A/N- So, here we go again! First of all, I would like to thank everyone who commented on the last chapter of 'Forever;' the feedback was quite nice. It gave me a warm, happy glow for several days afterwards... And for those of you who wandered in unawares, this story is the sequel to the one in my bio called 'Forever.' And with that, let us begin!
Anakin stared across the stars at Tatooine. They had come out of hyperspace at a place far enough away from the Imperial station that orbited the planet to be safe. Even from the great distance at which he saw his home world, he still only think of it as a barren, infertile wasteland overrun by mobsters. The muscles in his cheek tightened beneath the mask. That was where his mother was buried, where he had spent nine years of his life too many.
But the thought of what lay on that planet was enough to shake off his melancholic musings. He stretched; the journey had been long.
It was on that planet that he would truly regain his freedom. He closed his eyes, clinging to the sweetness of that thought. He would be able to breathe by himself again, to actually kiss his wife, would be able to touch his son on the forehead, would be able to see his daughter smile with his own eyes… The thoughts were trembling dreams in his mind, which had yet to realize the light of day. But they would, he promised himself, and they would all be united as one, the Skywalker family. His family.
The miracle of his forgiveness, everything that had passed before… it grew no less sweet with time. Indeed, it seemed even more of a new, incredible concept as he distanced himself from the persona of Vader, becoming more and more Anakin Skywalker. She had given him a second chance, even though he had not deserved one; she was truly his saving angel, the only light there was.
His thoughts returned to the planet before him. It seemed so small from Anakin's ship, so tender and fragile, nothing more then another object in space, like the stars that surrounded him. It seemed infinitely small in comparison to the vastness that lay just outside of it, the engulfing darkness tempered by light from the stars.
Yet it was on Tatooine, one of the most remote planets in the galaxy, that everything hung. It was there that Anakin himself had been born, that he and his mother had lived together if, not in peace, then in simplicity together. It was there that he could finally cast off the suit that imprisoned him, allowing him to echo the transformation in his soul. It was there that Obi-Wan was exiled…
His thoughts turned to his former Master. He closed his eyes in a manifestation of weary anticipation. Parts of him did not want to face Obi-Wan, did not want to have to face condemnation in his mentor's eyes. The other part of him knew that there would be condemnation everywhere that even Padmé could not save him from.
I hate you!
... You were my brother, Anakin. I loved you.
Images and words flashed before Anakin's eyes from long ago. He shifted, restless. Could Obi-Wan forgive him, look past his faults to the man he had been and still was? A slightly bitter smile graced his lips. He would certainly not blame his former master if Obi-Wan could not forgive. Anakin had not been willing to forgive himself, at first. He longed for the spark of approval in Obi-Wan's eye, the warm camaraderie between them that had always been there. That, and so much more, had been wiped away by a red lightsaber.
But her love would be enough for him, and that of their children. His thoughts turned to them again, and a genuine smile lit up his face. Obi-Wan would tell Padmé the location of their children; he owed her that much. Then he would be able to look upon them, and become utterly complete.
A small face peered up at him out of the darkness, sandy blond hair falling over strangely calm yet rebellious blue eyes. The face was tanned by the desert suns, hardened after only ten years as a moisture farmer. Yet there was still a spark to it, still a sharp flame of rebelliousness that even the day-to-day life of living on Tatooine could not conquer. It was the face of his son; the face of Luke.
Images that he had only now begun to uncover had come to him in the strength of their joining in the Force, and thoughts as well. His son looked to the stars as Anakin had; the same unquenchable thirst was in both of them, and Anakin recognized it. The boy was a Skywalker.
Another face joined that of his son. Brown eyes flickering with intelligence and compassion met his, commanding his eyes, his very spirit. The eyes belonged to a solemn, contemplative and youthful face. Her light-brown hair was tied up in two braids that looped over her head, and her face seemed to hold wisdom beyond her years. Leia, he thought, and was immediately reminded of the presence he had felt; she was stoic and driven, and once she dedicated her attention to a task, no one would stop her. She was strong and already a leader; truly her mother's daughter.
He felt Padmé come to stand beside him, and smiled as her presence met his, the connection between them igniting. She smiled at him, sending him a mental caress because she could not touch him physically. She then yawned and stretched, finding a way to conveniently land herself in his arm. Her warmth against him was comforting, and he felt content with her at his side.
"How long ago did we come out of hyperspace?"
She nuzzled sleepily against his armor, and he smiled, returning her love with his own in a way far more intimate then anything else they had ever shared, their connection brilliant with love.
"Do you think it is ironic," he asked, "That the fleet I set up to orbit the planet is still there, and that they may pose a threat to us?"
She did not laugh; her lips only thinned into a quiet line. Anakin sighed, knowing that his attempt at jest had been too early, too soon after he had come back. They were growing closer every day, hurts coming mended and wounds being undone, but there was still a gap between them, a chasm due to what he had done.
Suddenly, a light entered her eyes, a small mischievous smirk flew to her lips. Anakin could feel the life in her, could feel the simple joy of living in every fiber of her being. It spoke to him of growth and renewal and cleansing; she was his salvation, his redemption, everything that he needed. She caught his gaze with her own in a way only she could do, and grinned in a way that made him feel that she was years younger, with the cavalier innocence and energy of youth.
"I have a plan," she said, her eyes dancing.
Rehis stood at rapt attention on the bridge of the command ship that orbited Tatooine. His eyes searched the stars nervously, darting from side to side to side. It had been a somewhat unsettling day for him, and he was full of nervousness.
The Emperor had contacted him, which was in itself a strange, unusual event. Rehis did not like unusual events; they complicated things. The supreme ruler of the galaxy speaking to him on a private holo had been reason enough for fear; a feeling of eerie coldness had crept up his spine and lodged itself at the base of his neck, a feeling he had not been able to shake.
But the words that had been spoken to him were even more unsettling. They had startled him with their implications, the subtle hints that were hidden in them.
Lord Vader is a traitor and has betrayed the Empire. You are now in command of the ship, and will continue to search all ships leaving and entering the planet. Be thorough, Commander.
Lord Vader has betrayed the Empire, he thought. He closed his eyes, repeating the words over in his head. Lord Vader has betrayed the Empire. Such a thing was more then unsettling; the words Empire and Vader were always somehow connected, always had been in Rehis' memory. The thought that the Right Hand, the bane of the Jedi, that the mystical, strange, almost inhuman monster could betray the Emperor, could defect...
Rehis swallowed. Even more strange and frightening was that the Emperor had told him not to give out this information... to anyone. He was alone in this terrifying revelation, and he was finding the solitude of power quite frightening. Rehis had never desired power; he had entered the military to please his demanding mother, to allow his father to feel pride in his son.
The stars did not twinkle with their usual benevolence, the warmth Rehis had always found in them. They seemed far, distant and cold, frightening even. Rehis closed his eyes and then opened them, finding the day, even though it had just started, to be quite draining.
There, at the edge of his vision, was a small object. He thought for a second that it might be an illusion, brought on by lack of sleep. But no; indeed, it was a ship, coming to conduct its unsavory business, whatever that might have been, on this small Hutt-infested wasteland of a planet.
Rehis signaled to his men to get into position for receiving another ship. It had become a routine for them, and they shifted into their places to welcome the vessel into the station.
Rehis was the first one to see the woman coming down out of her ship, and it was quite a sight. They had been forced to employ a tractor beam to convince her to cooperate, and she had still fought it. He was expecting some of the smuggling riffraff that usually visited the planet; he got nothing of the kind.
Her face was imperious and arrogant, from her flashing, dangerous eyes to the tilt of her defiant chin. There were a few wrinkles gathered and spread out along her face, but they only heightened and added to her beauty. Her long, curling hair flowed freely out from under a hood of a heavy material, and she wore robes that moved with her every footfall, curling around her.
But far more intimidating was her presence. She seemed to exude power and confidence, every step precise, every movement carefully planned out, every look deliberate and intentional... It was quite disconcerting, to say the least.
"What is the meaning of this?" She asked the question with a pert Naboo accent and an impatient air, that of someone who knows her time is being wasted.
Rehis cleared his throat; he was still commander of this station, and he held power over her, whomever she might have been.
"Every ship entering and leaving the planet of Tatooine is liable to be searched and the cargo seized, under the direct orders of the Emperor."
This did not dissuade or deflate her sense of self-importance. Instead, she drew herself up even higher.
"Do you know who I am?" She hissed, eyes snatching onto his. They were bright and angry, and they captured and held his in a way that he could not shake himself from. Rehis found in himself an urge to just let them go, to allow a slip just one time... It would take far too much effort to process her through right now...
He blinked, shaking his head. The thoughts were foolish; he knew what happened to officers that disobeyed orders, and these ones were given to him by the Emperor himself.
"It does not matter," he said in a slow, clear, steady voice. "If you are a loyal citizen, then it should not matter." He saw something burn deep in her eyes; he thought it was a flicker of hate or defiance. As soon as he saw it, however, it was gone, and he troubled himself with it no more. His crews were about to go in and search the ship; this would not be that much of a trouble after all.
He turned away, and was stopped by the feeling of an hand on his arm. He looked towards her, exasperated, and was struck by an expression in her eye that might have been pity. Thoughts began to flow through his head, memories he thought he had suppressed long ago...
Pain, flowing everywhere, dark shame coloring his cheeks... Father yelling, could smell the drink on his breath... Mother, shaking her head and doing nothing...
Her eyes pleaded with him, and he heard a voice whispering to him in the darkness of his mind that told him not to fear, that begged him not to go inside the ship...
She mouthed the word 'please' to him, her eyes searching his. There was none of the arrogance that he had seen in them before, but sincere desperation. Rehis swallowed, eyes closing as more memories entered his mind, going deeper and deeper into the darkness of his childhood...
"Enough," he whispered, eyes snapping open. The stormtroopers paused at the tightly sealed door to the ship, pausing for a command from their superior. She let go of him then, pulling her hood further over her face, shrouding it in darkness.
He cleared his throat, trying to find some semblance of command, trying to reassemble himself after what had just happened. He took in a deep, steadying breath.
"We will let her go," he said, his voice hoarse as he tried to repair the mental disarray he had been put into. He felt confused, like there was a fog in his mind, one that he could not see through, and the only way was to comply, to allow her to leave...
His men slowly backed away, looking from one to another in confusion, not understanding what their commander wanted of them, not understanding the sudden break from procedure. But all Rehis could feel was the fog, and their confused expressions washed over him.
Only after she left, after her starship was a fading dot traveling towards Tatooine... only then did he realize what he had done, realized what had happened. There was panic in him, panic that settled deep within him and refused to leave. But they were already gone, too far out of his grasp. A sigh shook him as he convinced himself that it was simply one ship, that it would not matter at all in the grand scheme of things.
Padmé stalked up to the bridge of the ship, distaste forming an acrid taste in her mouth. She knew why Rehis had let them go, knew why there had hardly been any resistance, why she had to abandon her plan...
Anakin stood in the room they had been using as their quarters. There was no tank full of oxygen that he could breathe in here; the ship was too small to accommodate it. He was not allowed even a temporary respite from the suit. Padmé, however, did not manage to feel any sympathy at that particular moment towards him.
Her eyes burned at him, and fury gathered itself in her heart.
"Anakin," she said, a harsh accusation, throwing off her hood.
He did not move from the position he was at, remaining standing impassively, and she was reminded of him as Vader. Even the memories of that distant, darkened past did not throw off her resolve.
"You did that," she whispered, voice trembling with anger. "You used the Dark Side to confuse him, to change his mind."
Then he stirred.
"I will do whatever is necessary to get to my children," he intoned in a voice that bordered on threatening. "He was in the way."
A chill was sent up Padmé's spine at the words, but she shook it off, her lips compressing into a solid line.
"You forswore everything of your old life when you came back to me, Anakin," she said, reminding him of his past, of everything that had passed. "You can't just use the Dark Side whenever you feel like it, love." The endearment was bitter and sarcastic, and she herself recoiled from the anger in it.
"There could have been problems; I did not want the Emperor alerted to our presence."
Padmé looked him intently in the eyes, allowing her frustration to subside, serenity taking its place. She had to be patient and gentle with him now, as an example.
"Anakin," she said, her voice down to a gentle lull. She felt his eyes dart to the side of her, avoiding her. His presence was closed off from her, a shield between them.
"Anakin," she said again, and this time, his eyes met hers, and she could feel their connection blaze and quake with tension.
"Love, you cannot simply go back on all you have said to me, all you have pledged. We cannot forsake everything for the sake of our children; we will be betraying them, instead of helping them. I had a plan that we could have stuck to, Love."
She saw a deep sigh wrack his body, and his eyes flew downward again, this time in a sign of acquiescence and respect, and he opened to her again, and she joined with him in a gentle sigh of relief.
When he spoke, it was with both flat bluntness and hesitancy.
"I know I shouldn't have done, that, Love. I just... I have a bad feeling about this, somehow." Emotions leaped between them, and she could feel a dark foreboding around them, slithering everywhere, indefinite but omnipresent. Fear came over her, and she did not know why. Her eyes fluttered closed, and when she opened them, the feeling had passed.
"It'll be alright," she murmured, taking his hand in hers, closing her eyes and giving him comfort and assurance as he returned the favor.
"It'll be alright."