Senatorial Disctrict, Coruscant
Where are you, my love?
A quick pulse pressed outward from her stomach.
Smiling faintly, Padmé Amidala Skywalker moved her hand to the swollen curve of her belly, feeling the kick from within.
"You want your Daddy to come home, too, don't you little one?" she murmured.
As if truly understanding the words, or at least the aching longing behind them, the baby kicked again.
"He'll be home soon," Padmé said softly, gently caressing her stomach, but she wasn't sure who she was trying to reassure- the baby or herself.
It had been four months, two weeks and six days since she'd said goodbye to her husband for what seemed like the thousandth time during the Clone Wars. It never got any easier to let him go, to stop herself from rushing to the Jedi Temple's landing platform and begging him not to go.
Watching him leave was torture.
But it was the waiting that really killed her.
Weeks, sometimes months on end, of sitting there on Coruscant, playing the role of a good little senator, all the while silently agonizing over where her Anakin was, what was happening around him, whether he was hurt or injured- or worse, dead.
Every night, she stood on the balcony outside of her apartments, staring up at the stars overhead, wondering which one her husband was closest to.
It was her own secret vigil, a painful one at that, but she could not tear herself away.
So many Jedi had already fallen on the front lines, the casualties seemed endless, and it was her constant fear, one which haunted her dreams with terrible images, that Anakin might one day be among them.
Every time her comm chimed, every time a visitor rang at her door, she feared to open it.
One day, Obi-Wan Kenobi might be on the other side, blue-gray eyes devoid of their trademark twinkle, mouth drawn and face pale. He would be weak, both physically and emotionally, still in shock over it all, dark circles under his eyes and hands that trembled like an old man's.
He would not have to speak, she would know.
And when she fell to the floor weeping, shrieking, keening, Obi-Wan would know.
Everything would be over... the secrets, the lying... her entire world.
Oh, Ani, she thought, gazing up at the stars. Come home safely. We need you.
Now more than ever.
Of course, having Anakin home again would pose another problem... and she would have to find a way to tell him that their lives were never going to be the same, that they wouldn't be able to keep their marriage a secret much longer, that all of their worst fears about the Jedi Order and the HoloNet media finding out about them were about to be realized.
She could handle retiring from politics, she'd given the idea some thought in the months since she'd discovered she was pregnant, but Anakin could not afford to be expelled from the Order.
He was meant to be a Jedi, it was what he'd been born for.
But there was no way to go back and change the past, to undo the night that had conceived this tiny miracle of life, and in her heart Padmé knew that she wouldn't take it back even if she could.
She'd spent the past month trying to figure out how to tell Anakin, but she was still at a loss.
More than once, the ridiculous notion that the war, and the Jedi Council, was keeping Anakin away for so long that maybe she wouldn't have to tell him at all had occurred to her. Maybe by the time he finally came home, the baby would be crawling about on the floor.
Or perhaps even able to speak for himself.
But no, Anakin would not be gone that long, she was certain of it.
He would find a way to come home to her.
Suddenly, the baby kicked again, harder this time, as if with a sense of great urgency and excitement.
Padmé frowned, looking down at her stomach. "What's wrong, little one?" she wondered aloud, pressing her hand against the small pulse that continued to stir.
At the sound of that voice, that glorious, beautiful voice, Padmé froze.
Her heart forgot the beat, her lungs forgot to breathe, the galaxy itself seemed to stand still until, at last, she turned to find him standing in the archway of the balcony that led back into her apartments.
Tall and lean, all lithe grace and strong muscle, dark golden hair bleached by sun and radiation, his blue eyes deep and warm and as brilliant as any star in the heavens, Anakin Skywalker was every bit as beautiful as she'd remembered.
For a long moment, Padmé simply stared at him, her heart aching with relief.
He was alive.
Alive, and home.
In an instant, Padmé was in motion, flinging herself across the space between them and into his arms.
Anakin moved to meet her and his strong arms came up to wrap themselves around her in a powerful, warm embrace from which she never wanted to depart and his lips came down to capture hers in a fiery, searing kiss that sent ripples of joy through her very soul.
When the kiss ended, neither of them moved.
They did not speak, they simply held one another, clinging for dear life, and Padmé felt hot tears spill down her cheeks as she buried her face into his chest, just breathing in the familiar scent of him again after so long, while Anakin murmured into her hair.
Four months, two weeks and six days had been entirely too long.
At last Anakin pulled back, so he could look down on her with his broad, warm smile, and said, "My angel," he murmured, touching her cheek reverently with his strong, calloused hand.
And Padmé began to weep.
They were tears of relief, of happiness that she knew she could never put into words.
All those nights lying awake in bed wondering, worrying... all the HoloNet stories and the gossip floating around that The Hero Without Fear had supposedly been killed in this battle or that skirmish... it all fell away, and with it the walls she had constructed around herself to keep the fear at bay.
"Padmé, don't cry," Anakin implored her, wiping at her tears with his thumbs. "It's okay, I'm here. I'm home, I came back- just like I always do, just like I always will."
"You'd better," Padmé managed to snap, though the affect was slightly ruined by the sniffles and tears. "We couldn't get along without you."
Anakin's brow furrowed. "We?" he echoed.
Drawing a breath, Padmé watched as his face changed, watched as realization dawned and he pit the pieces together, as his eyes widened in surprise, and when he looked down at her inquisitively, she could only nod.
"Pregnant," Anakin breathed.
A wild, explosive joy lit his face, and she nearly broke into tears again at the sight of the delirious smile tugging its way onto her husband's face.
Then she watched as everything this child would mean cycled through his mind.
Their marriage could not stay hidden much longer, not even the voluminous robes she wore in the Senate could conceal a pregnancy forever. He might be cast out of the Jedi Order in disgrace. She might be relieved of her post in the Senate and recalled to Naboo. The HoloNet would be all over them, feeding the frenzy of an entire galaxy full of scandalmongers.
And, in an instant, she saw him decide he didn't care.
Not about any of it.
"This is wonderful," Anakin cried, a laugh breaking into his words as his eyes shimmered with barely contained emotion. "Oh, Padmé, this is incredible!"
Before she could answer, he swept her up in his arms, careful of where his arms were so they did not aggravate the baby, and he spun her around, the explosive happiness back in full. His laughter, like his delirious joy, was infectious, and despite the queasiness, Padmé laughed along with him.
When he finally sat her down again, she had to grab onto his arm during a fit of mild dizziness.
"Are you all right?" Anakin asked worriedly, eyeing her with great concern.
"I'm fine," Padmé assured him, smiling up at her husband. "We're both fine."
As if to agree with his mother, the baby kicked.
"Here," Padmé said, taking Anakin's hand and placing it on her swollen belly. Almost immediately, the baby kicked twice, eagerly responding to his father's touch. "He's been kicking all afternoon... he must have sensed his Daddy was coming."
"Daddy, huh?" Anakin echoed with a grin. "I like the sound of that."
Another set of kicks from the baby.
"He likes the sound of it, too," Padmé observed, laughing softly.
"He?" Anakin asked.
"I told the medical droid not to tell me," Padmé explained with a shrug. "But motherly intuition tells me it's a boy."
"Hmm," Anakin mused, absently stroking her belly with his palm. "I hate to break it to you, angel, but this baby is definitely a girl."
"Anakin Skywalker," Padmé narrowed her eyes. "Did you peek?"
"Let's just say it's fatherly intuition," Anakin retorted with a wink. "Besides, with a kick that hard, it's got to be a girl."
"Mmm," Padmé humored him. "We'll see."
"Regardless," Anakin said, flashing her his most charming smile. "This baby is going to be the most beautiful miracle in the entire galaxy."
"Now that," Padmé murmured, leaning in to kiss him lightly on the lips. "We can agree on wholeheartedly."
Jedi Temple, Coruscant
The galaxy was slowly turning.
Against the backdrop of a canvas covered in billions of stars, the scale drifted back and forth.
On one side of the galaxy, the sun flooded everything in its path in a warm, life-giving light that seeped into every corner, every nook, making the stars to shine even brighter.
On the other, eternal night reigned over the galaxy, extinguishing the stars, breathing the cold chill of death into the air as the shadows devoured all light, all life, all existence.
And in the very center of the galaxy, neither in the sun nor the shadow, stood a young man.
Not just any man, but a powerful man.
A Chosen man.
A man who, whether he knew it or not, held the fate of the entire galaxy in the palm of his hand.
Within his private quarters, Yoda sighed.
He did not open his eyes, but the vision began to fade just the same.
It was as he'd known it would be, then.
Everything depended on Anakin Skywalker now.
Troubling this is, Yoda thought grimly, his little brow furrowing. Ready for this, young Skywalker is not.
But the Force did not care whether one was ready, it did not inquire as to one's ability to overcome a trial, it simply placed the trial before you and let you either soar or plummet.
Only time would tell which was Skywalker's fate.
Once, in a time that had yet to come to pass, Anakin had faced his trial and the price of his failure had been unimaginable.
The galaxy enslaved to the Sith, the Force flooded with darkness, the Jedi all but extinct.
And Anakin had felt the fires of his own fury, flesh burned away from bone, skin scarred and mutilated, every disfigurement a testament to his multitude of terrible sins.
Would it be different this time around?
Could it be different?
Young Solo seemed determined that the future could be changed, that the dark times could be avoided, but Yoda was not so certain.
The Force was bleak now, it had been growing dimmer as the years passed.
Everything seemed to be leading down the path that had created Darth Vader, as if this was the true will of the Force, as if it was all just a necessary evil for the greater good.
Was this the destiny of the Chosen One?
Clouds everything, the dark side does, Yoda sighed wearily.
Once, during his early days as a Padawan- a trillion years ago, as the younglings like to exaggerate- his Master had told him that the Force could not be denied, that even if one fought against it, even if one resisted, there was no escaping the will of the Force.
Inevitably, its will would always find a way to come about.
But what was the true will of the Force?
For Anakin Skywalker to destroy the Jedi Order, to wipe clean the slate of both Jedi and Sith, to allow the Force to start over anew? Or was it the will of the Force that had brought a young Jedi, not just any Jedi but Anakin Skywalker's granddaughter, from the future to shift the sands enough to avoid the dark times?
Once, Yoda would have known, he would have been able to see into the deepest waters of the Force.
But his Jedi Order was failing, floundering, even if the rest of the Jedi could not see it.
The Force was shutting them out.
"The Jedi have served the Force for twenty-five thousand years, Master Yoda, but the galaxy has changed around you, and you haven't adapted at all. That's why you were so easy to pick off last time, and that's why the Yuuzhan Vong will plow right through your ranks when they come..."
Perhaps young Jaina Solo was correct, perhaps change was in order.
But could they afford to undergo such a transition while the Sith were looming around them?
"Why do you think I haven't told you the identity of the Sith Lord who's pulling all the strings? We both know that I have the answers you seek."
So many secrets this young Solo- young Skywalker- carried with her.
And much pain, as well.
She had lost everything she held dear, all she had ever known, and that profound and tragic loss had scarred her deeply, perhaps more deeply than even she knew, and yet she continued on, wrapping that pain around herself like a durasteel shield.
How would he, Yoda, have endured what she had?
If whatever plans Jaina Solo had up her sleeve failed to save her erstwhile grandfather, it would not be long before he found out firsthand.
Before they all found out.
A low whoosh signaled that the door to his private quarters was opening.
"Late, you are," Yoda chastised lightly, without opening his eyes. "Sit with me, you shall."
Aware of the other Jedi crossing the room and settling on the floor across from him, Yoda allowed his perceptions to slowly slide back into himself from the murky waters of the Force, then opened his eyes, blinking at the familiar face of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
For a moment, Yoda simply gazed at him.
He had always held a fondness for Obi-Wan, they were part of the same line, just as young Skywalker now was, but there was something about Obi-Wan, something infinitely wise and kind, that Yoda cherished.
And knowing what he knew now, that one day it might just be the two of them left, two aging Jedi Masters in exile waging a secret war against the Sith, the Empire and the dark side, he appreciated Obi-Wan's dedication and steadfastness more than ever.
"Glad to see you, I am," Yoda told his fellow Council member with a small smile.
"Thank you, Master," Obi-Wan replied, inclining his head. "It is good to be home."
"Glad to be home, your old Padawan is, hmm?" Yoda inquired evenly.
"Very much so," Obi-Wan answered smoothly, without missing a beat. "I fear he's exhausted himself these past few months, always on the move, never resting. That is why I requested he find some form of relaxation, even if it's just a swim in the Room of a Thousand Fountains. I hope you don't mind that I took it upon myself to dismiss him from our briefing."
Yoda was silent for a moment, but to his credit, Obi-Wan did not so much as blink.
"Tired, we all are," Yoda said at last. "Good the break will be for him. Too restless, too tightly wound, young Skywalker is."
Though Obi-Wan's expression did not change, Yoda felt a small twinge of relief from the younger Master.
"For the best, it is, that here young Skywalker is not," Yoda sighed softly.
Obi-Wan's brow furrowed deeply, confusion and concern, mixed with a mild offense on his Padawan's behalf, lighting his tried face. It saddened Yoda to see how the Wars had aged his brethren, how the endless fighting and death and suffering did what time could not, and made the lively and young-at-heart into old men well before their time.
"Much to talk about, there is," Yoda said lowly.
And Obi-Wan listened.