"Because of what you've done," she heard her own voice say. "Because of what you plan to do."
Padmé's heartbeat pounded in her ears: deafening, erratic, panic-stricken. As always, she couldn't discern much about her surroundings; they seemed to be no more than a grey-orange, foul-smelling mist that stung her cheeks, her eyes, her lips. She was crying too, and her brain was screaming at her to run away, to save herself. She knew, without a single doubt, that she was in terrible, mortal danger, and she was frozen in place, not able to move a single muscle. Yet she was not crying for herself, for the danger to her own life.
She was crying for him.
Whoever he was.
The tall young man stood before her, tawny hair dishevelled, golden skin damp with sweat and streaked with black dirt. His blue eyes were fixed on her, his soft lips parted slightly, one arm extended, palm upwards, gloved fingers curled slightly in invitation. There was something familiar in his features that she couldn't place. That sense of familiarity had been there from the beginning, although she had dreamt this dream so many times now she could still see his face when she was awake.
Padmé had never before seen anyone so beautiful, so tempting, or so deadly.
She knew that she loved him. And she knew that he was almost certainly going to kill her.
The man's gaze blistered with desperation, his brow creased as he fought some terrible pain within himself. "Please," he murmured, stretching his fingers towards her. "Please help me."
The muscles in her legs unfroze and she took a step backwards, unable to stop herself; unable to speak. Another step. A tear rolled down his cheek, and she watched it fall to the ground. It landed on the metal surface, fizzling and evaporating immediately. Before she looked back up to his face, she anticipated the horror of what she would find, but still she needed to see it for herself.
And there was his beautiful mouth, twisted into a sadistic grin. His irises were yellow, his eyeballs bloodshot, and as she watched, his black-gloved hand tightened into a fist. Then she couldn't breathe, and she couldn't see, her legs buckled beneath her and she heard the sickening crack of her skull as her head hit the hard, scorching ground…
Padmé lurched upright in bed, clutching her throat as she struggled for breath. It was always so real, even when she knew she was dreaming. She wiped the perspiration from her forehead with the back of her hand and fumbled for her bedside light. Not finding it, she panicked for a second before remembering where she was.
She forced herself to breathe slowly and fumbled above her head for the small light switch, then swung her legs out of the bed and reached for her robe. A few seconds later the door to her cabin opened.
"Is everything alright m'lady?"
"Yes, thank you Cordé. Just a bad dream."
The handmaiden took a few steps further into the room. "Can I get you anything?"
Padmé stood up and pulled on the robe. "A glass of water, please. And can you find out if we are on schedule?"
"Yes m'lady." Cordé nodded and left the room.
Padmé crossed the room to her mirror, smoothing her tangled hair back from her face and inspecting her reflection. She frowned at the dark circles around her eyes. Perhaps the dreams were just triggered by stress - her brain's method of expressing the tension and worry with which she had been overloaded after taking the appointment as senator. It had taken a year of campaigning against the Military Creation Act to get to the point of a vote. Now there was just the small matter of persuading the entirety of the Senate that her opinion was the correct one. Surely the stress of such a situation would be enough to give anyone nightmares?
But no. She wasn't even sure she believed those stories from her childhood; snatches of conversation overheard when no-one thought she was listening; whispers exchanged when a distant cousin was stricken with a mysterious illness; strange tales of foresight and hallucinations; cryptic references to her family's particular talent for female intuition.
Suddenly she longed for home, and she wondered if she was about to step into a situation that was far more than she could handle.
Outside her window, the stars streaked the path to her destination.
"It's a great pleasure to see you again, m'lady."
Padmé took Obi-Wan's hand and shook it, smiling in genuine happiness to see him. For a moment the still-raw ache of grief for Cordé was calmed, and the unpleasantness of the circumstances that brought the Jedi Master here were forgotten. How different he looked! Bearded. Respectable. And yet still with the humorous sparkle in his eye that had always convinced her there was vastly more to Obi-Wan than the stoic Jedi exterior he displayed in public.
She let go of his hand and turned to Anakin. The little boy she remembered from Tatooine was possibly twice as tall, and…
She had to be alone. To get away from him. Yet Padmé could not tear her eyes away from Anakin Skywalker, comparing every feature, every gesture, every word that passed his lips to those of the man in her dream. She wondered if the two Jedi could sense the tumultuous, erratic, irrational state of her mind as she sat, fingernails digging into the velvet of her gown, while they argued over how best to protect her. She took her leave at the earliest possible opportunity, hoping grief would be considered a sufficient excuse to retire so early.
Still dressed, she lay on her bed, replaying the scene of when her eyes met Anakin's. She felt hollow, as if everything solid, everything that grounded her had been sucked out of her body. She battled her wild thoughts, trying to force logic upon them. Had she seen him somehow - a holonet clip, a news article, perhaps – and her subconscious had constructed a nightmare around his image? She was certain she hadn't, but was that really less likely than the alternative: that the dream was real, a true premonition?
She could at least take comfort in the one thing that had become apparent after only a few minutes in Anakin's company.
Recognisable as he had been, he was not the monster in her dream. Not yet. He was not even yet the man. There was still time.
Under normal circumstances she would never have agreed to return to Naboo; orders from the Jedi Council and even the Supreme Chancellor would not have been able to dissuade her from her duty, even if an army of assassins had been pursuing her.
But when Obi-Wan asked if there was anywhere on her home world where she could lie low for a few days until the immediate threat passed, her thoughts turned to her parents' house and Varykino. She imagined being able to confide in her mother, and the comfort that prospect brought to her newly fragile state of mind was too tempting to resist.
It was only after she accepted his proposal that Obi-Wan revealed her escort would not be himself, but Anakin.
On Naboo, Jobal Naberrie did provide both the reassurance of a confidant and the comfort of a mother's love. But she provided no answers. Although she was certain her own mother, Padmé's grandmother, now ten years deceased, had had premonitionary abilities, Jobal herself did not, and neither did Padmé's sister, Sola. Jobal knew little more about the condition than Padmé had herself gleaned from a little research in the Theed archives. Jobal suggested Padmé plan a visit to the tiny mountain village of Piona, where distant relatives of the Naberrie family still resided. Perhaps they would be able to tell if her dream was genuine.
Meanwhile, Anakin was ever-present, always watching her, wanting to know everything that had happened in the ten years they had been apart. Padmé found him curiously companionable, for all his teenage arrogance, and she was intrigued, and a little disarmed by the raw vulnerability that lay below his bravado. And while she was uncomfortable on the pedestal where she suspected he had placed her, his wide smile and boyish confessions were difficult to rebuff.
One day, when they stood together by the lakeside, he looked at her with such open, honest, unconditional love shining in his eyes, that she found her breath momentarily stolen by the fierce purity of that emotion. He chose that moment, to attempt to kiss her, and she did not stop him.
Two days later came her second dream.
This time she dreamt about his mother.
Padmé stood on the loggia at Varykino, watching the sun rise over the mountains. In the mornings a breeze ran the length of the lake, from the pretty fishing village of Bellagio to the Naberrie family's retreat here on the western shore. The cool air stirred the thin material of her nightgown, and drifted over her clammy skin.
There was now no need to visit Piona. The answer she needed was waiting on Tatooine. The desert landscape in her dream had been unmistakable, as had the features of Shmi Skywalker, her hands bound at the wrist, her eyes glassy, her face scratched and bleeding.
"I heard you last night."
Padmé jerked her head around, startled.
Anakin's smile melted into concern. "Nightmares?"
"And you're still afraid." He raised a hand, and ran his fingers along a lock of her hair. "I can feel it."
She said nothing, allowing him to cup her cheek. He closed his eyes, and she felt a gentle tingling where his hand rested. The feeling grew quickly in intensity and then rippled like lightning down her body.
Anakin opened his eyes again when he heard her sharp intake of breath. He smiled sheepishly. "Sorry. It's a relaxation suggestion Obi-Wan used to use when I had nightmares as a child. But I've never been very good at healing. Did I hurt you?"
She shook her head. "No. I just wasn't expecting it."
She was suddenly aware of his breath against her face and his hand, still on her cheek. He was standing very close; close enough to kiss her again. That was not a complication she needed.
"We can't," she said, with a degree of irritation, placing a hand on his chest and pushing him away. "I thought I'd explained that."
"But you want to. I can feel that too."
She ignored him. "There's something I need to talk to you about. Something important." She had no choice but to tell him. If there was a chance his mother was in danger, if there was enough time to do something about it, she had to try. She owed it to the little boy she'd met in the Mos Espa junk shop all those years ago.
"I can't think of anything more important than how I feel about you right now."
She sighed and walked past him, resting her hands on the balcony rail. "You might change your mind when you hear what I have to say."
He said nothing, so she took it as a cue to continue. "Some women in my family have been known to possess certain… extraordinary abilities. These abilities manifest themselves as visions, or dreams, of future events. Premonitions, you might call them. In the oral histories of the mountain women from whom I am descended, they called it simply The Gift."
"Your nightmare was a premonition?"
"I'm not sure." She hesitated. "I don't know if I have this gift. But the dream last night…" She turned to face him.
"Some Jedi have such abilities," he said. "But we are taught that the future is always in motion. Your dream might not come true, not matter how real it seemed."
"But Anakin… it was about your mother."
His eyes widened. "Are you sure?"
"Yes. I saw her as clearly as I see you now. And, oh Anakin, she was in terrible pain."
Anakin stared at her for a long moment, his whole body tense. "Where?"
"Tatooine… I don't know where. She was held captive. I saw flickering light, like that of a campfire. And she was bound as the wrists, and injured, and she seemed so weak."
He placed a hand on each of her arms. "Have you had these sort of dreams before?"
She looked up at him, at his eyes burning with intensity, at his features rigid with fear. There was no way she could possibly recount the dream she'd had about him. "No," she said.
His hands squeezed her arms to the point of pain, then he pulled away and turned to look at the lake. "But if there is a chance…" He sighed. "If there is a chance she might be in danger, then I have no choice but to go. I have to help her."
She placed her small hand over his. "I'll go with you."
She could only hope, and pray, that she was wrong.
Padmé's biggest mistake was to lie to Anakin about her first dream.
Her second was to tell the truth about her third.
"Remember when you gave this to me?" she said, fingering the Jappor snippet had taken to wearing on a chain around her neck. Connection with the past had become a comfort.
Anakin ignored the question. "I thought you wanted us to be honest with each other."
"It was just a dream."
"Then tell me about it."
"I would rather just forget it."
"Forget why you were screaming? Or why you were moaning? Or why you were mumbling his name?"
There was a challenge in Anakin's voice, and a dangerous, possessive glare to his eyes.
She met his gaze steadily. "You're not serious."
"Then tell me what else you were doing with him."
"I'm pregnant with your child, Anakin. I would never look at anyone else."
She went to slap him, but he caught her wrist with his flesh hand. He looked down at her, breathing hard.
She forced herself to speak calmly. "I am not having this conversation." Then she turned, jerking her wrist away, and started to head towards the guest bedroom.
Before she had left the veranda he apologised. "I'm sorry." His voice was soft, deflated. "I didn't mean that. You just don't know how you sounded…"
She let him catch her hand, kiss her wrist, and draw her into his arms, but she stood there stiffly, still furious.
Anakin spoke against her hair. "Obi-Wan, you said, over and over again. Obi-Wan, Obi-Wan, Oh Obi-Wan."
She pushed away from him. "This is nothing to do with Obi-Wan."
"He's not in love with you, is he?"
"Don't be ridiculous. He was trying to help me."
"In my dream!"
"Then tell me about it."
She stared at him, at the determined set of his jaw. Anakin was the only person she knew more stubborn than herself. And although what he said had been unforgivable, he was right. She had pleaded with him to be honest with her. Ironically, he just did not know the real reason.
She sighed, and ran a hand over her belly. "It was about the birth."
"Why was he there?"
"I have no idea! All I know is that I couldn't do it. Obi-Wan was trying to encourage me. I think it helped for a while. But then I heard medical alarms beeping, and I knew I was slipping away. I had no strength left."
"You were dying?"
She laughed nervously, and looked away, to where spotlights illuminated the Jedi Temple against the black backdrop of Coruscant's night. "Of course not. No one dies in childbirth any more." Then she turned her eyes back to his. "Do they?"
He embraced her again, and this time she closed her eyes, resting her head against his chest. He stroked her hair. "No, my love. Of course not."
Her heartbeat pounded in her ears: deafening, erratic, panic-stricken. The grey-orange, foul-smelling mist of Mustafar stung her cheeks, her eyes, her lips. She was crying too, and her brain was screaming at her to run away, to save herself. But it was already too late.
"Because of Obi-Wan?" she heard him say.
"Because of what you've done," she whispered, looking down at his boots. "Because of what you plan to do." Wake up now. Wake up. Wake up…
Before she looked back up to his face, she anticipated the horror of what she would find, but still she needed to see it for herself.
And there was his beautiful mouth, twisted into a sadistic grin. His irises were yellow, his eyeballs bloodshot. It was still him, she forced herself to think. This monster… Tears welled in her eyes. My Anakin. Anakin, trapped in there somewhere.
And this was no dream. She knew why she was here. She knew what had happened to him. She knew what he had done, to the younglings, in the temple. The reality was worse than the nightmare. Far, far worse…
"Stop. Stop now," she said, reaching towards him. "Let me help you. I love you. Please, come back to me."
Just a few more minutes, just let her talk to him, soothe him, explain that whatever he had done, it wasn't too late. She could bring him back. She wasn't going to give in.
The monster's eyes left hers, distracted by something behind her.
Padmé turned to see Obi-Wan standing in the doorway of her ship, and she knew all was lost.
"No!" she whispered.
"You're with him!"
"How long have you two been plotting together, laughing at me behind my back?"
"Did you really think you'd get away with it?"
"No, I swear! I…"
"Silence!" The monster's lip curled up into a sneer, and she watched as his black-gloved hand tightened into a fist, cutting off her protests.
"Let her go!" she heard, somewhere in the distance, but by that time, she couldn't breathe, and she couldn't see, and the next second her legs buckled beneath her.
Padmé barely heard the crack of her skull as her head hit the hard, scorching ground.
How does one continue to live, knowing one has failed in every possible way? Padmé had lost the Republic. Her life's work. The one thing she was proud of, above all others. They had been tricked, all of them, politicians, diplomats and Jedi alike. Now Palpatine was Sidious, the Senate was a charade, and the galaxy was ruled by terror.
She had lost her husband. Even with years of warning, she had not been able to stop Anakin becoming the monster in her dream. Worse, he had become that monster because of her, sacrificing everything in exchange for a vague hope of the power to save her life.
And now she was to lose her babies. Padmé had always considered the Jedi's claim of compassion to be misguided, and never had their been a better example than when Master Yoda had informed her, kindly but without any kind of understanding at all, that her unborn twins would need to be separated, not only from each other, but from her. Even in her weakened, medicated state, logic and reasoning told her he was right, yet that did not prevent her feeling as if her heart had been ripped from her body.
Brought on early by the injuries that Anakin had inflicted upon her, their birth was drawn out and painful, but she would have endured that pain a thousand times for the vigorous, precious bodies that had squirmed and kicked inside her, the two little people who belonged to her, and whom she loved with breath-taking ferocity.
There, lying in the cramped medical quarters of Bail's ship, stricken with wonder, she held them in her arms and, for just a few moments, she forgot that she had to let them go. She had survived the birth, after all, hadn't she? She had broken the cycle. Her first two dreams might have come true, but her love for her children had been strong enough to defy the third.
And then she looked up to see Obi-Wan watching her, his face drawn, aged overnight with sorrow and grief, and she remembered that she would never be a mother to her children. The powerful love she felt for them would be forced to die.
She tried to sit up, holding the babies against her chest in panic, and suddenly pain shot down her spine, her broken body wracked by a spasm of agony. She coughed and tasted blood, bitter in her mouth, and when she coughed again, there was more, spilling over her lips, pouring on to her chest.
Invisible hands tore Luke and Leia from her arms, and soon the babies' cries were drowned out by medical alarms, and her vision was fading to grey. She felt herself sinking, heavy, mortally weary, ignoring Obi-Wan's pleas to hold on, because she knew they would all be better without her. She had failed them all.
But as she drifted, and the pain in her body began to fade, the blots and swirls in her vision coalesced, she saw a young man, blond like his father, stood before a hall crowded with people, accepting a medal from a young woman whose brown eyes matched her own.
And then she saw the two of them again, by a campfire, as those around them sang and danced in obvious celebration.
They both seemed to notice her watching, because they turned to smile, and she found she did not need to hear them speak, because she knew what they were thinking. She found comfort in the reason for their distant happiness, even as she felt herself slipping away.
Their fate was in Obi-Wan's hands now. He needed to know.
She reached blindly for his hand, hoping her voice was not too weak for him to hear. She felt his breath on her cheek as he leant over her; the prickle of his beard against her skin as she pulled him closer.
"There's still good in him," she murmured, forgetting the monster and remembering Anakin, the boy by the lakeside, loving her, gently, hesitantly pressing his lips to hers.
"I know, there… is… still…"