when we're done here."
Luke was standing at one of the transparisteel windows which overlooked Imperial City, "So where is your palace?"
Anakin walked next to him and pointed, "There."
Luke made a huffing noise, "That tall, black one with the peculiar needle spires? I'd say Xizor is welcome to it. It doesn't look ... homelike."
"Well, it wasn't 'homelike,' of course," his father returned a trifle irascibly, "but it is at least free entirely of sand. I have ... had ... a host of mouse droids who spent their days sweeping the place of sand. Who knows what Xizor has done? The lizard loves water, so he may have entire rooms filled with heated pools for all I know."
"There are so many people," Luke commented as his head tilted toward the ground. "It's hard to believe."
"A city so huge it covers a planet," Thrawn agreed, joining Luke. "With as many sentients living below the surface as above. The political activity on this planet alone will be a challenge to manage."
"At least," Leia Organa said, striding into the Throne Room suddenly, "we've taken over Imperial Center without open battle and limited bloodshed. Your idea was an excellent one, Admiral Thrawn."
"And how was your meeting with Ysanne Isard?" the Admiral asked curiously.
The girl's smile eerily mirrored her father's of a few hours ago.
"It went well. She ... she's more impulsive than I suspected. And so angry she told me quite a bit. I do suggest we transfer her to either the Chimaera or the Death Star, when they arrive, as she has many allies here. I doubt that many would be foolish enough to attempt to rescue her, but she'd be safer off planet. But yes, Father, I believe that it will be worth my while to visit her frequently as she seems all too ready to yell at me, and reveal intel in the process."
"Just be careful," Anakin cautioned her, his eyes concerned. "An angry woman may well throw caution to the winds and attack you."
Leia's brow furrowed, and then she nodded, "You're right, of course. I'll be on my guard."
The Senator spoke again, "Well, there's one profound difference between you and your daughter, Anakin."
"She listens to warnings. At her age, you would have been quite disdainful of one such as Isard. I was always the more cautious one in our marriage."
"This from the woman who suggested we quadruple-handedly rescue Obi-Wan from Count Dooku and hordes on Geonosis?"
"Ok, that was a bit reckless. But we couldn't just leave the poor man to be eaten by nexu!"
"We were nearly eaten by nexu!"
"I know. Exciting times, my dear, exciting times."
"So Admiral Thrawn, do you think the next leader of the Empire should rule from this palace?" Leia asked suddenly, her eyes intent.
The Chiss raised his right eyebrow, then looked around thoughtfully.
"That will, of course, be a decision made by your father," he responded courteously, "but in my view, no. There are ... symbolic aspects to this place, some of which would be positive, but in my view the negatives outweigh the positives. The overarching image of Emperor Palpatine, especially of late, was of a hard fisted, despotic, increasingly irrational ruler, one who ..."
Anakin interrupted, "Why do you say it is my decision?"
Thrawn looked at him like he was an idiot, "Because, Lord Vader, or Anakin Skywalker, if you wish, you are the obvious choice to be the next Emperor."
Anakin, Luke, and Leia exchanged a quick glance, and Anakin gave a Force nod to his daughter.
She took a deep breath, "On the contrary, Admiral Thrawn, we believe that you are best suited to be crowned the new Emperor of the galaxy."
She hid a smile, as for the first time in their acquaintance, Admiral Thrawn looked completely flummoxed.
Vader's (or Xizor's) Palace
2 days later
Leia stepped through the door and stopped.
This. Was. Crazy!
She set aside her disbelief in her joy at seeing her mother again. In a moment, she was in Breha's arms.
"Oh Leia, it has been far too long!" Breha said, her slender hands cupping her daughter's face.
Tears started in her daughter's eyes.
"Far too long," Leia agreed fervently. She glanced around and then grinned broadly as her father Bail broke the surface of the large, artificial lake which was in the center of Sublevel B3 of her biological father's palace.
"This is insane," she said aloud.
Bail sputtered slightly and swam to the edge of the pool. He smoothly pulled himself onto the artificial beach and grabbed a towel from a beach chair. He quickly rubbed himself down, then stepped forward to give his beloved daughter a hug.
"Yes, it was a shock at first," the Viceroy said with a twinkle in his eye, "But I'm quite appreciative of it now."
"Why is the water slightly purple?" Leia inquired dubiously.
Breha shrugged, "Some kind of added compound which is good for Falleen skin, apparently, but it is harmless for humans."
Leia tapped the sand on the 'beach' with one uncertain foot, "There is sand everywhere. Fa- Anakin is going to have a fit about that."
She blushed and looked uncomfortable at her slip, and Bail, as usual, understood instantly.
"It's all right, Leia," he said gently and tenderly. "You are blessed to have not one but two loyal fathers. Your mother and I could not be happier that you and your father and brother have melded into a successful family after a challenging start."
Leia smiled a little tremulously, and hugged him hard, "You'll always be my Papa. But yes, I ... love Anakin as well."
Breha patted her daughter on the back and then gestured toward the water, "Are you ready for a swim?"
Leia looked hopeful, "I'd love to, but it's not like I have a bathing outfit ..."
"This way, my love," the older woman said with a chuckle, "Xizor apparently hosted a great many females of a variety of species, and we'll find something that fits you."
Vader's (Anakin Skywalker's) Private Quarters
"So where is Xizor?" Obi-Wan Kenobi asked as he settled onto a surprisingly comfortable chair.
"Locked up," Anakin said, scowling. "Look at this furniture. Riots of green and blue and even chartreuse. Disgusting."
He looked now at his old master and pulled his attention away from the dubious decorating, "R2D2 hacked files showing that Xizor has been plotting to wrest control from Isard for some time. Of course, he isn't the only one, but he had plans to decimate a substantial portion of Imperial Center's population in the process. So we threw him in the clink for at least a season. We'll see ..."
"He is not a trustworthy individual," Kenobi said gravely, lifting a glass of meelpop melon juice to his lips and drinking with relish.
Anakin nodded and dropped casually onto a nearby couch, "Whatever you're drinking looks disgusting, Obi-Wan, like swamp water ... just saying. No, Xizor isn't trustworthy. We've got quite a cadre of individuals to execute, or put on trial, or maroon on random planets: Isard, Tarkin, Xizor, Dangor. #187 on the list of vital things to do."
Kenobi smiled gently, "We will prevail, Anakin, in time. I have no doubt of that. You have already done more than any of us dreamed."
His former padawan's eyes watered slightly, "Only because of Padme and the twins, I assure you, Obi-Wan."
Another nod, and then Kenobi asked casually, "What did Thrawn think about becoming Emperor?"
A chuckle now.
"He was stunned that we would consider him. But Leia believes, and I concur, that he will be a good Emperor. The fact that he is non-human should bring a rapid shift away from the xenophobia of the Empire. And while he can be ruthless, he is not ... not ..."
"Needlessly cruel?" Kenobi asked, "I agree. He is a complex individual with layers upon layers of plans, but I trust him to look out for the greater good of the galaxy instead of his own self-interest. And you say he is open to the reconvening of the Senate?"
"Yes," Anakin agreed, leaning his head against the couch back. It was tall, at least, and surprisingly comfortable. "We will insist on a shift toward democracy, but if half of what Thrawn tells us about the Far Outsiders and Ssi-Ruuk is true, we'll need a very strong fleet presence, especially in the Outer Rim. And we'll need a leader with the brilliance of Thrawn. You and I have our strengths, but we're not tactical geniuses – or at least not to the level that the Chiss is."
"I agree, old friend," Kenobi said gravely. He stood up now and walked to the window, looking out over the city, lit up with lights like stars.
"We are in a new era," he continued softly, "the Jedi have fallen, and the Order will never be the same. But your children are a new hope for the galaxy – not just because of their Force Sensitivity, but because they have been raised in an environment unheard of for the Jedi of the last few centuries. And that, Anakin, is a very good thing."
"This is so good!" Luke said enthusiastically, sucking down the last drops of his Photon Fizzle.
A server droid was at his side in a moment, with another drink at the ready.
"Oh, thanks, ah, FLO!" Luke said, with a quick glance at her digital name.
"My pleasure, kind sir," she replied.
"Don't drink so much that you spend the night in the refresher," his aunt Beru said with a fond smile.
Luke looked embarrassed, then laughed, "Even though it's been some time since I left Tatooine, I still find myself drinking to excess at times, just because I can."
Owen Lars nodded even as he took a bite of his Shawda club sandwich.
He chewed, swallowed, and then looked intently at his nephew, "So, Luke, your aunt and I have two things we need to tell you."
Luke looked up fondly, "I suspected there was more to this meal than just catching up with old times."
Owen nodded again, then said carefully, "Your aunt and I have decided to move back to Tatooine."
Luke froze, then his eyes widened in horror, "What?!"
"We're going back home, my love," Beru said gently, putting out both hands to touch her nephew's.
She smiled now, teasing, "I know it isn't your favorite place, but Owen misses his moisture 'vaporators."
"How could anyone, anyone, miss a moisture 'vaporator?" Luke demanded incredulously. "They are cranky and annoying and ..."
"It is our home, Luke," Beru interrupted.
Her nephew stared at her, then his eyes dropped, "I ... suppose I can understand that. Home is important, but ..."
Here he lifted his gaze and smiled, ruefully, "It's like all hyperspace lanes lead back to Tatooine. I escaped Hutt slavery and Tatooine when I was 14, then Father found me and we went back to rescue Biggs and take down the Hutt. Then we found Leia, and went back to Tatooine to hide out for awhile. And now you are going back and I have to admit that I'm worried for you both. It isn't a very safe place to live, when all is said and done."
Owen chuckled aloud now, "Well, Luke, last time I checked, my step-brother and nephew are both very important people in the galactic government. We've talked to Anakin already. Your father took down the Hutt a few years ago and much has changed politically and economically on Tatooine since then."
"There are good people on Tatooine," Beru continued, earnestly, "Who just need some resources and leadership to bring substantial change. Anakin really wants to stamp out the slave trade."
"Yes, that needs to be done," Luke agreed, and sighed, "I'll miss you both. I'll visit, I promise, but my position is at my father's side at least for now. And truthfully, the thought of all that sand makes disgusted shivers run up and down my spine.
"We know," Owen said, with an amused glance at his wife, "both you and Anakin whine about sand early and often."
"Jedi don't whine," Luke said firmly, then grinned. "Well, Jedi shouldn't whine. So what's the other thing you wanted to tell me about?"
A flare of excitement raced across Beru's usually calm face.
"I'm pregnant, Luke. You are going to have a baby cousin, a girl, in about 6 months."
The Mon Calamari ship Liberty
In Orbit around Bakura
1 year later
"Yes, your Highness," Anakin said into the holocam, "we drove back the Ssi-Ruuk, though with significant losses. We will need to bolster our fleet in this region of space as quickly as possible."
"Thank you, Knight Skywalker," Thrawn replied across the parsecs. The Emperor of the known galaxy still wore a relatively simple white uniform, though he donned a modest crown for special occasions.
"I will review your data as quickly as possible," the Chiss continued, looking off screen. "For now, you are ordered to report to med bay and deal with your injuries as quickly as possible."
Anakin grimaced slightly, "It's nothing, your Highness, I assure you."
It was nothing, compared to the injuries that had placed him in the suit for nearly 20 years.
Thrawn's eyebrow lifted a few millimeters, "Unlike my predecessor, Skywalker, I keep my troops in as excellent health as possible. That is an order."
Anakin sighed and shot a quick glance at his burned right arm, damaged when his ship had caught fire above Bakura. He had been fortunate to land with relatively little damage.
"As you wish, sir," he agreed.
Thrawn's expression relaxed slightly, "I appreciate your work, Skywalker. Without you and Kenobi, I fear the Ssi-Ruuk would have taken Bakura."
"Leia helped a lot," Anakin said firmly. "Not only is she an accomplished Force sensitive, she's a politician. She managed to forge a rather uneasy alliance with the local leaders of Bakura."
"Indeed, I am grateful to her as well. Thrawn out."
The door slid open and Kenobi entered, with a med droid in tow.
"Medical treatment now, Anakin," he said firmly.
"Fine," Anakin said slightly irritably, and carefully began removing his uniform.
"Is there any word from Luke?" he asked, partially to distract himself from the pain in his arm and, yes, side. A longer glance at his injury was rather discouraging. He had been more seriously injured than he thought.
Kenobi frowned in concern even as he spoke, "Indeed, Leia was just in contact with him. Luke is on Honoghr, working with Knight Mort on the agricultural project there. He's also helping with the Clone Troopers who have settled there. The Lars are there for an impromptu visit as well, with the baby, and Owen is working with the agricultural workers. The Organas are of course on Coruscant ..."
As Kenobi updated his old padawan, then enemy, then friend, Anakin Skywalker leaned back against the bed and allowed himself to relax.
His work was not done, and likely never would be done. But his children were happy and productive, his former master dead, and the galaxy healthier than it had been in centuries.
He was content.