Anakin entered the bedroom quietly, not wanting to wake up his wife. Although he hadn't told her so, he was concerned about Padmé. She had not gained much weight since her escape from prison, and Anakin was worried about her health.
The bright moonlight streamed through the slit between the closed drapes, affording Anakin enough light to watch Padmé's face as she slept. She's still no frail, he reflected with a frown. She has too many worries, too much stress. Anakin considered how difficult Padme's life had been for the past two decades, and the disquieting sense of guilt he'd been struggling with rose several notches. I'm to blame for that, he told himself. All the stress, all the heartache she's endured – all because of me.
Padmé rolled over in her sleep, turning away from him. Anakin decided that he needed to at least try and sleep, and so he got undressed silently and slipped into bed. Moving over to his wife, he wrapped a protective arm around her. Everything will be better soon, Angel, he told her silently. And then I will spend the rest of my life taking care of you.
The next morning
Leia was up early, too anxious to sleep. Leia had always been a person who was in control of the direction her life took; but the uncertainty that pervaded the peace talks was certainly not something she had any control over. Torn between her father and the Rebel Alliance was certainly not something Leia had ever anticipated. She had spent much of her young life fighting against the tyranny of the Empire. Finding her real family had not dampened her dedication to the Cause, and yet Leia could not help but feel conflicted. She knew that her father could be trusted; she knew that he'd changed. And yet, she could certainly understand the attitude of the Alliance leaders. Only a few short months earlier she would have shared it, after all. Until that fateful day when Darth Vader's ship had captured her own, the idea that the Dark Lord could be trusted would have been preposterous to her. So how do I get them to see what I see? How do I convince them that Darth Vader is no more?
"You're up early," Bail Organa commented as he entered the dining room where Leia sat nursing a rapidly cooling cup of tea.
"So are you," she replied.
Bail smiled. "Yes, well I like being up early," he reminded her. "I seem to recall having considerable difficulty getting you out of bed in the morning."
Leia laughed. "Yes, that's very true," she admitted. "But people change."
Bail nodded, sensing that she wasn't just referring to herself with the comment. "They do," he agreed as he sat down. "Sometimes," he added. He studied Leia as she sipped at her tea. "Tell me something," he said. "And be honest."
Leia looked up at him. "You know I could be nothing but. You raised me to always tell the truth, remember?"
"I remember," Bail responded. "I like to think I did a good job of raising you," he added. "Even if I did keep the truth from you." He paused for a moment. "You understand now why I did that, don't you?"
Leia frowned slightly. "On one level, yes," she replied. "On others...not so much."
Bail wasn't terribly surprised to hear this.
"So what is it you want to ask me?" Leia asked.
Bail hesitated, but only briefly. "If you weren't Vader's daughter, would you trust him?" he asked.
Leia's frown deepened. "That's impossible to answer," she told him.
"Perhaps," he concurred. "But you have to admit that part of the reason you trust him, a very large part as a matter of fact, is because you are emotionally attached to him. There's a bond, a connection to him now."
"Well of course there is," Leia responded in exasperation. "He's my father! I love him!"
Bail nodded. "I know you do," he replied. "And I'm not implying that you shouldn't," he added. "I'm asking you if there were no emotional connection, if you didn't know that he was your father, would you trust him? Given everything that you know about him, would you believe in his good intentions?"
Leia considered this, knowing why he was asking it. "You're asking me to be objective," she observed. "I don't think I can, not now, not knowing him the way I do. But you can't be either, can you? You're not capable of being objective where he's concerned, are you?"
Organa frowned, not having considered this. "No," he admitted. "I suppose not," he replied. "Too much history, too much ...bad blood."
Leia nodded. "I know," she replied. "But I give you my word; he is not the same man who committed all those terrible deeds. He is worthy of a second chance, I promise you. More than that, he's the only hope for peace in the galaxy. But he can't do it alone. He needs you, he needs the Alliance. And you need him. I think you know that already, though, don't you? You just don't want to admit it."
Organa frowned, Leia's words chiselling away effectively. He would never forget the atrocities of Darth Vader. He had seen firsthand how Vader's own wife had suffered as a result of his action; he'd been a witness to cold blooded slaughter of a Jedi padawan by Vader's shock troops. And yet, if he were to be completely honest, he'd have to admit that he also remembered a different man; a man whose honour and integrity were above reproach, a man whose bravery and sacrifice saved countless lives and turned the tide of more battles than any one individual during the Clone War. So which man is he?
Leia watched her adopted father, sensing his conflict, his confusion. She decided that was a good thing, for at least he was starting to consider that there was more to her father than simply the monster known as Darth Vader.
"Give him a chance," Leia said finally. "I beg you," she added, her large dark eyes full of emotion and conviction. "You won't regret it, I promise you."
"She's quite right, Viceroy."
Both Leia and Bail turned to see Obi-Wan standing in the doorway. Leia was happy for his timely arrival, and smiled.
"Good morning Obi-Wan," she said. "Perhaps you should tell the viceroy your impressions of my father," she suggested.
Obi-Wan nodded. "Yes, I think perhaps I should," he agreed.
Organa looked at Obi-Wan, and then back at Leia. He had the distinct impression that he'd been set up.
Obi-Wan smiled, seeing the thoughts in Organa's mind. "Shall we, Viceroy?" he said, taking a seat at the table.
Organa nodded, deciding to listen to what the Jedi had to say.
Elsewhere in the manor
Luke sat on the large terrace as the sun rose higher in the sky. He'd adopted the practice of meditation to start his day, a habit he'd learned from Obi-Wan. Luke usually found great serenity in the time he spent in meditation, but this morning he could sense his father's anxiety too strongly to reach a peaceful state of oneness with the Force. His mind harkened back to the previous night, to the conversation he'd had with his father. Although he'd only known his father a short time, Luke had already formed a strong connection with him. He knew that his father was struggling mightily with the past, and wondered what he could do to help him with his struggle.
"Good morning Luke," Padmé said as she joined her son on the terrace.
Luke stood up at once. "Good morning Mother," he said, giving her a kiss on the cheek. "Did you sleep well?" he asked.
Padmé frowned ever so slightly, giving Luke his answer. "Not terribly well, no," she told him. "Your father's been having nightmares."
Luke nodded, not at all surprised by this. "He's very conflicted right now," he told his mother. "I can sense it in him so strongly."
Padmé looked at her son, amazed by how strongly he was connected to his father. "I know he is," she replied with a sigh as she walked over to the terrace railing. "I wish I knew what to do for him, Luke," she told him as she watched the waters below them. "But the past is the past," she went on. "No one can change it. No one can go back and erase all the terrible things that he did. And I know that it's those past crimes that are eating away at him now. How can I help him carry such a heavy burden as that?"
Luke walked over to stand beside his mother. He put an arm around her shoulders and kissed her temple. "You love him," he said. "You support him, and you've forgiven him," he went on. "You're already doing more than most would do in your place. He's lucky he has you in his life, Mother. I don't think he'd have come so far if you weren't."
Padmé smiled, and reached up to touch Luke's face. "My sweet, sweet Luke," she said softly. "What would I do without you?" she asked, putting her head on his shoulder.
Luke said nothing, but simply stood with his mother, watching the sun's reflection as it glimmered on the waters below.
"So you're going to tell me that he's changed, Obi-Wan?" Organa asked as he and Obi-Wan were left alone in the dining room. "Leia's been telling me the same thing for close to an hour now."
Obi-Wan nodded. "Leia is very close to her father," he commented.
"I noticed," Organa replied. "I have to wonder if that ...closeness is clouding her judgement, though," he added.
Obi-Wan frowned ever so slightly. "Is that what you think is going on?" he asked. "That Leia has forsaken the values and beliefs that she was raised with?"
Organa looked away, uncomfortable with the question. "I didn't say that," he muttered.
"Not directly, no," he said. "But I can see how you'd think that her love for her father has compromised her sense of judgement," he went on.
"Thank you," Organa replied.
"However," Obi-Wan went on. "She's not the only one who has seen how deep the changes in Anakin are," he continued. "I too have seen it. And I hope, Viceroy, that you can trust that I haven't allowed emotions to cloud my judgement."
"How, Obi-Wan?" Organa asked. "How can you trust him? You? After everything you saw, after the atrocities you witnessed with your own eyes? How can you possibly tell me that he's changed? That he's trustworthy?"
"I did see firsthand what Anakin did, what the Dark Side made him do," Obi-Wan replied. "I saw with my own eyes how a man I loved like a brother was consumed by darkness, changed into a ruthless, heartless beast," he went on. "No one knows better than me what happened to Anakin. But no one, with the exception of his wife, knows the man better than I do," he went on. "And I have seen his soul, Viceroy. I have seen that the darkness no longer controls him, that he is the man I once called brother, the man who saved my life more times that I can count. You remember him, don't you? The Hero with No Fear? You see, there are two sides to every man, Viceroy. Anakin is no exception. And I can tell you without hesitation that Darth Vader has been vanquished by Anakin Skywalker. If there was any doubt of it, do you really think I'd put the Alliance in such a position? Do you really think I'd trust him?"
Organa couldn't deny that Obi-Wan's words were provocative, and he shook his head slowly as his eyes followed a bird on the terrace outside. "No," he said at last. "I don't suppose you would," he replied. He turned to look at Obi-Wan. "Maybe he and I should talk," he said.
Obi-Wan smiled. "I think so too."
Anakin woke up alone, and with a start. He'd been dreaming of Mustafar again, something that was happening more and more frequently lately. He hadn't told his wife, but was certain that she knew because of his restiveness at night. The fact that Padmé was already out of bed indicated strongly that she'd passed an equally restless night. So what will today bring? he wondered as he got out of bed. Will the peace talks fail again? Will more time be wasted trying to make them work? Anakin was frustrated that he'd already lost so much time, for he was certain that Piett was making very efficient use of his. He always was well organized, Anakin reflected as he turned on the shower. And to think that at one time I trusted the man... Anakin showered quickly, his anxiety level too great to enjoy what he normally considered a luxury. There was so much to be done, and if the Alliance wasn't going to help him than he'd need to come up with an alternative plan.
"Good morning Master Anakin," a medi-droid said in greeting as Anakin returned to the bedroom. "Time for your injection."
"Could you at least wait for me to get some clothes on?" Anakin asked in annoyance.
"I am programmed to administer this injection at precisely 0900 hours, sir," the droid replied.
But Anakin wasn't listening by now, and simply opened a dresser drawer to find some shorts. He knew it was only a droid, but still...He slipped on a pair of shorts and sat down on the edge of the bed.
"Ok," he said. "Go ahead."
The droid wiped an antiseptic swab over a small area on Anakin's left arm and then injected the digoxin into his muscle.
"Completed," the droid announced as it picked up the swab and headed for the door. It was met by Padmé as it exited.
"You've had your shot, then?" Padmé asked.
Anakin stood up and looked over to her. "Yes, just now," he replied. "Damn droid didn't have the decency to let me get dressed first," he grumbled as he headed to the closet to look for clothes.
Padmé smiled. "Well droids don't compute things like modesty," she reminded him as he watched him. "You okay, Ani?" she asked.
"Yes," he answered a little too quickly. "Just fine."
Padmé frowned; concerned that he was covering up his true feelings. He'd done that before, and the end result was disastrous. Remembering Luke's words, she walked into the closet where Anakin stood selecting a pair of trousers.
"Ani, don't do this," she told him.
"What are you talking about?" he asked, pulling a pair from the hanger. "What am I doing?" he asked, as he stepped into the trousers.
"You've been having nightmares," she told him. "Haven't you?"
Anakin said nothing for a moment as he buttoned the trousers and the turned to select a tunic. He frowned, not really looking at the row of clothing in front of him. "Did I keep you awake?" he asked, knowing it was futile to deny her question.
"That's not important," she replied. "It's you I'm worried about," she said, putting a hand on his arm.
Anakin turned to her. "Angel, please," he said, taking her gently by the shoulders. "I wish you wouldn't," he told her. "I'm ...I'm trying to come to terms with the past," he told her. "It's a burden that I have to bear alone, since it was me who did all those terrible things," he went on, "me who killed all those people..."
"I know," Padmé stopped him, not wanting him to go on. "But you don't need to bear this alone," she told him. She moved her hands up to his face. "You have a family who loves you," she went on, stroking his face softly. "Let us help you, Anakin," she implored him. "Don't shut us out again."
Anakin wrapped his arms around Padmé and held her close. The fact that Padmé had forgiven for him still astonished him, the fact that she wanted to help him even more so.
"Now come on," she told him, pulling back after a few moments. "Leia told me that Bail may be ready to talk."
Anakin looked down at her in surprise. "Really?" he asked.
Padmé nodded. "Apparently she had a little chat with him," she told him.
"Did she?" he asked.
"Yes," she replied. "And so did Obi-Wan," she added.
"Well then, let's not keep the man waiting," Anakin said, turning and pulling a tunic off of its hanger. "What's the old expression?" he asked, buttoning up his tunic. "Make hay while the sun shines?"
Padmé smiled. "Something like that," she told him, turning down the collar of his tunic. "I have a good feeling about this, Ani," she told him. "You know how persuasive Leia can be," she added.
Anakin laughed. "I wonder where she got that from," he remarked. "Come on," he said, kissing her on the top of her head. "Let's go may some hay."