Note: Thanks again for your patience everybody! Also, if you haven't checked out Katabasis, you might want to do so. It's a series of one-shot prequels to Anabasis. You can find the story on my profile page.

Note on the chapter title: Anagnorisis is a Greek word meaning "recognition." It is a technical term in both tragedy and the genre of meditation, where it signifies a sudden revelation or a collapse in old ways of seeing the world, accompanied by new insight.

Thanks to Le1a Naberr1e for the beta!

Chapter X: Anagnorisis

For several long moments, there was nothing but a loud, deadening silence. And then Anakin laughed, such a laugh that even Kitster took a few steps back.

"No, she's not," Anakin said. "My mother is dead. I watched her die."

The woman beside Kitster bit her lip hard enough to produce a trickle of blood, and he watched as her face crumpled up like a dead thing. She opened and closed her mouth several times, but all that came out was a flimsy whisper. "My Ani…" It sounded frail and bleakly certain. Anakin found himself remembering the dead look in Melee's eyes when she finally stopped screaming.

Kitster, though, regarded him levelly, his eyes completely unreadable. "What do you remember, Anakin?" he asked.

What do you remember?

Anakin stared at the calm, intense young man with his scarless skin and his unblinking eyes full of the knowledge of things. He had the sudden drowning feeling that he'd seen those eyes before.

What do you remember?

And without thinking, he found himself answering.

"I remember it was dark," he said, his eyes not leaving Kitster Banai's face. "There was a man, and a lot of shouting, and I remember my mother screaming. I was hiding under the bench in the dark, and she was crying, and there was blood." He leveled his gaze at the woman by Kitster's side and added pointedly, "It's the last thing I remember about her."

"Ani," the woman who claimed to be his mother said, and he twitched. That was Padmé's name for him. No one else had ever called him that.

"Ani," the woman said again. "What you remember, it…it did happen." She looked away for a moment, but when she turned back to him, her face held only sadness. "But that was more than a year before you left."

"No," Anakin said. It was a non-reaction, a flat and toneless denial.

What do you remember? the voice asked again, but he couldn't be certain whether Kitster had spoken again or whether the words were only in his own mind.

"I'm sorry, Ani," the woman whispered. "I'm so sorry."

She looked old, and sad, and strangely beautiful, and for the second time he was reminded oddly of Padmé—Padmé as she'd stood on the day of the slave auction, proud and high-headed and absolutely terrified. It occurred to him that Padmé had reminded him vaguely of his mother in those moments, but that thought was too much. He pushed it roughly away, turning from his visitors and crossing to the room's left wall in two quick strides. He was aware of the Jedi Council closing behind him, aware of their nervous, ready energy, but he paid them no mind. The wall would do, if only because there was nothing else in the room.

The crunching sound of his fist against the wall was oddly satisfying, and the look and feel of the blood on his knuckles was… He didn't know what, exactly. But it felt right. It had been a long time since he'd seen blood. He looked down at his hand and realized that the headache was gone.

But the woman had been bleeding, hadn't she? Just a little, when she bit her lip. He didn't turn to look at her again, but the image of her was stark and clear before his eyes. She was… He tried to stop the thought, but his mind was spiraling now, spiraling and strangely clear with the pain. She didn't look familiar but she felt… And if she was…

He became aware of hands on his arms and torso, and at the same time the spiraling in his mind came to a sudden stop in a rush of sound. The Jedi were surrounding him, pulling him back from the wall and forcing his arms behind his back. In the same instant he registered the woman's cry of surprise and fear. She was worried for him? But that was ridiculous. Surely she must know that he'd been through much worse than a few bloody knuckles.

He ignored the restraining hands of the Jedi and tried to lunge forward, to see the woman more clearly, to study every pore, every hair, every slight movement of her hands. He was still absolutely certain he'd never seen her before.

But there was that spinning in his head, and the voice that might have been Kitster's, might have been his own. What do you remember?

He didn't know. And it was too much.

"Ani," the woman whispered again. "Oh my Ani. I'm so sorry." And she was crying, quiet sobs that tried to hide themselves in the dark.

He didn't remember his mother's face, but he did remember the sound of her tears.

Anakin stared at her, all of the voices in his mind growing suddenly hushed and distinct. He'd thought she was dead. He'd watched her die. She was supposed to be dead.

But she wasn't, and if it was true that he'd lived with her a full year after he watched her die (because no matter what she said, he remembered how she had died), then that meant…

"You sent me with him."

The woman—Shmi, he wouldn't call her anything else—looked surprised.

"Yes," she said softly, her voice raw. "I sent you with the Jedi. I didn't know— But then there were whispers of purges and we thought…" Her voice broke, and she ended almost on a wail, "Oh Ani, what happened to you?"

Anakin's eyes traveled wildly across her face. There was undisguised fear there. She was telling the truth.

"The Jedi?"

Shmi nodded slowly. "Yes."

"The Jedi. You wanted me to be a Jedi." Anakin's voice had taken on a raw, knife-edged tone that made his guards glance at one another nervously and tighten their hold on his arms, but he was almost unaware of them. There was just the woman and her strange, terrible face and the Jedi.

And suddenly he couldn't stop laughing.

Something in a corner of his mind was desperately trying to remind him that he wasn't breaking yet, but he could hardly hear it over the din of the others. What do you remember?

And he did remember, in scraps and pieces and fragments of bone.

There had been a transport (a very nice one, he thought, but of a make he didn't recognize), and sand whirling all around him, and he'd been coughing, and he was going away, leaving the desert behind, going with this man to become, to become…

His laughter died in a sudden snarl. "You sent me with him!"

The woman who claimed to be his mother jumped back, her face wild with fear and that strange organic guilt, her body trembling violently. Kitster too jumped, and for the first time the look of recognition in his eyes disappeared.

The walls of the small room began to shake.

In the morass of hands and nervous bodies circled around him, Anakin caught sight of Mace Windu shouting urgently into his comlink, but the roaring in his head prevented him from hearing anything. Shmi was crying softly again, and it was too much. He looked at her with a sudden clarity and was surprised to find that he had never hated anyone more.

And then there was a faint prick against his spine, and he spun around with a growl, the Jedi scattering around him, and found himself glaring into the wide blue eyes of Barriss Offee.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, and just before he dissolved into the shadows he saw the syringe in her hand.

The warehouse was a nondescript duracrete structure several levels below one of Coruscant's most popular business districts. It had been kept up well—there were signs of patching in the duracrete, and a few weather stains here and there. It appeared to be no more than a simple, well maintained storage facility.

Obi-Wan was instantly suspicious.

He'd never seen the Sith hideaway in the Works, although Master Dooku had described it to him once, back when the Jedi were still searching for the identity of the Sith Lord, before everything fell in pieces. And there'd been something…fitting, almost, about Dooku's description. Not like this. This building was clean and well lighted outside, and in an almost-respectable neighborhood. It wasn't making any effort to hide.

"Well, Master Kenobi?" Palo asked, peering over his shoulder. "Is it safe?"

Obi-Wan scowled at the building. "It seems safe enough, out here at least." He took the datapad Vader had provided out of his pocket and made his way carefully to the warehouse's one small, less-than-imposing door. The codes were surprisingly complex, which did nothing to relieve his mood.

At last the door slid aside, and Obi-Wan peered into brown, empty darkness. The air escaping through the door smelled musty and used. He sensed nothing.

"Follow me in," he said to the two men behind him. "Stay close, and don't make any sudden movements."

He still didn't sense anything, and so they stood just inside the entrance for several minutes, letting their eyes adjust to the dark. The room they found themselves in was surprisingly small, a foyer to the main body of the warehouse, perhaps. It was rectangular and pale, relieved only by a pair of finely upholstered chairs against the far wall, with a dark wooden table between them. In the center of the table, clearly an item for display, was a large Alderaanian crystal vase, etched in a geometric pattern. To the left of the chairs there was a door.

Obi-Wan approached the door, skirting widely around the table (he knew better than to examine the vase), and entered the codes Vader had marked for the second door. These were even more complex than the main entry codes. Behind him there was a faint hint of movement, and without turning he said sharply, "Don't touch the vase." He spared a glance over his shoulder just in time to see Palo stepping guiltily away.

"I don't think—" Palo said, but Obi-Wan cut him off almost before he'd begun.

"This place reminds me too much of the Temple," he said, half to himself. "We'll all be better off if we don't touch anything." And without waiting for a response he turned back to the door and the codes. He could hear the two men moving behind him, but sensed that they were keeping well away from the vase.

"Riveth wants to know what happened," Palo said softly. "In the Temple."

Obi-Wan shook his head, but his concentration remained on the codes. "When we retook the Temple, the whole place was trapped. Some of them we couldn't even sense in the Force. We lost five good knights that way."

He felt a hand on his left shoulder, and turned in surprise. Riveth was there, his hands now moving in the air. Obi-Wan didn't need to hear Palo's "I'm sorry," to know what the poet had said.

He nodded, accepting the apology, and gave the two a rueful smile. "We learned to be especially wary of artifacts and objects of art." A look of understanding passed between Palo and Riveth at this, and Obi-Wan sighed. "When this door opens," he told them, "I want you to stay behind me and follow my direction. Don't let yourselves be distracted."

The two nodded at him, and Palo said, "Of course, Master Kenobi."

Obi-Wan restrained another sigh. He had a bad feeling about this.

But there was no reason to delay any longer. And in spite of himself, Obi-Wan had to admit he was curious. His curiosity was always getting him into trouble.

He entered the last codes and the door slid aside with a certain slow drama that Obi-Wan suspected of being Vader's touch. Vader's master had also had a certain flair for the dramatic.

The room that was revealed was much larger than the entrance foyer, well-lighted and spacious and with the musty smell of a little-used collection room or a museum. The sense of space was broken up periodically by warm, bold lights that cast their intended objects into intense relief against a background of shadows.

And it was a museum, Obi-Wan realized. The room was filled, aisle upon aisle, with works of art—paintings, sculptures, holos, vases, even a few works for which he had no name. Obi-Wan didn't recognize most of the works, but what he did recognize left him feeling cold. He remembered Vader's talk of ghosts and thought it more than a little uncanny.

Every one of the paintings and sculptures that he recognized was supposed to have been destroyed.

He sensed the utter stillness of the two men behind him, and in any other circumstances that might have been a warning. But the Sith had outsmarted him. He didn't know what he had been expecting, but this certainly was not it.

And so when Palo Gvanish moved suddenly, Obi-Wan reacted just a bit too slowly.

He heard Palo's startled, half-strangled gasp of recognition slightly after he'd begun to move, as though the room were playing tricks with echoes and silence. And he realized in the same breath that there was nothing he could do. If the place was trapped, any sudden reaction on his part would only make the situation worse.

And so he watched as Palo crossed the open space between light and shadows at an almost-run, his feet leading him to a sudden jerky stop before an image of a Gungan woman. The movement of his body displaced the pattern of light and shadows, and they settled again after he was gone, as though a fish had moved through water.

Nothing else happened.

They waited a few moments more, just to be certain, and then Riveth stepped out, somewhat more cautiously, and came to join his friend in the light that shone on the painting. Obi-Wan followed him, but kept somewhat back from the two men, allowing them their space.

This was one of the paintings he recognized.

It was an older style of art, worked out on canvas rather than a light screen, and seeing it now in person, he thought it was rather smaller than he might have imagined. A Gungan woman, radiant and unabashed, rising from the swamp with challenge in her eyes.

Obi-Wan hadn't exactly been following the art world for the last ten years, but even he had heard of the Gungan Venus. It was the work that had finally led to Palo's arrest.

"I never thought I would see her again," he heard Palo whisper to no one in particular, and he watched as Riveth wrapped an arm around the other man's shoulders. The two stood in silence together, gazing up at the Gungan woman's face, and Obi-Wan suddenly felt as though he were interrupting a private moment.

"He saved it," Palo was saying, his voice still somewhat dazed. "Why would he—?" Riveth's hands moved in the air, and Palo let out a shaky laugh. "Well, yes, I suppose there's that."

Obi-Wan coughed slightly, and Palo turned toward him, his face slightly flushed. "I'm very sorry, Master Kenobi," he said earnestly. "I didn't—"

Obi-Wan tried to smile and shrugged it off. "You know why he sent you here, then?"

Palo hesitated momentarily, but Riveth smiled, his hands moving in a rapid series of motions that Obi-Wan found utterly unintelligible. When he had finished speaking, his arm rested again on Palo's shoulder. The artist seemed to consider him, as though searching for something in his face, before turning back to Obi-Wan.

"Riveth thinks it's a gesture of reconciliation," he said. "Vader—Anakin—for whatever reason, he saved all of these works, and now he wants to return them to the public."

Obi-Wan stared at him. "Oh yes," he said at last. "Yes, that makes perfect sense. Certainly."

Once more he saw that look of hesitation on Palo's face, but all the artist said was, "Well, he did save them…"

There hadn't been any traps. But there were the overly complicated passcodes at the warehouse's two entrances, and Obi-Wan could guess easily enough what that meant. He just wished he knew what the Sith was planning with all of this.

"Yes," he said to Palo, "I suppose that's something."

The world seemed to freeze around Barriss, all of the Jedi surreally still as they watched Vader slump toward the floor with a faint groan. His eyes had already fallen shut, his face gone slack with the drug, and even Barriss couldn't seem to make herself move. It was the two humans in the center of the room who started forward and caught him, the young man catching at his torso and easing him toward the floor, the woman holding Vader's head in her lap, her fingers brushing tentatively across his face. A low keening sound escaped the woman's lips, and Barriss was reminded of the elegies for the dead sung on Mirial. She felt as though she were intruding on something intensely private.

But the question was hanging in the air, needing to be asked, and it was utterly impossible that she should ask either of Vader's visitors. It would have done little good in any case. They hadn't let themselves in.

She turned her back on the woman and her quiet elegy and faced the members of the Council, who were still gathered in their semi-circular posture of defense and enclosure. "What did you do to my patient?"

"Knight Offee," Master Mundi began in his kind tones, but Barriss, for the first time in her life, cut him off.

"With respect, Masters," she said, "I haven't spent the last eight months stabilizing a Sith Lord only to have to sedate him when he gets a couple of visitors. As his healer, I need to know what happened here, and I need to know if there's a risk of it happening again."

The masters glanced at one another uneasily, but at last Master Yoda nodded. His head inclining toward the woman who still held Vader's head in her lap, he said quietly, "Vader's mother, she is. Knew that, none of us did, when the Chancellor sent these visitors." He harrumphed softly and muttered, "Take it well, Vader did not."

Barriss stared at him, and then at the woman in the center of the room. The woman brushed Vader's hair gently back from his brow, her eyes intent on his face, and in his drug-sleep, the Sith almost seemed to welcome her touch.

"His…mother?" Barriss echoed.

She had never thought that a Sith Lord could have a mother. In truth, she hadn't thought much about the subject at all. The Sith were the ancient enemies of the Jedi, followers of the Dark Side who held no regard for peace or justice or the rights of other beings. She'd never wondered why that was. The last ten years hadn't exactly given her much opportunity.

And yet now here they were, the woman who was Vader's mother and the man who looked almost familiar—some sort of stage actor, wasn't he?—and Barriss was trying desperately not to think about Master Luminara or the boy in the fire.

"Need to debrief them, we will," Master Yoda said quietly, drawing her attention again.

"And you will need to see to his hand," Master Windu added, and Barriss nodded respectfully.

"I'd like to take him to the medbay," she said. "He'll be much easier to treat there, and I need to run some tests."

The Masters glanced at one another apprehensively, but Master Yoda simply nodded. "Take him now, you should," he said, gesturing to the center of the room, where Vader lay languid and strangely still, his head still cradled in the woman's lap.

Barriss took a deep breath and stepped forward, drawing the young man's attention. "I'm sorry," she said softly, "but I need to take him to the medbay. If you'd like to—"

"Actually," Master Windu cut in smoothly, "we'll need to speak with you and your mother in the Council Chambers. It would be best if you let Healer Offee tend to Va- him now."

The falter was only slight, and Master Windu recovered quickly, but Barriss could see in the young man's suddenly closed expression that he hadn't failed to notice. Still, all he said was, "Of course. Just give us a moment please." And he turned back to the woman crouched on the floor, touching her shoulder lightly. Although she hadn't seemed to register anything that had just been said, she looked up instantly at the young man's touch. "Kitster…" she whispered, but didn't seem to know what else she had wanted to say. Her face was like soft-carved wood.

"Come on, Mom," Kitster said softly. "Anakin's healer needs to see to him now."

The woman stared up at him in blank incomprehension for a moment, but when he squeezed her shoulder she bent again and shifted Vader's head out of her lap and onto the floor. Wordlessly she adjusted his limbs, her hands fluttering just over his body, and Barriss was reminded once more of a funerary rite. She had to look away.

"I'm sorry, Ani," she heard Vader's mother murmur again, and then Kitster was guiding her hesitantly toward the door. Barriss turned to watch them, unable to stop herself, and she noticed that neither the woman nor Kitster once looked back. They were ushered wordlessly out of the room by the Council, and Barriss was left alone with the unconscious Sith Lord.

She stared down at his unmoving face and realized that she had never thought of herself as having a mother, either.

He woke to whiteness and a sharp medical smell and the sound of his own breathing. He was lying on his back on a bed almost as uncomfortable as the one in his cell, but it smelled unhealthily clean. He could feel heavy bandages on his right hand and there was a pressure and straightness against his first two fingers. He remembered the pleasant crackling sound from before, and guessed that they must be splints of some kind. The rest of his body felt heavy and slow, as though he were drifting underwater. He couldn't feel so much as a tingle in his hand, which meant they must have given him something for the pain. And probably something else, too. He thought of the syringe in Barriss' hand and snorted to himself. He knew, better than most, what was done with needles.

The room around him echoed and reverberated and bounced off itself again—a large room, divided into many smaller half-partitioned sections. He didn't think he'd ever been in this room before. But then the Jedi had changed quite a lot of things about the palace when they retook it. There was a lot that he didn't remember.

His ears followed the sound of a door swishing aside. All of his other senses seemed to be fuzzy, presences indistinct and fragile in the Force, but his hearing was unaffected. Three people had entered the room, and he recognized them instantly by their step: the first with light footfalls and a gliding edge, aristocratic and fearless, the second soundless but for the reverberations, fast and sharp-edged, and the third slower and steadier, quiet in a calm way.

Padmé, Sabé, and…

"Doc," he greeted pleasantly without opening his eyes. "What the hell did you do to me?"

"The Masters didn't know what you would do," she said. There was a hint of regret in her voice, maybe, but no apology this time. "I had to sedate you."

Anakin snorted. "How long?"

"Five hours."

That would certainly have been enough time for the two artists to find the Venus, and if Barriss hadn't done anything more than sedate him, they must have managed to enter the codes right. That was a relief, at least.

He sniffed and sat up slowly, opening his eyes at last. They were still a little fuzzy from the drug, as he'd expected, but he could make things out well enough. The bed he was sitting on was pristine and antiseptic white, a match for the rest of the room. He was still wearing his Sith blacks, and it didn't feel as though they'd been moved, which was good. Maybe they really had left him to sleep for five hours.

Barriss was standing a few feet to the left of the bed, tensed up and uncertain, another syringe in her hand. He looked at the needle darkly and wondered what was in it this time. Over Barriss' shoulder he caught a glimpse of a row of transparisteel windows and the faces of the Jedi Council alert and silent, twelve hands resting on the lightsabers at their hips. Padmé was standing on the right side of the bed, much closer to him than Barriss, but even she looked uncertain.

Sabé stood in the middle of the room, laughing quietly to herself. "Well Boss," she said, "they're saying you finally cracked. I guess it can't be true, though, because I haven't heard that anybody's dead."

"Plenty of people are dead," Anakin said, but without much venom. Something in her casual abrasiveness made the spiraling in his head seem less dizzying. "And since when did they let you visit me, Five?"

She looked momentarily surprised that he'd called her that in front of all the Jedi, but she shrugged it off. "Since you cracked, I guess," she said.

"What happened, Anakin?" Padmé's voice was quietly demanding. Her hands were moving at her sides, almost touching him and then fluttering away. He watched them for a moment, fascinated with the movement and the way the skin lay over muscle and bone, and finally he snatched one of them in his own hand, if only to keep it still.

"Does it matter?" he murmured, bringing her hand to rest against his heart. "You're here now, and it hasn't even been a week."

"That's why it matters," Padmé said and pulled her hand back sharply. "Healer Offee said—"

"Why don't you ask my mother?" Anakin snapped, and everything went still.

"Anakin," Padmé said very softly, "I didn't know. I thought… You told me she was dead."

He studied her face. Her eyes were wide and adamant, and he saw in them the same fear that Sabé had voiced half-joking. She was telling the truth: she hadn't known.

His expression softened and he tried to stand, but thought better of it when all of the Jedi tensed behind their windows, and Barriss shifted slightly with her needle. He smiled pleasantly at them and sat back on the bed again, reaching for Padmé's hand instead. This time, she let him take it, and she didn't pull away.

"She was dead," he said, drawing slow circles on her palm. "I watched her die and I remember it."

"Is this woman lying, then?" Sabé asked. There was an edge to her voice that hinted at the other question which remained unasked.

"No," Anakin said slowly. His attention was wholly absorbed by Padmé's hand, and the strange frightened way she was looking at him. It was interesting, because she was never afraid of him. "No," he said again, "she was dead. But now she's not."

He watched Sabé and Padmé exchange a look, and Barriss shift the syringe in her hand.

"I suppose that's why Doc had to sedate me," he said, and smiled at the three of them. "I was thinking… Or maybe I wasn't. But she was dead, and now she's not, and nothing makes sense anymore. If she would just be dead again, maybe everything would go back to the way it used to be."

Padmé was looking at him oddly, and there was that fear in her eyes that he was still trying to understand. He didn't think she was afraid of him, exactly. Perhaps she was afraid for him, though he didn't know why.

"Anakin, you wouldn't…"

"No," he sighed. "No I—"

"I'm worried about you, Anakin," she said softly, bringing her hand to rest against his cheek. He sighed again and leaned into her touch, eyes closed and breathing slow.

"I'm sorry," he said. Her hand brushed softly across his face in reply, and he looked up at her again and said, "Come here."

She sat down very pointedly at his right side on the bed, taking his wrist between her hands, but he ignored that and everything else and pulled her closer, burying his face in the crook of her shoulder. She was warm and alive and she didn't at all remind him of his mother like this. She stiffened against him, and he could feel her surprise and her nervous energy in the Force. The Jedi Council was just beyond the transparisteel barrier, and Barriss was there with her needle.

"What did you do to your hand?" she asked with forced levity.

"I had a headache," he murmured carelessly and kissed her neck. He could feel the heat of her blush, but to his surprise she didn't reprimand him.

"Anakin," she said in a tone soft enough to be request (but he knew it was command), "look at me."

He kissed her once more before complying, but when he looked up she wasn't smiling. "Tell me what happened," she said in that same soft tone of command, clear and controlled and with no room for argument. She wasn't anything like his Master, of course, but the sense of command was similar enough, and he thought he might like that. It made it easier to think.

"I don't know," he said slowly, watching her face. "The Jedi never told me. But I had visitors." He paused, wondering how much the Jedi had already told her, and then shrugged. It didn't really matter anyway. "I met Gvanish. I didn't really get to talk to him, though—I had to send him away." He frowned.

"Had to?" Padmé asked, taking his uninjured hand between hers. "And where did you send him?"

A slow smile spread across Anakin's face. "To the underground. The Venus is there, and I thought he would be able to appreciate that."

Padmé stared at him. "The Gungan Venus? You—You saved it?"

"I thought I told you that," Anakin said breezily, but there was an almost conniving glint in his eyes.

In spite of herself, Padmé laughed. "You didn't, and you know it. I'm glad you saved it, though." And then her voice grew firmer and she said, "But you're avoiding the question, Anakin. What happened?"

He looked away, his eyes falling to his injured hand. The splints on the first two fingers were thin and metallic, the whole hand wrapped in tape and bacta. It had been a very long time since he'd used bacta.

He looked back at Padmé and grinned. "I'll tell you if you tell me why they really let you visit me."

An uncertain, almost evasive expression passed over her face, and he watched her exchange a glance with Sabé and Barriss. There was a moment of tense silence, and finally it was Sabé who answered.

"It's like I said, Boss," she said. "It's because you cracked."

Padmé glared at her. "They thought you might need something to…reestablish a sense of normality," she said hesitantly, and she didn't look at him as she spoke.

Anakin tried not to laugh and failed. It was something about the way Padmé looked almost demure, sitting beside him with her face down-turned and her voice uncertain.

"My mother's not dead," he said idly when she looked up at him again. "She's supposed to be, but she's not. And you know—" He paused, reaching out for her hand again and tracing the back of it in slow circles with his thumb. When he spoke again, his voice was suddenly hard and very cold. "She sent me with him." He looked up into her brown eyes (brown like his mother's, brown like desert rock and Melee's hair), and added, "She sent me with him because she thought he was a Jedi."

Padmé stared at him wordlessly. There was something blank and horrified in her eyes, and Anakin could feel something shifting between them. He stopped the motions of his thumb and clutched her hand so tightly that he could feel the movement of blood in her veins.

"Ani…" she whispered, reaching with her other hand to touch his face, and it was just like his mother, and still too much.

He choked on something wordless and buried his face again in Padmé's shoulder. Over his head the eyes of the three women met, but no one said anything.