Disclaimer: All things Star Wars belong to Lucasfilm.

Read this story's prequel: In the Hands of Time (http://www.fanfiction.net/read.php?storyid=867185)

Authors' notes:
Both this story and its prequel were written well before the release of Attack of the Clones.  While elements of Episode II were incorporated here in a later edit, both stories are reliant on fan assumptions not borne out by the film.

All non-original dialogue in this story is credited to Return of the Jedi.  Based on a story by George Lucas.  Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas.  Novel by James Kahn.



IN THE HANDS OF THE FORCE
(previously titled: "The What if the Empire Sequel")
by Darth Pipes and ami-padme
Johnnypipes@aol.com, ami_padme@yahoo.com



From IN THE HANDS OF THE TIME:

"I pray that you are successful."  His voice dropped to a pleading whisper.  "Please, Amidala, just survive.  If you are alive when I return, I will find you, no matter what has happened or where you are.  I swear it."

Amidala took a deep, shaky breath, and let it out slowly.  "I will."  She leaned against him, undeterred by the armor.

He returned the embrace.  The two simply remained there, holding each other in silence.



5 years later

Amidala stood at a door that led to the Palace basement, frozen with inaction.  She had told herself that when this moment came, she would suddenly be prepared.  She would be calm.  The perfect words would immediately spring to mind.  She would do and say the right thing, and he would leave with her.

And everything would be fixed.

But now, she could only snicker at her naïveté.  She was almost sick with nervousness.  And the right words?  There was no possible way to discern what those were.  Oh, she had gone through millions of versions of what she would say.  She had thought herself into circles on more than one occasion.  And every single thought she had seemed inadequate.  Not understanding enough.  Or tough enough.  Or clear enough.  Or emotional enough.

How in the world was she supposed to get through to him?

Of course, Anakin had warned her about this.  Even he couldn't come up with any solid advice for this situation…he told her that his emotions were too raw and confused to even begin to work through.  That was why he had been so worried about her doing this.

But she had to try.

Amidala put her hand to the doorknob, and began to turn it slowly.  Whatever did happen, she had to let him know that –

"Why are you here?"

She spun around, and came face-to-face with her husband, who was standing just behind her in the hallway.  She wondered for a moment why she hadn't heard his breathing…

"Answer me, Amidala."

Amidala could tell that he meant for his tone and his words and appearance to be threatening.  But she was no longer surprised or intimidated by his armor, and she knew he was just trying to keep her at arm's length out of the confusion her felt.  He was doing it for her protection as much as he was doing it out of anger.  She could see and feel her husband beneath all of Vader's trappings, and she wasn't afraid of him.

"I've come for you, Anakin."  And those were the words.  Simple, but honest.  She waited for his response.

She wound up waiting for a long moment.  Finally, he said, "Then you are here on a fool's errand."

"I don't think I am," she said softly.  She moved toward him, but he backed away.  "I want to help…I know how confused you're feeling, how much you're hurting."  She took a few more steps forward, and he took the same number back.  "I know…how much pain you're in.  Anakin, I –"

"You know nothing of the sort," he snapped.  "Otherwise, I doubt you would be here.  Or do you normally seek out the murderers of your people, Your Majesty?"

Amidala flinched inwardly, but tried not to show how his words hurt her.  "I do know about that, Anakin.  I know all of it.  And I came anyway."

"To 'help' me?  To 'save' me?" The words came out bitterly.  "We both know it is too late for that."  He paused, and then added in a much gentler tone, "We both know that this was all decided a long time ago."

"No, I don't believe that.  You just left – I never got to decide anything."  She reached out and grabbed his hand quickly, before he could move away again.  "I know you think that you can't come with me, that you can't leave this behind.  But you can.  You can, Anakin."

"I'm sorry, Amidala – I cannot," he said, in the same quiet tone.  Then, he seemed to catch himself.  He jerked his hand away from her and straightened himself stiffly.  His tone again became cold.  "Nor do I wish to.  You must leave, Amidala."

Her hand hung in the air between them.  "I want you to know that I still love you.  I –"

"Then you are more foolish than I thought."  He turned away from her.  "I am no longer that man."  She felt him struggle for the next words, heard him start several sentences without finishing.  "If nothing else, Amidala, the events here…have proved how complete my loyalty to my master is.  I am sure you are" – another pained pause – "greatly grieved by what I have done.  But do not allow your grief to cloud your judgment.  You cannot change things back to the way they were."

"Of course I can't.  But we can make things better now, and for the future.  I'm not here trying to change the past, Anakin.  I'm here so we can try to let it go."

He turned back around slowly.  She started to speak again, but his raised his hand and she went silent.  "I am not the man you married.  I have no desire to be that man again.  You must leave, now, and you cannot return."

"Don't do this, Anakin.  Don't push me away.  Please…"

He grabbed her arm – not to hurt her, but the motion surprised her anyway.  "This is the way it must be.  For both of us.  You must understand and accept that.  Are you still uncertain of exactly what I'm capable of?  Do you need more examples?" He began dragging by the arm through the hallway, to one of the exits.  "I assure you, Amidala, you are the only person left in the Empire who has not yet been convinced of my transformation."

She struggled to keep up with him, and felt a gnawing despair.  Was this it then?  Would he not be moved at all?  "I am perfectly convinced of your transformation.  I am not convinced that you cannot be transformed again.  You will never convince me that is impossible, Anakin."

He reached the door, threw it open, and walked just outside of it with her.  "Believe what you will, Ami.  I will pay for my own decisions, but I will not allow you to be a party to – to this –" he gestured hopelessly to the destruction around them, and his stance changed to one of despair.  Then, he drew himself back up.  "Leave, Amidala.  Never come back."

With that, he released her arm, stepped back into the Palace, and slammed the door.

Amidala stood at that door for a long time.  Her first instinct was to go back inside, to try again.  But she knew she shouldn't.

Leave.  He will not listen.

Was the thought hers?  Was it his?  Did it matter?

You will have your time with him.  You must be patient.

For 19 years?  She couldn't possibly wait that long –

You must.

Amidala found herself walking, almost stumbling away from the door, heading for – running for – her transport.  That strange voice faded, and it was replaced with his, with the last thing he had said to her.

Never come back.

She ran faster.  Their time would come.  She would find him again, and the twins.

Never come back.

Their time would come...



19 years later...

Never come back.

Never come back.

Never come back.

NEVER COME BACK!


Anakin Skywalker's eyes snapped opened and he began to look around.  All he could see through his facemask was the void of hyperspace.  He suddenly remembered where he was.  He was aboard his X-Wing fighter heading towards the Dagobah system.  All he could hear was his mechanical breathing.  He was breathing heavily now as the realization dawned on him.

Amidala wasn't here.  It had only been a dream.  The same dream that had plagued him for the last six months.  He was remembering her failed attempt to save him nineteen years earlier.  Back then, he had been Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith.  He had rejected his wife and told her to leave him.  To never come back.  She couldn't save him then.  She had in another time but not then.

A sudden beeping from overhead broke into Anakin's thoughts.  It was Artoo-Deeto.  The astromech droid, his co-pilot, was firmly secure inside the ship.  The computer translated the droids language.

"Yes, Artoo, I'm fine," Anakin said.  "Just...dreaming again.  There's nothing to be concerned about."

The droid beeped more comments at Anakin.

"Yes, Artoo.  You can still pilot the ship until we reach the Dagobah system."

The droid beeped affirmative.

Anakin lay back on his seat as the ship continued its journey through hyperspace.  His breathing became more normal and he adjusted the control panel on his suit.  It adjusted the temperature in his suit, making the Jedi more comfortable.

Anakin frowned.  Even though he had returned from the dark side six months ago, he was still trapped in the fearsome armor of Darth Vader.  He was still more machine then man.

He had thought when he had rejected the dark side, he would have the control he needed in the light side of the Force to heal his body.  For some reason, he did not.  He had tried to leave his armor but could only do so for a few minutes.  No matter what he did, he could not live as a normal man.  It seemed as if he would be doomed to be trapped inside of this hideous armor forever.

As Anakin continued to gaze out into hyperspace, his mind drifted towards the events of the last six months.  When he and his children had returned to the future, he had expected to find his beloved wife Amidala waiting for them.  It was not to be.  Instead, all they found was a message from the Emperor and over a hundred stormtroopers waiting for them.  They defeated the stormtroopers but they could not stay.  They quickly fled Coruscant and headed towards Tatooine.

On the way there, Anakin wondered why his wife wasn't there.  He knew she was still alive.  He could sense her presence somewhere in the galaxy although he didn't know where to find her or how to contact her.

It didn't take long for him to discover the answer.  He had returned to the present almost two weeks after he had traveled back through time.  He hadn't realized this would happen.  He thought that he would return to the present shortly after he had first left.  He was wrong.

Amidala had been on Coruscant, a full two weeks before they had arrived.  She too did not realize that the time machine would return them two weeks later.  He hadn't realized that either.  They had both been fooled by a cruel twist of fate...and time.

Now, as Anakin closed his eyes again, a thought crossed his mind.  It had been the same thought he had wondered so many times in the last six months.  Would he ever see his dear Amidala again?

Anakin spent the next thirty minutes trying to get to sleep.  He could not.  His mind raced with too many things and it kept him awake.  He finally decided to quit trying and resume his staring into hyperspace.  His mind raged on with his thoughts.  Namely his children.

Anakin smiled as he thought of his children.  Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa.  As he journeyed to Dagobah, his children were back on Tatooine planning their rescue of Han Solo from the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt.  They should be carrying out their plan at any moment.  Anakin wished he could help them.  He would have liked to help them bring down Jabba the Hutt.  When he had freed the slaves on Tatooine all those years ago, Jabba had been the only Hutt he hadn't managed to get rid of.  Jabba had not been on the planet at the time.  Anakin promised himself that one day he would rid the galaxy of that miserable slug once and for all.  Still, he had great confidence in his children's abilities.  He knew they would fulfill his promise.

Besides, he had to keep a low profile and storming into Jabba's fortress would not have helped that.  He had been keeping his identity secret ever since he returned.  He had spent these last six months on Tatooine with his children.

Anakin was so grateful to have Luke and Leia in his life.  They were both wonderful.  Luke had grown stronger in the Force.  He would become a great Jedi.  Anakin foresaw him becoming the leader of a new breed of Jedi one day.

Then there was Leia.  His daughter, so much like him in many ways.  He had personally began to train her.  She had grown strong in the Force.  She might one day become as powerful as he and Luke.

Then there was the matter of their relationship.  She had spent much of her life hating him before they had made amends.  That had changed during their trip through time.  She had found it within herself to forgive her father and Anakin had been grateful.  Still, their relationship wasn't as close as Anakin would have hoped.  Whenever it seemed that they were finally making some real progress in putting the past behind them, something would happen and the two would end up fighting.  They had been doing that a lot lately.  Poor Luke was often caught in the middle between his father and his sister.

Anakin sighed.  The problem ran deeper than just arguments.  It appeared as if Leia still did not fully accept him.  It further complicated matters that the two of them were very stubborn.  They could cling doggedly to their own points of view.  He knew that if they could finally get past their problems, they could be on their way to having a normal relationship.  He could sense the potential of a strong bond between him and his daughter.  He had to be patient.  Still, he only hoped that the relationship he so badly wanted with Leia would happen sooner than later.  For they would all be facing difficult times ahead.

Anakin had spent his time on Tatooine not only training Leia but also giving her information about the Empire.  Anakin had provided her with tactical information at the Empire's secret projects, key bases and resources, everything.  Leia then relayed the information to the Rebellion.  They had put it to good use, hitting the Empire with key strikes that weakened them.  Palpatine hadn't been able to change all the Empire's secrets.  The information had helped the Rebel Alliance survive after their defeat at Hoth.  Now, the full Rebellion was forming on Sullust.  Soon, the fleet would grow and they would launch the final attack against the Empire.

Anakin had been happy to help the Rebellion even though they didn't know who it was who was helping them.  Anakin had much to atone for and this was a first step.

When Anakin wasn't training Leia or providing the Rebellion with tactical information, he continued his search for Amidala.  He searched quietly for her, secretly visiting a handful of worlds with no success.  No matter where he went, he couldn't find her.  There was only one person in the galaxy that might know where she is.

Yoda.

The great Jedi master.  That's where he was heading now.  To Dagobah.  There was so much he had to know and he knew only Yoda could answer it for him.  How could he defeat Palpatine, how could he heal his body, and most importantly for him...how could he find Amidala.

He was not looking forward to meeting with Yoda however.  Deep down, he was afraid of such a confrontation.  For him to seek out Yoda now, after all that had happened would be an admission that the Jedi Master was right.  That Anakin shouldn't have been trained and that he had failed the Jedi and the galaxy itself.  He knew that's what Yoda would say.  He didn't even think the Jedi would help him.  Perhaps he was not worthy of help?  Who would want to help Anakin Skywalker, galactic murderer?

Anakin pushed those thoughts aside.  He would be arriving for Dagobah within the hour.  No matter what Yoda would do, he must be ready.  These were dangerous times.  Something would happen soon, something that would effect the entire galaxy.  He had to be ready, no matter what.



Amidala woke up suddenly, feeling confused.

Where am I?

She sighed.  She had woken up to that question more times than she cared to count in the last six months.  Being on the run meant that she slept in a different bed, usually on a different planet, almost every week.

And she still couldn't avoid the nagging feeling that she wasn't moving fast enough.  They would find her eventually.

Amidala looked around.  She was in a small room, in some sort of hotel on Dantooine.  She had been there for a couple of days.  It seemed to be as good a place to stay as any...Dantooine was small and out of the way, with a good number of Rebel sympathizers.  She might be able to stay hidden here.

She climbed out of bed, and went to wash her face.  Catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror, she frowned at how tired she looked.  But she had to admit that she was beginning to feel worn out.  She was tired of hiding; she was tired of running.  It wasn't supposed to be this way.

No, she was supposed to be with her family now…they were supposed to be together again.

Amidala continued to stare at herself.  Tired wasn't really the right word.  Beaten?  Defeated?  There were days when she didn't know why she bothered.  What difference did it make if the Empire found her?  If she was destined to be alone, to never see her husband and children again, what difference did anything make?

Oh, stop it, she told herself irritably.  She splashed cold water over her face repeatedly, trying to snap herself out of this depressing train of thought.

But it wasn't easy.  Her entire life since she had seen Vader on Naboo had revolved around the knowledge that she would be with them again.  She just had to be patient, and wait for their time.  She had believed that with every fiber of her being.

It was that thought that gave her the willpower to stay away from her children.  Seeing her husband had made him aware that she was alive, obviously.  She couldn't shake the fear that Palpatine or other members of the Empire might have learned that as well, putting her right back to the top of the most-wanted fugitive list.

One of her greatest joys in meeting Luke and Leia on Drayos was learning that they had indeed remained safe until adulthood.  She wouldn't let the fact that she was now alive risk that.

So, she had spent most of her life living furtively on various worlds.  It was quite lonely, aside from the occasional communication from Obi-Wan (he had even come to see her once), and her infrequent forays back into the Rebellion fold, helping them when she could, usually under the condition of anonymity.

That's what her life consisted of for nearly 19 years.  Until the time finally, finally came for her to go to Coruscant.

Amidala sighed as she realized she was just standing there, staring at the running water.  She turned off the faucet, and gently dried her face with a towel.  Washing up had only made her feel marginally better. 

She had known that a trip to the heart of the Empire might be tantamount to suicide.  There was almost no chance of escaping without being seen by someone.  But she didn't care.  They would there, waiting for her, in Section 327 as they had planned.  She felt certain that she would be safe with them, and that together they would find a way off the planet.

Or so she had believed.  She had arrived outside the Section, and found things exactly as they had described it to her – the place was in ruins as a result of the various fights Anakin and the twins had trying to get to the time machine.  There were no guards there – at least none left alive.  So, she waited.  And waited.  And waited.

Nothing happened.  No sign of them, no activity from the time machine, nothing.

As time dragged on, she began to worry frantically.  Why weren't they here?  Had something gone wrong?  Had they not been able to return for some reason?

Eventually, she heard stirrings around the Section.  It seemed that a new security team had finally been dispatched.  Which meant she had to leave, though it broke her heart to do so.

She probably should have left Coruscant immediately, but couldn't.  She needed to wait for them, or at least find out what happened.  So she took a huge risk.  She used a code Anakin had given her to break into Imperial files.

She quickly found the answer she had been looking for.  Anakin and the twins had made a mistake.  The machine had been designed to take into account the passage of time.  So, since they had spent a little under two weeks in the past, they would return not to the day the left, but nearly two weeks later.

Amidala was crushed.  She couldn't possibly remain safe on Coruscant for another two weeks – in fact, by breaking the code in the computer, she would probably be found within a few hours.  She would have to leave the planet before they arrived.

And that's what she did.  Her concerns about being tailed were correct – her small ship was attacked as soon as she left the main traffic airways, but she managed to jump to hyperspace and escape them.

But, she was now a marked woman.  Everywhere she went, she would eventually notice spies and Imperials following her.  She had managed to stay one step ahead of them so far (just barely, in many cases), but had never been able to lose them.  She didn't think she ever would.

Amidala went back to her bed to lie down again.  She stared at the ceiling for a while.

She wanted to track them down, to let her children and husband know where she was.  But she wasn't going to lead Imperials right to her family's doorstep.  Until she felt she had shaken them, she would remain alone and on the run.

She was so tired of being alone.

Amidala sighed sadly.  There was nothing to do but keep going.  And hope that the cruel tricks fate and time had played on her – kept playing on her – would come to an end soon.



Anakin successfully landed the X-Wing on Dagobah.  It was a rocky landing, as Luke had told him it would be.  But for Anakin, he had little trouble.  He  had landed on a clear spot next to a large swamp.  He opened up the cockpit and stood up.

He couldn't immediately sense Yoda's presence.  He knew the Jedi was here but something kept interfering with his ability to communicate with him.  He wasn't sure what.

As he prepared to step out of the ship, he turned and looked at Artoo.

"I'm not sure when I'll be back," Anakin told the droid.  "Or if I'll be back.  If I don't return within the next few days...pilot this ship back to Alliance.  They can't afford to lose your services."

The droid beeped back something at him.  Anakin checked the computer for an interpretation.  Written before him were the words "Good luck and may the Force be with you."

Anakin smiled and stepped out of the ship.  He was glad to be reunited with the droids again.  When he returned to Tatooine with his children and confronted the droids, they had thought that Darth Vader had taken control of their masters and was now going to destroy them.  Once again, Anakin's appearance had frightened those who were close to him.  It took awhile to convince the droids of who he was.

Still, he found they had no memory of who he was.  As he had suspected, their memories had been wiped clean.  Wiped by either Amidala, Obi-Wan, or perhaps even Bail Organa.

But it had been he who had built Threepio and he knew Artoo well enough.  If anyone could overcome a memory wipe and restore their memories, he could.  In his spare time, he began to do just that.  It took him awhile but he had successfully restored the droids memories.  They hadn't been completely wiped and only Anakin Skywalker, the Anakin Skywalker who served the light side of the Force, would have been able to realize that.

With their memories restored, the droids instantly recognized him.  He apologized to both of them for his prior conduct, especially to Artoo.  After all, he nearly destroyed him at Yavin.  To his surprise, they both forgave him.  Anakin didn't know why.  Droids just seemed to be more forgiving then humans though.

Anakin began his search for Yoda.  He had landed just a short distance from where Luke told him his hut would be.

As he searched, he looked around and took in Dagobah.  It was a inhospitable world.  Terrible weather and terrain that made it almost impossible to ever colonize.  There were no cities or modern technology.  There was much life on Dagobah.  No humans but many different species.  All in all, Dagobah was an unremarkable place.  No one would ever pick it as a place to live...unless they were hiding.  One who was strong in the Force would know how to use Dagobah.  Anakin was beginning to understand how Yoda had remained hidden from the Empire for all these years.

Anakin continued his trek and a short time later, he came across the tiny hut of the Jedi Master.  Anakin approached the entrance.  It was small, made for one such as Yoda to enter.  A human of average size, such as Luke and Leia, could probably fit through that door as well.  Perhaps he could as well prior to his disfigurement but with all his armor and life-support equipment on, he could not even get through the entrance.

Instead, he looked around the small holes inside the hut and found the Jedi Master nowhere to be found.  Behind the mask, Anakin frowned.  Yoda always made it difficult for him and it appeared he would continue to do so.  Still, the old master could not have gone far.

Anakin left the hut and continued his trek through the swamps.  He reached out with the Force to try to find Yoda.  He still couldn't sense the him but now he was sensing something else.  Something entirely different from Yoda.  Something...something that had once been very familiar to him.

Anakin stopped walking and looked directly in front of him.  Before him, next to a rotting, twisted tree was a cave.  It wasn't just any cave.  It was a cave consumed by the dark side of the Force.  It was twisted and evil...a servant to it's darkness.  Just as he once was.

He found himself strangely attracted to the tree.  It was as if something was compelling him to go inside and surround himself in its darkness.  To his surprise, a part of him found himself wanting to go into that cave.  He wanted to go in there and wrap himself in the darkness as if it were a cloak.  The power of the dark side was so strong there.  Perhaps he should...

No!

What was he thinking?  He had renounced the dark side all those months ago.  His life as Darth Vader was over.  He was Anakin Skywalker.  That was who he really was.  Not a creature of darkness.  But a servant of the light.

Anakin shook his mind clear and the dark thoughts left him.  He was no longer compelled to go inside the dark cave.  It had passed him.  Still he found himself wondering again.  What was it about that cave.  Should he...

"Always the curious one Anakin Skywalker.  Perhaps too much so for your own good."

Anakin turned around to face Yoda.  Yoda stood before him, leaning on his stick.  Yoda's eyes bore into him and the two remained staring at each other for a long time.  Neither of them said a word.  As he looked at the diminutive Jedi Master, Anakin could only think of one thing.

He looks awful!

Anakin had never seen the Jedi Master looks this weak.  While he still held a mighty presence, Yoda's skin was less green and vibrant.  The wrinkles on his face were much deeper.  He seemed tired and his breath was coming to him much more rapidly.  Granted, Yoda had never been young in the time that Anakin had known him but he had never looked this old before.

Could it be that he was...no! That was impossible.  Yoda would outlive them all.

Or would he?

Despite this, Yoda's eyes remained firmly on Anakin, looking at him.  Or perhaps through him?  Suddenly, Anakin once again felt like the little boy facing down a superior who would determine his future.  Once again, the outcome was uncertain.

As a show of respect to the Jedi Master and as a sign of humility, Anakin knelt before Yoda.  Yoda continued to stare at Anakin, saying nothing.  Anakin knew Yoda wasn't going to initiate this conversation.  Once again, he was going to leave it to Anakin.

Behind his mask, Anakin frowned.  He knew what it was time to do.

"You were right," Anakin said, breaking the silence.  "I was dangerous...and I never should have been trained.  I let my anger, my fear, and my lust of power consume me.  I allowed myself to become a servant of the dark side.  I thought the Jedi had betrayed me.  Instead, it was I who betrayed my wife, my master, the Jedi, and finally the Republic."

Yoda continued to stare at Anakin.  Anakin was finding it increasingly difficult to continue.  He lowered his head, unable to meet the old master's stare.

"I have been responsible for the death of millions, and I have brought great suffering to the galaxy.  I thought the dark side would bring me power and respect.  I was wrong.  It only brought me only misery and death.  In the end, I ultimately betrayed myself."

Anakin lifted his head up and once again was face to face with Yoda.

"Master Yoda," Anakin said, trying to spit the words out.  "I'm...I'm sorry."

Yoda continued staring at Anakin for a few moments and then turned away.  Anakin was starting to become confused by Yoda's continuing silence.

Will he even acknowledge me?

Suddenly, Yoda turned back around and walked closer to Anakin.  He stopped just inches away from his face.  Anakin felt very uncomfortable in this situation.  Finally, he opened his mouth to speak.

"Sorry will not help you, Anakin Skywalker."

Yoda turned away from Anakin for a moment and paced back and forth.  He took several deep breaths before he spoke again.  Yoda seemed to be having a very difficult time.  Finally, he turned around and addressed Anakin.

"Too late for apologies, it is.  Too late for many things.  Followed the path of the dark side, you already have, Anakin Skywalker.  Gave into your fear and anger, you did.  Used it to serve the Emperor, you did.

"A great power you have.  Used it to serve the people of the Republic, you could have.  But unable to control that power, you were.  Used it instead for evil.  Used it against the galaxy to destroy, used it for your own selfish purposes.  Destroyed the Republic you did.  Destroyed the Jedi as well.

"Much death and destruction have you caused.  Many have suffered.  Your wife, your master..."

Yoda turned away from Anakin for a moment.  Anakin caught the corner of Yoda's eyes as it stared out into the murky swamps of Dagobah.  He could see something in those eyes, something he had never seen in them before.  It looked like...pain.  Sadness.  He could feel it coming strongly from the Jedi Master.

"Suffered as well, have I.  Watched friends die, I did.  Nothing could I do to help them.  Lost many apprentices.  Like children, they were to me..."

Yoda's voice trailed off as he again stared into the swamp.  He quickly rooted the sadness out of himself and turned back to Anakin.

"Much you have done, Anakin.  Said it, you have.  Wrong, you were."

With that, Anakin felt his judgment was sealed.  The Jedi Master would not help him.

"However," Yoda said, breaking Anakin's thoughts.  "Wrong I was as well."

Anakin looked at Yoda in surprise.  It was very rare for Yoda to admit he was wrong in anything.

"Thought you could return from the dark side, I did not.  Thought you could renounce the darkness, I did not.  Thought you were incapable of redemption.  I was wrong.

"Stronger than I thought you were.  The heart of a Jedi you have.  Proved that you did by returning.  Proved that by giving up your hatred.  When you did that, all Jedi you made proud, Anakin Skywalker.  Even I."

Anakin now looked at the Jedi Master in a shock.  A compliment from Yoda to him was as rare as a snowstorm on Tatooine.  He had rarely spoken to him in such a way.  He truly meant what he had said.

Behind his mask, Anakin let out a small smile.

"Thank you."

Yoda nodded.  He continued to look at the kneeling Anakin.  With their past behind them, it was time to get to discuss the future.

"Know what you must do," Yoda said, not asked.

"Yes," Anakin said.  "Confront Palpatine.  He is in seclusion on his throne world of Byss.  But he will emerge soon.  I can feel it.  When he does...I shall be ready for him and for whatever he has planned.  My children will be as well."

Yoda nodded.  The master let out a weak cough before facing Anakin again.

"Questions you still have," Yoda said.  "Know it, I do."

"Yes, Master Yoda," Anakin said.  "There is much I need to know."

"Help you I would like," Yoda said, turning away from Anakin and heading towards a large, multi-rooted tree.  "But little can I do.  Old and sick I have become.  Dying, I am.  Twilight is upon me and soon...become one with the Force, I will."

Anakin looked at the old master in shock as Yoda tried climbing the tree roots.  He was dying; he could see that now.  Soon Anakin and his children would be the last of the Jedi.

Anakin got up from his kneeling position and helped Yoda climb up the tree roots.  Yoda now rested at the foot of the tree.  He was leaning back against it, his eyes closed slightly.  Anakin wished he could help him but there was little he could do.  Still, he couldn't die now.  There were so many questions he needed answer.  He had to get them.

"Master Yoda," Anakin said.  "Please, I need answers.  Why haven't I been able to heal my body?  I should be able to but I can't.  I cannot survive more than a few moments without this mask."

Yoda stared at him, eyes half shut, saying nothing.

"Master, please," Anakin continued desperately.  "I must know the answer.  And I must know the answer for a more personnel question.  Where is my wife?  Where is Amidala?  I have been unable to locate her since my return.  I'm having trouble even sensing her presence.  Please, I must know this"

Yoda stared at Anakin for a long time staying nothing.  Anakin feared that he could no longer answer.  Finally, Yoda forced open his eyes and looked straight at Anakin.

"Unable to heal your body, Anakin…because darkness is still in your heart.  Purged the dark side completely, you have not.  Lurking, it still is.  Ready to take over, it will try.  Sensed it when you arrived, you did."

Anakin looked at Yoda in a stunned silence.  He had sensed it.  When he was close to the cave, he felt the urge to surround himself in darkness.  An urge deep down to even walk the path of the dark side.  He had thought he rid himself of that darkness in the past but he had not.  It still loomed over his future.

"Find Amidala, you cannot," Yoda continued, his breathing growing raspier.  "Because of this darkness."

Anakin was devastated.  It was because of himself that he could not find Amidala.  It was his own darkness that kept him from being reunited with her.

"But all is not lost," Yoda continued, growing more and more weak.  "Purge the darkness you can.  Only one place you can do so."

Yoda motioned Anakin to move closer.  Anakin did so, his mask just inches away from Yoda's face.

"The cave," Yoda said.  "Purge it in the cave, you can."

Anakin nodded, listening intently to the dying master.

"Anakin, corrupted the cave is.  A servant to the dark side, just as you once were.  Face the cave, face the darkness and you will have your answers.  Once again, will you walk as a normal man.  Face the cave's darkness and conquer it.  If you do so, forever will you purge yourself from the dark side.  Healed...you will be.  Find Amidala, you can."

Yoda's eyes began to close.  He was moments away from death.  Still, the master continued.

"Anakin," he croaked, barely audible.  "Succeed, you must.  All hope depends on it.  Do not let the dark side consume you...as it once did.  Purge it from your soul...in the cave."

"Hope...you succeed...I do.  Anakin...with you, the Force...will...be..."

With that, Yoda's eyes closed and he slumped into the tree.  He was dead.  Anakin looked down on the lifeless form of the once great master with great sadness.  The last member of the Jedi Council was gone.

Moments later, Yoda's body disappeared.  Anakin had seen this only once before.  When he had struck down Obi-Wan Kenobi on the Death Star.  He didn't know then what to make of it.  He still didn't know now.  Yoda had left this life and had become one with the Force.  That is all he knew.

Anakin turned away from the tree and stared at the cave.  He could feel the darkness emanating from it.  It was twisted and evil...as he had once been.

Anakin faced the cave for a long time, not moving.  His hand rested on his newly constructed lightsaber.  He knew what he must do.  Inside the cave held the answers to his questions.  In there, he would discover how to heal his body.  But most importantly, it was inside the dark cave that he would find the answer to where his beloved Amidala was.  If he had any hope of finding her, it was in there.

The cave would be his salvation...or his destruction.

Anakin crept into the cave slowly.  He didn't even realize he had closed his eyes until he was several steps inside.  It almost amused him – such a pathetic attempt to shut out the darkness that was surrounding him.  If only that was all it took to block it out.

The cave itself was rather unremarkable.  Just cold and dark, with various little creatures running and scurrying through the shadows.  How could such a nothing of a place hold him in such terror?

He had to control his fear.  He had to.  This was his last true chance to make things right…he had to come through this, for Amidala's sake if nothing else.

He moved further into the cavern.  He would just face his fears, and everything would be fine.  But what was it exactly that he was supposed to do?  He was just standing there, alone.  Should he meditate?  Should he –

"Ani?"

Anakin turned and saw his mother standing behind him.  His heart seized with pain…he hadn't been able to even think about her since her death.  He wanted to run to her and hug her, but he resisted the impulse.  He knew what would happen – what always happened.  Just as he would reach her, she would vanish.  Leaving him lonely…and in despair…

And he could not give into despair.  Anakin held his ground, and stared at her.  She looked exactly as she had that last time, wearing the same clothes, even the same hairstyle.  Ignore it, he ordered himself.  His mother looked at him quizzically, and held up her arms to embrace him.  It's a trick.  He stood there stoically…then fought down a wave of anguish that washed over him when she vanished.

He swallowed hard.  He could get through this.  He doubted there was anything much worse that could be thrown at him besides her –

Obi-Wan Kenobi stood before him.  His form was wavy, shifting…he simultaneously appeared as the younger master who had sent him into the volcanic pits of Sullust, and as the old, fading man he had killed on the Death Star.  Kenobi circled him, prepared to battle.

Anakin felt saddened at the sight.  Was this supposed to tempt him to fight?  He no longer hated Kenobi, and had long given up his need for revenge.  All he was now was sorry and guilty for what had happened on the Death Star – and felt certain he had deserved what had happened on Sullust.  Kenobi was right to try to stop him…they had only been unfortunate that he hadn't been successful in killing him.

Kenobi continued to stalk around him, changing from old to young and back again.  Anakin waited quietly, perfectly willing to be struck down as he deserved.  There would be no fight this day.

His old master eventually shimmered, and disappeared as well.

Anakin sighed in relief.  But…but something was wrong.  He had passed through two temptations, but didn't feel any different.  He was starting to worry that he wouldn't be able to recognize a victory when it happened.  How was he supposed to know for sure when the Darkness was defeated?  Could it ever completely be?

"No, Lord Vader.  You know that is impossible."

Palpatine was in front of him.  His black robe enveloped his frail body, hiding his face almost completely.  But his voice was the same as it ever was – it frightened and infuriated and intrigued him all at once.

He could not be drawn to him again.  Not in curiosity or anger or fear, nothing.  He backed away from Palpatine, putting as much distance as he could between them.

Yes, he knew what the Emperor was now, could clearly see the evil in him, and rejected it.  But this man had also been his master for over 20 years.  Palpatine had always known exactly what weaknesses to prey upon, how to manipulate him in countless ways.  Anakin would not give him another chance to do so.

Anakin felt his back come up against one of the walls of the cave.  He was somewhat surprised that Palpatine hadn't chased after him or taunted him.  The old man simply stood in his place, arms folded into his cloak, face down towards the ground.  Anakin waited patiently, until he disappeared as well.

Something was still not right.  Something was still missing.  Maybe he should try to meditate.  Maybe that would help clue him into what he was doing wrong.

Anakin, still leaning against the cave wall, shut his eyes, and tried to focus his thoughts.  It proved to be a very difficult task in a place that was so strong in the dark side…he could find no center, no peace.

It was then that he realized that his breathing sounded strange…amplified.  Like he was breathing twice as loudly.  But he felt fine, and could detect no actual change in the functioning of his lungs.

Inhale.  Exhale.  It was so loud.

Vader!

Anakin's eyes shot open and he stood from the wall quickly.

Darth Vader stood in front of him.

It was like looking in a mirror – almost.  Anakin couldn't put his finger on anything specific, but he thought he noticed some differences between the two of them, enough to know that he wasn't actually staring at himself.  It was probably wishful thinking.  For all intents and purposes, the two were identical.

Vader drew his saber.  Anakin hesitated.  Again, he wasn't exactly sure what the proper course of action was.  Should he fight Vader?  He looked at the figure in front of him, and felt a rush of ambiguous feelings come over him.  Did he still hate himself?  Even if it was in some small corner of his mind…he couldn't fight someone he hated.  But this was Vader, and he doubted that he would be able to get away with not fighting him.

As if hearing that last thought, Vader swung at Anakin, forcing him to ignite his saber and block the shot.  There was a moment's pause, then Vader broke the hold, and began his attack in earnest, slashing at Anakin's side, bringing his saber down hard over his head, stabbing directly at his torso.  Anakin knew these moves by heart, and easily anticipated them, ducking and blocking as he moved away from the wall and to the middle of the cave.  He fought just enough to keep Vader at bay – parrying with him as if it were a practice match.

Anakin knew he wouldn't have much time before Vader truly lost his patience and began to force the issue.  Anakin needed a way out.  What kind of a test was this supposed to be?  He was beginning to think that it was designed for him to fail.

Then Vader, as expected, snapped.  He was sick of the games Anakin was trying to play with him.  He came furiously, slashing every which way, trying to behead him, to cut him in half, to take off a limb.  Blocking each move took a great deal of strength on Anakin's part – Vader was pushing him back slowly.

Anakin felt himself becoming desperate.  He missed a block, and Vader scored at hit to his midsection.  Anakin yelled in pain, and saw the sparks shoot up from his armor.  And still, he refused to fight back, and continued to try to avoid Vader as best he could.

He had to trust in the Force.  The Force would show him away out of this mess.

Vader struck down on his shoulder, knocking Anakin to the ground, causing more sparks to fly, sending more pain through his body.  He had to roll out of the way of a killing blow, and found himself up against the wall.  He struggled against the throbbing in his shoulder to bring his arm out from under him, and met another hit from Vader.  Their sabers were crossed directly over his face.  His stared out into the glowing red above him, and into his own face just beyond that.  He focused all his strength on keeping the sabers where they were, while Vader continued to bear down on him.

Suddenly, a thought crossed his mind.  Anakin, you must learn to forgive yourself.

It was one of the last things Kenobi had said to him in the past.  A final lesson from his master.

Anakin thought he had heeded that lesson, or at least had tried to.  But as he lay there on the ground, inches from death and afraid to fight, he realized that he hadn't, not fully.  He couldn't forgive himself, because he still didn't trust himself.  Didn't trust that, even in a situation as dire as this, he could so much as make a move without darkness descending upon him and reclaiming him.  He still feared himself, still…hated himself.

Kenobi was right.  He had to forgive himself.  Anakin had been looking for a way out, an escape hatch.  That had been wrong, and he could see that now.  He couldn't avoid things any more.  Not the memory of his mother, or of what happened with Kenobi.  Not his past relationship with Palpatine.  Not even his old self.  He had to face all of them, and trust himself – forgive his past weaknesses, let go completely, and put himself in the hands of the Force.

He smiled.  He had a feeling that Kenobi was smiling somewhere as well.

Anakin felt a surge of power come to him, and he pushed Vader back.  Anakin leapt to his feet, and calmly regarded his adversary.

He began to move against him.  Vader seemed confused – Anakin was fighting differently than he expected, and he could no longer predict his moves.  Anakin moved quickly, almost effortlessly, finally on the offensive, finally feeling the confidence and freedom that had eluded him.

Vader was slowly losing his rhythm.  Anakin managed to hit him several times, striking him in his chest, and both arms.  Vader became enraged, and swung wildly at Anakin's head, trying to end the fight.

That gave Anakin the opening he needed.  He stabbed directly at Vader's midsection and immediately withdrew his saber.  Vader crumpled to the ground, and disappeared.

Anakin stared at the empty spot on the ground.  He had done it.

He felt a burden lift off him.  He knew now – he knew – that he could face whatever was coming.  He could face his destiny.  He could go into the very bowels of darkness and not succumb.  He no longer had to be afraid of himself.  He could trust himself.  Forgive himself.

Anakin shut off his lightsaber, and prepared to leave the cave.

As Anakin turned to depart, he came face-to-face with a white light.  Suddenly, the white light spread and soon the entire cave was completely covered.

Anakin looked around curiously.  There was no sound to be heard.  No sound, no movement.  The only thing that could be heard was Anakin's amplified breathing.  It was as if he had been taken away from space and time itself and put into a world of nothing.  For a moment, a single thought crossed his mind.

Am I dead?

No, that was ridiculous.  He wasn't dead.  In fact, it was the complete opposite.  He was very much alive...and surround by the light side of the Force.  That is what is was.  He could feel it all around him.  The light side of the Force.  It was here to pass final judgment of Anakin Skywalker.

Anakin waited in the light patiently.  He didn't know what to suspect.  Yoda had forgiven him, then he had forgiven himself.  Would the Force do so as well?

Suddenly, Anakin saw a figure approach in front of him.  The bright light made it difficult to see but once that figure came into view, Anakin let out an audible gasp.

The figure had long brown hair with gray mixed in.  He wore the robes of a Jedi Knight.  The figure moved closer to Anakin and now stood just a few feet away from him.  When he finally realized who he was, Anakin could barely get the man's name out of his mouth.

"Qui-Gon!"

"Hello, Anakin," Qui-Gon Jinn said, smiling.

In a rush of emotion, Anakin ran to Qui-Gon and embraced him.  Much as a child would to a father who had returned from a long trip.  The last time he had seen Qui-Gon, he and Obi-Wan had been locked in battle with the Sith Lord Darth Maul.  When Anakin had returned from the battle with the Trade Federation, it was Obi-Wan who had told him that Qui-Gon had been killed, cut down by Maul.

Anakin had been devastated.  The man who had freed him from slavery, his savior, had left his life as quickly as he had come into it.  He never thought he would see him again.  Now, the Force had made that possible.

Qui-Gon hugged Anakin back.  Finally, Anakin broke the embrace and looked at Qui-Gon.  It was no trick.  It was indeed him.

"Qui-Gon," Anakin said, his voice choked with emotion.  "I…I don't know what to say.  It's been so long."

"Say whatever is on your mind, my son," Qui-Gon said in a compassionate voice.

Anakin's mind suddenly remembered.

"The cave! Did I...was I successful?"

"Yes, Anakin," Qui-Gon said.  "You were successful.  You have conquered the cave and purged the darkness from within you."

"Now will I be able to find Amidala?" Anakin asked anxiously.  "What about my body?  Qui-Gon, I must..."

"Patience, Anakin," Qui-Gon said in a soothing tone.  "It will be all taken care of.  You must keep your thoughts in the here and now."

Anakin wasn't quite sure what Qui-Gon was saying.  Still, he trusted the man and if he said it would be taken care of, it would be taken care of.

"You have purged yourself of the dark side," Qui-Gon said.  "You refused to allow anger and fear to consume you.  In accomplishing this, you have passed your first trial."

"My trial?" Anakin asked curiously.

Qui-Gon nodded.  "The first trial of the Chosen One."

Anakin looked at him, the surprise registering in his face.

"You are indeed the Chosen One, Anakin.  I had been right all those years ago.  Only the Chosen One could have defeated a challenge such as that.  Even when you were lost to the dark side, Anakin, I knew that one day you would come back to the light.  Even in your darkest moments.  And you have, Anakin.  You have proven stronger than even I had thought possible.  Now, it is time for you to fulfill your destiny and bring balance to the Force."

Anakin pondered over Qui-Gon's words.  Years ago, when he was a young, brash knight, talk like that would have served to inflate his large ego.  Back then, he had been incapable of handling such knowledge.  He had thought he was but all it did was make him more cocky and reckless.  It had almost destroyed him then.

But now, he was older and more mature.  No longer a brash, young Jedi.  While it was difficult to come to terms, he knew Qui-Gon was indeed right.  He was the Chosen One...and he had a destiny to fulfill.

Still, he had some doubts as to whether he could pull it of.  Was he really powerful enough to defeat Palpatine?

Qui-Gon seemed to sense what he was thinking.

"Anakin, you were unable to defeat Palpatine because of your fear and lust for power.  They had been too strong for you back then and they consumed you.  Yet, as you have realized, you are no longer that brash and reckless Jedi Knight.  You are older and more mature.  You have learned from the mistakes of the past and have moved beyond that."

"Still, Qui-Gon," Anakin said.  "Does that make me powerful enough to defeat Palpatine?"

Qui-Gon moved closer to Anakin and looked him directly in the eyes.  He placed his hands on Anakin's shoulders.

"Yes, Anakin," Qui-Gon said.  "You are now the most powerful Jedi ever.  Stronger than me, stronger than Obi-Wan.  Even stronger than Master Yoda.  You must let the Force work for you, Anakin.  If you learn to harness that great power you have, you will be able to defeat Palpatine.  When that is accomplished, balance will be restored to the Force"

Behind his mask, Anakin smiled.

"I must remember to trust my instincts and to feel, not think."

Qui-Gon nodded.

Anakin was beginning to understand now.  Qui-Gon always had a way of making him do so.

"Anakin," Qui-Gon said, his demeanor suddenly turning serious.  "I won't be able to stay much longer.  Remember, you have defeated the darkness from within you.  Yet the dark side of the Force remains a threat to the galaxy as long as Palpatine remains.  That darkness can still destroy you.  Be careful."

"I will, Qui-Gon," Anakin responded.

"Anakin, I want you to know that even when I died, I was always with you.  Through the good times and the bad.  When your mother died, I felt your anguish through the Force.  When you suffered, I suffered.  No matter what happens, I will always be with you.  No matter what."

Anakin was truly touched.  He knew that he would have his first master by his side as he faced the dark side.  Still, there was something he wanted to say before Qui-Gon left.

"Qui-Gon," Anakin said.  Qui-Gon looked at him, ready to listen intently.  "Before you go, there's something I always wanted to say to you."

"Thank you.  Thank you for believing in me when no one else would.  You were my savior, and for that I will always be grateful."

Anakin stood up straight, and met Qui-Gon's gaze.

"I failed you once, Qui-Gon.  I will not fail you again.  I promise."

Qui-Gon smiled, as touched as Anakin was.

"I know," he responded.  Qui-Gon smiled again.  He knew what it was time to do.  "Goodbye, Anakin."

Anakin was saddened to once again be separated from Qui-Gon.  Still, he had knew the he would always be with him.  And he would now get to the chance to say something to Qui-Gon that fate had never given him a chance to do.

"Goodbye, Qui-Gon."

With a final smile, Qui-Gon reached up and placed his hand on Anakin's facemask.  The light began to surround Anakin and penetrate him.  Before it consumed him, he heard the final words of Qui-Gon Jinn.

"The Force will be with you, always."

The light then penetrated Anakin Skywalker completely and he disappeared.

The next thing Anakin knew he was kneeling face down back in the swamps of Dagobah.  His head was down but he knew he was no longer surrounded by the white light or in the dark cave.  He could feel the life around him and hear the creatures of the planet.  He rose to his feet and opened his eyes.

His uncovered his eyes and saw Dagobah in all its glory.  Suddenly, he realized he was not looking through his dark eye-plates.  He was seeing the swamp world with his own eyes.  He looked down at his body and found that he was no longer dressed in the black armor that had kept him alive.  He was now dressed in the robes of a Jedi Knight.

Anakin was stunned.  He quickly looked at his now unconcealed hands and found healthy, vibrant skin on it.  He ran his hands over his arms and his legs.  It was flesh and blood.  He pinched his arms to check if it was real and felt the small stab of pain.  He could know feel the muscles and the ligaments in his legs as he lifted them off the ground and flexed them.  No longer were they the mechanical attachments that had been put on him after his body was destroyed.  Even the arm he had lost in combat with Count Dooku.  They were his real limbs. 

His hands quickly fell to his chest.  No attachments, no control pack to monitor his breathing.  His hands crawled up to his neck.  No machine was there to aid him in his breathing.

Finally, and slowly, his hands fell on his face.  He rubbed his hands on them.  His face was unscarred.  He couldn't feel any of the disfigurements that formed when he fell into the volcano.  He ran his hands up higher and felt his head.  It was no longer the bald, scarred, and shriveled head it had once been.  It was now home to a full crop of hair. 

Joy began to fill up in Anakin.  Had it really happened?  Was he really...

No.  No, there was one thing he had to check first.  Only if he saw his reflection would he believe this to be possible.

He headed to a murky pool of water.  He looked down in the fog-filled water.  It was thick and impossible to see.  Suddenly, the fog began to clear and before long he got a look at his face.

The image he saw was of a healthy, vibrant man of forty-five years of age.  He saw the piercing blue eyes and the short, brown hair.  He saw the face of a man who had once again come home.  He saw the face of Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight.

Anakin looked up from his reflection.  A large smile rapidly broke out on his face.  It had happened.  He had been healed.

Anakin found himself breaking out into laughter.  He didn't know what was so funny.  But he was laughing.  It was a loud, healthy laugh...something he never would have been able to do confined in the Vader armor.  The joy he felt was indescribable.  He truly felt as if he had been reborn.

He continued laughing for several minutes.  He was so happy.  The only things that could bring him so much happiness was his children and...

Amidala!

Anakin's mind snapped alert as he thought of his wife.  His body was healed now.  He just hoped that he could now find his wife.

Anakin looked up into the sky.  She was out there.  It was time to find out where.

Anakin closed his eyes and relaxed his mind.  He reached out with the Force.  He had been unable to locate Amidala before.  His mind always seemed to be clouded.  Anakin now knew that it was because of the darkness within him.

But that darkness was gone.  Now, Anakin could reach out with the Force unobstructed by anything.  He could feel his very soul connected to the Force and to the galaxy.

He searched through time and space for Amidala.  He searched from planet to planet, simply by using his mind.  She hadn't been able to find her yet but now he knew she was close.  She was somewhere out there and soon he would find her.

His mind continued to search until finally he found his answer.  His mind came across the world Dantooine.  He was familiar with Dantooine.  He had visited the world before when he was Obi-Wan's padawan.  At one time, the planet also was the home base for the Rebel Alliance.  They had long since moved on but it still remained a stronghold for Rebel sympathizers.

His mind entered the world and began searching the very landscape of the planet.  Soon, he narrowed his search to the very streets of this world.  Citizen through citizen passed.  None of them were Amidala but he was close.  He was very close.

His mind passed through more people until he finally found her.  Through his mind, he saw Amidala.  She was in a small apartment.  She was sitting silently on her bed in deep thought.

She was older now.  She was fifty years old but she still looked youthful and vigorous.  Looking at her still took Anakin's breath away.  He had finally found her.

Reaching out more strongly with the Force, he made contact with her mind.  She could now sense his mind as it made contact with hers.  Through space and time itself, Anakin sent Amidala a lone message.

I'm coming, Amidala.