He was gone.
He'd vanished, consumed by the dark. It had swallowed him up so completely that even if part of him still existed, she doubted she would ever find it. It wasn't worth looking. Nothing was worth doing.
The knowledge ached.
Those thoughts strangled something deep inside of her, so deep that whatever it was seemed to be synched with her heart, and as it was strangled, her heart was, too. She could feel the beats slowing, her body slowing, and all she could do was picture her husband's face, livid, and so full of hate as he stood in front of her, choking her.
She cried out as pain seared through her.
"It's a boy."
"Luke," she gasped through the haze of agony, pulling back from her dream world for just a few moments—long enough to stare at the baby pushed towards her. It gave her relief, and for a few seconds, it wasn't Anakin's face she saw before her.
Another sharp pain followed, accompanied by the announcement that this next baby was a girl. "Leia," she murmured, recalling how she and Anakin had so carefully picked those names. She'd known she was having twins, but she'd wanted to surprise him… except he wasn't here to surprise. He never would be again.
The voice above her was sharp and concerned, but she didn't want to hear it. She simply wanted to slip back into her dream world where nothing hurt, and she didn't have to think. She could feel her body dying, and it was peaceful. She didn't want to leave that.
"Your children need you, Padme! You can't do this just because it's easy."
How could he say that? He didn't know. He didn't understand what it was like to have the man you loved turn on you—to attack you. Anakin. Pain shot through her again, but it wasn't from childbirth. This pain was all from the knowledge that her husband had betrayed her, and this voice above her didn't understand how much that hurt.
"Are you going to abandon your babies like he abandoned you?"
No. That wasn't it at all, and suddenly her heart beat a little more strongly. Anger had that effect.
She opened her eyes.
"Padme," Obi-Wan murmured, pushing Luke a little closer to her. "They need you."
She wanted to tell him that he didn't understand, except as the fog that had such a hold on her mind began to clear, she realized that he probably did. Obi-Wan had loved Anakin, and Anakin had tried to kill him.
He understood… and, unlike her, the knowledge wasn't driving him to give up.
The fog around her mind cleared a little further. Her heart strengthened its beat.
Carefully, Obi-Wan came around behind her, supporting her arms as he settled Luke into them. Her baby was warm and solid, and so real. He was beautiful.
"Don't make them live without their mother, Padme," Obi-Wan murmured from behind her. "Don't do that to them."
"He's gone, Obi-Wan."
Anakin was gone, and she couldn't seem to get beyond that. Tears clouded her vision, slipping down her cheeks and falling as she clutched her baby closer, trying not to think about his father. Anakin, why?
Padme had known from the moment that she woke to Obi-Wan standing over her that Anakin wasn't coming back. She'd asked anyway, and Obi-Wan's non-answer had been answer enough. Her Ani wasn't coming home. In all actuality, he wasn't even her Ani anymore, and to know was the worst thing of all.
She remembered Obi-Wan carrying her off the ship and to a medicenter. She'd been there ever since, and the longer she'd lain on this table, consumed in her own thoughts, the further she'd sunk into her depression until it had seeped into her physically, attacking her vital organs. It wasn't a disease that could be fought. It was simply the power of grief overcoming voluntary functions. It was real, and it was possible—it was simply losing the will to live, as cliché as it sounded.
"But your children are here."
Her children. Again, she focused on the warm weight in her arms. Her baby's name was Luke, and he was beautiful. Somewhere, he had a sister, named Leia. She was probably beautiful, too.
Obi-Wan's logic was so simple, but so right. He was right. She'd lost Anakin, but to let herself die because of it would be as selfish as what Anakin had done. She couldn't leave these children alone.
"You have to live, Padme," Obi-Wan whispered, each word pulling her a little bit closer to reality—to her children.
"Yes." The words drifted past her lips, soft and feathery, quiet enough that she wasn't certain Obi-Wan heard them. It didn't matter. He was still right.
And because he was, she would live.
From where she was seated at the table, Padme watched as Obi-Wan did his best to try to feed Luke his breakfast. Her son seemed to have other ideas.
At eight months old, the twins were already a handful, and Padme was eternally grateful for Obi-Wan's help. The first time that Luke accidentally shattered glass with his mind during a tantrum had been enough for her to admit that she wasn't capable of raising Force-sensitive children on her own.
And it had become quite clear that the children were Force-sensitive… like their father.
It hadn't taken Padme long to figure out who the black-suited figure at Sidious's side was. Even if she hadn't been able to deduce it herself, Obi-Wan's reaction to the propaganda concerning him that they'd encountered while fleeing to their new home in exile would have given it away. He'd never said anything, but the pain and regret on his face had let her know that what was left of Anakin was encased in that suit… and that Obi-Wan had put him there.
"Brat," Obi-Wan muttered as he wiped from his clothing the lumps of porridge Luke had dropped. His tone may have sounded cross, but the good-natured twist of his lips gave him away.
"We're getting low on food again," she said conversationally as she switched Leia to her other arm. It amazed her how much the twins had grown in the past few months—they were both beginning to feel heavy when carried.
Obi-Wan nodded. "I'll make a run to one of the cites in a few days."
It was always a different city every time. Obi-Wan never went to the same place twice without allowing a good deal of time to elapse between each visit. So far, no one had noticed him. With his beard shaved and with different clothes, he no longer looked enough like the hero of the Clone Wars to be identified by someone who didn't know him. Plus, here on Alderaan, no one was looking.
To Padme, he still always looked like Obi-Wan. She was sure that he'd appear recognizable to anyone who knew him well, simply because there was no way to hide that gentle smile and those kind eyes. She feared the day when someone recognized him.
Irritated at suddenly being ignored, Luke reached out and pulled at Obi-Wan's tunic, laughing at the food stains. "Bwan! Bwan!"
"Obi-Wan, Luke," Padme corrected patiently, reaching out to run a finger down her son's chubby cheek.
Luke gave her a toothless grin. "Bwan!"
Obi-Wan laughed. Seeming entirely at ease, he leaned forward in his chair and reached down to get another spoonful of food for Luke. "It's all right, Padme. Obi-Wan is difficult to pronounce for an eight-month-old baby. It's really quite impressive that he can make out even that much."
"Yes, I guess it is."
Though he was still grabbing at Obi-Wan's tunic, this time Luke accepted the mouthful of food. Leia, apparently wanting to follow her brother's example, closed her mouth around the spoonful that Padme offered her as well. "Good job," Padme praised, grinning as she stroked her daughter's dark hair. It was getting longer. Soon she might be able to tie back a few tufts of it. "Seems they know which of us not to play games with," she joked, eyeing the food stain on Obi-Wan's clothing.
"You're their mother. They know that you're the one who makes the rules."
Only, his teasing wasn't entirely true. Obi-Wan was as particular about the twins' safety as she was, and he had no qualms about forbidding them to do something if he felt it put them at risk. She had no doubt that if she chose to override him in his opinions, he'd allow it, but she'd never tried. His rules stood just as firmly as her rules did.
Obi-Wan may not have regarded himself as entirely a part of their family, but Padme knew better. He was everything Anakin was not here to be. He was the one who helped put the babies to bed, who fed them, and who played with them. Obi-Wan was, though perhaps not in name and likely not even consciously, playing at being their father.
And Padme let him. She encouraged it.
"Have I said something wrong?"
Padme hadn't realized she was frowning until faced with Obi-Wan's worried tone. "No, Obi-Wan—I just—I was only thinking."
"Sometimes it helps to talk about it."
She could very well imagine him saying those same words to a younger Anakin. Had they ever talked about Anakin's obvious infatuation with her? She knew Obi-Wan had at least known about his padawan's feelings, though not about their marriage and the subsequent pregnancy. "Just about... Anakin."
The way the glow in his eyes seemed to slowly flicker and die reminded Padme of a light being extinguished by the wind. "Oh."
"He should be here. If things had been different, he'd be doing all the things that you are."
Obi-Wan's shoulders stiffened. "I'm very sorry if I've overstepped my bounds—"
"No! No, Obi-Wan, that's not it at all! I'm so grateful for your help. I couldn't do any of this without you."
"But?" Slowly, he raised another spoonful of food to Luke's mouth. The food was accepted without a mess this time; Luke seemed to have sensed the shift in the mood and realized that playtime was over.
"These children need a father, Obi-Wan. And, as much as I wish it were, it's not going to be Anakin."
She didn't like the way he dipped his head, looking away from her for a few moments as if he were seeing something entirely separate from their real surroundings. He looked so far away. He probably was—Force knew she had enough memories of Anakin to make reality blur at times; surely it wasn't so different for Obi-Wan. "No," he agreed finally. "It's not. And I am very sorry for that."
More than likely, he was recalling what had happened with Anakin on Mustafar. She had never asked how the fight had ended. She only knew that whatever had happened had resulted in Anakin becoming more machine than man. But now... now she was beginning to think that maybe Obi-Wan needed to talk about it. He had loved Anakin just as much as she had; whatever had taken place to damage Anakin had clearly destroyed a part of Obi-Wan as well.
"Let's put the babies down for their nap."
He nodded, reaching over to pull Luke out of his chair. It was almost fascinating how naturally he reached for a wet cloth to wipe away the grime that had settled on Luke's face. Everything about it was paternal.
After quickly changing the babies' clothes and diapers, they tucked the infants into their respective cribs. For the first time in what felt like weeks, the twins went down without a fuss.
"They have a strong sense of the Force, you know," Obi-Wan declared a little wryly as they left the babies' room. "They sensed the shift in the mood and adjusted accordingly." With a heavy sigh, he sank down on the sofa in their small sitting room. "They're going to be powerful when they get older."
"And will you train them?"
He glanced at her in surprise. "That is a decision that belongs entirely to you."
Not for the first time, the room around her seemed entirely too small. Everything about this place that they were living—this tiny three-room house—sometimes felt too small. It wasn't that she didn't like Obi-Wan's presence—quite the opposite, actually—but in times like these, it would have been nice to walk across a large room and glance out a window, just to buy herself some time. Here, there was nowhere to go and nothing to look at but the man in front of her.
"Obi-Wan, you've been as involved with them as I have. You help feed them, clothe them, bathe them—"
"I'm not their father, Padme."
She paused, considering that. No, he wasn't. But... "You could be."
Silence. Neither of them looked away. Padme wasn't sure she wanted to, and was positive that even if she did wish to, she couldn't, not when there were so many emotions dancing in Obi-Wan's eyes, pain and loss prominent among them. Sometimes, he looked so broken—nearly as broken as she felt. What a pair they made.
"I—Padme, I am not Anakin, and I never will be," he finally whispered, his voice hoarse as he ran a hand through his hair. It sounded as though he wanted to cry but simply wouldn't let himself. "I can't give him back to you and the children, no matter how much I wish I could."
The pain on his face—in his eyes—was enough to make her reach out and lay a hand on his arm, sincerely wanting to comfort him. If it had been anyone else—anyone who wasn't Obi-Wan or her children—she might have just turned away. After everything that had happened, she wasn't sure she had it in her to comfort anyone beyond that. "What happened on Mustafar, Obi-Wan? What happened between you two?"
"No. I want to know."
His other hand joined the first in his hair as he leaned over and cradled his head in his hands. "There's not much to tell. We fought. I got the high ground. He refused to yield and tried something foolish. I... did what I had to. And then I walked away."
"But he was still alive. How was he still alive?"
Obi-Wan slid a hand over his face. "Padme, don't make me tell you this. Just—just remember him how he was. Trust me, please, it's better that way."
"And let you suffer this all by yourself?"
"I am the one who deserves to suffer it. You don't deserve to have to live with knowing."
"And neither do you. Anakin's choices were Anakin's alone, and while there are things we all could have done differently, neither of us is responsible. This isn't some penitence that you have to pay for Anakin's fall, Obi-Wan. You aren't responsible." Her voice trailed off for a few moments. Most of her believed that. Still, there was that niggling voice, whispering that it had been her fault, that he'd done it all for her… She pushed it away and said, "Tell me what happened, Obi-Wan. At the end."
He was crying now, she was sure, even if his hands hid any tears that might have been falling.
"Please, Obi-Wan. All I can do is ask you. I can't make you, but I want to know."
He didn't speak at first, but just rubbed his forehead with his palm, drawing deep breaths as he worked to calm his breathing. When he finally did speak, his voice came out shaky and choked with tears. "He tried to jump over me. But I had the high ground, and I—I swung. The blade caught his three remaining limbs, and then he fell down towards the lava. I—Padme, he looked at me and told me that he hated me, and all I could think was how much I had loved him—how much I still loved him. Then he caught fire, and started to burn, but I couldn't stand to see him die, so I walked away. I left him there. I—I just left—"
She hardly even realized she was moving as he stuttered off into silence. It was just... simply what needed to happen. Reaching out to gently pull him against her chest seemed as natural as walking or breathing, and when he curled in against her, sobbing quietly into her shoulder, she knew that what she'd done was right. This was what they needed—what they both needed.
"It wasn't your fault," she whispered, tears of her own leaking out and spilling down her cheeks. "It wasn't, Obi-Wan, and if Anakin had been in his right mind, he would have told you the same thing."
And he would have. She was sure he would have. For the sake of her memory of the man her husband had been, she needed to believe that.
She wasn't sure how long they sat like that, silently crying the tears that should have been shed far before now. For minutes on end, she simply stroked his hair and back, holding him as he in turn held her. It was so needed, so right to be doing this together. They were the two people that had known Anakin best, and they would both need each other to heal from the things that he had done.
When Obi-Wan finally pulled away from her, Padme wasn't sure how much time had passed. It didn't truly matter—it had been enough. "Thank you," he muttered quietly, meeting her eye with a kind of resolve that she couldn't help but admire.
"You aren't Anakin, Obi-Wan," she murmured, her voice hoarse from crying. "And I don't want you to be. You don't need to be. But I do need you. These children need you. You told me that in the medicenter, and I'm telling you that now. Anakin can't be here to be their father, and if he were still himself, I know that there is no one in the world that he would have wanted to stand in his stead more than you."
"Padme... I don't know if I can. I don't know if I can be what they need."
"But I know you can. And that's all that matters."
He was silent, long enough that she began to think that he wouldn't answer. Then, slowly, almost imperceptibly, he gave a tiny nod. It was just the faintest of movements, but it was a decision that would change so much.
It would change things for the better, she hoped.
"Yes," he whispered. "Yes, if it's what you want."
And it was.