The house was empty again. The gondolas carrying their children sailed out of sight to begin their 30 minute journey along the Muid river. Being the only method of travel on or off the estate, it wouldn't be long before they reached the port where their speeders are docked to take them to their ships. The annual Skywalker family gathering was over, and yetthe air was still charged with youthful energy,familial joy and love. It drastically contradicted the emptiness and the quiet that awaited the eldest members of the family.
On the balustrade, Anakin stood watching his children disappear along the Muid and took in a deep breath, releasing it as his eyes traveled to the stars above. Though his morning workouts and meditation kept him sharp and fit, he could still feel the toll of the years in his bones. The gray chased away the blonde in his wavy locks and patience and wisdom replaced youthful impulsiveness. A smile slowly broke across his face as he thought about the moments he spent with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He enjoyed the look of surprise ontheir faces during one of the day's events, when they realized the old man still had it where it counted.
As he looked upon the heavens above, he realizedthat though tonight appeared to be the same as any other night, for some reason it felt different. Something seemed out of place. For so many nightsall these many years, he'd stare into the night sky wondering how he could be so blessed. He couldn't make sense of it and never really put much effort intotrying. He accepted the assumption of this life being the afterlife…that he and Padme would be together forever, experiencing life the way they were meant to if they had lived. He knew his children were not truly a part of this life. Luke and Leia were still alive and well in the world of the living. The familythat he'd spent years raising and loving were just projections. It was a perk of being in the afterlife. And he was just fine with that.
What struck Anakin as unusual was that though he and Padme died young, they both continued to age as the years progressed. The afterlife was supposed to be an eternal existence. It made no sense that they would age. Aging implied that at some point therewas an end to this bliss and then a new beginning was just beyond that stage. It didn't matter to him. He and Padme were here in the Netherlands of the force…together…and he was finally at peace. And just as he did every night since his first night, Anakin whispered a word of thanks.
He lowered his head as a familiar and belovedpresence permeated his senses. A comforting arm snaked around his and soft, warm fingers slowly slid between his. Turning his head, he produced a time she touches him, he can't help but to smile. Padme has that affect on him, always did. Hecompletely turned to face her, taking in all her features that he's loved so.
Like himself, she was much older than she was during the days of the clone wars. Her hair was in a neat and simple updo secured with modest black pins. Though all the years carried away the deep shade of brown and replaced it with gray, the scent of Nubian flowers remained, saturating his senses when she was near. She didn't carry the cares of politics or face didn't have worry lines or frown lines, but laugh lines. She laughed a lot during the decades spent together…and he made sure of that. Her eyes and her skin was that of an old woman, but she couldn't be more beautiful than he'd ever seen her before. Every day spent with her was indeed a blessing, a renewed gift of undying love and he cherished each and every one.
Sensing her usual sorrow that followed the departure of their children, he raised the back of her hand to his lips and kissed it. Padme enjoyed the family gatherings and always looked forward to their arrival. However the departures always had the opposite effect. Anakin could only smile sympathetically.
She sighed. "I hate it when they all leave."
"I know." He pressed his lips against her temple and held her hand as he walked her toward the end of the balustrade. "The house goes quiet and everything is peaceful once more…now I could actually hear myself think."
Nudging him with an elbow, she said with a wry expression, "Leave it to you to be the grumpy old man, with a heart of gold."
"I know you miss them already."
"I do." He admitted, tossing an amused glance her way.
Padme looked towards the sky. "It's a beautiful night."
"It sure is. It feels different for some reason."Following her gaze, he took a deep breath. "I can't shake this feeling like…I don't know…Like there is something we've forgotten to do."
A moment of silence passed between them and in that moment Anakin felt a shift in Padme's was a sense of dread deep within her that she wanted to postpone. He had noticed was something off about her since earlier that morning. He awakenedfrom bed to watch the sun climb the sky as he did every morning, and discovered she was already on the balcony sitting in her chair. It was the first time she had been up before him. There were tears in her eyes. When asked why, she replied that she was sad that the children were leaving. But Anakin knew better…that may have been part of it, but it wasn't all of it.
Anakin slowed his pace to a stop as they reached the end of the balustrade, the same spot where they were married and where they shared their first kiss. Gazing out across the lake reflecting the light of the stars, he asked, "I may be an old man, Padme, but I still have some use of the force. Something deeply troubles you."
"You already know, Ani. You know I don't like it when they leave." Padme answered simply.
"My love…" He started as he turned to face her,"After all these long years, I think I know when my wife is sad and when something is bothering her."
"Anakin Skywalker, don't tell me I've become predictable." True to form, Padme did her best to rebuff, "I just miss those days when they were always around."
His worn hands gently caressed her upper arms."Look me in the eyes and say that, Padme." He knewthat would get it out of her.
Padme sighed deeply, "Ani, please…" she pleaded, turning her gaze to the lake. "Let's enjoy this night a little longer."
He knew her well enough to know that it would only be a matter of time. Anakin sighed and waitedexpectantly for her to explain.
As she spoke, her voice sounded calm and ominous."Almost sixty years ago, we were married on this very spot. Do you still remember?"
Anakin answered just above a whisper. "How could I forget, my love?"
"You were so nervous."
"I had a beautiful, strong and intelligent woman wanting to be my wife. All I wanted was to be a good husband to her."
"And you've always been…every step of the way. How I wish we could do it all over again." Padme's gaze focused on her husband. "I wouldn't change a thing."
Anakin furled his brow in thought, heavily considering his words before he spoke. "There was a time that I would have disagreed with you, my love. I would've said that I would change the day you died, make things different so that it would have never happened. Looking back…I realize you're right. I wouldn't change a thing either." Anakin paused, surprised by his own admission. "I understand that you had to die so that I could stop him. It was meant to happen regardless of what I felt or did. When I was a boy starting out with the Jedi, Qui-gon told me that my focus determines my reality. I focused on my fear of losing you, and then I lost you. I focused on your death, and began to slowly destroy myself. I was my own worst enemy and I didn't even know it. I was holding myself back." He takes a deep breath. "Your death made me a stronger man. You and the children were all I ever needed in life, Padme."
Locking onto his gaze, Padme raised her hand and caressed his cheek. A sad nostalgic smile spread across her face before lowering her hand. The silencebetween them was great and heavy.
"Have you ever woken up feeling worn?" There was an eerie and wary tone to her voice.
Anakin looked to her suddenly concerned with her line of thought. "No, I haven't."
"I suppose you wouldn't." She looked away, her voice growing more despondent. "But I have. I have been feeling this way for a while now."
"What do you think is going on?"
She didn't answer, opting to bit her lower lip instead.
Sensing she knew the answer, Anakin knew that whatever it was, it's what's been bothering her all day. "Please tell me what's happening, Padme. I want to help you." He placed a finger under her trembling chin and turns her head toward him.
"I don't want to say it." She said as the tears fell. "I can't…"
Anakin wrapped his arms around her and said in a soft soothing tone, "Yes, you can."
"Oh Anakin..." Padme pulled on his tunic as she composed herself. "You're right and it has to be done."
She pulled away from his embrace to look into his eyes, eyes that she loved drowning in every time he looked at her. "There is something we have to do together. I know I shouldn't have spent today being sad about it, but I couldn't help it. I woke up this morning feeling…sensing the end."
"The end?" His eyebrows furled.
"You wouldn't sense this because…well…you and I are here under different circumstances. I have been feeling worn…stretched thin…Like I've been here too long. I just wanted this to last as long as possible…and I know good things do not last forever." She paused, taking in a breath, "It's time for us to let go, Anakin."
Anakin straightened. "What do you mean?"
"It's time for me to move on and for you to return."
He blinked. "Move on to what? Return to where?"
"Do you know where we are?"
"The Netherworld of the force…the afterlife."
She slowly shook her head, "This is not the afterlife. That is the world beyond this one."
"Then where are we?"
"This is the medium between the living and the dead. And we have been here together for what feels like 53 years."
"I don't understand. We are happy here. Why can't we stay?"
"We're here on borrowed time and borrowed space, Ani. We cannot stay here forever. We weren't meant to."
"Then I choose to go with you."
"You can't. You're not dead." She lowered her gaze."I am."
"Not dead?" Anakin turned his shoulder toward her, struggling to make sense of it. "That's can that be?"
"Ani, when you sacrificed yourself to destroy the Sithand save our kids you survived, but just barely. You fell into a deep coma that day."
"I'm…" he swallows hard. "still alive."
Padme nods her head.
Anakin took several steps away as he considered thenews. "I sensed there was something different about today. I didn't realize it was because it was our last day together." He shakes his head and looks at her, "But it doesn't make sense Padme. I'll return, and still be an 83 year old man. I'll be back with you soon enough." He chuckled lightly.
"No, Ani." She shakes her head slowly. "You are still a young man. You've been in a coma for a year now. In that state, time does not pass as it normally would. It moves extremely slow." She turned toward the view of the lake. "Luke and Leia are not fully grown adults with grandchildren of their own. They are little children…6 year olds who desperately need their father."
Anakin could not find the words to respond. Though strange, every word she spoke rang with truth and made sense of the oddities noticed in the plane they existed in. Part of him wanted to rail against the idea of being parted again. Part of him wanted to be angry and indignant. But the better part of Anakin held sway. He accepted her words and the truth it spelled.
"This is just as hard for me as it is for you. But this is something that must be done and before we are separated I wanted us to have a chance to say goodbye."
A chance to goodbye
Those words struck deeply in the core of Anakin's heart. It was something they were robbed of when she died in the collision. Their last words in life were in hurt and in anger, a deflection of what they truly felt for each other…an indication of what stood between.
"Goodbye?" He turned and took several steps away. "Why didn't you tell me this before?"
She moved towards him. "It's been so many years. Would you want to spend every day of those years wondering if the next day was the last?"
Anakin doesn't respond, understanding her point.
"I didn't know today would be the last day until I woke up this morning." She swallowed and continued, "I want you to move on, my love. Find happiness. Fall in love again. Live your life."
"That's not possible, Padme." He turned to face her, placing both hands gently on her arms. "You are my wife, my heart…my soul mate. I can't be with anyone else."
"I just want you to be happy. We have been blessed with an opportunity unlike any other. We have been allowed to be together again. To grow old and fall in love with each other over and over again, to watch our children grow and become parents. We were allowed to even see our great grandchildren. They may have been projections but they are much more than that. They are glimpses into the future, Anakin. This is something I have been allowed to witnesseven though I'm not a part of that world anymore. We've been allowed to share a lifetime together and we have lived out our lives together, Ani. We've had every day of nearly 60 wonderful years to cherish for all time…" She paused unable to keep her eyes from flooding with tears. "But it has come to an end. And now… "
"It's time I let you go." Anakin finished her sentence, finally realizing the significance of the moment. Letting go of Padme was something he never thought he could ever do. He never wanted to do this, never thought he had the strength to do it and never saw reason for it. But at that moment, he finally understood.
It took several moments for before he spoke again. Absently, he rubbed his chest over his heart as if it were sore. "I never expected to have to go through this again." He looked toward her and said, "The first time I lost you almost destroyed me, because I wasn't ready to let you go. And even after all these years with you, I- I just don't know if I can willingly walk away from you. I don't think I have the strength do it."
A knowing smile made its way across her face. "Yes, you do."
Anakin didn't think it would be there, but searching in the depth of his soul and in the deep places of his heart, he found the strength to do what had to be done was there and always had been. Whether he wanted to or not, Padme had to move on. It was what was best for her. He needed to return to the children. They needed him. And after 53 years or one year growing old with Padme, he realized all good things come to end, so that new things, good things could begin.
Anakin smiled despite the tears welling his eyes."You've given me a beautiful home and wonderful children. Thank you for inspiring me to be better at every turn." His voice shakes as he continues, "I'm grateful for everyday I woke up with you in my arms."
"Oh, Anakin." Struggling to control her emotions, Padme embraces her husband, bathing in a love that she prayed she could take with her.
Anakin buried his face in her hair, taking in the scent of flowers. Instantly the memories of their blossoming love flashed across his mind. He pulledaway just enough to see her angelic face. "Will I see you again?"
"I don't know." She frowned. "But many years will have passed by then."
As a boy he walked away from his mother only after knowing he'd see her again. And now he had to do it again, leaving his beloved wife, knowing he' might never be with her again.
The muffled sound of a child's voice was heard off in the distance, as if sailing in on a breeze. They both searched the sky above, listening to the familiar voice.
Padme looked to Anakin with a gaze filled with excitement, anxiety, immense joy and heartbreak.
"Anakin, please tell Luke and Leia that I love themwith all my heart and that I miss them so much."
His gaze intensified, stroking her cheek with a finger,"You know I will…as often as I can, I promise."
Unable and unwilling to withstand the flood of emotion raining over him, he leaned down and closed his lips over hers. It was a passionate kiss imbuedwith all the love, hope and joy they could muster in those moments. It was a kiss that was meant to last a lifetime. The kiss ended and yet they did not part. They stood for long moments, just a hair breath apart,basking in the indissoluble bond they shared.
Slowly they pulled away from each other and realized they were suddenly restored to their proper age and appearance.
"I love you always, Ani."
He looked at her for a long while committing her to memory. He kisses her on the back of her hand andsaid, "and I will always love you, Padme."
Something in Anakin tingled as if it were signaling his time had come. In his mind he could hear his mother echo her plea…
Now go and don't look back. Don't look back.
And so, Anakin turned and walked away, reluctantly releasing Padme's hand and leaving her alone on the balustrade. With every step he took away from her, his determination grew and surprisingly his heart was not so heavy. He continued on, carrying his love for her with him and never once looking back.
Anakin found himself lying prone on a soft comfortable bed, hearing the beeps and clicks of machines around him. He was in a Medical facility. The child's voice that he heard earlier belonged to Luke, and going by what Anakin could tell, he was reading his favorite bedtime story. Sensing familiar presences in the room, he slowly opened his eyes and saw his son and daughter lying in bed on either side of him. They were taking turns reading to him. Far off in the corner of the room his old master, Obi-wan seated with his legs crossed.
Obi-wan slowly rose to his feet. His gaze astounded and welcoming as he approached. The children stopped reading as a Obi-wan approached the foot of the bed, and raised their heads to see their father.
"Daddy." Leia called breaking into tears.
"You're awake!" Luke was immediately agape.
Obi-wan smiled and folded his arms, "Welcome back, old friend."
Returning the smile and finally at peace with himself, Anakin raised his arms and surrounded his children in a much overdue embrace. He kissed each child and whispered quiet words in their ears, making them embrace him even closer. Never more than in that moment, did Anakin feel truly blessed by the force and grateful for everything that happened.