Friends Part 3

Disclaimer: Hasn´t changed from parts 1 and 2.

They were walking the edge of the roof in silence, deeply concentrating on each step and at the same time acutely aware of the endless drop to their right.
Leia saw her father move in front of her like a shadow, flowing over the polished tiles gracefully and without a sound. Suddenly his raised hand stopped her short and she could sense Luke nearly bumping into her back. And the thought of what might have just happened made her stomach turn in fear. She was not particularly fond of heights and luckily, now at nighttime, it was impossible anyway to look into the depth. Not that she would have wanted to. * Be a bit more careful * she admonished her brother silently, but a growl from the front shut her up. "Don´t use the Force unless I tell you to," Anakin hissed in a low voice, but they both heard him clearly, "And don´t talk either". Leia blushed in the dark, embarassed, and was grateful for Luke´s support, when he gently squeezed her shoulder reassuringly. Then she nodded an acknowledgement, trying not to notice her father´s fierce eyes, before he turned around again and started walking onwards.

It was twenty minutes later that they reached the balcony they would use to enter the Emperor´s quarters and when Leia jumped off the roof her father broke her fall easily, catching her expertly in his arms. For a moment she could feel his right arm around her shoulders, pressing hard against the back of her neck and for a split second she had to fight down her old fears. But a look at his smiling face soothed her jittery nerves instantly. He put her feet on the floor and motioned for Luke to jump too. When the twins were both safely standing by his side Anakin turned to face the glass door leading into the building, examining it closely.

So, they were here at last. Ready to face destiny. He had had a hard time hiding his nervousness from his children, but he could not allow himself any mistakes now. Too much was at stake. Once Palpatine was dead he would send the two of them away, and while their flight occupied security could start breaking down the planet´s defenses as best he could.

This time he would not fail. Palpatine would pay for what he had done, like all the others. Anakin´s mind froze for a moment as he replayed this thought in his head. He was thinking of revenge again. That was wrong. Palpatine had to die not because he wanted it, but because it was the one step that would eventually lead towards peace. Hopefully.

The lock broke at last and Anakin stepped into the darkened room beyond, adrenaline rushing through his veins at high speed. He had disabled the alarms, hadn´t he? Of course. The room´s layout was savely imprinted in his memory and with it the outlay of any other alarm systems. Luke and Leia would stay behind until he had deactivated them, which shouldn´t take long. Setting to work immediately he threw a glance at the two dark figures crouching outside in the shadows and smiled. Who would have thought that they could be together at last?

Luke and Leia followed their father when he signalled them to come into the room. It was silent there and dark and Leia shivered involuntarily. She had a bad feeling about this.

Even in the middle of the night the Emperor´s household was full of people. Guards, mostly, but also servants and some others. The three Jedi had to be careful not to attract any attention. Anakin was leading his children along the hallways, always remaining on edge, senses sharp and alert. But he could not shed the feeling that this was too easy. Palpatine must already be waiting for them. Well, so be it, he thought grimly. Together they could defeat him, he was sure of it.

There were a few possibilities as to were they would find Palpatine, but Anakin decided to try the giant bedroom first. Noone was there, not even a guard. Which could, from his experience, mean only one thing: He was still in the throne room and it was very certainly a trap.

Luke frowned when Anakin, standing in the shadows just outside the door to the Emperor´s bedroom, closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Leia threw her brother a concerned look, then shrugged. Making up his mind, Luke decided to break the rule of not talking: "Father," he whispered, stepping closer to Anakin, "what is it?" - "You will leave. The two of you. Now." - "What?" Leia hissed, suddenly angry, "You said we could only do this together!" His blue eyes snapped open and his fierce gaze shut her up. Without an answer he apruptly turned to leave. The twins looked at each other, then followed him silently.

He led them back to the balcony and folded his arms in front of his chest, a gesture that clearly forbade any argument. Still, Luke could not remain silent: "Father, if you fail it will be because we were not there with you." A tiny smile crossed Anakin´s lips before he replied:

- "I will not fail. This is too dangerous. He is expecting us."

- "Then what makes you think that we have a chance of even leaving the planet?"

- "Maybe you won´t. But the Force will be with you if you go now."

- "And what if we stay?"

- "I would not advise that."

Leia noticed a dangerous glint in her father´s eyes and grabbed Luke´s sleeve, pulling him back. "He is right," she told him quietly, "It is too dangerous." Anakin´s head came up and he stared at her in surprise. But Leia kept her expression unreadable and started dragging Luke after her, towards the balcony´s edge. From there they could easily vault onto the roof again. She turned to look back once and saw her father still frown at her. But at last he gave them a short nod and vanished back into the building.

"Why did you agree to leave?" Luke asked his sister later, when they were halfway across the roof. Not turning to look at him she simply said: "I know another way in."

Anakin Skywalker was very aware of the possibilities of what might wait for him behind the huge double doors leading into the throne room. But one or two had been eliminated by his sending the twins away. He took a deep breath, then stepped forward.

The throne room was sparcely lit and again reminded him of a spectacularly designed tomb. Although he did not hesitate to enter, he still lingered in the doorway, calming himself until his mind had regained a state of profound peace.
Only then did he come forward to meet Palpatine.

The Emperor´s ancient face bore an evil smile as he gazed upon his onetime servant. "Your return, Lord Vader, can mean only two things: Either you want to ask for forgiveness or else you want to kill me. Which one do you desire, my friend?" - "Death," Anakin answered coolly, seeing through this game right away. The Emperor´s cackling laughter filled the silent room with an eerie echo.
"A wise choice, very wise," he wheezed finally, when all sounds had died away in the distance. Rising slowly he started walking forward, and Anakin smiled inwardly. If he thought he could intimidate him with this move he was mistaken.
Straightening to his full height the Jedi Knight walked towards the throne with measured, yet powerful strides. Palpatine laughed silently.

- "Did you really think it would be this easy?" he whispered.

- "No," Anakin replied calmly. Again, a laugh:

- "Anakin, Anakin, how far you have come."

The other flinched as if struck.

- "I see I have surprised you," Palpatine hissed, "and you will
find that I am full of surprises."

- "Maybe."

- "Why have you come? To bring peace and justice to this galaxy? To help those fools who dare to rebel against me? I do not think so."

- "You know why I am here."

- "Ah, yes. Amidala. Your beautiful queen. Who left you behind."

- "You killed her."

- "So I did, Anakin, so I did. And now you want to avenge her?
Why now? You never tried before. Is it because of your children?
Because you want them to see you in a different light?"

Anakin´s face fell.

- "The Dark Side, my friend, cannot be so easily masked by seeminly good intentions."

- "You may be surprised."

- "Did you really think that forsaking the Dark Side would be so easy?
I can feel your anger, Anakin. And I know you are mine."

Anakin felt those words cut into his resolve with like icicles stabbed into his chest. It was true. He had deluded himself, had betrayed the trust his children had put in him. There was no way he could escape his destiny.


Leia´s voice sounded pitifully small in the vast silence that permeated the throne room. He turned around, disbelieving. But it was true. There she stood, looking at him with those large, liquid brown eyes, so like Amidala´s. Luke was standing next to her, blue eyes cold and accusing. "Is it true? the boy whispered, incredulous.

Anakin had no chance to reply, as Palpatine put this distraction to good use, and when the Jedi Knight felt the Dark Side gathering all around it was already too late. The first blow threw him off his feet and he was slammed into the nearest wall with bone-breaking force. Sliding to the floor, dazed and hurting, he desperately tried to refocus his senses.

The sudden, high-pitched scream ripping through his aching head brought his attention back into the present.

Leia´s hands were covering her mouth, still wide open in a noiseless scream, as she stared at her brother. Luke had his lightsaber held tightly in his right hand and shook his left shoulder out expertly. The fabric of his dark tunic still smoking where force-lightning had grazed it. Anakin could tell by his stance that it was not only skill guiding him here, but the Force.

Whatever it was, he would not just lay here and watch. Pushing himself up on his hands, Anakin quickly found out that his right arm was indeed broken. With a tiny gasp he lost his balance and rolled over onto his back, calling the Force to him.

Again, Luke moved in to attack, but Palpatine met him halfway, hurling the boy through the air with a vicious laughter. Anakin thought he could hear bones crack from where he lay. Eyes opened in horror he stood up slowly, ignoring the pain and soreness he felt all over his body.

He saw Leia rise slowly from where she had knelt next to Luke, who lay motionless in the far corner. Palpatine was walking towards her unhurriedly.
The most frightening, Anakin thought, was the silence. "Leia," he called, but she didn´t even look at him. Her eyes were fixed on the Emperor. "You killed my brother," he heard her hiss and then she lunged forward, trying to sweep Palpatine off his feet. He wouldn´t have it though. Struck by force-lightning, Leia fell to the floor, screaming in pain, as more and more of the bluish Dark Side power poured into her, eating her life-force.

"Noooooo!" Anakin howled and a red haze of anger overwhelmed his senses.
He charged towards them, flying on dark wings of vengance with a speed that was fueled by sheer hatred. Palpatine turned towards him with a cruel smile, but Anakin threw himself at him with a bestial roar. The sudden, giddying power of destructive dark emotions filled him to bursting and for once, he did not care for that feeling at all. He just wanted to smash Palpatine into a bloody pulp.

"I knew it," the Emperor wheezed, trying to claw Anakin´s hands away from his throat, but the Jedi did not even notice the blood streaming over his forearms.
"You are deceiving yourself, Skywalker. Why don´t you see that at last? You are of the Dark Side. And always will be. Nothing can change that." - "You killed my children, my family," Anakin hissed between clenched teeth, increasing the pressure on Palpatine´s windpipe. "No," the Emperor gasped," it was you who abandoned them. Don´t you see? You cannot escape, Anakin. And no amount of good you do now will erase the evil inside of you." For a moment their eyes locked and each of them felt the truth settle between them. Palpatine smiled coldly: "I win. Don´t you think?"

"Die," Anakin growled, his voice breaking.

Obi-Wan Kenobi awoke from a disturbing dream. No, not a dream. It had been a vision. He had seen his friend standing alone on a deserted plain, the horizon stretching away into nothingness. Although he had not been able to see Anakin´s face, the picture conveyed such a profound despair that he had woken immediately.

Now, drenched in cold sweat he took a deep breath. Whatever had happened, was not good at all.

It was a week later and he had heard nothing from either the twins or their father. An he was growing more and more uneasy. He had tried searching for them in the Force, but without success.
"Master Kenobi!" he turned around to face Mon Mothma. She looked at him calmly, then nodded:

- "The Emperor is dead."

- "Dead?"

- "Yes. Apparently he died a week ago already, but the news has broken just now."

- "How?" he asked, but she knew what he was thinking.

- "Nothing on the circumstances of his demise."

- "Nothing."

- "What do you think happened?"

- "All I know, my friend, is that the three people I care for most are missing. And I cannot find them anywhere."

Mon Mothma squeezed his hand gently. "I am sorry," she whispered at last and was gone.

What had happened? Obviously they had succeeded, but why had they not returned?
What had gone wrong? Obi-Wan sighed deeply, then started walking back to his quarters. Just as he reached out for the door controls though, he felt someone approach him from behind.

"Ah, Captain Solo," he said calmly, turning around," how may I help you?"
The Corellian pirate looked at him for a moment, then shook his head:

- "You know why I am here, I think. Do you know something that I should know too?"

- "No, my friend, I am sorry. There is still nothing. No news on anyone." Solo snorted:

- "I do not care about Vader, Master Kenobi. But if anything happened to the kid, or Leia..."

- "I will keep trying to find them. All of them."

- "Yes, of course. Thank you."

Just then alarms started wailing throughout the ship.

Anakin Skywalker sat slumped into the pilot´s chair of the Imperial shuttle he had stolen from Coruscant on his wild flight following the Emperor´s death.
He did remember vividly waking from what now seemed like a bad dream. Palpatine dead and the twins... Their bodies had vanished already when he was finished with the Emperor and he had felt the hole their deaths had left in his heart even more painfully then. Hardly able to breathe he had lingered in the throne room longer than caution would have allowed, but he did not care. His children were gone, forever.

It was his own fault. Palpatine had been right. There was no way to righten the wrong he had done. This was the proof. How much he had looked forward to leading a normal life again with his family, how much had he worked towards seeing his children again. All for nothing. And now he was here. He had returned after a week of tormented dreams and painful days, haunted by his past life. Now there was only one thing left: He would take the blame, admit his errors and pay the price.

Obi-Wan Kenobi stood patiently, waiting for the Imperial shuttle to finally touch down on the hangar bay´s polished floor. When he had heard who had announced his arrival he had immediately reached out to his friend, and what he could feel there was more than he had feared. It was all he could do to shut out that sense of devastating loss and grief, to not let it affect him. Not now. Anakin was alone on that ship and this could only mean that the twins had not survived. That they were dead.

He should feel something, he knew, but instead found himself thinking coolly that this was just what he had expected, deep down. He should never have trusted Anakin with this. It could only go wrong. Palpatine knew his servant too well.

Then why had he deluded himself this way? He had trusted Anakin. Had trusted a friend. Stamping down hard on the suddenly rising anger, Obi-Wan composed himself and then went forward to meet the newcomer at the shuttle ramp.

He did look the worse for wear, true. Those blue eyes looked troubled; their cold depth had turned into a stormy sea of profound grief and loss. And when they met Obi-Wan´s the Jedi Master had to turn his gaze away almost immediately. It hurt too much, looking into those eyes.

Anakin fought down a sudden panic, when his friend turned away again. Don´t leave me too! he wanted to scream, but couldn´t. Obi-Wan had all the right to desert him. He did not deserve his friendship. Not anymore. So Anakin remained silent and tried to keep his hands from shaking. Instead his eyes took in the grim faces of the rebels surrounding him. He met their stares levelly, until he found Han Solo looking at him with a mixture of hatred and hurt. He made as if to walk towards him, but a hand fell heavily on his shoulder, turning him around again. It was Obi-Wan. Although the Jedi Master did not look at him directly, he could feel his pain plainly. "Come," his old teacher told him and led him away.

Finally both were seated in Obi-Wan´s small cabin. The Jedi Master had asked the Rebel High Command for some privacy and Mon Mothma had granted it gladly.
Now, unmolested by prying eyes and unnecessary questions, they faced each other for a long time, before Anakin spoke: "It was a mistake, taking them with me at all. I should never have asked you to tell them the truth." Obi-Wan leaned foward, seeking the other´s gaze. It hurt, yes, but this pain was like an antidote now to the agony he felt ripping his heart into pieces.

- "Anakin," he replied quietly, "it was the will of the Force."

- "That they died? Are you saying I could not have prevented it anyway? That is the stupidest thing I´ve ever heard from you. It was my fault. Mine alone."

- "No, you misunderstand. I think that this was a test for you."

- "And I failed. Again."

- "Yes."

- "He was right, you know? We cannot escape the darkness in our mind."

- "Speak of yourself, please. I know my mind very well, thank you, and there is
no darkness there."

- "No? You do not feel angry at me? You do not wish to punish me at all?"

- "Maybe a bit."

- "See?"

- "See what, Anakin? I never walked the Dark Side. You do."

- "Maybe that is the problem."

- "There is no problem."

- "I know. I am just....furious."

- "Anakin..."

- "What?"

- "I am not sure I can forgive you."

- "You don´t have to. I cannot even forgive myself."

- "Does it end like this then?"

- "Why do you ask me?"

- "Because you were my friend."

Obi-Wan stopped himself, shocked. He still was his friend, wasn´t he?
He swallowed hard when the other´s eyes turned into cold pits of ice. Anakin stood apruptly and went over to the door, ready to leave. But he turned back once again, regarding the Jedi Master sitting in his high-backed chair calmly. If you go now..., Obi-Wan thought silently and saw the other smile at the unspoken threat.

- "Then what?" Anakin asked softly.

- "I will find you, wherever you may hide."

- "Who said I would be hiding?"

And then he was gone. Wait! Dashing for the door Obi-Wan knew he was already too late. How could he have acted so mean! He had seen Anakin teetering on th edge and had done nothing to prevent his fall. And deep down he knew that this was what he had wanted, to punish his friend for this failure. He wanted him to die.

"You said there was another way," Luke growled sullenly at the silent shadow that was his sister. She was staring out of their makeshift hiding place, a small cave made of rubbish, old blankets and some metal plates they had had to defend against scavengers almost every day ever since they moved in here.

- "How was I to know that that particular wing of the palace had been rebuild? I haven´t been on Coruscant for years," she shot back angrily.

- "Wonderful. And you couldn´t have found us a better hiding-place either, am I right?"

- "Luke, we are wanted, you know? And the planet has been interdicted since Palpatine died, remember?"

- "Yeah, yeah," he mumbled and subsided a bit, drawing the dirty brown blanket closer.

It was cold in here. Actually it was cold everywhere down in the bowls of Coruscant. The events of a week ago seemed so distant now and for once in a while Luke wondered if all of this might just be a strange dream. They had found their father, had come to know him and then, very suddenly, he was gone again.
"I would love to know were he is now," Leia said suddenly," or even just know if he´s alive." She turned towards him, dark eyes sad and troubled: "I miss him." - "Yeah, I miss him too," Luke whispered and closed his eyes.

Obi-Wan had refused visiting the Dark Lord in his cell for days now and he was sure that even if he asked, Anakin would forbid it. He had tried reading him on the first day of the other´s renewed and this time voluntary imprisonment.
But this try had been met with a vehement attack on his mind´s defenses and he had been left unconscious for nearly three hours afterwards. Since then he had brushed past the other´s Force presence carefully and unnoticed, and always he found him brooding darkly, with jagged outbursts of anger or grief exploding now and then.

Obviously, Anakin had a hard time coping with his loss. Not that Obi-Wan found it easy to overcome his grief. Over eighteen years he had known young Luke and he had become like a son to him. And Leia... He sighed deeply and finally made up his mind. Anakin thought that he could not control himself and now relied on other people to do the job for him. But it did not work that way. Wether he wanted it or not, the two of them needed to talk.

Anakin Skywalker was meditating. Actually he was trying very hard not to go insane with guilt and grief. He had known his children for so long, but never dared to approach them in the role of a father. Now that he had finally overcome his fear of failing them again, had he truly let them down.

He remembered yet again Leia´s fascinated expression on a face flushed with excitement, when she truly felt the Force for the first time back on Tattoine. Saw again Luke´s laughing face as he chided her gently after she had lost a mind-game to him. Felt their vibrant presence in the Force, shining so brightly that he could feel their fire burn away the darkness in his own soul.

He gasped in sudden realization of something he had been overlooking so far. Their presence. He had not felt it back in the throne room. But then he had assumed, assumed, that Palpatine´s Dark power was overshadowing everything else, hadn´t he? How could he have fallen for a trick like this? Stupid, stupid. Truly stupid. He laughed out loud. They were alive! And very likely still back on Coruscant. He had to get back, any way he could.

Walking the dimly lit corridores of the still sleeping ship, he quickly made hos way towards the main hangar bay. Where he found, to his surprise, a certain Corellian pirate standing next to his ship, seemingly deep in thought. "Captain Solo!" he called softly and waited for the man to acknowledge his presence.

For an endless moment their eyes locked, but finally Han frowned darkly:
"What are you doing here?" he demanded harshly, looking around for anyone he could alert to the prisoner´s presence on the hangar deck. "I need your help," was all Anakin answered before he punched the ship´s security code into the lock.

Obi-Wan had a bad feeling before entering Anakin´s cell. It was too quiet in there. He could feel nothing. Maybe he was asleep. Maybe. Sighing again he mentally prepared for a renewed discussion on the subject of forgiveness. And opened the door.

Luke had his left arm wrapped around Leia´s shoulder, trying to keep her warm. They were huddled together in their tiny hut and it was freezing. A rumbling stomach was keeping the young Jedi awake. Theoretically he should be able to shut out feelings like hunger or thirst or fatigue, but he was sick of it.
He wanted nothing more than a warm bed, a nice plate of food and some clear water. Leia had not even complained about all this and she was a princess. Still, this did not make him feel guilty at all. Maybe she was used to this. He wasn´t.

Moving quietly, he dislodged his arm from under her head and stood slowly Crouched, really. "Where are you going?" his sister mumbled tiredly, turning a dirty face towards him, bleary-eyed. "I´ll try to get some food," he answered back and waited for her to nod. "Hurry, o.k.? I want to sleep again" she yawned and sat up. It was an unspoken rule that only one of them slept at times, since they might wake up to find their shelter mysteriously gone. Or might not wake up at all.

Luke nodded, then left the hiding-place, looking around. Food could be found a few levels up. Although `found´ was the wrong expression. Some people would call it stealing, but the for the twins it was sheer survival. Luke started trotting into the darkness, letting his senses guide the way.

After an hour of constantly dodging other denizens of the underground Luke stopped very suddenly when he heard angry voices arguing. They were coming straight towards him.

- "This is the worst place of town, you know? And dangerous besides."

- "Don´t tell me you are afraid, Solo."

- "Hardly. After sneaking past those sentinel ships nothing could scare me right now."

- "Good. And I am telling you again that I can feel them down there. Actually..."

The voices quietened and Luke felt his heart freeze for a second. Could it be? Tentatively reaching out for the all too familiar presence he was close to screaming with joy. "Luke?" he heard his father whisper. "I am here," he answered and laughed out loud, leaving his hiding-place to meet the two men.

Obi-Wan Kenobi did not like staying idle when he should be doing something. Anakin had vanished, and Han Solo´s ship with him. Not to mention Solo himself.
The High Command was worried, Mon Mothma had told him, and they were looking to him to fix this mess. What could he do? Nothing. He had tried finding Anakin´s presence, but the other was shielding himself well.

And so he was more than surprised when he was informed of the Millenium Falcon approaching the Liberty at high speed.

When the rounded freighter had touched down on the hurriedly cleared deck, he was not the only one waiting in excited anticipation. Everyone was there. And when the hatch finally opened, the Jedi Master was nearly crushed bythe crowd.

The first to leave the ship was Leia. She smiled broadly at the assembly, then laughed out loud, before she dragged her brother after her. The twins were nearly immediately rushed by the rebel leaders, and Han Solo, who had follwed them down the ramp, stood a bit apart, grinning.

But Obi-Wan´s eyes were fixed on the shadowy outline of someone standing just inside the hatch. Anakin was watching the joyful reception quietly. And when the Jedi Master calmly walked over he did not come out into the open, but vanished back into the ship´s interior. Obi-Wan followed this invitation and threw a last look back over his shoulder at the Skywalker twins before he went to meet the Dark Lord.

He was seated in the copilot´s chair, from where he could watch the happenings outside nearly unseen. Obi-Wan moved to stand behind the seat and looked over his friend´s head out of the viewport, keeping silent.

- "Here´s a secret," Anakin whispered finally.

- "I am listening."

- "The Dark Side is only strong in the face of a confused enemy."

- "And you aren´t confused anymore?"

- "No. I have my children back. What more would I need?"

- "I see. And what do you propose to do now?"

- "I don´t know. But I want to show them something of their past, maybe travel to Naboo."

- "And is a friend welcome to come along?"

- "I don´t know about a friend, but you can come, if you want."

- "Thank you."

- "Wasn´t there something you wanted to tell me?"

- "What?"

- "Don´t you know?"

- "Yes. I - I forgive you."

- "Good."

- "And that´s it?"

- "Yes. That´s it."

Smiling down at his friend, Obi-Wan shook his head in open amusement. They had come a long way. But now they were finally here.

The End