The following is a work of fanfiction. All characters and situations belonging to the Star Wars saga, including one Expanded Universe character, are copyrighted to Lucasfilm Ltd. Everything else, including original characters, is of my own creation.
This story is part three of my Revenge of the Sith what-if? trilogy. It picks up exactly where story two, "Found By Fate," ended. You must have read both "A New Destiny" and "Found By Fate" before starting this one. You will not be able to follow the story without having read the first two.
At the time of this initial posting (October 2010), this story is not yet complete. I would normally never post an unfinished story, but since I have been working on this for over two years, I felt that it was time to show what I have so far produced. (I have been feeling incredibly guilty for the past several months and it is with my editor's encouragement that I have finally decided to post this.)
All questions and comments may be e-mailed to me. Please see my profile for details.
Thank you and I hope you enjoy the story.
Convergence of Destinies
Darth Sidious pulled his attention away from the documents he had been reviewing and leaned back in his chair as he finally felt his Hand make contact. He had been eagerly awaiting her report since the moment his long-absent apprentice had reappeared in the Force.
And stayed there.
What had Mara done to make Vader break his self-imposed Force exile? (He had never understood what Vader had hoped to accomplish by withdrawing from the Force in the first place. Surely he knew that it was impossible for a Force signature to be traced from across the galaxy. Then again, he had never been the brightest of beings, which was exactly why he made the perfect apprentice...) And what had she done to get herself caught? (He knew she hadn't purposely engaged Vader. He had explicitly told her not to and she obeyed him in all things. Her one experience with being punished for disobedience had been more than enough.)
Do you have the girl? he immediately questioned, confident that he already knew the answer. If she had been anywhere near one of Vader's children at the time she had been discovered, she'd be dead. (He was glad she had not been killed. She was too useful a tool to him and it would be a shame and an inconvenience to have to replace her.) Vader would not permit anyone to even think of harming his family and live to tell about it.
Not the little one, Mara replied, surprising him. (She had been permitted to leave with one of the children? How?) I was prevented from reaching her. I am bringing you the elder daughter instead.
Vader allowed you to leave with her?
This revelation was disturbing. Even as a Jedi, Vader had had violent tendencies towards those who threatened his loved ones. (His massacre of the Sand People a testament to what he did to those who had succeeded in harming them.) If he had gotten to the point where he could control his anger...
Yes, Master, she dutifully answered though he could feel her fear and dismay at his knowledge of her encounter. (She was rightfully afraid that he could believe she had disobeyed him. He had trained her well.) I did not give him a choice. It was either allow me to leave with my hostage or I was going to kill her in front of her family. I had my blaster shoved against her neck. Even her stupid brother could tell I wasn't bluffing.
Ah. Sidious relaxed at the clarification. Vader's behavior made complete sense now. He would not risk the life of his child in order to dispatch an enemy. He had worried over nothing.
But it was unfortunate that Mara was bringing him a different child than he had anticipated. The younger girl would have been much easier to keep imprisoned. At ten, she was too young to do anything other than behave out of fear. This older girl would most likely put up a fight. Subduing her would be difficult. And it would have to be done without harming her. If anything happened to her before her father arrived to rescue her...
I did not intentionally confront Vader, Mara quickly spoke up, fear flooding through her Force presence. I swear I didn't. I would never defy your orders.
I know, my dear, he soothed her. (If she had, she'd be dead. It was as simple as that. She truly had no idea how dangerous his apprentice was.) You are always loyal and obedient, my Hand. You make me proud.
She instantly brightened at the praise. Thank you, Master.
He smiled to himself at her immediate change in mood. There was nothing like a few well-chosen and perfectly timed words to keep his servants content. He had learned many years ago that praise could be an infinitely more powerful tool than fear when it came to ensuring blind obedience. A happy servant would do almost anything that was asked of her. And Mara was no exception.
Which was why she would never be his apprentice as she so desperately wanted.
Mara was completely loyal and obedient, something a Sith apprentice could never be. A true Sith would only obey his master until the time came that he was ready to take his place. Mara, on the other hand, was unable to disobey a single order. Her sole purpose in life was to please him.
She was exactly as he had created her to be.
He had molded her from the time she was a very small girl. He had raised her to think of him as a father figure and encouraged her to love him by treating her like a daughter. He had showered her with gifts and words that gave the illusion of affection. And he had severely punished her when she had disobeyed. By the time she had reached adolescence, he had turned her into the perfect servant. Next to the slow and meticulous corruption of Anakin Skywalker, Mara Jade was his finest achievement.
And by cultivating her love, he had ensured that it would be impossible for her to take the final crucial step of Sith apprenticeship. She would never be able to bring herself to kill her master. It would be like killing her own father.
An act she did not have the heart to ever commit.
Now, tell me, my Hand, he continued. How is it you came to face Vader?
Completely by accident, my master, she told him. It was all the fault of the daughter I am bringing to you. You see, she fancies herself a Jedi and-
A Jedi? he cut her off, stunned. The girl is a Jedi?
How could this be? Who had trained her? Certainly not her father. (If he had completely reverted...) It would have been impossible without touching the Force himself. Kenobi, perhaps? And if he had, had he instructed the other children as well?
No, she only believes herself to be, Mara corrected. It is painfully obvious that she is untrained. She's powerful in the Force, but her control is pathetic. She can't even perform a simple mind probe. Her only developed ability seemed to be her danger sense. She was wary of me from the moment we met but she has no other apparent skills. She can't even hold a lightsaber correctly. I was able to knock it out of her hand in seconds.
You fought her?
It was no wonder Vader had become involved. Mara had made a critical error in engaging the girl. (The more he learned, the luckier he realized she was to have gotten away with her life.)
If you can even call it that, Mara said, smug satisfaction in her voice. She clearly disliked the girl. She's nothing but a lot of talk. She came into the room and threatened me, but that's as far as she got before I disarmed her. He could sense her smile. And then I taught her a lesson she'll never forget.
You should not have done that, he admonished her. Vader may have let her go this time in order to protect his daughter's life, but Mara was now as good as dead the moment he found her again. (He would have to protect her until his apprentice was back under his control. And even then keeping her alive would be difficult. But she was too valuable a resource to lose and he would do everything within his power to make sure he didn't.)
He felt her emotions shift at his disapproval.
Forgive me, Master, she sent, her presence now full of anxiety. But I had no choice. She would have attacked me first. It could not have been avoided.
Sidious found himself intrigued by what he was hearing. Vader's daughter would have attacked first? Even though she considered herself a Jedi? Did she know so little of the group she was so poorly trying to emulate? Or was it more of a case of ignoring rules she did not care for? If so, she was truly her father's daughter...
And how was it she had decided to become a Jedi in the first place? Why? How had she come into possession of a lightsaber? And how had she learned to use the Force without any formal training? Clearly her parents knew nothing of her activities. Vader would never have permitted her to confront an enemy on her own if he had. And what of her siblings? Had she shared her knowledge and skills with either of them?
What about her brother and sister? he questioned. Did they share any of her abilities or behaviors?
No, Master, she answered and he sensed her relief at the change in subject. I did not sense either of them actively using the Force and I spent hours with the family, the boy especially. The little one appears to unconsciously tap into the Force as she has a slight danger sense. I made her somewhat uneasy though she ignored it for the most part. As for the boy... He felt her utter disgust at the mention. He is the poorest excuse for a life form I have ever had the misfortune of encountering. I doubt even the Jedi would have bothered with him if they hadn't been wiped out. I don't see how his parents put up with him.
How very interesting, he thought at this new information. One child embraced her abilities while the others either ignored or simply didn't know about them. It didn't make any sense. What had driven this one daughter to-
Vader's daughter was the Jedi in his vision!
Of course! It made perfect sense! Who else but the child of his apprentice would have the audacity to attack him in his own palace?
Everything fit. She was the right age and she had any number of motives for going after him. And she would explain why nothing he had done so far had altered his visions. She was the one factor he hadn't known about until now. But now that he knew...
And then it occurred to him exactly how he could make sure the future had a more favorable outcome.
The daughter of Vader was inevitably a powerful Force user, but she was completely untrained. All she knew she had learned on her own. So what if he were to give her that much needed training himself?
The right kind of training.
Training that would lead to the girl embracing the dark side of the Force.
And once she had been turned, the future he had repeatedly foreseen could never come to pass.
The girl would belong to him, heart and soul.
Just as her father once had.
Perhaps Mara had been right in that he was wasting his time trying to reclaim Vader. If Vader had willingly turned his back on his destiny, maybe he wasn't worthy of being his apprentice after all. Maybe the honor should be bestowed on someone who was mostly likely just as powerful.
And much, much easier to control.
His daughter had not been raised a Jedi as he had been. She knew nothing of the strict Code that had held her father back for so long. She had not been instructed in any way. Her mind was an empty datapad just waiting to be filled by the right information.
You have done well in bringing this girl to me, he at last told his Hand.
"Come on!" Leia Peridon grunted under her breath. "Loosen up!"
She pulled against the tightly wrapped cords that held her in her seat one last time before groaning in frustration and collapsing against the back of the chair, overcome by pain and exhaustion.
It was bad enough that she had gotten her butt kicked by that Sith wannabe and then been taken prisoner, but to be tied up when there was nowhere to go? It was just adding insult to injury. What did Mara think she was going to do? Fly out the airlock?
Unfortunately, her struggles weren't really getting her anywhere. So far, her greatest accomplishment was to continuously spin her chair in circles, which was just so much fun. (Not! If she spun around even one more time...) She was also tiring herself out and aggravating her numerous injuries. (She was in serious need of some painkillers!) Neither of which were doing her any good. She was stuck until Mara decided to untie her.
"This really sucks!" she complained aloud even though there was no one there to hear her. (Thank the Force! It would have just been something else for Mara to hold against her.)
She felt her anger begin to flare up again and quickly suppressed it.
I'm a Jedi and a Jedi doesn't get angry, she reminded herself for the billionth time since this whole thing started. Anger is of the dark side.
She knew she needed to find a way to calm down and stay that way. (Meditation? Definitely not happening! As if she could clear her mind while she was tied up and on her way to meet a Sith!) But she didn't see how that was possible since every time she thought about the lousy situation she was in she started to get mad all over again. (It was either that or give in to her fear, which was even worse for a Jedi. It was better to be mad than scared. At least being angry made her feel like she was doing something.)
And, honestly, could anyone blame her? After all, she had just gotten the crap beat out of her for the first time in her life. She couldn't help but feel angry. The Force would just have to understand why she was more than a little ticked.
She considered herself an excellent fighter. She had aced all of the self-defense classes she had ever taken and she had successfully brought down creep after creep for as long as she could remember. She had never lost a fight in her life.
Mara, who was a Sith-in-training.
Of all the spacers and bullies Leia had trounced over the years, none of them had ever come close to Mara in skills. She was good, really good.
And utterly brutal.
Mara hadn't stopped after winning the fight. She'd kept right on kicking and punching. If Dad hadn't shown up when he did...
She knew that the only reason that she was probably still alive was because Mara's master wanted Dad "back" (whatever that meant) and that she was most likely under strict orders not to kill anyone in the family. (If the "bait" was dead...) Mara had had the advantage from the get-go. She could have killed her at any time and had made it very clear that she really, really wanted to. (Shed even said it again right after she finished tying her up!) The fact that she hadnt pointed very strongly to orders. Why else hold back?
But once Dad showed up to rescue her, as she knew he would, those orders would most likely vanish. (Once the Sith had him, the "bait" wouldnt be needed anymore, now would it?) And Mara would probably be given permission to finish what she had started
And Dad would show up, which was exactly what the Sith lord wanted. Dad was a Jedi and Jedi did stupid things like attempting to rescue people from obvious traps. (Why couldn't the Code have had something about knowing better than to walk into obvious traps? Then again, even if it did, Dad would have ignored it anyway!) But he was doomed to fail and he would be captured and she'd be turned over to Mara for a fate she didn't even want to think about...
If only she could escape first!
In my dreams.
She hadn't even been able to slow down the apprentice. How could she even hope to get away from the master?
So much for being nearly done with my training!
She had lost her lightsaber less than three seconds into the fight, something a Jedi should never allow to happen. ("Your weapon is your life," Dad had quoted his Master when telling her and Ammae about lightsabers.) She had not been prepared for Mara's sudden and vicious attack. She was used to opponents who physically gave away when they were going to make a move. Mara's had come without warning.
And never stopped...
If she was honest with herself, she knew it was her own fault that she had been beaten. She hadn't gone into the fight thinking like the Jedi she believed herself to be. A true Jedi would have assessed the situation before barging in. She had only been thinking of protecting Ammae. It had been a mistake and now she was paying the price.
But it was a price that was worth paying because it meant that Ammae was safe. Because she was in this mess meant her little sister wasn't. And that was all that mattered.
At least I did something right, she commented to herself.
The "droid" would have had a total meltdown if she'd been taken hostage. She didn't handle stress well. (Neither did Luke, for that matter. Thank the Force Mara hadn't gone after him. He was freaked out enough as it was because of her deception.) She would have never survived the ordeal.
And she didn't even want to imagine how Mom and Dad would have reacted if they had lost their "baby." At least with her, they had some idea that she could take care of herself. (While they didn't know about her secret Jedi training, they did know about her self-defense classes and her long list of fights at school.) They wouldn't fall apart like they would have if Ammae had been taken instead. (Or even freakily innocent Luke, whose idea of trauma was an out of control club meeting.) Of the three children, she was the ideal hostage.
What kind of psycho was this Sith lord anyway? He was a serious freak if his best idea to get Dad "back" was to kidnap a little girl. (Not to mention his use of a teen as the kidnapper.) He had just made the worst mistake of his life. Dad was the most overprotective parent Leia had ever known. No one messed with his children and got away with it. (And there were school records to prove it!) This Sith was toast!
And he was also majorly delusional if he thought Dad had ever had anything to do with him. Dad had been a Jedi. A Jedi! Hello? The sworn enemy of Sith? Were all Sith that off their repulsors?
But crazy or not, Sith were evil and dangerous. (Mara wasn't even a full Sith yet and she was a scarily powerful opponent.) She would be lying if she said that she wasnt more than a little afraid of what was going to happen to her once she reached her destination. Sith weren't exactly known for their generous hospitality. It would be a miracle if she got out of this ordeal alive.
If only she was as good as Dad!
Now, he was a Jedi!
Tonight had been the first time she had ever seen him in action and it had been amazing. Wow! Who knew her dad was that awesome? (She sure hadn't! Mom hadn't been kidding when she said he had been one of the main heroes of the Republic. "The Hero With No Fear," she had said they had called him.) If she and Ammae hadn't been in the way, she was sure he would have taught Mara the lesson she deserved.
Unlike her, who had screwed up everything from the moment she had sensed Ammae was in danger.
Dad had done everything she should have done. He was a true Jedi and it showed. He had put the safety of those around him first and he had properly assessed the situation before going in.
And he hadn't made any dumb moves like kicking Mara's legs out from under her.
Now that had been the kiss of death for her. It had been one of those stupid things that seemed like a good idea at the time. (Mara had just been too damn fast!) Maybe if she had kept still she wouldn't be a prisoner now. (If she got out of this alive, she was going to triple the time she spent training! She'd never be ready to take out the Emperor at this rate! And he was just an old man!)
"What a mess," she muttered, sighing in defeat.
She wondered for the millionth time where she was being taken and what would happen when she got there.
And how long it would be before Dad showed up and her usefulness came to an end...
And then she froze as the sound of approaching footsteps suddenly echoed down the long corridor.
There was only one person on this ship who'd be coming to visit and it wasn't the pilot or copilot. (Han and Chewie were too busy obeying Mara's orders. Neither of them would risk their lives for her. Sure they liked her, but not that much. They hardly knew her.) And it definitely wasn't going to be for a friendly chat.
And here she was facing away from the open hatchway!
Great! Just great!
There was no way she was letting that Sith wannabe catch her like this. She had had more than enough humiliation for one night, thank you very much!
She began to violently wiggle in her chair in an attempt to swivel it back around towards the hatchway. She was determined to be ready for anything Mara was going to throw at her. She wasn't going to be caught unprepared ever again.
Slowly but surely, the chair made its way back around and, luckily, she made it just in time. The hatchway was still empty.
And then her visitor arrived.
And to her immense relief, it wasn't Mara.
It was Han.
As Han Solos eyes fell on the heavily bruised and bleeding Leia tied up in his hold, he could only think one thing: What the hell happened?
As he had immediately noticed in the hangar, she had been brutally beaten. (Judging by her injuries, he was amazed she was still conscious. She had to be in excruciating pain.) In fact, it was one of the worst beatings he had ever seen and he had seen (and experienced) a lot. How had this happened to her? (The last time he'd seen her she'd been safe at home. What had happened after he had dropped her off? Why had she gone out again? He had been under the impression that her parents enforced a strict curfew, which was why she was always getting into trouble for being late.) And, more importantly, why? She was just a kid. A loud-mouthed kid, yeah, but still a kid. Who did this to a kid?
Someone just like Little Miss Starshine back there.
There wasn't a single doubt in his mind that she was the sick spawn of a vynock that had inflicted Leia's wounds. The girl was as nasty as a rancor and as short-fused as they came. It didn't take much to set her off. (A single word could do it.) And when she went off, she got violent, as Han had (unfortunately) discovered first-hand. (His wrist was still in agony from where she had grabbed it. He had made the mistake of ignoring her request that she be the one to enter the coordinates into the navicomputer and when he had reached out to do it himself, she had physically stopped him with much more force than necessary. "I told you that I was going to do it," she had reminded him in a low voice filled with promises of worse punishment the next time he disobeyed. He was lucky that she hadnt broken his bones in the process.)
Knowing Leia, all she had had to have done was open her mouth (tact was not in her vocabulary) and this piece of work would have been all over her. It didn't take much imagination to guess what had happened. (But how had Leia encountered her in the first place? Why had she left home again?)
Of course, that didn't explain why the girl had gone one step further and taken Leia captive. Kids, even ones not firing all of their thrusters, didn't normally take other kids hostage. (They didn't normally take adults hostage either, but that was beside the point.) Who was this girl and why had she taken Leia prisoner? And why was she bringing her to Coruscant, the capital of the Empire? Was she somehow connected to the Empire? (She certainly was cruel enough.)
And that was exactly what he hoped to find out from Leia. He had waited until his current "employer" was distracted before sneaking out of the cabin. (She had zoned out and gone into some sort of trance.) He didn't know how long he had before she snapped out of it and came looking for him (he had a feeling she liked to know where everyone was at all times, which would explain why she had tied Leia up, though he had to wonder what did she think she could do in her condition? Steal an escape pod?), but he intended to get as much information about her as possible. Having some was far better than having none.
"Hey kid," he greeted Leia as he stepped into the cabin. He kept his tone light, his intention to distract her from her pain and fear. (Interestingly enough, she had removed every last trace of her fear from her face. Why, he had no idea, but he didn't believe for a nanosecond that it was actually gone. No one got over being as terrified as she was so fast.) "I see you've made yourself a lovely new friend. She's absolutely charming."
"That's because you're still on her good side," Leia quipped, giving him a weak smile. (He was glad to hear that her sense of humor was still intact despite her situation. She was going to need it to get through this.) "Just wait until she gets to know you better."
"Wherever did you meet her?" he asked, moving to stand in front of her and mentally shaking his head as he examined the cords holding her in place. Anyone in their right mind knew that someone with her injuries needed to be lying down. (As if her new "friend" was anywhere near in her right mind. The girl was clearly one plate short of a hull covering.) Sitting up like that was probably making her feel much worse than she already did, which, knowing her unstable captor, had probably been the intention.
"It's a long story."
"Not a problem. I've got plenty of time to hear it," he informed her while thinking about how he was going to get her out of there. The knots looked too small to undo by hand. He'd need to get a vibroknife to cut her loose. Luckily, he had one around here somewhere... "It's going to take a while to get to Coruscant."
"Coruscant?" she repeated, sounded puzzled as he walked over to the workstation, which was the most likely place he would have stashed a knife. (He stashed everything else in there!) "Why would...?"
"Hey, I didn't ask and she didn't say," he told her as he opened the first drawer. "She's not very talkative."
Leia made a noise. "She must really like you then. With me, she can't shut up."
"Who is she anyway?" he questioned while scanning the drawer's interior. "Why would going to Coruscant be any big deal?"
"Because she's a Sith," Leia told him as he began to rummage through its contents. "Well, a Sith apprentice anyway. And Sith tend to keep themselves hidden. And you can't get anymore out in the open than Coruscant."
The word "Sith" was vaguely familiar but it didn't bring anything immediately to mind. But if it referred to someone like this girl, he knew it couldn't be good.
"And why is that?" he wanted to know, closing the drawer after failing to find a knife in it. "Because everyone is out to get them?" He slid open the second drawer.
Leia made a sound of disbelief. "You don't know what a Sith is?" she asked incredulously.
"Nope," he admitted as he started to dig through the drawer. "And I don't recall anyone I know mentioning them recently either. But you did just say that they like to hide. Kind of hard to hear about a group that stays hidden."
"Wow, I thought everyone knew what a Sith was," she commented. "They're the sworn enemies of the Jedi." She looked at him. "Please tell me you've at least heard of the Jedi."
"Yeah, I've heard of them," he informed her, trying to remember the little he knew. (Hadn't they been a religious order or something? He wasn't exactly sure. But he'd only been ten when they had been exterminated, so he wasn't surprised at his lack of knowledge.) "But it was a long time ago. They were all wiped out back when I was a kid. Probably before you were even born."
"Not all of them," she assured him.
He turned around to face her, folding his arms. "So, let me guess. The whole reason you're in this mess is because you know a Jedi."
It made sense. From his vague recollections of stories he had heard as a kid, Jedi went out of their way to protect the innocent. Leia, for all her talk, was nothing but an innocent kid. She had been targeted simply because she had been found to know a Jedi. (Could that have been her big secret that she wouldn't tell anyone?) Whoever had sent Mara (who, according to Leia, was only an apprentice and apprentices merely followed orders) knew the Jedi would come to Leia's rescue. A pretty brilliant scheme, if he did say so himself.
"It's more than knowing one," she told him. "My father's a Jedi."
"Your father?" he repeated, surprised by the revelation. Her father, the so-called "best mechanic in the galaxy," was actually a Jedi? He could have sworn he remembered the Jedi being against the whole family thing (something to do with a Code?), but then again, a Jedi in hiding (which is what any Jedi surviving the extermination would be doing) would want to blend in with the rest of the population. And getting married and having a few kids was a perfect way to do that.
Too bad it hadn't worked out too well for Leia's dad...
"And I'm one too," she continued. "Sort of."
"Sort of?" This he had to hear. How could you "sort of" be a Jedi? You either were or you weren't.
"Remember that secret I was keeping from my parents that you wanted to know so badly?"
"Well, that's it."
"So let me get this straight. Your father's a Jedi yet you don't want him to know that you're 'sort of' one too?"
"Uh-huh," she nodded.
"And the reason you don't want him to know is...?" he pressed, trying to understand her bizarre logic. (The minds of teenage girls! Was there a greater mystery in the universe?)
"It's part of that long story you wanted to hear," she said.
"So start telling," he instructed and turned back to the drawer.
"What are you doing anyway?" she questioned instead of starting her tale.
"Looking for a way to get you out of there," he let her know as he searched the contents. "Those cords are too tight to untie. They're going to have to be cut. I'm still waiting for that story."
"Are you insane?" Leia blurted, ignoring his prompt. "You do that and Mara will kill you."
He snorted at the implication. (At least he now knew the name of their lovely new acquaintance. Names were always good to know.) "I'd like to see her try. It might be entertaining."
"You really don't get what it meant when I told you she was a Sith, do you?"
"Apparently not," he replied as he finally spotted the object of his search. "So why don't you enlighten me?"
Leia sighed as he turned around the face her, the knife in his hand. "I guess I'm going to have to."
And then, without any warning, the vibroknife was yanked from his grasp.
The knife floated up to the ceiling and began to gently spin in the air.
"And that is only a fraction of what she's capable of," Leia explained as the knife started to spin in the other direction. "I've heard that the Sith can get pretty creative with the Force. They can do some nasty things to you without laying one hand on you." The knife stopped spinning and began to quickly fly around the room. "And they don't even need a weapon to do it."
Han's eyes followed the knife, his initial surprise at having it taken from him telekinetically fading away. It had only surprised him because he hadn't been expecting it. (Was this yet another thing she was keeping from her parents? Just how many secrets did this kid have?) If Leia really believed he'd never seen mind powers before, she was more naïve than he had thought.
He turned his attention back to her and folded his arms. "That's it? The Sith are so dangerous because they can use telekinesis? I hate to break it to you, Sweetheart, but so can a dozen others all across the galaxy, including those Jedi you think so highly of. And having it didn't help them very much in the end, now did it? So-"
"Haven't you heard a single word I said?" she cut him off, sounding annoyed. "It's not telekinesis. It's the Force!"
Han suppressed the urge to laugh. Now that he had heard of. (It had been mentioned so many times back when he was a kid even after the Purge that he had finally asked what it was. And the answer had done anything but impress him.) The supposed mystical energy field that gave the Jedi their power. In other words, their convoluted and antiquated explanation for how they had telekinesis and other abilities, such as telepathy. (It was no wonder they had been so easily wiped out. Even in the face of modern science they had refused to give up the beliefs they had held since they had been formed. Leia's father had done a good job indoctrinating her despite her claims that she was only "sort of" a Jedi and he didn't know about it.) And apparently it was the Sith's too. (Gotta love a copycat archenemy. They got real annoying real fast.)
"All right, fine. 'The Force,'" he agreed to appease her. She was starting to get agitated, which was the last thing she needed to be in her current condition. What she needed to be doing was lying down and resting. And the sooner he cut her free, the sooner she could do that. "So both the Jedi and the Sith use it. Who knew?"
She sighed again. "I can't believe you don't know any of this."
"Hey, like I said, I don't encounter many Sith in my line of work," he reminded her. "And you're my first Jedi. Yet none of this has anything to do with that long story you're supposed to be telling me. So why don't you give me my knife back so I can cut you loose while you talk?"
"How many times do I have to tell you that Miss High and Mighty doesn't scare me?" he cut her off. "Please! She doesn't even rate with even a quarter the scum I'm used to dealing with. I think Chewie and me can handle her." (Not that it would be an easy victory. On top of being violent, she was psychotic and psychotics always took extra work to take down. Chewie would probably end up doing most of the work himself.) He held out his hand. "My knife, please?"
Heaving a sigh of defeat, Leia lowered the vibroknife into his waiting hand.
"Thank you," he said, activating the knife as he knelt down in front of her and got to work. (This was going to take a while! Had Mara used his entire supply? Had she left him anything? He was definitely doing a thorough inventory once he got rid of her!) "Now let's hear how you got yourself into this mess."
"Fine," she sighed yet again. (Was it him or did she sigh a lot? Must be a teenage girl thing, he decided.) "My father isn't just any Jedi. He's Anakin Skywalker."
"The Hero With No Fear," Han nodded, recognizing the name. Skywalker had been one of the biggest and most famous heroes of the Clone Wars. His name had always been on the HoloNet. He and his partner, General Whatever-his-name-was. (He may have been a little kid back then, but there wasn't a single being alive who hadn't heard of Skywalker. You'd have had to be living on a remote asteroid not to.) Who've thought a Jedi that well known could have escaped getting exterminated?
"And my mother's name is Padmé Amidala."
The name was unfamiliar, but given the way Leia had expected him to know it, he figured she must have been some big-shot. (Two "famous" parents. Leia had quite the impressive lineage. It was no wonder her family had been targeted.) He didn't think she was a Jedi because Leia had only said her father was one. (Though it wouldn't surprise him it two Jedi on the run decided to play house as a way of disappearing into the general population.) So who was she?
"Dad was with Mom when the Supreme Chancellor went mental and declared all the Jedi traitors," she continued, oblivious to his lack of knowledge. "It's the only reason he wasn't killed. If he had been at the Temple like he was supposed to...
"Anyway, the reason he was with Mom was because they had been busy figuring out how they were going to resign from their jobs," she elaborated while he made slow progress freeing her legs. (Damn, Mara had gone overboard with the cords!) "You see, Mom had just found out she was pregnant with Luke and me and both she and Dad had decided that it was time to put their family first. So he was going to quit the Order and she was going to resign from the Senate."
Ah, a senator, he identified the mother. No wonder he hadn't heard of her! If there was anything he avoided like a plague, it was anything government-related and senators were about as government-related as you could get! (It also explained her current job and her ability to lecture like there was no tomorrow. Once a government flunky, always a government flunky!)
So a Jedi and a senator, huh? Now there was a match no one would have ever expected, especially considering that whole "no family" thing the Jedi had going for them. And they had apparently been together before the Jedi extermination. (The mother being pregnant at the time was kind of a dead giveaway.) They had to have been pretty sneaky not to have gotten caught. (No wonder Leia was as secretive as she was. She got it from both sides of the family!) Because if they had been, the result would not have been pretty. (And the mother's name would definitely have been familiar to him.)
"Mom and Dad knew they had to get as far away from Coruscant and the Emperor as possible," Leia continued. "The Emperor had decreed that all the Jedi had to die. And he basically implied that the same thing would happen to any senator that had opposed him while he was Supreme Chancellor."
"Like your mom?" Han offered while continuing to saw at the cords around her legs. He was almost through...
"Uh-huh," she confirmed. "So they did the only thing they could: they snuck off the planet and ran away to the Outer Rim where they started over as new people. Luke and I were born shortly after and then my little sister Ammae came along five years later. And everything was literally perfect until today."
"Let me guess. That's when Miss Starshine showed up?"
From what he was hearing, her parents had been extremely careful all these years. So what had gone wrong? How had they been found? Had someone betrayed them?
"You got it," she confirmed. "I didn't even know about her until you brought me home. I walked in the door and there she was. She must have grabbed my stupid twin sometime after school, because I didn't see her hanging around him or anywhere all day. She must have worked fast because by the time I arrived she had him completely convinced that she wanted to be his friend. And Luke the stupid idiot didn't even think twice before bringing her into our home, which was exactly where she wanted to be. Did I mention he was stupid?"
"Repeatedly," he informed her as he finally sliced through the last of the cords around her legs. "There you-"
"Thank the Force!" Leia gasped and he barely moved away in time to avoid her newly-freed legs as they swung on a collision course with his head. (Because getting hit in the head was just so high on his list of things to do today.) "Thank you so much! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"
"I take it you're feeling better?" he remarked as he got to his feet. He could see an immediate change in her entire demeanor despite the pain he knew she still had to be in.
"You have no idea," she told him as he moved to stand behind her and began sawing at the cords wrapped around her arms and torso. "If the rest of me didn't still feel like poo-doo, I'd demand a rematch right now."
He shook his head (Teenagers!) before matter-of-factly informing her, "There'll be no trying to kill each other on my ship. Do you have any idea how long it takes to clean up that kind of mess?"
"Not even if I promise to be neat?"
"Not even," he told her. "You want to be a passenger on my ship? You follow my rules."
"Ugh! You sound just like my parents!" she complained.
"Too bad," he retorted good-naturedly, still working at the cords. Much to his surprise, he seemed to already be almost through. Mara had done a much better job on Leia's legs. (Probably because she had run out of cord!) "My baby comes first. I gotta think of her best interests. So no one kills anyone onboard without my say so. Got it?"
"Yes, sir," she groaned. "And here I was thinking you were my friend!"
He rolled his eyes. "You were talking about your stupid brother."
"Right. So Luke the idiot brings Mara right into our house!" she continued her story. "The boy is so dumb that he doesn't even think to question who she is before bringing her home. I mean, what was he thinking? He knows Mom and Dad are in hiding!"
"True, but let me point out that most teenage boys aren't thinking with their heads when it comes to teenage girls," Han offered. "Hadn't he ever brought home a girl before?"
Leia gave him a look over his shoulder.
"I'll take that as a 'no,'" he conceded. (Apparently Leia hadn't been exaggerating about her brother's "dorkiness," as she so colorfully put it.) "So I assume she was after your dad?"
If Mara and her boss were Sith, the supposed archenemies of the Jedi, then it only made sense that they'd be after the true Jedi of the family. So how had the "sort of" Jedi ended up their prisoner instead?
"You'd think so, right?" she replied. "That would make the most sense. But, no, Dad wasn't her target. Are you ready for this? She was sent to kidnap my ten-year-old sister, Ammae. A ten-year-old girl! Who gets sent to kidnap a ten-year-old girl?"
"You'd be surprised," he informed her.
"Really? Don't these guys usually go for the wives or something?"
"It depends on the bad guy," Han informed her while continuing to cut the cords. Almost done... "Some like taking the spouses while others think the kids make even better prisoners. In the end it doesn't matter. The result is always the same."
"Huh," Leia commented thoughtfully. "I guess this guy's not as demented as I thought."
"The worst bad guys never are," he told her. "That's what makes them so dangerous. They can actually think straight."
"Well, I wouldn't go that far with this guy. He's still a complete whack job. Just wait until I tell you why he wanted my sister."
"He thinks my dad used to work for him," she told him. "Have you ever heard anything so stupid in your entire life? A Jedi working for a Sith? As if! Like that would ever happen! What universe is this guy from?"
Han decided it best not to mention that enemies sometimes did team up when there was a common goal, like, say, survival. Leia had no way of knowing everything her father had done before she was born. The Clone Wars had been a crazy time. (Though he had to say that kidnapping someone's child wasn't the best way to rekindle an alliance.)
"Anyway, this guy is so convinced that Dad is on his team that he's willing to do anything to get him back," she continued. "And the best he can come up with is to kidnap my ten year old sister and use her as bait? Seriously? Yet, sadly, it would have worked. My dad would have gone to her rescue and boom!, end of story. Thank the Force I got taken instead."
"What? You don't think your dad will come to your rescue?"
As much as she complained about her parents' behavior, he knew they only did it because they loved her. If they didn't care, they wouldn't bother. (He had only known her three days, but she was obviously more than a handful!) He'd dealt with enough people to know the signs of a neglected childhood. And Leia was anything but neglected.
"Oh, he'll come all right," she admitted. "I just keep hoping he'll be smart enough not to. It's not like I'm completely helpless, you know. Mom and Dad both know that I'm pretty good at taking care of myself."
"Right and that's why you're tied to a chair and bleeding all over my ship," Han pointed out as he resumed cutting the cords. He mentally shook his head. Her attitude was something else. She was definitely going to give her captors a headache. "I'm still waiting to hear how you ended up here instead of your sister. I'm sure it'll be fascinating."
"I, um, kind of challenged Mara to a fight," she admitted sheepishly. "I caught her trying to run off with Ammae and I thought I could stop her myself. I told you that I was a Jedi, remember? Definitely not the best of ideas."
"Really? I would have never guessed," Han sarcastically replied. He cut the final cord. "There ya go."
With a surprising burst of energy, Leia jumped from her seat and began yanking at the severed cords that were still tangled around her body. "Thank you so much! I take back what I said about you not being my friend. You're the best!"
He deactivated the knife and stuck it in his back pocket. You never knew when having a backup weapon would come in handy. "You're welcome, kid. Now let's get you cleaned up some. There's a medkit back in my cabin. After I-"
He was prevented from completing the thought when Leia unexpectedly flung herself into his arms and hugged him tightly.
"Thank you," she repeated more quietly, pulling herself closer as she sagged against him.
It took him all of two seconds to recover from his surprise and immediately return the hug. She didn't even have to say a word. He instinctively knew what she needed: comforting.
Leia had been through hell in only a short period of time. For all her tough talk, she was still a young girl and what she was going through was taking a heavy toll on her both physically and emotionally. (He could feel how heavily she was leaning into his arms. She could barely stand on her own. So much for her burst of energy!) Although she would never openly admit it, she needed to be made to feel safe and secure, if only for a little while. And Han was more than happy to provide her with what she needed.
But he didn't know how long she would allow the comfort to last. He had a feeling that she didn't like anyone seeing her this way, her emotions visible and her guard down. In this moment, she was completely vulnerable. One wrong word would push her away.
So he said nothing and held her in silence, determined to let her be the one to decide when to end their close contact.
He didn't know what was going to happen once they reached Coruscant, but he feared for her. She was so young and innocent. How was she ever going to survive?
Stars, he had never noticed how small she was. Her larger than life personality added to her physical presence, making her seem bigger and stronger than she actually was. But now... Now she seemed merely small and fragile.
So why did holding her this way seem so...right?
"A little young for you, isn't she?"
Han barely caught Leia in time as she gasped and broke out of his arms, nearly collapsing to the floor in the process.
Mara was standing in the open hatchway, her arms crossed and an amused expression on her face.
"Though I have heard that there are some men who go for that sort of thing." Her amusement vanished. "What is she doing out of her seat? I don't remember telling you that it was all right to cut her loose."
"I didn't think I needed permission to see to the safety and comfort of my own passengers," he quickly cut Leia off. He knew that she was trying to protect him from Mara's so-called "Force powers," but like he had told her, he could take care of himself.
Besides, if Mara tried anything, Chewie would be all over her in seconds. (He had silently appeared in the corridor behind her. He must have overheard the conversation and come to investigate.)
And no one could fight off an angry Wookie.
"She's no passenger," Mara stated matter-of-factly. "She's my prisoner and therefore I'm the only one who has a say in what happens to her. And I say she needs to stay tied up.
"Don't tell me you've already forgotten our earlier conversation about obedience?"
Han resisted the urge to rub his wrist. "Only if you've forgotten that I told you that Leia was my friend. And I don't take kindly to people who harm my friends."
Mara gave a harsh laugh. "You really have no idea who you're dealing with, Captain. Neither you or the Wookie stand a chance against me."
"I'm willing to find out if you are," he retorted, helping Leia back into her recently vacated chair. She was getting weaker every second.
"But is she?" Mara sent back, indicating Leia. "I've already told you what would happen to her if you crossed me."
"Did you? Because I seem to be remembering things a little differently than you are," he replied, moving away from Leia in case a fight did in fact break out. "Refresh my memory. I thought our deal was that if I took you wherever you wanted to go, you wouldn't kill her. I don't remember you saying anything about after I agreed to take you."
She smiled coldly. "It was implied." She reached into her holster and pulled out her blaster, aiming it at Leia's head. "But if deals are so important to you, here's a new one: from now on, you either do exactly as I say or your precious little friend dies.
"Do we have an understanding?"
"Sure, why not?" Han answered nonchalantly, holding out his hands.
The more he thought about it, the worse an idea it seemed to take on Mara in such a confined space, especially now that she had her blaster out. He couldn't take the chance that she'd get a shot off before he and Chewie subdued her. If Leia were to get hit... No, it was better to bide his time and wait for a more opportune moment to take Mara down.
He met Chewie's gaze over Mara's head and signaled "no" with his eyes (it was a quick communication system that they had devised years ago) to let him know that they would not be attacking Mara quite yet. Chewie sent back his understanding and disappeared back into the corridor.
"Good," Mara said, lowering her weapon. "Now tie her back up."
"You know, in all fairness, you never told me I couldn't untie her in the first place," he pointed out without moving an inch. "How was I supposed to know-?"
"Perhaps I should have made myself more clear," she cut him off. She raised her blaster and reaimed at Leia. "Now either put her back where you found her right now or I shoot her dead this second. Your choice."
"Not much of a choice," he commented, still not moving. "Though I guess I should point out that I may have a slight problem tying her back up."
"And that is?"
He gestured at the pieces of cord lying all over the floor. "I've got nothing to tie her up with."
Mara made an exasperated noise before finally lowering the blaster and putting it back in her holster.
"All right," she at last relented. "You want to play with the brat? Fine. You've got her. For now.
"But don't forget for one second whose prisoner she is," she added. "When the time comes, you're to hand her over to me.
"Nice doing business with you," Han sarcastically replied. Damn, this girl was a piece of work. He couldn't decide what part of her personality he disliked more: her seriousness or her violent tendencies. She made Leia look like the perfect child!
Mara smirked before turning on her heel and heading out of the cabin. But before she passed through the hatchway, she paused.
"Oh, before I forget, tell the Wookie that the next time he thinks of trying to sneak up on me, I won't hesitate to gut him."
How in the galaxy had she-? Chewie had been completely silent in his approach!
Without another word, Mara stalked out of the cabin and down the hallway.
"She just gets more and more charming every time I see her," Han commented once he was sure she was out of earshot.
He turned towards Leia as she heaved a sigh of relief and slumped in her chair.
"Thank the Force she's gone," she breathed. "I didn't think I was going to make it out of there alive."
"I wasn't going to let anything happen to you, kid," he told her seriously. "I told you I could handle her. You're safe as long as I'm around."
"But for how much longer?" she pointedly questioned. "Once we get to Coruscant..."
"One thing at a time, Sweetheart," he said, not wanting to think about what fate awaited her in Imperial Center. "And the first thing we need to think about is getting you cleaned up." He moved closer to her chair and held out his hand, which she took. "Here we go."
He hauled her to her feet and immediately put his arm around her waist to steady her.
"Now lets go see if that medkit is worth all the credits it cost me."
Slowly, he began guiding her towards the crew quarters where he was determined she was going to stay until they reached their destination.
"Oh, and by the way, I'm still waiting to hear your brilliant reason for why you haven't informed your parents that you're 'sort of' a Jedi..."
Anakin Skywalker made a loud sound of frustration as he continued to pace the living room floor. "We have to be missing something!" he declared, struggling against the urge to scream. "There has to be something else! There has to!"
For what felt like an eternity but in reality was only a few hours, he, Padmé, and Obi-Wan had been trying to figure out how they were going to rescue Leia from Sidious. (It didn't matter that a rescue attempt was exactly what Sidious wanted. He was not going to leave his precious child in that monster's hands any longer than he had to.) Unfortunately, there was one very large obstacle that prevented them from coming up with any sort of a plan: none of them, not even Obi-Wan, had been to Coruscant since the day the Republic had become an Empire sixteen years ago.
From the brief glimpses they had received through the HoloNet over the years, it was clear that the world they had all once called home no longer existed. Although for the most part it remained physically unchanged (no other structure, including the Senate complex, had suffered the same fate as the Jedi Temple), Palpatine had done a thorough job of erasing all traces of the Republic. The once open and inviting capital planet had been turned into a fortress that only a select few could freely visit. Those who were not among those few were required to carry numerous identification documents with them at all times. Without the proper security clearances, one could not even enter orbit.
And from what Anakin had learned from various spacers during his years as Scott Novalen on Postaym, it appeared that getting onto Imperial Center (Coruscant's new name) was the easy part.
Imperial City was a high security zone with checkpoints and troops everywhere and all movement was heavily regulated. Without the proper clearances, a being couldn't even perform as mundane a task as making food purchases. (One pilot had told him that he'd heard a rumor that a resident couldn't even enter his own home without first undergoing a full security check.) You could even be arrested for the most minor of offenses, such as not having all of your required documentation.
Basically, even if he, Padmé, and Obi-Wan were able to somehow sneak onto the planet, they'd be trapped. They would be unable to go anywhere without being stopped and asked for identification. (And making Force-suggestions that their identification was not needed would only work for so long before someone noticed.) And leaving would be even more difficult. (They didn't have any Imperial currency to buy passage and they certainly couldn't steal a ship.)
And that wasn't even taking into account Leia's location. Sidious would want her kept as close to him as possible, insuring that he knew where she was at all times. He wanted to know the exact moment Anakin came for her. And that meant that there was only one place she could be: within the walls of the Imperial Palace, the most heavily guarded and secure structure in the entire galaxy.
By keeping her there, Sidious had every advantage. None of them had ever seen it in person. (It hadn't been built until after they had gone into hiding. As with everything else, their knowledge of its existence came exclusively from the HoloNet.) From the long-distance images they had seen, they had not even been able to tell where the main entrance was, let alone where a less-heavily guarded service entrance might be found. Nor did they have the most crucial piece of information of all: the palace's interior layout. Without that, finding Leia within would be impossible. All it would take was one wrong turn or one alarm triggered and the rescue attempt would be over in seconds.
In other words, they were doomed to fail before they even began.
Ironically, there had been a time when none of that would have mattered to him. Back when he had been a Jedi (and unbelievably reckless), he had run into every single situation he encountered without a second thought, plan or no plan. Given that he was so "special" (he was the Chosen One, after all), he had just assumed he would always succeed. If he was captured, he wrote it off as a small setback because he knew that in the end he would still stop the bad guys and free the innocents. Even when it had seemed like he was facing certain death, he'd never doubted his imminent success. And for the longest time, he'd been right.
Until he made the worst mistake of his entire life and changed everything.
He now knew better. And he wasn't willing to risk the life of his innocent daughter on the belief of success. Until he was certain that a rescue attempt would succeed, he wasn't setting foot within a lightyear of Coruscant.
It was, after all, entirely his fault that she was a prisoner in the first place.
Sidious had taken his child because of him. Because he knew how much his family meant to him. (How he regretted the years of sharing all of his secret thoughts and feelings with that...that lying piece of excrement. He had foolishly believed the then-Chancellor to be his friend. He couldn't have been more wrong.) He was exploiting his love of his family as a way of bringing him back to the Sith. Because he knew that Anakin would be willing to do almost anything if it meant saving Leia's life.
But Palpatine was wrong about one thing: "anything" no longer included turning to the dark side.
Not even to save his daughter.
Turning to the dark side all of those years ago had been the biggest mistake of his entire life. His fear had led him into becoming a monster, a killer of innocents and children. (He still wondered how Padmé could still love him after all the things he had done.) Next to his horrendous reaction to his mother's death, it remained his greatest regret. (All the lives he had single-handedly taken... Twice.) Because of his stupidity, he had almost lost everything he had ever cared about.
And now he had even more to lose...
This is all my fault...
If he hadn't been such a blind fool back then, Leia's life wouldn't be in danger now. She was suffering because of a horrible mistake he had made before she was born. It wasn't fair that his innocent child had to pay the price for his crimes.
He had never felt so helpless in his entire life, not even when he had been a slave.
What was he going to do?
"Anakin, I know this is the last thing you want to hear right now, but you need to calm down," Obi-Wan kindly advised. "Your emotions are clouding your mind and you're not thinking clearly. You're not doing Leia any good when you're like this."
His first impulse was to scream "How can I calm down? My daughter is in the hands of the Sith!" but he caught himself before a single word slipped out.
Force, he was doing it again! His emotions were so out of control that he had nearly yelled at his former Master for simply trying to help! What was wrong with him? Had he learned nothing from his tragic mistakes of the past?
Mistakes that had almost caused him to destroy everything he loved...
"I'm sorry, Master," he apologized, halting his pacing. "You're exactly right. It's just that..."
He trailed off, searching for the right words to describe what he was feeling. How could he put his agony and fears into words that Obi-Wan would understand?
Obi-Wan was a highly disciplined Jedi who could release his attachments without a second thought if he believed it served the greater good. He had been raised, like all Jedi, to value all lives equally. No one being was more important than another, not even if you had been the one to give them life.
In other words, Obi-Wan was not a parent.
He had never experienced the intense love that a father felt for his child. He had no idea what it was like to realize that you had taken part in the creation of another living being with someone you loved. He not been there from the moment that child had been born and then vowed as he held her in his arms for the very first time that he would keep her safe from all harm...
He had not watched with pure wonder as that helpless baby grew into an amazing young woman...
Until he did, it would be impossible for him to understand the pure terror that Anakin was feeling now as he went through every parent's worst nightmare.
The terror that he was losing his child forever.
A terror that was all-consuming and made rational decision-making almost an impossibility.
Fear for Leia's safety was going to color every decision he would make until he either had her back or...
Suddenly, he found that his legs could no longer support him and he collapsed into the nearest chair. He dropped his head into his hands, the realization that he might never see his daughter alive again overwhelming him.
"All my fault," he murmured more to himself than either Obi-Wan or Padmé as his guilt came to join his despair.
He was the reason this was happening. If he hadn't allowed Sidious to lure him to the dark side in the first place...
If he hadn't agreed to become his apprentice...
He suddenly felt a pair of hands cover his own before gently pulling them away from his face.
He looked up to see Padmé kneeling before him, concern in her eyes.
"What happened wasn't your fault, Anakin," she quietly assured him. "You had no way of knowing who Mara was or why she was here. You couldn't have known what she was going to do. You can't blame yourself for something you had no control over, my love. Please."
"Of course it's my fault," he countered, freeing his hands from her grasp and pushing himself as far back as he could on the chair. He knew what Padmé was doing (it was the same technique they always used when one of them was trying to make the other feel better), but in this case, everything that had happened was his fault. He was the entire reason Mara had been sent here. If it weren't for his past mistakes, she would never have come into their lives.
He didn't deserve to feel better...
"You heard why she was sent here," he reminded her. "It was because of me. No one else. Me. Because Palpatine wants me back." He could feel the tears starting to slip down his cheeks and looked away from her. "Because of what I promised him.
"Because of what I did..."
Why had he been so stupid all those years ago?
He felt Padmé's hands come to rest on either side of his face and with gentle pressure, she forced him to look at her once again.
"What you did," she said, "you did out of love." She began to wipe at his tears with the pads of her thumbs. "Yes, you made a horrible mistake. Yes, you did...terrible things, but that's all in the past and right now, none of that matters. The only thing that matters is getting our daughter back, which we are going to do.
"Whatever it takes."
"We have to get her back," he softly said. Her gentle and soothing tone was beginning to have an effect on him. He could feel himself regaining control over his wayward emotions. "We have to."
If they didn't...
"And we will," she replied, leaning in to gently kiss him. "Palpatine isn't going to win this time. We're not going to let him."
He wished he could share Padmé's confidence, but the task seemed too impossible. How could they do it?
He could feel his guilt and fear threatening to overwhelm him once more, but for Padmé's sake, he fought it back down, this time calling on the Force to help calm himself. (It was a strange feeling to find himself using the Force again after all these years. As hard as it might have once been for him to believe, he had gotten used to life without it. But now that he no longer needed to hide...)
As she said, nothing was more important than getting Leia back. So if she wasn't ready to give up, he wouldn't be either.
He would do whatever he had to do.
"All right," he began, sitting up straight. "Let's go over everything we know one more time."
He glanced over at Obi-Wan, who had patiently waited while Padmé had calmed him down and refocused his attention, and was immediately hit by another wave of guilt.
Obi-Wan had jeopardized his own mission for the Alliance by coming and warning them about Ellara's intentions. He had risked everything by helping them. (One mistake and he would have destroyed two years of hard work.) And now he was willing to risk it all again to help them get Leia back.
And Anakin had wasted his precious time by having yet another emotional breakdown. (Thankfully, he had never lost it that badly during his years as a Jedi. He couldn't even begin to imagine how Obi-Wan and the other Masters would have reacted. He would have probably been immediately expelled.) Could he have been any more selfish and unfair? What was wrong with him?
Obi-Wan met his gaze, a concerned expression on his face, but before Anakin could apologize, he asked, "Are you all right?"
Anakin simply nodded, searching for the right words to say.
"There really is no need to apologize, Anakin," Obi-Wan continued as if reading his mind. "You have every reason to be upset. Your child has been taken from you. But as Padmé has wisely told you, none of this is your fault.
"Now," he went on, not giving Anakin a chance to protest his assertions, "before we review all that we already know, I would like to propose one more option that hasn't yet been considered. And I urge you to hear me out before making any decisions."
"Yes, Master?" Anakin prompted, his curiosity piqued by Obi-Wan's unusual statement. Normally, when Obi-Wan had a suggestion, he just made it. Why the hesitation?
"You know that I am a member of the Alliance," he began and Anakin immediately knew where he was going and why he had refrained from mentioning it earlier. "And that I have a strong relationship with their High Council. They have a large number of resources that would be more than helpful in any kind of rescue effort. Their military and intelligence divisions alone could provide us with the information and equipment-"
"No, Obi-Wan," Padmé interrupted, standing up and confirming Anakin's suspicion. He knew what her main objection was and it had nothing to do with her own disappearance. "Absolutely not. It's completely out of the question. Not after allowing them to believe us dead for so long. Do you realize the kinds of questions and accusations that would be made against us?"
Anakin rose from his chair and went to his wife, wrapping his arms around her. As always, her sole concern was for him. She was worried about how the senators and surviving Jedi would treat him upon the revelation of their marriage. Because if they were to enlist the Alliance's help in Leia's rescue, they would have to confess everything.
"Of course," Obi-Wan let her know. "That is why I waited until now to say anything. But after accessing all of our available options, I have come to the conclusion that it would be impossible for us to rescue Leia on our own. We just don't have the resources. The Alliance would give us our best chance at getting her back. You know this, Padmé. Please consider it."
Obi-Wan was absolutely right. They had just spent hours trying to find a way to save her themselves and they had nothing to show for it. No matter how much Padmé refused to accept it, a rescue without the Alliance's help was impossible. They needed them if they ever hoped to succeed. As Obi-Wan said, they were their best chance.
Their only chance...
"He's right, Padmé," Anakin spoke, turning his gaze down to her. "We can't do this on our own. We need help."
"Anakin!" she protested, breaking out of his arms, a shocked expression on her face. "I can't believe you of all people would agree with this! You know what going to the Alliance would mean. I refuse to put you through that kind of torture. It wouldn't be fair to you. I won't do it. I won't!"
"Not even to save Leia?"
Her expression changed. "That's not fair and you know it."
At first, he found himself unable to respond, knowing that she was right. That had been an unfair thing to say. But it was also true. As much as she loved their children (and she did, her devotion to them equal or surpassing her devotion to him), she was wrongfully putting his feelings ahead of everything else. Saving Leia had to come first.
"I'm sorry," he softly apologized. "I shouldn't have said that."
"I'm just afraid of what will happen when we tell the High Council where we've been all this time," she confessed. "All they'll be able to focus on is that we abandoned them in their time of need, a Jedi and a senator who put their own lives ahead of the Republic. Our request for help would fall on deaf ears and we will have wasted precious time. Time we could have better spent trying to reach Leia ourselves. Why can't you see that?"
"Then why don't you and Obi-Wan go without me?" he offered, ignoring her question.
It was the perfect solution to her dilemma. If her fear of the High Council's reaction to their marriage was the sole reason that Padmé was refusing their only hope of rescuing Leia, then it only made sense for her to present herself as unmarried. There was no way in all the hells that he'd allow himself to be the one obstacle that prevented her from making the right decision. He was willing to do whatever it took to bring his daughter home. And if that meant staying away from the Alliance, then so be it.
"What? No!" Padmé cried, looking horrified that he would even make such a suggestion. "I'm not going anywhere without you! Never!"
"You're misunderstanding me, Padmé," he assured her. "I'm not staying behind. I just wouldn't go with you and Obi-Wan to meet with the High Council. Without me there, they'd have no reason to question your actions. You were known and respected for your compassion. And what's more compassionate than giving up everything for the sake of your children? No one would question it and they wouldn't hesitate to help you get Leia back. And if they ask about the father, you could just say-"
"No, Anakin! No!" she cut him off. "How could you even suggest such a thing? I refuse to go back to hiding our marriage. It wouldn't be fair to you or our children. Not after sixteen years of loving each other openly. I'm proud to be your wife and the mother of your children. Don't ask me to deny who I am so I won't offend the High Council. If they won't accept me as I am, then I don't want to be accepted by them at all.
"Besides I doubt they would help us anyway," she went on matter-of-factly, not giving him a chance to respond. "The Alliance has far too many more important concerns to attend to than saving the life of one girl. What good would it do the galaxy to rescue her? How would it help their cause? No, we're better off continuing to try to find a way to save her on our own."
"You're very wrong about it not helping their cause," Obi-Wan interjected, the first words he'd said in a while. (Again, he'd been forced to patiently wait for them to finish a personal exchange. More of his valuable time wasted...) "It would help them in a way they could never repay: it would bring you into the Alliance."
"You make it sound like my presence would make a difference," she replied. "I don't see how. They seem to have gotten along fine without me so far."
Anakin mentally shook his head. Padmé had always been blind to the power of her influence over people. They loved her for her strong morals and convictions. It was why she had continued to hold the office of councilor for so many years.
"Yes, they have," Obi-Wan agreed, "but only because they have been trying to emulate you."
Padmé's expression changed to one of shock.
"At every meeting of the High Council I have ever attended, you are mentioned by name before any decision is ever made," he informed her. "Several of the Council members were old friends and colleagues of yours, including Bail Organa and Mon Mothma. They try to predict where you would have stood on certain issues. They do it in honor of your memory, because they see you as one of their founders."
"What?" Padmé breathed and Anakin used the opportunity to take her back into his arms.
"You were part of the Delegation of 2000," Obi-Wan reminded her. "And that is the group that became the Alliance. So believe me when I say that they would agree to anything if it meant you would join them."
"Not after they found out about my marriage," she protested. "From the way you tell it, they hold me up as some sort of...of...ideal. But if I went to them they'd find out that I'm nothing like the woman they think I am. I married a Jedi and kept it a secret for years. I went into hiding to protect him and our children. They'll want nothing to do with me."
"I think you underestimate how they feel about you," Obi-Wan countered. "The fact that your marriage did nothing to influence your politics will weigh strongly in your favor. Perhaps they would even see your love and loyalty to your family as an asset. But you won't know unless you try."
"And I don't think we can afford not to, Padmé," Anakin spoke up. "We really can't do this on our own. We truly need their help. They're the only chance we have of getting Leia back."
She looked up at him. "And if we go to them and they won't help us?"
"They'll help you," he insisted. "You heard how important you are to them. It won't matter what they think of me. They'll do it for you."
"Leia is all that matters," he reminded her. "And this is the best way to save her."
In all honesty, right now he couldn't really care less about what anyone would think of him for having going into hiding for the last sixteen years. (Especially since he was supposed to have been dead according to Obi-Wan...) Getting Leia back was the only thing he cared about. His daughter's life was far more important than a broken Code. (As far as he was concerned, he hadn't been a Jedi since the day he left Mustafar with Padmé.) And if getting her back meant enduring numerous questions and accusations, then so be it.
He held Padmé's gaze until resignation appeared in her eyes.
He was filled with relief as she turned her attention back to Obi-Wan.
"All right, Obi-Wan," she said. "We'll do this your way and contact the Alliance.
"Tell us what to do."
As he sat in the dim bedroom watching over his little sister Ammae as she slept, Luke Peridon repeatedly tried to convince himself that what had happened was not his fault.
According to Mom and Dad, he had done nothing wrong. There was no way he could have known what "Shannin" (or whatever-the-heck her real name was. Dad had called her another name at one point, he couldn't remember what it had been) had been planning to do. He'd had no reason to doubt that she was who she said she was, a nice, friendly girl who had just moved to their city. (And it hadn't hurt that she was incredibly gorgeous too...) Therefore it couldn't be his fault that she had kidnapped Leia.
Oh, who was he kidding? Of course it was his fault that she had been kidnapped! If it weren't for him, "Shannin" would have never set foot in their house. He was the one who had led her right to their front door and let her walk right through it.
All because she had seemed so nice...
A seemingly impossible feat given what she was really like. (She even made Leia at her nastiest seem super sweet!) How had she done it? How had she fooled such a large number of people, including a former Jedi, into believing she was this nice girl? (She must have taken some lessons from the Emperor who had fooled all the Jedi plus all of the senators too into thinking he was a nice guy. She was better than most of the members of the drama club!) What had made her performance so completely flawless?
No, not flawless, he corrected himself. Leia had known that something wasn't right with her.
She'd known from the moment she had come into the house and seen her.
And she'd been the only one to know until right up until "Shannin" tried to kidnap Ammae.
Of all the mysteries that had accumulated over the course of the evening, the plot to kidnap his little sister was the biggest one of all.
He didn't understand what taking Ammae had to do with the strange stuff "Shannin" had been talking about. He'd missed the beginning of the conversation, but he'd heard enough to know that "Shannin" had been sent by someone she kept referring to as "our master" who wanted Dad "back," whatever that meant. (She'd also kept calling Dad that weird name, "Vader.") How kidnapping Ammae was supposed to bring Dad anywhere he didn't know, but this "master" or whatever he was must have been pretty sure of its success to make "Shannin" go through all that trouble of befriending him and his family. (Luke couldn't even imagine the power this "master" had over "Shannin" if he was able to make her pretend to be nice for such a long period of time.) Which meant that he wanted Dad "back" very badly.
Although Dad and Mom had both seemed to know what "Shannin" had been talking about, Luke couldn't make any sense of it. Dad had had only one master that he knew of, his Jedi Master Obi-Wan, and as far as he knew, Jedi Masters didn't go around having children kidnapped. (At least, he thought they didn't. He hadn't really been paying attention back when Ammae was on her Jedi kick and had Dad tell her everything there was to know about Jedi. It truthfully hadn't interested him much.) So who was this mysterious other "master" that "Shannin" also worked for? And what did he mean by wanting Dad "back?"
He groaned and put his head in his hands. He was giving himself a headache trying to understand what had happened. He was never going to figure out anything until-
Startled, he sat up straight and looked up to find Mom standing right in front of his chair.
"Are you all right, baby?" she asked quietly, laying a hand on his shoulder. "Do you need me to get you anything?"
"I-I'm fine, Mom," he told her, not wanting to add to her worries. He didn't want her to know that he was still blaming himself for letting "Shannin" into the house even though she and Dad had repeatedly told him it wasn't his fault. They already had more than enough to worry about. "I'm just tired."
"So why don't I believe you?" she questioned, giving him a look. When he didn't answer, she sighed. "Luke, you have to stop blaming yourself for what happened. It wasn't your fault, baby. If Dad and I didn't know who Mara really was, how could you? None of knew what she was up to until it was too late."
"Leia did," he pointed out, making a mental note of "Shannin's" real name. (Mara. Her name is Mara.)
"That's because Leia was using the Force," Mom quietly informed him, shocking him. (Leia was using the Force? What?) "That's the only reason she knew something wasn't right about Mara. She sensed her intentions and reacted accordingly."
"She was using the Force?" he repeated in a much louder voice than he had been using, not understanding how it was possible. Use of the Force had been forbidden in their family. (Well, it had until Dad had used it tonight anyway.) How had she learned when there had been no one to teach her? (According to Mom and Dad, he, Leia, and Ammae had all used it instinctively when they were very, very little, but it had been immediately discouraged and soon forgotten about.) And why hadn't Mom and Dad known about it? "How did she learn?"
"Not in here," Mom deflected the question, gesturing towards the bed where Ammae was thankfully still sleeping.
Luke covered his mouth when he realized how thoughtless he was being. It had taken poor Ammae so long to fall asleep. Waking her up was the last thing he wanted to do.
"How long has she been sleeping?" Mom wanted to know, changing the subject.
"Not too long," he told her, making sure he kept his voice appropriately low. "She's really worried about Leia and was asking me a million questions about what was happening to her. I think she just finally tired herself out."
Truthfully he'd been surprised by Ammae's fixation on what had happened to Leia. He'd have thought she would have been more concerned over why she herself had almost been kidnapped. But she hadn't mentioned her own near-abduction once, instead focusing completely on what was going to happen to her sister. She had asked him question after question to which he had no way of knowing the answers. (And most of them were things he didn't even want to think about! Poor Leia!) As selfish as it sounded, he had been extremely relieved when she had finally drifted off. Every question she'd asked had had the terrible effect of making him feel worse!
"In other words, her usual," Mom said, smiling sadly. "Sometimes I wish she wasn't as bright as she is. I think she'd be a lot happier."
"Yeah," he agreed as she leaned down to give him a kiss on the top of the head. "You should have heard the things she was asking me. She was freaking me out!"
Mom let out a slight chuckle despite the seriousness of the situation. "I hate to say it, sweetie, but that isn't too hard."
"I know," he admitted sheepishly as she moved to stand by Ammae's bed. "Sorry?"
"Oh, Luke," she sighed with a slight smile, sitting down on the edge of the bed. "Never be sorry for who you are. You just happen to be the sensitive one in this family." Her smile grew wider. "Of course that means that your dad and I still-"
"Don't know where I come from," he finished the old joke. "So does that mean you'll take a second look at my theory that I was switched at birth with another set of twins?"
She quietly laughed as she leaned over and gently brushed away the hair that had fallen in Ammae's face before pressing a soft kiss to her forehead.
"I'll have your father call the medical center first thing in the morning," she teased as she sat up and got to her feet. "Then we can track down your real family and you'll be free of us."
"You've got a deal," he playfully agreed as he stood up from his seat,
They shared a quiet laugh before Mom again grew serious.
"Thank you for staying with her while Dad and I were...preoccupied," she said. "In all seriousness, I know how hard having to deal with her questions must have been for you. But you did it and I'm so proud of you. You're such a good brother, Luke. Ammae's very lucky to have you."
He blushed, as always, uncomfortable with the praise. "How could I leave her alone after what she had been through? It would have been wrong."
"Always the modest one," she commented, shaking her head. "Now I know you're tired and probably want to go to bed, but Dad and I need to talk to you first. I know you have a lot of your own questions about what happened tonight."
"I don't understand any of it," he confessed. "Who is Sh-, uh, Mara and who is her master? I know you and Dad know who they are. What did Mara mean about her master wanting Dad 'back'? Why is this happening to us?"
Mom's expression saddened. "There are things Dad and I have purposely kept from you and your sisters over the years. Things we felt that you never needed to know...that you shouldn't have to know. But now we have no choice. Unless you hear them, you'll never understand why tonight happened."
Luke did not know how to respond to that. Mom and Dad had kept secrets from him and Leia? (Ammae was a given, considering how young she still was.) And they were the reason that Mara had been sent after Ammae...
Suddenly, it wasn't so important to get the answers to his questions anymore.
"Come on," Mom gently urged, taking his hand. "Dad's waiting for us in the living room."
He simply nodded, too worried about what he was going to learn to say anything, and allowed her to lead him out of the room.
As they passed through the doorway, he paused and looked back at Ammae. Because of all the trouble she had had falling asleep, he had actually intended to spend the entire night with her. She had been so completely freaked out about what had happened in her bedroom that he had worried that she would have bad dreams about it and would wake up in the middle of the night. He didn't want to leave her alone. It wasn't-
"She'll be fine, Luke," Mom assured him, as if reading his mind. "I don't think she'll be waking up any time soon. As you said, she tired herself out asking questions. Knowing her, she'll probably sleep better than any of the rest of us."
"Yeah, you're probably right," he had to agree as he moved out of the way so she could key the door shut. Ammae had literally fallen asleep in the middle of asking a question. Anyone that tired wouldn't be getting up before the morning.
"After you," Mom said, gesturing for him to start down the hall.
He nodded and began the short, familiar journey.
As he walked, he tried not to think about what Mom and Dad were about to tell him. He couldn't imagine how things could be any worse than the story they had already told him and Leia. (They were running for their lives!) What could they have possibly felt was so terrible that they didn't want to tell their children? And what did any of it have to do with Mara, her master, and the mission to get Dad "back"?
Part of him, a large part of him, did not want to know. He was afraid to know. Hearing Mom and Dad's story the first time had been the hardest thing he had ever done and that had (apparently) been the edited version. How much worse was it going to be to hear the things they thought it best to never tell their children?
Then again, he needed to know that there was nothing he could have done to prevent tonight's tragedy. Could have knowing Mom and Dad's deepest, darkest secrets had made a difference? Would they have allowed him to see through Mara's "perfect" disguise? Or would have still fallen for her act and allowed her into their house? (In other words, were Mom and Dad right about it not being his fault?)
He took a breath to calm himself and clear his mind. They were almost there. He'd find out their secrets in-
His thoughts were interrupted by the unexpected sound of voices coming from the living room.
His immediate thought was that Dad had turned on the HoloNet while waiting for Mom to bring him in, but then he remembered that Dad liked silence when he was upset about something. (And Dad was more than upset about what had happened tonight...) He tended to go sit by himself somewhere when things were bothering him. So he couldn't be watching the HoloNet.
His second thought was that Dad was on the comm, but given how late it was (and his preference for silence at a time like this), why would he call anyone or anyone call him? It made no sense.
Which only left one option...
As he walked into the living room, he was completely surprised to see Ellara's friend Ben Kenobi sitting across from Dad.
What in the...? What was he doing back here? And where was Ellara?
"I won't do that, Anakin. It's-," Ben was saying (Dad had told him his real name?) as both men immediately looked up at his arrival. "Hello again, young one."
Luke was too stunned to respond. What was going on?
"Come on in and have a seat," Dad said as Mom came up behind him and placed her hand on the small of his back. "Mom told you we both wanted to talk to you?"
"Yeah," he answered as he let Mom gently push him towards the couch. He quickly glanced over at Ben before adding, "But I thought it was about an...um...family matter?"
Ben was a complete stranger. They wouldn't talk about their deepest secrets in front of him, would they?
"It is," Mom verified, pulling him down onto the couch with her. "And Obi-Wan has been a part of this family from the beginning."
As in Dad's former Jedi Master Obi-Wan?
He turned to stare at the man he thought was named Ben.
"Yes, I was your father's Jedi Master," Obi-Wan confirmed. "I apologize for the deception, but as I'm sure your parents have explained to you, there are very few places left in the galaxy that are safe for Jedi. The fewer who know our true identities, the better."
Luke nodded his understanding. Dad had heard from his customers about the Empire's laws regarding Jedi. Any Jedi found was to be immediately captured, but if capture was impossible... He couldn't imagine how hard life was for someone like Obi-Wan who still traveled the galaxy. His parents lived in fear as it was and they didn't leave the planet!
"Luke," Mom began, sliding closer to him and taking both of his hands in hers, "what we're about to tell you is going to be very hard for you to hear."
At her words, his nervousness, which had been momentarily forgotten in his curiosity about Obi-Wan, returned full-force.
What in the universe was she about to tell him?
"But know that no matter what your Dad and I have done in our past," she continued, "it doesn't change how much we love you and your sisters. The three of you are the most important things in the universe to us. We love you more than anything. And nothing is ever going to change that.
Her emphasis about both she and Dad loving him and the girls confused him. Why would any of them ever doubt that? (And what would their past actions have to do with that anyway? All that stuff happened before he and Leia were even born!) He didn't think that there were any kids who were more loved by their parents. Mom and Dad were openly affectionate with both them and each other. (Sometimes a little too much with each other! Eew!)
"But we'll both understand that if hearing about what we've done changes the way you feel about us," she went on, confusing him even more. (Again, what did any of that have to do with loving them?) "There are some...terrible things in our past. Things that...that..."
Luke found himself more afraid than ever as she broke off.
If Mom couldn't even finish what she was going to say...
"Things that shouldn't have ever been forgiven," Dad finished for her and she immediately dropped Luke's hands and turned her attention to him as he spoke.
"Anakin..." she said and Luke could hear the distress in her voice.
"You and I both know that that's the truth," Dad told her and Luke's level of fear only continued to skyrocket. (What had his parents done?) "And so does Obi-Wan. But for some reason the Force only knows, the two of you chose to forgive me. And for that I will be forever grateful."
At this point, Luke decided he was too scared to try to figure out what they were talking about. (So who had actually done the "unforgivable" things? Mom and Dad or just Dad? And how unforgivable could they really be if they'd been forgiven?) He doubted he could be any more confused than he already was. (His headache was definitely coming back!)
"Everything you did was out of love," Mom informed him, making Luke realized that it was Dad who had done these things. "You're were misled and thought you had no other choice. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Luke needs to know the rest of the story before he can understand why you did what you did." She turned her attention back to him (Luke resisted the urge to gulp) and retook his hands. "The decisions we made... Decisions that we will regret until the day we die... They had... Their consequences... Because of our actions, a lot of people were hurt.
Luke's eyes widened. She didn't mean... Mom and Dad could never...
Mom then looked at Dad, who had a very uncomfortable expression on his face. "Will you be all right? Or do you need to leave for a while?"
The question scared Luke. If Dad couldn't even bear to hear what he had done spoken about...
What had he done?
"I'll be all right, Padmé," Dad assured her. "Just tell him."
Mom nodded before once again recentering her attention on Luke.
"Luke, you remember how we told you that before he declared himself Emperor, Palpatine was the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic?"
He nodded, remembering the story of what Palpatine had done to the innocent Jedi. He was the evilest man who had ever existed. He had destroyed Mom and Dad's life. They had been lucky to escape with their lives. If he ever found them...
"And you also remember that he was elected as Supreme Chancellor at the same time your father was brought to Coruscant to train as a Jedi?"
Again, he nodded, wondering where she was going with this.
"Well, shortly before he began his training, Palpatine went to Dad and introduced himself to him.
"And they became very close friends."
Dad had been friends the man that would later destroy both the Republic and the Jedi? What? No way!
"It's true," Dad spoke up, taking over for Mom and Luke could see how hard it was for him to talk about this part of his past. "We were still on Naboo when I first met him. He literally came to me the morning after Qui-Gon's funeral, most likely because he knew I was at my most vulnerable. I had just lost who I believed to be my only friend among the Jedi and for the first time in my life, I was away from both my mom and my home. Your mom was back in her role as Queen Amidala, so she was no longer there for me to talk to. I was feeling scared and alone. I was desperate for somebody, anybody to be my friend. And Palpatine knew it.
"So when he told me that he wanted to be that friend, I allowed myself to believe him without question," he explained and Luke found his shock giving away to interest. (He didn't see what was so bad about this supposed deep dark secret. He had been a scared nine-year-old kid who took the first offer of friendship he had been given. What did this have to do with the "unforgivable" things that hurt people?) "I was so lonely I would have accepted friendship from just about anyone. What did it matter that he was the newly elected leader of the Republic and I was a boy who had been a slave only days ago? He wanted to be my friend and that was all that mattered."
Luke was fascinated, but he still didn't see how learning this was supposed to make him not love Dad any more. He had been nine years old and Palpatine had been really nice to him. (Like Mara had been really nice to him...) Why wouldn't he have believed him? He had no way of knowing how evil he really was. (No one else had until it was too late!)
"And he was so nice," Dad continued. "No one had ever said the things to me that he had before. Well, my mom had, but she didn't count because she would have told me how wonderful I was even if I was as dumb as a womp rat. He told me that he could tell that I was special and that he believed I was destined to become the greatest Jedi that ever lived... What slave ever expects to hear those kinds of things? I didn't just eat it up. I basked in it.
"And that was just the beginning. Before your mom came back into my life, he was my greatest friend. He was the one person I could always count on and I trusted him more than anyone else. He was the one I went to when I needed to talk. He didn't tell me what to do or discipline me like Obi-Wan and the other Masters did. He just listened and told me how great I was, how special I was. He told me the things that I wanted hear instead of what I needed to hear. And because of that, I felt that he was the only one who understood me...
"By the time I was your age, he had me convinced that I was better and more powerful than all of the Jedi combined and that the Masters, especially Obi-Wan, were holding me back. According to Palpatine, they were jealous of my powers. A ridiculous notion, of course, but I was too young and wrapped up in myself to see that. Thanks to my so-called friend, I had an ego that was big enough to fill the entire Jedi Temple."
Luke found that incredibly hard to believe. Dad with an ego? Uh-uh, no way! Dad was way too nice and humble. There was no way he could have ever been as full of himself as he was claiming.
"You weren't that bad, Anakin," Obi-Wan interjected. "You make it sound as if you did nothing but strut around and proclaim how wonderful you were."
"Only when you weren't looking, Obi-Wan," Mom pointed out and Luke couldn't help but laugh at the image he was getting in his head. (He still didn't see what part of this story was so terrible. Where were the "unforgivable" things Dad was supposed to have done?)
"As I said, I trusted him more than anyone else until Mom and I were reunited," Dad continued, ignoring Mom and Obi-Wan's comments. "Once Mom was back in my life and we got married, nothing else mattered. No one else mattered. She became my main priority and I wasn't going to risk losing her by telling anyone our secret, not even the Chancellor. If the Jedi found out about us... It was the one secret I kept from him.
"Or at least, I thought I had."
Luke had a feeling that he was about to hear the beginning of the bad part of their past. If Palpatine had already known about Mom and Dad's marriage...
"Somehow he...learned about us," Dad went on. "To this day, I can't figure out how he did it. I don't even know how long he knew. But when it came time for him to use it as a way of getting me to do what he wanted..."
He trailed off, a really awful expression crossing his face.
Mom let go of Luke's hands again and moved closer to Dad. "Do you need me to take over now?"
Dad shook his head. "No. I'm... I'm all right. Just give me a second."
"Are you sure?"
"I have to do this, Padmé," he told her. "He needs to hear this from me."
Luke braced himself while Dad closed his eyes and took a deep breath as if to calm himself. This had to be it. He was finally going to hear the part he was dreading. And if just the thought of telling it was making Dad get upset...
"Luke, do you remember what we told you about how your Grandma Shmi died?" Dad finally said, taking him by surprise with the subject change.
Luke nodded, again wondering where this was going. What did Grandma Shmi's death have to do with Palpatine knowing about Mom and Dad's marriage? She had died just days before they had gotten married. (Dad hardly talked about her, but he and Mom had told the three of them that she had been taken prisoner by the bad Sand People of Tatooine and they had badly hurt her. They had hurt her so bad that she had died in Dad's arms when he had finally come to rescue her.)
"What we didn't tell you was that I had been having very bad dreams about her death for weeks before I found out she had been captured," Dad continued and Luke's eyes widened at the revelation. (He had...dreamed about her death? Whoa.) "The worst nightmares you can possibly imagine. Night after night. It got to the point I couldn't sleep anymore. I spoke to Master Obi-Wan about them, but he assured me that dreams were just dreams and that they would pass in time."
Dad and Obi-Wan exchanged a look that Luke couldn't completely interpret, but he was positive Obi-Wan had a guilty expression on his face for the briefest of seconds.
"It was at that time I was assigned to guard your mom from the assassins and for a little while, I was able to ignore the dreams," Dad added. "Being with her again was just so wonderful... But once we were on Naboo, they came back. Worse than ever.
"So your mom, being the wonderful person that she is," he went on, this time sharing a look with Mom, "decided that the best way to ease my fears would be to go to Tatooine and check on her myself. The rest of course you know."
"Uh-huh," Luke agreed, horrified that Dad had gone through all of that only to have his mom really die. He couldn't imagine how awful Dad must have felt and it explained why he never wanted to talk about her. To have your mom die in your arms...
"So you can guess how I felt when three years later I started having the same kind of dreams about your mom."
Luke's mind reeled at the statement. Dad had dreamed about Mom dying too?
"They started the night Mom told me that she was pregnant with you and Leia," Dad explained. "I had just returned to Coruscant after being away for several months in the war. When she told me that she was going to have a baby... Force, it was one of the greatest moments of my life. We had talked about having children and now it was really happening. I couldn't wait to be a father.
"So when I dreamed that she died in childbirth..."
"I didn't know what to do," he continued. "My immediate thought was that she really was going to die because of what happened to my mom. I was desperate to find a way to keep the dream from coming true. Your mom, of course, tried to assure me that it was just a dream, but I was too frightened to believe her. If I lost her... I even went to Yoda, the head of the Jedi Council, for advice, but he couldn't help me either. So when Palpatine just happened to tell me of a Force ability to keep people from dying..."
Luke suddenly had a bad feeling that he knew where this was going.
"Before I go on, there's something else you need to know," Dad said. "Something that we probably should have told you a long time ago.
"Palpatine is a Sith."
"A-a Sith?" Luke gasped, shocked yet again by the unexpected fact.
But a fact that made perfect sense given what Palpatine had done. The Sith, who were the sworn enemies of the Jedi, were the evilest beings in the galaxy. Their sole goal was to rule the universe.
Why hadn't he realized this before? Who else but a Sith would want to...
Luke suddenly went cold when it dawned on him that Dad had been close friends with a Sith. A Sith he had trusted for years and years. A Sith who had found out about his secret marriage.
A Sith who had happened to mention an unknown Force power just when Dad needed it the most...
"Out of love" Mom had said about Dad's actions.
Had he...used the dark side to save her life? Was that the supposedly "unforgivable" thing he had done? ("Unforgivable" in Dad's mind because he was a Jedi and Jedi weren't supposed to use the dark side but forgivable to Mom and Obi-Wan because he had used it with good intentions?)
He looked up to find that Dad had gone very pale and was leaning back in his chair with his eyes closed. Mom had gotten up and gone over to him and she was whispering to him. Dad was shaking his head "no" in response to whatever she was telling him.
Luke turned to look at Obi-Wan, who hadn't said a word since the ego comments.
"This part of the story is going to be the most difficult for your father to tell and the most difficult part for you to hear," Obi-Wan told him. "Please don't judge him until you have heard all of it. Your father is a good man who sometimes lets his feelings overrule his better judgment. I made that mistake a long time ago and it almost led to disaster. Don't repeat my mistake. Remember how much he loves you, your sisters, and your mother."
"O-okay," Luke promised, Obi-Wan's words making him nervous all over again. Obviously whatever it was he had done, it was much worse than using the dark side to save Mom.
What had he done?
He quietly waited while Mom and Dad continued whispering.
Finally, Mom kissed him and Dad seemed ready to move on with his story.
"Are you all right now, Anakin?" Obi-Wan asked.
"I will be, Master," Dad said, taking Mom's hand in his. "As soon as I finish this."
"I'm okay with whatever it is you have to tell me," Luke offered, hoping that hearing the words would make Dad feel better.
Dad nodded. "Palpatine first mentioned that there was a way to keep people from dying in a supposed Sith legend. I was so distracted by my fears at the time that it didn't occur to me that it was strange that he knew anything about the Sith other than that they existed. No one outside of the Jedi should have. But the possibility that there might have been a way to keep your mom from dying was all I cared about. Saving her was all that mattered.
"So I began searching the Jedi archives for any mention of this kind of power, whether it had been used by either Jedi or Sith," he continued, "but I couldn't find a single thing. I was frustrated and distraught and not thinking straight, so when I was sent to bring a report to the Chancellor, he saw it as his chance to make me the offer he had been waiting to make since the day he met me:
"The offer to become his Sith apprentice."
Luke's mouth fell open.
"When I made the mistake of saying that I thought the Jedi were hiding things from me, meaning the so-called power to keep people from dying, he immediately offered to teach it to me," Dad went on. "He told me that he knew all about the Force and its dark side and that the only way to save your mom's life was to become a Sith myself. At first, I...resisted him. But in the end... In the end... In the end, I accepted his offer.
"I agreed to become his apprentice."
Luke stared at him, not believing a word he had just said. Dad wasn't a Sith. He was a Jedi. He and Mom had said so. And Obi-Wan was here and Dad kept calling him "Master." If he was a Sith, he wouldn't do that, would he? He'd-
"Once I had pledged myself to him, he told me that the only way for me to become powerful enough in the dark side to save Mom was to help him kill all the Jedi."
"He told me that all of the Jedi were out to destroy the Republic. He said that they were evil and the only way to stop them was to kill them.
"All of them."
"No..." Luke shook his head. Dad wouldn't have... He couldn't...
"And I believed him," Dad said, his anguish clear in his voice. "So that's exactly what I did. I went to the Jedi Temple with a battalion of clone troopers and I... I..."
"No!" Luke protested. "You couldn't have! Not you, Dad! There's no way!"
"I'm sorry, Luke," Dad managed, tears in his voice. "I..."
"Force, no!" Luke gasped, horrified. Not his Dad...
"He came to me after he had finished his task at the Temple," Mom took over. She clutched Dad's hand tightly as she spoke. "He didn't tell me what he had done, but I knew something was very wrong. He wasn't acting like himself and he was telling me things that I knew weren't true, like that the Jedi had betrayed the Republic. He then said that he was going to go end the war and then he made me promise that I would wait for him to come back. Because I was worried about his strange behavior, I agreed with him. I knew arguing with him would upset him and that was the last thing I wanted to do. I figured that he would have calmed down by the time he came back and then we would be able to discuss what had actually happened.
"But when Obi-Wan came to me the next day and told me about the security holos of the massacre at the Temple..."
Luke felt sick and wanted nothing more than to flee the room, but he knew he owed it to Dad to hear the entire story.
Oh, Dad, how many did you kill?
"After Obi-Wan left me, I did what I should have done the night before. I went after your dad," Mom went on. "I was afraid of what would happen if I didn't stop him and take him away from Palpatine's influence. He had told me where he was going, but by the time I had gotten to him, he had..." Mom took a deep breath and shared another look with Dad, who was even paler than he had been before. "He had executed the entire Separatist Council."
Luke felt nauseous, his stomach churning at Dad's growing body count. The idea that his father, his loving, gentle, kind, funny, wonderful father, could kill so many... So many innocent...
"By the time Mom found me, I was completely resigned to my fate," Dad finally spoke again. "I was convinced that it was the only way to keep her from dying. I was disgusted with myself, but I knew that if I stopped obeying Palpatine's orders, I'd never achieve the power to save her. And saving her was all that mattered. I was willing to do whatever it took, no matter how much I hated it."
As horrified as he was, Luke did understand why Dad had done what he'd done. Like Obi-Wan had said, he had let his emotions overcome his better judgment. Dad had been so scared of losing Mom that he probably would have agreed to anything if he'd thought that it would save her.
Palpatine was the evil one here, not Dad.
But it still didn't excuse the fact that he had killed...murdered so many...
"I pleaded with Dad to stop what he was doing," Mom picked up the narrative. "I told him how much I loved him and I promised him that I wasn't going to die in childbirth. But he refused to believe me. He was so afraid of my death that it was impossible to reason with him. So I did the only thing I could think of: I told him that I was leaving him."
"It was that threat that finally got through to me," Dad told him. "Her leaving me was something I feared more than her dying. Losing her love was, to me, a fate worse than death. Your mom's love was everything to me and I would do anything to keep it."
"Even disobey his new master," Mom said. "I convinced him to leave with me and to leave everything else behind. Everything we had ever known and loved was gone. If we went back, there was no telling what would happen. Dad would have continued serving Palpatine and I probably would have...
"I would have been executed for treason," she finished. "Palpatine knew that as long as I lived, I would openly oppose his new form of government. And he knew that I would also be a distraction for your father. So we decided that disappearing was the only way we could have a life together. Palpatine would never stop looking for Dad. If he found him... We changed our appearances, our identities, and then we went into hiding. You and Leia were born a few months later and Ammae several years after that. The rest you know."
It was clearly the end of the story, but Luke had no idea what to say. He knew that Mom and Dad were expecting some kind of reaction from him, but his feelings were too much of a jumbled mess.
What do you say to your father after he admits that he'd been a mass murderer?
A silence fell over the room and Luke found that he could no longer look into his parents' expectant faces. It hurt him too much.
"Please say something," Dad finally pleaded. "Please Luke."
"I-I think I need to be alone for a while," he quickly said, shakily standing up from the couch. He needed to get away from them. He needed time to process what he'd just heard.
What his father had done...
"Of course, sweetie," Mom told him, giving him a sympathetic look. "Take all the time you need."
Without looking at either of his parents or Obi-Wan, he slowly walked out of the room, struggling to keep himself from running.
But once he was through the doorway, Luke ran as fast as he could to his bedroom and shut the door behind him.
As he arrived at Luke's closed bedroom door, Anakin once again wished that it was Padmé standing here instead of him.
At least he knew Luke would talk to her.
From the time he was very young, Luke had had a very black and white view of the universe. In his opinion, a person was either entirely good or completely bad and nothing else. There was no in-between. (In other words, he was worse than the Jedi had ever been.) And he refused to have anything to do with those that were bad.
And he especially had zero tolerance for anyone that would willingly inflict harm, verbal, physical, or both, on another being. (Acts of self-defense did not count, of course. Otherwise, he'd never have anything to do with his own twin!) They were the lowest of the low in his mind. In fact, he went out of his way to avoid even being in the same room with them. So now that he knew that his own father had been a mass-murderer...
A wave of guilt and despair threatened to overtake him as the thought triggered memories of that long-ago night, but he fought it back down. He had broken down too many times tonight already. He did not want to do it again. And more importantly, he had a task to complete.
Anakin had no illusions that his relationship with Luke had been irrevocably changed. It did not matter that they had always been extremely close. (A welcome result of being the only men in the family.) He was the very kind of person that his son despised most in the galaxy. (He had killed so many...) In all likelihood, Luke would never speak to him again.
Which meant he was probably the last person Luke would want to have knocking on his door right now.
But he had to try because Padmé was right in that he needed to be checked on, especially after the way he had fled the living room. Luke was a very sensitive boy who was affected very easily by the things he heard and always needed to talk about them immediately. (And nothing could be more upsetting than learning that your father was a cold-blooded killer...) Otherwise, as he and Padmé had learned early on, he would obsess about them to the point of having an emotional breakdown. (He was very much like his father in that respect.)
It was just unfortunate that Padmé wasn't the one doing the checking...
But as she had so rightly pointed out, there were numerous things she needed to take care of if they were going to be able to leave first thing in the morning. Because of the situation with Ellara, they could not have the Peridon family perish in a tragic home explosion as was their normal escape plan. Despite their success in convincing her of their ignorance of Senator Amidala's whereabouts, it would seem too suspicious and cause more problems than it would solve. (Not to mention it didn't matter since Palpatine had already found them...) So it was imperative that they made their impending absence known.
The cover story that Padmé would inform both her office and the children's schools was that they had been suddenly called off-world due to a family emergency (which was completely true) and did not know when she would be back (also completely true). It was something that no one would ever think to question. They could be gone for months, which was a real possibility, and no one would give it a second thought.
There were also all the home preparations that had to be made as well. The security system had to be set and their most important possessions hidden. Away messages had to be recorded for their personal comlinks as well as their home comm. Perishable food items had to either be disposed of or prepared to be eaten for breakfast. (The only thing they didn't have to worry about was what they were taking with them. Their ship was fully-stocked with everything they would need in the event that had to flee the planet and start over elsewhere.) Ironically, if it weren't for the part about it being a life and death situation, it felt like they were getting ready to go on a vacation.
In other words, Padmé was going to be occupied for the next several hours and Luke should not have to wait that long to be checked on.
Not that he's going to actually talk to me, Anakin knew as he raised his hand to knock. He had sensed Luke's emotional turmoil long before he had reached his room. Right now he was more upset than he had probably ever been in his entire life.
And it was all because of him...
"Luke?" he called through the door after rapping on it three times. "It's Dad. I just want to know if you're all right in there."
He felt a flicker in Luke's emotions, which told him that he had his attention, but his general emotional state remained unchanged.
"You've been in there a long time," he continued through the door. "Mom and I are worried about you."
He listened for a response even though he doubted he was going to get one.
As expected, only silence answered him.
He waited for a few moments and then tried again.
"Luke? I just want to know if you're okay."
Again, just as expected, no answer.
He sighed. As he had told Padmé repeatedly, short of breaking into his son's room and using the Force to "persuade" him to talk, Luke was not going to speak to him.
Tonight or ever again.
Knowing that he had done everything he could, he said, "Okay. Then I'm going to go away. But just know that both Mom and I are here for you for when you're ready to talk. Okay?" He paused before adding, "I love you, Luke."
There was a slight surge in Luke's emotions at those final words, but nothing more.
Confident that he had done his best (Padmé would have to try again herself after she had finished her tasks), he turned and began to walk away.
But before he had reached the end of the hall, there was a sudden shift in Luke's emotions and seconds later, he heard the bedroom door slide open.
Anakin froze, shocked at the unexpected turn of events. Luke had come out of his room and actually spoken to him! How could this be? And what did it mean?
Was there actually hope that he hadn't lost his son forever?
He was afraid to turn around and face him. One wrong word or gesture on his part could push Luke away for good. He didn't know what to do.
The next move would have to be Luke's.
Heart in his throat, he finally turned to face his son.
Luke was standing in his doorway, looking very nervous and unsure of himself.
He swallowed and then tried to speak again. "I..."
Anakin remained motionless, waiting.
"I-I love you too," Luke finally said after what felt like an eternity. "And I... I...understand why you did what you did. You were afraid about Mom." He began to shuffle his feet. "But... But..."
Anakin had a feeling he knew what was coming next.
"How could you do it, Dad?" Luke at last managed, proving Anakin's suspicions right. (It made sense that this was bothering Luke the most. Not just the fact that his father had killed, but the fact that he had been able to kill.) "How could you take all those lives? All those Jedi... People you knew! I... I just don't understand. How?"
Anakin knew that Luke would not like his answer. The choice he had made all those years ago had been guided by fear. There was not a single redeeming quality in what he had done that night.
He had chosen to become a murderer, plain and simple.
All because he had believed one man's lies...
But he wouldn't lie to his son. Luke deserved to hear the truth, no matter how terrible it was.
Taking a deep breath, he began, "I did it by allowing myself to believe that it was the only way to save your mom's life."
The guilt he had successfully held back only minutes earlier came crashing back over him.
"I kept telling myself that with every life I took I was one step closer to keeping her from dying," he continued, hating himself all over again for his stupidity. "I kept telling myself that the Jedi were evil and traitors to the Republic so that I was doing the galaxy a favor by killing them...
"That it didn't matter that I had known all of them for almost my entire life...
"That they had been my family..."
"All that mattered was saving Padmé," he stated, watching Luke's face for signs that he had said the wrong thing. "I didn't allow myself to think about anything else. I was so afraid of losing her that I would have been willing to do anything if it meant keeping her from dying. Keeping her alive was the only thing I cared about.
"The only thing."
"But that didn't mean that I didn't hate myself for what I had to do," Anakin pressed on, wanting Luke to know everything he had felt that night. That he had done what he had done knowing it was wrong... "It sickened me that the only way to save the one I loved was to cause the deaths of so many others. So many innocents... I didn't understand how killing them would increase my power. Palpatine didn't explain. He just ordered. I should have questioned it... But I didn't.
"And I killed them all."
He could feel the tears beginning to form.
All those lives he had single-handedly taken...
"N-not all of them," Luke quietly disagreed after a few moments of silence. "Not Obi-Wan."
Anakin smiled sadly at him. "The only reason he and any others survived was because they weren't at the Temple. If they had been there..."
Luke only nodded.
"I live with the guilt of my actions every single day," he confessed, the tears beginning to fall. "They still haunt my nightmares even all these years later. I will never escape the evil I did that night. I became a monster the moment I agreed to commit those murders and I'll remain that monster until the day I die.
"You, your mother, and your sisters are the only reason why I go on living," he informed him. "If it weren't for the four of you..."
Luke's emotions shifted and he took a tentative step out of his doorway.
"My family is everything to me," Anakin stated firmly. "You're all I have left in the galaxy and that's far more than I deserve. How someone like me could have created something as wonderful as you and your sisters... I love you so much, Luke."
It was at that moment that Luke finally burst into action and closed the gap between them, pulling Anakin into a hug.
"I love you too, Dad," Luke replied, holding him close.
Anakin, in complete and utter shock at what was happening, could only return the hug.
Despite everything he had done, he had not lost Luke after all.
His son still loved him.
It was a gift from the Force.
As he held his beloved child in his arms, he whispered "Thank you."
When Han didn't get any response, he knew that the sedative he had slipped into Leia's tea had finally taken effect.
It's about time.
While he had a feeling that she wouldn't be too happy with him after she woke up, it was a well-known fact that rest was the best medicine for someone in the kid's condition. So he had decided that she was going to get some whether she liked it or not. (Now that she was feeling better, she was getting even more worked up than she'd been when he'd first found her tied to the chair. She had spent the entire time he was patching her up talking about how she was going to take Mara down in a rematch. He had honestly been worried that she'd get up at any second and try to do just that!) And since telling her to take a nap would only earn him one of her endearing insults, he had had to do it the sneaky way: by mixing a sleeping aid into some tea and insisting that she drink every last drop of it. (When she had questioned him about it, he had told her "because I say so. Captain's orders.") It hadn't taken too long before she had started yawning and now she was out like a light, which meant she'd stay out of trouble for at least the next few hours. (A first, he was sure!)
As he leaned down over the bed to cover her with the blanket, he shook his head at Leia's determination to have that rematch. If he didn't keep a close eye on her, she was going to get herself killed before they even exited hyperspace! (Mara had obviously only been toying with her the first time. If Leia tried to attack her again...) The kid was certainly stubborn! Maybe Mara had had the right idea in keeping her tied up after all...
Shaking his head a second time, he pulled the blanket up to the kid's chin and backed away from the bed. Mara was turning out to be a bigger problem than he'd initially thought. Not only was she psychotic and violent, but she had the ability to know when someone was coming up behind her, which meant that there was no way he and Chewie could take her out by themselves. She'd know exactly when they were coming and more likely than not kill them in seconds. (Sure it was a blow to his ego to admit that a teenage girl was too much for him and a Wookie to handle, but it was in his expert opinion that being alive and humiliated was much more preferable to being dead.) That meant that there would be no freeing Leia from her clutches before they arrived at Coruscant.
Which of course led to a whole new universe of problems.
Namely, Mara's boss.
Whoever this guy was, Han already knew he was bad news. (All you had to do was look at his hired help!) Without ever having met him, there were two things he was already certain of: one, that this guy held grudges for years, and two, that he was willing to go to insane lengths to get his way (such as taking an enemy's child hostage). He was also pretty sure that he was one of those beings who refused to take "no" for an answer. (If he had a guess, he had wanted to make whatever partnership Skywalker had made with him permanent and Skywalker had refused.) He was clearly not someone you wanted mad at you.
And freeing Leia under his nose was a surefire way to make someone like that more than a little annoyed with you...
How was he ever going to get the kid out of this mess? He honestly did not know what to do. While it was true he'd been in countless seemingly hopeless situations before, this was the first one where he couldn't immediately see any opportunity to turn to his advantage. Mara the psycho brat was ready to kill anyone who so much as looked at her the wrong way and her Sith boss...
Mara's boss who wanted Leia's father to join forces with him...
Something that would only happen if Leia remained alive...
Which meant that Mara was probably under strict orders to not kill her!
Of course! It was now so obvious that he couldn't believe he had missed it until this very second! The key to Leia's continued safety had been right in front of his face the entire time!
For all her talk of killing Leia, Mara would land herself in a massive pile of poo-doo if she did it. Her boss would probably kill her! His entire scheme to get Skywalker to even consider rejoining him depended on Leia still breathing. A dead Leia equaled a very dead Sith. (Skywalker had had a reputation for avenging the innocent, which apparently had not been very Jedi-like, but it had made him even more popular with the public.) So it was in his best interests to make sure she stayed in one piece. (Something he just bet was tormenting Little Miss Starshine!) Which made it in Mara's best interests too...
A brilliant idea was starting to come together in his mind. If the Sith was as smart as he thought and he probably was, Leia could not be mistreated in any way once in his custody. In order to stay on Skywalker's good side (though kidnapping his daughter may not have been exactly the best way to start things off), Leia could not be locked up like a common prisoner. In other words, she had to be treated as nothing less than an honored guest. And honored guests did not stay in prison cells. They were given the best of accommodations. Luxurious accommodations that allowed for all sorts of access to amenities. Access that could lead to any number of escape routes...
Escape routes that someone like him could easily locate...
It would take a while, but he could probably have Leia out of there and on her way back home to Mommy and Daddy without anyone noticing she was missing until it was too late.
Of course, for this whole plan to work, he would have be allowed to remain with Leia once they reached Coruscant.
Which he currently had absolutely no idea how to accomplish.
It was time to consult Chewie, whose help he was going to need if he was not only going to pull off an escape but if he was going to get Jabba his money on time, too. (He had already checked in to let him know that he was going to be late getting to Tatooine because of the repairs, so he had a couple more days before the Hutt sent the bounty hunters after him.) Chewie would help him come up with some irresistible reason why Mara had to let him stay with Leia.
You're gonna owe me big time for this, Sweetheart, he jokingly told her in his mind as he headed out of his quarters.
As he walked, he mused over the fact that he was going out of his way to protect and rescue a kid he barely knew for absolutely nothing. It was something that had never happened before. (Well, that wasn't exactly true, but his last good deed had been a very long time ago and he had learned the hard way that it usually wasn't worth the trouble...) Obviously, he was beginning to go soft, a bad thing to be in his line of work. But he knew he would never be able to live with himself if something bad happened to Leia.
The kid had come to mean a lot to him in the past three days that he had known her.
In fact, he was starting to feel as if he'd known her his entire life.
As if he couldn't go another day without her in it...
Whoa, whoa, whoa, he admonished himself as he realized his thoughts were going inappropriate places.
Leia was just a kid. A young kid. He was not supposed to feel that way about a kid.
What the hell was wrong with him? And where had this come from anyway? It had nothing to do with the fact that Leia was gorgeous, an undeniable fact. He'd been around tons of gorgeous females in his day and none had stirred up these kinds of feelings in him before. (Not even Bria...) So what was it about her that was doing this to him?
Was it her-?
He stopped himself. This was not the time or place to analyze his inexplicable attraction to a sixteen-year-old girl. He needed to instead be focusing on how to keep said girl alive so he could help her escape from a Sith.
Pushing all other thoughts away, he went searching for Chewie.
Mara groaned as she sensed Solo coming back to the cockpit. Just when she'd finally started to relax! The man was almost as annoying as the girl.
"Bored with the brat already I take it," she greeted him as he entered the compartment.
She wondered what he had been doing with Leia for the past couple of hours. When she had caught him with her in his arms, her immediate thought had been that he was one of those males who were perversely attracted to underaged females. But his protective behavior towards her didn't fit the profile, making Mara curious to know what his actual interest in the girl was. (He had repeatedly referred to her as his "friend," which implied that they knew each other fairly well. And as she had learned first-hand, Leia would not have tolerated him if she thought that he was a threat. But why would a spacer want to be friends with a teenage girl? What did he get out of the relationship?)
"Nope," he casually informed her as he flopped into the pilot seat. "She's taking a nap. Getting the crap beat out of you is pretty exhausting."
"Speaking from personal experience?" she shot back, wanting very much to add to it. Too bad she needed him to pilot the ship. It was a two person job and if she had to kill him, she'd have to kill the Wookie too and then there'd be no one left to help her. (She doubted Leia knew how to fly and even if she did, she wouldn't trust her to not attempt to sabotage their flight plan.)
"Real funny," Solo commented. "Anyway, since we have a few minutes to ourselves, I figured it was time for you and me to have a little chat about my fee."
She raised an eyebrow. "You mean other than keeping your precious little friend alive?"
Was she going to have to keep reminding him of that every few hours? He was lucky he was getting to keep his own life.
"Yeah, about that," he said. "You see, I had a nice long discussion with Leia and it seems to me that killing her would be a big no-no. I mean, if your boss wants to stay on her daddy's good side, keeping her in one piece is kind of a priority. You kill her and her daddy's gonna kill you."
She snorted. (At least she now knew what he'd been doing with Leia all that time. Apparently friendship was the only thing going on between them.) "Her father is the last person in the galaxy I'd ever be afraid of. We've met and I was highly unimpressed. He's not a threat to me."
An image of Vader in his robe jumped into her mind and she resisted the urge to smile. Her master was in for a surprise when his precious long-lost protégé came to rescue his bratty daughter.
Maybe he'd be surprised enough to reconsider who would be a more worthy apprentice...
"So you don't think your boss would mind you ruining his one chance to get her father to work for him again?" he questioned. "He's going through an awful lot of trouble to get his attention. He'd really hate for it to all fall flat."
"You know, if you continue to behave yourself like you've barely managed to do so far, Leia's death won't become an issue," she pointed out. "I'd say that's a fair compensation for your services. But it's obvious you don't agree. So, Captain Solo, tell me, how many credits will it take to make you a happy man?"
Not that she had any intention of paying him anything. And a squad of stormtroopers would make sure he left without making a scene.
"You can keep your credits, Red," he told her, taking her by surprise. (He wasn't asking for money?) "I just want one thing and it ain't going to cost you or your boss a decicred. And that is to be able to stay with Leia until her father comes to reclaim her. Do that and I'll consider myself paid for my services."
She was instantly suspicious. "That's it?"
"Yep. That's it," he verified. "Not that I couldn't use a few extra credits, but I get the feeling you and your boss aren't the generous types."
"My master can be extremely generous when he wants to be," she corrected, emphasizing his true title. She was getting tired of Solo referring to him in such a degrading manner. He was so much more than a simple "boss"... "But only with those who are deserving of his generosity."
"Whatever," he waved her off. "So, what do you say? Do we have a deal?"
"Not yet," she said. "You haven't yet told me why I should let you stay with her. What's the catch?"
He was up to something. He knew Leia was her prisoner. Staying with her would make him a prisoner too. What good would that do him? What was in it for him?
"No catch," he assured her. "I just happen to know Leia a lot better than you do and if you want to keep your prison guards and anyone in the next three buildings from not trying to remember what it was like to not have a headache, you're gonna need me to keep her quiet. Because this kid ain't gonna be a model prisoner. She's gonna carry on from the moment you lock her up until she's back in her daddy's arms."
"We have ways of taming unruly prisoners," she told him, still trying to figure out what he really wanted. What was his motivation? "I think we can manage without you. No deal."
"Well, in that case, I'm going to need you to take me prisoner too because I'm not going anywhere until I know she's safely back with her family."
Mara gave a harsh laugh. He was clearly desperate now if he was resorting to this kind of a tactic. (This obviously went far beyond his claim of just wanting to see her reunited with her family.) "And why would I do a thing like that, Captain? You're worthless to my master. He'd probably just have you executed after the girl was gone to make room for prisoners of value."
"Oh, I know quite a few groups who'd disagree with your assessment," Solo countered. "And they've all been waiting to get their hands on me for years, which means that they'll be willing to reward the one to bring me in quite handsomely. You let me stay with Leia and your master can be the one to hand me over to whichever one he chooses after she's gone. It's a win-win situation for you."
"But not for you," she pointed out, though she couldn't help but be intrigued by his claim. He was willing to give up his freedom just to keep the brat company for a couple of days? Who was this man? And what was he really up to?
"All right, just for the sake of argument, let's say I agree to your terms. I make you my prisoner. Then what? Who are these organizations that you believe is gonna pay me and my master for bringing you in?"
"How 'bout I just give you the name of the one that's sure to pay the two of you the most?
She suppressed the urge to openly laugh at such an outrageous claim. Solo was a mere spacer, most likely a smuggler from the looks of his ship. As if her master would bother himself with such a minor criminal! That's what the local planetary and system governments were for. She couldn't wait to hear why Solo thought he was worthy of Imperial notice. (She was suddenly glad she had kept her true identity from him. When he found out...)
Keeping her voice neutral, she questioned, "Oh, really? And why does the Empire have such an interest in you?"
"Well, for starters, there's the fact that I assaulted my commanding officer," Solo began, shocking her. (Solo had been an Imperial?) "Not to mention my constant disobedience of direct orders, dereliction of duty, and theft of Imperial property.
"Though I have to say that Chewie makes a much better copilot than he ever did a slave," he added, having the audacity to sound proud of himself. "The Empire should actually thank me for taking him off of their hands."
As impossible as it seemed, Mara knew instantly that she had greatly underestimated Solo. He was an Academy graduate, which meant that he was both smart and talented. Only the best of the best were allowed to complete the program. After all, the Empire did not let just anybody into its ranks. The privilege had to be earned.
A privilege Solo had willingly given up to free a slave...
And it was at that moment that she knew exactly what he wanted: he thought he was going to be able to break Leia out and escape with her before her father showed up.
That was why he was so determined to stay with her. It all made perfect sense now. There was no secret ulterior motive. He really was just being Leia's friend.
"So what do you say, Red?" he pressed when she didn't respond immediately. "Are you gonna throw me in prison with her or what? Or do I need to go into why both the Hutts and the Corporate Sector Authority want me too?"
Every instinct she possessed told her to turn down his offer, that it would cause more trouble in the long run than it was worth, but the need to see both of their faces when she foiled each and every escape attempt was too strong to resist.
If anything, it would keep her mind off of the fact that her master was still determined to take Vader back despite knowing what a weakling he truly was...
"All right, Captain," she finally spoke. "You've convinced me.
"We have a deal."
Obi-Wan was drawn out of his meditation by the sound of his ship's chrono going off. He had set the alarm for the time of the agreed upon rendezvous.
He glanced out of the viewport onto the barren moonscape of Sheana, Entellion's smallest satellite, where he sat waiting for Anakin and his family to arrive. Not surprisingly, he was still alone.
He had tried to advise Anakin and Padmé that 0700 was far too early when there were younglings involved, especially ones that had just gone through a terrible ordeal, but they had both insisted that the earlier they started their journey, the better. Knowing that he was outnumbered (and that they were the two most incredibly stubborn people in the galaxy), he had backed down. However, that did not mean that he wouldn't "remind" them that they should have listened to him when they arrived much later than planned. (Of course, he would try to limit the number of times he made these "reminders." It would be very un-Jedi-like of him to say it too often, no matter how much they deserved it.)
Knowing that he probably had a little while before they arrived and feeling the beginnings of hunger pangs (he had not eaten anything since dinner at Anakin and Padmé's last night as he had left Ellara's home before sunrise and gone directly to his ship), he decided to get some breakfast from the galley instead of resuming his meditation. He stood up from his chair and left the cockpit.
As he moved into the living area, he hoped that the note he had left for Ellara would be a satisfactory explanation for his sudden departure and continued absence from Horizon Base. She had no reason to doubt his story of answering a distress call from an old friend and she would certainly pass it on to Clearl as he had asked. He had not mentioned a time frame for his return, but he did not think they would begin to worry about him anytime soon. They knew he was a Jedi and Jedi were known for their ability to take care of themselves. (Well, most Jedi anyway.)
He arrived at the galley and decided that he would just eat a ration bar. Although he didn't expect Anakin to arrive any at minute, he didn't think he had time for a more substantial meal.
As he sat down and began to eat, he could not help but feel guilty for what he was doing. He was disobeying the High Council's direct orders to watch over Clearl and prevent her from falling into Imperial hands. While he agreed that it was a very important mission (her capture would spell the end of the Alliance), he also felt that it would be wrong of him to desert Anakin and Padmé in their time of need. Their daughter's life was at stake. Her possible death was more of a reality than Clearl's capture. (None of her test planets were in Imperial space. The likelihood of the Empire taking notice of her followers' activities anytime soon was very low.) The High Council would just have to understand that as a Jedi helping those in immediate need was more important than preventing possible future dangers.
He finished his bar and glanced at the nearest chrono. Anakin was now nearly ten minutes late.
He tried to imagine the chaos occurring back at the house. While Luke and Ammae were very mature for their age, they were still fairly young and waking up early was the bane of every child's existence. (Not even he had been easy to get out of bed in the mornings and he had always been considered one of the most obedient Jedi. He couldn't help but smile as he recalled some of the lengths Qui-Gon had gone to just to drag him out of his room.) He could just picture Anakin urging them to hurry up while Padmé tried to simultaneous calm him down while doing the same thing herself.
Just like any normal family, he noted and then did a double-take as he realized what he had just said.
"Any normal family."
And it was true. Because for the last sixteen years that's exactly what they had been. A normal family. A family that was living a quiet and private life.
A life they would have never known had they not disappeared all those years ago...
It was a sobering realization. Had Anakin and Padmé remained on Coruscant, their lives would have been destroyed the moment the twins had been born. It would have only been a matter of time before Anakin was discovered to be their father. Their marriage would soon follow as Padmé would not have stood for her children being called "illegitimate". It had been a disaster waiting to happen.
And none of them would have known a moment's peace for the rest of their lives.
As horrible as it sounded, being forced into hiding was probably the best thing that could have ever happened to Anakin and Padmé. Because of it, they were living the life they deserved. A peaceful and happy one where they weren't being constantly kept apart by their careers. Where they weren't being hounded by HoloNet reporters or colleagues.
If only their disappearance had not come at such a high cost...
It was at that moment that he finally felt Anakin reach out to him through the Force to let him know that he had arrived.
And he was startled by the intensity of Anakin's emotional turmoil.
It was worse than it had been when he had left the house last night.
He immediately pushed all thoughts of what-might-have-been from his mind. What had happened to make Anakin even more upset than he already was?
He reached back, sending a soothing wave to try and calm him down.
Although he had expected Anakin to still be distressed (after all, his daughter was in the Emperor's hands), he had thought the fact that they were doing something to set a rescue into motion would have somewhat eased his anxiety. And that was the way it had seemed last night at the time he had left.
Something had clearly changed in the hours they had been apart.
Something bad that not even Padmé could help him with...
He felt Anakin reach back and then the contact was gone.
Knowing how Anakin was when he was this upset, Obi-Wan decided to refrain from teasing him until the current crisis had passed. Anakin would not be receptive to any form of humor right now.
He stood up from the table and disposed of the empty wrapper before starting back to the cockpit.
Before he could deal with anything else, his first priority was to transfer himself from his ship to Anakin's.
Everything else would have to wait.
"And she's down," Anakin announced as Heart's Home settled onto Sheana's surface right next to Obi-Wan's ship. He was being very careful to keep his fear and anxiety out of his voice as to not worry Luke, who had acted as his copilot for this short leg of the journey. (He knew Obi-Wan had already detected his feelings through their brief Force contact and would be asking him about it as soon as he commed.) Turning to Luke, he said, "Great job, buddy. You're getting really good at this."
Luke, thankfully oblivious to his father's troubles, beamed. "Thanks, Dad!"
Anakin mentally shook his head. How was it that Luke had been incredibly upset and depressed only hours ago and already he was back to his usual cheerful self? His son's resilience never ceased to amaze him. How did he do it? (Anakin had wished more than once over the years that he knew Luke's secret.)
Artoo beeped his own praise from his position behind them, which made Anakin smile despite his worries. Artoo had taken part in the flying lessons from the beginning and considered himself Luke's second teacher. (Luke had shown a sudden interest in learning how to pilot six years ago, when he was ten years old. Although puzzled by Luke's inexplicable desire, Anakin had jumped at the chance to finally share one his greatest loves with his only son. And it had only taken one lesson for him to realize that Luke was a natural pilot like he was.) He took his role very seriously and had sometimes been stricter with Luke than Anakin was. (A fact that always made them laugh once they were out of the droid's hearing range. Artoo was quite sensitive about those kinds of things!)
"Thanks, Artoo," Luke told the droid after reading the translation. "Coming from you, it means a lot."
Artoo made a pleased sound.
Anakin looked out the viewport towards the other ship's cockpit and could see Obi-Wan patiently waiting for him to make contact. (He knew this was because Obi-Wan had detected his emotional distress. Otherwise he'd already be calling him over the comm and making remarks about his being late.)
Not wanting Luke to hear what he was going to say, he said, "Go let Mom and Ammae know that we landed while I finish things up here. I have to comm Obi-Wan so we can figure out how we're going to make the transfer. I'll join the three of you once I'm done."
"Are you sure?" Luke questioned. "Maybe I can help."
"I'm sure," he assured him, slightly amused by Luke's eagerness to continue helping. "Anyway, don't you think it's more important that you find out how Mom's doing?"
A guilty expression formed on Luke's face. "Oh. I didn't think about that. Do you think she's feeling any better?"
"I hope so."
Early that morning, after barely getting two hours' sleep (entirely his own fault for initiating a lovemaking session after she had finished all the preparations), Padmé had been woken up by intense nausea. She had just made it to the refresher before she began to violently vomit.
Anakin had been instantly awakened by the sound of her retching and rushed to her side, staying with her until she had finished.
As the vomiting subsided, one thought had crossed both their minds simultaneously: morning sickness.
The sudden onset of her nausea plus the time of day it had occurred was identical to what she had gone through right before she had discovered she was pregnant with Ammae. (Although he had not been around at the beginning of her pregnancy with the twins, she had assured him that she had gone through the same thing with them.) She had also mentioned the other day that she was late with her menstruation, but neither had thought anything of it because it had had happened many times before. (She was in a very stressful job and stress affected menstruation.) While it was possible she really was just sick, they both felt it was highly unlikely.
The timing could not have been worse.
When she had finally stopped vomiting, she was very weak and had continued feeling ill. He had carried her back to bed and insisted she stay there until it was time to go. He had then, with Artoo and Threepio's help, gotten Luke and Ammae up and ready to leave. Once aboard the Home, he had put her into their cabin and had Ammae stay with her.
They had purposely kept their suspicions from the children.
"Do you think she needs to see a doctor?" Luke innocently asked.
"It couldn't hurt," Anakin carefully answered, not wanting to worry him too much. But it was a good idea and he would speak to Obi-Wan about having her examined once they reached Alderaan. A medical examination would give them a definitive diagnosis of her condition. "Now go on and take Artoo with you. I promise I won't be long."
"'Kay," Luke accepted while Artoo whistled an affirmative. He got up and left the cabin, Artoo following him.
Alone, he activated the comm and tuned it to the agreed upon frequency.
"Are you there, Master?"
"I'm here, Anakin," Obi-Wan answered. "Now tell me what has happened."
He took a deep breath. "I think Padmé may be pregnant."
There was a momentary silence on the other end of the comm.
"I'm afraid I don't understand, Anakin," Obi-Wan replied in a puzzled voice. "Is that not happy news? Why is this upsetting you?"
Truthfully, Anakin wasn't surprised that Obi-Wan didn't know. It was not very likely that his former Master had much experience with pregnant women. "What do you know about morning sickness, Master?"
"Only what I was taught as a Padawan," Obi-Wan informed him, confirming his suspicions. "I know it only occurs during the early months of pregnancy and that it can be very unpleasant. I take it that Padmé suffers from this affliction?"
Anakin nodded although Obi-Wan could not see him. "It was so horrible for her, Master," he told him. "When she was pregnant with Ammae... She told me she went through the same thing with the twins. Force, I don't know how she did it. Every morning for three months she woke up sick and nauseous. She could hardly keep food down all day long and because she couldn't eat, she was tired and weak all the time. It was so awful, Obi-Wan, and I felt so helpless because I couldn't do anything for her.
"She woke up nauseous this morning," he continued. "That's why we're both suspicious that she's pregnant again."
There was another momentary silence over the comm.
"But you do not know for sure," Obi-Wan pointed out. "Isn't it possible that she's simply ill?"
"It's possible," Anakin conceded, "but unlikely. She didn't have any other symptoms before waking up this morning and it's too similar to what happened with her previous pregnancies to be anything else. Of course we can't know until she's seen by a doctor, but we're both pretty confident that she is. I'm going to see if she can be checked while we're on Alderaan."
"I will speak with Bail when we arrive," Obi-Wan told him. "He'll know the best one to send her to. His wife was very ill for a long time before she passed but-"
"Breha's dead?" Anakin cut him off, shocked. He had never met the queen of Alderaan personally, but Padmé had always spoken so highly of her. She had liked her very much and had been looking forward to seeing her again after all these years. Learning of her death would devastate her.
"It was many years ago now," Obi-Wan filled him in. "Not long after I first contacted Bail after leaving you on Postaym. It was a very difficult time for both him and Winter, the little girl they had adopted. Winter is the same age as the twins now and she's been very good for Bail. I don't think he would have survived the loss if it weren't for his daughter."
Anakin knew exactly how Bail had felt, but he didn't know that even his own children could prevent him from following Padmé into death. He loved her so much that the very idea of losing her still frightened him more than anything else in the universe. Life without her held no meaning for him.
"We're going to have to tell Padmé before we arrive," he realized, wishing he didn't have to burden her with such bad news, especially if she was in the condition he was sure she was. "She was looking forward to seeing her again."
"I know it won't be much comfort to Padmé, but she should know that Breha fought as hard as she could as long as she could," Obi-Wan added. "Bail said the doctors told him that she lived years longer than she should have because of her will alone. But in the end, it just became too much for her. Bail and Winter were at her side when she passed. She was able to say her goodbyes and she went in peace."
"Padmé will be glad to hear that," Anakin told him.
"You still haven't told me why Padmé's possible pregnancy has you so worried," Obi-Wan changed the subject. "All I know is that it has something to do with her morning sickness."
"It's the strain on her health, Master," Anakin explained. "When she was pregnant with Ammae, her morning sickness was so severe that her doctors insisted that she rest as much as possible until it passed. And by rest they meant that she should stay home from work. But you know how Padmé is. She refused to listen at first and kept trying to go into her office. And every time she did, she ended up very ill and had to be sent right back home. It took two weeks of that happening over and over and finally being told that she was at risk of losing the baby before she finally stopped trying."
"You're afraid the same thing is going to happen when she meets with the High Council," Obi-Wan correctly guessed.
"Yes, Master," Anakin confirmed. "She's not going to rest until they've agreed to help with the rescue. Saving our daughter is more important to her than any job would ever be. But she's going to harm herself and the baby in the process unless we stop her."
There was another silence as Obi-Wan mulled over the problem and Anakin couldn't help but begin to fractionally relax. If anyone could offer a logical solution, it was his former Master.
"Well then, if she is in fact pregnant as you suspect, we have two choices," Obi-Wan finally said matter-of-factly. "The first is simple: if she insists on being the one to meet with the High Council, we delay going to the Alliance until the danger to her health passes."
Anakin couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Her morning sickness lasted three months last time, Obi-Wan. We can't wait that long and neither can Leia. There's no telling what Sidious will do to her if I take more than a few days to come after her."
"I don't think he'll harm her, if that's what you're thinking," Obi-Wan pointed out. "The Emperor knows that if he stands any chance of you rejoining him then Leia must remain unharmed. I do not believe she is in any immediate danger."
"No, we can't risk it," Anakin insisted. "Sidious is counting on how I acted in the past when a loved one was in danger. He'll get suspicious when I don't show up as expected. What's the other choice?"
"That you speak to the High Council in Padmé's place."
Anakin did not hesitate. "Of course."
Padmé's initial objection had been over her fear of how he would be treated at the revelation of their marriage and the desertion of their duties. He, on the other hand, did not care about any of that. The Alliance was their only hope at getting Leia back. They could think whatever they wanted of him as long as they helped rescue his daughter.
Of course, there was always the option of leaving out a few key facts about his relationship with Padmé and the children. She'd never have to know and it would ensure that there was no question of her loyalty to the Alliance's cause...
"Then there is nothing further to discuss," Obi-Wan declared in a tone that made it clear the discussion was over. "Until you are certain of Padmé's condition, I see no reason for you to dwell on this any longer. Besides, we have a more important issue to resolve."
"And what's that?" Anakin wanted to know, silently conceding that Obi-Was was right. Until they knew with complete certainty whether or not Padmé was pregnant, it was pointless to continue worrying about it.
"Getting from my ship to yours of course," Obi-Wan replied in his usual teasing tone and Anakin finally allowed himself to fully relax as he shook his head. Leave it to his former Master to interject humor at the strangest times. (It was yet another thing he had missed...) "I don't know if you've noticed, but our airlocks are not exactly lined up. Were you even paying attention when you landed that thing?"
Anakin could only grin as he replied, "Sorry, Master. I guess I was a little busy making sure I landed next to your ship instead of on top of it..."
Yoda's eyes snapped open as the troubling vision came to an abrupt end.
What the Force had just shown him...
If it came to pass...
Master? questioned the voice of Qui-Gon Jinn from within the Force. (Qui-Gon had been his constant companion and teacher during the long years of his exile.) What did you see?
Yoda took a calming breath before answering. "Anakin and Obi-Wan, I saw. Confronting the Emperor they were.
"Died by his hand, they both did."
He could feel Qui-Gon's shock as it rippled through the Force.
"In the near future, this will be," Yoda asserted, feeling the truth of the words as he spoke them. "Unless changed, Anakin's fate is."
He had no doubt that his vision was directly related to Anakin's sudden reappearance in the Force two days ago. Before today, he had not seen Anakin since he had completely withdrawn from the Force after his return from the dark side.
Clearly, something had happened and it had been significant enough to drive him out of hiding.
And set him onto a doomed path.
"The Chosen One, he is," Yoda continued, his belief that Anakin was indeed the Force's prophesized champion having been reignited years ago. (Who but the Chosen One could have performed the supposedly impossible feat of returning from the dark side? All of his doubts about Anakin that had grown during the war had been swept away the moment he had sensed his return to the light.) "In his hands, the fate of the galaxy rests. If he dies now, lost all hope will be. Balanced, the Force will never again be."
It doesn't make any sense, Qui-Gon commented. Anakin has always been impulsive, but he has never been foolish. Why would he confront Sidious now? He has to know that he is far from being ready to defeat him. And why would Obi-Wan, who should know better than anyone that Anakin doesn't yet stand a chance against Sidious, go with him?
"Know their reasons without asking them, we cannot," Yoda told him. "But stop them, I must.
"Which from here, cannot be done."
At that moment, he realized that it was inevitable that he would be leaving the planet that had been his home during his years of exile. Only he and Qui-Gon knew the disastrous future towards which Anakin and Obi-Wan were currently headed. And if it was to be prevented, they had to be found and warned before it was too late.
It is the only way, Qui-Gon agreed. But finding them in time will not be easy.
"At least together they are," Yoda pointed out. "A help that is."
They're already together? Qui-Gon asked. (Because his study of the Journal of the Whills had been incomplete at the time of his death, his ability to sense those still outside of the Force was limited. Yoda was currently the only living being he could fully connect with.) We may have less time than we thought.
"Present Obi-Wan was when Anakin returned to the Force," Yoda countered. "Sensed him at the same time I did. Already together they were. Changed yet, nothing has."
The last time Anakin had briefly flared back into the Force he had felt Obi-Wan near him as well. And it had been shortly after that that his visions of Obi-Wan had shown him in the presence of not only the senators that had been opposed to Palpatine long before he declared himself emperor but of other Jedi too. (Later visions had made it clear that Obi-Wan had joined the rebellion that had formed to challenge the Empire.) From the visions, he had been able to deduce that Obi-Wan's encounter with Anakin had ended with a reconciliation. (After all, the last time he had physically seen him, Obi-Wan had been determined to find Anakin and destroy him, believing him to still be a Sith.) Knowing that they were together again now made him certain that they had rekindled their friendship.
Then Obi-Wan must have experienced whatever Anakin did, Qui-Gon realized. That would explain why he does not stop him from confronting Sidious and goes with him instead. He must believe that it is the right thing to do.
"Agree, I do," Yoda nodded. "Disturbing this is."
Obi-Wan was the key to stopping Anakin from fulfilling his current doomed destiny, but if he agreed with Anakin that his course of action was correct then changing their fates would be difficult. Obi-Wan never acted unless he believed that what he was doing was right. The only way of preventing this fatal future was to convince Obi-Wan that he had made the wrong decision.
Finding them quickly suddenly became more urgent.
How soon will you be able to leave? Qui-Gon wanted to know.
"A day it will take to prepare my ship," Yoda informed him. "Come back here, I most likely will not."
If everything went as planned, he would not be returning here to resume his exile. Because once he revealed himself to those who actively fought against the Emperor, it would be unfair of him to abandon them again. The galaxy had changed during his years on Dagobah. The number of those opposed to Palpatine's absolute rule had grown. It was time to join the fight.
Where will you begin your search? Qui-Gon questioned.
"To Alderaan I will go," Yoda told him. "Help me greatly, Senator Organa can. A member of the rebellion he is. As is Obi-Wan."
If anyone would be able to point him in the right direction to begin searching, the rebels would. Learning what Obi-Wan's last mission was would be the perfect first step in locating both him and Anakin.
"Time to begin, it is."
Leia was still groggy from her long nap (she still couldn't believe that she had just fallen asleep like that. That never happened to her! Never! The stress of her situation must be getting to her more than she thought!) as Mara marched her out of the ship at blasterpoint. It hadn't even been five minutes since Mara had unceremoniously woken her up ("If you don't want to find yourself laying on the floor, I suggest you get out of bed. Now.") and tied her hands up again.
She shook her head in yet another attempt to clear her mind but once again all it accomplished was making her headache, which was already the size of a planet, worse. (Too bad the painkillers Han had given her earlier had totally worn off.) All she wanted to do was to lay back down. Which, in all likelihood, she would be able to do as soon as she was thrown in her cell. (She really, really hoped she'd have at least a mattress and a pillow!)
However, even her aching head couldn't keep her from wondering what Han was doing walking right beside her, his hands as tied as hers were. He was just a spacer, a mere pilot, nothing more and nothing less. What could Mara's master possibly want with him? (Heck, he hadn't even heard of the Sith until she had told him about them!) He had no value to either Mara or her master.
Then it occurred to her that Mara's master probably had nothing to do with his imprisonment. From personal experience, she knew firsthand how Mara treated the people she didn't like and she had made it pretty obvious how she felt about Han. (Han was her friend, after all.) He was probably just being locked up to get back at him for annoying her. (Leia didn't want to know what Mara had done to Chewie when he tried to stop her. She hadn't seen him since waking up. She hoped he was still in one piece.) Maybe he'd get lucky and Mara wouldn't hold him too long.
Yeah, right, she amended as she reached the bottom of the Falcon's ramp.
She stepped off and looked around to find herself in the largest docking bay she had ever seen.
A docking bay that was full of Imperial stormtroopers!
Before she had a chance to even process what she was seeing (the Sith was working with the Empire?), Mara roughly pushed past her, holstering her blaster as she walked.
The troopers snapped to attention as she approached them and Leia couldn't help but be impressed. Whatever deal Mara's master had with the Empire, it was apparently a good one if the stormtroopers treated her as a superior.
"Ma'am," the one in front spoke, "my squad has been sent to be your escort to his Excellency's throne room. He is waiting for you there."
Suddenly, Leia got a really, really, really bad feeling about this whole situation.
Was Mara's master working directly with the Emperor?
If that was the case...
Who was this Sith lord?
"Thank you, Captain," Mara accepted. She gestured towards some of the other troopers. "You two, cover the prisoners. Let's go. His Excellency does not like to be kept waiting."
The two stormtroopers Mara had ordered to cover her and Han immediately moved into position behind them, blasters held at the ready.
"Start moving," the trooper directly behind her ordered and Leia didn't hesitate to obey.
"Hey, how're ya feeling, kid?" Han asked as they were herded out of the docking bay.
"Besides the obvious?" Leia replied, indicating her tied hands. "Okay, I guess. I just have a monster of a headache."
Taking a nap must have done her good because other than the headache, her injuries were no longer on fire.
"Ooh, sorry about that," Han said apologetically. "I must have given you a little too much."
Huh? "What are you talking about? A little too much what?" she questioned, confused by the strange comment.
"You, uh, weren't resting like you were supposed to so I gave you a little, uh, push in the right direction with your tea," he explained.
"You drugged me?" she cried incredulously.
No wonder she had gotten so tired for no reason! Han had put something in her drink!
"Quiet down!" her escort scolded her, digging his blaster into her back.
Leia glared at him before turning back to Han. "You know, if we weren't tied up right now I would so kill you," she told him in a much quieter voice. "I can't believe you drugged me!"
"What? No 'thank you' for helping you feel better?" he shot back. "Because you can't say you don't feel better."
She made a face. "No," she grudgingly admitted.
He was, unfortunately, right. As she had noted earlier, she felt completely better.
"Thank you," she finally said. "But I still can't believe you drugged me!"
Han grinned. "It was either that or tie you back up, so I think you got the better deal."
"That is a matter of opinion," she retorted. "So," she went on, changing the subject, "what did you get captured for? Annoying her too much?"
"Actually, I turned myself in," he answered, completely surprising her. "Didn't know I was a wanted man, did you, kid?"
She stared at him, unsure of what to make of what he had just told her. He was a criminal? But he seemed so...so nice.
Even the Force told her he was a good man...
"The Empire ain't too fond of people who disobey orders," he continued and she realized with relief that he wasn't a criminal after all. He was an Imperial deserter. (A criminal in the eyes of the Empire but someone who finally came to his senses to the rest of the galaxy.) "And I did a whole lot more than that. I told your buddy that they'd reward her nicely if she handed me over to them. I guess even a Sith can't resist the lure of credits."
"But-but why?" she finally managed to get out. "Why would you do a thing like that?"
She didn't know how long ago he had deserted, but why would he suddenly decide to give up his freedom? Given how much he seemed to enjoy his lifestyle (the little she knew of it anyway. He had yet to tell her exactly what it was he did. All she knew was that he was a spacer.), it didn't make any sense.
"I have my reasons," he told her with a grin. "And I'll tell you all of 'em as soon as we have a little more privacy."
Leia snorted. "Privacy? Since when do prisoners have any privacy?"
"When their captors want to keep their daddies happy they do," he pointed out. "If this Sith lord of yours wants your dad to rejoin him like you told me he does then he's going to have to treat you like royalty. He locks you up in a teeny-tiny cell and he can kiss any chance of a happy reunion goodbye. You, Sweetheart, are the key to getting what he wants."
"Unfortunately," she agreed. "I still keep hoping Dad will grow a brain cell overnight and stay away."
"Good luck with that," Han said. "Not only is he a Jedi, which mean he has to save everybody anyway, but he's your father and he loves you. He ain't staying away."
"I know," she sighed. "But a girl can hope, right?"
"Hope is overrated," Han informed her. "Besides, I have something even better in mind."
"What are you talking about?" she questioned him.
"I'll tell you later," he assured her. "When we don't have an audience."
Again with the privacy thing. What was he up to? And what made him even think that they'd be put in the same cell? He was a prisoner of the Empire and she was the Sith's prisoner. They'd probably be separated at any second.
But before she could remind him of that fact, their group reached a bank of elevators and came to a stop.
Mara pressed the call button of the one furthest on the right and then turned around to face the others.
"You two," she said, indicating Han and Leia's personal guards, "stay with me. The rest of you are dismissed. I can handle things from here."
"Yes, ma'am," the lead trooper said. He turned to his unit. "You heard her. Return to your stations."
"Yes, sir!" they replied in unison and the stormtroopers walked off just as the elevator arrived.
"Let's go," Mara ordered, motioning for the remaining guards to move Han and Leia inside the car.
Leia didn't wait to be poked in the back again.
Mara followed and pressed the single button. The doors closed and the elevator began to move.
"The express elevator, huh?" Han commented loudly. "I guess that means we're pretty important."
Mara snorted. "My master only considers your girlfriend important. You, he doesn't even know about."
"Well, I'm hurt," he declared. "After I've come all this way to pay him a visit too."
"You're not getting anywhere near him," Mara informed him. "Of course, if you want him to kill you on sight, you're more than welcome to come."
"That friendly, huh?" Han quipped.
"Han," Leia put in warningly. He was only in this mess because of her. If he had any chance of making it out alive, he needed to keep his mouth shut.
"What? Just making conversation."
The elevator thankfully came to a stop before Mara could reply. The doors opened and Leia found herself and Han being ushered into an elaborate hallway.
Where in the galaxy are we? she wondered. All she knew was that they were on Coruscant, the heart of the Empire.
Han whistled. "Apparently being buddy-buddy with the Empire has its perks."
Mara laughed harshly. "You two really have no idea where we are, do you?"
"We will if you tell us," Han pointed out.
There was a huge set of double doors at the end of the hall.
"You're in the Imperial Palace," Mara told them as they reached the doors. "And this is the throne room.
"My master is inside."
Leia fought down the fear that was starting to form in the pit of her stomach.
I am a Jedi and a Jedi has no fear, she recited to herself.
Intellectually, she knew that neither the Sith lord or the Emperor himself would hurt her. The Sith lord wanted Dad to be on his side again. But knowing something didn't always make a difference in how a person felt.
After all, the Sith could change his mind and decide that Dad wasn't worth the effort...
"Stay with him," Mara ordered the guards as she roughly grabbed Leia by the arm. "Time for you to meet my master."
"I'll be right here waiting for you when you come out," Han quietly told her. "Remember, no matter what happens in there, you're not alone here."
"Thanks," she murmured as Mara dragged her away.
Mara hit the panel on the wall and the doors slid apart.
"Inside," she ordered and swung Leia ahead of her.
Leia slightly stumbled before regaining her balance.
She took a deep breath before gazing deep into the throne room.
The room was lined with windows. Huge windows that showed a mind-blowing view of the biggest city Leia had ever seen. (Granted, she hadn't seen that many but still!) The back of the room consisted of a raised platform that ran the length of the space. A large staircase led to the partial second level.
And on that platform was a single throne.
From the room's entryway, Leia could not tell who was sitting in the chair but there did not seem to be more than one person on the platform.
Had the Emperor given full use of his throne room to the Sith lord?
"Move," Mara ordered.
Having no other choice, Leia obeyed.
Repeating to herself I am a Jedi and a Jedi has no fear over and over again as her mantra, she was prodded across the room and up the stairs.
But what she found at the top of the stairs was completely unexpected: Emperor Palpatine.
Mara kneeled before him.
"I have brought you the daughter of Vader as you have asked," she informed him.
Leia felt her jaw drop open.
The Emperor was Mara's master?
He was the Sith lord?
At that moment, she felt every hope that she had ever had of avenging her parents die away.
All her years of training had been for nothing.
The man who had destroyed her parents' lives was not the helpless old man she had envisioned in her fantasies.
He was a Sith lord and she had already been beaten up by his apprentice.
This was so not her day!
Darth Sidious smiled to himself as he easily saw into the thoughts of Vader's daughter. His visions of her finally made sense: she had been planning to kill him for years.
From what he could glean from her mind, her parents had told her a highly edited version of the fall of the Republic sixteen years ago. The version not only left out his identity as a Sith (which explained her shock when she recognized him) but there was no mention of her father's turn and subsequent actions as a Sith. She had simply been told that he turned on the Jedi and all the senators that supported them, such as her mother, and that they had survived by running away and going into hiding.
Young Leia had immediately decided to make it her personal mission to become a Jedi so she could punish him for the "wrongs" done to her parents and all the other Jedi.
Ironically, her misguided quest was something that no Jedi would ever do.
But a Sith, on the other hand...
"You have done well, my Hand," he addressed Mara while keeping his gaze firmly on Leia. "Now, rise, and go wait outside until I summon you again."
He could feel the protest immediately build in her mind, but, as she had been trained, she stood up without voicing her true feelings.
"Yes, my master," she said obediently though she was silently raging at being dismissed so quickly. She had wanted to stay and observe. (Something he could not allow due to the blatant contradictions to his own orders he was going to have to make in order to win young Skywalker's heart and mind. Mara would not remain silent and she would ruin everything.)
She bowed, shot a look of pure hated at young Skywalker, and walked away.
Her Force sense was full of anger and annoyance as she left the room and he knew that he was going to have difficulty dealing with her later.
Especially after he told her that he was going to make young Skywalker his apprentice...
"Welcome, young Skywalker," he greeted her once the door was sealed behind Mara and he could feel her fear and confusion swell as he spoke. (She was truly her father's daughter. He had sensed her emotional turmoil before she had even entered the room.) "I have been looking forward to meeting you from the moment I learned of your existence. I believe there is much we can learn from each other."
At his words, the girl's Force sense filled with disgust.
"As if I would want to learn anything from you," she retorted hotly. "And the only thing you're going to learn from me is how badly my dad is going to kick your butt. He eats Sith lords like you for breakfast."
He laughed openly at her assertion. (He was very much going to enjoy training her. She was going to be more of a challenge to work with than any of his previous apprentices, her father especially. But in the end, the powerful Sith she would become would make the struggle well worth it.) "It's true that there was a time when your father could have learned how to become powerful enough to defeat me, but that time ended when he turned his back on me. He is no longer worthy of the knowledge I offered to share with him."
"You're crazy," the girl informed him. "My dad would never listen to anything you had to say. You're a Sith."
Again, he laughed, thoroughly amused by her glaring lack of knowledge of her own family history. "Your father used to listen to everything I had to tell him," he corrected her. "In fact, he constantly sought me out for the sole purpose of hearing my advice. We were very close for many years, Anakin and I."
"In your dreams, maybe," young Leia Skywalker insisted, anger beginning to flood into her Force sense. "Because that's the only place my dad would ever listen to you or ever work for you. Like I said, you're crazy! My father is a Jedi and Jedi only have one use for Sith scum like you: putting them out of business."
He could not help himself and laughed again. He was enjoying this conversation immensely. Vader's daughter was a breath of fresh air compared to the people he usually dealt with. Unlike them, she wasn't afraid to speak her mind. "Did your parents tell you this?"
"What? That Jedi always go out of their way to take down evil, power-hungry, galaxy-dominating Sith losers whenever they get the chance? Repeatedly."
"You seem to have misunderstood the question," he said, smiling to himself at her colorful description of what she believed a Sith to be. "Did either your mother or your father specifically tell you that I was not a close friend of your father's?"
"It was kind of implied when they informed me how you turned on all the Jedi and tried to have them all killed," she told him matter-of-factly. "Not exactly the kind of thing a 'close friend' does, is it?"
"That still does not answer my question," he pointed out. "Did they or did they not deny it?"
Confusion began to dilute her anger. "It was never mentioned." She folded her arms. "There? Happy?"
"I'm always happy when someone is completely honest with me," he let her know. "It is only fair since I am always honest myself.
Which wasn't a complete lie. It was his experience that speaking truths full of careful omissions were far more useful than an outright fabrication. (It had worked well enough on both the Senate and the Jedi Council during his years as Supreme Chancellor. The Jedi had never suspected him until it was far too late to stop him.) Though there were times when a carefully crafted lie did the job much more effectively. (Such as when he had promised Vader that the dark side could be used to keep people from dying.) But it was becoming clear that the girl before him was only going to be won over with a combination of the two. She needed enough of a lie to become convinced that he had always been interested in her and then enough truth to show her that her parents, especially her beloved Jedi of a father, were not the innocents they had portrayed themselves to be.
"Yeah, because you're so honest with yourself too," the girl shot back, arms still folded. "I think you need your head examined because all I've heard so far is your delusions."
"Would it change your mind if I were to tell you that I had detailed evidence of my relationship with your father?" Sidious questioned.
"Evidence can be faked," Leia declared. "Anyway, why should you care whether or not I believe you? I'm a lowly prisoner. My only purpose here is to lure my dad so you can get him 'back' or whatever it was Mara called it when she broke into my house and tried to kidnap my little sister."
"Prisoner?" Sidious repeated, interjecting just the right amount of surprise into his voice. Although that was what she was originally going to be before he realized that she was the Jedi of his visions, he could not have her knowing that. It was unfortunate that Mara had opened her mouth and revealed so much information. (He should have realized as soon as she told him that she had been caught that she would have mentioned her specific mission.) He would have to work carefully to undo the damage his Hand had done. "I apologize if you were given that impression. You are here as my guest."
"Guest? Really?" Leia wanted to know. "You and your little pet have a funny way of showing it."
"Clearly, there was a misunderstanding between Mara and myself," he said reasonably, wanting the lie he was about to tell to sound as natural as possible. (He would have to question Mara later to see exactly what she had said during her confrontation with Vader.) "I simply told her to extend to you an invitation to come and meet me. I cannot understand how she took that to mean that I wanted either you or your younger sister taken prisoner. It doesn't make any sense."
"Maybe that's because you're leaving out the part about your warped belief that my dad used to work for you and that you're going to use me to get him back," Leia offered. "Is it making more sense to you now?"
"You seem to be under the mistaken belief that any of this has to do with your father," he pointed out, searching his mind for the best way to continue. So far, his words were having no effect on her. He would have to find a different approach. "You are the one I invited here, not your father. If he was the one I wanted, I would have extended the invitation to him instead."
"Funny, that's not the way Mara made it sound," Leia informed him. "And I didn't get the impression that my dad's too fond of you either. So either Mara was being pretty creative with her orders or you're lying. Care to guess which one I think it is?"
Sidious was impressed. She was smarter than he had given her credit for. (She clearly took more after her mother in this respect. Amidala had always shown great intelligence despite her naïve views. Anakin's significantly lower one was what made it so easy to manipulate him.) He would have to try another tactic to win her trust.
"All right," he pretended to give in. "I'll admit that until I became aware of your existence that I was intending to bring your father back to the post he had abandoned without a word. But once I learned about you, I found I no longer cared about him."
Leia raised her eyebrow, but he could feel the curiosity beginning to snake its way into her Force sense. "Okay, so let me get this straight. You claim my dad used to work for you and that he 'abandoned' his job and that you wanted to get him back until you learned about me and decided you wanted to meet me instead. Does that sound about right?"
"That is exactly right," he told her, smiling inwardly as she finally began to be swayed in the proper direction. "I see in you everything your father lacked. You have the potential to become even greater than him."
"You've lost me," she bluntly informed him. "Potential for what?"
"I know of your quest to become a Jedi," he told her and he could feel the shock at his knowledge overwhelm all her other emotions. She had not expected him to know about her supposedly secret mission. "You have come a long way on your own, but you must realize that without formal training you will never be a true Jedi."
"You're just saying that to try to make me give up," she shot back, covering up her momentary loss of composure with bravado. "Because if you know that I'm training then you have to know why I'm training."
"Of course. To kill me."
There was a second burst of overwhelming shock.
"But that was a decision reached without knowing the truth of your parents' past," he quickly continued before she could fully recover. "They left out many important details about themselves.
"Details that I believe will make you reconsider a great many things."
The moment was almost at hand to make his offer. He would have to proceed with even greater caution.
"So they left out the fact that you were a Sith. Big whoop," Leia declared. "Maybe they didn't want to overwhelm me with the truth about you. You're horrible enough as it is."
"They left out so much more than that," he told her, silently laughing at her childish attempt at insulting him. "Such as the things your father did for me while he was my apprentice."
"Okay, now I know you're lying," Leia said, anger flaring at what she perceived to be slander about her father. "My father was never your apprentice. He's a Jedi, not a Sith. Never was, never will be."
"Are you so sure?" Sidious questioned. "Just because he never told you doesn't mean it is not true."
The girl snorted. "Maybe in your world it doesn't, but in mine, Jedi tend to stay Jedi."
"How little you know about the history of the Order you are trying so hard to become a part of," he told her. "Many Jedi have become Sith over the years. Your father was just the most recent to do so.
"And he certainly won't be the last."
"I don't believe you," Leia informed him. "There's nothing you can say or do that will change that. My father has never been anything but a Jedi."
"I think I have something that will change your mind," he assured her. "Evidence that Anakin Skywalker carried out my bidding as my apprentice. Evidence that not even you can dismiss as fake."
"I sincerely doubt that," she waved him off. "I've known my father my entire life. I think I'd know if he had been a Sith."
"For generations, the Sith have existed undetected in the galaxy," he told her, amused by her repeated assertions of her father's Jedi purity. She would know the truth soon enough... "We have lived side by side with both Jedi and ordinary citizens without the slightest suspicion of our true identity. We are only recognized when we allow it. Look at me. I have ruled the galaxy first as Supreme Chancellor and now as emperor for decades without the majority of my subjects knowing what I truly am. How would you know what your father was if he did not tell you? He doesn't want you to think of him as anything other than the perfect Jedi he portrays himself to be.
"But we have strayed from the subject at hand," he deftly changed the direction of the discussion before she could offer another reason why her father could never have been a Sith. "Your future."
She folded her arms again. "What about it?"
"I want you to become my apprentice."
"Are you frakking kidding me?" she exclaimed. "I'd rather die first!"
Her reaction was as expected. "Your father refused at first too, but he quickly saw the wisdom of accepting my offer. I can teach you things about the Force that you can't even begin to imagine. Things that no Jedi has ever dared to learn. Things you will need to know if you will ever have any hope of killing me."
"Uh-uh. So you're going to help me learn how to kill you?" Leia replied skeptically. "What are you? Delusional and suicidal?"
He laughed. "Perhaps. But there is only one way for you to find out.
"However, I think we have talked long enough for today," he suddenly declared, deciding that he would not make any further progress with her until she had seen the footage from the Jedi Temple security holograms.
The proof of her father's time as a Sith apprentice...
He reached out to Mara, who was still angry but now more so annoyed by the company she was keeping: a pilot, the one whose ship she had come to Coruscant on. He was apparently a friend of Leia's and Mara despised him as much as she did young Skywalker.
Though she had made some sort of deal with him...
My Hand, it is time for you to come back in, he called her, carefully continuing to sift through her surface thoughts to learn the details of her deal with the pilot...
Yes, my master, she answered and the doors immediately opened as she instantly obeyed.
As he waited for Mara to reach them, he said to Leia, "You have had a long journey. Mara will escort you and your friend to your quarters where you can rest and refresh until tomorrow."
At the mention of Leia's friend, there was a silent reaction from both girls at his mention of the pilot, whose name was Solo according to Mara's thoughts.
Leia would soon learn that there were no secrets that could be kept from him.
As Mara at times had seemed to have yet to learn herself...
When Mara arrived before him, he instructed her, "Bring them to the ambassador's suite. It has already been prepared for their arrival."
"Yes, my master," Mara accepted though he could feel her constant displeasure at the situation.
He returned his attention to Leia. "I will be by to check on you tomorrow. In the meantime, you are free to wander my palace. I believe I can trust you enough to refrain from assigning you an armed escort."
This time, Mara's reaction was not silent.
"But, Master-" she tried to interject, disturbed by the treatment that her latest nemesis was being given.
"We will discuss this later," he cut her off, annoyed by her behavior. She was allowing her feelings about Leia overrule her training. He would have to include some disciplinary actions along with their discussion later.
Mara paled and nodded. "Yes, my master."
Good, he commented to himself, satisfied that he had gotten his displeasure across. He did not think she would make the same mistake again.
"I will see you again soon, young Leia Skywalker," he promised her.
"Too soon, if you ask me," Leia retorted.
He smiled at her again. "I think you'll find that after tomorrow you will see things in an entirely different light."
He could feel the question building within her mind, but before she could voice it, he addressed Mara once more.
"Take her back to her friend and then bring them to their suite."
Mara bowed. "As you wish, my master."
She then took Leia by the arm (too roughly for his tastes. Another thing that would have to be addressed) and began to pull her back down the stairs.
He shook his head as he watched Mara lead Leia across the room.
She was going to be a problem for the foreseeable future, especially after she learned that Leia was going to be his apprentice, the position she so desperately wanted but was so unsuited for. He knew that she was too well-trained to interfere with Leia's instruction, but that did not mean that she wouldn't go out of her way to abuse Leia in any way she could. The only way to prevent that would to make sure her duties kept her far away from his new apprentice as possible.
Perhaps he would provide the pilot Solo with false escape information and he would keep Mara busy with his multiple escape attempts...
As Mara exited the chamber with Leia in tow, he pushed all thoughts of dealing with her aside. The most important thing was that after all these years he finally had an apprentice again. (It did not matter that she had refused him here and now. It was only a matter of time before she gave in.) The Sith Order would not die out with him.
He leaned back in his throne and smiled.
Leia tried to ignore Mara's angry rambling as she was bodily dragged through the Imperial Palace. She was still trying to wrap her head around what had just happened in the throne room.
The Emperor-the Emperor who also happened to be a Sith Lord-wanted her to be his apprentice! The very idea was just so insane!
However, her mind was abruptly returned to the present when she was roughly shoved through a doorway to which she had barely noticed being brought.
"Just because my master wants you kept in here doesn't mean you're not still a prisoner," Mara informed her as she motioned for Han to walk into the room as well. "Nothing has changed."
Han whistled like he had done earlier in the hallway leading to the Emperor's throne room. "Real nice. This place's swankier than most of the hotels I've ever been in."
"Your master doesn't seem to think I'm a prisoner," Leia told Mara, ignoring Han who had begun investigating the room. (It was huge! And fancier than anything she had ever seen on even the HoloNet!) "In fact, he told me that I was his invited guest."
Mara snorted. "If you believe that, then you're even stupider than I thought. The only 'guests' my master ever has are the people he needs to 'persuade' to do something for him. The ones who aren't 'persuaded' end up dead. So most people just agree to do whatever he says in order to avoid becoming his invited 'guest.'"
"That's funny," Leia commented, "because he seemed to be falling all over himself to convince me that I was a guest and not a prisoner. He even said I was free to go anywhere I wanted without guards, remember?"
Mara's expression darkened for a moment before returning to its normal state of annoyance. It was obvious that she was peeved at the way the Emperor was treating her and Han. (Given how she felt about them, Leia was anything but surprised!) "Just because he says you won't be guarded doesn't mean you won't be watched. I think even you'd be smart enough to realize that my master has eyes everywhere."
"Everywhere?" Han spoke up. He had remained close by while doing his exploration and Leia knew he had been listening to the entire conversation. "Does that include the refresher? 'Cause I happen to have some pretty severe modesty issues."
"Was I talking to you?" Mara demanded to know. She turned back to Leia. "I also plan on keeping a very close eye on you myself."
But Leia had to wonder if the Emperor would actually let her do that. Because once Mara found out about his plans to make her his apprentice (it definitely wouldn't be from her! She liked her life too much to commit suicide, thank you very much!), Mara would probably throw the tantrum to end all tantrums and go on some sort of rampage to get back at him for doing that to her. A rampage that she would be the ultimate target of, something the Emperor would never allow.
"I'll do my best to keep you entertained," Leia sarcastically promised. "What would you prefer for me to do first? Sing or dance?"
"I vote for dancing," Han interjected. "There's nothing quite like watching a good dance."
"Do you ever shut up?" Mara questioned exasperatedly.
"Not really, no," Han told her.
Mara drew her blaster. "How about now?"
"Now's good," Han decided. "I'll be quiet. Promise."
"That's a promise you better plan on keeping because-"
She abruptly stopped speaking, her eyes falling closed.
Leia and Han exchanged glances. He mouthed "what's going on?" but she could only shrug.
But before either of them could take a guess about what was happening to Mara, she came back to herself.
"I've been summoned by my master," she explained, holstering her blaster, "so we'll have to finish this later. This conversation is far from over."
"If you say so," Leia quipped, having a feeling she knew what Mara was being summoned to discuss. (If they heard an explosion somewhere else in the palace in the next five minutes, it was probably going to be Mara after being told who the Emperor wanted his new apprentice to be.) "But I don't plan on losing any sleep over it."
Mara glared hatefully at her.
"You'd better go before your master sends one of his other pets to go get you," Leia couldn't help but add. (She knew it wasn't the smartest thing to say, but she couldn't help herself. Ticking off Mara was just too easy! Not to mention fun!) "You know, one of the ones he actually likes."
Mara snorted. "No one is as valuable to my master as I am. I suggest you remember that."
Leia decided not to comment.
"Bye-bye now," Han put in, waving.
With a roll of her eyes, Mara stomped out of the suite, the door slamming shut behind her.
"Ugh," Leia groaned as soon as she was gone. "It'll be too soon if I never see her again."
"Okay, kid," Han said as Leia went over to the nearest couch and plopped down, "you know the drill. Start talking."
"I don't even know where to begin," Leia admitted. "It's way too weird."
"Weirder than you sneaking off behind your parents' backs to train as a Jedi?"
"Way weirder," she assured him. "Are you ready for this? Emperor Palpatine is the Sith lord and he wants me to be his apprentice."
"The Emperor Emperor?" Han echoed. "As in the Emperor who currently rules the galaxy?"
"Yep," she verified. "That Emperor."
"And he's the Sith lord who wants your dad and is the crazy psycho's boss?"
"Uh-huh," she nodded. "Explains a lot of things, doesn't it?"
"Yep. Sure does."
"But apparently he doesn't even care about Dad anymore," she continued. "This is the really weird part. He claims he sent Mara to bring me to him all along and that she messed up her own orders. I'm here as an invited guest, you know."
"I was wondering about that," he said, referring to her exchange with Mara. "Do you believe him?"
"Not for a second," she assured him. "The guy's a nutcase. I think he's making up stuff as he goes along. For example, he was trying to convince me that he and Dad were best friends at one time and that Dad was his last apprentice. Crazy right?"
"I don't know much about Jedi or Sith, but wouldn't your dad be going around and doing, oh, I don't know, bad stuff to everyone he meets if he were a Sith?"
"My point exactly," she said, "but whack job ruler of the universe claims he has proof that I'll have to believe."
"Like what? A Sith membership card?" Han suggested.
"Scarily, I wouldn't put it past him," Leia told him. She sighed heavily. "This is such a mess."
She didn't know what to do. As crazy as he was, the Emperor was evil and dangerous. Angering him could turn out to be fatal. But she had no intention of becoming his apprentice either.
And then of course there was the whole Mara problem to worry about. If she wasn't careful, master or no master, Mara was going to find an excuse to beat the crap out of her again, something she most definitely was not looking forward too. (It was going to take days to fully recover from the first time!)
"Well, kid," Han said, patting her knee, "if things go as planned, I'll have you out of here and back home with your family in less than a week."
She raised her eyebrow. "Let me guess. This is the whole 'later' thing you were talking about before?"
"Yep," he verified. "I may not have access to an astro droid, but I know my way around a computer terminal. Find me one and I can do some digging to find a way out of here. Once we're in the city, I know a few people who owe me a couple of favors. They'll hide us until Chewie gets here on the Falcon."
"Did I mention that the Emperor knows about you being here?" she brought up.
"I'm not surprised," he said. "I did tell Mara that I was an Imperial deserter. Not that I knew she was with the Empire herself at the time, but it was the only way I could get her agree to let me stay with you." He shrugged. "Though after meeting you, I'm sure the Emperor is congratulating her for making the deal with me."
"Do I even want to know?"
Han grinned. "I kind of told Mara that you would be a wildly out of control prisoner and that I was the only person that could make you behave."
Leia rolled her eyes. "I had to ask."
"Hey, it was the best I could come up with on short notice," he defended himself. "What did you want me to say? That you're my love slave and that I wanted to be paid for my property?"
"Love slave?" Leia echoed in disbelief. (Thank for the Force that he hadn't actually used that! Mara probably would have wanted proof!) "Please tell me that you would have never seriously said that."
He grinned again. "Why? You don't think Mara would have believed me?"
She gave him a look.
"As I was saying, while you're letting the Emperor spout his nice little tales about your dad, I'm going to be busy searching for an escape route," he told her. "Mara may claim that there are eyes everywhere in this place, but in my experience, there's no such thing as a completely secure building."
"But this isn't just any building," she reminded him. "This is the Imperial Palace."
"Eh, a building's a building," he assured her. "Don't you worry about it. You do your thing and I'll do mine. Deal?"
"Just promise me you'll be careful," she urged.
"Yeah, yeah," he waved her off. "I'll be fine."
"Uh-huh. And when you get caught?"
"I'll just remind them why they need to keep me with you," he replied with another smug grin. "Remember, you're wild and completely out of control without me."
She groaned. "I hate you."
Mara paused as she arrived at her master's door and attempted to purge the remaining anger from her mind. The last thing she wanted was for him to detect how she was feeling. Because once he sensed her anger, he would ask her about it.
And he would not be happy when he learned the cause.
From the time she was small, it had been drilled into her that she was to obey her master's every order without question, no matter what it was. And for the most part, she always had. (She knew the kind of punishments that awaited her if she did not. She had experienced them first-hand many years before and dreaded ever going through them again.) But today, she had nearly fought with him over a direct order and although she had eventually obeyed, it had left her infuriated.
Leia Skywalker was her prisoner, her capture. If anyone had the right to be there while he interrogated the brat, it was her. Instead, she had been ordered out of the room like the lowliest of servants. How dare he!
And if that hadn't been bad enough, to add insult to injury, she had then been sent on an errand that any stormtrooper could have done. It was utterly humiliating!
Why was her master doing this to her? The last time they had spoken, he had been pleased with her work. So why was he now treating her like she had failed him? It didn't make any sense. But she knew it wasn't her place to question him, so unless he told her what she had done to earn his disfavor, she would probably never know.
Feeling confident that she had removed the last traces of her anger, she reached out with the Force to announce her arrival.
Enter, my Hand, came his silent reply.
She immediately opened the doors and went in, moving to his throne as quickly as she could without running.
She knelt down before him. "What is thy bidding, my master?" she dutifully recited.
"You may rise," he instructed her and she did so. "Young Skywalker and her companion arrived at the ambassador's suite?"
"Yes, Master," she informed him, immediately suppressing the flare of anger that formed at the mention of the distasteful errand. "I had just brought them there when you summoned me back."
"Very good," he nodded. "Tell me, did they seemed pleased with their quarters?"
"Captain Solo did," she honestly answered, wondering why it even mattered. (She still didn't understand why her master was treating Leia like a guest instead of the prisoner she was. Clearly it had something to with his plan to convince Vader to rejoin him.) "Leia did not have anything to say about it."
She decided that it would be unwise to mention that that was because Leia was too busy engaging her in a taunting match to notice her surroundings.
"It does not matter," her master decided. "They will do for now. I will ask her myself tomorrow. If she dislikes them, I will move her and Captain Solo to a room more to her liking."
Mara merely nodded, again wondering what difference a prisoner's opinion made. Leia was merely bait for her weak father. What possible impact could his daughter's comfort and happiness have on his decision whether or not to rejoin the Sith?
"You are hiding your feelings from me, my Hand," he suddenly said, abruptly changing the subject. "Is this because you are angry with me and do not want me to know?"
Mara was too stunned to respond. He knew? (Apparently, she had not done as thorough a job purging her emotions as she had thought.) And even worse, he knew that her anger was aimed at him.
She braced herself for the storm to follow.
"You have nothing to fear, my dear," he continued when she did not respond, his calm voice and Force-sense shocking her. (He wasn't furious with her?) "I truthfully would be much more surprised if you were not angry at all."
"Master?" she questioned, now very confused. This was very unlike him. Why wasn't he mad at her? What was going on?
He smiled at her. "I know you too well, my Hand. I sent you away without an explanation. That alone is more than enough to earn your wrath. But I assure you, it was done with a reason and could not have been prevented."
Mara did not know what to think. She had been treated that way on purpose? Why?
"I did it because I changed my plans for the Skywalker girl at the last minute," he informed her. "I did not have time to warn you before you brought her before me and I knew that if you were present that you would openly contradict me. And since I did not want her knowing that what I told her was not my original intentions for her, I thought it best if I sent you away before I spoke with her."
Mara was stunned. That was the entire reason she had been treated so poorly? Because he didn't want her contradicting him in front of the prisoner? She couldn't believe it. It was even more insulting than she thought! He didn't trust her to stay silent when they weren't alone? How could he claim to know her "too well" and then think something like that?
"It is because of what you have shared with me in our last conversations that I changed my plans," he explained, not even bothering to comment on her emotional turmoil, which she knew that he sensed. "From what you have told me about your observations and interactions with Vader, it is clear that he has grown soft over the years. He is no longer the reckless and emotionally unstable youth that I wanted to have as my apprentice. He is unfit to be a Sith. His daughter, however, who is as powerful as he is and just as emotionally volatile, has not been tainted by any Jedi training.
"She will make a fine apprentice," he matter-of-factly announced.
Mara struggled to maintain her composure at this devastating revelation. He was going to make that-that brat his apprentice? She couldn't believe it. After all she had done for him? After all her years of loyal service? It wasn't fair!
But now everything about his treatment of Leia made sense. Why she had been given the best quarters and why he was concerned about whether or not she liked them. Why she had been given the freedom to move around the palace unguarded and why he had not cared that Captain Solo had insinuated himself into the situation. Her master was trying to woo her to his side. An apprenticeship must be entered by a being's free will. Leia had to want to become a Sith...
"You see, I knew you that had already told her that she was a prisoner, my Hand," her master continued, seemingly oblivious to her displeasure. (She knew for a fact that he wasn't. Her master was always aware of everything around him.) "In order to convince her that this was not the case, I had to tell her that you had made a mistake. And I knew how you would have reacted had you been present when I told her this."
Mara had to concede that he had a point. She would not have silently stood by while her master presented her as an incompetent to the girl. She would have defended herself...
And earned herself a punishment most likely far worse than any she had ever experienced.
"Do I have your forgiveness, my Hand?" he asked.
Mara gave the only answer she could.
"Of course, my master."
"I am relieved to hear it," he said, though she had a feeling it wouldn't have mattered even if she hadn't. He wanted Leia as his apprentice and would not let anything stand in his way.
Not even his loyal Hand.
"I have an assignment for you while I am preoccupied with young Skywalker," he went on, changing the subject once more. "You are to proceed with your original plan for Captain Solo but with one small change: after Leia has accepted the offer of apprenticeship, you are to let him succeed."
Had he lost his mind? Solo would not leave without Leia. And apprenticeship or no apprenticeship, Leia wouldn't...
Her master smiled again, thankfully unaware of the revelation she had just had. "Once young Skywalker agrees to become my apprentice, leaving here will be the last thing on her mind. She'll want to stay."
"Solo won't leave without her," she pointed out as she began to piece together a way to ensure her place as apprentice. "If Leia refuses to go, he'll try to take her by force."
"I sincerely doubt that," her master waved her off. "Captain Solo is her friend. He would not want to jeopardize that friendship by making her do something against her will. Most likely, he'll leave and attempt to contact her parents since he knows her father is coming to rescue her. But if he doesn't, it does not really matter. Leia will be too focused on her training to bother much with him."
"When am I to begin supplying him with the false schematics for the palace?" she asked. (She had not noticed him go into her mind to learn her plans for Solo. She must have been too preoccupied with other things to sense it.)
"Tomorrow morning will be fine," her master said. "I doubt he will be in the mood to hack into our network today. And even if he is, he will not be able to make any progress unless we allow it."
"As you command," Mara accepted.
Although he would never say it out loud, she knew that this assignment was designed to keep her busy as well. Because of her ambitions to be his apprentice, he was worried that she would interfere with his training of Leia.
He had nothing to worry about.
After all, what she had in mind was far better than just disrupting her training...
"What about Vader?" she asked to quickly cover up her thoughts. "What will happen when he arrives and discovers that his daughter is now your apprentice?"
And even more sinister smile crossed her master's face.
"He will die by her hand."
And then he began to laugh in a way that sent chills down her spine.
Padmé sighed as she put the finishing touches on the hairstyle she had chosen to attempt. While it was the most complex style she had ever tried on her own, it was nowhere near as elaborate as the work of her handmaidens during her years as queen and senator. But it would have to suffice for her "return" to the galaxy. Hopefully Bail and the others wouldn't notice the drastic change in quality.
"Tell me again why you're going back to the weird way you used to wear your hair?" Anakin asked from the bed, where he had been sitting and watching her (as usual) after he had finished his own transformation back to his old self. (She would be lying if she said she wasn't glad to see the beard go. It was so wonderful to see his face again!) "The way you wear it now is so much better."
She rolled her eyes before turning around on her stool to face him. Leave it to her husband to make his opinion so bluntly known.
"Because this is how my old colleagues will expect me to look," she explained. "Naboo has always been known as one of the strongest followers of tradition in the Republic and our most visible tradition is the appearance of any woman holding any kind of office. I'm sure you remember how the queen is expected to look?"
He made a face. "How could I forget? Not only is the hair even weirder than what you did with it as senator, but there's that stuff you put on your face, too. Ugh! Makes me wonder if your entire planet is blind!"
She couldn't help but laugh. "You know, there are some people who would run you off of the planet for saying that. They consider the queen to be the epitome of beauty."
"I only have one thing to say: your home planet is weird!"
"Is that your professional opinion, Master Jedi?" she asked him teasingly.
"Yes!" he informed her. "In my opinion the people of Naboo are weird. There! I said it! Happy?"
She rolled her eyes a second time. "Remind me why I agreed to marry you again?"
"Do you want the short list or the long?"
"Never mind," she decided, shaking her head. "Anyway, making myself look as close to my old self as possible will go a long way in ensuring that Bail and the others believe I am who I claim to be. Remember, it's been sixteen years since they last saw me and, well, I'm not a young woman anymore. I look a lot different than I used to."
"You're still as beautiful as the day I met you," Anakin assured her. "No, I take that back. You're even more beautiful now than you used to be."
"You say that now," she said with a smile. "Just wait a few months until I'm as big as a star cruiser."
It has apparently been the wrong thing to say because his face immediately fell.
"Anakin?" she questioned, wondering why her joke had upset him. "What is it, my love?"
She knew her early morning illness had shaken his already fragile nerves (the poor man panicked if she sneezed!), but she had assumed that he had relaxed after they both had come to the conclusion that it was simply morning sickness. (Although she wouldn't know for certain until she had a pregnancy test, she had been suspicious of the possibility for over a week now. She had been experiencing the familiar symptoms of her last two pregnancies and her menstrual cycle was late as well. This morning's nausea was more than enough to convince her that she was pregnant again.) After all, he had gone through this before with her when she had been pregnant with Ammae. Yes, her vomiting had been particularly violent this morning, leaving her weak, but she had attributed that to her stress and lack of sleep. (The timing was more than a little inconvenient, but she was confident that the situation with Leia would be resolved long before her new baby was born.) So what was really bothering him?
"You know I hate it when you're sick, Padmé," he told her. "I worry about you."
She smiled at him reassuringly. "You have nothing to worry about, my love. It's just morning sickness. It's perfectly normal, remember? I feel fine now. I promise."
"Only until tomorrow morning," he pointed out.
"It is called morning sickness for a reason, Anakin," she reminded him. "But if you remember from last time, it passes fairly quickly and I'm fine for the rest of the day. You really have nothing to be worried about."
"Last time is exactly why I'm worried," he informed her. "You worked yourself so hard that you nearly lost Ammae!"
In an instant, she realized why he was so concerned: Anakin was fixating on the negative consequences she had brought upon herself during a crisis that had occurred during the early months of her pregnancy with Ammae. Now he was afraid that she would suffer through them all over again simply because of the fact that she was once again pregnant.
Back when they had been living in the small settlement of Malisth on the planet Postaym as the Novalens, a heated dispute had broken out between two factions of the city workers. One group had been pushing to bring in more droids to take over a lot of the less glamorous and highly dangerous jobs. Their opposition had argued that doing so would put a lot of good people out of work. Neither side would listen to the reasoning of the other and things had just gotten ugly.
At the time, Padmé had only been working part-time at the local government office because Luke and Leia had been so young. However, she had been the only person there with any negotiating experience whatsoever. (All of the leaders had panicked, none of them knowing what to do. Because Malisth was only a relatively young settlement, a situation like it had never come up before.) Realizing she had had no choice, she had volunteered her services to settle the dispute.
She had regretted it almost immediately.
From the beginning, both sides had been adamant that their way was the only way and that to compromise was to accept defeat. They had been vocally opposed to any solution that would benefit both factions. Each was determined to come out the ultimate winner.
It also didn't help that the leaders of the two factions, Evaran and Rirder, were long-time rivals and openly wanted to defeat each other. Because of this long-standing rivalry, every possible solution Padmé had brought before them was instantly turned down flat on principle. To accept any one of them would have been to accept a compromise, which was unacceptable in their eyes.
From almost the beginning, it had appeared to be a losing battle.
But Padmé had never been one for giving up so easily and had been determined to find a solution that would satisfy both groups no matter what. And that determination had led her to putting in the longest work hours of her career, longer than she had ever done as either queen or senator. She had even worked on the problem during her days off.
And it had taken a very visible toll on her health, even before the morning sickness had begun...
Looking back, she realized that she had made some very poor decisions at the time. But after she had been nearly hospitalized that last time, she had admitted to herself that she should have resigned her position the second her health had been affected. But she hadn't because she had felt like she would have been letting her colleagues down because they did not know what to do. She had been the only one in the office with the skills or experience to run a negotiation. If her health hadn't forced her to step down and take early maternity leave, there was no telling how long the dispute would have dragged out. (In an ironic twist of fate, both Evaran and Rirder had blamed themselves for her health issues and had then quickly reached an agreement on their own.)
What Anakin was worried about would never happen again. She had learned that lesson too well all those years ago. Yet she guessed she shouldn't have been too surprised that her husband didn't realize that. Nor that he assumed any kind of stress would endanger her and her unborn child. Anakin was Anakin, after all.
Sighing, she stood up from her stool and went over to the bed, where she sat down next to him.
Taking both his hands in hers, she said, "Anakin, I swear to you, what happened last time was entirely my own fault. I promise. I pushed myself too hard and I suffered the consequences. That's all. But I've learned my lesson and it will never happen again. You have my word."
He met her gaze, his eyes full of fear and worry. "You say that now, but what's going to happen once we make contact with the Alliance? What if you're sick when the High Council wants to meet with you? I know you too well, Padmé. You always put everyone else ahead of yourself and this is for our daughter's life. You won't say no."
"Oh, Anakin," she sighed, understanding his concerns completely. There was a time when he would have been correct. But she had learned from her past mistakes and she refused to make the same ones again. And besides, as Obi-Wan had repeatedly assured them, Leia was in no immediate danger... "How many times do I have to say it before you'll believe me? I won't be meeting with anyone if I don't feel up to it. And I sincerely doubt the High Council will have a problem with having to reschedule a meeting if I'm unwell at the original time."
"But what if they tell you that you only have this one chance to meet with them and that's it?" he pressed. "Can you honestly tell me that you wouldn't force yourself to go?"
She forced down the exasperation she was beginning to feel. Where in the universe did he get some of his ideas? (She could only imagine how much worse his what-ifs had been when he was a child. She would have to one day ask Obi-Wan about them.)
"First of all, there's is no reason why I'd be given one chance and one chance only to meet with them," she informed him. "Not only is that highly unprofessional, but it's extremely rude. And considering that I know every single member of the High Council and none of them have ever acted that way, I don't think you have anything to worry about. And second, it wouldn't make any sense for them to do that. Treating me that way would only alienate me and according to Obi-Wan, they very much want me to join the Alliance. Why would you even think such a thing?"
"Because of what Obi-Wan said about it being difficult for them to all come together," he explained. "I just assumed that because of that they would have a very tight schedule and if you missed your opportunity to speak with them that that would be it."
She shook her head and gave him a gentle smile. It never ceased to amaze her how little he still knew of the galaxy. (She supposed she was to blame for a lot of it since she had never made an effort to fill in the blanks in his education. As a Jedi, he had only been taught the things he needed to know to perform his job as a peacekeeper. And scheduling meetings was most likely not a skill he had ever needed to develop.)
"I don't think any schedule is that tight," she assured him. "And it's very common for appointments to be moved around. I should know. I've done my share of schedule rearranging to accommodate people.
"But just for the sake of argument, let's say that they did only give me the one chance to meet with them and I was too ill to make it," she continued, curious to hear how he would deal with such a dilemma. She had only agreed to go to the Alliance because he had begged her. What would he do if she was unable to bring them their plea for help? "What would we do then?"
"I've actually already talked about it with Obi-Wan," he revealed, pleasantly surprising her. It was a sign of the maturity he had gained over the years. In the past, he would have kept it to himself until she had pushed him to discuss his worries. "He thought that I should speak to the Council in your place."
She was barely able to prevent a shocked gasp from escaping her lips. Obi-Wan had actually said that? She couldn't believe it. Obi-Wan knew better than anyone how big of a mistake that would be. If there were two things Anakin completely lacked, they were subtlety and tact, especially when he was emotionally invested in the current situation. He would reveal everything! All he would have to do was open his mouth and they would lose their one chance at the help they so desperately needed.
Thank the Force that she would be the one doing the negotiating!
"Really?" she calmly replied, not wanting Anakin to become insulted by her lack of confidence (unfortunately justifiable) in his oratory skills. "And did you two discuss how you were going to explain both your relationship to me and why we've been in hiding for the last sixteen years?"
"Actually, um, we really didn't get that far," he admitted sheepishly. "He told me that I was getting ahead of myself because we didn't know yet for a fact that you were pregnant and that we should wait until we find out for sure."
Now there was the Obi-Wan she knew.
"He's exactly right," she told him. "You are getting way ahead of yourself. We haven't even reached Alderaan yet, Anakin. What we need to be focusing on is how Obi-Wan is going to get Bail to see us because we can't just walk into the palace and ask for an audience. The majority of the galaxy happens to think the two of us are dead."
"That's true," he agreed, nodding his head.
"But back to your original concern," she continued, returning the subject to the cause of his current distress, "it's very unlikely that any meeting with the High Council would take place before mid-morning. My morning sickness will be long over before they even gather together. I know I keep saying this, but you really don't have anything to worry about, my love."
"But I can't help but worry," he insisted. "I saw how much you suffered last time, Padmé. I'm so terrified that it will happen all over again."
"Anakin, listen to me," she said, taking her hands and placing them on his face, "nothing is going to happen to me this time. I promise you. The situation on Postaym with Evaran and Rider was completely different from what speaking with the High Council will be like. This isn't settling a dispute between two parties who are opposed to reaching any sort of compromise. This is simply a request for resources that will make our rescue of Leia possible. Nothing more."
"I just don't want to see you so sick again," he told her.
"I know," she replied before leaning in and kissing him softly. "And you won't. I promise." A playful smile appeared on her lips. "It's not like I'm asking them to divert all of their forces to invade Coruscant, you know. All I'm asking for is a few maps, some fake IDs, a blaster or two, and possibly a babysitter for Luke and Ammae while we're away. I don't think that's too much to ask, do you?"
He smiled back at her. "Well, maybe the part about the babysitter is a little much, but hey, you never know."
They both laughed before growing serious again.
"We're going to get her back, Anakin," she quietly told him. "I promise you."
"I know we are," he agreed.
"Whatever it takes."
Ammae sighed heavily and put down the datapad as she finally gave up trying to read her science assignment. She had been stuck on the same sentence for about ten minutes now. It was definitely time to stop.
After Mom and Dad had finished telling her the full version of their pasts (it saddened her to know that they had left things out the first time they had shared their history because they had been afraid she would stop loving them because of what Dad had done. But Dad had only done those horrible things because he had been tricked into thinking that they were the only way to save Mom's life. Why would she hate him for that? It's not like he enjoyed what he'd been made to do!), she had decided to try doing some of her homework as a way of keeping herself from thinking about everything that had happened. But it hadn't worked. She hadn't been able to concentrate at all. Instead all she could focus on was Leia.
Leia who had been kidnapped in her place.
All because she had come to her rescue.
What made it all the more horrible was that she and Leia barely got along. Leia constantly made fun of her and picked on her love of learning. (She'd even heard Leia refer to her as "the droid"!) Sure there were times when they did get along, but they were few and far between. So for Leia to risk her own life to save her...
The guilt was overwhelming.
And she couldn't stop her imagination from showing her all of the possible things that Leia, who was being held prisoner by the most evil person in the universe, could be going through. (Although Mom, Dad, and Obi-Wan had assured her that Leia would not be harmed, that didn't mean she'd be treated like a guest. She was a prisoner, after all!) She had read a ton of books on the subject. She knew all the horrible things that happened to people in prison.
How small was the cell she was being held in? How hard was the bedding? Had she been given a prison uniform to wear? Was she being given enough food? Did she have a cell mate? Did she have any privacy?
The questions were endless and every one made her shudder.
And knowing that she could have been the one experiencing it all made her physically ill.
She wondered how upset the Emperor would be when he discovered that Mara had brought him the wrong captive. Not that it really mattered since the same end result would be achieved: Dad coming back to him.
A hand suddenly landed on her shoulder.
She nearly jumped from her chair.
"I didn't mean to startle you, young one," the now-familiar voice of Obi-Wan apologized. "I'm very sorry. I sensed your distress and I only came over to see if you were all right. Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Y-you're doing it all ready," she managed as she waited for her heart to stop racing. (She know he hadn't meant it, but Force, had he scared her!) "You, Mom, and Dad are trying to rescue Leia."
"Hey, is everything okay?" Luke asked as he came to join them.
"Yeah," Ammae assured him. "I'm fine. I just can't stop thinking about all the things that could be happening to Leia right now. Do you know the kinds of things they do to prisoners?"
As she spoke the words, the awful images once again began filling her head: Leia in a cramped cell. Leia in the dark. Leia in clothes that were dirty and torn...
Sometimes she really, really, really, really hated her need to know everything!
Luke gulped. "N-no." He turned to Obi-Wan. "I thought you and Dad said nothing was going to happen to her."
"And that is the truth," Obi-Wan spoke up. "Nothing is going to happen to her. She is perfectly safe in the Empire's custody. Remember, the Emperor won't dare to lay a hand on her. He knows what will happen if your father finds so much as a scratch on her. He wants him back too badly. He won't risk losing him again."
"But how is that possible?" Ammae wanted to know. "She's been taken prisoner. If she's thrown in a cell, how can he keep her unharmed?"
In her research, she'd learned horrifying things about the treatment of prisoners by not only the other inmates but the guards as well. If Leia only got a scratch, she's be considered extremely lucky!
"I sincerely doubt she'll be simply 'thrown' in a cell," Obi-Wan countered, surprising her. "As I said, the Emperor needs her unharmed in order to win your father back. It's more likely that she will be assigned quarters somewhere in the palace where he can control who interacts with her."
She had to admit that it made sense. Getting Dad back as his apprentice was all the Emperor cared about. And Dad would probably kill him if anything at all happened to Leia...
"I think you should trust Obi-Wan on this," Luke insisted. "Even Dad says the same thing and Dad knows the Emperor better than any one of us. Leia's going to be okay until she's rescued."
"So basically you're saying she's going to be treated like a guest?" Ammae questioned, starting to feel a little better.
"For all intents and purposes, yes, she will," Obi-Wan confirmed. "But that does not mean she will have any freedom. She'll probably be confined to her quarters the entire time."
"Leia's going to go insane," Luke commented. "She's used to doing whatever she wants whenever she wants."
"Yeah," Ammae agreed. "She's probably going to drive everyone around her crazy too!"
She could just picture Leia ambushing some poor person or droid assigned to bringing her something like food. It would not be pretty!
"Have we eased your mind somewhat, young one?" Obi-Wan kindly asked.
She nodded. "You have. Thank you."
"I'm very glad to hear it," he said, smiling. "Now, since I have the both of you here, there is something I'd like to talk to you about."
"What is it?" Luke wanted to know.
"Beginning your Jedi training," Obi-Wan announced.
"It is long past due for the two of you to be introduced to your heritage."
Luke and Ammae looked at each other.
"What now?" Leia groaned as she heard the sounds of someone once again punching in the code to open her door. (Apparently being allowed to lock the door from the inside didn't mean that anyone with an override code couldn't visit her any time they wanted. So much for being a guest!)
"Maybe a midmorning snack?" Han suggested from his position in front of the computer terminal. (He had been poking around the Imperial network all morning, finding it suspiciously easy to hack into. It made both of them wonder if Mara or the Emperor had figured out his plan. And if they had...) "Because I don't think that breakfast they sent over was big enough."
She rolled her eyes. "So says the man who nearly ate himself sick."
They had both awakened to the sound of droids setting up the most elaborate breakfast feast she had ever seen in the dining area of their quarters. There had been enough food to feed an army.
It had been, of course, yet another part of the Emperor's scheme to woo her into agreeing to become his apprentice. It had started yesterday shortly after Mara had been summoned away. (On purpose, no doubt.) Droids had begun flowing in and out of her quarters all day long with numerous gifts: clothing, reading material, holofilms, etc. (Did the Emperor really think she was weak enough to be swayed by stuff? And where was that supposed "evidence" he had promised to show her?) Even the meals had been over the top, though nothing compared with today's breakfast. (She couldn't help but wonder who had been deprived of a meal because of her. She wouldn't put it past Palpatine to take food from his own staff if it meant hers would be bigger and better.)
"What can I say? I've never been able to turn down a good meal," he defended himself as the door beeped to indicate the lock disengaging.
The door immediately slid open...
Revealing the Emperor standing in the doorway.
Oh, great, she grumbled as she got up from her seat, here we go.
Without turning her head to look, she heard Han get up from the terminal and she assumed he began making his way over to her. (While she appreciated his protectiveness, she feared that it would eventually get him killed. He'd been lucky so far that Mara had barely tolerated his sarcasm. She wasn't so sure the Emperor would be even a quarter as tolerant. She prayed that he would keep his big mouth closed until after the Emperor left.)
"Good morning, young Skywalker," Palpatine greeted her as he entered into her quarters. Following behind him was an annoyed-looking Mara. (Judging by her extra-annoyed expression, she'd been told of his plans. Leia made a mental note not to harass her for a little while just to be on the safe side. She was probably more violent than usual right now!) "I trust you have been well since I last saw you?"
Well? she silently snorted. That's a good one! Did he show such concern for all of his prisoners or was she just special?
Folding her arms, she said, "I'm still in one piece, so I guess I must be."
She felt a gentle touch on her arm. Han letting her know he was now near her and ready to protect her if needed. (Please don't say anything!)
The Emperor chuckled and smiled his creepy smile at that. "As I have told you, you are my guest. What sort of host would I be if you were to come to any harm during your stay?"
"A typical Sith lord host," she shot back.
He laughed again. "And the items I've sent?" he asked, ignoring her attempt to insult him. (He was really good at that!) "Have they been to your liking?"
She indicated the pile of gifts. "You mean those? I haven't exactly had the chance to go through them but I'll let you know as soon as I do. I've kinda had other things on my mind, you know."
"Of course. And would any of those 'other things' happen to be my offer? Have you considered it any further?"
She gave him a look. "You really don't get it, do you? I don't want to be your apprentice. I don't want to be a Sith. I'm very happy being a Jedi. My answer still is and will always be 'no'."
"That remains to be seen," he replied mysteriously as he reached into his robes and produced a holodisc. "This disc contains the proof of your father's apprenticeship to me that I promised you yesterday." He held it out to her. "I would like you to watch it before I make my offer again."
Leia could only stare at the disc in disbelief. She had been so sure that the "evidence" that he would bring her would be something so obviously fake that she could easily throw it in his face. But a holorecording was the last thing she had ever expected.
It was something that could be real...
But, no, she reminded herself, that didn't mean that it had to be. Holorecordings could be faked just like anything else.
But to make a convincing one in a couple of days...
She suddenly didn't feel so good.
But unwilling to let the Emperor know how seeing the disc had affected her, she nonchalantly said, "Sure. Fine. Whatever. Just put it in the pile and I'll get to it later, okay?"
"You will watch the disc now," Palpatine informed her. "I am not leaving this room until you give me your final answer."
"Maybe she doesn't want to watch it now," Han spoke up and Leia silently cringed. "And if-"
"Han," she cut him off, finally turning to him. "Don't. Please."
"Don't what?" he questioned. "If you don't want to watch it now, you shouldn't be made to watch it now. It's that simple."
"No, it's not," she told him. (What she wouldn't give to be a telepath right now!) "And you have to stay out of this. Please?"
He gave her an exasperated look before throwing up his hands. "Fine. Whatever you want, sweetheart. I was just trying to help."
"I know," she assured him, once more wishing she had a way to tell him why she wanted him to stay quiet. (She'd bet everything she owned that he'd agree if he knew!) "And I really do appreciate it."
"Save it for later," Mara interrupted. "You have a holo to watch. My master is waiting."
Leia shot her a dirty look. "All right. Let me get this over with."
The sick feeling in her stomach growing worse, she went over and took the disc from the Emperor's outstretched hand.
He smiled. "I believe you will find the contents to be highly...enlightening."
That's what I'm afraid of, she silently replied.
She thought about taking her time to make her way over to the holoprojecter, but decided that they would know what she was doing and somehow take it out on Han.
She reached the projector and, taking a deep breath, slid in the disc.
She stepped back as the holo began to play.
The first image to appear was a large hallway. There were several figures converging in the hallway, seeming to be waiting for something.
Each figure held an ignited lightsaber.
"Jedi..." she murmured as she realized who she was seeing.
"Yes," the Emperor confirmed. "What you see before you is security footage from the Jedi Temple."
The Jedi Temple?
Truthfully, she had no way of knowing whether or not what she was seeing was real. She had never seen holos of the Temple before, so the scene before her could be of any place in the galaxy.
But she had a terrible feeling that this was footage of the real Jedi Temple and what she was about to see would leave her with nightmares.
Mom and Dad had told her what the Emperor had done to the Jedi. He had sent his troopers to the Temple and they had killed everyone they had found inside.
Including the children.
But why was she being shown this? What did it have to do with Dad supposedly being a Sith apprentice?
Within seconds, the attack began. But curiously, the scene was not overrun by troopers as she had expected. Instead, the Jedi began to converge at one end of the hall and, from all appearances, they seemed to be...dueling someone.
Apparently, the Emperor had sent someone else to the Temple besides the troopers. Someone that Mom and Dad had not known about. (Which, in a way, was good. It was one less thing to burden them.) And this someone was apparently as adept with a lightsaber as any Jedi because the Jedi were being driven back down the hall.
And then they began to die one by one right before her eyes.
She was suddenly overcome with nausea. She had never seen anyone actually die before. It was the most horrible thing she had ever witnessed. (The worst she had ever seen until now was broken limbs, more often than not inflicted by her own hand.) She wanted nothing more than to throw up.
But she could not tear her eyes away from the hologram.
She had to see who this monstrous killer was.
She wanted to know who could have done such a disgusting thing to the innocent Jedi.
She needed to know.
Finally, the being responsible for so many Jedi deaths came into cam range. He or she was very tall and completely covered by a hooded cloak. The hood prevented her from seeing the killer's face, but the lightsaber he or she wielded with deadly precision was in plain view.
A blue lightsaber...
It was only a coincidence, she told herself as she realized what the Emperor wanted her to believe about this recording. From what Dad had told her and Ammae, the two main Jedi lightsaber colors were blue and green. The attacker didn't necessarily have to have been a former Jedi.
It was not her father.
It couldn't be.
He would never...
But then the unthinkable happened. The attacker's face turned towards the holocam and she was given a perfect view.
By the Force...
It was Dad!
She was too shocked to react, too shocked to give in to the nausea that was now overwhelming her. All she could simply do was stare as the recorded image of her father continued to slaughter the Jedi.
"I believe that you will find this to be sufficient proof of Anakin Skywalker's time as my apprentice," Palpatine spoke from his position behind her. "The attack was, of course, on my orders but the original idea was actually your father's."
Leia whirled around to stare at him.
She was having enough difficulty believing her own eyes that Dad had killed his fellow Jedi. Now she was supposed to believe that it had been his own idea?
The Emperor gave her another one of his horrid smiles. "Anakin used to come to me all the time to tell me how the Jedi were mistreating him. He knew that they did not trust him because of his power and that they were purposely slowing down his training. He resented that he was being held back simply because they were afraid of his abilities. He longed to be able to make them pay for what they did to him."
Leia wasn't sure she believed everything the Emperor was telling her (Dad had done nothing but speak of the Jedi with praise), but there was apparently some truth in there in order for Dad to have done what he had done. He would not up and kill the people he claimed he had thought of as his "family" for no reason.
Or would he?
How well did she even know her father? Was anything he had ever told her the truth? Did Mom know what he had done? (Of course not, she decided. She would have never stayed with him if she did.) Did he really even love any of them?
Of course he loved them, she vehemently reminded herself. She had felt his love. Like for every hour of every day, for her entire life! If there was one thing she would always be certain about Dad, it was that he loved Mom, Luke, Ammae, and herself. (Love was kind of impossible to fake, especially in a house full of Force-sensitives!)
Yet how could someone so capable of love...
"Did he or your mother ever tell you of the prophecy of the Chosen One?" the Emperor asked, interrupting her chaotic thoughts.
Prophecy? What prophecy?
This was the first she had heard of any prophecy. What did it have to do with anything?
"N-no," she told him, trying to ignore the sickening sounds coming from the still-playing holo.
"How surprising," Palpatine commented, "considering how important it was to the Jedi and to your father's eventual agreement to be my apprentice. But no matter. I will tell it to you now.
"There is an ancient Jedi prophecy that speaks of one who will be born of the Force and will be the most powerful Jedi to ever live," he informed her. "This Jedi will be destined to bring balance to the Force. In other words, he will ensure that neither the light side nor the dark side will overpower the other.
"The Jedi believed your father to be that Chosen One."
This was definitely something she'd never heard before. Why hadn't Mom or Dad mentioned it? It was apparently important if it was part of the reason why Dad had...had...murdered all those innocent Jedi.
"They had many reasons for believing that your father was the one they had been waiting all those years for," the Emperor continued. "He had the highest number of midi-cholorians ever recorded, making him the most powerful Jedi in the history of the Order. But more importantly, he did not have a father."
Leia raised an eyebrow at this. No father? There was one she'd never heard. Sure, Dad and Mom had just mentioned Grandma Shmi, but that didn't mean he had not had a father. (She and Luke had always assumed that Dad's father had died when he was little and he didn't remember him.)
"Shmi Skywalker specifically told the Jedi that discovered Anakin that there had been no father," the Emperor emphasized. "She told them that she had just become pregnant with Anakin and she did not know how it happened. This plus his extraordinary midi-chlorian count convinced the Jedi that Anakin was the Chosen One.
"But after they learned what he was capable of, the Jedi began to fear him," Palpatine went on. "They knew that he could easily surpass the most experienced Masters at a very young age and that would upset the rigid order of things they had upheld for generations. So the Jedi did the only thing they could to maintain their precious way of life: they held him back."
Leia failed to see how this would make anyone angry enough to commit mass murder, but as she was quickly learning, her father was not the man she had thought he was. But, then again, Dad was a pretty patient guy. (With three kids, especially one like her, he had to be!) The Emperor was probably making this part up.
"Anakin's anger and resentment of the Jedi grew stronger with every passing year," Palpatine continued. "Until finally..." He gestured for her to turn back to the holo. "You need to watch this."
She turned back to the projection to see that the location had changed. Instead of a hallway, she was being shown a large, round chamber. It was dark inside but she could barely make out the small figures huddling behind the chairs.
Her question was answered immediately as the cloaked figure she now knew to be her father entered the image. The small figures came out of hiding and revealed themselves to be nothing more than children.
Leia wanted to close her eyes against what she knew was about to happen but a small part of her kept hoping that she was wrong, that Dad would never do that despite what she'd already witnessed.
"Master Skywalker," a small boy spoke up, "there are too many of them. What should we do?"
The answer that came was not verbal and it sickened Leia so much that she ran to the nearest trash receptacle, dropped to her knees, and vomited the entire contents of her stomach.
What she had just seen...
What Dad had done...
She dry-heaved as she became sick all over again.
Why, Dad? Why?
She felt the tears begin to well up in her eyes as she wiped at her mouth.
A hand landed on her back and began to rub it.
"Easy, sweetheart," came Han's voice softly into her ear. "Take it easy. I've got you. You're okay now."
Her first instinct was to collapse gratefully into his arms, but she resisted, determined to see this through. She had to find out why Dad had done this-this thing. And, unfortunately, the Emperor was her only source of information.
So far, none of what she was being told made any sense. The Anakin Skywalker she had known her entire life would not whack off the people he had repeatedly called his family for something as minor as being held back. He could not have been such a completely different person sixteen years ago. (Unless he'd had a personality transplant!) No, there had to be a different reason. A bigger reason. But what?
And why had he run off afterwards to live the quiet life of a mechanic and family man? What had he accomplished by killing the Jedi? What had he gotten from his murderous rampage that had allowed him to so completely put it behind him that he acted like he hadn't been part of it?
Did he even feel guilty for what he had done? Did he ever think about it? (She knew he hadn't had his memory wiped because he had known exactly what Mara was talking about when she confronted him.) Or was it just easier to pretend that it had never happened? Was that how he was able to live with himself?
"The Jedi were right to fear him," the Emperor continued in a conversational tone, interrupting her thoughts. "Once he found out that he didn't need them anymore, he used the things I had taught him to destroy them. He wanted them to pay for what they had done to him."
"Will you give it a rest?" Han interjected. "If you haven't noticed, Leia isn't up to hearing any more of your-"
"No, I'm fine," she cut him off as she began to get back onto her feet. She couldn't let the Emperor leave yet. Not until she had heard his full twisted account of Dad's past. "I-"
"You don't look fine to me," Han countered, as he helped her rise. "You look like you should be back in bed. For an entire week."
She groaned, knowing that it wasn't going to be easy getting him to back down now that he'd seen her puke her guts out. (She was still amazed at how protective he was of her given that he barely knew her. She had to admit that it was sweet. And that she found herself really liking it...)
"Tell you what," she offered, "if you let me hear the rest of what he has to say, then as soon as they leave, I'll hop back into bed so fast that your head will spin. And if I don't, I give you permission to drug me again. How's that sound?"
Just as she had calculated, the comment produced a smile.
"You've got yourself a deal," he conceded. "I'll hold up my end if you don't hold up yours."
"I'm not going to even dignify that with a response," she told him before returning her complete attention to the Emperor. "I can't believe I'm actually saying this, but you've convinced me. I believe you when you say that Dad was your apprentice. You happy now?"
She needed to get him back on track with his rambling. Somewhere in his mix of lies and half-truths there had to be actual facts that would shed light on Dad's inexplicable actions. Because so far, she didn't have a clue to why he would have gone on his murderous rampage in the Jedi temple.
"What makes me happy is the fact that you are finally realizing that you have been misled your entire life," the Emperor informed her. "Your parents' lies have caused you to waste years preparing yourself to avenge a nonexistent wrongdoing."
Nonexistent wrongdoing? That was a good one! He'd flat out admitted to ordering the deaths of the Jedi! (Dad's idea, of course!) What was he expecting her to do, consider him some sort of hero?
She also happened to notice that he had said "parents" instead of just Dad. He'd actually said it yesterday too, she remembered. And now that she thought about it, it did make sense that Mom knew about Dad's actions in the Jedi Temple. It was the only way they could make their stories agree when talking about the past. Otherwise that would mean one was making things up and the other was going along without question and neither Mom nor Dad were like that.
And if Mom could stay with him and raise kids with him knowing what he had done...
"But I see no reason why all of that training should go to waste," he continued, apparently too busy to read her mind. (Which was a very good thing! He would be so not happy if he knew that she still didn't believe him.) "Become my apprentice and I will help you finish what you have started."
And we're back, she sighed. She had hoped for more time in getting details of Dad's apprenticeship but that clearly wasn't happening. (Though she had to wonder what was going through the Emperor's mind if he thought showing her evidence of Dad doing horrible things as his apprentice was going to make her want to become one, too.) Now she had to worry about getting him to accept her refusal without taking it out on either her or Han. (She had a bad feeling that this meeting was not going to end well.)
"What I started was preparing myself for the day I was going to kill you," she reminded him. "Are you really going to help me finish that?"
He smiled again. (Was there anything that didn't amuse him?) "Your overall goal has been justice for the Jedi, correct? You simply have been going after the wrong target."
"If you think I'm going to kill my own father, then you're crazier than I thought," she shot back. "Anyway, you yourself told me he went after them on your orders. Dad's idea or not, he would never have gone to the Temple without your permission. So tell me again who the right target is?"
"Orders I would never have given if he had not insisted," he countered. "I would have been content to merely arrest any Jedi who tried to forcefully remove me from office. But your father wanted his revenge. Since he had been making such wonderful progress as my apprentice, I thought a reward was in order."
"It must not have been big enough since he dropped you and ran off as soon as he was done," she pointed out. "Great apprentice you had there."
"Anakin left for the simple reason that he hates following orders," the Emperor informed her. "It is the one thing he hates more than being held back. He merely used me to get his revenge against the Jedi. He never had any intention of remaining as my apprentice once that was done. I just did not realize that until it was too late. I was shocked when he didn't report back to me after completing his mission."
She had to hand it to him. For someone who was pure evil, he was a very creative guy. In fact, if she didn't know Dad as well as she did, she might have been tempted to believe him. Good thing she wasn't.
"So tell me this, if my father is as evil and bloodthirsty as you're telling me he is, why hasn't he been going after any Jedi he missed in the Temple?" she countered. "If he hates them so much, why not wipe out every single last one of them like a good little Sith?"
Although she had just seen her first Jedi other than Dad (Ellara's friend Ben) a couple of days ago, it was no secret that there were more of them out there. The Emperor's standing orders to have any Jedi killed on sight pretty much proved that.
Pretty strange orders for someone who only wanted them "arrested."
"Only your father can answer that question," he deftly dodged the question. (Stang, he was good!) "I can only tell you what I know.
"But that does not erase the fact that he single-handedly killed Jedi in the Temple," he went on, once against trying to make himself look innocent. "Jedi I would have ignored if not for his persistence."
She mentally snorted. It was so cute how hard he was trying to make her believe that it was all Dad.
"But not if they tried to kick you out of your office," she reminded him of his claim.
"My only goal was and still is to bring order to the galaxy," he asserted, again sidestepping her words. "How is that so unlike the Jedi?"
If she didn't think it would get her or Han killed, she would have rolled her eyes.
"Do you want the long list or the short one?"
He smiled again. "I remind you again that your father is the one who personally murdered Jedi. Don't you think it's high time he be made to pay for his crimes?"
As much as she hated to admit it, he did have a point. As much as she loved Dad, he had committed a heinous crime. And as Dad himself had told her time and time again, criminals had to be punished.
But there was no question that the Emperor was the bigger criminal here. Dad would never have "insisted" on killing the Jedi like the Emperor claimed. It just wasn't in his character. The Emperor was lying through his teeth.
Plus that Emperor had done a lot more than one night of killings. What Dad had done was disgusting and horrible, but it was only one crime. (She needed to find out why already!) The Emperor had been slowing killing the galaxy itself for nearly two decades. Dad had stopped on his own after his one night of murders. The Emperor wouldn't stop until somebody stopped him.
"Is that why you've been looking for him all this time?" she wanted to know. "To punish him for something he did on your orders? Because that doesn't make much sense to me. Unless, of course, you were planning on turning him over to the Jedi?"
The Emperor fell silent and Leia decided that he was trying to figure out his next move because he had to know by now that she wasn't falling for his lies.
"What if I were to make you a different offer?" he said after a few moments. "One where you did not have to become a Sith?"
She exchanged a questioning gaze with Han, who had amazingly kept his promise so far.
"What kind of offer?
She hated to admit it, but she was curious.
"As you have pointed out, the Jedi are the only ones with the true right to punish your father since his crimes were against them," he told her. "But you know as well as I do that he will not willingly turn himself over to them. And the only way to see the justice you so dearly want done is to give him to the Jedi. You and I both know that you are the only one who can do that."
She couldn't believe she was thinking this, but he was right. It was the Jedi's place to punish him for his crimes. And she doubted Dad would turn himself in willingly.
"What are you saying, exactly?"
"I will finish the training you have begun on your own," he explained. "Nothing more and nothing less. I will only help you develop and perfect the Force skills a Jedi would use. Skills you will need if you have any hope of overpowering your father.
"And I will teach you proper lightsaber techniques. Because from what Mara tells me, the skills you have are extremely poor."
As insulting as the comment was, it was, unfortunately, completely true. Next to Mara, she was terrible with the lightsaber. And if Mara had learned her technique from the Emperor...
Suddenly, an idea occurred to her. An idea so insane and unexpected that it just might work.
What if she were to accept the Emperor's offer? That way, by spending time with him, she'd learn about him. All his strengths and weaknesses. His style of fighting. All sorts of things that would help her for when the time came to destroy him.
Because that was the one thing that hadn't changed.
In fact, she now had even more reasons...personal reasons...to take him down.
But first, she'd use him to finish her training. And, more importantly, to find out the truth about Dad's actions.
And then she'd kill him.
Mentally crossing her fingers that he was still too distracted to read her mind, she said, "What's in it for you?"
His expression changed. "The Jedi are not the only ones your father has wronged. The satisfaction I will get from knowing that he has finally been punished after all this time will be more than enough for me."
There was a big hole in this offer of his: once captured, how was she supposed to turn Dad over to the Jedi? He obviously didn't know where they were otherwise he'd have wiped them all out years ago.
Which could only mean one thing: he was planning on trying to convince her to accept a true Sith apprenticeship during this training.
But it was a risk worth taking if it would eventually enable her to put an end to his evil reign.
"Do you mean what you say? No Sith stuff? Just what I need to take Dad prisoner?" she questioned, already knowing how he was going to answer.
"Leia? What are you doing?" Han burst out.
She turned to him. "Grabbing a once in a lifetime opportunity," she truthfully informed him. "One that I really can't turn down."
A look of disbelief came over his face. "What are you talking about?"
Ignoring him since she had no way of getting a message across to him without giving herself away, she returned her attention to the Emperor.
"You have my word," he assured her.
"Good. Then I'll accept your offer under one condition."
"Leia!" Han tried again.
"That when Dad comes for me, that I be the one to face him.
The new smile that crossed the Emperor's lips was the most hideous yet but his glee at his supposed victory was transparent.
"As you wish...
"My young apprentice."
As he let the door to the ambassador's suite slide closed behind him, Sidious saw no need to remove the smile from his face. Let his servants wonder why he was in such a good mood.
They would find out soon enough.
"Master, surely you know that she's lying to you," Mara spoke up almost immediately from her place behind him. "She would never have accepted your offer so easily otherwise."
"Of course she's lying, my Hand," he waved her off. He had been expecting this ever since young Skywalker agreed to become his apprentice. He had sensed her anger building from the beginning of his conversation with Leia. Mara would do everything in her power to attempt to change his mind and secure the position for herself. "I would have been surprised if she was not. She believes she can use what I teach her against me. But she will come to accept her destiny soon enough. It's only a matter of time."
"But how much time?" Mara persisted. "Are you willing to spend years trying to get her to-"
"Enough," he cut her off, coming to a stop and turning to face her. "Young Skywalker's progress is none of your concern. Your only concern should be on carrying out your assignment to keep Solo occupied. Is this understood?"
Mara's face took on the proper subdued expression.
"Very good. Have you uploaded the first set of false schematics to the terminal?"
"I have, Master," she assured him. "It was the last thing I did before I left my quarters."
"Excellent," he praised her. "Now that young Skywalker has accepted my offer, it will not be long before Solo begins his first attempt to get her away from here. I expect that you will be ready to intercept him when he tries to escape."
"Of course, Master," she let him know. "This first map has a storage area labeled as a secondary hangar. I have already posted guards there to make it seem important."
"Very clever, my Hand," he said with a genuine smile. Mara was highly intelligent, an asset to someone in her position. (But something that would be a hindrance in an apprentice.) "I have no doubt that you will succeed in keeping Solo occupied for the foreseeable future."
"Thank you, my master," she accepted and he could feel her joy at the praise.
"I have no further need of your assistance right now," he informed her. "You are free to go until I summon you again."
"Are you sure, Master? I don't mind-"
"I am sure, my dear," he told her. He had a great deal of work to do now that Leia was his and Mara's presence would be a hindrance. "You are dismissed."
She hesitated a moment before replying "Yes, Master" with a bow.
She then turned and walked away.
He watched as she disappeared down the hallway. He was not worried that she would disobey his orders. She was too well trained to do anything else. But he was concerned that she would go out of her way to torment both Leia and Solo.
His Hand was anything but subtle in her dislike for them.
Shaking his head, he resumed his own journey.
Until she tried anything, there was no reason to waste any further thought on it.
He had more important things to think about.
Things like beginning young Skywalker's training as soon as possible.
Maybe even later this afternoon...
Han waited until he was sure that the Emperor and Mara were long gone before folding his arms and turning to Leia.
"Okay, kid, you have exactly three seconds to prove to me that you haven't completely lost what little mind you have."
If he hadn't thought it would have earned him an instantaneous death sentence, he would have knocked Leia out and pleaded a mental break as soon as she had finished uttering the last words he had ever expected to hear come out of her mouth.
What the hell was she thinking?
Was she even thinking?
What kind of idiot just agrees to get training from the very person she had spent the last several years planning to kill?
Leia folded her own arms. "What? You don't think I have a very good reason for accepting his offer?"
"Would I be asking you if I did?" he pointedly replied. He was very interested in hearing what her "very good reason" was. (And it had better be "very good" to be putting herself into so much danger. Because Leia had to know that she was risking her life by doing this. One wrong move and she was a dead woman.) "So let's hear it, kid. Why did you accept his offer?"
A wide smile spread across her face.
"Because I have a brilliant plan for taking him down," she proudly informed him. "I'm going to become his very best friend."
Han could only stare at her. She was going to do what?
"Come again?" he asked, not sure he had heard her right. If she had said what he thought she had said...
"I'm going to become the Emperor's best friend," she repeated, verifying that he had heard her correctly. (Yep, she had definitely lost her mind.) "I'm going to be the best and most obedient apprentice he's ever had and he's going to think I'm the most wonderful and trustworthy person he's ever met. I'm going to be so perfect that he'll forget that my goal in life is to kill him and he'll let slip important stuff I need to know in order to do it. And then, when he least expects its, I'll make my move." Her smile grew even bigger. "As I said, brilliant."
Han was shocked speechless. That was her brilliant plan? To do everything the Emperor wanted in the off-chance he might tell her something she needed to know in order to, in her own words, "take him down"?
"You have nothing to say?" she asked when he didn't comment, putting her hands on her hips. "Nothing at all?"
Han had actually had a lot of things to say, but he didn't want to insult her.
"I can tell by your expression you want to say something," she persisted at his silence. "So say it."
"You want to know what I think? Fine. I think this is probably the dumbest plan I've ever heard. How the hell is that supposed to work? What exactly do you think he's going to say that will tell you how to kill him? This is a guy who's controlled the galaxy for almost thirty years. He's not stupid, Sweetheart."
She folded her arms again. "And neither am I. I'm not looking for him to say anything in particular. It's the little things he'll give away about himself when he's not paying attention that I'm after. His fighting style, for example. Which side of his body he favors. Things like that. Things I'll only learn by seeing him in action. And I'll only do that if he's teaching me."
Han found himself actually reevaluating her plan despite himself. After hearing the details, he had to admit that it actually made sense. Leia could learn a lot about the Emperor just by spending time with him. It didn't mean it was any less dangerous, especially if the Emperor figured out what she was up to, but it wasn't as bad as he had originally thought.
"Okay, kid, I take back what I said," he informed her. "Your plan ain't bad at all. You're not as crazy as I thought you were."
"Oh, thanks a lot," she sarcastically accepted. "I feel so much better now."
"There's only one teeny-tiny flaw with it though," he pointed out. "You're forgetting my plan. You know, the one where I break you out of here."
"I haven't forgotten it," she assured him. "I'm just not so sure it will be as easy as you think it will. Especially if they're expecting it like we think they do."
She had a point. There was no denying that his experiments with their terminal proved the system a lot easier to break into than it should have been. Which probably meant that it was being monitored.
"Don't give up on me yet," he insisted. "You're not the only one around here capable of being sneaky."
Computer networks could only provide so much information. There were other ways of learning what you needed to know.
Especially if you traveled around with someone who had a free pass to everywhere in the palace...
"So what about all the stuff about your dad," he changed the subject. "I hate to say it but that holorecording looked pretty real to me."
"It looked pretty real to me too," she told him. "Which scarily means it probably is. But I know my dad. He's not the kind of guy who'll hold a grudge for years and years and wait for an excuse to act on it. He tends to deal with stuff immediately and that's what he taught me and my brother and sister to do too. So that means His Royal Creepiness was lying through his teeth. If Dad killed those Jedi, there's a reason for it. And I intend to find out what that reason is. And I know just the person who can tell me all about it."
"Your new best friend?" he suggested, already knowing the answer.
"Exactly," Leia confirmed, "and before he dies, he's going to tell me everything I want to know."
"Here he comes," Obi-Wan announced to Anakin and Padmé as Bail Organa entered the hangar. From their position by the open hatch of the Heart's Home, they had a clear view of the main door. "I believe that is my cue."
Although he was on the opposite side of the hangar, Obi-Wan could feel Bail's agitation through the Force. He knew that it was because he had jumped to the conclusion that this visit had to do with Obi-Wan's mission to protect Clearl. (Which was completely understandable since they had only spoken for less than a minute over Bail's secure comm channel. Bail had been in the middle of a meeting when Obi-Wan contacted him and all he had had time to tell him was that he needed help with an urgent matter and that he would tell him the details in person.)
Obi-Wan doubted he'd feel much better when he found out the true reason for his unexpected visit...
"We'll be watching for your signal," Padmé told him. "We won't come out until we see it."
"I don't think you'll be waiting too long," Obi-Wan assured her.
In all honesty, he doubted it would take more than a few minutes to get Bail to agree to help. Although it had nothing to do with either the Alliance or Obi-Wan's mission for them, Bail had never been one to turn away when lives were in danger. He was a good and decent man who always did the right thing, which was why Palpatine despised him so much.
"May the Force be with you, Master," Anakin said as he moved closer to Padmé and put his arm around her.
"May the Force be with you," Obi-Wan replied with a small smile. "I'll see you shortly."
With a last nod at Anakin and Padmé, he exited the ship and walked down the ramp.
Bail spotted him immediately and Obi-Wan felt his agitation and worry rise. He waved and picked up speed.
He reached the ship barely moments after Obi-Wan stepped off the ramp, his facial expression concealing the emotions that Obi-Wan felt pouring into the Force. (An ability shared by politicians throughout the galaxy, though Bail, like Padmé, was more adept than most of his colleagues.)
"I came as soon as I could," Bail greeted him in a voice that did nothing to betray his emotional state, extending his hand, which Obi-Wan immediately accepted. "Now, tell me exactly what has happened and what I can do to help."
Obi-Wan couldn't help but mentally smile at Bail's instant offer of assistance despite not yet knowing anything about the problem. (True, he was assuming that this visit had something to do with Clearl, but that did not diminish the gesture itself.) He truly was a good friend.
Now it was his turn to be the good friend by easing Bail's worries about Clearl.
"Let me begin by telling you that the matter that brings me here has nothing to do with either Clearl or her followers," Obi-Wan informed him. "Nothing has changed since my last report. They are still years away from the possibility of the Empire noticing them."
He could feel Bail's immediate relief at his words.
"But you know I wouldn't have come here if it wasn't completely necessary," Obi-Wan added.
Bail smiled and shook his head. "Obi-Wan, I can't believe that after all these years of knowing each other that you still think you actually need to explain yourself to me. What can I do for you, my friend?"
"I've come to secure the Alliance's assistance in saving the life of a young girl," Obi-Wan seriously said and Bail's smile instantly vanished. "Four nights ago, she was taken from her home on the direct orders of the Emperor himself and she's now being held in the Imperial Palace."
"By the Force," Bail gasped. "I've never heard of Palpatine doing something like this before." He shook his head. "I can safely say that he's sunk to a new low with this one. Would I be correct in assuming that he did this to punish the parents?"
"Really only the father," Obi-Wan clarified, "though the mother was openly opposed to his rule long before he declared himself emperor. The father was a member of his close personal circle for many years before he disappeared right after the Empire's formation. His desertion enraged Palpatine and he has been searching for him and his family ever since. Their discovery was just an unfortunate accident. Now Palpatine is willing to do anything to get him back."
"That explains a great deal," Bail said, nodding. "This is personal for Palpatine."
"Very much so," Obi-Wan agreed. "The parents and I believe that is why he chose to take one of the children. He wants to hurt him as he himself was hurt. He knows how much this man's family means to him."
"He's using her as bait," Bail comprehended.
"Exactly," Obi-Wan confirmed. "Which is why we believe that she is in no immediate danger. The Emperor knows that if she is harmed in any way that he'll lose any chance of the father rejoining the Empire. But we are concerned that that may change if the father takes too long to come after her."
It was a small lie. Anakin was the only one with that concern. Both he and Padmé knew how patient Palpatine could be. He would wait as long as he had to if it meant Anakin's return to his side.
"A concern I definitely share," Bail said, accepting the lie as fact as Obi-Wan had hoped he would. "Palpatine has gotten more and more vindictive over the years. Once he realizes that this man has no intention of ever coming back, he'll want to punish him even further."
"Which is why we need to rescue her as soon as possible," Obi-Wan pressed. "And we can't do it without the Alliance's help. We have no way of getting on Coruscant and into the Imperial Palace on our own."
"On your own?" Bail repeated, his eyes widening. "Do you mean to tell me you plan on going there yourself?"
"Of course," Obi-Wan verified. "That has been our plan all along. All we intend to ask the Alliance for are supplies that will help us get onto Coruscant and into the palace. False identification documents that will pass inspection and maps of the city and palace are all we really need. We believe that the less people involved, the better."
"You can't possibly be serious," Bail decided. "You know what happens to any Jedi who is caught by an Imperial. You'd be killed on sight."
"It is a risk I am willing to take," Obi-Wan told him. "The life of this innocent girl is far more important than my own."
"And what of the parents?" Bail countered. "You'd be risking their lives as well. What kind of experience do they have in this sort of thing?"
It was the opening Obi-Wan had been waiting for and raised his hand in the prearranged signal.
"Quite a bit actually. Allow them to tell you about it themselves."
He gestured to the top of the ramp as Anakin and Padmé appeared in the hatchway. They had raised the hoods of their cloaks to conceal their identities until the last second.
"Who are they?" Bail asked as they began to descend the ramp.
"Old friends," Obi-Wan simply said.
As they arrived, Padmé pushed back her hood.
"Hello, Bail. It's been a long time."
His shock slammed like a wave into Obi-Wan through the Force.
"Y-you're alive? I can't believe it! Thank the Force!"
Without warning, he grabbed Padmé and hugged her fiercely.
When he released her, he continued, "We were all told that you were dead. Where have you been all this time?"
She gave him a small smile. "I've been doing what I had to do to keep my family safe."
"And this can only be Master Skywalker," Bail said looking at Anakin.
Anakin and Padmé's surprise echoed his own.
"Hello, Senator Organa," Anakin said as he removed his hood. "How did you know it was me?"
Bail smiled. "It's Bail, please, and I figured out your relationship with Padmé a very long time ago. She worried about you too much for you to be a mere friend."
"You never said anything. Why?" Padmé asked, her curiosity clear in the Force.
"Honestly, I didn't see the need," Bail answered. "I knew what would have happened if either of you were found out. Neither of you neglected your duties. Who was I to destroy such happiness in the midst of that pointless war?
"But enough about the past," he went on. "You're here because Palpatine has your daughter. Obi-Wan tells me that the three of you plan on rescuing her yourself. Do you have any idea how much danger you'd be putting yourself in? Not even the Alliance has ever attempted to remove someone from the palace before.
"That's because the Empire never had one of their children inside," Padmé pointed out. "You're a father now, Bail. Surely you understand how we feel."
"Of course I do," Bail told her. "If anything happened to Winter, I don't know what I'd do. But breaking into the Imperial Palace? Never. It's an impossible task."
"But what other choice do we have?" Anakin spoke up. "There's no one else to save her. We have to do it ourselves."
Bail turned to him. "Obi-Wan mentioned that you're Palpatine's main target," he changed the subject. "I realize that he was changing some details to protect your identity at first, but why is he after you? I know you were close friends with him, but his actions seem more than a little extreme to punish a broken friendship. What does he want from you?"
Anakin and Padmé exchanged glances and Obi-Wan felt their discomfort. To tell Bail the truth would be to reveal Anakin's brief turn to the dark side, a secret none of them wanted revealed to anyone.
"I know that you've been told that Palpatine is a Sith lord," Padmé quickly spoke up. "You know that the Sith are the sworn enemies of the Jedi. But Palpatine had always made an exception for Anakin because he was so powerful in the Force. He had hoped to eventually sway him to his side. When Anakin ran away with me to protect our then-unborn children from his evil, Palpatine saw his disappearance as a betrayal of their friendship. But he has never given up hope that Anakin can be turned to the dark side, which is why he has never stopped searching for him."
Obi-Wan was impressed. It was entirely true while leaving out certain details. Padmé was a master of her craft.
"You keep mentioning children," Bail spoke up. "How many do you have?"
"Three," she informed him. "Luke, Leia, and Ammae. Luke and Leia are twins. They're sixteen. Ammae is ten. And Leia is the one Palpatine has taken from us."
"But she was not his original target," Anakin told him. "He sent his servant after Ammae, our youngest. Leia was only taken because she tried to protect her."
"She sounds like a brave young woman," Bail commented.
"She is," Padmé proudly agreed. "We love her so much. We only want her back."
Obi-Wan could feel the effect that Padmé's words were having on Bail.
Bail sighed. "It's clear that I'm not going to be able to talk any of you out of this. And really I can't blame you. This is your daughter's life, after all. But I have to be honest with you. I can't see the High Council granting you your request. The three of you are far too valuable." He turned to Anakin. "You and Obi-Wan are both Jedi and with so few of you left, they're not going to want to sacrifice you on a mission that has nothing to do with fighting the Empire."
Obi-Wan felt Anakin's burst of guilt at the mention of the low numbers of Jedi, but to his credit, he did not outwardly react.
"And you, Padmé," Bail continued, returning his attention to her, "do you have any idea what your survival will mean for the Alliance? We're here because of what you started with us all those years ago. No one is going to want to risk losing you again now that you've returned to us.
"But I will bring you before the High Council because I know that is what you really want," he at last relented. "I can't promise you anything more than a chance to present them with your request."
"That is all we're asking for," Padmé gratefully told him. She took both of his hands in hers. "Thank you, Bail."
"I told them we could count on your help," Obi-Wan commented.
"I wish I could do more," he said sadly, still holding Padmé's hands. "If I didn't think anyone would notice their absence, I'd lend you my personal guards to take with you."
"You're doing more than enough just by bringing us to the Alliance," Padmé assured him, giving his hands a squeeze before releasing them. "You're a good friend."
Bail smiled weakly. "I assume your other children are waiting on the ship?" he asked to change the subject.
Padmé nodded. "We gave them strict instructions to wait there until we came for them."
"Why don't you go get them and your things and then I'll show you to your quarters," Bail continued. "It's unfortunately going to be at least a day before I'll receive permission to bring you to the High Council's current location. There's no reason for you to have to stay on your ship"
"We'd appreciate that," Padmé said with a small smile. "Once again, thank you."
"You're welcome. It's the least I can do."
"End sequence!" the Emperor called out and Leia instantly froze as the training remote went into standby mode.
She did not, however, lower her lightsaber. As she had quickly learned on her first day of training (was it really only yesterday?), her new "master" did not play by any sort of normal set of rules. He could throw something at her at any given instant whether she was prepared for it or not. Lowering her guard for even a fraction of a second could result in her getting hurt. (Which she had, of course, learned the hard way. Her leg still throbbed from when he had kicked it out from under her!) In his words, a day's training was never over until he said so. Literally.
"Excellent, my young apprentice," the Emperor praised her as he got up from his seat and went over to where she was standing in the middle of the floor. "I can see improvement already. Your movements are much more controlled now."
"Thank you, my master," she honestly replied. (Well, not about the "master" part.) Although he was an evil Sith creep, he was doing her a huge favor by addressing and correcting the flaws in her technique. (All the better to use against him when the time came...) She was entirely self-taught based on a single holorecording of Dad demonstrating the positions and basic strikes. Until now, she had never had the benefit of an actual teacher. All she had to do was keep kissing his butt and he'd teach her everything she needed to know to be able to kick that same butt.
"However, you are still only using defensive motions," he continued. "You will never defeat an opponent that way, especially if that opponent happens to be your father. You must learn to take the offensive when the opportunity presents itself."
Like that's possible against a remote, she wanted to comment but wisely kept it to herself. Opening her mouth to this guy wouldn't exactly ingratiate her with him. In fact, it would probably earn her some sort of horrible punishment.
"Allow me to demonstrate," the Emperor said, pulling out the lightsaber that she couldn't for the life of her figure out where he hid it in his robes, and ignited it.
Once again, Leia's eyes nearly bulged out of her head as she watched this seemingly really, really, really old man move with astonishing speed and grace as he deflected each laser burst from the remote.
Considering he did most of his walking with a cane, he had to be using the Force to aid his movements. Which made her wonder why he hadn't taught her any of that yet.
In the day and a half that she had been in training, he had not once mentioned using the Force despite using it constantly himself. Instead, he had focused completely on her lightsaber technique. (True, she badly needed it, but still! She was trying to become a Jedi, for crying out loud! And a Jedi used the Force for everything. ) Why, he hadn't told her and she certainly wasn't going to ask him. (She'd seen him punish servants for looking at him the wrong way! He was seriously unstable!) She could only assume that he would introduce it soon.
Suddenly, in a move that she couldn't even begin to describe, he leapt towards the hovering remote and in a matter of seconds, the device lay on the ground in two pieces.
Leia could only stare with her mouth hanging open.
"Do you see the difference?" he simply asked as if he hadn't just performed an incredible feat. "You must be proactive if you are to win a duel. One who merely defends herself will never prevail."
Not for the first time since starting to work with him, she had a bad feeling that she was going to need to be in training for a long, long time if she had any hope of defeating him.
This was so not going the way she had planned it!
Padmé turned towards the door as she heard it slide open and Doctor Kal Tindor, the specialist Bail had had brought in to examine her at Anakin's request, reentered the makeshift exam room.
Tindor had been Breha's personal doctor during her long and unsuccessful quest to conceive. Over the years, he had become a close friend of the Organas and that friendship had continued on even after Breha had ceased being his patient. (The last miscarriage had been too much for Breha and she had declared that she couldn't go through it again. It was then that the decision had been made to pursue adoption.) Bail had assured Anakin and Padmé that their identities and the nature of their relationship would be safe with him.
"Milady, I have the results of your test," Tindor spoke as the door slid shut behind him. "Congratulations. You are pregnant as you suspected."
She felt Anakin's hand tighten around her own.
Ignoring him, she said with a smile, "Thank you, Doctor Tindor." She turned to Anakin, who had gone pale, before looking back at him. "This is wonderful news."
"I agree, but it appears that your husband does not," Tindor said, indicating Anakin. "May I ask why?"
"It's because my last pregnancy was difficult," Padmé answered. "I was undergoing a great deal of stress at the time and because of it, I neglected to take care of myself. Anakin is worried that the same thing will happen again despite my constant reassurances that I've learned my lesson and the fact that I'm not currently involved in a similar situation."
"No, but you're under a lot more stress now that you were back then," Anakin spoke up.
She folded her arms and turned back to him, but before she could argue, he added, "You know I'm right." He then directed his attention to Tindor. "Did Bail tell you why we were here?"
The doctor shook his head. "He didn't mention it. I just assumed that you were here on a visit since he told me you were old friends he hadn't seen in years."
"We've come to Bail for help in getting our eldest daughter back," Anakin explained. "She's been taken by the Empire."
A shocked expression appeared on Tindor's face. "By the Force!"
"So you can see why I'm worried," Anakin elaborated. "Neither of us are going to be able to relax or be calm until we get her back. You can't tell me that the state Padmé's in will be good for the baby."
"In all honesty, your husband is right, milady," Tindor said to Padmé before she could add her own thoughts. "As you previously experienced, stress can have a strong impact on your body's ability to carry a baby to full-term. Combine that with the fact that you are past your primary childbearing years, you face a high risk of miscarriage.
"However," he quickly continued before either Anakin or Padmé could comment, "that risk is counterbalanced by the fact that you are in perfect health. In fact, you are healthier than many of my much younger patients experiencing their first pregnancies. If you can minimize your stress as much as possible and maintain the regimen of diet and exercise that you've been following, I don't believe you'll lose the baby.
"But I'd highly recommend putting yourself under a doctor's care for the duration of your pregnancy," he added. "That is truly the only way to monitor both your and the baby's progress. And if, in the unlikely event that something did go wrong, you'd have someone familiar with your personal case to help you."
"Thank you, Doctor," Padmé told him, hoping that everything he had just said had gotten through Anakin's thick head. (For someone who was acting like he didn't want to have another child, he was already assuming the role of overprotective father.) "I will do everything in my power to make sure this baby is born healthy. And I promise to find a doctor as soon as I'm sure I won't be traveling around anymore. I regret that our stay on Alderaan will be so short. Otherwise I would have liked to have made you my doctor."
"I would have been honored, milady," Tindor said. "And if the doctor you ultimately choose needs to speak with me about your case, I will gladly do so."
"You mentioned something about Padmé being past childbearing years," Anakin suddenly spoke up. (She had a feeling he had been obsessing over it from the moment it had been mentioned.) "What exactly does that mean?"
Padmé resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Even she knew what that meant. She was in her early forties, an age at which most women stopped having children. But that in no way meant that they couldn't if they wanted to. And she very much wanted to have this baby. She loved it already.
For the simple reason that it had been created by Anakin and herself.
"All it means is that her body has begun the slow process of losing the ability to have children," Tindor patiently explained. (Again she regretted the fact that she was unable to make this man her regular doctor. He was one of the few who could handle Anakin's over protectiveness without batting an eye.) "A human female's body is best equipped to carry a child from the age range of her early twenties to her mid-thirties. That is when she is in her prime and is a fully mature adult. A woman can begin having children at the onset of her menstruation, but many times that occurs when she herself is still growing. The body cannot devote its full attention to the developing fetus when it is still developing itself.
"After a woman passes into her late thirties," he continued, "her body starts reducing the production of the hormones associated with childbearing. The ability is usually completely gone by the time she enters her fifties, but not always. There have been some documented cases of women giving birth to healthy children later in life. But the fact is that the body is no longer devoted to that function once it leaves its prime. Sometime the act of carrying a baby is too much for the older body and the child is lost. But that only occurs when the mother is less than healthy and she has not gotten the proper care. Padmé clearly does not fall into either category."
"Once again, Doctor Tindor, thank you," Padmé said with a smile, "for both your knowledge and your patience." (She put a slight emphasis on the word "patience" and hoped that the doctor got her meaning.) "I can see why Bail recommended you so highly. You clearly care for your patients. That is not something you see very often these days."
"You flatter me, milady," Tindor said with a slight blush. "I am only doing my job. And caring is a very important part of that job."
"There are many who would not agree with you," she informed him. "Why do you think more and more patients are cared for by medical droids? You are a rare breed. Your patients are lucky to have you."
"And you are as compassionate as I had heard, Senator Amidala," Tindor told her. "It is no wonder that Bail and Breha always admired you so."
"Now who is flattering who?" Padmé lightly said. She stood up from her seat and extended her hand, which he accepted. "Thank you again for taking the time to examine me. It is greatly appreciated."
"It was my pleasure, milady," Tindor replied as he shook then released her hand. He then turned to Anakin, his hand still extended.
Anakin took it without any prompting, making Padmé extremely proud of him. (He could be mature when he wanted to.)
"Master Skywalker," Tindor said, "I promise you that Padmé will be fine as long as she takes care of herself which she seems to intend to do. Try not to worry as much as you have been."
"I'll do my best," Anakin replied. "But I'm not making any promises."
Padmé smiled and shook her head. "It's pointless to tell my husband not to worry. He's going to do it anyway. It seems to be his hobby."
Anakin gave her a mock-offended look.
"I wish you both the very best of luck," Doctor Tindor said. "I hope you succeed in getting your daughter back."
"That is our deepest hope as well," Padmé told him.
"There is nothing we want more."
Obi-Wan mentally shook his head as he felt Anakin's emotions finally settle down through the Force. The rapid swinging back and forth between highs and lows had been both annoying and amusing. (At least it had been something to pass the time while waiting for the High Council members to join the holoconference.) Clearly, the visit with the doctor had not gone as Anakin had hoped. (Padmé, on the other hand, had been generally pleased with whatever she had been told though there had been several instances of high annoyance that had coincided with Anakin's bursts of distress.) Which meant that Padmé was indeed pregnant. (He would have to congratulate her when Anakin wasn't around.)
He and Bail were waiting in a conference room at a table set up with seven holoprojectors, one to accommodate each High Council member. So far, only three of them were present, Mon Mothma, Giddean Danu, and Terr Taneel. And that was because they were the only ones currently located at the most recent Alliance base. (For security reasons, they changed locations every few years.) The other four were either on their home planet or elsewhere on personal business. (Although meetings like this were a great deal more secure when they were all away from Coruscant during Senate recesses, like they currently were, it made convening this way all the more difficult.) The discussion could not begin until all Council members were present, a rule established by Bail and Mon years ago at the Alliance's official formation.
Another projector came on and Chi Eeekway Papanoida appeared in the room.
"I apologize for the delay," Chi said. "I am visiting with my sister and her family. There are not many quiet places in this house."
"No need to apologize," Mon told her. "We're still waiting on Garm, Bana, and Fang. They should not be much longer."
"While we're waiting for them, Master Kenobi, perhaps you can tell us why you have called us together," Giddean spoke up. "Bail made it clear that this had nothing to do with your undercover assignment, but he didn't give us any other details."
"I would prefer to wait until the entire Council has arrived before I say anything," Obi-Wan told him. "This is a matter that must be decided by all of you."
"Of course," Mon said. "I'm sure they will be here momentarily."
As if speaking the words had summoned them, the last three holoprojectors came alive and the remaining members of the High Council appeared.
"Now that we are all present, this meeting can begin," Mon declared after general greetings were exchanged. "Now, Obi-Wan, tell us why you have come before us."
"The daughter of Padmé Amidala has been taken hostage by the Empire," Obi-Wan simply began.
There were shocked cries and murmurs at Padmé's name and Obi-Wan waited for them to die down before he continued.
"She and her family have been living in hiding ever since the fall of the Republic," he continued, purposely leaving out any mention of Anakin as he had promised Padmé. (She had been adamant that if her old colleagues were to find out about her marriage, it was to be from her alone.) "I was running an errand when I encountered her. Unfortunately, she was discovered by an agent of the Empire at the same time. Despite our best efforts, we were unable to prevent the Imperial from escaping with one of her children.
"We now intend to go to Coruscant and rescue the girl ourselves," he explained, "but that is something we cannot do without your aid."
"Wait, you're telling us that Padmé Amidala has been alive and in hiding all this time?" Bana asked incredulously. "And that she has children?"
"That is correct, Senator Breemu," Obi-Wan confirmed. "Padmé was keeping a precious secret when the Republic fell. She was pregnant with twins. She fled the capitol in the hopes that she could protect her unborn children from what was happening. I know her decision may seem hard for some of you to understand, but she did what she felt was best for her family."
It was the complete truth, but once again, the sole omission was Anakin's role in her life.
"It's so hard to believe," Terr stated. "Padmé having children? When did she even have time? It sounds so unlike her. The woman we all knew was completely dedicated to her causes. We rarely saw her outside of the Senate."
"I'm not sure it is my place to tell you this, but Padmé got married just as the war broke out," Obi-Wan told the entire Council. "It was her choice to keep it a secret. She didn't want any one of you to doubt her commitment to preserving the Republic. That is also why she hid the fact that she was pregnant. It was Palpatine's declaration of Empire that drove her into hiding. She feared for the safety of her family under his rule because of how outspoken she had been against him. She disappeared only to protect them."
"A noble act, to be sure," Fang spoke, "but why did she not send us some word to let us know she was alive? We were her friends. The galaxy has believed her dead and mourned her all these years. Knowing that she was in fact alive would have been a great comfort to us all."
"Not even her family knows the truth," Obi-Wan told him. "As much as it hurt her, it was important to her that there wasn't a chance of anyone trying to find her. She had to protect her children.
"Padmé would very much like to meet with all of you and discuss the situation with her daughter," he said to redirect the conversation back to the main topic. "But it is very important to her that it be done in person and not over any channel. Do I have your permission to bring her to the base?"
"She won't even speak to us for a moment?" Mon asked, sounding hurt.
"She is busy with her other two children right now," Bail answered for him. "They're both very upset over what happened to their sister. Padmé has her hands full trying to comfort them."
"Understandable," Chi commented and there were sounds of agreement from the other Council members.
"You mentioned going to rescue this daughter yourselves and that you've only come to us for aid," Garm brought up. "What exact kind of aid are you asking for?"
"Nothing military, I assure you," Obi-Wan told him. "I know how thinly your operations are stretched. We are simply looking for resources that will allow us to get onto Coruscant and into the Imperial Palace."
"The Palace!" Bana echoed. "No one has ever gone in there and come out again without the Emperor's permission. What you're planning is impossible."
"Perhaps, but we owe it to young Leia to try," Obi-Wan asserted. "Do I have your permission to bring Padmé and her family to you?"
"Of course, Obi-Wan," Mon said without waiting for a consensus from the other members of the Council. "It will take us a few days to all convene there ourselves." She looked around at the others. "Shall we meet again at the base in say four days from now?"
She was met with sounds of assent and nods from around the table.
"It is settled then. This meeting is hereby dismissed," Mon announced.
"Mon, before you go," Obi-Wan quickly spoke before she could cut her connection. "Do you know if Master Tano is currently at the base?"
It would do Anakin good to encounter at least one known friendly face among the surviving Jedi. Ahsoka was also the most likely to not give his blatant breaking of the Code a second thought.
"I believe she is," Mon said. "I will check with Masters Tholme and Saa. They will know her exact whereabouts."
"Thank you, Senator," Obi-Wan told her. "I would like her to be present when we arrive."
"Of course," Mon nodded. "If it's possible, she will be there."
"Then I will see you upon our arrival," he said. "Goodbye, Mon. May the Force be with you."
"Goodbye, Master Jedi. May the Force be with you. I will see you soon."
And with those words, her hologram vanished as the others had already done.
He turned to Bail and was surprised to see him in discussion with an aide, who had come into the room unnoticed.
The aide stood back up, said "yes, sir," and quickly left the office.
"What was that all about?" Obi-Wan wanted to know when he saw Bail's puzzled expression.
"It seems we have another unexpected arrival here at the palace," Bail informed him.