Mos Espa market was always a busy place. Beings of all kind gathered there daily to sell their wares or purchase necessities. Many knew one another, for it was a small community. Of course, occasionally, there were strangers who were seen on the narrow streets of the small town. They were usually pilots who were on the planet for layovers, perhaps waiting for business or payment or both. They were left alone for the most part, for most of them were dangerous looking beings whose appearance and reputation was often enough to earn them a substantial amount of respect.

It was rare that anyone came to Tatooine without an express purpose. It was a remote planet, an outer rim world with little to offer except endless expanses of sand dunes and a harsh climate. It was rare, but occasionally there were those who came for a reason, a reason that would make them travel half way across the galaxy because it was just that important.

The tall white haired stranger was watched with mild curiosity by the merchants in the small market place. Judging by the fine clothes he wore, he was a man of means, and each of them were hopeful that he would see fit to sample some of their wares. But it wasn't the baskets or trinkets or home made delicacies that he was interested in; he wanted information. He wanted information about a child, a very young child. The gender of the child wasn't even known by this man, all he knew was that an unusual child resided here and he wanted to know where to find him or her.

"You must mean little Ani," an old woman selling pallies told the man.

"Ani?" the man, who simply introduced himself as the Count, asked. "A girl?"

"No, that's his nickname," Jira informed him. "Anakin is his name, Anakin Skywalker. Why would you be looking for him?"

Count Dooku smiled his most charming smile. "I'm the boy's great uncle," he lied. "And have only recently learned of his existence."

"Are you here to buy the boy's freedom?" Jira asked hopefully.

"I beg your pardon?" Dooku asked.

"Ani is a slave," Jira informed him. "He and his mother are both owned by a toydarian named Watto. He owns that shop right over there," she said, pointing to a junk shop down the road a bit. "Young Ani works there," she told him, convinced that she was being helpful.

"Indeed?" Dooku asked. "How old a boy is he then?"

"Four," Jira told him. "But he's a smart wee boy," she hastened to add.

Dooku smiled again. "I'm sure he is," he replied. "Thank you so much for your assistance, dear lady," he said, pulling out a large wad of credits from within his cloak. "Here's a little something for your troubles," he added, handing her the money.

Jira was only too happy to receive it. She was excited for young Ani, for she was very fond of the young boy and had always felt that he deserved a much better life than that of a slave. And now he's going to have one, she reflected as she stuffed the wad of credits into her money box. She watched as Dooku headed over to the shop, but was distracted by a sudden noise behind her. She turned only to see nothing there, and when she looked back to where Dooku was, saw that he'd disappeared. Jira shrugged, and turned her attention to a customer who had just stepped up to her stand.

Chapter 1

Fifteen years later

Senator Padmé Amidala looked around the enormous pavilion as she entered on the arm of her long time friend and escort, Palo. Amidala always loved coming to Alderaan, for besides her beloved home world of Naboo, it was her favourite place in the galaxy. The Grand Alderaanian Gathering was an annual event hosted by the royal family of Alderaan and attended by socialites, political figures and military officers from all over the galaxy. An invitation to the Gathering was a sign of social status, one that many sought but only a select few actually received. Padmé Amidala was one of those select few.

"Senator Amidala, it's so wonderful to see you," Queen Breha Organa greeted Padmé, giving her a kiss on each cheek.

"Thank you your majesty," Padmé replied. "You might remember Palo Corrino," she said, turning to her date next.

"Of course," Breha replied. "He was with you last year," she remembered. "Welcome, Palo."

Palo bowed to the queen. "Your majesty, it's an honor to be here again."

"Please enjoy yourselves," Breha said, and then moved on to greet more guests.

Padmé and Palo watched her move off, and then Palo slipped an arm around Padmé's waist. "You heard what she said," he told her, giving her a kiss on the cheek. "Let's enjoy ourselves."

Padmé smiled. Since agreeing to marry Palo a few weeks earlier, he had become much more demonstrative of his feelings in public, something that made her very uneasy. She was a senator, and had an image to uphold. Palo was an artist, and an emotional person who simply showed his feelings whenever he felt the urge to do so. His urges had been rather obvious lately, but he had been rebuffed by his fiancée who insisted on waiting for their wedding night to consummate their relationship. Truth be told, Padmé wasn't certain that she even wanted to have a physical relationship with Palo. As much as she loved him, there was no spark of desire when he kissed her, no thrill when he touched her hand or put his arm around her as he was right now. But he was a good man, a good friend, who knew and understood her and accepted her devotion to her career without question. Her family, who had begun to wonder if she would ever settle down, had been thrilled to hear that she had accepted Palo's offer of marriage.

"Would you like a drink, darling?" Palo asked her.

"Yes, that would be nice, thanks," she replied.

"Anything for you," he told her, kissing her softly on the lips before taking his leave of her.

Padmé was embarrassed by his overt gestures of affection, and turned away to seek out some of her colleagues from the senate.

"Two Naboo blossom wines," Palo told the droid tending bar.

"Yes sir," the droid replied and moved at once to fill the order.

Palo leaned one elbow on the bar as he waited, his eyes drifting over the crowd of dignitaries at he did so. He felt a sense of pride when he noticed that there was not one woman who could rival the beauty of his fiancée. He looked over at her, the sight of her still sending a thrill through his veins. Padmé looked stunning in the floor length gown of deep blue which accentuated the feminine perfection of her body. Palo had been attracted to Padmé for years, since they'd first met as children. Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine that she'd agree to marry him. He was disappointed that he'd have to wait for their wedding to make love to her, but she was worth the wait. He smiled to himself as he thought of it now, picking up the two glasses from the bar as he did so. Palo turned to walk away, only to bump into someone who was standing in his path.

"Do you mind?" Palo asked, annoyed that the wine had sloshed out of the glasses and onto his immaculate white tunic.

The man he'd bumped into turned slowly to face him, and Palo took a step back when he realized who it was.

"Do I mind?" the man asked, his deep voice laced with sarcasm. "I'm not the one wearing my drink right now," he remarked.

"Vader," Palo said, nodding his head at the young man. "I didn't see you there."

From within his deep cowl, Vader smirked. "Are you blind as well as clumsy?" he asked.

"Well, no," Palo replied, becoming irritated at the young man's contemptuous manner. "I did apologize," he added peevishly, "though you seem quite unwilling to accept my apology."

Vader took a step closer to him. "I don't know who you are," he said. "But I don't like you. It isn't my fault that you're a clumsy fool who is too busy thinking about sex that he can't watch where he's going."

Palo's face grew hot with embarrassment and indignation at this remark. Darth Vader's reputation for being highly Force sensitive was well known; but until now Palo did not realize just what that meant. He could read minds as easily as most men breathed air. And that was unnerving to say the least.

"What I was thinking about is none of your damn business, Vader," Palo snapped back. "You clearly have no respect for the privacy of others," he added. "No wonder you're such a valuable asset to the chancellor."

Vader wasn't put off by the man's attempts to insult him; he had a rather thick hide after all. He was more intrigued by the man's thoughts, and was enjoying Palo's humiliation. "So whose bed are you trying to get into?" he asked the mocking tone in his voice returning.

Palo scowled, forcing all images of Padmé from his mind. "I'm walking away now," he stated, trying to muster up his dignity.

"I suppose you're no stranger to rejection by now," Vader said as he walked away. "That must get frustrating though, night after night." Palo ignored the comment and made his way back to Padmé. He realized that Vader was no doubt watching him to see who he was returning to. Part of him thought he ought to avoid her to throw Vader off of the trail; but his masculine ego got the better of him and he walked right up to her. He wanted Vader to see that the most beautiful woman in the room was his. He wanted to rub it in the arrogant young man's face that Padmé Amidala was his.

Palo was right, Vader was watching, for he was curious to see who it was that had Palo so distracted. And when he saw her, he smirked. Senator Padmé Amidala, he thought, recognizing her at once. The republic's biggest enabler and bleeding heart. He watched for a moment as the man slipped an arm around her waist and kissed her passionately on the mouth. Vader frowned, knowing that the man was doing it simply to grandstand. He wanted Vader to know that she was his, and knew he was watching. Idiot, Vader thought and looked away.

"Palo, please," Padmé said, moving away from him. "What's got into you?"

"Just you," he told her with a smile.

Padmé shook her head, and then noticed the wine on his clothing. "What happened?"

"Oh, I had a little accident," he replied, looking with dismay at the wine. "Nothing to worry about," he added. "Let's forget about it, shall we?"

Padmé nodded, sensing that there was more to Palo's accident than he was letting on. "I don't know if you should leave that wine on your clothes, though," she told him. "Why don't you see if you can clean if off before it ruins your tunic?"

Palo sighed, realizing that she was probably right. "I suppose that's a good idea," he admitted. He kissed her again. "I won't be long," he told her. "Will you miss me?" he asked.

Padmé smiled. "Of course," she replied.

Palo smiled and then left her once more.

Padmé looked around to see where Mon Mothma had wandered off to, and headed outside to see if she was there. The pavilion was surrounded by a large terrace which afforded a spectacular view of the mountains nearby. Padmé decided to seek out Mothma on the terrace, knowing her friend's fondness for the wonderful view. There were a few people outside, some standing in groups, others in couples, but Mon Mothma wasn't among them. Padmé continued on her way, but stopped when a magnificent vista appeared. She couldn't resist a better look, and walked over to the railing to admire the scene.

"Spectacular, isn't it?"

Padmé turned quickly, startled by the voice. She was unnerved to find Darth Vader standing beside her.

"Yes, very much so," she replied, doing her utmost to remain calm. Although she didn't know him personally, Padmé was very much aware of Vader's reputation. He was the right hand of the most powerful man in the galaxy, Chancellor Palpatine, and possessed powers that some say surpassed those of even the most powerful Jedi. Vader was a mystery, an elusive, dangerous man very few people could say they knew well. Padmé knew enough about him, however, to be on her guard.

Vader watched the senator, sensing her apprehension. He smiled. "Where is your clumsy boyfriend?" he asked.

"Excuse me?"

"He spilled wine all over himself bumping into me earlier," Vader told her. "I'd say that's clumsy, wouldn't you?"

Padmé turned away, not wanting to be drawn into a discussion about Palo with this man. "Accidents happen," she remarked.

"Indeed they do," Vader replied, leaning his arms on the terrace and looking out at the snowcapped mountains in the distance. "He was distracted by thoughts of you," he told her without removing his gaze from the vista before them. "Rather…provocative thoughts."

Padmé turned and looked at him in shock. "How would you know what he was thinking about?" she demanded.

Vader turned to her, his cowl pushed back ever so slightly to afford her a look at his face. She was annoyed to see that he was smiling. "I have a gift for reading the thoughts of others," he told her, his eyes boring into hers. "Would you like me to prove it to you?" he offered, his smile growing.

Padmé frowned. "No," she replied at once, turning away from him. "Would you please leave me alone?" she asked.

Vader said nothing for a moment, finding it surprisingly challenging to read her thoughts. "He wants to screw you," he told her at last, the contempt clear in his voice. "But surely you knew that already," he added. He waited a moment longer before he walked away.

Padmé felt herself trembling with rage and humiliation. How dare he? How dare he invade the private thoughts of others? Who do you think you are, Darth Vader? she thought angrily. She looked out of the corner of her eyes, relieved to see that he had moved off.

"Padmé? What are you doing out here?"

She turned and smiled when she saw Palo walking over to her. Her smile grew when she saw that his attempts to clean up the wine had only made the mess bigger. "Just admiring the view," she said as he reached her. She linked her arm though his and rested her head on his shoulder. "Isn't it beautiful?"

Palo nodded, feeling that she was still trembling as she held onto his arm. "What is it, sweetheart?" he asked. "You're shaking."

Padmé didn't reply, for the last thing she wanted was to repeat Vader's vile words. "I'm fine," she told him.

Palo turned her to face him. "No you're not," he stated, studying her face closely. "What's wrong? Who were you talking to while I was gone?"

Padmé sighed, and lowered her eyes. "Darth Vader," she told him quietly.

Palo grew angry immediately. "What did he say to you?" he demanded. When Padmé didn't reply, he lifted her chin so that her eyes met his. "Tell me what he said," he asked.

"He was just admiring the view with me," she told him.

"That's not enough to make you tremble like this," he replied. "What else?"

Padmé felt terribly uneasy, but knew Palo wouldn't relent until she told him what had transpired between her and Vader. "He claimed that he'd read your mind earlier," she told him quietly.

Palo's anger slowly simmered as she told him what Vader had said to her. He made no attempt to deny what Vader had said, for Vader had been dead on. But the fact that he would tell Padmé such a thing, and in such a vulgar manner infuriated him.

"He won't get away with this," Palo said at last, taking her hand and starting to move away. "I won't stand by and let him speak to you like that."

"Palo, are you mad?" she retorted, pulling her hand free. "He's Darth Vader, remember? He'll kill you if you challenge him!"

Palo stopped, hating to admit that she was right. He clenched his fists in frustration, the thought that this arrogant young man could get away with his abuse infuriating him. "Padmé, I can't let this go," he told her. "I simply won't allow him to talk to you like some common lower level slut," he added hotly. "You're a lady, damn it! Who the hell does he think he is, anyway?"

"He's a very powerful, very dangerous man," she told him, taking his hands in hers. "And it's best if we just leave this alone. Please, Palo, please don't do anything that will anger him."

Palo sighed, knowing that he was totally unable to deny her anything she asked of him. "Very well," he relented at last. "I'll let it go, this time. But mark my words, Padmé; if he does anything like this again, I can't make that same promise again."

Padmé nodded, relieved that he was willing to back down. "Come on," she said, linking her arm through his again. "Let's go inside and find some of our friends. We came here to have fun, remember?"

Palo nodded, smiling ever so slightly. "I love you, Padmé," he told her. "More than anything."

She smiled. "I know you do," she replied. "And I love you too," she said, giving him a chaste peck on the cheek. "Now come on," she said. "I'm hungry."

Palo smiled and let her lead him back inside the pavilion.

Later that night, Palo lay awake in the guest room of Padmé's luxurious Republica Boulevard apartment. He was still angry over what had happened earlier, even more so because Padmé had made him promise not to confront Vader about it. Didn't she realize that his pride was on the line? Vader had humiliated him, didn't she care about that? Perhaps a little pay back is in order, he reflected, smiling as a plan to avenge his fiancée materialized in his mind. But he couldn't do it alone.

Getting out of bed, he walked over to the computer situated on the other side of the guest room. He sat down, and keyed in the code to his parents' house back on Naboo. After a few moments, the image of his father appeared on the screen.

"Hi Dad," Palo said. "I need a favor."