Chapter 66

Anakin left the medical centre and headed to the conference room where the meeting was being held. He felt knots in his stomach, the stress of all that rested on his shoulders inescapable. The fact that Padmé was incapable of understanding his need to remain behind, even for a short time, filled his heart with sadness and angst. What if she is never the same again? What if she's this frail, insecure woman for the rest of her life? What if there is no help for her? he thought as he rode the lift. The thought that Padmé may never recover from this state of depression, that she may never been the woman he married again, was deeply troubling to him, and he pushed the thought from his mind. I can't think about that right now, he told himself. I have to deal with this mess first. That has to be my focus right now.

There were a few people in the conference room when Anakin arrived. He looked around the room and found Obi-Wan seated at the long table. Anakin could sense his friend's anxiety, and saw it in his eyes as Obi-Wan looked up at him.

"All set?" Anakin asked as he joined Obi-Wan at the table.

"Would it make any difference at all if I said no?" Obi-Wan replied.

Anakin smiled. "Probably not," he returned. "You're not worried, are you? The great negotiator?"

Obi-Wan's eyebrows lifted at the mention on one of his old monikers. "It has been quite some time since I've been in a position like this, Anakin," he reminded his friend. "But I am determined to do the best that I can. I know how important this is to the future of the galaxy."
Anakin nodded. "It is," he agreed. "The Alliance isn't going to listen to me," he remarked. "At least some of their leaders won't," he added. "But you, they'll listen to you."
"Let us hope so," Obi-Wan replied. "Perhaps having Senator Organa's assistance would help," he added. "I was considering asking him to serve as my lieutenant, as it were," he explained.

Anakin nodded as he considered this. Organa had risked much to help Anakin escape; that made him trustworthy, but would the Alliance trust him now? "I suppose it couldn't hurt," he replied.

"Organa is certainly experienced in diplomacy," Obi-Wan pointed out.

"True," Anakin concurred as Imperial officers started to file into the room. Anakin turned so that Obi-Wan alone could hear him. "But there's no diplomacy here, Obi-Wan," he told him. "Here you must rule with an iron fist," he went on. "These men understand nothing else, they respect nothing else," he explained.

Obi-Wan frowned ever so slightly, but nodded in agreement, casting a glance across the room as the seats started filling up. "Your elite guards will help with that," he remarked, nodding in the direction of the door where a dozen clone troopers filed into the room.

"That's their job," Anakin said with a smile. He then stood up to face the assembly, who quieted down once they saw Anakin watching them. "Here we go," he said to Obi-Wan. He walked over to Tomas who was standing near the doorway. "I want this conference broadcast to all the ships," he commanded. "Make sure of it, Tomas."

Tomas nodded, not quite sure why this was necessary, but did as Anakin asked nonetheless, activating the holocamera and opening channels to each of the star destroyers that were in the vicinity.

Once they had acknowledged reception of the transmission, he nodded to Anakin, who returned to the conference table to start the meeting.

"You are all here today for a very serious reason," Anakin began. "In siding with Firmus Piett you have all committed treason, and are so charged," he went on, signalling the clones who were positioned around the room. The clones moved quickly to apprehend the shocked commanders, who were too stunned to put up a fight. Obi-Wan looked up at Anakin, quite shocked by the unexpected move. It unsettled him that Anakin had acted to swiftly and with such vengeance, but realized that he was not in a position to show mercy.

Anakin waited for the room to clear before he turned to the holocamera. "Each command officer is hereby advanced in rank," he told the bridge crew of the small fleet. "Any of you who still have treason in your minds or your hearts will be treated in the same manner as those men you just saw arrested." He waited for a response, but the officers who listened in shocked silence had nothing to say, and so he continued.

"The conflict is over," Anakin announced. "And a ceasefire has been called. Peace talks will commence immediately," he went on. "Anyone who tries to impede this process will be arrested." He turned to Obi-Wan. "For personal reasons I will be relinquishing my command of the fleet to General Kenobi," he went on. "You will give him the same respect as you give me, and follow his every order to the letter." Anakin waited for a moment to allow this to sink in, knowing that each person who could hear his voice was shocked by his announcement. "One last thing before I leave General Kenobi in charge," he said. "I have brought up the prefix codes of each and every one of your ships," he told the listening commanders. "My bridge has them at their fingertips should any of you even think about perpetrating any further acts of treason," he went on. The response was silence, but both Anakin and Obi-Wan could feel the fear of those listening. It seemed that there was still a little Darth Vader in the man who now called himself Anakin Skywalker.

Anakin looked at Obi-Wan and smiled. "I leave it to you now, my friend," he said. "Good luck."
Obi-Wan lifted his eyebrows. "In my experience there's no such thing as luck," he remarked.

Anakin nodded, the smile not leaving his face. "Nevertheless, I wish you well old friend," he said, extending his hand to Obi-Wan.

Obi-Wan shook his onetime padawan's hand. "And I you," he replied. "I will keep you posted on how things are going," he added.

"Good," Anakin replied. "We'll talk soon."

As Anakin left the room he pulled Jir aside to speak with him privately. "I'm relying on you to keep this situation under control," he said.

"You can count on me, sir," Jir replied. "I'll make sure General Kenobi's back is covered."

Anakin nodded, knowing that the young man would do his utmost to ensure that Obi-Wan's every command was followed to the letter. He left the room, forcing himself to put the political situation out of his thoughts. Padmé needs me now, he told himself. She has to be my focus now.

Night had fallen by the time Anakin reached the lake house. He felt exhausted, both physically and emotionally. Usually the sight of the spectacular estate filled him with happiness, with excitement; but now it simply brought to mind the way Padmé used to be, of the way she was when they had fallen in love at this very spot so many years earlier. It filled Anakin with anxiety to think that she may never be that woman again, and that he was to blame for the drastic transformation in her.

Leia, who had seen the gondola speeding towards the house, was waiting for Anakin when he arrived at the dock. She gave him a smile as he walked towards her, but Anakin knew his daughter well enough to know that her smile was forced.

"I'm so glad you're here," she told him as they embraced. She looked up at him, sensing how tumultuous his emotions were. "Are you okay?" she asked.

Anakin looked down into his daughter's eyes, knowing that no matter what he said, she would know the truth. Since they'd discovered each other so many months earlier, they had grown very close, and could read one another well.

"I've been better," he told her with a half-hearted smile. "Obi-Wan is in charge now," he told her. "I've washed my hands of the whole mess."

"It'll be fine," Leia assured him. "The Alliance wants peace as much as you do," she said.

Anakin frowned. "Do they?" he asked. "Trying to extradite me for something I didn't do isn't exactly paving the way."
Leia sighed. "I know Daddy," she responded. "I'm sorry," she added, not knowing what else to say.

Anakin set his hands on Leia's shoulders. "I'm not going to waste any more time or energy worrying about that," he told her. He glanced up at the house. "How is she?" he asked.

The tension that filled Leia upon hearing his question told Anakin his answer even before Leia said a word in response.

"She's locked herself in her room," Leia told him. "She won't come out, she hasn't eaten since we arrived last night," she went on. "Both Luke and I have tried talking to her, but she won't listen, she ...she doesn't hear us, Dad," she went on, her dark eyes troubled. "It's like she's shut herself off from us, and we don't know how to get through to her."

Anakin frowned, and looked up at the house again, fighting against the tears that rose to his eyes. "I promise you, she will be alright," he told his daughter. "I have turned my back on every other aspect of my life but her," he went on as the tears slowly made their way down his face. "Something I ought to have done twenty years ago," he added.

Leia hugged her father tightly, her own tears preventing her from speaking. Anakin closed his eyes as he felt his daughter's love and acceptance wash over him, knowing that it was her love that had brought him out of the darkness, and that without Leia, his life would still be one of utter despair and isolation.

"Let's go up and see her," Anakin said at last. "You know we used to go for picnics in the meadow up there," he told Leia as they walked up the stairs. "I'm sure that once she's spent some time here, she'll bounce back."
Leia frowned, unsettled by her father's words. "Dad, you don't seem to understand," she told him tentatively. "Mother is going to need a lot more than picnics to get her well again."
Anakin looked down at her. "I know that," he replied. "She'll need a lot of patience, a lot of attention..."
"Dad I know you don't want to hear this," Leia interjected. "But it's going to take more than TLC to heal her. She has deep, psychological issues that will need professional help to mend."

Anakin frowned. Leia was right: deep down he knew that Padmé 's condition was far more serious than he wanted to admit. But the thought of it was simply too difficult to accept.

"I will determine that when I see her," he told Leia. "I've always been able to get her to come around."

Leia sighed, hating to be the one to burst her father's bubble. But, she reasoned, he was a single minded man who liked to deal with things in his own manner. She was sure that once he saw Padmé with his own eyes, he would have no choice but to accept the truth.

"Where is she?" Anakin asked as Luke met he and Leia on the balcony.

"In her room," Luke informed him. "She's locked herself in, Dad. Nothing we say will convince her to open the door."

Anakin looked at his son and then at his daughter. "Surely you know how to use the Force to unlock a door," he said.

"Of course we do," Luke replied. "That's not the issue. We weren't sure if we ought to ...invade her privacy. "

"That's why we're so glad you're here," Leia added.

Anakin nodded in understanding. Despite their many accomplishments, Luke and Leia were still very young, barely twenty one, and not quite as sure of themselves as he sometimes believed. "I'll open the door," he assured them. "Make up a plate for her, she's probably hungry."

Leia and Luke exchanged a look as their father made his way into the house, and then parted ways as Leia went to the kitchen to prepare a meal for her mother.

Anakin was flooded with memories as he walked through the stately manor. So many wonderful times had been shared here by he and Padmé, so many watershed moments in their life together. As he drew closer to their bedroom, he was struck with waves of despair emanating from behind the locked bedroom door, and he stopped in his tracks. Never in his life had he known Padmé to feel this way; and for a moment he was unsure what to do. But then he forced himself to act, and, using the Force, unlocked the door. He pushed the door open and entered the room slowly. It was dark inside, and it took a moment for his eyes to adjust.

"Padmé? Are you in here?" he asked, trying to hide the worry from his voice.

There was no reply, and Anakin's anxiety level increased. He activated the lights and looked around the room, feeling his heart pounding within him. And then he saw her. Padmé was lying on the bed, her back towards him, curled up tightly. For a moment he thought she was sleeping, but as he approached the bed he could see that her eyes were open. And yet, she was totally unresponsive to him.

"Angel?" he said, coming over to her. He stood beside the bed, and then sat down on the edge of it, reaching over to touch her. He ran his hand up and down her back, the tension in her body clear to him. "Padmé, say something."

Padmé looked up at him, her large, dark eyes telling him more than any words ever could. And it was the look in her eyes that prompted Anakin to move.

"I brought you something to eat, Mother," Leia said as she and Luke entered the room. They stood and watched as their father gathered their mother into his arms. He turned to them. "Get the gondola ready," he said. "She needs to go to the hospital."

Luke nodded, and ran out of the room to ready the gondola.

"Don't worry Angel," Anakin told her, kissing her on top of the head. "Everything's going to be fine," he told her, trying to sound convincing. Deep down inside, however, he wasn't quite sure if it ever would be again.