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

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

Summary: Secrets eventually do come out, despite attempts to hide them, and Vader finds out what the price for his silence and manipulations might be. Extracted from the AU ‘The Sith Lord and the Scientist.’

Falls between ‘Lessons’ and ‘A Visit to Naboo’


The Devastator, Imperial Center, Coruscant System, Year 0, Month 7.

DAY 5

Ani is watching me when I open my eyes. I have slept late today. Last night was difficult - my stomach rebelled and I was quite miserable for many hours trying to keep it settled. Poor Ani decided to suffer along with me and stayed at my side despite my attempts to shoo him into bed to get some sleep.

I run a finger carefully down his face, avoiding the bruises on his temple as best I can. It will be a few days yet before the evidence of his close call fades. If that crazy Jixton hadn’t found the Sith Lord, who knows how long it might have been before he was rescued. Or, I worry, who else might have found my unconscious love? Someone less inclined to be helpful?

Ani doesn’t reply to my concerns, only pulls me in close for a kiss. He knows he’s in for a good scolding when I feel up to it.

So much for your promise to be more careful, Sith Lord, I scold a little. Just look what happens when you are out of my sight for more than a few hours.

It wasn’t my fault, Maia, he admits, I had no way to know my agent would turn on me like that.

I hold him tight to reassure myself. Ani obviously had no contingency plans to deal with a traitor in his camp. The whole episode has scared me badly, though. I felt it when the impact of the explosion hit him, tossed him through the air, and partially buried him in rubble. And the terrible sensation when the Sith Lord was knocked out. That horrifying, seemingly unending moment of blackness swamped my senses. Melina had caught me before I could hit the floor, but I knew what had happened and that I could do nothing about it. As a civilian, I have no authority to order a rescue.

‘Ani, what should I do when I know you are hurt or in trouble?’ I ask, hoping he has some advice for me.

‘In the future, go to Thirsk or Piett. They will trust your judgement,’ Ani tells me, ‘and they each know you would only go to them in an emergency. It is unfortunate you did not go to Thirsk this time. That trip off planet with Jix at the helm was almost as bad as the explosion.’

A snicker escapes before I can stop it. Jix is totally hopeless as a pilot. Ani has complained about those brief few minutes after he regained consciousness and before he took over the helm of the ship Jix stole at every opportunity since then.

‘Maybe you should insist he gets flying lessons,’ I suggest, giggling a bit as I do.

‘A waste of time, Favorite, and I have other more useful things for Jix to do,’ he admits.

Like what, my curiosity wants me to ask, but I know better than to pose the question. One pseudo-positive result of the mess on Aridus is that Ani has acquired a new agent.

‘Well,’ I tell him, ‘we will see just how long that lasts. Jix’s devil-may-care attitude and insolence will drive you nuts sooner or later.’

‘That is my concern, Maia, so stop fussing about it,’ Ani scolds. ‘Now, you were awake most of last night and it will be several hours before the ship is in orbit. I want you to stay in here and rest until then. If you are still sick later, I will have Trever look at you before we go to my castle.’

Am I going to be stubborn about this? Nope. I want to see what his official residence on Imperial Center looks like, so I will behave and try to snooze a bit longer. Ani presses another kiss on my forehead and quickly sets about his morning routine. Before he goes, I sense him beside me. Curious, I open my eyes to see what he is up to. I hear a packet being ripped open, then feel his hand pull the blankets and nightgown away from my back. A patch is pressed against my skin and rubbed into my back.

‘I want to make sure you are well enough to travel later,’ Ani reveals. ‘If you need it, I will have Trever give you something stronger before we leave.’

A gloved hand brushes a few stray hairs off of my face. I look up and smile at him.

I love you, Anakin, I remind him.

I know. Now get some sleep, Favorite mine. I will wake you in plenty of time, he tells me.

A few hours later, a light touch to my shoulder wakes me.

Ani? my groggy brain asks.

‘Time to get up, Maia,’ he quietly informs me.

I watch him leave the room, but stay in bed. My stomach is not co-operating at all, and my attempts to soothe it are only partially successful. No, I think miserably, why did it have to act up today when I want it to behave?

When I fail to appear in his office after an hour, Ani returns, looking for me. I have finally managed to get dressed and over to a chair, but the thought of making the trip down to the shuttle and then enduring the flight after that is not at all appealing to me.

‘Maia,...’ Ani starts, then stops abruptly when I turn to face him.

‘Do I really look that bad?’ I wonder.

‘Yes, you do,’ he answers.

The Sith Lord turns to the comm panel and a moment later I hear Dr. Trever, the Chief Medical Officer, answering.

‘My Lord?’ the doctor asks, puzzled. Obviously he was not expecting this call.

‘I need you in my quarters immediately,’ Ani orders, not bothering with any niceties.

‘And the problem is?’ Trever prompts.

‘My Favorite is ill and I need you to ensure she can travel,’ the Sith Lord admits.

‘I will be there momentarily,’ the doctor replies and cuts the connection.

He’s as blunt as Ani can be, I decide.

A few minutes later, Trever arrives, and I can tell he is not happy about having to make this house call. He gives me a cursory glance, then pulls a hypospray and stack of patches from his bag.

‘Stronger anti-nausea patches,’ the doctor identifies.

Without asking or waiting for me to offer it, he grabs my arm and empties the drug he brought into it. The finished hypospray is tossed back into his bag.

‘Wait a few minutes, then she should be ready to go,’ Trever instructs as he leaves the room.

Ani merely watches him leave without any comment.

‘How cranky can you get,’ I complain.

‘Good doctors, particularly ones who are willing to take military posts, are difficult to find and keep, Maia, and he has other patients he considers more important than my sick concubine,’ the Sith Lord tells me. ‘Trever is an excellent surgeon and clinician, even though his bedside manner leaves a bit to be desired at times.’

Having experienced the man’s bedside manner, or to be honest, lack thereof, I have to agree.

I look over at Ani. My stomach is quiet now. Time to get up and go while it is behaving itself. The second I am on my feet, though, I start to sway noticeably. Whoa. That was some drug he used on me. I take a careful step and the Sith Lord moves to my side. A supporting arm slides around my back and I am guided from the bedroom through our quarters and into the corridor. He keeps his arm around me the entire walk to the shuttle, then settles me into my seat before leaving to finish whatever of his last minute tasks remain.

I wait patiently for Ani to return, and Thirsk and my four Lieutenants to join me. A noise behind me draws my attention. The Commander has arrived and my spacer’s trunk has been loaded.

Thank you for packing my stuff, Ani, I tell him when he appears at my side.

Melina did, not I, the Sith Lord admits.

He passes by me and steps into the cockpit. Ani will be flying the shuttle today, not his usual pilot. I wish my stomach was more reliable - it would be nice to sit up there beside him and look out - but I am not risking a spell of nausea, no way.

I fill the time by listening to Thirsk talk to Melina about some security drills he wants the four Lieutenants to do. We may have quite a while to wait before we can leave. As this is a non-priority, non-military trip, we will have to wait our turn until a spot in the traffic grid opens up. To my surprise, I hear the Sith Lord request immediate clearance.

Why are you pulling rank? I wonder. He rarely does that unless it’s necessary.

Normally I don’t have a sick concubine to worry about, he reminds me, and having the both of us on board could be just a bit too tempting for some of my enemies. I do not intend to be a sitting target waiting for an opening in the grid.

Oh. I have never thought of myself as a target before. Not a pleasant idea at all.

The shuttle is in motion now, so I peek through the cockpit and just as quickly look away. Nope, that was not a wise thing to do. For the rest of the trip, I concentrate on keeping my stomach quiet. When I feel the shuttle come to rest, I risk a glance forward again. We’re on a landing platform. How odd. I thought Ani would use a private hangar, not a more public space like he has done.

I get up from my seat and step towards the landing ramp only to be stopped by Melina and Adi. Now what? Puzzled, I turn to give Ani a questioning look.

‘A moment, my lady,’ Adi says. ‘You need to be properly covered.’

What?

Before I can protest, Melina throws a veil over my head, quickly arranges it and pins it to my hair.

I am not wearing this thing, Ani, I vehemently protest, refusing to budge when he pulls on my arm.

You will, Maia. Don’t defy me, the Sith Lord warns, dragging me down the ramp.

Not a chance, no way. Do what you like. I am not wearing it, I stubbornly insist.

Then we will do this the hard way, he decides.

I feel him force his way in, rap sharply against my mind and I instantly black out. When I come to a few minutes later, Ani is carrying me along the narrow walkway leading from the landing platform to what appears to be an open square. I shut my eyes tight and bury my face in his shoulder. No way am I looking down into that vast empty expanse beneath us.

Awake, are you? the Sith Lord observes. Ready to behave or do I need to knock you out again?

The veil is still over my face and he has draped it over my arms as well.

Why are you insisting on this? I ask. You never once mentioned that I would be subjected to this sort of treatment, and I wasn’t forced to cover-up like this on Carida.

Carida is not Imperial Center, he flatly states. I see no reason to make it easy for my enemies to identify you, Maia.

I consider continuing to protest. His reason makes perfect sense and I can’t think of anything to counter it with. Besides that, if I do resist, he will simply knock me out again and carry me along, and I know that once we are at his castle there will be some other punishment for my public defiance as well.

No, I decide, it is just not worth it despite how I feel about being forced to cover-up.

I understand, Ani, I admit to him, then concede, I’ll behave myself.

Good, Ani notes, you are willing to be reasonable about this. I will set you down now.

Don’t, I quietly request, not wanting to deal with my fear of heights.

I feel him hesitate for a split second, then he continues on at the same rapid pace.

I had forgotten about your fear of heights, Ani admits. Next time, I will be sure to use my private hangar.

And why didn’t you do that this time? I muse quietly to myself. He’s up to something, yet again, but I am not going to pry.

We’re in the square now, Maia, and I am going to put you down, the Sith Lord tells me.

I cautiously open my eyes as I am set back on my feet. Things look faded through the veil, but I do recognize the Imperial Palace at the other side of the square. A quick visual survey tells me that the ultra-rich are the only ones who can afford to live in this district. Where to now? I look over at Ani who must have been waiting for me to sort myself out.

He sets my hand on his arm and leads me along the edge of the square, heading directly for a large imposing edifice. A glance up at him reveals nothing and he makes no comment along our journey, so I try to occupy myself by looking about. Most of the other people in the area are giving us a wide berth. Obviously no one wants to annoy the Sith Lord by coming too close, but there are a number of curious onlookers and the odd soul who just stops and stares.

‘The media,’ I hear Adi state.

‘Holovision,’ Daini identifies, ‘and TriNebulon, too.’

‘About time,’ Thirsk growls.

I turn a little to see what they are talking about and spot what must be a couple of news crews. Well, I guess this will speed up our trip. Ani takes no notice though, and maintains his even pace. He’s deliberately letting them catch up to us, and it sounds like the Commander actually expected them to show up. The media are close on our heels just as we reach the entrance to the columned courtyard at the front of the Sith Lord’s castle.

Faint, Maia, Ani orders.

What? I reply, startled.

He doesn’t ask a second time, but instead pulls the same stunt on me he did earlier. I feel my legs give way as I start to pitch forward. Ani grabs me, though, before I hit the stone pavement. Letting myself go completely limp in his arms, I hear a commotion as Thirsk accosts the reporters while Melina and Adi run interference. A few quick steps and we are clear of the ruckus. The Sith Lord carries me across the courtyard, up a flight of stairs, and past a few columns. Then a door closes behind us and there is silence.

I hear someone approach us. Best to play act like Ani wants until he tells me otherwise, I decide, so I stay quiet in his arms and just listen.

‘My Lord?’ a man asks.

‘My Favorite is quite ill, Lyam. Send Reena down to my private quarters immediately,’ Ani orders as he carries me along.

‘And the reporters outside?’ Lyam wonders.

‘Thirsk and the Lieutenants will deal with them. Let them broadcast what they want. It will only serve my purposes,’ the Sith Lord decides.

I hear a turbolift door close then feel downward motion as it begins to move. Ani shifts me a bit in his arms and I wrap my own around his neck in response.

‘Feeling better?’ he teases.

‘What are you up to this time, Sith Lord?’ I nosily ask.

He simply chuckles in answer and steps from the turbolift into a wide corridor.

‘I needed an excuse to keep you out of public view, so you will be ill for the next few days,’ he reveals.

A few minutes later we are in a room with one of his meditation pods in it.

I guess, ‘Is ‘home’ set up like on ship?’

‘Not quite, my Favorite,’ Ani tells me as he carries me into what must be his private quarters.

I look about as best I can. The first chamber is obviously a small reception room with two doors leading off of it. Ani walks through one into a kitchen/dining area, then enters the bedroom. A door off of this room must be for the ‘fresher. At least that is a familiar layout.

The Sith Lord sets me down on the bed then goes to a compartment and selects a nightgown for me. Someone has planned ahead, I note. I feel him pull the pins from my hair and the veil off of my head. Good riddance, I happily think.

‘Reena will be here soon. You need to change and get into bed,’ Ani instructs.

‘Reena?’ I question. Who’s this?

‘Your personal physician,’ he replies, loosening the back of my dress.

I turn and stare at him, surprised.

‘I spent a considerable amount of time finding someone suitable,’ the Sith Lord reveals. ‘I actually ‘stole’ her from the faculty of the leading medical school on Rhinnal, so behave yourself and don’t annoy her.’

Ani eases the dress from my shoulders and lets it fall to my waist. The nightgown is pulled on next and I shimmy my way out of the dress before handing it to him. He tucks me in and disappears into the adjoining room, presumably to wait for this doctor. I won’t play at being ill, I decide. She will see through that instantly. Instead I will just whine about my pregnancy sickness and how miserable I have felt.

When the Sith Lord reappears with Reena, that idea vanishes from my mind. I stare at her a moment. She’s a bit older than my mother with greying brown hair and dark eyes. There is a firm but not severe or stern look on her face. This is someone who doesn’t put up with any nonsense from anyone yet is not harsh about it. I think there is a good sense of humor somewhere too, though she is trying to hide it at the moment. Reena knows my illness was an act, I quickly realize, and is still debating whether to play along with it or not.

I look at Ani then back at the doctor. Now what?

Reena doesn’t wait for me to say anything. Instead she takes charge of the situation.

‘You have been ill, my lady?’ she asks, and I see the twinkle of amusement in her eyes.

I nod at her and answer, ‘Pregnancy sickness.’

She smiles at that. Good. I was right about her sense of humor.

‘Let’s see how you are doing then,’ Reena decides.

I watch, curious as she pulls a few things from her bag. Some of them I recognize, but others are like nothing used on Earth. Like all doctors, she just has to take some blood. She drops the sample into a gadget of some sort and waits for the results.

‘How far along are you?’ she asks next, looking at whatever numbers are on the screen in her hand.

I think a minute, then tell her, ‘About eleven weeks.’

One of her eyebrows goes up at that.

‘I need to check something,’ she quietly states.

Another piece of equipment is pulled from the bag - a screen attached to what must be a scanner of some sort. Ultrasound or its equivalent, I decide.

‘If you wouldn’t mind,’ Reena leads on.

I don’t reply, just shove the sheets down and slide up my nightgown. This should be interesting. As I expect, she proceeds to scan my middle, but keeps the screen oriented so I can’t see it. Ani has wandered over to my side by now, curious as well. Guess he wants to see what our son looks like, too.

Reena frowns at the screen, adjusts something, then sets the scanner aside. With a sigh, she turns the image to where the Sith Lord and I can see it. Oh. Cool. Our son. He’s got arms and legs already, but isn’t it a bit early for that? I look up at the doctor, puzzled.

She answers my unspoken question, ‘Not eleven weeks, my lady, but nineteen - more than two and a half months.’

My mouth drops open so I snap it shut. What? That’s over three Earth months. I look up at Ani, but sense nothing from him.

‘You wouldn’t be the first woman who was wrong about when she conceived,’ Reena tries to reassure me.

‘But I had my monthly, I bled,’ I admit, embarrassed.

‘How much?’ the doctor asks.

I quietly consider what to say, then tell her, ‘Not much but I thought that was just stress related.’

‘It’s not unusual to have that happen the first month,’ she soothes.

‘But...’ I start to say, then stop dead.

I stare at the screen. If I am really that far along, then it must have happened the first time Ani and I ... That’s the only explanation for this. I shut my eyes tight and carefully count days. No, oh no. That one night was just about the best possible time for him to get me pregnant.

Reena reaches over and squeezes my hand. She can see my distress.

‘I will let you rest, my lady,’ she tells me, ‘the other information I will need can wait.’

I quietly watch her pack up her bag and go.

Ani stays silent at my side. He knew. He must have known. And he said nothing about it. And he treated me so very badly that night after the convocation, and for what?

‘When, Ani, when did you know?’ I ask him.

Silence.

‘Anakin, I need to know this,’ I prompt him.

‘On your homeworld,’ he finally, reluctantly admits. ‘I was curious, so I checked on you while you were falling asleep in my arms. I could tell you had released an egg, but it wasn’t until the next morning that I sensed our son. It was a bit of a shock to discover you were pregnant so quickly and with such a strong heir for me, too.’

‘You idiot,’ I snap, ‘It was the best possible time for it to happen!’

Why, oh why couldn’t he just have been honest with me about that cursed oath? All of my misery, all of our problems go back to that one thing.

‘If you had been honest, Ani, I would have seen to it that I didn’t get pregnant that night,’ I reveal. ‘I was not ready to be a parent yet, and judging from your irresponsible behavior, you aren’t ready, either.’

I point a finger at him, get out of bed and stalk towards him as he steps back from me. My temper is close to the boiling point and I have had more than enough of this nonsense from him.

‘No more lies, Anakin,’ I warn him. ‘No more deceptions, half-truths or crap like that when it comes to our personal life. Not unless you want to completely destroy our relationship, not unless you want to be miserable for the rest of your life.’

‘Don’t threaten me, Maia,’ he coldly states.

‘Threaten?’ I quietly say, ‘No threat, Anakin, but a promise. And I always keep those.’

I turn away from him, put my back to him, cross my arms, and consider my situation. What a mess. I suppose I could just ignore this, let it slide like I have other minor blow-ups. But he will lie to me again and again if I do that. No, I decide, steeling myself, I need to put an end to his dishonesty right now.

‘There is no room in our relationship for dishonesty, Ani,’ I calmly tell him, ‘so you will have to decide what is more important to you. Being honest and having a good, loving relationship with me, or continuing to lie about things and enduring a cold-hearted concubine who will have absolutely nothing to do with you.’

With that I sit down on the bed, my back still to him, waiting for his response. The Sith Lord says nothing, but I hear him pace back and forth across the floor, stopping every so often, I am sure, to look over at me. He’s wondering if I am serious about this. Time to give him a taste of what life might be like then. I reach for our bond, but instead of sending something to him, I ruthlessly cut off the constant emotional support I have so carefully maintained. There is a sharp inhalation behind me and the steps stop instantly. Hurts, doesn’t it, to have that cut off. Now you know, Sith Lord, how it feels when you do that to me.

I wait a few minutes for a response. Still nothing, so I reach for our bond once again, this time shutting it down to a mere trickle of what it normally is. Another gasp from him. He didn’t think I knew how to do that. I smile sadly to myself. Sorry, Ani, but I had to learn how to do that with Michael. Eavesdropping on him when he was with his girlfriend could be quite uncomfortable.

‘Maia, ...’ Ani finally says and it comes out almost as a moan.

I stay silent, waiting. He takes a step towards me, then stops. Time to lay down the law.

‘You can’t build a relationship on lies, Anakin. When you do that it’s like a house built on a foundation of sand. The first storm, the first earthquake and it falls down around you,’ I tell him. ‘And when you lie and I find out the truth, the pain Ani, the pain you cause me when all you had to do was be honest in the first place. Maybe you can live like that, but I can’t and I won’t.’

I hear another tentative step, then silence again. He’s thinking about things, I realize as I gently brush against his shields. Good. He can have as much time as he needs then.

***

I stand here, staring at her, silent.

She expects an answer from me and I cannot give her one. I cannot tell her what she so desperately needs to hear.

How can I?

The truth is truly a double-sided weapon, one that cuts the wielder as surely as the intended target. She makes it sound so very easy. Tell the truth, be honest, and all will be well. If only life were that simple.

I reach for our bond. Almost nothing remains of what once was. Her love is gone as if it never existed. I did not expect her to be that determined, that ruthless, that ... cruel.

She called me that once and I freely accepted the title. But to feel such from her? From one who so easily loved? From one who’s entire being sang with her love for me?

I reach towards her, then let my hand fall back again. She does not move, does not respond, merely waits, patiently, for an answer I cannot give.

A house built on a foundation of sand she had likened to a relationship built on lies.

An equivalency I understand all too well.

My first love, my Padme, I destroyed with such. Oh, I always was able to somehow justify what I said, what I did, but in the end - in the end it cost me everything.

And it started with one simple lie, one small deception, which quickly poisoned all.

As it has done with Maia.

I take another step, then stop dead.

Have I truly been that great a fool?

Only fools repeat their mistakes, I remind myself, and this is one you cannot afford to make again.

I measure her resolve. She will not yield, will not bend in this. There will be no compromises here. It will be all or nothing. Only complete surrender from me will be acceptable.

But I am a Sith Lord. I will not be humbled, be brought to my knees by anyone.

We are at an impasse then.

***

He is still standing there, silent, after many long minutes, and I can easily sense the turmoil in his mind. This is one decision he does not want to make. I can wait, I decide, will wait as long as it takes. Time to check on my son then. I let a hand drift over my middle and find that nothing has changed. Good. All is well there.

Ten minutes later, I shift a little. Ani is still quietly fighting with himself and I am quickly becoming uncomfortable. Something is wrong. Another small move on my part and I double over in pain. No, I think, horrified, no, not that, not now.

‘Maia?’ Ani asks, alarmed.

In a flash he is beside me. I feel his hands try to sit me up a bit so I push him away. Any movement and the pain becomes intense and searing. Breathe, Maia, I remind myself, as I attempt to control the pain, breathe slowly and maybe the pain will ease a bit. The Sith Lord hauls me to my feet next. Big mistake. Blood is now running down the inside of my thighs and bright red spots start to stain the pristine white of my nightgown.

‘Kreth,’ I hear Ani curse.

He pulls a blanket off the bed, wraps me in it, and picks me up. I hear him activate the comm-channel in his helmet and Reena’s quick response to his terse words as he runs from the bedroom back out to the turbolift with me held tight in his arms.

I shut my eyes and concentrate on staying calm. Panicking will just make it worse. When I feel myself being set down, I open them again. This must be the castle’s med-center. Reena is waiting for me, I guess, and waves the Sith Lord out.

No, my love, don’t go, I think, pleading with him, I’m afraid and I need you to stay. Please Anakin, stay.

He hesitates, then moves to stand by my head, positioning himself where I can look up at him. The doctor gives Ani an odd look, but does not try to send him away a second time.

Reena pulls open the blanket, rolls my ruined clothing out of the way, and starts a scan like she did earlier. Checking to see what is going on inside, I realize. I feel Ani’s hand slip into mine, and with the contact I can sense that he’s extremely worried about this.

The doctor says nothing for a while, simply continues with her tests, adjusting the angle of the scanner until she is apparently satisfied with what she sees. Finally, she sets it aside and replaces the blanket over top of me.

‘Your child is fine,’ Reena tells us, ‘but your Favorite has a subchorionic hemorrhage.’

‘And?’ Ani asks.

‘She will need to stay here until the bleeding stops and I am sure that the tear will not get any larger,’ the doctor decides. ‘I need to get her changed and cleaned up first. Then I will position her so the torn tissue will fall back into place.’

Reena goes into another room for a moment before returning with a robe for me. She watches Ani for a moment, a measuring look on her face.

‘A word, my Lord, in private, if you wouldn’t mind,’ she finally requests.

I see the two of them go into an office and decide it is a good time to get changed and cleaned up. The nightgown I drop on the floor before wrapping the robe around me. A quick listen reveals that Reena has not closed her office door, so I tip my head and concentrate on eavesdropping a little. Too bad I didn’t notice that sooner. Their conversation sounds quite interesting.

‘... and I don’t know what is going on between you two,’ I hear Reena say, ‘but if her stress levels don’t drop immediately, she will probably miscarry and could even bleed to death from it. I would suggest that whatever you have done to upset her, you apologize for, right now and be done with it.’

Ani growls a low, probably rude, response which I can’t make out. No, he really doesn’t like it when he gets called on the carpet, but he is going to get it from her for that remark, I just know it.

‘I heard that, your Lordship. I do know Huttese and you don’t frighten me in the least,’ the doctor retorts. ‘If your Favorite is making you miserable, you must have done something to deserve it.’

This could be quite funny. Ani now has two females on his case for his bad behavior. I do my best to not start giggling.

‘Women,’ Ani spits out, ‘are a curse on all men.’

‘And men are nothing but a nuisance to us as well,’ Reena baits him.

‘Doctors,’ he snarls, ‘are a necessary evil.’

‘Truer words have never been spoken,’ she replies, amused.

Ani hates being reminded of his dependance on the medical profession. He knows exactly what she meant by that. The doctor is obviously not going to back down, nor is she going to let him have the last word.

There is an infuriated hiss from him.

Oh, no. Ani has just lost his temper. I see the Sith Lord storm from Reena’s office. He looks at me and stops in his tracks. His helmet tips down and I know he has spotted the blood soaked nightgown on the floor. Dead silence from him now.

Reena steps past him, pulls the blanket off me and shifts me onto my side. A pillow is shoved behind my back, a second one under my chest, and the blanket replaced. With a gentle touch, my hair is moved off my face. Then she returns to her office and shuts the door, leaving Ani standing there with me watching him.

I carefully consider what to say to him.

Ani, I quietly state, you have to decide what is most important to you. I can’t do that for you.

With that I try to relax a bit. I am tired and I hurt inside. My son is fine - I can sense that easily now that I am no longer panic stricken. Time to sleep then. Ani can sort himself out here or elsewhere. I have only one thing left to say to him.

I love you, Anakin, I tell him before I shut my eyes.


Imperial Center, Coruscant System

DAY 6

The Sith Lord is gone when Reena wakes me the next morning. I quietly help her move me about and don’t protest when she slides an i.v. into my arm. It has been more than a day since I have eaten and I am dehydrated and hungry.

‘No solid food for a day or two while I keep you here,’ Reena warns me, ‘and you must stay quiet and do as little as possible for a week after that.’ She wags a finger at me and adds, ‘and no fooling around with his Lordship either. Not for at least two weeks. You may do what you like to him, but he is to keep his hands off of you entirely.’

I blush bright red at that. No way would I ever do to him what she is obviously thinking. She laughs a little at my embarrassed response.

‘Maybe I should go over your medical history now since you can’t escape from me,’ she teases.

The look on my face prompts another laugh as she pulls out a datapad.

‘Let’s start with the embarrassing questions, then, and get through them before that man of yours comes back,’ she decides.

‘He won’t be back,’ I flatly state, ‘not after the way I scolded him yesterday.’

‘I wouldn’t be so sure of that, if I were you,’ Reena tells me. ‘He only left your side when the Emperor called him away an hour ago, and very reluctantly at that.’

Oh. I stare at her, surprised.

She watches me, smiles, then reveals, ‘I was rather unprofessional last night, and listened in a bit. He spent some of his time apologizing to you and berating himself for being a fool.’

Ani did that? How odd. Well, I will just wait and see what he does when I am awake.

Reena’s attention is back on her datapad. Embarrassing questions she had said. Fine then, hurry up and ask them. She proceeds to rapidly do so, and with each successive one, I become more uncomfortable.

‘How many sexual partners have you had?’ Reena finally gets to that particular query.

‘Just his Lordship,’ I reply.

Her eyebrow goes up. She doesn’t believe me.

‘It’s true,’ I snap, offended by her assumption.

‘And for how long?’ she smoothly continues, giving no indication my reaction disturbed her.

‘About two and a half months,’ I admit.

Another odd look from her. Why is she behaving this way?

‘He was your very first lover, then?’ she asks. ‘You did nothing with anyone before him?’

‘Of course. I just told you that,’ I answer.

She sits back and watches me a moment.

‘That explains a few things,’ Reena decides.

Like what, I want to yell at her. I am getting frustrated and angry at this line of questioning. My private life is none of her business.

‘He is extremely possessive and protective of you, my lady,’ she tells me, ‘to the point where it is becoming excessive and unhealthy for both of you. That attitude partially comes from him being your first lover. I suspect he knows he got you pregnant that first time as well. Yet another contributing factor.’ She pauses to think a moment, then continues, ‘He is acting just like any dominant male would around his new, pregnant mate, but you need some breathing space and time away from him, too. For your own mental health, if nothing else.’

Reena falls silent, waiting for me to say something. When I don’t, she sighs and resumes her list of questions. Thankfully there are no more that pry into areas I do not want to discuss. When she is finished, I am left alone again, so I lie still, quietly brooding.

Ani is ready to apologize from what Reena told me, but I know he will be angry with what I said to him yesterday. He might say sorry, perhaps even be sincere about it, yet still refuse to budge on what is really the problem. Damn. If only I hadn’t started bleeding. A few more minutes of waiting and he might just have given in to me. Well, there is no help for that now. I will have to continue being stubborn about it and hope he realizes that I am right about this. The only acceptable solution, I firmly resolve, is no more lies from him.

I consider my situation. If he won’t yield, my life is going to be lonely and miserable because I won’t give in, won’t accept anything other than complete honesty from him. The thought of what might happen if he doesn’t, the years of living with nothing but coldness from him produces a few silent tears. It won’t come to that, I hope. Please let him be decent about this, I silently pray, please let him understand why this is necessary, why I am asking this of him.

My mind wanders into other territory. I hate that blasted veil, but he is obviously not going to back down on that. Does he not understand what it symbolizes to me? No, I decide after a bit of debate, he obviously doesn’t. He just sees it as another way to protect me.

Then there was that threat he made a few weeks ago. Is he really cruel enough to take our son from me? Would he lock me away if I refuse to do as he wants? I feel the tears start again and bury my face in the pillow. Taking our child away would destroy me. Surely he knows that.

I carefully reach for our bond, noting that it gradually opened up again while I slept. Ani is busy being the Sith Lord from what little I can feel from him. He won’t be in a very good mood when he gets back, I sadly realize, and he will be here shortly, too. Coldness, all I can sense is complete, utter coldness, so I yank my awareness back. A shiver passes through me. This is going to be one nasty encounter.

The door opens but I don’t look up. I know who is there from the breathing. He steps closer to the bed and I shrink back a bit, frightened by what I am sensing from him. There is no escape, and when he finally touches me, I flinch away, afraid of what he might do.

‘Kreth,’ Ani curses, ‘I was so preoccupied I had forgotten ...’

There is an odd sense of detachment from him, then the cold, frightening darkness is gone, replaced with a calm, soothing warmth. His hand brushes against my face again, but this time I remain where I am. I slowly open my eyes. He’s next to my head, standing there quietly, waiting for me to do something. What does he want me to do, to say? I said all I needed to yesterday. There is nothing left to say except for one thing. The one thing I tell him every day whether he wants to hear it or not.

I love you, Anakin, I tell him, letting him feel it from me as I say it.

A moment’s hesitation from him, then he scolds, Maia, you should be sleeping.

A touch to my mind and he nudges me into a deep sleep.

Hours later, I wake and find that I am no longer in the med-center, but safely tucked into our bed in his private quarters. He’s propped me in place like the doctor had, I note.

‘Did Reena let you bring me here?’ I ask, curious.

‘Yes, and you will be more comfortable here than in the med-center,’ Ani answers me from behind my back.

I try to turn over to look at him, but he stops me with a touch.

‘No moving around,’ he warns. ‘Reena will have my head if you start bleeding again. It was difficult enough as it was to persuade her I could look after you properly.’

The Sith Lord gets up from where he had been lounging and sits in the chair beside me. He’s wearing a set of black Jedi Master robes I have never seen him in before. That thought prompts a small smile from him.

‘I prefer these when I am here,’ he says, ‘and they are more suitable as well since I can move about my quarters in them.’

A quick glance reveals that the bedroom door is open. Oh. He must have environmental controls throughout his suite. Cool. Ani sees where I am looking and smiles again. Obviously he is in a good mood despite everything that has happened.

I feel him take my hand in his and brush his thumb across the back of it. In response I shift my attention back to him. Now what, I wonder.

‘There are things you need to hear from me, Maia,’ he admits, ‘some of which I should have told you a long time ago, but I will not upset you with any of that now. You need to rest and heal.’ He looks intently at me a moment, then teases, ‘and eat!’

Right. I am not allowed to move and he wants me to eat. He disappears into the kitchen and returns with a glass for me.

‘Let me help you,’ Ani offers, so I let him shift me about a bit and hold the glass so I can drink from it.

When I am finished, he props me on my side again and sits quietly in his chair beside me. I nervously reach my hand towards him. Has he decided to be honest with me now? Is he mad at me or not? He catches my hand and stays silent, watching me.

Finally, he says, ‘I deserved what you did to me yesterday.’

Whoa. That is something I didn’t expect to hear. He releases my hand, gets up, and starts pacing. After a few minutes, he stops and looks at me.

‘I can be an arrogant fool on occasion,’ he flatly states. ‘Hopefully you won’t need to hit me over the head too many more times to cure me of it.’

Ani steps close to me again, runs his hand down my face, then drops to one knee so he is at my eye level.

‘I may not be very good at showing it or saying it to you, but my little goddess, I do care for you,’ he reveals. ‘And when I thought I might lose your love ...’

The Sith Lord looks away. He’s having a hard time admitting this to me and to himself.

‘... it was almost more than I could bear,’ he somehow manages to finish in a whisper.

‘Ani,’ I soothe, reaching over to touch his face. ‘Ani, it’s alright to feel that way.’

He says nothing in answer, simply sets his forehead against the edge of the bed and lets me brush my calming fingers over his head then run them through his short, spiky hair. My poor love. You are having a hard time dealing with what you feel. All those long forgotten emotions you have ignored for so many years have roared back to life with a vengeance.

‘It’s not easy to admit love for someone,’ I quietly tell him, ‘it opens us up to being hurt.’

Ani tips his head up and stares at me. Did I ever hit the nail on the head that time. This is what has been the big problem all along. He is scared to death of being hurt again. No wonder he has always been so reluctant to let me know how he really feels, and quick to shove me away or sabotage our relationship whenever he felt he was letting himself get too close. It was his defensive way of putting some distance between us.

Dear Gods, I ask, what happened to him all those years ago that hurt him to this extent?

‘Betrayal, Maia,’ he coldly states. ‘A betrayal of the worst possible kind.’

He starts to move away, to distance himself again, but I set my hand behind his neck and drag myself close to him. Then I kiss him. Gently, softly, I put my lips to his.

I won’t leave you, my love. No matter what happens, no matter how much you hurt me, I won’t ever leave you, I won’t ever stop loving you, I reassure him.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Maia, he warns before pulling away from me.

‘You need to rest,’ he decides and there is no warmth, no love at all left in his voice.

I watch him leave and once he is gone, quietly cry myself to sleep.


DAY 7

I pick away at the vegetables on my plate, then set my fork aside while I brood. Reena was by earlier and has decided I can move around a little bit now. Not that I can go anywhere or do anything anyway. A glance towards the main door reveals no sign yet of Ani, so I let out an annoyed sigh. He spent the night in his office and said only a few words to me this morning. Fine, Sith Lord, go and hide somewhere. Avoid me all you like, but you can’t run from what you feel forever.

Frustrated and bored, I carry my plate to the sink. Time to relax and behave myself. After wrapping myself in a blanket, I sit down on the bed and decide to spend some time peering in at my son. There you are, I think happily to myself, and you are getting bigger and stronger, too. I gently brush my senses around him, soothing him even though I know there is no conscious thought there to connect with. There is an odd twinge inside me in response to my touch. Did he move? I shouldn’t be able to feel that yet. He’s far too small. Another light touch to him with the Force produces the same funny fluttering sensation. He did move! Cool. Really cool.

The Sith Lord comes in, but I pay no attention to him. I am too busy seeing what will prompt our son to move. When he sits beside me and adds his hand to my middle, I briefly look up and smile at him before returning my attention to our son.

‘I can feel him move, Ani,’ I tell him. ‘It feels weird, too.’

‘Maia, ... ‘ he starts, then stops, removes his hand and stares at my stomach. Maybe Ani just felt the same kick that I did.

I decide to keep talking, to give him some time to think, ‘If I brush against him with the Force I think he kicks me in response. He doesn’t like being prodded at all.’

When Ani is still silent, I tease, ‘Maybe he’s a bit like his father that way.’

A snort of amusement comes from the Sith Lord at that. He’s in a good mood at the moment. I feel Ani set a hand under my chin and lift my face to look into his. His eyes are calm, settled and full of laughter, I note just before he kisses me. It is a gentle, light kiss, but I want more than that. When he starts to pull away, I slip my arms around him and hold him close, pressing my lips hard against his.

I only have a few seconds to wait. He brushes my lips with his tongue, urges me to open my mouth to him. I tease him a bit, bar his entry with my own tongue, dueling with him for a moment before yielding completely. Gradually I fall backwards on the bed, pulling him over with me, all the while maintaining our kiss which is now deep and intense. My body melts beneath him and I know what I want now. With a mischievous tug, I yank his belt off, pull the codpiece lose and reach for the seam which runs down the front of his body armor, only to find my hands being caught and pinned to the bed.

‘None of that, my love,’ Ani warns me, ‘not for two more weeks, and only if Reena approves.’

No, I think miserably. I had hoped she didn’t say anything to him about that.

‘You may kiss and touch me all you like, though,’ he teases.

So he can have all the fun he wants. Not fair.

I look up at Ani. He’s lounging beside me, leaning on one arm while he watches the expressions on my face. I give him a playful shove, push him over on his back and kiss him. If this is all I am allowed to do, then he is going to get the most thorough treatment I can give him. Feeling a bit bratty, I cover his face with kisses, making sure to hit his ear’s ticklish spot a couple of times just to see him squirm a little. I return my lips to his next and let him kiss me as he likes to. One last kiss from me now. Shall I be brave today? Why not, I decide. A peck on the end of his nose and my lips are on his again. Ani stiffens in surprise when I run my tongue over them, but he responds by opening his mouth and letting me explore it as I want to. He has all his own teeth, I discover, and he tastes sweet, like the supplement drink he must have finished for lunch. When I finally end this kiss, he holds me close, brushes a hand through my hair and murmurs something to me in Sith.

Did I hear that right? I carefully consider what he just said. Yes, he did say what I thought he did. Oh, Ani, I think, feeling a tear escape, thank you for that. It means everything to hear that from you.

‘If you start to cry every time I tell you ‘I love you’ I will have to stop saying it,’ he teases.

That makes me cry a bit more, but he doesn’t scold or tease me for it, just holds me close to his chest until I stop. Finally, he shifts me onto my side and settles me in for my afternoon nap. I watch him replace his codpiece and retrieve the belt I pulled off. Once they are back in place, he sits beside me again.

‘I realized last night that there are only two things which are truly important to me, Maia,’ the Sith Lord admits, ‘you and my son. Everything else has to take second place to ....’

He abruptly breaks off, and snaps his head around to look straight through the wall. His eyes narrow with concentration. Something is definitely wrong.

‘Stay here, Maia,’ he orders. ‘Don’t move. I am going to close the blast doors on this room once I leave it.’

‘Ani, what’s wrong?’ I ask, watching him rapidly replace his mask and helmet.

‘We have a guest who has decided to pay us a visit in a manner I do not appreciate. I intend to give him a welcome he won’t soon forget,’ the Sith Lord reveals, brushing his fingers over my face before he goes.

I watch the door close and the heavy armor plated ones drop immediately after. He’s concerned enough to make sure I am completely secure. Who could the intruder be though? The castle’s security systems should have dealt with him long before he could ever reach these rooms.

I shut my eyes and stretch out my senses. Ani is nearby, next to his meditation pod, in fact, and he’s busy with the Force. Who is that there with him, though? A careful brush against our uninvited guest and I know exactly who it is. Jixton. What ever possessed him to break in here? Well, Ani will put a good scare into him, if he lets Jix survive the experience, that is.

Ten minutes later, the blast doors open and the Sith Lord returns to my side.

I quietly tell him, ‘Only Jix would be crazy enough to try to get in here.’

‘So you did figure out who it was,’ he notes, pleased with my surmise.

‘You chased him off, I guess?’ I ask, curious.

‘Not exactly. I put some fear into him and sent him on an errand,’ Ani admits.

‘Errand. Right,’ I reply. ‘More likely some mission or another designed to keep Jix busy for a while.’

A low chuckle is his response to that.

‘I want you to sleep, my Favorite. You need to rest. If you behave yourself, I will give you a surprise tomorrow,’ Ani tempts me a bit.

Surprise? Cool. His presents are always good ones. I close my eyes and settle in for my nap. There is another laugh at my quick compliance with his request.

‘You are only stubborn when it suits you, and then just to annoy me,’ he teases. ‘A most contrary and obstinate little goddess, just like your namesake.’

I snuggle closer in to my pillow and smile a little. He’s trying to provoke a response to get out of giving me the present he has promised. That’s not going to work, Sith Lord, not when I know what you are up to. His hand brushes down my cheek but I refuse to open my eyes. Nope, that won’t work, either. I can feel his amusement now, and his surrender. There will be no more attempts at getting me to talk.

‘Sleep, my love,’ he soothes. ‘I will wake you when Reena comes to check on you.’

True to his word, Ani rouses me a few minutes before the doctor arrives. She is her usual efficient self, and is not surprised when I mention the weird flutterings I can feel inside me.

‘A bit earlier than for most women,’ she reveals, ‘but there is not much to you so it will be easier for you to feel him moving about.’

She gives me a measuring look.

‘You need to gain more weight, my lady. I will set up a diet for you to follow,’ Reena advises. With a glance at Ani, she adds, ‘and no more of Lord Vader’s supplement. There is not enough of what you need in it.’

Well, I can live with that. It was beginning to get boring drinking the same things all the time anyway. I can’t think of anything else to ask her about, so I watch her go a few minutes later. She’s a good doctor and I like her, I decide.

‘Time to eat,’ Ani announces next as he disappears into the kitchen.

The Sith Lord putters about in there for quite a while before coming back to the bedroom and stripping off his armor. He’s up to something again, I just know it. I stay quiet and let him carry me to the dining table once he is in his robes.

After I am settled in a chair, I carefully examine what he’s made for me. Soup, bread, a few of the veggies I like and a small nerf steak. With a smile I dig in and do my best to have a bit of everything.

Ani watches me, entertained by my appetite, no doubt.

‘Finished?’ he finally asks, and when I nod, he brings a bowl from the cooling unit.

What’s this? I give the round, ice-covered lumps a poke with my spoon. They are the size of large marbles, and a variety of colors. Not sure what to do, I give Ani a questioning glance, then return my attention to what must be dessert. Time to try one then. It’s cold, but melts in my mouth. Strawberries? These look nothing like my favorite fruit from Earth, but they certainly taste the same.

There is an amused chuckle at the look on my face. Fine, laugh at me, Sith Lord.

‘What are these things, Ani?’ I ask between bites.

‘Neema fruit from Naboo,’ he identifies. ‘Hard to get fresh since they are out of season now. They taste best with a bit of ice on them so I dipped them in water and chilled them for you.’

So this is what my favorite juice is derived from.

‘They taste like strawberries from home,’ I tell him, ‘but those only come in red and can be much bigger.’

Home. I set the spoon aside as a wave of homesickness hits. How I miss everyone. Shutting my eyes, I scold myself a bit. Stop that, Maia. You can’t go back and there’s no point thinking about it. Ani loves you and he’s right here. Don’t upset him with this sort of foolishness.

I feel a hand on my cheek. Ani, I think, my love. He kisses me next, then I am picked up again and carried out of the kitchen towards his office.

What’s he up to now? I glance about the room. Bookshelves lined with interesting looking volumes, a desk with a data terminal, and ... a fire place? Ani sets me down in front of the cheerful blaze, but I feel no heat from it. There must be a barrier of some sort to keep the flames from interfering with the controlled environment.

‘How are you keeping the flames from interfering with the oxygenated atmosphere?’ I ask him.

‘Magnetic shield,’ Ani admits as he sits down beside me. ‘It looks nice, but has no real practical purpose. I use it as a focus sometimes when I meditate.’

I give the heavy blanket on the floor a poke. Nice and soft. Comfortable to curl up on. The pillow I want is out of reach though, so I pull it to myself with the Force and settle in next to my love. His hand brushes through my hair and I feel a pair of lips on the top of my head. Liquid is poured into a glass and I smell the sharp, distinct odor of something alcoholic.

‘You drink?’ I blurt out.

‘Only the very best Corellian whisky, and rarely at that,’ Ani reveals. ‘It bothers my battered insides if I indulge too often.’

‘I never touch the stuff,’ I tell him.

‘That’s not entirely true, Favorite, so out with it,’ he scolds.

Oh, no, he picked up on that.

‘Once, then,’ I admit.

‘And...?’ he prompts.

‘Trust me. You really don’t want to know,’ I try to dissuade any more questions.

‘Tell me anyway,’ he insists.

He’s expecting another embarrassing story. With a sigh, I give in.

‘It was my nineteenth birthday,’ I reluctantly start my tale of woe, ‘and Liz, Rick and Michael decided to take me to the popular bar on campus.’

Ani lets out a snort and interprets, ‘You were of drinking age and your sex-crazed roommate, your friend, the Admiral, and your brother, the Jedi, decided to get you drunk.’

I start laughing. The way he put it makes it sound hilarious.

‘Well, yes,’ I admit, ‘and they succeeded. Admirably, too. It’s a good thing I don’t remember much of that night, either.’

‘This sounds intriguing. So what did you do, Favorite?’ the Sith Lord asks.

This I really don’t want to tell him.

‘Maia,...’ he warns.

‘Stood on top of a table and sang love songs,’ I blurt out, burying my face in the pillow.

‘That’s not all there is to the tale, I imagine,’ he prods again.

May as well tell him the worst of it.

‘They were to you,’ I mumble into the pillow, hoping he doesn’t hear.

No such luck and dead silence from him. I knew that’s how he would react.

‘And some of my classmates were there,’ I add. ‘I was teased for months afterwards. It was horribly embarrassing since I couldn’t remember much of anything. They took great delight in telling me all sorts of stories about what I supposedly said and did just to torment me. Rick finally set the record straight and told me what really happened, but by then....’

‘By then, many were convinced you were crazy to love a Sith Lord who would never know you existed,’ Ani quietly finishes for me.

I think about it for a few minutes while he sips on his drink. Yes, that’s exactly how everyone reacted. Everyone except my brother and a few close friends. Rick and Liz never said one negative word to me about it. And Michael. My brother had only chuckled a bit and told me that sometimes the impossible does happen.

I turn my head so I can look up at the Sith Lord.

‘Michael would have liked you, Ani,’ I decide.

A small smile starts to appear.

‘Once he would have stopped trying to kill you, that is,’ I tease him. ‘He always was the over-protective big brother to me.’

‘The Admiral mentioned something along those lines in that letter he wrote to you,’ Ani notes.

I hear him set aside his glass and see the lights go out. An arm slides around my waist next as Ani shifts himself to lie down beside me. There is a quick kiss to the back of my neck and I shiver a bit at it. His lips are cold from his drink.

‘Time for me to talk and you to listen, my wife,’ he tells me.

This must be serious if he is calling me that. His hand brushes over my stomach and I sense him checking on our son.

‘I can’t promise you that I will be the perfect husband to you, Maia,’ Ani admits, ‘and while I would like to tell you the truth of everything you want to know, I can’t. It’s not possible. It is just not safe for you to know certain things about me and what I do.’

He is silent a moment, so I wait patiently for him to continue.

‘What I can do is be honest about how I feel and truthful about anything which affects only the two of us. I know you deserve more than that, but this is all I can offer,’ he quietly states, pauses, then adds, ‘It would be different, my love, if we were ordinary people leading normal lives, but I am second only to the Emperor and I would hope you understand what that means.’

Understand? I know all too well exactly what it means.

‘Now, my love, I owe you several apologies. I should have been honest with you from the start about your oath, and I should never have concealed our son’s existence from you like I did.’ I feel his hand tighten around my waist, ‘But I was afraid, Maia, of what my master might do if I told him immediately about our son. I wanted him to accept you as my mate, first, then convince him, later, to let me keep our child.’

He pulls me in tight to his chest and I know that he really doesn’t want to tell me the next bit.

‘I am sorry I mistreated you that night. I did not want to do that, but ...’ Ani stops speaking. When he continues, his voice is quiet, almost a whisper, ‘.... but I had no choice. Our son is just too strong for my master to let go without good reason. I did not want to hurt you, my little love, but I needed you to react that way. I had to be able to honestly tell my master you would go mad if he took our son from us. He would have known if I lied to him about that. So he gave me our son to keep you stable and sane. It was the only way he would let me keep our child.’

Oh Ani, I think, how terrible that you had to resort to such desperate measures just to keep our son from the Emperor. I set my hand on top of his and give it a reassuring squeeze.

‘There’s more, but you have heard enough for one day,’ the Sith Lord decides, ‘and since we are both comfortable here, I see no reason to move.’

I feel him pull another blanket over top of us. Sleeping by the fire will be cool. Too bad it doesn’t fit the cliché - there’s no blizzard raging outside or bearskin rug underneath us.

‘You like the idea of being stuck alone with me somewhere, don’t you?’ he asks.

I snuggle in tight to him. Like? Definitely. Too bad there is always something he needs to do or someone he has to talk to.

I let out a sigh, and admit, ‘Those four days we had to ourselves on my homeworld seem like heaven now.’

‘We have the next two weeks more or less to ourselves,’ he reveals with a chuckle.

‘What?’ I blurt out, surprised.

‘Orders from the Emperor,’ he ruefully admits.

‘Sounds like a pretty strange situation to me,’ I tell him. ‘Why would he order you to just hang about and do nothing?’

‘Shall I show you?’ he offers.

I give a nod. This should be cool.

Ani reaches for our bond, touches my mind and pulls my awareness back into his own. It is a bit disorienting but he doesn’t wait for me to sort myself out before triggering a memory. Weird, I decide, things look strange through the lenses of his helmet. I sense his amusement at my reaction as he whips through his recollection of his meeting with the Emperor. Guess there are some things I am not supposed to learn about that.

He stops at some point and I find myself immersed in what he had experienced.

Ani is looking down at the floor from what I can see through his eyes. He must be kneeling, too, judging from the distance to it.

‘Now my friend,’ I hear the Emperor say, ‘you have created a problem for me which you need to look after immediately.’

The Sith Lord glances up at the man seated in front of him. He is puzzled by what he was just told.

‘I don’t understand,’ Ani admits.

‘I didn’t expect you to,’ his master flatly states. ‘You never could manage the women in your life.’

Silence from the Sith Lord. An annoyed look crosses the Emperor’s face. He gets out of his chair and turns to stare out the window.

‘I know what happened to your Favorite yesterday,’ he reveals, sounding a bit offended, ‘and I felt her emotional distress as did every Force sensitive in the sector. If you cannot treat her any better than that, I will take her away from you. She is nothing but a child, Lord Vader, one you will handle with the greatest of care from now on. There will be no more public displays like that spectacle you put on when you arrived.’

I feel Ani flinch in surprise.

‘She fainted, my master, that’s all,’ Ani protests.

‘That is not what I am referring to, my apprentice,’ the Emperor snaps. ‘Seeing a live broadcast of you dragging an obviously terrified woman off your shuttle and then proceeding to forcibly carry her from the landing platform is unacceptable.’

‘She wasn’t frightened,’ Ani retorts, ‘she was being stubborn.’

The Emperor turns and points a finger at the Sith Lord.

‘It doesn’t matter what really happened,’ he scolds, angrily, ‘only what the media and the public think of it. I had intended to use the two of you as role-models. You may have ruined my plans.’

He returns to sit in the throne and stares down at the Sith Lord, tapping one finger on the armrest as he thinks.

‘The public’s view of you must change,’ the Emperor finally decides.

‘What?’ Ani asks, startled.

‘In this one area only,’ his master reassures him. ‘You, my friend, will be both my loyal, dedicated military commander, and a devoted, attentive, and caring mate to her.’

The Sith Lord gets to his feet and takes a step backwards. He can’t believe what he just was ordered to do.

‘My master?’ Ani asks, puzzled.

‘You will do as you are told,’ the Emperor reminds him. ‘What you do in private is your own business, but in public you will treat her with kindness and consideration, and will not raise your voice or hand to her, no matter what she does to provoke you.’

He sits back in his chair, obviously amused by Ani’s stunned reaction to this. When the Sith Lord says nothing, though, he adds a few more orders related to me.

‘You will see to it that your Favorite behaves appropriately from now on,’ his master commands. ‘She is to be both supportive and compliant to you. I want the public to see her as my version of the ideal woman - quiet, obedient, unobtrusive, and completely devoted to her mate. When your son is born, she will become my model mother - dedicated solely to her family.’

I can sense Ani’s amusement at this. He knows how stubborn and contrary I can be and how difficult I will find it to follow the rules the Emperor has just dictated.

‘I will do as you wish,’ the Sith Lord concedes.

‘Good, very good. Now, she needs to recover and should not travel for two weeks at least,’ he states, ‘so you, my friend, will stay here on Imperial Center until she is able to leave. There is a new opera opening in a week’s time. You will accompany me to the premiere and bring your Favorite with you. I want you to make some public appearances with her while you are here. You need to repair the damage your foolishness may have done. In the meantime, I have a few errands you can look after for me ...’

The memory fades at that and I feel a moment of disorientation as I open my eyes. Reliving that with Ani was truly bizarre. I take a moment to consider what I have just learned.

‘Ani, did he order you to do what I think he did?’ I ask.

A low chuckle, then, ‘Yes, my love, he did.’

I shift a bit beside him, moving in closer to snuggle up to him. Ani can be as affectionate in public as he wants to be, now, and the Emperor will think he is only following orders. A smile creeps across my face. This should be fun.

‘I won’t do anything too provocative, Maia,’ he reminds me, ‘and we must be careful not to overdo it at first. My master expects I will be reluctant to show you any public affection. He would not have been so insistent about it, otherwise.’

‘He doesn’t like women very much, does he?’ I wryly observe.

‘Why do you think that?’ the Sith Lord questions.

I let out a snort and quote, ‘ “quiet, obedient, unobtrusive, and completely devoted to her mate, and dedicated solely to her family.” Sounds like the old cliché from years ago at home. Women should be silent, barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen.’

No response from Ani to that, so I tell him something else I have guessed, ‘From his attitude, I would assume that at some point in the past some woman got the better of him and he has never forgotten that.’

Dead silence. I must have been pretty close with that surmise.

‘Perhaps,’ Ani finally admits.

I feel a kiss on the back of my neck again.

‘Now, if you want your surprise tomorrow, you must be good and go to sleep,’ he tells me.

Surprise? Oh. I pull his arm tight around my waist. No need to be stubborn here.

A few minutes later, I am asleep.


DAY 8

***

My morning’s tasks are finished, so I return to my private quarters to retrieve Maia. She was quiet and unhappy when I told her I had to leave, and will be in no better a mood after I tell her I will be gone for most of the afternoon as well.

Maia looks up at me from the book she was reading as I enter my office. At least my Favorite is able to keep herself entertained when I am away.

‘I have another errand to do this afternoon,’ I tell her.

There is a flash of quickly hidden resentment.

‘Maia,’ I warn.

She has become very possessive of the time I spend with her, and I will have less and less of that to share in the coming months.

A slightly hurt expression appears next. Very well, then, I will have to deal with her attitude when I get back.

‘Do you want your surprise?’ I ask, changing the topic.

‘Yes!’ she answers, discarding the volume on ‘saber forms she was busy with.

‘Come along, then,’ I offer, holding my hand out to her.

She slips hers into mine and tries to hurry us along, doing her best to outpace me. I hold her back, keeping her at a slow, gentle walk. Reena will be in a foul mood if I have to take my wife to my castle’s medlab.

‘Stop that,’ I scold when she tugs on my hand again, ‘and behave yourself.’

‘But,’ she starts to protest.

‘Behave,’ I repeat.

Her pace slows to match mine, so I steer her into the conservatory and release her hand.

‘It's beautiful,’ she notes, as she looks about.

I allow myself a smile. The last time I was at Imperial Center I selected a landscape architect and set him to work. Now that she knows this exists, Maia will probably spend many happy days here when I am away.

I follow her down to the pool with the fish in it and watch her settle herself on the seat beside the water.

‘Stay where you are,’ I suggest. ‘Thirsk and your staff will be by in a few minutes.’

She doesn’t look up from where she is trying to persuade the fish to come closer to her hand.

‘You may have whatever you like,’ I decide. ‘Pick out anything you want and don't worry about the cost.’

Maia finally shifts her attention back to me. I can tell she is wondering what her surprise is.

‘Anything?’ she teases.

‘Anything,’ I confirm.

Even if she ordered a hundred of everything she sees this afternoon, it wouldn’t affect my net worth. Let her choose as she pleases.

‘You won’t be gone long?’ she asks.

‘As long as is necessary,’ I reply.

Another flash of resentment from her.

I don’t let her sense my annoyance, but instead sit beside her on the carved rock bench. My fingers trail down her cheek before I rest them on my knee. Her attitude is partially my fault. In protecting her, keeping her isolated, she has become completely dependent on me emotionally. This is a potentially dangerous situation, one I need to remedy quickly.

‘I know you don’t want me to be away from you,’ I admit, ‘but this is how it must be.’

She looks away, refuses to meet my gaze. I reach over and turn her face so she can’t avoid what I need to say to her.

‘If we were living on your homeworld and I was on active duty in the military, would it be any different than it is here?’ I question.

Maia shakes her head in answer.

‘It would be worse,’ she softly says. ‘I wouldn’t be able to stay with you.’

I leave my fingers under her chin, brush her lips with my thumb.

‘Then be grateful for the time we have together,’ I suggest. ‘Once my flagship is finished, I will have little of that to give you.’

‘It’s…’ she starts.

‘…not fair,’ I finish for her. ‘I know that, but you knew how things would be for us. I told you on your homeworld what it would be like.’

There are tears threatening, so I lock the doors with a gesture and pull her close. It has been very difficult for her to adapt to her new life. Culture shock. Living with me. Learning everything younglings know and take for granted. It will be easier for her once my son is born and she has him to keep her occupied.

But now I am late for my meeting and must go.

‘I will be back later,’ I tell her.

***

I watch him go, and quickly turn away from the doors once he is gone. It isn’t fair, I want to protest, but I know that won’t change the situation. With a sigh, I resign myself to living with it. Complaining to Ani won’t help and will only annoy him.

The fish come closer when I wiggle my fingers at them. Maybe I can find out what they eat and tempt them with that.

Thirsk and my Lieutenants appear a few minutes later. At least Ani lets me have them for company. While I wait for them to join me, the Commander, after surveying the area, takes up his usual guard position by the entrance.

Melina gives me a smile and picks a spot on the bench next to the one I am on. My aide sometimes gives me the impression that she thinks I am an uneducated country bumpkin, though she does try to hide that opinion quickly whenever I might notice it. Cyran sits beside me where Ani was. Of the four women, she has been the most friendly, and I like her the best. Adi, I do my best not to roll my eyes at. She means well, but at times is a bit scatterbrained. And Daini. If Liz had a clone, personality-wise, it would be her. Any good looking male in uniform is fair game to her. Ani’s wingman, Rik, has spent days avoiding her clutches. The five of us, I decide, could not be more unalike.

‘You’ve cut your hair,’ I tell Cyran. Her normally shoulder-length blonde hair is now styled in a short bob.

‘I wanted to try something different, my lady,’ she admits.

‘I think it looks better when it’s a little longer,’ I decide.

‘Shorter hair is the newest fashion,’ Melina adds.

The doors open before I can reply to that and Thirsk gives the short, dumpy woman who is standing there a critical look.

Now what?

‘You may come in,’ the Commander tells her.

She walks over to where the rest of us are sitting and introduces herself, ‘I am Melanani, my lady. Lord Vader asked me to show my latest designs to you…’

I only half-listen to the rest of what she says because the reactions of the women around me are far more interesting. Melina is openly surprised, and Adi looks rather stunned. They obviously know who she is though her name means nothing to me.

For the next hour there is a parade of models. Most of the dresses are not to my taste at all, but a few of the simpler ones would be fine. I accept a datapad from the designer once her showing is finished and look at the list on it.

‘I can ensure delivery within two days, my lady,’ she assures me, assuming that’s why I am hesitating, I suppose.

‘You will need to order four of everything you want,’ Melina advises.

I give her a puzzled look, then ask, ‘Why?’

‘One each for here, his Lordship’s new flagship, Bast Castle, and the Devastator,’ my aide reveals. ‘That way you won't be moving your wardrobe every time Lord Vader transfers location.’

‘But…,’ I start to protest, then stop.

Ani did say to pick whatever I wanted to, and he wasn’t at all concerned about how much I might spend.

Alright, for once in my life I’ll be a spendthrift. With a touch I pick out the dresses I liked on the datapad, then add a couple others Ani might think are suitable as well. I deliberately avoid looking at the total purchase cost and return the datapad to Melanani.

‘Simple and without excess,’ she notes. ‘You have excellent taste, my lady, better than most of my clients, in fact. Now that I know what you prefer, the next show I do for you, I will leave the more frivolous designs out.’

The instant she is gone, the four women with me start talking all at once, each determined to get out her opinion.

‘Do you know who that was?’ Cyran finally manages to say overtop of the other three.

‘No,’ I confess.

My companions fall silent at my admission.

‘That,’ Melina tells me, ‘was the most sought after designer in the Empire. She is a bit of a recluse and I’ve never heard of her ever accompanying her models to a show, public or private. Obviously she didn’t want to offend his Lordship.’

‘I think she just wanted to get a look at you, my lady,’ Adi volunteers. ‘The media have been going crazy trying to find out anything they can about you.’

Somehow I keep myself from rolling my eyes.

‘Ready for the next one?’ Thirsk breaks in.

‘There’s more?’ I ask him.

‘A few more, my lady, but if you have had enough, I will tell them to come back another day,’ he offers.

I consider what to do. If I send them away, they might have to do their shows when I would have a chance to spend time with Ani. And I prefer to get this over with quickly rather than draw it out.

‘Ask the next one to come in please, Thirsk,’ I request.

The rest of the afternoon goes quickly. By the time the last model has left, I have picked out two dozen dresses and formal gowns. Not once did I look at the price on any of them. That’s something I don’t really want to know anyway.

When Thirsk and the Lieutenants start to leave, I stay put.

‘My lady?’ Melina questions.

‘I just want to be alone for a while,’ I admit.

‘I will wait outside the door for you, then,’ Thirsk decides, opting to be my bodyguard once again.

When I am finally by myself, I get up and wander along the gravel path which winds through the ornamental gardens. Ani has good taste, I decide. This place he had built for me, while small, is quite beautiful. I tip my head up. The ceiling is partially transparisteel, partially stone, but I know that both must be heavily shielded. Dusk has come, I note as the light through the panes starts to fade.

With a sigh, I make my way back to the fishpond and resume my seat.

‘Hello, fishies,’ I tell my new, brightly colored friends.

They swim near my hand, then disappear into the water’s depths.

‘Abandoning me already?’ I ask them. ‘You wouldn’t be so fickle if I had something to feed you.’

I pull my hand from the pond and shake the excess water from it.

I wonder where Ani was today. Despite the Emperor’s orders to look after me, I suspect that the Sith Lord has been seeing to various business dealings and not running errands for his master.

‘It's not fair,’ I protest to the empty room, ‘really not fair.’

He never lets me do anything, never allows me go anywhere or meet anyone, and I am bored out of my mind with the routine our lives have slipped into. Get up, have breakfast with Ani if he hasn’t left early, try to keep busy until lunchtime, perhaps have a session in the salle with him, look through various reports for him all afternoon, then dinner and the evening which I, more often than not, spend alone until my love drags himself to bed late at night. He has had less and less time to give me and I really resent it when our plans to have a few minutes together are tossed aside because of something that comes up at the last second.

And more and more, he has been brooding about the Rebellion and that small group of rebels he is so intent on catching. If only Wermis had recaptured them at Monastery, I wish, the Sith Lord would not have to be chasing after them, now. I give my head a shake. While I don’t like the Devastator's Captain, Ani has managed to persuade me that the man is competent, if a bit thick at times.

I feel my son stir a bit. He’s getting restless, so I head towards the door where Thirsk is waiting to take me to Ani’s private quarters. It’s dinnertime for me anyway and I need to stop brooding about what I can’t change or do anything about.


DAY 11

Ani promised to take me on a tour of his castle, but has instead left me in the conservatory again. I glare at the doors he just closed and secured. Jix’s latest attempt to sneak in means that it may be days before I can persuade the Sith Lord to resume showing me his official ‘home.’

Annoyed, I stomp down to the stone bench and retrieve the fish food I have hidden under it.

‘Here, fishies,’ I call as I scatter the crumbs over the water. ‘Here’s your lunch.’

They promptly appear, mouths open and ready, so I add a few more bits to the ones they are busy nibbling on.

‘You’ve got them well trained, Aunt Em,’ I hear Jix tease from behind me.

I close my eyes and shake my head.

‘Wrenga Jixton,’ I scold him a little, ‘you are going to get yourself in trouble.’

‘Trouble’s my middle name,’ he claims, joining me, but sitting on the other bench, not mine.

Jix knows better than to push his luck. Ani is going to be irritated enough as it is.

‘Lord Vader takes a dim view of your insolence,’ I warn him.

I get a lopsided grin in response, so I let out a sigh and put the fish food back where I keep it.

‘He keeps me around for entertainment,’ Jix wryly admits, ‘and because I get the job done.’

‘And because he trusts you,’ I add, ‘but you shouldn’t go too far.’

‘No worries there, Aunt Em,’ he assures me, ‘I know when to stop. Besides, he should be happy today since I brought him someone to duel with.’

‘And, …’ I prompt, hoping to get a few details.

‘Admiral Droon had a few lightsabers in his collection, so I brought one of them back with us,’ Jix reveals. ‘Somehow I doubt the Admiral ever expected he might have to use it.’

‘Oh,’ I reply, then add after a bit of thought, ‘I don’t think I want any details.’

If the Sith Lord was angry with the Admiral, he has probably cut him into very small pieces by now.

I hear the doors open and Ani’s annoyed comment, ‘You should not be in here, Jix.’

‘Just paying a social visit, Uncle Dee,’ Jix teases him in response, getting up from the bench and heading away from me towards the door.

‘Since you have so much free time on your hands, I have another job for you to do,’ the Sith Lord decides, ‘and it’s one that should keep you busy for quite a while.’

‘See you when I get back, Aunt Em,’ Jix tells me.

The door shuts after them and I am left to wonder what task Ani plans to send him on.

***

The moment that Jix is through the doors, and those closed behind him, I growl at him.

‘Stay away from my Favorite, Jix,’ I scold, shaking a finger at him. ‘I will put up with your insolence, your teasing, and even your attempts to get through my castle’s security, but you will stay well away from her.’

He has the nerve to look a bit amused at that.

‘Jixton,’ I warn.

‘Alright, Uncle Dee,’ he concedes, ‘no more unannounced visits to Aunt Em.’

‘Good,’ I reply.

Maia doesn’t need Jix upsetting her with his antics.

I turn and head to my office, waving him along with me. My other agents have failed to discover any trace of the sound slugs Mia stole, and I intend to give Jix the job of finding them and exactly who she gave them to.

***


DAY 12

I shift a bit beside Ani as I wake up. He’s still asleep and luckily gives no indication that my restlessness has disturbed him. Time to think, then, about some of the past week’s events. The Sith Lord only gave in to me as much as he felt was absolutely necessary, a fact I discovered yesterday when he refused point blank to answer my questions about our son’s future. Stubborn man, I decide. Well, he will have to tell me sooner or later what his plans are, so I will be patient.

At least he has promised to be honest with me about anything which concerns just the two of us, and has owned up to and apologized for some pretty horrid lies. That’s a good start to build on. Now I will have to make sure he keeps his word and doesn’t fall back into his old behavior patterns.

My son stirs a bit inside me, so I soothe and quiet him as best I can. Those weird fluttering sensations he produces in me can be rather unsettling at times. Last night I kept waking up due to my fidgety offspring. Maybe Ani was responsible, I wryly think. The Sith Lord was busy messing about with the Force until quite late, and ‘junior’ always reacts when he feels that too strongly nearby.

I worry for a few minutes. We have been ordered to attend the opera tonight, and being in close proximity to the Emperor has me concerned. Stop fussing, I scold myself. Ani will be there and surely he won’t let anything happen to you.

With a careful move or two, I turn myself over and smile at the sleeping Sith Lord. Now that he freely admitted his love for me, there is an easiness, an openness in our relationship which wasn’t there before. He’s still a bit hesitant about showing affection sometimes, though, and I know he was afraid I would lash out at him about some of what he confessed to me. My poor, confused love, you should know by now I could never hurt you like that. I just listened quietly to everything he said, not saying a word in response, and I know Ani was rather unnerved by that. What did he expect? A screaming, hysterical concubine? What’s in the past is done with and recriminations and accusations won’t change anything which has happened. I learned that fact years ago.

Ani still shows no signs of waking, so I let my mind wander a bit. Reena’s prohibition has made life interesting. I have used it as an excuse to curl up to the Sith Lord whenever I want a bit of attention and the opportunity has presented itself. Fortunately he hasn’t scolded me for being a pest, but I know he is secretly hoping the doctor lifts her ban on sex next week. He’s assumed my lack of that is why I am being so persistent. I stifle a snicker. Sorry, Ani, but I intend to be just as affectionate after that as I am now.

I watch Ani’s face carefully. He’s close to waking up, so I nestle in closer and kiss him. His eyes fly open with that contact.

Good morning, Anakin, I tell him, I love you.

Maia, my beloved, is his slightly sleepy response.

A minute or so later, he is propped up against the wall with me happily settled in his arms. I let out a contented sigh and send him quiet, lighthearted thoughts. We are supposed to have today to ourselves until we have to leave for the Opera House tonight.

‘You have some more practicing to do today,’ Ani decides.

This is not what I expected to hear, so I ask, ‘Practicing of what?’

‘Proper manners in a formal setting,’ he explains.

‘Not more etiquette,’ I say, with a moan.

No, not that, not again. He’s already spent an entire day making sure I won’t say or do anything stupid tonight. Ani merely smiles at my misery.

‘Thirsk and the Lieutenants will be helping you practice today,’ he informs me.

‘I could be sick again,’ I hint about, trying to think of a way to get out of tonight’s commitment.

‘Not a chance. If I have to go and endure that off-key soprano once again, then you are going with me,’ he insists, ‘even if I have to order Reena to drug you.’

I make a face at him which produces a laugh.

‘Be sure to bring a few peanuts then,’ I suggest. ‘You might need them!’

‘Behave, concubine,’ he playfully growls.

I merely snuggle in close and purr happily at him. There’s no reason to get out of bed until we want to and I feel like staying right here for a while.

‘Stubborn,’ Ani teases.

‘So are you,’ I reply.

‘Contrary,’ he continues to tease.

‘And so are you,’ I repeat again, trying my best not to smile too much.

‘Temperamental,’ he ventures.

‘Nope,’ I retort, ‘that’s you, not me.’

‘Little hedonist,’ he tries.

Oh. Well, this will be harder to counter.

‘Not until next week,’ I remind him, ‘and you were the one who suggested fooling around on the command deck, not me.’

Ani starts laughing and I smile a bit. I knew he had forgotten about that.

‘Then I shall see to that once we leave and the ship is in hyperspace,’ he offers.

No, I think to myself, no, he can’t be serious.

I tip my head up to look at him. There’s that bratty smile again. He has every intention of doing what he just threatened to.

‘Maybe you will forget about it again before then,’ I hope.

‘Not a chance,’ he teases. ‘It ought to be fun, don’t you think?’

‘What about the recording units?’ I ask, looking for a way out.

‘Easily disabled,’ he reveals with a smirk, ‘unless you want a permanent record of our exploits.’

I must have been making some interesting noises and faces at that suggestion because the Sith Lord starts laughing at me. He’s just been leading me along, I quickly realize.

‘You,’ I growl, ‘are a brat.’

He laughs louder and draws me in for a kiss.

Favorite, he calls me.

Sith Lord, I respond.

When I pull back, I simply look quietly into his face. He raises an eyebrow, wondering what I am up to. My love, I think, I wish I could do something for you. I reach a finger to his cheek, gently trace the terrible scar on it. Ani has forbidden me to try healing his lungs, but he hasn’t said anything about his other injuries. Time to try something before he figures out what I am up to and moves to stop me.

A puzzled look crosses his face. He has no idea what I am planning. Good. I quickly reach for the Force, tap into it, then rest my hand on his left cheek and channel it into him.

‘Maia!’ he calls to me, trying to snap the connection I have established. ‘Don’t!’

He has finally realized what I am doing. I ignore his protest and refuse to let him break the link. The old injury resists and I stubbornly add more energy to what I have already used. Heal, dammit, I think, heal. Agony burns across my cheek, and I see a horrified look appear on Ani’s face. A moment later, the pain is gone, and black spots are dancing in my vision. His hideous scar, I happily note through the blur, is gone, replaced by a thin white line.

‘I don’t feel very good,’ I tell the Sith Lord just before I pass out.

‘... stupid, stupid concubine,’ I hear Ani scolding. ‘I can’t believe how stubborn and stupid you can be. Why won’t you just obey me? Why must you be so, so, damn stubborn!’

I cautiously open an eye. He’s wearing his robes and pacing back and forth beside the bed, talking to himself. From the sound of things, he is pretty mad and I am really in for it this time. Before he notices, I shut my eye again. Too late, though, he knows I am awake.

‘Maia,’ he warns, ‘don’t play act.’

‘Okay,’ I woozily answer, opening my eyes to look up at him.

‘Didn’t I tell you not to try to heal me?’ the Sith Lord starts to lecture, shaking a finger at me. ‘Didn’t I warn you what could happen? Why are you always so stubborn? Why won’t you just do as you are told?’

‘ ‘Cause I am supposed to make your life interesting?’ I groggily reply.

He lets out an exasperated sigh.

‘You aren’t even coherent, so I am not going to bother scolding you any more,’ he decides. ‘It doesn’t work anyway.’

‘Nope,’ I admit, ‘never worked when my mother did it either.’

‘Well, I hope you recover in a few hours because you are still going to the opera with me,’ the Sith Lord reminds me.

‘Okay,’ I cheerfully agree.

The look on his face is priceless. He obviously expected an argument from me.

‘Go back to sleep, Favorite,’ he orders. ‘You are not quite yourself yet.’

‘Nope,’ I stubbornly reply, ‘not yet, Ani.’

‘Maia, do as you are told!’ he snaps, thoroughly frustrated with me, as he heads for the door.

I watch him carefully. Ani hasn’t noticed what I did yet. Maybe I need to do something about that. I shove myself into a sitting position and my head spins a bit as a result. Control, I remind myself, concentrating on regaining my balance.

‘Don’t you like your new face?’ I ask him.

‘What?’ he answers, stopping his retreat from the room.

I point to my make-up bag and tell him, ‘There’s a mirror in there. Have a look.’

Ani turns and gives me a measuring stare. He hates mirrors. They remind him of what happened those many years ago. I give him an annoyed look and call the bag over to my hand. A quick rummage produces what I want. I open the small mirror and extend it towards him. The Sith Lord backs away as if I were handing him a poisonous snake.

‘Trust me,’ I reassure him, ‘you will like what you see.’

He rather reluctantly accepts the mirror. I know what he expects to see in it. Ani stares at the glass, unmoving. Finally, he reaches a hand to his cheek and runs a finger along the thin, white scar. With a snap, he shuts the case and returns it to me.

‘That was not worth what it could have cost us,’ he flatly states.

I let out a snort.

‘Being knocked out for a while is not much of a price to pay,’ I decide.

‘That is not what I meant,’ he snaps, ‘you endangered our son with your foolish action.’

‘How so?’ I ask, curious.

‘You could have died draining yourself like that,’ the Sith Lord explains. ‘All of the Force you used was your own.’

‘What?’ I exclaim. That’s not what I felt.

‘It’s a rarely seen effect of our bond,’ he tells me, sitting beside me on the bed, ‘which is also related to why your back was marked when I was punished. I decided a while ago to research what happened the first time you tried this, but the last week was the first opportunity to do so. I only found what I was looking for last night. Listen to me, Maia. Any healing you do to me or vice-versa draws on internal, personal energy and relies on injury transference. If you use too much or the wounds are too great, you will die, and the same goes for me. That’s why you must never, ever do that again.’

‘Oh. Well I wish you had said something about this earlier,’ I scold him a bit.

‘I had planned to tell you today,’ he admits, ‘but you just had to ...’

He falls silent.

‘Why did you do that?’ he finally asks. ‘You didn’t need to. It wasn’t necessary.’

I draw Ani into my arms and hold him close.

‘I don’t think you will understand why, even if I explain it to you,’ I admit.

‘Try me,’ he prompts.

‘You needed it,’ I tell him.

‘Oh,’ he replies and I know he still doesn’t get it.

I kiss his cheek, and do my best to explain, ‘Ani, I love you, and despite what you might think, your outer appearance matters not a bit to me. But I know deep down that it matters to you, and you need to see yourself as I see you. Without the terrible scars, without the wounds. You are a handsome man inside and I love you for that.’

Silence from him again while he thinks about what I just told him. I hold him close and run my fingers through his hair, soothing him. The scar on his scalp is still there, hidden by his short blondish-brown hair, but I will obey him and not try to heal it. He turns his face to look into mine. My handsome Sith Lord, I think. You look quite good now. Your scars are no worse than those of any other soldier who has been around for a while.

An amused smile appears. He still doesn’t get it. Oh, well, he will eventually.

‘Naptime for me, then,’ I concede, since he is being so insistent about it.

‘I have a better idea,’ he tells me with a low growl.

‘Ani?’ I ask, puzzled. Now what is he up to?

A second later I have been carefully tackled and pinned to the bed. With a tug using the Force, he rips off my nightgown. Fine then, Sith Lord, I’ll play along with you. I reach up and yank off his belt. No codpiece to worry about here, so I slide my hands under his robes and do my best to get them off of him.

‘Stop that,’ he orders.

I ignore him and manage to get all of his garments open before he grabs my hands again.

‘Behave yourself,’ he insists.

‘No way,’ I retort. ‘If you are going to strip off my clothes, then you are in for the same treatment.’

‘Very well, then,’ Ani concedes.

To my surprise he takes off his robes and tosses them aside. I promptly hide under the blankets and refuse to look. With a smirk, he lounges next to me, obviously enjoying my embarrassment.

‘Still shy? Even though this is what you wanted?’ he teases, pulling the blanket off of my face. ‘I really do need to do something about that. You weren’t this bashful that night on your homeworld.’

‘That’s because I thought I was dreaming,’ I answer back, annoyed.

‘Or when you were pinned under me at the university,’ he continues to needle. ‘You were quite ready and willing to let me do as I wanted to you then. You practically begged me to ...’

‘What?’ I snap. I don’t remember any incident like that.

‘Forget I said that,’ Ani suggests.

‘Not a chance, Sith Lord,’ I growl, ‘so out with it right now.’

This must be another one of those things he ever so conveniently had me forget. Well, he is going to own up to it right now if I have anything to say about it.

‘It’s not important,’ he tries to be evasive.

‘I don’t care, Anakin. I want to hear it,’ I stubbornly insist.

I can sense him debating whether or not to come out with it, so I decide to do something to encourage him.

‘If you tell me, I’ll be good today,’ I sweetly promise.

‘Oh? Sounds tempting,’ he tells me, running a finger down my cheek.

‘I’ll do anything you want me to,’ I tempt, mirroring his action.

‘So what exactly will you do for me?’ he asks, intrigued, no doubt.

Oops. Now I am in trouble. I should have been much more careful about what I offered. No way to get out of it, so I had best play along with him.

‘Whatever you like,’ I decide. Hopefully he won’t ask me to do that one particular thing.

‘Deal!’ he triumphantly announces, obviously pleased about whatever he has planned.

‘Story first,’ I remind him.

‘You are really determined to hear that, aren’t you?’ he asks.

I answer with a nod.

‘Very well, then,’ he concedes.

Story time! I think happily.

‘You fainted and I had to anchor your awareness in place, so I did so,’ Ani starts.

‘I already know that,’ I tell him.

‘Don’t interrupt,’ he scolds, before continuing. ‘After I did that, you just had to figure out what I did. When you found our bond, you did something you shouldn’t have - you flooded my mind with your feelings for me. Now you know what that will do to me, but you didn’t then.’

‘Oops,’ I quietly say. ‘You must have been rather uncomfortable from the physical reaction I know that would evoke.’

Ani gives me an amused look, then adds, ‘Not just a physical response of that sort, but an emotional one as well. It was all I could do to stop myself, and when I was aware again of what I was doing, I had you pinned to the couch beneath me. So I decided you needed a lesson in proper manners and did this.’

As he finishes his last sentence, I feel him touch our bond and an instant later my mind is completely swamped by his emotions, his desire and need for me. My reaction is immediate and powerful. I throw off the covers and pull him closer to me, then on top of me. There is not a shy cell left in my body.

‘Ani,’ I moan, trying to get him to respond to my advances. ‘I need you. I want you. Right now, please.’

His emotions are abruptly cut off. Good grief, I think, what am I doing? I look up at his face, shocked at what I just did. The Sith Lord merely smiles at me, enjoying the fact that I am pinned snugly beneath him, our bodies neatly wrapped around one another.

‘It still works, I see,’ he teases. ‘You wanted to do the same thing then, but couldn’t get my belt off. Not that I would have let you remove it anyway.’

‘You, you brat,’ I growl at him.

That prompts a quick kiss. He moves to lie by my side, draping an arm over my waist. I reach over and grab a blanket, but he stops me from pulling it over us.

‘Don’t,’ he quietly requests. ‘You need to get over your shyness. Just relax here with me.’

I reluctantly comply and am rewarded with another kiss. Finally he resumes his tale.

‘I had to hide our lifebond from you after that. You probably would have worried away at it if I hadn’t and delayed the healing process. Or, you might have driven me into making love to you before you were really ready for that with your uncontrolled need for me. So I set up a barrier in your mind and then removed your memory of the incident,’ he confesses. ‘And that is all there is to the story.’

‘I bet,’ I snidely comment, ‘Out with the rest now, Sith Lord.’

‘Truly, that’s all,’ he tries to convince me.

I glare at him. He’s hiding something, I just know it.

‘Fine, then,’ he concedes with a sigh, ‘I offered to make love to you just to see what you would say, and then turned you down when you said “yes”.’

‘Twice,’ I say, making sure he hears a bit of hurt in my voice, ‘you led me on and then turned me down twice. On the same day, no less.’

‘I couldn’t have obliged you even if I wanted to, Maia,’ he reassures me. ‘Someone might have opened the door and seen us.’

‘Then why ask?’ I pose the question I had wondered about after our walk out to the waterfall.

‘A test,’ Ani admits, ‘and perhaps a cruel one, but I needed to know that you honestly, truly wanted me. Once we were bonded and I looked in your mind I knew with certainty that you loved me. No further tests were necessary after that.’

I lie quietly in his arms, thinking. Time to get a few more pieces of information out of him.

‘And how many other tests did you set me?’ I prod.

‘A few,’ he reveals.

‘Like what?’ I continue to dig away.

I sense him considering what to say.

‘Truth, Ani,’ I remind him. ‘You promised me that.’

‘I tested you for truthfulness ... ,’ he confesses.

That temper tantrum wasn’t him just having an emotional crisis then. Sneaky.

‘And?...’ I prompt.

‘... to see if you really were fearless, ...’ he continues.

That i.v. he had me set up and the interrogation session over where Earth was located, I bet.

‘... and to prove you were loyal to me,’ he finishes.

‘What?’ I ask. That one doesn’t make any sense to me.

Ani shifts uncomfortably beside me. There’s a confession coming up, and it must be a real doozy.

‘There was nothing wrong with my TIE,’ the Sith Lord quietly admits.

‘WHAT!’ I yell at him.

‘I think you heard me,’ he calmly states.

‘You, you,...’ I start then stop. He’s rendered me speechless.

‘Maia,...’ he tries to soothe me, but I am having none of it.

‘I lied to my uncle to cover for you,’ I start fuming, ‘I stole Marcus’s car, broke into my colleague’s lab, and nearly killed myself walking along that ledge. Not to mention that I aided someone my homeworld’s military would probably shoot on sight. Do you have any idea what sort of trouble I would be in if I ever went back there?’

‘Well, yes, ...’ he tries to answer.

‘Why, Ani? Why did you do that?’ I ask him.

‘You intrigued me,’ he gets out, setting a hand over my mouth to shut me up so he can finish. ‘I spent a few minutes studying you when you first looked at my ship and you were obviously not at all frightened. I had never met anyone who wasn’t the least bit afraid of me before and I was curious. Engine trouble was the first thing that I could think of as an excuse to stay around for a while. After that, well, I figured it would be a good way to see if you really would help me fix the problem, and to see if your loyalty to me was real. I had no idea you were afraid of heights or I would never have let you endanger your life unnecessarily.’

I don’t say a word in response, just lie silently beside him. He lied to me right from the moment I first met him.

‘Is there anything else you did during those four days I should know about?’ I prod.

He hesitates.

‘Ani,’ I warn.

‘I left messages with the Admiral for your family,’ he admits.

‘And?...’ I prompt.

‘That’s all,’ he flatly states.

I suspect he will say no more to me about it, but he surprises me by adding, ‘I told them you were my wife, that you would be perfectly safe and well looked after, and I told them about my son since I did not know when we could return for a visit.’

My parents know about their grandson. I snuggle in close to the Sith Lord and kiss him.

‘Thank you,’ I tell him, meaning it with all my heart.

‘I knew you would want them to know,’ he says.

I consider what to say about the rest of what he has confessed. If he hadn’t come up with a reason to stay at the observatory, I would not be here with him now. Does that excuse his lies? No, but I decide there is no point in scolding him further about any of it.

His hand brushes across my hair and I feel him soothing me with the Force. He’s waiting for an explosion of temper from me, I suspect, so I will be contrary just to surprise him.

‘What should I wear tonight?’ I ask.

The hand stops abruptly while he puzzles out my change in topic.

‘You haven’t seen the gowns I picked out yet, so maybe I should model them for you,’ I suggest. ‘Then you can choose the one you want me to wear.’

I extract myself from his arms and look about for something to wrap around myself. His robes are at hand so I reach down to grab them. Ani yanks them away with the Force. Right. He wants me to get over my shyness. Fine, Sith Lord, since you insist then, I'll do the nudist thing even though it will only embarrass me.

Doing my best to ignore him, I open the compartment with my gowns and his cloaks. What to try on first? I look through the two dozen dresses and select one at random. The clasps take a moment to figure out, but once I have it on, I do what the fashion models did last week during the private show which was my surprise, and walk back and forth a few times and spin about in it. Ani watches, obviously amused by my antics, but makes no comment until an hour later when I have tried on all the ones suitable for tonight.

‘The fourth one,’ he decides. ‘I want you to wear that.’

I blink at him. That gown? The strapless one with the low-cut bodice? The one I feel the most exposed in?

‘Why?’ I ask, curious.

‘It displays your new assets the best,’ he teases.

Very bad choice of words, I decide.

‘Assets,’ I growl, stalking towards him. ‘I’ll give you assets, Sith Lord.’

With a yank I pull one of the pillows into my hand and swat at him with it. A few seconds later the pillow is the subject of a tug-of-war. When Ani gives a particularly hard jerk, I let go, and he flies backwards on the bed. The startled look on his face is just too funny, so I start laughing at him.

‘Think that’s funny, do you?’ he scolds.

He beckons with his hand and I am shoved from behind to land right beside him on the bed. That’s even funnier, I decide, as I continue giggling. A moment later I feel a pillow land on my rear end. So you want a pillow fight, do you? I scoot sideways to avoid the next blow, roll over, and grab my own weapon. The next few minutes are hilarious as we each try to get the better of the other.

‘Give up, Sith Lord,’ I suggest, as I try to swat him again, ‘you can’t win.’

He just smiles and aims his pillow at my left side. I do my best to dodge, but lean too far and fall face-first next to him.

‘Surrendering at last, concubine?’ he asks.

‘Never,’ I mumble into the sheets.

‘Very well, then,’ Ani says, as I feel his pillow across my backside again.

He is busy preparing another attack when the comm chimes.

‘Saved by the bell!’ I cheerfully crow.

‘Only a temporary cease-fire,’ he warns.

Time to make good my escape then. I try and slip off the bed while the Sith Lord answers the comm, but he spots me and I find myself pinned in place with the Force. Rats.

‘My Lord,’ I hear Lyam over the comm, ‘my apologies for disturbing you, but you have an urgent communication from Fondor.’

‘Send the signal through immediately,’ Ani orders.

Fondor. The shipyards. Oh, no, I hope nothing has gone wrong there. The comm chimes again as the signal is rerouted.

‘My Lord?’ Captain Piett tentatively ventures, obviously not sure of who it is he is talking to.

‘Yes, Captain. What is so urgent that you had to interrupt my ... rest?’ Ani asks.

I snicker quietly. He just about said ‘fun.’ My mirth earns me a sharp look from the Sith Lord.

Sorry, Ani, I’ll be good, I tell him.

‘Progress report, as you requested, my Lord,’ Piett promptly explains.

‘Go ahead then,’ Ani instructs.

I listen silently as Piett gives the Sith Lord a quick run down on how things are going. Ani occasionally interrupts to ask for further details. Sounds like everything is fine there.

‘Your completion estimate?’ he asks once Piett is finished.

‘Three weeks, perhaps a few days earlier,’ the Captain answers.

So soon? I see a smile appear on Ani’s face. He’s a bit surprised by that, too.

‘Excellent, Captain. You have done very well,’ he praises.

‘Thank you, my Lord. I will see that the crew knows you are pleased by their efforts,’ Piett offers.

‘Do so,’ Ani orders. ‘I will return next week for inspection and to supervise the final tests.’

With that he signs off and looks over at me.

‘Back to Fondor again?’ I ask, curious.

‘Yes, and sooner than I expected,’ he admits, ‘and I will have to take you with me. It is just not safe for you to remain here.’ Ani hesitates, returns to sit beside me, then warns, ‘Once my flagship is finished, I will be going after the Rebels at Yavin. You will be on an active warship in a battle zone, Maia, and must do exactly as you are told. No arguing, no stubbornness, no disobedience. Do you understand?’

I give a nod and try to move. No success. He is still holding me in place. Rats.

‘Time to get dressed and have something to eat,’ he decides as I am released.

I watch him disappear into the ‘fresher and push myself upright. The bed is a disaster with the sheets pulled out and pillows tossed everywhere. Ani is going to busy with his medical needs for a few minutes, so I decide to be a brat. Grabbing a pillow, I lie in wait beside the ‘fresher door, planning an ambush for when he does reappear. The moment I hear the door open, I swing the pillow, only to have it caught, pulled from my hands and thrown out of reach.

‘Favorite,’ he growls, ‘you shouldn’t have done that.’

As I back away, he stalks towards me. When I turn to run, he grabs me, hauls me into his arms and drops me onto the bed.

‘Time for a lesson in manners,’ Ani decides. ‘You have misbehaved far too much the last week.’

‘I didn’t hear any complaints at the time,’ I remind him.

He ignores my remark and shakes a finger at me, scolding, ‘No more sneaking up on me, Maia, or I will let my defenses give you a taste of what you could expect in return.’

‘Once, I did that once,’ I admit.

Ani crosses his arms over his chest and gives me one of his looks.

‘Alright a few times, then,’ I own up.

He raises an eyebrow.

‘Fine, I won’t sneak up on you anymore,’ I promise.

‘Good. Go have your bath,’ he orders.

Rats. No more creeping up from behind and kissing him on the ear.

I do as ordered and settle myself in for a nice soak. The hot water makes me sleepy, so I relax, close my eyes and drift a bit. A sharp nip on my neck startles me out of my reverie. With a shriek of surprise, I pull away from my attacker, sending water everywhere in the process. Ani, of course, is backing out of the ‘fresher, laughing. I just glare at him.

‘You, you,’ I snap, ‘you sneaky Sith Lord.’

‘Learned your lesson?’ he asks, sounding thoroughly amused.

‘Yes,’ I answer, still giving him an evil look.

Ani leaves me alone after that, so I quickly dress and have breakfast. A light brush against his mind and I find that he is in his office, not doubt going through the reports that Piett transmitted to him. Rats. What to do now? After the scolding I received, I decide it is best to leave him be. Maybe I should entertain myself by singing for a while.

A quick dig about produces the memory chip with the music I had transferred over weeks ago. I drop the chip into the appropriate spot in the comm unit and select a track. Italian composers today, but not Baroque ones, for a change. As the strains of Puccini fill the room, I close my eyes and happily start into O mio babbino caro. Nice, simple way to warm up.

When I open my eyes again, as the song ends, I see Ani standing in the doorway watching me.

‘That’s a different one,’ he notes.

‘Puccini,’ I admit. ‘Most of his stuff sounds much the same because he often recycled musical themes. His heroines are often rather sad, too. They either kill themselves or die of some disease.’

‘Sounds like most of the popular operas here,’ Ani wryly comments.

‘I bet there has never been a performance here with a bouncing soprano, though,’ I tease.

His eyebrow goes up. Curious, are you?

‘At the end of Tosca, the heroine throws herself off a castle wall. One time Dame Eva Turner, the soprano, was a bit too enthusiastic about the leap, and instead of landing on the mats and staying put, she flew back up, above the walls of the set,’ I tell him, ‘much to her embarrassment and the amusement of the audience.’

Ani gives me one of his looks. He thinks I am trying to put one over on him.

‘I find that story rather hard to believe,’ he admits.

‘It’s perfectly true,’ I insist. ‘My great-grandfather was actually at that performance eighty or so years ago. He always enjoyed telling that tale to anyone who would listen.’

‘I will take your word for it then,’ Ani decides, but I can tell he is still not entirely convinced.

I smile at him and start a piece by Verdi. The Sith Lord listens for a moment, then heads back to his office. He can hear me in there or close the door if I am bothering him, but I know he is enjoying the music even if he won’t admit it.

An hour later, I have had enough of singing opera, so I change the music slug for another one. Gilbert and Sullivan this time. I start giggling. There is a rather interesting recording on this particular chip. Starting the song I want, I settle in to listen for Ani’s reaction. This ought to be entertaining.

The first time through, the standard set of lyrics plays. So far, so good. Now Rick’s version. There is dead silence for a moment, then I hear a loud, amused laugh from the Sith Lord. I just knew he would find that rather funny.

Perhaps I should send someone to go and get that friend of yours, Ani teases. He would keep me entertained, if nothing else, but he had better not sing that particular song in public.

Too late, Ani, I admit, it’s rather well known in certain circles.

Not here, I would hope, he ventures.

No, but at home, yes, I tell him.

I sense him return his attention to his work. He needs to finish that and I am distracting him, so I decide to give up on singing for now. Time for a rest anyway. Tonight we will not return until late and I will need the sleep.

Hours later, I rouse a little. Ani has come back to bed and is curled up around me. He’s sleeping soundly, too. My love must be quite tired to resort to a late morning nap with me. I happily move nearer to him. The Sith Lord is always warm to snuggle up to and what he considers a comfortable temperature for his quarters, I find a touch cold. Luckily he does not wake when I pull him in closer, so I settle in to wait for him to do so. Sometime later, he stirs, but does not awaken.

What is he going on about? I listen carefully. He must be dreaming, talking in his sleep without realizing it. How odd. Ani has not done that before. What he is saying makes absolutely no sense at all. His voice gets louder, more agitated, then he pulls away from me. When he starts to toss violently, I know I need to do something.

‘Ani, love,’ I tell him, ‘you are having a bad dream and need to wake up.’

No response other than a low moan.

Ani, please wake up, I prompt him, gently nudging his mind as I do.

His eyes snap open at last, but there is no recognition in them.

‘Padmé?’ he asks, looking at me with a confused expression on his face.

What? Where did that name come from?

Ani? I question, worried.

He stares at me a moment, then gives his head a shake. I move to his side and wrap myself around him.

‘You were having a nightmare, my love,’ I soothe, ‘and I had to bring you out of it.’

‘Maia?’ he asks, puzzled.

Well, at least he got the name right this time.

He touches my face with a hand, as if to reassure himself that I am real. Seconds later I am being crushed against his chest.

‘I thought I had lost you,’ Ani tells me.

He’s acting really weird. That must have been some nightmare.

‘Not a chance, Sith Lord,’ I tease him a little. ‘This is one concubine you are permanently stuck with.’

I feel his smile against my hair. Good. He’s coming out of whatever strange state he was in. His grip on me loosens a little so I shift in his arms.

‘Are you alright?’ I ask him.

Silence for a few minutes. He’s thinking about what to say to me.

‘I’m fine now, Maia,’ he finally states. ‘It was just an old nightmare, one I haven’t had in years.’

He’s hiding something. I debate trying to pry it out of him, then elect to let it be. If he decides to tell me, he will, when he is ready to.

‘Lunchtime,’ the Sith Lord notes.

I let him go from my arms and watch him enter the kitchen. He doesn’t know what I heard him say during his nightmare. Not wanting him to detect my knowledge, I quickly bury it in my mind. Later, when he is occupied, I will look at it and try to figure out what he is concealing from me.

Time to see what he is busy making for lunch. I follow him into the other room and when he stops to program the autochef, slip my arms around him from behind. Ani is still nice and warm from his nap, so I rest my cheek between his shoulder blades and let him pull me about the kitchen as he fetches his glass and a container from the cooling unit.

‘Silly little concubine,’ he teases. ‘How am I supposed to sit down with you there?’

In answer, I slide myself around from his back to his chest and wait for his next move or comment.

‘Very well, then,’ he concedes.

The Sith Lord manages to seat himself and haul me onto his lap. Perfect. I can stay for a while now. With a contented sigh, I tuck my head into his shoulder and shut my eyes. He can have his drink without my getting too much in his way.

I hear a beep from the autochef. My lunch is ready, but I remain where I am.

‘Not hungry?’ Ani asks.

I just shake my head. Staying put sounds much better.

‘You must eat, my love,’ he reminds me, ‘my son needs you to look after yourself.’

I reluctantly let go of him and fetch my meal. He’s made that soup I like. A trip to the cooling unit yields a few left over veggies so I add those to the tray as well. While I nibble at things, I give Ani the occasional worried glance. Why did he have that nightmare? He hasn’t had one before now, so what has upset him?

‘Don’t fuss, Maia,’ the Sith Lord scolds.

I give a guilty start and return my attention to my meal. He really doesn’t want me to know what his nightmare was all about and that was my sixth scolding today. At this rate I will be working on a record number of those by the middle of the afternoon. You promised him you would behave today, I remind myself, so you had better start right now.

‘Sorry, Ani,’ I apologize.

He gives me an annoyed look. I try to appear penitent, but that just earns me an irked glare.

‘Finish your lunch,’ he snaps, ‘Reena will be here soon and I need to put my armor on.’

That was number seven.

And it was uncalled for.

I bolt for the bedroom, my lunch forgotten, and shut the door after myself. The tears start the second the door is closed. Back into bed, I decide, so I curl up under the blankets and have a good cry.

Ani comes in to armor up a few minutes later, but I ignore him. I hear his exasperated sigh when he sits beside me on the bed.

‘What am I supposed to do with you?’ he starts in on me again. ‘The last week you have refused to act like anything other than a child. I have been extremely patient with you, but am I to put up with this silliness for the rest of my life or are you going to grow up and act like an adult?’

Number eight, my mind counts.

‘I won’t put up with a sulk from you, Maia,’ he warns, ‘or any more childish foolishness.’

Number nine.

‘Stop that!’ he snaps.

Was that ten or not?

The Sith Lord lets out an angry growl. He’s finally lost his temper with me and I have provoked him far too many times today to not get some sort of punishment for it.

‘Get dressed,’ he orders with a hiss, shoving himself away from the bed and throwing my tunic at me.

I grab my clothes and watch him stare at me. He’s not going to let me change in private at all. My face goes red as I strip off the nightgown and put my tunic and trousers on. Once I am ready, his hand clamps down on my arm and I am dragged through his quarters and into the turbolift. We are heading up, but he doesn’t stop the lift at the public section of his castle. Where are we going?

Ani says not a word, and when the lift stops I am pulled along after him once again. He stops at a door, opens it and shoves me through.

‘When you are ready to act your age, call me,’ the Sith Lord tells me, shutting the door in my face and locking it.

I rest my cheek against the door and start to cry. What is wrong with him? I carefully reach out and sense his presence retreat back down to his private quarters. The Sith Lord ignores me, giving my mind a rough shove away when I touch our bond. He’s furious so there is no point in going anywhere near him.

Time to survey my prison then. I turn around to have a look at the small room. There’s a bed, chair and table, and the other door must lead into a ‘fresher. An autochef is off to one side so he has no plans to starve me into submission. He can’t, I remind myself, he won’t do anything to harm his son. It’s me he wants to break.

Break? I hear him comment. No, Maia, not break. Teach a lesson to.

I slam my shields into place and spin them as thick as I can. No way am I going to let him eavesdrop easily on me. The bed looks inviting, so I flop myself down on it. My lightsaber pokes me in the hip, and I unhook it and set it beside me.

***

My tolerance is at an end, I decide, as I angrily shove her attempt to contact me away. Her childish behavior has got to stop. Maia can stay in the tower room for a while and think about how she should act.

I hear her comment about breaking her and reply to it. There is no way I will hurt her physically, but a few hours of enforced isolation from me will hopefully improve her manners.

I can’t risk any foolishness from her tonight.

The turbolift stops. I return to my quarters and resume working on the reports Piett sent me. My presence will soon be required at Fondor for the last series of tests on my flagship. Once I am finished with that, I start on my schedule for the next week. Maia should enjoy seeing the new wing of the Galactic Museum, so I block out tomorrow afternoon to attend the opening. At least my master won’t be going to that, but the resulting publicity should satisfy his commands from last week.

Now to deal with tonight.

With a touch, I open the compartment with her gowns. She was not comfortable in the one I liked, so I will make her wear it to the opera as a lesson. I then comm her aide and wait for Melina to appear.

‘My Favorite is to wear this tonight,’ I tell Lieutenant Panib, pointing to the dress and jewelry I have selected on the bed. ‘Have Cyran style her hair and see to it that my Favorite is presentable.’

‘Yes, my Lord,’ she replies as she gathers up the items I had indicated.

‘She’s locked in room RC36 in the north tower. Make it clear to her that I won’t put up with any nonsense from her, and if she is difficult,’ I warn, ‘I will hold you personally responsible for her behavior.’

Knowing her staff will be held accountable should keep Maia well in line.

‘Yes, my Lord,’ Melina repeats, her voice quiet and tight.

She knows I will carry through with my threat if I need to.

I watch her leave and return to my office. There are still things to do before tonight’s outing. Settling myself behind my desk, I pause a moment to consider the dream I had this morning. It was the same one I had years ago where Padmé is dying and I am helpless to do anything about it. Past experience has taught me that ignoring it would be a mistake, but Padmé has been dead for years. There is no point in worrying about her, and Maia is months away from giving birth. Dismissing it from my mind, I pick up the next report in the stack and start reading.

***

I lie there, quietly brooding, for several hours. He’s really angry with me this time. My other punishments have been slaps on the wrist compared with this, but if he didn’t like the way I was behaving, why didn’t he say something sooner?

I give a start. He’s shoving me away again, distancing himself, just like he has done in the past. After a week of being my being affectionate and loving to him, he must be feeling a bit smothered. Well, I will behave like he wants then and not do anything unless he initiates it. A few days of not being kissed or held by me should fix that problem.

My brain keeps running around in circles. Maybe his tantrum has something to do with his nightmare. I carefully pull out of my memory what I heard him say. Mostly unintelligible, except for that name, Padmé. Strange. I wonder who that is? Wait a minute, I realize with a start, the question should be, who she is. There is not enough information available for me to sort this out right at the moment, so I let it be and resume my brooding.

Ani has to do something soon. The Emperor ordered him to take me to the opera, and the Sith Lord won’t defy his master. My eyes land on my ‘saber. He’s forgotten about that in his fit of pique or I am sure he would have taken it away from me. Maybe I should teach him a lesson instead, but there is no time to do so now. I look around the room. Where to hide it? I reach behind the pillows and discover a gap between the bed and the wall. Perfect. As I replace the cushions, the door opens and Adi, Melina and Cyran come in.

‘We have orders to get you ready to leave,’ Melina admits.

She won’t look at me and I wonder exactly what Ani has told them to do. I just answer with a nod and watch Adi disappear into the ‘fresher. A moment later, I hear the bath filling. Cyran busies herself with the formal gown she is carrying. Damn. It is the fourth one I modeled for him. Next time, I won’t let the Sith Lord choose what I am going to wear.

‘Your bath is ready,’ Adi tells me.

I get up off the bed and step into the other room. When I try to close the door, Adi shakes her head. Obviously I am not to be allowed any privacy here. Ignoring her as best I can, I take my time washing my hair and soaking.

As I go back into the bedroom, I get sympathetic looks from my three Lieutenants. Things must be far worse than I thought. My temper rears its head in reaction.

‘What’s wrong?’ I snap, irritated. ‘Is his Lordship going to drag me in chains from this room?’

Melina’s mouth drops in shock. She looks quickly at both her compatriots, then back at me.

‘No, my lady,’ she whispers, ‘but he is furious and if you give us any trouble...’

My aide falls silent. She is scared to death of whatever Ani said he would do.

I narrow my eyes. He’s listening in, I am sure. Time to let him know just what I think of that threat.

>If you ever lay a hand on me, Anakin, or do anything at all to hurt me,< I warn him in Sith, >you will regret it every day for the rest of your life.<

I feel a burst of surprise from him at my threat. Good. Even though I know he would never harm me that way I am sure he got the message, loud and clear.

>And I don’t appreciate you scaring my aide with baseless threats, either,< I add for good measure.

Adi and Cyran are looking nervously at each other. They know exactly who my comments were aimed at. Time to get dressed, then, since the opera will be starting in about an hour. I drop the towel I am wrapped in on the floor and let Cyran help me into the mothsilk gown. A few adjustments in front and the bustier-type bodice has my now ample cleavage on display. Men, I think with a touch of disgust, are all the same. I watch Adi smooth the fabric of the full, heavy skirt and sit down when she is finished to let Cyran fix my hair. When Melina sets my make-up bag on the counter, I wave her away. That I will see to myself.

I complete my minimal make-up long before Cyran is satisfied with my hair. She’s done a good job of it, too, I note. Now what?

Melina opens the small box she had brought with her. A moment later, my necklace with the blue stone and earrings are on me. She pulls out a gold circlet set with matching blue gems and places it on my head. Cool. I get to play a princess. Too bad my knight in shining armor is being so miserable and nasty tonight.

The three Lieutenants head for the door so I get up and follow them. The trip down the turbolift is a silent one. Once we reach a small sitting room near the entrance to the castle, I am left on my own, the door locked securely as soon as I am inside. I wander aimlessly over to the window and look out, emptying my mind as I stare unthinking at the skyline.

Eventually I hear the door open behind me and Ani’s footsteps and measured breathing as he draws close to me. He stops at some distance from me, so I turn and wait for him to speak.

‘You will behave in public, Maia,’ the Sith Lord warns, ‘or I will lock you in the tower room for the next week. Any foolishness at all, one stupid remark, or inappropriate action and I will punish you for it.’

I stare at him, speechless. Threats now? When I had promised him I would be on my best behavior? Hurt and unable to say a single word in response, I simply nod my understanding to him.

‘Come here, then, and be quick about it,’ he impatiently orders next.

I quickly comply. Ani gives me the once over, checking that I am suitable for public display, I suppose.

‘Acceptable,’ he finally decides before leading me back out into the corridor.

Daini and Adi meet us down in the hangar. I feel rather resigned when I see what is in Adi’s hands, but raise no objections when she throws the veil over my hair and fixes it in place. At least this one is made of a much finer material. There should be no problem with watching the stage through it.

The Sith Lord waves me towards a covered airspeeder next. He’s getting annoyed so I quickly step into the passenger compartment and sit down. I shut my eyes tight when I feel the vehicle become airborne and refuse to open them until we have landed again. A quick look outside, through the window, reveals a large crowd of people lining the entryway to an ornate, Baroque-style building. Great, just great. An audience which probably includes the media. Why couldn’t we sneak in using a back door instead?

Ani glances back at me. No doubt he heard that thought. I watch him open the door and take his hand when he offers it. Careful now, Maia, I remind myself, don’t trip and make a fool of yourself. The moment I step from the vehicle, the crowd erupts with wild cheering.

Ani, what is going on? I ask, surprised by our unexpected reception.

They are curious about you, that's all, and think raising a fuss will prompt me to pull off your veil so they can have a look at you, Ani admits. The press release the Emperor insisted on has turned your first official public appearance into a bit of an event.

Press release? Well, the Emperor did want lots of publicity so I guess I will just have to muddle through this. A glance up at Ani reassures me a little and he pulls me in close to his side, stopping a few steps from the ‘speeder to let the news crews and reporters take whatever pictures they want. I stand quietly beside him and keep my eyes downcast, playing the part of a demure mate, just as the Emperor wanted.

Good, Ani praises, you are managing better than I expected.

I don’t reply, simply walk next to him, up the red carpeted staircase, and into the opera house. He leads me past the well dressed elite of Imperial Center towards a private waiting room. Somehow I keep my sigh of relief from escaping. Having to mingle with and be subjected to a close scrutiny by high society is something I would like to avoid.

My relief is short lived.

The waiting room is populated by elaborately garbed women, a few officers in formal military dress, and what must be court lackeys and hangers-on.

A few of the Emperor’s concubines, officers who are currently in favor, and whatever advisors my master is busy setting at one another’s throats at the moment, the Sith Lord identifies with a touch of contempt.

Ani obviously has no time or patience for any of these people. Not sure what to do, I just stay at his side as he crosses the room, heading to another door which must be the entrance to the Emperor’s balcony.

A syrupy-sweet voice stops him in his tracks.

‘Lord Vader,’ I hear the woman say, ‘how good of you to join us.’

The Sith Lord turns to face her, pulling me around with him.

‘Mara Jade,’ he addresses her, ‘what brings you to the opera?’

I stare at her while she laughs and tosses her head. Long red hair, green eyes, and the body of a well trained dancer or warrior, and I suspect it’s the latter, not the former. This is one dangerous woman. I study her carefully, glad that the veil conceals my face.

She’s putting on an act, I tell Ani. Mara is no vapid bit of court fluff despite what she would like people to believe.

Very good, Maia, Ani praises, Mara is one of the Emperor’s Hands and a trained assassin.

She doesn’t like you at all, I reply.

Jade’s accosting us has drawn the attention of many in the room. She has an audience now.

Ani? I ask, growing concerned.

Let me deal with this, he decides.

‘So this is the prize you have kept so carefully hidden away,’ Mara states, giving me a measuring look, trying her best to see through the veil. ‘Is your princess really as beautiful as Lord Tremayne has said?’

Blast. I just knew that creep would find some way to cause Ani trouble, and said creep has just come in the room. This is rapidly going from bad to worse. I take a small step closer to the Sith Lord who looks down at me, but says nothing to me. He muses aloud instead, seeming to ignore those around us.

“She walks in beauty, like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies; and all that’s best of dark and light meet in her aspect and in her eyes...”

He’s quoting poetry? From home? And Lord Byron at that. Too surprised to do anything, I just look at the stunned expressions on Mara’s and the Inquisitor’s faces. Ani’s deliberately thrown them completely off-balance. How clever and sneaky.

I wait for him to finish, but the Sith Lord stops after the first four lines.

‘Beauty,’ he comments, ‘is what one decides it is.’

With that he spins about, drawing me after him, not stopping until we have left the waiting room, crossed a hallway, and stepped out into the Emperor’s private box. I take the seat he steers me to and spend the next few minutes examining the paintings and elaborate woodwork that decorate the balconies and walls. Cool. This place could be straight out of Italy. La Scala is similar in style. Bored of looking at building’s interior, I start to study the people who are already in their places. Some are busy staring back at me and it seems that most are intent on displaying their wealth as conspicuously as possible. How tacky.

A look up at Ani reveals that he is gazing about the theater as well, arms across his chest and in a ready stance. He’s not at all relaxed or comfortable. If he were, his thumbs would be hooked in his belt. I sense his distinct irritation and follow his line of sight as best I can. He’s staring at an alien in a nearby box.

Who is that? I ask, curious about who has him so annoyed.

Prince Xizor, he contemptuously identifies, who is increasingly becoming a thorn in my side. One day I will have to do something about him.

Xizor has noticed Ani’s attention and merely smiles at him in return before leaning over and speaking to the blonde woman seated beside him. She’s pretty, I decide, and judging by her dress, she has better taste than most in attendance.

A chime rings through the building. They must signal the audience like they do at home. I watch as those in the waiting room make their way to their seats in some of the adjacent boxes. Tremayne and Jade sit behind us, but Ani ignores them and they don’t say a word to either one of us. Another bell rings and from the corner of my eye I see Imperial guards step into the box and assume positions beside the door. Oh, no, here he comes, I think to myself.

Get up, Maia, Ani warns.

I promptly stand as does everyone else in the building.

That can’t be the Emperor, can it? He’s so ... short. The walking stick the old man is using taps with each step and he pauses only when he passes by me. Two yellow eyes look intensely at me before he returns his gaze forward. Control, Maia, I remind myself, you can have a hysterical fit later. Once he is at his throne, the audience begins to applaud. Palpatine smiles benevolently and nods in acknowledgment, then is seated. When Ani takes his place beside me, between the Emperor and I, I follow his lead. Good. If I had to be right next to the old Sith Lord I don’t know what I would do.

A third chime sounds and the conductor appears. He is careful to bow towards the Emperor before starting the overture. Boring, I think to myself, as the musicians start to play. There is nothing particularly inspiring about this music at all. Then the theme changes. What? I freeze in place. No way, I must be mishearing things. A quick dig through my memory and I have found the corresponding piece in my head. Another shift in theme, another match in my mind. By the time the overture is close to finished, I know exactly what must have happened.

I look over at Ani. He’s going to have a fit about this.

Ani, I tell him, there’s nothing original about what they are playing.

What? he asks, keeping his gaze ahead.

It’s music from my homeworld, I admit.

Now he does turn to look at me.

Explain, he orders.

Every theme in the overture is from a famous aria. You should have recognized most of them, I tell him.

An angry hiss escapes from him and the Emperor glances over at the two of us.

‘Mia,’ Ani growls aloud.

‘Is there a problem, Lord Vader?’ the Emperor quietly prods.

‘No,’ Ani immediately responds.

Yes, I silently add.

Palpatine looks rather dubious at Ani’s answer. He knows something is going on, I decide, but won’t make a scene about it in public. I hear the end of the overture and the audience’s prompt applause.

‘That was a better effort than the composer’s last attempt, wouldn’t you agree, my friend?’ the Emperor asks.

The Sith Lord hesitates, then simply affirms, ‘Yes.’

I keep my eyes on the stage in the center of the theater. The cast take their places and the show begins. Somehow I keep from cringing until the lead soprano attempts to sing Broschi’s Qual guerriero in campo armato as the first act’s closing piece. That’s horrid, I think. Not only did they change the words and key, but she can’t really manage any of the few ornaments they left in it. When her voice cracks during the cadenza, it’s all I can do to stop myself from laughing. No wonder Ani complains about having to sit through this.

With all the available singers in the galaxy, I note, you would think they would try and get somebody who could at least do a proper job of it.

She has political connections, Ani admits, and could actually sing when she was younger. Now ...

His comment is cut off by the applause. Maybe that’s more for ending the audience’s agony than the actual performance, I think evilly, as the players disappear from the stage. Intermission now.

The Emperor retreats from the balcony, Jade and Tremayne in tow. Ani waits until everyone in the nearby boxes has left, then looks over at me.

‘At least we now know where those sound slugs ended up,’ I quietly volunteer.

‘Do we really?’ Ani snaps, sarcastically. ‘There could be a million copies out there by now.’

I stay silent at that, not wanting to annoy him further.

‘Stay here,’ he orders, ‘I am going to see what the composer has to say for himself.’

The Sith Lord stalks away from me, leaving me alone to wait for his return. A few minutes later, he is back.

‘Come with me,’ he orders next.

I hastily obey. The waiting room has been cleared, I note. Only the Emperor, Ani and I, a couple of guards, and a rather frightened looking young man are in it.

‘... and I just did as I was told and paid to,’ the man kneeling on the floor says.

We have obviously walked in on an interrogation.

‘And who was the sponsor?’ Ani snaps.

‘I don’t know, my Lord,’ he admits. ‘Everything was handled through agents. Sometimes wealthy patrons want to remain anonymous. I never thought it would be a problem.’

Ani raises a hand then drops it when his master gives him a warning look.

‘Get out,’ the Emperor orders. ‘You have one hour to return the stolen memory chips to Lord Vader.’ When the man scrambles to his feet, Palpatine adds, ‘Commander, see to it that he does so.’

I watch the now relieved composer and his red-robed escort leave the room.

‘Curious, most curious,’ the Emperor says.

Oh, oh. Here comes something I don’t want to hear.

‘I find it interesting that you, my friend, would be so passionate about recovering a few paltry recordings of your Favorite’s singing,’ Palpatine notes, tapping the arm of his throne. ‘Perhaps...’

He falls silent and his eyes narrow. I feel his presence brush against my shields, then shove hard against them, trying to get in. My defenses barely hold, and after a minute or so, he backs off. His attention shifts to the Sith Lord beside me next.

Ani? I wonder.

No response. A touch on our bond and I discover that my love is fighting desperately to keep his feelings for me hidden.

Cut your emotions off, I tell him, knowing that is his only option now.

No, he refuses.

Ani, you have no choice, I reluctantly admit.

I sense his hesitation, then feel coldness and darkness echo across our bond. My eyes close as the pain of it hits me. Control, I scold, you have dealt with this before. When I open my eyes again, the Emperor is watching us both, and he looks rather amused at what he found. Ani and I are both in for it now, I am sure.

>Clever, Lord Vader, very clever,< the Emperor praises, no doubt assuming I don’t understand Sith.

I keep my face composed, not wanting to let on that I know what he is saying.

>It seemed the simplest tactic to use,< Ani admits.

Tactic to do what?

Palpatine merely laughs, then comments, >Women are such fools when it comes to love.<

I roll his words around in my mind. What is he going on about?

>For all her brilliance,< Ani calmly replies, >she is incredibly blind when it comes to me.<

>See to it that she remains innocent and naive, then. The more in love with you she thinks she is, the easier it will be for you to control and manipulate her,< his master suggests.

>A simple task, my master, since she is thoroughly convinced her feelings are returned,< the Sith Lord states.

No. No, no, no. I am not hearing this. I refuse to believe this. Ani would never do this to me, would he? He loves me, doesn’t he? I look back and forth, from one man to the other, then carefully stretch out my senses. Darkness and deception flood my mind. Oh, Ani, how could you.

I take a few steps back, away from the Sith Lord.

The Emperor laughs again, and responds, >She’s quite the fool then to ever believe you could feel that for her.<

The color drains from my face and I feel something die within me.

‘Your Favorite looks rather ill,’ Palpatine observes, putting on a grandfatherly act. ‘She must be upset about those stolen recordings. It’s late and you must look after her properly. Perhaps you should take her home.’

Ill? Ill? He doesn’t know the half of it. Heartsick, now, I just stand there, staring at the Sith Lord’s back. Ani finally turns to look at me and I feel nothing positive from him across our bond. No support, no concern. Absolutely nothing. Nothing except coldness, lust for my body, and a touch of contempt for my love for him.

So that’s how he really feels. I take a few more steps back, catch my heel on the gown’s skirt, and start to fall backwards. The Sith Lord watches me as I go, making no attempt to help me at all. My head hits the stone floor and darkness drops over my senses.

I wake in a panic, not knowing where I am.

/Where am I?/ I ask, falling back into Gaelic, the first language I learned as a child.

No answer, so I open my eyes. I am back in the tower room, locked up by myself. Someone has dressed me in a nightgown and put me to bed. A careful feel behind the pillows reveals that my lightsaber is still hidden away. Good. I am going to need it.

I toss aside the sheets and make my way, unsteadily, to the window. Once there, I let myself slide down to the floor and rest my cheek against the cold transparisteel.

He feels nothing for me, only lusts after my body, I quietly think, and wants me for a sexual toy and a broodmare. Well, I won't let on that I know the real situation. If I am careful, I might even be able to get away from him. My thoughts are interrupted by the sound of the door opening.

‘Good,’ Ani notes, ‘you are awake at last.’

I turn my head to look at him. He’s dropped the Sith Lord act and is doing his best to be kind and loving. I know better than to fall for that ever again.

‘I’ve come for my promised payment,’ he teases.

Oh. I had almost forgotten I had promised to do whatever he wanted for telling me that story this morning.

‘What’s wrong, Maia?’ he ventures next.

I rest my hand against the bump on my head.

‘Still a bit sore?’ he asks, concerned.

I nod.

‘I am sorry about that, but I needed to get you away from my master,’ Ani apologizes.

He looks intently at me.

‘Do you remember what happened just before you fainted?’ he ventures.

Nice one, I think. Am I going to fall for that and admit what I know? Not a chance. I shake my head ‘no’ and wait to see if he discovers my lie through my shields.

I pick up a sense of relief from him. Good. I managed to hide the truth.

‘My poor concubine, it’s been a long, difficult day for you. I could come back tomorrow if you like,’ he offers. ‘We are going to the opening of the new wing of the Galactic Museum in the afternoon.’

I give my head another negative shake. Best to get whatever he wants over with quickly. Sounds like I am to be locked up in here for a while longer, too.

Ani saunters over to me, looks down at me and I know he is smiling behind the mask.

What does he want me to do?

I think you know what I want, he firmly replies, and you gave your word you would do whatever I asked of you, so no trying to get out of it.

My word. Ani is using that against me to get his own way. I shut my eyes and refuse to cry. He promised, I think mournfully, he promised he would never, ever force me to do anything I didn’t want to. He has now added that to all his other broken promises.

I steel myself. You gave your word, I remind myself, and you need to keep that promise.

Maybe he will back down if I act like I am willing, so I shift myself about in preparation of what he wants, tip my head up, and look at his mask. There is no sign he will let me out of this. Ani is determined to have me obey and is not going to relent at all. I hide my feelings deep inside myself, using control to numb my mind. Later, I will deal with what I feel later.

I sense Ani’s pleasure across our bond when I comply with his wishes without a fight, but I refuse to share my thoughts with him. This is something he wants, not I. As soon as I have finished doing as he desires, I move away from him, sit back on my heels, and wait.

‘I thoroughly enjoyed that,’ he admits as he lightly runs his fingers over my face. ‘Thank you, my Favorite.’

Humiliated, I drop my eyes to the floor, refusing to meet his. He is treated me like a prized pet.

‘You need to sleep, my quiet little love,’ he coaxes, ‘Come along now, let me tuck you in.’

I look up and take the offered hand. There’s no point in antagonizing him by being stubborn or defiant. Concern and caring are all I can feel from him; nothing seems to be left of the painful emotions from earlier in the evening. I carefully get to my feet and he lifts me into his arms and carries me over to the bed. Blankets are thrown over me, and I get a few more caresses to my face and hair. Finally, he rests his hand over our son, checking on him, before withdrawing it and stepping back a pace.

‘You are so very quiet tonight,’ he observes, ‘so you must be exhausted. I won’t keep you awake any longer, then. Sleep now, my wife. My son needs you to rest.’

***

I step away from the bed and move to leave, but something makes me pause in the doorway, turn and look back at her. Maia watches my every move. Even when I dim the lights, I can still see their reflection in her shining eyes as she stares at me.

She hasn’t spoken a single word since I came into the room, and has diligently avoided any thoughts aimed at me. Her control has been perfect, in fact, but it’s almost as if she’s afraid to say anything to me. As if she is once again afraid of me.

Fortunately Maia doesn’t remember the scene with my master at the opera house. If she did - well, explaining that to her will only hurt her, and make her angry at how I deceived her.

My wife doesn’t like being tricked, but her own carelessness this morning let me get what I have wanted from her for weeks. She will be far more wary with her offers in the future as a result.

I expected some sort of protest from her, some small show of resistance to my request, but there was none. Just her silent compliance. Perhaps I was right, then, that her reluctance to touch me that way was simply another manifestation of her shyness.

Her eyes are still open, still watching me as I muse. Maia won’t sleep until I leave.

‘Good night, little goddess,’ I tell her. ‘I love you.’

Unexpected, uncharacteristic silence in reply. Every night this week she has answered that in kind.

Something must be wrong.

For a few seconds I debate returning to her side, but decide not to. Today must have exhausted her, and her head is still sore where she struck it on the floor. I will speak to her tomorrow, once she has rested, and find out what is bothering her then.

***

I see him dim the lights, but he doesn’t leave immediately, just stands silently in the doorway, watching me for a few minutes.

Eventually he bids me, ‘Good night, little goddess, I love you,’ before finally stepping into the corridor. He closes and locks the door after himself, and I know he won't be back until morning.

I wait until I am sure he is well away, then get out of bed and go back to where I was to brood. The cold surface of the window eases the throbbing of my head while I think. Time to let my barricaded emotions out.

Shame. Revulsion. Self loathing. Humiliation.

I let him force me into doing the one thing I swore I would never do. The tears start immediately, but I keep quiet. If he hears me, I am sure he will be back to investigate.

My tears start to splash onto the nightgown but I don’t bother wiping them away.

Why? Why? I ask myself. How could he be so ruthless and cruel to me? I love him and the only thing I ever wanted from him was to be loved. Was that too much to ask for?

He’s a Sith Lord, I remind myself. Only a complete fool would love such a person. And to ever expect the same in return? No wonder the Emperor laughed at me. I have been supremely stupid and foolish.

I shut my eyes and let out my emotional pain, preventing any of it from touching our bond. A single sob escapes before I can stop it so I bury my face in my hands to prevent any others. Dear Gods, the hurt and pain of it all.

Is this what it feels like to have my heart broken?

I set a hand over my son.

Our son.

Darth Vader’s son.

No, I correct myself, Anakin’s son. The man I love is not the Sith Lord but the good man he keeps locked deeply within. I gently touch my child, soothing his restless movements. My poor innocent one. He will corrupt you and turn you into a younger version of himself if I don’t escape from him.

I shut my eyes, noting the odd blue glow I see through my eyelids. Too tired and upset to investigate, I decide to ignore it. When I am sure the Sith Lord is asleep, I will plan out what I need to do.


DAY 13

It’s long after midnight now and a careful touch reveals that the Sith Lord’s mind is quiet. He’s busy meditating so I had better take advantage of that. A glance at the chronometer again and I freeze. Today. There’s something important about today. I carefully convert the date into Earth’s calendar.

Michael’s birthday.

I had almost forgotten about that.

I reach out with my senses and ask, Michael where are you? Brother dear, how I wish you were here. I need your shoulder to cry on, your advice to help me get through this, your clear mind to see what I should do.

No response from the Force; no answer is given to my plea.

A few more tears of grief and self-pity escape so I shut my eyes and try to make them stop. There will be no help for me except what I can do for myself.

Feeling miserable again, I start plotting out how I might escape. There is no way I can get out of the castle, not without setting off all kinds of alarms. I will have to make my getaway when we are elsewhere. The Museum, perhaps? Maybe if I duck into a ‘fresher I can slip away before anyone notices.

And then what? With our bond he can track me anywhere I might go, I sadly admit to myself. Even if I do elude him at first, it will only be a matter of time before I am found and dragged back again. And punished. He will most certainly lock me up and take my son from me if he catches me.

There is no way I will ever be free of him, I finally realize. I am trapped by the Sith Lord as surely as Anakin is.

A dark thought runs through my mind. I get up and retrieve my lightsaber, then resume my spot by the window and stare at the weapon in my hand. There is only one way to escape and I will take him with me, too.

I brush a hand over my son.

I am so sorry, my beloved child, I tell him as I hold the weapon over my heart, shut my eyes and hit the power switch.

Nothing happens.

No.

I open my eyes and look at the ‘saber. It appears to be fine from the outside. A twist on the base and I discover that the powercell has been removed. I let out a frustrated and stricken cry. The Sith Lord must have found and disabled it while I was knocked out. Not fair, I fume, that’s just not fair.

With a growl, I toss the weapon aside. It makes a loud, satisfying crash against the wall. Oops. Someone will have heard that, but maybe I can use that to my own advantage.

I get up quickly and dress in my tunic and trousers. My cloak is set aside on the floor, out of sight of anyone who comes in. Fully clothed now, I crawl into bed and wait.

The door eventually opens. Good. Someone did come up to check on the noise. You have only one shot at this, I remind myself, don’t screw it up. I wait patiently until they are beside the bed, then quickly pounce. A muffled cry comes from my victim, but I refuse to remove my hand from their mouth and do my best to hold them immobile with the Force. Now what? Knock them out like the Sith Lord always does to you, I decide. A quick rap on their mind and they go limp. Perfect.

I bring the lights up a little to identify who I just attacked. Adi? Oh well, she’s about my size so I can bundle her into the bed as a decoy. My eyes light up when I see her blaster. Good. I can steal the powercell from that for my ‘saber. A few minutes of scurrying about and I have Adi in the bed, a new powercell in my lightsaber, and myself ready to make my getaway.

What next?

I have to move quickly now. Adi’s absence will be noted soon and someone else will come to see what has happened to her.

The door controls have been keyed to not respond to me and are alarmed. Damaging them will only alert the Sith Lord to what I am up to. Ditto for cutting through the wall. Motion detectors in the hallway will set off alarms in the castle’s command center. I turn about and look at the window. He would never expect me to do that.

With a smug grin, I ignite my saber and chop a hole through the transparisteel. The clear material falls away from the window and heads towards the ledge several floors below where it bounces, then shatters. My stomach lurches when I peer out and look down. I won’t go far, I decide, just over a few rooms and cut my way back in again. Once I am safely back inside, I can figure out what to do next.

I carefully, warily climb out. The ledge is wide and there are plenty of places to grab on to. It should be a quick and easy trip. A strong updraft forces me close to the outer wall as I inch my way along.

***

I stir as something unexpected disturbs my meditations.

Something is wrong - terribly, horribly wrong.

My eyes snap open as an alarm sounds. The external proximity sensors have been tripped. A glance at the screen in front of me, and I see Maia, to my horror, clinging to the side of the north tower.

What does she think she is doing?

Maia? I question her.

No response as she inches along the ledge.

The area around my castle is notorious for downdrafts and I know she isn’t strong enough to fight one of those for very long. I reach for my helmet, hoping beyond hope that I might somehow get it on and myself to where I can help her before something happens.

***

Maia? I hear the Sith Lord call, but I refuse to answer him.

When I am four windows away from the room I escaped from, I turn on my ‘saber and cut my way in, shoving the slice of window ahead of me, onto the floor. Back onto my belt it goes as I prepare to climb through the hole I just made.

Then the downdraft hits.

I cling desperately to my hand holds. No, I think, horrified.

***

The view from the camera shows her cutting through a transparisteel window. Good. She is wisely going inside where she will be safe.

Then her cloak is caught by a downdraft as she desperately tries to hang on to the wall.

No, no, no, I think, as her grip falters, then fails, and the wind tears her away.

MAIA! I scream at her as I see her fall.

Silence.

Answer me, Maia, please, I ask of her in desperation as my pod finally opens.

I can tell her how to slow and control her descent if she will only reply.

***

Another strong blast of wind and my hands are torn away from the building. Then I am falling.

Brilliant, Maia, just brilliant, I scold as I drop, now what? There is no way I am going to ask the Sith Lord for help and he’s in his private chambers anyway. I will just have to deal with this myself.

MAIA! he frantically screams into my mind.

Not many options for me here and I had better think fast. Use the Force to control my plunge, I decide. Go about it calmly, don’t panic. I tap into the Force and do my best to slow down. At least you have lots of time before you hit the ground, I wryly note to myself. I make myself open my eyes. Curious. Death doesn’t seem so bad at the moment and flying like this is rather cool.

The Sith Lord is completely panic stricken I calmly note, but I remain silent in response to his increasingly desperate pleas.

***

Please, Maia, say something, anything to me, please, I try pleading with her while I race through the corridors.

Nothing.

Then my sense of her is abruptly cut off.

The shock of it sends me careening into the wall and down onto my knees.

Thirsk finds me there a few minutes later.

‘My Lord?’ he questions.

‘She’s gone, Thirsk,’ I tell him in a daze. ‘Fallen from the tower.’

***

I see an airspeeder break away and match my descent. Someone’s decided to rescue me, how amusing. A glance at my benefactor reveals a well-dressed woman in ‘droid driven vehicle. Their timing is not quite perfect, and my head makes a rather resounding thud when I land beside her in the passenger compartment.

‘Who are you?’ she asks.

‘A rather stupid Jedi,’ I admit just before I pass out.

***

‘She fell right into someone’s airspeeder,’ Thirsk reveals. ‘The cameras picked it up, but the recording wasn’t clear enough to identify who her rescuer is.’

‘The spaceports need to be closed immediately,’ I decide, pulling myself back onto my feet. ‘If they find out who she is, they might demand a ransom and attempt to get her off planet where it will be harder for me to track them…’

My mind clears and rational thought reasserts itself.

‘We need to find her quickly, Thirsk,’ I realize. ‘I can’t risk anything happening to her.’

‘I have already commed the Devastator and asked for my best men to be sent here immediately,’ he volunteers.

It’s just like my old friend to anticipate what I would want.

‘Good,’ I praise as I head at a rapid pace down the hall, Thirsk in tow, ‘Now I need to get to the command center…’

***

‘She has quite a nasty concussion according to the med-scanner,’ I hear someone say.

I stay motionless and give no indication I am conscious. Best to figure out where I am and who is here with me, first.

‘Are you sure about this?’ I hear a man’s voice ask.

‘Look, she’s a Jedi,’ I hear my rescuer state, ‘and my contacts have told me his Lordship is searching for her personally. All of the space ports have been closed and no one is being allowed to leave Imperial Center.’

‘Then she’s valuable, no doubt, but Shas, is it worth the risk?’ her companion presses.

‘If she is what she claims to be, then yes,’ Shas replies. ‘The Rebellion will need her.’

I hear the man sigh.

‘Very well, then, I will get her to them somehow,’ he reluctantly agrees.

I hear them leave the room and decide that maybe I should have a look about. With a great deal of wariness, I open my eyes. Not much to see, but the furnishings are simple and elegant, the bed comfortable. Time to get up then. I carefully try to push myself up, only to fall back on the pillows again. That was a mistake. My head is now spinning and pounding. Control, I remind myself, sort yourself out.

It takes quite a while to wrestle my headache into submission, and a feel around my skull with my fingers reveals two large bumps on the side. Ouch. That must have hurt. Now what?

A second try at sitting up is more productive.

I feel terrible, and I have no idea where I am or who these people are.

Maia? I hear a voice in my head say.

No, I moan to myself, please don’t tell me I am hearing voices. The bang on my head was bad enough.

Maia? it asks again.

Go away, I think at it, you are just a figment of my imagination.

Silence in response. Good. My mind must have been playing tricks on me then.

Tell me what happened, the voice prompts.

I am not going to talk to some weird voice in my head, I stubbornly answer.

Too late, it wryly notes, you already are.

Great. I am hearing something with a sense of humor. Fine, then, since I have nothing better to do, I’ll talk to it.

I fell and hit my head, that’s all, I tell it.

Silence again for a few minutes. It’s thinking about that, I quickly realize.

Where are you? the voice asks next.

I have no idea, I reluctantly admit, but I think I am about to be shipped off to join something called the Rebellion.

That prompts an interesting curse or two from whoever it is I am talking to.

What have you told them? it prods, sounding a bit worried now.

Nothing. I just woke up. All I can remember is trying to get away from someone and falling off a building in the process. Some Jedi I am, I tell it, feeling rather stupid as I do.

There is a short, quiet pause.

You don’t remember me, do you? the voice asks.

No, I admit.

A wave of sadness and regret breaks over me from whoever this is.

Who are you? my curiosity finally gets the better of me.

Your husband, the voice sadly tells me.

Memories snap back into place. A tall man with blondish-brown hair and bright blue eyes. Warm arms wrapped around me. His laughter at my silliness. Curling up to him after a session of love making. Our son.

Ani? I wonder.

You remembered, he answers, relieved.

Other recollections cloud my mind. Oh, no, he’s trapped, imprisoned, and I have to do something about it.

I have to get you away from him, I insist, maybe these Rebels can help.

Get me away from who? Ani asks, puzzled now.

Him, the Sith Lord, I tell him.

The door to the room starts to open.

Maia, there’s something you need to know, my love starts, but I hush him up.

They’re back, Ani, I can’t talk to you now. Maybe later, I reassure him, once I know what I need to do. Don’t worry love, we’ll rescue you.

 

‘Good, you are awake at last,’ the woman called Shas notes, sounding relieved. ‘We were starting to get worried about you.’

I give her a measuring look. She’s covered her face, but from her clothes, I know she must be wealthy. From her body language, she is a bit nervous. No wonder she has decided to hide her identity. Shas has no idea who I am. The man hasn’t bothered to disguise himself and is wearing a simple workman’s clothes. He’s medium in build, in his forties, with short brown hair and eyes and a rather intimidating look on his face. This could get nasty from the look of things.

Tell them your name is Eritae Halcyon, Ani prompts.

What? I ask, startled. That’s not my name

Protection, he tells me. You don’t know who these people really are and you must not give them your real name. Or mine.

Tell me what to say, then, I suggest.

He’s relieved I want him to do that. How odd.

‘Who are you really, little Jedi?’ the man asks, sounding a touch hostile.

‘Eritae Halycon,’ I promptly answer. Now what?

Shas and the man look at one another.

‘One of the Corellian Jedi who was assumed lost in the Unknown Regions,’ Shas murmurs, sympathetically. ‘I’ll be back in a minute.’

I watch her go. They are doing the good cop-bad cop routine. If I wasn’t at their mercy, this would almost be funny. When Shas comes back, she hurls a metal ball at me.

Ani! I call in a panic.

Don’t deflect it with the Force, he orders. Catch it with your hand.

I grab the ball out of the air as instructed. Shas looks over at her companion and nods. What was that all about?

She was testing you. Halcyon Jedi have one handicap - they can’t use telekinesis, Ani reveals. I just gave you an advantage over them.

My mind clicks. He’s told me in the past I have a gift in that area. Clever. If I do have to get away from them, they won’t expect me to be able to do certain things.

Thank you, Ani, I tell him, setting the metal ball beside me on the bed.

Now here’s what you need to tell them ...., he starts dictating my cover story which I repeat word for word to my two listeners.

When I am finished, Shas and Ira, the man working with her, are a bit more sympathetic, and I am brought a tray of food which I eagerly dig into. I am starving.

‘You eat like you haven’t seen food in a week,’ Ira comments.

I look at him and blush a bit.

‘It’s almost as if...’ Shas stops her observation and steps closer to me.

She tips my face up with her hand and looks intently at me, then glances down at the medscanner she had left on the table.

‘We have an even more pressing reason to get her away from here,’ she quietly tells Ira. ‘A Jedi child. No wonder Vader is so intent on getting his hands on her once again.’

I choke a little. Ani told me to keep that bit a secret if I could manage it.

Ani, I need your help, I call to him.

No response. He must be unable to answer. I will just have to improvise then.

Shas sits beside me on the bed. All I can feel from her is concern.

‘What has happened to your child’s father?’ she asks.

I bite my lip and look away from her. Tears threaten, so I let a few escape and run down my face. The truth, I decide, or something close to it will do here.

‘I was sick, very sick, with my pregnancy,’ I quietly tell her, ‘and we had to stay in one place longer than was safe. He caught us then. I was trying to get to my husband, to free him, when I fell. My love is still there, in the castle, imprisoned by the Sith Lord.’

I feel Shas pull me into her arms and let her hold me while I cry a bit.

‘I’m so sorry, Eri,’ she tries to comfort me. ‘We would help you rescue him if we could, but it is far too dangerous to make an attempt at that now. It will be all we can do just to get you to safety.’

She looks over at Ira who shakes his head. There will be no help for Ani from these two.

‘I understand,’ I concede in defeat.

Ira touches his ear, and I realize he’s been listening to something all along.

‘We have to move, now,’ Ira abruptly orders. ‘Somehow Vader has managed to track her to this district, and if we don’t leave in the next few minutes, we will be trapped here.’

I follow Shas and Ira out of the room, keeping pace with them as they rush to a landing platform a few floors up.

‘Get in,’ Shas tells me as she jumps into the airspeeder she used to rescue me last night.

Ira pushes the pilot ‘droid out of the way and takes the controls himself. He flies like a lunatic, I decide, as he weaves in and out of traffic. We stop briefly at a private apartment, and Shas gets out.

‘This is goodbye, Eri,’ she says. ‘Ira will look after you and see you to safety.’

‘Thank you,’ I tell her, ‘for everything.’

Ira doesn’t wait for her to go inside before he takes off again. I hang on for dear life as he has the ‘speeder plunge hundreds of meters down to the lower levels. He’s either completely nuts or has a death wish.

Maia? I hear Ani call. Where are you?

This is a really, really bad time, my love, I warn him.

I am starting to get sick and dizzy from Ira’s crazy maneuvers.

Where are you? he persists in asking.

What part of a really, really bad time don’t you understand? I snap back.

Control, I scold, concentrate on keeping your stomach settled.

Maia, I need to know, he stubbornly prods again.

With that distraction, I finally do start to get sick. Ira notices my distress, slows down a bit and levels off. He opens a compartment and hands me something I can throw up in.

‘Sorry ‘bout that,’ Ira apologizes, ‘but I had to lose anyone who might have been tailing us.’

Maia? Ani butts in again.

Thank you so very much, I sarcastically reply, I was doing fine at not being sick until you just had to start bugging me.

Silence from him. Good.

I’m sorry, my little wife. Are you alright now? he asks, concerned.

Alright? Alright? I tell him, close to having hysterics. Ani, I’m in an airspeeder piloted by a lunatic Rebel with an equally crazy Sith Lord chasing after me. I am definitely not alright. Barely surviving is a more accurate description of the situation.

There is no response to that.

Ira stops the ‘speeder in a rather seedy looking area. Now what? He gets out and indicates I am to follow him. We go into a run-down building next, then enter a rickety looking turbolift.

‘There’s not much time,’ he warns me. ‘I am getting reports that the search for you has shifted focus again. They are heading in this direction.’

I bite my lip and nod at him. Maybe I won’t escape from the Sith Lord after all.

The lift stops and Ira hurries down the corridor. He throws open a set of doors at the end, and I find that we are on the roof of the building. Ira looks up at the sky, then at his chrono’ and frowns.

‘When Shas first rescued you, I contacted an old smuggler buddy of mine,’ he reveals. ‘I figured we would need to get you off-planet. He’s had to divert from another job to come and get you. I just hope he’s on time for a change.’

I hear the blare of sirens coming nearer. This could be close.

‘Ira,’ I tell him, ‘you should get out of here. Vader won’t harm me, but you are a different story.’

He hesitates, then firmly, stubbornly answers, ‘I gave Shas my word I would get you to safety.’

‘Just go,’ I order. Why do men always think they have to act noble and self-sacrificing?

Ira shakes his head.

At that instant, ‘troopers burst through the doors onto the roof and Ira’s smuggler friend arrives. I instinctively drop flat on the roof as a fire fight between the troops and the beat up freighter erupts above my head.

This is just perfect, I think as I follow Ira’s lead and crawl out of the way behind a metal roof vent.

For some reason the laser bolts abruptly stop. Curious, I poke my head carefully around the vent. Oh, damn. I quickly hide again.

‘I think Vader’s in the area,’ I whisper to Ira, ‘and the ‘troopers are waiting until he gets here before they do anything else. They won’t risk hurting me.’

I stick my nose around the vent again. Sure enough, the troops are digging in and the freighter has set down at the edge of the roof. Standoff. As long as the ship isn’t fired on, the smuggler will leave them alone.

I hear Ira whispering quietly into a comlink. He must be talking to his buddy.

‘Eri,’ Ira tells me, ‘you will need to make a break for it. My friend will drop the ramp when I tell him to and take off the second you are on board.’

‘What about you?’ I ask.

‘Don’t worry about me. I plan on disappearing down the airshaft as soon as I see you are away,’ he reveals with a grin.

I let out a sigh.

‘Fine then,’ I agree, ‘just tell me when to start running.’

He nods, says something into the comlink, and gives me a shove.

‘Go, quickly,’ he orders.

I run for the freighter. A laser bolt explodes in front of me, so I stop in my tracks for a second before picking up my pace again. Another bolt blocks my path. Clever. They are trying to slow me down without hitting me. After the fourth near miss, I have had enough of that. With a growl, I turn on my lightsaber and deliberately deflect the next shot, being sure to aim it a few inches in front of the ‘troopers’ position. They ignore it and fire again. Fine, then. I can keep this game up for a while. For the next couple minutes, I happily send blaster bolts back at the troops, being careful not to hit any of them as I do so.

A glance over at Ira reveals he is frantically motioning me towards the freighter. Okay, I get the hint, but why is he so insistent? I look in the other direction he is pointing and see that the Sith Lord has finally arrived. Time to get out of here.

Now I charge for the freighter. Two meters from the ramp, my clumsiness decides to intervene. No, I think in disbelief as I trip and end up sprawled across the roof and on my face. The ‘troopers stop firing and I hear heavy, even footsteps approach me. Brilliant, Maia, just brilliant. I start to quietly laugh, letting it get louder as the steps get closer.

‘My grandfather always told me my clumsiness would do me in some day,’ I wryly admit. ‘Guess he was right after all.’

‘I wouldn’t come any closer if I were you,’ I hear a man say.

The footsteps stop.

I roll onto my side and prop myself up so I can see what is going on. Vader has stopped a few steps from me and Ira’s smuggler buddy and a Wookiee have come down their ship’s ramp to stand next to me. Both have their weapons leveled at the Sith Lord.

‘This is none of your concern, Captain Solo,’ Vader warns.

‘Well, excuse me, your Lordship, if I decide otherwise,’ Solo baits him.

‘You would be wise to get in your ship and leave while you still can,’ the Sith Lord threatens.

‘I don’t think you’re in any position to make demands or threats,’ Solo smugly observes.

I look back and forth between the two men. There’s definitely bad blood between these two. They stare at one another for a few long minutes and I see the Sith Lord look down at me. If Solo or the Wookiee fire at him, the ‘troopers will shoot back and I will be right in the middle of it all. It’s another standoff.

Vader stays silent, considering what to do, I guess. I sense him carefully touch the Force, but he gives no outward hint that he is going to try something. Another nudge to the Force from him, and heat burns in each of my armbands. I bite my lip in response, but make no sound, not wanting to provoke him or Solo into doing something stupid.

‘Very well, Solo,’ Vader finally concedes, ‘leave, then, and take her with you.’

‘Luke,’ Solo calls, ‘come and help our passenger on board. Chewie, if his Lordship moves, you know what to do.’

A youngster hurries down the ramp, blaster drawn. Luke offers me a hand, and when I look in his face, I freeze. He has Ani’s blue eyes.

‘It’s alright,’ Luke reassures me, as he pulls me to my feet, ‘we’re here to rescue you.’

I let him guide me up the ramp, and see Ira disappear down the airshaft from the corner of my eye. Good. He’ll get himself to safety.

Maia, don’t go with them, I hear Ani call and I feel his anguish as he does.

I pull my hand away from Luke, turn, and look back towards the Sith Lord. Why is Ani’s presence so strong? I tip my head, concentrating, trying to figure out what I feel.

Ani? I question, confused. Where are you? How can you be so close to me?

I’m right here in front of you, he answers.

I give my head a frustrated shake. This makes absolutely no sense to me. Luke grabs me by the arm and tugs me along after him. I turn about as best I can and stare at Vader until I am in the ship and he is out of sight.

There is something wrong about what just happened, but I don’t understand what it is. I try puzzling it out, working away at my fractured memory while Luke pushes me into a padded lounge seat and straps me in.

A few seconds later, I hear Solo and Chewie running through the ship to the cockpit. I just stay where I am and wait. My mind is occupied with other things. The freighter lifts off with a jerk and I feel myself slam into the padding as the throttle is pushed up to full power.

No, not another lunatic pilot, I think miserably to myself.

***

I stare at the ship as it pulls away from the building.

She didn’t know who I am. Didn’t know I am her husband, her Anakin.

Thirsk moves to my side, follows my line of sight.

‘They still have to get past the planetary patrols, my Lord,’ he reminds me.

I spin about and head for the transport that has just arrived. If I am quick, I might catch them before Solo can make his escape.

***

‘Chewie,’ I hear Solo shout, ‘you will have to fly the Falcon. Come on, Luke. We’ll handle those Imperial slugs.’

The two men are running from the cockpit and heading to the gunnery stations from the sound of things. There’s nothing I can do to help them, so I continue brooding.

Ani was right there. I could feel him, but I couldn’t see him despite what he told me. Could the Sith Lord have dragged my husband along as a bargaining chip? My face goes white. I had better make sure my love is okay.

Ani, are you alright? I ask.

A burst of reassurance across our bond is his answer. Ani must be too preoccupied to tell me what has happened to him. I let out the breath I had been holding. He’s safe for the moment, but for how long?

I feel the ship lurch and buck. We must be exiting Coruscant’s atmosphere. There are patrol ships to evade next, and I know that the Devastator is lurking in orbit somewhere.

‘Star Destroyer,’ I hear Luke shout.

The Devastator. Vader’s ship.

I reach out carefully with my senses, looking for some sign that the Sith Lord is on his flagship. No hint of his presence, but I do know that Ani is on board. Weird. How did he get from the top of the building to Vader’s flagship so quickly? And why is there no trace of the Sith Lord? Surely I should be able to detect his aura. I give my head another shake, trying once again to grasp at wisps of my memory. There’s an explanation for what I feel but it is completely eluding me at the moment.

The Falcon spins in a gut-wrenching maneuver, then levels out and is yanked hard to the left before diving downwards. Solo’s co-pilot must be trying to avoid being hit by the Devastator’s turbo-laser batteries or that ship’s tractor beam. I shut my eyes and tell my stomach to behave itself.

‘Why haven’t they sent any TIEs after us?’ I hear Luke ask, surprised.

‘I don’t know, kid,’ Solo replies, ‘but I don’t intend to stick around and find out.’

I somehow know the answer to that, but I won’t say anything to them about it. The only ones the Sith Lord would trust to come after this ship are his two wingmen. He will not send anyone else. Not when I am aboard. Not when some trigger-happy or less experienced pilot might make a mistake.

‘Chewie,’ I hear Solo shout, ‘head towards one of the moons. We’ll use it for cover before we jump.’

For the next few minutes, I concentrate on keeping my stomach settled. Are all Rebel pilots this crazy? Even the Wookiee flies like he’s a bit nuts. To steady myself, I rest my head on my arms on top of the round hologram board. That’s much better, I decide, as the ship levels off.

I stretch out my senses again and feel that odd sensation as the Falcon jumps to hyperspace. We’re safely away, I guess.

Maia, Ani calls, are you safe?

For the moment, I reply, We’ve jumped now.

Do you know where they are taking you? he asks me next.

Nope, I admit. No one has said a word about that.

When you find out, tell me, so I can come and get you, he orders.

Ani, I warn, you had better not be planning something stupid.

I hear the equivalent of a mental chuckle. He is busy plotting something.

Ani, I scold, you will only get yourself into worse trouble than you are in now. Stay put and I’ll do my best to persuade them to rescue you.

More laughter, so I give up on trying to make him see reason.

Stubborn, I tell him.

So are you, he teases.

Contrary, I call him.

And so are you, he promptly replies.

I fall silent. This conversation is taking a familiar path.

Ani? I wonder, we’ve done this before, haven’t we?

No response and I know his attention is elsewhere. I can bug him about this later, I decide, as I hear three sets of footsteps approach me. When one of them drops into the lounge seat next to me, I open my eyes and sit up.

‘Not a bad bit of rescuing, if I do say so myself,’ Solo drawls.

I glance over at him. He’s sprawled across two of the seats, lounging against the acceleration padding and looking rather pleased with himself.

‘We have to go back,’ I promptly state.

Three surprised expressions appear.

‘What?’ is Solo’s startled reply.

‘My husband is still back there,’ I tell them.

Solo instantly sits up and points a finger at me.

‘No way,’ he says. ‘It’s too hot now that Vader is all stirred up. Besides I am only getting paid for you, and not as much as I should be, at that.’

I give Luke and the Wookiee my best pleading look. Maybe they can work on him. When I see the lightsaber at Luke’s waist, I know what tactic will work.

‘He’s a Jedi Master,’ I reveal, ‘and Vader has him. We have to get him back.’

‘We?’ Solo asks, incredulous, jumping to his feet, ‘What’s this ‘we’ bit?’

‘Han...’ Luke starts.

‘Forget it, Luke,’ Solo interrupts. ‘Don’t you remember what happened the last time you heard about some Jedi needing help? This is nothing but trouble.’

I give Luke another pleading look.

‘But Han, he’s a Jedi Master and her husband,’ Luke tries again. ‘We have to do something.’

‘I said forget it!’ Han insists, heading back to the cockpit. ‘I am not going back there and that’s final!’

Luke watches him go, then whispers to me, ‘Don’t worry. Chewie and I will get him to see reason.’

The Wookiee softly growls something in response to that and Luke starts to grin. Good. I used the right approach here. They will get their friend talked around and then we will go and get Ani.

‘Do you want something to eat?’ Luke offers. ‘There’s not much on board, but I should be able to find something for you.’

The Wookiee barks a happy assent, but I give my head a shake and answer, ‘No Luke, but thanks for offering.’

He gives me a closer look, then observes, ‘You don’t look very good.’

‘I don’t feel very good, either,’ I wryly admit.

‘Maybe you should lie down for a while...’ he trails off and I can tell he is curious what my name is.

‘Eritae Halycon,’ I supply, ‘but most people just call me Eri.’

‘Eri, you can share Leia’s room,’ he tells me. ‘We have to pick her and the ‘droids up from a meeting before going back to Yavin.’

Luke heads around the corner, to the galley, I assume, so I undo the acceleration straps and stand up. A dizzy spell hits, and I feel two large powerful arms catch me, then lift me up. When I am fully aware again, the Wookiee is busy covering me with a blanket. He must have caught me when I started to fall over and carried me to the bunk.

‘Thank you,’ I tell him as I pull the cover up and settle in on my side.

He lets out a soft growl and brushes my hair away from my face.

‘I would like to know your name and what I am allowed to call you,’ I try next.

The Wookiee looks pleased that I asked that and gives his name in Shyriiwook a few times. I do my best to copy what he says, but the guttural components defeat my vocal cords. My last attempt sounds the closest, yet he still laughs a little at it. He gives his head an amused shake and uses a short version of his name that is close to how I heard Solo address him.

‘Chewie, then. You will let me use this name?’ I politely ask.

A nod from him. Good. This is one being I do not want to offend. He reaches over to muss my hair, then looks carefully at me. A low growled comment emerges from him before he fetches and tosses another blanket over me, and gives me a pillow to curl up with.

‘Thank you, Chewie,’ I say again.

Chewie leaves the small room near the galley, and I hear him growl at Luke for the amount of noise he is making over there. The loud crashes and bangs instantly stop. Time to have a nap while things are quiet. Maybe Ani is able to talk for a few minutes.

Ani? I venture.

A surge of affection makes its way to me. He’s busy, but I want him to know I am fine and what my new friends might do.

Ani, I think we will be coming back to get you, and soon, my love, I tell him.

A wave of amusement at that. Why does he find the idea of me rescuing him so funny?

I need to rest, now, love, I add, making sure he understands why I won’t be able to answer for a while.

Then be sure you rest enough, my little wife, Ani finally replies, and make sure you watch for me.

Ani’s decided to escape on his own. Stubborn, obstinate man, I fume a bit. He will just get himself hurt doing that. No point in scolding him about it though. My husband will only do as he wants to anyway.

Be careful, my love, I think at him.

Don’t worry, I will be, he orders.

***

I return to the room she escaped from hours ago and survey its contents.

Something happened in here last night which changed everything between us.

The wind blows through the ruined window, catching my cloak and ruffling the fabric of her nightdress lying carelessly discarded on the floor.

She was waiting quietly, silently by the window when I came in.

Her silence was so uncharacteristic of her. Not one word did she say to me at all. Not a spoken word, not a silent thought. Not even a single emotion did she allow to slip out. She even refused to share in the pleasure she gave me. I should have known something was wrong from her reticence alone.

I move to where she sat and look out, run a gloved hand along the smooth cut made in the transparisteel by her lightsaber.

Adi was hysterical when I found her and yanked her mind back to awareness after my wife’s escape. Stupid woman. If only she had obeyed Thirsk’s orders and come unarmed. Maia should never have had the opportunity to replace the power cell I removed from her hidden weapon. At least I will never have to worry about Adi’s carelessness and stupidity again.

My hand drops as I turn and consider the situation.

Maia fled from me, from the one person she truly loves. Why? What happened to her after I left?

I reach down and pick up her nightgown, hold the rich fabric in my hands and look at it. The front is marked with teardrops. My love spent the night weeping, yet I felt none of her distress, heard no call asking for comfort. What could have driven her to conceal her pain from me? I stare at the salt-stained mothsilk, brush my senses over it, searching for an answer.

I soon have it.

Pain. Despair. Shame. Heartbreak.

And grief. Overwhelming, overpowering grief.

The garment slips from my fingers and falls to the floor.

No.

Oh, no.

What a fool I have been.

I should have told her what I planned to do.

She believed the clever trick I used to deceive my master and it has completely destroyed her.

I spin about and hurry towards my quarters. There are plans to be made and things I must do quickly. As soon as I know where she is, I will leave.

Reena suspects that the second blow to Maia’s head has affected her memory and perceptions. She’s right. To Maia, I am now two different men.

Anakin, her husband, who she loves.

Darth Vader, his captor, who she fears.

She will run to the one and flee from the other not knowing that I am one and the same, and the longer my poor love remains this way, the harder it will be to heal her injured mind.

There is no time to be wasted now and only one choice.

Anakin will have to escape and go find her.

***


The Millennium Falcon, hyperspace, en route to Garqi

DAY 14

My sound sleep is interrupted by a loud voice in the corridor outside the room.

‘Chewie, where’s my pillow and blanket?’ I hear Solo ask, annoyed.

His co-pilot says something to him in response.

‘You gave them to the Jedi? Chewie...’ Han starts to scold.

The Wookiee interrupts him with a growl.

‘Well, I don’t care if she needs them. I want my pillow back,’ he peevishly states.

Another low growl, this time a bit threatening, comes from Chewie.

‘Alright, alright, then. She can keep them,’ Solo concedes. ‘I just don’t understand why you gave them to her in the first place.’

A bark of amusement from his friend, then a longer explanation obviously follows.

‘A cub?’ Solo asks, confused. ‘What do you mean she’s going to have a cub?’

Silence for a minute as Solo’s brain sorts this out. I hide my face in his pillow and do my best not to laugh. This is pretty funny. He might be a crack pilot, but Solo is not that swift sometimes.

‘Oh, oh, she’s that way,’ I hear him say as realization kicks in.

That’s even funnier, so I laugh a bit louder, hoping they don’t hear me.

‘Well next time, steal Luke’s pillow instead,’ Han suggests.

‘Han,’ I hear Luke’s sleepy voice, ‘you are making enough noise to wake the Emperor in his palace.’

Chewie growls in agreement.

‘Good, you’re awake so I can get some sleep. Give me your pillow and blankets, kid. Chewie gave mine to our passenger,’ Han tells Luke, dropping his volume a bit.

‘Her name’s Eri Halcyon and you can sleep in my bunk if you want to,’ Luke helpfully supplies, finishing up with a yawn.

‘Halcyon? Halcyon?’ Han repeats. ‘Great, just great.’

‘Is there a problem?’ Luke asks, curious.

‘She’s a Corellian. And from a family who have a reputation for getting themselves killed in the most spectacularly messy ways possible,’ Han explains, before grumbling, ‘I just knew agreeing to go rescue her husband was a mistake.’

We will be going back for Ani after all, I happily think.

Ani, I call, you don’t need to try and escape. We’re coming back for you.

Maia? he replies and he sounds pretty distracted, too.

Go back to what you were doing, I tell him.

I must have interrupted something. Well, my news can wait. There will be time later to work out how he can help us with his rescue.

I return my attention to where I am and listen carefully to see what else the Falcon’s crew might say, but Han has fallen silent and is probably asleep. Luke and Chewie are just out of earshot. They must have gone to the cockpit. Rats. Oh well, I will just stay put and try to think of how we can rescue Ani.

There is an agonizing, burning pain across my chest.

‘ANI!’ I scream before I realize what I am doing.

That brings Luke and Chewie from somewhere at a dead run and wakes Han from his nap.

‘What is going on?’ I hear Solo yell.

By the time a rumpled looking Han appears in the doorway, his two friends have already crowded into the small sleeping quarters and Chewie is busy rocking me in his arms while I weep hysterically.

‘Luke, what’s going on?’ Han tries again to get an answer.

‘I have no idea, Han, but she’s been hurt, and hurt badly somehow,’ Luke tells him.

Chewie growls something at Han who quickly disappears. I stay where I am, trying to figure out what just happened to me. A minute later, his friend is back with the medkit.

‘We have to look at you, Eri, and see what the problem is,’ Han says.

I stare at him. Let Han Solo play doctor? I don’t think so and give my head a shake. He looks over at Luke.

‘What about letting Luke...’ he suggests, but falls silent when I shake my head again.

‘Maybe you should do it, Chewie,’ Han tries their last option.

I reluctantly nod my agreement and the two men make a quick retreat from the room. Chewie politely turns his back while I take off my tunic. There is a bright red, painful slash running across the top of my chest. I let out a hiss when I touch it and that sound prompts the Wookiee to turn and look at me. He lets out a mournful cry and reaches over to muss my hair, trying to comfort me, I guess.

‘Chewie?’ I hear Han call.

Han and Luke appear a few seconds later and peer through the door at me. I modestly hold my tunic over my front so they can see the injury but nothing below it. Both men flinch visibly.

‘Lightsaber burn,’ Luke identifies, ‘but that’s impossible. How did....?’

‘Ani,’ I whisper, horrified. ‘He must have tried to escape on his own.’

‘Wait a minute,’ Han says, obviously not happy with how things are going, ‘how do you know he tried to getaway and how did you get that burn if he’s the one who got hurt?’

I bite my lip and drop my eyes to the floor. No way am I telling them about our lifebond.

‘I think she’s hiding something, Luke,’ Solo decides, turning to face his friend, ‘and I don’t like that very much.’ He takes a menacing step towards me and threatens, ‘Our escape was far too easy, kid. I think we have an Imperial spy on board and she had better come clean about it before I decide to space her.’

I shrink away from him. Is he crazy?

Chewie steps between us and snarls at Han who stops in his tracks and blinks in surprise.

‘Lifebond?’ he questions. ‘Chewie, those are nothing but stories.’

A bark of confirmation comes from the Wookiee and Han just shakes his head in disbelief.

‘You should listen to Chewie, Han. She’s not a spy,’ Luke tells him. ‘I would know if she intended us any harm.’

‘More Force stuff, kid?’ Solo questions, not convinced.

Luke simply nods in response.

‘Well, Jedi or not, I don’t trust her,’ Han flatly states, ‘and if she tries anything, out the airlock she goes.’

I watch him stalk from the room and look pleadingly at Luke who stares at Solo’s retreating back.

‘After Aridus, he’s extremely suspicious of anyone who claims to be a Jedi,’ Luke reveals. ‘Vader nearly caught me in a trap there using an actor to play Master Obi-Wan Kenobi. Stay put, and I’ll bring you something to eat. We are almost at Garqi and should be dropping out of hyperspace soon.’

I watch him go and while he is gone, Chewie helps me look after my wound. The Wookiee leaves with the medkit after that, so I sit on the bunk, stare into nothing, and twist one of my plain gold bracelets around my wrist.

Ani’s been hurt, and quite badly from what I felt across our bond and had appear on my chest, but I feel nothing from him now. At least I know where we are going. Garqi. I wonder what sort of place that is.

Luke interrupts my musings with breakfast. It’s simple, plain fare and the milk is blue in color. I pick up the glass and give him a puzzled look, but his back is to me as he heads off to prepare for our arrival. Too hungry to really care what anything tastes or looks like, I eat everything on the plate and down the odd-colored milk. Time to see if I can find out what has happened to my husband.

Ani? I call to him.

No immediate response, so I try again every few minutes or so.

Finally, he answers me with only my name, Maia.

I know you’ve been badly hurt, love, so don’t answer, just listen to me, I suggest. We are almost at a place called Garqi. They are going to pick someone up there then go to Yavin.

He’s thinking about that.

Give them the slip and stay on Garqi, if you can, he orders. It will be easier for me to find you there than to run the blockade at Yavin.

Ani pauses for a few minutes, so I wait patiently for more instructions.

They will probably land at Pesktda, the capital, Ani tells me. Go to the Governor, Luthus Tadrin, and use the name I gave you to identify yourself but tell him no more than that. I know Luthus from years ago and he will give you shelter until I arrive. I should be there within two days.

You got away? I ask, surprised that he managed it on his own.

My husband gives an amused chuckle at that.

Of course. And I stole a sweet little ship on the way out, he reveals.

Ani, I scold, that’s not all you got, was it?

He hesitates, so I prod, with a warning tone, Ani, tell me the truth.

A few bruises and scrapes, and one bad cut across the chest, he finally owns up. You must have been marked by the last. I am sorry for that, my little wife. I was careless.

How I miss my reckless, stubborn husband. I shut my eyes and just send my love to him. He responds in kind and for a brief few minutes our minds are in perfect harmony with one another.

You should try to rest, Ani suggests. I will tell you everything I know about the world you are going to.

I lean back in the bunk, pull the blankets back over me and listen to Ani tell me about the agricultural world which is the Falcon’s destination.

***

She is finally relaxed, so I pull my mind away and let her be. The stress she is under is not healthy for her or our child.

I activate the Holonet terminal and contact Garqi’s governor. As usual, he is lazing about on the beaches of Spira rather than in the Governor’s residence on his homeworld. Tadrin will do as I order him to, ask no questions, and look after my ‘agent’ who will be coming to him for aid.

My next task is to get to Maia as fast as I can, but which ship to take? I survey my choices in the hangar. Speed and stealth are needed here.

The Scimitar then. My predecessor’s ship.

I smile behind my mask as I touch the controls. It has been far too long since I have flown solo for any length of time. My castle falls far behind as I easily evade the slow planetary patrol ships and the Devastator. They will report this and it will help with my cover story. Hyperspace beckons and Imperial Center is soon in the distance.

I leave the pilot’s station, toss my cloak and robes aside. My chest aches as my movements pull on the lightsaber burn. It was a mistake to let the dueling ‘droid do that, despite the fact that it acted as proof of my ‘escape’ from ‘Lord Vader’. No matter. It will heal well enough in the next two days. I replace my clothes with a Jedi Master’s attire, covering most of my armor and life support control panel. The less I need to conceal with the Force, the easier this will be.

Time to prepare myself with meditation. The illusion must be perfect. I cannot make any mistakes.

***


The Millennium Falcon, Pesktda spaceport, Garqi

DAY 15

‘No, Eri, I told you no earlier, and I am not going to change my mind,’ Solo yells at me. ‘You are staying with the ship and that’s final.’

I glare at him, furious.

‘I just want to see the botanical gardens,’ I try again.

He waves a finger at me like Ani often does and orders, ‘I don’t care. You are not going out by yourself again. Chewie, keep her here and lock her in the hold if you have to.’

My mouth drops open and I start to protest, but Han has disappeared down the landing ramp to join Luke, Leia, and the ‘droids on their errand - a task they won’t let me go along on. Guess I am still considered a security risk to them.

I drop into the pilot’s chair and start fuming. How dare he order me about. I am not a child who needs minding and babysitting.

At least I had a bit of fun shopping in the nearby market yesterday before Solo spoiled it. I was fine buying some clothes and supplies until he came along and butted in on my haggling with that shopkeeper.

With a sigh, I shut my eyes and lean back in the chair. Solo plans to leave tonight and Ani will arrive at about the same time. If Han has his way, I will have no chance to slip away today. Even though he likes me and stood up to Han for me, Chewie will do exactly as his friend asked him to and keep me on the ship.

I hear the Wookiee head down the landing ramp. What’s he up to, I wonder. Curious, now, I follow the Falcon’s co-pilot outside and watch him start working on one of the ship’s outer components. He’s busy, but maybe I can persuade him to let me stay outside the ship for a while.

Chewie sees me and lets out a warning growl. There will be no sneaking past this observant Wookiee.

‘I just want to practice with my ‘saber for a while,’ I tell him, ‘and there’s no room inside to do that.’

He looks a bit suspicious, so I add, ‘I won’t leave the docking bay, if that’s what you’re worried about.’

I receive a nod of assent in response to that so I set about running through ‘saber forms. By the time Chewie is finished whatever he was busy with, I am starting to get a little tired and hungry. It’s time for lunch, so I hurry to the galley, make a meal for both of us and curl up for a nap once the mess from my experiments with the Falcon’s ancient and temperamental autochef is cleaned up.

Sleep refuses to come. My mind is too busy brooding and trying to figure out how to slip past my guard. I turn over onto my stomach, shove the pillow under my chest and consider my options. Ani won’t let me tell the rebels that he escaped, so using that as an excuse to stay behind or delay their departure is out. I work away at my options and finally come up with something which might work. Now if Luke will only co-operate.

Satisfied with my plans, I settle in to wait for Han and the others to return.

A gentle touch on my shoulder draws my attention.

‘Eri,’ I hear Leia say, ‘it’s time for something to eat if you are feeling well enough.’

I look up and blink at her.

‘Han’s found a little café nearby that should be safe,’ the princess offers.

I am completely alert when I hear that. This is better than I expected.

‘I’ll try to eat something,’ I promise her.

‘Good. You need to hurry,’ she tells me. ‘Han’s concerned we have already stayed here longer than we should have.’

Leia leaves me to prepare for our walk after that so I quickly put on my boots and cloak, making sure my ‘saber is hidden from the view of any casual observers. No need to invite trouble. Once I am ready, I join my soon to be ex-companions and walk with them to the small restaurant two blocks away.

The decor is homey and ancient from the look of things, but the food is good and not overly expensive. I am careful to eat slowly, and everyone else is finished long before I am.

‘Will you hurry up,’ Han finally nags.

I give him an irritated look and snap, ‘If I eat fast, I’ll get sick. Do you really want me throwing up all over your ship?’

His mouth drops at that, but he doesn’t try to make me eat faster again. After another few minutes, I hear him make a few exasperated noises.

At that, I set down my fork and suggest, ‘Why don’t you go back to the ship and get ready to leave? I can find my own way back.’

‘No way,’ Han insists, ‘you’ll get lost again or have something worse happen to you.’

‘You sound like my mother,’ I tease him.

‘Look, if I had you for a wife, I would never let you out of my sight,’ he comes right back. ‘Trouble follows you everywhere you go.’

Want to play at banter, do you? I grin evilly to myself. Bad move, Solo.

‘Now you really do sound like my husband,’ I bait him.

Our server comes by and looks back and forth between the two of us.

‘Oh, excuse, me,’ he politely apologizes, before beating a hasty retreat, ‘I didn’t mean to interrupt a spousal disagreement.’

Solo starts sputtering at that, Luke is desperately trying to hide a grin and Chewie is openly laughing at his friend. Leia diplomatically says nothing.

‘Go ahead, laugh it up, fuzz-ball,’ Solo growls at the Wookiee. ‘Some day I’ll spill a few stories about you.’

‘It could have been worse,’ I suggest, ‘he could have thought you were married to Leia.’

That gets me a dirty look from the princess.

‘Or to Luke,’ I can’t help adding.

Now Solo jumps to his feet, points a finger at me and snaps, ‘I am not that type!’

Teasing Han is great entertainment, but he’s getting too riled up for it to be funny much longer. I let my grin get wider. Time to bug someone else for a while. I look over at Luke who has gone quite red at my suggestion. A blusher, I think wickedly.

‘Why not?’ I ask Solo. ‘He’s cute enough, don’t you think?’

Luke says nothing, just goes a deeper shade of scarlet.

‘No reward is worth this,’ Han quietly growls. ‘I would almost pay the Alliance to take her.’

I snicker a bit at that. Solo would be willing to give up some credits to be rid of me?

‘Maybe Ani knows a cute young Jedi who might be interested in Luke,’ I suggest next.

Now Luke’s mouth drops open.

‘I don’t need a matchmaker,’ he mumbles to himself.

‘Oh, I don’t know about that,’ Han slyly states. ‘You could use a good kiss or two.’

Solo likes to tease Luke. I look over at Leia. Time to include her.

‘Or maybe he can find someone for Leia, too,’ I add.

‘Now wait just a minute,’ Han scolds.

Interesting. There is something going on between the smuggler and the princess.

‘Why is it that those who are married always want to pair up all the singles around them?’ Leia joins in.

‘Entertainment,’ I cheerfully volunteer, digging into my meal again.

‘I’m going back to the Falcon,’ Han decides, ‘before she has us all married off and starts naming our kids.’

A minute later Luke and I are the only ones left at the table. Good. I know just how to give him the slip, too. To delay things a bit longer, I continue to linger over my meal. When I figure enough time has gone by, I shove my plate aside. Time to set my plan into motion.

‘Luke,’ I ask, ‘do you think there is enough time for me to pick up a few clothes at the shop across the street?’

‘If you are quicker at shopping than you are at eating, Eri,’ he teases me.

Perfect.

‘I’ll be quick,’ I promise.

Luke pays the bill for the meal and we hurry to the shop I selected when we first arrived at the restaurant. I head inside immediately, but Luke stops at the door, obviously not at all willing to follow me in. Even better. Ditching him will be a cinch. Finally he takes a few steps after me, keeping his eyes on the floor. Good. Just to be certain, I’ll embarrass him a bit more.

‘What do you think of this?’ I ask, grabbing a rather skimpy black lace number off one of the racks. ‘Do you think Ani will like it?’

That does it. Luke gives the negligee one quick look, goes bright red again and heads towards the front door.

‘I’ll wait for you outside,’ he decides.

I stay quiet until he is out of earshot then start laughing. That was too precious. A quick look about and I have spotted the exit at the back of the shop. This is far too easy, I decide. I pretend to look at things until the clerk is busy with another customer then duck out the back door and scurry down the alley and back towards the thoroughfare the shop is situated on. Peering around the corner, I can see Luke still standing there, patiently waiting me to finish my shopping.

With a grin I head away from him, towards the Governor’s Residence three blocks away. Partway there, I spot an Imperial patrol. Damn. Ducking into a booth in a gourmet tapcaf, I watch them go by, heading right for where Luke is probably still waiting for me.

I shut my eyes and concentrate. Luke needs to be warned quickly or he will get caught.

Luke, I call to him, Luke, you need to get back to the Falcon right now.

No response, so I push harder with the Force, slamming my mind against his rudimentary shields.

Run, Luke, run, I yell at him.

That produces an immediate startled reaction.

Eri, where are you? I hear him ask.

Is he stupid? He should be trying to get away not wasting time trying to locate me.

I’m safe, Luke, I tell him, but you aren’t. Run!

He must have got the hint because the patrol starts to run in his direction. I hope he makes it to safety in one piece. As Luke’s presence moves away from me, I feel Ani’s enter the system. His ship must have just dropped out of hyperspace. Blast. Now I have to head back to the spaceport which is where Luke will have led the patrol, and also where Han and company will be waiting for both of us.

I dart around the serving ‘droid which has finally noticed me and race out the door. Taking what I hope is an alternate route back to where I need to be, I run along the avenue dodging the occasional bimiza tree. When I spot the entrance to the spaceport, I slow down and let out a sigh of relief. I can tell that Ani is almost here already - I just have to ask him which docking bay to go to once he is on the ground.

Looking up, I see a dagger-shaped ship coming in to land. Ani, I think happily to myself. Unfortunately my gawking upwards means I don’t see the well-dressed, tanned and bleached blonde man I walk solidly into. We both end up on the ground, staring at one another in surprise.

‘Haven’t you heard of watching where you are going?’ he asks, sounding exceptionally put out.

Another man who is obviously his aide helps him up. I stay where I am, not quite sure what to do next.

When I stay silent, he looks down his nose at me and rather rudely questions, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’

‘No,’ I admit, getting to my feet, ‘should I?’

He looks a bit taken aback at that. Must be some petty noble or a bureaucrat with an inflated ego.

Movement from out of the corner of my eye gets my attention. Great, just great. Solo has chosen to put in an appearance and brought Chewie along.

‘You really have no idea who I am,’ the man says, now seeming a bit disappointed.

‘Let me take a guess,’ I snidely venture, ‘a village somewhere is missing its idiot.’

Luke chooses that instant to bolt across the street to where Han and the Wookiee are standing.

‘I’m the sector governor, Luthus Tadrin,’ the man snaps, ‘and you need to learn some manners.’

Oops. This is who Ani told me to contact. I look over the Governor’s shoulder to see a tall figure in black with a familiar silhouette approaching in the distance. This is getting better every second. Now, where is that patrol which was chasing Luke? Surely they will want to join in the fun.

‘Apologies, Governor Tadrin,’ I hear Han say, as he grabs my arm and drags me back a few steps, ‘we don’t let her out much for obvious reasons.’

‘Get her out of my sight, then, before I decide to do something about it,’ Tadrin orders.

‘Come on, Eri,’ Han tells me, pulling me towards the docking bay where the Falcon is parked, ‘it’s back to the ship with you.’

‘Eri?’ I hear the Governor ask, ‘As in Eritae Halcyon?’

Han pretends not to hear him and keeps going.

‘Commander, go and bring those people back here immediately,’ Tadrin orders next.

I glance back over my shoulder and see that the patrol has finally arrived.

‘Luke, we’re in trouble!’ Solo shouts, shoving me into an alcove and whipping out his blaster.

This is just great. A quick survey of the situation reveals that Luke and Chewie are holed up in the alcove right across from this one, the patrol is busy taking up positions, the man in black is still heading in our direction, one of the Governor’s aides has hauled Tadrin aside for a chat, and I have no idea where Ani is. Things couldn’t get much worse.

‘I have just been told that Lord Vader will be here shortly to take charge of you,’ the Governor tells us in a raised voice.

Things just got worse.

I lean against the wall and close my eyes.

Ani, I call, hoping that he is nearby and has some idea how to help me out of this mess.

Tadrin continues, ‘And if you surrender to me without a fight, he might be lenient with you.’

‘If you think we are falling for that one, Governor,’ Han yells back, ‘then you really are the village idiot!’

Chewie starts to laugh at that volley. Tadrin just growls and waves a hand at the troops.

Blaster bolts start to fly. Han and Luke busily return fire while I do my best to watch what is happening. The dark robed and hooded stranger has reached the edge of the fire-fight, I note, and is watching the goings on, hands on hips, head slightly tipped to one side.

I know that pose.

Ani? I ask.

The head swivels about to look directly towards where I am hiding.

You, my wife, seem to have a talent for getting yourself into more trouble than you can handle, he teases me.

It’s not my fault, I start to protest.

Stay where you are, he orders, I will look after this.

I watch Ani surreptitiously pull his lightsaber out from under his robes. A second one quickly joins the first. What is he up to? A glance back in my direction and I know exactly what he has planned.

‘Han,’ I whisper, ‘you need to stop firing, and tell Luke and Chewie to stop, too.’

‘What?’ Solo asks.

‘Trust me,’ I suggest.

Han stares at me a second or two then nods. Easing his blaster back, he motions to Luke and Chewie to do the same.

‘You had better be right about this,’ Han warns.

‘Just watch,’ I tell him.

The instant my three friends stop shooting, Ani ignites both ‘sabers and moves. He’s even faster than I remember, as the bolts aimed at him are effortlessly returned to their sources. In less than a minute, not a single ‘trooper is in any shape to do anything other than moan a bit. The Governor and his aides have fled the scene, too. I guess Tadrin has a few brain cells after all.

Knowing it is safe now, I dart from the alcove. Han makes a grab for me, but misses.

‘Eri,’ he yells at me, ‘are you crazy?’

I ignore him and hurl myself at Ani. He shuts off the green lightsaber and uses the hand holding it to pull me in close. Wrapping my arms around his waist, I bury my face in his shoulder and happily hold on.

Safe, I decide, I am safe now.

Open your mind to me, Ani orders, and let your feelings for me flood over our bond.

Why? I wonder, but hastily comply.

‘Luke, are you alright?’ I hear Han ask.

I turn a bit in my love’s arms to see what the problem is. Luke is staring at the two of us with a peculiar expression on his face. After a few seconds, he gives his head a shake.

‘I’m fine, Han,’ Luke decides, ‘I just had a weird feeling about Eri’s husband for a moment, that’s all.’

‘That’s her husband?’ Han asks, finally allowing himself to emerge from behind what little cover he had.

‘Unless you know of another Jedi Master in the area,’ Luke tells him.

‘We can’t remain here much longer,’ Ani warns them.

Chewie lets out a growl.

‘You’re right Chewie, I know that voice, too,’ Han growls, leveling his blaster at Ani, ‘and it doesn’t belong to any Jedi, either.’

‘Stop that,’ I snap at him.

Why is he being so stupid? I look up at Ani. There’s one sure fire way to convince my friends whose arms I am in. Before my husband can stop me, I reach up, shove the hood hiding his face back, pull his head down a touch and kiss him. He responds by putting on a bit of a show - deepening our kiss and holding me close. That ought to satisfy any doubts Solo and Chewie might have, I think as I finish kissing my love.

‘Well, Han, I guess you are wrong for once,’ Luke teases his friend.

I rest my head on Ani’s shoulder again and watch Solo holster his blaster. Good. My love shuts off his blue ‘saber in reaction. Maybe it’s time to leave now.

‘We need to leave,’ Ani suggests, ‘before anyone else shows up.’

‘Get the ship ready to go,’ Han tells Chewie who promptly disappears into the docking bay.

‘You could come with us on the Falcon,’ Luke offers. ‘The Alliance would be more than happy to see you two.’

He looks so eager at the prospect of having a couple of Jedi around. I turn my face to look into Ani’s again. My love simply shakes his head.

‘I have a ship of my own, Luke,’ Ani says, ‘and we can’t go with you.’

‘But why not?’ Luke starts protesting. ‘I need someone to teach me.’

My husband sighs at that.

‘Can you protect Eri if something happens to me?’ he asks. ‘Are you strong enough to hide her and our son from the Emperor? If Palpatine decides he wants my wife and child, there is nothing you or the Alliance can do to stop him.’

Luke and Han stand there, staring at us.

‘Luke, I want you to listen carefully to me,’ Ani says. ‘I will be taking Eri somewhere safe and remote, a place where I can hide and protect her. In a few years, if it is safe to do so, I will come back for you.’

‘If you can’t stay, then take me with you instead,’ Luke suggests.

I feel Ani hesitate. He wants to train Luke, but something is stopping him.

‘I can’t,’ my love admits, ‘Keeping Eri’s and my son’s Force presence hidden is all I can manage. I won’t risk them just to take you with us.’

‘But,...’ Luke continues to try and convince my husband who just shakes his head at every argument Luke comes up with.

Finally, Luke gives up.

Is he always this persistent? Ani asks me.

Unfortunately, yes, I answer.

I hear the whine of engines starting on the Falcon. Han exchanges looks with Luke.

‘Better say goodbye, Luke,’ Han suggests. ‘From sounds of things it will be quite a while before you see these two again.’

He heads to his ship while Luke considers what to say.

‘I wish I could go with you,’ he finally states, ‘but I understand why you won’t take me.’

‘Go with your friends, Luke,’ Ani tells him as he slides his arm behind my back and starts to walk back to where his own ship is waiting.

‘May the Force be with you,’ I hear Luke call after us.

I smile up at Ani. All should be well now.

‘We need to hurry,’ Ani warns me, shifting into a slow run and pulling me along by the hand. ‘Tadrin will have contacted the local garrison and nearest Star Destroyer by now.’

I do my best to keep up, and stop in surprise when we enter the docking bay with Ani’s ship. What a different looking craft. He tugs on my hand and guides me up the ramp and inside the stolen vessel.

‘You can look at it later,’ he scolds.

Ani drops into the pilot’s chair and I take the one nearest to him. Seconds later the ship is airborne, following the Falcon into orbit. That was quick.

‘I left the engines cycling,’ Ani tells me, ‘so there would be no delay in leaving.’

‘Nice ship,’ I hear Solo compliment over the comm. ‘Modified Star Courier, I think.’

Ani chuckles at that, and replies, ‘She has a few surprises in her.’

‘Given who you stole her from, I am not surprised,’ Han admits.

My love starts to smile at that comment.

‘Time to part company, Captain Solo,’ Ani tells him, shutting off the comm and activating another set of controls.

‘Why did you do that?’

‘Cloaking device. I don’t want him to be able to track us,’ he reveals.

I stay silent after that, thinking. Ani is acting a bit odd. And that story he told Luke and Han about having to hide me. Strange.

Ani ignores me and works away at the controls. When he sits back and looks over at me, a glance through the viewports shows that we have shifted into hyperspace.

‘Ani,’ I ask, ‘where are we going?’

‘Somewhere safe, Maia,’ he answers. ‘You have been quite ill and I need to look after you.’

‘Just a bit of motion sickness, that’s all,’ I admit.

He reaches over and brushes gloved fingers down my cheek in a familiar gesture. I watch him get up and retrieve a glass of something which he promptly hands to me once he is back at my side.

‘You must be thirsty,’ Ani suggests. ‘This will help.’

I take the glass and look up at him, puzzled. My love is standing there, patiently waiting for me to finish what he has brought me. He won’t have something himself until he sees that I have been looked after. With a sigh, I sip on the sweet fruit drink. It has an odd aftertaste, so I drain it quickly and hand the empty container back to him. Ani sets it aside and watches me closely. Something must be wrong, I think as the room starts to slant on a crazy angle.

‘I don’t feel very good,’ I tell him.

‘It’s alright, my love,’ Ani soothes.

I give him a strange look and shake my head. Why do his features keep shifting? Shutting my eyes, I try and clear the cobwebs from my increasingly fuzzy brain. When I open them, Ani is gone, and the Sith Lord is standing beside me. With a stricken cry, I try to get up and back away from him, only to have my knees give way underneath me. I am now sprawled across the deck.

You are going to hurt yourself and our son if you don’t calm down, I hear Ani in my mind.

Where are you? I can’t see you, only him, I tell him, frantically trying to reconcile what I see with what I feel through the Force.

I am right here, my little goddess, Ani answers.

I shut my eyes and moan quietly. My head is spinning and nothing makes sense to me anymore. I hear fabric rustle next and a step or two before someone kneels down beside me and pulls me up and into their arms. It feels like Ani’s Force presence, but from the armor against my cheek and the regulated breathing I know it isn’t him.

Hush, my love, he comforts me, it’s alright.

I don’t understand, I admit, in anguish and completely confused. Please help me understand.

Gentle hands hold me close, but he says nothing in response to my plea. I sense his tentative touches on the bond we share and then I know what my addled mind has spent days trying to puzzle out.

Ani? You’re him, too? I ask.

Quiet reassurance and confirmation flows back to me.

What happened to me? I try next.

‘You fell twice within a few hours, and struck your head hard both times,’ the Sith Lord’s baritone voice reveals. ‘The first blow put you into a state of shock and the second ....’ He pauses a moment. ‘The best explanation I have for what happened is that you split me into two personalities.’

I stay quiet in his arms, thinking, and trying to sort out the events of the last few days.

‘Don’t try to work things out right now,’ he suggests, ‘you are tired and the sedative I gave you should be hitting you full force in a few more minutes.’

He drugged me? The sneak. I hear a low rumbling chuckle in response to that thought.

‘Maintaining an illusion at the level I needed to is exhausting, so I thought it best to push you into resolving my identity immediately rather than wait,’ Ani tells me. ‘I also had to make sure you wouldn’t over react and hurt yourself in the process.’

He pulls me in closer, then sets a hand over our child.

‘He’s fine, Ani,’ I reassure him, ‘The rebels treated me well and the Wookiee, Chewie, made sure no one touched or hurt me.’

‘Wookiees are known for their loyalty,’ Ani confirms. ‘One he decided to take care of you, he would treat you as one of his own. I let them go because you were unharmed.’

I sense Ani’s smile behind his mask.

‘I need to work some more on your manners. Calling Governor Tadrin the village idiot was rather unwise, don’t you think?’ he teases.

‘Someone once called the Prime Minister at home that,’ I admit.

‘Don’t tell me who, let me guess,’ he suggests.

I snuggle in close and let myself relax. He’ll never figure out who made that particular remark. Gloved fingers pull my hair away from my face and I feel him shift me about in his arms. A few minutes later I have been carried into another room, tucked into a bunk and covered with a warm blanket. His weight is next to me on the bed, and I know he is sitting there, watching over me, when I finally fall asleep.


The Executor, Fondor, Fondor System

DAY 17

I feel a kiss against my forehead and open my eyes a crack. Ani’s up early to deal with today’s slate of meetings and tests on his just completed ship. It will be many hours before he is back again.

Ani, I love you, I tell him through the fog of sleep.

Go back to sleep, my little wife, he scolds. You need to rest.

I grumble to myself, but shut my eyes. He kept me sedated during most of the journey from Garqi and insisted I go straight to bed when we arrived back at Fondor last night.

If I sleep too much more, I grumble at him, I will need a Prince’s kiss to wake me up.

So a Sith Lord isn’t good enough for you anymore? he teases.

Doesn’t matter what you are, I would still love you, I reassure him.

That earns me another kiss. I hear him go over to the table and pour out his breakfast. He will be gone in another few minutes.

Go to sleep, Maia, he insists, this time giving my mind a firm nudge.

I don’t resist and let myself dream a bit.

***

I watch her carefully as she sleeps. There are no signs she has discovered my tampering as yet. Hopefully she will never find what I have done.

How many more mistakes will I make with her? How many more times will I have to heal emotional wounds foolishly and unthinkingly inflicted?

I nearly lost her this time.

I nearly lost her.

My dream warned me, but I stupidly ignored it and shoved her away once again. If only I had kept her close to me. She would never have slipped into the state that she did.

Spinning the glass in my hand, I finally set it down, the drink untouched.

Palpatine was right. She is a fragile child who must be handled with the greatest of care.

I move to her side and sit next to her on the bed. She stirs in response to my closeness, but does not wake.

My little love, my gentle wife. I selfishly tore you away from everything you knew. Every time you reached to me to regain some security and stability in your life, I ruthlessly, callously rejected you. And this last time...

I turn my face away from her. I have not felt this much guilt in years, but I am truly ashamed of what I did to her. Ashamed of what I saw in her memories.

I hurt her in the worst way I possibly could. No wonder she fled from me.

Be grateful, I remind myself, that you were able to hide that from her. She will never remember that sordid incident now.

I brush aside a few stray hairs and kiss her cheek.

Returning to the table, I finish the drink I set aside earlier. She will sleep while I work and when I return, I will keep her close to me.

I have learned a very costly lesson.

I will never push her away from me again.

***

I sense Ani close to me and know he is back from whatever he had to do this morning.

‘Sleeping beauty is finally awake,’ Ani teases.

I snuggle into my pillow and smile. Comparing children’s stories helped occupy some of our time in hyperspace. Almost every fairytale from Earth has some sort of analog here.

‘I have an afternoon’s worth of reports to go through. You may keep me company if you like,’ he offers next.

My ears perk up at that.

‘May I raid your bookshelf and find something interesting to have a look at?’ I ask. He has a few neat books on ‘saber forms I haven’t read yet.

I hear an answering chuckle to that.

‘Yes, now hurry up and have your lunch,’ he tells me next.

I open my eyes. Ani’s settled in his chair, waiting for me to get mobile.

‘You made me lunch?’ I ask.

‘Yes, and filled the bath for you,’ he volunteers.

Oh. I toss aside the covers and hurry into the ‘fresher. The water is warm, but not hot.

‘The water’s cold,’ I decide after sticking my hand in it. ‘You must have been waiting quite a while for me to wake up.’

‘Not really. Hot baths are not good for our son. There will be no more long, hot soaks for you,’ Ani reveals.

‘That’s not fair,’ I protest. Hot soaks are the one luxury I regularly indulge in.

‘Life’s... ‘ he starts, so I finish for him, ‘... not fair. I know that, Ani.’

I step into the water and refrain from complaining some more. He will just get annoyed if I argue with him.

‘It’s too cold. I want to add some hot water,’ I tell him after I sit down. Maybe I can do that if he leaves before my bath is done.

‘No, you won’t,’ he orders, ‘and if you persist in trying to get around my wishes, I will set the water temperature even colder than what’s in there now.’

‘That means cold showers for you!’ I tease him, wickedly. With the prospect of enduring a few months of that, he will probably relent and let me have the odd hot bath.

‘You really are a stubborn little concubine, aren’t you?’ Ani teases.

I look up. He’s watching me from the doorway. Blushing a bit, I wait for him to go back to his lunch. No such luck. Ani just waits patiently for me to finish with my hair, then steps into the ‘fresher and assists me out of the water.

‘Your center of gravity is shifting,’ he notes as I lean a bit on his arm, ‘and I don’t want you to fall and hurt yourself. I intend to help you in and out of your baths from now on.’

I go a little redder at that offer, but don’t object. When he steps back and runs his eyes up and down my body, I grab for a towel which he promptly takes from me. This is getting embarrassing.

‘Let me look at you,’ Ani insists.

Chastised now, I quietly wait for him to finish. Once he is satisfied with what he sees, he wraps a warm towel around me and pulls me in close. One of his hands gently brushes across my stomach.

‘You have become noticeably bigger this last week,’ he observes. ‘If you continue gaining weight at this rate, it will become impossible to hide your condition in another month or so, and I will have to seriously consider keeping you confined here, perhaps even restricted to my quarters.’

Another standard Imperial month. I will be at almost five Earth months then. That means four months of being locked up.

‘That’s ....’

‘... not fair,’ Ani finishes for me. ‘Not fair, my love, but necessary. You will be far too tempting a target for my enemies.’

‘But, ...’ I start a protest.

‘But what?’ Ani asks, sliding an arm around my waist and guiding me back into the bedroom.

I bite my lip.

‘That means four months of staring at the walls in the same rooms. Four months of being bored out of my mind,’ I complain. ‘No fun, no seeing new things, no adventures...’

‘I would think that you had enough of an adventure this last week to satisfy your curiosity for quite some time,’ my love scolds.

He goes to my storage compartments and pulls out a gown for me to wear. Underclothes, my flat leather slippers and a belt quickly join his selection on the bed.

While I watch him, my mind wanders back to what happened. Falling from his castle was quite frightening. Nor did I care much for being shot at, running around with a crazy bunch of rebels, or having to be rescued by the Sith Lord.

‘Alright, Ani, having adventures is not that much fun after all,’ I concede. ‘But maybe if you were along...’

I hear a chuckle from him at that idea.

‘Somehow I doubt that you would find what I do exciting or entertaining,’ he warns. ‘I get shot at far more often than I care to remember and the middle of a battle is no place for you.’

Ani returns to his chair and pours himself another glass. Quickly getting dressed, I note that he picked one of my new gowns with a high waist and full, flowing skirt. I chose it to hide my growing middle and obviously the Sith Lord intends to do the same thing.

I head over to the table, then hesitate. Part of me wants to go to him and sit on his lap, but the last time I did that he lost his temper and locked me away. My internal debate lasts only a few seconds. Heading to my chair, I see Ani’s puzzled look before I drop my eyes to the lunch he has made me. I will behave like an adult from now on. There will be no more childish foolishness from me.

Before I can sit down, he motions me over. I shake my head in response. I intend to be a well-behaved concubine. Ani’s hand falls and swiftly hidden concern from him flashes across our bond. Resolve appears on his face next and he repeats the beckoning gesture. His warnings about defying him echo in my mind, so I reluctantly obey this time and go to his side.

An arm wraps around me and pulls me firmly onto his lap. Two hands cup my face and his lips are set hard against my own. I yield to him immediately, opening my mouth and drawing him closer to me.

Better, he decides. I expect you to obey me the first time.

I shiver against him. That was a warning to behave myself. My reaction prompts him to break off our kiss and look closely at me.

‘You are afraid,’ Ani observes.

I bite my lip and give the smallest of nods. He knows so there is no point in denying it.

‘What are you afraid of Maia?’ he asks next.

I set my head on his shoulder and stay silent while I think of what to do and say. Fractured memories, odd images and impressions of emotions from the night I ran away flash in my mind. Fear. An unspoken terror that pushed me into turning my ‘saber on myself. Grief. Unfinished mourning for my lost brother. Shame and humiliation at experiencing something I no longer have any recollection of. Little of it makes any sense to me now, though at the time it drove me to break my promise to stay with Ani no matter what he did.

Earlier events come back to me. The opera. That surreal scene with the Emperor and the composer. And something else. Something else happened that evening. I push away at my foggy memory. What did Ani and Palpatine say to one another between the time the opera’s author left and I hit my head?

I start trembling and the Sith Lord holds me closer. He says nothing, just waits while I try to sort out what I know. No, I think, horrified, oh, no. I start struggling against his grip, trying to escape from him, but Ani is far too strong for me.

My head falls back against his shoulder, to be held firmly against it by his hand in my hair. I was almost free of him. If only I had stayed with the rebels. If only I had known Ani and the Sith Lord were one and the same. I would never have helped him find me, never willingly returned to him then.

A tear and a sob escape from me. How am I going to survive living with him now that I know the truth? He feels only lust for me, nothing more. His caring attitude has far more to do with ensuring his heir comes to no harm than it does with his feelings for me. An old memory replays. Ani told me that passion and possession were all he was allowed - he warned me from the start that he could never truly love me - and I stupidly let myself believe otherwise. Wanted so desperately to believe the careful lie he constructed, needed to accept that he loved me...

I feel a gentle, comforting touch on our bond. That won’t work, Sith Lord, not anymore, not when I know the truth of how things are. He backs off immediately and his hand brushes against my cheek. And you can forget about using that tactic, too. The hand is withdrawn and I know he is trying to figure out what to do next.

I sense his mental defenses drop. All of them. He has left himself completely exposed, even more vulnerable than when our bond pushes our two minds together. That won’t work either, I decide, knowing he expects me to have a look at what he has revealed to me. He can show me whatever lies he likes. I will never trust anything I feel from him again.

I stay in my own mind, refusing to touch his.

Eventually he puts his shields back in place. Now what will he try next?

‘Nothing,’ Ani admits, ‘since you will not accept the truth from me anyway.’

He sets me back on my feet and silently replaces his helmet. I retreat as far away from him as I can, backing up into a corner of the room, warily watching his every move. When he opens the bedroom door, he pauses, turns his head to look at me, and for an instant, I feel intense pain, regret, hurt and guilt from him. Then his emotions are gone and I sense nothing at all.

‘I will be on the command deck,’ he informs me as he leaves me standing there, wondering what I should do about the situation.

I go to the door and shut it again, then curl up on the bed and let out the tears I had held back. How I wish Rick was here to talk to. Or Bill, or my old flatmate, Liz. But there is no one for me to turn to. No one at all. And no escape.

My eyes close tight. Maybe this is all just a horrid nightmare and if I concentrate hard enough I will wake up and find myself back in my own bed, in my own apartment at the observatory.

‘That won’t work,’ a familiar voice tells me.

Go away, I think at it, you are just another one of his tricks.

An amused chuckle I had never thought I would hear again echoes around the room.

I open my eyes. And stare.

‘You look like you just saw a ghost,’ Michael teases.

I launch myself at him, only to step right through his glowing blue form. A second try at hugging him is just as unsuccessful. Rats. I settle myself back on the bed and look at him some more. Where did he get those robes? Michael was no Jedi despite Ani’s story to the contrary. My brother raises an eyebrow at my scrutiny and joins me on the edge of the bed.

‘Michael, why didn’t you come to me earlier?’ I ask him.

‘Couldn’t,’ he admits. ‘I had to figure out how to do this first and when that husband of yours was near, I was afraid to try contacting you. Somehow I don’t think he would be too happy if he knew I was lurking about.’

‘You can lurk around me all you like,’ I happily offer.

A smile appears on his face. Michael’s back, I think, I have my brother once again. I have someone I can talk to at last. At that thought, his expression becomes more serious.

‘He loves you, you know,’ Michael tells me.

I let out a snort. Wherever my brother has been, he is obviously out of touch.

‘If he loves me,’ I snap back, ‘he has one hell of a warped way of showing it.’

‘It’s true,’ he insists, ‘he loves you, and the guilt and pain he feels for what he has done is ripping him apart inside.’

That evaluation of the situation matches the flash of emotions I caught from Ani earlier. Maybe I have been far too hasty in my assumptions.

‘I don’t have much time. Anakin will be back soon since he has finally sensed my presence here,’ my brother admits, ‘so listen to me, Maia.’

I look into my brother’s eyes and nod.

‘You will have to decide what you feel for him,’ he informs me in that tone he always used to lecture me when I was a child. ‘Don’t let your anger and hurt cloud your heart. He needs you more than you know.’

I bite my lip and turn my face away from him. The Sith Lord is the only person I have ever truly loved, but I am tired of being lied to and hurt.

‘I love him, Michael, but I have been hurt one too many times,’ I admit.

‘Then you will have to forgive him and let it go,’ he advises me.

Forgive and let it go, I think to myself.

‘How many more times will I have to do that?’

‘Lots,’ my brother teases. ‘It goes with loving someone.’

I reach my hand to him and he tries to catch it in his own. For some reason he feels a bit more solid now.

‘Years ago he made a choice. The wrong choice. And it cost him everyone and everything he loved,’ Michael reveals. ‘He will be offered that choice again and his love for you will probably tip the balance. Don’t push him away when he needs you the most.’

Michael glances towards the door and stands up, pulling me to my feet as he does. Ani is getting near and will be here shortly. Knowing it might be the last time I see him, I try to give my brother another hug. This time he feels solid against me.

‘I love you, brother dear,’ I tell him, ‘and I want to say goodbye in case I don’t have another chance to.’

He holds me tight for a moment, then kisses my forehead. I feel him become insubstantial again, and when I open my eyes, he is gone. My arms drop as I stare at the spot he was just standing in. Was my brother real or not? Was he only a product of my agitated mind?

I hear the door open and Ani’s regulated breathing so I shift my attention over to him. He looks about the room and I can sense his annoyance and puzzlement.

‘Where is he?’ the Sith Lord finally asks. ‘Where has your brother taken himself off to this time?’

I stare at him. Michael was real then. He was really here.

‘I don’t know where he’s gone,’ I admit. ‘He could only stay a few minutes.’

Ani stalks closer to me, then circles around me before stopping in front of me once again.

‘He had better stay away if he knows what is good for him,’ he threatens, talking more to the air than to me. ‘I don’t want that Jedi brother of yours putting any foolish ideas into your head.’

‘Michael wanted to let me say goodbye,’ I tell him.

‘That’s not all, I suspect,’ Ani prods.

I hesitate. Bad move.

‘Out with it, Maia,’ he coldly orders.

‘He scolded me for being stupid,’ I admit, dropping my eyes to the floor. ‘Michael always did that when I deserved it.’

‘Nothing else?’ he prompts again.

I shake my head ‘no.’

‘Good. As long as he behaves, I won’t remove his presence since having him around seems to comfort you,’ the Sith Lord concedes.

‘What?’ I wonder.

Ani lifts my chin with one hand and brushes my cheek with his other one.

‘He has stood watch over you several times when you have been upset, obviously thinking I didn’t know he was there,’ Ani reveals. ‘I assume this is the first time he has let you know he is near?’

‘Yes,’ I reply.

His hands drop away from my face and he turns about, heading back to work, I guess.

‘I will be in my office,’ he tells me.

I consider what to do and Michael’s advice. The longer I wait, the harder this will be.

‘Stay,’ I quietly ask, ‘please don’t go.’

The Sith Lord stops in his tracks. I take a few short steps to where he is standing and slide my arms around his waist from behind. Resting my cheek between his shoulder blades, I let my forgiveness and love for him emanate out and resonate across our bond.

There is no response for quite a long time. He’s trying to sort out what he feels and what to say to me, so I stay where I am and wait.

‘I lied repeatedly to you, hurt you in the worst way I could, forced you to do something you find repulsive, and yet you still are willing to forgive me all this?’ Ani finally asks, sounding a bit disbelieving.

I nod my head against his back.

Silence from him. The Sith Lord doesn’t know what to say. Now there’s a first. I hold him tighter against me and let him work through things. There is no reason to rush this and he needs to forgive himself as much as I needed to forgive him.

‘Maia?’ he quietly ventures at last.

‘Yes, dear?’ I tease, hoping to ease some of the tension between us.

‘I have been quite a fool, haven’t I?’ he admits.

‘No more than I have,’ I reassure him. ‘You didn’t abandon common sense, let yourself completely lose control, and end up falling off a building as a result.’

‘No, but I did drive you into that,’ he tells me, turning in my arms to face me now, ‘and that is something I will forever regret.’

His arms are about me, holding me close, so I let myself relax and lean against his solid frame. After a few minutes, I sense his defenses drop once again. Puzzled, I simply stay quiet, not at all sure what I should do.

I need to show you something, Ani offers.

I take the proffered mental ‘hand’ and let him pull me in. He drags me deep into his mind, well past the surface thoughts and all of his memories.

Look, he orders next. Feel. Tell me what you see.

I survey my surroundings, the peculiar mental landscape. It’s black here, cold. The dark side of the Force is everywhere I look.

All I see is the dark side, Ani, I tell him.

Look closer, he suggests, shoving me right into the blackest part of his mind.

Cold permeates my senses. Nauseating darkness hits me. How can he stand having this in his mind, in his soul?

I do as he told me to and look about. What is that? Curious, now, I move closer in. Not everything in here is completely subsumed by the dark side - there are patches of grey and light, and one brilliant bright spot he has carefully set strong barriers around.

Ani? Is that our bond? I ask.

Our bond, and more, he admits. I had to anchor part of your presence here. The blocks are necessary to keep any of my darkness from reaching and harming you.

More than our bond? What does he mean by that? I let my senses reach through our bond into this place and pull myself completely out of his mind once I understand what I find.

He keeps his love for me hidden there, hidden away with my permanent presence in his mind, and shielded from the Emperor’s prying by the darkness within the Sith Lord’s own soul. I can only feel his love for me when he deliberately lets it out.

‘Do you understand, now?’ Ani quietly asks.

I nod an affirmative and snuggle in closer. He wanted me to see this earlier, but I was too distressed and upset to act reasonably about it.

‘I was reckless that night at the opera,’ he discloses. ‘I knew I should have concealed my feelings for you, but I didn’t want to. When my master looked at you, my love, he knew instantly what you felt and the depth of it. There was no way you could hide that from him. Then he turned his attention on me.’

I shiver a bit at that. Palpatine had tried to get at my mind and failed, but what had he done to the Sith Lord?

‘He tried to force his way in, so I let him see just enough to get a glimpse of what I felt, Maia,’ Ani admits. ‘I could not resist him too much or he would have become suspicious and done something about it. Fortunately I was prepared for this. When we were at Carida, and you showed me how you felt, I knew that someday this might happen. So I planned out what I would do if it did.’

His hand brushes down my cheek.

‘I hid my real emotions mere seconds before showing my master what I wanted him to see,’ he continues his tale. ‘I hoped I could convince him that what I felt was a clever act designed to control you. It worked all too well as you know.’

I close my eyes and remember my own horrified reaction to Ani’s ruse. Yes, his trick had me thoroughly convinced.

‘It convinced the Emperor as well. He will assume anything he feels from me when you are present is just part of my plans to keep you compliant and manageable,’ the Sith Lord reveals, adding with a touch of amusement, ‘but don’t expect me to start professing my love for you in public.’

I let out a bit of a giggle. That would be funny to see.

‘Feeling better, are we?’ he teases.

I feel his head swivel above mine to look over at the table.

‘You still haven’t eaten,’ he scolds, ‘so I will stay while you do so to make sure you don’t leave anything on the plate.’

‘Fussbudget,’ I tease.

‘Am I really?’ he asks. ‘You need someone to look after you, my Favorite, and if you won’t look after yourself, then maybe I should.’

My mouth drops open. That’s almost exactly what I had said to him weeks ago. Ani guides me over to the table next and watches every bite I take. When I try to avoid eating the vegetables I don’t care much for, he crosses his arms over his chest and stares at me, not saying a word. I reluctantly polish them off after that, knowing that if I don’t, I will get a scolding for it.

I finally set my fork aside and push the empty plate to the center of the table. Now what? A glance at the Sith Lord and I decide to take a chance. Getting to my feet, I step in close and wrap myself around him. I want to be held for a while. He responds by drawing me in closer. Good. I can stay then.

After a few minutes, an unexpected pain in my side prompts a sharp intake of breath from me. That hurt, you busy little one, I think at my son.

‘Maia?’ Ani asks, concerned.

‘Here,’ I tell him, grabbing his hand and setting it on my middle.

Another kick lands on the same spot. The Sith Lord stares down at his hand, surprised, no doubt by the strength of what he just felt.

‘He’s been busy moving about the last couple days,’ I admit, ‘and the kicks are getting strong enough to hurt if he aims them at the right spot.’

‘Let me try something, then,’ Ani suggests.

I feel Ani reach out to our son, brush gently around him, soothing him with the Force. For a few seconds it works, then another good hard foot hits me from inside.

‘It doesn’t work when you do it,’ I admit with a laugh. ‘All you have done is wake him up more. He ran races in there that night on Imperial Center when you were experimenting with the Force.’

A wave of disappointment comes across our bond, so I reassure him, ‘I am sure you will have lots of opportunities to try keeping him quiet after he is born.’

I spend a minute soothing our son into a restful state and settle myself into Ani’s arms again. It’s taken most of the last week to figure out how to keep my son quiet. Maybe I can teach my love what will work so he can have another try at it.

‘Try this instead, Ani,’ I suggest, carefully soothing our son as I do so.

Ani returns his hand to my stomach and I feel him touch our son with the Force again. Sure enough, it produces another bout of restless squirming. He tries something else, adjusting what he does and the movements slow down a bit before finally stopping.

‘I think I understand what works now,’ my love admits, returning his hand to behind my back and pulling me in close once again.

I set my cheek against his chest. It’s warm in his arms and I feel safe here. Time to put my hurts solidly behind me. Forgive and forget. I let out a contented sigh as Ani lifts me up and carries me to the bed.

‘Our son is not the only one who needs soothing,’ the Sith Lord observes.

What does he have in mind? Ani sets me down and quickly joins me. He wraps his arms around me, pulls his cloak over both of us, and shuts off the lights with a wave of his hand. I snuggle in close. Reena won’t allow any fun yet, but being held like this is almost as good.

I gradually drift off and wake a while later, still secure in Ani’s arms. He stayed with me, but why did he remain here? Shouldn’t he be off somewhere working on something?

I feel his hand brush down my face, along my chest, finally coming to rest on my stomach. His regulated breaths are close by my ear as he shifts a little bit before sitting up beside me. The lights are still out so I use touch to locate where he has gone to. My fingers bump against his leg, trace a path up his thigh, across his belt to the control panel on his chest. I let my hand fall back down, intending to move so I can snuggle up to him again, but when I do it ends up resting on his codpiece.

Oops, I think as I pull my hand back. An amused chuckle escapes from Ani. My shyness is always entertaining to him. He takes my hand and helps me sit up next to him. I am starting to find it awkward to move about at times so his aid is welcome here. The Sith Lord holds me close to his chest, strokes my hair and sends me calming thoughts which I return in kind. Right now my love needs that from me as much as I want to feel the same from him.

‘I’ll be back in a few minutes,’ he tells me, so I release my hold on his waist and wait.

He brings the lights up a touch and eventually returns with a stack of reports and a datapad. Ani resumes his spot beside me so I set my head on his thigh, using it as a pillow, and let myself relax. The rustle of flimsies being sifted through breaks the silence as he reads through the results of this morning’s drills and tests. Every so often I feel his hand touch my hair or face, almost as if he needs to reassure himself I am still there. I send him a few quiet thoughts and let myself daydream about our son.

I hear Ani drop the reports out of the way on the floor. He must be finished with them at last. The odd key tap on the datapad is the only sound other than his breathing that I hear now.

‘I am rearranging schedules,’ Ani reveals. ‘I want the ship ready to go in three or four days. Piett would like the final tests to be finished a day earlier, but he can’t push the crew at their limit for too much longer. Exhausted men make mistakes and they need a short break before the shake down cruise. I will let them think the respite is a reward from me for working as hard as they have.’

I smile a bit at that.

‘You sound like Sam that time he was in charge during the international war games and I was allowed into the command center to watch,’ I tell him. ‘My uncle had a knack for knowing just how much he could push his troops before it would become a problem.’

Ani lets out a low chuckle.

‘All good commanders know exactly what they can ask their men to do,’ he responds, with a touch of amusement. ‘The trick is not to push too hard or for too long. With the Devastator, I know what to expect, but the crew on this ship is new and even with the time they have spent in drills, it will take a while for them to fully integrate and work at peak efficiency as a team when under fire. I will be lenient until I know what they are capable of. Then I will start to demand more of them.’

‘That brings back memories of family gatherings when Sam and my cousins would spend hours talking management and strategy,’ I reveal.

I hear Ani set the datapad aside at last.

‘Just how deeply involved in your homeworld’s military is your family?’ he asks me.

‘Depends,’ I admit, ‘on my mother’s side you tend to either go into the military or medicine, on my father’s, engineering or science instead of medicine.’

‘And?’

He’s genuinely curious about this.

‘How much of a history lesson do you want?’ I tease him.

‘Let me get the modified schedules to Piett, first,’ Ani suggests.

He retrieves the datapad and disappears. I shift myself about on the bed while I wait for him to come back. When the Sith Lord is still gone after ten minutes or so, I steal his pillow and hug it to my chest. Something must have come up. Eventually, I give up on staying awake and fall asleep again.

***

She’s asleep again. How unfortunate Piett and that blasted new Admiral had to be so thorough in discussing what I wanted them to do. I debate waking her, then decide to let her be. My little wife needs the rest after the stresses of this afternoon.

Perhaps I should have kept her sedated a while longer. It would have been much easier to deal with her reaction to what she remembered then, but that is done with now. Forgive and forget as she so concisely put it.

I step to her side and look down at her. There is only peaceful relaxation in her face and body - no signs of her earlier distress. Her long hair has fanned out on the pillow and will need to be worked through when she wakes. Perhaps I will offer to do that simple task for her.

My eyes roam about her body. The sweet curves of her pregnancy are clearly visible now and she glows with health and vitality. So much life and beauty, and it is all mine and mine alone. After her brother’s words to her today, she will never leave me.

I resist the strong urge to reach out and touch her, caress her cheek. My love needs to sleep so I stand guard at her side, silently watching the rise and fall of her chest as she breathes.

Old memories return of my first love, my first wife. I once did the same with her - watched for hours while she quietly slept, her own body heavily pregnant with our child. I shut my eyes and ruthlessly suppress that image. Padmé is gone. Forever out of my reach. All that remains of her is our son.

Letting my senses sweep over my second wife, I see our son’s Force presence shining brilliantly within her, a beacon of light and temptation. Too much temptation. It is fortunate she shielded him when she did. My master would never have so willingly let me keep him if he had any inkling just how strong my son will be.

I slip back into the kitchen, retrieve what I need for later, then return to the bedroom and shut the door. The next set of drills, tests and inspections will concentrate on the third shift and I will rest for a few hours before I spend the evening and night doing that. Despite rumors among the crew to the contrary I do need to sleep once in a while.

I strip off my armor, wrap a robe around myself and return to Maia’s side. She has stolen my pillow. Again. I let myself smile at that. My silly little mate. I know my scent soothes you. But this is an easily remedied dilemma. An extra pillow and blanket from one of the storage compartments will suffice. A few minutes of careful maneuvering and she is safely asleep in my arms.

Sleep, my love, I tell her when she stirs a bit. Sleep safely in my arms for a while.

***


DAY 20

I wake up in Ani’s arms this morning for the first time in a couple of days. He’s been busy dealing with inspections at odd times of the day and night, but that is done with now. The ship is finished, the crew ready to go, and within hours we will be off on its first voyage.

I shift about a bit and stretch my legs out. Sometimes it is hard to get comfortable enough to sleep soundly and the sharp cramps in my calves which woke me are refusing to go away.

‘Restless today, aren’t you?’ Ani comments in a sleepy voice as he wakes up.

‘Muscle spasms,’ I admit, making another attempt to get them to stop.

‘Calcium deficiency,’ he decides. ‘Our son is busy pulling that from your system. There are supplements in the kitchen for you to take.’

‘How did you figure that out?’

‘It’s a common problem in pregnancy, and you really should finish ...’ he starts.

‘.... reading that pregnancy manual I down loaded onto your datapad,’ I complete for him with a smile.

I feel a kiss on the back of my neck. He won’t stay in bed with me for much longer today. There are too many last minute tasks to be done. Time to make use of the few minutes he will allow me, so I turn over and kiss him.

‘I love you, Anakin,’ I whisper in his ear.

‘And I love you, too,’ he tells me, kissing my forehead before adding, ‘my beautiful,’ a kiss to my nose now, ‘stubborn,’ one lands on my ear, ‘little,’ one to the other ear, ‘wife,’ the last one settles on my lips as he pins me to the bed.

I lock my arms around his back. Today, I don’t want him to leave me too quickly. When he tries to pull back from our kiss, I hold him tightly to me, but I know he is strong enough get away if he wants to.

‘Stubborn today?’ the Sith Lord teases.

I give a small nod.

‘I think I can afford to indulge you for a few minutes,’ he decides before giving me another kiss.

After the third one, I slide my arms down his back to his waist and pull him in closer.

‘I want some fun,’ I tell him.

Reena has forbidden that for a few more days, but maybe I can persuade him to ignore her orders. Ani shifts a bit in response to my touch, props himself up on an elbow and looks down at me.

‘Reena is concerned that you will be a bleeder,’ he reminds me, ‘and I would prefer her to be cautious about this rather than risk you or our son.’

He drops another quick kiss on my lips at that then is off to have his shower.

I refrain from giving him my opinion of the doctor’s prohibition. This is one area I have spent some time researching. I know I won’t bleed like I did before. Not without some sort of trauma occurring and fooling around with Ani doesn’t qualify. No, Reena is being belligerent about this for some other reason and I have strong suspicions I know exactly what it is. I narrow my eyes a little at that thought and fume a bit. No one messes with my private life. If she thinks she can drag this out much longer, she has another thing coming.

Tossing the blankets aside, I get up and head into the ‘fresher. The shower has stopped running and Ani should be finished with his daily medical tasks by now. I want to spend what time with him I can today. He looks up from the compartment he is digging in when I step through the door. That’s odd, I think, he still hasn’t looked after himself.

‘Can I help?’ I offer.

He hesitates. Normally I leave him alone to deal with what his condition requires him to do, and he was quite embarrassed when I had to do some of those procedures for him after the Emperor punished him that time. Maybe he would rather I go, so I start to do so.

‘I can’t find the sterile pads and new bottle of disinfectant I know you put in here,’ he admits.

‘You are looking in the wrong spot, love,’ I tell him, reaching over to open the compartment next to the one he was busy with. ‘I store all of your stuff in this one, not the other.’

Ani sheepishly closes the bin he had been looking in and pulls out the various things that he needs. I give him a closer perusal. The late nights, odd hours he has been keeping, and lack of sleep have left him exhausted, with telltale dark smudges under his eyes, and I didn’t notice that earlier. He’s driving himself far harder than is sensible just to get the ship underway when he wants. No wonder he is acting a bit dazed.

‘Come here,’ I order, taking what he just selected from his hands, grabbing one of them and dragging him, unresisting, back into the bedroom. ‘Sit down,’ I add, pushing him backwards onto the edge of the bed.

A quick trip back into the ‘fresher and I have what I need set out on the table.

‘Put yourself into a healing trance for half an hour or so,’ I demand next.

‘What?’ he finally says.

‘You are in no shape to go anywhere, Anakin, and if you insist on leaving without doing something about it, you will probably make a fool of yourself by collapsing somewhere,’ I rather ruthlessly inform him, ‘and it will most likely happen up on the command deck right when you are about to tell that annoying Admiral where to go and how to get there.’

He stares at me. Did he get my joke or not? Must have missed it. My poor love really is exhausted.

‘Even commanders need someone to keep them in line sometimes,’ I tease, ‘and you did tell me that was my job.’

Now his mouth drops open. Surprised are you? I suppress a snicker. The tactics he uses with me work quite nicely on him. Well, at least when he is too tired to put up any fight.

He shuts his mouth and closes his eyes.

‘Not going to protest any longer?’ I ask.

No, he concedes as he slips into a meditative, healing trance.

I wait a few minutes for his mind to quiet and settle, then start to do the various medical tasks that I can for him. The most personal ones, he can see to once he is aware again. Keeping my touch light, I slip his robe down from his shoulders. Chest first, I decide. I take a gauze pad soaked with disinfectant and gently wipe the skin around the cable emerging from it. Other simple tasks follow until I have only one thing left to do - areas that tend to get chafed.

Pouring the lotion onto my hands, I massage it into his skin anywhere his armor has been rubbing. Ani’s worn it almost constantly the last four days and it shows. His flesh is almost raw in a few places. I study the pattern of redness. He’s been getting dressed in the dark so he doesn’t disturb my sleep and as a result, he’s ended up with wrinkles in his bodysuit. Those are the spots that look the worst. Today I will make sure that it goes on properly and lies smoothly against his body.

I look into my love’s face. He’s still far away, letting himself relax and rest as I ordered him to. A healing trance isn’t the same as sleep, but it will help keep him on his feet and coherent. I quietly dispose of the gauze pads and return the various bottles to the ‘fresher, then reconsider and fetch something from the first compartment Ani had been busy with.

Settling myself behind him on the bed, I dump some of what is in the bottle on my hands. The Sith Lord should enjoy this. I start up at his shoulders, using my thumbs and fingers to knead the tension out of the tight muscles, then work my way down his back. His body relaxes under my hands. Good.

‘You can do that whenever you like,’ Ani tells me, sounding a bit sleepy and lazy, ‘but I can’t say that the smell of that stuff is conducive to inspiring respect and fear in the crew.’

I slide my hands around his waist and rest my cheek against his back. The scent of millaflowers is quite strong on his skin.

‘It’s the stuff I use on my itchy stomach,’ I admit, ‘It’s good for your skin and I like the smell. No one will be able to get a whiff of it once you have your armor on, so don’t worry about it.’

‘You have forgotten that I will have to put up with it until I can wash it off tonight,’ he wryly reminds me.

From the sound of his voice, he’s in much better shape than he was earlier.

‘Cranky Sith Lord,’ I tease him.

‘My stubborn little Favorite,’ he answers back.

He pulls out of my arms as he gets up and returns to the ‘fresher to finish looking after himself. I take the five minutes he is in there to check on our son who is being nice and quiet at the moment. Good. I don’t like being kicked at all.

I glance at Ani when he comes back to me. He definitely looks better than he did half an hour ago.

‘Bath time for you,’ he suggests, holding out a hand.

‘After you put on your bodysuit,’ I insist, accepting the hand he has offered.

There is no argument from him on that front, so I smooth out the fabric once he is dressed and pull any wrinkles out of it. Then I step back and give him the once over. He looks good in that. All those nice muscles and cute rear end are emphasized by the tight fitting material. A questioning eyebrow goes up on his face. My handsome and gorgeous Sith Lord, I think to myself. Too bad you will have to run off so fast this morning.

Ani hides a smile. He knows exactly what I am thinking, but I won’t delay and annoy him if I can help it.

‘Bath, now,’ he insists.

I behave myself despite the temptation to be a brat.

Minutes later he is completely armored up and helping me out of the water. Then he is gone, off to the command deck to supervise any last minute preparations.

After getting dressed, I settle in my chair to eat breakfast and let my mind wander a bit. Ani’s been very doting the last few days, to the point where it is beginning to drive me nuts. Being fussed over is not something I am used to at all, and if he comes out with some other reason for me to stay quiet and in bed, or suggests another remedy for whatever new annoyance my pregnancy throws at me, I think I will start to scream.

‘He’s just trying to be protective and helpful in the only way he knows how,’ Michael suggests.

I look across at the other chair where he is sitting. My brother has chosen to make an appearance.

‘Don’t even think of starting in on me,’ I growl at him. ‘One fussbudget and nag in the family is more than enough.’

‘Cranky today?’ he teases.

I wad up and throw my napkin at him. It passes right through his ghostly form, bounces off the back of the chair and lands on the floor. Rats. Michael just sits there and grins at me.

‘You are enjoying this, aren’t you?’ I ask him, starting back in on my food.

‘Maybe,’ he teases. ‘It always was easy to get a reaction out of you.’

‘You had better behave yourself,’ I warn him. ‘Brother or not, Ani won’t put up with an interfering Jedi ghost for very long.’

My brother just snickers at that threat.

‘I have no intentions of annoying that stiff-necked husband of yours,’ Michael admits. ‘He has no sense of humor and you are much more fun to tease.’

I give Michael a dirty look at the prospect of him popping in whenever he wants to just to tease me. He simply smiles back at me and keeps laughing, and I can’t maintain a straight face any longer. My fun loving older brother hasn’t changed at all, I think as I start giggling along with him.

‘He hates practical jokes, too,’ I reveal with a sigh.

‘You should tell him about our best prank,’ Michael suggests.

‘No way,’ I decide. ‘He would class me as a galactic menace and never let me out of this room after hearing that. Besides, I already pulled something like that on him back home.’

‘Tell him anyway,’ he insists. ‘He might surprise you.’

I let out a snort at that and turn my attention back to my meal. When I look up again, Michael has vanished. That was a sneaky trick. Now I can’t ask him why he is hanging about dressed as a Jedi.

Hours later I am lounging on the couch in Ani’s office with his second volume on ‘saber forms. This one is on the fencing techniques I am already thoroughly familiar with so I have been making my way through it quite quickly. My reading is interrupted by the comm. Who could that be? Everyone should be busy running about getting things up to the Sith Lord’s exacting standards. I wave my hand at the comm panel and answer whoever it is.

‘Thirsk here,’ the commando promptly replies.

‘Is something wrong?’ I ask, concerned.

‘I have orders to take you to his Lordship,’ Thirsk tells me. He pauses a second, then adds for emphasis, ‘Immediately.’

I snap the book shut and get to my feet. This must be serious. Ani has never sent for me like this before. Good thing I am already appropriately dressed, I think as I smooth the material of my gown and hurry to the door where the Commander is waiting.

Thirsk steps in and closes the door after himself once I open it.

‘Commander?’ I ask, puzzled.

‘Here,’ he says holding one of those veils I hate out to me.

I give the fabric a disgusted look and refuse to take it.

‘You have got to be joking,’ I tell him.

‘No joke, my lady. All of the recording systems are now operational. Unless Lord Vader says otherwise, you will have to cover up outside your quarters from now on,’ Thirsk explains.

‘But surely his Lordship wouldn’t...’ I start to protest.

‘Orders directly from him. If you refuse to wear it, he won’t allow you out of your quarters,’ the Commander adds for good measure.

I stare at him, mouth open as Ani comes into the room.

‘That’s not fair,’ I fume, ‘really not fair. Most of the higher ranked officers know what I look like already so why bother hiding my face from them?’

It’s an ancient Sith tradition, Ani answers.

‘Commander,’ the Sith Lord acknowledges, taking the veil from Thirsk before waving him out into the corridor.

‘I should have known you would be stubborn about this,’ he states, pinning the veil in my hair.

‘But ...’ I start to argue.

‘Don’t argue with me, Maia. You won’t win, and I will lock you up if you persist in it,’ he warns as I am steered along the hall down to the nearest turbolift.

‘Explain to me why then,’ I insist.

‘I won’t put up with any more nonsense from you on this topic,’ Ani growls. ‘You should have just done what Thirsk told you to do so I wouldn’t have to waste my time fetching you myself.’

I instantly shut up and walk docilely at his side. If I keep pushing the issue, he will only get mad at me. My silence prompts a few glances over at me. Eventually, he lets out a sigh.

Now that you are visibly pregnant, and until my master formally, publicly acknowledges you as my consort and our son as my heir, tradition requires both of you to be hidden from the view of anyone but me. If I were to completely adhere to the old practices, you would be locked away in Bast Castle, not here, the Sith Lord finally explains.

That’s barbaric, I reply.

Is it? Ani asks. Have you forgotten everything I told you of Sith history?

Stung by his rebuke, I say nothing in response to that. I remember every word of what he told me.

But you obviously haven’t thought much about it, he scolds.

I mull that over for a while, but don’t give him any answer.

Sometimes, I wonder how you ever managed to survive on your own without someone to look out for you, he starts to pick at me again. I think your naiveté would try even the patience of...

At that I bite my lip and use control to hold back the tears. Why is he being cruel about this? Ani stops abruptly, opens a door and pulls me into the small meeting room. He looks up into a corner, waves his hand and I hear something shatter.

‘Come here,’ he orders, opening his arms and drawing me in close when I step into them.

I set my cheek against his chest and let him soothe my distress with his touch.

‘I sometimes forget that you were not raised here, that you do not understand how things really are for us,’ he admits, ‘So I will explain it to you as best I can in the few minutes I have to spare.’

He pauses at that, thinking of what he needs to say.

‘Do you remember what I told you of how Naga Sadow came to power?’ Ani asks.

I nod my head against his chest in answer.

‘Good. Think about that and what some of his successors and predecessors did for a moment,’ he instructs, ‘then tell me your opinion of it.’

‘They were ruthless,’ I decide, ‘and would do anything to stay in power and get what they wanted. Like some of my homeworld’s Roman Emperors two thousand years ago.’

‘And if we were living back then, what do you think they might do to you if I were attempting to be the ruling Dark Lord?’ he prompts.

I shiver in his arms. Oh. That’s why he is so intent on keeping me safely hidden away.

‘But the Emperor has made no move to harm me, just threatened to take me away from you the odd time.’

‘No, our bond has ensured that he will never hurt you, not as long as he still needs me. That’s why he won’t take our son either. If you are emotionally unstable it will directly affect me as well,’ the Sith Lord reveals. ‘But you have still missed something.’

Missed what? I think a bit. He’s not concerned about the Emperor, so who then? An idea pops into my mind.

‘Are there other Sith Lords out there I don’t know about?’

‘No,’ he comments, amused, ‘try again.’

Fine. I’ll work at this a bit.

‘Okay, no other rival Sith Lords to worry about, but other competitors, perhaps?’

Ani brushes a hand against my cheek in reaction to my query, so I must be right about that. Mia ...

‘Someone has already made an attempt to get at you through me,’ I tell him my thoughts. ‘But who?’

‘I still don’t know the answer to that, but there are quite a few who would be more than pleased to engineer my demise or disgrace, and all too happy to secure my position for themselves,’ Ani admits. ‘And they would not pause to think twice about using you to do so.’

I consider that tidbit of information. Then I understand exactly what he is doing and why.

‘You are using Sith traditions to protect me, and as an excuse to keep anyone from getting too close,’ I tell him.

‘You understand, then?’ he asks. ‘And will comply?’

I don’t like the situation at all, but see no way to avoid what he regards as necessary precautions.

‘Completely,’ I answer, conceding to his wishes.

‘Good. I hope there will be no more arguing about anything else I tell you to do,’ he hints around.

‘Don’t push your luck, Sith Lord,’ I tease him.

‘Come along then. I thought you might like to watch the launch of my new flagship from the command deck,’ Ani offers, releasing me from his embrace.

‘So that’s where we are going. Cool,’ I decide.

‘Someday you will have to explain all of your odd expressions to me,’ he teases.

I act on an impulse and wrap my arms around him. Ani doesn’t push my away, just holds me close a moment, and lets out the low rumbling purr I associate with him being quite pleased and content. When he pulls my arms from around his waist and leads me up to the command deck, I don’t complain.

I look about the bridge. It’s not that different from the Devastator’s. Two crew pits are surrounded and separated by a walkway, and triangle shaped transparisteel windows line three of the four walls. The ones directly ahead give a good view of the shipyards, and I suspect that in the future they will prove to be a favorite vantage point for the Sith Lord.

Ani walks me to the forward window and leaves me standing there by myself while he speaks with the Admiral. The crew pointedly ignore me. Piett glances briefly at me, then averts his eyes. Obviously being veiled means my status has changed somewhat. I bite my lip, glad that my expressions are hidden.

My senses tell me that Ani has looked over at me, but he quickly returns his attention to the officers he is speaking with. I decide the best thing to do is watch what is going on outside. Only essential equipment and a few positioning tugs still remain near the ship. Everything else has been moved well out of the way.

As I watch, I hear the orders to the shipyard to pull back all of what has been left in place and see the vessels and barges promptly comply. The Executor’s sublight engines are at full power now and the ship is free to move on its own. A listen to the conversation behind me reveals that some of the officers have already broken open a bottle to celebrate. The Sith Lord doesn’t think much of that, I note with a smile as he orders the ship to the nearest Rebel outpost. He’s decided to make an example of some place called Laakteen Depot.

An example and practice for the crew. I need to see how they will react under pressure, Ani admits as he moves to stand close behind me. And if there are going to be any technical problems, I would rather they happen before I go to Yavin.

He stays there as the ship moves away from where it was built and farther out in the system. Everything seems to be working fine so far. I feel an arm slide around my waist and Ani brace me against his side. Now what?

‘Take the ship into hyperspace, Admiral,’ he orders.

I shut my eyes as the familiar kaleidoscope appears in front of me. At least all the engines seem to be working properly.

‘Estimated travel time?’ the Sith Lord asks.

‘Ten hours, my Lord,’ a male voice from down in the crew pit promptly replies.

Ani doesn’t answer, just steers me off of the bridge and back towards his quarters.

‘I need to meditate for a while,’ he tells me once we are there.

I watch him retreat into his pod and close it over himself. Slipping back into our bedroom, I pull off the veil, dropping it onto the table. A feeling of isolation and wave of loneliness hits me. Having the crew and Piett act the way they did hurts. I give the fine mothsilk I blame for that a nasty look. It doesn’t matter what Ani wants, I decide. Despite my promise to him to comply, I will never willingly wear that blasted thing.

Time for a nap then. When the ship emerges from hyperspace, I will have to do as I am told and behave while the battle rages. It will be easier to deal with any problems if I am rested and alert. I toss my dress on a chair, dig out a nightgown and crawl under the covers. My son chooses to start his usual mad exercises, so I settle him down before I fall asleep.

***

It’s rather strange that I so often find myself simply watching her sleep. Perhaps it is the innocence of that state I find so appealing.

And she is so very innocent.

She has been sheltered all her life. By family, by her friends, by her own self imposed isolation. The idea that someone might harm her to get at me is a completely foreign concept to my little wife.

I know she hates the restrictions I have imposed on her. And I will have to confine her even more in the coming months. It is for her own safety that I will do this. I will insist and she will stubbornly resist until I make her yield using common sense and a bit of Force enhanced persuasion. It is becoming an oft repeated dance between us.

I sense Reena’s presence drawing near. Time to wake my love. The doctor will be here soon and I want to ensure that there will be no more interference from her.

***

‘Maia,’ I hear Ani call, ‘wake up, love.’

I open an eye a crack. He just had to interrupt that neat dream I was having.

‘Stubborn concubine,’ he teases when I promptly shut my eye again and ignore him.

The Sith Lord sits beside me next and I feel gentle caresses on my face. He’s not going to let me fall asleep again. Rats. Well, if he insists, he will have to pay a price for it. I shove myself upright and wrap my arms around him. Ani’s nice and warm so he must have left his pod only a few minutes ago.

‘Happy are you?’ he teases.

I nod and snuggle in closer. He responds by running a hand through my hair.

‘That’s good. I want you to be content,’ he admits.

At that I let out a sigh. He’s projecting his love for me quite strongly across our bond, but I don’t have any desire to try ripping his clothes and armor off. Just knowing he loves me and being held is good enough for me at the moment.

A hand brushes against my cheek again and I hear footsteps which abruptly stop.

‘You’re early, doctor,’ Ani calmly notes, not sounding the least bit surprised or upset at the interruption.

That’s odd. He has never let anyone see us like this. I shift in his arms to take a peek over his shoulder at Reena. She has a rather pleased look on her face. So I was right that she was playing marriage counselor and deliberately keeping us apart, and for exactly the reason I suspected.

‘Don’t bother getting up, my Lord,’ Reena says, ‘I just came by to tell you that the only restrictions I want your Favorite to follow are to rest when she feels like it and be sure to get an hour or so of light exercise each day. Walking or simple, nonstressful exercise with you in the salle should be fine.’

Ani loosens his hold on me and turns to look at her. Does he know what she has been up to?

‘That’s all?’ he asks her. ‘Nothing else?’

‘No, no other instructions for now,’ Reena answers.

She’s having a hard time keeping a smile off her face. I somehow stop myself from snickering. Reena figures Ani and I will rip one another’s clothes off the instant she is gone.

Later, tonight, after the Rebels have been dealt with, the ship is in hyperspace again, and any problems seen to. Then I can spend my time relaxing with you, Ani promises.

I begin blushing and hide my face in his robes. Reena has caught a look at me, no doubt, and I can easily sense her amusement at the situation.

‘Then we will see you again in a few days,’ Ani suggests.

The doctor gets the hint and disappears. I listen for the main door opening and closing and know we are safely alone once again.

‘I don’t like having my private affairs interfered with,’ the Sith Lord confesses, ‘but I was not about to question her medical opinion unless there was no other option.’

‘You did know what she was up to, then,’ I prompt.

‘Not at first. I knew then you needed the time to heal and that there was a real danger of triggering more bleeding. After a week, though, once I could sense that you were fine, I suspected she had ulterior motives. When she still insisted I not touch you after your adventure, I knew what Reena was up to,’ he reveals. ‘And I also knew exactly what I had to do to get her to back off, too.’

That little scene he staged for her to walk in on. Sneaky Sith Lord. It would not have occurred to me to do that, nor would I have had the nerve to try it without Ani’s co-operation.

‘The doctor seems satisfied we have settled our past differences and won’t kill one another, so I doubt she will try another tactic like that again,’ he tells me. ‘Not that it was necessary in the first place.’

I think about that while he holds me close again. No, all Reena’s prohibition did was irritate Ani and I. Sooner or later we have always been able to work out our disagreements and neither of us has ever used sex as a bargaining chip. Arguments between us and what happens in bed are separate, I decide.

‘Hold me, Ani, please,’ I ask him.

He answers me by pulling me in tight to his body and producing the same low rumbling purr he used to soothe me earlier in the day. Too bad he’s in his armor - we could have a bit of fun if he wasn’t.

Not until later, he insists. It’s time for you to eat now.

Stay, please, I suggest. I want to be held. Food can wait.

Very well, my stubborn little wife, he concedes.

I snuggle in close. He’s warm and it’s safe here. My contented state eventually affects Ani as well, and I sense him start to relax. Good. The Sith Lord needs some down time before dealing with the Rebel outpost in a few hours.

A sharp kick lands near my belly button. Someone is getting restless again. I feel Ani’s hand slide in between us, settling above our son. With a careful touch, his father soothes him and the movements inside me slow, then finally stop.

‘He’s hungry,’ Ani teases, ‘and you need to eat.’

I don’t argue this time or attempt to keep the Sith Lord in my arms any longer. Following him into the kitchen, I take a plate from the cooling unit with leftovers from the previous day and hand Ani the container of supplement drink. No need to wait on the autochef and I would rather spend my time with my love than messing about with that contraption anyway. A second round trip from the bedroom to the kitchen and I have my own drink on the table, and we are waiting for the room to pressurize.

Ani watches me pour out his drink and suggests, ‘You’ve covered some of your family’s more ancient history, so why not tell me about your brothers?’

I guess he is finally bored with hearing about various famous battles and my illustrious and not-so ancestors. Well, he did ask and was rather insistent about knowing every detail I could give him of the Hundred Years War.

‘Michael was trained as a doctor before he went into the military,’ I start out with my older brother first. ‘He was often away on UN peace keeping missions.’

I can tell that last bit is puzzling him.

‘The UN, United Nations, is, I guess, sort of the equivalent to a world government, but without the ability to force its members to comply with its rulings.’ I give a simple explanation. ‘They could call on their member countries to supply troops to help keep conflicts from getting too far out of hand or go in after a war to help with reconstruction. If necessary, they would sometimes intervene and force the fighting parties to back down, but that was always an option they tried to avoid. My home country was famous for its peace keepers. They were very good at getting people to act reasonably about things.’

He’s thinking about that.

‘Ani?’ I ask, curious what his opinion is.

‘On your homeworld, your brother was a Jedi without the Force. Interesting,’ he finally comments.

‘That’s a strange way to put it,’ I decide.

‘Not really. Your peace keepers did everything the Jedi were intended to. Sounds like they were more successful at it, too,’ he adds.

‘That’s not true at all,’ I quietly reply. Images of Rwanda flash in my mind. ‘There were spectacular failures as well as successes.’

‘Did their failures cost the lives of billions?’ Ani questions. ‘Were worlds devastated because of their arrogance and stupidity?’

I give my head a shake.

‘Mistakes made by the Jedi Order did,’ he flatly states.

He’s starting to get worked up about this. I think I will file ‘Jedi’ under the heading “touchy topics to avoid in the future.” Maybe I should change the subject of the conversation.

‘Ani, why is Michael lurking about?’ I abruptly swap topics.

The Sith Lord chuckles at that and sets his glass down to refill it.

‘What’s so funny?’ I prod.

‘The word “lurking” produces images of your brother hiding in closets, behind doors, or under the bed,’ he teases.

I start giggling.

‘Should I start checking under the bed?’

‘Unnecessary. When he isn’t manifesting his presence somewhere, he’s attached to, but not completely one with the Force,’ the Sith Lord reveals. ‘If he is near, you should feel him.’

‘But why is he here?’ I try asking my original question again.

Another amused look appears on his face, but no response is forthcoming. Ani isn’t going to answer me.

‘Anakin,’ I growl.

‘Why don’t you ask him yourself?’ the Sith Lord suggests, pointing behind me.

I turn around to have a look. Michael is standing there with a slightly offended expression on his face.

‘I have never hidden under a bed,’ he flatly states.

That prompts a giggle from me. I know better.

‘Fine. Once. And only because you scared me half to death with that prank you pulled,’ Michael finally owns up. ‘You always were a brat, Maia.’

‘It wasn’t my idea,’ I admit. ‘Jamie was the one who put me up to it in the first place.’

Ani is finding this whole exchange quite entertaining, I note. Maybe I should embarrass my brother a bit more.

‘I also seem to remember someone hiding out in some bushes, too,’ I prod my brother once again.

His jaw drops. This is just too much fun.

‘And I remember someone else running like mad to join me there,’ he retorts back.

Oops.

‘This sounds interesting,’ Ani prompts, looking to hear an embarrassing story no doubt.

Michael starts to grin. He set me up. My bratty brother set me up. I glare at him, but he only starts to laugh and promptly disappears. So much for asking him why he is hanging about.

‘Is there something I should know?’ the Sith Lord prods.

I shake my head. No way am I ever telling him about that particular escapade.

‘Maia,’ he warns me next.

‘It’s stupid and childish and you really don’t want to hear it,’ I blurt out, trying to convince him to let it be.

I receive one of his looks. Defeated now, I let out a sigh.

‘Jamie came up with this really good idea for a prank and he blackmailed Michael and I into helping him with it,’ I quietly start.

‘Blackmail? How did he manage that? I thought you never got into trouble,’ Ani digs for more details.

‘We snuck out one night, after we were supposed to be in bed, borrowed dad’s car and went to see the latest adventure film,’ I explain. ‘Jamie saw us and like all little brothers decided it would be a good thing to hold over our heads.’

The Sith Lord hides a smile by taking a drink from his glass.

‘I warned you it was silly,’ I remind him.

‘Sounds more like typical juvenile behavior,’ he observes.

‘And you never did something like that?’ I tease. ‘I bet you were quite a terror when you were a kid. Sneaking out at night to get into mischief was probably something you did on a regular basis.’

His smile gets wider. I must be right about that then.

‘And your brother’s prank?’ he prods.

I let out another sigh. He won’t let the subject drop until he hears the whole story. Rats.

‘Jamie started asking people who raised ostriches and emus, large flightless birds, to save eggshells for him. We just thought it was some weird phase he was going through, like the time he decided to scare our mother by putting realistic plastic spiders in her shoes every morning. He only stopped doing that when she finally gave up on scolding him for it and put fake worms in one of the sandwiches he took to school with him.’

I snicker a bit at that memory. Jamie’s reaction to what he bit into had been hilarious to say the least. It was years before he worked up the nerve to try pulling another practical joke on our mother.

‘Eventually he had enough eggshells stashed away and that’s when he blackmailed Michael and I into helping him. We were supposed to be staying overnight at a friend’s house. Instead, Michael ended up driving us down to one of the more secluded beaches along the lake. My job was to keep watch while my brothers dug nests into the sand and scattered the shells about.’

I look carefully at the Sith Lord who appears a bit puzzled. He hasn’t figured out what the prank was about yet.

‘Then Jamie put on the dragon feet he had from an old costume and stomped about the beach leaving footprints everywhere. When he was finished, he hid in the nearby bushes while Michael and I erased any of our own tracks. Unfortunately an early morning jogger came by and that’s when we had to run to where Jamie was hiding. The woman couldn’t believe what she saw on the beach. Somehow we kept quiet, and stayed there watching the fun until the place was crowded with local people and the media. Then we snuck back home and laughed ourselves silly.’

Ani still doesn’t get it. Maybe I should enlighten him.

‘Over the next few days our little joke became quite the news story. They even brought in a couple of experts to comment on it. That’s when someone finally realized the eggshells were avian, not reptilian.’

Swift realization flashes across my love’s face.

‘You didn’t,’ he says.

I answer with a nod and tell him, ‘We faked ‘Lake monster’ nests.’

‘And no one ever figured out who was responsible?’ Ani asks.

‘Nope,’ I happily admit, ‘and you’re the only person outside of the perpetrators who knows.’

He is silent at that.

‘Just be glad Jamie isn’t around,’ I tease. ‘Michael’s jokes were always clever and subtle, but when something goes wrong with my younger brother’s pranks it can be quite destructive.’

I get another one of Ani’s looks.

‘Jamie attempted to make fireworks once and blew up our father’s workshop,’ I volunteer. ‘Dad was furious, but he couldn’t say too much because he tried to make gunpowder when he was a kid and destroyed part of my grandfather’s greenhouse in the process.’

‘Menaces,’ he growls, ‘I have married into a family of public menaces.’

‘Just you wait,’ I tease him. ‘If the family genes run true, I can just imagine what our son will be like. You had better lock your workshop and put anything explosive away once he’s old enough to have an interest in that sort of thing.’

At the dumbfounded look on his face, I start laughing. Poor Ani.

‘You have no clue what you might be in for as a father, do you?’ I ask him.

‘No, I don’t,’ he admits, ‘and I am beginning to wonder why I ever thought it was a good idea in the first place.’

I reach across the table, grab his hand, and send reassurance to him through our bond.

‘You’ll be fine and learn on the job like everyone else does,’ I tell him.

‘Just promise me you won’t tell our son about any of your brothers’ pranks,’ Ani insists. ‘Not until he is well past that phase. He will find ways of his own to get into trouble without that sort of example to try and top.’

I give his hand a squeeze and he draws me over to his side with it. He needs to leave soon and head back up to the command deck. With a light touch, I brush the fingertips of my free hand over his face. The Sith Lord shuts his eyes and relaxes. Good. I want him to be as stress free as possible today. After a few minutes, he opens his eyes and pulls me in for a kiss.

‘I have to go,’ he reluctantly tells me as he gets to his feet.

‘I know,’ I reply.

‘I will warn you a few minutes before the ship drops out of hyperspace. You know what I expect you to do, don’t you?’ he asks, checking that I will do as ordered.

‘Don’t worry,’ I reassure him. ‘I will do exactly as you have told me to with no arguments.’

He pulls me in tight again and the passion in his kiss this time leaves me a little shaky. Wow.

‘A preview of tonight,’ he whispers in my ear before I am released.

I watch as his mask and helmet are replaced, then sink back into my chair once he is gone. Running my finger over my lips reveals that he bruised them a little. A smile creeps across my face. Tonight should be most enjoyable.

I start laughing at myself. Despite old promises to never do so, I have turned into a hopeless romantic. With a contented sigh, I finish off my meal and return the used dishes to the kitchen. Puttering about the room tidying things eats up some of the two hours before Ani has to...

That thought halts me mid-step. I go back to the bedroom, sit down on the bed, grab Ani’s pillow and hug it to me.

I have always avoided thinking about what he does, what his position requires him to do. Experiencing how he deals with prisoners was enough to stop me from ever wanting to know anymore about any of it. But in less than an hour he will be directing the complete destruction of a Rebel outpost. People will die. There will be no escape for them. He has no intentions of allowing anyone to survive. An example he had called it. A test for this ship and its crew. Nothing more, nothing less.

Harix was nothing compared to this. All he did there was follow orders he found distasteful and make a few threats. At Arda 2, it was the Rebels who attacked first, and only a few pilots were killed. But this. This will be different. Hundreds, perhaps thousands will die. I start shivering a bit. Think of it from his point of view, I scold. These are rebels, the equivalent of terrorists he has to deal with. There will be no sympathy for them in the Empire.

I start to think about the rebels I had met. Shas, Ira, Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie. They weren’t bad people and they didn’t harm me. In other circumstances I might call them friends. Stop that, Maia, I warn myself. They didn’t know who you really were. What do you think they would have done to you if they knew who Ani really was? Used me to get at him, no doubt, perhaps they might have even killed me just to eliminate him. That thought produces another shiver from me and a few stirrings inside as my son reacts to my distress.

‘Hush, little one,’ I murmur, brushing a hand over my middle as I soothe him with the Force. ‘Mother’s just fussing about things she shouldn’t.’

I feel a pair of arms slide under my back and knees, and lift me up.

‘Ani?’ I wonder, opening my eyes.

‘Our son isn’t the only one who felt your distress,’ he tells me as I am carried out of the bedroom and into his meditation pod.

He sets me down in his chair and reaches for the acceleration straps. As he tightens them around me, he continues to speak. ‘It is only natural that you are upset about the imminent attack. Given your gentle personality, I would be surprised if you were not.’

My face is tipped up to look into his mask.

‘Your empathy is going to be a problem,’ he warns. ‘I want you to shield yourself as best you can to block out as much as possible.’

He hesitates, considering something.

‘Perhaps I have a better solution to that,’ he decides.

I feel him slip into my mind. A few seconds later he has left again.

‘That won’t work,’ he quietly admits to himself. ‘How unfortunate. One other choice then. You can’t react if you aren’t aware.’

The Sith Lord leaves my side for a moment. When he returns, he drops a blanket on one of the consoles and slaps a patch on my neck. Not again, I think as I black out.

My eyes snap open sometime later. I am still in Ani’s closed meditation pod and he’s leaned the chair back and bundled me up a little. As I shove myself upright, the blanket slides down to my waist. I look carefully at my surroundings while my brain throws off a few cobwebs. He has consoles that allow him to access anything on the ship he might need to and a data terminal if he wants to work in here as well.

To my surprise, the screen snaps on in front of me and I have a good view of the bridge. The Sith Lord is standing by the forward windows, hands clasped behind his back, back to the camera, looking out at the remains of what must have been Laakteen Depot. There’s not much left on the small planetoid except rubble from what I can see. While I watch, the Admiral approaches him.

‘The Executor’s shields repelled anything they tried to use. Sensors show no signs of survivors, but several transmissions did get through just after their defense shield went down,’ the officer reports.

Ani ignores him for a few minutes.

Finally he orders, ‘See that what little remains is destroyed completely, Admiral. Then take us to Garos. My sources have discovered it is a common transfer point for Rebels traveling to Yavin.’

The Admiral takes a wary step backwards then hurries off to do as he was told.

I thought I felt you wake up, Ani notes, not moving from his spot.

Only a few minutes ago, I admit.

Good. I am finished here and will be there shortly, he tells me.

I watch him turn from his vantage point and make his way down the walkway. Before he leaves the bridge, he glances up to where the camera must be and the screen in front of me goes black.

Ten minutes later the pod is opening, so I turn about and look over at the Sith Lord. I give the straps a tug but they refuse to release me.

‘That won’t work,’ he teases as he steps inside and frees me. ‘Just in case you decided to get into some mischief, I made sure you couldn’t sneak out of here on your own.’

Ani’s bent over in just the right position, so I wrap my arms around his neck and let him pull me up and onto my feet when he straightens up again. I am promptly swept into his arms and carried back to the bedroom. The door shuts after us. He sets me down on the bed and starts stripping off his armor.

‘It will be just under three days before we drop out of hyperspace again,’ Ani tells me. ‘I intend to catch a few Rebel ships on our way to Yavin.’

I consider his words and what I overheard the Admiral say.

‘You aren’t concerned they will have been warned and will try to stop you?’ I ask.

 

‘Doesn’t matter,’ he decides. ‘They can’t harm the Executor and I want them to make a few tries at it.’

‘You’re using the name I have always called the ship?’

A low chuckle as he pulls off his boots is his answer to that.

‘It was easier to adopt your name than come up with something else since I have been calling it that myself ever since I first heard you use it,’ he admits.

‘Oh. Cool. You let me name your new flagship.’

I catch a puzzled look from him before he drops his boots into the compartment with the rest of his armor.

‘Explain ‘cool’ to me,’ he requests, ‘since I find no connection between temperature and your naming my ship.’

‘Earth slang. I suppose a short definition would be ‘alright’ or ‘excellent.’ Depends on the context, I guess,’ I tell him. ‘It’s quite an old expression now. Kids today might use ‘wicked’ or ‘sick’ instead.’ I think a moment, then add, ‘Wicked is a bit dated, too. Slang changes quickly and no one wants to sound like their parents so each generation comes up with something new. My brothers and I had our own set of code words we used just to drive our mother nuts trying to figure out what we were up to.’

‘More to look forward to as a parent,’ he wryly states.

The look on his face as he says that is quite funny, so I snicker a bit.

‘You haven’t spent much time around little kids and teenagers, have you?’ I ask, letting my curiosity get the better of me.

‘In the Jedi Temple, yes. Everyone was expected to help with the younglings,’ Ani admits. ‘Older children were usually off with their Master somewhere.’

‘But not since then?’ I try and get some more information from him.

‘No. I have never been in a situation where I had to be. Why?’ he questions.

I start laughing again, letting myself fall over on the bed. He really has no idea what he is in for.

‘Well behaved Jedi children and more typical kids are two different things,’ I warn him.

‘Then we will make sure ours are the former, not the latter,’ he promises, sitting beside me on the bed.

That makes me laugh even louder. With him for a father I just know ours will probably be the latter, not the former. I know what bratty little kids are like and teenage terrors, too. My youngest brother was both, in spades, to the nth degree.

‘You are enjoying this,’ the Sith Lord notes.

I just nod at him. Teasing Ani about the perils of parenthood is great fun.

‘It’s a good thing then, o wise one, that you will be the one in charge most of the time,’ he teases.

‘What?’

‘You have conveniently forgotten I will be leaving you on Vjun while I am with the fleet,’ he reminds me.

‘We will just see about that,’ I decide. ‘There is no way am I going to put up with being separated from you for months at a time.’

That’s in the future, he suggests, easing himself to lie down next me and setting his lips hard against mine. For now, the evening is ours. We will just live in the moment and forget that anything outside this room exists.

I let him feel my unspoken agreement as I slide his robe off of his shoulders. Both our garments quickly end up on the floor.

Do you want me already, he teases, or do you want to relax for a while, first?

Relax a bit, please, I decide.

The Sith Lord answers by rolling onto his back and pulling me in close next to him. My fingers trace the almost healed lightsaber burn across his chest. Ani deliberately let himself be hurt because of me. He catches my hand, holding it in his right one, so I look at it closely. Metal and cybernetic components. With his armor, he has never felt the need to have it covered with synthflesh. His other hand entwines in mine, so I compare them. Both are large enough to completely cover mine. On the parts of his arms which are his own, I trace the pattern of burns with my eyes. I know just how much that would have hurt when it happened and was healing.

He has always been gentle to me with his hands, despite the fact that he can effortlessly break someone’s neck with either of them. Only once has he ever hit me, and even then, in his rage, he was careful how he struck me. Nor did he use as much force as he could have, I admit to myself. I am sure he could easily knock me out if he wanted to.

‘Stop thinking about unpleasant things,’ he scolds, releasing my hands from his. His fingers brush down my face while he adds, ‘I promise I will never, ever, hit you again.’

‘I know you won’t,’ I tell him, completely certain of this fact. He will never physically harm me again.

A kiss is pressed against my forehead and I am eased over onto my back. I shiver in anticipation. It’s been weeks since we have indulged ourselves in this way. Ani’s hands run down my body, stopping over our son for a moment to quiet him before resuming their paths. That feels good, so I decide to return the favor and let my fingers roam across the Sith Lord’s chest. Slipping my hands behind his back, I try to pull him closer.

Not yet, he decides.

Why not? I ask.

Just relax and let me touch you, he insists.

Alright, I’ll behave a while longer, but I know what I want. If you take too long, I know exactly what to do.

Do you now? Ani teases.

Don’t tempt me, Sith Lord, I teasingly threaten right back.

He starts kissing me next. Slow, gentle nibbles trace paths along my neck and chest. When his lips reach my stomach, I start giggling then squirm a bit as he runs them down my side. This is the worst sort of torture.

Shall I try it out on the next prisoner who won’t co-operate? Ani asks.

Not a chance, I warn. The only person you are allowed to give this treatment to is me.

Ani’s laughter fills the room.

‘Stubborn,’ he teases.

‘And so are you!’ I promptly reply to that, moving to assail his sides with my fingers.

After a while, we are both tired of trying to avoid the other’s random attempts at tickling and fool around in other ways instead. Finally, he settles me on my back while he props himself up on his side next to me. His fingers run down my cheek, eventually coming to rest on my hip. I look up at his face and into his bright blue eyes, the eyes I love staring into.

Mine, I happily think, you’re all mine, and you’re my handsome, gorgeous Sith Lord and no one else’s.

Flatterer, he teases.

Only when it’s you, I concede, and it’s not so much flattery as the truth.

As you see it, he quietly accepts.

Stop that, I warn him, not liking where his thoughts are going with this. What you think and I think are all that’s important. To hell with anyone else’s opinion.

To reinforce my words, I shove him over and pin him to the bed with the most passionate kiss that I can give him. Ani needs some reassurance from me. When he lets me go, I rest my head on his chest and purr contentedly at him.

‘Happy, are you?’ Ani asks.

‘Perfectly so,’ I answer.

‘Time for a shower then,’ he decides.

He shifts me off his chest and pulls me from the bed with a tug on my hand. With our tickling attacks on one another, the pillows have been tossed everywhere and the sheets are twisted and askew. We need to get cleaned up, I admit. Both of us are rather sweaty and Ani spent several hours working out in the salle earlier today.

I allow myself to be led into the ‘fresher. Ani is careful to adjust the temperature first before helping me into the shower with him. The warm water feels good against my skin.

‘Here,’ Ani tells me, handing me the soap, ‘you can wash off that sweet smelling stuff you inflicted on me this morning.’

He’s teasing me about that, I decide as I prepare to comply with his request. When he turns his back to me, I see a set of bright red scratches across it. Oops.

‘I will have to be more careful next time not to do that to you,’ I decide.

While I wash his back, I hear the Sith Lord chuckle at that.

‘Claw me all you like,’ he offers. ‘Those are the sort of battle wounds I prefer.’

I start blushing and promise myself not to do that to him again.

‘Your turn,’ he decides next.

‘What?’

His arms pivot me about and I feel his hands soaping up my back. He rinses it off, then starts washing my hair. I tremble a little despite myself. Does he know how erotic his touch is when he does that?

‘Like that, do you?’ he whispers in my ear.

I shiver in response. The husky quality in his voice tells me that he is quite prepared for a bit more fun if I am willing.

‘I can see that you do,’ he observes. ‘Shall I do something else for you, my little wife?’

Yes, I think to myself as I lean back into his chest, oh yes. The shower abruptly shuts off as I am grabbed and carried back to the bed.

An hour later the sheets are not only pulled out from the bed, but are now soaked with water from our shower. That felt good, I decide, as I stretch like a cat beside Ani. He managed to somehow make love to me five times tonight.

I wonder, ‘How many more times could you ...’

‘Until we are both exhausted, if you really insist,’ his slightly sleepy voice tells me, ‘but the sheets are too wet to sleep in and I want to get cleaned up again.’

‘Back to the shower?’ I tease.

‘Of course,’ he decides.

Our shower is much briefer this time and we are soon back in bed, under a dry set of sheets and blankets. I reach over and mischievously run a finger down his nose. Tonight was absolutely perfect. He won’t easily be able to top the last few hours we have spent together.

I watch Ani’s face closely for a moment. He’s thinking about something.

***

She’s completely content and relaxed.

As am I.

Little hedonist. I know you would quite willingly let me make love to you all night, but I have work to do tomorrow and need to sleep at least a few hours.

For a moment I look at her, watch her expressions as her fingertips trace my features. She doesn’t bother practicing control when we are alone, so I can see every emotion, every thought written on her face.

How she loves me. Loves my son.

And she is mine.

She won’t ever leave me. Not willingly anyway. Not until...

Sithspit.

There is something I need to do and have been putting off.

And tonight is as good a time as any to do it.

‘You need to get up, my love,’ I tell her, tossing the sheets aside as I get out of bed and retrieve my black robe from the floor.

I see her get up and the curious looks she is giving me.

‘Take a seat on the floor,’ I order next, pointing to where I need her to be.

Maia settles herself where I indicated and waits for further instructions. She’s puzzled judging from the flickers I am feeling from her over our bond.

‘Your nightgown is suitable,’ I decide, ‘but you need to be kneeling, not sitting the way you are.’

A white robe would be better, but since no one will see this, it doesn’t matter that much.

I open the compartment where I keep the odds and ends required for various Sith rituals. Everything I need is in here since I prepared for this ceremony months ago.

My son can’t be a part of this, so I select a gold goblet and pour some of the drink I concocted to cut her off from the Force into it. It will have the same effect on him, and ensure that Maia can’t change her mind at the last second or fight anything I will do to her. Her armbands need to be replaced, so I take three of the appropriate set from their small silver chest and put them on a tray with the goblet, keeping tray and contents out of her sight. A small wooden box contains the last two things I need - a strip of mothsilk with Sith hieroglyphics written on it, and the two bottles holding the chemicals I need to activate and neutralize the ink.

A quick check and I am ready, so I cover the tray with a cloth, pick it up and close the compartment.

***

I shift myself about and stay alert while he finishes digging out whatever he was looking for. I hear a bottle being opened and liquid splashing into a glass. The sound of other metal objects banging against one another follows. Somehow I stay quiet and keep my curiosity under wraps. Finally, the Sith Lord is done with his preparations. He turns, sets a tray with stuff hidden under a cloth on it on the floor, and kneels down in front of me and beside it.

His robe falls in graceful folds around him and his hair has grown out again to the same length he let it before removing it the last time, completely covering the scar on his scalp. In the low light his other scars are barely noticeable. There is nothing to detract from his handsome features. My eyes wander to the bare chest his slightly open robe has revealed. No excess weight there, only nice firm muscles just like on the rest of him. I bring my eyes up to his again and see his two bright blue ones calmly watching me look at him. He’s perfect, absolutely gorgeous, I think happily to myself, and he’s mine.

***

I smile a little as she surveys my body. Only my little goddess thinks of me as handsome, only she admires me this way. Her scrutiny amuses me, so I return it.

With a light touch, I reach over and brush a few stray hairs from her forehead, then rest my hands on my thighs and simply look at her, giving her the same evaluation she did me. Maia is no classically featured model yet there is a simple beauty to her face, a quiet gentleness in her spirit - a sweetness and innocence she will never lose. My eyes drift lower. My Favorite has filled out with her pregnancy and is no longer too thin. I rather enjoy her new curves, the feel of her body under my hands, under me. She’s my perfect mate, I think, and she’s mine.

The silent seconds stretch into minutes while we wait for the other to say or do something.

‘I should have done this a while ago,’ I finally admit, ‘but your Sith has only become fluent enough in the last few days to properly manage the ceremony.’

I sit back on my heels and watch her closely, measuring what to say. It’s important for her to make the decision I want, but according to tradition, I am forbidden to coerce or really influence her in this. My words must be carefully chosen, then, if she is to come to the conclusion I need her to.

‘You are in the unique position of having to make a choice that no one else has ever had to,’ I finally reveal.

She stares at me and I know she is wondering what I mean.

‘I am a selfish man,’ I tell her. ‘I know what I would want you to do, but this is your decision to make, not mine and it can only be freely given, never coerced.’

Making it clear it is her choice alone will be the easiest way to have her make the one I want.

Ani? I hear her ask.

‘Only speak aloud, Maia,’ I chastise her.

‘I don’t understand what you mean. What choice?’ she voices her silent thoughts.

I reach over and brush her cheek, then let my hand fall away again. Now to tell her the entire truth.

‘The oath you swore to me is only part of a longer ceremony,’ I reveal. ‘A ceremony which binds the two involved not only in life, but afterwards as well. But you are not a Sith. Nor will you ever be one.’

Maia gives me a rather perplexed look. She still doesn’t understand. I refrain from letting out a sigh. More information is needed, then.

‘The spirits of dead Sith Lords are bound to their bodies which are returned to Korriban, to exist there forever,’ I explain.

‘You will have to hang about with a bunch of old boring dead guys for eternity?’ she blurts out. ‘That doesn’t sound like much fun at all.’

I very quickly hide the smile which is threatening to appear. How typical of her. I am trying to be serious and she only sees the humor in the situation. Perhaps I need to take a different approach since she can’t seem to make the connections on her own.

‘Listen carefully, Maia,’ I start her short lesson. ‘I am a Sith Lord. You are a Jedi. If we were both the same, it wouldn’t matter, but our soulbond changes everything and allows you this choice. When you die your essence will become one with the Force unless you choose to be bound to my fate and stay with me instead. I can’t make this decision for you nor am I allowed to influence it. It must be your choice alone.’

I then wait, patiently, for her to sort out the implications of what I have just told her.

***

I spend several minutes silently considering what he has said. If I do nothing and let things stay as they are, he will be alone, stuck by himself forever, and I will never see him again after he dies. And if our bond survives our deaths - we would probably still feel one another but know that the other was eternally out of reach. That’s horrible.

‘You aren’t allowed to go with me, are you?’ I quietly ask.

‘No,’ he just as softly answers.

‘Then I will have to stay with you instead,’ I decide. ‘I won’t lose you just because of some stupid rule.’

I shut my eyes at the wave of emotions I feel from him across our bond. Relief. Happiness. Love. And a deep sense of joy. How could he not know I would choose to stay with him?

‘Since there are no witnesses to worry about, and you only know the key part anyway, I will use the shortest version of the ceremony,’ I hear him decide.

When I open my eyes again he has retrieved a small gold goblet from under the cloth. He takes a sip from it then offers it to me.

>Drink,< he orders in Sith.

I take it from him and set it to my lips. The pungent smell makes me wrinkle my nose but I force myself to swallow a mouthful of the bitter tasting fluid. Talk about a nasty aftertaste, I think as I hand the goblet back to him. He sets it aside and takes my hands in his.

>I would be bound to thee, my Lady, thou who art my soul-mate, the mother of my heir,< Ani tells me.

I blink at him. Okay, what am I supposed to say to that? That oath, I guess.

Pulling my words to him from memory, I repeat them to him for the third time, saying, >I offer to you, and you alone, my heart, seat of all my emotions; my body, source of all my strength; my life, my soul, essence of my being; let me be bound to you, Lord Vader.<

>You are offering yourself freely, willingly, and without any conditions?< he asks.

That sounds familiar, but he didn’t say it in Sith the first time.

>Yes, my Lord, my soulmate, I am,< I confirm.

>Then I accept your oath to me, Maìá, knowing that you are sworn to me and me alone. Your life is mine. You are mine. Now and forevermore,< he says and the ferocity and possessiveness in his voice is matched in the searing kiss he sets on my lips immediately after.

He lets me go again and quietly watches me for a minute or two.

Now what am I supposed to say or do?

Resolve appears on his face as he picks up the gold goblet.

>Drink,< he orders, once more taking a sip himself before handing it to me.

More of that nasty stuff? I manage to swallow another mouthful of it.

>Finish it,< he adds, pushing it back towards me when I try to return it to him.

He can’t be serious. I stare at him, pleading with my eyes, but he looks at the drink, then back at my face. Guess I can’t get out of this. I down what’s left in the goblet as fast as I can, then feel it slip from my hand and watch it fall in slow motion when the effect of the mixture hits me.

‘Ani?’ I call to him, swaying where I am sitting.

The Sith Lord catches me when I pitch forward and I feel him turn me onto my back and pull my shoulders and head onto his lap. I look up at him. My head feels funny, like it is stuffed full of cotton wool. I hear him toss aside the cloth covering the tray. He removes my armbands next and replaces them with another set. I try to sit up and look at one of them, but he pulls me back in place against his legs. Rats.

He sets his hands around my face, slides into my mind, traveling deeply within, then touches our bond and does something to it, replacing the barriers he had put in place before. Ani moves to another part of my mind now and I feel him rip one connection away. I go rigid at the shock of having part of my Force sense severed, but another link is quickly substituted. This one is strange to me, dark rather than light, and it feels just like the Sith Lord. It’s his Force presence, I quickly realize. He’s bound me to himself in yet another way. While I ponder the situation, he sets barriers around what he just did and pulls out of my mind.

Ani next wraps a strip of fabric with something written in raised Sith script on it around the upper part of my left arm. I feel him hesitate a moment, then caress my face. A bottle of some dark colored liquid is opened next and he soaks the fabric on my arm with the contents. It feels warm at first, then starts to burn. I try to move, to pull away, to do something to get it to stop, but the Sith Lord holds me securely in place. Control is impossible and as the pain increases, I lie there, whimpering and feeling quite embarrassed about it. Finally he peels back part of the cloth, then removes it once he is satisfied with whatever it is that he just did to me. My tender skin is washed with something cool and the pain stops. He tosses everything he used back on the tray, and sends it over to rest on the table with a wave of his hand.

I feel myself being shifted about again and when he lifts me up and bundles me under the sheets, pressure is accidentally exerted on my sore arm.

‘Hush, my little wife,’ he soothes, when I start whimpering again. ‘You have been very brave tonight.’

‘I don’t feel very brave,’ I moan, sounding just as pathetic as I feel.

He settles in beside me and carefully wraps me in his arms. I feel a kiss on the back of my neck, just like he always does before we go to sleep.

‘You made a difficult choice and weathered the binding ceremony quite well, my love. Go to sleep now. There is no need to wake early,’ he decides. ‘Tomorrow I will stay with you until you have recovered.’

I set a hand over our son. He’s been extremely quiet throughout it all.

‘The drink was to dull his senses as much as it was to sedate you,’ Ani admits. ‘I didn’t want to accidentally draw him into our bond. It won’t harm him if that’s what you are worried about.’

***

I look again at the ancient Sith hieroglyphics burned into her skin. An unavoidable and necessary, yet painful, step. My peers at Korriban will not recognize my Jedi wife as a Sith without that brand and our new Force bond marking her as undeniably, irrevocably, mine. The pain from both will hopefully fade by morning.

With a light touch, I caress her face, check on my son. Maia, still heavily drugged, doesn’t stir.

She made her choice and is mine forever, I think triumphantly. No Jedi, no Sith, not even my master, can sever the bonds between us now.

I kiss her neck again. No matter what happens, for the rest of my life, past it into death, Maia will always be with me.

Neither of us will ever be alone.

***



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