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Note: This story was in response to a challenge on the Skywalking mailing list.

Anniversary

by FernWithy

Anakin Skywalker awakened from his long sleep on his wedding anniversary, though he didn't realize it at first.

It was cool dawn, and green-gold light came through the windows of the

(hospital? prison? morgue?)

he found himself in. He could feel Luke somewhere nearby, and the restless pool of energy that was Leia not far beyond. How had he missed her?

He blinked, and the light fluttered with his eyelids.

I'm seeing through my eyes.

The thought brought him fully awake, alert. There was a slight motion of the air going across his scalp, and a needle pressing into his natural arm. He could see this from the corner of his eye; the arm itself had no feeling. No part of his body lower than a hand's width under the base of his neck was offering any sensory input. His mechanical arm lay senseless in its place. The hand had been replaced, but it was inert. The circuitry in the entire limb had been shorted out on the Death Star.

It was supposed to have been his own death as well as Palpatine's. His respiratory circuitry had taken a beating, and he'd felt the life slipping out of him. And yet, he wasn't dead. He could still hear the hiss-shush of artificial air, but now, it came from outside. He shifted his eyes up, and saw the respirator standing behind him, impossibly tall, the levers going up and down with each cycle. Tubes fed into the IV, oxygenating his blood directly.

But he was breathing. Not very much, granted, but he was, so at least some autonomic functions remained. He couldn't see his chest very well, because the circuits that provided motion beneath his severed spinal cord were dead and he couldn't lift his head more than an inch or two, but he got the impression of a vast burned and sunken area. It rose and fell in shallow, impossible gulps.

He fell back onto the pillows.

"Have you awakened, Colonel Skywalker?" The electronic voice came from the shadows across the room, and it took Anakin a moment to recognize his name. Had Luke actually gone to the trouble of looking up his last rank to program the droid?

Of course he had.

Anakin felt an aching sorrow at what he'd put his son through. The boy was good hearted and kind, like his mother, and...

Amidala.

"What da..."

He coughed, and it was painful (in his throat; his chest felt nothing). He'd been trying to speak on an inhale, using the motion of his jaw to activate machinery that was no longer there.

He inhaled, then spoke in the way that had once seemed natural to him. "What day is it?"

"What time system would you care to use?" the droid asked.

He thought carefully. "Naboo," he said. "What is the day on Naboo?"

The droid gave him the day and month in Amidala's world, and he smiled. He had been unconscious for four days, but he had awakened on this day, as he always did. "It's my anniversary," he said to no one in particular.

"It is?"

Anakin tried to look up at Luke's voice, but couldn't do it. This was... shameful. "Luke," he said. "How did I come to be here?"

"I told you I wouldn't leave you. Sorry we haven't quite got everything working yet. The mechanics were damaged pretty badly."

"It's all right. I expected to be dead."

"You're not. Is it really your anniversary today?"

"Yes."

Luke sat down in a chair beside the bed, moving enough to be comfortably in Anakin's field of vision. "Will you tell me about her?"

"Of course."

He looked guilty. "I should get Leia. But I... "

"You don't want to deal with your sister's anger before you hear about your mother. I take it she didn't believe you."

"Believe me?"

"When you told her you were right."

"She believed me. She's just not sure she cares."

"I see."

"What was her name?"

"Amidala."

"Amidala," Luke whispered. "It's beautiful."

"Yes. She was also called Padmé, when she was hiding and needed to wrap herself in a cloak of anonymity. She was from the world of Naboo. She served as Queen for a time."

"Was she a good queen?"

"Yes. She loved her people, and her world."

"Leia remembers that she was beautiful and kind."

"Yes."

"And sad."

Anakin listened to the respirator, suddenly interested in the sound of it from the outside.

And sad.

"Of course," he said. "That is... that is to be expected. She did not approve of my choices. I failed to listen to her. I failed her."

Luke just frowned, and Anakin could feel a sense of disappointment coming from him. His face betrayed nothing. It was Amidala's face, somehow aloof without seeming distant.

He wanted to know about her. Not about your own failures.

Anakin tried on a smile, hoped it came out all right, and said, "You look like her."

This truly seemed to surprise him. "I do? Aunt Beru always said I looked like my... well, like you."

"Hopefully, she had some image other than this in mind."

"I think so."

"I can see it, also. And my mother. But it's Amidala I see most in you. She would have been... very proud of you, I think." The room swam for a minute, and Anakin lost track of what he was thinking, let alone saying. Gray and black swirled before his eyes, then there was a warm touch on his neck and a sense of a weight on the side of his bed. The gray cleared, and he found both children there with him, and a droid pressing a needle into his dead arm.

Leia was standing beside the bed, her eyes narrow and suspicious, her arms crossed protectively over her chest. Luke was sitting at the foot of the bed, administering some kind of medical treatment that went through a needle stuck into the remains of his Anakin's right leg.

"Are you awake, Father?" Luke asked.

"Barely."

"I got Leia. I thought she should hear... "

"Before I die?"

"You're not going to die."

"Of course I'm going to die."

"Not until you tell us the truth," Leia said, her voice cold as Hoth and cutting as a fine laser. "I won't let you get away that easily."

"Leia!"

Anakin tried to reach out and stop Luke from getting up to confront his sister, but of course, he couldn't move. "She... has a right..." he managed.

Instantly, Luke turned to him, stepping away from Leia. "She doesn't!"

"She does."

"I don't need you to defend me."

"What do you need of me, daughter?"

Though he hadn't thought it possible, her voice became colder. "I need you to never call me that again."

Anakin took a minute to gather his strength for an answer. He did not want to wheeze it out in a series of helpless gasps. He touched the Force for strength, and it gave willingly. "You claim to seek the truth, Leia, and you would do well not to refuse hearing it spoken."

"I know the facts, Lord Vader. I would prefer not to have my nose rubbed in them."

"Very well."

Luke shot her an impatient glance. "I didn't ask you to come here to snipe at him, and if that's all you're going to do... "

She cut him off with a wave of her hand. "I want to know about Mother."

"What do you want to know?"

"Luke's told me her name. So she was Amidala. The Queen who... "

"Who did what she needed to in order to save her people," Anakin whispered. "You would have done the same, had you operated from the same knowledge base."

Luke didn't ask what they were talking about, though it was clear from his face that he didn't know. He sighed. "You said it's your anniversary. How long were you together?"

"We are still together."

"You know what he's asking," Leia said. "And I have a few memories that suggest you haven't been together for quite some time."

"There were times we were apart from one another. But we were always... she was and is my wife." Her face came into his mind suddenly, slightly tilted eyes, high cheekbones, full lips. The eyes were closed, and they suddenly opened. She smiled at him. He smiled back. There was another gray time, then a pressure at the base of his neck. He understood dimly that there was a needle, and they were injecting some kind of stimulant. He looked for the twins' faces. They hadn't changed. Maybe he hadn't been gone long. "Three years," he said. "Before I turned, we were married for three years. But friends before. I'd loved her since I was nine."

"Did she love you?"

Leia's words had been shot out like a whip, but the question brought comfort instead of pain, because that was a matter in which Anakin held no doubts, only the same mute wonder it had always brought. "Yes," he said. "She loved me. I never understood why, but she did." He closed his eyes, then opened them again. There was some kind of soft, blue light coming from behind the respirator, but he couldn't turn to look. He moved his eyes to Luke. "What is... the light? The blue light? The respirator?"

Luke furrowed his brow. "There's a light, but it's red."

Interesting. He doesn't see it. Amidala?

She did not answer, and he couldn't even be sure it was her. He felt her presence, but he often felt her presence within himself, especially on the day of their anniversary. Every year, he had gone to the place where she had died, and held communion with her there, though she could not...

There was a sudden burning in his eyes, a frightening blurring of his vision and a constriction of the muscles in his face and throat, making his already shallow breathing even more difficult. He felt something warm and wet on his cheeks, and wondered if he was bleeding out before he remembered that this was what tears felt like. He tried to turn his face away--it was shameful to cry in front of the twins--but he didn't have enough range of motion, and he could not reach up to cover his face. He closed his eyes so that he wouldn't have to see Leia's scorn.

A warm hand with a soft cloth crossed his cheek, and he opened his eyes again, expecting Luke. It was Leia. She said nothing. She stood up again when she saw that he'd gathered himself together, and turned her back.

"I... apologize," he said. "That was... " The thought of Amidala's touch came to him then. Her hands were small, like Leia's, but often light and fluttering across his skin. His throat tightened again, but now that he remembered the warning signs, he was able to stave off the tears before they began. "I miss her very much."

"Were you happy?" Luke asked suddenly. "I mean, before everything went bad?"

"It is not a simple question, my son. We... the times were difficult. The Order was dying, and the galaxy was at war. Things we loved were being destroyed all around us. Happiness was not easy to achieve for more than fleeting moments. But with each other... yes. Within our own small world, we were happy. I wish we had been able to stay there."

"And to hell with the rest of the galaxy," Leia said. It wasn't bitter, it wasn't an accusation. It sounded almost... understanding.

"Yes," he said, trying a smile and not having the faintest idea whether or not it worked. "To hell with the rest of the galaxy. Alas, hell seems to have found the galaxy more quickly and more completely with my help than it would have without it." The bluish light gleamed brighter, and Anakin tried to roll his eyes back to see the shape of it. He had no success.

There was a quiet moment before Luke spoke again. "What would we have been like?"

Something Obi-Wan had said during the short years of Anakin's childhood came back to him, and he whispered, "Be careful in considering the paths you failed to take. Dwelling on a world that never was can drive a man to madness." He thought to lift a hand, and again failed. A powerful wave of frustration washed over him-it had been easier to communicate from behind a durasteel mask. Red washed over gray, then the blue light suffused and dissipated the clouds, and there was pressure on his neck again.

"Father?" There was a hint of panic in Luke's voice now, as his face swam into view through the mists. "Father, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you..."

"No, no, I... " Anakin fought for a breath, conquered it, claimed it. A more normal rhythm started to come back. "Too many memories. For your question... I don't know. Many things might have happened... "

Leia, who was now sitting on the bed on his other side (keeping an eye on some readouts on the machinery, he supposed), looked at him crossly. "He isn't asking you for an accurate prediction. Or whatever it would be. We want to know who the two of you were together. Who we are."

"Yes, of course, I'm sorry... "

Ani, my love, speak to them. Tell them. Show them.

Her voice faded into nothing, and Anakin wasn't sure it had been there at all.

"Lord Vader?"

"Will you stop calling him that?"

"It's all right, Luke. Your sister may call me what it pleases her to call me."

"It doesn't please me much to call you anything," she said, but the insult was perfunctory. Her eyes and her attention were wandering.

He smiled again, and was fairly sure he got it right. He thought he remembered the way the muscles over his cheekbones tightened. "It may have been like this. If Leia were as headstrong as she has been in my time with her... yes. And you might have been impatient with her. I would have had to tell you to give your sister some room to work things out. Amidala would have... would have... " Oh, but how could he speak for her? How could he dare to...

Ani, you know. You know, and no one else has more right to speak for me.

"Amidala would have gotten very quiet."

"Quiet?"

"Yes... " There was another moment of struggling with his breathing, then he went on. "When we fought, she would become quiet, draw away, look... disappointed. She could look very disappointed when she needed to."

"Disappointed..." Luke mused.

"Yes. It was... a most effective strategy. You would not have enjoyed it." Although, Anakin reflected, he had done a fairly good imitation of it when they'd left the bunker on Endor together. "But that was because she was so... so wonderful. You would have wanted her to be pleased. To see her smile, hear her laugh... nothing else would have mattered."

"Too bad we never got the chance," Leia muttered.

"At least you have some memories!"

"You do?" Anakin asked, interested. "Of course you do. She was on Alderaan. She was... you knew her. You knew she was your mother."

"Yeah. Too bad you didn't think to ask me about her on board the Death Star. Or maybe on Bespin."

Those words did stab, and Anakin couldn't speak for several minutes. Both twins waited for him, Luke with some degree of patience. At last, he found his voice, but he didn't know what to use it for... there was no answer to Leia's accusation, because it was true, there was no defense, and she would not accept an apology. But he felt an instinct to fill the silence--silence had always felt wrong and empty to him--so he spoke long-hidden daydreams. "We would not have spent our anniversaries trying to be alone with each other. We... we very much wanted a family. We would have surrounded ourselves with our children for celebrations. We... we very much wanted a family," he said again.

The image came into his mind, this anniversary in some other world, where he hadn't been a fool. There were the twins, with their own spouses and young children (no war had been fought to interrupt their youths), and other children of various ages. Most of them looked like Amidala, though Anakin gave one his mother's face, and another his own. There were pets and gardens, and friends of the family. He recognized Owen and Beru Lars, and the Organas, and Kenobi. It was very crowded, and quite wonderful. He moved toward the vision, and Amidala waved to him, smiling brightly.

This time, the needle felt sharp-it had found a still-sensitive place beneath his ear. The twins were hovering. "He needs rest," Leia said.

Luke nodded. "I know, but..."

"I will have rest," Anakin said. "A great deal of it. But not quite yet."

"Father, you're not going to die," Luke said, but this time, he didn't meet Anakin's eyes. He knew it was a lie.

"Come to me, both of you."

They sat down on either side of him. Luke took his natural hand. Leia--for reasons Anakin did not understand--took the other one. He could feel neither of their touches, but he could see from the corners of his eyes, and it meant a great deal to him.

"Did you ever argue?" Leia asked.

"Leia!"

"Peace, Luke. Of course we argued. We were different people, with different ideas. Of course there were arguments. We argued about Palpatine. And we argued about how long one properly boiled a siga-bird egg to get the right texture for breakfast. The arguments did not cause the loss of any affection, at least not until the end. I respected her opinions, and she respected mine, even when we disagreed..." Anakin lost the thread of what he meant to say, and waited for the grayness to take him. It didn't. After awhile, he just looked at his children. The strange blue light was now dancing along their shoulders, meeting in twirling arcs between them. Neither seemed to notice.

"I want to know so much," Luke said. "But I don't even know enough to know how to ask."

"And words cannot answer all of it," Anakin said. "I know."

Ani, it's time. Come to me.

(But I've only just begun! I haven't told them about your voice yet! Or the way you walked!)

"Father?"

"She... her voice... and the way she... " Anakin tried desperately to find words to show Amidala to the children, but they didn't exist. What word could ever explain the way people were drawn to her, the way her voice was music, the way her feet never seemed to touch the floor? His throat constricted for the third and final time, and he let the tears come. "So much you don't know," he said.

They understand more than you think. Come to me.

Leia dried his face again, and Luke looked awkwardly away, trying to give him some privacy. "Father," Leia said softly, "it's time to rest."

"Not yet," Luke whispered, with no conviction.

Anakin reached for the Force, more desperately than he ever remembered, and sent energy coursing down the dead nerves and connectors in his arms. There was pain, but he didn't care. He squeezed the twins' hands, and felt the warmth of them. He didn't know how much Leia would be able to receive, but he knew that what she couldn't see now, perhaps Luke would be able to show her later. He thought of Amidala, and of their time together, and let the images pour through him.

Amidala, coming into Watto's shop.

Holding his hand as they made their way through a sandstorm.

Smiling at him in the Naboo sunshine.

Standing on a rise on the farm on Tatooine, waiting for him against the setting suns.

Taking his hand at their wedding.

Holding him close, as they began to fear the galaxy closing in on them.

Amidala.

Her smile, her hand, reaching out to him...

He heard Leia's gasp as if from a great distance, and saw Luke reaching for the syringe again. She reached across Anakin's chest and stopped him.

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