EPILOGUE. ONE MONTH LATER.
Padme smiled at the man coming down the speeder that had just landed on their terrace.
"Master Kenobi," her smile widened and she opened her arms.
They hugged warmly, in an embrace full of significance. It was the first time they were seeing each other after that fateful day. So much had changed in everybody's minds and hearts since then, and the physical connection seemed to put everything right again. Obi-Wan nodded against her shoulder, acknowledging the thought crossing both their minds.
"Is this a good time to intrude?" he asked when they moved back.
"Of course it is!" Padme gestured for them to walk inside the apartment, and they fell into step beside each other. "You're always welcome, you know that," she chided gently.
"I know," Obi-Wan crossed his arms and hid his hands in the wide sleeves of his brown cloak. "But all of us needed time to... process and come to terms with what happened. I'm aware that Anakin will need more time than any of us to heal, and I wasn't sure how long would it take."
"He will never heal. Not completely," Padme admitted, looking down. The pain in her voice was palpable. "But he's trying. For the children, for me. And for himself as well."
"How is he?" Obi-Wan swallowed the lump in his throat.
"He's got bad days and he's got better days. On the bad days, he seeks comfort in meditation and training Leia and Luke. That helps more than anything. The children are the best medicine for him."
"How did the children take..." Obi-Wan trailed off, not knowing how to verbalize what he wanted to ask.
"They're just fine, thank heavens," Padme nodded to herself in vast relief. "It was those recurrent dreams and not knowing what they meant that disturbed them. But now that they know, they've put it behind them and moved on with no problems."
"Children's capacity to accept what it is and move on is a true blessing," Obi-Wan said gratefully.
"It's a reality that's got nothing to do with theirs," Padme shrugged. "And from what Luke said, things are already on the mend in that other universe."
Obi-Wan nodded, deep in thought.
"Maybe that's another one of the positive lessons to be learned from this."
"That things will always turn out for the best, in any universe. That even after the longest period of Darkness, Light will prevail in the end."
"And Anakin will always be the key to every universe?" Padme asked when they entered the living room.
"He's the Chosen One," Obi-Wan simply said, sitting down on the couch.
Padme walked up to the large windows and stared out.
"The Chosen One," she uttered after a while. Resentment filled her voice.
Obi-Wan turned his head and looked at her compassionately. He could understand her anger. To a certain degree, he shared it too.
"He is," he stressed softly. "We can't escape our destiny. It will find us eventually."
"But what purpose did it serve that Anakin found out who he became, what he did, in a universe that has got nothing to do with our own? What lesson could he possibly learn from the knowledge that he turned to the Dark Side and committed the most horrible crimes?" she bent her head. "It's damaged him forever."
Obi-Wan let out a long sigh. He stood up and joined her by the large windows. Immediately, his eyes were drawn to the three still figures outside sitting down on the floor, on small cushions.
Could it be the same spot where he had put Anakin and Luke in a light trance just a month ago? It seemed unbelievable. A lifetime ago.
He fixed his gaze on the three figures. Anakin was sitting at the apex of the triangle that Luke and Leia completed in front of him, sitting very close to their father. They were holding hands, and little smiles illuminated their features. They looked at peace.
"Maybe the lesson wasn't for Anakin to learn, or not solely for him," he said after a while.
"What do you mean?" Padme turned to him, deadly serious.
A poignant smile crossed the older man's face.
"I mean that maybe the lesson was for the Jedi to learn," there was infinite regret in Obi-Wan's voice. "And Anakin was the only one who could teach it to us. Final enlightenment could only come from him."
Padme regarded him through slitted eyes, pondering his words. Regrettably, she had to concede the truth in his statement. She nodded heavily.
"He paid the highest price for this... enlightenment."
Obi-Wan winced and his eyes misted.
"If it is true what they say, that every cloud has a silver lining, something good has got to come out of this," he said some time later, unable to look away from his friend and his children.
Padme followed his gaze, and a sweet warmth spread inside her.
"Luke's healing gift would have taken longer to be uncovered, that's for certain," she mused out loud.
Obi-Wan had to smile at that.
"Luke could only be a healer. Even if his gift is unprecedented, and our ability to use the Force has diminished through the years, it was written all over his Force aura, in his nurturing nature, in the way he is and loves and cares. So completely, so unreservedly." His features darkened somewhat. "Our self-complacency prevented us from seeing what has been right in front of us, as it prevented us from discovering the Sith Lord who lurked in the Republic's core for decades." A hopeful smile lit up his face then. "Luke was essential for Anakin to fulfil his destiny."
"Destroy the Sith?" Padme cursed her incapacity to understand these matters. She was always feeling her way through those enigmatic sentences.
"He did that before Luke was born in this universe," Obi-Wan pointed out. "But it took Luke's influence to do it in the other universe." He worried at his lip. "Maybe... Anakin still has to fulfil his destiny as the Chosen One. And Luke was the catalyst in both universes, only in different ways."
"Fulfil it how?" Padme felt a strange trepidation in her chest. As if something momentous was waiting for them to acknowledge it.
"Guiding the Order to a new awareness, a higher understanding of the Force."
Padme raised one eyebrow.
"Why do I have the feeling that there's an ulterior motive for your visit?" she wondered out loud with a lopsided grin. There was no malice in her words.
Obi-Wan had the good grace to blush.
"I've meditated long and hard these past few weeks, looking for a reason that justified the horror Anakin went through."
"There's one persistent image that won't go away," Obi-Wan turned and faced her. "Anakin at the Temple, training the younglings. Anakin teaching us, illuminating us, guiding us all through the ways of the Force to the next level, a higher level of awareness the Jedi should have reached centuries ago."
Padme looked away, mouth dropping open. She avoided his gaze until she gathered her thoughts together.
"So, you're saying that Anakin leaving the Order was a mistake, and this was how the Force got him back on track?"
Obi-Wan wouldn't have phrased it that way, but Padme's insight was so uncanny that he stared at her, eyes wide open, in complete astonishment.
"Basically, yes." His thoughts turned inwards for a moment, searching for the right words. "Anakin felt what the right path was, but the inflexibility of our ways, our unwillingness to open up to a new understanding of the Force frustrated him greatly. His impatience and arrogance didn't help either. He tried to adapt, but in time he realized it was a lost battle. He would never meet our expectations, so he gave up. Indeed, it was a dead end, because it was only a matter of time before the truth about you came to light, and the Council expelled him." He shook his head, deeply ashamed of where the Order had stood just a few weeks ago.
"But he was wise enough to train his children according to his beliefs," Padme said proudly.
Obi-Wan nodded and smiled in fond remembrance.
"I told him once that he was strong and wise. That he had become a far greater Jedi than I could ever hope to be." He snorted and shook his head again in self-deprecation. "Force, we've been so blind! I pray we haven't damaged him beyond repair, and we haven't lost the light that was destined to guide us."
Padme reached out and squeezed his forearm reassuringly.
Obi-Wan met her intense gaze and for some reason, his heart missed a beat.
"What do you mean?"
She smiled softly.
"Anakin shared it with me last night. He's been having visions."
"What... kind of visions?" the older man's mouth was dry all of a sudden.
"Visions of himself training the younglings at the Temple. Visions of himself guiding you all to the new awareness you seek."
Obi-Wan raised one trembling hand and covered his mouth. His eyes reddened and tears streamed quietly down his face.
"And is he... willing to follow that path?" he asked in a thick voice.
"As you said, he is the Chosen One. The one who would bring balance to the Force. It was his Destiny, was it not?" Padme's smile was radiant.
Obi-Wan nodded, tears rolling unstoppable down his cheeks. His eyes were riveted on the now rising figure. One look was enough to see the change in his young friend. His bearing, his movements, more sedated and calm. The absolute peacehe exuded. It was... prodigious. This was the Chosen One in front of him. Not the awe-inspiring, perfect spiritual leader they had expected; but an imperfect, flawed, fallible man, forged in the harshest trial that would have broken a lesser being.
Pride gone, the pure essence of Anakin Skywalker had blossomed. The experience had purged him from his Dark Side and enabled him to accept himself. For wasn't there where true wisdom lay? He was ready now to meet his Destiny, knowledgeable about all human frailties and miseries, and capable of rising above them, ascending to himself and becoming that which he was fated to be from birth.
Love was written all over the handsome face as he held his children's hands in his own. The touch seemed to revive a part of him. His eyes turned to Obi-Wan, as if he knew he had been observing him all along. The determination, the passion in them took the Jedi master's breath away.
Anakin gave him a knowing smile and nodded.
And everything was as it should be, at last.