Padmé looked at Anakin, noting all the differences in him, feeling his hate reach up like grasping fingers of night to envelop her. She gasped a little with the pain, a simple exhalation of fear and love and tension.
"Obi-Wan?" She asked him the question through a tightened throat. Her and his master? The thought would have been laughable, were it not for the intensity in him, the anger that burned uncontrollably. She had finally settled into a place beyond pain, where there was only numbness. She felt removed from everything, cut off from herself, from the man who stood before her. She was watching the scene through distant eyes, seeing and noting everything without feeling it. She watched her throat tense, watched her reach out to her husband, watched him remove his hand from hers.
"Is that what you think of me, Anakin?" She asked him the question softly, repressing her tears. The darkness coalesced and manifested itself in his eyes, the fingers a reality as they graped her arms, pinning them to her sides.
He glared at her, hate and violence in his every touch, his every expression and word.
"My faithful, loving wife, aren't you, Padmé?" He asked her the question with mocking sarcasm, and his grip tightened on her. She refused to cry out as his fingers tightened to bruising force around her, an embrace of dark pain.
"You've betrayed me, Anakin." The words came unbidden to her lips, rising up from a place deep inside of her that still had strength. His gloved hands relaxed their hold, and she could see the shock in his expression. He had not expected her to fight back. The numbness in Padmé's heart dissipated, replaced by a righteous anger that grew, smoldering within her, the fire sparked to life.
"You've betrayed all of us!" She hissed the words at him now, feeling herself grow in power and in anger. The pain had transformed itself into the fury that coiled within her now, white-hot and blazing. He had been her husband, and he had not chosen her. She had loved him, and he had rejected her, betrayed her. The words only fueled the flame rising within her.
"Me, Obi-Wan, our children. What right do you have to ask me what I have done?" He had released her all-together, now and was standing back from her, eyes darkening with confusion and anger.
"I love you," she shouted, and the words were an accusation, an insult, mocking him for all he had done to her, to them. Her eyes softened as feeling returned to her, emotions throbbing within her. Pain had returned, but it seemed less overwhelming, less able to consume her. She felt weary, and whispered softly to him, imploring him, "I love you."
He snarled, regaining himself, and used his hand to slap her aside with blinding, consuming force. As Padmé fell to the ground, she felt weakness crawl over her; she was tired, tired of fighting, tired of everything that had happened. She had never felt so vulnerable in her life; the strength was gone, and she simply wanted to rest.
Anakin felt a whirling torrent of hate come to him. It forced his hand to come forward before he knew what he was doing, forced him to hurt her. There was something inside of him that screamed, crying out with terror for Padmé, for her love, for her safety. He felt a surge of sudden, unexpected self-hatred as she tumbled to the floor, looking helpless and weak. There was a tide of fear and anguish that he had barely suppressed; he drew on more and more of his hatred to bite it back.
He stood, looking at the form of his wife, her head down in a demure pose of surrender. His breathing came harsher now; short gasps brought on by emotion. He felt vaguely sick, the rage in him consuming him slowly.
A picture he did not want to see rose to his mind, of the corpse of a child, innocent face turned upwards, eyes still hazed with shock and fear. The look was echoed in her eyes, in her face. He could feel her condemnation descending to him, even as she bowed her head in submission. He closed his eyes, parting his lips, and realized that part of himself echoed the shock emblazoned on their faces.
Panic rose up in his chest, quick and terrifying. He had set himself on this path, knowing it was the only way. He could not, would not second-guess himself, not now, not after all that had happened. He could not afford the weakness brought on by doubt and love. What was love anyways? Power was more lasting, stronger, could stand the test of time. Love was fading, fleeting, a simple emotion that was controllable.
Even as he repeated these words to himself, their comfort empty and void, much like power's cold embrace, his heart screamed as he saw blood on her face.
And kept screaming.
He stood above her, his face wrenched in anguish. Padmé did not fight to stand; it was not worth the effort. She knew he thought her defeated, thought he had won. Sorrow ripped her open, exposing all of herself to him. She was defenseless, vulnerable. There were no shields between her raw, aching emotions and his eyes. They penetrated her as she looked up into them, invading her with his very presence. She could not look away.
"I betrayed you," he whispered softly, and it was a statement of fear and doubt and hesitation. She did not allow hope to fill her, did not allow herself the slow upwelling of peace and love.
"You betrayed me, Padmé," he raged, eyes filling full of anger and hatred. She closed her eyes as he knelt down to her, ripping off his glove, forcing her to stand as his hand closed around her throat.
His hand was cold and harsh against her skin. In a delirious moment, she could feel his pulse echoing hers softly, and she opened her eyes, looking into his. All she could see were his blue eyes, and, for one heart-stopping second, she saw Anakin.
"Are you going to kill me, Annie?" She asked him the question softly, speaking to him as she had when they were lovers. His eyes burned into hers before he let go, and fell to the ground with a soft cry.
Anakin did not know what it had been about the look in her eyes, about the gentle trust that had been there. He did not know what had been the catalyst for the charging, rushing, overpowering emotion that had come over him. He did not know if it had been the love in her eyes that had caused this to happen to him; all he knew was pain.
All of Anakin Skywalker that he had been repressing, all of his fear and cruel damnation, all of that came to him, more powerful then the hatred, more overwhelming then the power. He gasped, unable to do anything else as Anakin overcame him in a massive coup d'etat, and all he could see were the corpses of those he had murdered, all he could hear their screams. They stared at him with unblinking eyes, and he hissed, squirming away from them, but they followed him everywhere.
The last one was the cruelest. Padmé stood, her eyes dead and unseeing, a tear tricking down her pale cheek. He cried out to her in fear and need, denying what he saw, denying everything...
But he could not hide any longer, and the weight of everything he had done overcame him. Had he not been thinking of killing her, murdering her, pressing down on the small pulse at the base of her neck until it was no more? Had he not murdered children?
He wept then as the visions left him, rocking himself back and forth, weeping for himself, for them, for all that had happened, for Padmé, for her love for him. He could barely feel the arms that encircled him, giving him warmth and comfort. He could barely feel the tears that rolled down his cheeks, the tears that mingled with hers.
In that moment, he was neither Anakin Skywalker nor Lord Vader. He was a simple, lost child, who had strayed too far from the path, and the woman comforting him was his wife, his life, his light.
And she was enough.
Padmé had not believed what she had seen, had not even dreamed that he could have possibly come back to her. She had felt shock at first as he had fallen down on the floor, and as he had screamed, eyes closing to see darkness. It was only when he had broken down, sobbing pitifully like a small child, that she had understood.
She had her own revelation, no less stunning. She came back to herself, realizing who she was, what had happened. Her strength had grown until she was Padmé again, the Padmé who had been Queen, who had been Anakin Skywalker's wife.
She had looked down on him then, and emotions had stirred in her. First, there had been a sense of vindictiveness, of knowing that this was what he deserved. Then, there had been pity, and finally something that was neither.
She was still his wife, still the one he loved. Even in his darkest throes, she had loved him, had always been there. She was still his light, his life, and he was still hers. They could deal with what he had done later. Right now, she had to comfort him, and he needed her. Compassion overcame her as she wept into his hair and he clung to her.
It seemed like hours that they were in each other's arms, weeping, comforting and fearing. It might have been; time did not matter, not now.
Anakin finally pulled away from her, eyes lowered. He said, in a dark, weary, broken voice, "I do not deserve comfort."
Padmé looked at him, still full of compassion and tenderness.
"Don't call me that," he hissed, turning towards her. She looked into his eyes and saw flat despair and darkness, his eyes haunted and shadowed.
"I am nothing," he murmured softly, turning away.
She waited for a second before speaking.
"You were something once," she said. She took his hand, and he did not resist, although his muscles tensed.
She took his hand, the one that had grabbed her throat earlier, and put it on her belly so he could feel the answering kick from their child. His eyes regarded her stomach with something less then curiosity; detachment.
"You were my husband, Anakin."
His eyes met hers, and she saw limitless pain in them. He took his hand away.
"That was before... before what I did."
She could see him forcing himself to say the words, forcing himself to come to terms with what he had done, saying it bitterly.
"There is still hope for you."
His expression met hers, his eyes looking dead and dull.
"There is no hope, Padmé."
A light entered her eyes, and she reached towards his hand, touching it, taking it with her own. She put it up to her cheek, noting that it trembled. She closed her eyes, giving him warmth and love, love that had left him.
"I am your hope," she uttered softly.
She could feel the struggle within him, the need to give in to her and allow himself to be loved. She touched his hand with her lips softly, and he withdrew it, snatching it away as if her touch had burned.
"Leave," he said suddenly. "Leave; you and the baby will be better off that way."
She could see the tears trickling down his cheeks, illuminated by the dark red lava below them.
She kept her silence, not knowing what to say. He turned towards her abruptly, eyes pleading with her to condemn him.
"I killed children, Padmé. Children. I slaughtered them. They were innocents, and I..."
Padmé's soul ached with the words.
"It does not matter, Anakin. You are still my husband, still the one I love, still the one I will always love." Her eyes regarded his tortured ones silently, and she acknowledged, "Yes, you have done terrible things."
He looked down, and she saw regret and remorse in every line, every fiber of his being. She swallowed, as the reality of his words threatened to sink into her, filling her with the same revulsion. And she felt everything he did, his words and emotions slowly filling her to the brim until she knew what it felt like to be Anakin Skywalker
"In the end," she choked out, gasping with emotion, "There is still hope." His haunted, dark eyes turned to her. "For both of us."
"I need you, Anakin," she said, and it was a plea, a desperate, gaping need that threatened to destroy her. It was her weakness and her strength; they were children, comforting each other in the dark, reliant only on each other's light to lead the other into a world of insidious evil that threatened to swallow them whole.
"And you need me, Love." She knelt before him, and he did not resist her as she mouthed in his ear, "I love you."
The simple transcendence of those words washed over Anakin, leaving him stunned and frightened. He shrunk away from the warmth, from her light and her love, not wanting to know it because he did not deserve it, because had hurt her, because he could still hurt her. He did not deserve her; he never had, he was worlds below her, she a radiant angel that dared to bestow her glory on a depraved, destroyed creature of the night.
Her eyes pleaded with his, even as he wanted to tell her to stop, that he was not worth saving, he could remember.
He could remember the man he had been, the small, easy, calm grin that had tugged at his lips sometimes. He could remember Obi-Wan, could remember loving his master like a brother. He could remember waves of pure radiance, washing over him simply by being in her presence.
The memories were tinted with bitterness, knowing that he could never go back to that life, could never be the man she claimed to love. She would be safer without him, safer apart.
Her hand was extended in the air between them. It was pale and radiant, seeming to rise up out of the darkness of the air around them. She shone with beauty and light, even with her red-rimmed eyes and dried blood in a stream down from her mouth. Her presence lifted him out of the mire, and even as he resisted, he knew that he could not any longer, because he needed her, and even now, he was too selfish to refuse what she was giving him...
A chance to start over...
"Love?" His voice rasped in his throat, halting and unsteady. He attempted a feeble, weak, bitter chuckle. "I don't deserve this."
She grabbed his hand, holding it with her own, and this time, he found the strength to hold her back, to give her hand a gentle squeeze.
"None of us deserve what we are given, Annie." Her eyes radiated out compassion and tenderness, promising comfort. "But, even through all that you have done... I love you."
He allowed the words to soak into him as he stood, getting stumblingly to his feet, seeing clearly for the first time. A bit of the old life returned to his eyes, and he smiled.
"You and I... we will go far away," he breathed, finally realizing. "No one will ever find us, and our child." She smiled, kissing his hand, and he did not resist her. "We will be happy, Love."
The true wonder of those words soaked into his soul, setting him ablaze with light and radiance. He shone again, suddenly, and the darkness, all of it, it seemed like a bad dream, like none of it had ever happened, and he was just now waking.
She pulled him into an embrace, rocking him back and forth. He smiled contently, eyes closing in bliss and relief as they reached for each other in the Force, presences mixing and melding and twisting together. The pure joy of it all threatened to overwhelm him, and the emotion that he had not been able to feel for so long over-brimmed, sending him into spiraling waves of relief and ecstasy as he breathed in her presence. She was his salvation, his guiding light.
"I love you," he whispered, and she smiled as he held her.
"I know," she said against the coarse, rough material of his cloak. "I know."