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Title: A Day in the Life of ...
Author: Maia (maia@bastcastle.org)
Rating: PG
Characters: Vader, OFC, a few other OC’s, and familiar faces.
Category: AU, Adventure, Romance, some Angst.

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

Summary: A typical day for his Lordship. Extracted from the AU ‘The Sith Lord and the Scientist.’

Imperial Center, Coruscant, Year 3, Month 8.

DAY 16


There is something to be said for waking up with a warm body snuggled in next to you, I decide as I open my eyes to the sight of my wife’s hair and neck right in front of my nose. From the sound of her breathing, she isn’t close to waking yet. I move my left hand from where it is resting on her stomach, over our son, and gently touch her face. She doesn’t move.

‘Maia,’ I whisper in her ear. ‘It’s time to wake up.’

Mikal will be in here soon, looking for both of us, if we do not get out of bed. Our son is not one to stay in one place and behave himself for very long, either. I smile against Maia’s hair. In that aspect, he is much like me. When there is something to do, he is impatient and unwilling to wait.

Time to wake my wife.

I set a firm kiss against her neck, then pause, anticipating her reaction.

‘Anakin,’ she says as she exhales, still sounding half asleep.

‘Good morning, love,’ I cheerfully tell her. ‘Time to wake up.’

‘Humpf,’ she grumbles into her pillow. ‘You don’t have to sound so happy about it.’

I chuckle a little at that. We were up late last night and she would prefer to sleep longer.

‘Not today, little goddess,’ I tease her. ‘There will be no lazing about in bed for you.’

Her arm reaches in front of her, grabs one of the pillows she uses to prop herself up, and swings it backwards, connecting against the side of my face with a loud thump.

Score one point for my wife.

I let out a low, playful growl, reach over her body, and select my own weapon.

‘Just what do you intend to do with that?’ Maia asks, shifting so she can look at me.

This should be fun and I intend to win.

‘Let me demonstrate,’ I suggest with a smile.

My wife sits up and prepares to defend herself with the pillow she just hit me with.

Then I see our two-year old son standing in the doorway.


‘Daddy?’ I hear Mikal ask.

Ani freezes, so I give him a swat on the top of his head with my pillow. There is a split second where he could have defended himself or deflected my attack, but he doesn’t.

‘Got you, Sith Lord,’ I crow happily as the pillow rips open and feathers fly everywhere.

One of them slowly floats through the air and lands on the end of my husband’s nose. The rest scatter, some landing on the bed, some on me, but most find a home in Ani’s hair and on his robe.

‘Oops,’ I say as I start snickering.

‘Daddy’s covered in nuna feathers,’ our son observes the obvious between giggles.

Ani sits there, motionless and with a wry smile on his face, as a laughing Mikal comes over and climbs into bed with us. He tries to help when his father begins picking feathers off of his robe and out of his hair.

‘That shouldn’t have happened,’ Ani finally states as he runs his fingers through his hair, combing feathers out of it.

‘Admit it, dear,’ I tease him. ‘I won!’

‘Only by default and by using a defective weapon,’ my husband retorts.

The pile of feathers beside him grows larger as he continues brushing them off of himself. Mikal reaches up and takes the one which had settled on his father’s nose. He examines it closely for a moment then adds it to the rest.

‘Thank you, son. Now, go get dressed while I clean up this mess,’ Ani suggests.

He stares at the feathers and with a gesture sends them over to the table. While he’s busy looking after himself, I will dispose of them. His eyes meet mine again, so I lean over to give him a quick kiss on the cheek, but my husband moves and my lips connect with his instead.

‘Good morning, love,’ I tell him when he pulls back to look at me.

‘The start of a very busy day,’ he admits, getting out of bed and heading to the ‘fresher.

Ani can’t see my face, so I don’t stop my frown from appearing. Despite my best efforts to distract him, he’s been far too preoccupied. Ever since he had that private meeting with the Emperor, when we first returned to Coruscant, the Sith Lord has been prone to familiar odd silences. It’s like he’s plotting something again, only this time I don’t think Luke is involved.

I perk up a bit as I see a faint blue shimmer from the corner of my eye. My brother quickly becomes more visible and solid. With a lopsided grin, he drops himself into Ani’s chair. My scowl disappears, replaced by a bratty smile. Palpatine isn’t here and Michael can keep an invisible eye on the children.

‘You are up to something,’ Michael shrewdly surmises. ‘I know that look, little sister.’

‘Babysitting, brother dear,’ I tease him.

He promptly vanishes before I can give him the details. Obviously my brother hasn’t forgotten what happened yesterday, during his most recent stint as my secret child-minder. Mikal’s antics, once he realized someone was spying on him and telling me what he was up to, prompted several hilarious escapades. And my brother was on the receiving end of one of them.

‘Well, rats,’ I grumble as I push myself out of bed.

‘Problems?’ I hear my husband question from the fresher.

‘Michael,’ I admit. ‘He disappeared before I could ask him to help keep an eye on his namesake this afternoon.’

There is a chuckle of amusement from my husband.

‘I will have to remember that trick the next time he is being an annoying Jedi ghost,’ he decides. ‘Don’t worry about this afternoon. We will manage well enough without him.’

I refrain from arguing. Ani is right. Having Michael to help on the sly is useful, but not necessary.

‘And now that Mikal can sense him, there’s only so much your brother can do, anyway,’ my husband continues. ‘We can’t risk my master hearing about your brother’s existence.’

At that, I concede defeat.

‘I won’t bother him about it again, then,’ I decide.

I retrieve the portable disposal unit from the kitchen and sweep the feathers off the table and into it. They’ll go down one of the castle’s garbage chutes, which are well outside of Ani’s sealed private quarters, later today. Time to organize breakfast. Ani hasn’t had his favourite Ky-Lessian fruit flavoured supplement in a while, so I select a container of that for him. Mikal and I are having our usual morning meal of the Empire’s equivalent to pancakes, and the twins should enjoy those, too. With a touch I set the autochef to making them for me. Someone starts stirring as I set a jug of blue milk on the dining table.

‘Busy boy,’ I quietly tell him as I give my stomach a rub. ‘You have a few months yet to go.’

‘Four to be exact,’ Ani supplies into my ear.

He slides his arms around me from behind, so I lean back against him. His morning routine is finished. The Sith Lord will be in his armour soon.

‘Ani,’ I whisper. ‘What are we going to do?’

‘For the moment, nothing,’ he quietly replies. ‘I will keep you and the children with me, where I can protect all of you, until I must act. Then,...’

I wait for him to finish, but his voice trails into silence. He’s finally decided exactly what he has to do, I quickly realize, and to keep me out of it, he won’t say any more than what he just has.

‘I know you will keep us safe,’ I remind him. ‘You have always done that.’

My fingers lace in his as he gives my hand a reassuring squeeze. I return it, hoping he will hold me a few minutes longer.

‘Little goddess,’ he teases a minute or two later. ‘I must get dressed.’

With some reluctance, I let his left hand go. He’s having it replaced after breakfast today and expects me to shift his wedding ring from his old metal prosthesis to the new synthflesh covered one. I know the procedure won’t be painful, but I am not sure that I want to really see it, either. Twisting about in his arms as he eases his hold on me, I give him another opportunity to kiss me. He doesn’t resist the temptation.


I pull back from our second kiss of the day and rest my forehead against hers for a moment. Maia sighs contentedly and lets herself melt against my body. How unfortunate that I must deal with the traitorous Admiral Harkov this morning when I have a far more pleasant family outing planned for the afternoon.

‘Time for me to put my armour on,’ I remind her.

Another sigh from her, but this is one of resignation. She always knows if I am hiding something from her.

‘Emperor’s business,’ I quietly admit to her. ‘It won’t take long to finish it.’

I give her a quick, light kiss after telling her that, release her and return to our bedroom. Partway through dressing, Mikal, now wearing one of his simple tunics, joins me. My son likes to help me by handing parts of my armour to me, and I have encouraged him to do so.

‘Here, daddy,’ Mikal says, holding my belt above his head with both hands.

I smile at him, ruffle his hair with my hand and accept the belt. He is such an agreeable child - much like I was at his age. To conceal my concerned expression from him, I turn back to the storage compartment I need and grab a cloak from the rack. My master would very quickly destroy my son’s caring and gentle nature. Those traits, inherited from his mother, have no place in a Sith Lord’s soul.

There is a tug on my hand. Mikal wants my attention.

‘Yes, son?’ I ask, pivoting around to face him.

He pulls harder, so I drop to one knee to be at his eye level. To my surprise, he wraps his arms around my neck, and kisses my scarred cheek.

‘I love you, daddy,’ he whispers in my ear.

Then he lets go of me and runs back into the kitchen to his mother.

I stay where I am, frozen for a moment, watching my little boy do the same with his mother as he just did with me.

The love of a child, my child, is a powerful motivator.

Yes, I decide, rising to my feet, I will protect him and his younger brother from Palpatine, even if the cost is too high, even if it is one I don’t really want to pay. I can do no less than that.


I send Cyran off to the conservatory with the twins. She will keep them occupied for the next hour while Ani and I are in the castle’s Medcenter. After Mikal’s morning defense lesson with Thirsk, the commando will bring my son there to join his sisters.

Ani returns from his office. From how quick he was, he must have found that there was nothing pressing or waiting for him to deal with.

‘Only my morning errand at the Imperial Palace,’ he confirms at the questioning look on my face.

Good, I decide. For once our day might actually go as planned.

He extends his hand so I take it, and let him lead me past his meditation pod to the turbolift. It feels like a real hand through the leather, but I know that it is composed of metal and durasteel, sensitive pressure sensors and temperature monitors. And today he will replace all that with an arm which looks real.

I sense his eyes on me. Ani knows I don’t care what he looks like. That has never mattered to me. This is something he is doing for his own benefit more than mine, even though he would deny that, and I know he is using the children as an excuse to justify it.

Baby steps, I remember Michael telling me. One small step at a time. Ani is gradually shedding the trappings of his Sith Lord persona. He is doing it privately, first, where it is safe, before he does anything in public. And he can’t do that until his master is dead.

I carefully consider his actions of the last three years. What he has done, and how he has gone about it. So, he has been changing his public image to contrast himself with Palpatine.

The despot versus the benevolent dictator.

The plotting politician pitted against the honourable warrior.

The philanderer vying with the devoted family man.

Our marriage and children are a small part of Ani’s plotting. I wonder how long he has been planning this. Was it something he was working on before he landed on Earth? Or has he merely taken advantage of the opportunities which have presented themselves?

Ani? I begin to ask him that question.

The latter, he answers before I can complete my thought. Palpatine’s desire for positive publicity has made it easy for me to manipulate the media. I have only done as my master wanted. The outcome has been for my benefit, though, not his.

Ani’s benefit. I stop dead in my tracks when I realize what he is planning to do. Sith history repeating itself, yet again.

Not yet, the Sith Lord replies, but in time.


I release Maia’s hand and lean back against the padded surgical table. My wife watches the 2-1B approach and lift my exposed, mechanical left arm. Her eyes shift to my mask and I know she doesn’t want to watch what the droid will do.

The 2-1B is efficient and quick. In less than a minute my twenty-year old prosthesis is gone and a new one is being rapidly attached. I suppress a flinch as the checks on its performance and surface sensors are performed. All seems to be in order, so I allow the synthflesh to be closed over my new arm and reach up with it to touch Maia’s cheek.

‘All finished,’ I tell her.

Her skin is warm against my new hand as she holds it to her face for the first time.

‘My legs will be next,’ I inform her.

She smiles and seems a bit surprised at that. This was one piece of information I hadn’t given her. I know my appearance doesn’t matter to her, but I want to do this. For my children, for her ... for myself.

I want to look as human again as I can, even though my family will be the only ones who will ever see it.

I pull my hand back and wait for her to replace my ring on it. She takes the plain gold band she had removed minutes ago and slides it back into place on my finger.

‘Better,’ she decides.

‘Do you want to stay?’ I ask.

My legs still need to be replaced, and she has never really seen what remains of my lower limbs. I see her bite her lip and can feel her indecision.

‘You don’t need to unless you want to,’ I reassure her.

‘I’ll stay,’ my wife decides.

But her eyes never leave my mask and her hand stays firmly in mine as the medical droid completes the necessary procedures.


I step back as Ani pushes away from the table and takes a few steps on his new legs. There doesn’t seem to be any change in how he is moving.

‘It will take a few days for me to completely adjust to them,’ he admits, ‘and I will change their settings as I need to. Finetuning is something I can do myself. There’s no need for a second session in the Medcenter to do that.’

I nod and take the hand he offers to me. Through the leather I can’t feel any difference in it, but I know it will be warm to my touch when he removes his glove tonight.

‘Don’t forget about our trip to the Galactic Museum,’ I remind him of our afternoon plans. ‘Mikal will expect you to be there.’

He chuckles a little at that and leads me towards his castle’s entrance.

‘And don’t forget I have a surprise for you after that, my Lady,’ he teases in return.

Ani stops and lightly brushes my face with his fingers. I turn my head and try to kiss them in return. He always does that when we have to part.

‘I will be back from my errand as soon as I can,’ he tells me.

Then he is off, striding down the black limestone steps, between the grey granite pillars, and across the dark coloured flagstones, only pausing when he reaches the edge of his holdings. He stops and glances back at me, so I smile in response and stay there, watching him until he is out of sight.

With a sigh, I decide to go see what mischief our three children are up to.

My husband will be back when he finishes whatever his mysterious errand happens to be.


I let my feet follow a well-trodden path across the plaza to the Imperial Palace. My master is not in residence at the moment, but what I need to do requires my presence here.

‘Lord Vader,’ Lieutenant Panib greets me when I enter the Communications Center.

Ah, yes, my wife’s former aide. Prim and proper as always. The ideal Imperial officer. Life in the Intelligence Corps seems to suit her.

‘As was relayed to you last night, Captain Maarek Stele and his team captured Admiral Harkov when they raided Rebel station DS-3 in the Parmel system,’ she repeats what I already know. ‘The Osprey is in orbit now and they should be landing within an hour.’

‘Good,’ I reply.

Harkov will be here soon and it won’t take long to extract what I need from him. Few last more than a few minutes under my questioning.

‘Shall I have the prisoner sent to the Interrogation block and made ready for you when they arrive?’ the Lieutenant offers.

‘No,’ I decide. ‘Have him brought to one of the meeting rooms, first.’

I will let the Admiral think I might be lenient with him to catch him off guard. If he is unwilling to cooperate and provide the location of his fleet, I will force the information I require from him. And I won’t need any of the amenities of the Interrogation block to do it.

While the Lieutenant relays my orders, I recall my master’s words to me a few days earlier, before he had left to inspect the new training facilities for his personal guard on the Yinchorri homeworld.

‘We must apprehend all the traitors under his command,’ Palpatine had stated. ‘Harkov’s fleet must not escape.’

And I had promised to see to it personally.

I give my head a slight shake. Harkov is only a symptom of the unrest which is becoming more and more common in the Imperial Navy. My master’s inflexible tactics and political games have only made it worse. When those in the ranks do not see their loyalty returned and are constantly set one upon the other, should it be any surprise that they become opportunists? That they turn on their superiors? That oaths of allegiance are so easily broken?

‘I will wait for the Admiral in the briefing room,’ I announce.

Turning on my heel, I leave Panib and the communications room behind me.


When I arrive at the castle’s conservatory, the twins are happily splashing water in the fish pond at one another, and Mikal is carefully examining the various stones I have collected and put in my ‘rock garden.’ Thirsk is standing by the door, on guard, as always. Cyran, I see, is pretending to ignore him. So her pursuit is obviously not going as well as she hoped it would. My aide will just have to accept that Thirsk is already firmly bound to his work - married to it almost. The commando will never make any room in his life for anything else.

Cat spots me when the door closes behind me.

‘Mum, mum, mum,’ she happily calls as she toddles towards me, going as fast as she can manage.

‘Hello, sweety,’ I greet her. ‘Mommy’s back.’

I am soon being clung to by two blue-eyed blondes, both loudly demanding to be held.

‘Up!’ Shmi orders.

‘One at a time,’ I firmly reply. ‘Cat was here first.’

My edict produces a scowl and cry of protest, but I refuse to relent. The twins are getting heavy and I am too pregnant to lift both at once. Cat nestles into my shoulder after I settle her in my arms.

‘Mum,’ my eldest daughter contentedly repeats.

Shmi screams in anger and jealousy.

‘No temper tantrums from you, little sithling,’ I warn her. ‘They don’t work on me.’

She sits down with a thump, stares up at me, and starts howling. I ignore her.

‘’Mi’s mad,’ Mikal observes from the opposite side of the room.

‘Yes, I know,’ I tell him, stepping around his sister.

Shmi doesn’t move from where she had thrown herself, and instead of becoming quieter, she only grows louder. Just what I need. The terrible twos starting a year early. Giving in to a tantrum will just encourage more of the same, and I will probably have to endure even more of this, I ruefully note as I sit down on the stone bench by the water.

After a few more minutes, I decide to try what worked with Mikal.

‘That’s quite enough, Shmi,’ I scold her, making sure I have one of Ani’s sternest looks on my face while I do it. ‘Mommy is not going to pick you up until you are quiet, and screaming will not get you what you want.’

There are a few shaky indrawn breaths in answer.

‘Mum?’ she asks.

‘Come here, sweety,’ I offer.

A minute later, I have both twins sitting on the bench beside me, tantrum completely forgotten.

‘Good thing his Lordship wasn’t here,’ Cyran decides. ‘He doesn’t have your patience.’

No, I think to myself, Ani would never have put up with Shmi’s screaming for as long as I did. He would have done something with the Force to quiet her quickly rather than wait for her to decide to stop herself.

‘She’ll learn,’ I reply. ‘It’s just her way of testing what my boundaries are.’

I make a mental note to have a private talk with my husband about how to manage Shmi’s temper.


The door at the end of the corridor hisses open, revealing one cowering Admiral being held firmly in place by his stormtrooper escorts. As I step away from the shadows, I see realization appear on his face. He knows what his fate will probably be.

‘Welcome, Admiral Harkov,’ I greet him. ‘We have a matter to discuss.’

I know he sold out to the rebels - that he supplied them with arms and data tapes detailing how he planned to defect with his fleet. And not for idealistic reasons, either. Harkov demanded a hefty sum from Mon Mothma in payment for his change in allegiance.

The two troopers release him and step back to stand, one on either side of the securely locked door, as guards. There will be no escape for the Admiral.

‘What is the location of your fleet?’ I ask, raising my right hand as I use the Force to lift him from the floor.

Disloyalty and betrayal such as his and that of those under him cannot be allowed to go unpunished. Harkov gasps and screams as I begin to collapse his throat, but he says nothing. In thought, though ...

‘Now you shall pay for your treachery!’ I decide, closing my hand and making a fist as I snap his neck.

I let his corpse fall to the floor. One traitor, executed. The troopers stay motionless for a moment, then move to drag the Admiral’s body away.

He may not have revealed his fleet’s location aloud, but I know where he has sent them. He couldn’t hide that from me, even if he didn’t have the specific location in his mind. His flagship, the Protector, and her sister Star Destroyers are somewhere in the Outer Rim. It won’t take long to track them down.


Ani seems a bit distracted when he returns. His errand must not have been a pleasant one, then, and he is still deciding what to do about it.

‘Daddy?’ Mikal asks when the Sith Lord pulls his left glove off.

Our son has obviously noticed that there is something different about his father.

‘Yes, son?’ Ani questions in reply.

Mikal doesn’t give an answer verbally, but reaches over to touch Ani’s new hand. My eldest looks up at his father and smiles shyly. Then he is in his chair, busy with the nuna soup I had the autochef make us for lunch.

What was that about? I prod my husband.

Our son is not sure whether he is allowed to say anything or not, Ani notes.

Give him time, I decide. Mikal will want an explanation when he’s ready for it.

The Sith Lord turns his attention to his own meal, slowly drinking it while he waits for the rest of us to finish. I must admit that there are advantages to a liquid diet. Quick and easy, and only a few dishes to clean up afterwards.

Shmi knocks her plate sideways, sending it off the table and across the floor. Noodles stick to the wall and the sauce splatters everywhere. My youngest daughter leans over, surveys her handiwork, and starts laughing. I hold in an exasperated sigh. Child number three is proving to be at her most difficult today.

‘That’s not funny, Shmi,’ I scold her.

‘Mum, mum, mum,’ she replies between giggles.

‘No trying to look cute, either,’ I warn, shaking my finger at her.

The smile doesn’t leave her face as I get out of my chair to clean up the disaster.

She’s learned Mikal’s old trick, Ani wryly observes.

Unfortunately, yes, I admit, and she’s starting to show quite a temper, too.

I see Ani’s eyebrow go up at that. Time for a quick talk about today’s events.

She threw a tantrum in the conservatory, I tell him as I grab a cloth from the sink. She wanted to be picked up when Cat was first in line. I let her scream herself out, but once they start with that, it’s a hard habit to break them of. You can’t give in and let her have what she wants, nor can you let her think it’s amusing.

My husband nods. Mikal had a few angry fits when he was younger. As long as the Sith Lord treats Shmi the same as he did our eldest, she should respond in the same way.

At least I hope she does.

I’ll try what worked with Mikal, then, he decides, mirroring my own thoughts on the matter.

I let out my sigh at last. The next few weeks could be quite a trial. It will be interesting to see just how stubborn Shmi will be and how long Ani will let her carry on before he does something about it.


Cat and Shmi are sleeping at last, so I slip out of their bedroom to join my wife and son. The twins are too small to really appreciate a trip to the museum, and I don’t want to risk a public tantrum from my youngest daughter. They can stay here under Cyran’s watchful eyes.

Maia has selected one of her older gowns, I see, one of those which conceals her pregnancy the best. I doubt it will fool many for very long. Changes in her wardrobe are always quickly noted and commented on by the media. Speculation is already running rampant. Bookmakers have started placing odds, even, on whether it will be a son or a daughter, on what day my next child will be born, and on what name I will give him or her.

I do my best to hide the expression on my face. For twenty years I lived without a family, and within the last three I have acquired one wife, two sons and two daughters.

My visions show Luke by my side and three more sons with Maia as well.

Seven children in all.

I feel my smile grow wider.

My wife turns and catches the look on my face.

‘What’s so funny, Sith Lord?’ she teases me.

‘Nothing,’ I reply, doing my best to sound and look innocent. ‘Just admiring my wife.’

‘Liar,’ she accuses, amused at my attempt to divert her.

‘Nothing important,’ I try again.

She steps close and presses herself up against my chest.

‘Oh?’ she asks, running a finger across my armour, then up to my face, finally resting it on the end of my nose. ‘I know you better than that, Anakin, so what are you smiling about?’

‘Nothing,’ I repeat for a third time.

This time I prevent further enquiries by setting my lips on hers.


He’s up to something, I decide when he pulls back at last and goes to pick up his vocoder. I catch another glimpse of that bratty little smile he was trying so hard to hide as he slides and locks his mask in place. It doesn’t matter. My husband will own up to it sooner or later, and I suspect it has something to do with whatever surprise he has planned for me today.

‘Mommy?’ Mikal calls to me, so I go to see to what he wants.

My son is standing in the middle of his bedroom, tugging unhappily at his black, formal tunic.

‘It’s too tight,’ he complains.

‘No, it isn’t,’ I tell him.

His lip assumes a pout as he yanks at the sleeve again. I move closer and begin checking the tunic. He’s right, I quickly realize. Mikal hasn’t worn it in a while and his most recent growth spurt means it really doesn’t fit him anymore.

‘Time for a new one,’ I admit.

It takes a few minutes to replace the old tunic with the only new one in his closet. Good thing I planned ahead and had a larger sized spare made just in case. But at the rate my son is growing, he will be wearing this new one for only a few months at the most.

‘Mikal’s going to need a new wardrobe,’ I tell Ani when we go to join him next to his meditation pod. ‘This is the only tunic which fits now.’

‘More shopping?’ my husband teases.

He knows I enjoy going out to look at what’s in the stores.

‘Tomorrow,’ I cheekily reply, ‘and I want your unlimited credit chip, too.’

That produces a peal of laughter from him as we head towards the entrance of his castle. Ani knows I am not very extravagant and won’t spend too much. My purchases tend to be practical rather than frivolous ones. Still, the prospect of buying whatever I want is a tempting one.

We are met inside the front doors by Daini, Rik, and Thirsk. I don’t see my usual Noghri bodyguards, but I know they will be close by even if they are not in plain view.

‘It’s only a short distance, about one kilometer, to the museum,’ Ani reveals. ‘Why don’t we walk instead of taking one of my airspeeders?’

I wonder at his suggestion, then shrug off my concerns. He wants a bit of publicity, I decide, and it should be safe enough. The area around the Imperial Palace is heavily patrolled, and the Sith Lord will be with me, so there really isn’t anything to worry about. And for the first time, in a long time, everything has gone according to plan today.

I nod my agreement to him and step through the door at his side, with my right hand resting in the crook of his left arm, and Mikal’s right hand firmly gripping my left.

What could possibly go wrong?

Ani slows his pace to match Mikal’s as we meander our way from his Castle, past the nearby luxury residences, to the side of the square where the museum is located, opposite the Imperial Palace. Our progress is noted and documented by our usual contingent of reporters, but none of them are foolish enough to stray too close to our group.

I see the Sith Lord’s helmet turn and follow his gaze. We are not the only ones out for a stroll this afternoon. Xizor, a blonde on his arm, is on a path parallelling our own, and it seems he has the same destination. There is a distinct hiss of annoyance from my husband.

‘Problems?’ I quietly question.

‘No,’ he hastily answers.

I give his arm a squeeze.

Nothing I can’t deal with, if it becomes necessary, he silently admits.

Xizor reaches the public entrance to the museum before we do, disappearing through the doors set in the wall well ahead of our party. The crowd surrounding the wide steps and being held back by troopers ignores him. Their attention is on Ani, Mikal, and I. I hold Mikal back with my hand, stopping him from getting too close to anyone.

Silence descends once the doors are securely shut behind us, cutting off the noise and calls from reporters for us to wait while they take yet another holo. My eyes wander about the room we are in and my head tips as they follow the walls upwards. The foyer is round and reaches to the roof of the building. I turn a little and look back at the crowd through the wall. They cannot see us through the transparisteel, I surmise, when Mikal’s faces and antics elicit no reaction from the reporters closest to the door.

‘Stop that,’ I scold him.

My warning does no good. He continues to stick his tongue out and roll his eyes.

‘Mikal,’ Ani growls.

That puts an end to our son’s attempts to draw attention to himself. While he looks about, presumably to find some other sort of mischief to indulge in, I examine a holographic map of the museum. There are numerous floors, each with a specific theme. The first two contain displays of flora and fauna, and geological specimens from throughout the galaxy. I hide a smile as I make a mental note of exactly where the rare minerals, gemstones, and jewellery are displayed. The necklace Ani gave me on Carida is on loan to the museum and I want to see the case where they have put it. On the next four floors, above the first two, are exhibits on the social and cultural diversity in the Empire, and the entire seventh floor is devoted solely to Palpatine’s life and accomplishments. Our destination appears to be on the tenth floor.

Beside the controls for the map is a droid who has been patiently waiting to direct us.

‘My Lord, the private opening of the new transportation galleries is in the left wing on the tenth floor,’ it intones.

If a droid could sound completely bored, I decide, then this one does.

Ani ignores it and leads us towards the turbolift.

I would prefer to take the stairs as that is safer, he admits, but that would be too strenuous for you.

I bite my lip to stop a sigh as I wait for the lift to stop its ascent. It will be quite a while before I can check out the museum’s rock collection. The Sith Lord has mentioned several times that he wanted to have a closer look at the rarer ships than the general public would be permitted. My husband could, no doubt, ask for a private showing, but has chosen not to. More positive publicity for him, I decide.

The lift opens onto a crescent-shaped balcony overlooking the foyer below. Ani quickly steers me away from that vantage point before I have a chance to get dizzy. Mikal, of course, manages to escape from my grasp to run over and go peer through the railing. He points at someone below and starts laughing.

‘Thirsk,’ Ani hints.

The Commander moves to retrieve Mikal, but our son evades him and darts to the side. Ani’s reaction is much faster than Thirsk’s, yet my husband still doesn’t get to our son before Mikal takes off one of his shoes and drops it between the carved stone posts.

There is a thud followed by an angry yell.

‘Oh, no,’ I say, as Ani pulls Mikal back before he can repeat the same stunt with his other shoe.

‘Lord Vader, I would appreciate it if you would put a bit more effort into controlling your son,’ I hear Xizor call from below.

There is a low chuckle from the Sith Lord when he leans over the balustrade to look at Mikal’s target of choice.

‘You must admit that he does have excellent aim,’ Ani notes, while he reaches out with his hand and calls Mikal’s shoe to it.

Xizor’s next comment is muffled. He must have moved under the overhanging balcony and away from where he might have a second impromptu missile dropped on him. I hear Ani hiss in response to whatever the Falleen said, but he doesn’t reply verbally to it.

‘Put your shoe back on, right now,’ he orders Mikal, who doesn’t seem the least bit phased by his father’s curt tone, ‘and no more nonsense or running off.’

Our two and a half year old indulges himself in a pout as he reluctantly obeys and takes Ani’s hand, but that soon disappears once he sees where we are going. From the lift, it is only a short walk to the new gallery. I take my time looking about the large open space which houses the museum’s collection of ancient space craft. From the low growl he lets out, I know Ani must have spotted Xizor. The Falleen is thankfully on the opposite side of the room from us, apparently engaged in conversation with a group of court hangers-on. My husband makes a point of going to look at the ship closest to us and farthest away from the individual currently at the top of his list of people to avoid.

‘It’s the only one of its kind left,’ Ani notes as he walks around the ancient ship, leading Mikal along and pointing things out to our son as he goes.

I watch him examine the engines, then go listen to the information holo.

‘Is it really four thousand years old?’ I ask him after the commentary has finished.

The Sith Lord chuckles at my disbelief.

‘It’s a Corellia StarDrive Coruscant-Class Heavy Courier,’ he repeats what I just heard. ‘They were quite common during the great Sith War.’

That’s the war he had once described to me in detail. I remember what Ani said about Exar Kun and his apprentice Ulic Qel-Droma, and Kun’s Brotherhood of the Sith.

‘That wasn’t in the description,’ I admit.

‘I should say not,’ the Sith Lord notes. ‘Most information about Sith history has been stripped from the public displays.’

‘Except what the Emperor wants people to know,’ I shrewdly surmise.

I can sense his smile.

Or should I have said ‘what you want the public to know?’ I prod him.

Ani doesn’t answer me. His helmeted head has turned to look across the room again. Xizor is staring at us, and his eyes seem to be fixed on Mikal. I give my husband a concerned look. This sort of attention, we don’t need or want. After a minute or so of their mutual attempts to intimidate one another from a distance, the Sith Lord pushes our son behind himself, towards me.

‘Take Mikal and go to one of the other exhibit halls, my lady,’ Ani orders. ‘Thirsk, Rik, go with her and send Daini on ahead of you to let museum security know where you are.’

I open my mouth to protest then snap it shut. Obviously there is something going on that I haven’t been made aware of yet.

I’ll go look at the rare minerals on the entry level, I decide.

No heights to deal with and because of the private opening there shouldn’t be anyone else in that part of the museum.

‘Let’s go look at something more interesting than a bunch of old ships,’ I tell Mikal.

I hear Ani’s amused snort as I follow Thirsk back to where the lift is.


I wait until Maia is on her way out before I angrily walk over to where Xizor is holding court with a few minor dignitaries.

‘Stay away from my family,’ I growl at him, waving a finger in his face as I do so.

He disregards my warning and continues to stare after Maia and Mikal.

‘How fortunate you are, my lord,’ he smoothly states, ignoring my words completely, ‘to have such a beautiful wife and strong heir.’

I glare at him, furious at his attempt at flattery. If this wasn’t a public location filled with witnesses, I would do something about his insolence, despite my master’s wishes. He won’t have that protection forever, I vow, and I will see to it myself that he loses Palpatine’s patronage. All I need is proof of his involvement in the Mia affair. And the sooner I have that, the better.

I refuse to tolerate a rival of any sort.


I hear Ani’s threat and suppress a flinch. He and Xizor are going to get into a public argument, I just know it. When I stop to turn around and go back, Thirsk shakes his head and waves me onward.

‘His lordship won’t appreciate your interference, my lady,’ he warns in a whisper.

I bite my lip and head down the corridor to the lift.


Xizor’s supporters begin to back away, their endorsement fading in the face of my anger. Such fickle friends. Running at the first sign of trouble. I curl my lip at them. They are not worth wasting my time on. Even the woman he arrived with has removed herself from the area.

‘Keep out of my affairs,’ I growl, repeating myself, ‘and leave my family out of our dealings.’

He smiles, exhibiting that oh, so, knowing Falleen smirk which I despise.

‘As you wish, my lord,’ he concedes, ‘I promise you I will give them every consideration and protection you gave to mine.’

There’s a double meaning to that ambiguous statement, I am sure, but this isn’t the time or place to extract it from him.

‘See to it that you do,’ I snap, not quite sure what else to say.

Then I spin on my heel and stalk across the center of the museum’s display hangar, returning to the ship I was examining earlier. Maia will be out of the way and occupied with Mikal while I keep an eye on Xizor.

The Falleen is obviously up to something.

And I intend to find out exactly what it is he plans to do.


Thirsk sends Daini over to the Museum’s security office as soon as we are out of the lift. I watch the Lieutenant make her way through a group of officials who have stopped to stare at me. Doing my best to ignore them, I turn and head towards the section I want to see. There should be a few minerals in the collection which are new to me, and I want to see the famous gemstones, including my necklace, that are on display.

As I follow Thirsk through the deserted geology gallery, I point out anything which catches my eye to Mikal. My son is bored, I decide, after we stop for the fourth time and he wanders on ahead of us.

‘He’s too much his father’s son,’ I tell Rik and Thirsk. ‘That old beat-up ship was of far more interest to him.’

Thirsk does his best to hide a smile, and I know Rik is debating what to say.

‘His lordship has already let him try piloting in one of the Executor’s sims, my lady,’ Rik confesses. ‘Lord Mikal is a natural, just like his father.’

So that’s what Ani was up to a few days ago and why our son was so excited when he came back to our quarters that morning.

‘He’ll never be a geologist,’ I admit, defeated, as Mikal continues to walk along, completely ignoring the exhibits to either side of him.

I take a second look at the rock specimen which had caught my eye. It’s not at all what I expected. For being as famous as it is, on closer inspection, Mt. Umate is made of a rather boring granite.

‘My lady, the gem collection is just ahead and to our right,’ Thirsk hints.

The Commander is finding looking at rocks just as boring as my son did. I hide a smile and start to trail along after him. They might find my interests dull, but I still want to see the jewellery which is on display.

‘Slow down and wait for us,’ I warn Mikal, who has started to run away from where we are behind him.

Mikal ignores me and disappears around the corner ahead of us.

I hear a surprised shout, then my son’s frantic call for help.


I try to ignore Xizor as I pretend to inspect the third of the relics from the Sith War. He is definitely waiting for something to happen. His idle discussions with the few who returned to his side have been nothing more than delaying tactics.

And he keeps looking over at me as if he is expecting some sort of reaction.

Then I hear Maia’s telepathic call.


‘Back away, right now,’ the masked stranger dressed in black orders.

I look from Thirsk to Rik, then back at the man who has a firm grip on Mikal’s arm.

‘Now,’ he repeats, emphasizing the word by giving my son a shake.

Ani, I call, I need your help. Someone has just grabbed Mikal.

I’ll be right there, the Sith Lord promptly replies.

‘Get out of my way, and I’ll let him go,’ is the next order we are given.

I see Thirsk tense up, readying himself for an attack. He intends to try something.

‘Don’t,’ I quietly tell him, ‘just do as he wants.’

The Commander hesitates then gives me a concerned look. Raising an eyebrow at him, I take a few steps backwards myself, surreptitiously giving him and Rik the hand signal indicating Ani is on his way. I need to reassure them that the situation is under control.

‘As you wish, my lady,’ Thirsk concedes, but I know he is not happy with what I want him to do.

Mikal’s captor marches past us, pulling my son along with him, but at Thirsk’s words, he stops. I see the head swathed in fabric swing about, to stare at me.

‘My lady?’ he echoes, then curses once he recognizes who I am, ‘Lady Vader. Sithspit.’

He’s just realized why we are co-operating and exactly who must be on their way here.

‘I knew I shouldn’t have taken this job,’ he grumbles. ‘No commission is worth that sort of risk.’

With another curse or two, he shoves Mikal towards me, reaches inside his clothes and throws my necklace on the floor.

‘Tell his lordship it wasn’t my idea,’ he calls over his shoulder as he bolts for the entrance to the gallery.

Rik charges after him, but my concerns are closer at hand. Relieved that my son is safe and unhurt, I lower myself onto one knee and open my arms.

Mikal is still firmly wrapped in them when Ani arrives a minute or so later.


I sense Maia’s relief and slow a little. The crisis is apparently over and my son is safe. There’s no reason to create a scene in public.

At least not yet.

Rik darts out of the gallery and looks around.

‘Damn, lost him,’ I hear him admit.

‘Lost who?’ I ask as I reach his side.

‘The thief,’ my former wingman tells me. ‘The one who grabbed Lord Mikal and had your Lady’s necklace. We must have surprised him.’

I let out an infuriated hiss and narrow my eyes. So this must be what Xizor was waiting for - a bit of public embarrassment for me. The only gallery which was supposed to be open today is the one I just left. Maia’s impromptu private tour interrupted one of the Falleen’s hirelings.

‘They’re safe, my lord,’ Rik hastily supplies, misinterpreting my anger as aimed at him. ‘He let your son go and gave the necklace back.’

I ignore him and head to the scene of the crime.


Ani isn’t very happy, I decide, when I hear him march past Thirsk who is guarding Mikal and I. I look up into his mask and try to smile a little.

‘He didn’t hurt us,’ I inform him, ‘and he gave...’

‘... your necklace back,’ he finishes. ‘I already know that.’

I bite my lip a little and sigh. This was supposed to be a nice, quiet family outing, but it seems that no matter how carefully I plan, no matter the circumstances, something unexpected always happens to disrupt things. Well, at least Mikal seems to have finally learned his lesson about running off. After this experience, I doubt he will try it again.

‘I’ll be back in a moment,’ the Sith Lord tells me after brushing his fingers over Mikal’s head, soothing him.

He disappears around the same corner Mikal did earlier. While I wait for him to come back, I let go of our son and stand up. When Ani is gone for more than a few minutes, my curiosity gets the better of me at last, so I round the end of the exhibit on Coruscanti rocks, Mikal in tow, to see what my husband is up to.

I discover him inside a heavy security vault, standing in front of a now empty transparisteel display case. His thumbs are hooked in his belt and he is quietly examining where my necklace must have once been laid out. On the black velvet-like fabric is a single, small bright blue stone. There is no obvious way for the thief to get my necklace out of the case, so I wonder how he did it.

Ani hears me, looks in my direction and with a low chuckle, ignites his sabre and cuts a neat, circular hole through the transparisteel. With a graceful flourish, he extracts the stone and sets it in my hand.

‘For your collection,’ he offers, returning his saber to his side.

‘But,...’ I start to protest.

‘They won’t catch him,’ the Sith Lord reveals. ‘The Tombat has never been caught, and you are the first to come anywhere close to doing that.’

‘Tombat?’ I ask him. ‘Who is that?’

‘A notorious thief. His signature is to leave a quella stone behind,’ he tells me, pointing at the blue gem. ‘But he is smart enough to know when he has gone too far. The Tombat returned Lady Landric’s mythra and corusca gem necklace after her husband ordered the Imperial Office of Criminal Investigation to bring him in.’

I just had a close encounter with an infamous jewel thief.

‘And he knows that I am not one to let what just happened go as easily as Moff Landric did the theft of his wife’s jewellery,’ Ani continues.

I tip my head, puzzled. The Sith Lord is not the type to concern himself with criminals like the Tombat.

‘How do you know about him?’ I finally prod as we walk away from the looted exhibit..

‘Moff Jerjerrod,’ he admits.


‘The Tombat stole several pieces of artwork from Jerjerrod’s personal estate on Tinnel IV,’ Ani owns up. ‘After Bespin, when I had a meeting with him on the Executor to discuss a project with him, he mentioned that theft to me.’

And Ani, being Ani, did some investigating of his own.

‘What are we....,’ I begin a question.

‘.... going to say about it?’ my husband smoothly finishes.


‘Nothing,’ he decides. ‘Mikal wasn’t harmed. You are safe. The necklace was returned. There is no need to turn this into a public spectacle.’

I refrain from commenting on that, but no matter what Ani tells me, I just know he is going to hold someone responsible for this afternoon’s little adventure.

And I suspect that the Tombat isn’t the one who should be worried.


I guide Maia past the ranks of reporters and back into the square. We have two more stops today before returning to my castle.

‘Time for dinner, my lady,’ I suggest as we walk away from the Museum. ‘There’s a suitable place close by.’

Maia turns to look at me, and I know she is wondering what I have planned for the evening. I do my best to suppress a smile. If only she knew.


He’s still up to something, but I decide not to spoil the surprise and ask. After our encounter with the Tombat, the rest of the day might be a bit of an anti-climax. Mikal drags his feet a little, and keeps craning his head around to look behind us. He must be getting bored again.

‘That’s the Imperial Justice Court,’ I tell my son, waving my free hand at the building we are passing, and hoping that will be enough to distract him for a minute or two.

Mikal ignores me and points a finger past Daini and Rik, and at one of the men in the group of reporters who are trying to follow us at a discrete distance.

‘Uncle Jix!’ he happily calls. ‘It’s uncle Jix!’

Ani stops dead, halting my progress as well.

‘Uncle Jix?’ he asks as he turns to see who our son has spotted. ‘Uncle Jix?’

‘That wasn’t my idea,’ I quietly admit.

‘Wrenga Jixton,’ Ani growls, shaking a finger in the direction of his current source of annoyance. ‘I thought I sent you on an errand.’

A rather sheepish looking Jix merely shrugs his shoulders and hurries to catch up with our party. By the time he has joined us, Ani has let go of Mikal’s hand, shifted mine off his arm, and has set both his hands on his hips.

‘Uh, oh,’ Rik quietly comments. ‘I think someone’s in trouble.’

‘I finished my errand, uncle Dee,’ Jix tells us, grinning and pulling out a datapad as he does so, ‘and I think you will want to pay a visit to someone on Bespin.’

I make a face. Bespin. Cloud City. All those heights to deal with. That is one place I don’t intend to go back to anytime soon.

‘And why would I want to do that?’ the Sith Lord prods while he accepts Jix’s offering. ‘I appointed Captain Treece as Cloud City’s governor and left a garrison there. His reports have given no indication of trouble.’

Good. It sounds like we won’t be making a return trip.

Ani ignores us and starts reading what he has just been handed. For a moment there is silence which is only broken by his fingers tapping on several of the keys. Then an angry hiss escapes him as his hand crushes the datapad.

Bad news? I warily venture.

Treece doubled tibanna gas production, but only reported profits at the previous levels. He’s been diverting the difference into an account he has on Aargau. Someone changed his transfer orders and had the last deposit sent to one of my accounts instead, my husband reveals, along with the details of where those funds came from.

Aargau. Another place I have no desire to see again.

Worse than that is why Jix came back early. Treece had Luke, didn’t inform me of that, and then let my son get away, he adds.

I wonder exactly what Jix was up to. Despite being an official member of my security staff, Ani keeps sending the ex-commando off on secret assignments. This time, I am sure it must have been something to do with tracking Luke, but before I can ask him about it, Ani drops the broken bits of the datapad onto the walkway.

‘I will deal with this later,’ the Sith Lord decides out loud. ‘It can wait.’

‘Dinnertime?’ I suggest, setting my hand over son number two.

I am getting hungry and someone is starting to move around.

‘Yes,’ Ani answers.


I slip my hand into hers and pull Maia along the pathway. Mikal follows along after us, doing his best to get ‘Uncle Jix’ to entertain him. His persistent questions are beginning to wear my agent down, I observe with a smirk, but sooner or later, my son will grow bored with bothering Jix. Sure enough, after another ten minutes, Mikal is holding my hand once again.

‘We’re here,’ I finally state.

Dinner will be in one of the more exclusive restaurants in Imperial Center. It’s not as popular as it once was, but the selection of exotic dishes available here is almost as good as at the Manarai.

‘Up there?’ Maia asks, her heading tipping up to stare at the top of the spire.

I knew her fear of heights would be a problem.

‘We’ll use the enclosed lift,’ I reassure her. ‘It’s more secure. The food is worth the trouble - it’s some of the best on Coruscant. A few critics claim the Skysitter’s specialties are better than those at the Manarai.’

She shifts from one foot to the other and I can sense she is debating whether to try persuading me to go elsewhere.

‘The view is quite spectacular,’ Daini offers.

I give my wife’s bodyguard an annoyed look. That comment is not going to help.

Maia? I silently ask.

She squeezes my hand in answer so I respond in kind.

‘Let’s go up, my lord,’ she concedes. ‘I need to eat.’

My agent can make himself useful. His dinner can wait.

‘And you,’ I say, pointing at Jix, ‘can stay here and make sure no one tries to come up and disturb us.’

Despite my wife’s attempt to act brave about it, the entire trip from the plaza level to the top, I can still feel her discomfort.

‘Welcome to the Skysitter, my lord,’ the restaurant’s owner greets us as the lift doors open. ‘As you requested, I have ensured that your meal won’t be interrupted.’

A quick survey of the establishment reveals exactly that. He has cleared the premises. We are the only ones here. Good, I decide. No Xizor to share a table with, no members of the military to bore me, nor any irritating politicians attempting to curry favor. For once we should have a relaxing, private meal out.

‘It’s like one of the restaurants from home,’ Maia tells me after she is settled comfortably in her seat. ‘The CN Tower has a rotating restaurant on top of it, too.’

She quickly glances away from the transparisteel window and the panoramic view visible through it. Many pay a fortune for the privilege of seeing that vista, I wryly note, but my wife would rather stare at the tank of exotic fish directly opposite it. Mikal, of course, is happily trying to identify whatever buildings he can see and recognize.

‘Where’s our home, daddy?’ he asks when he can’t find what he is looking for.

‘On the other side,’ I reply. ‘You will see it later, after the restaurant has moved a bit more.’


I don’t bother looking at the menu. It’s probably full of bizarre dishes anyway and I am not adventurous enough to try anything I don’t recognize. My staff, who are sitting at a table between the entrance and Ani, Mikal and I, spend quite a while debating their choices.

‘No rycrit?’ I tease Thirsk when he finally makes his decision, just as the attendant arrives to take our orders.

He responds with a rather sour look.

‘No, my lady,’ he firmly answers.

I remember Ani’s story about the Commander’s dislike of rycrit and his comments about it back on Corulag.

‘Nerf steak,’ I ask for my usual meal out, ‘and the Nuna dinner and Neema fruit punch for my son.’

Mikal has had that before and should eat it without protesting too much. Daini and Rik each opt for two of the more exotic items, and Thirsk copies my own request. When dinner arrives a short time later, I can’t help staring at what Rik is served.

Insects. Ick.

‘Would you like to try a kundril, my lady?’ the pilot offers once he sees where my eyes are aimed.

‘I don’t think so,’ I quickly reply.

‘Can I have one, mommy?’ Mikal asks.

I look over at Ani. If it were only up to me, the answer would be a definite ‘no.’ Bugs are to be squished, in my opinion, not eaten.

‘They are actually quite tasty,’ the Sith Lord tells me. ‘I ate them during the Clone Wars when there was nothing else available...’

His voice trails away, and I know he is lost in one of his memories again.

Ani? I prod him.

There is a slight shrug of his shoulders, so I take that as his approval.

‘Well, I suppose you can have one,’ I allow.

Rik selects a small kundril, puts it on a small plate and hands it to me. I do my best to not make a face when I set it in front of Mikal. My son stares at the blue-green bit he wanted. He looks up at his father then at me, before giving the kundril a poke with his fork, which slides off of the creature’s hard carapace.

‘You have to take it out of its shell, first,’ Ani instructs.

Instead of doing as he is told, Mikal continues to push the kundril around on his plate.

I guess he wasn’t that keen on trying it after all, I tease my husband.

‘Watch me,’ Rik suggests as he peels the shell off one of the bugs on his plate, before popping it in his mouth.

I avert my eyes and concentrate on my nerf steak.

‘Mommy?’ I hear a few seconds later. ‘Please help.’

With a sigh, I set my fork down and go to Mikal’s aid. The insect’s casing cracks and breaks open easily using only my fingers. I am not watching him eat it, I decide, once I have set the shell aside. After one bite, Mikal makes a face. He somehow swallows what he has in his mouth, but I know that’s the last time he will try a kundril. What’s left on the plate is quickly shoved away.

‘Not so tasty after all,’ I observe.

‘No,’ Mikal admits as he grabs his fruit punch.

Kundril must be an acquired taste.

The bantha steak always looks better when it’s on someone else’s plate, Ani contributes.

I try not to laugh and concentrate on finishing my meal.

He’s just a typical kid, I tell my husband.

The rest of our dinner goes quickly and without incident.


‘Where are we going now, my Lord?’ Maia asks once she is safely out of the lift and away from the restaurant’s tower.

‘You’ll see,’ I tease her a little. ‘I don’t know that yet myself.’

Mikal looks up at me expectantly. I told him yesterday that I needed his help today, and that it would be his choice for where we would spend the evening. He knows what I need him to choose, too.

‘Go ahead and pick something for us, Mikal,’ I tell him. ‘I promise we will go do whatever you like.’

When he doesn’t answer immediately, as I expect him to, I glance over at my wife. Maia is patiently waiting to hear his selection. Perhaps I need to help my son a little.

‘There’s the Western Sea to go play beside or take a waterspeeder trip on. You did say you wanted to see the new Opee Sea Killer at the Icqui Aquaria,’ I remind him, ‘and we haven’t been to the Holographic Zoo yet.’

Maia rolls her eyes at my last proposed option. I took her there before our son was born, to satisfy her curiosity about some of the more exotic creatures she had read about. There isn’t a single living animal in it. All of the displays are holographic projections representing species long extinct. After ten minutes, she was bored. No doubt my son’s attention span would be similar.

I see her start to consider making a few suggestions of her own.

‘The circus,’ Mikal suddenly blurts out. ‘Can we go see the circus?’

What? My son was supposed to ask me to take us to the Western Sea, like he agreed to last night.

‘Circus?’ I echo, puzzled. ‘What circus? I never said anything about...’

I hear Jix shift his weight nervously from one foot to the other, so I stop what I was going to say mid-sentence.

‘Jix,’ I growl, annoyed that the evening is not going as I want it to, ‘what have you told him?’

‘Not much,’ my agent admits, ‘just described a few acts in the circus which is playing at the amphitheatre tonight.’ He glances at his wrist ‘chrono, and adds, ‘In fact, the show starts in about fifteen minutes, Uncle Dee.’

I stare at him, irritated that he has just upset all of my plans. The Kallarak Amphitheatre seats one million beings. It is a place which is impossible to properly secure, and there is no time to empty it or get enough security in place, not without creating a great deal of trouble for myself.

‘Please daddy?’ Mikal pleads.

An exasperated sigh escapes from me. I did promise him we would do whatever he asked, and if I don’t, I will have to explain why I can’t keep my word about that to Maia. Her surprise will have to wait until later tonight, after Mikal is in bed.

‘Comm the Amphitheatre’s management,’ I order Thirsk, giving in. ‘Tell them we will be there shortly and have the area around the Emperor’s box cleared. My master is off-planet so we will use it ourselves. I will leave the security arrangements up to you.’

I reach over to my wife and settle her hand on my arm. Mikal catches the fingers of my other one and happily swings our clasped hands as we walk along. My son doesn’t stop chattering about what Jix had told him until we reach the Kallarak’s entrance.

I make a mental note to send Jix on a long, preferably unpleasant mission, tomorrow.


Ani stops at the bottom of a wide, marble staircase. I tip my head up and look at the outer wall of the amphitheatre in front of us. It’s pretty much what I expected - large, obviously oval in shape, with crowds of people milling about. Thirsk had gone on ahead of us and there is a clear path to the entrance. Somehow he found enough ‘troopers to hold back the curious onlookers. Normally our public appearances are announced in advance, so seeing us here must be quite a surprise to everyone.

Mikal tugs on his father’s hand. He’s eager to see the show and I need to sit down again.

‘Let’s go in,’ I suggest. ‘We don’t want to miss anything.’

The Sith Lord chuckles at my fussing.

‘They won’t begin until we are ready for them to begin,’ he tells me, ‘that way I won’t take offense at their presumption and do something about it.’

I give his arm a squeeze. Even after all the years I have been with him, I still forget sometimes how much power he really wields and what he is capable of doing if provoked. No one would be foolish enough to bring his wrath down on themselves. If delaying a show by ten minutes is what it takes to keep Darth Vader happy, then that is what the Kallarak’s management will do.

It takes a few minutes to walk to the Imperial box. When we arrive, I see that the public area has been cleared for twenty meters around the elevated enclosure. Thirsk is taking no chances that someone might get too close, and I am sure the wealthy patrons who were ordered to leave or move from their seats to less desirable ones were not very pleased. As I make my way to the front of the box, my Noghri bodyguards take up their positions to either side of the doorway, fading into the shadows. They won’t show themselves unless they are needed.

I let myself sink down into the soft cushions padding my throne-like seat. Ani does the same beside me. He looks like he belongs there, I decide, as I watch him casually set his hand over mine on the armrest and regally nod to the ‘ringmaster’ on the stage. Mikal is bouncing up and down in his spot next to his father. Our son can’t wait to see what is going to happen now.

The lights go out. All of them. In the ensuing darkness, I feel Ani’s hand grip mine in response to my move to get up.

Wait, he reassures me, there’s nothing to worry about.

‘Father?’ Mikal asks, sounding puzzled and a bit afraid.

‘Hush, son,’ Ani quietly scolds him.

The murmur from the audience’s voices fades away. Silence falls. The air is completely still. Only the Sith Lord’s breathing can be heard as everyone waits in anticipation of what will come.

I start in fright when the first explosion bathes the stage in brilliant shades of green. The second one, blues this time, also makes me jump. It isn’t until the third yellow one that my heart begins to slow down a little. Each new blaze of light produces a squeal and mad clapping from our son. Ani, of course, doesn’t react at all, but I know how eager my husband can be whenever a shipment of new munitions arrives on his flagship. He can’t wait to go test them. Like father, like son, I decide with a wry smile. Both like things that go ‘boom.’

Fountains of fire erupt around the stage. I feel Ani’s hand tense in mine before he relaxes again. As the showers of sparks fade, a group of scantily clad female Twi’leks appears. They stay poised and motionless on a platform, which has risen from below, until it is even with the floor in the center of the stage. Then they begin to dance and perform carefully choreographed acrobatic feats in time to the music a hidden orchestra is playing. I stare at them, wondering how they can contort their bodies so easily. It’s like their bones are made of rubber. Eventually they finish their routine, execute a series of graceful bows in our direction and run into the wings.

I look over at my husband. Those women were beautiful, but I know he was not at all interested in any of them. Mikal fidgets in his seat. Hopefully the next act will be something he likes.

An old man steps to the front of the stage. He’s quite hefty and dressed in an old, brown leather coat. For a moment, he does nothing, then he purses his lips, whistles, and a number of funny little creatures come running to him from every direction. They look a bit like dogs, but they aren’t. No dog has six legs or that sort of tail. At its master’s command, one of them bounds up and down into the air, like it has springs in its legs. Mikal laughs at the creature’s antics, so his trainer makes it do a few more tricks.

‘How cute,’ I tell my husband in a low whisper. ‘One of them would make a good pet for Mikal.’

‘They are Vorzyd canids,’ Ani leans over and says to me, ‘very difficult to tame and train. They have imprinted on him, so he must have stolen them from the den minutes after they were born. No one else will be able to do anything with them.’

‘Oh,’ I reply, a bit disappointed.

Eventually the old man and his canids, yipping and running circles around his feet, make their exit.

The next act takes place high above us. It’s one that always made me feel a bit queasy back home, so I concentrate on observing Mikal’s reactions rather than watch the wire walkers. They are not wearing antigravity belts and are working without a repulsor field beneath them. Every time I see my son’s mouth open and snap shut and hear the gasps from the rest of the audience, I know one of the performers must have done something successfully, but I refuse to turn and see what it was. There is silence during their final stunt, then mad applause.

‘You missed seeing a very good performance,’ the Sith Lord comments, once I am facing forward again.

‘That last bit,’ Rik notes, ‘only a crazy person would do that.’

‘I don’t think I want to hear anymore about what they did,’ I confess. ‘Just thinking of what might have happened if they made a mistake is bad enough.’

In thought, I warn Ani, Don’t you dare let Mikal see anything like that.

Of course not, he replies. If it looks like there is going to be an accident, I will do something to prevent it.

The next hour goes swiftly, one routine following another. Some have parallels with what would be in a circus back on Earth, others are variations of those, but many are completely new to me. Mikal seems to be enjoying himself, I cheerfully note. Maybe we will have to do this again, when the twins are old enough.

‘Only two more acts,’ Thirsk advises. ‘The Ralltiirian Tiger is next.’

He must have obtained a program somewhere.

I hear a loud growl and freeze in place.

‘What was that?’ I hear Daini ask from behind me.

Another growl echoes off of the marble tiers of seats.

‘Something which is hungry,’ I decide, then add when there is a distinctly feline snarling, spitting and hissing next, ‘and it doesn’t sound very happy, either.’

‘Mommy?’ Mikal calls to me.

‘It’s alright, sweety,’ I reassure him, ‘we’re safe here.’

Ani turns to say something to Thirsk while I stare intently at the stage. Pacing from the back of it, heading directly towards us, is one very large, very angry cat.

‘Ohhhh,’ our son exclaims once he sees it.

‘Ani,...’ I try to get my husband’s attention, completely forgetting to use the formal address when the cat shifts from a walk to a run.

The Sith Lord’s head snaps around. In an instant he is on his feet, lit saber in hand as the cat, presumably the Tiger from the next act, leaps right at Mikal, only to slam into a force field and fall backwards. It lies there, below the front of our box, stunned from the impact. My husband doesn’t move. Every eye in the place is on either him or that cat. Most are trying to watch both, I suspect.

‘Stun it, take it away, and then destroy it,’ Ani orders as a few troopers reach the beast. ‘Once it has entered a blood rage, it won’t stop attacking.’

He doesn’t resume his seat or shut off his saber until the Tiger has been hit with a number of bolts and dragged out of sight.

‘Why did it...?’ I start to ask, but my husband cuts me off.

... attack? he finishes for me.


Once provoked, they go for the weakest individual they can get to, he informs me.


I look over at our son who does not seem to have been at all affected by the Tiger’s attempt to get at him. He is back to bouncing up and down while he waits for the final act to start.

Perhaps it would be best if he doesn’t know that wasn’t another part of the show, I suggest.

We will let him think it was staged, Ani agrees. There is no reason to upset him over it.

The ringmaster reappears. He’s extremely nervous and worried, I decide, as he wrings his hands and looks up at the Sith Lord, waiting for some indication of whether the circus should continue or not. Maybe he thinks Ani is going to kill him over the Tiger’s escape and aborted attack.

‘There’s just one thing left,’ I remind Ani. ‘It won’t hurt to stay for that.’

At home, the closing circus act was always the elephants, and I am sure I know what we are going to see in place of those.

Mikal’s favourite creature.


I sense my husband hesitate, then he waves his hand and the now relieved ringmaster relays the instruction to continue.

A low rumble fills the amphitheatre. From the south entrance a huge, shaggy beast lumbers in, trailing after the woman who is obviously its keeper. Two large spiralled horns frame its face. The ones which follow it are smaller, but still impressive.

I steal a glance over at Mikal. His mouth has dropped open and his eyes are wide with excitement. This is the first time he has seen a real, live bantha.

‘Banthas!’ he whispers. ‘Banthas, daddy, banthas!’

Our son can’t stay in his seat any longer. He jumps up, runs to the front of the box, and stands on his toes, leaning across the stone barrier to get a better look. For a moment, I consider hauling him back. Ani catches my outstretched hand, though, and pulls it away with his own.

‘He’s completely safe,’ the Sith Lord reminds me.

I settle my hand on the armrest, now secure in my husband’s again, watch my son’s antics and smile.


Maia spends a few minutes more than usual getting Mikal ready for bed. He’s still excited from the circus and will no doubt be awake for quite a while yet. It’s my turn to tuck him in, so I wait until his mother has gone to our bedroom before going to see to our son.

‘Daddy,’ he say once he sees me in the doorway.

I go to his side and pull the cover over him, carefully pushing it into place around him. He’s found that battered old stuffed bantha toy I thought he had lost and has it in his arms.

‘Yes, son,’ I reply as I take a seat on the bed.

‘Can we go watch the banthas again?’ he asks.

I let out a sigh. Mikal has forgotten what he was supposed to suggest earlier today, but I will never hold that against him.

Seeing his happiness was worth changing my plans.

‘On another day, perhaps,’ I suggest. ‘Right now, you need to go to sleep.’

I push myself off the bed and go to the door.

‘Daddy,’ he calls after me.

‘Yes, son,’ I patiently answer.

‘I love you daddy,’ he tells me.

I stop, pause, turn to face my child once again, and finally admit to him what I have kept hidden in my heart, ‘And I love you too, my son.’


‘Mikal’s asleep and dreaming about banthas,’ Ani informs me when he eventually joins me in our bedroom, ‘and the twins didn’t stir when I looked in on them.’

‘You stayed until he was out?’ I ask, a bit puzzled.

Normally my husband doesn’t hover over Mikal like that. When he took a bit longer than usual to tuck our son in, I had thought he had gone to his office to check the comm for messages.

‘He asked me to read to him and I wanted to sit with him for a while,’ he confesses.

I turn away to hang up his cloak, using that action to hide my knowing smile. Behind closed doors Ani can be quite the caring and devoted parent, at times almost doting, but in public he tends to be formal and a bit distant. His position requires that from him. I suspect, though, that he doesn’t want anyone to think having a family has softened him too much.

His arms slide about my waist as he pulls me backwards against his body.

‘Maia,’ he whispers in my ear.

A hand gently strokes my stomach, measuring how much bigger I am. I stop his caresses by lacing my fingers in his. His hands are warm, no longer made from cold metal, and feel completely real. No doubt his new legs will take a while for me to adjust to as well.

There is a firm kiss on my neck before he turns me about. He’s smiling, I note seeing the crinkles at the corners of his eyes which are shining with mischief.

‘What are you up to?’ my curiosity has me prompt.

‘Not much,’ he teases.


The Sith Lord shuts me up with a kiss. Now I am sure he is up to something.

‘Not secret plans or plots, just a quiet night with you and a surprise,’ he says once he lets me go.

I tip my head, doubly puzzled when he calls the datapad on the table to his hand. Work? He wants me to do some work? At bedtime?

‘You should sit down and rest,’ he suggests, ‘or better yet, go get in bed.’

Giving him my best ‘what are you up to’ expression, I take his advice, propping myself up comfortably once I have pulled the covers over myself.

‘Ready!’ I call to him.

Surely he is making a big fuss over this surprise just to tease me.

Ani comes over and gets into bed beside me. He slides an arm behind my back, settling my head on his shoulder. With his free hand he taps away at the keys on the datapad.

‘Have a look,’ he offers once he has an image on the screen.

I stare at it, then at him before my eyes are back on the datapad. It is gradually scrolling through a series of pictures, each one of them another view of an elegant, obviously expensive, residence.

‘It’s beautiful,’ I decide, ‘but what is it?’

‘Our new home beside the Western Sea,’ he reveals. ‘We were supposed to go there tonight, but Mikal wanted to see the circus instead so I changed my plans.’

Ani shuts the datapad off and drops it on the floor.

‘Thankfully,’ my husband adds, ‘I didn’t need to change all of my plans for tonight.’

I reach up and pull him in for a kiss. New houses, children, and the galaxy at large can wait until tomorrow morning.


I draw her in tight to my body once our lovemaking is finished and she has started to drift. Maia murmurs some low comment at my touch, stirs a little, but soon settles again. From the sound of her breathing, she is deeply asleep, so I move my left hand from where it is resting on her stomach, over our son, and gently caress her face. She doesn’t move.

‘Good night, my love,’ I whisper to her.

There is definitely something to be said for going to sleep with a warm body snuggled in next to you, I decide as I close my eyes to the sight of my wife’s hair and neck right in front of my nose.



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