Don't get your hopes up too high; this is just a short chapter to wrap up some more loose ends. Still, I hope you enjoy it.
Padmé couldn't have been any happier than she was as she watched Anakin, the Anakin she knew and loved, meeting little Luke and Leia for the first time. She wasn't sure whether it was the Force, or simply the aura of gentle protection he radiated, but Luke seemed to prefer Anakin holding him rather than the droids, or even his mother.
She couldn't picture this same man coldly and methodically slaughtering younglings in the Jedi Temple only hours before.
She still found it hard to believe, though for all intents and purposes, he'd proven it by what he said on Mustafar; by what he did. She could still see the look on his face whenever she allowed her eyes to drift closed. He had hardly been human—transformed into a thing of instincts and rage, a cornered predator. She remembered the terrifying, constricting pressure on her throat that no amount of clawing or gasping could ease; the awful lesson of just what it meant to abuse something like the Force, the realization like a slap to her face that she hadn't noticed her own husband falling into darkness… She gave an involuntary shudder, which made Leia squirm, and she gratefully redirected her attention to the baby in her arms.
She looked up when she heard Anakin's footsteps suddenly moving closer. With one more reluctant glance at his son, he handed him back over to the droid and knelt down at Padmé's side, staring up into her eyes with something resembling guilt.
Her heart plummeted. Something was still wrong, after all the horrible things they'd gone through.
"Padmé," he said quietly, his face unusually grave, "I can't stay. I killed the Emperor, and they'll be looking for us—they probably already are. I shouldn't even have come here, but I had to see that you were alright before… before I could do anything else."
"Anakin!" Had she known that before, she would never have let him stay here so long. And he knew that, too, didn't he? He could be so infuriating, the way he took everything into his own hands as if he alone was capable of dealing with the truth, acting like the problem was already solved when he really had no idea what to do. "Anakin, they must know you're here by now. You're not even trying to hide your face! Listen to me: you have to get away before—"
"Look, I know—I was just about to say that. I don't…"
He trailed off suddenly, his eyes hardening, drawing in a determined breath before getting to his feet. Padmé could only stare at him, worried, doubting her ability to read him anymore.
"Obi-Wan," he said by way of explanation, as if the name were a sentence of doom. "He's in trouble." His eyes locked onto hers for one more brief instant, and then he turned away and was gone. His sweeping black cloak was the last to disappear from the doorway.
She looked down at Leia again and managed a smile, despite the onslaught of worry for Anakin that had returned to plague her once again.
I ought to be used to it by now. We spend more time at opposite ends of the galaxy than we do together, him always wrapped up in one dangerous conflict or another while all of us sit and discuss it in the Senate.
And that was the truth. Though she hoped it wouldn't always be that way, it was simply how things worked when you were secretly married to a Jedi.
Look out for him, Obi-Wan. Please look out for him. You have to. You're the only one who could even hope to try.
Anakin berated himself for being so careless as he raced down the same long hallway in the opposite direction. Obi-Wan had been right, as usual. There was no reason they couldn't have simply kept the clones' armor on and taken their sweet time making their way toward Padmé's room without drawing so much attention.
Obi-Wan would never let him hear the end of this… assuming he was still alive by the time Anakin reached him.
The Force gave him a warning before he turned the last corner, and cautiously, he poked his head around to look.
Obi-Wan was barely visible through the red hail of laser pulses and multiple ranks of clone troopers, his blue blade a nearly solid-looking fan of light. Anakin's found himself automatically estimating there to be about thirty of them; probably just one or two of the nearest patrols and not the entire force that had been sent to track down the loose Jedi. Could the two of them handle that many? Probably.
But would they be able to take them all down before more arrived? Probably not.
He gritted his teeth in frustration. Maybe it was time to swallow his pride and do things Obi-Wan's way.
He glanced around for the nearest elevator, contemplating trying to go back for their disguises, aggravatingly slow as the machines were. Maybe there was still a way to talk them out of this. On second thought, though, why should thirty clones listen to one?
It would never work.
But maybe they would listen to a Sith Lord…
Gathering his composure and drawing his black hood over his head, Anakin rounded the corner and headed for the clones. He took care to walk slowly, letting each footfall sound a little louder than necessary so that they couldn't possibly fail to notice his approach. He drew his face into a mask of suppressed anger that he hardly needed to fake, and tapped the nearest trooper on the shoulder.
"What do you think you're doing?" Anakin asked, in a voice that would have registered sub-zero on a scale of friendliness. He fixed his stare unblinkingly on the two spots he knew the man's eyes would be behind the helmet, letting a touch of the Force seep into his words.
"We're under orders to locate and destroy all Jedi—" the trooper began, though somewhat uncertainly.
"So am I. And as you don't appear to be having much success, I'm obligated to take over for you," Anakin lied, glaring at him until he lowered his blaster rifle. "That's better. Now, tell the others to stand down. There has been another Jedi sighting over at the Temple, where the Emperor's assassins evidently fled. I've already sent another squad over, but I need your group to back them up until I can get there. Do you understand? This one, I'll take care of myself."
The trooper nodded at once, and immediately rushed over to alert the squad leader. After glancing at Anakin, the higher-ranking clonetrooper gave the affirmative and signaled to the rest to cease fire.
All it took was one venom-laced glare from beneath the folds of Anakin's black hood to convince the Commander not to waste any more time. The clones parted to form as aisle for him as Anakin advanced on an exhausted Obi-Wan, lightsaber blazing. Within seconds, the last of them had moved out.
"Well, you certainly took your time about it," the Jedi Master berated him, wiping sweat from his brow.
"You're the one always counseling patience. I thought you'd be proud I didn't charge headlong into the fight."
Obi-Wan laughed, and clapped a hand on Anakin's shoulder.
"To tell you the truth, I was rather surprised. But pleasantly so. Now I think it's high time we left. I don't particularly wish to repeat that experience. It gives me the jitters watching you pose as a Sith."
Anakin smiled wryly and nodded.
"But can we please take the stairs this time?"
"Mm. Most unexpected this is," Yoda said several hours later, eyeing Anakin with some measure of suspicion. Anakin tried hard not to let his frustration get the better of him. After all, any Jedi would be a fool to take the word of the worst traitor the Order had seen in years. He had expected no less from Master Yoda, and Obi-Wan had warned him several times not to.
"What explanation give you?" the diminutive green Jedi asked, his eyes piercing right through Anakin as they had on the day of his first examination before the Council.
"None, Master. There's no excuse for what I've done."
Yoda tilted his head back to appraise Anakin from a different angle, tapping his gimer stick on the smooth floor of Senator Organa's ship.
"Then why do it?"
Anakin averted his eyes.
"I was… I was worried that I was going to lose Padmé. I know I shouldn't have been, but… I just couldn't let her go if there was a chance I could save her."
He swallowed hard, and patiently awaited the Jedi Master's response. As guilty as this made him feel, he knew she was safe now, and that made the topic bearable.
"Mm. The visions you spoke of with me; premonitions of suffering and death. To these you refer?"
Obi-Wan, standing off to the side, threw him a questioning glance.
But Anakin could only nod, working up the courage for what he knew he had to say next. He could explain that part to Obi-Wan later.
"Yes. They were of Padmé's death. And… Master, she's my wife."
Anakin forced himself to meet Yoda's eyes again. Unexpectedly, he didn't look surprised, only disappointed, and very, very old.
"Foreseen this, I should have. Hide your feelings well you did not, even when first tested for training. A mistake it was, to treat you like any other Padawan. Nevertheless, on you does this blame fall hardest. Disregard for the Jedi teachings, you have in abundance, even after so many years. A fault of Obi-Wan's, is it? Or yours?"
"Mine," he replied at once, albeit reluctantly. He wasn't going to get Obi-Wan in any trouble here, when his friend did so much for him already, against the Jedi Code, and against his penchant for following it to the letter. "No one tried harder than Obi-Wan did to teach me the meaning of being a Jedi. I was the one who refused to listen."
"Mm. Perhaps some wisdom you have gained from this after all. Meditate on this I will, and summon you when Obi-Wan and I have spoken more on the matter."
Taking it as his cue to leave, Anakin bowed gratefully and exited the room.
That hadn't gone too badly. He'd anticipated much worse.
Letting out a sigh of relief, he made his toward the cockpit, the only part of the ship with windows. After much debate, which Anakin had stayed out of for the most part, they'd set a course for the Dagobah system. Though they wouldn't arrive for a long time yet, he had nothing better to do than talk with Senator Organa and the pilot while he waited for what was sure to be a lengthy discussion between the two Jedi Masters.
Anakin wasn't too concerned over what decision they made. Either way, he would find a way to deal with it. Of course he hoped Yoda would allow him to remain a Jedi, but if he didn't, he still had Padmé, Luke, and Leia to return to, and he hadn't lost Obi-Wan as a friend.
After all, there were far worse fates than camping out in a swamp with two cranky Jedi Masters. The most disgusting muck the galaxy had to offer was still a step up from sand.