A/N- Wow. Here I am at the last chapter of this. It hardly seems like I've written 103 pages, and that I've come so far. I really couldn't have done it without help, and so just thank all of you so much for your support of me. It meant so much to me to know that I had supporters all the way through this, and it was a crazy angst-filled ride with all of you. Thank you all so much, your feedback has been invaluable and has meant so much to me.Of course, this is not the end. I am in the middle of planning a sequel to this, named "Reparation." (Sounds exciting, doesn't it!)I'll probably start on it in anywhere from two weeks to two months, during which time I'll be doing a whole bunch of challenges and vignettes in order to increase my abilities and grow in strength as a writer. Once again, thank you all so much for everything!

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Anakin stood at the bow of the ship, a large window that looked towards space and the eternity of stars contained in it. He had somehow always found the sheer vastness of it comforting rather then dwarfing, and it was a place where he could lose himself to find peace. Padmé was sleeping, exhausted by all that had happened, all that she had gone through. It was only him, and in the quiet, he could reflect.

Children. The implications of everything that word entailed suddenly broke over him. The Emperor had often spoken in hushed, veiled words to Anakin about the power that could have been contained in Skywalker's offspring, taunting him about Padmé. Had he known? Had Padmé been more willing to five her children up to torture and possible death rather then let their father know they even existed?

He felt a form come to be at his shoulder, and, before turning, knew it was Qui-Gon. Gratitude came to Anakin, gratefulness for all the Jedi Master had done.

"Thank you," he spoke aloud. The two words hardly seemed enough to convey the emotions that Anakin felt, the overwhelming rush of tears that had been held back, the lump in his throat when he thought about all he could have lost.

Qui-Gon merely smiled.

"You must forgive her." Anakin closed his eyes, suddenly feeling like a young Padawan being admonished by Obi-Wan.

"I've done enough that it should not be my forgiveness that she seeks."

There was silence then, a comfortable silence for Anakin to stare across the sky, reflecting. Qui-Gon was respectfully quiet, waiting for some hidden signal.

"You must go to Tatooine," the Jedi Master said at last. Anakin's first thought was one that illuminated him, giving both fear and hope all at once, a dizzying tilt of emotions. Obi-Wan, he thought, hesitating to speak aloud and give a name to both his fears and his hope. He sensed great wisdom in Qui-Gon as the older man's eyes twinkled, echoing the stars' light.

But neither of them said anything of Anakin's master, Qui-Gon's apprentice. Instead, Qui-Gon continued in a different vein, one that caught Anakin completely off-guard.

"You will find a healer named Sh'aya there." Qui-Gon impressed sudden knowledge on Anakin; routes and pathways and long, winding passageways. He knew without a doubt that it was the way to this Sh'aya Qui-Gon spoke of, and it took the space of a breath for him to realize what needed to be healed.

To be healed, to be out of the suit, to be able to breathe the free air and feel air across his face… to be able to be with Padmé for more then a few seconds, to feel her skin against his again… and, most of all, to leave the suit behind forever, to cast away the remnants of his own life. He would see his children eye to eye, face to face. It would truly be like being reborn. He felt the hope within him, and a brief, peaceful smile lit his face. Ahh, what it was to smile for Anakin! He had missed happiness as Vader, the happiness that now rose in him as he thought of the new future that was rising.

He turned to thank Qui-Gon, only to find that the Jedi Master was gone, having merged into the Force. But his presence was not really gone, and Anakin sensed with a vague feeling of joy that he only had to reach out again to feel the older man in the Force.

There was no more time for Anakin to muse, however. He felt another presence in the Force behind him, one that burned brightly again. He made no move to greet it, and did not drop his shields.

"You should be sleeping," he admonished lightly, still facing the window.

"Anakin…" She paused as if wanting to say something and not being able to find the words. She came up behind him, touching his arm lightly. Even this slight contact caused an indescribable vague pain to rise in Anakin, something he could not place. He shook her arm up, his lips compressed into a tight line. Despite his words to Qui-Gon, he somehow felt that she should have told him, that she should not have lied to him like she did.

"Why didn't you tell me?" He asked the question in the coldest voice he could muster. It was the hard, mechanical sound of a monster and the Right Hand of the Empire. It was the voice of a man who had terrorized the galaxy along with his own men. It was the cold, commanding tone of Vader. Padmé recoiled a whole step, her eyes narrowing in disbelieving anger.

When she spoke, her voice was equally as frigid.

"When would you have liked me to tell you? When the image of you slaughtering younglings was still fresh in my mind? When you almost tried to kill me?"

Anakin's shoulders slumped in defeat and his breath caught as everything she had said registered in his mind. All the guilt and the darkness that he had known as Vader came rushing back in a whirlwind that threatened to engulf him again, enshroud him in darkness. He could sense Padmé's horror and regret at what she had just said, but not even that mattered to him as he became lost in the tide.

Her voice contained tired pity but no apology.

"I am sorry, Anakin. You know I forgave you, and that was… slightly uncalled for." It was her Senator voice, her Senator face. Anakin's throat tightened. Had he really hurt her that bad, that she had to fall back on the calm cool of diplomatic calm demeanor?

With great effort, he lowered his shields to her, exposing his thoughts and emotions. He felt her gentle response of lowering hers as well. They joined, and love swept over him, calming him and soothing him as it always had. She was the thing that dampened the flame within him and yet ignited it; they were two halves of a whole, and only together were they complete.

He was not surprised to find her in the shelter of his arm, leaning into his hold. Nor was he surprised to find his hand tightening around her shoulders in a simple caress. She was warm against his body; somehow, he had not realized how cold he had felt. A simple feeling of warm, tender devotion rose in him, a feeling that purged all remnants of despair.

There they stood, two walkers of skies watching the heavens shift around them. They did not know for how long they stood, for time did not matter to either. They were beyond time, beyond everything else. His black cloak streamed across her shoulders, wrapping her not in the darkness it represented, but instead in the strength of their love. She relaxed securely in him, giving and taking comfort and warmth. It seemed to them that this was all they would ever need; the Force and each other was enough.

But it was not really enough, and when Anakin spoke, it was with both concern and serenity.

"What did you name them?" No explanation was needed as to who they were. She shifted against his arm, nestling closer to him.

"Luke," she breathed softly, Anakin repeated the name in his head; it was a good, strong name, one that was fitting for his son. "Leia," she continued after a brief pause. Her voice trailed off as they shared an image between themselves, one that had been lost in the desperate rush before. A baby girl, eyes a soft color of honey-brown, Padmé's eyes… She opened them wide, darting her beautiful eyes around to take in every detail of the room, even in the very stages of simple first awakening. Strength fading… the effort to touch her in the Force, the need to somehow reach out and connect…

The sweetness of the dream did not leave Anakin, and he could almost feel the individual presences in the Force of his son and daughter, each gleaming brightly like the undimmed stars that lay before him.

An idea came to him, one that made him smile with delight and anticipation, one that cast both nervousness and excitement in him. He caught a thought of his and allowed Padmé to see it, to feel it. She stepped back from him in puzzlement, not understanding.

"Reach out to them," he urged her. "You felt their presences one, I know you can do it again." He felt the same kind of excitement in her, but also a sort of bewildered puzzlement.

"How?" She smiled up at him, and he could feel both her willingness to learn as well as a small bit of shame at not knowing what to do already.

He took her hands, folding them into his own. Then he entered her presence, leading her into the light softly, with him as he had been before. Except this time, they did not stay, they did not stay as they had before. This time, he took her hand and whispered reverently, "Reach out." Her vision-self closed her eyes, and he could feel her searching through the Force to find them. He joined her hand to his, palm to palm, pulse for pulse, breath for breath. Power passed from him to her, and in one blazing, illuminating moment, the darkness was stripped away from his vision.

He felt them, two strong, individual presences that merged with he and Padmé, creating a new kind of unity, and he could feel their combined strength blazing across the stars, into infinity…

------

It was a peaceful day in Alderaan, as it seemed to always be. There was the heat of the midday sun, which was somewhat muted in the courtyards that skirted across the Royal Palace. There was the soft clicking and humming of insects and birds outside in the beautiful forests that covered the lands, and sitting in the middle of all of this was Leia Organa.

Somehow, she was not paying attention to the natural wonders of the place. At the moment, actually, she was mildly bored. Her tutor, a stuffy, upright man, was taking a distinct sense of pride in lecturing her about proper behaviors at the Ball her parents were going to take her to; as it was her first dance, it was also the time when the people would be introduced to her, and so it was made very apparent that her mannerisms had to be every bit in place. She watched a pretty blue-green winged insect that was busy climbing over a rock and fanning itself at the same time, fascinated by this.

Suddenly, she felt change. It was not a change in the weather or in the steady drone of her teacher's voice, or in anything else that was immediately perceptible. It took her a few seconds to realize that the change came from within her, from deep inside a part of her, something was awakening that had lain dormant for almost ten years.

She lifted her eyes, recognizing something about the feeling, sensing that it was somehow familiar. When she realized what it was, when she identified the nagging feeling that she knew this somehow, she gasped quietly in shock and awe. It was the only memory she had of her mother, the only thing she had clung to since birth. Warm, beautiful, kind, sad, a sudden union in thoughts…

There was another presence as well. It was one that was secure and strong, one that felt like a rock. Leia did not know what it was or where it had come from, even though it too felt somewhat familiar. She allowed herself to sink further into the flow, not realizing where the power came from or how she was controlling it, not knowing how to speak in this new awareness.

The thin, proper voice of her teacher was the thing that brought her out of concentration.

"Leia? Are you paying attention to me?"

She turned, the feeling of togetherness, of completeness that felt strange yet right, had all vanished.

"Of course," she shrugged, attempting to rid herself of the lingering traces of the feeling. "Where were we?"
-----

The hot, lazy suns of Tatooine were making their slow, meandering journey across the sky. At the moment, they were at the highest point of the desert sky, seemingly paused, causing the whole desert to become almost unbearably hot. Luckily, there was no wind, for the wind would carry small grains of sand with it, biting tender human skin.

Luke Skywalker was busy. Despite being at a young age, he was busy helping out at the farm, doing whatever he could. Everyone worked, or everyone starved. Desert life was harsh and hard, leaving no mercy to those who waited around.

So it was that Luke was working out in the hot sun, gathering whatever plants he could find that grew out in the desert. He was not allowed to go beyond the parameters of the Farm; such a thing would be dangerous, and Luke was very careful to obey his Uncle Owen. Even now, he was in sight of his Uncle, being carefully watched over.

Something came to him, something he felt stirring deep inside of him, something infinitely strange and yet familiar. He dropped the plant he was holding and his eyes moved, slowly looking to the stars that lay beyond the planet he already hated. He could feel what felt like presences searching for something, for someone.

He then realized it was him, and with a touch of fear and a touch of excitement, he reached for the presences, finding them and joining them in what felt like an explosion of light, one that almost knocked him over in awe.

Images sped past him of a handsome man with longish hair and blue eyes that burned, burned with fervor and excitement. He saw a woman with long brown curls and pleasing features, and something stirred within him, calling out. He saw another person join the mental image he was creating, a girl who looked like the woman, whose brown eyes blazed with defiance and delight. He saw himself join that picture, and noticed with a sense of wonder that he looked like the man, that he could almost feel some invisible connection between these people from this vision.

"Luke," he heard Owen's voice say. He tried to pay no attention to the coarse sound of his uncle's voice, but that was nearly impossible, and even as he clutched to the strings of the vision, trying to keep them from slipping away, they fell through his fingertips. He stared across the sky, as if by looking he could regain the vision again.

"Luke," he heard Uncle's voice say again, and this time, it was with a touch of impatience. Luke wrenched his vision from the sky, looking over to his uncle.

"Yes?" He asked, trying to keep irritation out of his voice. Owen frowned.

"This is no time to be daydreaming. We've got work to do." Luke nodded, but not before there was a flash of defiance in his eyes that his uncle somehow managed to ignore.

-------

Anakin came back to the physical world of feeling and sound after what seemed like an eternity. He blinked quietly, remembering the presences he had felt. Pride in his son and in his daughter almost overwhelmed him, and he knew that Padmé felt the same, that she shared in his emotions. He took her hand and smiled, looking deep into her eyes, and he knew then that he was finally complete.

"They are beautiful, Love," he whispered haltingly. "As beautiful as you."

She embraced him then, reached forward and took him in her arms. He leaned his chin on her head even as it was she that was doing the comforting, she that was enveloping him, embracing him.

"This," he said, softer yet, "is the happiest day of my life."

As she smiled, practically radiating contentment, Anakin felt a sudden urge that was nearly overwhelming. He realized, in that moment, the extent of desire he had to be out of the suit. He wanted to run his fingers, living, flesh fingers, through her hair. He wanted to be able to kiss her like he had before, wanted to feel her lips warm and complying against his, wanted the pleasure of skin against skin… he wanted to be able to trace the line of her neck down to her collarbone to down even further, wanted…

She felt his desire and looked into his eyes, her eyes smoldering with intensity as she felt his desire, echoing it with her own. It was then that he remembered what Qui-Gon said, remembered the promise that lived within his heart.

"Love," he whispered, "I have good news for you." He shared with her then the image of Qui-Gon, what he had said about the journey to Tatooine. She let out a low cry of happiness and turned towards him, an illuminating smile on her face.

"Anakin," she whispered, a single tear of happiness falling from her place, the only mark of what the past few days had cost her, and a sign of her relief. He took it in his hand, knowing that soon, he would be able to feel the tear with real, physical hands, and that soon, he would be with his children, united.

Anakin stared across the stars once more, quiet contemplation stirring in him. There was hope, he knew that for certain. Everything that had happened in the past few days; his pain and the return to the light, casting off the shadows and entering into new radiance, Padmé's near death, discovering his children… it all boiled down to one thing, there was one single thing that had never faded at its core, something that never would.

The light was always stronger then the darkness. Always, there was one small glimmer even in the darkest night, when there seemed to be nothing else. When he had seen her die, over and over again in his mind, to the point where he killed for her, even then, there had been light. During the years when he had been engulfed in hate and despair, the most exquisite agony he could even begin to imagine, the light had been there. He had simply been too blind to see it.

The miracle of her love, the fact that she had actually chosen to forgive him, washed over him in a mighty flood, and this time, he allowed himself to drown in it, to become lost in it, submerged in a river of radiance and passion.

And newer and newer pathways of joy opened for him, extending, limitless through the Force. He felt his awareness expanding to encompass them all as they compounded one against another. Everything was just beginning, and despite the shadows of the Empire, there was still hope. There would always be hope, always be a ray shining. Hope filled him, shining brighter then all the stars, shining bright enough to make the darkness recoil in fear and disbelief. And as he shared a smile with Padmé, he knew that he had finally overcome it.

This was how it felt to be Anakin Skywalker… forever.