Hey everyone! "Long time no see" seems like a familiar greeting for us now, doesn't it?
This is the chapter I originally announced that I was going to send out by PM. However, two things happened to change this: one, several of you stated your preference for a direct posting, and two, I ended up writing the chapter in such a way that it ended up being both longer and more relevant to the overall story than I had originally expected. Therefore, I no longer have any concerns about including it on this thread – in fact, this means I will get to write a shorter concluding chapter and epilogue (and therefore get them to you sooner). I have finals coming up very soon, so you won't hear from me after this for over a week at least, but I hope that you enjoy this new and expanded chapter! Thank you all so much for your continuing interest and wonderful comments - I continue to read and deeply appreciate them all.
On to the chapter.
"Am I to understand then, My Lord, that we have your final confirmation?"
Seated precariously in the communications chair of the small Imperial Shuttle overlooking Coruscant, Obi-Wan Kenobi smiled and nodded with a pointed sense of finality. "Yes, Admiral. You have my authorization."
Imperial Vice Admiral Thrawn's impeccably crisp voice carried smoothly over the channel. "Then, My Lord, we shall proceed with the protocol immediately."
"Thank you, Admiral," Obi-Wan replied steadily. "Lord Vader out."
He pressed a button on the console and the channel to the Imperial Star Destroyer Reaper disconnected with a definitive click. As soon as the line was broken, Obi-Wan leaned back in his chair and let out a shallow, marginally steady breath, a quiet and yet somehow assuring sound which nevertheless felt and sounded to every soul gathered together at that moment in space and time like a whispered word from heaven. His work finished, the newly redeemed Jedi Knight turned his head up and smiled with slight amusement at the two individuals who had stood beside him, one hand on each of his shoulders, for the entire duration of the transmission, ready to steady him should he betray the slightest sign of weakness.
"I think you two can let go now."
Anakin Skywalker offered his old master a somewhat sheepish grin as he withdrew his hand and moved back to stand at the far side of the pilot's compartment with his wife, Padmé Amidala Skywalker. On Obi-Wan's other side, Sabé Nabberie removed her own hand somewhat more reluctantly, and remained by her long-lost lover's side as he slowly raised himself out of the communication officer's chair. The other occupants of the cockpit, including the Jedi Masters Yoda and Mace Windu, kept their anxious eyes fixed on him as, with no small degree of difficulty, he drew himself up to his full height and turned around to face them.
Yoda was the first to speak. "Successful, you were, Master Kenobi?"
Obi-Wan inclined his head respectfully towards the ancient Jedi. "Yes, Master."
A look of deep solemnity settled across Yoda's deeply lined face at Obi-Wan's response. Slowly, his great head bowed and his body settled as if the weight of nearly one thousand years had been lifted from his shoulders. "Then finished, it is."
"Just like that?" Padmé asked, almost reverently. "The war ... it's over?"
"Yes, Padmé," Obi-Wan turned his head to look at her, a warm smile on his face. The smile, however, contained a visible hint of a wince. Though it disappeared quickly; the reassuring expression was not quite sufficient to fully mask the torturous strain which lingered just beneath the surface, the tremendous exertion it was costing him to stand upright unaided. Concern flickered in Anakin's eyes as he watched his former master struggle to maintain his calm, unconcerned façade, and a brief flash of empathy mixed with guilt pierced his heart. From the unstated tension flickering in the room through the Force, he knew that Mace and Yoda had also noticed their colleague's momentary loss of control.
Obi-Wan was aware of the concern his weakened condition was causing, but he did not show it, continuing his answer to Padmé as if nothing had happened.
"Admiral Thrawn will see to it that the fighting ceases. After that, he will reach out to you and Senator Organa to see that the Empire and the Alliance are brought together to negotiate how best to disarm our forces and build a new governing coalition, one which will meet the best needs of all citizens."
"Do you trust him, Obi-Wan?" Padmé pressed forcefully. "That man - Thrawn - thought that he was speaking with Darth Vader - do you really think that once he learns the truth he will carry out the orders you gave him?
"Admiral Thrawn is a very astute man, Padmé," Obi-Wan replied calmly. "He understands what needs to be done. Whatever he knows ... and I suspect that he knows more than we think ... he will not allow it to affect his rational judgment. He will carry out Lord Vader's final order with the intent of building towards what lies ahead, not dwelling over what will no longer be."
"We have done all that we can," Mace agreed, a warm smile rising to his lips as he met the eyes of his old friend. "Especially you, Obi-Wan. It is time that we begin to look forward as well."
Padmé seemed ready to reply, but she hesitated; there was something in Obi-Wan's steadily-maintained gaze that was so confident, so utterly certain of the truth to come, she could not help but believe him. Her doubts faded from her lips and she found herself returning Obi-Wan's warm and reassuring smile, a smile so calm it belied the tumultuous experience which they had all managed to survive - an upheaval so great that in the span of a few short hours it had turned all of their lives completely upside down.
Following the destruction of the Emperor, the terrifying struggle between light and dark, and finally the incredible, mind-bending circumstances of Obi-Wan's resurrection, the Rebels' escape from the heart of the Imperial Palace seemed had positively mundane. The residents of the Palace had been in complete chaos as they struggled to compensate for the unthinkable provision of their leader's death with the equally unfathomable condition of a ragtag army of insurgent citizens tearing down the door of their most hallowed sanctuary. The four Jedi and the two women had met virtually nothing in the way of resistance on their way to the Emperor's personal hanger bay; the few Imperials they did encounter had mostly been low level aides and diplomats, all of whom had been far too panicked even to recognize that the intruders were bearing the half-unconscious body of the former Dark Lord of the Sith in their midst. Upon their arrival at the hanger, Mace's subtle use of Force-persuasion techniques and Anakin's not-so-subtle use of a lightsaber had allowed them to commander a shuttle with no significant bloodshed. From that point, they had easily navigated out of Coruscant's atmosphere through a hole in the collapsing planetary defense shield and emerged in a stretch of space some distance from the still-raging battle. Now, even as they watched, the lines of Imperial and Alliance warships were slowly but surely falling silent, marking an end to the great conflict which had nearly torn a world and a galaxy apart.
"If no one has any other objections ..." Anakin said after several long moments of weighted silence, "then I think we should plot a course and go to hyperspace."
"Certainly, Anakin," Obi-Wan said, offering his former apprentice a tired, grateful smile. "Where should we go?"
"First things first," Sabé injected forcefully. All eyes turned to her, but the fiery young woman was still gazing fixedly at Obi-Wan. "We need to go somewhere secure where you can get immediate and unbiased medical attention."
Obi-Wan shook his head. In doing so, he grit his teeth noticeably as some unseen flash of agony racked his body once more. Everyone saw it this time. The anxious tension in the cockpit jumped another notch, to the level were it was palpable even to those who could not touch the Force. Seeming to realize that his calm ruse was not fooling anyone anymore, Obi-Wan drew himself up to his full height and a note of stern defiance crept into his voice. "Sabé, don't worry about me. Trust me, I've been through much worse. I'll be fine ..."
"Don't tell me you're fine, Obi-Wan Kenobi," Sabé said imperiously, her deep brown eyes boring directly into those of the Jedi, flashing with a fierce and heated determination. "I know you're in agonizing pain right now. You can barely stand. You can barely breathe. You're still missing your arm. And, if all that weren't enough, you nearly died less than two hours ago. So don't play games with the rest of us by saying you don't need medical attention; you need it and you need it now!"
"She's right, Obi-Wan," Anakin interjected abruptly. "You've done what you needed to do, you shouldn't be putting yourself through anymore stress. As matter of fact, I think you should go back into the rest bay right now, go into a healing trance, and not come out of it until we revert from hyperspace. I did not go to all the trouble of saving you from the dark side and pulling you back from death just so you could keel over in the shuttle before you really get to start living again."
Obi-Wan raised a thin eyebrow at his former apprentice, seeming both exasperated and amused by his apprentice's anxious posturing, yet also surprised at the sheer level of conviction in Anakin's tone. His voice lost its defiant edge and took on an almost playful tone.
"Tell me, Anakin ... since when did you become my mother?"
"Since you made it clear that you're not interested in looking out for yourself," Anakin shot back. Unexpectedly, his sharp blue eyes softened, and his tone took on an almost pleading note. "Please, Obi-Wan, at least try ... for Sabé, for me, for all of us. We …" he hesitated, his voice unexpectedly catching in his throat. "Obi-Wan, we ..."
Again he stopped, unable to finish. The Chosen One struggled to compose himself, the sheer weight of the emotion and turmoil that were racking his thoughts threatening to overrun him. He struggled for a long moment until, unexpectedly, someone took his hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. Padmé.
The familiar, reassuring warmth of his wife's touch cut through the storm that had embroiled Anakin's mind, restoring clarity once more. Squaring his shoulders, he raised his head and looked his former master directly in the eyes once more. "We can't lose you again."
All eyes turned to Obi-Wan again, resting on him as if for the first time. As they did so, it was as if an invisible fog had been lifted away from their own senses. All of them realized that since the events of the Imperial Palace, they had more or less been living in the midst of a fragile, unspoken illusion. Overwhelmed by the circumstances of having Obi-Wan, redeemed and reincarnated, returned to them at last, none of them had stopped to consider just how thinly worn was the strand from which all of their hopes still hung. None of them had truly registered that Obi-Wan's body was still coldly shackled inside the towering black armor, the boldly designed life support system which had kept Darth Vader alive for over five years. None of them had noticed that amidst the scattered moments of silence could be heard the faint sound of the respirator that was still implanted in the Jedi Master's chest, assisting his scarred and ravaged lungs in drawing each and every breath.
None of them except Anakin.
Anakin, like Obi-Wan, had been to the edge and confronted the endless abyss that lay beyond. Vader was gone, his terrible mask torn away at last, but the gruesome array of wounds and scars that he had sustained during his subjugation of the galaxy remained to weigh upon the man who had returned. The armor which Obi-Wan still wore - and which Anakin had been ordained to wear - was incontrovertibly bound to the legacy of the Dark Lord of the Sith, and the armor still remained - an imposing reminder of the shadow which had nearly consumed them all. It was a reminder that even with the power of the Force and the even greater power of love, not all injuries could be forgotten, and not all scars could be healed.
The light of banter faded from Obi-Wan's eyes as he bore his peers' concerned scrutinizing stares. He met Anakin's eyes, and the deep, forcefully-restrained pain which he saw in them mirrored the silent agony now openly visible in his own. The retort that had risen readily to his lips gradually faded away, and he swallowed hard, no longer attempting to hide that which he had held within.
"If ... if you insist, Anakin."
Profound silence lingered for a long moment after his words faded from the air. It was broken when Padmé, her eyes shimmering slightly, stepped forward.
"We'll set a course for Polis Massa," she said authoritatively. "Obi-Wan can get the best care in the galaxy there, and it's nonpartisan, so we won't have to deal with any bureaucracy. Bail and I can handle the Alliance when the time comes, but I don't think we should bring them in on this yet."
"That sounds like a wise course of action," Mace said approvingly. "I'll program the navicomputer; Sabé, could you assist Obi-Wan to the med bay?"
Sabé, protectively, slipped her right arm into Obi-Wan's left. "I would love to."
Obi-Wan did not resist as Sabé gently guided him away from the communications chair and towards the door. As they walked, they passed by Anakin, still standing rigidly as if carved from stone. Obi-Wan stopped, and the two shared yet another long glance, during which the weight of all that still needed to be said hung heavily between them. Slowly, Obi-Wan spoke.
"Anakin, before I leave ... there's one thing I have to tell you."
Anakin braced his shoulders nervously. "What's that, Obi-Wan?"
Unexpectedly, Obi-Wan's eyes warmed and a genuine, pain-free smile rose to his lips.
"You look like hell. As your friend, I feel I owe it to you to say that a little rest and relaxation wouldn't hurt for you either."
Anakin's face broke into a sheepish smile, and the heavy atmosphere between them vanished like a thin wisp of smoke. "Thanks, Obi-Wan."
"Don't mention it," Obi-Wan replied, the faintest hint of a smirk tugging at his mouth. "I'm sure I speak for Padmé when I say that it would be a shame if anything were to disfigure your perfectly arranged features any further."
"Careful, Obi-Wan," Anakin said warningly, his smile nonetheless widening into a fully-fledged grin. "If that's how you want to play it, I've got thirteen years worth of material just begging to unleashed."
Obi-Wan winked. "I'll be ready for it."
"No, you won't," Anakin shot back cheekily. "Go get your beauty sleep now."
"I'll do that," Obi-Wan laughed, taking Sabé's arm again and stepping towards the door under his own power. "And Anakin ... thank you. Thank you for bringing me back."
A rush of indescribable emotion swept over Anakin, wiping his mind blank. Unconsciously, he opened his mouth to respond, but before he could think of the right words to match such an incredible admission, Obi-Wan winked at him again, ducked under the threshold, and disappeared along with Sabé through the open door.
"Coordinates are entered," Mace's voice filtered through the air as if from a great distance. "Lightspeed in three, two, one ..."
The cabin lurched slightly as beyond the forward viewport, the stars condensed into lines. Then the entire shuttle shot forward and the glittering lights of Imperial Center, now rechristened as Coruscant once more, vanished into a whirlwind of ethereal, inter-dimensional light.
The transition jarred Anakin out of his momentary stupor, and the emotions which had welled up inside of him so suddenly fled from him just as quickly, leaving him feeling strangely cold and empty. The Chosen One was so surprised by the sharp, almost paralyzing reversal that he only barely managed to register that Master Windu was speaking again ... speaking to him. Silently, he forced himself out of his reverie.
"Our journey to Polis Massa will be a long one," Mace announced. If he had noticed Anakin's briefly distracted state, he gave no sign. "We should all get some rest, but before we do, I believe that Master Yoda and I have some matters to discuss concerning the immediate future of the Jedi Order." He turned to face the Chosen One and smiled. "Would you like to join us, Anakin?"
Yoda cleared his throat slightly. "Unnecessary for now, that is, Master Windu," he said forcefully. "Speak with you alone, I must. Senior matters to discuss, we have."
Mace looked down at his old Master, his expression halfway between puzzlement and a frown. "Master Yoda, with all due respect ... don't you feel that given what has just happened, Anakin has earned the right to be included in any such discussion?"
Yoda looked evenly for a moment at Mace and then, unexpectedly, turned his penetrating green eyes to Anakin and Padmé. "Given what has just happened," he said slowly, "Confront the past, all of us must."
Anakin met the elder Jedi's intense stare as evenly as he could. Though all his considerable mental shields were fully in place, he could not shake the feeling that Yoda was reading his thoughts, effortlessly drawing forth all of his deepest, darkest memories and forcing them dispassionately in the unforgiving light. He had to muster up all the will he could to keep himself from looking away. Just a few centimeters, he could feel Padmé's warm presence hovering at his side, but it did not offer his troubled mind the unconscious, soothing solace it usually did. He knew why, but he did not want to admit it. He did not know if he had the strength left within him to fight that battle. Not now. Maybe not ever.
Mace glanced first at Yoda, then at Anakin and Padmé, understanding dawning on his face. He nodded slowly. "Oh ... of course. You may have all the time you need. When you're finished, if you decide that you wish to join us, the door will be open for you."
Anakin nodded in turn. "Thank you, Mace."
Yoda turned away, mercifully freeing the Chosen One from his soul-searching stare. Without another word, he shuffled towards the door to the main cabin, limping noticeably without his cane. Mace offered Anakin one last look, an encouraging sort of smile, which Anakin did his best to return. Then Mace silently followed Yoda over the threshold. The door slid shut behind them.
The moment that the two Jedi Masters made their exit, Anakin and Padmé turned to face one another, the distance between them seeming to converge to nothing. As Anakin looked deeply into his wife's beautiful, heart-stopping brown eyes, he once again found himself captured by the weight of the moment. The last time he had looked into her eyes like that, he had been so sure that it he would never have the opportunity to do so again. He had voluntarily sworn to himself that he was going to sever all contact with her ... and not just with her, but with her children as well. So convinced had he been that his destiny was fixed, that he was nothing more than an instrument of its will, that at the time he had managed to delude himself into believing that what he was doing was actually for their own good. He, after all, had been cursed to wear the mantle of Darth Vader, a path which could only lead either glory in darkness, or death - neither of which he had wanted for those who he loved. They, at least, could be happy and free, even if he was bound to remain a slave.
Looking back now, in the light of all he had learned, he could see with full clarity for the first time just how selfish, how cruel, how blindingly stupid he had been. Eight years ago, he had sworn a solemn, sacred oath to protect the woman before him with his life, in sickness and in health, until all around them was dust. Instead, when the darkness had reached its peak, he had willingly left her side. He had abandoned her. Padmé's words from the throne room still rang out to him, mocking him with their absolute truth.
"You cast me aside without any regard for my happiness, what I wanted! That's a betrayal, Anakin, a betrayal of our marriage and our love. By you!"
God, how could she even stand to look at him? Why was she not running from him, or screaming at him, or punching every square centimeter of him that she could reach? She was so, so much stronger than he was: had she done half the things to him that he had done to her, he would have been completely and utterly destroyed.
When confronting Obi-Wan's soul in the ether of the Force, he had promised him that if he returned, Sabé would forgive him for all of his transgressions against her ... and she had, because she loved him. It had been easy to believe his words then, but now confronted with the reality before him, they seemed like nothing more than a fanciful dream. He knew that Padmé loved him … God, he could see it in her eyes ... but he had never been less sure that he deserved that love. Yes, she had forgiven him for terrible offenses before, but could she really forgive him for this? Did he even want her too?
Padmé had yet to say anything to him. Instead, she reached forward across time and space to take his hand. Silently, she guided him over to the front of the compartment, where he sank into the pilot's chair. Padmé sat down in the co-pilot's seat across from him, still holding his hand across the divide. Softly, without breaking Anakin's gaze, she began to speak.
"Something's troubling you, Ani. Tell me."
Anakin's heart skipped another ten beats. Here it was ... here was his chance to come clean, to pour out his soul to her, to explain to her as best as he could why he had done all that he had done. Yet even as he began to piece together the words, he could feel his courage leaving him. This was happening too fast - he didn't want to, in a panic, put forth some ill-considered words that would push her even further away. If he could somehow delay the inevitable ... forestall his coming judgment for a few days or even a few hours ... maybe he would be better prepared. Surely she would understand, given all that had just happened. It was worth a try.
Anakin took a deep breath and put on the bravest, most relaxed smile that he could muster.
"What could possibly be troubling me, Angel? Everything we worked for, hoped for ... it's done. The war ... it's finally over. We brought Obi-Wan back from the darkness. Not only that, our children will finally have the secure future that you dreamed of and fought so hard for. I couldn't be happier right now."
The softness vanished from Padmé's eyes, replaced with the cold temper of hardened steel.
"You're lying to me."
There was no hesitation in her voice; it was a cold statement of fact. Anakin's weak, half-hearted attempt at a smile faded away completely as he beheld the seriousness in his wife's face. Her tone was not accusatory, but it carried a heavy note which Anakin could not quite place. Was it sadness? Disappointment? Anger? Not knowing was paralyzing him, rendering him completely unsure how to proceed. He reached out tentatively with his thoughts, hoping to gain a better sense, but Padmé was completely and utterly blank – the shield separating her cold exterior from her true feelings, whatever they were, was impenetrable. Chosen One or Sith'ari, he would get no help from the Force on this one. He was on his own.
The silence was deafening. Padmé remained still as she stared directly into Anakin's eyes, neither blinking or smiling. Anakin knew that he could not bear her expectant, soul-piercing gaze for much longer. Of course she knew he was lying - she always knew. He could not lie to her. It was both a curse and a blessing born of the love that they shared, one which had deepened and yet often strained their bond. So rather than lie, he had unfailingly done his best to hide the dark face of truth from her - until the pain such deception unfailingly caused them both grew so great that he could hide it no longer.
A wave of deep-set shame washed over him. After so many years of denying his destiny, he had finally found the strength to look inward, face it down, and truly make it his own. It was time for him to assert the accountability that came with that freedom. It was time for him to own up to the mistakes of his past, and accept the consequences, whatever they might be.
"You're right, Padmé," he said heavily. "I am."
Padmé blinked, briefly reflecting her surprise at the open acknowledgment of his deception. The surprise vanished quickly; her dark brown eyes sealed themselves with the same inscrutable hardness as before. "Why, Anakin?"
Anakin sighed, and set his gaze directly even with hers.
"Because I'm not sure that I'm strong enough to face the truth about what I did."
Padmé leaned back slightly in her chair. There was no mistaking the hurt which rose behind her eyes. "I see."
"I did a terrible thing, Padmé," Anakin admitted quietly. "Unforgiveable, by any reasonable standard. I didn't just betray you; by joining the Dark Side, joining Vader and the Emperor ... I betrayed everything you stand for."
Padmé said nothing, but by the fresh wave of pain in her eyes, Anakin knew that he was right. He continued, silently asking the Force to give him strength.
"My actions had consequences, Padmé - grave ones. They go deeper than you know, and they cannot be overlooked or dismissed. I do not deny it. Nor will I deny that I did them willingly, free of any coercion, if not of regret. I am not asking for you to forgive them, or even to understand. But I owe you an explanation. The reasoning for my actions ..."
"Anakin, stop." Padmé's voice cracked only slightly as she spoke, but for someone who always delivered her words with the confidence, directness, and passion that commanded the attention of worlds, it represented a truly striking loss of control. "I don't want to hear it."
"You need to hear it, Padmé," Anakin told her softly, his heart breaking within him as he beheld her now-openly anguished face. "You always deserve the truth, no matter how painful it may be. If I have learned nothing else out of this ordeal, I have learned that."
"Have you?" Padmé asked him sharply, her fierce gaze searing itself into his thoughts. "Have you really learned anything, Anakin? Let me guess - you did it to protect me, to save me from some vague shadow of death looming just over the horizon? You honestly thought, after all that we've been through, that you could make some kind of deal with the devil - that your soul was worth my life?"
Anakin hung his head, letting her bitter accusation wash over him. He knew he deserved it - moreover, she was right. That was exactly what he had been thinking. He had been so concerned with her safety that he had been willing to pay any price, cost to his soul be damned. In doing so, he had committed exactly the same mistake that had led him to slaughter the Tuskens, to butcher Assaj Ventress, to seek out Palpatine in search of the power to restore life. It was a mistake born of arrogance, of short-sidedness, of fear, and each time, his choice had lead him not to salvation, but to another precipice, one which he had been all too willing to throw himself off of in pursuit of his foolish, ever-distant goal. It was that path that had been the source of nearly all his suffering, and led to his destiny merging with that of Darth Vader.
But Padmé was wrong about one thing: he had learned. After years of fruitless torment, he had finally found the courage to break the ever-descending cycle by refusing to sacrifice Obi-Wan to the same false idol of promise which had claimed so much from him already. He had only managed to break the cycle when he had arrived at the one saving truth which had been living in his heart all along, the one thing that stood as the antithesis of Darth Vader: some things were above sacrifice.
"Anakin," Padmé said, her voice falling to a level barely above a whisper. "I want to trust you. But how can I do that if you won't trust me?"
Anakin looked up, his blue eyes glistening with tears.
"There's nothing I can say that will convince you to trust me, Padmé," he told her. "That's a decision that you have to make yourself. But, if you're willing, I would like the chance to tell you everything: what I did, why I did it ... everything. Not because it will change anything, either for us or for the galaxy, but because you deserve to know, and because I was wrong to keep it all from you. When I'm done, you can make your own judgment ... and whatever that judgment is, I will accept it. Even if it means that you never want to see me again. Will you give me that chance?"
Padmé said nothing. Anakin's heart beat faster and more painfully with every second. He had done what he needed to do to complete his path; all he could do now was to try and atone for his sins. If Padmé refused to grant him absolution, then there was nothing more he could do.
Still, she said nothing. She seemed to be warring with herself, genuinely torn over accepting the burden she had been offered to share. Anakin swallowed hard and made to stand up. "If you need some time ..."
"I'm listening, Anakin," Padmé steady voice cut him off unexpectedly. "Talk."
And so Anakin did, leaving no gaps and concealing no detail. He told her the full weight of the doubts, fear, and anger which had entrenched themselves in his heart since Obi-Wan's fall and the rise of the Empire five years ago. He told her of his visit to Dagobah to see Master Yoda and his venture into the cave. He told her everything he had seen and learned there; his encounter with Bane, the crushing revelation which the Dark Lord of the Sith had imparted to him, the shadows of the future that might have been. He told her the full nature of the prophecy of the Sith'ari, how it both mirrored and diverged from his destiny as the Jedi's Chosen One. He told her of the crushing guilt and anguish which had consumed him after learning that the terrible legacy of Darth Vader, the legacy which Obi-Wan had embraced and grown to embody, had always been meant to be his own.
He told her about his confrontation with Vader on the Liberty, how he had made the decision to stop running from the perceived inevitability of his destiny and subsequently bargained with the Dark Lord of the Sith to exchange his own life and freedom for hers and those of their children. He told her about his conversation with Vader in the Sith tomb on Korriban, how with the Dark Lord's guidance he had set aside his fears about the dark path before him and pledged to sacrifice anyone and anything necessary to rid the galaxy of the Emperor. He told her, with voice wavering and tears in his eyes, how he had reached out to her one last time with the Force, so sure in that heartbreaking moment that the only way to protect her light and their love from what he was about to become was to let her go.
Padmé let him talk, never interrupting or pulling away, though she tensed several times and her eyes grew steadily brighter with tears as he bared his soul to her. As he talked, Anakin felt as though the floodgates in the walls he had built around his heart were being pulled open, allowing a lifetime of fear, anger, hatred, suffering, guilt, and regret to pour out and be washed away. He could literally feel his soul becoming lighter as he shed the tormented burden he had carried and suffered under silently for so long was gradually left behind.
Pressing on, he told her as directly as he could all that he had done during his weeks of service to the Empire: collaborating with Vader to bring down their enemies on both sides of the war, commanding the Imperial Fleet, leading it against the Alliance at Corellia, capturing Garm Bel-Iblis and wiping his memory, dueling with and almost certainly killing Ferus Olin ... all of it leading up to his learning of her capture, his confrontation with the Emperor, his weakness in allowing Palpatine to manipulate him one more time, and their own bittersweet reunion. From that point on, she herself had seen first hand just how close he had come to embracing his innermost darkness forever. Rather than recount the agonizing events she had been forced to witness, he closed his confessions by describing his mindset during his duel with Darth Vader, the all-consuming rage and savage satisfaction which had flooded him after striking his former master down, the soul-shattering agony he had experienced after Qui-Gon had helped him to rediscover the truth of what he was about to do, the void of despair which it had lead him towards, and finally the nature of the simple, glorifying revelation which had ultimately saved him from the fate that had been written to be his over a thousand years ago.
When he had finished, Anakin let out a deep breath, sank back into his chair, and allowed his head to fall. He felt completely drained, like he had just run several hundred miles, but although the pain of the ordeal he had survived still lingered, it felt somehow more distant, like storm clouds rolling towards the horizon which had finally passed him by. He realized that he had desperately needed to do this; keeping the knowledge within had been a crushing weight pressing down on his soul. It might yet cost him everything that he held dear, but if he had kept the truth locked within him for much larger, it would have gradually driven him insane.
He could not bring himself to look at Padmé, though he knew that she was sitting still, silently processing everything that he had told her. Several moments passed, moments which as far as Anakin was concerned, stretched into an eternity. Finally, his wife spoke.
"Thank you, Anakin."
Anakin raised his head at the unexpected words, trying and failing to muster a smile. "What for?"
"For finally being honest with me," Padmé told him steadily. "This ... explains a lot for me. Thank you."
Anakin was uncertain whether to be relieved or terrified of the meaning behind Padmé's response. On one hand, she did not seem to be angry with him; her eyes held none of the fury, the contempt, the disgust which he had fully been expecting to see. On the other, her expression was unmistakably guarded and withdrawn, telling him unequivocally that she was hiding some measure of her true feelings from him. She looked and felt more distant than ever before. Anakin looked away again - until she gave him some further insight for good or ill, he could not stand to meet her gaze.
"I can leave, Padmé," he said softly, his voice barely audible. "If you need some time to decide what ... what this means for us, then I understand."
Padmé shook her head. "Stay," she told him. "I want to respond."
Anakin closed his eyes, unconsciously bracing himself. Though his heart was beating so fast now it was threatening to burst through his chest, he did his best to remain calm. He would not allow himself to hope, or to despair, before he knew the full depth of the judgment which awaited him.
"Anakin ..." Padmé said softly. "I won't pretend that what you just told me didn't make an impression. Some of it shocks me, some of it scares me, some of it makes me angry. I have to be honest - I never thought that you would be capable of doing some of the things that you say that you've done. This ... this changes you, Anakin ... it makes me wonder how much I really knew you before now ... if I ever really knew you at all."
It struck Anakin as odd that his heart had been beating so fast before; after those words, he felt as though his heart had vanished from his body all together. His eyes sealed themselves shut even tighter than before as every semblance of strength fled from him, leaving nothing behind but an empty shell. It was worse than he had feared; not only was she denouncing him, she was doing it without passion, without hesitation ... without love. She saw him not as her husband of eight years, but as a faceless, nameless stranger, a man who had caused her pain ... and nothing more.
"You don't need to say anything else, Padmé," he whispered brokenly. "I ... I understand ... really, I do. Once we land, I'll stay out of your way... you won't have to see me again ..."
"Anakin," Padmé said sharply, the sudden shift in her tone catching his attention. "What makes you say that?
Anakin opened his eyes, which were now clearly shining with tears. "You're right, Padmé ... you never knew me. The man you thought you knew would never have betrayed you like I did. You have every right to hate me ..."
"I don't hate you, Anakin!" Padmé exclaimed, leaning forward, her eyes flashing with a dangerous light. "Is that what you think?"
Anakin forced himself to look up and meet her eyes. If his wife's face had not been angry before, it most certainly was now. "But you said ..."
"I said that I was shocked, that I was scared, that I was angry," Padmé interjected sharply, "and I meant what I said. But I never said I hated you. If I'm feeling anything else right now, it's sadness ... because now I know what you've been living with all this time. You've suffered, Anakin ... God, I can't even imagine what it must have been like to endure knowing something like that, thinking that you were destined from birth to become a murderer ... to say nothing of keeping a burden like that secret for so long! If I had known, if you had told me sooner, I could have helped you with it. Anakin ... why didn't you trust me with this?"
"There wasn't anything that you could have done, Padmé," Anakin told her quietly. "It wasn't your burden to bear. I thought I could shield you from it, so that you wouldn't have to suffer too. I swore a sacred oath to protect you, and I fooled myself into thinking that's was what I doing."
"I swore that oath too, Anakin," Padmé reminded him. "I swore that I would always stand by your side, no matter how hard it was, and no matter who or what tried to tear us apart. You can't protect me from everything ... and I don't want you too. I'm strong enough to take a little adversity and emerge from it better for the struggle - which is more fortitude than you seem willing to get me credit for. For you to think that I could hate you for what you've done ... it's like you don't know me at all, Anakin."
Anakin's throat seemed to be sealing itself off; he had to strain to force the next words past his lips. "But all that I've done ... you can't forget the terrible things ... I mean, I killed ..."
"I haven't," Padmé cut him off again. "I haven't, and I won't. I have to live with it now, just like you do ... but that's what I want, Anakin. I want to share your burdens, just like I want you to share mine. I want to be there for you, now and always, if only you'll let me. You said it yourself; what you did might be unforgiveable by any reasonable standard. But love isn't reasonable."
Anakin looked up, his eyes widening in confusion and doubt. "Padmé, you can't ... you can't just forgive me for all this ..."
"I can't grant you absolution, Anakin," Padmé told him. "Only you can do that, if you can make your peace with the Force. But remember what you said in the throne room? Forgiveness is a lesson best learned by working together to create a better future. Those were wise words, Anakin. The past is the past; it cannot be undone, it should not be forgotten, but it can be forgiven, and the best way for us to do that is to move forward, rebuild our lives, and raise our children together so that they can grow up and live better, happier, and quieter lives than we have."
Relief, disbelief, and overwhelming gratitude flooded Anakin like a tidal wave. Unexpectedly, unconsciously, the first real smile in several long hours rose to his face, lifting with it his heart, body, and spirit, all with virtually no effort at all. "Amen to that."
"Just promise me one thing, Anakin," Padmé said quietly. Anakin's heart nearly broke as he saw the light mist of tears which had previously been visible in her eyes was now hovering on her lashes, threatening to fall. "And if you say it, I want you to mean it."
Anakin's left hand unconsciously drifted up from his side towards his wife's face to preemptively catch the tears. He stopped himself just short. "Anything, Padmé."
Padmé's mouth trembled ever so slightly as she fought to maintain her miraculous control and composure for just one agonizing moment longer.
"Never, ever, ever do something like that again."
Anakin's heart swelled so much it hurt as he allowed all the honesty, faith, and love he possessed to pour into his words. "I promise, Angel. With everything I am, I promise."
Padmé coughed slightly, choking back what might have been a sob. Her eyes shone like distant stars from the light within them, light that was now flowing freely down her cheeks. Anakin's hand moved the final few centimeters to touch her smooth skin, thumb reaching out to brush away a single graceful tear.
"Thank you, Padmé," he whispered gently. "I don't think I could have gone on, thinking that you didn't love me."
"I love you," Padmé said softly, "That has never changed, and it never will. So get used to it, Skywalker."
"I love you too, Padmé," Anakin whispered reverently, the tears flowing freely down his own face now. "More than you can ever know."
A radiant smile rose onto Padmé's face, bathing Anakin's heart with light. He leaned in across the last remaining space between them and pressed his aching, yearning lips to hers. Padmé leaned in strongly and returned the kiss, pouring into it all the love, faith, trust, and hope which Anakin had believed lost to him forever. With the smallest part of his mind which was not completely and blissfully blank, he tried to make sense of how this had happened, how despite all his sins, despite how close he had come to losing everything, he had managed to hold on to the one thing that mattered most. Yet the wisest part of him knew it was a lost cause ... because as his Angel had said, love wasn't reasonable. He might not understand it, he might not deserve it, but none of it mattered. In that moment, nothing mattered ... except her.
When husband and wife finally broke apart several minutes later, they remained close, foreheads lightly resting together, neither one willing to be the first one to pull away. Both were slightly out of breath, but as Anakin finally opened his eyes to Padmé's loving gaze, he couldn't help but laugh. Padmé joined in, and the two of them let the tension which had hung over them throughout their entire weighty deliberation simply slide away. Once they had dismissed the last traces of toxic doubt to faint memory, Anakin smiled.
"Don't tell him I said this, Padmé ... but Obi-Wan was right. I'm exhausted. "
"You damn well should be," Padmé shot back, matching his smile. "You dueled Darth Vader nearly to your death, took down the Emperor of the entire galaxy, somehow brought Obi-Wan back to life and to the light, and then had to sit down and explain it all to your wife. That's a lot for a day's work, even for you."
"You haven't exactly been laying out on the beach yourself," Anakin admonished her. "Breaking into the Emperor's palace, leading a revolution to free the galaxy ... I think you get some rest too."
"I used to work sixteen hour days alongside the galaxy's most obstinate politicians," Padmé told him teasingly. "I've got stamina you can't even dream about, Anakin. That said, a soft bed does sound good right about now."
"Well then ..." Anakin said brightly, his smile widening even further. "Shall we?"
Padmé laughed, a clear sound like the ringing of a morning bell. "If you insist."
The two of them rose up out of their chairs and began to make their way towards the door. As they walked, Anakin's smile morphed into a mischievous grin.
"You know, Padmé, it might be a good idea for us to find separate bunks ... otherwise neither of us will be getting any rest at all."
"Oh, get a grip on yourself, Anakin!" Padmé chided him playfully. "There'll be plenty of time for that when we're not on a stolen Imperial shuttle with two Jedi Masters in one room and your recently reincarnated former master the other. Can you imagine what they would say if they caught us?"
"It might be worth it, just to see the expression on Master Windu's face," Anakin chuckled, conjuring up an image of the Jedi Master's mortified expression in his mind. "He's falling a bit behind the curve ... I think we need to get him a girl."
"You have no sense of shame, do you, Anakin?" Padmé asked him, sounding faintly exasperated - nevertheless, she appeared to be struggling to hold back a laugh. "Tell you what ... we'll look into it after we have a little bit of time to go out a few times and brush up on the art of romance ourselves. As things are now, we're both a bit out of practice ... I doubt either one of us could pick up a date at a bar, good looks or not."
Anakin looked down at his wife, happiness welling up within him once more.
"You really a master of negotiation, Padmé ... you've got my vote for Chief of State, if we can ever get a working government together after all of this."
Padmé smiled, but shook her head, a sad look entering her eyes. "There's only one job I want right now, Anakin ... and that's the job of mother. I'm afraid it's a job I haven't been doing very well over these past five years."
"You haven't had much chance," Anakin told her gently. "For that matter, I haven't had much chance to be a father. But I've seen you - you're amazing with Luke and Leia ... and with Jadon too. You'll have everything in hand in no time. And I'll figure it out ... eventually."
Padmé sighed and leaned in to rest her head on Anakin's shoulder. "We'll figure it out, Anakin. We always do."
It was only as they made to exit the cockpit together that Anakin noticed that throughout the entire length of their discussion, Padmé had never once let go of his hand.
Obi-Wan closed his eyes as he leaned back onto the narrow, thinly-padded cot in the shuttle's sparse medical bay. It felt extremely strange, attempting to rest in such a position. For five long years, he had slept in full armor, upright in a sterile hyperbaric chamber, hooked up to an extensive array of machines monitoring everything from his blood pressure to his solute balance to his overall body temperature. He had almost forgotten that ordinary human beings needed to lie down to in order to drift off at night.
In fact, the entire concept of rest seemed oddly foreign to him; his former existence had not exactly been conducive to maintaining anything resembling a normal resting pattern. As the Dark Lord of the Sith, there had always been matters, at any given hour of the day or night, which required his personal attention. The sun was always rising somewhere in the galaxy on some brewing conflict, and he had made it his personal mission to be there whenever possible, fist closed and lightsaber drawn, ruthlessly choking off the dissent before it could truly cross the horizon to trouble the Empire's new dawn.
As time had gradually worn by, he had found himself sleeping less and less, to the point where he could go for over three weeks without resting. He had told himself that it was necessity that drove him; if allowed himself to give into weakness and rest, then some distant threat to the safety and integrity of his New Order would rise up to become a serious, full-bodied menace. Deep down, however, he had known that it was more a function of his growing inhumanity, the unnatural nature of his very existence. The whispering tendrils of the dark side and the cold metal circuitry which kept him alive had seamlessly intertwined with one another, gradually stifling all memory and feeling until nothing remained but an eternally restless soul entombed in an otherwise empty prison, truly more machine than man.
Obi-Wan let out a shallow breath, not minding the lingering pain it caused him. It was appropriate that he feel pain; pain was an appropriate reminder of the place he occupied in the Force and in the galaxy. As Darth Vader, pain had been the only thing he had known; the Dark Lord had willingly and constantly sought pain out; to live in it, to embody it, to flourish in it. He, as Obi-Wan Kenobi, might not have the same legendary tolerance for pain that Vader had possessed, but he had endured every bit as much of it, if not more, and experienced suffering far worse than the Sith Lord could ever have imagined. Trapped beneath the crushing layers of darkness, watching his friends and loved ones suffer on his account, had been a torment that had rent the very fabric of his soul in two. Deprived of life and almost all hope, he had nearly given up and allowed himself to slip away.
But he had found the strength to endure, and with Anakin's help, he had returned. In doing so, he had accepted the intrinsic challenge that would accompany his renewal; living with and accepting the dark shadows of his past. It would not be easy, for while Darth Vader had gone, his presence had left a lasting imprint which would continue to be felt in all walks of life across the galaxy, from the greatest to the most mundane. The healing to be done would always need to pass through the lens of what had been lost ... and for him this paradox would be amplified most of all. Even the smallest things, like the simple miracle of being able to breathe on his own once more, would be tempered by the knowledge of what his legacy and ultimately now his redemption would cost him, a price that he had yet to truly pay.
He was ready to meet that challenge, no matter how steep it appeared or how painful it would be. He had been resigned to the idea that there was no way for him to return, that all his bridges were burned, but his friends had shown him that the last window to back to the light had always been open for him, if only he had the courage to venture forward and take the first step. He would not have agreed to come back and risk a life of suffering if he were not finally ready to believe them. It was time that he justified the faith that they all had shown in him. It was time for him once more to take that first step into the unknown and, slowly but surely, begin to heal.
Still, Obi-Wan mused, his thoughts resolving themselves once more to his immediate situation, this business of laying down was an adjustment that was going to take some getting used to. Truth be told, he would have preferred to attempt the trance he was about to enter from a sitting position, but Sabé had firmly insisted that he lie down, and Obi-Wan did not have the heart to refuse her.
Speaking of Sabé ...
"Are you comfortable?" Obi-Wan smiled as Sabé's anxious voice drifted into his thoughts. She was standing over him, carefully monitoring his every movement for any sign of pain or trouble. Her care and concern enveloped him through the Force like a familiar blanket, warm and soft to the touch. The sensation was soothing, blissfully peaceful, easily wiping away his previous troubled thoughts. It had been years since he had felt anything like that ... truly remarkable.
Obi-Wan opened his eyes to gaze upon the face of the woman he loved. "Yes, I'm very comfortable, Sabé. Thank you."
Sabé's face remained knit with worry and apprehension; unconsciously, she teased her lower lip as she sought to some way to alleviate her own concealed distress. "Is there anything I can get you?"
Obi-Wan shook his head silently as he looked lovingly into her anxious, chocolate-brown eyes. God, her eyes ... how could he have ever forgotten how beautiful they were? How could he have forgotten anything about her ... her elegant features, her graceful presence, her quiet strength? Even as nervous, uncertain, and disheveled as she was, she remained to him the very picture of radiance. He saw none of the trivial flaws or shortcomings - only elegance, grace, and goodness, like heaven's fire captured and held within a transparent vessel ... as close to perfection as any mortal could ever come. For the first time, he was to a very small degree grateful for the respirator implanted in his chest, as he was consciously having to remember to breathe.
How could he have forgotten her? He had first met this amazing, kind-hearted, beautiful woman eighteen years ago, only then he had not realized just how special she truly was. After their parting, throughout all those years leading up to the fateful moment when she had walked back into his life, he had been missing something, but still, so focused he was on his life as a Jedi, he had not truly understood. The revelation, when his eyes had finally opened to her long-suffering love, had fundamentally altered his perception of his place in the world and the very course of his destiny. So intense it had been that, although their time together had been unconscionably brief, the fire that had been awakened in his soul had driven out almost everything else, sustaining him on the strength of its memory alone. Throughout those long months of captivity in the claws of General Grievous, believing himself betrayed and abandoned by the Jedi, he had clung to her memory as his one remaining light, an incorruptible force of good that could not be suppressed or taken away.
And yet ... it had not been enough. Immersed in the heart of the darkness, beset by fear and lies at every turn, he had not been strong enough to hold on. He had fallen, and he had lost her. Darth Vader, the being which had been born from his loss, his ruin, had no need for her - to him, she was a weakness, a liability, a distraction from his dark and uncompromising purpose. When it had become clear to him that she was an impediment to his vision of subjecting the galaxy to a vengeful justice, he had coldly and remorselessly cast her aside. His love for her had seemed to be, as he had deemed it then, a necessary sacrifice.
Obi-Wan's heart swelled within his chest as he took in every detail of Sabé's face. She had suffered so much because of him ... and yet when he had finally given her the opportunity to repay him in kind, she had forgiven him almost immediately. Furthermore, she was unquestionably defending him on all fronts, evidently wanting nothing more than to put the past behind them and work towards rebuilding the future which fate had so callously stolen from them. It was a heartbreaking dream, almost tragic in its ambition, for that future, Obi-Wan knew, was far from secure. When the citizen of the galaxy at large finally discovered the truth about what had happened, the sins which he had committed against them, they would want justice, and rightly so. When that time came, he would have no choice but to willingly hand himself over them, leaving Sabé once more with a broken heart.
It overwhelmed all sensibility that she would be willing to take that chance, knowing full well how likely it was that he would end up hurting her again. The devotion, the trust, the unrestrained acceptance which he saw when he looked in her eyes was almost too much for him to take. Closing his eyes again, Obi-Wan had to force down the wave of utter and complete self-loathing that had pervaded his core. His arrogance, his anger, his uncontrollable need for revenge ... they had cost him a lifetime with this woman, and now from beyond the void they were threatening to take him away from her again. In that moment, the Jedi Master swore to himself a solemn and unbreakable oath: while he would not shield himself from whatever justice awaited him when the moment came, he would devote everything that he was... heart, soul, and broken body ... until that time to Sabé, in the faint but eternal hope that he might in some way prove himself worthy of the incredible faith and love she had blessed him with - even when he had been too deeply wrapped in the darkness to see.
Obi-Wan opened his eyes and saw that Sabé was still gazing at him intently.
The previous sense of apprehension which sensed around her had not yet dissipated - in fact, it had intensified, as some hidden struggle deep within her was forcing itself to the surface. Could she have been thinking along much of the same lines that he had?
He tried to put as much care and support into his voice as he could muster. "Yes, Sabé?"
"Obi-Wan, before you start your trance, I ... I need to tell you something."
"That's perfect, then," Obi-Wan told her, offering her a smile. "I have something I need to tell you as well."
"You do?" Sabé seemed surprised. "Would ... would you like to go first?"
Obi-Wan shook his head. Whatever Sabé wanted to tell him, it was clearly causing her a great deal of distress ... he wanted to alleviate her suffering as soon as possible. Furthermore, he wanted her to know that whatever it was, it would not in any way change the sentiments that he was about to voice. "No, please ... you first."
Relief poured off of Sabé through the Force; she offered him a small smile of gratitude which set his heart racing. The smile quickly vanished, however, as anxiety took hold once more.
"I ... don't really know how to say this," she said quietly. "You ... I don't know how you're going to react. God, you might not even want ... I mean, when I found out, I was shocked, but still ... Obi-Wan, it's ... I ..."
Obi-Wan reached out with his one remaining hand and gently enfolded Sabé's smooth fingers in his own. "Sabé, it's all right," he said soothingly, gently putting the weight of the Force behind his words. "Just tell me."
"All right." Sabé took a deep breath and nodded. Setting her slender shoulders, she put on her bravest face and looked directly into the Jedi Master's eyes. "Obi-Wan ... you have a son."
Obi-Wan's smile widened into a broad, heartfelt grin. "I know."
"You know?" Sabé's entire body went rigid with shock; the look of disbelief which paralyzed her face was one for the ages. "What ... how could you know?"
The grin was still lighting up Obi-Wan's face, and his heart had swelled to the point that he thought it might burst. He had known that sooner or later Sabé would want to tell him about Jadon, and he had already decided what his response would be. He had to admit, it was extremely gratifying to watch Sabé as she struggled to comprehend the magnitude of his revelation; he knew that once the shock wore off and he had a chance to explain what had transpired, she would appreciate his honesty.
"Anakin told me."
"Anakin told you?" Sabé's mouth opened, and then snapped shut abruptly - she seemed to be struggling for words. "When? Wait ..." the shock in her eyes finally disappeared, replaced by deep concern and a noticeable hint of fear. "Did he ... did he tell you when the two of you were ... before ... ?"
"No." Obi-Wan shook his head, and Sabé sank noticeably lower in her chair as relief flooded her. "No, Anakin did not betray your trust, Sabé. Vader never knew, and neither did the Emperor. Anakin told me when he was reaching to me to through the Force ... after both of them were gone."
"Oh." Sabé fell silent for a long moment. Suddenly, the anxiety returned to her face, more noticeable than ever. "When he told you, what did you ... I mean ..."
Obi-Wan smiled, warmth emanating from his eyes. "It was how he brought me back."
The emotion which radiated off Sabé when Obi-Wan's words reached her could not be fully contained or even described; it was a turbulent, overwhelming mix of surprise, gratitude, excitement, and transcendent, soaring joy. It saturated the Force around them, setting every cell in Obi-Wan's body on fire. He worked hard to maintain his composure - he did want to break down and cry in from of Sabé. She might misconstrue them, and besides, she had seen enough tears over the past several years. Now was the time for him to offer her the happiness she so desperately deserved.
Leaning in close enough for him to feel her sweet breath on his skin, Sabé looked at him even more intensely than before. "What else did he tell you?"
Obi-Wan squeezed her hand strongly. "He told me that our son's name is Jadon, that he's almost five years old, that he wants to be pilot, and that he looks extraordinarily like his mother."
A brilliant smile rose to her face, lighting up the entire room. "His father's eyes though ... I'm sure Anakin didn't leave that out."
Obi-Wan shrugged, his own blue-grey eyes twinkling visibly. "He might have mentioned something about that."
"He's so much like you, Obi-Wan," Sabé whispered. "Everything about him. He's been my world these past five years, and I've done everything I can for him, but ..."
Obi-Wan reached up and placed his metallic gloved hand on Sabé's chin, gently lifting it up so that he could see her face. "You did a wonderful job raising him, Sabé ... Anakin told me how much you've given up for him. I can see it in your eyes just how much you love him. Jadon is very, very lucky to have you as his mother."
Sabé met Obi-Wan's impassioned stare evenly, her eyes shining with emotion and all trace of hesitation gone from her voice. "He needs his father, Obi-Wan. He needs you. I can't teach him everything. Anakin and Padmé have been an incredible help, you should see how much Jadon looks up to Anakin ... but even then something's missing, and now that the war's over, Luke and Leia will be coming home, so they'll have their own family to look after ..."
Her voice caught as she struggled to maintain his gaze. "Obi-Wan, please ... I can't do this alone anymore."
Obi-Wan strained and lifted his entire upper body off of the mat, resting on his elbows so that he was directly on level with the woman he loved. "You have every reason not to trust me, Sabé," he said strongly, conviction ringing in every syllable. "But if you believe nothing else that I tell you, believe this. You won't have to do it alone anymore. I'm here. I'm here, and damn it, I'm not going anywhere. I may not know what it takes to be a good father - I'll be honest, I don't have the faintest clue - but I'm willing to learn, no matter what it takes. I'm willing to do whatever I have to do to be there, because I love you, I love our son, and no force in this galaxy, for good or ill, is going to take me away from the two of you again."
Sabé looked at him, openly staring through her now freely-flowing tears. Sensing that this time, she really was at a loss for words, Obi-Wan decided to reinforce his message. He reached down, took Sabé's hand in his once more, and tenderly pressed his lips to her cool, smooth skin. He allowed them to linger there for a moment, then gently turned her hand over to reveal the underside of her wrist. Leaning in once more, he placed an equally tender kiss on the spot where her veins conducted her lifeblood just underneath her skin.
A soft breath escaped from Sabé lips; her eyes were closed. As easily as he could, Obi-Wan pushed himself up still further until he was in a sitting position. His body painfully protested the movement, but he unconsciously shut out the response as he leaned in still closer towards Sabé, now gently kissing her soft, tear-stained cheek. Her skin was gradually getting warmer as he moved along her body, and the salty residue left behind by her tears tasted almost sweet. Her slow breath passed over his ear, sending a warm shiver down his spine.
Bracing himself, Obi-Wan moved the few remaining centimeters to the left. This time, Sabé leaned in as well, helping him close the final distance and bringing their aching lips together. As soon as they touched, the very same fire which had remained dormant but not forgotten in Obi-Wan's chest for so many years came to life once more in an astounding blaze of glory, sending an incandescent burst of heat down every remaining nerve. The lingering pain plaguing his body vanished instantaneously, replaced by a euphoria that could not be measured. The Force itself danced through his veins more freely than he could ever remember, reflecting the blaze of renewed life which was circulating through him, and through her as well. On this transcendent plane of existence, the two of them were indistinguishable, any remaining illusion of separation between them now and forever forgotten.
Eventually, their moment ran its course, and Obi-Wan drew back, opening his eyes. He smiled when he saw that Sabé's eyes remained closed, and that her skin was flushed with color. He said nothing at all, content to simply watch her for a long moment before she finally allowed her deep brown orbs to shine on him once more.
"Wow," she whispered softly. "That was ... something else."
Obi-Wan's smile widened and he let out a deep breath he hadn't been aware he was holding. "Yeah."
"Maybe you should come back to me from the dead more often."
Obi-Wan laughed. "I'll try ... but only once every five years, so you'll have to have to wait until then."
Sabé laughed and reached down to take his hand, intertwining her fingers with his. Obi-Wan squeezed them gently, and Sabé's face became serious.
"I love you too, Obi-Wan," she said fervently. "And I can't tell you how much it means to me to hear you say that ... especially what you said about Jadon. Anakin's told him all the stories of your adventures across the galaxy, so he knows a lot about you. You're already his hero, Obi-Wan, and when he finally gets to meet you, it won't be any time at all before he loves you as his father. You've already been an important part of his life."
Obi-Wan smiled at Sabé's words, but could not halt the hint of trepidation that crept into his soul. "That's what I'm afraid of, Sabé. If you and Anakin have been telling him all these stories about me as a hero, then Jadon's expectations of me are to be astronomically high - I'm never going to be able to live up to them. I don't want him growing up amidst lies, thinking that his father was above fault. He'll learn the truth one day, Sabé, and when he does, it will be devastating for him. I don't want him to think that I didn't care about him enough to prepare him for the burden of his legacy. I ... I don't want him to hate me when I let him down."
It was Sabé's turn to squeeze his hand. She stared directly into Obi-Wan's tormented blue-grey eyes, love and strength mixing with seriousness in her gaze. "We'll deal with that when it comes, Obi-Wan. One day, we will need to help Jadon confront the truth, but it would not be wise or kind for us to burden him with it now. He's still a child, and children all have their heroes to look up to, people they revere unconditionally and strive to emulate. Over time, the world teaches them to shed their illusions that their heroes are perfect and accept them as who they are. Jadon's still young enough that he can afford to see the world in black and white, and knowing the difference between good and evil will help him figure out who he really is. When he's ready, he'll seek out the truth for himself, and in doing so, he'll learn to love you for who you are ... not as the great Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi or the Sith Lord Darth Vader, but as his father. That's just a normal part of growing up."
Obi-Wan gave Sabé a deep and grateful smile. She was right, of course she was. Ever practical, she always knew how to remain on level and approach a problem from the right angle, one step at time. He remembered her exhibiting that same degree of patient tactical sensibility while fighting alongside her to liberate the Theed Palace on Naboo from the Trade Federation. Impersonating the Queen, she had successfully drawn the fire of the droid armies time after time, allowing Padmé to slip past the guard and fulfill their real mission. Now she was successfully drawing away the demons grasping at his thoughts, enabling him to focus on what was truly important: connecting with his son.
"Thank you, Sabé," he told her softly. "I guess I'm just nervous. When I meet him, when I talk to him for the first time face to face ... I won't know what to say."
Sabé looked at him seriously. "Would you like to talk to him now?"
Obi-Wan's heart jumped into his throat, and he started visibly. "What ... I mean, yes ... but how?"
"Reach out to him with the Force," Sabé told him. "Jadon hasn't been trained, obviously, but Anakin's shown him enough that he knows how to control his power to a rudimentary extent. If you talk to him, he'll hear you."
Obi-Wan stared openly at her, surprised once more at the level of trust she was showing in the Force ... and in him. He had expected to have days, possibly even weeks, to think about what he would say the first time he spoke to Jadon. There was so much that he needed to tell him, and he was terrified of what would happen if he said something wrong. You only got one chance to make a first impression, after all, and he had been out of this boy's life for an unforgivably long time. If he missed this chance, Jadon might push him away, and he would never get to be a part of his son's future. The thought broke Obi-Wan's heart.
The Jedi Master found himself silently agonizing over the choice before him. Yes, he desperately wanted to finally make contact with his son. He wanted it more than anything in the world. But did he really trust himself to do it now, when he was so weak and unprepared?
"Obi-Wan, please," Sabé implored, gently drawing him out of his reverie. "It will mean the world to Jadon, and if you don't do it now, you might not get another chance for weeks. I have faith in you. Please try."
I have faith in you. Those words infused Obi-Wan with a new strength, one that he would never have been able to muster on his own. He took a deep breath, then nodded. "All right."
Sabé took his hand, and Obi-Wan closed his eyes, withdrawing deeply into the Force. Though he had not even been aware of Jadon's existence until a few hours ago, it was easy for him to trace the boy in the Force by following the bright new signature which had already embedded itself in his soul. In what felt like no time at all, he found his consciousness floating in what appeared to be a darkened bedroom. He turned his attention to the closest bed and immediately his soul lurched with recognition. Lying there beneath the covers was a young boy, about four and a half years old, with a round face and a tousled mane of dark curly hair. The boy's features – his nose, his dark, thin eyebrows, his high cheekbones - bore an achingly similar resemblance to those of his mother. It was Jadon.
Obi-Wan could feel his heart racing, even immersed as he was in the soothing currents of the Force. Jadon was breathing evenly and deeply. An impish smile was resting on the corners of his lips even as he slept. Anakin had mentioned that Jadon had an enormous amount of energy and, from all accounts, could be quite the trouble-seeking adventurer. Obi-Wan smiled as he envisioned his son running circles around Anakin until his apprentice fell to his knees, begging the boy to let him catch his breath, or hiding in some hard-to-reach place, giggling to himself while his exasperated mother combed through every nook and corner trying to find him. He imagined her finding him at last, tucking him into bed, giving him a kiss on the forehead, followed by Anakin stopping in to tell him a story, tousle his hair, and turn out the light, perhaps turning to give him one last look before he exited the room and left the boy to his dreams.
This was what he had been missing, those aching moments of normalcy, moments which he never could have envisioned himself in but which now he longed for like nothing ever before. He found he had absolutely no desire to wake his son, even to talk to him. He did not want to be the one disrupt Jadon when he was so at peace - not for anything in the galaxy.
He did not know how long he would have simply remained still, watching his son peacefully slumber, had not the boy, without any prompting whatsoever, suddenly begun to stir. He seemed to have unconsciously become aware that something was different, perhaps prompted by some hidden impulse from the Force. Obi-Wan's already racing heartbeat reached leapt to a dangerously high level as Jadon pushed the covers away from his neck and sat up, his mind frantically casting about for something, anything ...
The boy opened his eyes and Obi-Wan's racing heart abruptly stopped: the piercing blue-grey orbs were identical to his own - the only difference was that they still contained a vibrant spark of eager innocence which he had lost many, many years ago. Jadon peered sleepily through the darkness, scanning the shadows. "Who's there?"
The boy's voice sent a paralyzing signal to Obi-Wan - there was no turning back now. The die had been cast, his son was waiting for him – ready or not, he needed to respond. Mustering all his strength and will, he forced his dry and scratched throat to form the blessed word.
Jadon blinked several times. "Uncle Ani, is that you? Aunt Padmé said that you'd gone away!"
"Jadon ..." Obi-Wan said hoarsely, "Jadon, it's ... it's your father."
Jadon sat up to his full height, a note of surprise, confusion, and wonder melding together in his voice. "My ... father?"
Obi-Wan nodded painfully, forcing down the lump in his throat. "Yes."
Jadon's eyes widened, and he began searching the darkness even more intently. "Where are you?"
Obi-Wan was standing directly in his son's line of vision - he realized that Jadon must not be able to see him. He felt subconsciously relieved - he didn't want Jadon's first visual image of him to be of a bald, pale, gravely injured man encased in the crushing black armor of the galaxy's most-feared Sith Lord. "I'm not there with you, Jadon. I'm on a ship traveling through hyperspace, using the Force to communicate with you, like Uncle Ani does sometimes."
"You're on a ship?" Jadon's eyes lit up in the darkness, excitement filling his voice. "Is it yours? How fast is it?"
"Very fast," Obi-Wan told him, an invisible smile rising onto his face. Jadon really did love to fly, then. "Actually, it's not mine ... it belonged to a very bad man, and your Uncle Ani and I sort of borrowed it from him without permission."
Jadon laughed, a clear sound which sent a warm flush shooting down every nerve in Obi-Wan's body. "Uncle Ani says that a lot. Mama and Aunt Padmé get mad when he does, though."
"I'll bet they do," Obi-Wan said warmly. Subconsciously, he noted that his heart rate was settling and his nervousness had completely faded away - he was completely stunned at how easy it was becoming for him to talk to the boy. "This time though, your Mom and Aunt Padmé gave their permission, so it's OK."
Jadon's head perked up again. "Is Mama with you now?"
Obi-Wan smiled, ignoring the heat building at the corners of his eyes. "Yes she is, Jadon. So are Uncle Ani and Aunt Padmé. We're all together again. "
Jadon's entire body was practically quivering now; his tone now could barely contain his eagerness. "Are you coming home?"
The heat in Obi-Wan's eyes redoubled; his vision blurred slightly and the lump which he had successfully forced out of his throat earlier immediately rose up again, more prominent than before. "Yes I am, Jadon. I'm finally coming home, only ... only not right away. Your Mother and I ... and Uncle Ani and Aunt Padmé ... we have something we have to do first."
Jadon's face fell and he seemed to deflate slightly, the eagerness disappearing from his face along with his bright smile. Obi-Wan felt his heart threaten to splinter into a million little pieces; the pain that had flooded him when he saw his son's disappointment was more than he could stand. "Jadon," he pleaded desperately, "Listen to me."
Jadon looked up again, his blue-grey eyes shining from within. Hope rising again, Obi-Wan pressed on.
"I'm coming soon, you hear me? The minute we've finished what we need to do, I'm coming straight to you, and nothing's going to stop me. You've been so brave, Jadon, and so patient, waiting so long. You won't have to wait any longer. I'm coming to you, and when I get there, I'm never going to leave you again. I haven't been there for you for the past few years, but I'm going to be there from now on. That's a promise, and I swear it on my life."
Jadon sniffed slightly. "Will you show me how to fly?"
Obi-Wan nodded. "Yes, if that's what you want. Anything you want to do, we can do; anywhere you want to go, we can go. I've got a lot to make up for, and I'm willing to do whatever I can to make it right."
Jadon nodded in understanding, wiping the corner of his eye with his sleeve. He looked back up and the earnestness in his gaze seared Obi-Wan's very soul.
"Soon," Obi-Wan told him solemnly. "Jadon ... I love you so much. You're going to be hearing that a lot from me when I see you, and you'll probably get sick of it really fast, but you're just going to have to put up with me for a while. I love you, and with everything I am, I mean it. Please know that, Jadon. Please know that I mean it."
Jadon nodded and lay back down on the pillow, a smile rising back onto his rounded face - the same smile which he had been wearing when Obi-Wan had first laid eyes on him. "I love you too, Father."
With that, Jadon settled into his pillow and closed his eyes, drifting peacefully back off to sleep. As he did, Obi-Wan felt himself sliding away, back along the currents of the Force, back through light-years of space and time, until he settled back once more into his own body, drifting through hyperspace in the medical wing of a stolen Imperial shuttle, Sabé at his side.
`"Obi-Wan?" Sabé asked anxiously, squeezing his hand tightly. "How was it? Are you all right?"
Obi-Wan looked up at her, the tears which had been stinging his eyes throughout his entire conversation with his son now willingly and freely flowing down his face.
"He called me 'Father'," he choked out softly. "He said he l-loved ..."
The hidden source strength which had miraculously been aiding him was suddenly gone, and Obi-Wan was unable to continue. Sabé reached over and enfolded him in her arms. She said nothing at all but remained silently understanding as Obi-Wan, unable to contain himself any longer, allowed himself to cry heavily into her shoulder, every emotion which been tumultuously swirling within him since his return rushing finally unrestrained to the surface. Guilt, fear, anger, worry, despair, passion, happiness and above all, gratitude, detached themselves from his soul and slid silently into the crystal vessels falling from his eyes. One by one, he let them all go.
After a long while, he was relieved to find that he could not cry any more. He looked up and gently extricated himself from Sabé's tender embrace, noticing as he did so that the woman he loved was subtly wiping away a few tears of her own. Sabé, noticing him looking, quickly offered up a smile.
"Do you feel better now?"
Obi-Wan smiled gratefully at her and let out a shallow sigh. "I feel exhausted," he told her truthfully. "If I didn't need that healing trance before, I definitely need it now."
Sabé nodded in understanding. "You should get to it right away. Come on, I'll help you."
Once again, she assisted the injured Jedi Master in lying down. Obi-Wan fleetingly noticed that the position did not feel so strange to him now - or maybe he was just too tired at the moment to let it bother him. As soon as his head hit the mat, he felt the Force reached out to him of its own accord, bathing his body in its rejuvenating currents. Dark clouds began to coalesce at the corners of his vision, condensing around the one remaining light hovering above him ...
Obi-Wan heard Sabé's voice from a great distance, and consciously sought to hold off the blissful healing embrace for just one moment longer. "Yes?"
"I'm so sorry - before all this, you said that you had something you wanted say to tell me?"
Obi-Wan smiled peacefully. "I already did."
Sabé's own smile lit up the entire room. "Tell me again."
"I love you, Sabé," the redeemed Jedi Knight told her earnestly, "and you will never lose me again, for as long as we both shall live."
With that undying proclamation of faith, Obi-Wan Kenobi closed his eyes and effortlessly allowed himself to be borne away once more into the eternally forgiving cycle of renewing life.
Thousands of light-years away on Naboo, a new day was breaking over the city of Theed, the first day in over five years not overshadowed by the oppression of the Empire. The first rays of the soft morning sun filtered their way through the dawn clouds of fog to fall upon the small house overlooking a quiet lane on the outskirts of the capital. The light drifted almost lazily through an open window on the east side of the residence, casting an ambient glow on a small, cozily furnished room and coming to rest on the faces of three small, peacefully sleeping children peaking out from beneath the covers of their beds. As the light reached them, Luke stirred slowly, while Leia turned over and hid her face more deeply in the pillow. Alas, the twin's unconscious attempts to ward off the call to rise were not to succeed, for a few short moments later the door to their room banged open and their cousins, Ryoo and Pooja, bounded through the door, their long dark hair trailing behind them as if caught in the wind.
"Wake up, sleepyheads!"
"Come on, rise and shine, we made you breakfast!"
Luke groaned audibly and tried to draw his pillow up over his face. Ryoo moved over and deftly snatched it away from him while Pooja raced over to Leia and began tickling her remorselessly until the little girl, beset by uncontrollable giggles, had no choice but roll out of bed to escape the menace.
"Come on you two, up and at 'em!" Ryoo said mock-seriously, folding her arms and doing a remarkably good impression of her aunt when she was in no mood for nonsense. "School's cancelled for us today, so we thought we would make you a special breakfast to celebrate, but it'll go cold if you don't get downstairs right now!"
At the doorway, Sola Nabberrie stood still, smiling broadly as she watched her daughters do their best to marshal the sleepy-eyed Skywalker twins into consciousness. Seeing them interact with Padmé's children, and so naturally too ... it was just as she had always pictured it. She only wished that her younger sister could be here to see this now, but she was doubtlessly caught up in resolving some business or another stemming from the Alliance's welcome, unexpected, and hard-fought victory. Soon, though, she would be free to return home, and when she did, Sola firmly intended to join her mother in helping to convince Padmé to take some serious time off. She hadn't been home in years - it had been far too dangerous for a leader of the Alliance to try and pay a visit to a homeworld that she happened to share with the Emperor of the galaxy. Now that the war was over, Sola couldn't wait to grill her sister on everything that had happened since their last meeting - particularly her marriage to Anakin. Sola's smile widened mischievously as she thought of the handsome Jedi protector who had accompanied Padmé to their house eight years ago, who Padmé had so strongly had asserted was only a friend. She was going to greatly enjoy teasing her until Padmé was flushed in the face and forced to acknowledge that her big sister had been right all along.
Meanwhile, Ryoo and Pooja had successfully roused Luke and Leia and were now turning their attentions to the third occupant of the room - Jadon Kenobi. Here, however, they were encountering some difficulty, as young Jadon remained deeply and soundly asleep. None of their poking and prodding had drawn so much as a batted eye.
"Shall we just lift him out of bed?" Pooja boldly suggested. "He'll have to wake up then."
Sola stepped forward. "Here, darling, why don't you let me try? The two of you can go down and help Luke and Leia set their plates. Make sure Grandma and Grandpa are up too - you know Grandpa doesn't move as well as he used too."
Ryoo and Pooja shrugged, then took Luke and Leia's hands and guided them out of the room towards the kitchen, leaving the still-sleeping Jadon to the mercy of their mother.
Sola walked over and gently sat down at the edge of Jadon's bed. Reaching out, she gently brushed a lock of curly hair away from the young boy's face. To her surprise, Jadon stirred immediately, opening his blue-grey eyes to stare clearly at her. "Morning, Aunt Sola."
"Morning, sleepyhead," she said teasingly. "You have a good dream?"
Jadon kept looking at her, a contented smile forming on his small face. "It wasn't a dream, Aunt Sola."
"It wasn't?" Sola asked him, raising her eyebrows. "What was it then?"
Jadon's eyes shone brightly as he pulled himself up into a sitting position. "It was my father," he told her. "My father was talking to me."
Sola could not conceal her surprise. She knew a little bit about the Force, and from Jadon's last name, it was fairly easy to deduce that he was the son of Obi-Wan Kenobi, the legendary Jedi Knight who had helped to liberate her planet back when her sister was serving as Queen. Obi-Wan, however, had been widely been believed to be dead for nearly five years, killed during the same purge which had wiped out most of the galaxy's Jedi. There were numerous rumors that he had met his end at the hands of Darth Vader himself, and from everything that Sola knew of the hero known as the Negotiator, it would have taken no less than the full might of a Sith Lord to bring him down. She had never heard of a dead Jedi being able to communicate with the living before, even through the Force. More than likely, Jadon had just experienced a very vivid and lifelike dream, no doubt brought on by the excitement of the previous day. Still, she did not want to upset the young boy when he seemed so happy - perhaps it was best to humor him.
"Your father?" she asked him carefully. "What did he tell you?"
Jadon smiled again, his face now positively glowing. "He said he loved me ... and that he's finally coming home. I get to see him really soon."
Sola's surprise jumped up yet another notch. Rationally, she was now convinced that it had been a dream - even if the dead could speak, they most certainly could not return from beyond the grave. Yet the certainty in the little boy's eyes was so intense that she would not have doubted it for all the world. Could it be that Obi-Wan actually was alive and was coming to them? If so, where had he been all these years? She was definitely missing something here.
"Are you sure that's what you heard?" she pressed him gently, not wanting to challenge him but keen for answers now, for her own sake as much as Jadon's. "Could it have been something else? I mean ... you've never actually met your father have you?"
Jadon shook his head emphatically. "No, Aunt Sola, it was my father. I know it was. I know it."
The confidence in Jadon's voice was unshakeable; amazingly, Sola found all her doubts quietly sliding away. She found herself leaning forward, almost eagerly. "How do you know, Jadon?"
Jadon shrugged his small shoulders. "Uncle Ani told me I should always trust my feelings. I just ... know."
An amazed smile rose to Sola's lips, and her heart swelled within her as she looked at the young boy before her, his childlike eagerness mixed with the certainty of someone much older, wiser, and more mature. She still did not understand quite what had happened, but she no longer had any doubt at all that it had. Obi-Wan Kenobi had spoken to his son. Whatever had transpired these past five years, wherever the great Jedi Master had really been, it no longer mattered. All that mattered was the smile on Jadon's face, knowing that his father was finally coming home.
"Well, then," she said matter-of-factly, standing up and offering Jadon her hand. "If you're going to see your father soon, than you'll need to keep up your strength. A good breakfast will help with that. You might want to get yourself downstairs, before Luke and Leia clean your plate for you."
Obediently, Jadon took her hand and slid down the side of the bed, yawning slightly and rubbing his eyes with his sleeve. Steadily, if a bit slowly, he tottered across the bedroom and disappeared down through the door, towards the sounds of dishes clattering and eager laughter emanating from the main kitchen.
Sola remained behind for a long moment, staring contemplatively out of the open window, where the morning sun was now fully emerging from behind the hills. Her smile brightened as her thoughts lingered on the remarkable succession of events which fate had seen fit to deliver to them in quick succession. A tyrant brought to justice. A terrible war brought to a peaceful end. Two families reunited in one day. She had always dreamed that it could happen, but for many years had seen nothing that would give her cause to sustain that hope ... until now.
Padmé used to say we had to believe that it would all work out in the end, she thought to herself. Maybe it's true after all. Maybe the ones who managed to hold on to their faith in the darkest of times ... they're the ones who have their faith rewarded.
Her smile widened. It seemed that her younger sister still had a thing or two to teach her as well. Shaking her head, she turned away from the window and left the children's bedroom, and made her way downstairs, where her family, a warm breakfast, and a bright new day were all waiting.