Dark Ongoing

All under Heaven

Disclaimer: I don't own the characters.

This story is another installment to my Dark Empire Alternate Universe and hopefully the last. What has happened so far: After his resurrection in Walking the Edge Anakin Skywalker has fought for the Jedi's autonomy and settled the peace between the New Republic and the Empire. Now though, his battles fought and won, he is facing one last challenge: he has to take full responsibility for his crimes in the trial of the millenia.

Chapter 1

Turve Glat was bent over his compad, his eyes practically glued to the screen. He was quite satisfied with his last news report. But something was missing. Sure, covering the peace negotiations between the New Republic and the Empire had been interesting and rewarding, but it would not gain him what he truly desired: the Tahnera Reporter Prize. It was every journalist's dream and he meant to make it come true for him. Somehow. Leaning back in his chair he heaved a tiny sigh and folded his hands over his stomach. He was a bulky human, not to say overweight, but there was a lot of energy to him.

And once he had caught scent of a story, he would not let go until he had it nailed down on his desk where he could examine it very closely and in great detail. Metaphorically speaking, of course. Maybe he should do a documentary about the Jedi, or even better, the Skywalker family. Interesting, wasn't it, that it suddenly had turned out that Princess Leia Organa was the sister of Luke Skywalker; and the fact that their father had resurfaced after decades of hiding or whatever was in itself worth a story. Yes, he would start with that. And who knew? Maybe there was something more lurking there.

Suddenly his comm chimed. "Make it quick," he snapped, accepting the call. Gradually his face turned from angry to disbelieving to astounded to delighted. When he broke the connection he was fairly beaming. Pumping a pudgy fist into the air he shouted: "Yes!" and went to work out a plan.

Leia watched her father sleep with a smile on her lips. He had chosen the sofa in the living-room on purpose. Han had been complaining about the children's loud play next door and somehow the three kids respected their grandfather's rest more than their father's authority. And she really admired the subtlety of Anakin's approach. But on the other hand she would much rather have the children show more respect towards Han. It was only fair though that Anakin took care of calming the children, since their agitation was due to his and Daala's unexpected visit on a rather peaceful afternoon. That was just typical of him, Leia mused quietly and her smile deepened.

A sound from the kitchen made her turn her head. "Don't disturb the sleeping rancor," Daala said from where she stood in the doorway, raising her eyebrows meaningfully, and went over to join Leia at the table. She sat down a tall glass of water and her green eyes twinkled happily. "I wouldn't dare," Leia replied with a smile. The princess had to admit that she really liked the former admiral, much the same as she liked Mara Jade. Both women were red-haired, green-eyed and very temperamental. But each had her own personality.

Sometimes Leia liked to think that Luke had somehow tamed the former Emperor's Hand and that Daala had done the same with Anakin. But she also knew that a fire was still simmering in those two, ready to break out at any time. Leia liked it immensely that these two women were now a part of her family, just as her children were, her husband and brother. Luke and his students had left Coruscant a few days ago, heading back to Naboo to get their belongings. They would return soon, but until then Leia was on her own. But not alone, she thought with a smile. Well, she had enough to do anyway.

"Leia!"

Turning around she shot Han a small smile. He gave Daala a strange look and then frowned at Anakin, who had woken to the sound of his voice and regarded him calmly.

"Any of you saw the news?"

"Should we have?" Leia asked and rose slowly. She had a bad feeling about this. "What happened?"

"Nothing good." Han nodded towards Anakin: "Since everyone believes that you're dead, some of the senators seem to have decided to make the most of it."

"Meaning they have sold their story to the media?" Anakin inquired pensively.

"You bet. It's on Coruscant Daily. That fat reporter -"

"Turve Glat."

"The one. Apparently they went to him."

"Oh my stars," Leia sighed and turned to leave.

"Where are you going?" Han demanded.

"To my office. I expect he'll want to talk to me."

"Don't bother, Leia. He's already here," Anakin announced darkly.

Almost at the same moment the door comm chimed. Leia groaned softly. She walked over to answer the comm reluctantly:

"Yes."

"Madame President, this is Turve Glat," he began breezily and Leia interrupted him smoothly:

"Mister Glat. What can I do for you?"

"Actually I wanted to talk to you about your - family."

"Then I would advise you to make an appointment with my office. Thank you."

Turning away from the door, a deep scowl on her face she propped her fists on her hips angrily.

"Now what?" Han asked finally.

"I have no idea. How about you?" She shot her father a questioning glance. And did not like the look in his icy eyes at all.

"Tell him what he wants to know. Sooner or later people will have to get used to the idea that I am alive."

"You mean it?"

"I always do."

Glat was grinning happily to himself as he walked up to the President's office early the next morning. It was actually pretty astounding that he had gotten an appointment so fast, but given the heated discussions his little report had sparked, the Princess really had no choice. Coruscant was buzzing with rumours about the whereabouts of Anakin Skywalker, better known as Darth Vader. Some claimed that he was alive and that the New Republic government wanted to keep him as some sort of secret weapon, others believed him somewhere in the former Imperial space. And yet others simply thought that he was dead. Personally Turve did not really care if the Sith was alive or not, as long as he got the exclusive rights on the story.

The door opened as he got closer, admitting him to the room beyond. A fresh-faced young woman smiled at him: "Hello, Mister Glat. I am Alole. The President will see you in a moment." His good mood suddenly gone, the reporter settled down laboriously on one of the comfortable chairs in the lounge . Maybe I should start losing some weight, he thought uneasily, especially in the face of the room's other occupant. He was a tall, lean man with piercing blue eyes and a haggard face. Somehow he seemed familiar.

"Excuse me, sir," Glat began, leaning towards the stranger. "Do I know you?"

"I doubt it," the other replied, eyes unblinking. He reminded Turve of some sort of predator and he thought it wise not to engage the man in a deeper conversation.

"Mister Glat!" The aide, Alole, waved at him discreetly, her face beaming.

He practically jumped up from his seat, his chest swelling with some pride as he strode past the man towards the now open door to the President's office. To his great surprise the stranger followed him in.

"Mister Glat, a pleasure," the Princess welcomed him with a smile, motioning for him to take a seat in front of her desk.

"The pleasure is all mine," he answered gallantly, but kept looking at the tall man uneasily. "But, if I may be introduced to your - friend?"

"Nervous?"

His eyes flickered for a moment, unsure of her comment: "What?"

"He is, Mister Glat, much more than just a friend. Permit me to introduce to you my father, Anakin Skywalker."

Of course. That was why he had seemed so familiar. Glat had studied some of the grainy holo-images a few colleagues had managed to capture of the elusive Jedi when he had first come to Coruscant a year ago. There had, strangely enough, not been any official documents about him. Which was, in the light of the new facts, quite understandable. Rising slowly he gave the tall warlord a short nod, trying hard not to sweat:

"An honor, Lord Vader."

The man did not even flinch. Instead he gave Glat a very thin smile.

"Why don't we get down to business," he said, his grating voice sending cold shivers down the reporter's spine, but Turve managed to keep a calm composure.

"Ah, of course. I - I - just wanted to make it clear that I see it as my duty to the people to uncover things that need to be uncovered. Like the truth, for example."

"The truth," Vader mused, walking over to lean against the desk. "What truth would that be?"

"You are a - how shall I put it? A mass murderer on the leave. The government," he nodded at the Princess, "has been protecting you so far. A scandal, don't you think?"

The Sith laughed: "You are a man to my liking, Mister Glat."

"I am?" This truly came as a surprise.

"Slick, sly and utterly immoral."

"Immoral? Me?" Glat said defensively.

"No righteousness? Nothing about being judged by a criminal? You disappoint me, Mister Glat."

"I do?"

"You see, I am used to people scheming behind my back. Noone tells me to the face that I am - a mass murderer on the leave. A nice way of putting things, by the way. It reflects your profession."

"Is there a point you are getting at?" He could not believe he was actually saying that.

"Courageous too. Do you think there is anyone who would protect you from me?"

"Do I have anything to fear?"

Again a laugh. This time even the Princess smiled. But Turve was not inclined to join their merriment. It had been a serious question, after all. Very serious.

"No. I am - calmer now than I was before. A blessing, don't you think?"

"I am not sure. Why would it be one?" By now he was grinning at the Dark Lord desperately.

The other turned his head to give his daughter a sharp nod and a smile before he started for the door. On his way out he passed Turve Glat very close indeed, so that his right arm brushed against the reporter's shoulder gently. Turve froze when Anakin Skywalker flashed him a dark smile: "Guess." And then he was gone.

"Mister Glat?"

With a tiny gasp Turve Glat found himself back in the here and now instead of a very private hell.

"What?" he spluttered, his eyes blinking rapidly.

"I think you are here to discuss something with me," the Princess reminded him gently.

"Can I- Can I excuse myself for today?"

"Of course."

"Thank you."

When he had left her office, Leia's face took on a very earnest expression. She had known, of course, that this would become inevitable - they all had. But somehow there had always been the hope that this too was just a crisis to master, something that they could handle easily. Now though she found that the past would always come back to haunt them, no matter what. Even if her father died, something would still linger with them. And for once Leia hated him for having brought this upon his family. Why could he not have stayed dead? Well, it hadn't really been his own decision, she knew. But still, it was unfair. Nevertheless she had backed him in the past, hadn't she? And why? Because she loved him. Because she wanted to have him around, wanted him to be happy. Wanted to forget what he had done to her, her friends, her family.

And how could she ever forget with him around as a constant reminder of the past, even if he tried to make up for his deeds? Stamping down on her controversial feelings hard, Leia tried to analyze the situation rationally. It was not about what she or any one of them wanted. It would not matter. There was really only one person she could talk to about all this, who would listen carefully and evaluate her words without prejudice. He would make her believe that it wasn't as bad as she thought, that there was no reason to despair, would soothe her as only a parent could.

And still his eyes would betray the truth. That they had lost the battle even before it had begun. As he had known it would happen from the day he returned to the living. Leia had conferred with her staff about how to proceed and they had all agreed that they could not afford to keep any secrets. But they could do this the civilized way. No shouting, no uncalled for accusations. As if any were needed. Talking to Turve Glat was only the first step. It was something she had learned from her father: if you had the chance, you chose your opponent yourself. This way you knew what you were going to face.

It was the next morning when Glat announced another visit. Leia tried to make him feel comfortable, despite everything. It was politics again and a game she knew to play well. He was very polite, asked her to recount the happenings on Onderon, the Senate's decision and the truce with Anakin Skywalker. And then he asked about the trial.

"Once the public learns of this you will have to decide what to do."

"The Senate will decide. We are a democracy, Mister Glat. Keep that in mind."

"Yes, of course. I didn't mean to imply anything else."

"Good."

"Have there been any talks already?"

"No. Talks will begin this afternoon." Leia glanced at her chronometer. "Actually I must ask you to leave. Unfortunately there is a lot to prepare for the meeting. But the press office will keep you posted on proceedings until the - event."

"Trial."

"Whatever. Good day to you, Mister Glat."

"Thank you, Madam. Good-bye."

Leaving the government section of the Imperial Palace behind Turve felt elated. This was going very well and the Princess seemed cooperative enough. On a spur of the moment decision he decided to celebrate his small victory in one of the tap-cafés circling the inner yard of the public area. He sat down in the sun, all smiles, until a shadow blocked out the light. He started a bit at the unexpected sight of the man looming over him, and after his surprise visitor had taken a seat he didn't feel any better.

"What can I do for you?" he began tentatively, fumbling for the recorder he had tucked into his pouch. The stranger gave him a slow smile. His long, dark hair was streaked with gray and hung over his left shoulder in a pony-tail. Dark brows were shadowing brilliant blue eyes and his conservative-cut clothes did nothing to hide his muscular form.

"Are you a friend of the family?" Turve tried again. The stranger blinked at him:

"Family? What family?"

"The Skywalkers."

The other frowned deeply: "A friend? No, I wouldn't say so."

"Then why are you here?"

"I heard that you are looking for a story."

"And you are offering one? No thanks, I think I have already found what I need."

"The trial of Darth Vader. Of course." The man gave a quiet chuckle. "Old stuff, that. Not very interesting. "

"Not interesting? Sir, I must assume that you have no clue about the media business. Else you would realize that this will be the story of the century!"

"Sure, sure. How do you think it will end? He will die, that simple. That's hardly news."

"It's not the outcome of the trial, but the proceedings that interest the public. And so far I have been under the impression that the Dark Lord is full of surprises."

"Not anymore. Believe me, if he were, he would rule the New Republic himself, not his daughter."

"But that is the interesting thing about it. His personality."

"He is unpredictable, I grant you that. But he would not be here if he hadn't given up."

"Given up what?"

"Everything really. The Empire, the Republic. And by agreeing to the trial he has given up his family too."

"Harsh words. I take it you know him well?"

"I used to."

"And what story have you got to sell?"

Leaning forward abruptly, the stranger caught Turve's eyes in his and for a second the reporter again felt like a prey about to be devoured by some predator in human disguise.

"Come with me and I will show you."

"Show me what? Look, I am not just going to drop this story in exchange for a vague promise of something more. There simply cannot be anything better!"

"You are a coward, Mister Glat."

"Maybe. But I survive."

"Very well. It is your decision, of course." The stranger rose elegantly, giving Turve a short nod. "Good luck to you."

"Yeah, sure," Turve muttered, watching the other's retreating back. Creepy guy, that. And what if there was some merit to what he had told him? No, there could not be anything that could rival this one story. It would gain him the Tahnera Reporter Prize for sure. Oh really? For what? Everyone will be there, and everyone will try to make the best of it. You may have tipped it off, but now that it's public knowledge your part in this will be forgotten faster than you can blink your eyes. Turve sighed deeply. Why hadn't he thought of that beforehand? Too late to call back that nameless stranger. "Sithspawn!"

he cursed, heart-felt and heaved his bulk from his chair. Ambling out of the café he tried to think about how he could still make this work in his favor.

Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master, was overseeing the loading of the ship that would take them back to Coruscant, but his thoughts were drawn to other things. Now that Leia was president they would have to find a new liaison between the Jedi and the government and he had asked Tionne already if she was willing to do the job. She had been uncertain at the beginning, but he was sure that she would overcome her shyness fast. All in all he was quite satisfied with his first class. They had mastered their past trials perfectly. Maybe now was the time to keep a look-out for new students.

"Are you alright?" Mara slipped an arm around his waist, leaning against him gently.

"Why do you ask?" She turned to look at him, her green eyes twinkling:

"You were smiling."

"And that is such a rare occasion that you had to ask if I was feeling well?"

"There hasn't been a lot lately that has made you happy."

"Not true. You are making me happy."

"Oh? We'll see about that."

The voyage to Coruscant was almost boring, apart from the lessons he gave the students now and then. But mostly they were practicing with each other and Kam was training Kyp and Gantoris' swordplay. Still, Luke could not shed the feeling that something was wrong. They had missed something important, but he could not pinpoint it.

"Luke, there is something bothering you, I just know," Mara insisted, but he could give her no answer. And when they had finally reached the capital, the Jedi Master wanted to kick himself for failing to see the obvious. The news channels were full of wild rumors, or maybe they were even true. Apparently there was an official announcement to be expected any minute now and Luke watched Mara's face sour when he told her what exactly that announcement was to be about.

"He must have seen that coming," she said at last and he nodded.

"Probably. Or maybe he hasn't. I mean, he thought he was dying anyway."

"But he didn't die."

"Yes."

"Luke," she draped her arms around his neck, drawing him close as he tried to avoid her intense gaze. "We will survive this too."

He only nodded, not caring to voice what both were thinking. They might live through this, but Anakin Skywalker most surely wouldn't.

Leia watched her father's impassive face as he was facing the Senate again. They had been discussing for hours and it had become obvious early on that the majority would vote in favor of the trial. Not that Anakin had any way to object. As the senator of Kasshyyk had proclaimed very pointedly, the former Dark Lord had to stick to the rules once he had submitted to them. And he had done that, not only by agreeing to the Truce of Onderon. Additionally the Senate wanted to prevent the government from suffering a major loss of trust by the people and they thought they could achieve this only if they admitted their error in protecting Darth Vader from judgement so far. Leia knew what this meant: everyone who had signed the Truce would have to recline from their posts eventually, including herself.

In a way she regretted this, because she had been looking forward to making her vision of peace come true, to being able to really achieve something as Head of State. But on the other hand it was the only step she could take if she wanted to be true to herself. In that regard she was not like her father, who would go on despite the odds, despite what everyone thought, if only he believed that what he was doing was the right thing. For a moment she felt like a coward. But then she saw him turn his head to give her the tiniest of reassuring smiles. She almost cried then, but just almost. Clearing her throat Leia rose gracefully. "Your votes, please," she said, astounded at how calm her voice sounded.

Keeping a straight face Anakin did his best to suppress a laconic smile. Just as he had expected. The first vote came from the senator of Bothawui and Anakin would have been greatly concerned if Borsk Fey'lya would not have voted in favor of the trial. Kasshyyk was next, also not unexpected, then Mon Calamari, Ryloth and a whole string of other worlds, all voting in favor. When the first vote against the trial came in Leia was very quick to silence the protesting voices trying to shout down the representative from Munnilist, a former Imperial world. The rest of the votes were announced against a sullen silence and as the monotonous ceremony dragged on, Anakin could see the hope dwindle in his daughter's eyes. In the end though none of them were surprised by the outcome. All of the former Imperial worlds had voted against the trial, and most of the New Republic worlds in favour, with the exception of Bakura. "Very well," the President began, her voice firm. "The Senate will issue an official announcement within the hour. This meeting is closed."

She met her father twenty minutes later as the representatives were slowly filing out of the giant chamber and both could feel the curious glances some gave them, but only one was so bold to approach them. Anakin turned toward a triumphantly smiling Fey'lya with an exasperated sigh.

"Did I not tell you that you would pay in the end?" the Bothan crowed gleefully.

"Indeed you did."

"You lose, Lord Vader, either way. Remember? You told me the same not so long ago."

"I remember. Congratulations on your victory, Senator," Anakin said with a mirthless smile and gave the other a sharp nod before he made his way out of the chamber, Leia right behind.

"Father, I ... What are you going to do?"

He almost winced at her hopeful tone. Why did everyone think that he could fix simply everything? He sighed deeply before answering:

"The question is, what can I do? You know as well as I do that there is no way I can deny what I did."

"The people know what you have done for them ever since. The votes prove it."

"All they prove is that it is still a long way towards peace."

She fell silent at that. And both knew that there was nothing else to say.

Luke was waiting in the President's Residence with Han and Chewie, keeping the children company. It was a somber assembly that greeted Leia that evening and her mouth hardened almost immediately in dire anticipation.

"Where is Father?" Luke asked, slightly bewildered.

"Home with Daala, where else?"

"Indeed. The announcement was - interesting."

"Wasn't it though? It was all I could do to stop them from putting the word 'justice' anywhere in there."

"I see. So, what is the plan?"

"There is no plan, Luke," she snapped irritably. "There is nothing we can do, any of us. And that is that."

"Hey, hon', take it easy," Han tried. "It's not as if he hasn't deserved what is coming at him."

"I know that, but it doesn't make things easier."

She let him wrap his arms around her, hugging her close: "It'll be alright."

"I doubt it. They want to start this as soon as possible. I had five lawyer offices calling in today, can you imagine that? They are like vultures that way, especially when they sense blood."

"Wait, what were they calling in for? Do they think they can win?"

"Are you kidding me? Everyone knows how this will end!"

"Then who... Don't tell me," Luke spread his arms in mock surprise. "He wants to defend himself, am I right?"

"No, he does not. A true miracle. He says he's got a lawyer."

"Really? Who is it?"

Daala had her legs crossed and sat back in her chair as she regarded Anakin coolly. He was pacing the floor, apparently deep in thought and she had the distinct feeling that he had forgotten about her completely.

"Anakin."

He stopped, startled: "What?"

She heaved a big sigh, pressing her hands against her temples in dismay: "Anakin, stop worrying. There is nothing you can do. Or is there?"

"If you can't think of anything..."

"I find it hard to believe that you of all people do not know what to do."

"The problem, Daala, is that I know exactly what I have to do."

"And what would that be?"

"There are a few things theoretically, I could do, you know? I could manipulate the people supporting me, I could go into hiding or take over the government, and don't think I could not succeed in that."

"I don't doubt it. But? There has to be one, else you would have told me straight away."

"But I can't do it. Daala, I made a promise and I broke it."

"You did that before."

"True, but then I was in another position. I did not care about it."

"Now you do?" She barked a sharp laugh. "Anakin, I know you. There is nothing that could stop you if you think that something must be done."

"If I go now, Daala, do you know what I would leave behind? Chaos, diversion."

"Why do you always have to take care of everything?"

"Because it is my duty."

She shook her head slowly, disbelieving. But this did not really come as a surprise. Despite his ruthlessness Anakin held honor and honesty above everything else. If he broke his word he had his reasons. And if he chose to keep it he had those too. But why now? She bit her lower lips furiously, trying to remain calm.

"Why? Anakin, you have risked your life, your family even, over and over again for these people and now that they want to see you pay you willingly agree to submit to their judgement?"

"You know who I am, who I was. The only way to redeem myself in the eyes of the people is to justify my deeds."

Daala gave him a long, hard glance. "Anakin," she began quietly. "You cannot justify what you did."

"Exactly. But I can show them that I have changed and that I recognize that what I did was wrong."

"They will kill you, Anakin."

"I know."

The first hearing took place away from prying eyes and for once Anakin was grateful for that. There was too much public attention already as it was. The Court representative and the state attorney were watching him with a look that said more than any legal document would: in their eyes he was as guilty as anyone could be. And it was the truth. He was almost startled when Gita Deron passed him briskly, determination radiating off her like steam off a cooling ship. He smiled at the lawyer's back as she approached the Court, her dark hair flying behind her in angry wisps.

"The defense pleads guilty on all charges."

"Is the defense aware of the list of charges?"

"Examined with great care, Your Honor, and if I may, there are some charges missing."

That brought some amused smiles and even more startled looks.

"Very well. The trial-"

"Excuse me. But since when is there a trial on a guilty plea?"

"These are special circumstances."

"Special circumstances?" she asked, and he could see her raise her hand to straighten her glasses.

"The public has a right to know."

"If the defense may ask: what is this trial supposed to be about? Justice? Or is it to be an opportunity for the media conglomerates to earn more money." Oh, she was good. And fair.

"The Court asks the defense to keep to the subject."

"Very well. Before we continue I am sorry having to declare that the judge you have selected is partial."

"What?"

"The defense has uncovered a personal connection between the judge and one of the defendant's supposed victims, Lorth Needa. They were cousins. Therefore I ask the Court to appoint another judge."

"We will investigate this claim. For today this session is adjourned."

She turned around and gave the defendant a grim smile, waiting for him to rise and join her. Anakin shook his head slowly and sighed:

"We have a lot to do, it seems."

"You bet, "Gita said, all business again, and swept past him, not waiting to see if he was following at all. It was, in a way, quite refreshing that she only saw a client in him and nothing else. But Anakin knew very well that she was well aware of the fact that they could not win this.

Finally seated together in her office Anakin watched her take her place at the datapad, then turn towards him. She spread her hands in a soothing gesture and smiled again:

"Now, is there anything you can tell me that we can use in your favor?"

"Are you kidding me?"

"Not at all. You see, facts can be interpreted either way, positive or negative. We know that you won't get away with all of it, but we may be able to reduce the sentence."

"Reduce to what? A life sentence instead of death?"

"What is so bad about that?"

Anakin grimaced painfully: "Listen, I have been a prisoner in all but name for nearly all my life. I have died twice. Does that count for nothing?"

She laughed at that: "Lord Skywalker, this is not about you, it is about what you did. Whatever we say or claim, all they will see is Darth Vader. They'll say, 'Yes, he did die, but that was no proper conviction, it was rather accidental. We have to do this the right way.' Meaning that they want to see you squirm."

"But I would have thought that with a guilty plea..."

"I thought the same, but apparently they want to play differently. And we will too. Now, I ask you again, is there anything I should know?"

"There is one thing."

"Yes?"

"Whatever happens, I will do what is necessary."

"As will I."

Leia was curled up on the sofa, eyes fixed on the holoscreen, and Han by her side. They had sent the children to bed early, both needing time together and especially Leia needed some reassurance. The news had been filled with comments on the impending trial and the Princess was getting the feeling that in the light of this event every other news would be banished into the background. It should not be that way, she knew, but there was nothing she could do either. She could hardly order the media what to broadcast on their channels, could she? The current program was a recording of the public discussion she had had to moderate earlier that day and right now all the cameras were on Borsk Fey'lya who had a hard time hiding his glee.

He explained in great detail that he had never sanctioned the Truce of Onderon, and that he didn't sign it either, out of protest, which was simply untrue. He had not even been on Onderon, as General Rieekan was quick to point out with a sour smile on his aged face. Old rivalries were as obvious in the discussion as the rift between ex-Imperial and New Republic politicians. Although Leia found it very surprising that former High Admiral Palleon hardly said one word throughout the entire session. After the recording was finished two commentators encouraged the viewers to call in. Most did not even make a reference to the previous discussion but simply stated their opinion concerning the trial. When the umpteenth condemnation and death threat to Darth Vader had come in, Han shot Leia a mischievous smile:

"Wanna tell them something?"

"Actually," she said, turning around to face him, "I would like to tell them to just grow up and get a life. But it's not that easy, is it?"

"No, I guess not."

"The first court session is tomorrow. They've called in Rieekan, Dodonna and myself to testify for the Provisory Council on Onderon."

"And?"

"I don't know yet. But we can only tell them the truth."

"Have they found a judge yet?"

"Yes, actually. A Bith. Her name is Firek Nab. She's a doctor."

"A doctor? Of what?"

"I don't know and frankly I don't care. Father agreed and since his lawyer has rejected three judges previously, I guess the Court was pretty grateful that she showed up."

"She's quite a fighter, isn't she?"

"Who, Deron? Guess so."

"Where did he find her anyway?"

"She used to defend alleged slave traders."

"What?"

"Father had a great interest in seeing them convicted and she did her job anyway, even though she knew his stance on that."

"I see."

The next day Anakin strode into the courtroom a bit more hesitantly than he had planned to do, but the flashlights and the murmuring of the news-droids and journalists irritated him. He could almost feel the mechanical eyes of the cameras on him, scrutinizing his every move. It was uncomfortable, to say the least. As was the setting itself. Since this trial was open to the public, it had been decided to use the Senate Chamber to accommodate all the onlookers and reporters who were thronged along the aisles, giving the whole room a slightly oppressive air. It was a long way down into the small circle facing what was usually the President's and the High Council's seat. Taking his place in what passed as the defendant's stand, Anakin gave the judge a hard glance. Her alien face and huge black eyes were unreadable, but he could sense her resolve and determination anyway. Apparently she was as unused to this publicity as he was and had vowed to see this through anyway.

The state attorney was a Twi'lek and his head tails were twitching nervously upon seeing Anakin. Or maybe it was because of Gita, who immediately strode toward Judge Nab as if she meant to conquer the courtroom. The Bith looked a bit irritated, but after a short discussion with the lawyer and the attorney Anakin could feel her calm down again. Nab nodded at Gita, who turned toward Anakin with a triumphant smile.

"What did you do?" he whispered when she joined him at last.

"I just convinced her that the charges should be treated separately and that we will hear all evidence before making our pledge."

"What? This will take forever!"

"Good. Then we have more time to mount our defense."

"You meant to say something else."

"Yes, but I didn't say it, did I? After all, we both know that we are just stalling for time here."

"Thank you for reminding me," Anakin replied sarcastically and folded his arms in front of his chest until Gita told him that this was too defiant a gesture to take as defendant in such a trial.

The first to testify-Leia-was watching Gita with a keen eye. But it was not their turn yet. Raising her head slowly, Judge Nab turned her orbs on the defendant:

"It seems that there are a few legal issues to clarify first. Please, for the Court, state your name and age."

"I am Anakin Skywalker, aged 52."

"Is it true, that you died seven years previous aboard the second Death Star during the battle of Endor?"

"Yes, that is true."

"And yet you are here. Do you take full responsibility for your previous life with all consequences?"

Leia saw Anakin smile and, anticipating his answer, buried her head in her hands in quiet exasperation.

"What will happen if I do not?"

"Nothing. The trial would still take place."

"Your Honor, on what grounds?" Gita's sharp voice rang clear throughout the chamber.

"On the grounds that Anakin Skywalker is still accountable for the charges he is accused of in his current life, regardless of what has gone before."

The Princess saw Gita bend towards Anakin and for a while they conversed quietly. Finally he turned to face the judge again:

"I take full responsibility."

"Thank you. Very well. The defense has filed the claim that the defendant is not liable to be judged by New Republic law. The claim takes reference to the Truce of Onderon, the document of which has been submitted to the Court. The defense claims that the Provisory Council was in no position to propose such a truce at all. Additionally there has been the claim that the defendant is no citizen of the New Republic. That claim I can reject right now, since Anakin Skywalker was an Imperial citizen and the Empire is now part of the New Republic. Even though this bond was severed through his death he has just now accepted full responsibility for all crimes committed beforehand. Additionally, war crimes are treated without regard of citizenship. Coming back to the first claim I would like to give the state attorney a chance to answer. Please, Mister Ur'tek."

"Thank you, Your Honor." Straightening abruptly, the Twi'lek made and expansive gesture he meant to be grand, but it came off rather uncertain. "The defense claims that the Truce of Onderon is actually illegal, and yet it was a truce made in a time without law. The truce was signed by all parties, with the consent of all parties. Therefore I see no reason to continue this discussion. "

Taking her cue Gita rose and gave him a thin smile: "If I may, the defense will prove that

the Provisory Council had no choice in the matter and therefore was forced to sign the truce. In that case it would be obsolete. I call my first witness, Princess Leia Organa Solo."

Suppressing a sigh Leia walked forward, very aware of the hushed comments of the reporters and news droids. She tried in vain to shut out the half-whispered words, but found she could not. And what she heard was not to her liking at all. Finally she found herself in the witness stand, facing Gita. The tall lawyer gave her a reassuring nod, straightened her glasses and absent-mindedly wiped a few stray strands of hair from her face.

"Your Highness, the document of the truce has been subjected to the Court and there is no need to repeat the happenings that lead to the signing of said truce. But tell me this, did you have a choice when you signed the document?"

Leia did not even hesitate. "No," she answered and was surprised at how calm her voice sounded.

"No," Gita repeated thoughtfully. "Could you specify the reasons for that?"

"I was... biased."

"Biased. Why?"

"There were different reasons: first and foremost I could not deny my support to the man who had just saved my children from certain death and who had killed the reborn Emperor."

"First and foremost," the lawyer mused aloud. "You are sure that it was not because that man is your father?"

"That was the second reason, yes."

"Any others?"

"No. Not that I can think of right now."

"Thank you."

"Mister Ur'tek," Judge Nab said pleasantly, "do you have any questions for the witness?"

"Just this one: if the defendant had not saved your children, would you still have supported him?"

Leia felt all color drain from her face as her eyes sought her father's gaze. He was looking at her calmly and she could feel his silent encouragement to speak her heart.

"No, I would not have supported him," she answered at last.

"Thank you. That would be all."

"Very well. You may go, Princess."

Leia stumbled from the stand, knowing how disturbed she must look. But it was true. And she was asking herself why Gita had not objected, claiming that this was a statement based on assumption, or anything. Anything that would not make Anakin look like a heartless monster.

"That went rather well, didn't it," Gita commented drily out of the corner of her mouth. But before Anakin could reply she had already called her next witness. General Rieekan was all calm composure and it seemed that there was nothing that could disturb him.

"General, let me ask you a question: what did you think when you first became aware that Darth Vader was alive?"

"I felt like cursing." There were a few laughs from the gallery and Gita gave the witness a cold smile.

"Really. And why?"

"Because I thought that if anything had deserved to die in that battle it was him."

"I see. And yet you signed the Truce of Onderon. I wonder why?"

The general snorted contemptuously: "We hardly were given a choice."

"Ah? In what way?"

"Lord Vader - pardon - Lord Skywalker made it very clear that he would not allow us to take any other action. His actual words, as I recall, were 'Don't turn down my offer of peace. Palpatine has paid the price for his foolishness and so has his precious dark center, Byss, which is space dust now, just like Alderaan'."

"A clear threat. Serious, in your eyes?"

"Very serious. Yes."

"And yet the defendant also reportedly claimed that he would condescend to much only to be with his children. Is that true?"

"Yes."

"So you were given a choice."

"In both cases we would not have been able to treat him the way he deserved it in our eyes."

"What did he deserve?"

"He deserved to die."

"Thank you. I have no more questions."

"Mister Ur'tek?"

"I have no questions. But if I may, I can see where this is leading, so I would like to ask the defense to not call the next witness."

"You accept the claim?"

"No. But I would like to call in a witness of my own."

"This is somewhat unusual. But if the defense agrees?"

Gita gave the Twi'lek a hard glance: "Agreed," she said finally and sat down.

"Thank you. I call as witness Anakin Skywalker."

There were a few surprised shouts from the audience, but Anakin had expected this. He rose slowly and as he neared the witness stand he grew even more uncomfortable.

"Lord Skywalker, you know that you are under oath to speak the truth?"

"Yes. Of course."

"Good. Just one question: was your threat meant to be serious?"

"Not entirely."

"So you gave the Provisory Council a choice?"

"Implicitly, yes."

"But they did not take that offer."

"I am not sure if they were aware of it at all."

"An assumption. I must ask the Court to give no heed to this comment."

"Granted."

"Why do you think they did not take it?"

"It was... easier to accept the explicit threat than stand up against it."

"Objection!" Gita called out: "Another assumption."

"Mister Ur'tek?"

"Your pardon, Your Honor, but General Rieekan just claimed that he was well aware of the choice, but that he chose not to take it seriously."

Anakin saw Gita freeze.

"The objection is rejected. Please continue."

"So, Lord Skywalker, your threat was not meant seriously, but you were well aware that your opponents would take it in the opposite way. True or false?"

"True."

"Another question: what choices did you yourself have?"

"The very basic ones, " Anakin bared his teeth in an almost-smile. "Life or death."

"Thank you."

Judge Nab gave him a short nod and waited until Anakin had taken his seat again before pronouncing her answer to Gita's claim:

"The defense's claim is rejected. The Truce of Onderon is recognized by the Court as a legal document signed by equal parties. Next issue, please."

"The first charge," the Twi'lek piped up. "Lord Skywalker broke the Truce by rejoining the Empire a year ago. The document clearly condemns this as a hostile act."

"The claim is recognized. Has the defense anything to say on the matter?"

Gita shook her head slowly. "No," she answered glumly. "The defense pleads guilty on this charge."

"Thank you. Next issue."

"The destruction of Byss."

This evening's public discussion were, hardly surprising to anyone, dealing solely with the guilty plea on three charges: the Truce, the destruction of Byss and coercion of legal forces, when Anakin had forced then president Fey'lya to set him free again. Those had been her major points in his defense, because they would have shown plainly that those actions had benefitted the people, not him or the Empire. But no, he had refused and she could not force him to plead not guilty. It did, quite frankly, not look good and Gita had told her client the same repeatedly. Was he going to plead guilty on all charges she had asked him sarcastically. And he had only nodded.

"Listen, if we can prove that you had no choice but to obey orders -."

"I had a choice," he interrupted her, the calm gaze in his cool blue eyes more infuriating even than the headache nagging at her resolve.

"What do you mean?" They had taken shelter in her office again, but Gita knew that this could not last.

"I could always chose to die."

"That hardly qualifies as a choice, my dear. No, we have to find another solution."

"There is none."

"Listen, this is not justice, this is the law. We could have pleaded not guilty on the Byss charge, you know? You were drugged, after all. For heaven's sake, you had been tortured for over six years!"

"That is no excuse."

"Of course it is!"

When he put his face very close to hers, forcing her to look into his icy eyes Gita for once had to admit that he scared her, despite everything. When he had first come to her she had been flattered that he confided in her abilities, but she had not spent a second thought on what it would mean to work with him. Anakin Skywalker did not let others dictate his actions and he only reluctantly had agreed to give his own defense in her hands, she knew. On the other hand he was no fool either. He knew very well when he was being led and apparently he did not like that at all. His voice was a low hiss when he finally spoke:

"You do not understand, Gita. I knew what I was doing. I always do."

She swallowed hard, trying to grasp the magnitude of this statement and failed miserably:

"But that is not the way -."

"It is mine."

Gita raisd her hands to massage her aching temples:

"Let me see. You are telling me that you always are in control of yourself, right? Do you know what they say about people like that?"

"Are you proposing to declare me insane?"

"If you don't cease this foolishness I may. Look, if you really wanted to die you would not be here with me. So tell me, what is it you really want?"

His face fell and he hesitated a bit before answering:

"Redemption, I guess. I want a normal life, with my family. I want to do what I have to without interference. But I cannot if I do not manage to redeem myself in the eyes of the public."

"You will never reach that goal if you plead guilty. See, if you do that they only believe their prejudices are justified. I know you want to take responsibility, and that is very laudable and everything, but that will not save your life."

"And what will?"

"Frankly, I have no idea."

TBC