A/N: Well...it's been more than four years, but here we are at the end of the story. It's sort of like graduation for me - I'm thrilled to have accomplished writing the entire gargantuan thing, and proud of the thousands of hours of hard work that have produced it, but it's a loss to have finished. It's a flawed story and it's probably half again as long as it needed to be, but I'm extremely fond of it for all its faults and it's been a huge encouragement to me as a writer to hear from so many of you who have enjoyed it as well. You, my reviewers particularly, have been a source of joy to me for an epoch of my life and I regret that it's over. Thanks for your patience and your impatience, your comments and suggestions.
A few other thank-you notes are in order. Firstly, a huge shoutout to my fantastic and longsuffering beta kataja, who courageously critiqued the last hundred and fifty pages of this story in one sitting. You don't find betas that dedicated everyday. Go and read some of her stuff, she's excellent. :) Secondly, I would like to thank an author whose name I cannot remember for writing a short fic whose title I cannot remember which featured the curious character of Miyr, the administrator of Bast Castle, whom I borrowed and adapted to my own purposes. Thirdly, I'd like to thank Harrison Ford for imbuing Han Solo with such life that every section of plot his character touches instantly writes itself. And lastly, thank you to everyone who favorited, alerted, CCed, or recommended this fic.
To stave the inevitable question off right now: no sequels are planned. After four years of writing, I've said my piece. This is where what I know of the story ends. What happens next, I leave to your imaginations (particularly yours, whateveritis). Like others here I harbor ambitions of writing professionally and as much fun as I've had posting fics online it's time to devote the bulk of my effort to fully original projects. Not to say I'm through with fan fiction; I've got a companion piece in the works for my longshot Lord Vader's Limpet. It's a bit stuck right now but it'll show up here eventually (I like it too much to keep it to myself). And provided I find enough time and inspiration, my next full-length fic would be a sequel to Far More Than Rubies. There's teasers for both on my profile if you're interested.
And that's a wrap, folks...
"Till We Meet"
Alderaan, one year later…
No. Not the dream again. Not this again.
Mustafar sprang up before his mind's eye, bathed in the hellish glow and spit of its lava banks. Into focus leapt the silvery ship, perched on the pad like a trembling songbird in a cage patrolled by a nexu. And soon, any moment now – no, love, no, for Force's sake stay away –
She didn't hear him, couldn't, she was only memory – but as she ran down the ramp towards him, she seemed so much more. There was no way not to run to her.
"I saw your ship," he heard himself call to her.
No! You selfish fool! Leave, leave her while you can –
"Anakin!" she cried, throwing her arms around him. "I've been so worried about you!"
She leaned back, and he knew what he would see next – her terror, her confusion, her heartache, her lovely mouth open in a constant gasp of anguish, her eyebrows wrenched in the effort to comprehend him –
She leaned back, and she was smiling, playful and sweet, a light sparkle starring her eyes. "Obi-Wan has been telling me terrible things," she said, wrapping her arms around his waist and leaning her chin on his chest to look up at him. "Apparently you've been having nightmares about me again."
What? That line wasn't in the script anywhere. He should know, he'd performed it scene by scene a thousand times in his nightmares.
"Padmé?" he asked quizzically. "What – but this is only a dream…"
"Is it?" she asked him.
He stared at her. She stared back, smiling wide and mysterious.
He planted a famished kiss on her and wrapped her against his chest. "Padmé…"
"I missed you too, Ani." It seemed whole generations could have flown down countless millennia while they stood in silence. She leaned back again and suddenly it had only been a second. "You look much better."
He glanced at himself, then at his reflection in the silvery hull of the ship. The ravaging of Mustafar lingered in his face. A skeletal fuzz of hair covered his scalp, the best Siler had been able to do for his cosmetic situation. The surgery scars around his throat and chest hadn't faded; they might never. He flexed his new prosthetic fist, covered with latest-generation synthflesh that responded much like his own skin. His atrophied natural bicep complained as usual.
It was his own appearance.
He felt ashamed of standing in front of her like this. Once he'd been strong, and even striking too. Those days were gone. He couldn't even finish one series of lightsaber warmups without collapsing and requiring emergency oxygen -
"You do know I didn't marry you for your massive muscles or your stunning hair, don't you?" Padmé said wryly from below.
"I had hoped, at least," he muttered.
"I like the hair, actually. You look all grown-up." She ran her hand over the fuzz. "Like you've got four children or something."
There was something else to be ashamed of. When he'd decided to have Sara and Sandra artificially conceived using his dead wife's genetic material, he'd never imagined having to give their mother the news that she'd become a parent for the second time post-mortem.
"They're ours," she said. "They're beautiful. I've been watching, this whole time. Did you think I hadn't?"
"Then you know about the portrait in the new Conclave Hall of the Galactic Parliament," he commented, trying for a lighter subject.
Padmé groaned, rubbing the side of her head. "I'm going to have serious, serious words with Bail someday. I don't care if he is the chancellor – "
"Galactic President, actually," he corrected.
"Whatever he is, it doesn't give him the right to hang a monstrous portrait of me in the fracking legislative assembly!"
He laughed for the first time in a decade and a half. She never resorted to that kind of language – only when furious or furiously embarrassed. "He said something about using you as a symbol of unity. Founder of the Alliance, wife of Lord Vader. I said he could."
"You said – " She cut herself off with a noise of frustration.
"This way I can look at you during every assembly," he added. "Organa was astonished to find me so knowledgeable concerning the Parliament Continual Broadcast Channel."
"Little does he know," she grinned.
"In fact he does know. I suspect the entire galaxy knows. Apparently the Emperor's press conference with Solo inspired a great deal of media curiosity." He quirked a smile. "So much for keeping it a secret."
"All things hidden shall be brought into light," she said quietly. Her hand cupped his battered cheek. "Especially you, Anakin Skywalker."
He grimaced, looking away from her bright eyes. "I am nowhere near the light."
"You're just feeling morose. It's a long way to Alderaan from Coruscant, especially for a beat-up old man like you." She flicked his chest teasingly. "But you'll settle down here soon enough. Weren't the children happy to see you?"
"Once they realized who I was," he muttered. "And except for Leia. I doubt she will ever be happy to see me."
"Give her time. She's already taken so well to Luke and the little girls. She'll heal."
He stared down at the platform, still swirling with bleak, confused mists from the ship's landing gears. "I do not believe that I will."
"No? You've come a long way from this angle."
"Not the body," he said dismissively. "You know what things I have done. And now what am I? Just…another old man. A failed Sith that Yoda insists on trying to turn back into a Jedi. It is not possible. There's too much blood… Padmé, what I would not give just to come to you!"
She took his big hands in her tiny ones and looked up sternly at him. "You listen to me, Anakin Skywalker. You have screwed up. So have we all. Don't screw up again by quitting now. You have four children to raise on your own, which is more than enough to keep you busy for the next couple of decades. And after that you'll have boyfriends and girlfriends to worry about, and before you know it grandchildren. You have good years ahead."
"It will be too hard – "
She pressed a finger to his lips. "It will be an adventure."
He worked up a faint smile. "A Jedi craves not adventure. Ferus Olin, lecture number 233."
"You just got through telling me you're not a proper Jedi."
"My doctor says excitement is bad for my respiratory system."
"And you've listened to doctors since when?"
She squeezed his hands and smiled. "It's a promise then." With a last kiss, she let go and started back towards her ship, bathed like a phoenix in the ethereal red glow of the world. A blaze of despair tore through him but he couldn't run after her. The vision was dissipating. She was going - what angel could remain in purgatory? - and though he might have crawled from hell, how could such as he dare hope to join her in heaven? No, love, stay with me, stay -
"This was only a dream!" he cried aloud.
She turned over her shoulder. "It's not only nightmares that come true, Anakin."
"Then I'll see you again!"
"When it's time… be strong, love..."
But he was weak, too weak - no better than a cripple - how could he ever be strong for her again -
Be strong of heart, my love - be strong of heart - be strong - be strong - be strong - be strong -
He woke, drenched in sweat, heart pounding as if he'd sprinted a mile. Through the window glowed the stars and the jagged silhouette of the mountains surrounding Aldera. He looked across the room to the cot against the wall. Luke and the twins had insisted on sleeping in his room tonight, not wanting to leave him alone for a minute. A smile ghosted over his face. Gingerly he pulled himself out of the bed and crossed over to them, running his hand over each small forehead in turn and thinking of Leia - sound asleep elsewhere, but nearby. He took a deep breath, reveling in the sensation of oxygen rushing through natural lungs, taking in the feel of young skin under his fingertips and a cool night breeze against his scarred cheek. The deep uncertain agony of his soul, still writhing in its prolonged crucible, stilled in a powerful throb of something too strong to tolerate any other emotion.
However much he scoffed at the thought that someone so guilty could even be human, let alone a Jedi – however much the galaxy scoffed at it – the dream was proof that Anakin Skywalker had a heart.