Author's Note: All these lovely characters are not mine. This fic is a sequel to 'After the End' (fic #634071) found in this archive.

Chapter One



Vader walked down the corridors of the Star Destroyer, his boot heels clicking against the shiny black metal floors. With grim amusement, he took note of the wide berth those walking past gave him, as if his closeness alone would bring them harm. He could feel their fear against his mind and he drew strength from it. Reaching out with the Force, he knocked a blaster out of an officer's holster, a streak of old mischief emerging. The officer yelped in surprise, and paled when he noticed the black-robed figure pass by. Vader did not spare him a glance, but underneath his helmet, he was smiling maliciously.

Obi-Wan would have hung me upside down for that one, he mused before he could stop himself.

A surge of anger made him clench his hands as he thought of his old master. Despite the well-timed explosion at the Jedi Council meeting, Obi-Wan had managed to escape. As much as Vader enjoyed destroying the Jedi who destroyed his life, he had wanted Kenobi's blood most of all. His teacher who condemned him to live like a machine, trapped underneath a helmet and never to feel the sun's warmth on his skin again. His friend who betrayed him and Padmé to the Council, separating them forever.

Where are you now, Master, Vader thought disdainfully. You hide like a coward.

Power, raw and fiery, flowed through the Sith Lord. For the past two years, once it was possible for him to concentrate on other pursuits as the Empire was well-established, he'd been searching for Obi-Wan but his old Jedi Master hid well. However, Vader was not to be deterred for he suspected she was with Kenobi.

Padmé crowded his thoughts at any given moment. He wanted her at his side, even though she had turned her back on him. That could be forgiven if she agreed to be with him again. More than once, Sidious ordered him to curb his desires, but Vader thought otherwise. His desire to be with his wife fueled his anger rather than staunched it. He felt it now, the anger that helped him control the power of the Dark side, and the Force all but hummed around him.

Finally reaching his destination, Vader cleared his mind and entered Darth Sidious' chambers. The older man turned to acknowledge him as he stood at the large window at one side of the room.

"Your search has come up fruitless yet again," Sidious said silkily. "I wish you would stop wasting your time."

Vader controlled his initial impulse to reply with annoyance. Smoothly, he replied, "For now. Obi-Wan will be found. It should not be that every other Jedi has perished while he runs free."

"All in good time. You, on the other hind, need to find some other use of your talents."

"What do you have in mind?"

"There is talk of an underground Rebellion with cells in our worlds. I want you to find it before it gains a foothold, and squash it."

Vader bowed slightly, his mind already mapping out a plan of action. "As you wish, My Master."

"Good. And don't you worry, Vader. Once you finish this, you can go back to your hobby."

"Hobby?"

Sidious smiled a smile not unlike the one Vader had worn earlier.

"Hunting Jedi," he clarified.



* * *



Ben Kenobi shielded his eyes from the blinding light of Tatooine's suns. After five years, he still wasn't used to it. Out of habit, he reached out with the Force to check on his charge. Young Luke Skywalker was currently struggling to get out of bed, his initial bad mood dissipating when the smells of his Aunt Beru's breakfast reached his nose.

Smiling to himself, Ben retracted his touch. Luke was growing up like a normal boy. He did chores, he went to school, he obeyed--or disobeyed--the wishes of his Aunt and Uncle. He showed no signs of his extraordinary heritage, save for a few instances which Ben covered up quickly enough. Luke was very strong in the Force, but Ben was doing all he can to hide that fact. So far, it was working, but the old Jedi worried about the time when Luke's powers surpassed his control.

Owen refused to allow Ben to teach Luke and Ben did not try to press the matter, as Padmé had not wanted him to teach Luke in the first place. Yet, to leave a power like his unchecked could make the young boy come out as badly as Luke's father had.

And here you are again, arrogant enough to think you can teach young Skywalker as you taught his father, Ben admonished himself with a shake of his head.

Sighing, the erstwhile Jedi Master picked up his walking stick and started out for the dunes. He needed to catch something for his supper. Wistfully, he remembered the days when he could walk into most places and get something good to eat for a pittance because of his position. Nowadays, to claim to be a Jedi would only lead to death...at Vader's hands.

At the thought of his enemy, Ben subconsciously covered his presence in the Force. He had schooled himself in controlling his power, but one could never be too careful. Vader was powerful as a Jedi but he was unstoppable as a Sith Lord. Ben knew that he was being hunted, but he refused to run around the galaxy, living like a fugitive.

I'd much rather live like a hermit, he mused with a touch of irreverent humor.

Vaguely, he wondered how Luke's mother and sister were doing. An ache began in the region of his heart, but he quickly pushed it aside. Padmé was alive, he was sure, and Leia as well. At night, when it was hardest to be alone, he sometimes checked on them as well. Lips curving downward underneath his beard, Ben refocused his thoughts on the task at hand. He had to eat.



* * *



Padmé sighed as she leaned back in her armchair. She hadn't realized how long she had been leaning forward until she'd gasped when she reached for her glass of water as a stabbing pain flew up her arm. After checking the chrono, she saw that she had been reading Bail's plans for four hours straight.

"Leia," she called out, suddenly feeling lonely. "Where are you, My Little One?"

The tell-tale sound of small feet running made Padmé smile tiredly. Leia's small, elfin face popped up at her mother's elbow, her large brown eyes dancing.

"Are you done readin'?" she asked.

"For now," Padmé answered, pulling Leia into her lap and grimacing as her back protested. "Oof...you're getting big."

"Uncle Bail said that it's because you keep on feeding me Naboo food."

Padmé laughed. "That's true, but it's good for you. I grew up on that food, and look how I turned out."

Leia grinned and cuddled against her mother. Padmé tightened her arms around her daughter, burying her face in the little girl's shiny brown hair, so like her own. She felt an immense sadness fill her heart and, unbidden, tears threatened to fall from her eyes. Her arms ached to hold Luke again, to have him grow up next to his sister and under his mother's watchful eyes. Her heart ached to see Anakin again....and Obi-Wan. But like countless times before, Padmé stopped her thoughts before the tears could fall, and instead a sad smile curved her lips.

"What's wrong, Mommy?" Leia whispered, peering up at Padmé.

"I'm just happy to be with you, Little One," was the careful response.

"That's what you always say, and I don't think I believe you anymore."

Surprised at her five-year-old daughter's astute response, Padmé was rendered speechless. She only stared at Leia, not sure whether to be amused or frightened. Fortunately, she was saved by Sabé's entrance into the room.

"Time for bed, Leia," she said.

"But Mommy just finished reading and she can play with me now."

"But..."

"It's alright, Sabé," Padmé reassured her. "I'll make sure she gets to bed at a decent hour."

"Alright," Sabé said, but she didn't sound convinced. "Good-night, you two. Try not to make too much noise."

Leia blew her a kiss and then turned all her attention on her mother. Padmé suddenly got a flutter of nervousness in her stomach at the look in Leia's eyes. Anakin had told her once that he could tell when she had a heavy question for him because her eyes narrowed to half their size and a single wrinkle appeared between her eyebrows. Leia had that identical look to her right at that moment.

"Can I ask you something, Mommy?"

"You can ask me anything."

"Where's my Daddy?"

Padmé's breath caught in her throat. She had expected this question since the day Leia said her first word, but she was still not ready. Not that she hadn't prepared her answer already, but all those responses flew out of her head the second she looked into Leia's earnest little face. Anakin's daughter deserved nothing less than the truth.

"I don't know, Leia. I don't know where he is."



* * *