Disclaimer:
The following is a work of fanfiction. All characters and situations belonging to the Star Wars saga are copyrighted to Lucasfilm Ltd. The story contains dialogue and actions from the "Revenge of the Sith" screenplay written by George Lucas. There is also a single line of dialogue taken from the "Attack of the Clones" screenplay, which was written by George Lucas and Jonathan Hales. Everything else, including original characters, is of my own creation.

Author's Notes:
This story is a tale of what-if? for "Revenge of the Sith." I know there are numerous others already out there, many much better than mine, but I felt compelled to write this story. I am a huge fan of the Anakin/Padmé relationship and I feel that everything went wrong for them because Obi-Wan Kenobi arrived on Mustafar. This story is my way of extrapolating what might have happened if he had not stowed aboard Padmé's ship.
All questions and comments may be e-mailed to me. Please see my profile for details.
Thank you and I hope you enjoy the story.

A New Destiny
by
Julie Horwitz

"Anakin is the father, isn't he?" Obi-Wan Kenobi asked, already knowing the answer but curious to see if Padmé would confirm it.

But Padmé said nothing, gazing down at her lap as she had for most of this difficult conversation.

"I'm so sorry," he told her, apologizing for more than she could ever possibly know.

This was all his fault. All of it. Because he had failed as a master.

And now the entire galaxy was paying the price.

Because of him.

But now was not the time to indulge in his feelings. He had a duty to fulfill.

No matter how painful it would be to do so.

Obi-Wan returned to his waiting speeder and entered the cockpit. If his plan was going to work, Padmé had to believe him gone.

Padmé would now go straight to Anakin. He knew that she would want to hear his side of the story as well. Although she had denied the possibility of Anakin having turned to the dark side, Padmé was smart enough to know that she needed all the facts before passing judgment. It was one of the qualities that made her such a good leader.

And by doing so, she would lead Obi-Wan right to him.

Obi-Wan took off from the landing pad and keyed in the coordinates for the hanger where he knew Padmé's private ship was kept.

He had put his plan into motion. All he had to do now was get on board her ship and wait for her to bring him to Anakin.

No, not Anakin, he reminded himself. The Sith who had replaced him. Anakin is gone. He has been consumed by the dark side.

Or so he kept telling himself.

As if that would make the terrible task that awaited him any easier.

8888888

Padmé Amidala Skywalker's mind was whirling. How dare Obi-Wan accuse Anakin of such things! He would never, never willingly commit such atrocities! He was a good person, a good Jedi. He would never...

Or would he?

As painful as it was to admit, her husband had a darkness in him. A darkness that she had seen rise to the surface more than once.

A darkness that frightened her.

Anakin was a good man, but, more often than not, he let his emotions get the better of him. Anakin felt things so deeply, so powerfully, that he had trouble controlling them. Many times, they controlled him. Sometimes causing him to do things that he later regretted...

Her mind returned to their brief reunion of the night before. Although Anakin had been acting calm and collected, perhaps even slightly controlling, Padmé had sensed his emotional turmoil. Anakin could hide his true feelings from everyone but her. She always knew when he was upset. And last night he had been more upset than she had seen him since the death of his mother...

And she had known why the moment he had told her of the so-called Jedi betrayal. She had scarcely believed it then and could hardly believe it now, even after Palpatine's speech, but it had been no wonder that Anakin had been so shaken. The Jedi had been his family, his entire world, since he was nine years old. For him to believe that they were traitors and had tried to kill someone so close to him...

Was it possible that he had felt so betrayed by them that he had lashed out in anger? He had done it once before. Padmé would never forget his tortured confession.

I killed them. I killed them all.

He had wiped out an entire village of Sand People because they had killed his mother. He had struck at them out of grief and rage. Would it really be so surprising if he had...

No! she admonished herself for thinking such things. He wouldn't have! Obi-Wan is wrong!

Obi-Wan...

But why would Obi-Wan have told her such horrible lies about Anakin? For what purpose? She had never known him to be anything but honest and straightforward. She had difficulty thinking of him, of any of the Jedi, as traitors to the Republic. (She could not bring herself to refer to the government by its new title yet. The shock was still too fresh.) Yet that is what both Anakin and Palpatine said they were. Why would either of them say something like that, especially Anakin, who was one of them, unless it was true?

As far as she knew, none of them had any reason to lie. Obi-Wan, the noble Jedi, who always appeared to have the best interests of the Republic at heart. Anakin, her beloved husband, who had of late become convinced that the Jedi were not who they should be. Palpatine, her one-time friend and mentor, the man who had single-handedly kept the Republic together over the last three years.

Palpatine, who had changed so much since the beginning of the war...

Palpatine is the Sith Lord we have been looking for.

If that was true...

No! She refused to believe that Anakin had turned! He wouldn't!

He couldn't!

But she had to admit that she was having less and less trouble believing Obi-Wan about Palpatine. Palpatine was no longer the man she had once admired and strived to emulate. He had turned cold and calculating, isolating himself from all but his chosen few companions. (One of which had been Anakin...) He had stopped listening to the Senate and did whatever he wanted to do anyway. Yes, he had maintained the pretense of democracy until this morning's shocking announcement, but she and many others had doubted his intentions for some time now. And now he had proclaimed himself emperor...

No, there could no longer be any doubts. Palpatine was a Sith Lord. The Sith Lord.

And her poor Anakin worshipped the very ground he walked on.

Oh Anakin!

Padmé felt her entire universe crashing down around her. Nothing would ever be the same again. What kind of world was she bringing her child into? What was going to happen to her and everyone she knew and loved?

She was desperately afraid. For herself and her child.

For Anakin.

Anakin had been having doubts about the intentions of Jedi ever since he had returned from the Outer Rim. Doubts that had surfaced almost as soon as Palpatine had appointed him to be his personal representative on the Jedi Council. It would not be so farfetched to believe that Palpatine had used whatever Anakin was reporting to him to turn Anakin against the Jedi. (Hadn't Obi-Wan even said he'd been deceived by a lie?) Anakin listened to everything Palpatine told him.

And believed it without question.

Her mind again revisited last night's conversation. She had only half-listened to his words, her fear for his safety the most important thing on her mind. But now certain things he had said stood out in her memory with crystal clarity: that the Jedi were trying to overthrow the Republic and that he had witnessed Master Windu try to assassinate Palpatine.

She had known Master Windu. He would never have tried to assassinate anyone. He, like Obi-Wan, had been an exemplary Jedi. The Jedi were defenders of the peace. They were never the aggressors in any confrontation. They only killed in self-defense or for the greater good.

And it was in everyone's best interest for a Sith Lord to die...

A scenario quickly formed in her mind. Anakin, poor misguided Anakin, must have witnessed Master Windu's attempt to bring Palpatine to justice. Having already been convinced by Palpatine that the Jedi were trying to take over the Republic, Anakin would have seen it as an assassination attempt. And since Anakin thought of Palpatine as a father figure, he would have reacted accordingly.

As he would have for anyone he deeply cared about.

Though the thought disgusted her, she could no longer deny the possibility of Anakin's participation in the Temple massacre. Anakin truly believed the Jedi had betrayed the Republic and had tried to murder a man he loved. He would have been devastated by this "revelation."

As he had been devastated by his mother's death...

And Obi-Wan had mentioned a security hologram...

Suddenly, it all became clear to her. That was why Obi-Wan believed he had turned to the dark side. He did not know about Anakin's tendency to lose control to his emotions. He only saw the events from the Jedi perspective. What would seem the act of a Sith was really only the reaction of a man in pain.

You're going to kill him, aren't you?

He has become a very great threat.

She couldn't be angry at Obi-Wan. He was only doing what he believed to be the right thing. He did not know Anakin as she did. No one did.

There was only one thing to do: she had to get to Anakin before Obi-Wan did. She would find him on Mustafar and then she would bring him someplace safe, somewhere where no one would ever think to look for him. Someplace where they could raise their child in peace. Someplace where the Empire or the remaining Jedi could not find them.

Anakin would come with her, she knew. He always listened to her. She knew her happiness came first to him and nothing would make her happier than for them to be together.

Her mind made up, she went over to the nearest console and signaled Captain Typho on his comlink...

8888888

Anakin Skywalker gazed out at the molten river as he struggled to keep his mind off of the terrible acts he had just committed. He did not want to think about any of it. So much death...

All by his own hand.

I'm doing this all for Padmé, he reminded himself. That's the only reason. If there were any other way... But there's not and I have to save her. I have to!

So why did he feel so disgusted and dirty?

Because I've killed so many people...

So many children...

He hated himself for it. As he still hated himself for the village of Sand People...

He understood why all the Jedi had to die. (And the Separatists as well. Those deaths had been satisfying. It was because of them that the galaxy had been at war for all this time. With their demise, there would be peace again.) They were too dangerous. (And who could know better than someone who had once been one of them?) They would not give up their power without a fight. A fight that would kill even more people. People like Padmé... Destroying them was the only way to ensure the galaxy would be free from their tyranny. There was no other way to stop them.

But the younglings...

This was the only order of his master's that he did not understand. Why had he wanted them killed too? They were...had been...young enough to be easily made to forget their Jedi teachings. What had been the point of murdering innocent children?

Only then will you be strong enough in the dark side to save Padmé.

It was true that he felt more powerful than he had ever felt before. His Force abilities were growing stronger with every passing moment. The dark side was an amazing source. But could the deaths of children have really made all that much difference?

A wave of guilt crashed over him as he remembered the fear in their eyes. The sound of their screams.

The look on the face of the boy who had asked him for help...

Tears came to his eyes and rolled down his face.

I'm so sorry.

How had it come to this? Why? Why did children have to die in order for his love to live?

Padmé.

All of this was for Padmé. Every choice, every act. All of it. Everything he did was to ensure her safety. Nothing else mattered. As he had told his master, he could not live without her. Life was not worth living unless she was there by his side. He would do anything to save her. Anything and everything.

Even kill children.

The dark side was the key to her survival. He would do whatever it took to master its secrets. He would not rest until he knew his vision would not come true. He loved her so much. He could not lose her.

He would not lose her.

8888888

Obi-Wan kept himself hidden in the shadows as he waited for his opportunity to board the mobile platform that would bring Padmé's ship to its launch location. There were hanger workers and droids swarming all around the vehicle. Getting onto it without being seen would not be easy.

But he would get on board. He had to. It was his one and only way of finding Anakin.

Stop thinking of him as Anakin, he ordered himself. Anakin is dead. I'm going to confront a Sith.

So why did he feel as if he were going to commit a murder?

Anakin had always meant more to him than an apprentice, and later, a fellow Jedi, should have. He knew this and yet he had never fought their closeness. They had come together at a vulnerable time and they had formed a bond because of it. It had made the loss of Qui-Gon easier to bear.

Anakin was his friend and brother...his son. He loved him with all of his heart. He knew that such an attachment was against the Jedi Code, but he could not release it. It was too deeply ingrained in his soul. Besides, before now, it had never interfered with the performance of his duties. In fact, he had always felt that it had made them stronger as a team.

That was why he had turned a blind eye to Anakin's relationship with Padmé. There had never appeared to be any harm in it. Anakin had seemed the better person for it as well. Padmé had been good for him. And Anakin, though still impatient and headstrong, had matured into a fine Jedi. Obi-Wan could not have been prouder of his friend.

Until now.

Where had he gone wrong? What could he have done differently to prevent this tragedy? He knew it was his fault. Anakin had been his responsibility, his apprentice. Everything Anakin knew he had learned from him. Whatever flaw Anakin had that had enabled the Sith Lord to lure him to the dark side was there because he had missed it.

Stop it, he commanded himself. I don't have time for this. I have a job to do.

He forced his mind back onto the task at hand. He would need his full concentration to pull this off. Concentration and the Force.

He took a deep breath and prepared to immerse himself in the oneness of the Force. The Force would guide him. It would...

"Hey, you there!"

The sudden voice startled Obi-Wan, bringing him out of his half-trance.

"Just what do you think you're doing? This is a restricted area."

"Come out where we can see you. No funny business," the same voice said but from another direction.

A very familiar voice...

Clones. He had been discovered by a patrol of clone troopers.

Clone troopers who were under instructions to terminate any Jedi on sight.

Force, no! Not now! Not this!

He had failed before he had even begun. The moment they realized he was a Jedi, they would open fire on him. He was as good as dead. What was he going to do?

Think, Obi-Wan! Think! Clear your mind!

"I said come out where we can see you," the clone repeated. "If you don't come of your own free will, we will get you out anyway."

"There's no need to be so nasty, gentlemen," he quipped as a means of buying himself time. He moved into the light but kept his back to the troopers to prevent them from spotting his lightsaber. "See? I have done as you asked. I promise I won't cause you any trouble."

Moving as little as possible, he detached his lightsaber from his belt. His only chance at survival was to take out the clones and make a run for it before any of the workers or droids were able to react. Where he would go he had not decided yet. He was living in the moment as Qui-Gon had taught him. He could plan his next move once he was out of danger. He may have failed in his mission to stop Anakin now, but there were other ways to protect the innocent from the Sith.

"Turn around," the same voice ordered, though it could have been any of the clones. "Slowly."

"Of course," he said agreeably.

And then he did.

But not slowly.

In a matter of seconds, all five of the squad members had been taken out.

"See? No trouble at all."

"It's a Jedi!" a voice shouted from behind him.

"Call security!" another cried. "Sound the alarms!"

Obi-Wan didn't stick around to hear any more. He began to run, stretching out with the Force as he went. The Force would guide him to safety.

And then he would figure out what he was going to do next.

8888888

Obi-Wan pulled the "borrowed" air taxi ("You are off duty for the rest of the day. You can go home now.") into the nearest docking port and quickly jumped out of the cockpit, moving into the shadows of the nearest alleyway. He doubted he had been followed from the hanger (he had descended three levels and flown the taxi into another district), but it never hurt to be careful.

What was he going to do now? He had failed once again. Master Yoda would not be pleased.

At least I know that this isn't my fault, he consoled himself.

Suddenly a thought struck him.

Padmé.

Padmé was on her way to Anakin.

Alone.

She was in the gravest danger and she didn't even know it. Anakin was no longer the man she knew. He had been consumed by the dark side, twisted beyond recognition.

Evil.

What would he do to poor Padmé? If anything of Anakin still existed, perhaps there was hope that he would not hurt her. But there was a slim to none chance of that. As Obi-Wan had been taught since he was a youngling, the dark side destroyed all that was good in a being. It recreated them, erasing all that they had been.

Padmé and her unborn child were as good as dead.

Yet another failure on his part.

Now the galaxy's only hope was that Master Yoda could defeat the Sith Lord. And if anyone could do that, it was Yoda.

But if he failed...

He pulled out his comlink. He knew he had to get out of the open. The entire planet had been turned against the Jedi. He could not risk being recognized again. There was only one person left on Coruscant that he knew he could trust.

"Senator Organa, this is Obi-Wan Kenobi. Come in, please."

"Yes, Master Kenobi?" the senator answered immediately. "I have just brought Master Yoda to the Senate. How can I help you?"

"I've just had an encounter with a squad of clones and now the security forces have been alerted to my presence," he informed him. "I need your assistance in getting off of the streets. Can you send someone to pick me up?"

"I will come for you myself," Organa assured him. "Master Yoda has asked that I remain available in case anything goes wrong. Send me your coordinates and I will be there as soon as I can."

In case anything goes wrong.

So even Yoda had doubts of his own ability to defeat the Sith Lord. If Yoda did not believe he could win, what hope did anyone have?

"Thank you, Senator. I am sending my coordinates now." He keyed his location into the comlink. "I await your arrival."

He reclipped the comlink to his belt and lowered himself to the ground. He did not know how long it would take the senator to get to him. He would rest and meditate while he waited.

He would need all his strength for the unknown trials that lay ahead.

8888888

Padmé's anxiety reached its peak as Mustafar appeared in the viewport of her ship. The flight from Coruscant had given her time to think and her thoughts had been anything but pleasant. She was more terrified now for Anakin's well-being than she had been when Obi-Wan had shared his beliefs with her.

Anakin had told her that he was going to Mustafar on the orders of the Chancellor to "end this war." What that exactly meant she still could not say. All she knew was that the Separatists were there. Or had been...

From what Obi-Wan had told her, Anakin had already been out of control by the time he came to see her. He had been distraught and confused, convinced that his family had betrayed him. She had no trouble believing that he had taken out his misery on a group of beings that he had admitted to hating.

An act that would further fuel Obi-Wan's convictions...

She still refused to believe that Anakin had turned to the dark side. It was a misunderstanding, plain and simple. Obi-Wan did not know of Anakin's inability to control his emotions in times of great stress. (And she could not think of anything more stressful than this.)

She had to get him away from here, bring him someplace safe. It was only a matter of time before Obi-Wan found him if he remained out in the open. Hiding was his only chance of survival.

However, Anakin would have to believe that going into hiding was his own idea. His ego was so fragile, a result of growing up as a slave. It made him feel good to think that he was in control of something, anything. The Jedi Code was so strict and she knew it stifled him at times. So she let him believe that he made all the important decisions in their marriage. It was a gift, a demonstration of her love for him. (She was truly the decision-maker, a given due to her being older and having more experience in the ways of the universe, but Anakin didn't realize that and she intended to keep it that way.) And now it was the key to saving his life.

She loved him so much and the thought of losing him was too painful to contemplate. He was everything to her, perhaps all she had left in a universe that had been turned upside before her very eyes.

Without him, she would have no reason to go on living.

8888888

"Very good, my lord," Anakin acknowledged his master and immediately set to carrying out his new orders.

However, his concentration was broken by the sounding of a proximity alarm. He looked up to see that the scanners had detected an approaching ship.

Who?

Both he and his master had been certain that all of the Separatists had been here before he arrived. And Mustafar was an out of the way planet that no one visited unless they were connected to the mining company who operated the outpost. So who could it be? And what was their purpose in coming here?

As soon as the ship was identified as being of Nubian origin, he knew who was coming.

Padmé.

"Oh, no," he whispered.

What was she doing here? Why hadn't she waited as he had asked her to? Was there something wrong? With her?

The baby?

He became immediately fearful. She wouldn't have disobeyed his request without a good reason. Padmé was the most level-headed person he knew. She never acted without first thinking it through. (Well, that wasn't entirely true, something he would be forever grateful for.) If she was here, it was because she had to be here.

Panicked and worried, he raced outside to meet her.

8888888

Padmé took a few moments to collect herself . She needed to have a clear head before dealing with Anakin. If she gave free reign to her fear and worries, she'd never be able to guide him to the conclusion that going into hiding was their only available option. She'd be too busy crying, a luxury she couldn't afford right now.

Anakin appeared from within the lone complex. She quickly released the hatch and spun her seat around, bounding to her feet. She practically ran out of the ship and was truly running once she reached the outside.

She threw herself into his arms the instant he was with her.

Thank the Force! He's all right! I got to him first!

"I saw your ship," Anakin said by way of greeting as he slackened his hold on her. "What are you doing out here?"

This was it. The moment had arrived. She had to convince him to take her away from everything. She would have to choose her words carefully. His life depended on it.

"I was so worried about you," she began. She stroked his arms, hoping to convey her sense of urgency. "Obi-Wan told me terrible things."

It was a gamble to mention Obi-Wan, who was the one "traitor" Anakin had been closest to. But she needed him to be aware of the danger he was in.

"What things?"

There was a hint of disbelief in his voice, as if he couldn't believe Obi-Wan would have so blatantly gone to see Padmé after everything that had happened.

"He said...you'd turned to the dark side," she told him truthfully, hating herself for even having to say those words. "That you...killed younglings."

Here was his chance to confess everything and get it off of his chest. She knew it was killing him, as his secret about the Sand People had killed him until he shared it with her. He knew he could tell her anything. He was her husband and she would love him no matter what. She understood why he did some of the things he did, even if they were reprehensible to her. It was a part of who he was. His emotions reigned supreme.

But he didn't confess. Instead, he said something that was completely unexpected and very unlike him.

"Obi-Wan is trying to turn you against me."

It was spoken with such calm, such surety, as if Anakin knew this to be the truth. And if Padmé didn't know Obi-Wan as she did she would have been tempted to believe him.

But why would he think something like that? He may have believed Obi-Wan to be a traitor to the Republic, but to their friendship? It made no sense. He was obviously more upset than she had realized.

"He cares about us," she assured him and it was true. Obi-Wan believed he would be doing Anakin a service by killing him if he had gone to the dark side. It would not be a cold-blooded murder. Obi-Wan saw it as a mercy, as any Jedi would.

"Us?" Anakin questioned, an unsettling tone in his voice.

Something wasn't right. Anakin wasn't acting at all like himself. Was he in shock from all that had happened?

"He knows," she confirmed, running her hands along his arms to soothe him. She decided it was best to tell a small lie, one that was partially true. "He wants to help you."

Anakin smirked at that, as if he found the very thought funny.

And at that moment, Padmé began to doubt her conviction that Anakin had not turned to the dark side...

8888888

"Anakin, all I want is your love," Padmé said with an urgency in her voice. An urgency that confused Anakin.

Didn't she know she already had his love? This was all because he loved her. Why else would he be doing all of this? It was all for her. To save her...

"Love won't save you, Padmé," he explained. "Only my new powers can do that."

"At what cost? You're a good person. Don't do this."

Her behavior continued to puzzle him. What was she talking about? Of course he had to do this! There was no other way to keep her from dying. He had to make her understand.

"I won't lose you the way I lost my mother," he told her.

She knew how he felt about his mother, how her death had affected him. Didn't she realize that losing her would be much worse? He had been able to survive his mother's death only because he had her, her love. If he lost her, he'd have no one...

"I am becoming more powerful than any Jedi has ever dreamed of and I'm doing it for you. To protect you."

He didn't know how to make himself any clearer. She couldn't have forgotten about his dream. She knew it had been bothering him. Didn't she remember his promise to save her? A promise made out of the love he had for her. The love that he knew they shared.

A love that he couldn't live without.

But Padmé's expression only grew more distraught, as if his words had been hurtful when they were anything but. They were words of love.

She brought her hands up to his head, stroking his hair as she often did when trying to comfort him.

"Come away with me," she spoke, sounding strangely desperate now. "Help me raise our child. Leave everything else behind while we still can."

Now she wasn't making any sense. She obviously didn't realize what he had helped to bring about. The Republic, which had been ailing for a long time, was finally dead. And the Jedi Order and its unfair Code along with it. A new day was dawning. One in which their marriage didn't have to remain a secret. Things would be different now.

Better.

"Don't you see? We don't have to run away anymore. I have brought peace to the Republic."

An idea suddenly came to him. For the past three years, ever since the war had begun, Padmé had not been happy with the way the Chancellor had been running the government. She felt that he had stifled the democracy that she loved so dearly. Maybe if she was allowed to reshape the Republic into her ideal...

The more he thought about it, the more he liked it. And it made a lot of sense. He could think of no one more qualified to run a government than his beloved. And if his master didn't like it...

Although he knew he truly needed his master's guidance in obtaining the power to save Padmé, her happiness came first. If she wanted the Chancellor gone, Anakin would make sure he disappeared. Nothing was more important than Padmé.

Nothing.

Besides, he had always been more powerful than his master. He was more powerful than anyone, always had been and always would be. He was, after all, the Chosen One. In fact, he could probably figure out how to save Padmé on his own. It would just take a little longer.

"I am more powerful than the Chancellor," he informed her. "I-I can overthrow him. And together you and I can rule the galaxy. Make things the way we want them to be!"

He grew more excited as he thought about it. They would create their own perfect world! Padmé would never have to worry about anything ever again. It would be wonderful! And he could make it happen! All because of his new powers!

But much to his shock, Padmé was backing away from him. Away! From him! Her husband!

She was shaking her head as she spoke. "I don't believe what I'm hearing. Obi-Wan was right. You've changed."

Obi-Wan! So that's what was wrong! It was the influence of his former master.

In his desperation to explain what he was doing for her, he had forgotten about Obi-Wan's visitation. How dare he! Obi-Wan had no right to speak to her now. He was a traitor to the Republic, a member of the despicable Jedi. And as if to prove how evil he was, he had tried to turn Padmé against him. His wife, his love!

And it seemed as if he had succeeded...

Damn you!

In that moment, he hated Obi-Wan more than he had ever hated anyone in his entire life.

The next time they met, Obi-Wan would pay dearly for this.

Fatally.

8888888

"I don't want to hear anymore about Obi-Wan," Anakin declared in a voice that was unmistakably a threat. "The Jedi turned against me. Don't you turn against me."

Against him?! she thought. How could he even say that? Even think it? She loved him! Didn't he know that? Or was he too far gone? Did any of her husband still exist in the stranger before her?

Why hadn't she listened to Obi-Wan? If only she had believed him! Now Anakin was angry at her, something until this very instant she had never dreamed could happen. And, as she knew all too well, Anakin's anger was dangerous.

She suddenly became very afraid.

"I don't know you anymore," she blurted, tears in her voice. There was no reason not to cry now. She had failed in her quest. It had been doomed to fail the moment Anakin had gone to the dark side. Her beloved husband was no longer there, just as Obi-Wan said.

Yet...

"Anakin, you're breaking my heart," she continued, desperate to reach the man she loved, unable to believe he was completely gone no matter how different he was acting. How could a man speaking of love be wholly evil? "You're going down a path I can't follow."

"Because of Obi-Wan?" he demanded to know in a calm voice that barely concealed the rage she sensed within it.

"Because of what you've done...what you plan to do," she told him. She tried one last time, hoping, praying that he'd hear her. "Stop, stop now. Come back! I love you!"

"Do you?" he challenged.

Padmé felt sick at his words. If Anakin had gotten to the point where he could doubt her love for him...

"If you don't know, then there's really nothing left to say to each other," she quietly answered. "Goodbye, Anakin."

She had to get away from him, from what he had become. It was too painful to be around him now. Her husband was truly gone. There was no telling of what this stranger before her was capable of doing.

"You're-you're leaving?" he questioned, shock momentarily replacing the anger in his voice. But only for a moment. "You're going back to him, aren't you? To Obi-Wan?"

"And why would I do that, Anakin? I don't love Obi-Wan. I love you."

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Anakin desperately clung to his rage. It was the only thing keeping the hurt and betrayal at bay.

"They why are you leaving?"

This was all Obi-Wan's doing. He had poisoned Padmé's mind against him with his Jedi lies. He had made her not want to be with him. Made her fear him...

He could feel how afraid of him she was. That alone hurt him more than anything else. How could she ever believe that he'd harm her? He'd never do anything to hurt her. He loved her! She was his everything. Why else would he have done all of this if not for her? All he wanted was to save her, to keep her from dying.

He had wanted to protect her from knowing about the horrible acts he had been forced to perform for her sake. But Obi-Wan had told her, convincing her that he, her husband, was evil. Now she was afraid of him and thought he would harm her.

I hate you, Master. You will pay for this.

"Why do you think?" Padmé replied. "You say you've done all of this for me, but all you appear to care about are these new powers you keep talking about. What you say you're going to do with them."

"For you," he argued. He had to somehow prove his good intentions to her. To make her understand that his powers were just a tool, a means to save her. The rest was just to make their life better. He had to make her see! "To save you."

"For what reason?" she challenged. "There's no place for me in this new life of yours. And even if there were, I want no part of it. You should know that, Anakin. You have helped Palpatine destroy everything that I have ever cared about.

"Even yourself."

Words had always been Padmé's most effective weapon. She wielded them with a skill comparable to any Jedi with a lightsaber. She knew which ones would cause the most damage.

He wanted so badly to be angry at her, to hate her for thinking these things of him, but he couldn't. He loved her too much. She had been blinded by Obi-Wan's lies. Any anger he built up against her faded as quickly as it had formed, leaving him feeling cold inside.

"You're so wrong, Padmé," he insisted. "All I care about is you. Nothing else matters. All I want is to protect you. But I can only do that with my new powers. It's the only way to keep you from dying."

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That dream! He was still obsessed with that damn dream!

"Your dream won't come true, Anakin, I promise," she informed him. She had become less afraid as their conversation had continued. His anger had all but disappeared. If anything, he now seemed...desperate, as if the thought of her leaving was upsetting him.

She allowed herself to hope again that the real Anakin was still in there.

"It was a coincidence last time. Let this go! Please!"

There was no reason in this day and age for a woman as healthy as she was to die in childbirth. If only she could get Anakin to believe her...

"How can I?" he shot back. "I dreamed that Mom died and she did! Now I've dreamed about your death. If I don't do something, you'll die! I can't allow that to happen! Not again! Not you!"

He was visibly upset by the fact that she didn't believe him about the supposedly prophetic nature of his dream. He was utterly convinced that unless he did something, she would die.

And then it dawned on her.

The dream was the key to everything that had happened.

It was because of the dream that they were having this very conversation. His belief that it was going to come true was the driving force behind his actions. He was so determined to keep her from dying that he would do anything to save her.

Even turn to the dark side.

She had been blind. All the clues had been there since the beginning of the encounter, but she had not put them together until now. She had been shaken by his talk of power and protecting her but she had not understood what he had really meant. Not until now.

Obi-Wan had been both right and wrong. Anakin had gone to the dark side, but it was only because he thought he had no other choice. Her Anakin was still there. He just needed some coaxing to return to the surface.

Perhaps something slightly cruel...

"But I'm already dying."

The shock of before had returned.

"No! Don't say that! You're not! You can't be!"

"Think about it," she pressed, glad to see that he was reacting as expected. If he did not love her anymore, he would not care. "Everything I love has been destroyed. The Republic. Democracy. What do I have left to live for?"

He stared at her, his face pale.

Before he could say anything, she added, "And you're the one who's killing me."

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Padmé's words hit Anakin like a Force push. So harsh were they.

So cruel...

"No..." he barely managed to get out. "You can't..."

"You single-handedly helped Palpatine wipe out my entire world," she went on. "You claim you did it to save me from your dream. But how will such...such...evil save me? I would rather die than be saved by something I hate."
"Padmé, please listen..."

She couldn't mean that. She couldn't! Didn't his love mean anything to her? Why couldn't she understand that he had had no other choice?

"And what makes you think Palpatine will even let me live? He knows I hate everything he stands for. He will want me gone because he knows I'll oppose him with every breath in my body."

"I won't let my master harm you," he declared. If the Chancellor ever, ever tried to hurt Padmé... Master or not, his suffering would be indescribable.

"Can you truly disobey him?" she questioned. "You killed when he told you to."

"That's different," he explained. If only she could understand the nature of the dark side. It required dark emotions to call on it. If he had not killed...

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"Is it?" Padmé demanded of Anakin. She knew she was so close to reaching him. He was extremely upset now. He reminded her of a little boy struggling to explain why he had disobeyed his mother. His answers were not coming as easily as before. He was having difficulty explaining himself.

"The Jedi were all traitors," Anakin said. "And the Separatists-"

"Even the younglings?" she cut him off, realizing for the first time that he had been in complete control during the Temple slaughter. It had not been the emotional explosion that she had convinced herself it was.

That stopped him cold. His face fell and then he looked down.

"No... They..."

Padmé knew then that she had won the argument. She had found his weak spot. He felt guilt for the younglings and didn't even try to defend what he had done to them.

She had nothing further to say to him. The next move would have to be his.

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Anakin suddenly knew he had lost her once and for all. She would never understand why he had done what he had done. She didn't believe that his dream would come true unless he had the power to stop it. All she could see was the horror he had wrought.

She wanted no part of him or his love anymore.

It was all Obi-Wan's fault. If only he had not told Padmé...

No, he could not put the blame on Obi-Wan anymore. Not for this. He himself had not wanted Padmé to find out what he had done to gain the means of saving her. If he had been disgusted, he could only imagine the horror Padmé had felt when she had learned of it. He had done this to himself.

Padmé was leaving because of him.

And it was a fate much worse than if she had died.

He wanted to cry. All he had wanted was to save her and now he was losing her because of what he had done. It had been for nothing. She hated him now, he knew. And with good reason. He was despicable, a disgusting person who had committed unforgivable atrocities.

He hated himself more than she ever could.

"Padmé," he murmured and he felt the tears come despite his struggle to resist them.

She was everything to him. His life, his love. Without her, he would have nothing. As he had told her all those years ago, she was in his very soul.

He would rather die than go on without her.

He forced himself to look at her one last time before she disappeared.

"Please don't leave me," he begged, knowing that it would not do any good but wanting to try anyway.

"Please."

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Padmé was frozen in place. She could not believe what she was seeing. What she was hearing. Anakin was begging, actually begging, her not to leave him.

It was probably the most pathetic sight she had ever seen.

And the most heart-wrenching.

She had never seen him like this before.

She had thought she had seen Anakin at his lowest after his mother died. He had been almost inconsolable then, only allowing her to reach him after his confession and breakdown. But this far surpassed that. He looked like a man with nothing else to lose.

And, in truth, he was.

"Please don't leave me," he managed again, dropping to his knees. "I'll do anything. Please."

She snapped out of her shock and did the only thing that she could:

She went over to him, got down onto the ground, and pulled him into her arms.

His response was immediate. He wrapped his arms around her and buried his face in the crook of her neck.

"Padmé..."

And then he began to sob.

"It's all right now," she soothed. "Everything's going to be all right."

She was once again reminded of that horrible night on Tatooine and how he had cried then too. But these tears were different.

Worse.

"I'm so sorry," he managed. "I love you. I'm sorry. Please forgive me. I'm sorry."

She held on to him as he continued crying and apologizing over and over.

My poor Anakin.

She could not even begin to imagine what he had been going through. All she knew was that she had not been able to help him until now and she felt awful about it. If only she had paid more attention to him when he brought up his dream. Maybe she could have prevented all of this.

But what was done was done. She could not correct past wrongs but she could make up for them by saving his life in the here and now. Obi-Wan was still looking for him. Obi-Wan who would not stop until he believed that justice had been done.

Until Anakin was dead.

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Anakin was overwhelmed by all the thoughts and images he had been trying so hard to ignore since the beginning of this nightmare. But now they assaulted him, crashing over him and making him relive all the horrors he had carried out in his quest to save Padmé.

It was too much...

He couldn't keep anything in anymore. And the tears did not want to stop.

They could not stop.

He hated himself. He was a horrible person. The things he had done...

Yet if he was so awful, why was Padmé still here? Holding him? Comforting him?

Loving him?

He couldn't believe it. It seemed so unreal. He had been so sure that she was going to leave him. Hadn't she made it clear that she hated him now?

But she hadn't left. Instead she had come to him and taken him into her arms, speaking words of love and comfort.

He loved her so much.

"I'm so sorry," he told her again, meaning it more with every repetition.

"I know," she said in her soft voice. "Oh, Anakin. My poor Ani."

Ani. His hated childhood nickname that had become a term of endearment between them. She used it so rarely these days.

"We're going to get through this," she continued. "For once, let me protect you."

"I'll do anything," he vowed. "I love you."

Padmé had always been the wiser of the two of them. Although he liked to pretend that she relied on him, he was no fool. She was the one who had guided their relationship from the beginning. And he would have it no other way.

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Padmé stroked her husband's hair and back as she held him. It pained her to see him this way. Yet on some level, she was glad too.

As much as she loved him and wanted to protect him, she wanted him to feel some remorse for his horrendous actions. Although he had truly thought he was doing the right thing at the time, he had to also know how wrong it was. He had to learn to control his emotions better.

But right now it was more important to get him away from here. She had to hide him, to keep him safe. Obi-Wan would never believe that Anakin had returned from the dark side. She knew as much about the Jedi teachings as anyone and it was their belief that once someone choose the dark side, they were forever lost.

Today had proved that belief to be false.

She waited until Anakin's sobs had subsided. "Anakin, we need to get onto my ship. Can you stand?"

He pulled back from her embrace and nodded.

"I'm going to take you away from here. I'm going to find someplace safe for us."

He nodded again. "As long as we're together."

She gave him a small smile. "Always, my love."

She started getting to her feet, a move that had gotten more and more difficult with every passing month of pregnancy, but she felt Anakin's arms lift her the rest of the way.

She smiled at him again to show her gratitude and then she turned towards her ship only to have Anakin grab her gently by the arm.

"Wait," he said.

And then he kissed her.

Deeply and passionately.

Padmé knew she should have resisted, that there really was no time for this, but she could not help but surrender to the kiss. After all the emotions she had just been through, she needed a simple demonstration of love.

Anakin's love.

"Thank you," he whispered after ending the kiss.

She stroked his cheek. "You're welcome."

Then she took his hand in hers and led him to the sanctuary of her starship.

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"The beacon is coming from over there," Obi-Wan directed, pointing to a hatch on the underside of the Senate complex.

Bail smoothly guided the speeder underneath the hatch, which opened almost immediately upon their approach. There was a flash of movement and Master Yoda dropped into the vacant passenger seat. Bail immediately hit the accelerator and flew back into the traffic lanes.

"What happened, Master?" Obi-Wan questioned.

Yoda turned to peer at him. "Too strong, Sideous was. Defeat him, I could not. Failed, I have."

"As have I, Master," Obi-Wan confessed. "I still do not know where Anakin is. I did what you said, but..."

He hesitated, reluctant to reveal his worst failure of all. He knew he had most likely sent Padmé and her unborn child to their deaths. For that, he could never forgive himself.

"Speak later, we will, Obi-Wan," Yoda promised. "Much to discuss, we have. Our safety, for now more important. Last of the Jedi, we are."

"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan agreed. Master Yoda was right, as always. This was not the time or place for such a discussion. The senator did not need to know of his part in the evil that had befallen the galaxy.

"We will go back to my ship," Bail spoke up. "I'll take both of you wherever you wish to go. It is the least I can do."

"Thank you again, Senator," Obi-Wan said. "We are in your debt."

As the speeder continued along and the three beings lapsed into silence, Obi-Wan could not keep his mind from revisiting every single one of his failures.

Have I ever done anything right?

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Darth Sideous stretched out with the Force, desperate for some sign of his missing apprentice. Although his shuttle would reach Mustafar shortly, he was impatient to know what had happened. Why could he no longer sense Lord Vader?

It had happened during his duel with the little green pest. One moment he had felt the glorious churning emotions of his protégé in the Force and the next, nothing. It was as if he had just vanished. (The shock had caused him to momentarily lose his concentration, but only momentarily.) In all of his years of study, he had never heard of such a thing happening. Yet Vader was gone without a trace. It was almost as if he had never existed.

He was not dead. That he most definitely would have felt. So what had happened? Someone with a signature as strong as Vader's did not simply disappear from the Force. It was impossible.

It was imperative that he was recovered as quickly as possible. Vader was an irreplaceable asset, one that had been slowly cultivated over a long period of time. He was a unique being, with a power never before seen in either Jedi or Sith. Any apprentice that followed him would be inherently inferior. He could not lose him.

He would not lose him.

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Anakin held Padmé tightly against him as they lay in the small bunk aboard her ship. It felt so good just to have her in his arms, so right. Yet after all he had done, he could not believe she was still with him. He did not deserve to have her with him...

He had been so determined to keep her from dying that he had not allowed himself to truly think about what he had been doing. All that had mattered was saving Padmé. So he had obeyed his master's every order, no matter how repugnant he found it or how guilty it made him feel, and prayed that he gained more power with every act. The end result was all he had cared about. Power equaled the ability to keep Padmé alive. Because without Padmé, there was no point to living.

Yet because of those same disgusting actions, he had almost lost her anyway. Not by death, but by something much worse: she had almost stopped loving him. And it was that possibility that made him start to think...

And realize the monster he had become.

There was no forgiveness for what he had done. Yes, the Jedi were traitors and the Separatists had taken their share of innocent lives, but that was no excuse for his actions. He had killed without provocation, only because his master had told him to. Only because he believed it was the only way to save Padmé.

He would be forever haunted by the screams of the younglings...

He had been so stupid. Because he had so badly wanted to prevent his dreams from once again becoming reality, he had acted without consideration of the consequences. (How many times had Obi-Wan told him that he was reckless and impulsive? That he acted without thinking?) And because of that he had almost lost the only thing that mattered to him. It was a mistake he would never make again.

Never.

It was true that the dark side was powerful, beyond anything he had felt as a mere Jedi, but the means of gaining proficiency in it sickened him. The things he had done... And more importantly, they had made Padmé nearly stop loving him. Made her afraid of him... No power was worth such pain.

Yet how was he to save her now? Without the power he had briefly touched, he was just helpless Anakin again. Only Darth Vader had been strong enough to prevent her death. But being Vader meant losing Padmé, an unacceptable fate. He had to find some other way. He had to!

His master, however, would not understand his decision. He would see it as a betrayal. And, as Anakin knew well, Palpatine did not take betrayal lightly. His life was now in as much danger as Padmé's.

And if his master was to find her with him...

"We're going to have to disappear," he voiced his thoughts, breaking the silence. "My master will soon notice that I haven't reported in and he'll come looking for me."

"He's not your master anymore, Anakin," Padmé gently corrected. "You're free now."

"He won't see things that way," he told her. "He'll do anything to get me back."

"He'll try, but he won't," she assured him. "As you said, we'll disappear. No one will know who we are. And we'll be safe."

She sounded so sure and so positive that he was tempted to believe her. But she did not know his master as well as he did. She did not know how far he had gone in his quest to save her...

"You don't understand," he began. "I..."

He was unsure of how to tell her what he had done. It had been an act of desperation, a promise made in the hope of saving her life. And now his life was in danger because of it.

"What don't I understand?" she questioned. "What are you talking about?"

She turned around in his arms, bringing her condition to the center of his attention.

"Tell me," she urged, touching his cheek.

He took a deep breath. "I pledged myself to him, Padmé. I swore my life to the Sith and its teachings. As far as he's concerned, I belong to him. He's not going to stop looking until he finds me."

Like a runaway slave.

"You think I didn't know that?" she softly responded. "Obi-Wan told me."

Of course, he berated himself. Of course Obi-Wan would have told her. He had been trying to turn her against him. The Sith were the sworn enemies of the Jedi. What better way to make him appear to be the enemy than by telling her he had become the ultimate one?

"If you knew, why did you come?"

"Because I love you, Anakin," she simply said. "Nothing anyone can say will ever change that. You are my husband. All I want is for you to be happy. You mean everything to me."

To hear her echo his own feelings for her made his heart sing. How he loved her.

And how he had hurt her...

"But he was right about everything." He sighed, the momentary joy gone. "I'm so sorry."

"I know," she told him, giving him a kiss, "but it's behind us now. You thought you were doing the right thing. No one can fault you for that. You did it out of love."

"If only love was enough to save you."

"It is, Anakin. It is," she informed him. "I promise you, I'm not going to die. I swear it."

"If only I could believe you," he said, meaning it. If only he could. But his dreams...

"For a while, I thought I had truly lost you," she went on, ignoring his comment. "You were so angry. I thought... I was afraid..."

"I'd never hurt you, my love. Never. Not even then." He tightened his arms as much as her large belly would allow. "You're the only thing that matters to me. I love you so much."

She kissed him. "I love you too, Anakin. Sometimes I don't think you realize how much."

"It's just that I'm so afraid of losing you," he confessed. "I'd be lost without you, Padmé. I need you."

"I'm not going anywhere," she told him, once again stroking his cheek. "I love you. I'm with you forever. Never doubt that."

"But my-"

"I don't want to hear anymore about your dream," she cut him off. "Promise me. No more talk of that dream."

"I promise."

He would honor her wishes, but he would not stop searching for a way to save her. As he had told her, he could not live without her. But he would keep his search a secret. He had already hurt her more than enough for one lifetime.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome.

"Now, my love," she said, sounding like the senator she was but smiling brightly at him, "we were talking about disappearing..."

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"I must find him, Master," Obi-Wan told Yoda after he had finished recounting his activities since leaving the Temple. "He has to be stopped before he can inflict more harm than he already has."

He had refrained from mentioning his feelings of guilt and failure. He knew what Yoda's response would have been, that it had been the will of the Force that he had been prevented from boarding Padmé's ship. But he knew better. The Force had nothing to do with it. The blame was his and his alone.

It has been his responsibility to find and stop Anakin. Yoda had given him the mission and he had failed to complete it. His plan had fallen through and Anakin was still out there because of it, a danger to everyone.

It was yet another item to add to his growing list of failures...

Normally his next course of action would be to create a new plan and try again. But nothing could correct his ultimate mistake: the involvement of an innocent person.

Padmé.

The guilt he felt for what he had done to Padmé knew no bounds. Because he had been so sure that he could get aboard her ship, he had urged her, without actually saying the words, to go to Anakin. And now she, along with her unborn child, was most likely dead.

Anakin had probably disposed of her as soon as she reached him. A Sith had no need of a wife and baby. To him, she would have only been in the way of whatever evil plans he and his master had in store for the unsuspecting galaxy. Killing her would be the logical action of a Sith.

Obi-Wan prayed that her death had been quick and painless, but he doubted it. Sith were not known for being merciful.

Even to the people they had once loved...

He felt as if he had killed her himself.

The moment he had realized what he had done, he had known he would be able to kill the Sith that had once been Anakin. He owed it to Padmé.

"Perhaps not meant to find him yet, were you," suggested Yoda. "Ready to face him, you were not."

Obi-Wan nodded in agreement. When Yoda had first told him to go after Anakin, he had been hesitant to perform his duty. His feelings for his former apprentice had still been too strong. He had not been sure if he could have killed him.

But that had been before...

Now he felt compelled to finish his mission.

For Padmé.

She had only gone because of him. He had used her love of Anakin for his own benefit and she had paid the price for his mistake.

All my fault...

"But I am now," Obi-Wan assured him. "And I will. He must be stopped. I would like to continue my search as soon as possible.

"But not until I know you are safe, Master," he quickly changed the subject. He was eager to resume his search, but Yoda did not need to know that.

The sooner he found Anakin, the better he would feel.

However, Yoda's safety was of the utmost importance. Next to him, Yoda was the only known survivor of the Jedi Council. And he was also one of the most powerful Jedi to have ever been in the Order. His survival was more important than anything if there was any hope of the Jedi's return in the future.

"Where will you go? What will you do?"

"Into hiding, I will go," Yoda said. "Only in exile, safe from the Emperor will I be. Look for me, he will. Death of all Jedi, his goal is."

"Will I be able to contact you?" Obi-Wan wondered, though he had a feeling he already knew the answer.

"Better if you cannot," Yoda told him. "Better still if my location you do not know."

Obi-Wan nodded again, his suspicions confirmed. As long as he was searching for Anakin, he would be exposed and the possibility of capture and interrogation existed. The knowledge of Yoda's location could not be extracted if it was not there.

"I understand," Obi-Wan acknowledged.

"Very dangerous times these are," Yoda continued. "To be a Jedi, a crime it now is. Extremely careful, you must be."

"I will, Master," Obi-Wan promised. "And I believe that it would be in our best interests if I resumed my search now."

He needed to be out there searching, seeking...

"Agree with you, I do," Yoda said. "And find him you will. Intertwined, your fates are. Destined to meet again, you are."

"Yes, Master."

"A wise Jedi you have always been, Obi-Wan," Yoda continued. "Trust your feelings. Guide you, they will."

"Yes, Master."

"May the Force be with you."

"May the Force be with you," Obi-Wan replied, bowing before one of the greatest Jedi to have ever graced the Order.

With one last nod, he turned and left the conference room.

He would now find Senator Organa and acquire his permission to take a ship and leave the Tantive IV.

He would find Anakin and he would fulfill his duty. The safety of the galaxy depended on it.

As did his own peace of mind.

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You should not have let him go, the voice of Qui-Gon Jinn said from within the Force. He's in no condition to confront a Sith.

"Needed to go, he did," Yoda countered. "Time alone, good for him it will be. In a great deal of pain, Obi-Wan is. Very close to his former Padawan. Blames himself, he does."

If Qui-Gon could have nodded, he would have. He knew better than anyone how personally Obi-Wan took things. And how deeply he tried to bury his feelings.

I can't help but worry about him, Qui-Gon confessed. If he goes to face Anakin now...

"Not yet will he confront his former apprentice," Yoda declared. "Not find him for some time, I feel. Changed, something has."

You have sensed something?

Although he was one with the Force, it did not surprise Qui-Gon that he had not felt anything. His ability to connect with the living was severely limited. He had not completed his study of the Journal of the Whills before his death, which would have allowed him to fully retain his identity. Just speaking with Yoda was incredibly difficult.

"Only a feeling, I have," Yoda clarified. "Too strong the dark side is. Weak my abilities have become."

What have you felt, Master?

"That no longer using the Force, young Skywalker is," Yoda told him. "Withdrawn, he has. Not touching dark or light. No longer feel him, can I."

What does that mean? Qui-Gon wanted to know. He had never before heard of anyone willingly forego use of the Force. Anakin was so powerful in it and using it was as natural to him as breathing. What had changed to make him give it up?

"Answer you, I cannot. But certain I am that no longer a Sith is he," Yoda said.

How can that be? No one has ever returned from the dark side, Qui-Gon stated. Is it even possible?

"The Chosen One, you proclaimed him to be," Yoda pointed out. "What is possible for him, no one can say."

Qui-Gon knew Yoda was right. Anakin was a unique being. He had the highest midi-chlorian count ever recorded and his abilities in the Force were unprecedented. It was impossible to predict what was and was not possible for him.

The prophecy did not say how the balance would be brought, Qui-Gon suggested. Perhaps this is how he will achieve it.

It was a weak guess, but it was better than nothing. It was his strong belief in the ancient prophecy that had led him to bring Anakin to the Jedi's attention. Anakin had only been trained because he had made Obi-Wan promise him as he lay dying. And now, because of his unwavering faith, the Jedi Order had been all but destroyed.

If all of this death and destruction failed to lead to the balance...

"Right you could be," Yoda said, "but wrong as well. Only wait and see, can we. Nothing more can we do."

Agreed.

"Discuss my training, we now should," Yoda changed the subject. "When begin, will we?"

Once you have found a safe place, Qui-Gon informed him. Your safety and survival should be your first concern. After you are settled, we can start.

Yoda nodded.

"Then hurry to find a new home, I must."

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As Anakin exited the break room, he paused as he passed by the mirror. Even after five years he was still not used to the reflection that gazed back at him.

One of the first things he and Padmé had realized was that they would have to change everything about themselves, especially their appearance. They had been very public figures and hiding would not be possible unless nothing about them was recognizable.

Anakin had grown his hair longer, dyed it deep black, and wore it in a low ponytail. He had also grown a beard, which was colored to match. (How ironic that he had modeled his appearance after the man who had tried to turn his wife against him.) He wore lenses that made his eyes appear brown and, with Padmé's help, used a dermal regenerator to remove the distinctive scar on his face. At first even he had had trouble recognizing himself.

Padmé's changes had been almost as drastic. She had shortened her hair to shoulder-length, grown bangs, and straightened out the curls he loved so much. While he had gone darker in color, she had become blonde. Her eyes now appeared blue thanks to colored lenses. (He would tell her often that she was still beautiful to him while she would tease him by saying that she liked him better without the beard but still loved him anyway.)

To their neighbors in the small settlement of Malisth on the Outer Rim world of Postaym, they were "Skott and Domelle Novalen"-he a talented mechanic and she a part-time worker in the local government. They had arrived nearly five years ago and had quickly become two of the most prominent members of the very close-knit community. (Padmé's knowledge had helped to streamline the struggling leadership and Anakin's mechanical skills had earned him a reputation that brought in a great deal of off-world business to the small shop where he worked.) No one would even think to suspect that they were anything other then who they appeared to be. They were the perfect citizens and lived quietly with their two children.

Anakin could still not believe that he and Padmé were the parents of twins. Neither of them had even considered such a possibility when she had revealed her pregnancy to him. The idea of one child had been overwhelming enough. Then suddenly they had had two at the same time.

But Anakin would not give up Luke and Leia for anything. The two of them had brought more joy to Padmé and himself over the last several years than he would have ever thought possible. Sure they could also be frustrating and infuriating (what children weren't?), but mostly they were just amazing and wonderful. (And highly Force sensitive as well. He and Padmé had caught them levitating their toys more than once. And every time they had been told to never do it again.) He expected that the new baby would be just as special when she was born. (Padmé was in the fifth month of her second pregnancy and, according to the doctors, she was going to have a very healthy baby girl.) He loved his family with all of his heart and would do anything to protect them.

Even leave the planet and start over somewhere new.

He and Padmé knew that their peaceful existence could not last forever. The Empire was still out there, getting more and more powerful with each passing year. It was only a matter of time before it reached Postaym. Anakin knew that his former master would not rest until the entire galaxy belonged to him.

And then there was still the threat of Obi-Wan hanging over their heads...

Both of those dangers were the reason why he no longer touched the Force. The moment he had chosen to go into hiding with Padmé, he had realized that he could no longer use the power that had been second-nature to him for most of his life. Both of his former masters would try to use his presence in the Force as a means of finding him. So he had withdrawn from it and hoped that act would be enough to protect his family.

It had been difficult at first and, to an extent it still was, but he knew the safety of his loved ones had to come before his own personal needs. Padmé had been wonderful during those first months, catching him when he slipped and used the Force for something as minor as retrieving a datapad from across the room. In time he just became used to doing things the "normal" way. He didn't even have to think about it anymore.

However, one thing that he did think about from time to time was the dream and how it has immediately stopped after his withdrawal from the Force.

He had not dreamed once of Padmé's impending death since he had stopped using the Force. Instead, his nightmares consisted of recollections of the atrocities he had committed while apprenticed to Palpatine. (They had yet to completely go away.) He had assumed that severing his connection to the Force had impaired his ability to receive the prophetic dream and had remained afraid for her safety. But after their first visit to a medical center on an out-of-the-way outpost and Padmé and her twins had been deemed perfectly healthy, he had come to believe that he had changed her fate by leaving Mustafar with her. It was the only explanation that made sense. And the only one that mattered.

Padmé, of course, knew nothing about it. He had kept his promise and never mentioned the dream to her after she had asked him not to. And after it had stopped, there had been no need to say anything.

His mind returned to the present, where his family was still safe and sound. None of his worst fears had yet become reality. Life was good and they were happy.

He was happy.

He, more than anyone, was surprised at how content he was. He had spent his entire life wanting to be special and dreaming of fame, but it wasn't until he had lived the simple family life that he had discovered true happiness. Nothing could compare to the feeling of being a husband and father. It was more wonderful than anything else in the universe.

If only it hadn't taken such tragedy for him to realize it...

He pulled his gaze away from the mirror. It was time to get back to work and to earn the credits that kept his family living in comfort.

He exited the break room and headed back into the garage.

He had a lot of repairs to make before his shift ended...

8888888

"Different world, same scum," Obi-Wan muttered to himself as he tried to ignore the fight that had broken out in the middle of the cantina he was currently sitting in.

After five years, the urge to interfere had faded. His "help" certainly would not have been appreciated and his cover would most likely be blown. Who but a Jedi would want to get between two blaster-and-vibroblade-wielding drunks?

In the beginning it had seemed like a good idea to frequent the gathering places of pilots. His years as a Jedi had taught him that the best information could be found from those who had traveled the most. (Dex was the perfect example and had been his most valuable source.) Using the Force to enhance his hearing, he would listen to various conversations, hoping someone would say something useful. But now it was getting tiresome. Five years and he had not found even a hint of Anakin's whereabouts.

It had not been long after he had embarked on his personal mission that he had learned that Anakin had broken off from the Emperor. Obi-Wan had not been surprised. As a Jedi, Anakin had constantly struggled with obeying orders, thinking his way was better, but in the end, he had always done the right thing. (In those days, he had been a good person...) A Sith would have no such compunctions. He had probably gotten bored with being ordered around and just left, going who-knew-where to continue spreading his evil.

But unlike the Jedi Order, which had respected a being's decision to leave, the Sith did not let one of its own go so easily. The Emperor had been searching for Anakin ever since. The reward for the being who captured and returned him to his master was substantial.

It was a wonder no one had found him yet.

Obi-Wan took one last sip of his drink, decided that this was another dead end, and got up to leave.

Hopefully he'd have better luck on the next planet.

8888888

"Hey, Skott, can I talk to you for a minute?" Gusteer called from his office doorway.

Anakin looked up from the fuel injector he had been repairing. "Sure thing. Let me finish what I'm doing and I'll be right there."

"Take your time," Gusteer told him. "No rush."

Anakin smiled, used to these "talks" with his boss. Gusteer always told him something supposedly in confidence and then announced it himself to the rest of his employees soon after, sometimes even on the same day. The reason he told Anakin first was because, in Gusteer's words, he had "saved" the business.

When Anakin had been hired, the shop had been on the verge of going bankrupt. Gusteer Final was a great business being, but he had not known a hydrospanner from a wielder. He had only opened a mechanical repair shop on Postaym because he had seen a void that needed to be filled. However, his lack of knowledge had nearly doomed the shop from the start. He hadn't even hired one decent mechanic...

Until Anakin.

Anakin still didn't see why Gusteer continued to make such a big deal. He had simply trained the other mechanics (the raw talent had been there all the time) and given Gusteer a basic overview of what problems the shop should and should not be able to address. His knowledge came from his years of experience as a slave to Watto. He had done nothing special. His actions had just been the right thing to do.

He put down the microsplitter had had been working with and turned to take the rag Artoo held out for him.

"Thanks, Artoo," he told the droid as he wiped his hands. Artoo was invaluable to him as an assistant and he made a point of showing his appreciation. (He tried to do the same with Threepio to prevent "feelings" of jealousy. Artoo was not a modest droid.)

Artoo beeped cheerfully.

"Take over for me until I get back," he instructed. "Finish replacing that connector and then start on those wires. Okay?"

Artoo whistled affirmatively as he rolled over to the workbench.

Anakin smiled, knowing the injector was in good "hands." (Or, in Artoo's case, clamps.)

He then turned to Gusteer's office and wondered what he wanted to talk to him about this time.

"Come in and have a seat," Gusteer greeted him as he came in, gesturing to a chair. "I have something very important I want to talk to you about."

"Anything the matter?" Anakin reflexively asked as he sat down. He was positive that this would be one of their usual conversations, but it never hurt to be prepared. Years of experience had taught him that.

"Not a thing," Gusteer waved him off as he closed the door. "In fact, things are wonderful. And that's why I want to have this little discussion."

"All right," Anakin acknowledged.

Gusteer walked around his desk and sat down.

"Skott, I'm about to tell you something that you cannot repeat to anyone," he began. "This is to remain strictly between us until I say otherwise. Understand?"

Anakin nodded, still unconcerned. Gusteer was following his normal routine.

Gusteer met his gaze. "Skott, I'm going to retire."

"Retire?!"

Anakin was genuinely surprised. Retirement was a topic that would have never crossed his mind. Gusteer was relatively young for a human, in his early fifties. He was in fairly good health, maybe a bit overweight if anything. And his business was doing extremely well. (Though Gusteer proclaimed that it was all Anakin's doing to everyone he met.) Why would he want to retire?

"Why?" Anakin asked aloud.

Gusteer chuckled. "Because I can. You, my friend, have made me a very rich being. I have more credits than I know what to do with. So I've been thinking that it's time to do something with that money. And what could be better than using it on myself?

"Besides, this place doesn't need me anymore," he continued. "Not when it has you."

"Gusteer..." Anakin tried to interject, knowing what was coming. Gusteer's praise always made him uncomfortable. It reminded him too much of Palpatine's compliments...

"There's no need to be modest," Gusteer told him. "We both know perfectly well who all the customers want when they come in here. Whose name do you think it is that all the spacers tell their friends about? I'm just the owner. You are the shop."

When Anakin had decided to use his mechanical skills as a means of supporting his family, he had never considered the possible consequences. His talents had always been above average and had brought attention to him even as a child. So he supposed he shouldn't have been surprised that it did the same to him as an adult. He just hadn't expected so much attention.

The first time a new customer had come in and asked for him by name, he had been extremely wary. He had thought it could be someone who knew who he really was and was going to report his location to one of his enemies. But the moment the stranger had mentioned a previous customer, he had relaxed. Apparently the other pilot had been so impressed with his work that he had given his name to some of his friends. He had been flattered and then dismissed the incident as a fluke.

Then it happened again. And again. And again. Pilots who had never even heard of Postaym went out of their way just to have their ships serviced by Skott Novalen, "the most amazing mechanic the galaxy has ever seen." It had been overwhelming in the beginning, as well as alarming (he and Padmé had specifically chosen the planet because it saw so little space traffic), but as the years went by and no one even hinted they recognized him, he had gotten used to it. Now it only surprised him if someone didn't mention his name.

"Which brings me to the real reason why I wanted to talk to you," Gusteer was saying. "Since it's you the customers want, it's you they should get.

"Skott, I want you to have the business."

Anakin's mouth dropped open.

"Th-the business?" he stammered in amazement. "You want to sell me the entire business?"

"Not sell," Gusteer corrected, "give. You practically run it anyway. It's a logical progression for you."

"You can't be serious," Anakin said. This had to be some kind of joke. He wasn't a business being. He was just a mechanic who had once happened to be a Jedi Knight. What would he do with ownership of a shop?

"Why not?" Gusteer pointed out. "As I said, you do just about everything. You supervise the other workers and assign them specific repairs. You deal with all the customers after I initially greet them. You even do all the large jobs yourself. All I do is welcome the customers and handle the money. I don't see any reason why you can't do both of those too."

Anakin could not find the words to respond.

"It's not like this is a sudden decision, you know," Gusteer went on. "I've been thinking about it for quite some time. I've even been dropping hints to the others to see if I got any objections. I couldn't find one. They all worship you. They know they owe their jobs to you."

Only because you keep telling them that, Anakin silently commented.

"Why shouldn't I make what all of us feel official?" Gusteer said. "It's the right thing to do."

"I don't know..." Anakin started to politely object.

While this was an incredible opportunity, he knew that he could never accept this gift. Owning a shop would mean that he could not take his family and run at a moment's notice if his enemies ever found him. He would have too many responsibilities here. It would be better for everyone if Gusteer either didn't retire or found someone to whom he could sell the shop.

"You don't have to give me an answer right now," Gusteer told him. "I just wanted to make my intentions known. I plan on sticking around for a little while longer." He grinned. "And get a little richer in the process."

Anakin relaxed, relieved that there was no pressure for the moment. "It's nice to know that I'm good for something," he quipped, returning the grin.

"Other than keeping that beautiful wife of yours extremely happy?" Gusteer teased.

"Other than that," he agreed.

"You are a lucky man, Skott," Gusteer declared. "I can't even hold on to one!"

Anakin laughed. Gusteer's poor track record when it came to marriage was well-known. He had been married three times and was currently "between" wives. He was always on the lookout for the next one.

"You know," Anakin spoke up, getting an idea, "the decision wouldn't be up to just me. Domelle would have to agree about it as well."

He already knew what Padmé's answer would be. She'd be as against it as he was.

"Of course," Gusteer concurred. "I wouldn't expect you to have it any other way."

"Well," Anakin said, "I guess I better get back to work. I left Artoo in charge of that injector and you know what'll happen if he finishes the repairs."

"That droid of yours is something else," Gusteer commented, shaking his head.

"That he is," Anakin agreed as he got to his feet.

Gusteer stood up as well. "You'll think about my offer?"

"I will," he said. "I'll bring it up to Domelle tonight."

"Wonderful," Gusteer smiled. "But remember, there's no rush to make your decision. Take your time. Really think it through."

"I'll let you know as soon as we decide," Anakin promised though the decision had been already made. He would have to let Gusteer down gently. Padmé would know what he needed to say.

"I eagerly await your answer," Gusteer told him. "Though I'm sure we both already know what it will be. This shop is destined to be yours. It has been since the day you first set foot in it."

Anakin did not acknowledge the assertion. He didn't want to give Gusteer false hope.

As he left the office, he began to wonder if leaving the planet would be the best solution for everyone...

8888888

"Mistress Domelle!" came the panicked voice of Threepio. "You must come at once! It's the children!"

Padmé looked up from the datapad she had been reading to see Threepio shuffle into the room muttering "Oh, dear. Oh, dear."

"Class one or class two?" she asked calmly, using the code Anakin had designed and programmed into Threepio after the first several false alarms. Threepio's opinions of what was and what wasn't a true emergency did not (thankfully) match Anakin and Padmé's. It kept them from needlessly worrying.

After all, Luke and Leia rarely got into trouble.

They created it.

"Class one, ma'am," Threepio informed her.

Padmé put down her datapad and heaved a sigh. Class one indicated that neither twin was in any physical danger. They were just doing something they weren't supposed to.

Like using the Force.

"I'll be right there," she said as she got to her feet.

What were they up to this time?

Do I even want to know?

Ever since they had "discovered" their Force abilities two years ago (until then, all demonstrations of their powers had been unconscious expressions of their emotions), they had seized every opportunity to use it. (Well, Leia did anyway. Luke only followed his sister's lead.) Thankfully, all they knew how to do was levitate, which they called "floating." (Anakin had assured her that that without proper training, they would not be able to figure out much else.) But that was dangerous enough. If anyone saw them...

At five, the twins were too young to be told why using their abilities was so dangerous. They saw "floating" as a game. They would not understand that people would hate and fear them just because they could use the Force, a concept too abstract for their minds to grasp. (Anakin and Padmé had agreed not to tell them about the Jedi, the Force, or the purge until they were much older.) All they knew was that they could "float" things and that "floating" was fun.

Anakin and Padmé had tried everything, even gentle punishment, to get them to stop, but nothing seemed to work. The twins continued to call upon the Force whenever they wanted. It almost seemed pointless to keep trying, but they knew they had to put an end to their Force use before they began school next year. If they revealed what they were capable of in public...

She walked the short distance to their playroom and was greeted by the sound of wild giggling coming through the open door.

She peered in to see her five-year-old twins levitating each other a few inches off the floor.

Of course.

"Luke and Leia Novalen, you put each other down right now," she loudly commanded.

The startled twins instantly dropped down onto the soft carpet, their concentration broken.

"What have your father and I told you about doing this?"

"You said not to," Luke answered obediently, averting his gaze. "Sorry, Mommy."

Padmé turned her attention to her daughter. "And what do you have to say for yourself, young lady?"

"Nothing," Leia informed her mother, standing up and crossing her arms. "Floating is fun and I'm not sorry for doing it. I like it."

"Whether or not you like it is beside the point," Padmé brushed her off. "You were told not to 'float' things. You are expected to do as you're told. You're old enough to know better."

"You're just being mean," Leia declared. "Floating is fun. Why should I stop?"

Padmé sighed, used to these "discussions" with Leia. Leia was just like her father, headstrong and stubborn. Unfortunately, unlike Anakin, she did not know when to concede defeat. She would argue until forcibly made to stop. (Anakin teased that they had a little politician in the making.) Everything was a struggle with her.

"Because Daddy and I told you to," Padmé answered. "We have rules in this house and no 'floating' is one of them. Is that understood?"

"No," Leia retorted, "it's not understood. You're just being mean! It's not fair!"

Padmé suppressed the urge to laugh. Although Leia loved to debate, she was only five and lacked certain attributes, such as a wide vocabulary and mature logic. She was a very poor, if extremely vocal, opponent. She did not presently have what it took to win. (Padmé had no doubt that she would in the future and feared what would happen when she became a teenager.) Her main stance on everything was that when her parents said "no", it was because they were being mean.

"I'm sorry you feel that way," Padmé said, "but rules are rules. They must be followed. And that means no 'floating.'"

"Why?" Leia pressed. "Why can't I float? It's fun and nothing gets broken. Why do I have to stop?"

"Because we say so," Padmé pointed out. "And that's final. I don't want to hear another word from you on the subject."

It was the only way to end the argument. Leia could go on all day about it being unfair and how mean they were being to her. There was absolutely no winning against her.

Leia began to pout.

"We'll be good, Mommy," Luke spoke up as he tugged on her dress. "I promise!"

Padmé felt bad. She had been so busy arguing with Leia that she forgotten all about Luke. He had come over to her unnoticed and was probably in need of comforting. He was very sensitive (the polar opposite of his twin) and got upset when either she or Anakin disciplined him and Leia.

She crouched down to his level and pulled him into her arms.

"I know, sweetie," she reassured him.

Poor Luke meant what he said, but Padmé knew this was one promise destined to be broken. Leia would make sure of it.

"Are you mad at us?" he asked as she released him.

"Not mad," she told him, "just very, very disappointed."

She shot a glance at Leia, who made a face.

Returning her attention to Luke, she continued, "You know Daddy and I just want to keep you safe. That's what rules are for. That's why I'm so upset when you and your sister break them."

"I'm sorry," Luke apologized again.

She kissed the top of his head. "You're a good boy, Luke."

She then pushed herself back into a standing position. Getting up when heavily pregnant was always much more difficult than going down.

She turned to the doorway and saw that, as she expected, Threepio was patiently waiting for her to finish disciplining the children.

"Threepio, I'm putting them back into your charge," she said.

"Yes, ma'am," he acknowledged. "Is there anything in particular you would like to me to do with them?"

"Just continue to keep an eye on them," she instructed.

"I will come and get again you at the first sign of trouble," he assured her.

"Oh, I have a feeling they'll be on their best behavior for the rest of the day," she said, taking another look at Leia.

"I'm not talking to you," Leia announced.

Padmé ignored her. "Especially if they want to go to the park tomorrow," she went on, speaking to the droid but intending the words for the children.

Today was the last day of the work week and it was a family tradition to go to the park when Anakin didn't have to go into the shop. The twins knew that the trip would never be cancelled unless there was a very good reason.

Padmé knew that Leia would get the point.

"I'm going back to what I was doing," she informed Threepio.

"Very good, Mistress Domelle."

"I'll see you later, my little ones," she told the twins. "I expect to get an excellent report from Threepio tonight."

"You will, Mommy," Luke promised.

She smiled at him and looked at Leia again.

Leia turned her back to her.

Padmé chuckled under her breath and left the playroom.

She couldn't wait to share the incident with Anakin when he got home. He'd get a laugh out of it.

What a daughter they had!

8888888

Obi-Wan's gaze swept over all of the possible destinations the spaceport held for tired and thirsty spacers. Blofernt was one of the more well-off planets in the Mid-Rim and its prosperity was reflected everywhere, even in its spaceport. All establishments were brightly lit and had a friendly air, a rarity in most ports. He doubted he'd have much luck here.

Yet, for once, he didn't care. He was so tired of his endless searching. He needed a break, if only a small one. (As tired as he was, he would never stop looking. He owed it to Padmé's memory to find the man who had killed her.) He hadn't taken any time for himself in the past five years. A few hours wouldn't hurt anyone.

It wasn't as if Anakin was going anywhere...

His eyes landed on a sign that read "Diner" in Basic.

"Perfect," he said to himself. He was rather fond of the fare diners served and wondered if it would be anywhere near as good as Dex's. (He doubted it.)

He walked over to the diner and entered through the archaic hinged doors (a nice touch, if he did say so himself). He was immediately met by a hostess droid and led to a booth. The droid handed him a menu as he sat down and then told him that his server would be with him shortly. He thanked her and she rolled off to greet the family that had just walked in. (Yet another sign that he would find no information on this planet.)

He picked up the menu and started reading the portion written in Basic.

"It's the best kept secret in the galaxy, that's why," a rather loud voice interrupted his concentration.

"Not anymore," Obi-Wan commented under his breath. The voice appeared to be coming from the booth behind him. He wouldn't be surprised if one of the kitchen droids heard him.

"I'm telling you, if anyone can find out what's wrong with your ship it's Novalen," the being continued just as loudly. "He's the best of the best."

"I don't know," a second voice replied, sounding skeptical. "I've had her checked out three time already at three different shops. And one of them wasn't exactly along my route, if you know what I mean. What makes you think this Novalen can do what they couldn't?"

Obi-Wan hadn't intended to do any eavesdropping (how could he help himself? What he wouldn't give for a volume control on that pilot's mouth!), but he found himself caught up in the discussion despite himself. Would Loud Mouth be able to convince his companion to take his ship to this Novalen?

Dinner and a show, he decided with a smile.

"Experience," Loud Mouth declared. "Novalen can work wonders. I wouldn't believe it either if I hadn't gone to him myself. The man is amazing. I won't let anyone else touch my baby now."

Obi-Wan had only known one person as skilled as Loud Mouth was proclaiming this Novalen to be. He wondered if Loud Mouth was being entirely truthful. There was no way this mechanic could be anywhere near as talented as Anakin had been...

Was there?

"So how come the Empire hasn't snatched him up yet?" the skeptic questioned. "If he's that good, they'd want him for themselves."

An excellent question, Obi-Wan thought. Could it be because Loud Mouth was full of poo-doo?

"Because they don't know about him," Loud Mouth pointed out. "I told you that he was the best kept secret. Postaym is in the far Outer Rim. The Empire hasn't really established a presence out there yet. I guess it's because they know low-lifes like us mostly live there."

The skeptic laughed for the first time. "Point taken, Iarnic. But, mark my words, they eventually will. Give them time."

"Probably," Iarnic (still "Loud Mouth" as far as Obi-Wan was concerned) conceded. "So, are you going to take my advice and let Novalen look at the Spiral?"

"Why not?" the skeptic finally gave in. "I have nothing to lose except a few hundred credits."

Obi-Wan decided that Iarnic's companion wasn't the brightest of beings. It hadn't taken much to convince him of this Novalen's supposed greatness.

"So much for the show," he murmured. He had been hoping they would continue arguing until after he had a chance to order and his food arrived.

"You'll see I'm right," Iarnic insisted. "You'll never go to another mechanic again."

Obi-Wan couldn't help but wonder why Iarnic was so hooked on this Novalen. Could he really be that talented? Could anyone be? Because it had been said so often by so many that no one could ever match Anakin's...

Then it dawned on him.

Could "Novalen" be Anakin?

It seemed to fit. An incredibly skilled mechanic of whom the Empire had no knowledge who lived in the Outer Rim. It would explain why no one had been able to find him. What better way was there to disappear than to change your identity and hide in the Outer Rim?

Yet it was entirely unlike Anakin, who lived for being the center of attention. He had always wanted to be noticed as long as Obi-Wan had known him. Hiding and living as a mechanic, especially now that he was a Sith, made no sense. What purpose did such a life serve? There was no power to gain, which was what all Sith craved.

There was only one thing to do: he would have to go to Postaym and check out this Novalen himself.

If it wasn't Anakin, then he will have lost nothing but time.

But if he was...

Justice would finally be served.

8888888

"I'm home!" Anakin announced as he walked into the house, following after a cheerfully beeping Artoo.

He was extremely relieved that the day, not to mention the work week, was over. He needed the next two days just to avoid Gusteer.

All day long, Gusteer had been everywhere he went, using every opportunity to "remind" him to think about his offer and urging him to make the "right" decision. He had not been able to escape him. It was a wonder he had gotten anything done.

He knew Gusteer had meant well, but all he had accomplished was making Anakin feel worse about having to say "no" to the offer. He liked his employer a lot. He considered him a good friend. He hated that he was going to have to hurt his feelings.

It was for that reason alone he dreaded telling Gusteer that he could not accept the offer. Making Anakin a gift of the shop seemed to be very important to him. Anakin feared that Gusteer would view the "no" as a rejection of his friendship. He wished he could take it, if only to make Gusteer happy. But he knew he couldn't. His family had to come first.

The safety of Padmé and the children was all that mattered. Protecting them was his main priority. He could not let anything interfere with keeping them safe.

Not even a friendship.

Saying "no" was the right choice.

The only choice.

"Daddy!" an excited voice broke into his thoughts. "Daddy's home!"

Anakin smiled, his dilemma momentarily forgotten, as he saw Luke running up the hall as fast as his stubby legs could carry him. He dropped into a squat and caught Luke in his arms, nearly getting knocked over in the process.

"There's my little Jawa," he greeted his son, hugging him tightly. "Were you a good boy for Mommy and Threepio today?"

"Not exactly," Padmé answered for him. Anakin looked up to see her enter the hall. "He and his sister were using you-know-what again."

Anakin groaned. Their Force-use was getting out of control. What would it take to make them stop once and for all?

"Do I even want to know?" he asked as he stood up with Luke in his arms.

"They were levitating each other," Padmé told him matter-of-factly.

Anakin winced. "Not good."

The twins were rapidly advancing without the assistance of any training. That alone spoke of how strong they were with the Force. (Their midi-chlorian counts were nearly as high as Anakin's own.) Fortunately, there was a limit to what they could master on their own.

"So where's the instigator herself?" he asked, noticing Leia's absence from the hallway.

It went without saying that Leia was behind the incident. If it weren't for his sister, Luke would be the most obedient child in the galaxy (something, ironically, neither of his parents had been).

"Sulking," Padmé let him know. "She tried to start a fight with me again, but I put an end to it before she got too carried away."

"Let me guess," Anakin grinned. "It's unfair and we're mean?"

"Is it ever anything else?" Padmé quipped.

"What can I say? She needs new material," Anakin said, his smile even bigger.

Padmé arched an eyebrow. "Why? So she can argue for an even longer period of time?"

"Is that even possible?" Anakin wanted to know.

"Do you really want to find out?"

"Um, no," Anakin decided. "I take it back." He then turned his attention to Luke, who had remained quiet during the exchange. "What have Mommy and I told you about 'floating'?"

"That we're not supposed to do it," Luke answered. He twisted to look at Padmé. "I'm still sorry, Mommy."

"I know you are, sweetie, but being sorry doesn't excuse you from breaking the rules," she told him firmly. "You and your sister have to stop 'floating.'"

"Don't let Leia make you do anything you don't want to do," Anakin added, despite knowing that it was an impossible request. Leia dominated her brother, giving him little choice but to go along with her wishes.

"But she'll get mad," Luke protested. "She'll hurt me."

It was true. Leia could get violent with her brother. She had left him bruised on more occasions than either parent wanted to admit.

"If she hurts you, she'll be punished," Anakin promised. "But you have to tell us when she does it."

"Okay," Luke agreed, but his expression said otherwise.

"All right," Padmé spoke up, "it's time for you to clean up for dinner. Tell Leia to wash up too."

"Okay," Luke said.

She leaned in and gave him a kiss on the cheek, which Luke immediately began to wipe with his hand. "We'll call you when it's time to eat."

Anakin couldn't resist and kissed Luke's other cheek before putting him down.

"Eww!" Luke declared, now furiously rubbing at his face. "It's wet! Kissing is yucky!"

"You better go on before I start kissing Mommy then," Anakin urged, pulling Padmé into his arms. "I'm going to kiss her a lot."

"Eww!" Luke repeated. "No kissing!"

With that, he turned and tore down the hall.

"That was mean," Padmé told him.

"But effective," he pointed out. "It got him to leave, didn't it?"

"So, was that an empty threat or are you really going to kiss me?" she teased.

Instead of replying, he leaned down and kissed her deeply.

"That answer your question?"

"Perfectly," she smiled. "So, I think you can figure out how my day went. How was yours?"

His own smile faded as he was reminded of his predicament.

"What happened?" Padmé wanted to know.

"Gusteer told me he wants to give me the shop when he retires."

"I would think that would be wonderful news." She studied his face. "But you're not happy about it. Why?"

"You don't know?" he asked in disbelief.

She shook her head.

Padmé's reaction genuinely surprised him. He had been so sure she would have immediately known why he couldn't accept the offer.

"Our emergency plans," he clarified. "If I own the shop, how can I just disappear? I'll have too many responsibilities. It wouldn't be right. I have to put you and the children first. Your safety is more important than anything."

"I'm not sure I understand," Padmé confessed. "How would owning the shop keep us from leaving?"

"My responsibilities," he explained. How could Padmé not realize any of this? "Everyone would be depending on me. How could I just leave them?"

"Why would everyone be depending on you?" She sounded even more confused.

"Because I'd be the owner," he told her.

A look of understanding then appeared on her face.

"Oh, Anakin," she said, shaking her head. "I keep forgetting how little you still know of the galaxy."

If anyone else had said that to him, he would have been offended. But he knew Padmé was only stating a fact and that there was no malice in her words. It was true. He had not experienced a great deal of the galaxy despite his extensive travels during his years as a Jedi.

Jedi did not travel for pleasure. They only went where their missions took them. And, because they were on missions, there was no time for exploring. All learning was done for the good of the mission. Nothing else was allowed.

And before he had been a Jedi, he had been a slave...

"On most planets, store owners have little or nothing to do with their businesses," she explained. "They hire other beings to do all of the work for them. All they do is deal with the money."

"What about Gusteer? He's always working," he pointed out. "So did Watto. And, if I remember right, so did all the shop owners I knew on Tatooine."

"It's not uncommon for small stores to be run by their owners," she conceded, "but most larger businesses have a staff to handle the day-to-day managerial tasks. And many smaller businesses do the same. There's no reason why you couldn't hire additional staff to help you out."

"But Gusteer does everything himself," Anakin protested. "Wouldn't he want me to do the same?"

"Anakin, once the shop is yours, you could do whatever you wanted with it," she gently corrected him. "That's the beauty of being the owner. You make all the decisions."

"You really think I should accept the offer, don't you?"

"You'd be foolish not to," she let him know. "This is an incredible opportunity for you." She kissed him. "You deserve this, my love. You've earned it."

He nodded. "All right. I'll tell Gusteer first thing next week."

"I'm so proud of you," she told him. "Now," she continued, breaking out of his embrace, "I don't know about you, but I'm starving. And if I'm starving-"

"The twins are starving," he finished for her. "I know. Let's get them eating before they get into any more trouble."

"Mommy! Leia hit me!"

"Too late," Anakin amended as Padmé groaned.

"Remind me why we're having another one," she said.

"I have no idea," he replied with a grin. He gave her a kiss. "Go on and get dinner on the table. I'll go handle the monsters."

"You really are the 'Hero With No Fear,'" she teased, using the nickname the HoloNet had given him for his exploits during the Clone Wars.

"Very funny."

"And if you're not in the dining room in ten minutes, I'll send Artoo after you."

"Ha-ha," Anakin said as he started towards the twins' room. "You're putting them to bed."

8888888

"Well?" Anakin questioned as Padmé emerged from the twins' bedroom.

"They're asleep," she confirmed.

"Finally," Anakin grinned. He pulled her into his arms. "Alone at last."

"For the moment," she reminded him with a grin of her own. "But once this one joins us," she continued, taking his hand and placing it on her belly, "we won't even have that."

"The things you sacrifice for your children," he bemoaned. "Ah, the joys of parenthood."

Padmé laughed and he kissed her.

"Leia was in rare form tonight," Anakin commented after the kiss had ended. "I didn't think she'd ever finish ranting."

"Well, it could have been worse," Padmé pointed out. "Be thankful she only has those same few points she keeps repeating over and over. And remember that whenever you start to think about giving her new material."

"I'll keep that in mind," he promised.

"I should hope so," she teased. "Luckily, a good night's sleep always seems to work wonders and cool her off."

"Be thankful for small favors," he said. "Too bad it won't work anymore when she gets older."

"Don't remind me," Padmé groaned. "I can hardly handle her now!"

"It's only because she's so much like you," Anakin insisted. "A born politician. Just like her mommy."

"Nothing like her mommy," she corrected him. "Like her daddy."

"Was that supposed to be an insult, Senator?"

"No comment," Padmé replied in her best political voice.

"I rest my case."

"And I propose we go to bed," she changed the subject. "Especially if we expect to have any strength to deal with our argumentative daughter."

"Proposal accepted," he said, giving her a kiss.

They began to walk towards their own room, Padmé still in his arms.

"Anakin," she spoke after a few moments of silence, "how are we ever going to get them to stop using the Force? After tonight, it seems almost impossible."

"I know it does," he agreed, "but we'll think of something. I promise."

"Promising to do something and actually doing it are two different things," she reminded him. "It's just that I'm so afraid for them. They won't know what they've done wrong. They won't understand why everyone suddenly hates and fears them."

"I know."

"They're just babies," she continued. "It's so unfair."

"We still have time," he assured her. "We'll figure something out. We have to."

"Leia is the one we have to worry about," she went on. "She'll fight us until the very end."

"I know," he repeated, "but we'll stop her. It won't be easy, but we'll stop her."

Padmé couldn't help herself and let out a small laugh.

"What?"

"It sounds like we're talking about a criminal instead of a five year old girl," she told him.

"It does, doesn't it?" he said, shaking his head. "See what she does to us? She's a menace!"

She laughed again. "I thought we were having a serious discussion."

"We were. At least, we were until you pointed out that we were making our daughter sound like a criminal," he told her.

"How pathetic is that?"

"Extremely," he decided, "but we love her anyway."

"But in all seriousness," he continued, "we do have almost a year to come up with a solution to the problem. And who knows? They could even stop on their own."

"Wouldn't that be wonderful?"

"Things are going to change drastically for them in a few short months," he elaborated. "They're going to have a little sister who's going to keep all of us as a family extremely busy. Maybe they won't have time to practice 'floating'."

Padmé nodded. "You may be exactly right. Why hadn't I thought of that?" She turned and gave him a kiss. "Thank you."

"Any time, my love," he said, kissing her back. "Everything's going to be fine. We'll get through this like we get through everything."

"Let's not talk about this anymore," she decided as they finally reached their destination. "I'm sorry I brought it up."

"Don't be," he assured her. "It's something that's constantly on both of our minds. But it'll all be all right. We'll keep them safe." He released his hold on her and then took her hand. "Let's go to bed. We have a busy weekend ahead of us."

"I love you," she told him.

"I love you too." He pulled her by the hand into their room. "Come to bed."

She did not resist.

8888888

As Obi-Wan's ship orbited the small planet of Postaym, he studied everything he could find about the settlement and the people who lived there. He was determined not to land until he was familiar enough with the streets to move around like a resident. He did not want to be noticed if he could help it. News of visitors spread quickly in small communities. If the mechanic Skott Novalen was Anakin, he did not want anyone knowing he was there.

After all, his purpose in coming was to kill a man.

A search of the official settlement records had revealed enough information for him to land, find Novalen, and, if he was indeed Anakin, do his duty. Novalen worked in a mechanical repair shop located right by the spaceport. However, he lived on the outskirts of the settlement, which actually worked to Obi-Wan's advantage. If there was a struggle, no one would be around to hear it.

His plan was simple. He would approach the shop and reach out with the Force. If Anakin was there, he was detect him immediately. There was no need to go inside and cause a scene. (Anakin would most likely react with violence the moment he saw him.) If he felt Anakin, he would go to his house and wait for him there. Anakin would feel his Force-probe and come searching for him. When Anakin arrived, he would do what he had been waiting five years to do.

The only problem was the fact that Novalen did not appear to live alone. There was another name listed at his residence: Domelle Novalen. If he was wrong and Novalen was not Anakin, it was possible that this woman was either his wife, sister, or mother. But if he was...

Sith cared about no one but themselves. The woman was obviously a means to an end, a part of his alias. If he had come to the planet appearing already married, he would avoid a great deal of unwanted attention. (Anakin was an attractive man and had had many females showering him with attention over the years. But he had been too consumed with thoughts of Padmé to notice any of them...) She could be his prisoner, someone he kidnapped and forced to live with him. Or she could even be someone he deceived and tricked into marrying him. Either way, she would be freed from his evil grasp.

He would not let another innocent woman die because of him.

8888888

"Well, I'm off to make Gusteer a very happy man," Anakin told Padmé. "Expect me to be ready to collapse when I get home tonight."

She gave him a kiss. "Let me guess. You want me to have the twins tired out before you arrive?"

"That would be nice," he grinned, "but we both know that's not going to happen. It's like they have built-in chargers."

"And you think you'll be ready to collapse. That's me every day," she informed him. "Want to switch places?"

"Not on your life, Senator," he teased. "I prefer having the easy job."

"Get out of my sight! I never want to speak to you again!"

"Liar," he shot back, pulling her to him for another kiss. "I love you."

"I love you too," she replied. "Even if you do have the easier job."

"I'll see you tonight," he promised her.

"I'll be waiting for you."

He gave her another quick kiss. "See you."

He then keyed in the code to open the front door.

"Let's go, Artoo," he called to the patiently waiting droid.

Artoo whistled and starting rolling after him.

"Bye, my love," he told Padmé as he stepped outside.

"Goodbye," she answered. "Talk to you later."

He waved at her and then headed towards his speeder. Artoo had already rocketed himself into his socket and started the engine.

He hopped into the pilot's seat and glanced back at the house.

Padmé waved one last time and then disappeared back inside.

With a smile, Anakin headed off to work, ready to begin yet another week.

8888888

Obi-Wan slipped the datapad with the map back into his robes as he approached the edge of Malisth. He had landed his ship a good two kilometers from the settlement despite the fact that he doubted he'd have been detected even if he had landed in the middle of the street. His scans had indicated that there was very little in the way of security on Postaym. The atmosphere was not monitored at all. Anyone could land anywhere on the planet at any time.

It was the perfect hiding place.

He checked his wrist chrono. It was 0930 galactic standard time. Novalen would be at work.

"Time to find out if you are who I think you are," Obi-Wan commented to himself.

He felt confident that he had memorized the settlement's layout well enough to get where he needed to go. Holding a map would only advertise that he did not belong here. He needed to move around undetected. If Novalen was Anakin, he had to avoid alerting him to his presence until he was ready to face him. Anything premature could possibly result in his own death.

Sith did not ask questions before attacking.

That was why he would limit his Force-use as much as possible. Anakin would immediately recognize his presence in the Force. The moment Obi-Wan reached out to him, Anakin would know he was on-planet...

And come after him.

Adjusting his hood over his head, Obi-Wan entered into the settlement and headed towards his first destination.

8888888

"You know what this means, don't you?" Cerink pressed as he and several of the other mechanics crowded around Anakin's worktable. "We all get raises or we're all going on strike."

"Just try it and you'll all find yourselves looking for new jobs," Anakin shot back.

There was a chorus of "ooh" from the others.

"I told you," Tlanna spoke up. "Never threaten the boss. It's hazardous to your paycheck."

"Come on, you guys," Anakin cut in as he tried to keep working on the repair he was performing. Gusteer's earlier announcement had caused as big of a stir as he feared and now everyone's attention was focused on him instead of their workloads. "I'm not the boss quite yet. You know Gusteer doesn't actually plan on retiring any time soon."

"But it never hurts to start sucking up to the next boss early," B'rhing pointed out. "We're just protecting our rears."

"You really think I'd-"

Anakin froze as something he'd hoped never to feel again brushed against his mind.

A Force-probe.

A very familiar Force-probe.

"No..."

"Hey, Skott, you okay?"

"Skott?"

Anakin tried to recover from his shock as best he could. He relaxed his tensed muscles and looked up at his concerned coworkers.

"Yeah," he told them in as calm a voice as he could manage. "I'm fine. My head just started hurting for a second, that's all. I'm okay now."

He had to call Padmé.

Now.

"You don't look so good," Tlanna insisted. "You're kind of pale."

"Yeah, Tlanna's right. For once," Cerink jumped in. "Maybe you should go lay down in the break room."

"I think that's a good idea," he said, grateful for the escape. He'd use the comm in there. He needed the privacy in order to break the bad news to her.

They had to get off-planet immediately.

Before Obi-Wan found them...

"Thanks."

"We can't have anything happen to Gusteer's prized employee, now can we?" Powx chimed in. "He'll blame all of us."

"We can't have that," Anakin agreed. He turned to Artoo. "Take over for me, Artoo. I'll be back in a little bit."

Artoo beeped.

"Thanks guys. I'll be okay," he assured the others. "I'll see if there's anything in the medical kit that I can take."

"Feel better," Tlanna told him.

He nodded at her as he got to his feet.

It took all of his self-control not to run.

8888888

"Mommy, there's something in our heads," Leia suddenly announced.

Padmé looked up from her datapad to see the twins standing in front of her chair. They were holding hands, something they rarely did.

"What?"

"It doesn't hurt," Luke spoke up. "It just feels weird."

"Can you make it stop?" Leia asked.

Padmé stared at them, not knowing how to respond. She put her datapad down on the table next to her chair.

"I'm sorry, Mistress Domelle," Threepio apologized as he entered the room. "I tried to stop them."

"That's all right, Threepio," she told him. She turned her attention back to her children. "What's the matter?"

"Our heads," Leia informed her again. "They feel weird. Like there's something in them."

"Make it stop, Mommy," Luke pleaded. "We don't like it."

"I... It doesn't hurt?"

"Uh-uh," Leia confirmed. "It just feels weird."

"Like there's something in our heads," Luke repeated.

"When did it start?"

"A minute ago," Leia told her. "We were playing and then our heads started feeling weird."

"We just want it to stop," Luke said again.

"You said you were playing," Padmé began. A suspicion formed. "Were you 'floating'?"

It was very possible that this was Force-related. The lack of pain suggested that what they were experiencing was not physical.

A guilty look spread across their faces, confirming her suspicions.

"Were you doing anything else?"

"No, Mommy," Luke told her. "Just 'floating'."

"Do our heads feel weird because we were 'floating'?" Leia wanted to know.

"I don't know," Padmé admitted. While it was tempting to tell her that it was as a way of putting an end to their Force-use once and for all, it would be wrong. It was more important to find out what was causing the feelings they were experiencing. "And this has never happened to you before while you were 'floating'?"

"Uh-uh," Leia answered. "Can you make it stop?"

Padmé had no answer for her.

Anakin. She had to call Anakin. He would know how to help their children.

"Stay right there. Watch them," she ordered Threepio as she got up and walked over to the comm.

She hated to have to interrupt him at work, but he was the only one who she could turn to. No one else could know about the twins' abilities.

However, as she reached the comm, it started beeping.

Please be Anakin, she thought. She did not have time to talk to anyone else. Her children needed help.

She clicked the answer switch and a stricken-looking Anakin appeared on the screen.

"Anakin!" she gasped, momentarily forgetting that she was supposed to address him as "Skott" over the comm. "What is it? What's wrong?"

"He's here, Padmé," he told her without preamble. "He's found us."

There was no question of who "he" was.

Obi-Wan Kenobi.

"No," she breathed, her panic worsening. "He couldn't have."

"I felt him, Padmé. He reached out with the Force and I felt him," he informed her. "He's somewhere in the settlement."

"No," she repeated. "Oh, no."

"I'm coming home," he said. "We'll leave as soon as I get there."

She nodded. They had been prepared for this day for as long as they'd been on Postaym. They had just hoped it would never arrive. Their ship was loaded with enough food, clothing, and credits for them to find another planet and start all over again. All they had to do was board and fly away.

"Anakin," she began, hesitant to tell him her own bad news. He was upset enough. But he had to know. "I was about to call you myself. The children... They..."

"Are they all right?" he asked, his voice becoming more distressed.

"They just came to me," she explained. "They told me their heads feel, in their words, 'weird.' They're not in pain, but they just want it to stop. They admitted they were 'floating' when it happened. I think it's Force-related.

"It's him, isn't it? He's trying to find them."

"It has to be," Anakin confirmed. He then cursed, something he rarely did. "We don't have much time then. It sounds like he's locked onto them. He's coming to you."

"No... But... He can't know who they are, can he? If we hide them, they're safe, right?"

"There's no way he can identify them if he's unfamiliar with the Force signatures," he told her. "He may just think they're other survivors of the purge."

"What should I do?"

"Put them in their room," he instructed. "Then secure the house. Lock all the doors and windows. Don't answer any other comm calls. I'm on my way home."

"Hurry. Please," she urged him. "I'm afraid."

"Me too. I'll be there as soon as I can," he promised.

"I know. I love you."

"I love you too," he told her. "Protect our babies."

"I will."

Anakin ended the transmission.

She returned to where she had left the twins.

"What's wrong, Mommy?" Luke asked. "You look sad."

She put on a brave face for them. "I just spoke to Daddy. He's coming home and then we're going to go somewhere."

"Will our heads stop feeling weird?" Leia wanted to know.

Padmé smiled. "I think they will. And Daddy and I both think that a nice nap will help your heads too..."

8888888

Obi-Wan was unsurprised that the unknown Force signatures had led him straight to the Novalen residence.

Anakin's residence.

He had recognized Anakin's presence immediately inside the shop. It was still as powerful as he remembered. Yet...

He hadn't sensed the darkness that he had expected to be there. Wouldn't a Sith exude the dark side? Not that he had had much experience dealing with the Sith. He had only encountered two directly, the still-unnamed Sith from Naboo, Qui-Gon's murderer, and Dooku. And neither had given him any time to touch them with the Force. Perhaps Anakin had learned to disguise his true nature over the years.

It really didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was that Anakin had been found and that justice would finally be done. His reign of evil was over.

It would be one less Sith threatening the galaxy.

Unless...

A disturbing thought occurred to him. What if the woman, "Domelle Novalen," was not any of the things he had assumed? What if she was Anakin's apprentice? What if that was the true reason he had gone into hiding? He had his own apprentice and was waiting until she was ready so that the two of them could overthrow Palpatine and take over the Empire themselves? It fit the mindset of a Sith perfectly.

And it didn't matter that there were only supposed to be two Sith at any one time. Since when had Anakin ever followed the rules? Who knew what plans his dark side-twisted mind held?

That still left the other signature he had felt. There had been two. Did that mean that Anakin had taken on two apprentices? Or something much worse.

Like a child.

Obi-Wan couldn't think of anything more horrible. Two Sith producing a child for the sole purpose of following in their footsteps. It was disgusting.

He hoped he was wrong. Maybe Anakin was just being his usual overconfident self and was attempting to train two apprentices at once. That was more likely the case.

But no matter which one it was, if either of the two beings in the house was trained in the dark side, they would have to die. As had been ingrained in his psyche from the time he was a youngling, there was no returning from the dark side. Once evil, always evil.

He prayed he was wrong and that his first assumptions were the correct ones. He did not want to kill any more than he had to.

He hoped Anakin was the only one who had to die.

8888888

Once outside, Anakin raced for his speeder. He had already sent Artoo directly to their ship to begin take-off preparations. His only thought was to get to his family before it was too late.

There was no telling the evil that Obi-Wan would do to them.

8888888

Padmé was too agitated to sit and wait for Anakin. Instead she paced endlessly. She was desperately afraid.

For both Anakin and Obi-Wan.

She had considered so many times telling Anakin the truth about what had happened all those years ago, but always decided against it. What would have been the point? It would have changed nothing and only made him feel guiltier than he already did. (His nightmares were already bad enough...) He was finally happy, happier than she knew he had ever been in his life. She wanted nothing more than to keep him that way. She loved him so much.

Their only hope was to leave before Obi-Wan realized that the Force signatures he was following would lead him to Anakin. While she knew he was curious about the unknown Force users, he was here for one reason and one reason only: to kill Anakin.

Like Anakin, Obi-Wan did not know everything that had happened that day. And, even if he did, he would not believe it. He was too much of a Jedi to ever accept that anyone could return from the dark side. As soon as he saw Anakin, he would try to kill him.

And Anakin would react in kind. He believed Obi-Wan to be evil and saw him as a threat to his family. Obi-Wan's determination to kill him would only reinforce that belief.

If they met, one of them would die. No other outcome was possible.

Padmé prayed that their paths would not cross.

8888888

Obi-Wan circled around the house, searching for a way in. It was quite large and there were a number of windows to choose from.

He had decided that entering through a window into an empty room was the best way to attempt to take them by surprise. Attempt, because he knew they had already been alerted to his presence. If not from his lock on their Force signatures (which he had released as soon as he arrived at the house), then from Anakin, whom he could feel was getting closer. He did not have much time. He hoped his unconventional entry would at least buy him a little more.

He was amused by the size of the house. This was not the home of someone who wished to draw very little attention to himself. Then again, this was Anakin he was dealing with. Anakin craved attention and he had definitely received it by making quite a name for himself as the mechanic "Novalen." He was very well-known.

"The arrogance of Siths," he shook his head.

He approached a random window and peered in. The room it led to was dark and he could barely see inside.

It was most definitely unoccupied.

"Perfect."

He tried the window and found it to be locked, as he had thought it would be. Siths would be anything but trusting of their neighbors.

He unclipped his lightsaber and activated it.

"I guess I'll have to do this the hard way."

He shortened the blade and used it to easily slice through the locking mechanism. He then reset the blade to its normal size and replaced the weapon on his belt. Finally, he opened the window and climbed through it.

Only to be shocked by where he found himself.

A child's playroom.

"No..."

So, he had been right after all. Anakin and the woman had produced a child.

A child to be raised as a Sith.

No, he corrected himself as his vision adjusted and he was able to completely scan the room, not a child. Children.

There were several toys strewn all over the floor, indicating that the room had been recently occupied. Some were the kind only boys played with while others were unmistakably for girls.

It was worse than he had feared. The two signatures he had followed could only be from the children. Which meant that Domelle, if that was really her name, could not be an apprentice after all. Then there would have been three signatures. Anakin was obviously only using her to produce offspring. She was nothing more than a breeder to him.

He suddenly had a flare of hope. If the signatures he had locked on to were the children's, then maybe they did not know he was there. They could not be more than five years old, if even that, and would not realize that they were being traced. And Anakin would not have wanted to let Domelle know that someone was coming who could set her free.

If he moved quickly enough, he could get them to safety before Anakin arrived. There would be no more innocent blood on his hands if he could help it.

He crossed the room, careful not to make any noise by tripping on the toys, and reached the door. Using the Force, he slowly slid it open and he cautiously peered into the hallway.

It was clear.

He then stretched out with the Force again, searching for Domelle's presence. He felt the children first. They were very close. And then he felt the third.

And found it to be familiar...

"Strange," he murmured, but gave it very little thought other than that it was possible she was someone both he and Anakin had encountered in the past, which could explain why Anakin had taken her.

She was located somewhere near the center of the house. Using her presence as his guide, he moved quickly towards her. Within seconds, he had found her.

Her back was to him as she stared out a window. Powerful waves of fear emanated from her. She was obviously terrified about something.

Had Anakin...?

He had to risk it. It was his only chance to save her before Anakin arrived.

"Domelle?" he quietly called out.

She whirled around, her face a mask of terror.

Obi-Wan's mouth dropped.

"Padmé?!"

8888888

"Get out of here! Now!" Padmé urged, trying to warn him off. "Please!"

But Obi-Wan's only response was to stare at her in shock.

"Don't you understand?" she prompted. "I never told him the truth. He still thinks the Jedi are traitors. If he finds you here, he'll kill you. You have to leave!"

She knew she was exaggerating. She had no way of knowing which one of them would emerge victorious if they engaged in combat. All she knew was that one of them would die.

She had to keep them from seeing each other.

Obi-Wan only continued to stare.

"Get out of here!" she repeated.

Finally, he snapped out of his daze.

"Padmé," he managed. "You're... By the Force... You're..." He looked her up and down, obviously taking in her changed appearance and current condition. "I thought... I thought you were dead!"

His exclamation, while catching her off-guard, explained his behavior. But why in the universe would he think such a thing?

In a gentler tone, she said, "As you can see, I'm very much alive."

She wanted to ask him why he had thought she was dead, but time was not on her side. Anakin was coming. He could not find Obi-Wan in their house.

While Obi-Wan had once been a friend to both of them, and so much more to Anakin, he was now a threat to everything she held dear. He was here to kill her husband. She would not allow that to happen.

Yet at the same time, she could not allow Anakin to hurt him either.

He had to leave at all costs.

"But you have to leave now."

He appeared to pull himself back together. "You know I can't. Not until I've done what I came to do."

"I won't let you hurt him," she told him matter-of-factly. "But I don't want him to hurt you either. You were once our friend. Please, for your own safety, leave our house. If he sees you, he will kill you."

"I'm still your friend," he corrected her. "That's-"

"Then leave," she cut him off. "Please. If you're still my friend, then honor my request. Go away."

"He has to pay for his crimes, Padmé. You know that."

"You don't think he has?" she countered. "That he still does? You're not the one who's been living with him all these years, Obi-Wan. You're not the one who's with him when he wakes up from yet another nightmare. He constantly dreams about what he's done. He's still suffering. Can't that be enough?"

"He must be brought to justice," Obi-Wan said. "I'm sorry. I know you love him, but he's not who you think he is. He's not the same man you fell in love with."

"You're wrong," she informed him.

"He's a Sith."

"No, he's not. He never was."

"I saw the security hologram in the Temple," he told her. "You know that I would never lie to you about something like that."

"I'm not saying he didn't turn to the dark side-"

"Then why are you protecting him?"

"You didn't let me finish," Padmé pointed out. "Yes, he did turn to the dark side, I'm not denying that. But he came back. I was with him when it happened. I know. You don't have to do this."

"He's lying to you, Padmé," he softly insisted. "No one has ever returned from the dark side. He's lying and, by that very act, he's keeping you and your children his prisoner."

Padmé did not react to the statement. Did that mean he knew about the twins? Or was he referring to the baby she was now carrying and others she could have in the future?

She prayed it was the latter.

"You're blinded by your love," he continued. "You're too close to him to see what he's done to you, to your children."

He did mean the twins, she realized. Had he seen them when he broke into the house?

"Let me take you away from here," he went on. "I can help you start over somewhere safe. I can protect you and your children."

"I'm not leaving him, Obi-Wan."

"He's evil, Padmé."

"He's my husband."

Obi-Wan's mouth fell open at the revelation.

"Oh, Padmé! No!"

"Yes," she told him. "We've been married since the beginning of the war."

"That's impossible..."

"We got married when he took me back to Naboo after Geonosis," she elaborated. "We kept it a secret because neither of us wanted to give up doing what we loved.

"So, as I said, I won't leave him. And I won't let you hurt him. I want you out of our house."

The conversation had gone on too long. She needed him to leave.

Anakin would be home any minute.

Obi-Wan heaved a sigh. "What will it take to make you see reason?"

Padmé wanted to scream in frustration, but, as she had done for years as both queen and senator, she kept her composure. Obi-Wan was as stubborn and devoted to his duty as ever. It seemed he was determined to remain until Anakin arrived. What would it take to make him leave?

She decided to try another tactic.

"You said you thought I was dead," she said. "Why?"

"You disappeared," he told her. "I know you went to Anakin after I left you that day. I know because I practically sent you myself. When no one ever heard from you again..."

"You assumed he had killed me," she finished for him, an idea forming.

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Because he's a Sith and Sith have no need for families," he answered matter-of-factly. "They don't love."

It was the perfect opening. If she could convince him that Anakin was in fact not a Sith...

"But he didn't kill me," she pointed out. "Doesn't that prove to you that he's not what you think it is?"

"It only proves that the Jedi understanding of the Sith is limited," he countered.

"Or maybe it proves that you're wrong and Anakin is not what you think he is," she suggested. "I know for a fact that Anakin would never hurt me or our children. He loves us with all of his heart and soul."

"You think he loves-"

"No, I know," she cut in. "And I can show you how I know.

"Come with me."

He already knew about the twins. If she could use them to get her point across...

Anakin would understand.

She led him out of the family room and took him to the twins' bedroom door.

"You say Sith are incapable of love," she began. "That they don't have families. Yet you know that Anakin and I already have children and that we have a new baby on the way. And still you insist that he is a Sith."

Without another word, she keyed in the code and the door silently slid open. Then she gestured for him to follow her into the room.

Threepio began to rise from his seat, but she motioned for him to stay where he was. She led Obi-Wan to stand before both beds.

Luke and Leia were each lying in their own bed. Leia was sprawled on her stomach while Luke was curled up into a ball. Both had kicked off their blankets in their sleep.

"I want you to look at them," she instructed in a quiet voice as she replaced their blankets. "Take a good look at them, Obi-Wan, and then try to tell me that these two children are not loved."

"They're beautiful, Padmé," he whispered. "How old are they?"

"Five."

"So they were...?"

"Yes," she answered his unfinished questioned. "We didn't know I was carrying twins until after we left." She placed her hand on his arm. "Let's go back to where we can talk."

He nodded and she brought him back into the hall, closing the door behind them.

"I don't know what to say," Obi-Wan admitted.

"We love them, Obi-Wan. Both Anakin and I," she said. "If he were a Sith like you claim, do you really think our children would be as happy and healthy as they are?"

"I-"

"Get away from my wife!"

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Anakin could not believe what he was seeing. Obi-Wan Kenobi, one of the most treacherous of all the Jedi, was in his house.

Talking to his wife.

Standing next to the door of his children's bedroom.

When he had first come upon the scene, he had been furious. (How dare Obi-Wan set foot inside of his home!) But concern for the safety of his family had instantly tempered his rage. He had to get Obi-Wan away from them. It was more important to protect them than anything else.

Padmé rushed over to him and he immediately pulled her into his arms.

"Stay away from my family," he ordered his former master.

He didn't know what Obi-Wan had possibly been trying to accomplish by going to Padmé, but he would not succeed. (Would he really be brazen enough to try to turn Padmé against him again? Not that it would work this time. Padmé would not fall for it again.) He had to get him out of the house as soon as possible.

"It's been a long time, Anakin," Obi-Wan spoke in that deceptively friendly tone of his.

"Not long enough," Anakin shot back.

"Padmé and I have been talking about you," Obi-Wan continued, still acting as if they were old friends. "She tells me that I don't need to perform my duty. She claims that I'm wrong about you and that I should just leave."

Anakin pulled Padmé tighter against him. Leave it to her to try to protect him. She was too good to him.

"You should listen to her," he told Obi-Wan. "She knows what she's talking about. Leave."

He knew it was pointless to try to get Obi-Wan to just go away. He never would. He was the model Jedi, determined to fulfill every last one of his duties. And that meant he would never stop until one of them was dead.

There was no escaping him.

"We both know that I can't do that, Anakin," Obi-Wan replied, confirming what he already knew to be true. "Whatever lies you've been telling Padmé won't work on me. She may be blind to your true nature, but I know what you really are. And I intend to open her eyes."

"You won't touch her," Anakin warned.

"Anakin," Padmé broke in. "Please..."

"You know I would never hurt her," Obi-Wan told him. "All I want is to free her from your evil. The evil that you've obviously hidden from her."

He recognized Obi-Wan's tactic immediately. He was trying to provoke him, to make him attack him. Obi-Wan had never been the type to kill in cold blood. (Unlike him...) He needed a reason to kill. Self-defense, for example.

Anakin realized that this could work to his advantage. If he was able to lure Obi-Wan away from the house, Padmé and the children would have a chance to get to safety. They were all he truly cared about. It did not matter what happened to him. As long as they were safe...

"Leave Padmé out of this," he commanded Obi-Wan. "This is between you and me."

"You're the one who's involved her," Obi-Wan pointed out. "I'm not leaving without her and the children. They deserve their freedom."

"We're not going anywhere without Anakin," Padmé asserted, tightening her arms around him. "I told you, Obi-Wan. I won't let you hurt him."

"Padmé," Anakin urged, stroking her back. He wished he could share with her what he was trying to do. "Let me handle this."

"You should listen to him," Obi-Wan agreed.

"I'm not leaving my husband," she reaffirmed.

"Neither of us want you to get hurt," Obi-Wan told her. "On that, Anakin and I agree."

"On only that," Anakin said.

"I'm not moving," she insisted.

"Yes, you are," Anakin suddenly declared as he saw his opening to lead Obi-Wan away from his family. He pushed her away from him.

"Anakin, no!"

He turned his attention back to Obi-Wan. "No more talking. You're here to kill me, right? So do it." He held out his arms and starting moving towards him. "I have no weapons. Kill me right now."

"Anakin!" Padmé cried. "No!"

"It has to be this way," he told her, sorry that he had to cause her such unnecessary pain. "I love you."

"Anakin!"

He ignored her and turned back to Obi-Wan. "What are you waiting for? Do it. Kill me."

"Anakin, please! Stop this!" Padmé pleaded.

"You know I won't do that, Anakin," Obi-Wan stated. "Not in front of Padmé. I'm not like you. I won't hurt her."

"But you're hurting me now!" she insisted. "Anakin! Obi-Wan! Don't do this!"

"Then we'll do it someplace else," Anakin told him. "I know a-"

"Daddy?"

Anakin turned to see Leia and Luke standing wide-eyed in the open doorway of their bedroom.

Padmé gasped. "No..."

"What's going on, Daddy?" Luke asked. "You woke us up. Why is everyone so loud?"

"Who's the strange man?" Leia wanted to know as she pointed at Obi-Wan.

"Come to Mommy," Padmé urgently beckoned and both children ran to her.

Anakin, keeping his eyes on Obi-Wan, knelt down and picked Leia up. As he stood back up with her, she put her arms around his neck but kept staring at Obi-Wan.

"As I said, we'll do this somewhere else."

"Yes," Obi-Wan nodded. "I agree. Name the time and place."

"There's a warehouse on the other side of the settlement," Anakin said. "I'll meet you there in one hour."

"I'll be there."

"We'll finish this once and for all," Anakin promised him.

"Agreed."

With that said, Obi-Wan gave a short bow and then walked away.

Padmé moved to put one of her arms around him again, the other clutching Luke's hand.

"Oh, Anakin," she murmured. "What have you done?"

"The only thing I could," he told her.

And he hoped he was right.

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As Obi-Wan emerged from the house, all of the confusion that had been building since Anakin's arrival rushed to the surface.

What in the blazes had just happened back there?

Padmé's behavior he could understand. She loved Anakin because she believed him to be the same man he had been five years ago, the man she had been married to for, apparently, eight years. (How could he have missed such a blatant change in their relationship? Yet another failure on his part.) For some reason, Anakin had her convinced that he had returned from the dark side, an impossible feat. Why, Obi-Wan could not say.

Anakin, on the other hand, was a complete enigma. He had acted like no other Sith Obi-Wan had dealt with. It was no wonder Padmé didn't question what he had told her. His performance was incredible. If Obi-Wan had not witnessed the footage from the Temple massacre, he would not believe that the man he had just confronted was a Sith.

But what was the point of the deception? What was the purpose of pretending to be a loving husband and father? A galaxy-renowned mechanic? What was he trying to accomplish? What was his plan?

He had to be up to something. That was the way of a Sith. They were never idle. They only bided their time until the opportunity to strike presented itself. (Palpatine was the perfect example.) Then they left nothing but devastation in their wake.

In truth, whether or not Obi-Wan knew Anakin's plans did not matter. They would be destroyed the moment Anakin died. Whatever evil he had planned to spread would never see the light of day. And Padmé and her children would be free from whatever horrible fate he had intended for them.

In one hour's time, Anakin Skywalker would finally be brought to justice.

And that was really the only thing that mattered.

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"Please, Anakin," Padmé begged as she followed him into their bedroom. "Please don't go through with this. Why can't we just stick to our plan? He won't know we're gone until it's too late."

"Don't you understand?" Anakin countered. "It doesn't matter if we leave now. He'll just find us again. He'll never stop." He went over to the closet and opened it. "We'll never be free." He knelt down and reached for a metal container he had buried in the back.

"This is the only way."

"It can't be," Padmé insisted. "There has to be something else. There has to!"

Anakin's hands latched onto the container and he pulled it into the room.

"I won't let him put you through this again."

He opened the container. Inside were items he had hoped never to touch again.

His Jedi robes and uniform.

His lightsaber.

"Don't do this," she pleaded.

"I have to," he said as he picked up his lightsaber, the once-familiar weapon feeling foreign in his hand. "I'm sorry."

"No!" she cried. "Please, Anakin!"

He felt her lay against his back and wrap her arms around him.

"I can't lose you."

He let the lightsaber fall back into the container and then gently pulled her off of his back and into his arms.

She was crying.

"You and the children are all I care about," he told her softly as he held her. "I'll do anything to keep you safe.

"Even give up my own life."

There was a strong possibility that Obi-Wan would kill him. He had not touched his lightsaber, or any weapon for that matter, in five years. He was completely out of practice.

But if his death meant saving the life of his family...

"No," she protested, looking up at him. "Don't say that. Please..."

"I want you to take Luke and Leia to our ship," he instructed. "If I'm not there in-"

"No! I won't do that. I can't..."

"Please, my love," he urged. "For me."

"No. I'm not leaving this house without you."

"And if I don't come back?"

He hated to ask her the question, but she had left him no choice.

She hesitated, looking away from him.

"Padmé..." he prompted and her gaze returned to him.

"If you don't come back..." She paused, taking a breath. "If you don't come back, I'll take the children and leave. I won't let Obi-Wan stop me."

"Thank you."

"This shouldn't be happening," she declared. "We were supposed to be safe here. It's not fair."

"I know," he soothed. "But we both knew this could happen. We've known that since the beginning." He kissed her forehead. "I'm just glad we had all the time that we did. I wouldn't change it for anything."

"I love you so much," she told him. "I don't want you to go. I'm so afraid."

"I love you too," he said.

He brought a hand up to her cheek and used his thumb to wipe away some of the tears.

"Anakin..."

Then he kissed her, knowing that this could possibly be their final moment together...

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Padmé stood in the open doorway, watching Anakin as he walked off to what could very well be his death.

A death she had sent him to...

If only she had told him the truth years ago. Then he would know that the Jedi had not betrayed the Republic, that it had all been a lie created by Palpatine. That he had been tricked into turning to the dark side.

That he had killed for nothing...

Deep in her heart, she knew she had made the right decision. To tell him the truth would have been a cruelty. He was guilt-ridden enough. What kind of person, what kind of wife, would she have been if she had told him?

"Come back to me," she whispered after him. "Please come back to me."

She had stood silently by as he promised their babies that he would be back soon, hugging and kissing both of them. But it was a promise that both she and Anakin knew could very likely be broken.

And it was all her fault...

She had not stopped crying since the moment he had informed her of his decision to confront Obi-Wan. She doubted she'd be able to stop until he was in her arms again.

Or she had no tears left...

Obi-Wan was resolved to carry out what he believed to be his duty. She could not hold it against him. He was only doing what any Jedi would do in the same situation. But she prayed that he would fail. His death would mean that her Anakin lived.

It was a selfish wish, but she did not care. She loved Anakin so much. She did not want to lose him. Not after she had already come so close to it in the past. He was her everything.

If only Anakin hadn't come home when he did. She had been so close to getting Obi-Wan to leave. But then Anakin had arrived and everything had fallen apart.

All because she had kept the truth from him...

She wished she could run after him and stop them both before either of them got hurt. She wanted to tell them that they were both wrong, that no one had to die. But she knew it was too late. Her words would fall on deaf ears.

Besides, she had her own promise to keep. The promise that she had made to Anakin.

Their children would be protected at all costs.

She owed him that much.

"Please come back," she softly pleaded again before retreating back into the house.

Now all she could do was wait.

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Obi-Wan was drawn out of his meditation by the sound of a lightsaber being ignited.

He glanced up to see Anakin standing just inside the warehouse's entrance.

He had changed out of his civilian clothes and now donned his Jedi uniform. (As if he had any right to wear it.) The combination of the dark material and his now-dark hair gave him a menacing air.

He looked every inch the Sith he was.

After all these years of searching, it seemed almost unreal to have Anakin there in front of him. He could not believe his mission was nearly over.

But being nearly over and truly over were completely different things. Defeating Anakin would not be easy. His skills with a lightsaber were extraordinary and Obi-Wan had neither practiced with nor used his own in five years. But he was determined to succeed regardless.

He had to.

Obi-Wan rose to his feet, shedding his outer robes as he went. "I suppose this means my hour is up?"

"I'm here to make sure you never threaten my family again," Anakin told him coldly, ignoring the attempt at humor. (The old Anakin would have cracked a joke of his own.)

"You can dispense with the act now, Anakin," he replied, poising his hand over his lightsaber. There was no telling when Anakin would strike. Even as a Jedi, his attacks had been unpredictable. "Padmé isn't here. There's no need to pretend anymore."

"I'm not the one who's pretending," Anakin shot back.

"I have been nothing but truthful since I arrived," Obi-Wan pointed out. "Lies are not the Jedi way."

Anakin gave a harsh laugh. "So says the traitor."

"I have betrayed no one," he asserted. "You, on the other hand, have betrayed everyone in the Republic.

"And no one more than Padmé."

Padmé was Anakin's greatest weakness. He had been obsessed with her since he was nine years old. His attachment to her could be used to Obi-Wan's advantage.

"Leave her out of this," Anakin growled, stepping forward and finally displaying his infamous temper.

Anakin's initial lack of anger had surprised Obi-Wan at first, but then he had just assumed that he had learned to control his fury over the years. It made sense. After all, he had been living as a civilian. He would not have remained in hiding for long if he had given in to his rage even once.

Instead there had been incredible fear.

Fear that Obi-Wan still felt pouring from his former Padawan.

Fear that happened to increase whenever Padmé was mentioned...

"As I told you earlier, you are the one who has involved her," he pointed out. "You have lied to her and kept her and her children your prisoner. I only intend to give her back her freedom. The freedom you stole from her."

"You won't touch my family," Anakin told him flatly.

"The Jedi were once your family too," Obi-Wan reminded him. "Yet look what you did to them."

"They only got what they deserved," Anakin retorted. "They were traitors to the Republic."

"Even the younglings?"

Anakin's face visibly paled, which surprised Obi-Wan. Was it even possible for a Sith to feel remorse?

"You have killed children once," Obi-Wan pressed, thinking he had found another weakness. Perhaps he could use Anakin's emotions against him. His feelings would cloud his judgment and impair his ability to fight. "What's to keep me from believing you won't do it again?"

Anakin's expression darkened, erasing all traces of what had appeared to be regret and Obi-Wan's hope of using it to his advantage. "I would never hurt my own children. I love them."

"Sith don't love."

"I'm not a Sith," Anakin said in a low voice.

"Tell that to all the Jedi you killed," Obi-Wan shot back. "Who but a Sith would do such a thing?"

"You have no idea what you're talking about," Anakin told him.

"Don't I?" Obi-Wan questioned. "Are you saying that it was not you who I saw on the Temple's security holograms? That it wasn't you who I witnessed attacking our home and all who were inside? That it wasn't you who I saw single-handedly murder innocent younglings?

"Need I go on?"

"I did what I had to do," Anakin defended himself. "I wouldn't expect you to understand."

"What about Padmé?" Obi-Wan continued, bringing up the one subject that had elicited the most violent reaction so far. He could feel the anger surging within Anakin. He removed his lightsaber from his belt. The attack would come any moment now. "Does she understand?"

"I'm warning you, Obi-Wan," Anakin threatened, starting to advance towards him. "Leave my family out of this."

"I'm taking them away from you," Obi-Wan asserted. "No more will they live with your evil."

"I'll kill you first."

Obi-Wan ignited his weapon. The moment was about to arrive.

"Spoken like a true Sith."

And then Anakin struck.

8888888

Anakin launched himself furiously at the traitor, determined to keep his former master on the defensive. It was the only way he could possibly survive the encounter. The moment Obi-Wan realized that he had no idea what he was doing was the moment he would be dead.

He knew his chances of making it out of this alive were slim to none. Obi-Wan had always been almost as good as Anakin was with a lightsaber. And now he had five more years of practice than Anakin had. The advantage was Obi-Wan's.

But Anakin had every intention of trying to win if he could. He desperately wanted to see Padmé and the twins again. He wanted to be there for the birth of their new daughter. He did not want to die. He had too much to live for.

Blow after blow, he drove Obi-Wan back. There was no other place for him to go. The warehouse was just an empty space. No walls to hide behind or other levels to leap up to. He was forced to defend himself.

And he was doing just that, matching Anakin's every move. He was as good as Anakin remembered.

His only hope was to tire Obi-Wan out. Maybe if he gave into exhaustion, Anakin would be able to kill him...

Maybe.

8888888

Obi-Wan defended himself as best he could against Anakin's wild assault. Anakin was barely giving him any time to think. He was relying heavily on the Force to guide his hands. One wrong move and he would be dead.

Anakin had chosen the location well. The empty space gave neither of them an artificial advantage. They could rely on nothing other than their skills and the Force.

The Force...

It was at that moment, while deflecting Anakin's blade as best he could, that he realized for the first time that he had not felt Anakin use the Force once since arriving on planet.

How strange, he thought as he blocked another swing.

He would have given it more consideration but fending off Anakin's attack required all of his attention.

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Anakin felt himself tiring. It was taking every ounce of strength he had to maintain his offensive against Obi-Wan. He did not know how much longer he could last.

It was ironic. The very tactic he was attempting to use against Obi-Wan had backfired and was now working against him. Obi-Wan would kill him the moment he faltered.

His only chance would be to call on the Force as he had done as a Jedi. The Force would give him the strength he needed to press on. But if he used the Force, Palpatine would immediately know where he was.

Even if he defeated Obi-Wan, his life here was over.

His arms were beginning to burn and he felt the need to stop and catch his breath. He had to make his decision fast.

What to do?

8888888

Obi-Wan could tell that Anakin was starting to slow down. Not that it was making any difference in the intensity of his assault. Anakin was still driving him ever back, but it was taking less concentration to defend himself.

He was now able to consider the situation.

There were many things that did not add up. While he had no doubt of what Anakin was, his behavior did not fit Obi-Wan's conception of a Sith. His insistence that he was not a Sith, for one. Padmé was not present. Why continue to pretend? What was the point?

Then there was the fact that he had yet to call on the Force. As a Jedi, Anakin had used the Force at every opportunity. It came naturally for him. He was so powerful that very little concentration was required on his part. Wouldn't a Sith use it even more, especially during combat?

Obi-Wan was puzzled by Anakin's refusal to use the Force, especially now when it would have helped him the most. The Force would counter his obvious physical exhaustion. Was Anakin so arrogant that he believed he could win this way? Obi-Wan doubted he could sustain his offensive much longer.

Also of note was Anakin's style of combat. He was not using any one of the seven forms, including his favored Form V, Shien/Djem So. His attacks were random and undisciplined. Unfortunately, that did not make them any less deadly. Obi-Wan knew Anakin was intent on killing him just as he was intent on killing Anakin.

But most confusing of all was the absence of hatred. Anakin was no longer even angry, which surprised Obi-Wan a great deal given Anakin's earlier threats and his known temper. Instead all he could sense was determination and fear.

The same incredible fear as before.

What did a Sith have to be afraid of?

Obi-Wan wasn't sure he ever wanted to find out.

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Realizing he had no other choice, Anakin opened himself to the Force for the first time in five years.

8888888

"Then we must..."

Darth Sideous trailed off as he felt the very Force signature that he had been waiting to sense again flare brilliantly into existence.

After five years, Lord Vader had returned.

8888888

Obi-Wan had a very bad feeling that the duel was about to come to a violent end.

Without warning, Anakin had finally called on the Force and his assault had instantly intensified.

Obi-Wan continued to defend himself to the best of his ability, but he did not think he could last much longer. While he had been using the Force the entire time, he was beginning to feel fatigue of his own. The duel had gone on much longer than he had anticipated. Anakin, while never giving him an opening to take the offensive, had not yet pressed for the kill.

He believed that was about to change.

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Anakin had forgotten how whole he felt when the Force flowed through him. It was glorious. How he had missed the sensation of power coursing through his entire being. But if he survived this encounter, he knew he would have to give it up all over again.

Truthfully, he did not care. He had gotten used to living without it. All he cared about was seeing Padmé and the twins again. His need to be with them, his fear for their safety, was what drove him. All he had to do was kill the traitor and he could go back to his family.

Unfortunately, Obi-Wan seemed to be showing no signs of tiring.

He hoped that changed soon.

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Obi-Wan suddenly found that he had been backed into a corner. He could see no possible escape. Even a Force jump over Anakin's head was out of the question. The attacks were too constant and at too close a range for comfort. One slight miscalculation and Anakin would either maim or kill him.

He was trapped.

I must win, he reminded himself. Padmé and her children are depending on it.

He exchanged several more blows with Anakin until he saw an opening in Anakin's defense. Anakin's concentration appeared to be focused only on Obi-Wan and nothing else. Perhaps a physical attack would not be noticed until it was too late. Gathering the Force, he kicked out with his right leg and hit Anakin in the stomach.

Anakin was as unprepared as Obi-Wan had guessed and went flying backwards, losing his grip on his lightsaber in the process. He landed several feet away on the ground.

Obi-Wan cautiously approached his fallen opponent, ready for whatever retaliation Anakin would make.

Anakin, however, was slow to regain his feet. It was obvious he had not used the Force to cushion his fall and he had gotten injured.

Good.

"This isn't finished," he assured Obi-Wan. "I won't let you hurt my family." He called his lightsaber back into his hand, igniting it instantly. "Your reign of evil ends here."

"It is the Sith who are evil," Obi-Wan declared as he and Anakin began to slowly circle each other. "There was a time when you would have agreed with me."

"That was before my eyes were opened to the treachery of the Jedi," Anakin said. "Now I know better."

"So you became a Sith instead."

"I told you," Anakin replied, his voice filling with anger again. "I'm not a Sith."

"No? Because every action, every crime you have committed says otherwise," Obi-Wan countered. "What are you then?"

"All I want is to keep my family safe," Anakin told him. "But I guess I couldn't expect a Jedi to understand that. 'No attachments.' Isn't that right, Master?"

"Did your new master understand?" Obi-Wan questioned. "Or is that why he has the entire galaxy hunting for you?"

"I have no master," Anakin shot back. "Not you, not Palpatine. No one. Not anymore. My loyalty is to my family. No one else."

Obi-Wan did not know what to make of Anakin's assertions. While he did not deny his crimes (Obi-Wan had not forgotten that brief flash of remorse), he still refused to admit he was a Sith. In fact, he was adamant that he wasn't. Why?

It was impossible to return from the dark side. This fact was ingrained in the memory of every Jedi from the time they were a youngling. Once a being has turned, he is lost, consumed by the dark side. There is no turning back.

But wasn't that exactly what Padmé had claimed had happened? That Anakin had returned to the light? And although Anakin wasn't saying those exact words, wasn't he proclaiming the same thing? Could it be true? Had the impossible actually taken place?

Hesitantly, Obi-Wan lowered his lightsaber.

Anakin did not follow suit.

"What exactly is it that you want?" Obi-Wan finally asked.

"For my family to be left alone," Anakin answered. "I will do anything and everything in my power to protect them.

"Even kill."

Obi-Wan did not doubt Anakin's words.

"You won't take them from me," Anakin told him again.

Obi-Wan did not know what to do next. Was what he had spent a lifetime taking for granted no longer true? Could Anakin have truly returned from the dark side? Was it possible that he was telling the truth and wasn't a Sith? And, if so, did he still pose a threat? He only seemed interested in his "family," which consisted of Padmé and their children. Would leaving him alive make any kind of difference?

He went over everything he knew to be true. He knew Anakin had turned to the dark side five years ago. He had witnessed him commit murder after murder in the Temple. He had heard him call Darth Sideous "master." All of these things pointed to his being a Sith.

Yet five years later, Anakin displayed none of the known Sith characteristics. He had broken off all contact with his master, a fact that Sideous was not taking well. He was living a fairly quiet life despite his "fame" as a mechanic. He called Padmé and the children his "family," something no Sith has ever been known to have. And neither Padmé nor her children showed any signs of abuse. Padmé was fiercely protective of Anakin, declaring her love for him and his love for her and their children.

It didn't make sense.

"I only came here looking for a Sith," Obi-Wan carefully began.

"I'm not a Sith," Anakin reiterated. He lowered his lightsaber a fraction of an inch, his expression changing. "You're starting to believe me."

It wasn't a question.

"Yes."

The lightsaber was lowered further.

"Why?"

"Too many things don't make sense," Obi-Wan admitted. "Why haven't you killed me?"

"You haven't given me the chance."

There was a hint of the old Anakin in the answer, but he did not smile.

"I appreciate the honesty," Obi-Wan replied, allowing some lightness to creep into his tone. He decided to take a leap of faith and extinguished his lightsaber. "Well, if you're not a Sith, then I guess I'm finished here. There's no reason for us to continue fighting."

If Anakin truly was a Sith, this would be his opportunity to strike the final blow.

Instead, Anakin finally put down his own weapon, deactivating the blade. "And you'll leave? Just like that?"

"Yes."

"And my family?"

"I was only going to take them when I believed you were a Sith," he explained. "Which you're not."

"No." Anakin wore a puzzled expression. "That's it then?"

"Isn't this what you wanted?"

"Yes..." Anakin hesitated. "But why are you letting me go?"

"I told you," Obi-Wan said, surprised at Anakin's question.

"I only came to stop a Sith."

8888888

Anakin was perplexed. Obi-Wan no longer wanted to kill him? But hadn't that been his entire purpose in finding him? To kill him for betraying the corrupt Jedi Order? To avenge all the lives he had taken?

"You're not going to take your revenge?"

"Revenge is not the Jedi way, Anakin. You once knew this," Obi-Wan said.

If he wasn't here for revenge...

"Besides," Obi-Wan continued, "according to your wife, you already suffer enough. You told me yourself to listen to her. Since it seems she was correct about everything else, I will trust her judgment on this as well."

Anakin did not know what to think. What had Obi-Wan come for if not for revenge? He had spoken of nothing but doing his duty and stopping Anakin's "evil" and "freeing" Padmé and the children. He had continually told Anakin that he was a Sith, who were the sworn enemies of the Jedi. Weren't those the words of someone on a mission of revenge?

And now he was just going to leave, his mission incomplete, because Anakin had convinced him that he wasn't a Sith?

It didn't make any sense.

Obi-Wan seemed to pick up on his confusion.

"I was wrong about you being a Sith, Anakin," he offered. "Couldn't it be possible that you were wrong about the Jedi too?"

Anakin heard the words, but he refused to even consider them. Of course he hadn't been wrong! He had seen evidence of their treachery with his own eyes. The Council ordering him to spy on the Chancellor. Master Windu's assassination attempt. Obi-Wan's own efforts to turn Padmé against him. And now this.

And yet...

If they were as evil as Palpatine had had him believe, why was Obi-Wan willing to let him go?

If what Obi-Wan was saying was true...

No!

He didn't want to accept it, believe it.

If it was true...

He took a few steps back, shaking his head.

"No..."

If they were true, then that would mean everything he had done, all the lives he had taken, had been for nothing.

If they were true, he was nothing more than a murderer.

A cold-blooded killer.

A killer of children...

"No," he said again, wishing the words had never been spoken.

8888888

Obi-Wan understood at once what was happening. The reality of what Anakin had done was finally sinking in. For five years, he had accepted the lies Palpatine had told him as fact. He had truly believed the Jedi to be evil. Padmé had not corrected him.

And he could see why. The pain he had briefly glimpsed when he had mentioned the younglings was back, multiplied many times over. Anakin was in agony.

If he were not a Jedi, Obi-Wan would be tempted to feel satisfaction at this "triumph." Anakin was finally being punished for all the suffering he had caused. He was suffering, though his pain paled in comparison to what he had inflicted. Nothing could ever equal the horrors Anakin had committed. He had taken so many lives.

So many innocent lives...

But taking pleasure in other's pain was not the Jedi way. Obi-Wan remained silent, letting Anakin work through this on his own.

"I only wanted to save her," Anakin finally spoke, his voice almost a whisper. He met Obi-Wan's gaze. "I thought it was the only way."

"Her" could only be one person.

Padmé.

During his years of endless searching, Obi-Wan had constantly tried to figure out where he had gone wrong, what had happened to push Anakin to the dark side. He had never arrived at a satisfactory answer. All he knew was that it ultimately was his fault. Could he have been wrong about that too?

"Save her from what?"

"My dreams."

And then it all fell into place.

Like the ones he had had of his mother years before, Anakin must have begun dreaming about Padmé dying. Knowing how Obi-Wan had ignored the earlier dreams, he had had no choice but to turn to someone else. Obviously, that person had been the Supreme Chancellor.

Palpatine must have seen it as an opportunity to attract a new apprentice since he had just lost Dooku. (Obi-Wan knew the dreams had to have started after their return to Coruscant. He and Anakin had slept side by side during their months in the Outer Rim. There had been no nightmares.) He had probably fabricated some convincing story about how turning to the dark side would prevent Padmé's death. Anakin, desperate to save her, had believed him. (Anakin, as he had told Obi-Wan time and time again, had trusted Palpatine and considered him a close friend.) It was an ingenious plan, worthy of a Sith lord.

He could only assume that Padmé was the reason he had returned to the light. She had somehow achieved the impossible. He had witnessed the strength of her love for Anakin first-hand. If anyone could have saved Anakin, it would have been Padmé.

And she had.

He now knew it was impossible for the man standing before him to be a Sith. A Sith did not care for anyone but himself. Anakin had acted out of fear for the life of a loved one. The life of the woman he loved and had married. He had turned to the dark side because he loved so strongly.

He had been misled and made a wrong decision.

A decision that had plunged the galaxy into darkness.

"I'm so sorry," Anakin managed, struggling to control his emotions. (For as long as Obi-Wan had known him, Anakin had had difficulty hiding what he was feeling. He could be read like the words on a screen. Unfortunately, what was read had not always been interpreted correctly...) "I only wanted to save her. I can't live without her."

Anakin's words demonstrated why attachment was so dangerous. His love for Padmé had been used by Palpatine to destroy both the Jedi and the Republic.

Because of his tendency to form attachments, Anakin had never been a complete Jedi. Unlike Obi-Wan, he was unable to let go. He never had been and probably never would be. And he had fallen because of it.

And for that very reason, Obi-Wan realized, he could be forgiven.

Anakin was not evil. His only real crime was loving too much. He had let his fear of losing Padmé drive him down the wrong path. He had only turned to the dark side to try and save her.

But he had come back because she had asked him to.

Feelings Obi-Wan had thought long buried began to resurface. Yoda had been wrong. The boy he had trained still lived. For thirteen years he had known him, loved him. He considered him his friend and brother.

His son.

And now he was in pain.

Obi-Wan crossed the space between them and laid his hand on Anakin's shoulder.

He had never been a demonstrative man, finding it difficult to express even the simplest of emotions, and his action took Anakin by surprise.

"I have done you a terrible wrong," Obi-Wan quietly admitted. "I did not know the truth. And because of that I have hurt you greatly. Can you forgive me?"

"I should be asking that of you," Anakin said. "After what I've done... I... I deserve to die."

"You made a mistake," Obi-Wan pointed out. "You said you thought it was the only way to save Padmé. You did it because you love her."

Anakin pulled away from him. "That doesn't change anything. I'm still a murderer."

"Padmé has always known," Obi-Wan informed him. "She knew what you had done before she went to you that day five years ago. She loved you so much that it didn't matter to her. She still wanted you in her life. She still loves you."

"I love her."

"Go back to her now," Obi-Wan urged. "Go back to your family. Forget this ever happened. I'm sorry I have done this to you."

Anakin said nothing.

"They need you, Anakin," he said. "Both Padmé and your children. They don't care about your past. They love you for who you are."

"How can I ever face them again? What I did... They deserve someone better."

"But they want you."

Anakin sighed. "I only want what's best for them. I love them so much."

"You are what's best for them," Obi-Wan insisted. "You came to face me just to protect them, knowing that I could very well kill you. I can think of no greater love.

"Years ago I told you that I was very proud of you. I still am."

Anakin looked at him in surprise.

"I know I never told you, but I have always thought of you as my family, Anakin," he continued. "I've missed you."

"I've missed you too...Master."

8888888

Padmé sat on the couch with the twins. Luke had his head in her lap and Leia was curled up against her side. Both were anxious about Daddy being gone so long and had come to her for comfort.

But she was sure neither of them were as anxious as she was.

She was deathly afraid. Anakin had been gone a very long time. She had begun to fear the worst.

She kept telling herself that she would know if he had died, that she would feel it. But she knew she was only fooling herself. She was not even the slightest bit Force-sensitive. The only times she had felt Anakin was when he had actively touched her mind through the Force. And he had refrained from using the Force for the last five years...

She wondered what was happening. What was taking so long? When would someone come back?

Who would come back?

She continued to pray that Anakin would somehow survive. She wanted him back with her so badly. She needed him desperately to be in her life. How could she go on without him?

But if she had to...

"Mommy?" Luke suddenly said, sitting up. "My head feels weird again."

"Mine too," Leia chimed in, "but not bad weird." She sat up too.

Padmé froze.

Someone was reaching out to her children through the Force.

But Anakin no longer used it...

No...

"There's a picture of a door in my head," Luke spoke again.

"I see it too," Leia announced. "And it's our front door, stupid. Not just 'a' door."

"Leia," Padmé warned.

Her fear had increased. Who was communicating with her children? Could it possibly be...

"Why are we seeing our door, Mommy?" Leia asked, ignoring the warning.

"I don't know," Padmé told her, rising to her feet.

Please be my Ani.

"Stay here while I go and see something," she told them.

"Why can't we come?" Leia argued, climbing off the couch.

"Because I said so," Padmé told her. "Now stay here with Luke."

"Fine," Leia grumbled.

If she wasn't so terrified, she would have laughed.

Her heart in her throat, she left the room and made her way to the front door. Her hands shook as she reached for the keypad.

The door slid open and her breath caught in her throat as she looked outside.

Nothing was there.

A terrible thought struck her. Had Anakin...?

No! She pushed the idea away. If he had died and was trying to reach his family through the Force, he would come to her, not their children.

But wouldn't he do the same if he was alive?

Did that mean that it had been Obi-Wan reaching out to the children? Was he trying to make sure the family did not escape before he was able to take them into his custody?

She didn't even want to think about that. All she wanted was her Anakin back.

She stepped through the doorway, both hopeful and afraid.

She stood there for what seemed like an eternity, not seeing anything. Her fear grew with every passing second.

"Oh, Anakin," she pleaded. "Where are you?"

Suddenly, she caught movement in the distance.

"Please..."

She watched as the movement began to take form. It materialized into a distant shadow. As the shadow approached, it further defined itself into a form..

Or rather, forms.

Two figures.

And even from the distance, she could tell that one figure was taller than the other.

Suddenly, she knew.

"Thank the Force..."

Not waiting another instant, she broke into a run.

As the distance closed between them, Padmé was able to see her husband's face.

"Anakin!"

He began to run towards her and within seconds, she was in his arms.

"Padmé," he murmured as he held her close. "Oh, Padmé."

"Anakin," she answered, tears of joy falling. "My love."

They remained that way for a long time.

8888888

"Are you sure you'll be all right?" Obi-Wan asked Anakin as they stood in front of the ramp to Anakin's ship.

"We've been planning this for a long time, Master," Anakin assured him. "We knew this day would come."

"I'm sorry I brought it upon you so soon," Obi-Wan apologized again. He felt guilty for disrupting their lives as he had. "I wish there was something I could do to help."

Anakin had finally explained to him why he no longer used the Force. Obi-Wan had immediately seen the wisdom in his former apprentice's decision. It was something he would have never thought of himself. And now, because of what had happened, there was a good chance that Palpatine knew where Anakin was located. It was critical that he left Postaym immediately.

They had taken measures to ensure that their disappearance would not be investigated. Anakin had built a device that, on a remote signal, would start a fire in their house. The fire would make it look like the Novalen family had died instantly in the initial explosion.

"What will you do now?" Anakin questioned him, changing the subject.

"I honestly don't know," he admitted. "I've spent the last five years looking for you."

"The twins are strapped in," Padmé announced as she appeared at the top of the ramp.

She came to join them, slipping into Anakin's arms the moment they were together.

"Did I interrupt you?" she asked.

Obi-Wan shook his head. "Anakin was just asking me what I was going to do now."

"Our offer still stands," Padmé told him. "There's plenty of room."

"And I still cannot accept," Obi-Wan said. "It would be unfair to both you and your children.

"I think I will investigate the rumors of rebellion that I have been hearing over the years," he told them. "There's apparently a small resistance movement that's been steadily growing. It's been causing enough trouble for the Emperor to show an interest in destroying it. Perhaps I can come to their aid."

"I think they would benefit greatly from your expertise," Padmé told him.

"I agree," Anakin added. "They'll appreciate your help."

"Well, I won't hold you up any longer," Obi-Wan decided. "It was good seeing both of you despite getting off to a wrong start."

"It happens," Anakin assured him with a smile.

"We'll miss you," Padmé let him know. She disengaged from Anakin's arms in order to give Obi-Wan a hug. "I hope that our paths eventually cross again."

"As do I," Obi-Wan told her. He then turned to Anakin. "Take care of your family. They're depending on you."

"I will."

And then Anakin took Obi-Wan by surprise and hugged him.

"Until we meet again," Anakin said as Padmé returned to his embrace.

Obi-Wan bowed formally.

"May the Force be with you," he said.

"May the Force be with you, Master," Anakin echoed.

Obi-Wan nodded at them one last time and then walked off, ready to begin his new mission.

For the first time in years, he began to look forward to the future.

8888888

"Ready?" Padmé asked Anakin as they watched Obi-Wan disappear from view.

"Ready," he told her.

He then turned her around in his arms and gave her a deep kiss.

"I love you," he said. "For more reasons than you could ever know."

She smiled at him. "I think I could guess quite a few of them."

"You probably could," he agreed.

"And I love you too," she added. She gave him a kiss of her own. "You are everything to me. Never forget that."

"I won't," he promised.

He released his hold on her and took her by the hand.

"Let's go find a new home."

The End