Title: "Black Orchid"
One-Shot (3)
Written by: Shawn

Summary: The Emperor and Darth Vader are present at the grand unveiling of the "Emperor Palpatine" statue of honor on Coruscant. Unbeknown to him, Anakin Skywalker's thirst for vengeance closes in around them, while Jedi Knights Pilar Fahlen and Ahsoka Tano prepare their assassination. All Sith's Hell breaks loose!!!!

Category: Action/Angst/Drama/Romance/Angst/Erotica/Mystery Rating: MA Warnings: Graphic violence and in later chapters graphic sexual situations.

Timeline/Spoilers: AU. Everything through Revenge of the Sith up until the moment Anakin arrives to save Palpatine's life before Mace Windu kills him. Everything after that is my AU. All else is explained within the story.

Ship: Anakin and Padme Skywalker, Padme /OC - more as the story continues

Disclaimer: George owns everything. We're just playing in his backyard.

Authors Notes 1: The world of Mygetto that this story begins on is the planet Jedi Master Ki-Adi-Mundi was killed on during RoTS when Order 66 was declared. It is a wintry, frozen world bearing the harshest of conditions.

Authors Notes 2: Expect cameos from many familiar faces not only from the Prequel world, but the Clone Wars animated series as well.

Authors Notes 3: Things will turn darker before the dawn.

Authors Notes 4: Please visit my FF authors page for a link to Valhalla, a absolutely wonderful multi-fandom forum that I am one of the mods for. I think you all will have a great time there. Check it out:)

Beta Read by: Master Anne

"Courage, it would seem, is nothing less than the power to overcome danger, misfortune, fear, injustice, while continuing to affirm inwardly that life with all its sorrows is good; that everything is meaningful even if in a sense beyond our understanding; and that there is always tomorrow."
~~ Dorothy Thompson

"The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart."
~~ Helen Keller

"However, after all of his limbs were severed and he was extremely burned on Mustafar he lost much of his Force potential. As Darth Vader, Anakin was believed to have had roughly 80% of the strength of the Emperor. Had he sustained none of his injuries on Mustafar he would have been twice as powerful."
~~ George Lucas, Empire of Dreams documentary

******

******

Southern Mountain Regions

75 miles east of New Zenthia City

Mygeeto

This was the point of no return.

The small, silver hand-held device was as cool to the touch as the frosty brush of air across her cheek. Standing atop a icy ridge, Catana-Si's light-green eyes trained on the mid-scale Banking Clan Communications Division shuttle that rested on the snowy banks of a frozen lake below. Swallowing deeply, she allowed herself a moment to contemplate the great depths of what was about to take place as she held her old life in the palm of her hand, the choice all her own to embrace the dangerously unpredictable new. Anakin brooded quietly behind her, the darkness of his cloak having swallowed him as nearly as his overwhelming thirst for vengeance. Her brown cloak billowed in the brisk, gusting winds while her gloved finger rested over a small red button.

"What I offer you is no life of privilege," Anakin boldly declared without a hint of emotion due to his need for her to fully capture the gravity of her decision. With his arms locked inside the sleeves of his cloak, he continued, "It was the will of the Force led me to you as it did my first Master Qui-Gon Jinn. I was trained by a Jedi Master as you will be. But rest assured, you will suffer..." he paused as the howling winds swept white all around them. "You will experience pain unlike anything you have ever dealt with before. Your training will be so much harder than anyone I am aware of due to your age." Sensing her fear and anticipation. "I have no idea what the Force wants with you, but I suspect you are to play a major role in things to come. None of those things have happened yet, so you can still forget you ever found me and go back to your life. I promise to never trouble you again. But trust this. The life out there waiting for you among the stars will scar you in ways you could never imagine."

Bone-chilling cold roared over her, causing her teeth to rattle. Though she was used to the frigid temperatures of Mygeeto, the icy rage that slithered through her veins was for the unjust deaths of her father and brother. Brutally murdered by Imperial soldiers for helping the helpless. They were all the family... all the warm comfort, joy, and peace in her world. Their deaths crippled something inside her. And now all that was left was the angry need to bring about justice at any cost. The woman she was before was as dead as her entire family. All that existed now was what she could become. "All those who do good will suffer. Its the penalty for righteousness. And for living an unselfish life."

Anakin found in his mind the comforting words he might once have offered her. Something Padme would say that would soothe and heal a troubled soul. But there was simply no comfort left in him. No ability to offer gentleness or affection. He felt... hollow. He needed to be in order to do what must be done. "If you press that button we will leave this place and never return. Not ever. The old Catana-Si dies with that ship."

One solitary tear trailed cool wetness down her cheek before dying in the chilled air swirling around her. Catana-Si wept for the last time over all that she could not change. Over her tragedy and pain and loss. From now on she'd draw from this new well of inner strength and sense of destiny.

Her life began anew the moment she pressed the small red button.

Three simultaneous explosions detonated furiously, hurtling a massive gust of dark black smoke skyward. Fragments of transparisteel debris burst all around the frozen lake, some of which were still on fire. The starship was torn in two, with half of it cracked through the lake, sinking into the fathoms of the icy water. The other half rested on its side, charred and broken as Anakin's soul.

"It is done," Catana-Si accepted out loud, turning to face Anakin with resolve darkening her gaze.

"Thank you."

You owe me no thanks, Anakin. What I did in helping you in your time of need was the right thing to do."

He bowed respectfully. "Is our ship prepared?"

Catana-Si nodded as they began walking towards the twin speeders around a towering, frost-covered tree. "Yes. Through multiple channels I was able to purchase a older-model Mandalorian bounty hunter's shuttle. Its swift and well-armed. It'll get us to Coruscant. Its waiting for us in a abandoned radar alcove two miles west of here."

"And your cover story?"

"I successfully raided the Banking Clan's Financial Division for three million credits. I didn't hide my tracks too well, and it'll appear as though I was prepared to leave Mygeeto with the credits. I did as you said and left one million in the ship. They''ll find what's left of the wreckage and assume I died with the rest. I left traces of my blood all over the ship and the explosives I set ensured that the damaged engine cell was left in tact. It'll appear as though the ship malfunctioned not long after take off. They'll think my body simply sank into the river or burned up in the explosion."

"Good," Anakin boarded his speeder, his gaze suddenly turned skyward. "The two million credits will have to do. For now we must set up a base on Coruscant and prepare. We only have three days."

Catana-Si straddled her speeder. "Three days until what?"

"The dedication ceremony of the Emperor Palpatine statue," he noted darkly. "And the day I murder Darth Vader and return to the galaxy."

******

Three days later

******

The ruins of the Jedi Temple

Dawn

Imperial City, Coruscant

Coruscant's magnificent morning skyline was darkened by dozens upon dozens of Tie-fighter squadrons and low-flying Star Destroyers that reigned in a epic display of the Empire's immense power and complete control of the capital. All repulser traffic save for Imperial warships were diverted from the area as the entire galaxy would bear witness to the official unveiling of the Emperor Palpatine Statue of Honor. The entirety of the Galactic Senate were in attendance, along with countless Imperial supporters and literally hundreds of HoloNet droid-cams that would carry the elaborate ceremony across the whole of the former Republic.

Now the Emperor's Galactic Empire.

"This is a monstrous display of vile disrespect," Padme muttered softly to herself, her petite form clad in a loose-fitted blue and white HoloNet news-crew uniform with a matching cap. Standing atop a circular floating platform over-looking the decaying ruins of the legendary Jedi Temple and the grand stage below being prepped for the Emperor's arrival, she programmed several HoloNet broadcast droid-cam's while Jedi Knight Ahsoka Tano kept close watch on all Imperial communication frequencies in the area. Her heart beat rapidly as she performed her final walk through before prepping one 'special' droid-cam that was fitted with a long-range Maldalorian X9 silencer rifle.

The weapon that would assassinate the man responsible for destroying her life.

Five long, hard months of intricate planning came down to this very moment. If anything went wrong there would be no escape. Padme was literally betting everything on her plan working. Her focus was razor sharp. "Vader and his men butchered Younglings and Jedi here. The Emperor has the nerve to build this atrocious statue to his greatness overlooking the remnants of the Jedi Temple." Her eyes narrowed as disgust rolled in her belly. She willed her emotions in check. "I despise them all."

While mindful of the hidden Correllian scanner array monitoring all Imperial repulser traffic nearby, Ahsoka Force-sensed Padme's powerfully emotional state over today's mission. She sympathized greatly with the woman she's come to dearly love as a sister, mindful of the dark task they must complete today. If it weren't enough that they had to stare at the colossal titanparisteel statue of the Emperor lording over the Jedi Temple's spires, her former Master and the father of Padme's children would soon arrive to re-open the devastating emotional wounds he left them both. Padme far more than her, though she still severely grieved for the man Anakin once was while hating the monster he became. Her heart was breaking all over again. "The mission, Padme. Focus."

Ahsoka was one of only three people outside her family that could still call her by that that name. For all others she was Pilar Fahlen, a name unassociated with Anakin Skywalker. Untraceable. New. Clean. Innocent. She'd all but buried Padme as deeply as she'd buried her love for Anakin. They were both dead to her. "Thank you for fighting for me to be the one to do this. I know Mom Mothma and Bail had their issues."

"I still don't agree," Ahsoka declared her opinion, her left hand grazing over the hilt of her hidden lightsaber beneath the HoloNet news crew uniform she wore. "But no one has been hurt more by the Empire than you."

Padme asserted, "I can handle this."

"Master Yoda extensively trained you and I have seen you in action. I know you can do this. I believe in you big time. But I worry..."

"And I appreciate it, Ahsoka. But you must understand." Padme lifted her gaze to the lovely twenty-two year old Togruta Jedi Knight, sighing. "The Republic I once served is long gone. The Jedi Order now consists of barely a one hundred and have begun to finally learn from their mistakes," she began. "It is not the Jedi way to assassinate, but we must adapt to the rules of today lest we die out utterly. Even now we're using a ancient Sith technique to shield our Force-presence the same way Palpatine hid his from Master Yoda and Mace Windu for years. But for the sake of my children Darth Vader and the Emperor must die." Her strong declaration left no room for debate. "I have to do this. My children will never be safe as long as they are alive. Everything else comes second to that."

Such a stark contrast from the old Padme who fought bravely with diplomacy and reason as her weapons of choice. But her family was on the line here. Ahsoka understood, her head bowed respectfully. Five long, terrible years had led to this ugly moment. One she was sure they would never, ever forget. Her former Master helped commit genocide on the Jedi Order and had butchered his way across the galaxy. He's killed so many people she cared about that their names have begun to blur. But here... now... he would pay for his sins. And she was determined to be a part of it. Her fists clenched at her side. "I'm with you."

Padme offered her a small, appreciative smile. And then her brown eyes turned skyward as the crowds below began to cheer. "The Emperor's royal shuttle... and so it begins."

With the Imperial Palace looming ominously in the distance, a single Tie-Fighter escorted Sentinel-class shuttle carrying the Emperor, Darth Vader, Mas Amedda and members of the Emperor's inner circle descended down towards the one-hundred Storm Trooper-secured landing platform. The grand stage set just above the crumbled steps of the old Jedi Temple, with its massive Imperial Flags and HoloNet droid-cams awaiting the Emperor.

As always the infamous Red Guard, Palpatine's private security detail descended the shuttle's ramp first. They were followed by the black cloaked Lord Darth Vader, Mas Amedda, the Inner Circle, and then the slow moving Emperor himself.

The Imperial March grew in volume as they approached the elaborate stand where Mas Amedda would address the Galactic Senate, who were all present whether they wanted to be or not. Crowds of Imperial supporters cheered and shouted "Our Emperor's Honor" over and over as the HoloNet broadcast the ceremony all over the galaxy.

The pomp and circus of it all sickened her. Padme watched with such anger she could barely stand it. And then she saw 'him' pull his dark cloak back. Oh how it pained her to see Darth Vader... how she had once loved him with all that she was. And now, in just a few short moments she would insure her children's safely and take her revenge for the Sith utterly ruining her life. Nearly five million credits were needed to bribe the lead programmer of the HoloNet droid-cams for his assistance. Rebel spies risked their lives to steal the proper security passes and Imperial ID's. Using ancient Sith techniques to shield their Force-presence brought the Jedi ever closer to the Dark Side, though for the sake of the entire galaxy the Jedi Code was forsaken.

This was nothing less than war itself. One Padme intended to win at any cost. No matter Master Yoda's disapproval nor Obi-Wan's refusal to be involved in her daring plot. Her children came first. Damn anyone who thought differently!

The time was now!

Located at the the sixth of thirty HoloNet droid-cam control stations, Padme keyed in each of her HoloNet droid-cams as they descended around the grand stage, hovering in place. The one carrying the instrument of her revenge was nearly in place. As soon as the Emperor took the stage to address the gathering crowd he would die.

She couldn't wait.

And then Darth Vader would be next. But for him alone... she wanted a more personal touch. One that Ahsoka knew nothing about. No one did. With Togruta's attention focused on the security perimeters set up by the Imperial military, Padme quietly leapt from the floating platform with a satchel bag beneath her arm. A change of clothing lied within as she landed without a sound thirty-feet below. Her Jedi training allowed her to enter the crowds without anyone noticing.

Padme intended to kill Darth Vader personally. She wanted him to see her face and look into her eyes. To know it was her and her alone that had bested him. That he had not broken her, but in the end she would be the one to break him. With his death her agony would finally end and her children would be safe. Her heart might never heal, but Luke and Leia would be protected. Nothing mattered to her more than that.

The moment of truth was at hand.

******

The darkening electro-chemical corrosion that ate away at the towering edifice of the Jedi Temple spires stood in stark contrast to the magnificently polished titanparisteel caricature of the Emperor, forever reigning above the ruins with his withered hands outstretched in show of complete dominance over his fallen foes. Ancient Sith scriptures were laser-carved into the base of the statue, glorifying the Dark Side of the Force for all to bare witness. With the terrible might of several Imperial Star Destroyers nearly blacking out the Coruscant's skyline, the capitol of the former Galactic Republic belonged solely to the Sith.

Even five years settled into his ultimate victory, there were certain time like this where even one such as he could appreciate how well all of his intricate planning worked out in the end.

The Emperor took great pleasure in the awe and absolute fear he felt swell over the legions amassed for today's event. He knew, just as the hundreds of gathered Senators did, that their presence here was of little more importance than the title they held. His rule was law and everything else was window-dressing.

Palpatine, seated upon his throne at the apex of the broad stage gazed upon the gigantic structure of his likeness through old eyes. His presence on the hallowed ground those accursed Jedi thought of as holy amused him beyond words. The Jedi... a forgotten, dead religion he crushed from within. The galaxy was his to rule without challenge, while the remaining Jedi were at best a dying breed. Killed as soon as they were discovered along with all who aided them. Soon to be crushed once and for all by Darth Vader, who stood silent at his side. This was his day, as was all others. Lifting a single finger, he declared, "Begin."

As the Imperial Theme bloomed in volume on the official grand stage platform, with over-sized Imperial flags gusting in the wind, Mas Amedda addressed the roaring audience of supporters, Senators, and HoloNet news crews. The Chagrian's voice boomed over the huge speaker arrays embedded around the ceremony grounds. "Before the majesty of our Emperor, we unveil this incredible work of art in his honor. Our Emperor, who has restored peace and justice to the galaxy... who utterly defeated the traitorous Jedi Order, ending their treachery before they could do any more harm. Today, the Empire is pleased to dedicate the..."

Hidden amongst the enormous crowd, Padme watched the proceedings with acute interest. Her mental Force-shield had cloaked her presence as she was now within shouting distance of the grand stage. She could see the Emperor's wrinkled, sunken face. The remote control for the armed HoloNet droid-cam was clutched in her palm, waiting for that perfect moment to strike. For now she settled her mind on patience as she would have to listen to the various members of Palpatine's Inner Circle deliver horrid speeches of devotion before the Emperor himself took to the stage to address the masses. It was then that he would finally die for his countless crimes.

Then all-out chaos would erupt.

And in the midst of the madness she would make her move. Even now as she watched Vader, his head bowed as if this entire ceremony was beneath his notice, she felt drawn to him. Unlike the past when his presence breathed life into her, now all she could do was dream of choking it out of him. Of giving him back all the terrible pain and suffering she'd endured these last five years. Revenge for his betrayal, cruelty, and for ever making her think he loved her above his own life. She wanted him to die... slowly.

But oh how she loved him once... how he owned her heart and soul... how could she have been so wrong? The question gnawed her soul every single day of her life. But no more and never again.

Soon they would meet face-to-face for the first time in years. Darth Vader would see that she did not die, but that she was going to kill him. And his last thought would be that his former beloved Angel defeated him.

Mas Amedda continued, "Our Emperor be praised, for we are..."

"ALL GOING TO DIE IF YOU REMAIN LOYAL TO HIM."

The startling words loudly echoed all around as a shocked hush fell over the huge crowd. Stormtroopers quickly flooded the stage, while the Red Guard surrounded the Emperor. Darth Vader moved to the center of the platform, reaching out through the Force to discover the location this disrespectful interruption. Mas Amedda appeared startled.

"PALPATINE..." the voice rose with a enormous roar, chilling all those present with its pure rage.

Peering around, Padme quickly realized the stage speakers had been hacked into. But by whom? "Damn," she swore under her breath. This stranger could ruin everything. Whoever it was, they weren't connected to the Rebellion. Of that she was certain.

"YOU ARE A FALSE EMPEROR," the voice proclaimed. "A DISEASE I INTEND TO RID THE GALAXY OF FOREVER."

"What is the meaning of this outrage?!" The Emperor slowly rose from his throne, reaching out through the Dark Side to discover the location this new enemy. And when he did the intruder's bones would hang from his statue. But he found nothing and everything. Not a single specific Force-signature, but a reservoir of such power so great his heart began beating wildly. Why had he not foreseen this? "Lord Vader, find the source of this intrusion. Bring him to me!"

"As you wish, Master. He will not elude me." Darth Vader began ordering the Stormtroopers into forming a secure perimeter around the stage. Imperial Technicians began working on the sound array, attempting to block the source of this intrusion.

"VADER!!!"

"Who are you!" The Dark Lord of the Sith ignited his lightsaber, throwing back his hood to reveal blazing yellow eyes. His red blade held high as he was consumed by the Dark Side, readying himself for battle. "Show yourself!"

"ABOVE YOU," the stranger's voice carried over the shocked audience as all eyes lifted skyward. Atop the sculpted head of the Emperor's statue stood a lone figure clad in a flowing Jedi robe, a hood hiding the face. "VADER, YOU DO NOT EXIST! YOU ARE NOTHING BUT A REPLICA. THIS IS YOUR LAST DAY ALIVE."

That voice... Mercy of the Force, that voice...Padme froze still, her pulse racing as she stared daggers at the lone figure addressing them all. She could barely breathe. Her chest squeezed tightly as her hands began to tremble. "No, no, no," screamed in her mind as she instinctively clutched the hilt of her hidden lightsaber.

"LORD DARTH VADER IS A CLONE!" The crowds erupted... Padme didn't blink. Couldn't move a muscle. "HE IS NOT ANAKIN SKYWALKER. HE NEVER WAS. YOUR SO-CALLED EMPEROR TRIED TO TURN ANAKIN TO THE DARK SIDE, AND WHEN HE FAILED ANAKIN WAS HELD PRISONER WHILE DARTH VADER ASSUMED HIS IDENTITY. BUT AS YOU CAN SEE, I LIVE!!!"

The words that he spoke didn't register correctly in Padme's mind. There was no way... it wasn't possible... But the huge monitor images of the man being broadcast all around them... HoloNet droid-cams ascended the towering statue as he tugged back his hood. Before her very eyes was the face of her Anakin. Older. Harder. More worn and lost than she had ever seen him, but it was him. Tall and dominant. This couldn't be real was all that she could think. No! Its all a lie! A trick! It couldn't be true. She refused to believe.

"PALPATINE, I SWEAR TO YOU THAT YOUR DAYS ARE NUMBERED. ALL WHO ARE LOYAL TO HIM... WHO SERVE BY HIS SIDE ARE MY ENEMIES. BETRAY HIM OR DIE! SEVER ALL TIES WITH HIM OR SUFFER HIS FATE! FOR I AM ANAKIN SKYWALKER AND I HAVE RETURNED TO DESTROY THE EMPIRE ONCE AND FOR ALL."

"DEATH TO THE EMPEROR!" With that final declaration of war, Anakin Skywalker leapt from the top of the towering statue, gracefully soaring down towards the grand stage below as dozens of laser blasts streaked past him.

What Padme witnessed next, as hundreds of the assembled ran for their lives while squads of Stormtroopers fired at 'him' was something she knew she would never, ever forget. 'He' deflected with twin blue lightsabers more laser bolts than she had ever seen a being do before. 'His' one-man assault was a whirlwind of violence and mayhem, slaughtering them wildly. There was no regard for 'his' personal safety. No discernible strategy. The odds seemed impossible, yet for him the impossible seemed merely difficult. 'He' attacked though outnumbered by well over a hundred to one as Stormtroopers poured out from every direction. 'His' mastery of the Force was uncanny as he sent entire rows of chairs at the dozens of Stormtroopers attempting to kill him. HoloNet droid-cams were effortlessly flung at the Imperial guards, crushing into them horribly. She looked on as 'He' cut down countless Stormtroopers without mercy, severing head and limbs as if they were a mere nuisance rather than deadly foes.

'He' executed spectacularly dangerous maneuvers, leaping over his enemies, reflecting their laser blasts from behind his back to kill them. Chaos erupted as 'he' moved with a speed and skill she didn't know existed. Meanwhile, the Emperor and his Inner Circle hastily retreated towards their shuttle while Darth Vader remained behind, no doubt awaiting the confrontation with... Padme could not allow her mind to even speak 'his' name.

Senators and their private guard details raced towards waiting shuttles while massive chunks of transparisteel debris were Force-thrown about, hurtling Stormtroopers all over the grand stage, smashing them into walls. Their bloodied, smashed bodies littered the ground as Anakin stormed the stage, blind hate guiding his lightsabers through a hail-storm of blaster fire.

Slashing two Stormtroopers with one slice, Anakin spun on instinct, severing the head of a Red Guard before could even raise his force-pike. Suddenly he sensed the Stormtroopers falling back as several of the Emperor's Red Guard attacked as one. Parrying their force-pike attacks with insane speed, their infamous skill was no match for his vicious thirst to wreck brutal vengeance on all loyal to the Emperor. In their eyes they were performing their sworn duty in protecting the Emperor with their very lives.

One by one were slaughtered by the rage of a widower. Of a father whose child was dead. Of a man who lost everything and therefore had nothing left to lose.

The final living Red Guard saw the Emperor's shuttle depart skyward. With his brethren dead, he knew his own end was at hand. "You have failed! Our Emperor lives!"

"As I intended him to do." Anakin forward flipped over the Red Guards head, slashing its throat in mid-air. Crimson flooded his hands clutched tight to his ripped-open neck. The Red Guard crumbled to his knees, falling dead to the ground.

Lord Darth Vader watched his upcoming opponent with equal parts respect and hatred. The grand stage was a graveyard of Stormtroopers and Red Guard. Meanwhile the HoloNet droid-cams were broadcasting this assault all around the galaxy for the entirety of the Empire to witness.

It was perfect!

Beyond anything he could have hoped for or arranged. If this Jedi was who he said he was then this was a magnificent opportunity for Vader to prove once and for all to his Emperor that he was better than the original he so greatly coveted. That was why he ordered the stage cleared of Stormtroopers. The victory to come would be his alone.

Lord Vader politely clapped in approval before he finally addressed the Jedi. "I'm not easily impressed. But you've returned only to die in front of the entire galaxy."

"I don't fear death. I have overcome it," Anakin replied while standing tall, his eyes deadly focused on Darth Vader. His clone image. Reflected back at him were the horrible visage of Dark Side-consumed eyes. Of what he might of become. This monster helped Palpatine kill his wife and child. Destroyed his name and his wife's honor. Butchered the Jedi Order. "You and your Emperor took everything from me! But today! Now!" A cold smile wet his lips. "You die!"

The glowing tip of Darth Vader's red blade aimed at his enemy. He shrugged off the dark black cloak he wore, his attire beneath equally as ominous. "You were weak! You lost everything because you weren't strong enough to fight for it. Anakin Skywalker could have owned the galaxy, but he gave up everything for a woman." Seeking to provoke him, Vader closed in. "So tell me, Jedi? Was your sweet Padme that pleasurable in bed?"

Instead of charging forward in rage as his enemy had hoped, Anakin leapt backwards into the sky off the grand stage to the vast stairs leading to the ruins of the Jedi Temple below. He knew Vader would follow. Knew the ego of a Sith required that he give chase. "Come to me!" he ordered.

As Ahsoka begged her to leave, Padme raced towards the edge of the grand stage, peering down at the battle below. From a hidden place moments ago she'd heard the exchange between Darth Vader and... she could not speak. Her voice was choked from within. Her mind balked at her heart's dear hope. She shoved it all aside as she had to see this through. "I can't leave. I have to... I have to."

Mindful of the extreme danger they were in as Imperial forces cornered off the area, even Ahsoka needed answers. "We go no further than this edge."

Padme gave a nod as she steered her gaze down towards Darth Vader and.... If Anakin were alive and never turned... dare her heart hope for such a miracle? That her husband was still good?

Massive blocks of stone debris, fallen laser-scorched pillars, and the dead bodies of Stormtroopers that had fallen off the platform were scattered about the great stone steps leading to Jedi Temple entrance. Anakin watched his clone leap off the platform, landing just a few feet away. Same height and weight as he. Same sun-streaked hair. Same build. Imperial scientists even added the burn scar high above his cheek. "Speak her name again."

"Padme," the Sith offered softly, enjoying the immense agony he felt growing within the Jedi. "Your precious whore of a wife." Oh the delicious pain his foe experienced. Guilt ate him alive. That would be his undoing. "Do you know of all the passionate affairs she enjoyed while you were away during the war? Alas, her nasty secrets came to light after her untimely death. The entire galaxy knows she was a whore in private. Its a shame though. I was never able to sate my curiosity for her. After all, a woman that a man would damn an empire for must..." Vader said no more. His Force-perception perceived such raw, uncontrollable power that not even in the Emperor's presence had he felt it greater.

Anakin surveyed the area, pleased that several HoloNet droid-cams were watching. "Did the Emperor order Padme's murder?"

"Perhaps it was one of her ex-lovers," Vader announced wearing a confident smirk, now circling Anakin with his lightsaber held high. "From what I've learned she jilted many powerful men. Any one of them could have wanted her dead."

Anakin allowed Vader to dig his own grave. He restrained himself as there was one last thing he needed to know from the Dark Lord of the Sith. "What about the child?"

Darth Vader's brows narrowed. His head tilted ever so slightly. "What child?"

So Palpatine didn't know Padme was with child, Anakin ascertained. For if he did he would have never ordered her assassination. Force-sensitive children were priceless.

"Was the whore carrying your child, Anakin?" Darth Vader taunted. "Perhaps the child wasn't even..."

Twin blue lightsabers roared to life as Anakin attacked Darth Vader furiously, his unending rage at long last unleashed on the Sith. They dueled ferociously up the stone steps of the Jedi Temple, lightsabers clashing at such breakneck speeds those watching could barely keep up with what they saw.

Darth Vader Force-lifted a gigantic pillar fragment into the air. "You are unworthy of the Emperor's favor!" With a thrust of his hand the heavy debris blasted towards Anakin. The Jedi swiftly cut it into four pieces, and then using the Force himself turned them in mid-air and sent them flying back at the Sith Lord.

Vader deflected three and then leapt atop the last one before hurtling himself at Anakin. They locked blades. "Impressive, but futile. You could never be the successor to the Dark Side." Darth Vader's assault was so violent in nature, twisting and turning about at awkward angles, attempting to throw his foe off balance at every turn. Anakin held him at bay, weaving in and around his attacks. Effectively toying with the Dark Lord whose wild anger grew by the second. "Once and for all the Emperor will know you are not my equal!"

"You talk to much." Anakin barrel-rolled out of the way of a wild slash, and then parried another before delivering a bone-shattering backhand blow to Vader's face with his cybernetic fist. Blood and flesh tore as the entire lower half of the Dark Lord's face was drenched in red. Anakin towered over his opponent, glaring menacingly at him. "."

"DIE!" Darth Vader rose with a savagery, carving strike after deadly strike against the Jedi, who wrenched his every attack around until he kicked Vader in the face. The Dark Lord fell down the stone stairs of the Temple, his body impacting with horrible force. Bloodied and bruised, the Dark Lord struggled to his feet, staggering, summoning the Dark Side to ward off the pain. "I will kill you!"

"You will try." Anakin leaped over the swirling gust of dirt Vader Force-pushed his way. Upon landing they engaged in a ravaging onslaught of lightsaber strikes, battling toe-to-toe with the entire galaxy looking on. Vader kicked one of Anakin's lightsabers from his hand. The Jedi back-flipped twice and Force-threw the still ignited fallen lightsaber at Vader. When the Dark Lord swiped the weapon aside, Anakin moved in for the kill, swiftly severing the hand that held the red blade.

Vader howled in agony, his hate-filled eyes glaring at Anakin. "The Sith rule the galaxy!"

"Not for much longer."

HoloNet droid-cams captured it all when Anakin Skywalker sliced his lightsaber through Vader's skull straight down his body. Sheathing the weapon, Anakin reached with both hands into the grave wound he inflicted and tore Darth Vader's body in half. The blood splatter doused his face as he turned to the droid-cams, rage written all over his face. "I am Anakin Skywalker. Darth Vader was a clone of me created by the Emperor when I refused to turn to the Dark Side. He wanted me to suffer for the rest of my life while he ruined my name and murdered every single person I held dear. For that reason I hereby declare war on the Empire. Their unjust, foul rule will end and the Galactic Republic will be reestablished. I urge all those with courage and conviction in their hearts to stand up to the Empire. Join the Rebellion! And know that I am with you."

"PALPATINE!" Anakin roared into the droid-camera's. "I am going to decimate your Empire and tear you apart piece by piece." Reaching inside his cloak, he produced a small hand-held device. "You can call this... the Return of the Jedi!"

The ear-splitting blasts that erupted mightily rumbled what felt like half the cityscape.

Padme and Ahsoka nearly lost their footing when a series of deafening explosions detonated like a earthquake all around them. The thunderous roar came from the Emperor's statue. From its base it began to crack and crumble inward, blustering a massive cloud of dark smoke that Anakin walked toward and then disappeared inside of. The crumbled into pieces, its ruins now below the Jedi Temple Spires.

And in that monumental moment, before the entire galaxy even as dozens of Stormtroopers secured the area... some cheering could be heard from the immense crowd. Hope, however small, was a truly wonderful thing to behold.

Thinking fast, Padme quickly took Ahsoka's wrist as they fled the platform area, losing themselves in the shocked crowds as the HoloNet news reporters began broadcasting coverage live from the site of the destruction of the Emperor's statue. They ran for their lives, fleeing the area as the devastating explosions cloud of thick smoke ravaged the area. Once the Jedi Knights reached a safe enough distance, they ducked down a deserted alleyway.

Padme, her eyes wild with extreme distress, could barely wrap her mind around what she just witnessed. "This has to be a trick by the Empire. Some sort of grand ruse to draw out the Rebellion," she exhaled, heaving for breath. "It... it can't be..."

Calmly as she could, Ahsoka placed her hands on Padme's slender shoulders. "For a moment, let's think logically. Would the Emperor ever want to be humiliated this way in front of the entire galaxy? That's not his style. The Old Man's pride is legendary."

"Anakin is Darth Vader!" Padme asserted forcefully. "I would know if he weren't. Don't you think I've prayed for anything other than that? But this has to be..." Her trembling hand covered her mouth as her emotions threatened to overwhelm her. There was no way in Sith-hell Anakin wasn't Darth Vader. Five cruel years of her life couldn't be a lie. "We need to get back to the Rebel base and plan our next course of action. And we need to consult with Master Yoda and Obi-Wan."

Ahsoka, head strong as ever, pleaded another case. "You need too. But I am going to find Anakin."

"You can't!"

"I will." Taking a deep breathe to calm her own fragile nerves, Ahsoka continued, "I know you don't believe any of this is real. And I'm certainly not sure any of it is. But if... if there is one chance in a million Sky Guy is back and he's good, we need to find him."

With severe tension clouding her features, Padme shook her head to the notion. This was all to much to bear. "The Emperor is clever and unpredictable. That man could be a clone himself sent to destroy what's left of the Jedi Order. That man could be a operative the Emperor wants inside the Rebellion. You could be walking into a trap."

Knowing Padme as well as she did, the woman before her had been so damaged... so profoundly hurt and betrayed by the man she loved that she simply could not fathom after all this time that Anakin wasn't really Darth Vader. Her heart hardened over the years and all that was left was the mother within seeking to protect her children by any means necessary. Ahsoka understand that, but knew that if Anakin were alive that could turn the tide of the war forever. She had to know. "I will meet you on Dagobah in two days. I promise."

There was no talking her out of this. Padme's often regretted how much of Anakin was now a part of his former Padawan. Stubborn and impatient as could be. But deep down in her soul... her heart of hearts she had to admit she needed answers. Even though she was sure they would only crush her heart all over again when this was revealed to be a trick. "Go, but be careful. And how do you hope to find him?"

"I'm going to operate under the assumption of blind faith," Ahsoka began. "We need a miracle to win this war against the Empire. Anakin just might be that miracle. And no matter how clever he is, he'd need help to set up what he did today. No way was this a one man job. I'm gonna beat down on some familiar doors and see what I can come up with."

Reaching for her, Padme hugged Ahsoka tightly, and then released her. "Two days. No more. A day longer and I hunt you down myself. Got it?"

"Yes." With tears in her eyes, Ahsoka watched Padme cover her face and then disappear into the crowd. After a moment and a silent prayer, she exited their hiding area. Her destination... Dex's Diner.

******

The End of Chapter 3

Chapter 4: Ahsoka finds what she is looking for. Padme, Yoda, and Obi-Wan argue over what to do next. Anakin visits Sola Naberrie on Naboo to beg her forgiveness, unaware that Padme is listening. Palpatine realizes he's created a monster.

PS: Please visit my FF authors page for a link to Valhalla, a absolutely wonderful multi-fandom forum that I am one of the mods for. I think you all will have a great time there. All of my SW fics and SW artwork will be posted there. Check it out:)