Darkness surrounded him. The young blonde-haired man struggled to maintain his grip on the rail, agony twisting his features unrecognizable as smoke rose from his black clothes. But Anakin knew him; knew him from his dreams, knew he was a Jedi if he did not know his name and had never met him in life. In the dream, he was familiar; there was some ... connection ... although he could not specifically say what, exactly, that was. But he cared about him; felt the burning paralyzation of the Sith lightning as the man lay there, gasping.

A voice cut in, a very familiar one; eerily more familiar than the young man's face. It was older and rougher than it should have been, but recognizable just the same.

"Young fool! Only now do you understand," it said as the lightning licked forth again from pale, knarled hands, "Your feeble skills are no match for the Dark side. You will pay the price for your lack of vision!"

The young man writhed and fell onto the floor as the pain licked him. He cried out in agony, his limbs jerking and twisting. Between gasps, he managed to form words...

"Father, please!"

But no father came to his aid. Instead, the robed figure - the Sith Lord - ceased for a moment, the better the finality in his words be heard.

"And now, young Skywalker, you will die," he declared, in Chancellor Palpatine's oddly ruined voice, an evil chuckle escaping his lips, the young man ... young Skywalker ... allowed a momentary false hope. But it was too short before the jagged bluish lance once more engulfed him. He screamed.

Anakin was his father.

The young man was his grown son, having joined the Jedi Order. His son, who lay next to him now, still safe in his mother's womb. His son, begging him from a dream as his grandmother had, as his mother had.

And he, Anakin, had stood with the Sith.

------

He awoke with a gasp, bolting to a sitting position. The room was only moderately dark; headlights from passing vehicles and the countless lights of the city illuminated it clearly even in the quietest part of night. Padme lay beside him on her side, sleeping peacefully. He glanced down at the great swell of her womb, at the soft rise and fall of her breast, and slowly let out his breath in a sigh. Then he inhaled and did it again, to calm himself.

It can't be true, he thought. It can't. But he knew that it was. Worse, he knew all the other dreams he'd had about the young man - his son - were also true. In fact, he'd always known, but had been able to ignore them because at the time he hadn't known who the young man was. But in most of those dreams, his son had stood looking at him with lightsaber drawn, as his enemy.

He shuddered. The dream had not thrown him into a choked panic as had the one about Padme, but it held a particular urgency that told him he'd have to act soon to avoid it - even though the events it showed him were at least a good twenty years away.

Next to him, Padme stirred and sat up. He sighed apologetically.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you."

"Another dream?" she asked.

He avoided her eyes and didn't reply.

"About me again?" Her voice was soft and concerned entirely for him. It broke his heart that she thought so little for herself; what had she done to deserve an early death, except to love him?

"No," he said, and swallowed hard. Almost without volition, he reached out to caress her swollen womb. Her hand closed over his and he felt the baby - his son - kick, almost as if in response to the touch.

"It always does that for you," she murmured, "almost as if it knows you're there."

Yes, he thought. He'll be a Jedi. But he said nothing.

"Was it about the baby?" she persisted.

He took his hand away and nodded. Through the Force, he felt her stiffen.

"He was alive in the dream," he hastened to add, looking up at her. "But ..."

"But?"

But he hated me ... because I was no longer a Jedi; no longer on the side of the light? Because I'd had to use the Sith method to save you - and him - from dying? Or because I hadn't?

Out loud, he said, "Nothing."

"Anakin." Her voice clearly conveyed irritation at his avoidance. But while he knew he needed to be more open with her - for too many things they had only each other - he was too confused in his own mind and didn't want to panic her with wild speculation.

For instance, Palpatine ... could he really be a Sith himself? It doesn't seem possible; wouldn't the Council sense it? They hadn't sensed Count Dooku - search your feelings and know the truth... Trouble was, he wasn't sure he wanted to hear it; didn't like the implications if it were true. He had embraced Palpatine as a trusted mentor; accepted his patronage; taken his advice since his arrival on Coruscant thirteen years earlier. If it were true, could he trust even himself? Trust anything he thought he knew? Search your feelings...

How else had Palpatine known a Sith legend?

The obviousness of it stared at him. How had he not known? Had he wanted so much to believe in the man's claim that something existed to save his wife? That anything existed? That his desperation would cloud all judgement? He leaned forward and buried his head in his hands, knowing it still did; knowing he was still that desperate, that even knowing what Palpatine was, he could not let go of the only shred of hope he'd found that Padme could be saved.

He felt his wife's cool, soothing hands on the hot skin of his back and shoulder and looked up at her, intending to ask her when she would leave for Naboo; that he felt it should be soon. If the dream had done nothing else, it had at least made him wary for her continued safety on Coruscant. But as he saw her face in the half-light of the city's night ambiance, it seemed to recede from him and take on the glow of some angry red illumination. Her eyes opened wide, staring at him in anguished accusation, her mouth working, mouthing the words, "Anakin, no," without sound as she grasped at her throat with both hands.

From somewhere, Obiwan's voice spoke in a tone of command he hadn't realized his master had ever possessed, "Anakin, let her go!"

His was the invisible attack she struggled against, her face darkening. He was the one attacking her, killing her.

"Let her go!"

Abruptly, she fell to the ground, some tiled tarmac on an unknown planet, and lay still. He stared down at her crumpled form, still pregnant. The event was not far away.

Not far away.