"For Absent Friends"

Chapter 1

"You Can't Be Dead!"

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: The characters aren't mine – they belong to George Lucas, and I'm not making any money from this. This disclaimer will cover all subsequent chapters unless otherwise noted elsewhere.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This fic takes place in the little AU I've established in my previous Star Wars fics, which were written back when only The Phantom Menace had been released. Unfortunately, the subsequent movies contradicted much of my fics, but you know… I really don't care. So this one remains true to my AU, though I have incorporated some ideas from Episodes II and III.

This fic takes place quite some time after my fic The Naboo Chronicles, probably at roughly the time that the events of A New Hope would have taken place had I not so radically diverged from canon. However, Obi-Wan and Anakin are not old men – they're in their forties, just as you'd expect. After all, ANH took place only twenty-something years after RoTS, and they were twenty or so in that movie. GL really screwed up there.

But anyway… here's my new fic. I hope you enjoy it.

"We never realise just how close we come to disaster whether in love or in everyday life…" – Phil Collins, "Both Sides" liner notes.

Investigation Into Fatal Air Car Accident Concludes

CORUSCANT (GP) – The investigation into the tragic air car accident that claimed the life of the First Lady of the Republic six months ago has been closed, officials announced today.

"We're pretty confident that this was a clear-cut case of driving under the influence," Security Commissioner M'Aaalari said. "The driver of the other vehicle, one Oona Brack of Centauri Prime, had a blood spice level of over .415 and a previous record of driving under the influence of an illegal substance. I have informed the Chancellor's office that we can find no evidence whatsoever that this was a deliberate attempt on the Lady Sabé's life. It seems that the incident was exactly what it appeared to be: a horrible, horrible accident."

The accident occurred early in the morning on Main Republica, which is the major air traffic thoroughfare giving access to the Senate Building, the High Court, and other Republic administration buildings.

According to reports, Lady Sabé had driven her husband Supreme Chancellor Palpatine to his offices in the Senate Building before continuing on to do routine errands. Her air car was struck head on by Brack's vehicle when its driver made an illegal turn on a red signal into opposing traffic.

Lady Sabé was pronounced dead at the scene. She was 51.

The critically injured Brack was taken to Coruscant General for treatment.

Brack is now fully recovered and in police custody, where he awaits trial on charges of vehicular homicide and operating an air car while under the influence of an illegal intoxicant.

The Supreme Chancellor could not be reached for comment.

Lady Sabé is survived by her husband, age 74, and by their twin children, Jedi Knights Anakin and Padmé, age 20.

The Jedi Council refused to comment on these new findings in Lady Sabé's death, and would say only that her children are away on assignment in an undisclosed location.

See related links: The Jedi Temple, The Galactic Senate, The Supreme Chancellor's Office, Naboo

Palpatine finished reading the news report and leaned back in his chair with a sigh, staring out at the air traffic outside his office window. He had already been informed of Commissioner M'Aaalari's decision to close the investigation, so reading it was no surprise.

Still, seeing it there in black and white made it real in a way that M'Aaalari's nervous, apologetic visit to his office the previous day had not; the Republic authorities were putting Sabé's death behind them, and he was expected to do the same.

Easier said than done, he thought. He rested an elbow on the armrest of his chair and put his face in his hand. I am far too old for this…

The atmosphere in his office suddenly seemed to change, the air becoming dense and thick. The heavy scent of ozone filled the room, and Palpatine felt the small hairs on the back of his neck stand up. This feeing had only come upon him once before, when he had seen –

He made himself straighten up and swivel his chair around to face the Force specter that was beginning to coalesce into existence in front of his desk.

He gasped in horror, the blood draining from his face. Unnoticed, the newsfiche slipped out of his fingers and fluttered to the floor.

"No," Palpatine said, his voice breaking. "You can't be dead. Not you." But even as he denied it, he knew it was true.

The ghost gave him a sad smile. "Everyone has his time," it told him sadly. "Even me."

Padmé sat up in bed, clutching the covers to her chest. She looked around the darkened room, wondering what had woken her.

She had been having the most perplexing dream, she recalled. Something about Obi-Wan trying to send her secret messages through coded transmissions that she couldn't translate…

The holocom beeped from her sitting room and she frowned. Who would be calling me at this hour? she wondered. Pulling on a robe, she went to investigate.

When she padded into the sitting room, she saw the little red light blinking on the holocom. An urgent message on her private line in the middle of the night… Her heart sank. She went to the unit and answered the call.

A hologram of Obi-Wan appeared, looking tired and grim. "Queen Amidala," he intoned formally, bowing.

Ohhh… this can't be good! She swallowed hard.

At last she found her voice. "What is it, Obi-Wan?" she asked, her voice shaking. Luke… Leia… oh please Gods… She swallowed hard. "What's happened?"

His formal demeanor dissolved. "Oh, Padmé!" he cried, his voice harsh with grief. "Anakin. I tried to save him, I tried, but – "

Padmé didn't hear the rest over her own sobs.

"I'm dead, Palpatine," Anakin's ghost said rather unnecessarily. "You're going to have to look after Padmé for me."

"Anakin, I – "

"You're all that she has left, you know," the ghost said almost conversationally. "Obi-Wan and our children are always away on Jedi business… and so are your children." He met Palpatine's gaze. "Any of them could be killed at any time."

Palpatine put a hand over his eyes and made a sound deep in his throat. "I've outlived two wives. I couldn't bear to outlive my own children." He looked up at Anakin's ghost. "Please, please tell me…"

"I wish I could," came the sad reply. Was it Palpatine's imagination, or were tears forming in the eyes of his friend's ghost? Could ghosts cry? Palpatine didn't know. "I wish I were that strong with the Force, but even now I'm not."

"What's it like?" Palpatine asked suddenly. "Being dead."

Anakin's ghost shrugged. "It's hard to explain."

"Did it hurt? Were you frightened?"

The ghost gave Palpatine a compassionate look, and when he spoke his voice was gentle. "No, Palpatine. Dying is peaceful. It's like coming home after a long, hard day… and what could be frightening about that?"

Palpatine nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

"Please, remember. Padmé."

Palpatine's eyebrows came together. "Will you in turn look after –"

"It doesn't work that way here," the ghost said with a shake of his head.

"But… but do you know if – "

Anakin's ghost gave him a sad smile. "Sabé is well. She sends her love. One day we will all be together again. But until then – "

Palpatine nodded. "Of course, Anakin. I will look after Padmé as best I can. You have my word."

"Thank you, Palpatine." Anakin's ghost raised a hand in farewell. "The Force will be with you. Always."

And then Palpatine was alone in his office once again.

Padmé sat at her dressing table, numbly watching her handmaidens bustle about packing trunks for their journey to Coruscant for Anakin's Remembrance. As Alliné and Salmé produced a long black mourning gown from the wardrobe and transferred it to a trunk for packing, Padmé was reminded of the last time she had worn a similar gown…

Naboo wept.

The rain poured down on the funeral party, soaking them to the bone.

The Queen's elaborate hairstyle had fallen down to hang in wet strings around her face, and the rain made flesh-colored trails in her white make-up that were indistinguishable from her tears.

Jedi Master Anakin Skywalker stood staring straight ahead as the rain darkened his sandy hair and ran down his black leathered shoulders. The color of the Naboo skies was an exact match to his blue-grey eyes.

The grieving Supreme Chancellor stood between them – or rather, was held up by them. The rain had long since ruined his elaborate black brocaded robes, and his thinning silver hair was plastered to his head.

Behind them was Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, dressed in his Jedi robes, hood pulled over his head. Though the rain soaked him, his posture never altered.

The press had been strictly banned from Sabé's funeral, but that didn't stop the paparazzi. Mere minutes after it had ended, the holopics had been broadcast all over the Republic.

The Queen had been furious at this intrusion by the press. She had commanded her personal guard to find the paparazzi responsible and bring them before her. And when they had done so, she had personally revoked the photographers' visas and ordered them deported, never again to return to Naboo.

When they had protested that they were being deported illegally, she had told them coldly, "We are Naboo law, Gentlebeings. As we command, so it shall be."

And so it was.

The photographers were hustled away, but the damage had been done. The Chancellor's privacy in grief had been violated, which went against everything the Naboo believed. There was such an uproar that a bill was passed banning all outside press from the planet, period.

Naturally, the outside press struck back.

It was widely commented upon that neither Chancellor Palpatine and Lady Sabé's children nor Queen Amidala and Jedi Master Skywalker's children had attended the poor Lady Sabé's funeral. It was an attempt to embarrass all involved, but the Jedi Council quickly quashed that

A hasty press release was put together and issued, saying that the Knights in question were away on assignment and could not be recalled at this time, despite the circumstances.

But the damage had been done.

Padmé wondered how the children were coping; surely they must know that their mother had been killed, and they must also be aware of what was being written about them in the press.

How could the Jedi be so heartless? she wondered. Even if they could not recall Luke and Leia, surely they could have allowed Anakin and Padmé to attend their mother's funeral.

But no one, not even Obi-Wan or Anakin, would answer her questions… nor would they share their own opinions on the matter.

It was not the first time that members of the Jedi Council had closed ranks to present a united front against an outsider, and Padmé knew that it would not be the last…