Chapter Two – Six and a half years later
Sweeping into his quarters Darth Vader angrily removed his cloak. Without even bothering with his usual routine he simply collapsed. The armour still surrounded him, uncomfortable as always. Tonight, however, he was too angry, too overwhelmed to take it off.
Padmé's betrayal was coming back to haunt him. All remaining Senators that had signed the petition of 2000 almost seven years ago had been summoned before the Emperor. Only a handful had survived. Most were traitors to the Empire. Her name was on that list.
He hated her. He truly hated her for what she'd been partied to.
Even as he thought that though, everything in his very being rebelled. Every cell screamed that he loved her. That he still loved her so very deeply.
Gasping in air he listened to his breather subtly shift speeds. The pain was still sharp and stabbing, though time had passed. Then again, he would probably never get over what he'd done to her. That he was capable of what he'd done.
His heart broke all over again as he remembered holding out his hand. And squeezing. Why hadn't he let go just a second earlier? It might have allowed even just a single gasp more of air into her lungs than she received. It might have saved her.
Often he tortured himself with such impossibilities of hope, right before he forced himself to acknowledge that she was gone. Her fire was gone out of the universe, and he was left only half a man because of it. Physically he didn't even care. But emotionally, he didn't think his heart existed anymore.
Bitter and alone he began to pass into a miserable sleep.
ANI! Her voice. Crying out in his head, in pain, terrible pain.
His eyes fluttered but didn't open, consciousness already almost gone.
'Padmé?' his mind whispered tentatively, stretching out for the presence he knew was gone.
Her essence seemed to tug him towards one spot. Alderaan. Without any conscious effort he materialised in a cave. A man, dressed in comfortably warm Jedi robes as a snowstorm raged outside.
He glanced left and right, not understanding.
"I'm c-cold," a young voice told him softly from where she was huddled over herself in a corner.
Anakin Skywalker glanced outside, noting the poor light. Night was falling.
Without a single thought he hurried to her side and settled himself on the floor. He drew her into his arms and allowed her to eagerly climb into his lap. When she was settled he pulled his cloak tightly around them and tried to warm her freezing arms.
"Why are you here?" he asked quietly.
She didn't say anything, just buried her head in his chest and shivered.
He hugged her tighter, sharing body heat with the little thing. Who looked so much like Padmé's nieces. Stroking the little girl's hair back he remorsefully acknowledged who this dream girl was.
"Why are you alone in a snowstorm Princess Leia?" he coaxed, giving her curls a quick kiss.
"We were playing and I got lost," came her muffled voice.
"When?" he pushed.
He couldn't be here with her forever, whoever had been entrusted with her care had better be looking for something so precious.
"This morning," she grumbled.
Nodding, he didn't ask her any more questions. He just sat quietly, gently rocking and allowing her to burrow into him. She was getting warmer already, he could feel it.
There was only a brief silence before she raised her head from the protection his chest offered and questioned
Startled, Anakin looked down at her. It was not a term he'd ever expected to hear, but falling from her little mouth it sounded perfect.
"Princess Leia," he rumbled back.
He stroked his hands through her hair, like he'd done to Padmé. It was the only other person he'd been tender with. The only other person he'd loved since he became a Jedi.
"Sometimes I dream things," she told him softly.
With a sad smile he hugged her close. He didn't question what was happening, how and why he'd gotten here, how he was conversing with a young daughter who was very much alive. He just accepted it.
"I know, I dream things too," he told her sadly.
He knew what she was trying to say. Force visions. His last one was of his beloved's death. He didn't like his dreams. Except this one. This one was strange.
"Sometimes I dream about a very beautiful Queen," Leia told him.
Closing his eyes a tear slipped out, unwanted.
"I wish I could dream about her still," he whispered.
Leia was silent for a very long time. She was drifting off to sleep, content that he would protect her from the night and now fully warmed in the sheltered circle of her father's arms and cloak. Before she did she murmured
"The Queen loves you. Do you love her?"
Anakin remained still and silent for a long time. Leia was fast asleep before he had an answer. A single word, did he love the Queen?
The temperature dropped rapidly and eventually he propped himself up against the icy cave wall, keeping his princess protected like he'd failed to do when she was still curled inside her mother.
"They're coming," Leia mumbled in her sleep towards dawn.
Anakin raised an eyebrow then looked towards the cave entrance. A light shined in then a voice was calling
"Prince Organa! The princess is in here! We've found her!"
Anakin's heart seized up and he pulled Leia tight to him. Organa had his child!
"Don't leave me Daddy," her soft voice whimpered once more.
Before he could reply his outrage stripped him of this gift from the force, the desperation of Padmé's restless soul abated. With fury he was about to crush the life out of every member of the Royal House of Alderaan for stealing his child. For keeping this from him. She was right under his nose!
But he was already back in his capsule. Startled awake as he roared "NO!" His love for Padmé and their content Princess stole away the memory before he could retrieve it. All he was left with was a feeling of anger and despair, with no real cause.
Pain and suffering lingered as they always had. And nothing had changed.