Princess Moriah was still awake, curled in the low chair at the foot of her bed apparently expecting me. Nor did she blink at the tall, faintly glowing, greenish apparition behind me - why should she, he was her husband!

Moriah watched me seat myself on a stool than said, as if continuing our previous conversation; "It would be unwise to present yourself at the Imperial palace."

Like I needed a seer to tell me that!

"Anakin has a place of his own at the edge of industrial sector 99-O, go there."

"Just walk up to the door and knock?" I asked, slightly sarcastically.

"Exactly." Moriah said calmly.

Obi-Wan's words echoed in my head; 'Vader hates you. He's glad of your death'. "What if he doesn't want me? What if he kills me or gives me to Palpatine?"

My Princess smiled faintly. "I don't see that happening, do you?"

I swallowed. "I'm not a seer."

"No," said Qui-Gon, "but you are Anakin's wife. You know him better than anybody alive. What do your feelings tell you?"

At the moment all I could feel was my stomach, roiling with the nausea of fear. I tried to imagine Anakin - Vader that is - turning on me, choking me to death or dragging me before his Emperor - and I couldn't. Maybe I was deceiving myself but I just could not see either of those things happening. And if Moriah couldn't either...

"Trust your feelings!" my Master said. "Follow your instincts. Anakin needs you Padme, you are his only hope."

"No." I said. "Our children are his hope - and ours - but I have to hold the fort for them until they're old enough to save us all."

The next morning, after breakfast, I went to Breha and Bail's quarters - to break the news. I didn't burden them with the knowledge of where I was going, I just said I was leaving for my daughter's sake.

"Surely you see we can't go on like this. Sooner or later Leia's going to start wondering why she has two mothers."

Breha, sitting next to Bail on the couch opposite, twisted the pleats of her gauzy, silver-violet sleeve in unaccustomed agitation. "That's no reason for you to go, Padme. Adoptions are common enough, many children here on Alderaan have two sets of parents."

"But those children aren't daughters of a proscribed Jedi and a supposedly dead Senator." I reminded her. "My whole reason for giving Leia up to you was to give her a new background, a safe one. By staying here I endanger that."

"I'm afraid Padme is right, my dear." Bail said heavily. "Vader's visit was only the beginning. I fear we can expect much closer ties with the Imperial court in the future."

"Don't you see, Breha, it's for my sake too." I added. "I don't want to live in fear - or my daughter to either." especially not my daughter!

The Queen looked miserable and it was easy to see part of her misery was guilt. She had been incredibly generous about letting me spend time with Leia and bond with her, but deep down she would be glad to be rid of me - to be Leia's only mother.

I didn't hold it against her, indeed I was glad of it. The more the Organas felt Leia to be their own the better for all concerned. I played my trump card. "Princess Moriah agrees this is the best course - for us all."

Bail's frown deepened. "She's foreseen danger if you stay?"

"Something like that."

"Moriah's not always right." Breha said in a last, half hearted protest.

"Maybe not," I said, "but I prefer not to take the chance."

"Where will you go?" Bail wanted to know.

I forced a smile. "I think it's best if you don't know." Definitely!

Reluctantly he nodded agreement.

Breha took a deep breath and spoke formally as a Queen. "You are our guest, not our prisoner, Padme. If you genuinely wish to go you are free to depart. But please remember, you are always welcome at our court."

"Thank you, your majesty," I said as formally. "I will."

The next farewell was harder - much harder. I went a few steps down the corridor to Leia's nursery, to say good-bye to my daughter. She was three, a pretty, plump toddler with creamy white skin, dark brown curls and my eyes who ran happily across the polished, empty floor of the big playroom to meet me. I knelt down to receive her hug squeezing back the tears. But she saw or sensed them anyway.

"Mama sad." she frowned, pulling back. "Why?"

I cleared my throat. "Because I have to go away for a while, Leia, for a very long while."

"You mean all week?" she asked naming the longest period she could think of.

I forced another smile. "Maybe even longer than that." I groped for the chain around my neck, pulled it over my head and showed her the little carved japor wood charm. "You see this Leia? It's very special, your father made it for me a long time ago. I want you to keep it safe for me, all right?"

She turned it over in her chubby fingers. "Okay!" Her bright, careless little voice echoed that of another child I'd known - her father.

I folded her little fist around the charm. "Let's keep it a secret, just between you and me."

She liked that idea and nodded violently. "Secret!" she put the chain over her head and tucked the pendant under her simple white smock.

"Our secret." I agreed. I hugged and kissed her one last time, then made myself let go.

"Threepio," I said to the golden droid hovering in the background. "I need to talk to you too."

I broke the news in a small alcove off the wide corridor. Threepio was every bit as upset as I'd feared. "A memory wipe! Oh dear, oh dear!"

"I hate to ask it, Threepio," I said, equally unhappy, "but I must. Artoo is just another astro-droid but somebody could recognize you and ask themselves what Senator Amidala's protocol droid is doing on Alderaan. And if they stole you and hooked you up to a positron-reader..." I didn't have to finish.

He shuddered. "Oh my! Yes of course, you're quite right Miss Padme. I wouldn't betray you or little Princess Leia for anything - but I am only a droid!"

"There's nothing 'only' about you Threepio." I said firmly. "But you are a droid. And there's just no way you could resist a reader, however we programmed you."

"No indeed." he agreed, and drooped a little. "But I do hate the idea of losing my memories of Master Anakin, and your ladyship and all."

"I hate it too." I hadn't realized till this moment just how much. Suddenly I couldn't bear the thought that Threepio's memories of Anakin's childhood would be lost forever. Then inspiration struck: "I have an idea. Instead of wiping your memory we'll download it into a holo-cube. Princess Moriah can keep it for us, and someday - when it's safe - we'll give them back to you."

Somehow Threepio's cast metal face managed to beam with relief. "Oh yes. Thank you, miss, that makes me feel much better."

"Me too." I said.

I flew my old skiff to Coruscant. I couldn't risk public transport or a craft that would link me to Alderaan. I felt a distinct twinge of loss as I walked out of the cargo class hanger. Whatever happened I'd never see my 'Silver Bird' again. I hoped her next owner would treat her as she deserved.

The guide droid didn't respond for a whole thirty seconds after I told it where I wanted to go. Then it said in its buzzy voice. "Lord Vader's offices? You're sure, miss?"

"Positive." I said, much more firmly than I felt.

The black uniformed officer on duty at the desk was equally taken aback. "You want a personal interview with Lord Vader?"

"Yes." I said, determination growing with every obstacle put in my path. "I am a very old friend of his lordship."

The officer seemed to have trouble believing that. "Excuse me." he called in his superior, who then called in his. I waited patiently as all three conferred in whispers behind the desk. If they kept this up long enough Anakin was likely to walk in on us!

Finally they came to a decision. "You don't object to a weapons scan?" the senior officer asked.

"Of course not."

"Very well, we will inform his lordship of your presence. What name shall I give?"

I hesitated. My real names were far to dangerous. "Say it's the girl he gave a japor wood charm to." I answered.

They showed me to a small, bare room, obviously a security holding area. Clearly Anakin didn't get many visitors. My poor, poor Ani.

I seated myself on a bench and arranged my mind for the interview to come. I didn't have much time, soon a heavy step came rapidly down the hall outside and the door slid open to frame my husband's dark, forbidding figure.

I stood up. "Hello, Anakin."

For a moment there was nothing but the rapid working of his re-breather unit then; "Palpatine said you died. There was a funeral. I've seen your tomb."

"It was a trick." I swallowed. "A trick of Obi-Wan's."

"Obi-Wan! He took you away from me?"

I nodded, my whole body clenched against his rage. "He said you would kill me, he said I had to hide."

"Where is Obi-Wan now."

I produced a faint smile. "He didn't follow me this time, Anakin. I haven't seen him in years. For all I know he could be dead."

"No. No, he is alive." Anakin said with absolute certainty. The mask tilted upward. "He is out there somewhere..." then his head came down to look at me. "How did you get away from him."

"I didn't. He left me." I let my loss and loneliness flood through me, putting a quiver in my voice. "I've been so alone, Ani. So alone. I couldn't stand it any more. I'd rather be dead than go on living without you!" genuine tears brimmed in my eyes. "Please, Anakin, please, take me back."

He took a step towards me, another, then stopped. "What are you hiding from me?"

I had expected this and was prepared. I let the tears spill over. "I was pregnant on Mustafar, Ani. I lost the baby. Oh, Anakin, I lost our son!" grief washed over me and I began to sob for Luke, and for Leia too, both lost - though not in the way I wanted Anakin to believe.

He came closer, closer. I cast myself onto his chest, snuggling my cheek into the soft leather alongside the control placket, and his arms closed carefully, almost gingerly around me.

"There will be other children, Padme, I promise." the strange voice said, shaking with Anakin's emotion. "I won't always be the wreck you see now. One day I will be whole again and we will rule the Galaxy together - forever!"

That was Vader, my Anakin had never been ambitious. I hated what I was hearing but reminded myself I wasn't here to argue with Anakin, or to try to turn him. I was here to love him. And I would go on loving him, however hard he made it, until our children came to save us both.

I tilted my head back to look up into Darth Vader's black mask. "As long as we're together." I said, knowing he would read my sincerity. "Nothing else matters, nothing at all."