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Title: Endor
Author: Maia (maia@bastcastle.org)
Rating: PG-13 - mature themes
Category: AU, Adventure, Romance, some Angst.
Characters: Vader, OFC, a few other OC’s, and familiar faces.

Disclaimer: I am not making any money from this, and he doesn’t belong to me. Darn.

Summary: Destiny finally catches up to the Sith Lord.

Author’s Note: Immediately follows ‘Hapes.' Some of the dialogue is extracted from Return of the Jedi (film and novel).


Coruscant, Core Worlds, Year 4, Month 1.

DAY 28

 

I can’t do anything too strenuous yet, and spending time in the salle with Ani is weeks away, but he is still keeping me busy. If I start to project emotionally without conscious control of it, he gives my shields a rap. The mental taps he uses start out lightly, with not much Force behind them, but he increases that until it hurts if I don’t heed his warnings. It’s an effective way to ensure I have learned my lesson in how to keep my empathy on a leash. This morning, as a test, he has been doing his best to provoke me into doing exactly what he doesn’t want me to do.

His topic of choice, at the moment, is what plans he has for me once the children are in school and I am stuck on Coruscant with them while he is on active duty.

‘I am not going to sit around all day in your castle, doing nothing, and being your trophy wife,’ I growl at him.

‘You need to be where I know you will be completely secure,’ he counters in return. ‘If I need to lock you in here to do that, I will.’

‘Then you should stay here with me instead of running around with the fleet,’ I suggest. ‘Somebody else can do that.’

‘Impossible. The only way to effectively stamp out the Rebels is to deal with them myself,’ the Sith Lord states.

I glare at him. That’s a ridiculous excuse, and he knows it. Thrawn could be called back from whatever he is doing and sent after the Rebels. The Grand Admiral is more than competent enough for that task. My husband is just being difficult.

‘If you are going to work at chasing Rebels, then I want a job, too,’ I demand. ‘Something at the university, maybe, where I can be useful.’

‘No,’ Ani refuses. ‘It would be too difficult to protect you there, out in public.’

‘Then at least let me do some research in your castle,’ I back off a little. ‘Perhaps a project looking at planetary evolution. I miss that.’

‘No,’ he repeats, this time waving a finger at me. ‘I want you to focus on other things, like your Force training and ‘saber skills.’

I get up from my chair and stomp out of his office. There is no way I am going to lose my temper in his presence and end up receiving a lecture for it. He follows me through his quarters into our bedroom.

‘Maia,’ he calls to me.

I stop in place, but don’t turn to face him. Right now, I would rather be left alone instead of continuing an argument I know he won’t let me win.

‘You cannot out stubborn me about this, so there is no point in wasting your time trying,’ he tells me. ‘I need you to be safe when I am not with you, and I need to know you won’t be doing anything foolish to put yourself at risk. If locking you in here and setting a guard on you is what that requires, then that is what I will do.’

‘You need?’ I question, letting my frustration show in my tone of voice. ‘Have you ever considered what I might need, or how much I worry when you are on active duty, or in battle, or have chosen to put yourself in danger? I need to know you are safe, too.’ Silence from him, so I continue talking. ‘Anakin, on my home world I had a job. I had a purpose. I had students and colleagues. I did research and contributed. Here, I do very little other than be your wife and mother of your children. When you give me a task, it’s what you want me to do or an exercise in occupying my time. At least let me do something meaningful to me, even if it’s only describing a new mineral.’

Gloved hands settle on my shoulders and I wonder if I have been too honest or said too much.

‘If I can’t provoke a reaction from you by denying you your freedom and threatening to lock you up,’ my husband admits, ‘then I doubt I will trigger one any other way unless I attempt to harm you or our children.’

I close my eyes in exasperation and try to step out of his grasp. He should have realized by now, after hours of this, that I won’t lose control over my empathy when he tries to incite a response. His hands hold me firmly in place.

‘I am tired of your tests, Ani,’ I say quietly, ‘and just … tired. I am going to lie down and rest for a while.’

He caresses my cheek with his left hand and releases me from his other.

‘Go rest, little goddess,’ he tells me. ‘Future plans can wait for another time, another day.’

***

I let her go, and watch her settle in for a nap, waiting until she is curled up underneath my cloak, the one she has kept close at hand since Hapes, before I leave her to sleep in peace. My trying to provoke her has made her cranky and frustrated, but not once did her emotions escape her control.

Retreating to my office, I sit at my desk and look at the most recent batch of reports I have been sent. The project at Endor has fallen behind schedule to the point where I expect I will be dispatched to speed up the work fairly soon. Palpatine will wait a week, but no more than two before I am ordered back to the fleet and on my way. Time has almost run out, as have my options, for changing the future Maia’s foreseeing dreams have revealed. I need to gain what advantages I can if I am to survive and there are few to easily be had.

I stare at the crate with the prosthetics. Swapping the ones I have now for those is more than tempting, and if the specs on them are accurate, the adjustment period should be short. They are more lifelike, highly sensitive, and stronger than any available in the Empire.

It is an easy decision to make.

‘Two-onebee,’ I comm the surgical droid in my castle’s Medcenter, ‘I have a task for you.’

***

‘Wake up, gorgeous,’ Ani teases me.

I open my eyes, but don’t move. Why is he interrupting my nap?

‘I have a job for you,’ he tries a different way to motivate me.

I shut my eyes again and debate whether to go back to sleep or get up. His footsteps draw closer. The Sith Lord is not going to take my unspoken ‘no’ and reluctance to stir for an answer.

‘I know you need to sleep and don’t want to move from where you are comfortable, but this is important,’ he tells me.

His weight settles next to me on the bed.

‘Isolder gifted me with a set of Hapan built prosthetics,’ my husband reveals. ‘They are superior to the ones I currently have so I am having them swapped today.’

A finger traces the gold band on my left hand. He wants me to look after his wedding ring and keep him company when he will be relatively helpless. I did this for him once before.

‘Ani, I am tired and my stomach is a little sore,’ I admit. ‘Can’t it wait a few hours?’

I sense him considering how to answer that. He knows that if he insists, I will usually comply.

‘There might be a way to speed your healing,’ he offers, ‘but you will need to come to Medical for that.’

‘Help me sit up, then,’ I ask of him, giving up on staying in bed.

When he pulls me up into his arms, I take advantage of his closeness, wrapping myself around him. He smells of new leather, and freshly spun and woven rycrit wool, having discarded the armour he had worn on Hapes for two new sets. The contact is soothing, comforting to me, so I lean into him.

‘Back to wanting to be held all the time?’ he observes. ‘You know I will oblige you whenever I can, and if I could kiss you, I would.’

His mask makes that impossible at the moment, and that won’t be coming off until tonight. I tip my head up and look into his eyes through the lenses. Every exhalation he makes heats my nose and mouth. Ani could use illusion to fake a kiss, like he did on Garqi, and I wonder what my lips really came into contact with that day.

‘My mask’s breathscreen,’ he admits, sounding rather amused at my thoughts. ‘There’s only so much an illusion can easily conceal. Your mind expected my human lips on yours, though, so that is what you felt.’

‘And back home?’ I risk a question about that night - the one night he spent with me on Earth which he has always been reluctant to talk about, the night he first made love to me and Mikal was conceived.

He hesitates.

‘Ani?’ I prod.

‘I took my helmet off,’ he reveals. ‘I can do that for short periods of time outside of a sealed environment, if I must. That night, I needed to touch you, to kiss you, to feel your lips and body against mine with as little of my armour between us as I could manage, and my attention was too divided to maintain a full illusion. Making love to you was what was foremost on my mind. There was less illusion involved and more of my armour off than you might think.’

I don’t press him for more than that. He wanted me and I wanted him. If it hadn’t happened that particular night, it would have been within days of arriving on the Executor after he returned us there, or on Earth following our wedding, if he had decided to stay with me rather than leave. In either case, I doubt he would have been willing to wait or delay consummating our Sith vows for very long.

Ani shifts me so that my cheek is resting against his shoulder then slides his arms under my knees and behind my back. When he lifts me from the bed, I smile a little and lock my arms around his neck. If he wants to play the knight gallant and carry me off to Medical, I won’t complain.  He sets me on my feet once we are at the turbolift, choosing to offer a supporting arm at my waist instead.

I have spent plenty of time in the medical wing of his castle and much of it is familiar to me, but he steers us to a room I have not yet been inside. It is dominated by a clear tank of light blue liquid in the center. The new prosthetics are set out on a table, beside the surgical bed he will be on and the ‘droid surgeon who will be performing the procedures. While Ani removes his armour, I find a chair to sit in and watch him, thinking about what he must have left on and stripped off that night on Earth.

‘I have reviewed Lady Vader’s file,’ I hear the droid answer one of my husband’s questions. ‘The bacta will heal her, if she can tolerate the time in the tank needed for it to be effective.’

I stare at them both.

‘What?’ I blurt out.

‘Come over here,’ my husband calls to me.

I make my way to his side as he lies back on the surgical table. He reaches his left hand to me, so I slide the plain gold ring from his finger and hold it tight in my hand. It will be my job to replace it once his new arm is attached. Rather than look at what Two-onebee is doing, I keep my eyes on the Sith Lord’s mask.

‘Two-onebee has suggested that soaking in the bacta tank would help you heal faster,’ Ani tries his own way to distract me. ‘You will need an eight hour treatment, but instead of waiting six weeks you would be back to normal activities in one or two.’

‘You want me to go in that thing?’ I ask, pointing to the tank. ‘Seriously?’

‘I didn’t mention it before because I know you can become extremely claustrophobic if you are enclosed for too long,’ he tells me. ‘Most people have to be sedated when they go in one or they panic.’

Somehow I know he has spent plenty of time in one of the things himself, and probably without being drugged. Myself, I don’t think I could do it, medicated or not.

Ani flinches as the droid checks the responses from his new left arm. It looks completely real to me, the synthflesh blending seamlessly with his skin colour and texture. When he holds his hand up, I slide his wedding ring back into place. The Sith Lord’s touch on my cheek and face is feather-light, delicate, and when he rolls a lock of my hair between his fingers I can sense his smile.

‘Far more sensitive,’ he reveals. ‘I can feel the change in your skin between cheek and jaw, and each strand of hair as it runs through my fingers.’ He uses the Force to call a metal bar to him then bends it effortlessly. ‘Strength is adequate, and no damage to the synthflesh,’ he adds, examining his new hand in detail. ‘The Hapans deserve their reputation, in this, at least.’

While Ani goes through the other three replacements, I wander over to the bacta tank and examine it. Six weeks is a long time to be on restricted activities, and I am growing bored and restless after less than two. Not being able to work out in the salle or duel with my husband was frustrating when I was pregnant and is more so now. I need something to do. Minutes pass as I consider my options, then I make a decision.

‘What’s it like to be in it?’ I ask my husband.

‘Boring,’ is his short reply.

I hear him test his new legs, walking, jumping, and kicking with them. Everything seems to have gone well. A moment later, he is standing next to me. I turn to look at him.

‘Be honest,’ I scold him.

‘It’s boring,’ he repeats. ‘There is nothing to do except float in it for hours. The bacta is at body temperature so you don’t feel anything from it that way, but it is thick and sticky, and sickly-sweet smelling like the Queen Mother’s perfume. I can never wash it off fast enough once I am out.’

***

I sense her internal debate about whether to risk the bacta tank or not. In the past few days my wife has been restless and not sure what to do with herself. Part of that is a result of losing our son and knowing there will be no more children in our future. Her focus had been on raising our family, but now, she understandably wants more than that. Healing her physically will help; the rest will follow after that.

‘Do you want to try it?’ I suggest. ‘If there is a problem, I will have Two-onebee remove you immediately. It will be perfectly safe.’

Her eyes stay on my mask when she nods.

‘You will need to change and braid your hair out of the way,’ I tell her, pointing to where the robe she needs is stored and the cubicle she can change in for privacy.

‘I’ll be quick,’ she replies.

When she emerges, she is clad in a large, knee-length white medical gown more suited for me than for her, and a bit self-conscious about it. I take her hand and lead her up the steps, to the top of the tank the droid has opened. My wife doesn’t object to the mask which fits snugly over her face or to my adjusting it. Two-onebee attaches the monitor leads and the harness which will lower and raise her into the tank while I do that.

‘Sit on the edge and put your feet in,’ I instruct. ‘When you are ready, slowly slide into it. The harness will keep you suspended in the middle of the tank.’

She dips the toes of one foot in and yanks them back.

‘Yuck!’ Maia exclaims. ‘It feels like goo. Slimy and squishy. Not at all like a liquid.’

The foot goes back in. This time she leaves it there. Her other one eventually joins it. I watch her for a few minutes. She’s still uncertain about this and having an argument with herself. When her hands reach for me and take mine, I am sure she intends to abandon her attempt to enter the tank, but instead she lowers herself into the bacta, only letting go of me once her head is below the surface.

This stuff feels disgusting, she tells me.

I descend the access stairs and stop in front of the tank. My wife is floating in the center of it, her eyes wide open and staring at me. Intending to help settle her nerves, I rest my right hand against the transparent container, and see her match it with her left. As long as I stay here with her, she will be able to cope; the minute I leave the room and am out of her sight, she will panic.

Close your eyes and let me tell you a story, I say to her. Once, many years ago, I was sent on a diplomatic mission to a planet where skill at thievery was considered a social asset, and someone stole my lightsaber...

As I speak, Two-onebee begins to add a sedative gas to the air Maia is breathing. Her hand slips away from where mine is resting and her mind begins to drift into sleep. I continue my tale until I am sure she will not wake then fall silent.

‘Rest, my love, and heal,’ I tell her, removing my hand from the wall of the bacta tank. To the droid, I add, ‘I will return in eight hours. It would be best if I am the one who wakes her up and pulls her out. She is less likely to panic that way.’

***

I feel my mind drift away from Ani’s story and into a strange dream where I am back at home, with him, having never left Earth to return to his flagship. Instead of knocking me out, climbing into his TIE with me and flying back to the Executor, he pulls me close and holds me in his arms for a long time. Then, he tells me he has decided to stay, that I am more important to him than the Empire or his old life in it. Our lives unfold from there; his as a military consultant and design engineer working with my father, mine as an academic and his wife. My mother figures out how to manage Ani’s medical needs and all of us settle into a quiet daily routine. One day, we are in my grandfather’s greenhouse, sitting on a bench in the center of it, watching Mikal play with my mother’s cat and the twins chasing after my brother Jamie in a game of tag. My husband has his arms around me and our second son is sleeping on a blanket at our feet.

Maia, I hear Ani call my name. You need to wake up.

I ignore him. It’s peaceful in my dream, everyone I love is there, and I don’t want to leave it.

You must wake up, love, he insists.

His persistence banishes my fantasy. I open my eyes to see a distorted vision of him standing in front of me. Surrounding me is a thick blue glop, pressing against my body, and smothering me. In a panic, I try to hold my breath and flail my arms in an attempt to escape.

Breathe, my husband orders. You are wearing a mask, so breathe.

I do as I am told and match his hand with mine when he rests his on the transparent wall between us. He doesn’t move until he knows I have calmed down, then he climbs the steps to the top of the bacta tank. It must be time for me to come out. The harness tightens as I am raised slowly upwards. Ani allows the bacta to drip off of me and back into the tank for a minute or two before he swings me to the side and detaches the harness from the lift. When I feel the cold air on my wet skin, I shiver a little. Being in the bacta was warm, but the room the tank is in is not. While Ani helps Two-onebee remove the mask, medical gear, and the harness, I concentrate on remembering the details of my dream. I like that strange alternate life I was imagining.

‘Wrap yourself up a bit,’ I am told as my husband hands me a large robe. ‘You can shower, here, and have a bath, later.’

For once I don’t protest his suggestion. I hate showers, but the slimy bacta all over me feels worse than water spraying in my face will.

‘A shower will be good,’ I admit.

‘Let me show you where it is,’ he replies.

The shower is tucked into a corner and thankfully, hidden from public view. I set it to a fairly hot temperature and scrub myself as thoroughly as I can. My hair is glued together by the bacta and takes more attention than the rest of me, but I know I won’t feel completely clean until I have a proper soak in the bath.

‘Your clothes,’ Ani offers, holding a stack of garments for me once I step out of the shower stall.

His eyes are on me, staring at me.

‘Checking out how well the bacta worked?’ I tease him.

‘Obviously,’ he replies in kind.

A gloved finger reaches over and traces the fine white scar across my lower abdomen. The second one has completely disappeared and the pain from both surgeries is also gone. I feel good, better than I have in weeks - lightheaded, and a bit giddy even. Bacta definitely has had a weird effect on me.

‘Entirely healed,’ he observes. ‘Leanan should examine you again. The bacta may have been more effective than Two-onebee predicted.’

‘I really don’t want to be poked and prodded by the doctor,’ I decide.

‘Unfortunately, necessary in this case,’ my husband reminds me.

***

Her eyes narrow in frustration, so I hand her clothes to her.

‘Leanan is in her office, next door. Meet me there once you are dressed,’ I say, making my escape as soon as she has taken her garments from me.

I won’t have much time to speak with the doctor privately, so I hurry to her office. She is there, quietly reading when I burst in on her.

‘I need your help,’ I quickly explain the situation. ‘The healing appears to be complete but she’s had a peculiar emotional reaction to the bacta, and it’s one I have never experienced or heard of before.’

Leanan’s eyebrow goes up. She knows that for me to ask for her help it must be serious. I shift my weight from one foot to the other. How do I say what I need to without embarrassing myself?

‘Go on,’ the doctor tells me.

‘She’s…’ I start, but stop when Maia comes in.

‘Right here,’ my wife says, ‘and wanting to get this over with. Hurry up and quickly check me out. I have plans for what I want to do with my husband tonight and would rather not delay that.’

I watch the two women leave the office for Leanan’s examination room. They won’t be gone for very long. The doctor is efficient at what she does and rarely wastes time. When they return, I know from Maia’s smile that she won’t need another soak in the bacta.

‘She’s fine,’ the doctor makes her short report. ‘Healed inside and out, but I would recommend slowly returning to the previous activity level rather than rushing into everything. Take it easy for a while.’

Good, my wife tells me privately. Tonight you are mine - all mine.

‘I’ll go see to the children and have a bath,’ she adds aloud, excusing herself.

I wait until she is out the door, down the corridor, and in the turbolift before I turn back to the doctor.

‘She’s sex-mad,’ I finally manage to say what I wanted to earlier.

‘In a sense, yes, you could describe it that way. Your wife is experiencing the effects of high levels of sex hormones in her body,’ Leanan reveals. ‘The accelerated healing from the bacta has affected her cycle. She’s not only at a fertile peak far sooner than she should be after giving birth, but being driven by that emotionally. Her body wants her to reproduce.’ The look I receive is slightly amused, rather sympathetic, and almost pitying. ‘All she could talk about was you and getting back to your quarters, my Lord.’

***

I lounge on the bed and watch my husband through half-closed eyes as he pours himself a glass of his favourite Corellian Reserve brandy to drink. He’s done everything he can to delay coming to bed. First it was playtime with Mikal and the twins, then putting them to bed, and after that dealing with a few comm-calls. His armour is off so he can’t use removing it as yet another way to postpose the inevitable. Waiting for him has been frustrating for me because all I want to do is strip away our clothes and let him have his way with me.

‘Come here, wife’ he orders.

I obey, humouring him. His voice is growing husky as the brandy takes a slight hold on him. Rather than neutralize its effects, the Sith Lord is letting it shape his mood. Once I am near, he pulls me close then kisses me. His lips are cold from the alcohol and sweet from the liquor.

‘So, what would you like me to do?’ he asks.

‘Kiss me?’ I request.

‘Where?’ he replies.

I smile at him. He so rarely gives me an opportunity to tease him this way.

‘Everywhere,’ I tease. ‘In here, on the Executor’s bridge, in front of the Emperor…’

He shuts me up with his mouth on mine. I bring my fingers up to his hair and run them through it, producing a low moan from him in response. It seems I am not the only one who is more than willing and ready, but I want to play a little.

‘Play a game with me, Anakin,’ I suggest when I pull back from our kiss.

‘Changed your mind so soon?’ he asks. ‘Wanting to play a game of Go? Or perhaps Holochess?’

‘Not that type of game,’ I tell him. ‘Put your armour on.’

‘Ah, you just want the armoured Sith Lord to ravish you in my office and especially in our bed,’ he teases me. ‘I should have expected that.’

‘Not quite,’ I admit, ‘but you’ll find out.’

I give him a quick kiss on the mouth, slip out of his arms and leave him to dress. While Ani fusses with his surcoat, I pull a new nightgown from my storage drawer and change into it. For tonight, I want him to think of me like he did on Earth, so I brush out my hair and let it fall loosely down my back rather than braid it. When I am ready, I turn around, to find myself caught in his arms again.

‘So, my wife, what have you planned?’ his curiosity is apparent. ‘Shall I carry you into my office and have my way with you?’

I reach up and touch the cheek of his mask.

‘I had a dream when I was in the bacta,’ I admit. ‘We had stayed on Earth, with my family, and our children were born there.’ Looking up at his mask, I tell him, ‘I want you to pretend that we are on Earth and it’s our wedding night. You waited until we were married, in my dream, so I want you, in your armour, to make love to me as if it were the very first time.’

He is silent, considering and weighing my request. I haven’t asked for us to role play before, so maybe he thinks it is a ridiculous thing for us to do and will suggest something else.

‘If you truly want to experience that, I will do it for you,’ he agrees, ‘and I can make it more real for you, if you want. So, how realistic do you want it to be?’

What is my husband up to?

‘Whatever you can do,’ I admit. ‘I want to experience it as it would really be.’

His mind touches mine so I let him in, curious what he might do to me. Memories fade, blur. I feel slightly detached, a part of me knowing we have been married for years, and another unaware of that completely.

I am hiding your memories so you will react as if the scenario you want us to act out is real, Ani tells me. You will remember everything again after, but during it, you won’t. It’s a form of temporary memory suppression. To be fair, I will be doing the same thing to myself.

He gives my mind a sharp rap and I fall forward, into his arms, into blackness and silence.

***

The unsteadiness quickly passes as does my blurred vision. I look down at who I am holding, the woman I gave up everything for, my guide and support in my new life here on this world, my most beloved new wife. She is limp in my arms, having fainted earlier, before I carried her here, to our bridal chamber. Today has been stressful for her, and I know she worried about everything - her dress, the ceremony, the formal meal which followed, that all would go well, and that tonight ... that tonight I would make love to her for the first time.

She stirs in my arms, finally waking.

‘Maia,’ I soothe her. ‘It’s alright.’

Her head tips up as she looks at me.

‘You had a fainting spell,’ I tell her, ‘so I thought it best to bring you here where it is quiet.’

Quiet and away from the prying eyes of everyone who is curious about what will happen between us tonight. I know there are some who expect me to treat her roughly or worse, to force myself on her. My reputation is well known even on this isolated planet, but I would never hurt my wife in that manner. She will only receive kindness from me.

I carefully set her on her feet, and feel her slight weight as she sets her cheek on my chest and sighs. In return I caress her face with my fingers, lightly, gently. This I have done many times before, and it has become our equivalent of my kisses. Her body leans closer to me for support, and I pull her hair back from her face and tuck it behind her ear. She is not at all afraid of me or my touch.

‘So what do I call you?’ she teases me. ‘I can’t really ‘my Lord’ you to death when it’s just us.’

I deserve that not so subtle jab, I decide, remembering how I once insisted she always use the formal address in public. Now, that title and my Sith name are close to meaningless to me. My old name, though, I have chosen to reclaim.

‘You know my name is Anakin,’ I remind her. ‘That is what I chose to use in the ceremony today, and it’s the name I want you to know me by, so call me that.’

***

When I open my eyes, I feel horribly unsteady and dizzy, and find myself being held tight in someone’s arms, securely cradled against a firm, armoured body. From the regulated breathing above my head, I know exactly who it is: my new husband, Darth Vader, Lord of the Sith.

‘Maia,’ that deep baritone voice I love so much soothes me. ‘It’s alright.’

I look up into his mask.

‘You had a fainting spell,’ he tells me, ‘so I thought it best to bring you here where it is quiet.’

He’s holding me in his arms, gently, carefully, as if he might break me by squeezing too tightly. I rest my cheek on his chest and let out a sigh. Today was stressful and hectic. Now, it’s just the two of us and I know he will keep me safe and protected. My husband puts me down, so I lean into his chest. His fingers caress my cheek. I am a bundle of nerves and uncertain about what will happen tonight.

‘So what do I call you?’ I tease him. ‘I can’t really ‘my Lord’ you to death when it’s just us.’

‘You know my name is Anakin,’ he reminds me. ‘That is what I chose to use in the ceremony today, and it’s the name I want you to know me by, so call me that.’

His gloved fingers rest against my lips, brushing them lightly, delicately. I rest the tips of mine on his breathscreen in return, feeling the heated air on each exhalation. This is the closest we can come to a proper kiss.

***

I touch her lips with my fingers, gently, lightly, a kiss to her mouth, yet not a kiss. She raises her fingers to my breathscreen, leaving them there for a moment. The soft smell of the delicate perfume she is wearing on her wrist floods my helmet, whose scent filters I have disabled temporarily. Earlier, during the ceremony, I could smell the flowers she carried and the rose petals we were showered with after that was finished. I want to remember today in as many ways as I can, but kissing her on the mouth won’t be one of them.

‘I wish I could kiss you,’ I tell her.

‘Your mask is a nuisance,’ she complains, as she has before.

‘A necessary nuisance,’ I agree.

It won’t be a barrier between us much longer. I know what her parents were so busy planning and working on as our wedding gift - a pressurized room for my wife and I where my helmet and armour can come off. When we return home, it will be there, waiting for us.

She shifts in my arms, peers behind me to the table set with a basin of water and towels. Her reaction is to hide her eyes from seeing that reminder of what I have planned for tonight, burying her face in my robes to conceal it from her sight. Perhaps I need to directly raise the topic which she has so diligently gone out of her way to avoid discussing with me, since we now have no choice other than to deal with it. My wife might be shy about discussing sex with her spouse, but I am not.

‘Being nervous and afraid the first time is normal,’ I tell her. ‘I also know your friend Liz has told you what to expect.’

I knew Maia would never come to me for the information she needs to help her through tonight, so I asked her friend to talk to her in my stead. Thankfully Liz was willing and able to speak to my wife in a way which didn’t embarrass her too much. Most of that conversation, what little of it I overheard, involved speculations about me, and much laughter.

***

I shift a little, look past him to see what is laid out on the table. Someone has prepared for tonight and what we will be doing. My cheeks heat up with embarrassment. If he didn’t know for certain, he must have suspected. Burying my face against his surcoat so he can’t see it, I try to relax and calm my nerves.

‘Being nervous and afraid the first time is normal,’ the Sith Lord tells me. ‘I also know your friend Liz has told you what to expect.’

His hands return to my waist, pulling me in tight to his body. Calm, I remind myself, relax and settle yourself. He loves you enough to give up everything he had in the Empire to stay on Earth and be with you.

‘Come, sit with me,’ he suggests.

I let him lead me to the bed and sit beside him on it. He keeps my hand in his, gently massaging the palm. His touch feels good and my mind starts to drift a little, relaxing as he continues the pressure against my skin.

‘Don’t fall asleep on me,’ he warns.

My response is to be bold, to wrap my arms around his neck and kiss the cheek of his mask. He pulls me in tight then shifts me slightly so he can look directly into my eyes.

‘I won’t do anything you don’t consent to,’ he reassures me. ‘Say stop and I will, at any time.’

‘I love you and I want you,’ I shyly admit. ‘I want you to make love to me.’

***

‘Come sit with me,’ I suggest.

Delaying tactics to relax her and strategically move her over to the bed. I lead her to the other side of the room, sit beside her and keep her hand in mine. She’s still nervous, so I massage her hand, using the pressure points in it to help her relax. As I work, the tension in her body eases, and her eyes begin to close as her breathing slows.

‘Don’t fall asleep on me,’ I tell her.

Her response is an unexpected one. She throws her arms around my neck and kisses the cheek of my mask. If only I wasn’t stuck wearing this cursed helmet. It would be her lips on mine, mine on hers, and this evening would be so much easier. I move her a little, turn my head to face her, and look directly into her eyes. What I will tell her is important so I need to make sure she understands it.

‘I won’t do anything you don’t consent to,’ I state clearly. ‘Say stop and I will, at any time.’

‘I love you and I want you,’ she reveals, blushing a little as she says it. ‘I want you to make love to me.’

She needs to be comfortable, so I rearrange the pillows, and make sure she is settled on them before I leave her side. My cloak will be in the way, and so will the surcoat. I take them off and fold them over the back of a chair. Maia’s eyes are on me as I do this and I can sense her curiosity about what I will do next. When I sit beside her, there is no fear in her, so I reach down and run a finger from the palm of her hand to her shoulder, repeating that on the other side. She quickly does the same to me, and begins to explore my armour with her fingers. I feel little of what she does, but don’t stop her. Let her satisfy her curiosity about my armour as I am mine about her body and her responses to me. As I continue to touch her, she relaxes, but I need her to feel something else, too.

I increase the pressure from my hands, choosing where and how I touch her carefully. Her breathing changes, becoming more rapid as the effects I need replace the relaxation and sleepiness I first prompted in her. When her hands grab mine, I know I have been successful.

***

He pulls the pillows about, arranging them so I can lie back on them. I make myself comfortable and watch as he removes his cloak and surcoat, dropping both on a chair out of the way. Next, he resumes his place beside me on the bed, his hands reaching down to trace light paths all over my body. It should be ticklish, but isn’t. Instead, it feels like electricity running across my skin. I bring my hands up to touch him, tracing the patterns on his leather armour, the shape of his chest box, the angles of his mask. We explore one another in this way until he changes the nature of what he is doing to me. Butterflies appear in my stomach and my hands grab his, stopping him from touching me temporarily.

‘Feels good and feels weird,’ I admit, not sure what to think or do.

He laughs at my evaluation and moves his hands to my feet.

Later, much later, he is laying sprawled on top of me, his weight pressing me down into the bed. We are both comfortable, but he’s heavy and I need him to move off of me.

‘I am being squashed by a Sith Lord,’ I tease him.

My husband stays where he is for a moment.

‘Anakin?’ I call to him. ‘Are you alright?’

He pushes himself off of me and sits at my side.

‘You are fertile,’ he quietly states. Resting his hand on my middle, he waits a few minutes then pulls it back, and adds, ‘and you have conceived a powerful son for me from this.’

‘Anakin?’ I repeat, becoming alarmed.

He thinks I am pregnant? After the very first time we had sex? Is he serious?

‘I need to clean up,’ he states, sounding a touch dazed, probably from what he has discovered and the prospect of being a father so soon.

***

I stay where I am, locked in her arms, lazing in the warmth or her body next to mine. It will be better, much better, in quarters where the armour can come off. Then, I will be able to kiss her.

‘I am being squashed by a Sith Lord,’ she teases me.

Sith Lord.

Love is forbidden to a Sith Lord.

I freeze as realization fully hits me. This is my wife, a woman who truly loves me, who is life-bonded to me, and who will never leave me. Who and what I once was do not matter to her. And I love her in return, deeply, wholly, with all my heart and being.

I am a Sith Lord no longer.

‘Anakin?’ she asks me. ‘Are you alright?’

Instead of answering I push myself up and off of her. Caressing her middle, I extend my senses within her, checking to see how she is.

‘You are fertile,’ I tell her when I detect the egg. Curious, I wait, wondering what will happen when my sperm meet it, only to feel the conception of our son when it occurs. ‘And you have conceived a powerful son for me from this,’ I reveal, surprised that she is pregnant so soon.

‘Anakin?’ Maia repeats, with some alarm.

I need to sort myself out quickly, wash myself, help her clean up, and calm her fears. My wife wants children and our first one will be arriving far sooner than either of us had planned. Our son is an unexpected wedding present.

‘I need to clean up,’ I tell her, feeling rather flustered by the prospect of looming fatherhood.

Maia is rather unsettled as well. She shakes her head, looks confused and puzzled then falls back against the pillows and stays there with her eyes closed. I let her rest, get up and go to the table, only to experience double vision and a memory of doing this elsewhere and elsewhen.

My wife is on the bed watching me wash up then it is a younger version of her in an ornate bedroom. I am making love to my wife, then her younger self. The juxtapositions flash through my mind, becoming a confusing blur. I shut my eyes and concentrate on what is real and what is not. There is no ornate bedroom, no younger version of my wife, just Maia in my quarters in my castle on Coruscant. We are only playing a game.

***

I shake my head, confused by the memories which start to coalesce in my mind. This is our wedding night, but we have been married for years. I am newly pregnant with our first son according to him but I have had four children with him already and cannot have another. Falling back against the pillows, I close my eyes and do my best to sort it all out as Ani pushes himself to his feet. While I watch him wash himself with the water and dry off with the towels I had laid out on the table, my mind finally snaps back to reality and I remember the game we had been playing, and what he had done to my memories. The Sith Lord retrieves the parts of his armour he had removed, replaces them quickly then drops the cloths he had used on the floor.

‘Anakin?’ I quietly call to him.

He stops what he had been doing and stares at me, frozen in place by what he senses within me.

‘Kreth, Maia,’ he says, sounding horrified. ‘What have I done?’

‘Ani,’ I say quietly to him. ‘I need you to come here and hold me. Now, please, love, right now.’

He rushes to me, pulls me close and holds me tight in his arms. His hands caress my face, move to my waist then freeze as he checks within to confirm it.

‘You’re pregnant with another Force-strong son,’ he repeats what he had said during our game.

The Sith Lord is silent for a minute. I feel his anger building, but it is aimed at himself, not at me.

‘I never should have trusted that doctor when my master insisted they be the one to perform the surgery at Rhinnal,’ Ani berates himself, ‘and I should have ordered Leanan to give me ‘the cut’, his wishes about it all be damned. Tonight, I should have taken precautions, regardless of what that surgery supposedly had done, because Leanan warned me you were at the fertile peak in your cycle and …’

My husband shuts up when I bury my face in his chest and let the tears fall. The doctor had told me, too, why I so desperately wanted sex with him tonight, and I had insisted he make love to me, without any protection, anyway. His hand runs through my hair, but there is no easing my heartache. He knows I won’t let him terminate a pregnancy, despite the risks I will face, so he won’t ask me to do it.

‘We will manage this, little love,’ he reassures me. ‘Somehow we will see this through.’

***

She clings to me and I hold her, soothing her as best I can with gentle touches. My wife is upset and needs to be seen by the doctor.

‘I will comm Leanan,’ I offer. ‘She needs to know what has happened. I will be right back.’

The Holonet is close by, so I use it, sending an emergency signal to the doctor’s quarters. After a few minutes, she answers, obviously having been roused from a deep sleep.

‘Yes, my Lord, what is it?’ she greets me. There is no crankiness to be heard in her voice, only concern.

‘I need you in my quarters to see to my wife,’ I admit, ‘and to supervise a simple surgery.’

I leave it at that, close the connection, and return to my quarters.

The doctor soon appears, carrying several bags in her hands. I lead her through to the bedroom where Maia is curled up under that cloak of mine she has become attached to.

‘Out,’ I am ordered, so I retreat from the room quickly.

***

I hear Leanan order Ani from the room, but stay curled up where I am comfortable.

‘I’m pregnant,’ I blurt out.

‘Not possible, as you well know,’ she replies, a bit amused. ‘You were sterilized by one of the best.’

‘Check me out, please,’ I plead with her. ‘I know it’s true. I’m pregnant. Something must have gone wrong with the surgery.’

She humours me, taking the portable scanner out of one of her bags and waiting for me to roll onto my back, before she sits down beside me. The device is cool against my stomach as she moves it about, repeatedly returning to two separate spots. When she sets it aside, I know she is deciding what to tell me.

‘The fallopian tubes are intact,’ she reveals, and I hear the growing anger in her voice. ‘They were never severed as they should have been, so the operation you went through was a sham. I should have done the surgery myself rather than trust anyone else with it.’

I know somebody is lurking just outside the doorway, listening.

Ani, love, I need you, I call to him.

He soon joins us, replacing the doctor on the bed, holding my hand as he confirms what I know.

‘She’s newly pregnant with another son, doctor,’ the Sith Lord states. ‘Termination is not an option. You will need to manage this pregnancy without putting either of their lives at risk.’

‘Early surgery to remove him as soon as he is viable,’ Leanan tells us both. ‘I need to get you to six months, seven would be better, but beyond that it’s far too risky for you.’

She stares at my husband. There’s something else going on, and it’s between them.

‘I need you to be a witness, not a participant,’ Ani tells her. ‘Having you perform the surgery would expose you to the Emperor’s wrath because he has forbidden it to me. This is something I must do to myself.’

I squeeze his hand. He’s going to make sure this child is our last. The Sith Lord gets up, goes to the other side of the bed and lies flat on it. Rolling over, I watch him carefully, but I don’t touch or distract him. I know he is concentrating on finding what he needs to permanently sever in his body. There is a delicate touch of the Force then a much harder one accompanied by a break in his breathing and grunt of pain. Ani repeats the process a second time, his body flinching in reaction as he finishes.

My husband is hurting in the most sensitive area of his body, but refuses to show it when he sits up and pushes himself to his feet.

Male bravado, I decide, thy name is Anakin.

And endless curiosity should be called Maia, he teases in return.

Leanan looks at him shrewdly. Being a doctor, she knows how much pain he is in from what he has just done to himself, but she makes no comment about it.

‘Both of you will come see me in Medical tomorrow,’ she orders. ‘I need to make sure you haven’t injured yourself too much, my Lord, and your Lady will need to be monitored closely. We can set up the schedule for that, then.’

While Ani sees her out, I sit up, and wait for him to return. I know my husband is quite sore because of how careful he is when he comes back and starts stripping off his armour. I leave him be. This is one thing I definitely won’t be teasing him about. There is nothing funny about what he had to do to himself and how much pain he will have to endure until he is healed from it. When he finally comes to bed, I wait for him to sort out what position will be best for him to sleep in. He pulls me tight to his chest, his arms wrapped securely around me, and kisses my ear.

‘So, little goddess,’ he tells me, ‘you haven’t shielded him yet. Let me do it for you.’

His left hand slides to my stomach and caresses it. The Sith Lord is checking on his son, seeing who he is and might become. I feel him reach inside my body with the Force as he does what I had neglected to do. The shields he constructs are designed to hide and protect our son, concealing him from the view of any Force users other than ourselves.

‘A red head, like his mother,’ he teases me. ‘He will have my shade of blue eyes, and be strong in the Force, similar to his older brother Mikal. In personality he will be closer to you than me, and look much like your younger brother Jamie ...’

‘Stop it, Ani, please,’ I ask of him as I start to cry.

We have just lost a son and I don’t want to become too attached to this one when I know I will lose him as well, if not during a high risk pregnancy, then at birth or later to the Emperor. Palpatine has probably manipulated us into this situation, yet again, despite the terrible risks I will face, to get what he wants. I resist the pressure from Ani’s hand on my shoulder as he tries to roll me onto my back.

***

She’s understandably upset at the circumstance we find ourselves in, but I need her to be calm and listen to me. I finally give up on having her face me, release her shoulder, and let her cry herself out. Holding her tight in my arms, I wait patiently for her to stop weeping. In this case, her emotions need to run their course, and rushing her through that won’t help.

‘Maia,’ I tell her, after she is quiet for a minute, ‘I need you to turn over so I can talk to you.’

She rolls onto her back. I prop myself up with my right arm and look down at her. The only comfort I can give her is a glimpse into our future.

‘This pregnancy, as unexpected and unwelcome as it might feel to you now, and difficult as it will be for you to maintain, will probably save both our lives,’ I reveal to her.

Her forehead wrinkles as she tries to puzzle out what I have said. I debate how much of the truth to tell her. I suspect my master ordered the doctor to perform the fake operation, but I was the one who unknowingly accelerated her cycle by suggesting she go in the bacta. That she became fertile immediately and pregnant tonight is quite a shock for both of us when it should have been impossible.

‘My master wants a son of mine from you for himself. He cannot easily take Mikal from us, so he will need you to carry this one until it is safe to remove him. If I am badly injured, you could easily miscarry from the stress of that, so he will not risk me in battle, at least not until after this son is born. He won’t kill me or allow me to be killed, either, because he would lose you and the child if he does that,’ I explain. ‘There won’t be another child from either of us after this one. He has no choices left. To get what he wants, he must shield you from the effects any harm done to me, and he can only do that by completely protecting me.’

Understanding lights her face.

‘Three and a half years,’ I remind her. ‘Time is almost up, and I know what you are so afraid of, what you once knew, and what you have seen in your dreams - my death and the circumstances around it. That will play out differently now. I will survive my encounter with Luke - the Emperor will prevent him from harming me. So, little goddess, be thankful for this third son of ours, unplanned and unexpected as he is for both of us.’

I kiss her on the forehead and then her mouth. She responds eagerly but I pull back, rest a finger on her lips and stop her from pursuing me for another one. Pain is radiating through my groin. The temporary mental pain blocks I had put on myself are fading and need to be replaced by stronger ones if I am to sleep soundly. There will be bruising in the morning and days of discomfort after that as I heal, but I won’t complain to her about any of it.

‘No fooling around,’ I warn. ‘I am far too sore for any of that.’

‘Snuggle up to me then,’ my wife insists. ‘Hold me tight and keep me safe.’

I do so and once I have set the mental pain blocks back in place, I fall asleep immediately.


DAY 30

 

I turn my head to see what my master has stopped to look at. For the third time since our meeting began he is staring my wife, who is seated on a bench next to one of the ornamental ponds in this, the most private of his palace’s gardens. She’s laughing, clapping her hands as the fish in the pond jump out of the water to grab the food she is throwing to them. It is the first time I have heard laugh, in pure, almost childlike delight, since our son Anakin died.

We continue our walk and discussion.

‘You will take the most particular care of her,’ I am instructed by him. ‘Have her monitored closely by the very best doctors. She must not lose this son and you must not lose her. You are to take no foolish personal risks which might upset her and be mindful of her health in all that you do.’

‘Yes, my master,’ I dutifully reply, accepting the restrictions he is imposing on me.

‘As for you, my disobedient apprentice,’ he scolds. ‘I know what you did to yourself, and that this son will be your last. Consider the pain from your own actions your punishment for it, since I cannot give you the one you deserve.’

I don’t respond. My body is badly bruised, feeling battered, and still extremely sore, and he knows that, having forbidden me from doing anything to ease the pain when he spoke to me yesterday. Walking aggravates and increases how much it hurts, so that is what he is forcing me to do. We reach the point on the circular path where we had started, but rather than stop and sit on the tempting padded bench, he continues walking, beginning another circuit of the garden. I grit my teeth and follow. He’s sadistically enjoying increasing my self-inflicted misery.

‘The project at Endor,’ he starts on another topic, ‘is behind schedule and now requires your urgent attention. You will leave here with your flagship as soon as you are able. Recall your fleet and send it to Endor to meet you there. Take your wife with you, and your children, if you feel it necessary. I will join you later, once I am sure the Rebels will be drawn into the trap.’

He stops again, his eyes on my wife once more, greed and desire barely concealed on his face. I know what he sees. My wife is beautiful, innocent of soul and gentle by nature, and she shines brilliantly in the Force, her light-side presence a powerful, radiant beacon pushing back at the darkness surrounding the Emperor and I. Any Sith, on seeing her, would want to possess her. Were she not permanently bound to me, Palpatine would have taken her from me long ago, but not to corrupt her, I suddenly realize, instead to breed his own sons from her. That intimate contact with him and his darkness would very quickly destroy her, rendering her useless for producing the Force-strong heirs he wants. So, in his eyes, to prevent that, I am an unavoidable and necessary substitute for himself.

I keep my insights to myself.

‘You have taken great care to keep her pure and untainted, and trained her as a Jedi,’ he observes, ‘yet you bound her to yourself as a Sith.’

‘It was necessary,’ I admit, seeing no reason to lie when the obvious truth is visibly branded on her arm and open to his view. ‘I do not want the eternal madness which will come from a soul bond broken by death, and I need her to be securely bound to me as a Sith to avoid that. She will stay on Korriban, at my side, rather than join with the Force.’

While he continues to stare at Maia, I am silent for a few minutes, thinking carefully about how much I should reveal.

‘You could call her a Jedi, in a sense,’ I finally say, ‘but I have always been careful to limit what she has learned of the Force - enough to keep her abilities under her control and in check, but no more than that. Younglings at the Temple would have been more proficient in its use than she is now. She knows nothing of the dark side and very little of what a Sith Lord really is or can do.’

Palpatine resumes our circular path. I reluctantly continue walking at his side, pain stabbing in my groin with each step. Will he never finish this meeting and let me go?

‘Soon young Skywalker will be one of us,’ he assures me. ‘Your younger sons will be yours to keep, once he is mine. Tell your wife this: the son she is carrying will be yours. It will ease her mind.’

Let him believe that he will have my eldest son. My plans for Luke are different.

‘Thank you, my master, I will tell her,’ I automatically reply.

‘Now, go,’ he dismisses me. ‘Take your wife home and see that she is cared for properly. We will meet again before you depart for Endor.’

I watch him walk away as he heads back to his personal quarters, turn to my wife and smile. She’s been enjoying herself, playing with the fish, and weaving a circlet of flowers to wear. Perhaps her mood reflects my master letting her rest and leaving her alone rather than insisting on speaking to her. When I sit beside her, she cheekily sets the flowers on top of my helmet, claps her hands at my comical appearance, and starts laughing again.

‘Silly little wife,’ I scold her, lifting the wreath of blue millaflowers from my helmet and placing it on her head. ‘It goes better with your gown than my armour.’

I take her left hand, hold it against my chest in both of mine, covering it completely in black leather. This will be a private performance for my master, who is viewing all that we do from a monitor, and no doubt recording it as well. Hopefully Maia will remember that.

‘My master is most pleased you will bear me another son,’ I tell her, ‘but he is extremely concerned for your health.’ I move a hand to her chin and tip it up, making her look into my mask’s lenses. ‘You must be obedient to me, my Lady, do nothing to risk yourself or our child, and do all that your doctors instruct you to. Promise me that.’

‘I will obey you, my Lord, and I will do all you ask of me,’ she concedes publically, but I know just how stubborn she can be in private.

‘Good, I will hold you to that promise,’ I remind her, brushing her cheek with a finger.

She drops her chin and looks down again. Meek and mild, compliant and well-behaved. My wife is playing her part well.

‘I have been ordered to go supervise a large military construction project, and the Emperor has graciously allowed me to take you with me. We will be leaving as soon as the Executor is ready,’ I reveal. ‘Let your aides make all the arrangements, and let them see to the children and your things. I do not want you to do anything strenuous.’

Concern flashes across her face. I see it and recognize its source.

‘The children will come, too,’ I decide, quickly changing my mind from what I had planned. ’I do not want you to worry about them being away from you.’

Her fingers drift to her stomach, stopping to rest over our fifth child, and she shivers a little. She’s afraid for him. I touch her cheek again, pull her in close, hold her tightly in my arms for a moment, not caring what Palpatine might think of it. My wife needs to be comforted and her fears calmed.

‘This son will be ours to keep, just like Mikal and the twins,’ I tell her, as I was instructed to, repeating it firmly to make sure she understands. ‘He will be ours - yours and mine. No one will take him away from us. He has been promised to me by the Emperor, so do not fear for him. There is no reason for you to be afraid.’

He will be ours, I think to myself, but the cost will be so very high, and the price one I don’t want to pay.

***


DAY 31

 

I slip out of bed and into the ‘fresher to soak some towels with cold water. Ani has promised to go shopping with Mikal and I this morning, before we leave for the Executor, but I know he will need some personal attention from me if he is going to be able to do that. Last night my husband was sore, bruised, and not very happy with his master’s choice of punishment for his disobedience. Walking around for an hour talking to Palpatine was torture for him and he was understandably cranky last night. Placing the cloths in a bowl, I carry it to the bed and sit beside the Sith Lord. It’s time to wake up Darth Grumpy.

‘Anakin,’ I whisper to him.

He doesn’t move, so I lean over and kiss him. That produces an instant reaction. My shoulders are grabbed as he rolls both of us over, pinning me underneath him. The kiss he gives me starts gently, but eventually he rather insistently deepens it. I yield to what he wants, until it becomes too much for me and I twist my head sideways to escape from him.

‘That’s mean,’ I scold him. ‘I know you are not supposed to have any fun.’

My husband doesn’t flinch away when I touch him this morning, unlike last night after he had been forced to walk around by his master.

‘It’s not as bad today,’ Ani admits, ‘and the cold cloths will feel good. Shopping with you and Mikal should not be a problem.’

He shifts off of me, to one side, to lounge propped up with his right arm while he looks at me. With one finger he traces a path from my nose to my chin, down my chest to my stomach where he rests his hand for a moment. From the warmth I feel as he uses the Force, I know he is checking on our son and on me.

‘I am fine,’ I reassure him, ‘and he is, too.’

I sit up, give him a push he doesn’t resist and roll my husband onto his back. Pulling the sheets and blankets down, I take a closer look at him. The bruising he caused looks worse than it really is today, but the swelling has gone down.

‘Ready?’ I warn him.

The cloths are as cold as I could manage. I pick up the first one up and lay it against his groin. The others I pack around his bruised area until everything is covered. Ani doesn’t move, but I can see goose bumps starting to form on his thighs.

‘I will need to check on the fleet’s progress before we leave on your shopping trip,’ he tells me, ‘and there are a few other things I must do. My master ordered me to go talk to him today, too. We will take the shuttle up to the Executor after that.’

He grabs my hand, kisses the palm and then my wrist, pulling me down to lie next to him. Anakin wants some private time with me, but we can’t do that right now.

‘Tonight,’ I decide. ‘There’s too much to do today and I don’t want Mikal to walk in on us. He will be awake soon and so will the twins.’

‘Could you bring me a glass of supplement drink and the box I left on the table?’ he asks.

I humour him and do as requested. He needs to stay in bed. The longer the cold towels are on him, the better he will feel later. After pouring a full glass for him, I take it to the bed along with the box. Ani sits up a little, finishes his glass, and sends me for another one. When I return to the bed, he’s waiting for me.

‘I want to hold you for a while,’ he tells me after finishing the second glass and setting it aside on the floor.

He grabs the bed covers and drags them over both of us, making a warm nest for us to curl up in. The Sith Lord is being persistent this morning.

‘Anakin,’ I start to scold him.

‘Let me do this,’ he offers. ‘I will do something else tonight.’

He shifts us both so that we are on our sides, his back to the door, me to his front. Hopefully if we have an early visitor nothing will be obviously going on. The cold cloths are sandwiched between us, but he doesn’t seem to notice or care that those have slid down. I give in. My husband is in a mood where he wants to snuggle up to me, so why should I resist him? Resting my cheek on his upper left arm, I let out a sigh and close my eyes. I feel his hand move to behind my back, sliding downwards and shifting things about. What is he up to?

‘You need to move, Maia,’ he tells me. ‘There is something very precious I need to save - for me, for you, for when we will need it later, in the future.’

I sit up and look at him, wondering what he is talking about. Once I am out of the way, he shoves the sheets down, and I see what he is holding - a medical sample bag, with a small amount of milky fluid in it.

‘The last of it that is fertile, I expect,’ he says, ‘unless I have what I did to myself reversed.’

‘You are going to save it, store it in stasis for later,’ I state, puzzled. Is this a weird trophy he plans on keeping or what?

‘Yes,’ he confirms.

‘Why?’ I ask, curiosity getting the better of me.

His eyes meet mine.

‘The truth, I have promised and owe that to you. You will have another son after this one is born,’ he reveals. When I go to say something in protest, he moves his hand, sets a finger across my lips, and stops me. ‘Don’t argue with me about it, Maia. Last night, I clearly saw it in a future vision, as I had seen it previously, years ago. Leanan will see you through this pregnancy safely, and the next one, too. When I need to be protected from my master, you will conceive our last child with what I have saved today.’

I slowly back away from him, stumbling as I get off the bed, and run to his office, locking its door behind me. Collapsing in a heap in front of the fire, I start shaking as I think about what he said to me. He has told me before that I would bear him four sons, but I never really believed or expected that it would actually happen. Now, it sounds like the Sith Lord intends to make sure that it will. Staring into the flames, I begin to consider his words.

How many of my pregnancies have been a means to protect my husband from the Emperor’s wrath? Not Mikal - he was an unplanned accident, but Ani did use my pregnancy to avoid the worst of his master’s punishments. The girls? Palpatine wanted me to be rid of them. My little Anakin? I bury my face in my hands. He was not supposed to be born for another month, and the Emperor had been predatory and controlling in regards to him. We lost my second son too early, I realize, and too soon - too soon to be the protection the Sith Lord must have intended him to be. And this son, this third son of ours who was so conveniently conceived exactly when he was needed? From Palpatine’s behaviour, he wants this child for his own as much as he wanted the previous one.

Frustration at my husband fills me for a moment as I figure out exactly what he has done. Ani has enabled this pregnancy specifically to force the Emperor’s hand, to force his master to protect him from Luke, to ensure that his eldest son won’t kill him at their upcoming confrontation, and he didn’t have the decency to discuss any of it with me beforehand.

I pick up the brandy glass Ani had left on the floor and hurl it at the door just as he opens it. His right hand moves in a blur as he snatches it from the air to avoid having it smash against the wall behind him. He stands there, silently watching me while I stare at him. Finally, he comes in, shuts the door behind him, sets the glass on his desk, and kneels in front of me, his black Sith Lord robes spread in a circle on the floor around him.

‘Go ahead,’ he offers. ‘Don’t hold it in - that will only make it worse. I won’t be angry with you if you yell at me, if that is what helps you to say what you need to.’

My hands shake a little as I restrain myself from doing as he has suggested. Yelling at him, much as I want to do it, will only harm my voice. I know telling him off might give me a moment’s satisfaction, but it won’t solve anything and I will only end up regretting it. My anger begins to drain away as he patiently waits for my response.

‘Now that you are ready to talk to me,’ he tells me, ‘I want to know what made you run off like that when I was completely honest with you. I could have lied, I could have concealed the truth from you, but I didn’t.’

‘But you have, Ani, you have,’ I reply, quietly, softly, forcing him to listen carefully to my words. ‘You needed me to be pregnant with Anakin, and now that he is gone, too early to save you from Luke, you did this to me, you made sure there would be a substitute.’

The tears come, and they are ones of grief for my lost child, not of anger or frustration. I feel them slide down my cheeks and fall onto my hands, but do nothing to stop them. My husband stares at me, shocked and disturbed by my accusation. He holds his hands out to me, touches my shoulders, then drags me over and into his arms. I tuck my head under his chin, and cling to his robes while he holds me close. His chest is quickly becoming soaked as I continue to cry.

‘Let it out, cry as much and as long as you need to,’ he tells me. ‘You are still grieving for our son and having trouble adjusting to the fact that you will bear me another child so soon after losing him. I am not upset with you for what you have assumed, and once you are ready I will explain to you what really happened with Anakin, as I should have done at the time, but chose not to because I did not want to distress you.’

I feel his hand in my hair as he tries to soothe me. In response, I nestle in tighter. As the minutes pass, the tears slow then stop and the sniffles recede. The Sith Lord kisses the top of my head and I know he is going to talk to me.

‘The Emperor forced Reena to nullify your birth control,’ he quietly states, his mouth near to my ear so I can’t avoid hearing every word he says. ‘He threatened her family and would have killed them all had she refused. If she had been honest and told me that, I would have found a way to continue delaying your pregnancy for another year, without risking her children and grandchildren, but she chose to lie and concealed it from me instead. I did not arrange your pregnancy with our second son, and I certainly did not order that doctor to perform a fake surgery so you would become pregnant with our third. My master is also responsible for that. When he wants something, he usually gets it, Maia, and he wants a son of mine, born from you, for himself. What you want or feel, and what I want or feel about it does not matter to him.’

He lifts my chin with his hand, tips my face up and lightly kisses my forehead.

‘Dry your tears, my love,’ he suggests. ‘Be assured that I have not arranged any of your pregnancies. They have all been surprises for me as they have been for you. If, when, we have another child, I promise I will make sure you are in agreement with me about it.’

The Sith Lord gently kisses my mouth, then pulls back and looks intently at me. I feel his Force sense slide over my body, a warm, gentle, unseen blanket settling over me for a moment before it is gone.

‘I need to check something,’ he decides as he releases me from his arms.

I watch him get up, retrieve a device from one of the hidden storage places in the wall, and return to me. He lifts my hand, stabs it quickly with a needle and collects a few drops of blood on a glass plate. While he fusses with his gadget, I wipe the tears from my face with the soft cloth he gave me to hold against the prick wound on my hand.

‘Measuring me again?’ I ask, curious.

He did this one time before, soon after I arrived on the Executor. The gadget flashes a number on the screen. Surprise appears on his face, then concern as he runs the analysis a second time. Once he is satisfied that it is correct, he sets the device aside, wraps an arm around my waist and pulls me close.

‘Listen to me carefully,’ he orders.

I nod in agreement.

‘Your strength in the Force has grown, and I suspect it has something to do with my blood you were given on Hapes,’ Ani tells me. ‘You had lost so much that there was no choice but to replace it with five units of mine, and that’s half of your blood volume. My midichlorians, this second batch you have received from me, have made a home for themselves in you, just like the first ones did.’

He turns the gadget so I can see the number, but it means nothing to me.

‘Yours, now, is 13,000,’ he reads from the screen. ‘Mine …’ Ani stabs his shoulder with another needle and performs the measurement on himself, showing me the number from it, too. ‘I am 22,000, but it was higher before I was injured. A normal human averages 1,500, an average Jedi, 10,000. Masters on the Jedi Council were often higher than that, but few were close to yours, and no one has ever been as high as mine.’

‘Oh,’ I respond to that information, too surprised to say more.

‘You are a great temptation, little goddess,’ he states. ‘I must finish training you how to use the Force, for your own protection, and I need to test your ‘saber skills in battle rather than at practice in the salle. Some of what I have held back from teaching you might be what saves you.’

‘Saves me from what?’ I ask, curious what he is so worried about.

‘Not from what, but from whom - the Emperor… and others,’ he admits.

The office door opens. My husband forgot to relock it when he came in. Both of us turn to look at who it is.

‘Daddy!’ Mikal yells, excited to see his father.

Our son runs to Ani, hugs him around the neck and kisses his cheek before doing the same with me. He knows we are going shopping today and can’t wait for the adventure.

‘Come here, son,’ Ani calls to him. ‘I need you to be brave for me.’

Our son plunks himself on his father’s lap, and I see Ani flinch as Mikal’s weight impacts on him. When my husband pulls a clean needle from the box, I know what he plans to do.

‘Hold still,’ he warns, then quickly taps the needle against Mikal’s arm.

There is no cry of protest, just a squirm or two as the blood is collected. Mikal escapes to me once Ani lets him go.

‘Brave boy,’ I reassure him. ‘You were good for daddy.’

‘Is daddy playing doctor?’ Mikal asks.

‘Just a quick test,’ I answer.

We both watch the Sith Lord run Mikal’s sample, but he doesn’t tell us the results.

‘Close to what I expected,’ is all Ani reveals. ‘All is well.’

I meet his eyes and raise an eyebrow.

‘Go see if your sisters are awake,’ I tell Mikal, sending him off with a kiss to the cheek.

Once our son is out the door, my husband shows me the reading, 11,000, clearly on the screen.

***

I catch her hand and squeeze it to reassure her. Mikal will need more Force training from me as he grows older, but for now I will continue to hold him back and keep him securely shielded from my master. My wife, though, will not be happy with the intense regimen of study and practice she will have to go through. Perhaps I will start with the more practical and interesting applications, before moving to the more obscure and esoteric ones.

Putting aside the midichlorian meter, I watch Maia’s face carefully. She was understandably upset earlier, and I should have been more careful what I said to her about our future fourth son. Something else is bothering her, besides our son’s death and her new pregnancy, and I will have to extract that from her.

‘Talk to me, Maia,’ I ask of her. ‘Tell me what is upsetting you. I promise that nothing you say will make me angry.’

She stares down at the floor, avoiding my eyes, and not wanting to give me an answer. I wait patiently for her to say something to me, but I know we won’t have much time before Mikal is back, with his sisters, all of them demanding breakfast.

‘I want to go home,’ she finally admits in a whisper. ‘I want to go home to my family, to my friends, to where you will be safe from the Emperor and the Rebels, to where no one from here can find us.’

I suspected that this was the problem and know exactly what has triggered it. Some of it is a reaction to how my master has behaved, some of it a desire to escape to a safer place, but most of it is due to her grief and how uncertain she is about our future. It has been more than three years since we were on Naboo and homesickness affected her to this extent. I had hoped it would never return. Today, rather than simply soothe it away, I will make her think about it logically, forcing her to face reality and the fact that she can, we can, never go back.

‘What you experienced in the bacta tank was a dream,’ I remind her. ‘It wasn’t real, and it can never be real, no matter how much you want it to be.’

A single tear appears. I reach over and gently brush it from her cheek with a finger.

‘Think about it carefully,’ I tell her. ‘Be honest with yourself. You know what you imagined would never have really happened that way. If we had stayed, what would your military have done with me? With you? At the very least we would have been separated - I would have been permanently imprisoned as a hostile enemy alien, and you subjected to interrogation before being released to your family to raise our son alone.’ I prevent her from voicing any protests to my predictions with a quick kiss to her mouth then finish, ‘The only way we could be together was if I took you with me. I knew that then, and chose to bring you here with me rather than stay there with you.’

I take her hands and pull her to her feet as I stand up.

‘Think about this, too,’ I suggest. ‘If we could go back, how would it be done? Would I arrive as a conquering military commander with my fleet? Would we sneak back on our own with the children and try to pass off my armour as a costume I prefer to wear? When I was there before, far too many learned who I really was, Maia, and the truth would come out publically, sooner or later. Living incognito would not last, no matter how careful we might be.’

She steps into my embrace, so I hold her close, comforting her with my touch. Today was too soon to tell her of our fourth son. With time, she will accept that aspect of our future, but for now, I will leave it be, as I should have this morning, until it becomes necessary to discuss the timing of his birth with her.

I feel her shiver against me, so choose to murmur soothing, reassuring words into her hair, above her ear. Grieving can be a strange process, I decide. In her, it has reawakened a desire to return to her homeworld, to her birth place, to the location where she would feel the most secure and safe, surrounded by those she loves and trusts. Patience, I remind myself as I kiss her forehead, with time this will pass, as it has before. For her, I will always have to be the safe haven she needs.

***

The office door slides open as my husband’s lips part on touching my own. I ignore whichever of our children has come in and respond to my husband in kind, allowing Ani to do as he pleases to me.

‘Oh!’ I hear Mikal exclaim before he erupts into laughter.

Ani pulls back from our kiss, so I turn and look at our son. He’s sitting on the floor, pointing at us, and giggling.

‘Daddy kissed mommy!’ he says loudly and excitedly.

‘Mikal?’ I ask, puzzled by his reaction.

His response is to jump up, and run out the door.

‘Cat! Shmi!’ he calls. ‘Daddy kissed mommy!’

‘He hasn’t watched us kiss like that before, at least not when he was old enough to really know what we were doing,’ my husband admits.

‘Still, it is a rather strange reaction from him,’ I decide.

‘Let me finish what he interrupted,’ Ani suggests, ‘then we should all have breakfast and dress for the day ahead.’

I don’t object when his lips firmly make contact with mine.

***

Maia puts away the last of our morning meal and makes sure the children are cleaned up and dressed before returning to our bedroom. She will be the last of us to complete their morning routine.

‘You aren’t finished, yet,’ she observes when she sees my vocoder, mask, and helmet are still off.

‘If it was on, I couldn’t do this,’ I tell her, catching her hand in mine, raising it to my lips and kissing her wrist. ‘Or this,’ I add, pulling her closer and resting my lips on her forehead, ‘or this,’ I repeat a third time before setting my mouth against hers.

Her skin is soft and delicate against my lips, her hair smells of millaflowers and her mouth tastes like the neema fruit she had for breakfast. I let myself relax, enjoying the feel my wife’s body next to my own as I hold her secure in my arms. After our shopping trip, much of today will be hectic and stressful for both of us, and I want to steal one final quiet minute with her.

‘Tonight,’ I whisper a reminder in her ear.

‘Tonight,’ she repeats into mine, adding, ‘tonight you are mine, Sith Lord.’

‘I will be yours,’ I admit. ‘Tonight, tomorrow, until time ends.’

I tip her chin up with my hand and give her a last, quick kiss.

‘Forever and always, I am yours,’ I remind her, running gloved fingers over the Sith text burned onto her arm. ‘But right now, I must put my helmet on, and speak to Admiral Piett over the Holonet.’

She reaches up, catches my face between her hands, pulls me over a little, and kisses me. I laugh at her boldness and escape from her grasp. My wife lets me go, so I quickly finish dressing. When I turn around to see what she is doing, she is digging through her clothes, deciding what to wear for our shopping trip.

‘Wear something practical,’ I suggest.

***

Something practical? I turn and smile at Ani. He’s given me an idea.

‘Alright, love,’ I agree. ‘Something practical.’

He brushes my cheek with a finger, so I touch his breathscreen with one of mine. Then, my husband is off to finish a few chores before we leave.

I close the compartment with my gowns and open the one below it. He asked for something practical, so that is what I will give him. Throwing my selections on the bed, I duck into the ‘fresher for my morning soak. Ani will be a while dealing with the various calls and reports he has to see to. I will have time, for a change, to relax in the hot water. While the bath fills, I loosen my hair, noting that I really need to have it cut or trimmed at the very least. It is thick, heavy, and long enough that I can almost sit on it. My husband prefers my hair the way it is, but looking after it properly has become a time consuming chore.

The water shuts off automatically, preventing it from overflowing onto the floor and making a mess. I step into it and sit down, lying back until I am almost completely submerged. Ani doesn’t like sonic showers, so all of his quarters are fitted for water. It’s one of the few luxuries he insists on having, even on ship, and I am glad that he does. Tipping my head, I reach out to see what he is up to.

Anakin? I lightly prod him.

Yes, wife? he teases in answer. Do you need me for something?

Shopping, I remind him. No sneaking out of it, either.

No sneaking, he promises.

I let him go at that and pull myself out of the water. Rather than leave my hair loose, I take advantage of it being wet and twist it into three French braids, plaiting those in turn into one to hang down the center of my back. Practical, the Sith Lord had said, and this will keep my hair out of the way. When I return to the bedroom, I can hear Cyran with the children. She will be staying here with the twins while Daini comes with us.

As I quickly dress, I do my best to listen in. The twins are practicing the words they can say clearly, but Mikal keeps trying to interrupt my aide who is working with them.

‘Cyran, Cyran,’ my son repeats.

‘Yes, Lord Mikal,’ she finally answers, humouring him.

‘I saw daddy kiss mommy,’ he whispers, loudly, making no attempt to really be quiet about it. ‘Daddy kissed mommy like Daini kissed Rik.’

I bite my lip to stop myself from laughing. That explains his reaction this morning. He spotted my shuttle pilot and other aide doing something they shouldn’t have where he could see it, then he saw Ani and I repeat the same thing, and both incidents have made quite an impression on him. This should be interesting, but from her silence I can tell that Cyran has no idea what to say to him. I grab my lightsaber, hook it on my belt and go to rescue her from my too observant son.

***

I finish listening to Piett’s report, and quickly dismiss him after giving him his orders. He will bring the fleet to Endor and meet me there. The Executor will take on the role of a command ship until it is needed in battle, so in preparation for that I will transfer him to my flagship from the Accuser.

The next message I decide to deal with is from Jix. He’s sent a recording through circuitous channels rather than try to contact me directly. I activate the file, expecting trouble of some sort from Tatooine.

‘Hi Uncle Dee,’ Jix opens in his usual manner. ‘Jabba found out I was using his transmitter and I had to pin the blame on someone else. Fett has delivered Solo to the Hutt, so I expect a rescue attempt will be coming soon.’ Jix looks about and quickly finishes, ‘I’ll stick around and look after Skywalker for you when he does show up. Say hello to Aunt Em and my nephew. Gotta go.’

Jix will send a message or comm me directly once he has more news, but I already know what will probably happen. Luke will rescue his friend then come to Endor when the Rebels attack the unfinished battle station.

I glance through the rest of my messages, and type a quick response to the one from Inquisitor Tremayne. None of the others are pressing or in need of attention. For the morning, I will ignore the demands of my position and go do something with my family. Whatever my wife has planned, I will go along with - within reason.

Maia is waiting for me, with our son, Daini, and Thirsk, in my private hangar next to the airspeeder I have chosen to use. She is not wearing one of her gowns. Instead, she is in what she usually refers to as her ‘working clothes’, her armour modelled on my own, only this time, she has left off the cloak and twisted her hair into several braids. I cannot fault her choice of dress, since she has followed my instructions, but I prefer her hair loose and she knows that. My wife does her best to hide a smile, having sensed my reaction.

‘You did tell me to wear something practical,’ she teases me.

‘So I did,’ I admit.

I reach out and she takes my hand, so I lead her over to the ‘speeder and help her into it. The rest of our security will follow in another vehicle once I know where we are going.

‘Where to?’ I ask after everyone is seated.

‘Embassy Mall,’ Maia reveals. ‘Mikal needs some new clothes, so let’s go there, first.’

I know the store she has in mind. Rather than spend credits at an expensive designer’s studio, my frugal wife will go buy what she needs off the rack. Our arrival at the Mall does not go unnoticed, but our security fans out around us, keeping potential problems at bay. Maia goes directly to the clothing store, towing Mikal along with her. My son does not care much for trying on new clothes and I am not looking forward to the next hour. Shopping for clothes has never been high on my list of favourite activities.

Trailing after everyone else, I am the last one into the clothing store. For a while, my opinions are sought, but eventually my wife gives up. She knows I am bored, despite my best efforts to appear interested and helpful. It doesn’t really matter to me what Mikal wears in private as long as it fits and is functional. Finally there is an impressive pile of clothing stacked near the front of the store for the clerks to deal with. Some of it is for my son and the rest for my daughters. I hand the manager my credit chip and wait for the sale to go through. Maia has already left, going to the next shop ahead of me.

The toy store is far more entertaining, Mikal spends his time carefully considering anything which catches his eye. I know from past experience that my son is rather picky about which toys he prefers. He wanders up and down the aisles, trailed by Thirsk and Daini. My wife is elsewhere, looking for something suitable for the twins. Positioning myself so I have a view of her, I find my eyes drawn to the nearby display of figures. Prominently placed in the middle of it is a miniature version of myself, surrounding by suitably sized ‘troopers. While I have been told such toys existed, this is the first time I have actually seen one. My laughter in reaction to them brings Mikal running to me.

‘Daddy!’ he happily exclaims, grabbing the doll dressed in my armour.

He holds it tight to his chest, refusing to let go of it when Thirsk tries to take it for examination. If there was a threat to my son, I would sense it.

‘It’s safe,’ I tell the Commander. ‘Let him keep it.’

Mikal sits down at my feet and plays contentedly, lining up several ‘trooper figures for ‘me’ to order about. I watch his antics, amused by his imagination. He doesn’t move until he sees his mother coming towards us then reluctantly stands up, still hanging onto the first figure he had picked out. My wife has finished shopping for the girls and is ready to go.

‘Daddy?’ Mikal asks.

‘Pick the ones you want,’ I tell him.

He selects four ‘troopers and somehow manages to carry them, along with ‘me’ to his mother, but only the ‘trooper figures are surrendered to her. My son refuses to let anyone have his favourite new toy. Not even the store clerk, when we are leaving, is able to persuade him to part with it for the brief time it takes to add the cost of it to the bill.

It’s my hand Mikal chooses to take as we walk to the iced dessert parlour. Maia, on my other arm, seems rather pleased with her morning’s purchases, but says little until we are seated and my son is busy eating his selected treat.

‘The Mall is quiet,’ my wife observes. ‘Last time we were here, it was far busier.’

‘Festivals and holidays always bring people out,’ I remind her. ‘Many are still recovering from over spending during the Winter Fete, and Tapani Day is over a month away.’

Maia turns her attention to her neema fruit dessert while she thinks about what to do next. Thirsk is nearby to us, surveying the area and ensuring our security detail are doing their jobs. Daini has chosen to sit at another table, giving us a semblance of privacy which never really exists in public. Someone will be watching us, recording us, even if it isn’t obvious. Certainly my master will know where we are and what we have been doing.

‘I’d like to take a quick look in a few other shops,’ Maia announces. ‘I won’t go far, just to the ones over there.’

‘Don’t be too long,’ I warn her. ‘There’s much for us to still do today.’

She heads off in the direction she waved her hand in, not the least bit concerned or worried, but when she is gone for more than fifteen minutes, I decide we should probably return to my castle. I give Daini and Thirsk the task of keeping Mikal busy while I go track down my wife. Maia likes to browse through the various shops, although what is in them is of little practical use for us. Looking across the Mall from the iced desserts parlour, I see her in a furniture store, trying out various chairs and examining the tables. Before I can motion her over, she disappears from my sight, going deeper into the shop. I will have to go retrieve her in person.

It takes a few minutes to locate her in the store, in the bedroom section. I freeze in place as I watch her sit on the foot of the largest, most grandiose bed in the place. With a high canopy and heavy drapery, it is overly ornate and ostentatious, and completely impractical for anything other than display. My feet refuse to move and as I force myself to step closer, Maia sees me, smiles, and climbs into the middle of the bed. I stare at my wife, lying back against the cushions, lounging there and beckoning me over with a cheeky grin.

Anger rises within me, to erupt outwards.

‘Get off of that,’ I hiss at her.

She obeys instantly, the surprise on her face coupled with concern. When she comes to me, silently offering me her hand in apology, I push it away, my body shaking with rage. Something stirs deep in my mind, a memory half-seen, half recalled, but as I reach for it, it disappears, eluding me. Furious and frustrated  that I do not understand what I feel or why, I spin about and stalk away from her, not stopping my progress until I reach the Imperial Palace, leaving my wife and son behind in the care of Commander Thirsk and Maia’s security team.

***

I send the last of the packed trunks down to the shuttle in the hangar and sit on the edge of the bed, wondering what I should do next. Ani is at the Imperial Palace, meeting with the Emperor, but I have no idea when he will return or what sort of mood he will be in. He left the Mall in a rage, for no obvious reason, and I cannot think of what I might have done to provoke him. It must be all the stress he is under, I finally decide. The Sith Lord is still grieving for our son, much as he tries to hide that from me, and on top of that he has been fussing over my health, worrying about being sent off to deal with some construction project, plotting mischief related to that, and trying to figure out what to do about Luke. Eventually his frustrations come out, and I was the unfortunate one on the receiving end today instead of one of his hapless duelling ‘droids.

‘Time to leave, my Lady,’ Thirks tells me, from the doorway.

‘So soon?’ I ask. ‘Shouldn’t we wait for his lordship?’

‘Orders from him,’ the Commander reveals. ‘He will follow us up later, in his TIE, rather than have Rik fly that to the Executor for him.’

Last minute changes of plan are a common thing for me to deal with, but why didn’t my husband contact me directly? I give my head a frustrated shake. Sooner or later, I will find out what the problem is. There’s no point in worrying about it now.

‘Let’s gather up the children and go, then,’ I agree.

***

It is many hours before the Sith Lord joins me, coming to his quarters on the Executor long after the children are in bed. I am curled up in a chair in his office, waiting for him and studying his treatise on the fourth ‘saber form, when he finds me there.

‘The ship is in hyperspace, and it will be many days before we arrive at the construction site,’ Ani tells me, interrupting my reading. ‘Our destination is not on any of the heavily travelled routes and we will have to change course at several transfer points.’

I set the book aside and look up at him. His mind is calm and settled, with no signs of the earlier outburst to be detected there. Whatever made him angry, it is not bothering him now. When he offers a hand, I take it, but he doesn’t pull me to my feet. Instead, he sits in the chair across from me.

‘We need to talk,’ he quietly states, ‘and I know what I must ask of you will distress you.’

I give his fingers a squeeze, encouraging him to continue.

‘Your dreams of my death show one potential future,’ he reveals. ‘And your memories, those I was able to access, show more than your dreams, but it is still not enough. I must obtain more information than I have now, if I am to change your future visions, and there is only one way I can find what I need.’

That prompts a shiver from me. He has finally accepted that my strange foreknowledge is accurate and has decided to act on it at last. I look away from him, knowing what he wants me to consent to, and what he will have to do to me to find the answers he requires in my mind. He will completely open up our bond, giving him the ability to dive deep into my mind, into what I had deliberately hidden away. Only once before has he done this to me, and that brief, painful foray of his is something I prefer not to remember.

‘When?’ I ask in a whisper.

‘Tonight,’ he suggests, ‘but only if you are willing.’

‘You promised…,’ I start, but he finishes my sentence for me.

‘…that I was yours for tonight,’ he adds, brushing a finger across my lips, ‘and I will keep my word. First, what you want from me, and second, what I need to do, but only if you are ready for it and give me your consent to do it.’

My husband is offering me honey to make the bitter medicine after it easier to swallow. This is going to be uncomfortable for him, too, because he is still a bit bruised and sore.

‘Let’s get this over with, then,’ I tell him.

***

I lead her out of my office, to the bedroom. She did not argue or debate my request of her, nor question why it is necessary.

Her dreams only show the end of my duel with Luke, finishing when my master orders him to kill me, and my funeral pyre after that. My one desperation driven expedition into her mind revealed the same, with a few more details, but it is not enough. I need to know what my master will do, what the Rebels have planned, when and how they will attack, and attack they certainly will. Their first goal will be the shield generator protecting the battlestation, followed by an assault on the station in an attempt to destroy it. The information I must have is in her mind, deeply hidden and securely locked away.

I seal the bedroom door behind us. The hand in mine pulls me over to the bed then tugs me onto it, to kneel facing her. We stay like that for several minutes, her hands lightly held by mine while we stare at one another, both of us completely dressed, I still in my armour and my wife in her gown. This is going to be awkward, I admit to myself. Never before has sex between us been for a specific purpose like this, and as a result it feels forced and unnatural.

‘This isn’t working,’ Maia admits, breaking the uncomfortable silence. ‘One of us has to do something.’

‘Why don’t you tell me what you want me to do?’ I suggest, expecting the usual response from her.

‘You in armour,’ she decides, ‘and, …’  My wife tackles me, knocking me over onto my back, flattening me on the bed, and pinning me in place, before happily saying, ‘...gotcha, Sith Lord.’

She hasn’t pounced on me like this in over a year, but if she wants me to play a game with her, I will humour her. I react instantly, wrap my arms around her and roll us both over, reversing our positions and trapping her beneath me with my body and weight. Each of her hands, I grab in turn, fixing them in place beside her head with the Force before I let go of them physically. Tonight, she will be my captive.

‘Not so fast, my little Jedi,’ I warn her when she pulls at her invisible restraints. ‘You are the prisoner of a Sith Lord tonight.’

Sitting up beside her, I run a finger from her ear, across her cheek, to under her chin, watching her try not to flinch or squirm as I move it. All I need to do is touch her in the right places and there is nothing she will not do for me.

‘So, little Jedi,’ I tease her. ‘What shall I do with you?’

I unhook my lightsaber, throw it in the air, ignite it and spin it with the Force, my control as delicate as that of a surgeon when I slice her dress open from its neckline to its hem. Then, I shut my blade off, catch it, and toss it onto the shelf in the wall. Maia stares at me, eyes wide. I know she is wondering what I am planning to do next. My hands reach up to remove my helmet, mask, and vocoder, setting each aside in turn on the floor. Other parts of my armour join them as well. All of that will be in my way if I leave it on.

‘Anakin,’ she whispers to me.

‘Lord Vader,’ I correct her. ‘There is no Anakin, here.’

My wife is trembling, not in fear but anticipation, after I say that. I set my hands on her stomach and push the fabric of her ruined gown out of the way. The leather of my gloves must feel rough against her skin so I use that to inflame her further by caressing her body wherever I can easily touch her. When I nip her ear, she moans, prompting her to again try to free her hands.

‘There is no escape, little Jedi, and no hope of rescue,’ I flatly state. ‘You are mine to do with as I please.’

‘Ani…’ she begins a protest.

I silence her with my mouth on hers. At first, she resists me, until she finally yields. She tastes sweet, so I take my time with our kiss. When I finally pull away, she tries to follow only to be firmly held in place while I gently bite her neck, leaving visible marks behind.

Tonight, I need to prolong the time our bond leaves her mind completely open to me. I rest a hand on her stomach, considering, then make a decision. Quickly, gently, I do what I must, hear her call my name as I am pulled into her conscious mind, only to force my way deeper into her subconscious memories, rapidly sifting through them, seeking out what I need and then, thankfully, finding it. I fall back into my own mind once I have all I require from her, noting that Maia is yanking hard on her hands, and begging for me to let her go.

‘Hold me,’ I order, freeing her hands as I do so and pulling her into my arms.

I feel her shaking in my embrace. She’s in shock, injured in mind, and sore in body as a result of what I have done. The best way to reach her right now is at the emotional level. I shift her about just enough to remove what is left of her dress and throw it off the bed. What armour I didn’t remove can stay on, I decide, other things are far more important.

‘Hush, little goddess,’ I do my best to soothe her. ‘Rest now, love, and let me keep you secure in my arms for the night.’

She doesn’t resist when I pull her tight against my chest and compel her into a deep, dreamless sleep. I spend a few minutes adjusting her position in my arms and pulling my cloak over us both. This will take time and we need to be comfortable. I slip into her mind, see where the stresses are, find where I pushed too hard in my haste to find what I sought, and settle in for a long night of repairing the damage I did. In the morning, I will see to her bruises and love bites, and my own aching body.

Then, I will need to decide what I will do about the future I discovered in her mind.

***


The Executor, Deep Space en route to Endor

DAY 32

 

I wake slowly, with the first thing I notice being Ani’s chest armour and control box digging into my back. He’s left his helmet off but stayed in his armour, and has me pulled as tight to his body as he can manage. Choosing not to move, I listen to his even breathing and feel the various aches in my body. There are several bite marks on my neck and my wrists hurt where they had been held in place. I suspect my husband will be equally uncomfortable when he finally does wake up.

Retreating within myself, I can see no trace of what he had done to me, what he had to do to me. The same grey blanks are there, in my mind, where they have been ever since I hid those memories away. Ani now knows some of what I once knew and can no longer access, but unless he chooses to share it with me, I will not find out what any of it was.

I suspect he will keep it to himself.

A gloved hand strokes my middle, accompanied by warmth radiating outwards in the Force. Ani is busy healing the physical damage from last night, and not just mine. My husband has decided to look after himself as well, despite his master’s orders.

‘Don’t move,’ he warns me when I shift a little. ‘Just stay here with me and relax, sleep some more if you can, and let me hold you.’

‘Did you find it?’ I ask.

‘I found what I need,’ he confirms, ‘and I won’t do that to you again. It causes too much trauma to your mind.’

A light kiss is pressed to the back of my neck. My husband won’t discuss what he knows, at least not right now. I entwine my fingers in his and pull his gloved hand to the center of my chest. There’s no reason to get out of bed early, so I take his advice and let myself drift back into sleep.

An hour later, Ani is awake, on his feet, and stripping off his armour. I stay in bed, bundled up in his cloak, and watch him through half closed eyes. He has used the Force to heal his older self-inflicted injuries. For the first time in days he isn’t sore or cranky.

‘Go back to sleep,’ Ani suggests. ‘I will be a while having a shower and going over the summary progress report from the construction project. When the children are close to stirring, I will wake you.’

‘I’m too awake to fall asleep,’ I decide.

‘Too stubborn, you mean,’ my husband teases.

Now wrapped in his robe, he comes over to the bed and sits beside me.

‘I want you to rest,’ he firmly states. ‘There is much for you to learn, and today I want to start working with you on how to use the Force defensively. Everything I have taught you so far is in passive techniques, and that only so you can keep your abilities under conscious control.’

‘More lessons,’ I grumble a little.

‘More lessons, and ones you must learn thoroughly and well,’ Ani insists, ‘but for now, sleep, wife.’

I don’t resist his use of suggestion.

***

I know Maia is wondering what I have planned and what we will be doing. For this lesson, privacy is best, so I have opted to use the same facilities Thirsk had when training her in self defense. Today, he is here, waiting for us, ready to do as I have asked.

‘Commander,’ I acknowledge him as we enter the room.

‘My Lord,’ he replies in turn.

My attention shifts to Maia. This is one of the earliest skills once taught to children in the Jedi Temple, and one I am supremely proficient with. I want to give her a memorable demonstration for how to apply it in a defensive manner before I describe it in detail and start working with her on the simpler ways it can be used.

‘Come here,’ I tell her, beckoning her over. ‘Rest your hands on the back of mine, and watch and feel what I do.’

I turn her about, pull her backwards into my chest, and wait for her hands to be set in position over my own. She won’t come to any harm, but I expect that won’t occur to her at first. Her initial reaction will be panic.

‘Ready?’ I ask not of my wife, but of Thirsk.

In answer, he raises his blaster and fires.

***

As Thirsk lifts his blaster I try to back up, only to find Ani’s body holding me firmly in place, preventing any attempt at escape. The first bolt the Commander fires, I don’t see, having shut my eyes in reaction. Ani’s hand moves, pulling mine along with it, and I feel and hear the bolt impact against his glove. After a few more bolts and the same response from my husband, I decide it is safe to look. He won’t allow any harm to come to me, so whatever he is doing with the Force must be what he wants me to figure out.

The next bolt arrives. Somehow Ani is making them disappear, just before they touch his hands, with very little obvious effort. Taking his advice, I study what he is doing with my Force augmented senses. Somehow he is absorbing the blasts by using the Force.

‘How are you doing that?’ I finally work up the courage to ask.

‘Tutaminis,’ is his brief reply.

Ani allows Thirst to shoot a few more times, then nods to let him know it is enough.

‘That will do, Commander,’ he tells him. ‘You may go.’

Being shot at in that way was a bit frightening. I wait until Thirsk has left, then spin about and wrap my arms around Ani’s waist. He brushes my cheek with his fingers and holds me for a brief moment.

‘Don’t panic when someone is firing at you,’ the Sith Lord warns me. ‘You cannot act effectively or make good decisions if you are afraid of what they might do.’

‘It’s more that I didn’t have a way to defend myself,’ I admit. ‘At least the other times people were firing blasters at me I had my lightsaber and could deflect the bolts with it.’

‘Then you need to learn tutaminis so you don’t have to rely on your lightsaber to do that,’ he tells me. ‘Let’s go back to my office and sit down, so I can go over the basics for how it works.’

I set my hand on his arm and follow along at his side. Ani takes a roundabout route back to his quarters, stopping several times to check on the ship and its crew. He’s also making sure I have my daily walk, I decide, since he won’t let me duel with him in the salle today. There’s no point in complaining to him about it. My husband is worried that I might overdo things, and I know from past experience that the only way to persuade him to stop his fussing is to comply with his wishes for a while.

‘Go sit in my office and wait for me,’ he instructs when we finally are back in his quarters. ‘I need something from my workshop for you to practice with.’

I do as he asked and make myself comfortable on the couch. This should be an interesting lesson, but I have no idea what sort of exercises he has in mind. The box in his hands as he comes into his office gives no hints, either.

‘Tell me what you discovered earlier,’ Ani asks. ‘Did you figure out what I was doing?’

‘You were absorbing the blasts,’ I tell him, ‘but I don’t know how. Wouldn’t it be easier to reflect them away instead?’

‘Yes, I was absorbing the energy from the blasts,’ he admits. ‘Reflecting or deflecting them is harder. It requires more concentration than you might have to spare in a combat situation.’

He sits down next to me and reaches into the box, removing from it what looks like a flashlight.

‘Set your hand on mine again and watch carefully,’ he orders.

‘This should be enlightening,’ I tease him as I oblige him and put my left hand on his right.

‘More like warming,’ he replies, amused by my joke.

He turns on the gadget with his left hand and points it at his right. The ‘flashlight’ doesn’t just project a light beam, but intense heat as well. I feel that against my skin until it suddenly stops. Ani is absorbing the heat beam in the same way he did the blaster bolts. Closing my eyes, I concentrate on what he is doing. Energy from the heat is being converted into the Force and pulled through my husband’s body to be drained harmlessly away.

‘That’s a clever trick,’ I decide.

‘It comes in handy,’ he teases me in turn.

He’s in an unusually good mood if he is willing to trade puns with me. I watch him turn off the heat light and lay it on the couch beside him.

‘You are coming to your training very late in life,’ he tells me. ‘For a Jedi, this would normally be taught in early childhood, so don’t expect too much from yourself at first.’

The Sith Lord lifts up my hand and holds his close to it, allowing only a minimal space between the two.

‘The heat or energy or blaster bolt, whatever you are dealing with, must never contact your hand,’ he warns. ‘You convert it into the form you want before it touches you, at about the distance our hands are apart.’

I tip my head, slightly puzzled by what he has said. Not letting something touch me makes sense, but the rest doesn’t.

‘What other forms?’ I ask, curious.

‘Whatever you need it to be,’ he replies. ‘The Force is easiest, but it could be others.’

He’s being deliberately evasive, but that can wait. Sooner or later, as always, I will find out what he is hiding. For now, it really doesn’t matter that much.

‘So,’ he continues. ‘Convert the energy then absorb it or channel it away. Dumping it into the Force is the simplest choice. Some Jedi could redirect and use it for other things - healing, telekinesis, illusions - depending on what they wanted to do.’

I watch him reach into the box for a smaller gadget similar to the heat light he used before. He points it at my hand, turns it on, and I see a red beam of light and feel a low heat on my skin.

‘Low powered heat ray for you to practice with,’ he reveals as he turns it off and places it in my hand. ‘I have files on the project I have been put in charge of to read through, so you can stay in here while I do that. If you need help, just ask.’

My husband has opted to give a brief demonstration, not much in the way of explanation, and left me to figure it out for myself. He has done this before when teaching me Force skills, but this time I am not sure if I can manage it because I have no idea how he did what he did to the heat or blaster bolts.

I turn on the heat ray and point it at my hand, letting myself feel the warmth on my skin and how the energy is flowing. Nothing happens or changes when I try to duplicate Ani’s feat. Giving him a quick, annoyed glance, I return my attention to my hand and the heat hitting it, and try again with the same negative result. Ani ignores me and continues working at his data terminal. Unless I specifically ask for his help, he won’t offer any advice, and I am not going to bother him until I have tried everything I can think of first.

This could be a very long day.

***

I sense my wife’s building frustration. She’s been trying for hours to convert the beam of low level heat into the Force without any success. Walking her through the technique in exacting detail, when she finally gave in and asked for help, hasn’t yielded any results. In this, it appears, she will have a deficiency to make up for elsewhere in her skill set. It’s time to do something different, before we go to bed, rather than let her continue with an unproductive exercise. Her concentration is such that she doesn’t notice I have left my desk until I take the heat light from her hand and turn it off.

‘Enough,’ I tell her. ‘Halcyon Jedi couldn’t use telekinesis and it may be that you have a similar problem with tutaminis. There’s no point in frustrating yourself by fighting that. We will just have to compensate for your lack of that ability with other skills.’

‘More lessons,’ she says, sounding and looking a bit disgusted at that prospect.

‘Think of it as time with me, if that helps,’ I tease her. ‘You used to complain I didn’t spend enough of that with you.’

‘Speaking of time, I’ll go see to tucking in the children,’ she decides. ‘They have been without us for most of the day.’

I catch her fingers, squeeze them lightly and release them as she goes past me. Her aides, Rik, and Thirsk have taken turns keeping our three youngsters busy today, and will need to continue doing so until we arrive at Endor. Once we are there, I won’t have the time to devote to Maia’s training that I do now. Returning to my data terminal, I shut it off and consider just how much work awaits me. The battlestation is badly behind schedule. The only way it will have a functional weapon when the Emperor needs it is if I drive the construction crews mercilessly, night and day. Tired and stressed men make mistakes, and mistakes can lead to disaster. Allowing the plans to fall into Rebel hands, before the laser system was completed and tested, was a supremely stupid idea, and the biggest mistake my master has made.

After picking up Mikal’s stuffed bantha from where he left it on the floor, I study the furry creature for a moment. He used to drag it with him everywhere, but it has been replaced by his new favourite toy, a miniature version of myself. The twin’s toy banthas are in a corner so I retrieve them as well. I have a use for these three soft creatures so I take them to the bedroom and close the door behind me.

Maia is still in with the children. Rather than disrupt bedtime by going in their room, I put the banthas on the table, sit down, remove my helmet and wait for my wife. She’s brought my morning meal from the kitchen so I pour myself a glass of it to drink, indulging myself with the extra calories from it.

‘They’re asleep,’ Maia whispers when she sneaks away from putting the children to bed. ‘I think they played enough today to tire themselves out completely.’   

‘It will be the same until we are at the construction project,’ I warn her. ‘Much of our day will be devoted to what you need to work on.’

I watch her go to the compartment with her nightgowns. When she has dressed herself in one of them and her back is to me, I grab one of the banthas and throw it at her, hitting her between her shoulder blades with the toy. Her reaction is to spin about and stare at me, so I throw the second bantha at her head. This time, she knocks it aside with a hand.

‘Anakin,’ she growls at me.

‘Don’t let them touch you,’ I advise her.

The third bantha misses as she dodges it. I yank the toys back to myself with the Force and start round two, this time adding a bit more energy to my efforts.

‘Not funny, Sith Lord,’ I am scolded when one hits her hard on the knee.

For round three, I send all three toys in her direction at the same time. Finally, my wife reacts the way I wanted her to, and deflects with the Force the one she can’t swat away with her hands.

‘Better,’ I tell her. ‘Now do that with all of them.’

I continue bombarding her with flying toys until I am satisfied she is able to handle all three at once using only the Force and without having to think too much about it. Defending against harmless toys will be good practice for doing the same with other objects.

‘That’s enough,’ I decide. ‘We can work at this some more, at bedtime, tomorrow.’

‘No more banthas?’ my wife asks.

‘Not tonight,’ I admit, laughing at her wary look and dishevelled appearance. 

***

I bend over and pick up one of the toys, intending to throw it at my husband, but as I stand up, I double over in pain, drop the bantha, and make a grab for the edge of the bed. My side feels as if someone has stuck a knife in me. My husband sees and feels my distress, rises from his chair, his supplement drink abandoned, and moves quickly to where he can help me.

‘Ani, it hurts,’ I tell him.

‘Breathe slowly,’ he orders.

I do as I am told and let myself sink to the floor, at his feet. Standing up and moving to the bed would only make it feel worse. The Sith Lord soon joins me, his hands at my waist as he reaches out with the Force and into me to find out what is wrong.

‘He’s fine and you are not miscarrying,’ he informs me. ‘I think he has just implanted himself, so there is nothing to panic about.’

I lean against him and nod. While I know that that this must have happened with my other pregnancies, I never felt it occur and it wasn’t a problem. Now, I am scarred inside, everything is hypersensitive and son number three has chosen a particularly touchy spot to attach to.

‘Let me help you up,’ my husband offers.

‘Please do,’ I agree.

Ani picks me up and settles me on the bed, covering me with the cloak he left on it this morning as he makes me comfortable. Moving hurts. Hopefully this vicious cramping won’t last for very long.

‘I need something else, too,’ I remind him.

‘I have not forgotten what the doctor said,’ he tells me as he goes to retrieve what I need from the ‘fresher.

Ani has remembered Leanan’s warning about the bleeding which might come with this. At least my husband isn’t embarrassed by having to bring me a pad. Then again, he has never once been uncomfortable when I gave birth or in dealing with what he calls ‘women’s matters’, and he has always accepted my reluctance to be intimate with him for that one week out of every six.

‘Thank you, dear,’ I tell him when he returns to me with what I need.

‘I am going to put my helmet back on and comm the doctor to come check on you,’ he decides. ‘For tonight, I will stay in armour just in case anything happens and I need to rush you to Medical.’

‘Don’t fuss so much, Ani,’ I scold him. ‘I am fine, just a bit crampy.’

He sits beside me, squeezes my hand and kisses my forehead.

‘I will worry until our son is born and both of you are safe and healthy,’ Ani admits.

‘But…’ I start.

The Sith Lord shuts me up with a kiss on my mouth, as he has taken to doing when he knows I will come out with a protest of some sort that he doesn’t want to hear.

‘Let me look after you and co-operate when the doctor examines you,’ he advises. ‘It will be far easier than fighting with me about it.’

I sigh in exasperation and give in, for the moment. Ani is being an overprotective fussbudget, like he has been with my previous pregnancies. Once he realizes all is well, he will back off a bit.

‘If you are going to stay in your armour and leave your helmet on, then I want a proper goodnight kiss,’ I tell him.

He obliges me, humouring my request.

***


DAY 33

 

I press a light kiss against my wife’s temple and slip out of bed, taking care not to wake her. The only place I can escape to for privacy is the ‘fresher, so I do so, seating myself on the edge of the bath and closing the door behind me. Turning the lights on with a gesture, I resist slamming a fist into the wall, which would make far too much noise, and instead chose to study the gold ring on my left hand while I bring my emotions under control.

This is the second time since departing from Coruscant that I have found myself caught in a nightmare, only to wake enraged and with no memory of the precise details. Focus, I chastise myself. You know this is not something related to your future. Maia’s hidden memories in no way resemble what you just dreamt. If they did, you would remember it. No, this is not a premonition, but an expression of the stress I am under, my subconscious mind letting my anxieties run wild while I sleep.

The ‘fresher door opens, revealing my wife, a worried look on her face. My absence from her side has roused her.

‘Anakin?’ she calls to me.

‘I’m fine,’ I tell her. ‘I just needed to be alone for a moment.’

I beckon her over to me, and pat the spot beside me on the bath to encourage her to sit down. This is a strange place to have a late night talk, but I don’t feel like returning to the bedroom yet. Once she is next to me, I wrap my arm around her back and rest my other hand on her middle, noting that the pain she has endured, and I have felt from her for the past day, is finally gone.

‘According to Leanan, he’s securely settled in at last,’ she reassures me. ‘No more cramps or pain.’

I move my hand to under her chin and tip it up so I can look at her. There are no signs of fatigue, nor obvious evidence of her pregnancy to be seen. She appears to be healthy and rested, but even so, I will need to be mindful of what I do with her. Far too much is at stake to take any foolish risks in her training. Gently, lightly, I kiss her, waiting for her to invite me to do more by opening her mouth to me. What begins as a chaste kiss soon becomes deep and passionate. When her fingers start to pull my robe down from my shoulders, I lean back and stop her by setting my hands over hers.

‘Not for a few more days, my love,’ I remind her of what the doctor had suggested. ‘We need to be careful with you.’

She starts a protest which I silence with another quick kiss.

‘In three days I will do whatever you want me to,’ I offer to entice her co-operation. ‘The entire day will be yours to arrange for us as you please.’

‘You will do anything?’ she asks.

‘Within reason,’ I qualify. ‘The Command Deck and other public places are off limits for anything which might cause us trouble.’

My wife looks thoughtful at that. While she might want me to make love to her for hours on end, neither of us is really able to run that sort of marathon for the entire day. Instead, she will ask me to dance with her somewhere there is the space for that, have a proper private dinner with only the two of us, and spend time with her doing other things.

‘Done,’ she quietly agrees. ‘I accept your terms.’ 

I raise her hand to my lips and kiss the back of it.

‘Let’s go see how much sleep we can manage to get before morning,’ I suggest.

There are no objections when I lift her in my arms and carry her back to our bed.


The Executor, Hyperspace Transfer Point, Kinyen System

DAY 35

 

I pace back and forth, listening to Thrawn’s report and occasionally looking at his hologram while I debate what I should do about everything he has told me.

‘Zaarin has escaped, yet again,’ I note.

‘I doubt he was even present during the ambush,’ the Grand Admiral states. ‘After his first thwarted attempt to kidnap the Emperor, he has no pressing reason to risk himself personally.’

‘And Stele was able to drive off the Ram and destroy the two gunboats,’ I repeat what he told me earlier.

‘Gunboats from the Emperor’s own reserve forces,’ he confirms. ‘Zaarin’s influence is deeper than expected.’

‘Zaarin has gone to ground in the Outer Rim and will have to be lured out from hiding,’ I decide. ‘Once he is removed, his followers will be easier to contain and eliminate. Suitable bait will need to be laid and a trap set.’

‘A trap I am currently working on,’ he assures me.

‘One which must succeed,’ I say in response. ‘I grow weary of this traitor Admiral being an annoying stone in my boot.’

I pause, consider the future, and make a decision. Thrawn is no fool. He could refuse to do what I will ask of him or choose to ignore a call for aid at the time it is sent, but unlike many of his peers, he places honour and integrity ahead of personal political gain. The Grand Admiral will be there when I need him.

‘My master has returned safely to Imperial Center and will depart tomorrow, with the Excalibur, before transferring to the Eclipse for the journey to Endor,’ I tell him. ‘Stele will lead the escort. See to it that he has whatever support he needs, but I want you to stay in the Moddell Sector, no farther than two hours travel by hyperspace from the battlestation. When I have need of your fleet at Endor, I will send you a private signal and expect you to respond immediately.’

‘You anticipate a Rebel attack,’ he shrewdly surmises.

‘They are gathering their ships and will throw all of their remaining forces into destroying the station sometime in the next few weeks,’ I reveal. ‘I want to ensure they are crushed completely, and left with no means of escape. Your fleet added to my own should be sufficient for the task, and the Rebels will not anticipate your presence there.’

‘It will be as you wish, my Lord,’ Thrawn agrees.

I cease my pacing and look at him. Our last conversation was after my son’s death, when Thrawn delivered his condolences. We have other important matters to discuss, but this is not the time for that.

‘After the Rebels are defeated,’ I tell him, ‘we need to speak at length, in person and in private.’

He tips his head in acknowledgement. No more has to be said. The Admiral is fully aware that certain topics can only be dealt with face to face.

‘Until our next meeting’ Admiral,’ I dismiss him.

‘Until then, my Lord,’ he responds.

I cut the transmission. There are others I must contact before the Executor jumps to hyperspace.

***

I stare at the box in front of me before letting my eyes wander around Ani’s workshop. He’s left me alone in it while he is busy with meetings over the Holonet, and he knows that I won’t touch anything without his permission. This is the first time I have been in here, and there is not as much to see as I had expected. The Sith Lord keeps everything tidy, in order, and put away when he isn’t working with it. There is no clutter to be found anywhere. Now I understand why he was so grumpy when he had to use the messy workshop at the observatory. My husband is a bit of a neat freak.

With a sigh, I consider what he had told me. Jedi children were taken to Ilum to go find a kyber crystal for their first lightsaber. The one they selected would be attuned to them, its colour a reflection of their attitude and aptitude. Since I can’t go there, Ani has decided to let me pick mine from one of the crystals he had collected years ago. Hopefully he doesn’t expect me to build my own lightsaber. With my luck, it probably wouldn’t work properly.

I lift the lid from the box but don’t look in it. Instead, I reach inside and run my fingers over the minerals’ natural facets. The edges are not sharp enough to cut my hand and the crystals feel smooth on their planar surfaces. None of them ‘call’ to me in the way Ani had described, so I put the box back on the workbench.

Well, Maia, I tell myself after a few minutes, you need to take a crystal, any crystal, just to make him happy.

Randomly grabbing one, I hold it cupped in my hands and look at it. Colourless, silvery-grey, and unremarkable in appearance is my first impression. As a mineral, without knowing its special properties, it is about as interesting as quartz. When nothing changes after twenty minutes, I return the crystal to the box and take another one.

Three hours later, I have gone through the same process with every crystal in the box without any success.

‘Well, rats,’ I say aloud.

I slide off the elevated chair and go to leave. There’s no point in staying in the workshop if I don’t have anything to do, but the door refuses to open for me. Repeatedly pushing at the controls has no effect, and Ani’s override code doesn’t work. He wouldn’t lock me in here and not say anything to me about it, would he? My husband knows that if I am trapped in a small room I will become claustrophobic, so what is he playing at?

My hands start to shake a little. I tuck them into my armpits to keep them still and pace back and forth for a few minutes in an effort to calm down. Be logical, I scold myself, think it through. Your husband is in the room right next door and he won’t let anything happen to you. Instead of giving in to your fear, panicking, and having a hysterical fit, just ask him to come and let you out.

Anakin? I call to him. I need you to open the door. It’s stuck and I want out. None of your crystals liked me.

The door opens immediately. He must have been standing there, waiting for me to ask for his help. I hold my hand out to him and he takes it.

‘You faced your fear, didn’t panic, and remained calm,’ he tells me, sounding rather pleased, ‘and you also kept trying with the fake crystals and didn’t give in to frustration.’

This was yet another test from him.

He pulls me back into the workshop and opens a compartment in the wall, retrieving a small storage container from inside before closing it again.

‘Try these,’ he offers, handing this second box to me.

‘More fakes?’ I ask, a bit suspicious he might play another trick on me.

‘No, the real ones this time,’ he admits. ‘You passed the equivalent of the tests of fear and perseverance that younglings would go through in the Crystal Caves, so have earned the right to select your own kyber crystal.’

Curious now, I examine what he has given to me. Inside the box, lying on a dark fabric, are four clear, pale blue, slightly glowing crystals. The one on the right draws my eyes to it, so I pick it up.

‘This one,’ I decide, although I am not sure why I prefer it.

‘Go and meditate for a while, using it as your focus,’ Ani tells me. ‘If your choice is the correct one for you, the colour will change.’

‘You just want me out of the way so you can work,’ I tease him.

‘Perhaps,’ he says to me, amused by my accusation.

As I go to leave, to follow his instructions, the Sith Lord grabs my elbow and turns me about, catching me in his arms. I don’t resist him and set my cheek against his chest, my crystal held tight in my hand pinned between us.

‘I am most curious to see what colour your crystal will be,’ Ani tells me.

‘Oh?’ I prod him.

‘For a Sith, red; for most Jedi, green or blue,’ he reveals, ‘but you are unique, a special case, so we shall see.’

‘It will be pink with purple dots,’ I suggest, feeling a bit bratty, ‘or an icky brown colour.’

‘You have two hours before lunch to find out,’ my husband warns me. ‘I will have my meal with you and the children.’

His grasp on me loosens and a hand brushes through my hair before he traces my cheekbone with a finger.

‘Stubborn Jedi wife,’ he calls me.

‘Cranky Sith Lord husband,’ I respond in kind.

‘Go, see to your task, so I can finish my last Holonet call,’ he orders. ‘Lunchtime will arrive soon enough.’

***

She’s settled cross-legged on the bed, crystal in hand, eyes closed, and a thousand light years away from here in thought. I step closer, careful not to disturb her meditation. The mineral resting on her palm has changed, shifting in colour from clear and icy blue to a deep, jewel-like amethyst.

That’s most peculiar, I decide, given that I expected it to be an intense blue due to her expertise with a blade. Few Jedi had a purple lightsaber and most of those… I stop my thought dead and reconsider. Sith blades are red, and red and blue combined yield purple. Over our Force bond, despite all the blocks I placed in her mind to prevent it, my darkness has seeped through enough to influence this, changing what should have been a blue crystal into a purple one.

Moving as quietly as I can, I return to my workshop, select one of the untuned kyber crystals for myself and retrace my steps back to the bedroom. An experiment is in order here. With a great deal of care, ensuring I don’t break her concentration, I join my wife on the bed, facing her and mirroring her pose. Slipping into my own meditation, I center my focus on the gemstone in my hand.

An hour later, I sense a shift in the Force and feel my wife move in front of me.

‘It’s purple?’ she says aloud, obviously perplexed by what she sees.

I open my eyes, to find her closely examining her crystal. The one I had chosen for myself is more reddish than hers, but it is definitely purple in hue and not a true crimson. Reaching over, I set it in her hand, beside her own.

‘So is mine,’ I tell her.

‘But why?’ my wife asks. ‘I thought yours was supposed to be red and mine green or blue.’

‘An unexpected, and harmless, side effect of the Sith Force bonding ceremony,’ I admit. ‘Our souls are so strongly bound together, now, that my Force presence in your mind has influenced what should have been a blue crystal for you, and yours in my mind has done the same with my red one.’

‘Red plus blue equals purple,’ she confirms, starting to laugh. ‘Somehow I don’t think a purple lightsaber will suit you.’

‘I have several red kyber crystals in reserve,’ I state. ‘No need for a purple blade, for a while, at least. You, however, will start building your own ‘saber this afternoon while I work on a spare one for myself.’

‘I like the one you made for me,’ she protests. ‘I don’t need a new one.’

‘You still need to learn how to build and repair your own,’ I remind her. ‘There might be a time when you will have no choice and without those skills could end up in trouble.’

I can sense her debating whether or not to argue with me about this, but I don’t give her a chance to say anything. Brushing a finger across her lips, I take the two purple kyber crystals from her hand.

‘I will put these in the workshop and lay out the parts and tools we will require this afternoon,’ I tell her. ‘While I do that, could you see to lunch? If you are quick, I will make an iced dessert for you.’

***

I let my husband go rather than try keeping him with me for a few more minutes. If he is willing to make my favourite sweet and spend the afternoon alone in his workshop with me, then I won’t complain. Learning how to build a lightsaber should be interesting, even if I still don’t see the point of it, and Ani will watch what I do so I don’t make any mistakes.

While I organize lunch in the kitchen, I sneak peeks at what the Sith Lord is busy with in his workshop through the door he has left open. I recognize some of what he is setting out, like the small powercells and a few of the tools, but most of it is unfamiliar to me. When the autochef finishes, I return my attention to it and our meal. It will be a simple nuna soup today for the children and me, but Ani will need his supplement drink, too. I grab his glass and the container of that from the cooling unit and take both into the bedroom, putting them on the table with everything else.

My husband is programming the autochef as I make another trip to the kitchen. His back is to me, so I slide my arms around his waist from behind and lay my cheek between his shoulder blades.

***

I rest a hand over hers and feel the heat from her body against mine. It will be a few minutes before the children are here so there is time to indulge her in this.

‘You just want to be held,’ I observe, turning around in her embrace.

‘Yes, dear,’ she confirms.

Her mind is calm and peaceful, and our bond resonates between us with the quiet aftermath of both our meditations. She leans on my chest and I hold her close, allowing myself, in this moment, to simply be a man who loves his wife.

‘I love you, Anakin,’ she tells me.

She doesn’t need to say it because I can feel it from her, and she knows that I love her in return, even though I am a Sith Lord, despite that emotion being forbidden to me. I pull her tighter to myself as one reason why it is prohibited occurs to me. Fear, anger, and hatred, all are permitted for a Sith, but none of those are the most dangerous of emotions: love is.

‘Little goddess, beloved wife, mother of my children,’ I say to the woman in my arms. ‘Know that I would do anything for you, Maia, anything at all, to keep you and our sons and daughters safe from harm.’

My master is a fool to so easily forget what was most important to me years ago, and is even more so to me now.

Love drove the Jedi I was to destroy everything he once had valued; it will force a Sith Lord to make similar choices.

***

He’s in one of his contemplative moods, I decide, when Ani lets me snuggle up to him and turns about to hold me.

‘You just want to be held,’ he tells me.

‘Yes, dear,’ I tease him, confirming his suspicions.

Hopefully he will let me stay for a while. I need the physical contact and reassurance from him, and I can feel his love for me over our bond.

‘I love you, Anakin,’ I remind him.

His response is to hold me tighter.

‘Little goddess, beloved wife, mother of my children,’ he calls me then promises, ‘Know that I would do anything for you, Maia, anything at all, to keep you and our sons and daughters safe from harm.’

‘I know you will, Anakin,’ I quietly say. ‘You have always done that.’

A sigh overrides his regulated breathing and I feel his fingers on my cheek.

‘I failed you on Hapes by placing politics ahead of ensuring your safety,’ he admits.

‘Please, Ani, don’t blame yourself for that,’ I ask of him. ‘There was no way you could have known what would happen.’

Not once have I held him responsible for my being attacked, not on Hapes and not afterwards. With all of my security and the Queen Mother’s guards, no one should have been able to come close enough to me, no one except… I freeze in his arms as a fragment of memory returns.

‘What is it?’ Ani asks.

He has felt my reaction to what has come back to me.

‘One of the Chume’doro stunned me,’ I reveal, feeling a bit shaky as I say it. ‘I just remembered that.’

Ani brings his left hand up, rests it against my cheek and then caresses my face with it. He has chosen to keep me calm rather than dig for more details. Mikal’s voice reaches us from the hallway outside his quarters.

‘We should discuss that later,’ he decides. ‘It will have to wait because the children have just arrived.’

***

I send Mikal into his room for a change of clothes and to play for a while with his sisters. He’s become a little too observant and has a tendency to blurt things out to whoever is at hand who might listen to him.

‘That can wait a moment,’ I tell my wife, taking the glass from her hand and replacing it on the table she was tidying.

 ‘I know what you want,’ she teases me.

‘Do you now?’ I tease in return.

‘Anakin,’ she reminds me. ‘There’s not much you can hide from me emotionally, especially when it is centered directly on me.’

I catch her hand and kiss her palm. She shivers in response, so I move my lips to her wrist then her mouth. Pulling back for a moment, I brush a finger across her lips. Maia’s mouth is sweet, as it always is after a meal, and I suspect she does that on purpose, knowing that I enjoy kissing her as a means for tasting the foods I can no longer easily eat.

‘Kiss me, Ani,’ she tells me.

I obey, feeling her relax against my body. Our tongues meet, duel, before she yields to me completely. She wants me, right now, but won’t ask for that, remembering the bargain I had struck with her for tomorrow. I, on the other hand, made no such deal with her, so I let myself react naturally rather than curb it. My wife can sense my emotional and physical responses, but does not know what I plan to do about them.

‘Maia,’ I admit, breaking off our kiss. ‘I want you.’

‘In the ‘fresher,’ she suggests. ‘If we are quick…’

‘...we won’t get caught,’ I finish with a laugh.

I pull her by the hand into the room in question and securely lock the door.

***

I check the diagram in front of me yet again and line up the components on the workbench to match it. Ani has long since put his new lightsaber together and already turned it on. He had used his purple kyber crystal, just to see what colour the blade would be, but is now replacing it with a red one.

‘I liked the purple one,’ I tease him. ‘It looked pretty.’

‘Red is better suited to a Sith,’ he reminds me.

Feeling a bit bratty, I make a face at him.

‘The longer it takes you to finish yours,’ he warns me, ‘the less duelling time you will have with me.’

As I watch, the purple crystal floats out of his ‘saber, and the red one goes into its place, both of them moved by the Force. While the Sith Lord fusses a bit with the crystal’s exact positioning, I decide that I had better take his advice and stop procrastinating.

Cylinder and grips, first, since those are simplest. I pick up the durasteel sleeve and start adding the black grips to it, around the base. The form I prefer can be done with one hand, so my ‘saber will be designed to accommodate that. Next, the activator switch and blade controls.  Those tasks done, I turn my attention to the ‘guts’ of the ‘saber, the emitter and internal components which need to be lined up and connected. These I take my time with. Making a mistake could cause big problems.

‘Reverse that,’ Ani tells me. ‘The polarity is in the wrong direction.’

I look at him, puzzled. Rather than describe in detail what I need to fix, he picks up the conductor in question and rotates it.

‘Everything else is correct,’ he confirms, after examining my work. ‘You can place your crystal now.’

The Sith Lord goes back to his own task, sliding the innards of his new lightsaber back into the hilt and reconnecting the powercell. He might appear to be busy with that, but I know he is keeping an eagle eye on what I am doing, too.

I do my best to ignore my husband and concentrate on lifting my purple kyber crystal into the air and over to what I have built. Once it ‘feels’ right, I am supposed to use the Force to close the prongs, which will hold it in place, over the facets of the gem. Unlike my frustrating and futile attempts at tutaminis, manipulating small objects with telekinesis comes easily to me. When I have the crystal exactly where it needs to be, I know instantly and quickly anchor it in place.

‘That was nicely done,’ my husband praises. ‘Go ahead and finish it.’

A few minutes later, my lightsaber is ready and a new powercell in it. I hesitate, waiting for Ani to turn his on first. He humours me and does exactly that, his new red blade being a close copy of his old one. With a bit of caution, I hold my hand out, new ‘saber in it, and push the activator switch. The blade which emerges is a pale purple, more blue than red in hue, and quite different from the shade Ani’s was. I turn it off and carefully set it on the workbench. Hopefully he is happy with it because I still prefer the one he gave me.

***

She’s trembling a little after I send her lightsaber flying across the salle for a sixth time. I turn my own blade off, step closer to her and let her fall into my arms, while I sort out what to do next. Rather than pull my attacks or duel with caution, I have worked at full speed, forcing Maia to use every defensive tactic I have taught her. For a while she was able to keep up, but eventually, inevitably, I broke through and disarmed her. Ten minutes is the longest she has been able to keep me at bay, better than almost all the Jedi and Sith I have killed, but of them, only Dooku was a true second form master like she is.

‘You can’t match me by using pure Makashi or Soresu,’ I tell her. ‘My modified Djem So and superior physical strength will beat through that every time.’

Her breathing and heart rate finally begin to slow, but she doesn’t move her head from where it is resting on my chest. After hooking my ‘saber on my belt, I brush her hair with my fingers to settle her. She’s had enough of duelling with me for one day so I let her stay where she is, using my body as a support. I have pushed her relentlessly and the last of our duels was almost too much for her.

‘We need to hybridize your style, as I have done with mine,’ I decide. ‘I will pick what will work for you from Shien, Djem So, and Niman and incorporate that into what you already have. I know you have trained in the use of two blades, so we will start there. It’s been years for me, so working out with that form will be good for both of us.’

‘Yes, my Lord,’ she dutifully replies.

‘Don’t be angry with me, my love,’ I tell her, continuing to run my fingers through her hair. ‘I had to test you under battle conditions - I needed to know how you would fare against me if I went after you at full speed and power. If you can handle that from me, you can defend yourself from all but one living duellist I know of, and he would have to come directly through me, first, to get to you.’

She doesn’t reply, not at first, and not in words. Instead, what I feel from her is uncertainty and a touch of fear - uncertainty for our future and fear of what might happen to her if I am killed in battle.

‘Nothing is ever certain when it comes to the future,’ I remind her.

I ease us both to the floor, and wait for my wife to shift herself about so we are facing one another and comfortable in how we are sitting. Reaching for where our bond is anchored in my mind, I touch it lightly, sending how I feel for her through it, and watching for a reaction from my wife. She closes her eyes and copies what I just dd.

‘So, bound we two are - in mind, in soul, in the Force,’ I state the facts. ‘Now, remember what happened with your brother, on your homeworld, when he died and your bond with him was broken.’

‘It hurt,’ she admits. ‘I collapsed.’

‘And you survived it,’ I tell her. ‘Here, there would have been the shock of his death over it, but no broken bond.’

‘I don’t understand,’ she admits.

‘Here, he is a Jedi,’ I remind her. ‘He is connected not only to the Force but also to you, and would hang about, as a Jedi ghost, being a nuisance, much as he does now. Your bond would continue, undamaged, until you joined him in death when you both would merge with the Force.’

She blinks, staring at me.

‘If you don’t believe me,’ I suggest, ‘ask him yourself.’

I know her brother is hanging about because I had asked him to evaluate our duelling as an unbiased observer.

‘Don’t bother asking. Your Sith Lord husband is correct,’ Michael confirms what I have said as he appears, wearing a set of Jedi robes, and sits down with us. ‘If two Jedi are life-bonded and one dies, they can stick around as a Force ghost, bound to their living sibling or mate.’ Staring straight at me, he criticizes, ‘You need to work on having more flexibility in your shoulders, and some of your attacks were sloppy.’ He looks at his sister and scolds, ’Stop trying a parry prime and riposte against him. You can’t move fast enough for that to work effectively, and he disarmed you twice when you did that.’

‘Jedi pest,’ I growl a warning at him. ‘Leave her be for a while. You can deliver a critique of our duels later.’

‘So, brother-in-law the Sith,’ he prods, heeding my words, ‘she needs to know the rest.’

I ignore him and reach over to take Maia’s hand. What I will tell her will both upset and comfort her.

‘You are worried about what will happen to you if I am killed,’ I start, but Maia interrupts me.

‘A Jedi can stay with their life-bonded sibling or mate,’ she repeats. ‘You have told me before that I would stay with you, as a Jedi ghost, if something happened to me.’

She touches the cheek of my mask with a finger.

‘Are you still truly a Sith?’ my wife muses aloud. ‘Our Force bond and that purple kyber crystal…’

I don’t move or utter a word. On that night when we role played, with us seemingly on her homeworld and away from the Empire, I chose to publically reclaim and use my old name, and admitted to myself the truth of what had changed within me. Now, she can fully feel it, sense it, through all my shields, and she has always known who I really am in my heart, despite my public ‘evil Sith Lord’ act.

Her mouth forms a surprised ‘oh’ she doesn’t say aloud.

‘You would stay with me,’ she whispers. ‘You would be a Jedi ghost attached to me like Michael is.’

‘Sith ghost,’ I gently correct her, before setting my hand over our son and revealing, ‘The shock if I were to be killed would traumatize you rather badly, and to survive that you would need to resist and fight against being drawn into death with me. It will not be easy for you to do that, but if you succeed, if you choose to live, to remain behind to protect and raise our children, all of our bonds would remain intact. On your death, we would still be bound together, Jedi and Sith, but would stay on Korriban as ghosts rather than merge with the Force, as two Jedi would. Unfortunately, your brother would be joining us there as well, since he is permanently bound to you.’

Happy, now, pest? I growl, telepathically, at her brother. She knows everything about it that I do.

***

I ignore my brother and stare at my husband. He has always told me we would both die when he did, so when he reveals that I have a choice, that I could fight to stay alive, it is quite a shock. Perhaps he expects that I will want to go with him rather than live out my life alone, unable to really touch him even if he can be with me, in a way. Lifting his hand in mine, I hold it close to my heart and squeeze it lightly, to reassure him that I am not as upset by what he has said as he might think.

‘You expect that I will want to stay behind when Luke kills you,’ I tell him. ‘You know I won’t abandon our children.’

There is an uncomfortable, if slight, shift of position from him, and an open mouth from Michael.

‘He won’t kill me,’ Ani firmly states.

My brother gives me one of his annoyed looks.

‘Luke won’t kill him, Maia,’ Michael says. ‘You have that part wrong. It’s...’

‘...not for her to worry about at the moment, pest,’ my husband shuts him up. ‘And if you are going to hang about and be a critic of my technique, then I expect you to spend some of your time being a duelling partner for me since I won’t need to hold anything back against you.’

I start an objection to them duelling then change my mind and say nothing. These two will do as they please regardless of anything I might say to try stopping them. The Sith Lord can’t harm my brother, but Michael could do my husband some damage. Hopefully common sense will prevail and neither of them will end up in trouble. A gloved finger traces my cheekbone, to stop on my lips. After he stands, his hands take mine as he helps me to my feet. Ani calls my ‘saber to his hand from where it had landed and returns it to me.

‘We will use the training ‘sabers,’ he decides, having picked up on my unspoken concerns. ‘I want my wife to go back to my quarters and rest.’

Watching the two of them duel would be interesting and educational, but I choose to do as Ani wishes. I am tired and need a bath, and he obviously wants to discuss something in private with Michael. We can talk about him being a Sith ghost later.

‘Don’t be too long,’ I remind him. ‘The children will expect you at dinnertime.’

***

I cup her face with my hands and set a thumb across her lips.

‘Go and rest,’ I firmly repeat my order to her as I release her.

This time she doesn’t reply and steps out of the salle. Thirsk will see her safely to my quarters from here. I don’t need to worry about that.

‘So, Jedi,’ I turn to face her brother. ‘We have quite a few things to discuss.’

‘You know,’ he states flatly.

‘Yes, I do,’ I admit. ‘Her memories, and I am certain that they are memories and not future visions, are quite specific about the circumstances.’

He shifts uneasily from one foot to the other, looking a bit like his namesake, my son, does when I catch him in the midst of some mischief.

‘You have always known what was to happen at Endor, what my future would be, so don’t bother pretending otherwise,’ I snap at him. ‘What I don’t understand is why you have said nothing when you could have spared your sister much pain and grief.’

I feel him gathering himself, preparing to pull one of his convenient vanishing acts.

‘Go ahead, run away,’ I taunt him. ‘If you don’t have the courage to face me, then you certainly won’t be able to deal with your sister after she realizes the truth, that you could have warned me against going to Hapes but stayed silent and let her and our son suffer instead.’

‘I didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to go to Hapes,’ he angrily protests. ‘When I said I could tell you nothing about the Hapans which would be of help to you, I was being completely honest. Maia knew the details of your personal history far better than I do.’

Knew, I think to myself. She knew my past and future, and chose to conceal most of her knowledge. In hindsight, I can understand why. Had I been able to extract even a small part of what she knew from her during that first week on the Executor, the past few years would have been quite different, and not in a positive way. Despite our life-bond, despite my love for her, I would have questioned her mercilessly, repeatedly, in an attempt to gain every advantage I could, and she would never have survived that type of treatment at the hands of the Sith I was then.

‘She was wise to hide what she knew,’ I admit, ‘but that doesn’t help us much, now.’

I go to a storage compartment and remove the training ‘sabers from it. With a flick of my wrist, I toss one of them at Michael. While I can’t cause any damage to him, there is no reason to risk him harming me. He catches the ‘saber, activates it, and gives it a few experimental swings.

‘If you want a practice run, I have a good idea what Luke will do,’ he offers.

‘I am not worried about Luke,’ I reply, amused by his assumption. ‘My son cannot best me in a duel unless I allow him to.’

Michael’s eyes narrow. He’s figured out what I am up to, at least in part, or thinks he has.

‘You intend to take on your boss,’ he decides, ‘and drag Luke and my sister into it, too.’

I don’t bother answering him and instead turn on the training ‘saber in my hand. Let him speculate and worry a little bit. It will serve as a distraction to him and give an advantage to me.

‘Guard yourself, Jedi,’ I warn him.

Then, I attack him.

***

My husband is a bit subdued when he finally returns to his quarters. I hope he didn’t overdo it in duelling with my brother. Michael doesn’t need to worry about taking rests or being injured, but Ani does.

‘Daddy!’ Mikal cries on seeing his father, leaving his toy ‘troopers and miniature Sith Lord abandoned on the floor as he launches himself at Ani.

‘Hello, son,’ Ani greets him. ‘What have you been up to?’

I watch father pick up son and don’t bother hiding my smile. With how busy he has been lately, my husband has had little time to spare for our children. Every minute he can steal from his duties and from training me is precious time for them to be together.

‘’Mi’s bantha ran away and we are searching for her,’ Mikal admits.

‘He’s had ‘you’ and your ‘troopers go through your office a few times,’ I reveal.

‘Would you like me to help?’ Ani offers.

An eager nod is Mikal’s response to that. I watch Ani set him down, take his hand, and go for a walk around the room, stopping whenever there is a potential hiding place to search.

‘No bantha,’ Mikal states after the room has been thoroughly inspected.

‘Perhaps it escaped from here and we need to look somewhere else?’ his father suggests.

Go ahead and take him for a walk, I tell Ani. He needs the time alone with you. I’ll put the toy on the Holonet controls for Mikal to find when you return.

The two of them are soon out the door and off on a lost bantha hunt.

***

She’s definitely up to something, I decide. Breakfast has been made and set aside, stored for the morning in the bedroom so that we can share that as a family. Normally on ship, I have mine, first, then put on my helmet before my wife and children have theirs. On the Executor, unlike my castle on Coruscant, Maia can’t go into the kitchen to prepare their meal until the bedroom is depressurized and the door can be opened.

‘It’s your turn, tonight,’ my wife suggests.

It’s my turn to settle the children for the night, to tuck them in, read a story, chase any monsters away, and kiss them good night. I pick Shmi up and let her tug on my hair, what remains of it after I had it cut short again. Mikal has already climbed into bed and chosen a book from the collection his mother assembled, and Cat is fussing a little and wanting my attention. After setting ‘Mi beside Cat, I brush one of her sister’s curls behind her ear. The twins have my colouring and their maternal grandmother’s hair type.

‘The Lost Bantha Cub?’ I question when I see the story my son has chosen.

Appropriate, given today’s adventure, and a tale we all have memorized.

***

‘They are all settled in and dreaming,’ Ani assures me.

I take his hand and pull him close. Earlier, I had brewed a pot of millaflower tea, and now I am drinking the last cup of it.

‘You must be tired, if you are resorting to that,’ he observes.

‘A little,’ I admit. ‘It helps me relax and fall asleep.’

My husband moves his chair over so he can sit beside me. He’s been quiet ever since he had that talk with Michael, but I know better than to pry. Sooner or later, I will hear all about it from one of them.

‘You remembered something earlier,’ he reminds me.

‘It’s not much,’ I decide, ‘and probably not of any real use to you. One of the Chume’doro stunned me, but with their helmets on, one of them looked to me much like the others did. It could have been one of the guards or someone in disguise.’

‘Were they male or female?’ Ani asks.

I carefully consider what little I remember before answering. The attack was so quick that I was only able to see who had stunned me for a few seconds.

‘Female, I think,’ I say slowly. ‘It happened so fast.’

He reaches over to take my hand. I twist my fingers amoungst his and refuse to let go. When he pulls his hand towards his chest, mine goes with it, so he kisses the back of it before holding both over his heart.

‘You won’t ever lose me, Maia,’ he reassures me. ‘We are permanently stuck with one another.’

‘How long have you known?’ I risk the question.

‘Known you might survive my death? Not for very long. Suspected? More than a year,’ the Sith Lord admits.

A finger on his free hand traces a path across my cheek, stopping under my chin before he lets his hand fall away from my face.

‘I was telling the truth when I said you would have to fight against being pulled into death with me,’ he adds. ‘Few would have the strength of will required to manage that, but you are a particularly stubborn woman with a strong maternal instinct. Our children will need you to stay with them, to protect and to raise them.’

I bite my lip and look away, knowing that he has given me permission to let him go, alone, into death, if it comes to that.

‘It’s not fair, Ani,’ I whisper to him my old lament.

‘Life is never fair,’ he tells me in return, ‘but I do not intend to die any time soon.’

He sets aside my half-finished cup of tea and helps me to my feet. I am tired and he needs to rest, too.

‘Come to bed, now,’ he suggests. ‘Set aside your worries for a while. They can wait for another day, another time.’

***

I am alone with the Queen Mother, discussing something I cannot recall. She approaches me, sets her hands upon my body, caresses and gropes me, yet I find myself paralyzed, powerless to stop her or shove her away. What do you want from me, I try to ask, but without a voice, silenced by her command, I am unable to demand an explanation. An order is given and I am forced to follow her to a door which opens at her touch…

I awake with a startled jolt, thrown out of my dream by a burst of rage. Maia is curled up under my cloak, on her side, facing away from me, and thankfully my nightmare and reaction to it have not disturbed her sleep. Folding back the blankets, I sit up, move to the edge of the bed and cover my face with my hands, before running my fingers through my hair. Something must have happened on Hapes which I have blocked out of my conscious memories. This is what keeps returning in my sleep, growing stronger and clearer each time.

Patience, I decide. With time, that memory will come back to me and I will decide then what I need to do about it. For now, there are too many other pressing things to do and no time to force whatever I had experienced to the surface. It will simply have to wait until later.

‘Anakin?’ a half-awake voice calls to me.

She must have felt me move from her side or sensed my anger, even in her sleep.

‘A bad dream woke me up,’ I confess. ‘It’s nothing for you to worry about.’

I feel her fingers on my back, her touch light and gentle, and her unspoken emotional reassurances soothing my frustrations away, allowing my tense muscles to relax. There are definitely advantages to having an empath for a wife.

‘Let me give you something more pleasant to dream about,’ Maia offers.

I turn about and lie down beside her again. She quickly settles her head on my shoulder, so I pull her in close. After that nightmare, I have no desire for sex, but she needs some attention and physical contact with me. My first kiss is to the top of her head, the second to her forehead as she looks at me, and the third on her lips when she sets hers against mine. I give in to her invitation, roll her over, onto her back, and kiss her repeatedly, deeply and with as much passion as I can muster, but my wife can sense that I more concerned with sleeping than lovemaking. When I pull back to let her breathe between kisses, she sets a finger on my lips and shakes her head.

‘Not now, love,’ she tells me. ‘I know you are not that interested, and I can wait.’

‘We should sleep,’ I suggest. ‘Tomorrow, I am yours for the entire day, as I have already promised you. You can have your way with me all night, and if you wish, until the following morning.’

‘In your armour,’ she teases.

‘However and wherever you want me,’ I agree.

Maia presses her mouth to mine and quickly kisses me.

‘Goodnight, dear,’ she tells me.

I wait for her to turn onto her side then settle her body next to mine, my right arm draped over her waist and left under her head. When we are both comfortable, I kiss the back of her neck.

‘Goodnight, my love,’ I reply in kind.

We are both asleep within minutes.

***


The Executor, Deep Space en route to Endor, Year 4, Month 2

DAY 1

 

While Ani has his morning shower I set out everyone’s breakfast. For the children and myself, it will be juice, toast, and fruits, and for him, his usual supplement drink. Today is supposed to be mine, and I have been busy working out what we will do. Much of it, I am certain, will be a complete surprise for my husband.

My first task finished, I turn my attention to what to wear. Since we will be moving around and have the children with us, for the morning and afternoon, my practical clothes will be best. Later, I will change into something else. I am almost dressed when Ani emerges from the ‘fresher.

‘So, what have you planned?’ he asks.

I smile and refuse to give him an answer with any details.

‘Breakfast, first,’ I insist, ‘then you will find out.’

‘Stubborn,’ he calls me.

Rather than engage him in our usual exchange, I walk over, slide my arms around his waist, and rest my ear against his chest. With his armour off, and only his robe in the way, it is much easier to listen to his steady heartbeat. His arms pull me close in response and I feel his lips on my hair.

‘Attempting to be unpredictable,’ he observes. ‘Today should be interesting, then.’

‘ ‘Always be unpredictable when engaging a superior opponent’,’  I quote my grandfather. ‘ ‘Draw him in and then attack in a way which will surprise him and give you an edge’. ’

‘Are we to have a duel?’ Ani teases me. ‘You know I will eventually win if we do.’

‘Perhaps,’ I cheekily reply. ‘Maybe I have a different type of contest in mind, with you as the prize.’

I tip my head up and look at him. While Ani is managing to keep himself from laughing, he is failing miserably at stopping himself from smiling.

‘Let yourself be happy, Anakin,’ I tell him. ‘For today, it’s just us and the children who matter.’

***

Let yourself be happy, she had told me before breakfast. Wise advice, I decide, as I watch the children chase after each other, their morning meals abandoned on the table. They should have a father who will be there when they need him, and to not only be strong when necessary, but also laugh and cry with them.

Maia pours herself a cup of stim tea and smiles, her eyes on Mikal and Shmi. They have abandoned their pursuit of their sister and decided to climb up onto my bed, hiding under the covers, and peering out at Cat who is still on the floor. All three are soon laughing as Cat joins them on the bed and crawls in with them. It is a simple and ordinary domestic scene, one many parents experience daily, yet for me it is a revelation. Elsewhere and elsewhen, this could have been my life on a regular basis, rather than the exception.

‘I need to make more time for us as a family,’ I decide, reaching over to squeeze my wife’s hand. ‘Once our lives are more settled, I will.’

‘Our lives will never be settled or predictable,’ Maia tells me. ‘You have your work and that, and what Palpatine requires of you, will always be there.’

I don’t debate her statement or enlighten her as to my plans. My wife has enough to worry about without my adding to it.

‘The future is never set in stone,’ I remind her, ‘and you promised to tell me, after breakfast, what your plans are for the day.’

‘Time with the children, Ani,’ she reveals, ‘lunch with all of us, a quiet afternoon then dinner for two, and an evening doing other things.’

She has given me a framework only, with no details. I laugh a little at her evasiveness. Whatever she is up to will be worth the wait and surprise.

***

‘Run, Mikal,’ I call to my son.

I watch Rik madly chase after my son, but the pilot somehow trips over his own feet before he can beat Mikal back to the empty spot in the circle.

‘Don’t say it,’ Rik tells the rest of us as he pushes himself up from the floor. ‘I know I am the goose, again.’

‘No, you’re ‘it’,’ I remind him. ‘Mikal was the goose and he beat you back to his spot.’

I know Ani is finding this game rather amusing. Nobody has dared to label him the goose and risk losing to him, or worse yet, beating the Sith Lord back to the spot he is sharing with Shmi. The twins are too young to play the game on their own so my husband has ’Mi on his lap while Cat is with me.

‘Perhaps another game might suit Black Two more than this one,’ the Sith Lord suggests.

‘Alright,’ I agree. ‘Let me think of something simple where aim is important, then.’

I rest my chin on my hand and run the various games I played as a child through my mind. We have spent the morning keeping busy with some of those, and thankfully my husband and staff have been willing to go along with what I have come up with.

‘Penny pitching,’ I decide. ‘I will need some small disks and a ring to aim them at. We’ll start four steps back, and with each successful toss, take another step back until only one of us is left.’

You can be the referee, I tell my husband. No one will believe you aren’t using the Force or cheating somehow if you play.

***

I pick up the handled container holding lunch for my wife and children and wait to hear our destination. The Lieutenants, Rik, and Thirsk have already left, sent to have their own meals and afternoons free. Later, they will be back, to keep the children occupied for the evening.

‘Lunch in the observation deck,’ my wife reveals. ‘It’s a small enough area to keep the children contained, but still large enough for them to run about in.’

‘A picnic lunch,’ I tease her.

Mikal takes my free hand and the twins do the same with their mother’s as we head off on our journey. We must make an odd looking group as we move through the corridors, but no one says a word about it.

***

I laugh and try not to let myself become too dizzy as Ani spins me about in his arms. For once he didn’t argue or come up with some excuse to avoid dancing with me. It probably helps that we are alone, in the small salle, and away from anyone’s prying eyes. The Sith Lord, today, has been perfectly content to go along with whatever I have come up with for us to do. When the music finally stops, I rest my head against his chest and take a few deep breaths to steady myself.

‘I should teach you another set of dance steps,’ Ani decides.

‘You are willing to risk being stepped on?’ I tease him.

He might have forgotten how long it took me to learn a waltz and how to avoid his feet, but I haven’t.

‘A minuet is not that dangerous,’ he tells me. ‘You move at my side, and we also dance apart, so you would be at a distance from me, well away from anywhere my feet might be.’

‘Minuets are boring,’ I state. ‘Old, slow, boring.’

‘And the Emperor’s favourite dances,’ he adds to my list.

I make a face at that and hear laughter rumbling in his chest in response. There is no way I want to be put on display at some court function just to please the old coot. As long as I don’t know how to perform the steps, I won’t have to do it.

‘It’s safer to stick to what I can do already,’ I suggest.

‘Safer for my feet,’ Ani confirms.

He raises a hand from my waist to my face, resting it on my cheek for a few seconds before wrapping it around my back and pulling me in close. I know he is indulging my need to have him near me, to be in physical contact with him, and that he is using this opportunity to make me happy.

‘Stay for as long as you need to,’ he offers. ‘There is no reason to rush away.’

On my homeworld he had made the same offer and I had taken him up on it. I wonder what might have happened if I had not. Perhaps nothing would have changed or perhaps everything. Bringing my left hand up to rest in front of my face, I stare at the plain gold ring on my finger, only to have Ani rest his gloved hand on top of it.

‘Little Jedi wife,’ he dubs me. ‘Your mind is going in a thousand different directions, and all of them to do with me.’

‘Just idle daydreams about might have beens,’ I admit.

‘Might have beens,’ he repeats. ‘My love, the past can never be changed.’

I nod my head and close my eyes. He gives my hand a light squeeze. My husband’s focus has almost always been on the future, not paths not taken in the past.

‘Tell me what you are curious about,’ he suggests. ‘Perhaps I can settle your mind on it.’

I take a slow breath and consider which question to pose. He is rarely willing to be this open with me.

‘Why me?’ I work up the courage to ask him. ‘Of all the women you could have chosen from - the wealthy, the beautiful, the famous, the titled and the enobled - why me?’

‘Why you?’ he echoes back at me. ‘I could just as easily ask you ‘why did you choose me, an armour-clad, badly injured, and cranky Sith Lord’, but you asked it first, so I will answer.’

His weight shifts a little as he settles me more comfortably in his arms.

‘This,’ he says simply. ‘This is why.’

‘That’s all?’ I reply, both puzzled and a bit confused.

‘You could have ran away, refused me, rejected me, or done anything else,’ Ani lists possibilities, ‘but instead you willingly let me hold you and stayed in my arms, and that changed everything. I had at last found someone who didn’t fear me, someone who loved me, someone I could spend my life with.’

‘I …,’ I stop what I was about to say.

I had loved him, and trusted him to a certain extent even before we had met. He didn’t know that, then and took a risk, and perhaps a large one on his part at the time. Prodding at my memories, only one thing, more a feeling than a precise event or knowledge with the weight of fact behind it, comes to me. Despite his choices in life and the path he has chosen to follow, under it all he is an honourable warrior. Once his loyalty is given, freely and wholly, he won’t waver unless solid evidence persuades him to reconsider. His heart is mine and Anakin will always protect me because of that.

‘You what?’ he prods me to complete what I intended to tell him.

‘I loved you,’ I tell him. ‘Loved you long before we met.’

‘And…’ he continues to press.

He wants my honest response to his question, and I can’t give him one, at least not a complete one. Too much has been removed from my memories for me to give him all of the reasons. I think carefully, focussing on the time he spent with me on Earth.

‘You were kind to me,’ I finally answer. ‘I was stubborn and difficult, and a bit of a brat, and you could have been cruel in return but were not.’

‘You were socially inept and afraid to tell me what you felt,’ Ani reminds me, ‘and I had the most important reason of all to be kind to you.’

My husband doesn’t say it. Instead, he lets me feel it, his love, projected in a way only the two of us can share.

***

She is still so uncertain, so emotionally fragile and grief stricken from our son’s death that she needs constant reassurance from me that all is well between us and that I won’t ever leave her. I lift my hand to her hair and brush it with my gloved fingers, letting it slide through them as I pour my love for her into and through the Force and across our bond. Perhaps a different tactic than the ones I have already tried might help her through her grief.

I carefully gauge just how much I can leave our bond open without it being obvious to anyone else then slowly ease the flow of emotions between us, reducing and leaving it at the level I had decided on. Maia will feel me constantly, consciously, now, as a solid emotional presence in her mind.

‘Anakin?’ she asks.

‘You need me there, in your mind, as a support for you,’ I reassure her, ‘so there I am and there I will stay.’

I sense her curiosity, her presence skirting around where our bond is anchored in her mind. While I have used it in the past to communicate with her, and have usually left it open enough for her to sense I am safe, this is the first time I will always be there in a stronger and more firmly controlled manner.

‘It’s the reverse of what you did when my empathy was running amuck,’ Maia observes.

‘Yes,’ I admit, a bit surprised by her quick insight. ‘You will sense my presence continuously, as I will yours.’

She tucks her head under my chin and relaxes. I know she is listening for my heart beat again. Rather than move, I leave her be and hold her close. My wife is quiet and content, as am I, and our bond resonates with how attuned we are with one another. In battle, we could fight side by side or back to back, each knowing instantly what the other would do and act accordingly.

Tomorrow, I decide. Tomorrow, I will test her as I was once tested.

***

I rest my head on Ani’s chest and let out a contented sigh.

‘That felt good,’ I admit, ‘but we are both tired and I am ready to fall asleep.’

 ‘We should share a quick shower, first,’ Ani suggests, trying to tempt me.

‘Alright,’ I agree. ‘Shower then sleep.’

***

‘I think our fun is done for the night,’ I decide when Maia gives up trying to stop her yawns.

My wife doesn’t raise any protest to that, so she must be feeling more exhausted than she is willing to admit. I shift her about in my arms, settling us both on our sides, and holding her securely to my chest.

‘Anakin,’ a sleepy voice calls my name. ‘Could you tell me a story, please, love? You always tell me such good ones.’

I lightly squeeze her hand, held firmly in mine, resting in the center of her chest, and do as she has requested. The more comical the situation, the more she enjoys hearing the tale, so I select one from my time as a padawan, hoping she falls asleep before I reach the most embarrassing part.

‘Let me tell you about the time I started a food fight in the Jedi Temple…’

***


DAY 2

 

Ani has been stubborn about not letting me know me what we are going to do today, so I have no idea what his plans are. After leaving the children in Cyran’s care, we walk along the usual route to the salle, but before reaching that room, he steers me into the gym instead. I stare at the men who are there, obviously waiting for us to arrive. Rik and Thirsk are on my staff, but the other three are strangers.

‘Commanders,’ my husband greets them.

Your task is simple, he tells me. Make them feel an emotion, any emotion, but control it so that it doesn’t overwhelm them.

I look up into his mask, confused by what he has told me to do. Ani has been adamant that I should always keep my empathy under wraps, so hearing that he wants me to use it like this is rather strange.

Completely blocking the use of any ability, without having complete control over its practical application, is dangerous, he reveals. You need to learn how to use it effectively as well as how to keep it locked down.

I don’t want to hurt them, I admit to him.

Then don’t, he suggests. Choose emotions which won’t cause them any harm, and keep what you project tightly reined in. They know what to expect since all of them have volunteered to help you with this.

I focus my attention on Rik. The pilot has a good sense of humour, so maybe I should see if I can make him laugh. Amusement should be a harmless enough choice. Closing my eyes, I think carefully about what I should do. Start with just a little, I decide, then increase it. As soon as something happens, I will stop. Hopefully that will be enough to satisfy my husband.

Rik crosses his arms over his chest and stares at me. He’s becoming bored with standing there and waiting. I push the emotion I want him to feel up a notch and focus it on the pilot. Laugh, I think at him, let out a giggle or a smile, or do something to show I have been successful. The side of his mouth twitches, as I sense his resistance give way, and he finally reacts, doubling over, laughing almost hysterically, with tears running down his face.

‘That’s not funny,’ Rik gasps out when I quickly release him.

‘You should not have resisted,’ Ani reminds him. ‘I warned you not to.’

Anakin, I don’t want to do this anymore, I tell my husband.

Make Thirsk feel hungry, he suggests in response to my reluctance, adding when I stubbornly ignore him. I won’t let you leave this room until you demonstrate to me that you can control your empathy completely.

***

Maia fights me at every opportunity, consistently refusing to use her empathy as I need her to. While I understand why she doesn’t want to do this, my wife must learn how to control every aspect of her abilities, and in this case, the only way she can do that is by using it.

When she has finally run through the range of emotions, save for the most negative ones and those I deem unsuitable for her to project onto the others who are here, I dismiss the men and let them go. Each of them had offered to help with this exercise and have more than earned the extra leave time I have granted them.

My wife, though, is not at all pleased with me. She turns her back to me, her arms wrapped securely around her, and flinches away when I touch her shoulder.

‘I feel filthy,’ Maia tells me. ‘Don’t ever ask me to do that again. No one should be forced to feel what someone else wants them to.’

She shivers a little and I know she is remembering what she did, unintentionally, to my flagship’s crew.

‘If you can’t control it in every aspect,’ I state firmly, ‘you run the risk of something triggering another episode of your empathy going wild, with you unable to recognize that and successfully stop it.’

I consider for a moment what to do. A reminder and then practice with the most potent of emotions are needed.

‘You have used your empathy on me before,’ I remind her. ‘Remember what you did, that first day on the Executor, and how it affected me?’

There is a slow inhalation from her as the implications sink in. She had pushed through my shields, pulled me to her, and driven my desires for her to the boiling point, although I did not let her know that at the time.

‘You need to learn how to project and control those emotions, too,’ I insist. ‘We are alone and I am willing to help you. I won’t block what you chose to do.’

This time when I reach over to her she does not resist, and allows me to turn her about and pull her to me. Her forehead rests against my chest as I feel her run through a range of emotions, each briefly, lightly washing over me in turn. My wife’s control over this is precise, delicate, when I am the target and she can gauge the exact levels I am experiencing over our bond. Only when the negative emotions and most intimate ones are left does she hesitate.

‘Go ahead,’ I encourage her to continue.

Anger seizes me then fear and hate. Each I neutralize, drain away before it can take hold. Affection I respond to by caressing her face, and love by settling her closer to me in my arms. When she projects lust, the last emotion for her to try, I don’t resist. My physical reaction makes her laugh, but she has seemingly forgotten about our bond, and as my desire for her rises, so does hers for me, each feeding on the other until I am fully ready to make love to her, right here and now.

‘My Lord, we shouldn’t, not here,’ Maia finally objects, once she realizes what she has triggered in me.

With a low growl, I lift a hand to the nape of her neck, release the closures for her gown, and drag it down her back, pulling hard enough to tear the fabric, destroying the dress, and leaving her body exposed to my view. I pin her against me with an arm and lift her up, preparing to lower her to the floor.

‘Stop it, Anakin,’ she tells me. ‘I don’t want you to do this to me.’

I freeze in place and slowly, gently set her down on her feet. Regardless of what Maia has projected into my mind, I will never force myself on her. Backing up a step, I unhook my cloak and wrap it around her, covering her now nearly naked and trembling body. My wife’s eyes are wide, almost childlike in shock, as she pulls the fabric tight across her breasts.

‘I am so sorry, Ani,’ she begins an apology.

‘Don’t apologize to me when I am the one who should be doing so to you,’ I reply. ‘Emotions are not a substitute for consent.’

She bites her lip and stretches out her hand, so I take it.

‘You don’t understand,’ my wife explains. ‘I forced you to want me with my empathy, kept driving you on, and then I couldn’t let you go through with it. It felt wrong. It felt coerced. It felt … ’ she pauses, looks away from me, unable to finish.

‘... like rape,’ I complete the sentence for her.

There is a barely perceptible nod on her part, one with understanding behind it. Maia recognizes that what she thinks she did to me was a violation of trust on several levels, and she has learned a valuable lesson, taught it to herself, in fact, about the ethics of her empathic abilities.

I silently consider what to do while she stands there, eyes fixed on the floor awaiting the reprimand she is sure I will give to her. No real harm was done to me. I can survive a bit of private embarrassment about the situation, but for her the consequences will be worse, since she will have to return to my quarters, walking through the public corridors, with only my cloak as a covering. There will be lewd gossip for many days, spread by some of the crew who will see her, about what happened in here, which I will ignore and she will stoically endure.

I activate my comlink, opting to deal with Maia’s problem, first.

‘Daini,’ I call to my wife’s aide. ‘My Lady needs something suitable to duel in - a tunic and trousers, and her boots. Bring that down to us.’

Next, I choose to deal with mine.

‘Wait for your aide,’ I tell my wife. ‘You can change into your practical clothes once she is here.’

I walk away from her, seeking privacy in the closest ‘fresher, and do what I must to myself. Maia cannot hear anything I do, but I keep the pleasure I am experiencing to myself. She doesn’t need to feel that from me when she has clearly told me she doesn’t want anything to do with it right now.

***

He’s angry with me, I decide, when he goes into the ‘fresher and deliberately keeps the pleasure he is giving himself away from our bond. Despite that, I know exactly what he is doing, before he cuts it off entirely. I sink to my knees on the floor and start to cry. The Sith Lord has never done this to me before, never blocked me out to this extent, but I deserve it for what I did to him. While there have been times, years ago, when he threatened to compel me into sex with him using the Force, not once has he ever done so; and I just did that to him, using my empathy to drive him into having sex with me.

When Daini appears, my clothes and boots in her hands, she stops and stares at me, unsure what to do. I must be the sight, my dress in shreds and thrown aside, me on the floor in my underwear with Ani’s cloak over me, and my face wet with tears.

‘Just put them down and go,’ I tell her.

She drops everything on the floor in front of her and flees from the room. I suspect she doesn’t want to know any more about the situation than what she has already seen. At least I can trust her to not say anything. Crawling over to the pile of clothes, I start thinking about what I should do. Manipulating my husband the way I did with my empathy was unacceptable, and I know better than to ever try it again, with him or anyone else.

‘With great power comes great responsibility,’ I whisper to myself, mangling a quote from Voltaire.

I pick up the tunic and hold it to my chest. Everything I have, even my clothes, I owe all of it to my husband, the man I love, the man who has soundly, justifiably, rejected me for my behaviour by shrinking our bond to almost nothing.

***

Once I am finished and cleaned up, I slowly, carefully widen our bond again, and quickly realize my wife is spiralling rapidly into despair. With a touch, I open the ‘fresher door, and then go to her, stopping to stand behind where she is collapsed on the floor in a heap, crying as if her heart were breaking, her tunic gathered to her chest.

‘Lesson learned,’ I quietly say to myself.

Reaching down, I pull my cloak up to cover her bare back. She has trapped herself in an empathic feedback loop, one negative emotion or thought driving another until she cannot find herself a way out of it. This happened once before, after Black Three’s death, and I need to snap her out of it immediately, without giving her any sympathy to act as a form of reinforcement.

‘Get up, Maia,’ I command her. ‘Get up and get dressed.’

She hears me but does not obey. I have few options left. Maia needs to stop this on her own or I will have to ask Leanan to stop it for her, before my wife’s lack of control harms our son or triggers a miscarriage.

‘You are putting our son at risk and have two choices,’ I ruthlessly tell her. ‘Regain control and dress yourself, or continue having hysterics until I have to carry you down to Medical, in your underclothes, for Leanan to sedate.’

My words shock her into silencing her weeping. After a few minutes of deep, ragged breaths, she moves a little, pulling her boots closer, and shifting herself to sit upright. My wife is a mess, her hair tangled, face streaked with tears, and eyes red from crying. When she tries to put on the tunic, her hands shake to the point where she cannot close it in front. I leave her be. Rushing her won’t help and will only upset her more. Somehow she manages to stand and finish dressing.

‘You should go clean up in the ‘fresher,’ I suggest.

Her path to it weaves back and forth, reflecting how unsteady she still is, but at least my wife is on her feet, properly dressed, and no longer crying.

I wait until she is hidden from my sight before letting out a frustrated sigh. She has interpreted what I did to relieve my thwarted desires, without involving her in that as a courtesy to her, as a punishment directed at her instead.

***

The Sith Lord is sitting, cross-legged, on the floor and obviously meditating when I finally work up the courage to return to the gym an hour after I had left it. A part of me wants to flee back to the safety of the ‘fresher, but instead I make myself walk across the floor and sit down in front of my husband. Sooner or later, I will have to face him and there is no point in delaying that any longer. I shut my eyes and attempt to start my own meditation. Our bond is quiet, reflecting the stillness and calm in Ani’s mind, and to my great surprise, there is no anger to be found in him, only love and support.

Little goddess, he quietly calls to me. You cannot manipulate or force me into anything I am unwilling to do, not with Jedi mind tricks, and not with your empathy. I wanted to make love to you because I desired it, not because of your empathy, and I thought you wanted it, too. Next time, I will ask, first, and not assume.

A gloved finger reaches over, traces my cheekbone, and brushes away the tear which has escaped from me.

Know that I would never intentionally hurt you, he adds, or ever ask you to harm another.  

I keep my chin down and eyes closed. If I open them, I am sure I will start to cry again. He has forgiven me completely for my mistaken assumptions about what I thought I did to him and what he did to himself. Ani’s hand moves from my face to my waist, checking on our son, before he rests it on top of one of mine.

I knew your empathy would be a problem when we were on your homeworld, he admits. Jedi empaths were trained as healers, but they could only feel the emotions of others, not project or manipulate them in the way you are able to. Sith are not empathic at all, so I do not know how to help you. In this, I have failed you as a teacher.

I start a protest which he silences with a finger across my lips.

I cannot teach you as you need to be taught, but someone else can, he reveals. Your brother will bring them to you after I leave.

Anakin, I try again, only to be cut short a second time.

We will discuss all of it later, he reassures me. I will be in the large salle, duelling with a few ‘droids. When you are finished in here, come to me there.

I watch Ani stand and let him go without trying to delay him.

It is only a few minutes before my brother appears. He drops himself inelegantly to the floor, sitting in front of me with a serious expression on his face.

‘Your Sith Lord husband has finally admitted that he needs a Jedi Master to teach you,’ Michael tells me, ‘so I went and found someone who can help.’

I raise a sceptical eyebrow at him.

‘I don’t see anybody in here except us,’ I state.

‘It’s harder for him to manifest than for me,’ Michael scolds. ‘I have you as a permanent anchor point. He has no one who can do that for him, so he has to come to me instead. Be patient and wait.’

‘And?’ I prod at him, a bit curious who this mysterious being might be.

‘You’ll see,’ my brother teases.

At that I close my eyes, just to be stubborn, just to be a bit of a bratty younger sister, refusing to open them until I sense another presence in the room.

‘Oh…,’ I slowly say as I stare at the man in Jedi robes who has settled himself on the floor next to Michael.

He’s tall, I decide, and middle aged. There is grey in his long brown hair and beard, so he is no youngster. Two kind blue eyes look into mine, and he smiles in a way designed to reassure me. Like my brother, a soft blue glow dances across his skin. My new teacher is a Jedi ghost.

‘I have been told that you have a problem controlling your empathy,’ he tells me. ‘I owe Anakin my help and am forbidden to offer it to him, but there is nothing to stop me from aiding and teaching you, and you are in desperate need of proper training that he cannot give you.’

‘And you are?’ I ask, my curiosity running wild.

‘Call me Qui-Gon,’ he reveals. ‘You have much to learn and little time to do it in. We should start immediately.’

***

I effortlessly dismantle the ‘droid, using one precise lightsaber strike after another. A corridor away I can sense someone I knew long ago, someone I can trust to do no harm to my wife. Of all the Jedi he could have run to for help, I can only be grateful that the pest chose that particular one. No others, if they still exist in that form, would have the least bit of sympathy for me or for her.

For a few minutes I debate what to do next. It has been years since I spent much time working with two ‘sabers so perhaps I should duel a few ‘droids in that manner. I have already promised to teach my wife Niman, and if there are any problems to be straightened out, I would prefer to do that in private, rather than make a fool of myself in front of her.

***

‘You have a firm grasp of all the basics, now,’ Qui-Gon tells me. ‘All you need to do is practice, and your brother can help you with that. If you have trouble with any of it, he can always bring me to you again.’

He reaches over to touch my hand with his then leans farther forward, brushing it across my middle.

‘You will bear Anakin another son,’ he states.

For some reason, his observation embarrasses me greatly and I feel my cheeks redden in response. Perhaps it is that so few know of my latest pregnancy which has brought it on, or the intimacy of his touch and the casualness with which he reveals it.

‘Your secret is safe with me,’ he assures me. ‘I know that you love him and he loves you. Love led to his downfall and will be his salvation. Be there for him, when he needs you the most.’

My brother and the Jedi Master exchange a look. These two are up to something, but I suspect that neither of them will own up to it.

‘We should go,’ Michael decides, ‘before too many questions can be asked.’

‘The opinions of others have never mattered to me,’ Qui-Gon admits, ‘and the Jedi Council’s opinion least of all, but it is time to go.’

‘I’ll come see you tomorrow,’ my brother promises.

I feel a quick kiss on my cheek as he disappears, taking my new teacher with him.

***

Maia is hesitant to approach me when she comes into the salle. The pieces of destroyed duelling ‘droids strewn across the floor and the intact ones stored to the side are making her nervous. I shut off my lightsabers, return them to my belt, and invite her over to me with a gesture. Her first few steps are slow, but she soon runs to me and what she sees as safety. There is no need to say anything once she is secure in my embrace.

My wife’s mind is quiet, her shields almost glasslike in their reflectiveness. Not a single wisp of emotion can be found, save for those I can feel from her over our bond. Her control is flawless, and I can only marvel at how quickly she has progressed under Qui-Gon’s tutelage. I have been an arrogant fool to think I could manage her empathic training, and I should have asked her brother to find her a willing teacher long before now. My half-remembered, haphazard Jedi training from Obi-Wan and Sith disciplines imposed on me by Palpatine are no match for the knowledge of a true Jedi Master with years of experience teaching padawans.

I feel her relax against my chest and run my fingers through her hair.

‘Anakin,’ she quietly says my name.

One of the duelling ‘droids stirs then another, responding to the sound of her voice.

‘Anakin!’ she repeats, alarmed by what is happening.

‘Guard my back,’ I order, spinning her behind me and setting one of my ‘sabers in her hand as I move her.

***

My mouth goes dry and I start to panic as I see his duelling ‘droids begin to move towards us. I don’t trust those things at all, but something must be seriously wrong if they are not under my husband’s control. I hear his ‘saber ignite and turn on the one he had given me. His back feels solid against mine behind me. This will be the first time I have fought an opponent where the risks are real and life and limb are on the line.

Relax a bit, he tells me. Let yourself sink into the Force and allow it to guide you. I will cover and protect you as you do the same for me.

Ani? I question him

His response is to shift into a ready stance, his weapon held in a low guard as he allows the ‘droids to come to him rather than going to them and risk opening too large a space between us. I decide that I had better do the same and prepare myself for the first attack. There is no way we will be able to simply walk to the door and leave. Our only choice is to fight our way clear to an escape.

***

Without seeing her actions, I sense my wife settle into a rhythm of alternately parrying and attacking, and I promptly praise her whenever I know she has been successful in landing a hit. Fighting as a team is a new concept for her, one alien to the traditional training from her homeworld, yet she complements my every move as if we have worked this way for years. Each of us is fully able to anticipate what the other will do and act in concert with their decisions.

Quickly dispatching the last of my mechanical opponents, I wait for Maia to do the same with hers. The salle looks like a battlefield, with not one ‘droid left in a functioning state. Sacrificing them was more than worth it. I am certain, now, that if it was ever necessary, I can count on my wife to work in tandem with me in a fight.

‘That was very well done,’ I tell her, ‘but I need to order some new duelling ‘droids.’

‘Stupid ‘droids,’ she says, giving a severed limb a kick to express her disgust at them. ‘Hopefully the next batch won’t be defective.’

I don’t enlighten her to my trick.

‘Shall we go have lunch?’ I ask, offering her my arm instead of a confession.

There is no hesitation in her touch when she sets her hand above my elbow. It’s long past the time when we would normally have eaten, and I need to care for her properly. For what remains of the afternoon, after our meal, I will see that she lies down and hopefully sleeps for a while.

Later, after she has rested, we will talk.


Endor, Ibleam System. Year 4, Month 2.

DAY 4

 

While I wait, I contemplate what I must do in the next few days. I will have little time to ensure that the battlestation’s weapon system is fully functional before my master arrives. Tapping a finger on my seat’s armrest, I shift impatiently at the delay in my shuttle’s departure from the Executor. The sooner I can meet with Jerjerrod, the faster I can begin my assigned task.

Colonel Jendon and his co-pilot, Captain Yorr, sense my irritation.

‘This is taking too long,’ I hear Jendon mutter.

‘Not our fault,’ Yorr whispers in reply. ‘There’s some sort of problem with a supply delivery.’

I ignore their chatter. While I prefer having my old wingman in the pilot’s seat, Rik needs to remain available to fly my wife and children to safety, if the situation warrants it. These substitutes will just have to learn how to work with me and not annoy me too much at the same time.

In another minute, my shuttle lifts from the hangar bay floor at last, heading towards the construction project I have been assigned to.

‘Command Station, this is ST321. Code Clearance Blue,’ Jendon states over the comm, giving no sign of the nervousness he is feeling in his voice. ‘We’re starting our approach. Deactivate the security shield.’

‘The security deflector shield will be deactivated when we have confirmation of your code transmission,’ the controller’s voice replies. ‘Stand by.’

‘Quick as you can, please,’ Jendon quietly encourages them. ‘This better not take too long. He’s in no mood to wait.’

‘You are cleared to proceed,’ the response promptly comes back.

‘We are starting our approach,’ the pilot confirms.

The lights in the passenger compartment shut off, and the battlestation, half-complete, its superstructure an open framework on one side, hangs in space in front of us. It grows larger as we draw nearer, heading towards one of the smaller hangars. I wait, silently, for the landing procedures to begin, not moving until I see that Jerjerrod has made an appearance at the hangar’s entrance. Then, I stand and watch him through the front viewports, making him come to me as I observe him.

The man approaching my shuttle is confident and arrogant, and despite what my visit implies, he does not move one bit faster than he feels is absolutely necessary. We have met before, and I had assigned him to this particular posting, but I have not spoken with him in person since my last inspection here, many months ago. When he feels he is close enough, he stops and waits, so I drop the shuttle’s ramp and walk down it, noting that my presence has made him just as nervous as my pilot and co-pilot were. To either side of him, lined up and standing ramrod straight are a few token members of his crew. I note their Commander’s quick smile and bowed neck, his first attempt to curry favour and deflect punishment, but I do not pause or stop when I reach him, instead walking by him and forcing him to quickly turn on his heel to keep pace with me.

‘Lord Vader, this is an unexpected pleasure,’ he greets me. ‘We are honoured by your presence.’

I wave aside his words with a gesture.

‘You may dispense with the pleasantries, Commander,’ I tell him. ‘I am here to put you back on schedule.’

‘I assure you, Lord Vader,’ he tries to placate me, ‘my men are working as fast as they can.’

‘Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them,’ I suggest.

He stops, so I turn to face him. My reputation is such that he already knows what I might do.

‘I tell you, this station will be operational as planned,’ Jerjerrod insists.

‘The Emperor does not share your optimistic appraisal of the situation,’ I reveal, pointing a finger at his chest.

The Commander shakes his head in frustration and denial, his expression reflecting his inner feelings.

‘But he asks the impossible,’ Jerjerrod admits, quietly, insistently adding, ‘I need more men.’

We are both acutely aware that there is no way he can easily meet the deadline my master has set. However, if he fails, I fail, and that is not acceptable.

‘Then perhaps you can tell him that yourself, when he arrives,’ I hint at my master’s plans.

‘The Emperor’s coming here?’ he asks, becoming visibly upset at that piece of news.

‘That is correct, Commander,’ I answer. ‘And he is most displeased with your apparent lack of progress.’

‘We shall double our efforts,’ he quickly promises.

‘I hope so, Commander, for your sake,’ I warn him. ‘The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am.’

I let that sink in and watch him lick his lips and nod in fear. Jerjerrod knows that I kill those who fail me, but my executions are swift and painless in comparison with what my master might do to him. Leaving the Commander to ponder how he should proceed, I spin about and continue on my path across the hangar. My quarters are located many levels above us, and I want to try contacting Luke before I start my first round of inspections.

When I arrive at the room with my meditation pod, I quickly glance around to see if all is in order, but don’t bother checking the rest of my quarters. The other rooms will be bare and empty, save for my office and work space. I have never felt it necessary to equip what is here with any more than the basics since I have always spent my nights back on the Executor, with my wife, rather than here and alone.

I open the pod and settle myself inside it. This will require mental concentration on my part, and an open and receptive mind on Luke’s. He has never answered me before, but I suspect that he has heard my overtures to him and deliberately, belligerently stayed silent.

‘Luke,’ I call, hoping he will respond. ‘Luke.’

No reply.

‘Join me on the dark side of the Force,’ I entice him.

Silence.

‘My son,’ I reveal, ‘it is the only way.’

The only way he can save his friends from harm, and the only way I can easily protect him from my master.

‘Luke,’ I entreat him. ‘Luke.’

This time I feel a distant and distinct flash of recognition on his part, but he is soon hidden and silent again. Confirmation, I think triumphantly. My stubborn son will come to me, exactly when I expect and need him to.

I call up the holochess game I have been playing with my wife, and swap the view to that of an empty board. With a touch, I add an opposing Emperor, then for my own pieces a knight clad in my armour, a Queen bearing a sword guarding three pawns, and a pawn which is poised to transform itself, although what it will become is still uncertain.

Soon, all of the pieces I need will be here, on the board, and in play.

Soon, all too soon, it will be time for the end game to begin.

***

I reach over to discover that the opposite side of the bed, which was empty when I fell asleep, now has an occupant. My husband must have returned a few minutes ago and opted not to wake me.

‘You’re awake,’ he notes. ‘I did try to be quiet and sneak in.’

He rolls onto his side, props himself up with an elbow and looks down at me.

‘You still need to rest some more,’ Ani fusses a little.

‘I had a long nap this afternoon,’ I confess. ‘I expected you to be back late.’

‘We could finish our game,’ he offers.

I touch his scarred cheek with a fingertip. It’s long past the time when we would usually be asleep, and we are both completely awake, but I am not in the mood to play chess with him. He senses my reluctance, and opts to quickly kiss me on the forehead instead of pressing for an answer.

‘We will play over the Holonet, tomorrow,’ he decides. ‘It will be a way to distract myself between inspections and meetings.’

‘Did it go well, today?’ I decide to risk the question.

‘As well as I expected,’ the Sith Lord admits. ‘This project is seriously behind schedule. I need to find a way to motivate the construction crews to work longer and faster, but too many threats create fear, and that is more likely to lead to mistakes being made. If what he requires is not ready or close to it when my master arrives, I will bear the blame for that failure.’

I shiver at that revelation. Although he won’t admit it openly, he’s worried.

‘Palpatine won’t harm me,’ Ani reminds me. ‘He might send us into exile on Vjun or keep me away from you for a while by assigning various tasks to me, but he will not do anything that might risk you or our son. Still, I prefer to avoid any form of punishment if I am able. Tomorrow I will try another tactic.’

‘Bribe them,’ I suggest. ‘Give them an incentive, like more leave time that they can take later.’

‘An incentive,’ he echoes my words. ‘I can think of an incentive I prefer.’

He pulls me closer to his body and waits for my response. As he has promised, there are no more assumptions on his part about when I am willing to have sex with him. Instead, Ani asks or makes suggestions, in his own manner, and lets me answer him in turn, unless I openly offer him an invitation.

Yes, I reply, reaching up to draw his mouth down to mine. I want you now, my husband.

He doesn’t resist me.

Tomorrow, and sleep, can wait.


DAY 5

 

***

After spending the morning touring the battlestation, I have finally returned to my office on board it. There are a dozen high priority messages waiting in the queue for me to deal with, but I choose to view the one from Jix, first. While there might be more pressing developments here, I need to know what is happening on Tatooine.

‘Hi uncle Dee,’ Jix opens, as always, before trying one of his tired jokes. ‘It’s too hot, here, so I hope the weather is better where you are. Skywalker sent Jabba a message and two ‘droids as a bribe, yesterday. A bounty hunter showed up with the wookiee, Chewbacca, today, and claimed the price on his head. It’s been quiet, too quiet, so something must be up. Gotta go. The slug wants some entertainment, and I don’t plan on being it.’

Luke is moving his allies into place before stepping into Jabba’s lair himself. The bounty hunter is obviously one of his friends in disguise, but if I can see through my son’s tactics, then so can the Hutt. Were it myself, I wouldn’t waste my time with subtlety and false cleverness. In my past dealings with the crime lord, I have come at him alone, in a full frontal assault.  

Stop worrying, I remind myself. Luke will rescue his smuggler friend and arrive when I expect him to, exactly as I found in Maia’s memories. There is no need to fret about that. Jix will keep sending updates until my son is on his way from Tatooine to here.

The next message I view is from Inquisitor Tremayne, and does not require a reply from me. He will be arriving in seven days, bringing his ship, the Interrogator, with him. There will be little time to discuss the Rebels’ planned attack on the shield generator complex and conceal his presence on the moon, but between the troops stationed there now, and the reinforcements I will send with Tremayne, the base will be secure.

Reluctantly, I turn my attention to the roster of meetings and inspections Jerjerrod has flagged for today. From the reports I glanced through this morning, my arrival yesterday has prompted a flurry of activity and overtime. He needs to concentrate on having the laser system functional, I decide, everything else must come second. Without the weapon, the battlestation is a useless metallic hulk, and should the Rebels somehow succeed in their attack on the shield generator, it will be a defenceless target for them to aim at. I send a one line message to the Moff before leaving my pod and heading to the meeting room to speak with him.

I suspect it is going to be a very long day.

***

‘Who is that?’ Mikal asks.

This time he is pointing at a picture of my father.

‘That’s my father, your grandfather,’ I tell him.

He scrolls the images down, to another one of my parents at home. We have been going through my pictures, archived on my datapad, as a way to entertain ourselves. While I have many photos of my relatives, I know that my husband doesn’t have many images of his, other than security footage of his son and an old hologram of his mother from her identi-tab.  Strangely, he has never mentioned his father or really spoken much about his first wife, and I have never worked up the courage to ask. Some topics are best left alone.

‘It’s time for Lord Mikal’s lesson,’ Thirsk announces.

The commando is precisely on time, as he always is, and my son bounces from the chair to join him. They will be back, in an hour, which will give me an opportunity to see to some of the things I need to do.

‘In an hour, Commander,’ I remind him, although that is probably unnecessary.

‘Of course, my Lady,’ he replies.

‘Bye, mommy,’ Mikal tells me as they disappear from the den.

I turn off my datapad and set it aside. Closing my eyes, I take a few minutes to relax and consider what I need to prioritize and what can be left for later. My clothes need to be sorted through since I will soon be hiding an expanding middle again, and there is a stack of correspondence to deal with. The twins are sleeping in their room, allowing me to have some time to myself. Soon, Leanan will be here to check on me. Ani sees the constant monitoring of my pregnancy as necessary, but I know that his fussing is motivated as much by his grief for the son we lost as it is for his concerns about my health. The Sith Lord has never allowed himself to mourn in public and rarely reveals to me how deeply he feels about it in private. Yesterday, when he slipped away to grieve alone, I felt his pain as if it were my own. This must be another consequence from how wide he has opened the bond between us. Neither of us can really hide from the other what they are experiencing at the emotional level.

Maia, he calls to me.

Yes, dear, I tease him.

Go check our game, he suggests. I’ve made a move.

I humour him, turn on the holo projector sitting on the table in front of me, and flip through the boards in play to see what he has done. When I find it, I start to laugh. My husband is trying to be clever, but I can anticipate his next few moves. With a light touch, I shift an advisor along a diagonal, setting up my own trap to spring on him. The projector in his quarters, wherever he is, will instantly display the change.

Sneaky wife, he replies in reaction.

The Sith Lord’s next move promptly appears in front of me. I make myself comfortable and settle in for a while. He will play until he has another meeting or inspection, or Leanan arrives. Then, he will excuse himself and contact me when he is free again, later.

I must go, Ani admits after another ten minutes. Jerjerrod wants to show me how much progress they have made on the focussing system.

Leanan will be here, soon, I remind him.

Don’t wait up for me, he orders. It will be very late when I return.


DAY 6

 

***

I wake to the chiming of the comm and let out an irritated growl. The pattern it is ringing in does not belong to my master. Only a few other signals are allowed to make it through to my bedroom, so this had better be important.

‘Anakin,’ my wife mumbles a low complaint as she stirs in my arms.

I move my right arm from under her head and lift my left from her waist. Before I roll onto my back, I quickly kiss her neck.

‘Sorry, my love,’ I apologize. ‘It will take a few minutes for me to see to this.’

She pulls her favourite cloak of mine over her head in an attempt to mute the noise. I throw back the covers, sit up, and grab my robe from the floor. Stalking towards the comm panel, I wrap the fabric around myself and rein in my temper at this unwelcome, early morning call. First, I will identify who it is then decide whether to bother with putting on my armour and dealing with it elsewhere.

‘Yes?’ I ask, after activating the comm, making it clear from my icy tone that I am not happy.

‘Uhm, hi, uncle Dee?’ Jix ventures.

‘What is it, Jix?’ I snap at him.

‘Things are getting really interesting here,’ he replies. ‘Jabba’s trophy has been thawed out, he’s acquired a new dancer, and he plans to feed a Jedi to the sarlacc.’

Luke’s clever plan has obviously not gone as he had hoped. The smuggler has been freed from the carbonite I had frozen him in, but the Princess, who I know was involved in this scheme, has been captured, along with my son. I tip my head and think carefully about what I should have my agent do. All of them will escape eventually, but I need Jix to keep an eye on what happens.

‘Stay there,’ I order. ‘Watch what happens, protect Skywalker if necessary, bring him to me if the opportunity presents itself, and contact me later with a detailed report.’

He grumbles something I can barely hear about being tired of the heat and sand, and having to put up with the members of Jabba’s swoop gang.

‘You are not on vacation, Jix,’ I growl at him, then add, ‘but try to not end up as an appetizer for the sarlacc.’

***

As soon as the Sith Lord comes back to me, I pull him close and tuck my head under his chin. Today was lonely for me, even though I did my best to keep myself busy with the children and by practicing some of my newly learned Force skills with my brother. I know Ani tried to cheer me up by playing holochess with me when he could, but I missed him anyway.

‘You’re worried,’ I quietly tell my husband what I can clearly feel from him.

‘I have much to worry about,’ he reminds me. ‘Progress is being made. I don’t expect everything to be complete on time, but enough will be finished to keep my master happy.’

I shiver against him and try to stop it. My shoulders and arms are bare and the room is cool.

‘Let me warm you up,’ Ani offers. ‘You feel a bit cold, tonight.’

I let go of him so he can retrieve a heavy blanket from a storage unit and throw it on the bed. Soon, I am snuggled up against him, my cheek resting on his chest again, appreciating the heat radiating off of him. He traces the twists in my braided hair, running his fingers up and down, using the pattern of movement to soothe me and distract himself.

‘What’s bothering you, dear?’ I risk the question.

Ani’s hand stops moving, to rest on my shoulder.

‘I can’t hide it from you,’ he admits, ‘so I will tell you what I am allowed to, no more.’

‘Is it really that bad?’ I ask.

‘Yes… and no,’ he tells me. ‘The Emperor will be here in four days. He will want to see you, and there is no way we can avoid that.’

‘I don’t want to be put on display, like a prized broodmare, for him to examine,’ I complain a little.

‘We have no choice, Maia,’ the Sith Lord firmly states. ‘I will bring you with me when he arrives, so we can both greet him at the official welcoming ceremony. If he is pleased with the work I have done, he will probably be content with that.’

Ani shifts me off of his chest. He’s tired and ready for sleep. A selfish part of me wants to keep him awake and talking to me, but he needs to rest. Tomorrow will be another long day apart for both of us.

‘Good night, dear,’ I tease him. ‘Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.’

His mouth briefly brushes against mine.

‘That must be another of your Earthisms,’ he decides as I roll onto my side and pull his arm across my waist. ‘There are no bugs in my bed, just my wife.’

Somehow, I can’t see either of us sleeping soundly tonight if I tell him what that saying refers to, and he decides to take my teasing seriously and go looking for some imaginary pests.

‘I’ll explain it in the morning,’ I promise him.

***

This time when I wake from that nightmare, it is with the Hapan Queen Mother’s mocking laughter ringing in my ears. My wife starts to shift next to me, sensing my anger and reacting to it, so I quiet her, easing her back into a deep sleep before I get out of bed. There is no point in trying to rest any more tonight, I decide, and if I stay in here, my restlessness will only wake Maia again. Stealthily, carefully, I put on my armour, slipping out to my office once I can safely exit my bedroom.

I take a seat at my desk, but don’t bother turning on my data terminal. Work can wait until morning. Instead, I stare at the hologram of my wife, with an infant Mikal on her lap, which I keep on my desk. Parts of my memory have returned in detail. I know Ta’a Chume used a Gun of Command on me, and that she ordered me to be silent and to follow her into another room after she groped at my body. What happened in that room, before she let me leave it, is still a mystery and unknown, but it will eventually come back to me. I suspect that whatever occurred in there is the source of the rage I am gripped by whenever I wake from that dream.

A presence flickers nearby, so I acknowledge him.

‘Jedi pest,’ I growl. ‘What do you want?’

Michael appears, this time robed as a Sith, and drops himself into the chair across from mine.

‘I thought you might need a duelling partner,’ he offers, ‘since you and my sister destroyed all of your ‘droids.’

‘Not tonight,’ I put him off. ‘It is far too late and I am tired.’

‘Not too tired to talk to me, though. Luke has escaped from Jabba,’ he confirms the report I heard from Jix.

‘And is on his way to join the Rebel fleet,’ I add. ‘My agents on Tatooine have already told me that. The Rebels are gathering, at Sullust, in preparation for an assault on the battlestation, here.’

There is silence from my brother-in-law. He obviously knows more about this than I do, but he won’t reveal what it is to me. I pick up the holocube with the image of my wife and rotate it in my hand.

‘You know what is to come, so don’t deny it,’ I prod at him.

‘I know you need my help, but won’t ask for it,’ Michael tells me. ‘So instead of waiting for you to realize that, I am offering it, now, and saving both of us from wasting precious time.’

I set down the holocube. The pest has decided to spare me the embarrassment of admitting I can’t be everywhere, deal with every contingency, or protect everyone who must be guarded. His task, if he accepts it, is more dangerous in some ways than what I need to do.

‘It’s risky, very risky,’ I warn him. ‘Too soon and the Emperor will sense your presence. Too late and the consequences could be dire.’

‘She’s my sister and your wife,’ he reminds me. ‘She loves you and chose you to be the father of her children, my nieces and nephews. You and I might disagree on many things, but not on this. I will do what needs to be done for her sake.’

‘Very well, Jedi,’ I accept his aid. ‘Come to me tomorrow, after your sister is asleep, and we will discuss what you must do.’

He fades away, finally vanishing completely, leaving me alone with my thoughts. I activate the holochess projector, switching the view to the board I had set up two days ago. With a touch, I add another knight, this time dressed in Jedi robes, to my chessmen already present, placing him in front of my queen, guarding her and three of my pawns from the opposing Emperor.

Another piece is in play. Soon, others will be as well.

***


DAY 7

 

My husband is already in his armour and wide awake when I start to stir. At some point earlier in the morning he must have slipped out of bed and later returned to it without disturbing me. He’s warm to my touch and doesn’t object when I glue myself to him.

‘Anakin,’ I happily mumble at him in my half-asleep state.

‘Little goddess,’ he teases me. ‘I knew you would want to curl up with me for a while, so I came back to bed just to let you do that.’

I feel a kiss on the top of my head. He has left his helmet off so he can have his breakfast with the children and me.

‘I like spoiling you with the little things you enjoy,’ he reveals. ‘It’s much easier and less expensive than buying you fancy trinkets.’

‘Resorting to bribery, husband? That doesn’t matter to me,’ I decide, ‘and I still know what you want.’

‘Do you?’ Ani asks and in his voice I can hear the laughter he is holding back.

‘Sith Lord, you are becoming all too predictable,’ I warn him.

‘There is no time for that this morning, my love,’ he admits, ‘and not tonight, either. We will have to do without, for a few days, until I am free to be solely yours again.’

‘That’s…’ I start, but my husband breaks in and finishes it, ‘… not fair, but it is how the next few days will be.’

I don’t bother arguing with him. At the moment, whatever private time he can spare, he spends with me, and I won’t ask him to give up some of the sleep he so desperately needs just so we can fool around. A gloved finger slowly traces a path down my cheek, stops under my jaw, and tips my face up to look into his.

I love you, Anakin, I tell him.

His response is to shift me in his arms and set his lips against mine.

I think I can spare you a few minutes this morning, he decides.

***

Incoming transmission, precisely on time, and I know who has just arrived in system.

‘Admiral Piett,’ I greet the officer I had left in charge of my fleet.

‘My Lord,’ he answers immediately. ‘We are on a slow approach and should be in position in an hour.’

‘I am transferring your posting back to the Executor, which is acting as a command and control ship,’ I tell him. ‘Captain Kallic will brief you on the specifics. I shall speak with you, in person, later today.’

‘As you wish, my Lord,’ he accepts my orders, his hologram vanishing as our short conversation ends.

I will have a few minutes of peace before Jerjerrod expects me to be at another of his meetings, this time with the engineer in charge of the weapon system. Three days, I remind myself. We will have three days to work out any problems and perform the preliminary tests.

Activating the holo projector, I set it to view to the game with my wife, note her last move and consider my options. She won’t let me capture her knights and I will always defend my queen from any possible attacks. Be unpredictable, I decide. With a touch, I advance a pawn, just to see how she reacts.

Another game enters my mind, so I examine that board carefully, add a fortress in the shape of a Star Destroyer, and position it. Another piece, in the form of Piett and my fleet of six ships, is now in play.


DAY 10

 

Maia is becoming visibly upset, so I slap my hand down on the controls and shut the cockpit door, startling Rik and Thirsk, who are acting as my pilot and co-pilot, and cutting off her view of the unfinished battlestation. Letting her see that was a mistake.

‘It’s alright,’ I try to calm her.

Her hands are shaking, so I take them in mine.

‘No, it’s not,’ she manages to say. ‘That thing…’

‘Is where I have been working, off and on, for years,’ I admit. ‘We have been in this system before. You just didn’t know where we were or what I was doing.’

My wife shakes her head in denial.

‘You can’t go there,’ she decides. ‘You must not go there, Anakin. If you go there, you will die.’

She’s afraid for my safety and barely holding that emotion in. Somehow she knows what the significance of the battlestation is, and the role this location will play in my future. Her subconscious memories, or perhaps her nightmares, have given her this knowledge which is expressing itself in her fear. I hold her hands in place, preventing her from leaving her seat in an attempt to flee, although there is nowhere in my shuttle for her to escape to.

‘Come here, Maia,’ I offer. ‘You have already removed your restraints, so why don’t you sit here with me?’

I sense her hesitation then acquiescence. Keeping a firm grip on her hands, I guide her to my side and settle her on my knees. She is trembling slightly, until I pull her close and encourage her to lean bodily against me. Soon, I must greet my master and Maia needs to calm herself and deal with her fears before we meet him. Physical contact with me should help her do that.

‘We will have a few minutes before the shuttle docks to sort you out,’ I reassure her. ‘The battlestation scares you. It is meant to instil fear in those who see it, but there is no reason for you to be afraid.’

Her hair is twisted into an elaborate style and covered with a delicate mothsilk veil, so I refrain from touching it to soothe her. Instead, I use our bond, letting her feel my love and confidence in her.

‘Not much will happen today, Maia,’ I tell her. ‘We will meet the Emperor’s shuttle, formally greet him, and perhaps he will speak with me in private. After that, I will take you back to the Executor.’

‘That’s all?’ she asks.

‘That’s all,’ I confirm.

I add layers of calm and support to what my wife can feel from me and am rewarded by her panic gradually ebbing away as her control returns. Her fear is still there, not entirely gone, but at a level where it won’t govern her behaviour or be too noticeable. To distract her, I slide a hand across her stomach and rest it there. Despite the trickery which led to his conception, I cannot help being grateful for this son of ours who shall probably be the final child she has with me.

‘He’s fine,’ his mother assures me.

‘And you?’ I venture, moving my hand beneath her veil, to touch her cheek and caress it.

‘A little scared,’ she admits, being completely honest in her answer.

‘Understandable,’ I comfort her. ‘Use our bond to communicate with me. My master cannot intrude on that.’

The floor beneath us shifts, drops, and I know the shuttle has landed.

‘Are you ready?’ I ask.

‘Do I have a choice?’ Maia replies in answer.

‘Not really,’ I tease, attempting to lighten her mood.

I help her to her feet and rather than set her hand on my arm, I wrap mine around her waist, steadying and guiding her through the shuttle and down its ramp.

***

Without Ani at my side, I don’t think I could have made myself leave his shuttle. I have too many misgivings about this place, this battlestation which has consumed so much of his time and only incites feelings of dread in me. While we wait, I only half-listen to the discussions regarding protocol, precedent, and ritual. Calm, be calm, I tell myself. Let your husband do the talking. Stay close to him and he will keep you safe. The arm at my waist is firm and solid, a physical support across my back I need to lean on right now. Normally, the Sith Lord does not do this in public, not unless my pregnancies have been obvious, so anyone here who knows how he behaves must have already guessed.

‘If your Lady needs to rest,’ one of the high ranking officers makes an offer, ‘I will have one of the nearby pilots’ Ready Rooms cleared for her use.’

Please? I ask of Ani.

The peace and quiet will help you cope, he agrees. I will come for you when you are needed.

‘That would be suitable, Commander,’ my husband accepts what I have been offered.

I don’t leave the Sith Lord’s side until Thirsk has inspected the room and ensured it is safe. Then, I step away, but at the loss of the support from Ani’s arm, I feel unsteady. Another step and I start to sway. No, I think to myself as the floor rushes upwards and someone quickly catches me.

You do have excellent timing, Anakin tells me when I stir a little in his arms. A few more minutes and I would have been hard pressed to carry you to my quarters, and then return to the hangar in time to meet my master.

Ani?

You fainted. It doesn’t matter if it was due to stress, emotional upset, or your pregnancy, he decides. The Emperor will assume you are having a difficult pregnancy and be lenient because of it.

I hear mechanisms opening a meditation pod. When I look about, the room is empty, save for the pod and a Holonet station.

‘There is no bed for you to use,’ he reveals, ‘so I am going to put you in here. It will be safer and more secure than taking you to Medical.’

The Sith Lord sets me down in his command chair, leans it back, and settles me in it. He disappears into what would on ship be our bedroom, and returns with one of his spare cloaks draped on his arm. I pull the fabric up to my chin when he tosses it over me.

‘Commander Thirsk will be just outside, guarding you,’ he tells me. ‘I don’t know how long I will be, but I want you to stay here and rest. Later, I will take you back to the shuttle, and after we return to the Executor, the doctor will need to examine you.’

I catch his hand as he turns to go. His fingers squeeze mine and he stops at my tug on his hand.

‘Be careful, my love,’ I quietly say to him.

‘I will be,’ he reassures me.

***

I leave her side, slowly, reluctantly, and once out of her sight make my way as rapidly as I can back to the main hangar. Maia’s fainting spell has confirmed what many probably suspected when they first saw us. Her latest pregnancy is a secret no longer.

When I reach the hangar, Jerjerrod has already assembled his officers and crew, ordered them by ranks, and is waiting for me. Through the magnetic shields, a steady stream of TIEs fly across my field of view, not parting until the shuttle bearing my master begins its approach. I move to my designated place between the rows of troops, the Moff behind and to my right. As I watch the shuttle land, I prepare myself, clouding my feelings and concealing my plans, being careful to leave enough on the surface which can be read without revealing anything important.

The ramp descends, allowing the red garbed royal guards to sweep out of it, forming an honour guard in front of and to either side of me. I don’t kneel until I see my master step from the interior of his ship onto the top of the ramp. He is followed by some of his advisors, but I pay little attention to them. On reaching me, he stops.

‘Rise, my friend,’ I am instructed, so I obey.

The Emperor indicates with a gesture I am to walk with him. I do so, remaining silent for a few seconds, before deciding to take the initiative.

‘The Death Star will be completed on schedule,’ I inform him.

‘You have done well, Lord Vader,’ he praises me, ‘and now I sense you wish to continue your search for young Skywalker.’

I glance over at him then quickly look away. Let him think he knows my intentions.

‘Yes, my master,’ I agree.

‘Patience, my friend,’ he reminds me. ‘In time, he will seek you out, and when he does, you must bring him before me. He has grown strong. Only together can we turn him to the dark side of the Force.’

‘As you wish,’ I confirm his orders.

‘Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen,’ he tells me, before laughing at how his plans have progressed.

I say nothing, keep to the slow walking pace he has set, and try to come up with a plausible excuse to leave. My thoughts and immediate concerns are no longer here, but elsewhere and for someone else.

‘Your wife is not with you,’ he observes as we reach the entrance to the turbolift to his throne room.

‘She became ill and is resting,’ I reveal.

I stop in place, hoping he will continue into the ‘lift on his own and leave Maia in peace, but my master has other ideas.

‘Bring her to me,’ he orders. ‘Carry her if you must, but I will see her, today.’

There is no point in arguing with him or offering up an explanation for her absence that he will only choose not to believe. Instead, I will do as he commands and let him see just how sick my wife is.

‘Very well,’ I reply. ‘I will bring her to you.’

I sketch a brief bow and spin around, walk swiftly down the corridor towards the ‘lift I need. With each step, I concentrate on reining in my anger. Palpatine knows Maia is ill. He would have been told that after I left the hangar with her in my arms, and before he exited his shuttle. This is merely a childish means of demonstrating his power and control over me.

***

When Anakin returns and wakes me with a light touch on my shoulder, I can feel the rage he is barely holding back.

‘I am truly sorry that I must disturb you, my love,’ he apologizes to me. ‘I know you are unwell, but the Emperor wants to see you, right now, regardless of that.’

I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and force myself to sit up. The room is spinning and I don’t want to move. If I had more time to sort myself out, I might be able to stand, but at the moment I am just too dizzy to manage even that.

‘I can’t stand up,’ I admit. ‘If I try, I will only faint again.’

‘Then I will carry you to him, as I was ordered to,’ he decides.

The thought of being packed through the corridors just so the old coot can gloat a bit makes me feel even more ill. I turn my face away from my husband and make a few choking noises. He doesn’t wait for the nausea to grow worse, and I find myself being gently lifted, helped into the ‘fresher, and settled comfortably on the floor.

‘It’s too early for this to start,’ I complain, but my audience of one has left me on my own, preferring to avoid watching me throw up.

***

She is not just slightly unsteady or faking an illness to avoid my master, but is genuinely dealing with pregnancy sickness. I activate the comm in my quarters, find the code I need and put in a call to Medical.

‘The best female physician on board is to be sent to my quarters, immediately, to see to my wife who is ill with pregnancy sickness,’ I order.

I don’t wait for a reply and close the channel. The doctor I have asked for will soon be here as requested. I retrieve a glass of water from the small kitchen and go to my wife. She is still on the floor, leaning over, and holding her arms across her stomach. There is little I can do for her other than offer sympathy and something to drink.

‘Drink this,’ I suggest, handing Maia the glass.

Somehow, despite how miserable she feels, she manages to smile at me in thanks. I watch her slowly sip on the water, only leaving her side when Thirsk lets me know the doctor has arrived.

***

I hate being sick, so when the elderly doctor Ani must have sent for looks in on me, I have reached the point where tears of frustration are running down my cheeks. Nothing I try is making it stop or having any effect.

‘Let me help you, my Lady,’ she offers.

Her hands are warm and gentle as she firmly rubs a familiar anti-nausea patch into place on my back. There is a sting when she draws blood for a quick test, but the hypospray after that doesn’t hurt.

‘Stay where you are until everything I have given you starts to work,’ she warns.

Then she is gone, leaving me alone while she speaks to the Sith Lord. I listen carefully, curious what she might say, and using their conversation as a distraction from how sick I feel.

‘It’s definitely pregnancy sickness, my Lord,’ the doctor confirms, ‘and probably triggered by an early hormonal spike, given that she is only a few weeks along. It would be best to let her rest for a while.’

‘Not possible,’ Ani tells her. ‘I need her to be able to return to my flagship with me.’

He doesn’t want to reveal what he has been ordered to do, and she, unlike Leanan would, won’t argue with him about moving me.

‘I will give her a stronger sedative so she can travel,’ I hear the doctor decide. ‘See to it that she rests once you are there.’

Footsteps approach.

‘My Lady, I need to give you another hypospray,’ the doctor tells me. ‘This one will make you rather drowsy.’

I hold my arm out to her and don’t flinch when I feel the pressure against it. If I have to be put on display for the Emperor’s enjoyment, I have no objections to sleeping through it.

***

She’s out cold and doesn’t move when I shift her against my chest. If my master intends to have a conversation with my wife, he will be disappointed. Carrying her down the corridor, I pause and nod politely at the two guards who are posted next to the turbolift. When it arrives, I wait for the council members to exit and step into it myself. Near the end of our upward journey, Maia stirs.

‘Anakin?’ she asks, half-awake and not quite aware.

‘Not here, not now,’ I scold her gently. ‘That name is for us to use when we are alone, in private.’

She reaches up, to hold her arms tight around my neck and rest her cheek on my chest armour. I feel the tenseness in her body as the ‘lift doors open, revealing the narrow catwalks and bridge we must cross to reach my master.

Close your eyes and be brave, I suggest. I won’t let you fall.

I walk across the durasteel deck plates spanning the deep chasm, ascend the steps and stop at the top. My master is standing, his back to us, surveying his view from the transparisteel windows. He knows I am here, with Maia, and is choosing to ignore us.

I must put you down, I warn her.

Slowly, carefully, I lower her, helping her to find a balance point on both her knees as she sits down on her heels. Without using her hands as a support to steady herself, she will probably slump to the floor. Once I am certain my wife can manage on her own, I kneel beside her and wait, impatiently, for the Emperor to acknowledge our presence.

All around my master swirls the dark side of the Force. It dances in a way which attracts and pulls me in, but I resist the temptation to reach out and draw it to me. Maia, at my left side, is visibly ill, with her bright Force presence flickering irregularly. She is far too sick to effectively ward off the light probes my master sends towards her, but before I can shield her from the next of those, he turns about to stare at us.

‘What is thy bidding, my master?’ I ask.

Footsteps, accompanied by the tap of his cane, approach me.

‘Send the fleet to the far side of Endor. There it will stay until called for,’ he orders, raising his hand to gesture towards me.

I stay where I am, kneeling next to my wife, rather than rise to my feet.

‘And what of the reports of the Rebel fleet massing near Sullust?’ I remind him.

‘It is of no concern,’ he decides. ‘Soon the Rebellion will be crushed and young Skywalker will be one of us.’

Palpatine comes closer to my wife and looks down at her.

‘So much potential and power in one so very fragile,’ he muses aloud, his voice soft and low. ‘Fate certainly had a sense of humour in binding her permanently to you, my friend. Using her to produce heirs for us is a waste of her abilities, if a necessary one. Fully trained as a Jedi, she would rival their great masters, but as a Sith, …’

He stretches out his hand in an attempt to touch the top of her head with his fingers. I feel Maia’s distress before it expresses itself physically. Reaching over, I catch her with my hand and ease her sideways so that her head is resting on my left thigh rather than the cold floor. To protect her, I lay my left arm over her body, using it as a physical barrier and silent warning that she is mine and not his.

‘She is very ill with this pregnancy, my master,’ I state the obvious.

His eyes remain on my unconscious wife as his hand drops to his side, and I see and sense his desire for her, as she must have before she collapsed.

‘Your work here is finished, my friend,’ he informs me.

This time I obey when he motions me to my feet, shifting Maia into a leaning position against my legs as I stand. While he resumes his seat, I pick her up, settle her as comfortably as I can in my arms, and wait to be dismissed.

‘See that she rests and is cared for properly,’ he orders. ‘No harm must come to her or the child. You can bide your time in supervising the local traffic and looking after your wife. Now, go out to the command ship and await my orders.’

‘Yes, my master,’ I reply out of habit, but his attention has moved back to the windows, to his personal meditations and private schemes.

***


DAY 12

 

In spite of Leanan’s medications and my attempts at using Jedi healing techniques, I find myself bolting for the ‘fresher yet again. There is no one to see or hear me because the children are in bed for the night and my husband is working in his office, so I give in, venting all of my frustrations at my pregnancy, at this place, at the Emperor, at fate and what I know will happen here, and at how helpless I feel about it all. Ani, however, can feel exactly what I am experiencing and he soon comes, silently making his way to my side, and sitting next to me on the edge of the bath. His hands pull my hair back, divide it into sections, and carefully twist it into an elaborate braid. My husband’s touch is soothing so I lean backwards, to find myself held in his arms.

‘You really are having a terrible time,’ he notes.

I shove myself forward and away from him as another round of queasiness hits.

‘Not all of this is pregnancy sickness,’ he decides once I have reached for a glass of water and finished it. ‘If it was only hormones triggering it, Leanan would have it under control. You are upset, full of emotional turmoil, and that is what is making you ill. Last night, you had nightmares and slept for only a few hours, today, you not been able to keep anything down, and tonight, you really must eat and rest. So, talk to me about it. Let me help you with this.’

My husband can feel every emotion of mine, so there is no point in denying any of it to him.

‘I want to leave,’ I confess. ‘I hate it here and I want us to be far, far away from this place.’

‘Being sick won’t lead to that result,’ he warns me. ‘I won’t be allowed to send you to Vjun or Coruscant, and I cannot leave without my master’s permission.’

‘Your master,’ I whisper, more to myself than to the Sith Lord.

I remember those horrid, sickening feelings of lust and desire that had washed over me from the Emperor. It felt like having thousands of vile insects crawling all over my skin. He wants me for himself and knows that as long as Ani lives, his apprentice will never allow him to touch me. Putting a hand to my mouth, I close my eyes and shiver at the images my mind is conjuring up. There is no way I would ever willingly let the old coot have what he wants, so he would need to forcibly restrain and drug me.

‘You know,’ Ani quietly states.

‘Yes, I know,’ I answer him.

I turn around and hide my face against his chest, seeking shelter and safety in his arms where I know it will always be for me.

‘If he tries to harm you, if he tries to harm our children, I will kill him,’ he promises me, his voice calm, controlled, and absolutely deadly.

***

Maia’s asleep at last, but I can’t stay, much as I would prefer to. Setting her hand down next to her face, I brush a few stray hairs back into place, lean over from where I am sitting beside her on our bed, and let the heat from my exhaled breaths caress her cheek. An hour of quietly reassuring her that I can protect her from my master has done more to reduce her anxiety and ease her fears than two days of meds administered by the doctor. If only I could tell her the truth. Were the stakes not so high, the risks so great, the need to keep her safe so strong, I would not be so reluctant to share my plans.

‘I must go, little goddess,’ I whisper to her before I leave her side, ‘but I will be back, soon.’

Tremayne is waiting for me beside my meditation pod. I turn as I exit the den, my eyes following the direction he is looking in. To block Maia from his gaze, I promptly close the door to my private quarters behind me.

‘The rumours are true, then, Lord Vader,’ he states, fishing for information.

‘Rumours have a hundred tongues and a thousand mouths,’ I quote at him, ‘but are always started by one voice.’

His mouth twitches, but he does not smile at my aptly chosen Sith proverb. I walk past him, to my office and turn to face him once he has followed me into it.

‘In this case, Lord Tremayne, the rumours you have heard are true,’ I reveal, seeing no point in denying what was observed by many. ‘My wife is pregnant again, and extremely ill because of it.’

‘Give your Lady my regards when she is well enough to hear them,’ Tremayne continues the polite chitchat.

I activate the scrambler on my desk and nod to him. Now it is impossible for anyone to eavesdrop electronically on what we will say.

‘We can drop the inane small talk and safely discuss the task I have for you,’ I tell him.

Later, after he has returned to the Interrogator to prepare himself and organize his troops, I activate the holo projector and stare at my hidden chess board. This time, I add an advisor and place it to one side. Soon, an opposing queen and her rogue protector will be in its path. I can only hope that my master is too preoccupied with his own plots and schemes to interfere with the ‘training exercises’ the Inquisitor will be conducting on the moon below us.


DAY 14

 

I stare out the transparisteel window at the head of the bridge, watching various ships making their deliveries and ignoring the constant chatter behind me. Palpatine has relegated me to the position of traffic supervisor, but I see no reason to raise any objections. As each day has passed, with nothing of importance happening, Maia’s anxiety levels have fallen and her fears gradually faded. This morning, she didn’t flee to the ‘fresher immediately, and was able to manage her pregnancy sickness, at least until I poured out my supplement drink. She has never liked Ky-Lessian fruit and the smell of it was too much for her to handle. I make a mental note to dump the rest of that container down the sink when she is not in the room, and to avoid that particular flavour for the next few months.

Another shuttle requests clearance, receives it, and is on its way to the battlestation. The repetitive routine of it all is beginning to bore me. Minutes slip away, until I know the children will soon be napping.

‘I will be in my quarters, Admiral,’ I tell Piett, letting him know where I am going as I stride past him.

Not that I expect him to comm me. Nothing will happen today, just as nothing happened yesterday or the day before that, and tomorrow will probably be the same.

‘Anakin?’ my wife questions when she sees me.

She is curled up in the most comfortable chair in the den, reading one of my ‘sabre treatises. There is no sign of Mikal or the twins, so they must be asleep already.

‘I was bored,’ I admit. ‘There are other things I would prefer to be doing than directing traffic.’

I lift the book from her fingers with one hand and tip her chin up with the other.

‘You look much better today,’ I tell her.

‘I feel better,’ she confirms what I can see and sense from her.

***

The fingers brushing across my face are gentle, so I reach over with mine and trace my husband’s cheekbone. He didn’t need to abandon his post to come see me, or remove his helmet and have a late lunch as an excuse to keep me company. I carefully nibble on the toast he made for me. It tastes good, like the bread I remember from home.

‘I like this,’ I admit to him. ‘It smells and tastes the same as the bread from the bakery back home.’

‘It was an experiment, to see what would come out, but since you like it, I will program the code for it into the autochef,’ Ani promises.

The Sith Lord is in a rather indulgent mood, I decide. I wonder just how much he is willing to fuss over me, if I let him. A hand catches mine, pulls it to his mouth and I feel his lips connect with my wrist.

‘We have an hour, or perhaps two,’ he suggests.

‘To finish our game?’ I counter.

‘To play whatever game you prefer,’ Ani confirms.

For a moment I consider what he might want us to do, and what I am willing to do. I am still not at my best, but we have had little opportunity to spend time in private as a couple this past week.

‘Take your armour off,’ I ask of him. ‘I want Anakin, today, not Lord Vader.’

A fleeting, surprised expression crosses his face. I want my husband, the man who is hidden from public view, to make love to me, not the armoured Sith Lord.

***

I let her help me remove my armour, piece by piece, setting it aside along with my public Sith Lord persona. She wants and needs gentleness from me, so I will give that to her.

‘Turn around,’ I instruct when only my body suit is left on.

Her dress is laced in the back. Rather than rip it off of her, I untie the knot and slowly pull the lacing out, one hole at a time, drawing out what I am doing for as long as possible. By the time I drop the cord on the floor, my wife is trembling at the briefest of my touches against the skin of her back. The fabric of the sleeves has slid from her shoulders to be caught by her elbows. I take advantage of that and kiss her neck, listening to the deep inhalation she makes at that contact.

‘Anakin,’ she breathes my name more than speaks it.

Now, I lift her in my arms, carry her to the bed, lay her on it and simply look at her, at this woman who means everything to me, who I would do anything for.

‘I want you,’ she tells me. ‘Want you like I have always wanted you, like I always will want you.’

Her hands reach up to grab mine, and she pulls me down, to sit next to her on the bed. Jumbled and confused memories flash across our bond. Myself as a young man, uninjured, unarmoured, mixed with images of an armoured Sith Lord, all of it wrapped up in her love for me and her deepest, darkest, rarely spoken of or admitted to desires. For years she dreamt of and fantasized about me, loving both Anakin the Jedi Knight and Lord Vader the Sith. I finally, fully understand why she panicked that first night on the Executor and resisted me for weeks afterwards. The reality of who I was did not match the man she had created in her mind.

***

He is being so gentle, so very kind and patient, that I can’t stop myself from shivering at his every touch. When he takes me to the bed, sits beside me, and begins to cover my body with kisses, I reach for him, only to have my hands firmly moved aside, out of his way and away from his body. The next place he sets his mouth is against mine. His kiss is passionate, deep, inviting more of the same. I respond in kind, refusing to let him pull away.

Wife, he offers, do with me as you wish, or tell me what you want.

I want you, Anakin, I admit. I want you as you would have been without your armour. I want to play with you, like we have done before.

I will do this, if you wish it, he offers. I will be Anakin for you, in this way, just this once.

Fingers gently stroke the inside of my leg as he waits for my answer. I close my eyes, pull him closer, and kiss him. Heat radiates out from him, warming my body to the point where I have to let him go.

Open your eyes, my love, he tells me.

I blink a few times in surprise. Bright blue eyes, full of mischief and laughter, are looking down into mine as he smiles at me. A mop of silvered, brownish-blonde hair frames his face, and his scars are gone, save for the one crossing his eyebrow. There is no mechanical breathing to be heard.

‘Anakin?’ I whisper.

‘Yes, my wife?’ he replies in a rich, deep tenor voice.

I touch his cheek, checking that he is real, even though I know his changed appearance is merely one of my husband’s illusions, and the same one he had used on Garqi. He explores my body with his hands, so I mirror his movements, run my fingers through his hair, marvel at its thickness and softness. Under the surface of his chest are hard muscles I can trace, evidence of just how strong and fit he is. His skin is slightly tanned, no longer pale, and there are callouses on his hands from using a lightsaber. This is who he would have been, had he not been burnt, maimed, and forced into his armour. Rolling over to my side to face him, I rest my forehead on his chest and lie quietly, contentedly, wrapped in his arms.

‘So simple and easy to please,’ he teases me. ‘Open my arms and you are in them.’

***

I settle her in my arms and hold her close. Even after a full hour, she still wanted more from me. This time I made love to her as I prefer to, with nothing at all between us, with our minds and bodies in perfect harmony with each other. Closing my eyes, I remember each touch of her hand, every caress of mine, all of the kisses we gave one another, and the sweet, shared ecstasy at the end.

She stirs a little, so I kiss her cheek, and move her hair, damp from our shared shower, up above her head to dry. My wife will sleep until the children wake, and I will keep watch over her. I want her to have pleasant memories of today, so we will spend what is left of it together, with our children, as a family.

Tomorrow, everything will change.


DAY 15

 

Morning, again, and I would rather be doing anything else, preferably with my wife and family, than standing at the head of the bridge, staring out at the battlestation, pretending I am doing something important. I reach out to Maia, letting her feel my calm, if bored, mood, and am rewarded by a gentle, mental caress in return.

A ripple moves through the Force, intruding on our private intimacy.

I tip my head, annoyed at the interruption, only to sense a half-hidden presence approaching my ship.

‘Shuttle Tydirium, transmit the clearance code for shield passage,’ I hear the standard request being made.

‘Transmission commencing,’ that ship’s pilot announces.

Nothing is unusual about their exchange, but I feel drawn, pulled. My eyes focus on the shuttle as I realize who is on it. I spin around and stalk back to the flight control station, stopping beside Piett and the seated Controller Jhoff who happens to be on duty at the moment.

‘Where is that shuttle going?’ I ask, keeping my voice even so as not to alarm them. Let them think I am trying to relieve my boredom by being curious.

‘Shuttle Tydirium, what is your cargo and destination?’ Piett promptly questions over the comm.

‘Parts and technical crew for the Forest moon,’ is the answer which is quickly supplied.

I smile to myself. Luke’s smuggler friend has made no effort to conceal his identity. Solo’s voice is easily recognizable. So, my son, who I can sense, and the Princess, who is usually with him or Solo, must be on that ship as well. Three more pieces are now in play.

Piett straightens up and looks at me. The Admiral is wondering why I am interested in that shuttle.

‘Do they have a code clearance?’ I decide to check that procedures are being followed.

‘It’s an older code, sir, but it checks out,’ Piett admits. ‘I was about to clear them.’

I turn my head, and stare through the bulkheads in the direction the shuttle and Luke are moving. His Force presence shines brightly, unmistakeably, in a way I cannot miss. There is a startled reaction from him as he, in turn, realizes I am nearby.

‘Shall I hold them?’ Piett offers.

If they know their ruse has failed, Solo will attempt to flee, and all of my carefully laid plans will be wasted. There is only one choice here, only one chance for everything to proceed as I need it to.

‘No, leave them to me,’ I tell the Admiral. ‘I will deal with them myself.’

‘As you wish, my Lord,’ he yields to my decision, before instructing Jhoff, ‘Carry on.’

‘Shuttle Tydirium, deactivation of the shield will commence immediately,’ the Controller relays the standard instructions. ‘Follow your present course.’

I return to my usual position to watch the shuttle make its way past the Executor and the battlestation as it heads to the moon below. Time, now, becomes critical and there are several things I must do quickly. Once the ship carrying my son is no longer visible, I turn and make my way back to my quarters.

My wife, when I arrive, is resting, and the children are playing quietly in their room. I lightly touch her shoulder with my hand and wait for her to sit up.

‘Something has happened,’ she states.

‘Luke has arrived and is on the moon below,’ I admit.

She pales at my words, knowing what they imply, but I need to be honest with her about this and what she must do.

‘You must be very brave, little goddess,’ I warn her, ‘be fierce and courageous like your ancient namesake, the one who guarded Sith warriors in battle. I need you to be my protection, my shieldmaiden.’

I take her left hand, and hold it between my own, doing my best to offer her comfort and strength.

‘When I call to you over our soul bond, you must come to me as quickly as you can,’ I tell her. ‘I will be on the battlestation, in the Emperor’s throne room, just as you have seen in your dreams, so be prepared for that.’

Her distress flows over our bond. I rest a finger across her lips, silencing her for a moment. This is one parting which will be difficult for both of us.  

‘I will be there,’ she promises. ‘I will protect you.’

‘Let me hold you for a while,’ I suggest.

My wife is soon wrapped around me, nestled in a cocoon made from my cloak and arms. I let her stay as long as she needs to as I wait for her emotions and mind to settle.

‘I love you, Anakin,’ she whispers to me when she finally steps back and releases me.

I touch her cheek with my hand, brushing it as I always do when we part. Then, I walk away from her, going to my office to send the first of two necessary signals.

‘See to it that my shuttle is ready,’ I order Piett over the comm once the first matter is dealt with. ‘I must go speak with the Emperor.’

Before I exit my office, I call up the holochess board, adding to it an opposing queen and an advisor, garbed as a rogue, and positioning both in front of my own advisor. My hand hovers over the pawn which is poised to transform itself at the end of the board. Until Luke decides what he will become, that piece will remain a pawn, its true power and allegiance unknown.

***

Ani has left the Executor. I can feel his presence moving away from me, but this time I have no idea if he will ever return to me again. Years ago, after the first time I had that nightmare and saw him at Luke’s feet waiting for the killing blow to fall, I had sworn to myself that I would protect him. Now, the Sith Lord has asked me to do just that. For many minutes what I have seen in my dream keeps me pinned in place, completely uncertain of what to do.

He gave you instructions for what to do, I remind myself. Your job is to figure out how to follow them.

***

I make my way to the throne room’s turbolift, only to find my way blocked by Jerjerrod, who is standing, facing me, between the two Royal Guards posted to either side. The Commander raises his left hand and aims it at my chest, pointing at me and stopping me with a gesture.

‘You may not enter,’ he says firmly.

Rather than argue with him, I bring my hand up and begin to close it, constricting his throat with the Force. The two guards react by lifting their pikes and aiming them at me. Jerjerrod’s hands seek his neck as he attempts to breathe and begins choking.

‘It is the Emperor’s command,’ he manages to gasp out an explanation.

I release him, pull back my hand and rest it above my chest box.

‘I will await his convenience,’ I state, not apologizing for my actions.

The Commander takes a few deep breaths. He has had a narrow escape from death and knows he only managed that by invoking my master’s name and orders.

‘Very good,’ he replies.

I watch him turn around and enter the ‘lift. It is not until the doors close behind him that the guards lower their weapons. Someone on the Executor has told the Emperor I have left my flagship and come to the battlestation. I consider who my master’s spy might be to pass my time, but Jerjerrod soon returns.

‘He will see you, now,’ I am informed.

I let him walk past me unmolested. His business with my master will not remain a secret for very long, but I see no reason to pry it out of him right now. Stepping into the ‘lift, I prepare myself for what will come.

‘I told you to remain on the command ship and care for your wife,’ my master reprimands me when I reach the top of the stairs and stand before him.

He is seated in his throne, partially turned towards the windows, and obviously displeased with my disobedience.

‘A small Rebel force has penetrated the shield and landed on Endor,’ I deliver my news.

 ‘Yes, I know,’ he reveals, swivelling his seat about so we are facing one another.

His spy is rather efficient and well informed, and one I will need to root out and remove quickly.

‘My son is with them,’ I tell him, watching for his reaction.

‘Are you sure?’ Palpatine asks, needing confirmation.

‘I have felt him, my master,’ I state.

Luke’s presence calls to me and cannot be ignored.

‘Strange that I have not,’ he admits, leaning forward before adding, ‘I wonder if your feelings on this matter are clear, Lord Vader.’

‘They are clear, my master,’ I assure him.

‘Then, you must go to the Sanctuary Moon and wait for him,’ Palpatine orders as he sits back in his throne, revealing his confidence.

‘He will come to me?’ I question, allowing uncertainty to show in my voice.

I know Luke will come to me. Maia’s memories and dreams are clear on that, but I must play my role and follow the script, if all is to go as I have planned.

‘I have foreseen it,’ he tells me. ‘His compassion for you will be his undoing. He will come to you, and then you will bring him before me.’

Hopefully his visions have shown him only that and no more.

‘As you wish,’ I accept the task I have been given.

‘Yes, Lord Vader,’ he reminds me, pointing an accusing finger at my chest, ‘as I wish, and to ensure you do as I wish, your wife will remain securely under guard until I have what I want. You will bring young Skywalker directly to me. Now, go.’

His orders and dismissal give no room for argument or reply. I give a brief, barely respectful bow and stalk away, furious at his decision to hold Maia hostage, and hopeful my clever wife can find a means to escape from his trap.

***

I look up from the book I am reading to the twins as I hear the door to Ani’s quarters open. They are just about asleep for their nap, so I quickly kiss each in turn and go to see who my visitor is. It isn’t my husband returning to me, but Commander Thirsk and two of his men, who from their rank markings must be senior members of the 501st.

‘My apologies for disturbing you, my Lady,’ Thirsk begins, rather formally.

Something must be wrong, I decide. He is rarely this careful with titles or how he phrases things.

‘What is it, Commander?’ I ask him.

He shifts slightly, uncomfortably, and I can sense that he is not very happy about what he is going to say.

‘You are being confined to his lordship’s quarters,’ he reveals. ‘Only if you must be moved to Medical for treatment will you be allowed to leave.’

I stare at him and shake my head. This makes no sense at all.

‘Orders from the Emperor,’ he admits. ‘A Rebel attack is imminent and this is for your own safety. The most senior of the 501st’s commandos, the very best of the men I have trained, will be guarding you.’

The armoured ‘troopers flanking him give two quick bows in my direction, turn on their heels, and leave, presumably to take up their posts outside in the corridor. Thirsk watches them go, but does not follow. Instead, he waits for them to exit and the door to slide closed behind them.

‘I must obey a royal command,’ he states, ‘but I was able to convince the Emperor that it would be less upsetting for you if it were my men on guard duty, rather than having him send Imperial Guards who would be complete strangers to you.’

‘Why is he doing this?’ I question Thirsk.

‘You appear ill, my Lady, and should sit down,’ he replies, not answering my query at all. ‘I will fetch some water for you.’

He motions me into Ani’s office, lifts a gadget from my husband’s desk, and turns it on.

‘We have only a minute or two to speak with complete security,’ he warns me. ‘Even in here, be cautious what you say, until his lordship returns and sweeps his quarters for eavesdropping devices. If we use the jammer for too long, anyone who is monitoring you, and there will be at least one, will notice.’

I nod my understanding to him.

‘Lord Vader was told to remain on the Executor, but he has disobeyed and left the ship,’ Thirsk tells me. ‘He rarely defies a direct order from the Emperor, so I suspect you are being confined and held hostage to ensure he obeys in the future.’

I hug myself, wrapping my arms across my stomach, as I feel a bit unsteady and heartsick. How am I supposed to help my husband now? Thirsk reaches over to touch my shoulder, to reassure me.

‘My men will protect you,’ he assures me. ‘Even if ordered to, they will refuse to harm you or your children. You are safe with them, where you would not be with the Royal Guards, who would not hesitate to kill you all if told to by their master.’

My legs feel weak, so I grab for the arm of Ani’s chair and sink into it.

‘You are with child again, are very ill, and should rest,’ he states. ‘What will be, will be. Know that my loyalty will always be to his lordship, and if you require my aid, all you need to do is ask.’

He picks up the gadget and turns it off.

‘You look pale, my Lady,’ he states. ‘I will send the doctor to you and take Lord Mikal to the training room for his lesson so you can rest.’

***

I retreat to my meditation pod, deliberately delaying my departure for Endor’s moon. Before I go to my shuttle and leave, I need to readjust my plans and center myself. Anger and haste, in this case, will lead to mistakes, and I cannot afford to make any.

With a touch, I call up the holochess board and stare at it. On the opposing side I add a fortress. Jerjerrod might owe his position as Moff and Commander of this battlestation to me, but his true allegiance is now obvious. I pause for a moment then position two more pieces of my own, another advisor and a fortress, anticipating Thrawn’s arrival with his fleet. My hand hovers above my queen, who is now pinned in place on my flagship, but not on the chess board.

Maia, I call to her, using the deepest, most closely held and private form of communication we have.

She doesn’t reply in words, but emotions, love for me, mixed with concern and worry, and questioning anticipation.

Not yet, I tell her. Wait, be patient. When I need you, you will know, but for now, stay calm and rest, my love.

There is quiet stillness in response as she does as I have suggested. I banish the game with a gesture and lean back, focussing my thoughts within. Luke will give himself up, surrender to one of the patrols, this evening. Rushing to retrieve him will only hasten events. My wife needs to sleep and the Rebel fleet’s arrival must be imminent before I take my son to my master. I can afford to wait out the hours, to spend the time I require in meditation, to prepare myself for what will come.


DAY 16

 

My shuttle comes to rest on the landing pad, and I slowly, reluctantly leave my seat. Everything will come to a head today, probably within the next few hours. Change is upon us all, inevitable and inescapable. I stride down the ramp and across the durasteel surface. Luke is being brought here for me to retrieve, his presence pulling at me, drawing me in, but I know that he is the one who has chosen to come to me. Rather than order Commander Igar to bring my son to me immediately, I walk through the platform until I reach a vantage point where I can stare out into the forest, undisturbed, while I wrestle with the turmoil I am feeling.

The trees and plants are vibrant, full of life, and peaceful. I rest my hands on the railing and let that tranquillity wash over me, the calm before a storm or a battle. Yesterday, nothing went as I had intended it to. My wife and children, secure on the Executor, are hostages to my co-operating with my master’s plans. What little I can sense of the future is clouded with uncertainty and chaos. Much hinges on what will happened in the next hour - the choices I will freely make and the choices I must force my son to make.

Luke is closer now, almost here, his unmistakeable Force presence calling out to me.

Commander Igar approaches.

The walker carrying my son has arrived.

‘Bring the Rebel to me, Commander,’ I order.

Destiny is dragging me forward, and I will have only a few brief moments to persuade Luke to aid me.

I continue to stare out into the forest, only turning and pacing along the raised walkway when I hear the turbolift activate. When its doors open, I stop and wait. Luke is in the midst of three stormtroopers, unarmed and unafraid.

‘This is the Rebel who surrendered to us,’ Igar tells me. ‘Although he denies it, I believe there may be more of them, and I request permission to conduct a wider search of the area.’ The Commander holds my son’s lightsaber out, offering it to me. ‘He was armed only with this.’

I take the weapon, noting its weight and heft.

‘Good work, Commander, leave us,’ I instruct. ‘Conduct your search, and bring his companions to me.’

Luke didn’t come here alone. His friends, the Princess, the smuggler, and the wookiee, along with his two droids, will be in the forest, somewhere, waiting to attack the shield generator when the opportunity arises. Capturing them quickly, Inquisitor Tremayne’s task, will foil the Rebels’ plans and ensure my son’s future co-operation.

‘Yes, my Lord,’ my command is acknowledged before Igar departs with his troopers.

I turn, walk away from the turbolift, Luke keeping pace at my side.

‘The Emperor has been expecting you,’ I warn him.

‘I know, father,’ he replies without any hesitation.

I quickly look over at him, and smile.

‘So, you have accepted the truth,’ I note.

‘I have accepted the truth that you were once Anakin Skywalker, my father,’ he responds.

I stop, turn to face him and shake his lightsaber at his chest. This is one secret I don’t need to have him make public knowledge. That life, that person, the Jedi I once was are long gone, long dead, and buried.

‘That name,’ I scold him, ‘no longer has any meaning for me.’

Not entirely true, I admit to myself after having denied it to Luke. Anakin is the name I told my wife to call me in private, and it’s the one I prefer her to use.

‘It is the name of your true self, you’ve only forgotten. I know there is good in you,’ Luke attempts to persuade me. ‘The Emperor hasn’t driven it from you fully.’

I stare at him, wondering what he means by that then realize exactly what my son has sensed. Luke does not understand how a life-bond can exist between my wife and I, and has interpreted Maia’s light side presence within me as a part of myself. Not wanting him to be able to pry any further, I strengthen my shields and mentally push him back, forcing him well away from the deepest parts of my mind.

He turns away from me at that, takes the few steps needed to reach the edge of the walkway and sets his manacled hands on the railing, speaking as he goes, shaping his words and voice with a Jedi mind trick in an attempt to manipulate me, ‘That was why you couldn’t destroy me. That’s why you won’t bring me to your Emperor, now.’

Luke should know by now that mind tricks won’t work on me, so his trying one is amusing, if pointless. I look down at his lightsaber in my hand. A Jedi’s weapon, but not my old one, the one he lost at Cloud City. With a touch I ignite it, admiring the green blade and the hilt’s workmanship. My son has talent in this area, just as I do.

‘I see you have constructed a new lightsaber,’ I say to him, checking the balance and controls as I do so. ‘Your skills are complete.’ I shut off the blade, turn my back to him, and gaze out into the forest again. ‘Indeed, you are powerful, as the Emperor has foreseen.’

Powerful, dangerous, and irresistible; my master cannot resist the temptation my son, as a potential future apprentice, represents.

For a moment there is silence, each of us waiting for the other to speak and break it.

‘Come with me,’ Luke offers as I hear him turn to look at me.

I continue to face away from him, staring at the trees, my back to him. What my son wants me to do is impossible, no matter how much I might desire it. If I leave with him now, I will abandon Maia and our children to Palpatine, and that is something I can never, will never, do. In this, to protect them from harm, I have no choice, no options. All I can do is follow my master’s orders and hope that Luke will see reason.

‘Obi-Wan once thought as you do,’ I admit then turn to face him, to reject his offer of freedom. ‘You don’t know the power of the dark side. I must obey my master.’

‘I will not turn,’ Luke vows, ‘and you will be forced to kill me.’

He is as stubborn in his convictions as I once was and still can be.

‘If that is your destiny,’ I state.

Destiny and fate are merely the final results of choices made long ago. I do not want this, but if I am forced to kill Luke to protect the rest of my family then I will, although I will always regret the doing of it.

‘Search your feelings, father,’ my son suggests. ‘You can’t do this. I feel the conflict within you. Let go of your hate.’

Conflict, perhaps, over what to do with my persistent, stubborn eldest son, but not hate.

‘It is too late for me, son,’ I cut off any more attempts by him to sway me.

I beckon to the guards who have just arrived, motioning them over to take Luke to my shuttle. This conversation needs to end before he can unsettle me any more than he already has. Decisions I thought made and secure are becoming less certain and subject to change.

‘The Emperor will show you the true nature of the Force,’ I warn my son as his ‘trooper escort steps behind him. ‘He is your master, now.’

Luke nods, outwardly accepting what I have said.

‘Then my father is truly dead,’ he takes a deliberate verbal jab at me for refusing to give in to him, shaking his head in frustration.

He turns away, walks back to the turbolift, the two ‘troopers at his heels. I watch him go, his eyes never leaving me until the door removes him from my sight. With a few steps, I cross back to the forest side of the walkway, rest my hands on the railing, and let out an annoyed sigh. That interview did not go at all as I had intended it to. Luke was as determined to persuade me back to the light as I am in enticing him to embrace the dark. Were the stakes not so high, the situation could almost be seen as laughable.

I lift my comlink from my belt, adjust its settings, and send the second prearranged signal that I need to. After replacing it, I close my eyes and relax, reaching for my wife, but this time, I do not use words. Instead, I cry out to her silently, deeply, letting her feel my need for her, and knowing she will answer my call.

***

I consider what I am supposed to do about the mess I am in. Guards have been set on my husband’s quarters, so there is no way I can walk out and leave. The miserable old coot wants to make sure his apprentice does exactly as he is told, that my husband brings Luke to him, and I am being held hostage to guarantee Ani’s good behaviour.

There has to be some way to escape, I decide. I just haven’t thought of it yet.

Then, I feel it, a call from my husband which resonates across our bond, through my body and soul. He needs me to go to him. Frustrated at my inability to help him, I pace back and forth, as I have often done since he left, trying to come up with a plan.

I stop dead as the solution comes to me.

Lady Vader can’t leave, but someone else can, someone the ‘troopers have no orders to detain and would not dare to stop or question. For a moment, I debate whether to risk it or not. If I fail, I will just be dragged back and locked in more securely, but if successful, I should be able to free all of us. Mikal is with Thirsk for physical training, and the twins are with Cyran, down in Medical receiving their booster shots. It should be simple enough to order them all into a shuttle once I am down at the docking bay.

First task, get dressed. I open the storage compartment with my working clothes and armour. What I have is based on Ani’s so most of it should be suitable for this. To be sure, I lay it out on the bed, discarding some of it in the process. Next, I add what I need from Ani’s spare set. Without his implants, I can’t hook up the chest box, so it will have to stay in shut down mode. Hopefully no one will notice that or the lack of mechanical breathing. Everything else should be fine. With a deep breath, I start to put it all on, leaving the gloves and helmet for last. There is one more thing to do before those final steps.

Now, for my second task. I move the gloves, vocoder, mask, and helmet to the table before turning to look at the bed. Lady Vader needs to stay here, so as on Aargau I will leave an illusory twin behind. The less you need to conceal, the easier it will be, I remind myself. My doppelganger will have a nap. Pulling out a few blankets, I shape the form of a body under the covers, leaving only the head to camouflage with the Force. Carefully, lightly, I tap into the energy surrounding me, closing my eyes to help with my concentration. The last thing I want to do is give Palpatine any hint that I am up to something. When I open my eyes, my twin is there, sleeping, motionless and silent.

I hesitate when I pick up Ani’s vocoder. It will either make me sound like him, or not, but I intend to avoid speaking to anyone, until I must, if I can manage it. The mask slides into position next, followed by the helmet. My view through the lenses is tinged with red and obscured by computer readouts because the systems monitor is not happy with the chest box being shut off and is letting me know that.

‘Stop that,’ I growl at it, only to hear the Sith Lord’s baritone voice resonating in my ears.

The vocoder is working perfectly, at least.

I pull on my gloves, check that my lightsaber and comlink are at my waist, and walk to the door. Somehow, with my limited vision, I don’t trip on the way. Willing myself to be brave, I open it with a touch, ignoring the two stormtrooper guards to either side of it as I march down the corridor to the nearest turbolift as fast as I can go. Knowing how Ani moves and holds his body when he is in a bad mood, I mimic that.

No one tries to stop me. If anything, they actively dodge out of my way or duck into another corridor to avoid me as soon as they see me coming.

I make it to the docking bay and into the remaining shuttle, the ship which is mine to use when my husband is away with his, without any trouble at all. Dropping into the co-pilot’s chair, I take a few deep breaths to settle my nerves. It’s important to be calm and use my husband’s speech patterns. Picking up my comlink, I send a signal to Thirsk.

‘Thirsk, here,’ he promptly answers.

‘Bring my son to me immediately, Commander,’ I order. ‘I am in the shuttle in the main docking bay.’

No response for a few seconds. Thirsk knows that the Sith Lord left yesterday and must be wondering why he is back and asking for his son.

‘As you wish, my Lord,’ he finally replies.

I end that call and prepare for the next one. Leanan might be easier to fool than Ani’s old friend, but the doctor is slower to react to the comm call than Thirsk was.

‘Yes?’ she abruptly greets me.

‘I have returned and need my daughters to be brought to me,’ I tell her. ‘I am in the main hangar, in the shuttle.’

Rather than engage in an argument with her, like Ani enjoys doing, I close the channel and shut my eyes. It will be a few minutes before anyone arrives and I need to give my brain a break. How my husband can stand everything being reddish in colour and put up with the constant, distracting readouts, I don’t understand. Both of those are giving me a headache. I lean back in the seat and try to relax, but my respite doesn’t last very long.

‘Daddy!’ Shmi shouts on spotting me.

She runs into the cockpit and demands a hug. I humour her, picking her up and holding her close, as Ani would, and wait for her sister and Leanan to enter the passenger compartment. They are quickly followed in by Mikal and Thirsk, who closes the door after himself. Setting ‘Mi down, I stand up, take her hand, and step back to where everyone can see us.

‘Aren’t you a little short to be a Sith Lord?’ the doctor asks, looking me up and down.

‘I couldn’t do much about my height,’ I admit, ‘but this was the only way I could get past the guards.’

‘I knew it was you,’ Thirsk reveals. ‘Your comlink code gave it away.’

Mikal is staring at me, trying to figure out what is happening.

‘Mommy?’ he asks.

My son sees and hears his father, but I am the one he is sensing.

‘Yes, Mikal,’ I reassure him. ‘Mommy is dressed up like daddy.’

‘So, my Lady,’ Thirsk prompts. ‘What are you going to do now?’

‘Go to the battlestation,’ I decide. ‘His lordship needs my help, but I can’t fly this thing, or use his security code for clearance.’

‘I can fly it and use one of the 501st’s codes,’ the Commander offers, ‘but you need to decide what to do when we get there.’

I slowly sit down. My focus was so intent on escaping from my stormtrooper guards that I hadn’t really thought through the rest of it.

‘I need a way into the throne room,’ I reveal. ‘Bluffing probably won’t work a second time, especially if anyone looks too closely.’

‘I can make the support systems appear to be working,’ Leanan tells us, ‘but that still won’t help with your height deficiency.’

Thirsk takes the pilot’s chair and starts the departure procedures. The doctor secures the children in their seats then turns her attention to me. I ignore what she is doing to the chest control panel and concentrate instead on what little I know about where we are going. Palpatine had two of his red robed personal guards posted outside the door of the turbolift up to his throne room, and there were two more guards in the throne room itself.

I hear the Commander request clearance to leave and that being given in return. No one has realized that I have escaped yet, or that the children haven’t come back to Ani’s quarters.

An important step in planning a campaign is assets, so what do I have? Thirsk, who knows all about this sort of thing, a doctor, who will have to be left at the shuttle with the children, and myself, a half-trained Jedi with no practical field experience at all. It could be worse, I suppose, but not by much. I know that everything will fall into place if I can only find a way around those first two guards.

‘Commander,’ I ask, knowing I will need to rely on his advice. ‘Do you have any ideas for how to trick or incapacitate a couple Royal Guards?’

***

Luke has spent the entire journey from the moon to the battlestation silent and with his eyes straight ahead. I know he is thinking about his upcoming meeting with the Emperor, just as I have been. As I feel the shuttle settle into its landing sequence, I stand and motion to Luke to do the same. At least he is being co-operative, to some extent. There have been no attempts to resist or escape.

I walk down the ramp, Luke in front of me, both of us being joined by an escort of stormtroopers who surround us as we cross the floor of the hangar. They leave us when we reach the turbolift leading to the Emperor’s throne room. My son steps ahead and precedes me into the ‘lift. His mind is full of turmoil and conflict behind his relatively calm face. A thousand possibilities are open for him to choose from, but he still does nothing, says nothing.

I suspect he is waiting to see what I will do before making his decisions.

The door opens, revealing the bridge across the reactor shaft and stairs leading up to Palpatine’s command chair. Luke glances around, orienting himself, before he walks ahead of me to the steps and up them. I follow, behind and to his left, but there is no need to hurry or rush. Only when we stop, in front of my master, do I move to stand beside my son.

‘Welcome, young Skywalker,’ Palpatine greets us. ‘I have been expecting you.’

My master smiles at us. He’s acting the part of a harmless old man and fully expecting Luke to be drawn in by this performance. Given my son’s naïve and trusting nature, this tactic might just work.

‘You’ll no longer need those,’ he decides, with a gesture releasing Luke’s hands from the binders.

Luke looks down as the restraints fall to the floor with a crash then returns his gaze to the man in the throne in front of him. The benevolent father is one of my master’s favourite masks, and the one I believed in many years ago. Now, I know better than to trust anything he says or does, but Luke does not.

‘Guards, leave us,’ the Emperor orders.

He wants no audience for what will follow. I hear the even pace of the two guardsmen fade as they move away from their posts at the turbolift, retreating back to their quarters in the level below us. Now, it is only the three of us: master, apprentice, and apprentice to be.

‘I am looking forward to completing your training,’ he tells my son. ‘In time, you will call me ‘master’.’

‘You’re gravely mistaken,’ Luke finally responds, defiantly. ‘You won’t convert me as you did my father.’

I glance over at Luke and smile to myself. Stubborn boy. You will eventually give in, once Palpatine figures out what your weaknesses are and turns them against you. Mine was fear of losing my wife and child. Your fears will probably be similar, but for your friends, instead.

‘Oh, no, my young Jedi,’ Palpatine taunts him, rising from the throne and drawing closer to us, looming over Luke as he finishes. ‘You will find that it is you who are mistaken about a great many things.’

‘His lightsaber,’ I offer the weapon to my master, holding it out for him to take.

‘Ah, yes,’ Palpatine accepts it. ‘A Jedi’s weapon, much like your father’s. By now you must know your father can never be turned from the dark side. So will it be with you.’

I watch Luke carefully. There will come a point where he will break under the Emperor’s emotional manipulations, lose control, and lash out. He is not there yet, but it will happen.

‘You’re wrong,’ Luke states, shaking his head. ‘Soon I’ll be dead and you with me.’

Palpatine begins to laugh. He knows what my son has assumed.

‘Perhaps you refer to the imminent attack of your Rebel fleet,’ my master tells him. ‘Yes, I assure you, we are quite safe from your friends, here.’

He turns away and walks back towards his throne, satisfied he has shaken Luke by revealing that piece of information.

‘Your overconfidence is your weakness,’ Luke observes. 

That prompts the Emperor to return his gaze to my son, who has scored a point in saying that.

‘Your faith in your friends is yours,’ he snaps at my son, landing his own hit in return.

I watch Palpatine return to his throne and set Luke’s lightsaber on its right arm. He will continue to remove Luke’s emotional supports, one by one, until none remain, and there is nowhere else for my son to turn.

‘It is pointless to resist, my son,’ I warn.

The sooner Luke gives in, the less pain and grief he will be forced to endure. If he fights, the longer he struggles, the worse it will be for him.

‘Everything that has transpired has done so according to my design,’ Palpatine reveals. ‘Your friends, out there on the Sanctuary moon, are walking into a trap as is your Rebel fleet. It was I who allowed the Alliance to know the location of the shield generator. It is quiet safe from your pitiful little band. An entire legion of my best troops awaits them.’ He leans forward, feigning sympathy for Luke’s companions. ‘Oh, I am afraid the deflector shield will be quite operational when your friends arrive.’

His smile, as he torments Luke with these truths, is a genuine one. Still, my son does not break upon hearing them.

‘Come here, boy, see for yourself,’ the Emperor invites my son closer, to the viewports surrounding his throne.

Luke walks to the transparisteel window, stopping to my master’s left, to stare out at the ships, now engaged in battle, which are visible. I follow, but take a position to the right and ready myself for what might happen. Soon, very soon, my son will attack in reaction to what he sees and hears, and I will be forced to defend the Emperor and myself.

‘From here you will witness the final destruction of the Alliance,’ Palpatine continues to bait Luke, ‘and the end of your insignificant Rebellion.’

Luke turns to face Palpatine, his internal struggle apparent on his face. His eyes find his lightsaber, but he does not reach for it.

‘You want this, don’t you,’ the Emperor quietly observes, looking down at my son’s weapon and patting it with his right hand. ‘The hate is swelling in you now.’

I shift my stance slightly, in anticipation. Luke’s eyes are rapidly jumping between his weapon, the Emperor, and I as he fights to remain calm and centered. The conflict in my son can be easily sensed, now. He is angry that his friends will be harmed, afraid for their safety, and hates the one who has ensured their mission will fail.

‘Take your Jedi weapon,’ Palpatine goads. ‘Use it. I am unarmed. Strike me down with it. Give in to your anger. With each passing moment you make yourself more my servant.’

Luke forces himself to look away. He breathes in deeply a few times, attempting to regain his lost emotional control. When he is ready, he turns back to face us again.

‘No,’ he denies all he has heard, still refusing to give in.

‘It is unavoidable,’ Palpatine tells him. ‘It is your destiny. You, like your father, are now … mine.’

***

‘This is a really bad idea,’ I finally admit to Thirsk.

‘It worked on me, so it should do the same thing to the guards,’ he reassures me.

‘That was when I was practicing, and you weren’t resisting,’ I remind him. ‘They have no reason to be co-operative.’

I sneak a look out the cockpit window, across the hangar, and down the corridor, hoping the Royal Guards will change on schedule. Ani and Luke are here, with the Emperor, but none of them have left the throne room yet. The current guards know that the Sith Lord entered earlier, so trying to fool them with his armour won’t work. Bluffing my way past will have a much better chance on the fresh ones.

‘Something is happening,’ Thirsk notes.

Two Imperial Guards have exited the turbolift, and the two posted at it are leaving with them. A few seconds later, two more of them have taken up the same positions to either side of the door. They all look identical so I have no way of telling if the current guards really are new ones or not.

‘Shift change,’ I decide. ‘Hopefully no one has told them his lordship is still up in the throne room.’

I rest my hand against the wall to steady myself. Leanan managed to fix the armour’s systems so my eyes don’t have to deal with computer readouts all the time, but I am still trying to cope with the reddish tint from the lenses.

‘Look after the children, Commander,’ I tell him. ‘If anything happens, you will need to get them out of here and to safety. Don’t wait for me or Lord Vader. We will find our own way off the station.’

Turning around, I look down at the sleeping twins. Saying goodbye would mean rousing them, so I leave them be. Mikal is quietly playing one of the games I keep stored on the shuttle with Leanan.

‘Be good for the Commander and the doctor,’ I say to my son, brushing a gloved hand over his hair.

Mikal jumps off his seat and wraps himself around me. I can’t kiss him, so I hold him close instead before shooing him back to his game. Now I understand why my husband uses the gestures he does to convey how he feels. The helmet and mask are far too limiting to express himself otherwise.

I move to the door to the landing ramp, and pause while Thirsk opens and lowers those for me. From now until I am past the guards, I will have to be seen as my husband. Closing my eyes, I take a deep breath and stride quickly down the ramp and out of the shuttle. Bad mood, I remind myself, be grumpy and angry, and project that outwards. When I am approached by the deck officer, I wave him away abruptly. If I can keep people at a distance, they shouldn’t notice the height difference, at least not immediately.

Somehow I make it to where I am partially out of sight without drawing too much attention to myself. I step into the shadows at the end of the corridor and stare at the Royal Guards. If my scrutiny bothers them, they give no sign of it. Options run through my mind. Attacking them with my lightsaber is out. That would be far too noisy and just bring more of them here. Jedi mind tricks work only on those who are susceptible to them, and Palpatine’s guards are not that. They won’t leave their post under any circumstances, so a distraction to draw them away is a waste of time.

The only plan which might work is the one Thirsk and I came up with: shut them up with the Force so they can’t call for help then knock them out long enough to get into the turbolift by using my empathy. I decide to ignore my misgivings about this. An ethical debate with myself will simply have to wait until after I have done what I need to, which shouldn’t cause any direct harm to the guards.

I slow my breathing and settle into the Force, reaching out with it to sense the two guards. Both are alert, if bored, and wondering what Lord Vader is waiting for. Lightly, delicately, I touch their vocal chords, with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel as opposed to the sledgehammer the Sith Lord uses to Force choke someone. The two men won’t realize I have done anything unless they attempt to speak, and when they do, they will find themselves held mute. My focus shifts to the next task.

What emotion to use, I ask myself. Clat rather effectively used guilt and shame, and my grief affected enough of the Executor’s crew that Ani spent days training me how to control my empathy. Anything too strong or negative will be felt by the Emperor, so my choices are rather limited. Fatigue, perhaps, or exhaustion? I make my selection and hope for the best. If this fails, I don’t have a back-up plan.

Moving closer to the guards, I stare intently at them, shaping what I want them to feel into a weapon.

Then I unleash it on them.

***

Luke is staring intently out the window, watching the battle unfold and the Rebel fighters and ships being destroyed, one by one. Each time one explodes, his face twitches in reaction.

‘As you can see, my young apprentice,’ Palpatine gloats. ‘Your friends have failed.’

My son looks over his shoulder at my master. You should have co-operated and given in, I decide. If you had, you might have been able to at least protect your friends. 

‘Now, witness the fire power of this fully armed and operational battlestation,’ the Emperor reveals. He activates the comm, and orders, ‘Fire at will, Commander.’

The time I spent pushing the construction crews to their limit have paid off. The Rebels have no idea what is going to be unleashed on them, having foolishly assumed that the incomplete station is unarmed and helpless.

Luke spins around, swaying on his feet at the blow that has been delivered to him. His eyes jump between the battle and the Emperor. Another of my son’s emotional supports, his hopes for the future, has just been brutally yanked away.

The first blast emerges from the battlestation, contacts a Rebel ship, and completely destroys it. As soon as the weapon is recharged, the Commander fires again. None of the capital ships the Alliance possesses are capable of deflecting the beam. They have lost but are refusing to admit it by retreating or offering to surrender. Instead, they move closer to my ships. Fools. That will not save them.

‘Your fleet is lost,’ Palpatine notes, quietly, deliberately, ‘and your friends on the Endor moon will not survive. There is no escape, my young apprentice.’

Luke continues to sway, his gaze moving between the battle outside and the Emperor, before he looks up at me. I say nothing to him, letting my silence speak for me instead. He will have to make his own choice, as I once did.

‘The Alliance will die, as will your friends,’ my master taunts him, emphasizing how hopeless it is for the Rebels.

My son is very near to the edge, desperate, and almost at the point of losing control. He makes no effort to hide his feelings or the struggle he is having within himself. The prospect of losing his friends will be what breaks him.

‘Good. I can feel your anger. I am defenceless. Take your weapon,’ Palpatine suggests. ‘Strike me down with all of your hatred and your journey towards the dark side will be complete.’

I watch Luke closely now. He spins, half-staggering, away, clenches his fists, and looks out at what is left of the rapidly vanishing Rebel fleet, now pinned between my ships and Thrawn’s fleet which has just arrived.

Now, the Force screams at me, as my son whips around, calls his lightsaber to his hand and ignites it. When he swings it at the Emperor, my blade is there to block his.

My master laughs, the sound echoing off the walls, pleased by the choice Luke has finally made.

***

That, I note to myself, did not go at all according to plan. In front of me, in a heap on the floor, are two unconscious Imperial Guards. Beyond them, within the corridor are several officers and ‘troopers scattered about in the same position and state, having dropped instantly in place, all at the same time. My range and strength were greater than I expected them to be, but I had to be sure the guards wouldn’t be a problem.

‘Oops,’ I say aloud, laughing to hear how that sounds in the Sith Lord’s baritone voice. ‘I think I need to work on that before I use it again.’

I move to the turbolift controls, quickly open it, step inside, and enter the code for the throne room, making sure the door will open facing away from Palpatine’s command chair. Ani hasn’t tried to contact me at all, so I have no idea what I will find when I arrive. With great care, I reach out to my husband, only to find him completely focussed on duelling with Luke. Rather than risk distracting him, I pull back and see to what I need to do. The helmet, mask and vocoder are no longer necessary and can come off, and so can his belt, codpiece, chestbox, and greaves. I leave the rest of what I am wearing on, including my own belt with my lightsaber hooked onto it.

When the ‘lift finally stops and the door opens, I peer out cautiously. All I can see is a walkway leading to an observation area and a ridiculously long drop under the bridge crossing it. From my previous visit, I know that there is a similar bridge on the opposite side of the turbolift, and a circular catwalk I can use to reach it.

Unfortunately my husband won’t be able to carry me across it this time.

Breathe, I remind myself. It’s not that far to go. I grab Ani’s helmet and use it to jam the ‘lift door open. That will prevent anyone from using the turbolift to come up after me, and keep it here as an escape route. It takes several minutes after that to convince myself to leave the safety of the ‘lift and step out onto the narrow walkway. Back to the wall, I stare straight ahead, refusing to look down, and inch my way slowly around towards the side I need to be on. The crashing sounds of lightsaber impacting on lightsaber echo off the walls as I move closer to my destination.

***

Luke disengages his blade and leaps backwards. He knows I will block any attacks against the Emperor, and since I am openly armed, he will come after me instead. I shift into a classic guard position and wait for what he will do. It comes in the form of a downward slash aimed at my head. Parrying that, I step back and allow him to try a riposte to my octave which I block once again. My son’s anger is fuelling him, but if he continues at this rate, he will tire long before I do.

The next few blows I easily parry, circling until I am facing Palpatine once again. Luke swings at my head a second time, binding our blades momentarily. I am the one to disengage first, choosing to aim my riposte at his sixte. He blocks my attack so I step back then feel my balance go as my heel overreaches the top step. My son takes advantage of that and lands a kick on my thigh, sending me tumbling backwards down the stairs to land on the floor, near the bridge, on my rear.

Palpatine begins to laugh, enjoying the spectacle of my son knocking me down in front of him.

‘Good,’ he encourages Luke. ‘Use your aggressive feelings, boy. Let the hate flow through you.’

I push myself up from the floor and stand. Luke had turned his head to listen to my master, but when he returns his gaze to me, he shifts from a defensive stance to a relaxed one and turns off his lightsaber. Palpatine’s words have had the opposite effect to what he intended. Instead of provoking Luke’s rage further, they have dampened it.

‘Obi-Wan has taught you well,’ I acknowledge where his training must have come from.

‘I will not fight you, father,’ Luke decides as I walk towards him and ascend the stairs.

I wait until I draw even with him, both of us in front of the Emperor again, before speaking.

‘You are unwise to lower your defenses,’ I warn him, as I bring my ‘saber up and then down, aiming it at his head.

Luke reacts instantly, igniting his own blade to block mine. For my next three strikes I target his torso, allowing him to parry each before disengaging and swinging my arms back, sweeping upwards at his face as they return. That he parries, as well as my following riposte downwards, at his knees. He binds our blades, backing up the few steps between us and my master as I follow him, then disengages once more and begins a series of counterattacks. My son is becoming desperate, his swings less and less controlled, and more wild as I prevent any of them from coming close to landing. When he next binds our blades, and uses a circular motion to disengage, I realize he is going to try something different. Instead of attacking, Luke bolts. He manages to run behind me and leaps up, backwards, into one of the duty posts, when I swing at him. Once there, he turns off his ‘saber and somersaults higher still, up onto one of the raised catwalks where I cannot reach him.

My son has discovered that he cannot best me in a duel and has opted to run from me instead. I stare up at him then sense something, no someone else, in the area.

Maia? I risk sending her a thought.

Anakin, she replies. I am here, near the ‘lift.

Keep yourself out of sight, I order.

Her relief at finding me safe and unharmed floods my mind for a brief moment. I respond by reassuring her with a light mental touch and burst of affection. My stubborn, clever wife has done exactly as I hoped and expected her to - escaped from her guards and made her way directly to me, but I want her to stay hidden until I need her.

‘Your thoughts betray you, father,’ Luke tells me. ‘I feel the good in you, the conflict.’

‘There is no conflict,’ I state, irritated by his accusation.

When this is finished with, I will need to explain to Luke that the light side he is sensing within me is my wife, and not I.

I descend a few of the stairs, drawing even with where Luke is above me. He moves along the catwalk as he continues his annoying attempts to manipulate and persuade me. That didn’t work before and it won’t now.

‘You couldn’t bring yourself to kill me before,’ he decides, ‘and I don’t believe you’ll destroy me now.’

‘You underestimate the power of the dark side,’ I warn him. ‘If you will not fight, then you will meet your destiny.’

I need to bring him down from his safe perch to where we can finish our duel, so I throw my lightsaber upwards, aiming it at the closest support to where Luke is standing. He dodges the blade, which slices through the metal in a shower of sparks before I turn it off with the Force and call it back to my hand. The catwalk falls, Luke sliding down it as it collapses, to crash against the floor, and dump him under the stairs. I hear Palpatine’s laughter and his footsteps behind me. My master won’t be able to watch what will happen from his throne, so has decided to come closer.

‘Good, good,’ the Emperor praises.

Ignoring him, I continue down the stairs, igniting my lightsaber once I reach the bottom. Luke has opted to hide in the shadows under the steps and the command chair, but that won’t shelter him for very long. I need my son to stop resisting, give up this foolish notion of his that he can somehow drag me back from the dark side, and to surrender to it himself. That is the only way I can protect him right now, and the only choice he has if he is to survive.

‘You cannot hide forever, Luke,’ I tell my stubborn son the obvious as I search for him beneath the stairs.

‘I will not fight you,’ he refuses to come out or co-operate.

‘Give yourself to the dark side,’ I entice him. ‘It is the only way you can save your friends.’

His friends are the key. Luke will do whatever it takes to save or protect them. I will suggest the first, hoping he sees reason, and if that fails, threaten them to force him into doing what he thinks is the second.

‘Yes, your thoughts betray you,’ I reveal. ‘Your feelings for them are strong, especially for….’

Someone he cares for is in pain and calling out to him through the Force. I feel him struggle to hide that from me as I push my way as deep into his distracted mind as I can. There is a secret to be found here, and when I have it, I freeze for a moment. A life-bond. A twinbond. How could I not have known she existed?

‘…sister,’ I state, shocked by what I have just learned. ‘So, you have a twin sister. Your feelings have now betrayed her, too. Obi-Wan was wise to hide her from me. Now, his failure is complete.’

I pause to think of what to do with my new knowledge. His sister, my daughter, could be anyone, anywhere, but that is one secret he won’t be able to conceal for very long. If I don’t discover who she is, my master most certainly will.

‘If you will not turn to the dark side,’ I decide to goad him out of hiding with a threat to his sibling, ‘then perhaps she will.’

‘Never,’ Luke screams at me.

He comes at me in a rage, lightsaber held above his head, swinging wildly, uncontrollably, in a drive to land a hit on me in any way that he can. Our blades send sparks in all directions as they impact against the lower consoles, and the underside of the staircase and its supports. It is all I can do to fend him off with my parries and avoid injuring him with my ripostes as he has completely forgotten to defend himself in his rush to attack me. Backing away, I retreat out of the shadows, past the downed catwalk and into the area between the bridge and stairway, drawing him to where I need him to be. Luke continues his pursuit and attacks, with both his ‘saber and his mind, his hatred and physical blows driving me back onto the bridge.

Ducking under one of Luke’s wild swings, I lose my balance, falling against the railing, which I grab to avoid going down the reactor shaft. There is no way I can defend myself with my lightsaber as my son beats his blade repeatedly against mine, and I cannot bring myself to attack or harm him with the Force. I look at his anger and hate filled face. There is nothing recognizable of him left there. Is this what I truly wanted for my son? While I ponder that question, the next blow cuts my lightsaber in half, and I know the one to follow will be intended to either injure or kill me.

***

I do exactly as my husband ordered me to, staying out of sight, and trying my best to listen in on what is going on. While I can’t see anything, and rarely hear more than a word or two clearly, I can feel the emotions saturating the room. Palpatine is gloating over his new apprentice, amused at the spectacle he is watching, and triumphant when Luke finally gives in to the dark side. Ani, for the most part, is completely calm and unshakeable, until something surprises him deeply. Luke swings repeatedly from losing control to regaining it, before erupting in an insane rage.

As I hear their duel come closer to me, I risk a look. My husband is backpedalling and parrying furiously in an attempt to avoid the hail of anger fuelled attacks Luke is raining down on him. Palpatine is standing at the top of the stairs, watching, and making no move to intervene. I bang the back of my head against the wall in frustration. Ani can’t effectively defend himself and his master is not going to do that for him.

Move, I command my reluctant feet. Inching along the wall, I finally end up in front of the turbolift doors, facing Luke, Ani, and the Emperor, although none of them seem to notice me. My husband has backed onto the bridge, Luke in pursuit, exactly as I have seen it unfold in my nightmares. As I watch, Ani falls in defeat and his son continues to attack. That, I decide, is enough. No proper Jedi behaves that way.

Stop it, Luke, right now, I send an order directly to him, blasting through what little remains of his mental defenses.

His next swing goes wide of his intended target as my words startle him, destroying Ani’s lightsaber, but missing his hand completely.  Palpatine has partially descended the stairs and is watching all three of us. From his frown, he did not expect me to escape and come here, and is busy figuring out what he should do about it.

‘Your hate has made you powerful,’ the Emperor tells Luke. ‘Now, fulfill your destiny and take your place, with your father, at my side.’

Luke hesitates, holds his lightsaber’s blade at his father’s throat, and in turn looks down at the defenceless and fallen Sith Lord at his feet, over at me, and at his black gloved hand. His eyes go wide for some reason as he stares at his prosthetic hand.

I take a slow step forward, doing my best to ignore where I am, and concentrate on reaching Ani’s side. Be brave, he had told me, be courageous and fierce. The Sith Lord needs me to protect him and I intend to do just that. Luke takes one step back for each of mine, retreating from the bridge and turning his lightsaber off. Whatever he sees on my face is enough to discourage him from challenging me to a duel. My husband drops what is left of his ruined weapon, but otherwise doesn’t move. He is alive, exhausted, and his breathing is laboured. I give Luke a warning glance before falling to my knees next to my husband, then do my best to shift his body up against my own, into a sitting position, to ease the pressure on his lungs.

Maia, Ani calls to me.

I don’t answer in words, but in the Force, sharing with him any of my strength he might need from me.

Careful, he warns me, blocking what I had been doing when he feels me weakening. You must be mindful of my son you are carrying.

Luke is staring at both of us, having somehow overheard what Ani just said to me. This is the first time I have met him since that trip to Garqi.

You? Eri? he questions me. You are pregnant with Vader’s child? But you were life-bonded to your husband. Then he must be…

My husband, Anakin, I confirm his suspicions.  Although he gets mad at me if I use that name in public.

That prompts Luke to turn to the Emperor, look at the lightsaber in his hand and throw it away. What does he think he is doing? Only a fool disarms himself so carelessly in Palpatine’s presence.

‘Never,’ Luke firmly states. ‘I will never join the dark side. You have failed, your highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me.’

The smug look on Palpatine’s face vanishes, replaced by one of pure rage. All of his carefully laid plans have just been ruined. It will be many years before either of my sons will be old enough to take Luke’s place as his new apprentice.

‘So be it, Jedi,’ the Emperor spits out. ‘If you will not be turned, you will be destroyed.’

Blueish-white lightning erupts from Palpatine’s fingers. Luke throws up his hands, deflecting it. I turn my face away, not wanting to look, and unsure what I should do. This is something I have no experience with or effective defense for.

Help me up, my husband asks of me.

I humour him, acting as a crutch once he is on his feet. Ani’s left arm is around my waist as he walks both of us over to his master’s side. Luke has been thrown backwards, against one of the posts lining the reactor shaft. His attempts to protect himself are failing as Palpatine continues his barrage. When the attacks intensify, Luke begins to writhe on the floor and scream, only stopping when they cease for a moment.

‘Young fool,’ the Emperor taunts Luke as he walks closer to the fallen Jedi. ‘Only now, at the end, do you understand. Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the dark side. You will pay the price for your lack of vision.’

Palpatine hits Luke with another blast. I turn away and hide my face in Ani’s chest, doing my best to shut out the cries of agony I am hearing. This is something I do not want to witness. The lightning stops for a second time.

‘Now, young Skywalker,’ the Emperor promises, ‘you will die.’

This time, when the attacks are renewed, I put my hands over my ears and let my husband hold me close. His hands, resting at my waist, are firm and unmoving.

‘Father, please,’ Luke begs for his life. ‘Help me.’

I feel the hands at my waist loosen and know the Sith Lord has made a decision.

Close your eyes and shield yourself, Ani abruptly orders as he pulls my lightsaber from my belt and spins me behind him.

I hear my weapon come to life as I reinforce my shields. Before I can turn to face what is happening, there is the sound of a lightsaber impacting and cutting through a body then a long, inhuman screaming howl. Ani grabs me and pulls both of us to the floor with me sitting on his lap. He wraps himself securely around me both physically and mentally, holding me tight to his chest and inside his own shields as a form of shelter. I curl up in a ball in his arms as something batters against his defenses, and I know it is trying to get at me, not him. The Sith Lord shoves it away, repeatedly, until whatever it was vanishes.

I don’t move until he releases me from his embrace, and we help each other to stand. My husband sets his hand on my middle, over our son, sighing in relief when he finds that all is well. Luke is curled up on his side on the floor, moaning pitifully as he recovers from what he has experienced. There is no sign of the Emperor anywhere I can see. Ani walks over to his son and offers to him the lightsaber Luke had discarded and the Sith Lord just retrieved.

‘Well, my young apprentice,’ he tells Luke. ‘Lesson number one: never throw your weapon away and leave yourself defenceless in the presence of a Sith Master.’

‘That’s not very funny, father,’ Luke grumbles in return, accepting his lightsaber, but waving aside the hand extended in aid, choosing to use a post to haul himself to his feet instead.

‘Lesson number two,’ Ani continues, shaking a finger in his son’s face, ‘if you are foolish enough to take on a Sith Master alone, always have a spare weapon, preferably one hidden in plain sight, and a reliable back-up plan.’

The Sith Lord hands my ‘saber back to me and pulls his comlink from his belt.

‘Admiral Piett,’ he calls.

‘Yes, my Lord,’ Piett promptly answers.

‘Status report on the battle,’ Ani orders, ‘and make it a quick one.’

‘Grand Admiral Thrawn arrived with his fleet in time to help pin the Rebels in place. Most of their capital ships were either destroyed by the battlestation or incapacitated by the fleet. Very few escaped,’ the Admiral tells him. ‘All of the Rebels on the Sanctuary moon were captured, but several of them were killed in the fighting. Lord Tremayne is holding what few Rebel leaders survived, for you to deal with at your leisure.’

Luke stares at his father, horrified at what he is hearing.

‘I expect a full report when I return to my flagship,’ Ani signs off, ending his call.

‘You,’ Luke accuses. ‘You did this. You lured us here and knew I would come to you.’

‘Have you forgotten what I told you at Bespin?’ my husband reminds him. ‘I certainly have not.’

I look back and forth between the two men. They are discussing something I know nothing about.

‘You planned all of this,’ his son states, realization dawning on his face. ‘It was a trap meant to catch me for the Emperor, but instead you used it to kill him and capture me for yourself.’

‘Did you really think I would not have everything arranged in my favour?’ his father asks him. ‘Do you take me for a fool?’

He grabs my hand, pulls me in close, and holds me tight to his chest. I lean heavily against him, glad that he is willing to let me have the physical contact and security I need from him to settle my nerves.

‘Luke, your mother died because of what Palpatine did to me,’ Ani reveals, ‘and for many years I thought you had perished with her. I believed the lie he told me, that I had killed you both. Once I learned the truth, that she had died in childbirth and you had survived, I was not going to lose you again, or risk the safety of my second wife and our young children. My master had to die and you were the crucial distraction I required for him to drop his guard.’

I shiver a little at what I am hearing. My husband must have been busy plotting and setting this up for months, perhaps years, and I had no idea what he was doing.

‘You need to rest,’ he decides, turning his attention from Luke to me and tipping my face up with his hand so he can look at me. ‘This has been far too much stress for you to deal with all at once.’

‘Don’t fuss,’ I scold him a little.

His fingers brush my cheek, but he doesn’t push the issue. Instead, he lets me go and heads for the turbolift, pulling me along with my hand held firmly in his.

‘Come along, my young apprentice,’ he orders Luke. ‘There is much to be done before the day is finished.’

‘I am not your apprentice,’ Luke tells his father as he trails along behind us. ‘I am a Jedi, not a Sith.’

‘Very well,’ Ani humours him, laughing at Luke’s stubbornness. ‘My young padawan, I shall call you instead, since the title of apprentice offends you.’

‘Father,’ his son says, sounding a touch exasperated. ‘That’s not funny.’

We reach the ‘lift, its door still propped open with Ani’s spare helmet. Inside, the pieces of armour I had discarded are still stacked in a pile.

‘Impersonating me was a very clever way to escape and come here,’ my husband praises. ‘I think I will use that in my explanation of Palpatine’s death: infiltration by a Rebel spy disguised in a copy of my armour, followed by a successful assassination attempt and disposal of the body down the reactor shaft.’

Luke stares at Ani and shakes his head. I understand why my husband will do this, but Luke needs to accept the fact that no one other than us three can ever know what really happened.

***

Luke’s stubborn resistance to my offer of apprenticeship amuses me. He might be an idealist, now, but that will not last once the reality of his situation sinks in. The safety of his friends will rely on his conduct and co-operation, which I would prefer he gives freely rather than having to coerce it from him.

I hold Maia close as the turbolift descends and brush her hair with my fingers to calm her. She’s still shaken by what she has witnessed and needs to rest. Luke watches us, his curiosity obvious, but he does not voice aloud the questions I know he wants and needs answers to.

‘How did you deal with the guards?’ I ask her.

‘I made them fall asleep,’ she replies, sounding embarrassed. ‘It was the only plan Thirsk and I could come up with.’

‘You did very well,’ I praise her.

Uncertainty appears on her face.

‘I left the children on the shuttle,’ she bursts out, her worries escaping in a rush.

I lift her hands from my waist, and let her rest them in mine between us. Reassurance is needed here.

‘They are safe,’ I promise her. ‘No harm has come to them. They have had two very powerful guardians watching over them.’

Both my wife and son appear puzzled by my statement, but the ‘lift doors will soon be opening and there is no more time to speak in relative privacy. I pick my wife up in my arms, although she does not need my help in this way right now. Her pregnancy sickness will allow me to avoid too many questions being asked, at least for the moment.

‘Anakin?’ she questions my actions.

‘You have been very ill, Maia,’ I remind her. ‘Let me care for you.’

She settles her cheek against my chest armour, pulls herself tighter to my body, and raises no more objections.

‘I will see to what must be done,’ I warn them both. ‘Say nothing, do nothing unless I tell you to.’

***

I do my best to ignore the chaos which erupts around us when the doors open and Ani steps from inside the ‘lift. Imperial Guards line the corridor, and Moff Jerjerrod is here, as are several robe clad members of the Emperor’s court. The Sith Lord’s presence dampens the situation when everyone’s eyes fall on him.

‘The Emperor has been assassinated,’ he calmly announces.

Silence falls and no one moves.

‘Commander Kyneugh,’ Ani calls out, to be answered by one of the Royal Guards stepping forward. ‘Take your best men and secure the scene. The Rebel assassin has escaped, leaving his disguise behind. A thorough investigation must wait until the remaining Rebels in the system have been dealt with.’

My husband steps aside, allowing the Commander and several of his colleagues to enter the turbolift. He shifts me slightly in his arms, making the movement large enough to be noticeable to all. I play along, close my eyes, and pretend to be sicker than I am.

‘Moff Jerjerrod,’ the Sith Lord turns his attention elsewhere. ‘To you falls the task of finding the Rebel before he can flee the battlestation and escape punishment. Do not fail me.’

I feel and hear my husband’s helmet move as he looks down at me.

‘I will return to the Executor with my guest and my wife,’ he decides. ‘She is in shock, very ill, and must be seen to. You will contact me there with your progress reports.’

***

I walk away, Luke at my side, leaving the Guards and Jerjerrod to follow my orders. No assassin will be found, of course, but the resulting wild goose chase will keep those I need to be occupied busy pursuing a phantom. In the hangar, all appears calm, but I know that was not the case that long ago.

Thirsk, on guard duty, is standing at the bottom of the ramp into my wife’s shuttle. Beside him, in Sith robes, is the pest, who is grinning from ear to ear and looking rather pleased with himself. I walk past them both, not setting Maia down until we are inside and out of the sight of anyone in the hangar. Her brother, having followed us, quickly hugs and releases her.

‘I have a present for you, little sister,’ he teases.

He extends the Sith soul trap towards her. My wife reaches out to it then yanks her hand away before she can touch it, stepping backwards into me, having sensed the same thing I can.

‘The miserable, old coot is in it,’ she flatly states. ‘His vile presence is unmistakeable.’

I accept my master’s prison and turn it about. Keeping the device, instead of destroying it, has proven to be a wise decision. There is no possible way for Palpatine to escape, and I have no intentions of ever freeing him.

‘He went for Mikal,’ my brother-in-law reveals. ‘Qui-Gon protected your son, and I cornered and trapped the old bugger. We make a good team.’

The Jedi Master comes out of the passenger compartment in response to his name, moving to stand next to the pest. Luke is staring, his eyes jumping back and forth between them, at what must be to him a very strange sight - two ghosts, one obviously a Jedi, the other robed as a Sith, both working together in harmony.

‘Contrary to the nonsense you have probably been told by Obi-Wan,’ I say to Luke, ‘it is entirely possible for Jedi and Sith to co-exist.’

I catch Maia’s hand and squeeze it in my own, to make the point even more obvious to my son. The pest opens his mouth, shuts it again, and remains silent. From the look on his face, he will probably show up at some point, late at night, just to annoy me with whatever he was about to say.

I am not a Sith, Anakin, he scolds me in thought, and neither are you. Not entirely, not anymore. Be honest enough to admit that to yourself even if you won’t to anyone else.

Scram, pest, I growl at him. You can save your attempts at analysis for later.

He exchanges a glance with Qui-Gon and the two of them rapidly fade from view. Maia rushes through the door where they had just been standing into the passenger compartment beyond. I can clearly hear Mikal and the twins calling to their mother, and her voice calmly quieting them. Palpatine’s thwarted possession of my son has left them nervous, but not frightened. Between the Jedi Master who guarded my children, and the doctor who kept them under control, all went as best as I could expect it to.

‘You are about to meet your half-siblings,’ I tell Luke, ‘but revealing your relationship to them can wait.’

My son shifts his weight from one foot to the other, his shyness expressing itself in that motion.

‘They are very young and quite impressionable,’ I warn him. ‘Be careful what you say and do.’

***

Ani leads me into his office and locks the door behind us. I know he should be busy dealing with the aftermath of the battle and today’s other events, but he has chosen to spend time with me, first.

‘My wife, my Lady,’ he teases me. ‘Or perhaps it will be ‘my Empress’?’

I give my head a shake. Too much has happened in the past few hours for me to have thought it all through yet.

‘Little goddess, then,’ he opts to use one of his favourite nicknames for me instead. ‘Come here and let me hold you. Today has been rather stressful for you, so stay as long as you wish.’

His arms are open so I step into them, resting my cheek against his chest. I just want to be held, to know that he is here and safe, that he will protect me and our children. The Sith Lord obliges me, his fingers brushing my face and hair. He’s trying to calm and soothe me, and I can feel his concern for my wellbeing.

‘Luke needs to freely agree to remain with me, so I will go talk to him after I leave you to rest,’ Ani tells me. ‘I won’t force Sith teachings on him because he is not suited for that path. Instead, I will train the two of you together as Jedi.’

I stiffen a little at that. If Luke won’t be his apprentice, then who will?

‘I promised you that none of our sons would become a Sith,’ he reminds me, ‘and I meant it. The line of Sith Lords will end with me. I have no interest in training a successor and future rival whose primary goal will be to kill me.’

‘Thank you,’ I quietly say to him. ‘Thank you for that, Ani.’

‘I am the one who should be thanking you,’ he admits. ‘Without your strange foreknowledge, I could not have changed what you saw in your dreams and had hidden deep in your mind. Thrawn’s fleet was the key to winning the battle in space, and Inquisitor Tremayne ensured that the planned attack on the shield generator was doomed to fail.’

‘And the Emperor?’ I ask.

‘Would have been dead by my hand, regardless,’ my husband reveals. ‘The only difference was in how I did it, and that was because of you.’

I squeeze him tight around his waist, my arms wrapped securely around him, not wanting to ever let him go. When he tries to loosen my grip, to leave my arms, I begin to cry. While I know he has to be elsewhere to deal with other things, after almost losing him today, I never want him out of my sight again. Ani waits as long as I need him to, silently holding me until my tears finally stop.

‘You will never lose me and I will never leave you,’ he reassures me, his fingers tracing the red and gold Sith hieroglyphics on my arm. ‘Wherever I go you will always be there with me, in my mind, in my soul, in my heart. Never doubt that, and always remember that I love you.’

‘I know that, love,’ I whisper to him, not trusting my voice to say more than that.

He takes my hands in his and holds them lightly, gently. His shields are down, I suddenly realize, his mind completely open to my own.

I love you, my wife, he repeats. I don’t say that enough and I should say it more.

Behind his words is the weight of emotion, freed now that there is no need to hide it, to resonate over our bond and between us. All I can feel from him is warmth and love, no trace of the distance or coldness, once so much a part of his public Sith Lord persona, is there. He’s changed, and he probably doesn’t realize how much that is spilling over into his Force presence. If I can sense the difference in him, then others probably can as well.

Anakin? I ask. You made a choice today, didn’t you?

I chose you, I chose our children, and I chose Luke, he admits. Nothing and no one is more important to me than you are.

The Sith Lord rejected his master and chose me.

Michael had told me Ani would be offered a second chance to turn from the dark side. Now that it has happened and his choice been made, it will probably take my husband a while to sort out all the implications of what he has done today. At the moment, I don’t think he himself realizes what protecting Luke and killing Palpatine really means for him.

I love you, Anakin, I tell him.

I know you do, he replies. And now I must go, to see to what must be done, to secure the throne for myself, and to speak with Luke. He will be my heir and you, my Empress.

Our lives are about to change forever.

 



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