Title: Chosen Paths
Author: Kathryn Olsen
E-Mail: AlaraV@coruscant.net
Category: Old Republic
Summary: A few speculations on the plot of the prequels and what exactly
happened.
Website: None
Rating: G


FIVE DAYS AFTER THE BATTLE FOR NABOO

Queen Amidala sat against a wall in the back of the victory celebration.
She could see Gungans and Naboo, off-worlders and natives alike, reveling
in the restoration of peace and their way of life. Even her solemn-minded,
loyal bodyguard, Panaka, was letting his hair down, so to speak.

The formal robes and elaborations of court were forgotten tonight
Most of the Council wore civilian clothes. Amidala herself wore a loose-
fitting green tunic and black slacks. Her hair was pulled into a single,
long braid and wound around her head. The royal makeup was abandoned,
except for the scar of remembrance. There was much to remember today. She
was grateful for the reprieve from the oppressive court robes that were as
much a part of her job as her posture.

Amidala leaned her head back against the wall and looked up at the
stars visible through the open ceiling of the decorative courtyard. She
didn't feel much like celebrating.

It had been one of the most trying weeks of her life, both physically
and emotionally. She hadn't eaten in weeks, too busy with keeping her
people alive to think of trivial matters such as her own well-being. It
had also been one of the greatest challenges of her political career thus
far.

*"There you go again, talking like the veteran politician you are
at the age of fourteen."*

Amidala smiled sadly, hearing her mother's frequent laments. She'd
supported her political ambitions when Amidala had decided to run for her
office. She'd understood how much this world needed unification and peace,
a departure from the corruption of past monarchs. Her mother had rejoiced
when she'd been elected.

Then, two months after her election, the Trade Federation had sent
its first ambassadors, demanding a trade franchise that would practically
enslave her people. She'd refused adamantly and in return, they'd destroyed
her home village.

She'd barely had time for a proper funeral for her parents when
the blockade went up. The rest was history.

She buried her face in her arms, weeping quietly for the friends
she'd lost over the last few months. Too many. First her parents, her
sisters, and her friends in her hometown, then Qui-Gon. Then, she'd returned
to power to find many of her friends murdered in the camps.

"Are you okay?"

Amidala started and her eyes flew open. Anakin Skywalker, the
curious slave ("I'm a PERSON and my name is Anakin") who had saved them more
than once, stood before her. He had a concerned expression on his small
face. She smiled in spite of her self.

"I'll be fine. I'm just in mourning for everyone I've lost on the
path to this celebration. I don't feel I deserve to celebrate just yet."

"That's not all, is it?"

*Very good, Padawan,* she thought wryly. Either he had some good
intuitions or the kid was more advanced in the Force than she realized.
Then again, he was "THE CHOSEN ONE." She nearly laughed aloud. *"You're
sure about this? Trusting our fate to a boy we hardly even know?*

She patted an empty seat next to her and he sat down, the same
earnest expression still on his face. "Here goes. I'm thinking of resigning."

Anakin jumped. "What?!"

"I've failed my people. They elected me because they believed I
could help our people put our war-filled past behind us and rein in a new
era of peace and prosperity." She traced a finger over her lips, over the
scar of remembrance. "The darker paint reminds us of the blood that has
been shed as a price for our peace. There's so much of it, it nearly over-
whelms the peace. I hoped I could even out the balance.

"By going to war against the Trade Federation, even if it was in
defense, I've murdered tens of thousands of people, my parents included.
I've given the dark more power. I have no right to lead this people."

Anakin was silent for a few minutes, his gaze fixed on the revelry
before them. For a minute, she thought he'd fallen asleep. Then he spoke
in a soft, pensive voice that startled her.

"It's not like that at all. You had to fight to keep your people
alive. There's nothing wrong wiht that. They should love you more, if
anything, for your readiness to put yourself at risk for them. If not,
they're slimeballs."

Amidala laughed. "Except for that last part, you sounded like my
father."

Anakin nodded, smiling. "I *am* ten. Pretty ancient, if I must
say so myself. *And* I'm going to be a Jedi."

Amidala frowned slightly. "I thought you were nine."

"I turned ten the day of Master Qui-Gon's funeral," he said in a
small voice. Then he brightened. "Did Master Obi-Wan tell you we're staying
here for a few more months to start my training?"

"Yes, it's wonderful. We'll be able to see each other often."

"In that case, can I ask you a question?"

"Go ahead."

"What am I supposed to call you? Padme, Amidala, Your Highness?"

Amidala laughed. "I'm Amidala Padmecha Nabierrie. Padme was my
nickname as a child. Call me anything you want. We're friends." She
pulled out the pendant he'd made for her from under her tunic. "Remember?"

He grinned and stood, offering his hand. "In that case, Amidala
Padmecha Nabierrie, would you join me for this dance?"

Amidala's smile spread to the corners of her face. "Sure, why
not?"
* * *
TWELVE YEARS LATER

"It's a beautiful world. Too bad we have to fight a war here."

Anakin smiled. "That sounds familiar. First Naboo, then Alderaan."

Amidala nodded sleepily from underneath Anakin's arm. "You'd
swear there's a conspiracy out there. There really isn't any logic behind
these wars."

Anakin snorted. "There isn't any logic behind any form of war.
One of the Masters on the Jedi Council is always saying, 'wars not make
one great.'"

He tightened his grip on Amidala, then let her go and stood
to monitor the fire. Amidala looked over him appreciatively, well aware
that he'd reached his manhood. Nearly seven feet tall, he was built like
a natural warrior. His musculature had become more defined over the last
few years and his shoulders were broad.

He turned and looked back at Amidala. "You remember back during
the blockade, Masters Qui-Gon and Obi-wan wouldn't join in the battles until
they were faced with the Sith Lord? The Jedi won't have any part in a
war further than protection or the standard role of a Jedi."

Captain Khinva smiled wryly. "Then, if you don't mind my asking,
why are you and General Kenobi here?"

Anakin smiled and sat down, letting his arm slide protectively around
Amidala's shoulders. "I, personally, am here to keep a certain young
lady from killing herself off. Defending peace, justice, and the Republican
way is merely a side benefit."

"Ams here doesn't need any protection. We won there and we'll
win here. When will they take a hint and attack someplace like Nal Hutta
or Tatooine?"

Lieutenant Tarth laughed. "They'll lose wherever they go. They're
up against *us.*" Someone cheered in the back of the group. Another silenced
him.

"Keep it down. We are still in enemy territory and there may be clone
patrol troops out here."

Amidala shuddered. Going against those clone armies was as blood-
curdling as anything she'd faced with the battle droids. These were precise
war machines, bred to kill without a second thought.

She looked up at Anakin. His gaze was focused in the distance,
his expression perplexed. "What's wrong?"

He started and looked down at her. "Nothing. Don't worry about
it."

She scowled at him. "Come on, don't start playing big brother on
me. You've never hidden anything from me before. Don't do it now. Something's
wrong with you."

He smiled. "Thanks a lot, Ams." He sighed. "I can't help thinking
there's someone who's behind all this. Your conspiracy theory might not
be all that off. Someone is manipulating the course of galactic history
from the shadows.

"Remember in the Trade Federation inquiries, the viceroy kept on
mentioning that he was under direct orders from his Lord. It sounded at
first like a weak attempt to absolve himself of direct responsibility for
the whole Naboo mess, but I have the feeling that Obi-wan didn't kill off
the last of the Sith Lords. There's someone out there, maybe even Lord
Maul's Master, who is behind all this." He sighed. "I have the distinct
feeling we're being lured into one trap after another. Over the last ten
years, we've lost more Jedi through strange circumstances than in the last
five hundred years. It's almost methodic murder."

She frowned. "Do you think you're at risk?"

He nodded. "In more ways than one. I'm not a full Jedi Knight
yet and am susceptible to many things. Master Obi-wan is constantly reminding
me to beware of the Dark Side. He is of the opinion that the Master, if
that is what he is, might discover my strong Force potential and try to
lure me over."

"That's a frightening thought. I'd hate to have you on the wrong
side of this war."

He pulled her close. "Me either."

She rested her head against his chest, listening to his heart beat
and his slow, contented respiration.

"Ams, can I ask you a question?"

"Anakin, after ten years, you haven't figured out that I'm not
your squadron leader? Permission granted to speak freely."

"I was wondering if you would do me a favor..."

Abruptly, he leapt to his feet. "Everyone down!" He hissed.

Amidala half rose, but he gestured down. She could see General
Kenobi across the clearing, his lightsaber drawn, but deactivated. She
stayed half-crouched, but hidden. She drew her blaster quietly and kept
it at the ready.

A storm of blaster bolts suddenly lanced out of nowhere. Anakin
ignited his saber and deflected them with alarming speed. Amidala gaped,
barely taking time to return fire when others did. She did so sparsely,
firing in different directions to obscure her hiding place.

Unexpectedly, a shot hit the rock in front of her. They were catching
on quickly. One caught her in her firing hand, forcing her to drop the
blaster. A bolt caught her in the upper chest, throwing her back. She could
tell the wound was serious, but survivable. She kept still, listening to
the commotion of a battle.

"Three patrols. Looks like they're all from the same template.
Must have run across us on scouting or they'd be here in full force. Requesting
medical assistance and reinforcements."

"Sithspawn, there's more of them. To the west."

General Kenobi gestured to Anakin. "Take company Alpha and flank
them. Manipulate their minds if you have to, but draw their fire away."

He nodded slightly, then shot a worried look at her. "What about
our injured?"

"We'll do what we can to keep them safe. Go!"

Anakin bent down and kissed her quickly, then smiled. "I'll be
right back. Don't go anywhere."

Amidala smiled as General Kenobi put a blanket over her. "The
medic will be here soon."

"Thank you."

She drifted in and out of consciousness, picking up bits and pieces
of conversation, hearing the ensuing battle. Eventually, the firing ceased
and there was only the heavy breathing of the exhausted troops, waiting
for a second attack.

It never came. There was a general sigh of relief. "Casualties?"

"Twenty wounded, thirteen dead."

General Kenobi sighed. "Out of a hundred. Not good, but not as
bad as it could have been."

Amidala became aware that her wounds had been bandaged and someone
had put a rolled jacket under her head. She was still covered by a blanket,
but was being hoisted onto a medevac stretcher.

Anakin ran into view, bruised and dust-covered, but grinning.
"No losses in Company Alpha, sir. Six minor wounds." He crossed to her.
"How's it going?"

She inhaled shakily. "I've had worse."

He grinned. "I'll bet you have."

She smiled. "What was the favor you wanted to ask me?"

He pushed away some rocks underfoot and brushed off his knees.
He knelt on one knee, grinning nervously. Amidala laughed at his display.
He shot her a hurt look that was 90% mirth. He took her injured hand, then
thought better of it and stood. He stood and crossed to the other side
of the stretcher.

By now, quite a crowd of people had gathered to witness the spectacle
the Padawan was putting on. He repeated the same process, then shot an
accusing glance at the gathered crowd.

"What are you looking at?"

Lieutenant Tarth booed. "Come on, Skywalker. Get it over with."

"Patience, you must learn patience." He took her hand and smiled
up at her. "Amidala Padmecha Nabierrie, I would be honored if you would
consider marrying me."

She squeezed his hand. "Consider it done."

He stood and kissed her, long and hard. The troops broke out in
raucous cheering. He pulled away and smiled. "Nice way to end a perfect
day. First we get ambushed in the morning, then we get a taste for the
local wildlife. Then we get ambushed again, you get shot, now this."

Amidala laughed weakly. "Get used to it, flyboy."

General Kenobi pushed through the crowd. "All right, everyone,
we're moving out. Our contacts have found a suitable haven for us to
relocate to. But, before we go, I have more bad news for Commander Skywalker."

"What now?"

Kenobi put on a somber look. "Your Highness, not only will you
be in wedlock with this monster, you'll be married to a full Jedi Knight.
I just got word from the Council."

Anakin staggered back, stunned, and fell under the attack of well-
wishers. He saluted her with his lightsaber. She could see the faint
trails of tears on his cheeks, but knew he'd never admit it.

"All right, all right, we can celebrate in a way that leaves permanent
marks once we get to the crevice. For now, pack up and move out."
* * *
Obi-wan looked at Anakin, his face expressionless, and continued
sipping at a drink. He finally spoke, in a low, soft tone. "I offer my
congratulations on both counts. Well-deserved, I must say. Has she ever
been tested for midi-chlorian count?"

Anakin nodded. "Nowhere near as high as mine, but she does have
some sensitivity. When we have children, they'll be very strong in the
Force." He blushed uncharacteristically at the thought. "Gods, when we
have children. I hadn't even thought of it that way."

Kenobi frowned slightly at him. "In time. Focus on other things
for now. Master Yoda always told me to be mindful of the future, but
Qui-Gon always countered with, 'but not at the expense of the moment.'
We're defending a Galaxy at war with, almost literally, itself."

Anakin shuddered. "Sometimes I don't wonder if parts of our army,
our government, haven't been replaced by those...things." He frowned.
"Where are they coming from and why?"

"I don't know. I think it might all be in the master design of
some psychotic mastermind. The Master of that Sith Lord I faced on Naboo.
Or maybe it's a group of people."

"I doubt that it could be governed by a group without us knowing
of it somehow."

Obi-wan smiled, a rare occurrence. "That's pretty arrogant of
you." He sat back. "I, personally, think that they have a connection
to Supreme Chancellor Palpatine in some way. Both of them have too much
power over certain parts of Senate procedure. It seems that their motives
are in tandem."

"Maybe Palpatine *is* the mastermind behind all this."

Obi-wan choked on his drink. He doubled over, coughing violently.
He then straightened. "Come again?"

Anakin frowned. "Ams and I have been talking this over. We both
noticed in hindsight how conveniently the Naboo situation was manipulated
in his favor, as if he himself were controlling it.

"We've both decided he's much too dangerous. His ambitions are
frightening and he has many enemies both in the Senate and on Naboo. I
have the feeling that he'll start pushing for something larger any day now.

"He has the resources and the contacts and the power to pull off
a war at his convenience to draw more power to him and reduce the power
of the Senate."

"We're fighting a Sith Lord," Obi-wan countered.

"I did some checking when the thought first struck me. Palpatine's
had Jedi training. He was disavowed for classified reasons about fifteen
years ago."

Obi-wan sat up. "I don't know if you're right; I hope you're not.
But we should definitely watch our backs."
* * *
Three weeks later, Anakin and Amidala were about to leave on their
honeymoon when a transmission came through.

"I have some serious news. Chancellor Palpatine has seized complete
control of the Senate. He has dissolved the Republic and declared himself
Emperor."

Amidala sat down hard. "Then, it's come. I knew this would happen."

Anakin frowned. "What about his enemies. Can't they do anything?"

Obi-wan exhaled shakily. "They've been murdered for the most part.
The Jedi Temple..." He bowed his head. "It's been destroyed. Everyone
except Master Yoda is dead. He was off-planet and won't be returning.
It's too dangerous now." He looked up. "Does he know where you're going?"

"He asked, but we lied. We didn't want him sending an honor guard
like he usually does."

"Or honor assassins," Obi-wan said grimly. "I have family in Anchorhead.
Owen and Beru Lars. It's not far from Mos Espa. If anything goes wrong,
go there. They'll be expecting you."

Anakin nodded. "What about you?"

"I don't know. I haven't figured that out yet. For now, I'm getting
as far away from Coruscant as possible. Be careful, both of you."
* * *
Anakin wandered through the familiar streets of Mos Espa, searching
for the appropriate street marking. He turned left into a run-down shop.

"Watto?"

A familiar grating voice emanated. "Ah, offworlders. How can I
hellllllp you?"

Anakin grinned. "How's the podracing, Watto? Still paying off?"

The strange flying creature squinted. "Anakin Skywalker?"

Anakin bowed slightly. "None other. This is my wife, Amidala.
Where's my mother?"

Watto jerked his head towards the back. "Her usual place. Keep
it down. Meanwhile, do you need any repairs?"

Anakin dug out money. "I'd like to buy a slave. Two of them,
actually. Shmi Skywalker and and Kitster."

"Kitster's dead," a quiet voice said from the doorway to their
left. Shmi stepped forward, her face drawn and gaunt, worn by years of
work. "He tried to escape and his slave locator imploded."

She squinted at them. "Who are you, looking for him?"

Anakin stepped into the light. "Mom, I've come back."

Shmi hesitated, then rushed forward and embraced him tightly.
She buried her face in his shoulder, weeping. THey stood like that for
several minutes before pulling away.

"You remember Padme."

She turned and stared. "My gods." She held her at arms' length
and smiled. "You've grown up quite a bit since I last saw you."

She blushed. "That's not all."

Anakin took her hand. "This is Amidala Padmecha Nabierrie Skywalker,
my wife."

Shmi gasped and clasped them both in a tight embrace. Amidala
looked over at Anakin and smiled broadly. He winked and smiled back, then
mouthed, 'welcome to the family.'
* * *
Anakin stood in front of the troops he'd commanded throughout the
war. This was going to hit them hard.

"I've been placed on detached leave from the unit pending special
assignment by General Kenobi of the Jedi Order."

"How long is detached leave?"

Anakin sighed. "I don't know. As long as it takes. Meanwhile,
we have the issue of an interim leader. Lieutenant Tarth, step forward."

Tarth fought the urge to grin as he stood and moved to the front
of the ranks. "Lieutenant, for your actions at Alderaan and for undaunting
service throughout the course of this war, you are hereby awarded the rank
of Brevet Captain and assigned command of Unit 877. Congratulations, Captain."

There was scattered applause. They exchanged salutes and resumed
their positions.

"I know you will all continue to succeed in my absence and I look
forward to hearing about your exploits when all of this is over. Dismissed."

One by one, they filed past him, shaking his hand or embracing him
or simply saluting. They all offered encouragement and he kept a straight
face through it all, though his Force sense betrayed his dread.

Amidala was the last to pass. "You feel strange. What's wrong?"

Anakin wrapped an arm around her waist. "I have the strange feeling
I won't see any of them again." He bent down and kissed her. "You, on
the other hand, are going back to Tatooine. Chances are if they go after
me, you'll be the first one they attack. I want you out of danger."

Amidala made a face, but nodded. "When do you leave?"

"Obi-wan's waiting for me at the hangar right now. We can't waste
any more time."

He pulled her in for a deep kiss and didn't let go until a deck
officer informed them that General Kenobi was waiting rather anxiously
for his arrival.
* * *
Amidala stood, watching the skies. Anakin had called a few hours
ago, promising he'd be there soon. She hugged herself, shivering slightly
against the Tatooine night. *Surprising that there's such a temperature
difference.*

Shmi came out to stand by her. "Any sign of him yet?"

Amidala sighed. "None." She squinted. "Wait, I think I see the
ship. Yes, there it is."

"You'd better go meet him. Are you going to tell him?"

Amidala winced and rested a hand on her abdomen. "He sounded tense,
preoccupied. Something's horribly wrong. Maybe tonight isn't the best
time."

Shmi nodded. "Go to him. He needs you."

Amidal gathered up her skirts and hurried toward the outskirts of
the slave quarters. She kept one hand on her blaster until she was in full
light again.

She watched as the oblong ship made its approach and touched down.
The hatch opened and Anakin ran headlong down the ramp and into her arms.
She held him for a long time, feeling his tension slowly bleed away.

"I've missed you so much. So much has happened. I tried to send
you a message from Coruscant, but all Hell's broken loose."

Amidala whacked him on the arm. "You promised you wouldn't put
yourself in that much danger. Why were you there?"

"Because I sent him there."

Amidala turned and launched herself at Obi-wan. She embraced him,
then punched him in the stomach. "Why?"

Obi-wan grimaced. "Your Highness, you are certainly fickle. We
had to assess the situation, see what could be done. Palpatine
doesn't see him as a threat, just a potential ally. So far, he's none the
wiser." Obi-wan sighed. "In the last three weeks, twelve Jedi Masters
and one hundred and nineteen Knights have been killed. Not to mention
Healers and Padawans. We don't know if it's linked to Palpatine or someone
else, since this whole mess started long before he dissolved the Republic."

Amidala's eyes widened. "The mystery Sith Lord. It has to be him."

Anakin nodded. "I can't get past the feeling that Palpatine is
behind all this. He's certainly powerful enough."

Amidala groaned softly and buried her face in her hands. Anakin
moved to her side. "Well, what are we supposed to do about it? We can't
confront him on it; he'll kill us as well. If we don't, this goes on until
we're next in line with no one to carry it on."

Obi-wan bit his lip. "I hope we're right, in a way. It would
simplify everything and explain a lot."

"Let's go inside. We can discuss this more there."

Obi-wan seized Amidala's arm. "Why didn't you tell him?"

"It's not the right time. You can sense that. I'm afraid for
him. There's some dangerous intent in him."

Obi-wan smiled. "That's what I've been saying from day one. Same
with the Jedi Council." He sighed. "I need to take him away again. Just
for a week."

Amidala covered her eyes and ran a finger under her right eye,
brushing a tear away. "Please, keep him safe for me. I can't bear to
lose him."

Obi-wan embraced her. "Go, be with him while you can. If nothing
else, you can save his sanity before he goes over the edge."
* * *
Anakin stepped through the door of Palpatine's Coruscant quarters
and caught his breath. There was a palpable aura of evil in the air. The
Force reeked of murder and corruption.

"Come in, Skywalker."

Anakin moved forward, his hand on his lightsaber. "Who are you?"
He demanded.

The hooded figure near the windows turned. "I've been watching
you for eleven years now. Waiting for you to reach the right level, Force-
wise, age-wise, maturity-wise. You are now suitable for the will of the
Force."

"Who are you?" Anakin repeated a little less surely. "Where's
Emperor Palpatine? I have an audience scheduled with him."

"I am Darth Sidious. I have been the wraith in your life--the demon
under your repulsorbed, the monster in the storage cubicle. It is I whom
Kenobi fears will destroy you all. You, your Master, your wife, your mother.
In time, I will take care of the others. For now, you are at my disposal,
quite literally."

"You're not going to let me out of here alive, are you?"

The figure laughed, a low sinister growl that grated on the ears.
"The Anakin Skywalker you've lived as, no. The power that you hold within
your reach, yes. That, in the end, is all that will remain of us, even
the best of us. That is what you must release into space to survive the
Purges."

"Is that what you and Palpatine have been calling them? Purges?"

"It is a cleansing of all the hypocrisy and injustice of the Old
Republic. It started on the inside rings and worked its way out. Even
as we speak, the Outward Bound project is being remedied." He pulled back
the hood. "And, Jedi, it is not myself and Palpatine. We are one in the
same, as you can see."

Anakin staggered back, then regained his balance. He swung his
lightsaber up into position and ignited it, charging the monster. Palpatine
flicked a hand and lightning erupted from it. Anakin nearly impaled himself
falling backwards.

Palpatine laughed. "I told you the day after the battle for Naboo
that I would watch your career develop with great interest. Now you know
why. I believe the Jedi Council called you the 'Chosen One.' Do you know
what that means? It means that you, Anakin Skywalker, will bring balance
to the Force. The debate for the last eleven, even hundreds of years, has
been simply this: which side of the Force will be increased to balance
the other?" He smiled. "You are about to find out that the Light has
overpowered, become corrupt by adopting that which it forbids. The Darkness
must find a champion and you, my young apprentice, are it."

"The Darkness has done enough work. For the last ten years, you
have been murdering in the name of this balance. I have nothing to do
for you."

Palpatine smiled coldly. "You are about to find out just how
wrong you are."
* * *
Anakin barely slept each night during his tenure as Palpatine's
apprentice. He knew that by agreeing to train, he could reach the inside
circle of Palpatine's regime and then destroy it from the inside out.

His thoughts were mostly preoccupied with his wife. He reached
out to her every night, silently communicating his love. He usually
contacted his mother, as well.

Then, one night, he couldn't sense Shmi. In a frenzy, he stole
a ship and made it off-planet where no one could tap in. He tapped in
the link code and waited.

Amidala appeared, her face drawn, her eyes red. "Anakin, something
horrible has happened."

"Where's my mother?"

"It was a mistake. Republic Loyalists bombed the slave quarters
in the middle of the night, thinking they were barracks for Palpatine's
troops. Mos Espa is gone. Obi-wan and I were on the Cica, so we weren't
hurt, but we saw everything." She buried her face. "This is such a mess."

"It's Palpatine's fault, no one else's. He forced those Loyalists
into their position. It's him who we have to kill."

"The sooner the better. Come home soon, please. I have the feeling
that you two might be next on his hit list."

Anakin shuddered. "More than you can ever know."
* * *
"I've found out who the Sith Lord is."

Obi-wan sat up straighter. "What? How?"

"Contacts. And I had the misfortune of meeting him."

Obi-wan frowned. "Who is he?"

"His Sith title is Darth Sidious. To us, he's known as Emperor
Palpatine." He rubbed his shoulder. "I didn't know until I was summoned
for an audience with Palpatine and found the Sith Lord there instead. I
found out later the connection between the two. He tried to kill me, then
demanded that I join him. I told him I wouldn't join him, but I wouldn't
fight him, either. He accepted that for now, but we're running out of
time."

Obi-wan pointed his finger in Anakin's direction. "If he comes to
you again, I want to know."

"All right, all right. It's just, maybe I should pretend to join
him, get into his circle, then destroy it from the interior."

"I don't know. I've been studying situations such as this before.
In the Great Sith War, Ulic Qel-Droma tried the same thing. He fell to
the Dark Side and lost his Force powers for it."

Anakin smiled. "If you'll remember, Qel-Droma was seduced by the
Dark Side and a woman. I've seen the effects of the Dark Side--Qui-Gon,
the Jedi Council, my mother and others are dead because of it--and I'm
very happily married."

Obi-wan sighed. "All right, try it. But at the first sign of danger,
pull out. Don't even stop to think about it. The last of the Sith will
not settle for having the Chosen One on the wrong side of his war."
* * *
"I'm taking Amidala to Alderaan for now. It's safer than here
and closer to Coruscant. Then I'm coming right back. I'll meet you on
Tatooine in six days. At my brother's in Anchorhead. We'll discuss your
progress then."

Anakin signed off and stretched, running through his refreshing
excercises. "He doesn't suspect a thing, Master."

Palpatine stepped from the shadows. "Good. We can't have him
interfering. Not now, when we've come so far. If he confronts you on
anything, kill him."
* * *
Amidala turned sideways, looking in the mirrored surface in the
Grand Hall of the Alderaan Royal Palace. She was waiting to see Bail Organa
for the third time in a week.

*Gods, I'm starting to show after only three months.* She smiled
appreciatively and pulled her robes tight over her protruding abdomen.
*Well, that's the price you pay for twins. Anakin will be so happy.*

Her smile shrank. *That is, if he comes home in time for me to
tell him.*

"Your Highness?"

Her hands dropped and she turned to see Organa's personal secretary
standing in the doorway.

"The viceroy will see you now."

Amidala smiled slightly. "Thank you."

She stepped through into Organa's office. He stood and bowed.
"Good to see you, Amidala. How are things going?"

Amidala smiled broadly. "Wonderfully, except I haven't seen my
husband in four weeks."

Bail frowned. "About that. I've just heard from Obi-wan. There's
a problem."

Amidala sat down hard. "He's not dead, is he?" Her voice was a
barely audible whisper. She started trembling. "Please, Bail. What's
happened?"

"They were to meet on Tatooine about three days ago at the Lars'
farm. I'd heard that Anakin's been receiving personal training from the
Emperor himself. I contacted Ben Kenobi, since I was concerned. He confronted
Anakin on it and Anakin arranged to meet him in the Jundland Wastes.

"Anakin met him with open weapons. In the ensuing lightsaber battle,
Kenobi was gravely injured, but he managed to prevail by brute force.
Anakin was driven back into a molten pit."

Amidala collapsed. "Oh, gods. He's dead, isn't he."

"I don't know. Last I heard, he was in critical condition, not
expected to live. He's hanging on by a thread, at best. Only a miracle
of the Force will save him."

Amidala looked up, her face wet with tears. "Yes, but which side?"
* * *
"Amidala?"

Amidala looked up, then shot to her feet and leapt over her desk.
She lunged at Obi-wan, her hands locking around his throat. She knocked
him over, strangling the life out of him. "You scum, you killed my husband."

He gently pried her hands away and pushed her away. She pummeled
him over and over with her fists, screaming at the top of her voice. Guards
ran in, their weapons raised.

"Don't shoot. It's under control."

Amidala stood, spitting at him. "Please, shoot him. Make my life
easier." She kicked him in the side. "You killed him."

The guards left. As soon as they closed the door, silence fell
and Amidala sank to her knees, sobbing heavily.

Obi-wan stood painfully. "I'm sorry. I had no idea this would
happen." He clutched his ribs. "He's not dead, but he might as well be.
By attacking me, he's earned his place in the Dark Side. The Emperor's
announced it. He is no longer Anakin Skywalker, just Darth Vader."

"You let this happen," she sobbed. "You let him walk into the
trap. For twelve years, you've trained him to be the best because he is
the Chosen One. He was supposed to balance the Force. Now, you've let
the tables turn in their favor at the cost of his life. All because you
refused to admit to yourself that he was in danger."

Obi-wan knelt beside her and gathered her into his arms. She struggled,
then collapsed against him, burying her tears in his shoulder. "I'm so
sorry. My pride has had terrible consequences, but Anakin thought he could
handle it. He felt Palpatine wasn't stupid enough to kill him and he didn't
see any other options." He stroked her back. "I tried to convince him
otherwise, but he was so sure. We were both blind."

Amidala pulled back and looked down at her abdomen. "What am I
supposed to do now?"

"Go on with life as normal. Since he couldn't be the champion
of our cause, his children will."

She leaned her head on his shoulder and sighed. "Sure, easy for
you to say."
* * *
Five months later, Amidala lay, perspiring heavily. It was a cold
day on Alderaan, but the strains of labor forced the uncharacteristic
display of humanity.

A few minutes before, two children had come into the world, healthy,
hungry, loud. She'd wept at the sound of their crying. THen they'd
taken them away to clean them up.

Obi-wan reentered. "Lady Skywalker, your children want to see you."

She attempted to sit up, but the ordeal had taken too much out of
her. She could feel energy slipping away slowly, out of her control.
She forced herself to sit up and smiled weakly. "One at a time, please."

Kenobi passed her daughter into her arms. The girl opened her
eyes and reached up towards her face. Amidala held her face closer, allowing
her daughter to touch her for the first time. The small hand traced
along the lower edge of her orbital cavity, then her nose. Amidala smiled.

"Take her to the Organas. They'll take care of her the way she
deserves--a royal treatment."

"Shall they name her?"

Amidala pulled her head back and looked in earnest at her daughter's
face. So much of her grandmother in those features. With that in mind,
she looked up and smiled. "Leia, my mother's name. Princess Leia Organa."
She passed her to Kenobi. "Don't let her go without my saying goodbye to
her once more. Now, where's my son, Luke?"

He passed the boy over. "He'll be in good care. You know my brother
and his wife. They live a simple life, but he won't lack for any love.
He'll grow up strong, like his father."

Luke was asleep already, a contented look on his tiny face. He
was the spitting image of Anakin. "Hopefully without the end result his
father suffered."

"I have to take him now. It's too dangerous to wait until later.
Palpatine is on a warpath and Vader probably knows where you are. If
we move him to Tatooine now and you take Leia to the Organas while I'm
there, we'll minimize the risks."

She nodded and kissed his face. He stirred, but did not awaken.
She passed him back. "Take care of my son, Ben. You owe it to the
future."
* * *
Amidala lay Leia in the midst of clothing and blankets. The medic
hooked up a portable respirator and closed the trunk quietly. "No one
will guess she's in here and we've sedated her to keep her quiet."

Amidala nodded, looking away so the medic wouldn't see her tears.
She guessed anyway and drew Amidala into a loose embrace. "Everything
will be fine. Your children are safe now."

Amidala simply nodded and turned away until they'd taken the last
of her children away from her. Then, she dressed in black and went formally
into mourning for her family.
* * *
It was a private function for a select few guests of the Emperor--
a private celebration of the demise of the Jedi Order. The Emperor received
his guests in an elaborate throne room in the Senate complex, now transformed
into the Imperial Palace. They were his most avid supporters.

Beside him, staunch through the entire reception, was a towering
figure in black body armor from head to foot. He never spoke, never made
a movement.

Until a certain Naboo dignitary entered.

Amidala had been invited as a taunt, a slap in the face. She'd
only accepted in order to see her husband. Now, she stood in the doorway,
paralyzed with fear and shock. Someone behind her propelled her forward
to join the receiving line.

She moved out of it and stood to the side, staring at the monstrosity
before her. Was that her husband or a machine?

He scanned the room and his gaze stopped on her. She looked at
him icily, restraining the tears more for her sake than his. He leaned
down and conferred briefly with Palpatine, then stepped down and began
crossing the room to where she stood. She retreated into a secluded corner
and waited.

He finally stopped in front of her. He ran his gaze over her,
taking time to absorb every detail the way he used to. She stood tall,
proud. She wore a dark green dress with a fitted bodice and a flared skirt.
The sleeves fell to just below her elbow and a series of gold embroidery
traced each curve. A diadem hung on her head and circled her dark, plaited
hair. She was wearing the pendant he'd made so long ago on a gold chain
around her neck. In his Force sense she could read the turmoil as his
memories resurfaced.

"Ams," he said softly. "My gods."

She stepped back, releasing the tears. "Anakin, what the hell has
happened to you?"

"Kenobi. He nearly killed me. I'm sure you've heard it recounted
many times."

"Enough to know it wasn't Kenobi's fault. Anakin, you failed your
destiny. Failed those who had faith in your ability to restore the goodness
in the Galaxy." She sat down. "You failed your children, Anakin."

He grabbed her shoulders in a vice grip. "My children? You never
told me."

She glared at him. "I miscarried after five months. They would
have been born two years ago today, roughly."

Anakin was silent for a moment, then released her shoulders. "Even
if they had survived, I would have killed them. I don't want any child
growing up knowing what a monster he has for a father."

Anakin whirled and lifted her by her neck, letting her dangle.
"You are betraying everything good that has come from this. We are in
the most prosperous and stable time that has been known since the foundation
of the Republic. Those who cannot see that cannot survive."

Amidala just stared at him, though she could feel her windpipe
collapsing. *Go ahead, Anakin. Preserve decency by murdering your own
wife. Show them how superior you are. She let the cold-blooded stare
burn into him until she fell into darkness.
* * *
Bail Organa looked up as his office door opened. He heard tiny
footsteps, then a giggle. Then a small face, framed by elaborate braids,
appeared around the corner of his desk and his foster daughter grinned
at him. He grinned back, then made a funny face. She giggled again.

"Daddy, come on. You said you would play."

"In a minute, Your Highness. I still have to finish these matters."

She pouted and sat down next to the desk, waiting impatiently.
He was about to close up for the day when a messenger arrived. "General
Kenobi to see you, sir."

Bail hesitated, then swung his daughter onto his lap. "I'm sorry,
but I have to see the General. We can play tonight and then tomorrow,
I'll take you to Antibes to show you your Palace."

She kissed his cheek and got down. Kenobi let her pass, his expression
somber. "She looks just like her mother, a natural-born princess."

Bail smiled. "That she does. How is Amidala?"

"Dead."

Bail shot to his feet. "What?!"

"The Emperor invited her to a special reception celebrating the
demise of the Jedi Order two days ago. She went so she could see Anakin.
She hasn't seen him in two and a half years, you know. She planned to stay
a few minutes, then make a run for it.

"But, Anakin insisted on speaking with her. She confronted him
with his failures, then told him he'd failed his children."

Bail gasped. "She didn't."

"Don't worry, she told him that she miscarried. However, she was
on a holy crusade and started shoving his corruption down his throat.
In response, Anakin crushed her windpipe."

Bail gagged. "She didn't fight back?"

"No. Witnesses say she just hung there, staring at him with this
intense look on her face. Not hateful, just stalwart. She wasn't going
to cave in. She looked that way up until the moment when she died." He
sighed. "Typical of her."

"I know. She was the most amazing woman. So dedicated and adamant.
I had hoped that she would take Palpatine's place in the Senate, then take
over the Chancellorship someday." He sagged into his chair. "This will
get worse, won't it."

Obi-wan looked towards the sky, where the 'sector defense' of three
Star Destroyers, a Carrack-class cruiser, and a blockade runner hung in
waiting. "Oh, yes. It can get much worse and it will."
* * *
The Imperial Center morgue was cold and silent, but Anakin didn't
notice. His body armor shielded him from every human sensation.

Except emotion.

He found the appropriate box and opened it. He slid the tray out,
his heart wrenching momentarily before the regulator remedied the situation.
Amidala was more beautiful in death than he remembered. She looked to be
completely at peace, something she'd never been in life. she showed no
signs of injury externally. She was...perfect. Just as she'd always been.

He gently lifted her, swaddling her in the sheet. Her head rested
against his chest plate. He carried her from the morgue and to the waiting
landspeeder. He flew to a secluded spot near the Manarai Mountains and
set down. There, he prepared a funeral pyre. He lay her across the branches,
then straightened.

He removed the top of his helmet first, then the protective face-
plate. At the risk of dying, he disengaged the respirator and pulled the
final layer away.

"Ams, you deserve better than this. You deserved better than me.
I'm so sorry."

He bent down and kissed her for the last time, his tears falling
on her upturned face. Then he stepped back, replaced the helmet, and lit
the pyre.

He knelt, weeping, as the last of his life as Anakin Skywalker
burned away into mere shadows of itself.

FINIS