Apologies for the long wait, the document manager on here has been evil lately!
My heartfelt thanks for all of your kind and thoughtful reviews, they mean a lot to me even if I haven't the time to reply to each individual one. :)
To answer questions about the sequel, yes, it is in the works; I've just started chapter 12. It will be set after this story, not before. I must admit it would probably be interesting to do a "prequel" type story to explain what Obi-Wan (and Padme) have been up to all that time, but to be honest, I never really thought about it in too much detail (oops!). Please see the end notes for more info.
Finally, the last chapter! Thanks so much for your support, everyone.
"It is a pleasure to have you here, Jedi," Sidious said with a short cackle, looking him over with a malicious eye. "I have been looking forward to ridding my Empire of your disruptive presence."
"Disruptive, is that what you call it?" Obi-Wan flung back. "And here I thought I was a good influence," he said caustically. "Your apprentice is so easily swayed," Obi-Wan commented, depositing a hint of smugness into his tone. He didn't actually believe that he had done a thing to change Anakin's dark ways, but Sidious seemed to think otherwise and Obi-Wan wanted to use this to his advantage. Hopefully, he could avoid a painfully drawn-out death if he angered the Sith enough. Force only knew that they were prone to such irrational bouts of rage.
"Do not overestimate your influence, Jedi," Sidious sneered. "You are an annoyance, nothing more. Vader cares for you no more than he would care for a pet. But nevertheless, you are still an annoyance to be removed." At this last word, Sidious raised his hand and flung a crackling blue bolt of energy at him, and Obi-Wan fell to his knees with a gasp of pain. Obi-Wan embraced the pain, and allowed it to flow through his rapidly weakening body.
Finally, the end was in sight.
"I am sorry, my Lord, it is simply not possible for our ship to return to the Coruscant system that quickly."
Vader glowered down at his Captain, but acknowledged him with a nod. As angry as he was, he didn't trust himself to speak at that moment without flying into a rage. Good as it would feel, Vader knew that he really shouldn't kill Captain Lissen. After all, someone would have to take command of the ship when he left, as he certainly wouldn't be staying. He had felt Obi-Wan's presence once again over a day ago, and had immediately abandoned the useless mission that Palpatine had assigned him and headed towards where he sensed Obi-Wan was.
He had been somewhat uneasy when he had realized that Obi-Wan was in the Coruscant sector, since that meant that he was near Palpatine. It hadn't been until a couple of hours ago, though, that Vader had began to feel the beginnings of panic. Across their old bond, and across the galaxy, Vader had sensed that Obi-Wan was in pain. Excruciating, life-threatening pain. And more than anything, he wanted to stop it. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, Vader recognized the possibility that Palpatine was responsible, but quickly shoved it back even further.
"I will be taking a fighter to the Coruscant system myself, then," Vader said shortly. "I will be leaving immediately. Captain, you have command of this ship." Without another word, Vader turned and started to leave.
"But, my Lord!" the Captain protested. "The Emperor would certainly not approve."
Vader whirled around and fixed the Captain with a deceptively calm glare. "The Emperor and I have had a small misunderstanding. I am returning early so that it may be resolved. Unless, of course, you feel you are not competent enough to assume command?" Vader said threateningly, a dangerous undertone in his voice.
"No, my Lord, of course not," Captain Lissen replied quickly. "Of course you must see to your business with the Emperor," he added with a hint of nervousness.
"How good of you to approve," Vader said mockingly. "I will be certain to remember it." Leaving a quivering mass of nerves in his wake, Vader stalked purposefully off the bridge and headed to the hanger to rescue his Consort.
Anakin was coming for him. Somehow, even through the relentless barrage of pain, Obi-Wan knew this, and couldn't help but find it amusing in a twisted sort of way. Perhaps Anakin would help kill him, after all. A choked laugh escaped his lips, or perhaps it was a sob. Yet even now the Force sang around him, offering its urgent reassurances.
"So amused, are you, by your impending death?" Sidious snarled, a smile twisting his lips. "Allow me to amuse you further, then."
Before he even arrived, Vader knew that he was too late.
Shortly after entering the system, he had sensed a change in Obi-Wan's presence in the Force. It had dimmed, abruptly, and Vader had nearly lost control of his ship as he had reached out enough to feel Obi-Wan's pain. He had already been flying at top speed, but had willed the ship to go faster, drawing on the unusually willing Force to aid him. And it had seemed that it would be enough.
But just as he had docked in the hanger of the Emperor's ship, he felt it. A blinding, agonizing pain coursed through Obi-Wan and echoed across their bond, and then Obi-Wan slipped away, just out of his grasp. I can't be too late! It should not have seemed so important, but it did.
Leaping out of his docked ship, he ran through the empty corridors towards Obi-Wan with Force enhanced speed. Straight to the Emperor's chambers. He normally would have shown courtesy to his Master and announced himself before entering, but it seemed too absurd now to even consider. The Emperor had not shown him any consideration in this matter, and Vader was angry and desperate enough to do the same. He flung the door open with the Force, leaving crushed metal behind him as he entered the room. He surveyed the room immediately, but could see little in the darkness but the outline of the back of a chair on the wide dais, facing the stars. He stepped around to see, suddenly wary, and nearly froze at what he saw there. Palpatine stood before the chair, dark energy crackling from his hands. A step down from him lay Obi-Wan, unmoving.
"Palpatine," Vader said in a low, tightly controlled voice. "I have come for my Consort."
Palpatine turned on him and gave him with a gleefully malicious look. "Of course, my apprentice. How good of you to come. Certainly, you may take the final blow for yourself; though it is hardly necessary. He was yours, after all." Palpatine conceded with a twisted smile and a slight wave towards Obi-Wan.
Surely, Palpatine did not think that he had come all this way, and so quickly, just to kill Obi-Wan? He could have done that at his leisure. And Obi-Wan was still his. "No," Vader choked out vehemently.
Palpatine looked at him inquiringly for a moment, and for that brief moment Vader thought that he had won. "Very well, then," Palpatine cackled. "I shall finish him myself!"
In an flash, the Sith Lord's red blade was activated and raised to strike. Vader looked on in shock, unable to deal with the conflict raging within him. But the shock passed almost instantaneously as his internal battle was ended. There was no choice for him, now, and he wondered fleetingly if there ever had been. His body responded more quickly than his mind, and before he knew what he was doing he had drawn his own blade and turned it on his Sith Master. With one swift, elegant stroke, it was over.
He watched, detachedly, as the top and bottom half of the Sith toppled to the floor, landing with two dull thuds. It had been so easy; Palpatine hadn't planned for this. He could only stare at his red blade in his hand for a moment, and was suddenly and intensely struck by the wrongness of the familiar weapon.
Breaking free of his daze, he recalled, with mounting distress, his reason for all this.
"Obi-Wan!" He dropped the foreign blade to the floor and swiftly moved to kneel beside Obi-Wan's still form. The Jedi had not moved since he had entered Palpatine's chambers, which worried him immensely. "Obi-Wan?" he called again, softly, as he gently stroked the other man's hair. But the Jedi remained still, and he felt his heart clench as he sensed how weak Obi-Wan was. He knew, at that moment, that Obi-Wan was not strong enough to survive. It had been too much.
Curbing his fear, he reached out with the Force to Obi-Wan, and, unbidden, their old bond sprang to life. Tenacious and unnaturally durable, it had never truly died; but now it seemed to call to him. Allowing himself to be led by its urgings, he carefully lifted Obi-Wan and hugged him to his chest. "Please, live," he whispered. "I need you." Without a second thought he called upon the Force, once again reaching for a part of it that had become unfamiliar over time. Delicately, he drew upon the light energy, basking in its warmth as he directed its much needed strength into Obi-Wan. As the energy from the Force flowed across their bond, it flared brightly, leaving him with a sense of long-awaited completeness. So this, then, was what was to come of it all.
Obi-Wan still lay limp and unresponsive in his arms, but he no longer feared for his beloved's life. "Rest, now," he murmured. Gently, he gathered Obi-Wan in his arms and stood.
Without a second glance at the fallen Sith, Anakin took Obi-Wan and left.
Something was different, now, but it was some time before Obi-Wan realized what it was.
He drifted, for what seemed to be both a few moments and an eternity, in redness. He remembered little from then other than grating pain and a distorted vision of Anakin's worried face. But it couldn't have been Anakin; Sith do not worry. He had imagined it. Closing his eyes and shutting the image out, he allowed himself to drift again.
When he woke more fully, he was aware that he was being pulled out of a bacta tank and laid on an something white and cold. He shivered, still not fully awake, as he was toweled off and bundled into a narrow medical bed. He had failed. He was still alive, and Anakin and Sidious had no rift between them, as Anakin surely would not be allowed to come here. Tired and aching from the brief activity, Obi-Wan closed his eyes and welcomed the darkness that beckoned him.
"Obi-Wan?" came a soft voice at his bedside, and a pair of hands encircled his. One of them was metal.
His eyes flew open, and he turned his head to see Anakin sitting beside him and regarded him wearily. Obi-Wan felt it, then, and would have jumped upright if he had had the strength. An intimate, light mental touch caressed him, one that was far too warm to be coming from who he thought it was.
Anakin picked up Obi-Wan's hand, then, and brought it up against his cheek with a kiss. "Yes, Obi-Wan, it's me," Anakin said gently, his voice pained. "Anakin." His voice cracked, and a tear fell down onto Obi-Wan's upturned face.
And it was Anakin, this time. With effort, Obi-Wan squeezed Anakin's hand with his own captive one and reached out to his wayward partner with the Force, welcoming him home.
. . . for now.
End notes: Please note that THE SEQUEL to this story, tentatively titled Luminous Dust, WILL NOT BE POSTED HERE. Instead, I will be posting it at Live Journal, just to see if that format is preferable. My username there is darthdolly. If you'd like to see my LJ posts on your journal's friends page (so you don't have to find my journal every time), feel free to add me to your Friends list. Hope to see you there!
And as with all my other stories, I will of course be posting it at Force Haven's forum (my homepage link).
Questions? Feel free to contact me! You can email me or send me a Private Message at Force Haven's forum (username: Dolly).
If you've made it this far, thanks for sticking with me! -passes out cookies-