The Empire Part Two: The Vader Dynasty By Cariel and Jody firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com The old man stared up at him with desperation riddled all over his features. Gone was the cool arrogance and collected air of snobbery that hung about the Sith Lord known as Count Dooku. All that remained was a cowering, broken warrior who now found himself caught between two lightsabers that hung within inches of his throat. Though the emperor was exhausted and worn, even he couldn’t ignore the rush of dark pleasure felt upon sensing Dooku’s fear. It seemed like only yesterday when the count was mocking Anakin and his skills before proceeding to remove his hand and soundly beat him. The memory caused the young emperor’s expression to turn stormy. However, despite his urge to unleash the darkness, to savour and enjoy this moment of revenge, something caused Anakin to falter. ‘Kill him.’ Anakin’s eyes flickered at the sound of the supreme chancellor’s voice, first to the elderly man and then to the unconscious form of his brother. Despite the fact Anakin wanted so desperately to do this, he knew his brother would be so disappointed in him. It was in this thought that the emperor found himself hesitant to comply. As much as he would complain and challenge the Jedi Master, ultimately Anakin looked up to Obi-Wan. Though his opinion would never carry the same weight in Anakin’s mind as his wife’s, it was enough. ‘Kill him now,’ the supreme chancellor instructed firmly. Anakin’s hands began to shake as he could feel the dark side gathering around him. The emperor could hear its siren call and felt the silent invitation that taunted his thoughts, leaving him longing to feel it coursing through his veins as he enjoyed its poisoned kiss. But then his thoughts returned to Obi-Wan and Anakin knew that he wouldn’t be able to face his brother if he went through with it. ‘…I shouldn’t…’ he whispered feeling completely torn between loyalties. It wasn’t the first time he felt this way and it would not be the last. ‘Do it,’ the Sith Lord ordered in dark tones. ‘I shouldn’t,’ Anakin said in almost desperate tones leaving Palpatine to frown deeply in reply. ‘Now is not the time for hesitation, Anakin, now is the time to act. If you do not act now, he will surely have his vengeance.’ Anakin’s eyes flickered back to Obi-Wan’s unconscious form which didn’t go unnoticed by the elderly Sith Lord. ‘Do not worry about him. What your brother doesn’t know won’t hurt him. Now, do what is necessary and be done with it.’ The young emperor bit his lip as he warred within himself. Though he knew he was far from being a worthy Jedi, there was still a part of him that longed to cling onto the ideals that he was rapidly turning away from. This too caused him to further falter. ‘It’s not the Jedi way,’ he argued weakly, though uncertain why he was even bothering and yet unable to resist either. The captured Sith Master gave a harsh laugh in reply. ‘You are hardly a model Jedi now, are you? Or do you really believe you can still stand amongst the members of the Order as their equal after slaughtering an entire village of Tuskan Raiders? Then of course, there is the matter of you killing the man whom raised you as though you were his own son—’ ‘That’s different,’ Anakin snapped feeling the familiar pang of guilt and shame beginning to eat at his thoughts and wanting nothing more then to bury it. ‘The only thing that is different is that Obi-Wan is here now, when he wasn’t before,’ Palpatine remarked in disgust. Using the Force, the supreme chancellor released his restraints causing the count’s eyes to widen in shock. The young emperor couldn’t resist a smirk as he could feel the fallen Jedi’s resounding surprise as the darkness around them shifted revealing Palpatine’s true aura. Rising to his feet, the supreme chancellor studied the kneeling Sith Lord and the young emperor with disinterest. Though time was running out and the ship’s auditory programs were announcing its demise, the elderly Sith Lord waited with calmly for Anakin to make the correct decision. But then the struggling Jedi continued to falter Palpatine decided it was time to move things onwards. ‘If it is your wish to delay the inevitable, I will not stop you, Anakin. But know this: there will come a day when you will no longer be able to hide from the decisions you must choose. That day is coming and is coming soon.’ Anakin furrowed his brow as he swallowed hard at the supreme chancellor’s words. As much he didn’t want to believe the elderly man, the young emperor knew that Palpatine was correct in assessment. For almost six months, Anakin had been playing the balancing act between his studies with the Jedi and his secret studies with the Sith Master. That didn’t even count the fact he still had his normal duties as emperor to contend with. Though Anakin wanted to continue ignoring the signs, he knew, deep down, that his time to run was now ending. Obi-Wan would soon regain consciousness and with the ship already on a crash course collision with Coruscant’s surface. Anakin knew that he would have to act now. He tightened his grip on the lightsabers in his hands and drew upon the darkness once more permitting it to fill him with the heady rush he had come to long for. Then with a lip curled in disgust, he crossed the blades and fulfilled the count’s destiny. Through the Force, he could hear the Sith Lord’s silent requiem and felt the rush of darkness pouring through his body as it swelled consuming the man’s spirit. Closing his eyes, he breathed in deeply, relishing the power that thrummed around him and coursed through his veins. In moments like this, Anakin felt as though he were a god and the entire universe but his playground. Opening his eyes, the young emperor gazed upon the now beheaded form of his nemesis and felt reality come crashing down all around him. How would he be able to face his brother now? Anakin knew if he was asked, he wouldn’t be able to lie. It wasn’t to say he wouldn’t attempt it but with Obi-Wan, the truth always had a way of worming to the surface. And when it did, which was almost always, Anakin would always end up feeling guiltier than he would have if he had just been honest from the start. ‘You did the right thing, Anakin. If you would have let him lived, he would have escaped, either now or later on.’ The statement Anakin believed was meant to assure him and erase any doubts that lingered in his mind. But as he dropped the lightsaber by its former master, the struggling Jedi couldn’t shake the memory of his mentor’s earlier warning and the sinking feeling of dread that lingered about it. When the time for running away and hiding behind the facts had drawn to a close, which side would he find himself standing on? More importantly, at what price would his decision come at? And who would ultimately suffer or gain from it? However, as much as these questions weighed on his thoughts, the young emperor knew that there were more immediate matters to deal with. He promptly buried them and allowed himself to focus entirely on the present and to the most important task at hand: completing the mission of the chancellor’s rescue and returning home together with his brother safely. The landing was less than perfect and as their broken ship crashed and skidded to a halt the young emperor couldn’t resist a soft chuckle as this moment brought back memories. He decided he would have to share this thought with Dormé as he knew she would appreciate it. But for the moment, such thoughts were not only unnecessary, but also distracting and soon he set to the business of tending to getting the chancellor out of the ship safely. The last thing he needed was to complete the mission only to lose his mentor to an exploding ship. Fortunately, this was hardly the case and soon his arrival to the palace was drawing all sorts of attention. Moving through the gathering crowds of senators and officers Anakin took in the damage and immediately asked for Dormé. Upon learning of her location, the young Padawan promptly excused himself and raced towards the inner chambers of his home in search of his beloved. With the abduction of the senate’s supreme chancellor and Anakin running off under orders of the Jedi Council to retrieve him from the clutches of the Separatists, Dormé was frantically trying to hold the senate together in his stead. She knew her husband and the Jedi were doing everything they could to end this war, but she felt it wasn’t enough. After having recently lost their first child, Dormé was more adamant about ending this war than ever before. When the Separatists attacked Coruscant, she led the ground troops quickly wiping out those who landed. She didn’t know Anakin was just a short distance away on General Grievous’s vessel. Once the Separatists were killed or mortally wounded in the senatorial district and the senate and palace were once more completely under Imperial control, Dormé returned to the palace with her elite guards and attentive handmaidens. She checked with the head of the security team before making a public announcement, filled with the message of superiority of the Empire over all their insurgents. Once the announcement concluded and the senators were on their way back to their personal quarters or their ships, Dormé heard of the crash landing and that the fighters attending the fire found the emperor was landing the craft. Worried for her husband, though she was well aware of the emperor’s superior flying skills, Dormé raced out onto the promenade that would take her to the crash site. Upon seeing Anakin, she pushed past some of the senators, who were not exactly pleased with being elbowed by the empress but were smart enough not to say anything. ‘Anakin!’ she called, racing over to him to embrace him. ‘Are you all right? How is the chancellor?’ she asked. At the sight of his beloved Anakin immediately broke into a run as he swooped her up in his arms and twirled her around in obvious joy. At her questions, he nodded and laughed thinking of how much the events of the landing reminded him of his first real date with his wife. ‘I’m fine and so is the chancellor, although I have to say, he’s probably going to think twice before flying with me again,’ he said chuckling. ‘Landing that broken piece of junk certainly brought back some fond memories,’ he teased before growing serious as she informed him of the situation at hand. ‘Oh dear,’ she gasped. ‘That poor man! I’m glad I wasn’t there,’ she teased. Anakin laughed, shaking his head. ‘I can’t say he reacted quite as well as you did, but he was hardly impressed either,’ the young emperor teased back with a wink. ‘Although I think sending him a package of his favourite tea is in order. Gods know he must be stressed out after this whole ordeal!’ Dormé didn’t add that she hoped his mentor wouldn’t take it out him during their training sessions, for the old man did have a tendency to work the young emperor to the bone. She then informed him of the happenings on-planet while he was away. His expression soon grew proud as she admitted to taking charge and restoring the order once more. ‘Where would I be without you,’ he said in loving tones as he touched her cheek before giving a soft sigh. ‘I can’t wait until this war is finally over and we can get on with our lives,’ he admitted ruefully knowing that she felt much the same. Dormé leant into his touch, sighing softly. She then kissed him to express how much she agreed with him. ‘Soon the Separatists will be nothing more than a brief mention in the imperial histories.’ ‘Thank the Force and the gods for that,’ he murmured as she spoke of the Separtatists demise. Though it was an unspoken thought Anakin was confident that once things had settled they would once more be able to focus on their greatest dream: starting a family. It was stress that caused his beloved to lose her baby and he was positive that once that the unseeing threat was removed, everything would be as it should. ‘We should head inside,’ he began. ‘I need to fill you in on the details of all that you have missed, as I have some good and bad news.’ he admitted. Dormé took his hand and walked inside with him, not wanting to know about the bad news. ‘I want to know the bad first,’ she said with an exhale as they headed to their private chambers, ‘if I have the option.’ Anakin furrowed his brow and nodded in understanding at her statement. ‘Very well,’ he said softly as he felt her hand slip into his own. There was support in her touch as well silent comfort and he drew upon this as he spoke. ‘General Grievous escaped when we were freeing the Supreme Chancellor,’ Anakin admitted knowing that in this aspect the mission was a failure. It was his mentor’s hope that they would not only be able to capture Dooku but Grievous as well. After all that was the entire point of his abduction which had been carefully planned. ‘He escaped? How? Were you able to track him?’ Dormé couldn’t believe what she was hearing. How would this war end if Grievous was still out there?! ‘Anakin—’ She squeezed his hand tightly for her own reassurances. The young emperor gave a frustrated sigh as he shook his head in reply. ‘Dooku I think was meant to be a distraction to buy him time. We’re still trying to locate him but for now, it appears he has slipped through our grasp. The good news is Count Dooku has been tended too and so half the battle as they say has been won,’ Anakin concluded though it was obvious the count’s passing was still troubling him. She exhaled. ‘Good,’ she sighed. She released his hand to stroke his back when she could tell there was more weighing on his mind than what he had shared so far. Anakin reached out to touch her cheek as he studied her for a moment. Though he was grateful to learn what he could from Palpatine, he was still divided about where he stood with the Jedi and the Sith Lord. What was worse was the realization that Dormé was being forced into this because of him. He missed spending time with her and missed their evenings together but at the same time he knew this had to be done. Even so, it did little to alleviate his guilt and his divided thoughts. ‘Dooku’s death will definitely leave its mark on the Separatists. After all, he represented the tactical side of the Separatists, or so the Supreme Chancellor believes. Grievous, on the other hand, is only good at battle. Without someone to lead them, they’re going to fall into disorder. In the meantime, I’m going to have our contacts look into the matter I don’t think he’s had a chance to get far,’ Anakin concluded as he gave a hint of a smile. ‘I know,’ she said. In fact, just before his abduction, the chancellor and she had been going over the most recent findings in regards to droid troop movements. Dormé just wanted this war over as much as Anakin did and it frustrated her that the count served as a distraction to allow Grievous to get away. Even so, it was good to hear at least one half of their enemy’s controlling power have been eliminated. ‘Obi-Wan doesn’t know how Dooku died. To be honest I don’t really want to tell him either,’ he admitted finally. There was so much more he wanted to say but he knew that Dormé already understood what weighed on his mind and Anakin was loathed to troubled her further with it. Dormé also knew from the way Anakin was dodging the specifics of the count’s demise that he had gone against the Jedi codes in removing him. She knew how much of a struggle it was for Anakin because he loved his brother and felt like he was betraying him somehow by using the Force in a different way. She didn’t understand the complexities of it, nor why one way or another was better or worse, but hated that it was such a drain on Anakin. She was under a lot of stress herself, but she would rather have it than to see him suffer. The young emperor did his best to hide his exhaustion but he knew just from the way Dormé was watching him that she was more than aware of how his training was taking its toll. Though he was grateful that Dooku was out of the picture, the Padawan couldn’t help but feel as though the mission could have been far more successful if he hadn’t been so worn out. While he knew that in reality there was really no way around Grievous escape Anakin still took it as a personal failure on his part. As always, Dormé understood this as well it made the young emperor love her all the more for it. He didn’t need to say a word, for she understood all that he couldn’t say. She hugged him tightly. ‘I’m glad you’re home.’ Breathing her in deeply, he forced his thoughts to clear as her words reminded him that this was in fact a happy occasion. It had been far too long, or so it felt, since he had last been in her arms and as he buried his face into the crook of her neck, he gave her a squeeze and kissed her throat. ‘It’s so good to finally be home. Force help me, I wish I never had to leave your side,’ he murmured. Though there was so much else he wanted to say, Anakin knew that Dormé would understand the true weight of his words and all he couldn’t find the right words to say. Continuing to stroke his back and run her fingers through his hair, Dormé relished the closeness, feeling just as Anakin did though she could barely express it fully in words. They just fit together and when separated, it was as though part of them was missing. Anakin closed his eyes briefly, as he found himself basking in her gentle administrations. Returning the favour in kind, the emperor played with her hair while holding her close. It was only in her embrace that he felt whole, and only in her arms that Anakin ever considered himself to be truly home. After a moment, she brushed her nose against his cheek, murmuring, ‘You smell like burnt fuel.’ Chuckling, she pulled away only to take his hand and lead him into the fresher with single-minded determination. He chuckled, as he was a bit ticklish in that spot. At her words, he gave a lopsided grin as his eyes grew mischievous. ‘Well we’ll just have to do something about that now won’t we?’ he teased with a knowing smile before giving her hand a squeeze as he followed her to the fresher. Hours later, Anakin found himself waking up with a start. Covered in cold sweat and breathless as his heart raced, the young emperor found himself at a loss as to what had caused him to wake up in this state. While the rest of the afternoon and evening were spent in the arms of her beloved, Dormé fell asleep far more content than she had since he left. Dormé thought it would help relieve their stress and for her part, it certainly had, however, late into the night, Anakin stirring and moving from her embrace caused her to stir as well, reaching for him and murmuring her displeasure, not for being disturbed, but rather that he was moving away. Anakin tried to calm his racing heart, to clear his panic thoughts that struggled to recall a dream that was not his to know. Drawing in deep breaths the young emperor felt his wife murmur her thoughts of displeasure as she drew him back to her arms. Finding comfort in her embrace, he silently began to play with his wife’s hair—as it always soothed his troubled thoughts—Anakin found he couldn’t recall dreaming at all. Yet, given his reaction upon waking, he knew that he had dreamt of something, but what that was, he couldn’t say. In the end, the only thing he could remember was that he felt incredibly lost and even more alone. Feeling him playing with her hair, she slowly blinked her eyes open, looking at him with sleepy confusion. Feeling her amber eyes studying him in confusion, Anakin felt his cheeks warm as he honestly didn’t know what to tell her. The thought of admitting to having a nightmare he couldn’t remember left him feeling foolish and weak but at the same time he couldn’t just pretend nothing happened either. ‘It’s nothing. Just a forgotten dream,’ he admitted in soft tones as he gave a weak smile. Though he knew it was a dream, one that was hardly worthy of his attention Anakin couldn’t deny how real the emotions he recalled from the dream were. Despite the fact it was hardly a vision, it was real enough to frighten him and inwardly he hoped he would never feel that way again. Despite his words, Dormé could tell there was something more to it. But she didn’t know and didn’t want to know. Dreams, after all, were just dreams to her. Whatever it was, it wasn’t real. She pulled him closer and gave him a sleepy kiss on his shoulder. ‘Go back to sleep,’ she murmured. ‘Think of pleasant things...’ The young emperor couldn’t help but envy Dormé’s detachment to all that was spiritual. He wished he could ignore the nagging feeling that what he felt would one day become a reality. But his wife was an anchor, and despite his fears, Anakin soon was drifting back to sleep only find his dreams to be nonsensical and bizarre. Stirring awake at the sound of the chronometer chiming, Anakin soon realized that it was time to return to the temple and begin his long day of training with the Jedi and later the Sith Lord. Though this was what he had chose to do with his life, the young emperor couldn’t help but be filled with dread at the thought of parting ways with his wife. Their anniversary was a wonderful one and as always, it went by far too fast for Anakin’s liking. But as the evening turned to night, the fallen Jedi found that sleep, as always, seemed to evade him. Though he was utterly exhausted, his mind continued to wander leaving him no rest or peace. While Dormé’s arms continued to offer him sanctuary, he didn’t want to disrupt her rest with his tossing and turning. He silently slipped from her arms and wandered off to the balcony that overlooked the city. With a tired sigh, he leant against the edge of one of the couches. There was something strangely appropriate about its uncomfortable height, too high to sit down, too short to properly lean against. It briefly reminded him of his situation although in his sleep depraved mind he couldn’t say why that was. It did little to help clear his thoughts of the strange turmoil that resided within. Though the evening started out quite nicely for Dormé, celebrating their third wedding anniversary, she awoke in the middle of the night feeling abnormally cold. This wasn’t the first time in the past few months that she woke to find Anakin out of bed. Even though she wasn’t Force sensitive, she was conscious enough to notice the subtle changes in his features become more pronounced, the dark circles under his eyes, and sallow-looking skin. But despite her growing concern, Dormé didn’t ask what was on his mind. She knew he would open up about it when he was ready to. There had been times over the years since she first met him that he had had what he referred to as prophetic dreams, where something he would see in his sleep cycle would haunt him until it came true. Though Dormé was hardly a spiritual person, let alone someone who believed in such nonsense, she did have the courtesy to respect that Anakin did. She told him plainly on more than one occasion that she had no desire to know of the future. Originally, it was a way of avoiding disappointment. Now it was a defence mechanism of sorts, a way to defend herself from facing some fatalistic inevitability. If one didn’t know one’s fate, then they wouldn’t intentionally seek out ways of making it come true, or so she adamantly believed. It gave her more freedom this way. However, now that these dreams or nightmares were keeping Anakin up night after night, Dormé wished she had the power to make them stop so that he could get the good night’s rest he so desperately needed. Her presence used to help. She used to only have to hold him and now it seemed as though she wasn’t enough. Ever since he agreed to follow the tutelage of Darth Sidious, Anakin, or Darth Vader as the older Sith Lord called him, found his time no longer his own. By day he would serve the Jedi Order, posing as a Jedi Padawan, while at night he would train with his new mentor in the ways of the Sith. It was exhausting and though he did his best to hide it, Vader knew it would only be a matter of time before the ruse would come to its untimely end. Though he continued to play the role of a Jedi it was becoming an increasing struggle to use the light side of the Force, whereas the dark side was becoming far easier to channel. There were times when he found himself feeling almost physical ill after channelling the light side to accomplish the simplest of tasks, and then there was time when he was. Such moments frightened him more than he wanted to admit, not because of what it meant, but of the attention it could possibly draw. Fortunately, no one spoke a word of it and if they did, he always shrugged it off saying he was under the weather. If they believed his flimsy lies, Anakin would never know. Anakin felt as though he was being pulled into a million directions at once and while he knew what he was getting himself into Vader had no idea just how exhausting it would be both emotionally and physically. He felt aged beyond his years and worn beyond repair and though Dormé was silent about it, Anakin knew she was worried for him as well. Which in turn made him long for her comfort and understanding all the more. Dormé had thought she was cold before, but as the young empress rose from their bed, she quickly reached for a robe to wrap around her lithe form. Even without the ability to sense other people’s Force signatures, Dormé knew where her husband was. Approaching the veranda, she spied him sitting rather uncomfortably on the corner of one of the small couches, looking out over Coruscant’s vast cityscape. For a long while, she just watched him, not wanting to interrupt his thoughts by approaching, forgetting that he could sense her presence. Finally giving in to temptation, she walked out onto the veranda and curled up on the couch behind him, hoping she wouldn’t interrupt. He wanted to tell her about the confusion he felt even now, how tired he was and how all he really wanted to do was rest in her arms. That he felt as though he were spiralling out of control when everything was going according to plan. Or why he felt so excited to expand his skills only to feel so out of sorts and uncomfortable in his skin when he tapped into the immense power that was the Dark side. Or why it left him hungry for more so that he could never be truly satisfied. But one of it really made sense to him and so how could he speak of them to her? It was because of this that he refrained believing when the answers came he would then share it with his beloved and hopefully, find peace in the process once more. However for now answers couldn’t have been more further away and as he stared outside in silence he could sense her presence, so soothing and healing in its own right, approaching. He wanted to turn back to face her, to hold her close, but felt frozen in place, as though fearing should he turn around she would disappear or fade away. Of course, he knew this would never be the case but he was so prone to paranoia from lack of sleep and constant dark side use that it was hard to define what was foolish fears and what was real concerns. So in the end, he contented himself to feel her eyes on him, like a goddess protecting her mortal love, and attempted for the millionth time to meditate. Though she thought she probably wouldn’t be able to sleep anymore tonight, it helped to have Anakin nearby and soon Dormé found her eyes closing. When the meditations failed, due to his exhausted but troubled thoughts and the fact his feet were almost numb from the night chill, Anakin finally mustered the nerve to join his beloved. Though she was sleeping, he could still feel her concern and this filled him with guilt. If only he knew how to explain to her what was happening to him. If only he knew himself what was happening. Gently, he lifted her up into his arms, being mindful of her bare feet which he used the Force to adjust her robe so as to cover them, Anakin carried her back to their room. He knew he would have to get up in a couple of hours to begin his day at the Temple and wouldn’t be returning until the late hours of night from his training with Palpatine. As such, he wanted to make the most of his time with Dormé and because of it he took to watching her rest instead of resting himself. Though he knew he’d pay for it in the morning, right now, it was worth every minute. When Dormé awoke sometime later, she was much happier than when she awoke in the middle of the night because this time, when she opened her eyes, Anakin was there looking back at her. But as her sleepy eyes adjusted, she could tell he hadn’t slept at all. If there were anything she could do for him, Dormé knew he wouldn’t hesitate to ask. Anakin couldn’t resist a smile as Dormé stirred from her rest. He could feel her mood lightening and this helped lighten his mood as well. Touching her cheek, lightly he gave a gentle sigh as his expression turned apologetic. ‘I’m sorry for waking you up last night,’ he said softly feeling bad that his attempts not to interrupt her rest fell through. Knowing he had to leave for the Temple and that she also needed to begin her day as empress, she touched his cheek, giving him a kiss before rising from the bed. She thought when she had the chance, she would ask one of the servants to fetch some sleep aids, thinking Anakin might want to try them. It wouldn’t do to have him make a mistake in his extensive training sessions with Palpatine after an already busy day as a Jedi. Anakin put the taste of her lips to memory. The day was going to be long and he was already looking forward to its end. When Anakin finally stumbled home that evening, she had a concoction waiting for him. Though one of her handmaidens got it for her, she ran it by an analysis droid to make sure it was safe. She had another medical droid examine it and the conclusion was that it would ease him into an eight-hour sleep cycle. She mentioned the sleep aid to Anakin offhandedly, if he wanted to use it, and was glad he agreed to at least give it a try. Anakin soon found sleep in her arms and she followed a little while after him. Though he wasn’t one who liked to take medicines of any sort, he was desperate for a chance to rest or at the very least a moment’s peace from his churning thoughts. Upon taking the aids, the fallen Jedi soon found them taking effect and with an appreciative but sleepy smile, he soon snuggled with his beloved and prepared, with much relief, for a night of rest. He couldn’t have been more wrong. His dreams started in the usual fashion: a mixture of mystery and romance that always involved Dormé in some way or another. But as he continued to rest, his thoughts began to take a dark turn and soon frightening images that made no sense to him began to haunt his mind. Soon he found himself wandering through a dead forest that overlooked a poisoned but frozen lake that was filled with dead flowers while a phantom of his beloved wept over them. His hands were covered in blood and at his feet were the indiscernible bodies of millions of people, old and young, half-buried in the snow. Frightened by this sight he tried to escape but to no avail. He tried to reach the weeping phantom of his beloved but something wouldn’t let him near her. Anakin promptly realised it was the doppelganger of Dormé, the very one that he imagined the priestess was the night she died. Desperate, he tried to break free but the Dormé in the red gown only smiled mischievously intriguing him further until he began to confuse this Dormé to be the real one who now wept by the dead waters. The result was disastrous for as he kissed the doppelganger the real Dormé that was more a shell of her former self began to die and with her passing Anakin began to die as well. Torn between saving her and escaping from the incarnation of her, Anakin desperately tried to touch the light and dark sides of the Force. It was to no avail for despite his best efforts no matter what he did nothing could save them both and soon both Dormé and himself were dying, drowning, in the inky black tendrils that exuded from the doppelganger’s body. In the real world, the young emperor thrashed and tore about the sheets as he cried out incoherant mumblings about phantoms and poisoned water in Huttese. Through the Force, the fallen Jedi was a complete mess of light and darkness giving the impression he was a drowning man clinging to anything and everything that might save him. Black tendrils intertwined and soon choked out the small rays of light that exuded from his form while the lights in the room popped and the windows exploded. Furniture in the room began to vibrate while the sheets and blankets writhed and twisted like living serpentine beings. The windows shattered across the room, causing Dormé to awake in shock. Anakin had her tightly locked in his arms and he mumbled and then began crying out in Huttese. She couldn’t understand what he was saying, nor what was going on. ‘Anakin—’ she said, trying to break free as well as wake him up. ‘Anakin! Wake up!’ she begged as the bed began vibrating and the sheets twisting and turning like possessed water creatures. ‘Anakin—’ He wasn’t waking and she didn’t know what to do. His screams grew worse at the sound of Dormé’s voice for in his dreams she was begging for his help but like her he was far too entrapped by the creature that was the doppelganger of Dormé to do anything. Struggling further, he began to cry out to the heavens begging to free his beloved, to save her, to stop the creature that had trapped them both. But the creature only tightened her embrace as their environment began to shift causing Anakin to find himself being pulled into the poisoned lake where from the shore, still trapped, Dormé begged him to wake up. Nothing seemed to work and the more he tried to use his powers to save Dormé the more trapped he became until he was entirely consumed in blackness with only the sound of his beloved’s weeping to further haunt him. Finally she struggled against him, able to break free from his embrace. She ran to the fresher to get water, which she splashed on him, but it was to no avail. She grabbed his shoulders and shook him, but there was still no response. In her panicked state, she began to cry, not knowing what else she could possibly do to wake him. ‘Wake up, wake up...’ After the shouting and violence shaking the normally inanimate objects in the room subsided, his body became very still as the drug slowly wore off leaving his exhausted body to finally know a little rest. Dormé didn’t know what was worse, when he was calling out in Huttese and unrecognizable words or when he grew very still, almost catatonic. At first she took it as a good sign, but then she checked for breathing and a pulse. But he was resting finally and she breathed a sigh of relief as she remained vigilant should another episode occur. It wasn’t long after before his eyes snapped open as he drew in a sharp breath. ‘DORMÉ!’ he cried out with eyes wide and filled with fear and shock unaware that the dream had drawn to a close. His brow was sweating, despite the fact the sheets were long kicked away and she had doused him with water and soon his chest was wet with her tears. ‘Anakin, it’s all right. Anakin...’ She touched his cheeks, straining to situate herself in such a way that she could meet his eyes. Dormé’s voice began to pull this thoughts back but his mind was still lost to the nightmare leaving him jittery and frantic as he stared at her in concern. It was only when he registered her Force signature did he allow himself to believe it really was his wife not the creature that appeared as his beloved. Without warning, he wrapped his arms around her and clung almost desperately as though fearing this was the dream and that the nightmare was real. It was only when he buried his face in her long hair and breathed her scent in deeply that he was able to properly register his surroundings and that he had only been dreaming. It wasn’t until he registered her presence and pulled her tightly to him that she knew he was all right. ‘It’s all right,’ she murmured, stroking his hair and his back as he breathed her in deeply. As his breathing began to steady, Anakin felt his cheeks beginning to burn. He had yet to take in the disaster that was their sanctuary, although he did register that he was freezing despite the fact he was covered in a cold sweat. Still holding onto Dormé as though she were a life preserver in the midst of a storm Anakin remained silent unable to bring himself to speak or to pull away. There was solace to be found here and though he was still exhausted this was the most peace he had in a very long time. Dormé exhaled in relief, though after a moment, felt that not only was artificial arm cold, his entire body was doused in cold sweat. As she stroked his hair and back, Anakin felt his thoughts begin to clear and regain a sense of coherency. Her words too eased a little of his fears and soon Anakin was shyly drawing back a little as he couldn’t help but wonder why the room was so cold suddenly. His eyes drifted briefly to the broken windows only to widen at the sight of them. Touching his cheek, she whispered, ‘You’re freezing. Let’s get these blankets over you, all right?’ before shifting to sit up. Swiftly, she pulled the covers over both of them before lying back down and kissed his forehead. It was then she began feeling awful for having given him the sleep draught, realising it was no doubt the cause of all of this. He could only nod in confusion as he began to register the rest of the damage he had caused during his nightmare. However while this embarrassed him it was the sight of Dormé’s wounds that really left its mark on his mind and filled with him with concern and shame. ‘By the Force, you’re bleeding,’ he whispered as she kissed his forehead. Turning on his side he gingerly reached out to touch her wounded arm only to notice more bruises on her. Dormé hadn’t even noticed the bruises cause by his nightmares and it wasn’t until he said something that she looked and then her arm and side began to ache. ‘It’s nothing,’ she assured him. ‘What have I done?’ he said in sorrow as he bit his lip obviously concerned for her. ‘We should get that looked at and tended to,’ he murmured feeling more than a little ashamed of himself even though he knew he wouldn’t have been able to stop himself as he was asleep when it happened. ‘Just rest now. I’ll have it looked at in the morning.’ Dormé wanted to add that she hoped he would get looked at as well, just in case there were any other adverse side-effects to the sleep-aid she had given him. ‘At least let me look at it before you rest,’ he said gently with an apologetic look as he clamber out of bed to get something to clean the cuts on her arms. After a bit, he returned with some bacta solution swabs and a thick blanket. ‘I’m sorry...’ she said softly. ‘I didn’t think about your Force sensitivity and how that would interact with the sleep aid.’ She paused, letting out a heavy sigh. ‘I’ve just been so worried about you,’ she admitted, though she knew she didn’t have to say why, that he would understand it was about his inability to sleep through the night. He covered her with the additional blanket before joining her. Anakin just shook his head as he gave her an understanding look. ‘It’s not your fault, after all, it’s not exactly something people are generally aware of. I should have been more careful,’ he admitted as he tried to clean and tend to her wounds as best he could. ‘I’m so sorry,’ Anakin apologised again as his heart sunk at the sight of the deep cuts. ‘I thought you could try it and hopefully it would help, but even with this, I’ve failed,’ she added, indirectly facing the truth of the matter: that she felt like she was failing him for not providing the solace he needed to get the rest he needed. Anakin paused in his administrations to study her intently. How he wished he could speak his thoughts, how he wished he knew just what those thoughts were exactly. ‘Dormé, you are the calm in the middle of this storm,’ he admitted referring to everything from the war to his own personal struggles. ‘You have helped, and are helping me, in more ways than I could ever truly explain,’ he said gently as he gave her a hint of a smile while reaching out to touch her cheek. His touch was reassuring, as was his small smile. Dormé needed to know she was doing everything she possibly could do to help him and this let her know that she had been and was. The bacta was cool and soothing and she thanked him for applying it for her. ‘The only person failing to help in this situation is me,’ he concluded with a sigh as he returned to tending to her wounds. This simple statement, like Dormé’s, held more than one meaning as he knew she felt as though she was on the outside right now. But no matter how much he wanted to open up to her, the confusion within wouldn’t permit him to do so and so he was forced to refrain out of his inability to make sense of it all. When Anakin said he was the one failing, she said in a slightly teasing voice, ‘Start succeeding then.’ She most certainly was not married to a failure and if he didn’t believe in himself, then it would be hard to convince him otherwise. He felt his mood lighten and he couldn’t help but chuckle as he made a face. ‘All right then. Where should I begin?’ he teased back as his expression grew mischievous. Dormé smiled when he chuckled, unable to pretend she was being completely serious any longer. His proposition made her giggle, thinking that perhaps the drought had accomplished some good after all. At least he seemed more rested anyway. ‘Perhaps I should start with you,’ he purred as he kissed her throat. Anakin grinned at her giggles and for the moment the nightmares was forgotten. He purred at her teasing words and wink before slip his arm around her waist, though mindful of her wounds, and lean in for another kiss. ‘Oh?’ she queried as he kissed her throat, already knowing very well where this was leading. ‘…with my goals of success being to seduce you to our bed—although we’re already there so that’s half the battle won,’ he concluded between kisses as he gave her a wink. ‘And you think it would be that easy, do you?’ she teased after his wink. ‘Well I do love a good challenge,’ he said in mischievous tones, ‘it makes the success all the more enjoyable,’ he said as he kissed the freckles on her nose and cheeks. Dormé was hardly about to deny that fact, laughing, but then blushing shyly when he kissed her freckles. There had been a time when she was conscious of them, for compared to the other handmaidens with their clear skin, she had spent more time out of doors than the noble-born and consequently had more. In addition to her calloused hands, it was an additional reminder of her lower class background. But ever since Anakin became her friend, she began to see it in a different light. Instead of a mar, it was an accent to her appearance, just as Anakin’s scarring accentuated his features as well. Anakin honestly had no idea why Dormé used to be so conscious of her freckles. In his opinion, they were quite attractive and downright irresistible. ‘It was these little things—’ he once remarked to her in the early days of their friendship, ‘that adds to your mystery.’ Of course, at the time, he was also referring to her calloused hands which was another trait she was conscious about. Though he knew the reasons behind it, Anakin couldn’t help but regard it as a sign of strength and he didn’t hesitate to tell her as much. He too had calloused hands from hours of training to be a Jedi and it pleased him to know his friend bore similar marks. Had he been able to comprehend it further, he’d realise it was also an unspoken connection, one that brought them together despite the different worlds they came from. Smiling shyly at him, she touched his cheek and leant in to give him a proper kiss. Her shy smile warmed his heart and brought a smile to his features as well as he felt her hand against his cheek. Leaning in to close the space, he returned her kiss eagerly while tightening his embrace around her. Moments like this made the exhausting work of the day worth while. It also was the only thing that kept him sane when his thoughts threatened to scatter and completely drive him mad. Dormé truly was a sanctuary of peace and this moment only proved it. After being away from Coruscant for a week on his latest mission with the Jedi, Dormé hoped she would be able to see him, but as hard as she tried to wait up for him, Dormé inevitably fell asleep before he got home. She briefly awoke when he climbed into bed and sleepily welcomed him home, apologizing, saying she had had an excruciatingly busy day in the senate or else she would have stayed up longer. She nuzzled closer to him and soon drifted back to sleep. Though her dreams were far more pleasant in the comforts of his arms, she awoke very early the next morning, far earlier than she wanted to, only to find that the other side of the bed was empty. Dormé sighed and stretched her hand over the spot Anakin previously inhabited. She closed her eyes again, exhaling again before rising from the bed. Anakin turned his attentions to the small water fountain that gurgled and splashed in front of him. Sighing deeply, he tried for what felt like the millionth time to clear his thoughts with the intent of meditating. It was a battle that was lost before it even began, and soon Anakin gave up trying. Still too awake to return to bed, though physically exhausted, the fallen Jedi took to watching the bustling city from their balcony. Though he knew it was a selfish thought he couldn’t help but wish that Dormé was near to talk to, or at the very least, to hold. But his beloved was resting and he was loathed to wake her for he knew she had a busy day herself and decided that ultimately it could wait until morning. He could still hear Obi-Wan’s words upon the completion of their last mission. Much like the way he could still feel the gentle pride that exuded from the Jedi Knight’s Force signature. Supposedly he was now ready to become a Jedi knight - or so his brother believed and with the Council’s approval, Anakin learnt he would be undergoing the ceremony of knighthood as of tomorrow. The young emperor knew he should have been proud; this was after all something he had longed to achieve ever since he was a youngling. But all he felt was a rush of fear, confusion and doubt. The ruse had been kept for too long and now he had finally reached the dreaded fork in the road, the one day he knew was coming but could never really believe would ever really happen. But it had and with it the confusion of his mind -the struggles he couldn’t entirely comprehend suddenly became crystal clear rendering the young emperor speechless upon hearing the news. It was only with much struggle that Anakin was even able to collect his thoughts long enough to stammer out a polite ‘Thank you.’ Nevertheless, the day passed into night and the hour was late when Anakin was finally able to return to his quarters. Today felt even longer than usual; though training with the Jedi and later with the Sith Lord was always a gruelling endeavour. But it was all over now and he couldn’t have been more grateful. Leaning against the uncomfortable ledge of the couch Anakin once more began to contemplate his situation and wondered if he’d ever know a moments rest again. As he stared ahead to the towering skyscrapers and passing ships in the distance, Anakin felt as though the weight of the universe was now resting on his shoulders. He knew he had no right to bear the title of Jedi Knight, just as he knew he wasn’t really worthy to fight along side his brother as a member of the Order. But the thought of facing Obi-Wan, telling him that he no longer belonged amongst the Jedi filled him such dread. While he hated disappointing his brother, what Anakin truly dreaded was the inevitable battle and the outcome that it would bring. It wasn’t that he cared about offending the Order or of even being caught anymore for he was confident in his skills and training. He also had no qualms about taking on his compatriots or even the members of the Council. It was the idea of having to look his brother in the eyes and tell him that he was now a sworn enemy that left Anakin struggling. There was also the fact that sooner or later Anakin would eventually have to face him in battle. Swallowing hard, he tried to ignore the lump forming in his throat, while closing his eyes to prevent the frustrated tears from collecting in his eyes. Anakin knew now that his brother was the only reason he was able to go along with the ruse for as long as he did. But he also knew now that this wasn’t reason enough to continue playing this game of pretend. Even so, he wasn’t certain he was ready to turn his back on Obi-Wan -in truth Anakin couldn’t be certain he’d ever be ready. Despite his decision thus far, he always looked up to his older brother and was quite close to him. He admired the older Jedi for his eternal calm and generous spirit and secretly wished he was more like that himself. But the fallen Jedi wasn’t, and the harder he tried to be the perfect image of calm that was Obi-Wan the more he failed. In the end Anakin had to face the fact it just wasn’t who he was, much like he found himself facing the awkward truth that he was never meant to be a Jedi. Yet despite the simplicity of the facts and the decision that resulted from it, Anakin was hesitant to reach a decision. He knew what he had to do but it was too painful to contemplate and so he did as he always did –he tried to think of a way to run from it. Donning a robe, Dormé padded her way to the veranda, knowing she would find him there, hoping he had at least been able to sleep for a few hours. Seeing that the sun was just now rising, in her opinion, it was too early to be alive. She approached and touched his back, checking to see if he had his eyes closed in meditation before speaking. Finding that he was merely gazing out over the landscape, she said, ‘I’m sorry I wasn’t able to stay up last night to give you a proper welcome home.’ Wrapping an arm around his shoulders, she leant her head on his shoulder, exhaling. Though he sensed her approaching, Anakin initially didn’t respond. His thoughts were elsewhere and it wasn’t until he felt her touching his back was he able to return to the present. At her words, he glanced back at her and gave a tired smile while touch her cheek. ‘It’s OK. It’s been a long day for the both of us,’ he admitted quietly before staring back at the fountain for a moment longer as he slipped an arm around her petite form. ‘Been a long week,’ she added, having missed him very much. She watched the water in the fountain as he slipped his arm around her waist. Over the years, she had come to learn more about the Jedi, but though they seemed more flexible with Anakin as a royal and as their Chosen One, lately he had been having such a hard time with all they asked of him, as well as his training with Palpatine. She knew all of his hard work was in order to gain the title the Order was about to bestow on him. The fallen Jedi gave a soft sigh as his fingers instinctively slipped to her long hair. Twirling strands of it between his fingers, his thoughts growing more coherent and his courage returning. Her sigh seemed to say it all without realising he sighed softly as well. He nodded in agreement to her words as he gave a deep sigh ‘too long if you ask me,’ he admitted in tired tones. With Dormé absence, time always moved at a crawl leaving Anakin almost dreading missions that took him away from her. This past week was no exception and in reality was even worse than normal. But the reason for this he already knew and now found himself in the process of sharing with Dormé. ‘My brother seems to think I’m ready to become a Jedi Knight and has already spoken to the council about it,’ he began quietly while gauging Dormé’s emotions before continuing. ‘Apparently, tomorrow I’m to return to the Temple to begin the ceremony that will mark my entrance into the Order as a full fledged Knight.’ He fell silent then as he couldn’t help but wonder what Dormé thought about it. Though Anakin felt this wasn’t the path for him he was willing to follow it if that was what his beloved felt would be best. Dormé’s world was Anakin. If everything was taken from her, so long as she had him, she would have her life. Titles didn’t matter to her, but it was something she thought was important to Anakin, which made it important to her too. However, his tone seemed to indicate he wasn’t excited about this news. For some reason, Dormé wasn’t shocked by this. After everything he had been through for this past year, she didn’t blame him for being hesitant about it. She didn’t doubt that he would make a brilliant Jedi. She thought he would be amazing at anything he set his mind to, from his mechanical and flight skills to his ability with a lightsaber, she even teased him about being able to cook. Dormé didn’t know his brother very well, but he was always cordial to her. If he believed Anakin was ready for the knew responsibilities, then no doubt he was. Her thumb made semi-circles on his shoulder as she listened, encouraging him to tell her everything that was on his mind. Sometimes talking things out was a good way to figure out what your heart already knew the answer was. ‘And you want me to talk you out of it,’ she said quietly. Her silent understanding was encouraging just as her gentle touch helped him further relax. But it was her words in that moment that held the most effect on him and closing his eyes he gave a slight nod in reply. ‘...I can’t keep doing this, Dormé. It’s not just about balancing my time, though it certainly isn’t helping either,’ he began. ‘The Order believes that I’m the good Padawan who has finally earned the right to stand amongst them as a Knight—’ Anakin furrowed his brow as he corrected himself. ‘Obi-Wan believes that I am anyway. But he doesn’t know the truth and I—’ he fell briefly silent as he studied the fountain ahead. If he knew this was the right course of action, then why did he feel so guilty about it? ‘I just can’t keep up the balancing act between the light and dark side anymore—’ he hesitated. Dormé continued listening intently, though she was just as concerned as he was about this balancing act he had been struggling with. Whatever the Jedi believed about what he was supposed to do or be, it was taking a toll on Anakin and she did not support that once bit. There were a lot of concessions made on Anakin’s behalf, things that Jedi, proper Jedi, were not allowed to do or have, such as attachments, possessions, significant others, and, gods willing, children someday... How could he have possibly followed that path when his upbringing hardly encouraged such a life? What about his rule as emperor? How would he be able to fully commit to a holy order when he had his own subjects to think of? ‘I just don’t think I was ever meant to be a Jedi. I lack the control demanded of me, and the interest. The light side is meant for people like my brother, not me,’ he sighed as he furrowed his brow. ‘I just don’t want him to be disappointed in me, to think that I failed him or that he failed me. He is the only reason I’ve been able to play this balancing act for as long as I have,’ he admitted sadly before adding, ‘And I know if I chose to become a Sith Lord I will become his sworn enemy. Because that is always how its been...I just don’t know if I’m ready to turn my back on him. I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready,’ he concluded in troubled tones. It was his brother that had practically been a surrogate father to him and this guilt of even of considering leaving the order made him feel so torn. ‘But he is your brother. Wouldn’t he respect your decision and love you anyway whatever you chose to do?’ He was so thankful to have Dormé by his side and was even more grateful for her support. Though this was clearly not her arena or interest, Anakin appreciated that she respected the fact that it was an important part of his life. It was also because of this that he was able to speak so freely on the matter despite the awkwardness of the situation. While one would believe that her lack of understanding of the Force would place a rift between them, the effect in was in fact the opposite. Dormé kept Anakin grounded and balanced providing him with a more tangible outlook on life as opposed to the heavily spiritual that was provided to him by both the Sith and the Jedi cultures. As such, when she spoke of Obi-Wan and his relationship, her words reminded him of what he knew to be true. Remaining silent, he drew in a deep breath as he warred within himself and the lingering doubts. ‘I hope you’re right,’ Anakin said quietly. Though his expression was still troubled his body began to relax a little as the weight and meaning of her words left its mark. Dormé shifted to stand in front of him, while keeping her arms around him. ‘I wish I understood more about the Force and Jedi and all of that, but I do know that I want you to be happy,’ she said with a timid, early morning smile. The fallen Jedi couldn’t resist a gentle smile. Having her near helped in more ways than Anakin could ever say and at her words he gently reached out to touch her cheek. With amber eyes still sleepy and lips turned up in a shy smile, hair slightly dishevelled from the night’s rest and freckles, Dormé was the epitome of beauty. For a moment, Anakin remained speechless as he studied her in silence taking it all in. His smile turned shy as he realized he was staring and bowing his head sheepishly for a moment he soon returned her gaze as he gave a soft sigh of contentment. ‘With you by my side, Dormé, anything is possible,’ he paused as his expression turned more serious. ‘Thank you for this, for everything.’ he said softly hoping she would understand all he could not say. Anakin looked so tired as she studied him, his hand caressing her cheek. It seemed as though he hadn’t slept a wink while he was away and she hoped that reaching a decision about this matter would finally allow him much needed rest. ‘You’re welcome,’ she replied softly, glad to see that familiar hint of a smile. Falling silent then his thoughts began to move forward as he realised that it wouldn’t be long before he would have to depart for the temple. Suddenly the thought of returning there alone was a frightening one and he couldn’t help but wonder if he’d truly have the courage to go through with it. ‘I know this is short notice—’ he began as his cheeks warmed, ‘but, would you mind joining me when I speak to Obi-Wan?’ Anakin asked in timid tones. Though he felt embarrassed by his request, he knew that with Dormé by his side he wouldn’t falter. However, he also knew that if she chose to refuse -as this wasn’t her faith after all- he would respect her decision and speak to his brother alone. His glowing cheeks and humble request warmed her heart. Drawing closer to him, her smile broadened. ‘I wouldn’t mind,’ she replied, brushing her nose against his. Feeling her pull him near the fallen Jedi’s smile too widened at the sight of hers just as her gentle reply gave him immense relief. Grinning as she brushed her nose against his the young emperor steal a kiss before drawing back as he grew painfully serious once more. ‘There is one last thing I must do,’ he said quietly as he moved away from her arms. Drawing his lightsaber he furrowed his brow knowing fully well he was on the precipice of a great turning point. Then holding out his Padawan braid, he activated the lightsaber and staring Dormé in the eyes proceeded to slice off the braid. It was as though time was moving in slow motion at the turning of the tide. This symbolic action was like a silent oath of loyalty, a physical representation of how everything in the universe could change and yet the two of them would remain. Though the action itself lasted but a second Anakin felt as though he had just completed a great and long battle. With the tips of the braid still glowing from the burn that severed it from his head Anakin de-activated the lightsaber and hooked it back on his belt. ‘We should get ready and leave soon,’ Anakin said knowing if he postponed this any longer it was almost certain that he would lose his nerve whether Dormé be by his side or not. Snapping back to the presence at his words, Dormé nodded and promptly returned indoors to get ready for what the rest of the day would bring. She forewent putting all of her hair up, settling for half down and wore a rich green gown. As the young royals entered the Jedi Temple, all eyes were on them. The Temple, once warm and welcoming, seemed foreboding for the fallen Jedi who now entered with only slight hesitancy. Instinctively, he reached for Dormé’s left hand, wanting, needing, to feel her calloused fingers against the smooth metal of his right hand. Just knowing she was near, gave him much courage and though no one said a word he could feel all eyes were on them. While the young emperor was normally used to this, on this day, it left him feeling as though he were under a microscope. But as his eyes fell onto Dormé, his fears began to fade as he gave her a nervous smile. No matter what was to come, they were in this together and reminding himself of that, he tuned his thoughts to his brother’s Force signature. It was where he imagined it would be and soon he was leading Dormé to his former mentor’s location feeling more nervous than ever of what he knew had to be done. It was something Dormé had gotten used to since she first began dating Anakin, and now, bothered her little. When Anakin reached for her hand, she gave his metallic hand a squeeze. Though he normally wore a glove to hide his prosthetics, in this moment, it was fitting he didn’t. He no longer had to hide anything. Dormé was proud of him for being true to himself. Obi-Wan had just returned from his own meetings in preparation for Anakin’s knighting ceremony. Though he had expected Anakin would be surprised, he had also expected he would more excited about being knighted. After all, the boy had complained about being ready for the trials for years now, despite the other duties he had as a prince and now an emperor. Sensing Anakin’s approach, as well as another person’s Force signature he vaguely recognised, he walked to the door to let the emperor and empress inside. Before even opening the door, a sense of foreboding overcame him. It was a shock to see that Anakin no longer had his Padawan braid and this confused Obi-Wan. Something was not right. Her silent reassurance was just what he needed and soon Anakin found himself approaching the room where his former master and brother was now. As the door parted, Anakin’s right hand tightened slightly against Dormé’s left. His thoughts immediately scattered but shortly after cleared as he picked up on Obi-Wan’s confusion. It was now or never. Without a word of greeting or a polite bow of respect, Anakin drew in a deep breath and unclipped the small pouch that hung from his utility belt. Then in much the same fashion as he did when he first removed the braid, the fallen Jedi looked into his brother’s eyes and gave him the pouch. He did not need to say what it held for he knew Obi-Wan would already know. The pained expression on Anakin’s face ought to have said it all, but it wasn’t until he gave Obi-Wan the small pouch that he knew what was happening. Though he didn’t know that Anakin had chosen to follow the dark side, Obi-Wan knew that Anakin no longer wished to be a Jedi. Obi-Wan opened his mouth to speak, to say something in order to object and have him reconsider this decision, but before he was able to say anything the young couple was departing. Obi-Wan stood for a moment, speechless, before palming the door closed and turning to dump the contents of the pouch on a nearby table. As was expected, it was Anakin’s Padawan braid. Upon seeing it, Obi-Wan turned away as his eyes welled with tears he did not shed. ‘I’m sorry I’ve failed you,’ he whispered to his former master. Whether their father could hear him or not, Obi-Wan felt this was somehow his fault. Anakin knew the minute he gave his brother the pouch he had to leave. To stay would mean certain failure to commit to his decision and so he left without uttering a word. Though he was immensely relieved to have finally done what he knew had to be done Anakin couldn’t help but feel a bit sad about it all. He couldn’t help but wonder if he’d ever see his brother again or what words would be exchanged between them if they did. He could only hope that Force willing if their paths did cross again it would be on peaceful terms. He had a sinking feeling that it wouldn’t. Later, Dormé wrapped her arms around Anakin’s torso as they boarded the transport that would take them back to the palace. ‘I’m very proud of you,’ she said. Anakin’s thoughts were so consumed by the brief interaction that Anakin barely even registered his surroundings or that he was boarding the transport home until Dormé spoke up. Finally registering his surroundings, Anakin studied Dormé intently for a moment before giving her a shy smile. ‘I couldn’t have done it without you,’ he admitted softly as he wrapped his own arm around her waist and gave her a squeeze. Chapter Two Anakin frowned deeply at his master’s less than subtle suggestion. Staring at the elder Sith Lord in agitation, he furrowed his brow as he folded his arms. ‘Why do I have to take them all out?’ The elderly man just raised a brow as a hint of amusement crossed his features. ‘I should think the answer is quite obvious, Anakin. They are a threat to your empire and to the security and safety of your people, nevermind you and your wife.’ Anakin scowled. ‘I’m well aware of that, but I also know that not all of them will interfere with our work or my empire. With that in mind, I don’t see the purpose of killing all of them.’ Palpatine just shook his head as he walked around Anakin with a thoughtful look that could almost be mistaken to be fatherly. ‘Listen to me, son. I know Kenobi means a lot to you and the thought of killing him is troubling, but you need to understand that you are no longer on the same side. The Jedi always have and always will be the enemy of the Sith. Just because he isn’t a threat now doesn’t mean he will remain that way forever. When the time is right, there can be no faltering or second guesses. Whether you like it or not, Anakin, all of the Jedi, especially the council must be destroyed.’ ‘I won’t do it. I know Obi-Wan far better than you ever will and I know he will not pose a threat. It’s not in his nature; he is a man of peace and a stickler of the rules. You leave him alone and he will leave you alone. It’s as simple as that,’ Anakin snapped in reply as he glared to the Sith Lord who just chuckled in reply. ‘You really think that Kenobi will stand by and let you kill off all of his compatriots? Did you stand by and let the Tuskan Raiders kill your mother-’ ‘We both know I’m nothing like Obi-Wan,’ the young emperor cut in to which Palpatine gave a soft sigh that didn’t entirely belie his thoughts. ‘That you are not,’ he simply stated. ‘But it doesn’t change the fact that your brother’s loyalties lie with the Order and he will not hesitate to do whatever he can to protect them.’ Vader fell silent for a moment as he forced himself to ignore the snide undertone of his Master’s statement and the jealousy it encouraged. He knew that if Palpatine had his choice he would not be the one who learning to wield the darkness, it would be his brother. However, Anakin knew Obi-Wan was far too pure-hearted for such teachings and thus such petty jealousies never lingered. The secret and silent longing to be the Jedi his older sibling was however another story entirely. But this was a thought Anakin no longer permitted himself to dwell upon as in his mind the dark side was by far the stronger side of the Force and so it was Obi-Wan’s loss that he didn’t wish to partake of its vast powers. Yet despite his longing to unleash vengeance on the Order, to end the war and fulfil his destiny as a Sith Lord Anakin did not intend to harm his brother. Obi- Wan couldn’t help but be a Jedi, much as Anakin couldn’t help but be a Sith and with this in mind he refused. There was still a part of him that secretly hoped, one day, things would return to as they were before, that somehow their different views pertaining to the Force would no longer matter. Of course, it was nothing more than a flight of fancy, but it was one the young emperor could never fully let go of. Doing so meant facing the fact he would most likely never see his brother again and such thoughts were just too painful to consider. ‘If he wishes to fight then so be it. Though I doubt highly it will ever come to that. It’s not in his nature. But don’t ask me to do this because I’m telling you right now I won’t,’ Anakin repeated in fervency. The Sith Lord gave a soft sniff of disgust as he returned to the table that decorated the Spartan war room. ‘So it is all right to slaughter a bunch of harmless Tuskan younglings, but taking an equal–such as your brother to battle is not? What is this really about Lord Vader? Is this your attempt to ease your conscience and prove to yourself that you have morals, or is this more about hiding the fact you are a coward?’ Without thinking, Anakin immediately lost himself to his temper and swiftly drew his lightsaber –now crimson and rebuilt to commemorate his transition from Jedi to Sith- and rushed to attack. It was a fruitless attempt one that Anakin was aware of almost from the moment he drew his weapon. But his master had touched upon a rather delicate topic one that the young Sith Lord had been struggling since that fateful day. While Obi-Wan was a tolerant Master, Palpatine was not. Almost immediately, Anakin felt his feet being lifted up from the floor as electricity coursed through his body causing him to scream in agony. The elder Sith Lord frowned in disgust to his apprentices wails of pain but didn’t release him for a few moments longer. Once satisfied with the young sith lord’s sufferings the attack drew to an end and Anakin landed on the floor with an unceremonious crash. Cursing profusely in both Huttese and Uriashian, Vader struggled to his feet only to freeze in place as he found himself staring at the end of Sidious’s lightsaber. ‘You try my patience, Lord Vader. All this time we’ve been planning the demise of the Order and during that time you’ve done nothing but whine and complain, demanding that we execute Order 66 as soon as possible, despite the fact that we had much work to do and were far from ready. Yet now the time has come upon us and you’re backing down. This is no game, Lord Vader. There are no rules, no loopholes, no fence to sit on. Either you are in this or you’re not. You may be a failure as a Sith Lord, but you were even more so as a Jedi. Now you both pull yourself together and embrace what you know to be your true destiny or I will find myself another to call my apprentice,’ Palpatine snapped in obvious disgust. Shaking both from the pain of the burns inflicted on him from the Force lightning attack and rage over his humiliation Anakin clenched his jaw and glared up at Sidious, his eyes filled with hatred. ‘Might I remind you, Supreme Chancellor, that while you are my Master in the ways of the Force, in all other arrangements, I am yours. Or have you so soon forgotten that I am your emperor?’ Vader growled through clenched teeth. Darth Sidious just raised a brow in amusement as he de-activated his lightsaber marking the fact he no longer saw Anakin as a threat. Which in turn only added to the young emperor’s foul mood, as he knew that ultimately the battle was quite over. ‘Maybe so, but in the end we both know whom it is who truly rules. You could of course attempt to remove me Lord Vader though I would be most curious to know just how you plan to do that. After all, I am more trained than you, despite the fact that you have a higher midichlorian count than me. You could try, of course, although I wouldn’t advice it if I were you,’ Palpatine continued in smooth tones as Anakin scrambled to his feet and attempted to stare down the older man with little success. ‘It’s not wise to underestimate your opponents,’ Vader quipped back with a hint of dark smile. Sidious smiled in reply. ‘It is pleasing to know that you have been paying heed to my tutelage. But we both know you are far from fully trained in the dark arts,’ he smoothly replied to which Anakin just cursed in reply. ‘I respect the fact you are my Master when it comes to my training, but as I said before, I am the emperor, not you and when I give an order, I expect it to be followed. I am not trying to challenge your tactics for Order 66, I’m only saying that I will not kill Obi-Wan,’ Anakin tried again. Though his voice was calm, it was obvious he was struggling to contain his rage and humiliation brought on by the sting of his master’s words and the truth behind them. ‘Very well, your grace. If you will not do it, then I will. Try to stop me, if you like, or better yet, attempt to convince the Jedi Order to stop me. I’m sure they’d love to side with the very man who betrayed them to the Sith. Either way, I assure you, no matter what you decide it will only result in failure.’ Anakin struggled to wrap his mind around the statement just made. Staring at the elderly Sith Lord in disbelief he tried to speak but found the words wouldn’t come. It was as though the Supreme Chancellor hadn’t heard a single word he said or more exactly didn’t care enough to bother. ‘You wouldn’t dare!’ Vader hissed in reply but it was too late as Lord Sidious felt their conversation was quite over and was now preparing to depart the war room. Glancing over his shoulder to the infuriated but broken Sith Lord Palpatine just shook his head and gave the young man an almost compassionate look. ‘Tend to your wounds and get some rest, Lord Vader. The hour is late and you are hardly in any state to continue this discussion. Tomorrow is going to be a very busy day and the last thing I need is my second-in-command to be too out of sorts to perform his duties.’ Without another word, Palpatine turned his back to the furious Anakin and silently departed from the room. Enraged but too wounded now to truly vent his frustration Vader proceeded to kick over the large table that decorated the war room causing all the data pads, holo-maps and other related pieces of equipment to go flying everywhere before making his way out of the war room as fast as his wounded and weakened body would permit him. By the time the young Sith Lord returned to his personal quarters, it was well into the night. Though his body was now in far better condition than before –after spending some time recovering in a bacta tank- Anakin was still quite sore and more than a little exhausted. This did little to stop his mind from replaying his conversation with the Supreme Chancellor or more exactly the results of it. While he deeply respected the elderly man, Vader couldn’t deny the fact Sidious had become more of a threat than anything else. He had yet to figure out a way to properly go through with killing the elderly Sith master. His bond with Sidious meant that the Supreme Chancellor would be able to read his thoughts and sense his motives even more so than usual. Given the way things had ended between them today, Anakin also knew that Palpatine would be expecting him to try to kill him. It was after all not only was it a common way for a Sith apprentice to truly become a master but it was almost tradition. Vader’s reasons for removing his current mentor were far more personal as while he longed for the day he would truly become a master there was a part of him that feared it as well. When it came to matters of his brother, Anakin knew that he would have to bury some fears to ensure that greater fears would be faced without hesitation. He silently entered his private chambers and went to find his wife, hoping that she would still be awake despite the late hour. If anyone was capable of seeing this situation in a practical light it was Dormé, he also knew that if anyone could keep him grounded throughout the coming days it would be her as well. It was much later than usual when Dormé heard Anakin finally stumbling into their chambers. She too had had a long day as well, but when hers was ending, her husband’s was only beginning. It was for this reason that she had taken it upon herself to put in a few hours of training the dojo as well, but she had long since showered and gone to bed when Anakin returned. Falling asleep without Anakin there was becoming somewhat of a regular occurrence once more and it was something she disliked. However, this wouldn’t be the case tonight and, rising from the bed, Dormé went to greet him. It was then she took in how he walked and could tell something wasn’t right. Anakin tried to give Dormé a smile at the sight of her but his thoughts were weighed heavy with the discussion he had from before leaving Anakin to be more pensive than anything else. Silently he drew her into an embrace as he allowed himself to forget everything for a moment. When she embraced him, he smelt of bacta. ‘What’s happened? Are you all right? The servants didn’t tell me anything about you visiting the med labs—’ Shaking his head the Sith Lord gave a soft sigh as he offered a weak smile. ‘I’m fine, just finished my meeting with my Master,’ he said dry tones while attempting to lighten the mood and ease Dormé’s concerns. He furrowed his brow to the memory of Palpatine’s statement. ‘In all seriousness, I am in need of your advice,’ Anakin began before proceeding to explain to her the events of the meeting. He expressed the fact he felt the elder Sith Lord had become in his opinion a valid threat. ‘He has no respect for our rule or my wish to leave my brother out of everything. I think it will only be a matter of time before he tries to take our positions right from under our noses,’ Anakin concluded in concern tones. Dormé knew it was his Master that did this to him. Though she knew little of the Force, she hardly thought it was right or fair for her husband to go through these trials. It was not the first time, nor would it most likely be the last. Though it pained her to see him suffering for this Force religion, she knew it wasn’t her place to object to it, at least not until now. ‘How DARE he?!’ Dormé raged, pacing in front of him. She was far more awake now than she had been a few minutes ago. Shaking her fist, she hissed, ‘I’d like to give him a piece of my mind—We are the rulers here, not Palpatine! This is OUR Empire! We will deal with the insurrection in whatever means WE feel is necessary. And we most certainly aren’t going to kill your brother! There are more insidious people we need to deal with anyway!’ While Anakin was pleased to have Dormé’s support—and was most grateful to know she agreed with him when it came to Obi-Wan—he was worried for her as well. His Master had no qualms about taking out Obi-Wan, which left Anakin wondering how much longer it would be before Palpatine would be setting his sights on the empress herself. The thought made his blood run cold and though he nodded in agreement with Dormé, it was obvious he was still guarded about the entire situation. ‘I am in total agreement with you. At the same time, I don’t want to do anything without careful and proper planning. Darth Sidious will be expecting me to react, to do something to stop him and will have most likely prepared for it. ‘What’s worse is the fact he is capable of touching both of our minds. So the element of surprise is completely lost,’ Anakin admitted grudgingly. ‘He’s treating you like a youngling!’ Dormé maintained, hardly hearing Anakin’s words of caution. Anakin couldn’t deny Dormé’s words as there was more truth to it then he’d care to admit. At the same time, her rage was too much to ignore and knowing first hand of the Sith Lord’s capabilities left him fearful for her safety. As if on cue, Dormé collected her blade causing Anakin’s heart to jump to his throat. He couldn’t blame her for her rage as he was infuriated by the situation too but at the same time he had no intention of rushing into this without thinking it through either. ‘Dormé what are you doing?’ he asked unable to hide the concern from his voice. ‘You’re the haramu emperor—I don’t care—’ Venting, she stormed over to where she kept her blade. Cursing up a storm, she hissed, ‘—Touch my mind all he wants...all he’ll see is me killing him—haramu saabarra—’ ‘This is serious you’re about to go head on with an extremely dangerous man! One who’s had more years of training than the both of us combined!’ Vader chided as he grabbed her wrist to catch her attention anything to make her think this through. Dormé was hardly in the mood to be stopped or cautioned, but despite her best efforts, Anakin’s words and grasp on her wrist finally snapped her out of her rage. She wrenched her hand away and hurled her sword across the room. It landed smack in the centre of a mural on the far side of the room. ‘FINE!’ ‘If he wasn’t a Force sensitive I’d know you’d be able to defeat him without even trying, but he is and he is a very powerful one at that. Listen to me Dormé if we’re going to do this we’ll have to do it together and do it properly!’ Having now vented her anger, Dormé folded her arms, facing him with a huff. They needed to think of what to do and they needed to figure it out quickly. ‘How long do we have?’ Anakin frowned at Dormé’s snap reaction though he couldn’t blame her for being furious. The destroyed table in the war room was testament to his own fury and thus he couldn’t chastise her for it when he was no different. Nevertheless as the blade slammed into the far side of the room Vader couldn’t resist a hint of a smile. Upon having her undivided attention, the Sith Lord folded his arms as well and readily met her frustrated gaze. ‘Not long. The preparations for Order 66 are about complete. If we’re going to do this we’ll have a couple of days at best. I’d try to stall him but Palpatine will see right through it especially considering how eager I was to begin attack in the first place,’ Anakin admitted with a tired sigh. Great, Dormé thought, knowing there wasn’t much time. ‘No,’ she agreed, ‘stalling will just make it worse...’ Calming down, but only slightly, she drew nearer to Anakin. ‘What if I approach him as empress to chancellor? He wouldn’t refuse me. He knows better than that. I could divert him and you could attack—’ Anakin took a deep breath as once more he began to go through their situation and all the possible scenarios they could try. At her words, Anakin’s eyes widened in horror at her idea and quickly he shook his head. ‘Force no! You can’t just approach him like that Dormé he’ll only hurt you or worse!’ Anakin exclaimed in terror. ‘Besides he’ll sense my attack even before you go to talk to him,’ the Sith Lord admitted in concern as in his mind he could already imagine the outcome of Dormé’s idea. Frankly, Dormé didn’t think the chancellor would hurt her, but Anakin did have a point. ‘I keep forgetting about his ability to read minds through the Force,’ she replied, frowning. Uttering a mixture of Uriashian and debaucherized Huttese, Dormé tried to think of another option. ‘What about finding evidence against him he publicly cannot deny? Putting him on trial for something? I don’t know...’ Anakin grew pensive as Dormé tossed out ideas. He rather liked the idea of finding evidence against him but soon realized that his Master had allies from all ranks and walks of life serving him. While Anakin was aware of many of them, he was also certain that his Master ensured there would be many more that he wasn’t. Needless to say it left the young emperor a bit guarded about the idea. ‘I don’t know. In theory, it sounds perfect, but I don’t trust Palpatine not to have something up his sleeve. He has allies in the courts and though who oppose him he could just as easily use a mindtrick to convince them otherwise. ‘Killing him outright just seems to be the best and only logical course of action,’ Vader admitted with a hint of concern. ‘As foolish as I know this sounds, I almost wish I could call upon the Order to aid me in this. Of course I won’t but...he is far more trained than I am it, I’d just feel more comfortable knowing I had a decent back- up plan for all of this.’ Dormé knew Anakin wouldn’t sleep well tonight even if they came up with the perfect plan for Palpatine’s demise. However, she also knew they wouldn’t do much better trying to come up with ideas tonight. Anakin had been through so much with his master and she was concerned for him. ‘Why don’t we try to get some sleep and think more on this in the morning?’ she suggested, rubbing his arm. Despite his wish to figure out things or at least come up with some semblance of a plan Anakin was quite exhausted. At Dormé’s suggestion, he gave a weak smile knowing that ultimately, she had a point, neither were in much condition to think clearly nevermind work out a decent plan against someone who had the upper hand. Nodding weakly in reply and slipping his hand over Dormé’s, the Sith Lord kissed her cheek. ‘I guess your right, there’s no point in trying to figure things out when neither of us can keep our eyes open nevermind think,’ he said with a wry smile. ‘Exactly,’ Dormé agreed, giving his hand squeeze. ‘Go wash up and I’ll try not to fall asleep before you join me,’ she said, tossing him a wink and a smile. Dormé already had an idea forming in her head, but was not about to let Anakin in on her plan. Whomever was strongest in the Force or more trained didn’t register with her. Wit was something the Force couldn’t teach someone and Dormé had plenty of that. Anakin reached out to touch Dormé’s cheek as his expression remained troubled. Despite knowing what awaited them in the morning the Sith Lord knew that rest was necessary and the thought of being able to fall asleep in his wife’s arms once more was too much to resist. Soon he was washing up and preparing to join her, unaware that Dormé had already formed a plan of her own, one that he would definitely not agree with. Once he washed up, a rather sleepy but still troubled Anakin promptly clambered into bed next to his beloved and proceeded to get cosy. Despite all the troubles that weighed on his mind, with Dormé in his arms nothing ever seemed quite that bad. Dormé slipped back into bed, exhausted from the day and wanting nothing more than to fall asleep with her husband, but once he was in her arms, her thoughts brewed with plans for the next day. She barely slept that night, though she stroked Anakin’s hair and watched him as he slept. Early the next morning, Dormé rose, careful not to wake Anakin, and dressed as though she were going to a senate meeting. There were plenty of issues regarding the war that would be plausible for conversing with the chancellor. With this in mind, she poured a toxic poison into his favourite tea and brought it to his office. ‘Good morning, Your Majesty,’ Palpatine greeted her with a feigned respectful, already expecting her. ‘Good morning, Chancellor,’ she replied, though with a hint of feigned sadness in her voice. ‘I’m sorry to disturb you so early,’ she said, stepping forward with the tea and setting it on the desk in front of him. ‘It’s just that I’m worried about Anakin. He told me everything about the Order 66, but he won’t go ahead with it despite all the planning that’s been done. I don’t know what further means of persuasion would get him to go ahead with it.’ Knowing the boy would find out straightaway that he had probed his wife’s again and the consequences of such an action, Palpatine forewent such a thing, underestimating the little handmaiden. ‘Surely he will seek your wisdom, Empress. After all, this is not the first time he has struggled with something. You were the one he went to about the Jedi in the first place, were you not?’ ‘I suppose so...’ Dormé said reluctantly. She watched eagerly as the chancellor downed the tea without being sick. Seeing that this measure did not work, her hand slipped to a small, concealed knife. Lost in fitful dreams and the solace of his wife’s arms that reminded him they weren’t real, Anakin didn’t awaken until long after Dormé had slipped from his arms. Confused and disorientated, he glanced around the room before noting the time and her absence. He didn’t recall her having any meetings at this hour, which only added to his confusion. Stumbling out of bed, the Sith Lord went to wash up and get changed figuring that perhaps duty demanded her presence early. However, no sooner than he emerged from the fresher when Anakin felt a shift in the Force and promptly realized that Dormé was with Palpatine. A rush of panic flooded his thoughts at the discovery and swiftly he clambered into his clothes, grabbed his lightsaber, and rushed out of their quarters. Racing down the halls, he hoped against hope that Dormé was all right that Palpatine refrained from doing anything to her. Though he knew all too well that if he didn’t it was certain Dormé soon would. Bursting through the entrance that would lead to the Supreme Chancellor’s office he swiftly slaughtered the guards who attempted to warn him that Palpatine was in a meeting. Then using the Force he caused the doors to part and swiftly made his entrance without pausing to register the situation or the fact he had interceded just in time. Without warning, Dormé hurled the blade at the chancellor’s throat. Palpatine swiftly blocked the attack, sending the blade and the empress flying in opposite directions across the room. Dormé toppled over a small table, crying out in protest. She missed her husband’s grand entrance but heard the blazing of a lightsaber and thought the chancellor was going to kill her. Anakin’s eyes widened as they fell to Dormé’s form. Instincts warred with him as he just wanted to rush to her side to help her but with Palpatine as an obvious threat, such luxuries weren’t permitted. As such Anakin soon tapped into darkness permitting it to course through his veins as he attack his now former mentor. ‘You’d dare to attack my wife! The empress of the Coruscanti Empire!’ Vader growled as he moved swiftly with the intent of beheading the Supreme Chancellor. Distracted by the empress, Palpatine hardly had a chance to ignite his lightsaber to defend himself. Dormé lifted her head to see Anakin with his ligthsaber blazing, meeting the chancellor’s own. The battle ensued with a viciousness Anakin didn’t and couldn’t have ever imagined possible. In the past, all of his battles had been with foes who had little if any idea of his skills. This was personal, leaving the young emperor to be forced onto the defence far swifter than he would have liked. While his former Master was more trained, in the end, Anakin’s need and determination to protect Dormé made him the mightier foe. It also helped that Dormé’s poison, though not deadly to the Sith Lord, had dulled his senses and sensitivity to the Force, leaving the young emperor to gain the upper hand. Palpatine would have preferred to taunt and talk the boy down, but there was no time for that. It wasn’t until the end when he started to panic, for his apprentice had no interest in hearing what he had to say. Mesmerized by Anakin’s attack, she could only watch from her position on the floor as the battle swiftly ended. ‘Anakin—’ gasped Dormé, finally getting to her feet in order to go over to him. After what felt like an eternity, but was in reality mere minutes, Anakin’s lightsaber found its prey. Slamming it fiercely into Palpatine’s throat, Vader gave a vicious grin and promptly drew it upwards causing it to divide his face into two. Only when Sidious fell to the floor lifeless did he permit himself to do what he wanted to do right from the beginning. Rushing to Dormé’s side, as best as his wounded body would allow, Anakin promptly went to see if she was all right. ‘Are you all right?’ he asked in fear as he examined Dormé intently before pulling her into a tight embrace once he realized she was fine. Dormé held him tightly, so relieved that he was all right, and barely registering the yellowish tinge of his eyes. Anakin then took the words right out of her mouth. Palpatine wouldn’t force him to do things he didn’t want to and no one would stand in their way... ‘It’s over, Dormé. It’s really over!’ he whispered desperately before pulling her into a passionate kiss. Dormé kissed him back with all of her being, needing to feel him, to possess him, as much as any living being could possess another...just as much as she wanted to succumb to him in turn. Clothing was quickly, forcefully shed, in order to remove the physical between them. Their kisses soon consumed Anakin who eagerly lost himself in his wife’s embrace. Time melted away as both the darkness and Dormé’s passion engulfed his conscious thoughts, leaving his entire universe to consist only of them. Despite Vader’s never-ending hunger and need to bask in Dormé’s presence, his wounds eventually caught up with him, leaving Anakin to fall prey to exhaustion. As his kisses and touch grew lazier, he also became vaguely aware of his surroundings. Unlike Anakin, Dormé was not aware of this otherworldly urge that came over them, nor the motivation behind it. She had no idea how the darkness that flowed through him was affecting her as well. This was the second time something like this happened and as Anakin’s exhaustion overtook him, Dormé, unaware of her surroundings, let alone the unseen Force affecting them, found herself frustrated. ‘Anakin—’ she almost demanded when he was hardly responsive to her. As much as Anakin wanted to remain here and bask in the presence of his wife, his body was quite wounded from the elder Sith Lord’s attacks. Much of his healing wounds from the night before were torn as well, though to the naked eye this wasn’t entirely visible. As such, the young Sith Lord found himself needing a break far sooner than he would have liked. Anakin sleepily suggested they return to their quarters. ‘Order 66 can wait ‘til the morning,’ he murmured softly before stealing another kiss. The response was hardly one she had in mind. The darkness still lingered in her and she was less conscious of the current situation, still high on the raw urges driven by the dark side. She returned his kiss, but he seemed to have moving out of this room on his mind, which she inevitably agreed to, only with the promise of many stops along the way back. He had yet to register that much of his exhaustion too was due in part to the incredible amounts of the dark side that had been channelling through his body. Nevertheless, they eventually made their way back to their quarters. It was a struggle to remain conscious nevermind to partake of primal pleasures. Much to his shame, between his wounds and the trying events of the past few hours, the Sith Lord was practically falling asleep on his feet. Dormé practically dragged his naked form to the couch, for that was as far as she could reach. She was also still saturated with the dark side’s influence on her, causing her to be extraordinarily selfish. Still concerned with her own, yet not completely satisfied needs, she attempted one last time before giving up and collapsing on their bed. It was some time later when Anakin stirred from rest only to find himself sprawled about quite naked on the couch. Confused and of the belief that Palpatine’s death was just part of a dream the Sith Lord sit up only to wince in pain. It was only then that he slowly began to register the events from earlier. ‘...Dormé?...’ he croaked wondering where she was or how he got here. When she awoke the next morning, Dormé felt woozy and confused. She wondered why Anakin wasn’t in bed with her and why she couldn’t remember what happened. This was the second time she had felt like she had lost a space of time. Concerned, she rose from the bed, drawing on a robe and going to look for her husband. At the sight of her, the Sith Lord rose to his feet but staggered to the pain as he uttered a soft curse. Upon seeing Anakin and his wounded body, Dormé immediately raced over to help him. ‘Great gods, what happened?’ she gasped, but noticed some of the wounds were of her own making and she blushed crimson for it, though she was now only vaguely able to remember the events of the night before. ‘Palpatine’s dead,’ Anakin whispered in confused disbelief as he struggled to remind himself that this was no dream. ‘Palpatine? Oh!’ Dormé said as she put an arm around his torso to help steady him. ‘I killed him...But I don’t know how I could have, he was so much more skilled than I?’ he continued as he ran a hand through his hair before exhaling. ‘And just how did I end up here on the couch of all places?’ he muttered in confusion as it seemed odd he’d be here instead of either in bed or more exactly in a medlab given the marks that covered his body. ‘It’s all so blurry...’ she replied, shaking her head. ‘Let’s clean up and dress and then we’ll have you looked at in the med lab, all right?’ she suggested as she helped him to the fresher. Anakin blushed crimson as well when Dormé went to help him. His body protested loudly from the wounds and he muttered a few curses as he struggled to walk. But soon Dormé was steadying him despite his assurances that it wasn’t that bad. At her admittance to the events being blurry, Vader nodded slightly in reply. ‘If it wasn’t for the fact I feel like my body is going to fall apart on me I’d almost say I imagined the entire thing up,’ he said with a weak chuckle before uttering another curse as even this hurt. As they dressed, she began to remember more details from the day before, though still a good chunk of time was missing to her. ‘I remember going to speak with the chancellor and then you rushed in—’ Glancing to Dormé in shock, he furrowed his brow at her words. ‘You went to? Oh Force that’s right...’ he gave a frustrated sigh at that memory. ‘Dormé, I still can’t believe you did that. And my brother says I have a knack of finding trouble,’ Anakin concluded as he shook his head. ‘…you defeated him...you were brilliant, Anakin...’ He couldn’t resist a hint of a cocky smile. ‘I still can’t believe I did it...I mean...He’s really gone. I’m finally free! No more Masters, no more orders, no more rules, stupid prophecies, fate, destiny and all that nonsense. Just you, me and the empire!’ he said in eager tones. Dormé grew shy at his frustrated sigh and bit her lip as she brushed out her hair. At least it had all worked out properly, she figured, though she was still worried about his injuries. She finished putting up her hair and turned to him at his declaration, grinning. Watching her brush her hair was soothing for the Sith Lord whose thoughts for a moment drifted to more pleasant things. But almost as soon as they did, they grew dark again as he recalled Order 66. ‘The Separatists. We’ll have to get rid of them. How soon do you want to execute Order 66?’ he asked after a moments pause. Furrowing his brow, he asked Dormé when she wanted to begin the mission that would end the war, knowing he would do whatever she asked as her opinion mattered most to him. Drawing near, she gently rested a hand on his arm. ‘Should we wait until you’ve been looked at? It wouldn’t do to have you collapse in front of our enemies,’ she insisted. Her hesitancy was not missed and, falling silent, he studied her intently. Her concern, though in his opinion unnecessary—as surely his wounds would be tended to by the end of the day—warmed his heart. Soon Anakin slipped his hands around her petite form as he pulled her near. ‘I hardly think my wounds are that bad. They just feel that way because I just woke up,’ he said in light tones before growing a more serious. ‘But I’ll be sure to have them tended too first before we begin, as you said we can’t have me falling all over the place in the middle of battle. She tilted her head to the side as if judging or waiting to call his bluff. ‘So long as you’re looked at and the doctor thinks that you’re all right, then yes, I think we should go ahead with it as soon as possible.’ ‘After all, we can’t leave you to have all the fun without me to enjoy a bit of it too,’ he said in impish tones marking he was only teasing. She chuckled at his remark, poking him the chest. ‘Well we also have the Jedi to contend with and that’s your job,’ she said. Grinning, his expression grew cocky to her words as he smirked. ‘But of course. How could I forget,’ he remarked mischievously as he pulled her close to steal a kiss. Dormé returned Anakin’s kiss cheerfully. It would only be a matter of time, sooner than they could imagine, and their empire would no longer suffer in war. Soon they would be able to have the family they had always wanted. While he was eager to begin, there was still a part of him that had some nagging doubts about the matter of his brother. The plan was to ensure the more powerful members of the Council were off world during the Order 66 and then to have them return afterwards for the final confrontation. Even so, the young Sith Lord was concerned that ultimately he wouldn’t be able to choose his battles. Or more exactly, that one of the Council members would order Obi-Wan to take him down. Anakin feared that if it were to come to that his brother, ever a stickler for the rules, would follow the chain of command. It wasn’t that he feared battle, but the thought of having to actually kill Obi-Wan was one he had intention of ever fulfilling. ‘I’ll have the med droids look at me right away and then we can begin,’ he said in eager tones already relishing the thought of finally bringing about peace to their empire. She smiled at his words, gently touching his cheek. ‘I’ll await your return,’ she murmured. As much as Dormé wanted to go with him to the Jedi Temple and take out the traitors, she knew he would adamantly object to it. It was such sweet relief to be finally rid of Sidious and to be able to tend to matters as he should have from the start. Now there would be no more hiding, no more sneaking around pretending to be a Jedi Knight when in reality he had long since rose above the weakness that was the Order. He was truly a Sith Lord now and soon he would restore true balance to the galaxy. Parting ways with Dormé was a hard, but at the same time, this was a personal matter, one he didn’t want to risk her safety over. For while Dormé was a formidable warrior, she lacked Force sensitivity and he feared they would take advantage of that. Despite being weaker than him, the Jedi as a collective were powerful in their own right. But in the end even this did not matter, for their time had long since ran out and Anakin was now here to play the role of reaper. Moving through the halls, he gathered the dark side to him as he laid waste to his opponents with the greatest of ease. Though some proved more difficult than others, in the end, Knights, Padawans, and Jedi Masters fell to his lightsaber. So caught up in the heady rush of the dark side that now coursed through his veins, the emperor soon forgot Dormé’s request. As such, when one of the younglings, too foolish to register the darkness that resonated from his Force signature, Anakin didn’t hesitate to remove the child’s head. Then all hell broke loose. The younglings panicked and though many remained too frightened to scream he could hear their cries through the Force and felt their fear pouring off them in waves. It only served to encourage his drunken state of mind for he was quite inebriated with the dark side and thus unable to resist his lust for blood. Most rushed to the door but soon found themselves trapped with the Sith Lord who used the Force to lock it, thus preventing their escape. But despite a few noble attempts to fight back, most were far too frightened to do much but attempt to open the door or hide. Fortunately, for most, the small voice of doubt finally surfaced in his thoughts and after having removed a few more of the younglings, Anakin recalled Dormé’s words. Coming to his senses, he finally de-activated his lightsaber while studying the pale and ashen faces of the younglings who cowered and tried to hide from him. Shame began to flood his thoughts as he could only imagine Dormé’s reaction while another part of him knew, without question, he had crossed a line. Furrowing his brow, he opened his mouth to speak but no words came and so without another word he stormed out of the room. Upon seeing one of the elite stormtroopers, he ordered them to collect the remaining younglings and return them to the palace. Then without further thought, he departed for home as well, for there were none left, save the children and his troops in the Temple. Only a few Jedi Masters remained alive after the slaughter and they, for the moment, too spread out across the galaxy for the young Sith Lord to even bother hunting down. He would tend to them later. As he returned to the palace, his thoughts were entirely on Dormé and on their mutual desire to end the war once and for all. Upon his return, he eagerly moved through the halls and rooms that would take him to his beloved. He couldn’t wait to embark on their last mission and was already looking forward to the peace they were on the verge of restoring together. Dormé hated waiting around. As much as she knew this was a matter that Anakin needed to attend to alone, she wished she could be there to show her support...and watch him take them out, all of the traitors. ‘Anakin, the Separatists have gathered in the Mustafar system—’ she informed him before he left. ‘Wait for me and when I return, we will go there together and end this war.’ And so, Dormé waited. She waited and saw the smoke rising from the Temple where Anakin laid siege with the army of clone troopers. But pacing was getting her nowhere and she decided to sharpen her wakizashi’s blade. She only had one request for Anakin in his attack on the Jedi Temple, it was that she didn’t want him to kill any of the younglings. Part of her still ached for losing their child and it was a personal request of hers for him not to kill children. Thinking about this made her angry. Anakin was right, once these Separatists were dead, they would have peace and she would no longer be under so much stress. And they would be able to have a child. Though she knew Anakin was the most powerful Force user in the galaxy, especially after removing the Sith Master, Darth Sidious, Dormé was still concerned for her husband. She didn’t worry about him getting killed, just injured, and they had important things to attend to like ending this war. She didn’t want them to be slowed down by any injuries. Finished sharpening her blade, she examined it in the light, pleased with the results. A dark smile crossed her face before she slipped it into the folds of her cloak. Hastening down the hallways to where The Tempest would land, Dormé’s heels clicked on the marble floors. She paid no mind to the servants whose eyes lingered on her form or the troopers standing guard, her thoughts solely on her beloved, hoping his return would be soon. However, she was stopped by a commander trooper. ‘What is it?’ she demanded. ‘The youngling Jedi just arrived,’ the commander said. She instructed the commander where to take the children and to have a servant bring them something to eat. She also dictated that they would be fitted with civilian garb, so that nothing of the Temple remained with them. ‘They are to remain under close guard.’ ‘Yes, Your Highness.’ Anakin soon found himself rounding the corner only to catch sight of his beloved speaking to one of the Commander clone troops. For a moment, he paused as he studied her beauty with a look of loving adoration. But never a patient man, it wasn’t long before he was striding over to her with eager pride as he wanted to embrace and share with her the good news. Just as the commander bowed to her wishes, Dormé was gleefully caught up in the arms of her beloved. ‘It’s over. Save for a few Jedi who remain still out on missions throughout the galaxy the threat has been entirely removed,’ he said proudly as he slip his arms around her petite form. ‘Now all that remains are the Separatists and soon, they too will be nothing but a memory,’ he purred already looking forward to spilling the blood of the Separatist traitors. His words brought such joy to her ears. Soon the galaxy would be at peace and their Empire secure. Dormé wrapped her arms about his neck, drawing him in for a kiss. ‘I cannot wait,’ she murmured. Anakin beamed feeling her joy through the Force. As her arms slipped around his neck, he gave a lopsided grin and was soon drawn in for a kiss that he returned eagerly. ‘I had the one of the Commanders collect the remaining younglings from the temple as you requested, I trust they’ve arrived safely,’ he continued as their kiss drew to a close. ‘Mhmm,’ she replied. ‘That’s what we were just discussing. I wanted to be sure they were fed and that anything having to do with the traitorous Jedi Order were removed.’ The young emperor raised a brow at her remarks and was about to give her a proud grin but it soon faded as he recalled his actions and the fact he almost forgot her request. Growing conscious of himself he glanced away briefly as he found himself struggling with his guilt. ‘...That’s good, I’m glad they arrived safely...’ he began hesitantly as he struggled now to meet her gaze. He really did not wish to discuss this matter with her at this time but Anakin also knew if he didn’t she was certain to find out by other means. Most likely from the younglings themselves who were certain to be mourning the loss of their colleagues. Dormé was smiling up at him until he seemed to slightly distance himself as he avoided her gaze. Something had gone wrong, she could tell. However, stroking his hair at the back of his neck, she didn’t ask. ‘I...I think there is something you should know...’ he began quietly as the shame now became evident in his features. Even when he mentioned that she ought to know something, she just studied him. ‘...Not all of them made it...’ Not all of them made it Not all of the younglings? Dormé was unsure what he meant. ‘Why not?’ she asked softly. Her touch was so soothing that it was almost too easy to forget about the news he dreaded to share with her. But as much as he was loathed to speak of the younglings who fell to his lightsaber Anakin couldn’t keep it from her. For there was nothing he ever kept from Dormé. Her reaction was expected as was her confusion. Her faith in him was unwavering and the thought stung and hurt more than he wanted to admit. ‘...I failed you...’ he murmured softly as he lowered his gaze. ‘...I...It was my fault...I forgot myself...’ he murmured in barely audible tones knowing how much it was going ot hurt her to hear the truth. Tears came to her eyes as he admitted he accidentally killed some of the younglings. ‘How many?’ she asked as he recalled their deaths. Though she didn’t want to know the details she was entitled to, part of her needed to know, or the question would plague her forever. She knew control wasn’t his forte and that, as with anything, it would come with practice. After all, how often in these past few years had he been able to experiment with his growing powers without people being suspicious or jealous of him? Anakin’s eyes briefly flickered up to gaze into Dormé’s amber orbs but upon seeing her tears, he couldn’t hold their gaze as he bowed his head. This was the last thing he wanted to discuss on the eve of their victory but he couldn’t refuse her. Swallowing hard, he furrowed his brow as he struggled with his conscience and his fear of her reaction. Much to his shame he couldn’t entirely recall how many fell to his lightsaber and the thought troubled him more than he wanted to admit. ‘...three, possibly four...’ he concluded quietly as he struggled to clear his thoughts of the haze that was the darkness still coursing through his veins. She could tell he was having a difficult time recalling it and her hands fell back to his shoulders. Possibly four, he said. He didn’t remember. ‘Tell me they provoked you,’ she said, grasping to the hope that there was good reason for the deaths of little ones. Anakin closed his eyes as he struggled to clear his thoughts to recall the events in more detail, to possibly confirm her words, to erase her fears. None came. ‘I don’t know...I mean...It was all a bit of a blur...’ he admitted struggling with thoughts, his concerns and his fear over the fact he could barely recall what had happened. Dormé’s heart fell to hear that he hadn’t been provoked, that innocent lives were claimed, little ones who hadn’t done anything but what they thought they were supposed to do... ‘Oh...I see,’ she replied sadly. What was worst of all was Dormé’s reaction to his poor behaviour and handling of her simple request. ‘...I don’t think so...I’m sorry...’ he finally confessed knowing that despite his wish to ease her fear that ultimately he could never lie to her. ‘Well, they would have become our enemies,’ she said, trying to convince herself that the action was justified anyway, though she wouldn’t ever fully convince herself that it was the case. And speaking on enemies made her think on the Separatists they needed to remove, which, unbeknownst to her, was the true reason she was able to almost shrug off the deaths of three or four innocents. He could feel Dormé’s sadness and it caused his heart to sink further leaving him struggling with his thoughts and the guilt it encouraged. Her reply didn’t help any despite her attempts to ease his shame and her own concerns. ‘...I suppose so...’ Anakin murmured his eyes still not meeting hers as part of him longed to tighten his embrace around Dormé, to hold her close as though somehow hoping in her arms he would find absolution from the guilt. However, just as he began, he hesitated, fearing her refusal and drawing back slightly he tried to focus his thoughts on the present situation. ‘We should depart soon to tend to the Separatists,’ he said quietly desperate to change the topic and move onto more pressing matters. Dormé moved from him just as he did so, which was fortunate as her thoughts were distracted as well. She nodded in agreement, her hand already her sword. ‘My thoughts exactly. What’s done is done.’ She exhaled almost as if out of relief, though it was truly the darkness breathing lies to her unwitting non-Force sensitive soul. Anakin nodded at her words putting them to mind and using it to bury his doubts that would never quite fade away. ‘I agree...There is no point in visiting the past,’ he murmured as though reminding himself of the fact more than speaking to her. ‘And soon we shall have peace.’ Her eyes glinted with expectation of the kills that would soon adorn her newly sharpened sword. As the topic changed, his thoughts shifted and soon the darkness was poisoning his mind once more. Offering her a dark smile Anakin reached out to touch her cheek briefly. Then motioning him to join her Anakin began to head back to the Tempest with the hopes of embarking on what he believed would become their last battle for peace. As they boarded The Tempest, Dormé’s conscious continued to war with her, telling her what happened with the younglings was wrong, was a warning of some sort, but as Anakin plotted the course to Mustafar and she leant her head on his shoulder, making herself more comfortable, it slowly began to fade away to the back of her mind. Anakin’s thoughts were no longer divided as he continued to focus on the destruction of the Separatists. This was only encouraged by Dormé’s presence and unspoken comfort. Feeling her head resting on his shoulder, the young Sith Lord didn’t hesitate to slip his arm around her shoulder as he began to play with a loose strand of her hair. With her near anything was possible and despite his previous doubts Anakin never felt more confident in their success as he did in those moments. She spoke aloud of the politicians they would be encountering and recalled how many of them supported slavery and abused the resources of their planets. How the droids left many workers out of jobs and how much she wanted to see them suffer for the damage they caused so many lives. Hearing her speak of the politicians and how they abused their powers and became corrupt because of it left him even more assured that their actions were justified. That together they would restore justice and make the empire a place where peace wasn’t just an ideal but a reality. It was not long before they landed on Mustafar and Dormé had to tease her Sith lord husband about how hot it was, comparing it to Tatooine. ‘Minus the sand of course,’ she joked as the pair made their way to the location of the Separatist leaders. Anakin chuckled at Dormé’s teasing, feeling as though everything was about to become right with the universe and was in light spirits as a result. As they entered the headquarters of the Separatists, the Sith Lord was surprised at the fact that they were expected. In the end, it matter little and soon he was gathering the darkness around him, letting it course through his veins and cloud his thoughts. A dark look crept into his features as he used the Force to blocked all possible exits. It was clear they were expecting his arrival, though Dormé wasn’t sure why or how that could be. But she didn’t dwell on it as her hand tightly gripped her wakizashi, just waiting for Anakin’s word. She was almost giddy with expectation. Her eyes gleamed as she watched him, in preparation to unleash their hell upon them. A thrill shot through her as Anakin used the Force to block their exit, knowing what would come next. It was the feeling of his beloved’s eyes on him that filled him with the most joy. This was about to become their moment of glory and without so much as a word he glanced back to her with eyes filled with a sickly yellow and rimmed with crimson and gave her a dark smile. Then drawing out his lightsaber, he activated it and prepared for the slaughter that was to come. It was his gaze and dark smile that was incredibly difficult to resist. She had to remind herself that they had a job to do. This was the first time the two of them were able to unleash hell upon their enemies, and though they sought galactic peace, it would not be the last time they would seek battle together. Upon hearing and seeing Anakin’s lightsaber activate, Dormé didn’t hesitate before taking out droids and Neimodians with single-slice accuracy. Though it was no lightsaber, her blade was just as deadly when wielded correctly. Their enemies stood no chance against their vengeance. Feeling the dark side pulsating through his veins, Anakin soon became lost in the slaughter as he moved through their prey with much ease. Sensing Dormé’s own bloodlust mingling with his own was a heady feeling indeed just as the sight of her attacking her prey as though she were but completing an elegant dance filled him with lusty thoughts. She barely heard their cries for mercy as she sliced off limbs and heads, pierced guts and hearts, blood spilling forth from each cut. Her victims were by far the bloodier of the two since her sword did not cauterize wounds. Most of the time, she would look over to see her beloved in action and it filled her with unnatural pride. It was as struggle to continue the battle to say the least, though it was hardly a battle worth mentioning as they were far too skilled for the politicians that commande the separtatist organization. But despite his wish to bask in his presence of his empress Vader couldn’t deny the rush he got from feeling and hearing the requiem of the many souls they sent to the Force and this too left him feeling quite drunk in the Darkness he also basked in. Once her last victim’s soul departed, she dropped her sword, not out of regret, but out of having no more use for it, as she stormed over to Anakin with lust- filled eyes. As the last lifeless body fell to the floor and mingled in the pools of blood that once belonged to its compatriots, the Sith Lord immediately lost interest in his dark side mistress. His thoughts were now entirely on his empress and he didn’t hesitate to join her with an expression that mirrored her own. Pulling her into a tight embrace, he proceeded to kiss her with all the fire and passion that a man could give, having never felt so alive and wanted nothing more than to enjoy his queen and beloved. There was no need for words, as much as Dormé wanted to know what it was like for him during the battle as an incredibly Force sensitive individual. She was far too caught up in him to pose questions, let alone notice the dead bodies or the fact a good portion of her cloak and gown were spattered with blood. She pressed herself against Anakin, returning his kiss with equally ferocity. Disregarding the fact they were locked in the room with the remains of their enemies, they made use of the room to give in to their what seemed almost to be unquenchable desires. Never in her life had she known such passion and as such, resolved that she would be joining him on his each and every mission. Through the Force, he could feel her desire and it was hard to know where hers began and his ended. This left Anakin more than eager to lose himself in the arms of his beloved. Her bloodied state did nothing to stop him, neither did the bodies of the dead that lingered all around him. With the darkness still coursing through his veins and lingering around Dormé, Anakin felt as though he were a god and she, a goddess. That they had restored justice and as such were entitled to celebrate...And celebrate they did letting the darkness encompass their thoughts and intermingle with their feelings of passion and love for each other. Anakin opened his thoughts to her allowing his empress to feel his emotions and to sense the darkness the lingered and wrapped itself around them. The feeling was too enjoyable after all not to share and Vader wanted Dormé to understand and appreciate what he had always known all his life. The sensations caused by the dark side of the Force as Anakin opened it up to her was beyond amazing. Though it would haunt her later, at the moment, she relished the experience, never having felt so high in her life. It was as though she drank too much apsinthos, but saw and felt everything in a heightened level of clarity. It wasn’t until the putrid stench of the dead invaded her senses that Dormé knew it was clearly time to leave. But the rush she felt still had not left and she wondered if the feeling would ever pass, hoping that it wouldn’t. He suggested that they should continue where they left off upon returning home. She grinned mischievously at Anakin’s suggestion and between heated kisses, they made it back to The Tempest. Though Anakin’s suggestion referred to their apartments in the Imperial palace, Dormé was a little too impatient for that and once he set it on autopilot, she was assaulting him once more. The restored peace to the galaxy and never before had she felt so in sync with her beloved husband. Later, when they were finally back in their own quarters, Dormé smiled at Anakin as they lay in bed together, running a hand through his hair. ‘With the Separatist destroyed, there will be far less things to worry about,’ she mused. He couldn’t resist tightening his embrace as he too played with her long hair. ‘You were magnificent to watch,’ he purred before adding with a mischievous smile. ‘You have no idea how hard it was to stay focused throughout the battle. I don’t think I’ve ever been so eager to end a fight as I was then,’ he admitted as he gave her a kiss. ‘Rest assured, my love, with peace now finally restored we will never have to worry about such things again,’ ‘Although, I have to say I almost wish there were more traitors to remove because—gods—that was amazing...nevermind seeing you in action...’ The Sith Lord couldn’t resist a chuckle. ‘I know exactly what you mean,’ he said as his eyes danced in mischief. ‘Although frankly, I much prefer the action that occurred after we removed the traitors myself.’ Dormé giggled before giving him a kiss that assured him she agreed wholeheartedly with his remark. She also hoped that that sort of action would lead to becoming pregnant, unaware that she already was. ‘And hopefully soon, there will be little ones to share in this newly instated peace...and tell them one day about how Daddy and Ama brought peace to the galaxy,’ she mused happily. But even if this wasn’t the case, deep down, she knew that having Anakin in her life was the best thing that ever happened to her. Anakin gave a mischievous grin at her giggle before purring as he eagerly returned her kiss. Unaware of the fact even now a small spark was growing within Dormé, the young emperor gave a contented sigh to her words as he gave her a squeeze. ‘I’m already looking forward to it,’ he murmured softly as he continued to play with her hair as his eyes softened and a dreamy smile crept into his features. ‘I can’t wait ‘til the sound of our children’s laughter fills the halls of the palace and the pattering of their feet are heard from the rooms,’ he mused in contentment before studying her intently as he gave her a loving smile. As much as Dormé enjoyed the intense moments of passion following their slaughter of the Separatist leaders, Dormé loved moments like this when everything seemed right in the galaxy. And for once, Dormé was convinced that everything was perfect. She gazed in loving admiration into Anakin’s blue orbs, matching his smile. ‘And playing in the gardens, learning to swim, to fly...’ she sighed. It was a beautiful dream, one that would hopefully come true very soon. She so very much wanted to be a mother, one that would be there for her children, protecting and loving them in ways her mother never had. Anakin grinned at her words already imagining how wonderful it will be to have a family to call their own. He could almost picture their children running about, playing and wanting to hear their Ama and daddy tell them about stories before they went to bed. It was a wonderful thought to say the least and in silence he let his thoughts wander taking in her Force signature or more importantly any subtle changes within it. It was a habit he had grown accustom to doing since their first child was returned to the Force. But it wasn’t the sadness he dwelled on now, rather on the hope that this time they would be ready for the new life and be able to protect it from whatever unseeing threats. ‘I just know you’re going to be a wonderful mother,’ he said gently. Trailing her fingers over his chest, she wondered, ‘How many children do you want to have?’ As his thoughts wandered, Anakin found himself sensing something was indeed different this time. Furrowing his brow, he tried not to get his hopes up as he continued to study her Force aura with a trained eye. Vaguely catching Dormé’s question—much like he vaguely registered her gentle touch—Anakin’s attentions briefly returned to her. Giving her a lopsided grin, the young Sith Lord chuckled in reply. ‘As many as we can get away with,’ he semi-teased before letting once more returning his attentions to her Force signature as his expression grew almost blissful. Resting her head contently on his chest, she missed him furrowing his brow in concentration as he scanned her Force signature. She was unaware that he had taken up the habit since the loss of their first child. Dormé laughed at his comment about how many children he would like to have. Very much of the same mind as him, not registering that childbirth was like a planned torture session, she also wanted to have many children. The sound of her laughter and sight of her smile warmed his heart and filled him with much joy for it seemed like an eternity since he last see Dormé truly happy without the hint of sadness in her eyes. The loss of their first child had been hard on Anakin but was nothing in comparison to how it had affected his beloved. ‘Although I think, Dormé...we just might get our wish sooner than we think...’ he murmured in disbelieving joy. Though he couldn’t be certain, essentially, he could sense that there now was a very weak, but definitely a separate Force signature that lingered about Dormé’s own. At his words, Dormé picked up her head to look at Anakin curiously. His tone and joyful expression conveyed the truth. ‘Really?’ she asked hopefully, her smile growing as well, not realising that the only children she would be spending time with anytime soon were the captive Jedi younglings. Now with this, discovery he was more than eager to share the news with Dormé and at his less than subtle hint he was rewarded with another growing smile to which he soon returned. ‘I think so,’ he replied in his own hopeful tones to her question. ‘I can sense another Force signature within your own, Dormé. It is weak, but it’s there,’ he continued as he was no longer able to hide the joy from his voice and features. ‘It’s beautiful,’ he murmured softly. ‘May I show you?’ he asked softly wanting to warn and receive her permission before touching her thoughts. He called it beautiful and Dormé wanted nothing more than to believe it. How she had longed for this, especially after the loss of their first little one. Now that she knew of this one’s existence, she vowed to do everything in her power to keep it. She would see a doctor every day of its development if she had to, so long as it was healthy and safe. ‘Oh yes, please!’ Dormé said quite excitedly. She could hardly believe it was possible, but now knowing that Anakin confirmed she was pregnant, the thought filled her with such joy. Soon their dreams would come true and they would have a little one to share their Empire with. Anakin gave a shy grin at her eager reply as he already knew that she would want this but unlike their moments under the influence of the Dark side felt the need out of respect to her to ask first. Without another word, he leaned in to gently kiss her lips and through the Force he lightly touched her mind opening his thoughts to hers. ‘It is going to be a little disorientating at first but if you look closely at your aura - the colours that surround your body- you will be able to see a second aura,’ he said softly into her thoughts as he continued to play with her hair. Through the Force, he tried to reach out to the spark as a means of making contact. It was meant to be a simple gesture, a means of making himself known to the little spark, to reveal the love they felt for the little life that was growing in their midst. Responding to his kiss, she was pleased to hear his voice in her head, something so personal that she always relished. She kept his words in mind, as her eyes opened to the Force. ‘Oh!’ she gasped once her eyes adjusted and looked past her own signature to see the little spark. ‘Oh! Oh Anakin!’ she exclaimed, beaming. ‘It is beautiful,’ she said, repeating his assessment of a minute ago. ‘Our baby...’ She couldn’t help shedding a few tears of joy. It was so amazing and incredibly real. ‘Will we be able to do this again as it grows?’ she asked hopefully. Anakin beamed at her reaction feeling her joy intermingling with his own. Watching her in silence, he took in her reactions feeling as though he was reliving his own experiences when he was first learning how to use his Force abilities. Gently touching her cheek Anakin wiped away her tears as he nodded to her question. ‘We can do it as much as you’d like,’ he said softly ‘I’ll have to go to the medical centre to have a check-up soon. Oh, it’s really happening, isn’t it?!’ ‘I truly hope so,’ he purred as he gave her another smile. It was truly a wonderful experience, one she would cherish, even in the worst of times. Being so close to another person and having the chance to feel their emotions as well, for a non-sensitive person, was truly amazing. That Anakin was willing to do this for her as well was something she would always appreciate. But to add to it all, the fact they were going to have a baby, that they were one step closer to attaining the dream they so often dreamt, it just made it blissful to say the least. Anakin cherished this moment to the fullest and couldn’t help but relish feeling Dormé’s emotions and thoughts to freely touching his own. Feeling their child’s life signature only added to this feeling. Holding her close the young Sith Lord felt as though they truly were in harmony as Dormé’s people so often believed. ‘This really is a dream come true,’ he murmured softly as he kissed her once more while continuing to keep this thoughts and emotions open to her. As happy as the moment was, it would be awhile before such happiness was felt again. Chapter Three Less than a week after the slaughtering of the leaders of the Separatists, Dormé started not feeling well. She was barely able to eat much at all and though the doctors said it was only morning sickness, that the baby she had been carrying for only three months was just fine, she had a sinking feeling that everything wasn’t fine. Anakin felt a shift in Dormé’s Force signature and grew concerned. It wasn’t long after before his beloved fell ill, which in turn, was vaguely felt by him as well. Worried for the safety of Dormé and their baby, the Sith Lord promptly went about finding a specialist to monitor both the mother and child. But as with their personal physician, nothing out of the ordinary was found, despite Dormé and Anakin’s concerns. Today, the young emperor sensed something was terribly wrong and upon realising he could no longer sense their baby’s Force signature, he frantically order the specialist’s presence on emergency. Shortly after, the bleeding and cramps began. Despite the fact the physician now resided within the palace wall—so as to ever near in case of such emergencies—it was too late. Within minutes of notifying Dormé that the specialist was on the way, the small life returned to the Force. Anakin didn’t leave Dormé’s side through the entire ordeal, despite their demands he depart. But in the end, he satisfied himself with watching her from the far side of the room lest he interfere with the hopeless chance that they might save their baby. It proved to be a lost cause. ‘No...’ she murmured, tears flowing heedlessly down her cheeks. Not again! Why? Why did this happen?? she thought desperately, waiting for the medical technicians to give her a solid reason. As Dormé demanded answers, he promptly joined her side, trying to offer what silent comfort her could. Given his own state of despair and sorrow, sending peaceful thoughts to her through the Force was impossible. When they could offer none, she screamed at them, venting her anger and frustration, though it did little good. She ached all over and welcomed the drug they gave to sedate her. She didn’t want to feel anything or be able to think about the baby she lost. As they injected her with a drug that would ease her pain, Anakin softly told her that he was going to get to the bottom of this matter once and for all. Yet when the Sith Lord demanded to know what exactly had happened and how it would affect Dormé’s health, no one was able to answer his questions and were as baffled by it all, for neither the mother, nor the child showed any signs that would suggest a cause for the miscarriage. ‘This has never happened before in all of my years of service, I don’t know what to tell your grace because this technically should never have happened,’ the specialist stated in concern to a frustrated and despairing Anakin. Vader immediately killed her for her ignorance and then proceeded to destroy the droids who were also in the room at the time. While the elderly woman’s death sated his rage for the moment, as did the passing of the droids, it did little to ease his sorrow and fear for his beloved’s health. Something was obviously wrong. Someone was obviously trying to hide information from them. Why else would they claim Dormé was healthy, as was their baby, only to have her lose it? The thought both infuriated and filled him with paralyzing fear. What if she was dying and they didn’t know? What if she was ill with an incurable disease? The darkness continued to whisper its lies into the Sith Lord’s mind filling him with despair and paranoia. Frantic he ordered some of his finest intelligence to locate and find all the most skilled healers in the empire. If modern technology couldn’t help them or wouldn’t help them, then he would find those who were more in tune with the natural side of medicine. He prayed this would provide the answers he so dearly sought. In the meantime the all the doctors and medical technicians behind this failure would pay for their mistake with their lives. Having ordered their demise, the young emperor quietly returned to where his wife now lay resting. Shyly, he joined her side, noting the effects of the drugs through her aura and hoping that it was helping with her pain. If only he knew of a way to numb the pain of the loss, but that was nothing more than wishful thinking. Gently he took her left hand into his metallic right while his left hand ran his fingers through her long hair, matted with cold perspiration. Though he tried to resist it, soon the tears began to trickle down his cheeks as he watched her intently. While he believed he had done everything in his power to help her save their child, the young Sith Lord couldn’t help but feel he had failed her somehow. ‘I’m sorry...’ he whispered softly to her as he bowed his head. ‘I am so sorry...’ A few hours later, the sedative eventually expired and Dormé began to slowly regain consciousness. It wasn’t until she saw the look on Anakin’s face that she registered the miscarriage had happened, that it hadn’t been a nightmare brought on by fear. Anakin felt her beginning to awaken and continued to run his fingers gently through her hair in a manner he knew she normally found comforting. Her exhaustion was expected but even so, Anakin was concerned. With the specialist withholding information from them and possibly lying about Dormé’s condition, the Sith Lord was fearful for her safety. ‘Anakin,’ she whispered, her voice thick from exhaustion. ‘It’s alright my love, you rest,’ he said softly as his hand slipped to her cheek. She bit her lip momentarily, before she found the nerve to speak once more. ‘I’m sorry,’ she gasped out, feeling this was her entire fault, that it was because she had done something to lose this baby though she didn’t know what it could possibly be. Her apology tore at his heart and brought new tears to his eyes as he shook his head in silence. Her sorrow was so powerful that it was almost overwhelming leaving him to wonder where hers began and his ended. ‘It’s not your fault, Dormé. Please don’t think any of this is your fault. It’s them. They have to be withholding information from us. I know there has to be something they’re not telling us. I’ve already sent out intelligence to find another specialist. This time one who will not try to deceive us,’ Anakin concluded in soft but determined tones. His accusations of the staff for their incompetence and withholding of information ought to have made her feel better, placing the blame elsewhere, but Dormé was far too consumed with grieving now to be comforted in that way. Dormé wanted nothing more than to be alone with Anakin in their chambers so she could mourn properly without witnesses, not realising that he had already exacted revenge on the specialist and the stupid droids. With tired arms, she reached for him, unable to wait until they were in their quarters to sob unyieldingly. ‘Why? Why?’ she repeated. He didn’t speak another word as she reached out to him with tired arms to which he promptly leant in to embrace her. Closing his eyes, he fought back his own tears of sorrow as he rubbed her back and continued to run his hand through her hair. In silence, he couldn’t help but ask the same question of the Force but as always only silence answered their pleas. The Sith Lord couldn’t understand what was wrong, what had happened, or why it had happened again. He knew without question that Dormé was innocent and that if anyone deserved a child, it was her. So why the unnecessary punishment? ‘This is my fault Dormé, not yours. If anyone is to blame, it is me. I foolishly didn’t find more specialists for another opinion. I should have had more healers watch and monitor your condition and the condition of—’ he didn’t dare finish the sentence lest he fall prey to his despair and pain. Though she initiated reaching out to hold him, she was more enveloped in his arms due to her body still feeling weak from the ordeal. Her tears leant to her exhaustion, wondering why the Force or the gods had let this happen again. She hated to think on how this affected Anakin and when his last sentence stopped short, she pulled back slightly to look into his eyes, seeing the sorrow there. His pain mirrored her own and though naturally, it would seem to magnify their grief, it contrastingly made it easier to deal with than had either of them been alone. Though Anakin tried his best to comfort her with words he soon realised, that like himself words were far too weak for their pain. Almost as soon as he discovered this Dormé was reaching for him and immediately he was wrapping his arms around her as though trying to protect her from her pain. Her body felt so frail in his arms like glass and this thought caused a chill of fear to run down his spine. Reminding himself that soon they would find another specialist this one far more trustworthy Anakin tried to calm his frantic thoughts. It was bad enough they lost two children, but the thought of losing Dormé was too much to even contemplate. For he knew if he were to ever lose his beloved he too would surely meet his own demise. Leaning forward slightly with her arms still loosely around him, she rested her forehead against his as the last of her tears slowly fell. All she could think of was their little ones, both of them, that they hadn’t been able to meet, to see, to watch them grow up and find out what sort of personality they would have, what would interest them, make them laugh... Despite his attempts to comfort both her and himself the guilt still lingered and plagued his thoughts and soon he was apologising for his own failures which caused her to draw back to stare into his eyes. Silently he touched her cheek and swallowed hard before closing his eyes as he felt her forehead rest against his own. Shaking now, he tightened his embrace further as he bit his lip so hard he could taste blood in his need to keep from weeping. He had to be strong for her sake, for both of their sakes but it was so hard for all he could feel was despair. Once her last tears subsided, Dormé felt him shaking in her arms, though his arms were strong around her. Running her fingers through his hair, she wanted Anakin to know that it was OK for him to express his grief, that it was all right if he needed to cry, that in this moment, he didn’t have to be strong. At her silent assurances, he continued to struggle to keep from giving in, but her touch was soothing and her silent support was too much to deny and despite his best efforts, the Sith Lord soon succumbed to his sorrow. Silently he sobbed with his face buried in Dormé’s dark hair, as his sorrow finally broke free. Like Dormé, it would be some time before the tears would finally run dry. As time passed, Anakin found himself growing more conscious of his wife’s exhaustion and gently drew back as he furrowed a brow in concern. ‘You should rest. You’ve been through a lot already,’ he said softly wanting to carry her back to their quarters but concerned she wasn’t healed enough for that yet. Had he not destroyed and killed the medical staff he would have been able to verify that she was well enough but it was too late for such thinking and so he refrained. Anakin promptly decided he would stay here the night unless the replacement medical staff could confirm she was well enough to depart with him. She silently nodded, hoping that she could return with him to their quarters, not wanting to be in this place of death any longer than was necessary. Dormé hoped as well that he would not leave her here alone with her thoughts. So long as his hand remained in hers, she was content enough to fall into a light doze until the replacement medical droids arrived to perform a check-up and deem her well enough to return to their private chamber. Though he sensed she longed to return to her quarters he was fearful of her fragile condition and quietly explained that they should wait for the medical droids to ensure she was in good enough health to leave. With his hand in hers, Anakin watched as she drifted to sleep. He, however, never got a moments rest himself for he feared if he closed his eyes when they opened again she too would be lost. When the medical droids finally arrived Anakin had many questions but kept most to himself save for when they explained to her once more that she was perfectly healthy and capable of having children in the future. Frowning he cursed at them demanding to know the truth saying that if she was so well than why was this happening? Dormé awoke to their scanning and prodding, aching and asking if there were some medication she could take to ease the pain, as well as asking if, in their opinion, she was still healthy... Dormé couldn’t understand why all of this was happening, but she was now too exhausted to want to hear their warbling. The verdict was the same as before as though none of this had happened. It didn’t make any sense. ‘The baby and mother was healthy or so I’m told, but if that truly is the case, then why all of this? Hmm? I think you better find some answers and quickly or you’ll be joining the junk heap like your compatriots and that damned specialist in the next room!’ he growled in pained frustration. She winced as they finished their prodding, but exhaled a shaky breath as Anakin growled at their assessment. Shaking her tired head, Dormé murmured that she wanted to go home, back to their quarters. Anakin wanted to destroy them as well but refrained this time, as he knew they were only trying to tend to Dormé’s health. Even so, it didn’t stop him from scowling and arguing at the absurdity of their verdict and demand they look into the matter further. At Dormé’s soft words, the Sith Lord’s temper faded away leaving behind only the worried husband who wanted nothing more than to comfort and care for his beloved. Nodding at her words, he gently kissed her forehead and gingerly lifted her up in his arms. ‘I trust she is well enough to return to her quarters?’ he half asked, half demanded of the med droids who agreed with him, but warned that she shouldn’t over exert herself for the next few days. Without another word the young emperor carry his beloved back to their quarters while using the Force to mimic his hand in her hair in the hopes this might help her drift back to sleep again. Anakin’s arms were by far more comfortable than the examination table and though Dormé was not well enough to wonder how he could be holding her and have a hand in her hair, it was familiar and soothing. She did not protest when Anakin aided her in washing up and changing before going to bed. Her legs felt like jelly and standing a long while made her dizzy, so she was glad to finally be able to rest in a proper bed. Even in this weakened state, clinging to Anakin made it much easier to sleep than in the medical facility. Anakin didn’t speak a word as he helped her prepare for bed he just knew it wasn’t necessary and was grateful that she permitted him to help her. It broke his heart to see her like this so fragile and shattered and yet at the same time he couldn’t say he felt much better. The loss was so overwhelming and his fears that he would soon lose her too didn’t help any either. Holding her close, Anakin was able to find some solace in the fact that he was at least able to be there for her. As the days wore on after the miscarriage, Dormé was regaining her strength and vigour, though it was more to do with her new resolve. After spending time with their newest residents, the younglings that used to belong to the Jedi, Dormé was coping with the loss of their little one by appreciating and doting on the younglings. They took to Dormé as though she were their mother, all twelve of them, their ages ranging from four to seven years. Every time she entered their play room, their eyes would light up and oftentimes she would be nearly barrelled over in hugs.With the Jedi younglings in mind, Dormé threw herself into politics, ordering stormtrooper legions to various planets, including Naboo, to end all the oppression and child-labour that had been made illegal decades ago, though it hadn’t been properly enforced. Dormé made sure the laws against slavery and child labour were enforced. Personally. The pubic view of the empress drastically improved and there was a great increase in the amount of systems supporting the Empire. Some even volunteered to join the Empire without anyone suggesting it. Dormé was very pleased with this turn of events, proud of the peace Anakin and she had brought to the galaxy and proud of the changes they were making for the betterment of all species. In her free time, Dormé continued spending as much time as she could with the younglings in their care, oftentimes baking them desserts or reading them stories. She knew it would only be a matter of time before she would have a baby of her own and this was mere practice. She did like playing with the younglings though and felt awful for them having been ripped away from their parents just after birth to be raised by the doomed Jedi Order. However, Dormé found it odd that though the younglings were very warm with her, they didn’t seem to feel comfortable around her Sith Lord husband. One time, a young girl actually tried to ‘hide’ in Dormé’s skirt when Anakin stopped by. She assumed they were shy, even though it happened on more than one occasion. Dormé didn’t even consider that their Force sensitivity led them to being able to sense the scary darkness within Darth Vader. As Dormé began to recover Anakin couldn’t help but be so relieved to see the colour return to her cheeks and her fragile form growing stronger. Even so, he couldn’t help but feel concerned for her well-being and had taken to scouring the Empire to locate the finest healers and specialists. It was his hope that with multiple opinions and prognosis, an answer would be found and the matter properly handled. However, of all the healers and physicians who examined his wife it would seem there was only one group of people who were capable of healing her properly; they were the younglings who had survived the Jedi massacre. They took to her as though Dormé was their biological mother and it warmed Anakin’s heart to see and hear how much joy they brought his beloved. He always knew that she would make a wonderful mother and this only confirmed it. But like Dormé, the young Sith Lord too enjoyed being in the presence of younglings and upon occasion would stop by the playroom in the hopes of joining his beloved as she played or read to them. However while they welcomed Dormé with open arms, their reaction to him was quite the opposite. At first Anakin - much like his Dormé- presumed they were just shy for he was after all less acquainted with them than Dormé. But the more he tried to connect with them the more obvious it became that his presence was not welcome there. When he tried to interact with them, most would fall silent and back away -or more exactly find refuge in Dormé’s skirts and arms. The few that did speak to him only did so because he was talking directly to them and even then it was one word answers or simple replies as though fearing if they didn’t danger awaited them. Their fear both confused and hurt him despite Dormé’s gentle re-assurances that they were just shy and that in time they would warm up to him. Deep down Vader knew otherwise, although the true reasons for this still evaded him. In the end, the only answer he could come up with was that they had been witness to his actions when he had killed some of the younglings. In reality, there was no survivors to speak of his actions against the children. Nevertheless, the Sith Lord finally got the message and reluctantly refrained from visiting the playroom all together. Though it pained him not being able to join Dormé when she spent time with the children, Anakin was both happy that Dormé was able to find such joy in their presence. He knew it would only be a matter of time before they would have a youngling of their own to play games and share stories with. While her actions towards the younglings that lived in their palace was most generous, it didn’t just end there. For soon she was ensuring the security and well-being of all children in the Empire. By enforcing laws against slavery and child labour—which she ensured personally was being followed— Dormé had earned the love and respect of the people. To the public she was as beautiful as she was kind-hearted. Not only had peace been restored, but also living conditions improved substantially for all, especially for the Empire’s youngest members. Though Vader had always been in awe of his wife’s skills he couldn’t help but be amazed at her ability to enforce the law without causing so much as a ripple of resistance. Even more amazing was the offers that came from other planets wanting to become a part of the Empire without the initiation or negotiations on their part. It seemed everyone wanted to be a part of this Utopia that Dormé had created. But while the public was able to bask in the Empress’s presence at the end of the day it was the Emperor who called Dormé his own and for that he couldn’t have been more happy or grateful. Ever since the slaughter of the Separatists and conglomeration of the empire two years ago, Dormé found dissent in the senate that was getting to be quite disconcerting. However, the worst was yet to come. As she paced the large office that had once belonged to the Supreme Chancellor and she had lately redecorated, Dormé tried to think of the best way to figure out who in the senate was the major opposing force against their imperial regime. It was hard to say, other than Senator Mon Mothma, very few people were as vocal about their opinions. There was Senator Organa from Alderaan, but as of late, he seemed to rethink his position on the empire… Suddenly, the door slid open and her former mistress, Queen Amidala entered leading an entourage of five other senators. The conversation swiftly turned to the senate’s decision to replace local governments with imperial generals in every sector. It was to ensure loyalty to the empire on every planet to lessen the chance of terrorists. Dormé was appalled at her former mistress’s vocal protests. ‘I am doing what is right for the empire, to ensure this is the end of the conflict, that peace will remain intact, Amidala.’ ‘On behalf of the ‘delegation of two-thousand,’ I thank you, Your Majesty,’ Padmé replied with a curt bow. Dormé glared at them as they exited, hardly wanting to look at this petition. They didn’t even realise that the generals were already on their way. There would be no one stopping them. She would make sure the imperial forces in the empire were the only bodies with weapons. She also knew that a public statement or this new authority would be the only thing to keep the rest of the senate in line. These two-thousand individuals had signed their death warrant! But no, no, that would be too destructive to kill them all… Only one death would be necessary…just one…one who held great weight, who was beloved by many and hated by even more… Queen Amidala must die. It had been almost a week since he resumed the hunt once more for the remnant Jedi, although if one were to ask him as such Anakin wouldn’t be quite able to recall when he first departed. For days, he survived solely on the dark side that coursed through his veins, not bothering with food or drink or even rest. He was on the hunt and was far too consumed by his feral need for the slaughter to even register the animal he had become. Despite the fact he had removed three more of his former comrades, the Sith Lord wasn’t satisfied enough to return home. Feeling their life energy spilling from their body gave him a rush like nothing else, as did the sound of their requiem cries as they became one with the Force. There was still more out there and he wasn’t about to stop until they were all nothing more than memories of a time long past. His body was in desperate need of nutrition and water. While in the midst of tracking another Jedi—one whose name still evaded him—through the jungle like forests of an outer rim planet, the young emperor’s body began to shut down. The ground began to spin beneath his feet and though his thoughts were entirely on the kill, he couldn’t ignore the violent sense of vertigo. Even so, he tried to move forward lest his prey escape his grasp but the more he trudged on the harder it was to remain focussed. His vision soon began to blur while the lightsaber in his right hand began to shake before deactivating as it slipped out of his fingers. Even before he had a chance to register what was happening, his eyes rolled into the back of his head as his body went limp leaving him unconscious on the forest bed. When he awoke, he had no idea what time it was, or more exactly, where he now found himself. But after taking in his surroundings, Vader soon registered that he had somehow found his way back to his ship or more exactly the primitive med lab of his ship. Scowling, he immediately sat up only to find the room spinning violent which caused him to lay down again. ‘Just what the uragal is going on!?’ he demanded of the med droid who informed him that he was suffering from malnutrition. He soon learnt that he had been brought back to his ship after one of his clone commanders who were scanning the regions for possible resistance had found him. Giving a tired sigh, he fell silent to the news before feeling a chill run down his spine as he realised he couldn’t remember much of what had occurred in the past few days. It had all seemed like a blur to him and he could only wonder what would have happened if he hadn’t been found. After he had received proper injections of vitamins and supplements, the Sith Lord was soon on his feet and chartering the quickest way home. He discovered it had been almost six days since he had last seen Dormé and the thought immediately made him long for. As Coruscant came into view, he finally received a message in reply to the one he sent out. Lady Dormé was currently in a meeting he was informed but should be done shortly. The thought brought an eager smile to his face as he was already imagining holding her in his arms once more. Upon her revelation, Dormé was informed that her husband had returned from his Jedi hunt. It was only then she realised just how long he had been gone and she was eager to see him. Her revelation was promptly the back of her thoughts as she rushed through the hallways that would take her to the lifts leading to the nearest landing platform. Even in her hurry, a clone trooper informed her of his condition and whatever thoughts about political matters vanished as her concern for him overrode everything else. She hastened her pace to the platform where he had yet to arrive. Placing a hand over her eyes, she looked up into the evening sky, clouds covering most of her vision as she strained to make out a hint of his ship. Unaware of the fact his wife had been informed of his state of exhaustion -which he hardly felt was that bad- Anakin was swift to return to Coruscant. As his ship finally reached the landing pad he could both seen and sense Dormé’s presence as soon as the ship landed he was barrelling out of the ship. ‘Dormé!!’ he shouted as he ran towards her before swooping her up in his arms and twirling her around feeling as though a million years had past since he had seen her last. Upon seeing his figure rushing out the ship, she raced over to him, meeting him halfway before being caught up in his embrace. She hugged him tightly. ‘Anakin,’ she gasped in a sigh of relief. Knowing that he was here made everything better. He was all right. Pulling back after he set her back on her feet, she could see how worn out he was, place, and thinner too. She didn’t ask about it, knowing that it was hard work hunting down the enemies of their empire. Instead, she kissed him and told him how much she had missed him. Dormé’s relief wasn’t missed and Anakin wondered if something was wrong but refrained from asking knowing she would tell him when the moment was right. He was losing himself in her kiss and with it all coherent thought faded away leaving only joy at being in her arms once more. Once they were indoors and in a more secure location, she updated him on the political matters, though she imagined he hardly wanted to hear about it after his long journey and being away from Coruscant for so long. She inevitably cut herself short and set about fixing something for him to eat in their private rooms. While it was not his forte or interest he was always fascinated at how Dormé was able to handle the complicated situations that he himself would fail miserably at. As she cut herself short, Anakin promptly began to ask further questions wanting to learn more of how she tended to matters. However as she slipped into the kitchen to fix some food, he attempted to help her in what way he could, though he knew in reality his presence was hardly needed. Dormé chided herself for not having something already prepared for Anakin because she wanted him to have something proper to eat, especially with how thin he looked. Even though he looked exhausted, she didn’t object to his help in the kitchen and soon enough they were able to have a nice meal together. Though he knew he was far from skilled when it came to anything culinary related he knew how much Dormé enjoyed it and wanted to be a part of this simple pleasure as well. She answered all of his questions and concluded with her dark thoughts on the Queen of Naboo. ‘I have a copy of their betrayal, all two-thousand names clear as day...’ Dormé shook her head. ‘I never thought Amidala, my former mistress, would do such a thing...’ Upon hearing of Padmé’s blatant betrayal, he felt his blood beginning to boil. Though he’d hardly call the Naboo queen his friend he had known her for many years and couldn’t help but take this course of action as not only as an insult but as a betrayal to both Dormé and himself. Rising to his feet the young emperor began to pace his expression stormy as he folded his arms. ‘The nerve of them…all of them. How dare they make such demands! After all you have done for them, for their subjects and children they would actually have the gall to do this!’ he snapped. Pausing in mid-step, he then faced Dormé feeling a rush of sorrow for her as he could only imagine how hard it had to have been for her to face her former mistress and hear such words. ‘I can’t believe she would do that to you. I expected her to react this way to me but to you Dormé, it’s just like a slap to your face!’ he said feeling another rush of rage pour over him as he began to pace once more. ‘I want them dead. All of them. No, nevermind. That would cause too many complications. The last thing we need is to encourage more resistance,’ he said correcting himself before facing Dormé once more. This time his expression was both dark and resolute. Though Dormé didn’t say as much Anakin could tell she knew what had to be done. ‘I explained to them that the generals’ presence would not interfere with their daily business, that it was a protective measure to assure there is no more dissidence from Separatist factions, to quell the violence in their communities, to make sure our policies are being followed, that no more children are victims or abuse—’ Dormé added, also rising to her feet as the anger flowed through her as readily as it had just hours ago. Watching him pace sent waves of excitement through her as though it were mere energy vibrating over every inch of her skin. His protestation only confirmed what she believed to be true. They were all traitors to the empire, to the peace they were trying to enforce. ‘Do they not want peace? Do they not thank us for ending the war?!’ Anakin continued to pace at Dormé’s words finding more truth in them than ever before. It made his blood boil to think how ungrateful their subjects were for all that had been done for them. Was it not for their own safety that such security was being put in place? ‘How can they ask us to protect them one minute and then complain about our protection the next?’ he growled as Dormé rose to her feet. At Dormé’s words he nodded in agreement. ‘Exactly. After all we’ve done for them and yet they remain so ungrateful to us,’ he snapped. ‘Seeing as Padmé wants so badly to be the first to stand against us, it’s only fitting that she be the first to pay for it as well.’ His dark expression as he faced her mirrored her own and she drew nearer to him, resting her hands on his shoulders. She nodded resolutely to his words. ‘Her death will be a public warning to all those who dare to oppose us.’ Anakin watched her drawing near and as she rested her hands on his shoulders he studied her with burning intensity. Her final statement said all he needed to hear giving her a dark smile he slipped his arms around her and pulled her near. ‘Her death would ensure her allies think twice before daring to oppose us. Without their leader the resistance is certain to fall.’ ‘And never again will there be such defiance of our rule,’ Dormé added smiling evilly. Her hands slipped around his neck as she rose up to kiss him. This kiss was as aggressive as her dark thoughts and she felt cheated by the Jedi scum who opposed their rule and caused him to be away from home for so long. But soon none of that would matter, for all of their opposition would be destroyed. Anakin said nothing further at her reply though his wicked smile said all that needed to be said. Feeling her arms slip around his neck, the young Sith Lord purred in reply as he leaned in to eagerly kiss her back. Her kiss was passionate and fiery much like his own and Anakin was eager to take this to the next level as it had been too long since he was in her arms. The matter of Padmé could wait for right now he had far more pressing matters to tend with and it was with this in mind that he eagerly began to undo the clasps of her gown, not caring that their bed chambers was a short distance away. In the back of her mind, Dormé knew she ought to ask Anakin about his collapse, to have him checked to make sure it wasn’t anything serious. But at this moment, she could hardly think straight as this darkness and converse fire warred within her. She was just as eagerly removing his utility belt and almost professionally undoing his tunic before they even made it to the bedroom, her lips never leaving his own. Lost to the fire that was found in Dormé’s kiss and embrace Anakin was quick to lose himself in the moment and could barely even register the passionate journey to their bedroom. It was only in the morning did he finally remember the events and discussion from the night before. It was just after midnight when the troops invaded the Naboo palace. Queen Amidala was ripped from her bed, along with her handmaidens, every one of them arrested and taken to Coruscant as prisoners. The handmaidens were separated and interrogated, seeing where their loyalties stood in regards to the empire. Dormé would eventually decide which of them would remain on Coruscant in her service and which would be sent off to be reconditioned in their imperial university. The hour was late when Anakin received word of Padmé’s arrest. Pleased with the results, he also learnt her handmaidens were also arrested and placed in cells. The thought was amusing to say the least as he could only imagine some of their reactions. Though Anakin and Dormé planned on seeing to Amidala’s execution personally, Dormé thought the young queen could sweat it out in their prison cells for a few days. It would also allow the other systems time to hear about her arrest and strike fear in the hearts of the delegates on the list of traitors. At Dormé’s suggestion to have Padmé sweat it out for a bit in the prison cell Anakin wholeheartedly agreed. Padmé remained calm and stoic about the entire ordeal, despite the interrogations. The older handmaidens too seemed to be eerily calm about the entire situation although if anyone showed promise of loyalty to the Empire it was ironically none other than Dormé’s former mentor. Little did Anakin realise however that the older handmaiden was under orders to play along. Sabé too under orders neither confirmed nor denied her loyalties and for the most part remained silent throughout the entirety of the sessions, as did Rabé. After she had heard enough, Dormé decided to pull Anakin aside to converse privately. She had her doubts about many of the handmaidens. She knew it wouldn’t be safe to keep them together, nevermind have them in their service. But Dormé wanted to keep them alive. ‘But I don’t know,’ she continued. ‘I don’t trust Sabé. Saché and Typho I do, but Sabé...What did you think when you tested them?’ Anakin listened intently to Dormé’s thoughts on the matter as he valued opinion and trusted her decisions implicitly. So when she admitted that she didn’t trust them but at the same time wasn’t too fond of killing them either the young Sith Lord suggested that perhaps they placed in exile. ‘It will keep them from having regular contact with each other and with other possible resistance members,’ he suggested before falling silent as Dormé admitted that while she trusted her former mentor and the security captain she was uncertain about Sabé. Having recalled touching their thoughts Anakin for the most found little if anything that would openly mark them as traitors. He wasn’t exactly skilled in such feats and so despite his incredible strength within the Force he was unable to properly deep probe the woman’s thoughts, which was fortunate as most had connections with one form of resistance or another. Upon recalling Sabé’s interrogation Anakin did remember that the woman had something that none of the others hand, mind blocks. They were crude and simple but there were there nonetheless which told him two things; she was Force sensitive and she was hiding something. Although he found nothing substantial it was enough evidence to prove her guilt. ‘I found nothing of substance that would label them as traitors, except for the one you call Sabé. She had crude mind blocks in place marking that not only is she Force sensitive, but she’s hiding something. I wasn’t able to learn what that was as she had fainted after I broke through them,’ Anakin admitted a little sheepishly as it was a testament to the fact he wasn’t trained enough in the dark side to break them properly without wounding his prey. ‘Personally I think she is too close to Padmé to live. She was after all her principle handmaiden for years which means she probably is in this as much as Padmé is’ Anakin concluded. Dormé agreed with Anakin’s assessment. Having the rest of the handmaidens and security, outside of Captain Typho and her former mentor Saché, exhiled seemed like a rational move. However, when it came to Sabé, to hear that she resisted the interrogation through use of mindblocks, this added to her concern. ‘That is probably for the best,’ she agreed when he suggested they kill her too. Having decided this, the pair returned to Sabé’s cell with the intention of killing her. Dormé was not sorry about it at all. She only regretted that the older woman was a traitor as much as the queen was. With Dormé’s agreement the matter was settled and Anakin followed Dormé back to the prison cell where the principle handmaiden remained bound and chained to the floor. As they entered the cell, the now dishevelled and bruised handmaiden spoke not a word and silently rose to her feet. With a steady gaze that didn’t hide her exhaustion or the pain she was still feeling from Anakin’s attack on her mind block Sabé politely bowed. Even in her weakened state, the older handmaiden seemed mindful of her manners which amused Anakin who scowled in disgust. ‘There is no need to continue this little facade of innocence, Lady Nabish, as we are already well aware of your betrayal,’ the Sith Lord stated in cold tones as he removed his lightsaber from his hilt. If Sabé was frightened by the fact she was about to die it too didn’t show. The older handmaiden remained defiant through her silence and watchful eyes. Looking to Dormé, she said not a word but her expression spoke volumes, not of hatred or of rage rather of silent disappointment. Dormé glared at the traitor who dared to ally herself with the traitorous Nabooan Queen, hardly appreciating her mock attempt at respect to them. How dare she remain silent! ‘Speak! This is your last chance to confess your crimes,’ she hissed icily as Vader ignited his lightsaber. Anakin paused finding Dormé’s order to be both amusing and intriguing. The thought of this one defiant handmaiden begging for her life only to lose it all the same was far too entertaining to pass up. Standing by his side in all confidence, she watched as he used the Force to make the handmaiden fall to her knees in front of them. The look in Sabé’s eyes shook Dormé, making her feel suddenly off balance as though the principal handmaiden had her own Force powers to cause one to feel such things. Dormé was far too into her own warped view of reality to understand this feeling of guilt that suddenly came over her. Why should she feel guilty anyway, when Sabé and the Queen were in the wrong? The former decoy and queen’s confident was not one who feared death and this soon became apparent to the Sith Lord who soon grew impatient at her silence. But it was the shift in Dormé’s emotions that caused the young emperor’s patience to fully reach its end. How dare this pathetic woman try to play mind tricks on my wife! he inwardly fumed as he could sense Dormé’s confusion and sudden struggle. He knew they were innocent. It was this pathetic woman who was the traitor…her and the Naboo queen, as well as their allies. Having justified his actions and their innocence, Vader promptly drew back his lightsaber and swung the blade towards Sabé’s throat with the intent of ending her life once and for all. ‘If only Obi-Wan could see you now.’ The words seemed to come out of nowhere or so it felt to the young emperor. Immediately his body stiffened, while the lightsaber in his hand froze in mid action. It was now so close to the older handmaiden’s throat that burn marks were beginning to form from the heat of the blade. Time suddenly ceased to move for the young Sith Lord whose sickly yellow gaze was held by Sabé’s amber eyes. But it wasn’t Sabé he saw, it was the sight of his brother on the day Anakin had left the Jedi Order. Though no words were exchanged during their final meeting the silence between them spoke volumes and Anakin would never forget the look that Obi-Wan wore in their final moment together. Obi-Wan. The name seemed to ring in the air and Dormé staggered backward, her eyes locked on Anakin. She vividly recalled the look in his former Master and brother’s eyes when he told him he was no longer going to be his Padawan. The dark side began to lose its grip on Vader’s thoughts, leaving the young emperor feeling both vulnerable and divided. Suddenly he found himself recalling happier, simpler times when it wasn’t just Dormé and himself against the universe. Though his expression remained stoic and cold, the lightsaber in his hand began shake slightly as the colour of his eyes began to return to their natural shade of blue marking the struggle within. Swallowing hard the young Emperor suddenly lowered his eyes and without further warning, de-activated his lightsaber while at the same time the chains that bound Sabe to the floor snapped open. She watched him, his hand shaking, his faltering... She didn’t know what was going on until Sabé’s handcuffs fell to the floor, inactive, just as his lightsaber was deactivated. ‘You’re free to go,’ he said in barely audible whisper, before adding in equally quiet tones without looking to Dormé, ‘Let her go...’ Without another word spoken the Sith Lord then abruptly departed from the cell without looking back. His whispered command struck her with despair and her heart went out to him. But he was already departing and she was instructed to free the principal handmaiden. Swallowing hard, Dormé stepped backwards toward the exit, her eyes on Sabé until she could no longer hold her gaze. Dormé then turned on her heels and fled the cellblock after her husband. This wouldn’t change anything! she thought fiercely. Amidala still had to pay. She was in the wrong. She was the one against the empire, against peace... Why were tears coming to Dormé’s eyes? She swallowed again, biting back her tears as she commanded an officer to escort Sabé out. Sabé didn’t expect this reaction but found a powerful sense of hope in it. Obi-Wan was right after all, there still was a chance and it was in this that Sabé felt her hope for Dormé also return. As her restraints fell to the floor, her attentions remained on the couple and in silence she watched as Anakin ordered her release and departed. Just as she watched as Dormé swallowed hard and stepped back to the exit. Sabé continued to hold the younger woman’s gaze until Dormé fled the room. Only then did she bow her head in silence as she forced her thoughts clear. She knew this as something Obi-Wan would appreciate knowing and immediately decided she would speak of this the minute she saw him again. Then waiting a moment longer to steady her heart Sabé then rose to her feet and departed the prison cell as well. Anakin couldn’t remain still if he tried and in silence he paced the halls of their grand palace struggling against memories he wanted to forget and yet lose himself in at the same time. As loathed as he was to admit it, the Sith Lord missed his brother dearly and had gone to great lengths since his inaugeration as a Sith Lord to bury his memory in the back of his thoughts. He tried to tell himself that he was an enemy that as a Sith Lord the only way their paths could cross would be in the heat of battle. But deep down he knew otherwise and there were times when he found himself wondering how Obi-Wan was doing or where he was living now or what became of him. The moments when Vader found himself learning a new skill or advancing in the way of the Force, thought of how he would love to show this to his brother. Then harsh reality would return, reminding Anakin that Obi-Wan would be more disappointed than impressed by his advancements in the dark side. Though he’d tell himself that he didn’t care such thoughts always hurt more than he wanted to admit and the young emperor was grateful that these moments had grown far and few between. In fact, in recent months, he had almost completely forgotten about his brother…until today. Now the memories were returning with a vengeance leaving Vader feeling as out of sorts and lost as he did on the eve of his inauguration. Drawing in a shaky sigh he tried once more to bury his thoughts and focus on the present. Reminding himself of the plans that had to be set in motion for Padmé’s death Anakin tried to figure out what was left to be completed. But almost as soon as he attempted to figure out what was left to be done Sabé’s words returned to haunt him leaving him unsettled once more. In the end, his travels found him back at their private balcony resting once more against the awkward ledge that had now become his haunt whenever his thoughts were troubled. Only when he was semi-seated against the ledge was he able to fully divulge in the past and silently mourn the only regret he ever had about meeting his destiny as a Sith Lord. After the unsettling confrontation with Sabé, Dormé needed room to breathe. She blamed the confusing emotions on the fact she was pregnant again. Though it was hardly noticeable to others, there was a small bump in her lower abdomen, one that she would die protecting if it should come to that. This was why the insurrection had to end. It was why they had fought so long and hard for peace in this war torn galaxy. But as she found her husband on their balcony, pensively looking out at Coruscant’s cityscape, she wasn’t sure she should interrupt his ruminations. Instead, she took a seat on the couch nearby and watched him. Anakin could sense Dormé’s presence as well as the small spark of life that was growing within her. The thought of their unborn child brought a hint of a smile to his features. This was the farthest along that any of Dormé’s pregnancies had gotten and this brought a feeling of hope to his tired thoughts. But it soon faded away as once more he thought of his brother and how he wished there could be some way he could share this wonderful news with him. Not that he would want to talk to you now, the darkness whispered into his thoughts causing Anakin’s smile to fade as he furrowed his brow. Now was not the time for such thoughts for this was meant to be a happy time them both. After all, soon their little girl would be born and all the threats that could be posed to her would become nothing more than a blot on the page of history. He wanted their empire to be perfect for their little princess and focussing on this Anakin found it was a bit easier to swallow the pain of his brother’s absence. Though it didn’t entirely get rid of it, the Sith Lord joined Dormé’s side and without a word spoken, slipped his arms around her petite form. While he still believed they had no choice in the matter, that this had to be done, that they were doing the right thing, Anakin found himself needing Dormé’s silent reassurance. Anything to remind him that everything was as it should be, that this was where they wanted to be, and that this was what they were meant to do all along. As though sensing her need for reassurance, Anakin soon moved next to her, slipping his arms around her. She held him close, breathing in the confidence she needed. Their little girl would be proud of her parents accomplishment. She would grow up safely and inherit an empire with a legacy of peace. Though Sabé’s disappointed eyes and resonating words had shaken them, it was because the traitor was grasping at straws. She was trying to make them falter, to waver from their goals, nothing more. The truth unconsciously filtered to the back of her thoughts, as the lies were more powerful. Her silent presence was like a healing balm to Anakin’s divided and confused thoughts. As he held her close Vader felt her emotions beginning to calm as well, reminding him that she needed his assurances as much as he needed hers. Gently rubbing her back, Anakin studied Dormé in silence before giving her a hint of a smile. ‘She was just trying to confuse us; that’s all,’ Anakin murmured softly. Dormé’s thumb stroked the back of his shoulder in semicircles as he spoke. ‘It’s like Sabé to protect her mistress at whatever cost. She would make up all sorts of lies in the process,’ Dormé muttered. ‘Why else did she want us to spare her if not to continue her mistress’s work behind our backs?’ Her words were stronger than what her will believed. Anakin felt the nagging doubt return. Furrowing his brow, the emperor shook his head slightly in reply. ‘She won’t continue Padmé’s work. Not after her death and even if she did, I can’t kill her. Not now,’ Anakin admitted as he sighed. Anakin nodded silently to Dormé’s words, letting himself believe them to be fact as he allowed the truth to be buried beneath the lies. It was just easier this way and far less pain as well. ‘If we don’t do this, what sort of world will our little girl grow up in?’ he continued softly confirming the fact their decision was the right one or so he believed. ‘It is for her that we do this, for all future generations,’ he said though it wasn’t certain who he was truly trying to convince Dormé or himself. The mention of their baby reminded her this had to be done. ‘I want her to be proud of us and all we’ve accomplished, not to see it in ruins.’ He gave a shy smile to Dormé’s words. ‘They’re sure to love her as much as we do,’ Anakin said thoughtfully referring to the people of their empire, as his free hand slipped to her womb. Wrapping her arms around him as his rested a hand on her womb, she exhaled, leaning into him. His words brought a smile to her face. ‘I know they will love her. Not as much as we do, but close enough.’ She gave him a squeeze, thinking about the first time they would announce her birth and then the first time they would show her to the public... And soon she was caught up in lovely daydreams about their little girl. Her words solidified his own thoughts and eased the last of his doubts leaving him feeling far more at peace than he did a short while ago. The Sith lord kissed her cheek before slipping his hand from her womb around her once more as he began to play with a loose strand of her long hair. As though sensing her thoughts, Anakin began to speak of his hopes for the future and of all the things he couldn’t wait to show and do with their daughter. The thought of being a family filled him with such joy that it almost made him giddy with excitement. ‘I know she’ll be joining us soon but it still seems like a long ways away,’ he admitted wistfully. ‘I can’t wait to see what she looks like, to be able to hold her in our arms.’ Gazing at Anakin with loving eyes, she mused, ‘Our little Aené... I wonder if she’ll enjoy flying as much as you or tinkering with mechanics.’ Anakin expression softened at her words as his eyes took on a dreamy look as he too found himself envisioning their daughter learning how to fly or creating things. ‘I bet she’s going to have your talents for cooking,’ he further mused before adding with a wink, ‘and will always be making new and delicious creations like her ama.’ ‘I have a feeling we’ll have to keep a close eye on her if she has your knack for sneaking off into handmaidens’ living quarters.’ She couldn’t wait to be chasing after their little one, once she learnt to walk and run. Anakin tightened his embrace around his beloved as she kissed his cheek. He rested his head over hers. Soon he was musing aloud of how like Dormé he couldn’t wait until Aené was running about the palace getting into all sorts of mischief. The thought warmed his heart and made him so eager for the arrival of their daughter. At her teasing remarks Anakin just laughed as he shook his head, ‘Force help us if Aené has her ama’s sense of escaping trouble we’re both going to be quite busy trying to keep up with her!’ Dormé chuckled before getting very excited. ‘Oh I just thought of what we could do while we wait for her to be born! She’ll eventually need to have her own room. Why don’t we design one for her? After this whole business with Amidala is sorted it out, of course. You did such a wonderful job with my quarters. I certainly wouldn’t be able to do that alone.’ The young Sith lord’s eyes lit up. Anakin beamed at the thought already looking forward to hearing her thoughts and ideas of how to design their daughter’s room. ‘I say we should start as soon as possible!’ he said eagerly. ‘Time is running out— despite our thoughts of otherwise—and we definitely want everything to be ready for her arrival,’ Anakin continued as he gave her a squeeze. ‘I haven’t even met you little Aené, yet already I love you as much as I love your ama,’ Anakin thought in loving contentment as his fingers once more slipped to the tiny hint of a bulge on Dormé’s torso. Dormé’s hand slipped into his which rested over her womb. If anything illustrated just how much they loved each other, it was this, their little girl. ‘How long did it take for you to create that room for me anyway?’ she wondered as he said that time was running out with the imminent birth of their little Aené. There were three months left at least, by the doctor’s calculations. Anakin’s expression grew nostalgic. ‘It took a couple of months, mostly because I was waiting for some of the supplies to be designed like the pool and the waterfall,’ he admitted as he gave her a grin. ‘That and I had to find out in a round about way just what exactly a certain handmaiden liked in the way of flora and fauna without telling her my surprise.’ At the mention of the room Anakin created for her for their second year dating, she thought it was incredibly endearing that he had tried to figure out what sorts of fauna she fancied without ruining the surprise. Giving him a playful poke, ‘As if I would have been able to guess such a magnificent surprise!’ At her playful poke and teasing words Anakin chuckled before giving her a kiss and a wink. ‘Well I couldn’t risk that chance now could I?’ he teased back. Just as they began discussing the more realistic designs for Aené’s room, a security officer was buzzing the chime on their private quarters, interrupting this wistful moment. Anakin frowned slightly in reply. ‘This better be good, otherwise I’m going to make them wish they were never born,’ he grumbled as he reluctantly slipped out of Dormé’s arms to tend to the door. The security officer informed the emperor that Lady Nabish was being escorted to her exile when the transport was invaded by a one Master Kenobi. They tried to stop him, but were unable to, though only one member of the crew was injured and the rest were alive but disarmed and locked in Nabish’s cell. Dormé couldn’t hear what was going on from the balcony and knew whatever it was, Anakin would take care of it. She contently looked out over their cityscape, stroking her slightly swollen torso, thinking of their plans for the future. Anakin could only stare in disbelief. ‘You mean to tell me my—’ the Sith Lord fell silent as his suspicions pertaining to Lady Nabish and his brother were now confirmed. Raising a brow, he gave a frustrated sigh feeling uncertain about what to make of this news. His thoughts immediately scattered as memories of past rescue missions with his brother returned reminding him of happier times with Obi-Wan. While at the same time the realisation as to why his brother felt it necessary to do this left Vader feeling awkward and oddly guilty. Surely, Obi-Wan knew that he wouldn’t kill Sabé, certainly not now knowing what she meant to him? But after coming so close to killing the former principle handmaiden, the Sith Lord couldn’t really blame the Jedi Master for acting as he did. ‘I’ve already begun a search of the Jedi and the prisoner’s position and already have the basic coordinates of their loc—’ the security officer began. ‘No, that won’t be necessary. This is a personal matter, one that I will tend to myself,’ Vader stated coldly as his thoughts jumped to the present. The officer looked like he was about to protest but fell silent at Anakin’s sharp glare. ‘You are dismissed,’ he said coldly before silently joining Dormé’s side as she overlooked the city. With a deep sigh, he slipped his hands around her petite torso and nuzzled himself against her neck. Dormé hummed contently when she felt Anakin returning to her side once more, fitting perfectly next to her. She didn’t question him, knowing the interruption was no longer an issue as he had taken care of it. Anakin smiled slightly to the sound of her humming. Her voice was always enchanting to him and for a moment, he just fell silent and enjoyed her musical voice. ‘It would seem my brother objected to the destination we had chosen for Lady Nabish,’ he replied in quiet but dry tones marking his lack of amusement on the matter. His remark caught her off guard and she didn’t know what to make of it. ‘Your brother?’ she asked. ‘What do you mean?’ ‘He collected Sabé from the ship that was escorting her to the outer rim. No one was killed, although I’ve been informed one was injured. All were disarmed and stowed away in the brig for us to find,’ Anakin concluded feeling strangely tired and worn at the thought. ‘I shouldn’t have expected anything less from him. But—’ he shook his head and gave another sigh before burying his face in her hair as Anakin wanted nothing more than to forget the entire incident. At the news, Dormé thought it was quite odd. She didn’t put two and two together: that Anakin’s brother might have any sort of feelings for the former principal handmaiden. But it was clear that Anakin didn’t want to talk about it. Reaching up to stroke his hair as he buried his face in hers, she decided it didn’t matter anyway. ‘Soon we will remove Amidala and all of this mess will be behind us.’ Feeling her fingers in his hair Anakin felt the worse of his thoughts beginning to ease just as her words brought a hint of a smile to his lips. She was right after all with the return of justice and their opposition gone things would return to normal and they could focus on more important things like preparing the palace for their daughter’s arrival. Tightening his embrace around her Anakin kissed her neck. ‘You always know how to make things better,’ he murmured in gentle gratitude before drawing back slightly as he gave her a loving smile. ‘I’m so glad I have you by my side.’ Dormé smiled at him, a smile which told him how much she loved him as she continued stroking his hair. She loved the feel of it through her fingers, despite the fact his Padawan braid had long since been severed. Her thoughts once more drifted to the future and she had never looked forward to it so much as she did in this moment. Chapter Four Ever since the arrest of Queen Amidala, Bail Antilles had stopped at nothing to try to have the newly formed delegation help release her. Mon Mothma and he did everything they could politically, despite Padmé’s own words advising against it. She didn’t want them drawing too much attention on themselves and their secret movement and today, the senate convened for the trial of the Nabooan Queen. When the emperor and empress arrived in their grandeur, the entire hall roared with cheers and applause in every native tongue. None of Padmé’s handmaidens and bodyguards were present, Bail noted, having a feeling it was because the Vaders didn’t want sympathizers present to sway public opinion. Bail swallowed hard as the noble queen gracefully took her place in the middle of the stadium. She was handcuffed and three clone troopers guarded her. From his viewscreen, he could see her stoic expression and during the questioning, her flat, sturdy voice and fixed gaze hardly conveying any emotion. Padmé knew it was a mock trial, of that, Bail was certain. But it was a slight hesitation and look in her eyes as the trial drew to a close that made him almost feel her disappointment. The Empress stood, her scarlet gown folding garishly over her slightly swollen torso, to convict Queen Padmé Amidala, a verdict that was already decided before this trial began. Anakin found the entire trial to be most boring and, in reality, only tolerated it because he enjoyed watching his wife in action. This was more Dormé’s arena and she excelled at it without even trying. The young emperor watched with pride as his childhood crush stood against his beloved. He knew without question that Padmé was guilty but there was something so satisfying to hear the verdict stated against her for all to know. Just before the imperial pair killed the queen, Padmé said quite clearly, ‘It will take more than that.’ The words hung in the air. Bail fought to keep tears from coming to his eyes, watching Padmé’s body fall lifelessly to the floor. ‘Mind your manners and keep your heads down. And keep doing all those things we can’t talk about. All those things I can’t know. Promise me, Bail.’ Queen Amidala, Padmé, was dead…she was dead… While it angered Anakin that even in her final moments, Padmé showed no sorrow or remorse—that she would so openly mock justice by challenging them even now—it was a fleeting thought as immediately his wife drew her blade and the Naboo queen was dead even before her body hit the ground. Unable to resist a proud smile, Vader watched as the Empress openly challenged any who would dare to oppose them. The empress looked around at the senators, her sword still dripping with the queen’s blood. ‘Are there any other objections?’ For a moment the silence was so thick one could have heard a pin drop and this too filled Anakin with such pride. ‘What about you, Queen Eekway?’ asked the empress. The representatives of Wroona floated near the imperial royals. Bail watched with guarded interest as Queen Eekway spat at the empress. The spittle was deflected by the empress’s bloodstained sword before she sliced the queen’s lips. The cries of those on the Wroona platform seemed to annoy the empress who promptly slaughtered them all. The foolish queen of Wroona had the nerve to spit at his beloved! Anakin almost lost control of himself as a result. However, Dormé was swift and thorough in dealing punishment leaving the Sith Lord to watch on as his beloved removed the entire Wroona platform. ‘You would do well to think of your people, the population of your planets! Think long and hard about the peace we have brought to the galaxy, where bureaucrats, corrupt barons and slave traders demoralize and persecute your people. The Empire seeks to end the corruption that has plagued the galaxy for centuries.’ The auditorium once again erupted in cheers in support of the Empire. For Vader, it was thrilling to watch her attack and destroy their opposition, her body like a living weapon and her blade just an extension of her person. Watching her perform this strange blade dance left him feeling as though he were in the presence of a goddess. In his mind, Dormé also reminded him of a warrior queen, one who represented the face of justice, who would not stand or tolerate those who dared to oppose her. She was magnificent to say the very least. As the last body fell to the ground lifeless—their blood intermingling and trailing about the ground like streams of red—it took all of Anakin’s willpower not to have his way with her right then and there. But not wanting to interrupt her moment of triumph, Vader refrained and permitted her to once more address the audience, while watching her with eyes filled with pride, admiration and love. ‘Henceforth let this message be sent to all those who ignorantly oppose us: you will not be granted the peace our empire benevolently grants those in our domain.’ Dormé enjoyed ensuring the peace they had strived so hard for would be protected so that their children would grow up in an ordered galaxy and have a grand imperial legacy to inherit. The thrill of it all was enhanced by the feel of her beloved’s eyes on her as she personally took care of the insurrection. She couldn’t have done this without him. Once the trial concluded and Dormé ordered the clone generals to dispose of the bodies so that no memorial could be held for the traitors. Now more than ever, Bail would strive to end this empire, the manipulations and falsehoods it fed the public. Or he would die trying. He vowed Padmé would not have died in vain. After what seemed like an eternity, the trial reached its completion and now with the witnesses departing, Anakin didn’t hesitate to pull his wife into his arms. ‘You were absolutely magnificent,’ he purred between passionate kisses. ‘But I think the public has basked in your presence long enough, now its my turn,’ he said in throaty tones wanting to enjoy her right there and then not caring who might see them or what they might think. Promptly pulled into Vader’s arms, Dormé melted into his embrace. She never could get over just how well they knew each other’s minds. She didn’t have to tell him just how much she wanted him at that moment. Hardly aware anyone could see them, Dormé pushed him back into one of the chairs as she continued kissing him passionately. As there was little room for manoeuvrability, she didn’t realise she had in the process of doing so, accidentally pressed the controls that made the podium lower into the office that once belonged to the Supreme Chancellor which Dormé made into her own. Anakin soon lost himself in the embrace of his empress and could only purr in pleasure as she pushed him back into the chairs. How he had longed to do this ever since the trial had begun, but now it was all over and finally he enjoy his beloved. Holding her close and returning her kisses with hungry ones of his own Anakin barely even registered that they were being lowered into Dormé’s office. But even if he did he would have hardly cared as when Anakin was in Dormé’s arms nothing else really mattered. It wasn’t until their passions were at least temporarily sated that Dormé registered their surroundings and wondered how they got there. However, she only giggled in response, giving Anakin another slow kiss. As they paused from their passionate embrace -albeit briefly- Anakin caught Dormé’s giggle and furrowed his brow in reply before realising they were no longer in the main hall. Raising a brow he was about to ask just how they got here but at Dormé’s kiss he no longer cared. Eagerly returning her slow kiss he pulled her close as his fingers slipped to her hair, undoing the pins before the door parted and another entered. Sensing they were no longer alone Anakin scowled catching sight of the man attempting to quickly depart. The security guards entered her office, not realising the emperor and empress were there, with intentions of leaving her a report of the popular opinion vote. Clearly taken off guard and embarrassed, the officer was about to turn on his heels and leave when he inadvertently alerted them of his presence. Growling, he shifted in their seat and demanded to know the reason for his rude interruption and just why he didn’t have the sense to use the chime. If it wasn’t for the fact that Dormé was in his arms it was safe to say the man would have been dead before his body hit the ground. If anything was indecent, in Dormé’s mind, it was the fact the young guard had not obeyed protocol by entering her office without permission. It was a mistake he would not make again. ‘I-I-er—’ the officer stuttered. ‘Ther—the—umm, results the empress requested—’ ‘Oh yes!’ Dormé cheered, bounding off the platform quickly rushing over to take the datapad from the officer before shooing him away. The officer promptly bowed to the empress, even though it went unnoticed and left the royals alone. Dormé practically skipped over to Anakin, beaming. Raising a brow in curiosity, he watched as his beloved returned looking most eager and pleased. ‘Look! Oh this is brilliant!’ She glowed, knowing they had won over the popular vote. It seemed almost too easy. It didn’t even matter what the senate thought. Their public loved them. Grinning as her joy was addictive Anakin took a glance at the polls and was most pleased to see the results. ‘And here the senate is of the belief that we’re nothing more than devils that everyone despises. Fools.’ he said shaking his head in obvious amusement before pulling her back onto his lap as he leaned in to steal another kiss. ‘With peace restored and our opposition nothing more than a memory, I definitely say we have reason to celebrate, don’t you?’ he purred between kisses. Dormé chuckled happily at his assessment. ‘Mmmm,’ she replied before kissing him back. Devils. As if those mindless bureaucrats who enslaved their people and cared only about commerce were any more than devils! ‘So much to celebrate,’ she said huskily before kissing him again. ‘Suggestions of where to begin?’ she whispered into his ear, grinning wildly. Anakin grinned at her reply before eagerly kissing her back before her whispered suggestion was answered with another passionate kiss. ‘Let’s start with heading to the bedroom and we’ll go from there,’ he purred in reply as while he enjoyed being here Anakin knew it wasn’t exactly the most comfortable spot for such celebrations. Dormé whole-heartily agreed with Anakin’s assessment and soon the pair were headed, albeit taking twice the amount of time it normally did, to the palace and their bedroom where they could more comfortably resume their well-deserved celebrations. This was only the beginning of what would soon mark another turning point in the history of the galaxy. Anakin had departed once again to tend to rumours of a Jedi conclave on Talasea and Dormé was caught up with the designs for Aené’s room which were almost completed. She spent most of her free time, however, with the youngest members of their household, the Jedi younglings. They were growing so quickly and Dormé loved playing with them. Lately they were asking her about the little one they sensed growing inside her and she eagerly told them about Aené. She told them they would be able to play with her once she was old enough. She answered all of their questions and allowed the untrained younglings to reach out to Aené’s Force signature to introduce themselves. Aené seemed to like this very much because Dormé felt her moving around and it made Dormé feel warm and quite happy. It still hurt her that the younglings were still so cold to Anakin, but hoped that once Aené joined them, they would open up to Anakin more. It was always very difficult falling asleep when Anakin was away from home and this past week was no different. She began feeling quite ill and though she visited the medical ward daily, she thought in the back of her head that it was more than morning sickness. Missing Anakin certainly didn’t help matters, but as the elite imperial doctors said there was nothing abnormal about her symptoms, she didn’t contact him. Though she was offered various herbal supplements to ease her nausea, she refused, not wanting anything to interfere with Aené’s development. This morning, the sharp pains and bleeding began. Panic and despair overwhelmed Dormé as she sped to medical ward, fighting through tears and piercing aches, in her nightgown, praying to Nisaba to save her baby. ‘Our third little one, our little Aené, please don’t take her from me…please…’ ‘…heartbeat irregular…’ Lying on the examination table, she felt the pangs of premature labour, but lost herself clinging to fading hopes and preparations for Aené’s future. Though she had been reluctant to become attached to Aené at first because of the first two failed pregnancies, Aené had made it past the first critical months and was now well into the sixth month. Why was this happening now? ‘…can’t explain what’s happening…’ They had nearly completed the designs for her room! What happened? Had Aené given up on her? Had she deemed Dormé an unfit mother? Everything had been normal until now. Why was she no longer able to stay? ‘There’s nothing more to be done…’ Dormé could barely registered what the warbling medical droid was saying. The doctor looked as perplexed as the attendant, but the contractions were blindingly painful and then it was over. The attendant cleaned her up and wrapped a warm blanket around her. ‘Aené?’ she asked. Frowning, the doctor admitted, ‘We’ve lost her. I’m sorry.’ Whimpering, Dormé covered her mouth as tears flooded her eyes anew. Hardly caring about her own health, she tossed off the blanket and stood. Though her legs felt like jelly and she was shaking, she staggered over to where they had Aené. Dormé reached out to touch her tiny form, wanting to hold her, to kiss her, to ask why she couldn’t stay, to say goodbye, but upon seeing Aené, she collapsed. In her dreams, Dormé was in a vast forest. A little girl with a ribbon in her hand was dancing and giggling a few feet away. Dormé called to her, trying to warn her about something, but the little girl kept dancing further and further away. When they reached a clearing, she saw the little girl was wearing a long white gown and a tiara on her head. The ribbon was long since tossed haphazardly along the forest floor. She approached slowly and got onto her knees in front of the girl. ‘Aené, sweetheart,’ Dormé began, trying to reason with the precocious girl. Aené reached up and took off the tiara, placing it on Dormé’s head, smiling an all- too-familiar mischievous smile. She then hugged Dormé. Dormé hugged her back tightly as though if she were to release her, she would disappear. Aené kissed Dormé’s cheek and wiggled out of her arms, tearing off again into the darkening woods. ‘Aené!’ Dormé called, chasing after her, but she was nowhere to be found. The trees seemed to melt away, leaving Dormé in darkness alone. ‘AENÉ!’ And somewhere in the blackened forest, a melody played. It took a moment for Dormé to recognise it as a Uriashian lullaby. It was a moment Vader would never forget for as long as he lived, it would haunt him for the rest of his life. Though he wouldn’t remember who it he had been hunting at the time, nor what planet he was on, Anakin would never forget the experience. It was in the middle of a hunt, on a planet not worthy of his recollection when Vader heard the sound of music playing. A strange haunting tune that reminded him of something he had heard Dormé hum upon occasion when she was working on their daughter’s room. Initially he was too lost in the battle to notice it but the music grew gradually louder, demanding his attention. A strange sensation of pain began to course through his torso forcing the emperor to falter from the battle. His prey took advantage of this and soon sent him on the defensive. But the Sith Lord was stronger and soon was taking charge of the fight once more. That was until another sharp pain in his torso distracted him once more. This time the Jedi decided escape was the wisest course of action. It was only because of the dark side that Anakin was even able to ignore the pain and continue the chase. Soon the pain was nothing more than a memory and his prey was once more cornered and within range of his lightsaber that thrummed with life and longed for death. Snow blew all around them despite the fact that the rocky mountainside blocked the worse of the snow storm. The Jedi showed no fear, nor desperation only the strange sense of calm that always left Anakin feeling agitated and deep down envious. However just as he was about to swing his blade, to end the hunt, a little girl stepped out of the blizzard and in front of his prey. Time seemed to move of its own accord in those moments and Vader could only watch in horror as though viewing his actions in slow motion. The youngling girl studied him intently with beautiful eyes of amber that didn’t entirely hide the hint of mischief encouraged by the freckles that decorated her nose. But before Anakin could register or comprehend who this child was or what she was doing here, his blade met her flesh and her spirit joined the Force, leaving behind only the body of the girl with the tussled blonde hair falling lifeless into the snow. Staggering back in horror, Anakin finally realised who this strange youngling was and immediately deactivated his lightsaber in reply as a whimper escaped his lips. ‘Aené?...Oh no...Oh Force no...’ he whimpered as he choked out a sob as he leaned against the rocky mountain side. His legs felt as though they were made of liquid. He knew what had happened even before feeling Dormé’s crushing pain and sorrow that flooded his thoughts. Their little girl was gone, taken away from them by the Force that had only a short time ago blessed her to them. Consumed with sorrow over the loss and fear for his wife, Anakin promptly raced back to his ship, not noticing nor caring of the tears that were already freezing on his cheeks. Leaving behind the lifeless Jedi he had so mercilessly killed to receive an icy burial. Saché was in the middle of being trained in her new duties when word reached her about the empress’s condition. Even though Dormé killed Padmé in their mock trial as well as the innocents who stood up to them, Saché couldn’t quite bring herself to hate Dormé. In her mind, the younger woman was in over her head but had yet to discover it. It would prove to be a truth that Saché wouldn’t fully appreciate for many years. Fearing for the baby’s safety and health as well as the mother’s, Saché did her best to keep up to date on Dormé’s situation. Though she wasn’t permitted access to the med labs where she was healing, Saché was well aware of the loss and felt terrible for her former protégé. She was normally grateful that Dormé’s beast of a husband was out of the palace given the situation, but there was a very small part of her that wished he were here, not for anything than to act as support for Dormé. Though Saché wasn’t one who was renowned for her empathy, the former handmaiden’s heart went out to Dormé nonetheless. She passed through the children’s wing where the Jedi younglings lived and played. Though it wasn’t her intention to remain long—as she was on her way to cross check security on this particular floor—Saché couldn’t resist the temptation of watching the little one’s play in the playroom for a bit. While she wasn’t familiar with any of the Jedi younglings, she did enjoy watching them play when the opportunity availed itself, which wasn’t very often to say the least. After her first miscarriage, Dormé had comforted herself with the fact that Anakin and she would be able to have other children and tried everything to ensure her second would make it. After her second miscarriage, Dormé threw herself into politics, changing the galaxy to make it perfect for their children and for all younglings. But this time when little Aené returned to the stars, Dormé felt she could no longer go on. Though the doctors and medical attendants insisted Dormé needed to be under careful observation for another few hours, she didn’t care. Once she awoke from the disturbing dreams, she couldn’t be in the facility any longer. Even though it hurt to walk, she felt she deserved the pain. She deserved to suffer for whatever caused Aené to leave her. Dormé made her way, albeit slowly, to the area of the palace they had begun to work on as Aené’s room. There was a blanket she had begun making for her by her own hands, a technique she learnt during her time in the factories, but this was a labour of love. Aené wouldn’t be needing it anymore. Why did the gods or the Force or whomever was responsible take Aené away? Why should she place her faith in gods if they were just going to destroy her? She was so angry and yet despairing, thinking of those younglings from the Jedi temple. There was no way she could bare to see them now. If Aené, her little princess, had deemed her unworthy, how could she possibly look after other younglings? Lying the unfinished blanket back on the chair, she decided that she would have them sent away to Naboo. She would make sure someone placed them in good homes, without telling anyone they were saved from the Jedi Temple. She summoned an officer to relay a message to her former mentor to have the older woman meet her here, for she was too sore to move and yet not wanting to leave as if to do so would admit the truth, that Aené was dead. Saché was in the middle of working on less than legal business pertaining to the rebel activity when an officer demanded her attention, almost giving her a heartattack in the process. Quickly sending the message, Saché glanced up and played the role of the annoyed security personnel, interrupted from her duties. At the order given, Saché immediately grew serious and concerned. ‘Of course I’ll be right there,’ she said quickly as she rose from her seat and promptly departed with the officer. ‘Lady Maberrie, as you requested, Your Highness,’ the officer said, bowing after introducing her and quietly leaving. Dormé did not move from where she stood, facing away from the door, staring at the half-finished blanket she laid on the chair. She heard Saché enter and it was only then that she slowly turned around to face her. Saché remained silent watching Dormé already knowing what had happened and feeling terrible for it. She could only imagine how hard this had to have been for Dormé especially considering how young the empress was—just twenty-three— and the fact this wasn’t the first one she had lost. It was almost a comforting sight, seeing Saché. She didn’t bother hiding her tear- stained cheeks from her. It was as though she was seeing her sister. Despite her attempt to be resolute and emotionless, it was hard. Her voice strained to remain even as she said, ‘I would like you to take the Jedi younglings to Naboo...find g- good homes for them...’ As the younger woman turned to face her, Saché’s expression softened further. She nodded in understanding, knowing how hard this had to be for Dormé and already vowing to do everything in her power to ensure the children had good homes. ‘Consider it done, Your Highness,’ she said softly before stepping closer and shyly pulling the young woman in for a hug. She tried to ignore her fragile state how frail and thin she looked. It troubled Saché deeply, leaving her wishing she could do something, anything to help her little sister with her pain. ‘Thank you,’ Dormé replied, a knot catching in her throat before she could say anything else. She didn’t feel like having to explain her reasoning behind it and knew she would if Saché asked. The hug caught her off guard and she stiffened slightly before hugging her back. She let out a shaky sigh, but forced herself not to cry, wanting to be strong. Saché didn’t need any explanations for what little she knew was enough for her and silently she comfort her former protégé. Dormé’s shaky sigh caused the older handmaiden to lightly rubbed her back as though she were an older sister comforting her younger one. ‘If there is anything else I can do, anything at all just let me know, OK?’ she said softly wishing there was something more she could do to help. Dormé pulled back though remaining in her arms as she nodded, fighting tears. ‘I just want them to have good homes. Don’t tell anyone they are from the Jedi Temple.’ This silent protection of Force sensitives, many of whom husband slaughtered without second thought, would speak for Dormé in the future. She couldn’t talk about what happened today and was thankful that Saché didn’t question her actions. Saché fell silent as Dormé drew back. She nodded in firmly in understanding ,finding hope in Dormé’s request. This sort of protection was generally unheard of in the empire, as Lord Vader had made it a personal vendetta to remove all whom were associated with the Jedi. ‘Their secret will be safe with me,’ she admitted softly before furrowing her brow as she took in Dormé’s appearances once more. ‘You should probably rest. You’ve been through a lot,’ Saché continued in gentle concern. ‘Do not dwell on this matter any more it’s in good hands I assure you,’ she said softly wanting to reassure Dormé that her decision was the right one. That she would stop at nothing until every one of the younglings were in safe and happy homes. Though she drew away, she found her legs were still unsteady and inevitably grasped Saché’s arm. She knew she could trust Saché and it was this hope that would help her in the future. Instead of ordered, Dormé merely requested, ‘Would you mind helping me—to my quarters?’ She was supposed to have remained in the medical ward, but couldn’t bear to stay there where Aené died. ‘Of course. You need not ask,’ she said kindly before helping Dormé to her quarters. Upon arriving Saché was quick to get her some ice water and asked if perhaps she could get her something to help her rest. She didn’t depart until she was certain Dormé was as all right as she could be. As Dormé lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, she tried to clear her head, but finding it still reeling from everything that happened. She had started the day full of life and now it felt like she was dead inside, a shell of her former self. Her mind kept going over the silliest and stupid things that might have caused this to happen. None of it made any sense. Later she would remember how kind Saché had been, how she had offered to help in any way she could... But right now she was too consumed with Aené’s death to think of anything else. She wished Anakin was with her. After what felt like an eternity, the frantic Sith Lord finally returned to the palace only to learn of the news from a messenger who was killed on the spot. Another who tried much the same a short time later received the same treatment. It was only when he had encountered a medical droid who was returning to the med lab did Anakin find the will to refrain. Showering the robot with questions about Dormé’s condition and the details about what had happened, Anakin desperately hoped to find answers. As always, the response was the same, leaving Vader even more despairing than before. Finding this to be yet another lost cause, the Sith Lord quietly departed without another word exchanged between himself and the machine. He didn’t bother asking where his beloved was for Anakin was fairly certain that he would know where to find the empress. Dormé was unable to sleep more than an hour since Aené’s death. In the early hours of the morning, she padded slowly through the hallways of the palace to the wing formerly occupied by the Jedi younglings. Now that they were gone, she was relieved while at the same time remorseful. They didn’t belong here, not when she couldn’t even take care of her own child. She stopped in the playroom she had so often visited. Their toys were still scattered about and though she would normally have picked up and put things away for them, Dormé paused and got down on her knees to pick up one of the toys. She played with it as though entertaining one of the little girls who had long since departed for Naboo to find a better mother. Dormé wished she had said goodbye to them. They probably hated her now, wondering why she had given them away without second thoughts. Clutching one of the stuffed animals, she closed her eyes, bowing her head, as tears came to her eyes. Aené... Anakin’s return home had been a painful one and though he hadn’t slept a wink during the entire trip he hardly felt tired as his thoughts were solely on Dormé and their daughter. As he roamed the hallways he soon picked up her Force signature and knew that she was in the playroom where the Jedi younglings often played. Unaware that Dormé had sent them away Anakin for a moment was hesitant to join her there knowing of their reaction to him and feeling too out of sorts to handle such rejection. But almost immediately he realised there was no powerful Force signatures to be found nearby and though he didn’t know the reasons for this Anakin wasn’t about to miss this opportunity to see his wife and promptly entered the playroom in silence. Almost as soon as he stepped in, the Sith Lord found himself struggling to contain his sorrow. He didn’t need to see Dormé’s face to feel her pain, nor to see the effect this entire ordeal was having on her. Though her back was facing him Anakin could see the signs that marked her suffering. Her skin normally glowing was pale while her body already petite seemed even more fragile than ever before. However as hard as it was Anakin did his best not to dwell on it as it was too painful to consider where this was all headed. In silence, he approached her, unable to ignore the tears that were already beginning to spill down his cheeks. While he was able to keep his emotions somewhat contained during the journey home, the sight of her looking so broken tore at his heart and made it impossible to control any longer. Moving in front of her, the Sith lord wrapped his arms around her petite form and drew her close to him. There were no words to describe his sorrow, no words that could possibly comfort his pain… Dormé was so lost in her grief that she didn’t know what time of day it was or how long she had been in the playroom in the exact same position. She hadn’t slept or ate, nor had she been able to if the chance was offered. She didn’t register Anakin’s presence until he was wrapping his arms around her. The physical pain from the ordeal had been until that point the only thing that made her aware that she was still alive, that Aené had passed, not her. Finally, now that Anakin was here, she was able to openly mourn for their daughter. She sobbed into his chest, feeling as though she were breaking in two. Never in her life had she known such pain as she did now. She had never looked forward to anything in her life, never made plans, never counted on such things and now... Now everything she had planned was in ruins. What were they fighting for? What was the point of this stupid empire and everyone in it? She didn’t care anymore. She felt so completely and utterly useless and ultimately missing Aené whom she loved so desperately. Holding her close, Anakin soon fell prey to his emotions and silently wept in sorrow with her. He couldn’t help but feel as though they were both drowning in an ocean of sorrow, with no one to turn to and no hope in sight. How much more punishment must they endure? Had they not done the will of the Force? Had they not restored peace and security to the people? Why did the Force feel it so necessary to continually bless them with such joy only to steal it away again? His thoughts ran wild as his fears grew and blossomed into despair and confusion. Would they never know the joy of being parents, the loving responsibility that came with raising their own children? Or would this living hell just continue until they went mad from the pain of their losses. As he clung onto Dormé, the Sith Lord silently begged the Force to answers his pleas, to end this madness once and for all, to punish him for his sins against the younglings at the Temple, not Dormé, who had done nothing to deserve this pain, this curse. As always, only silence answered his desperate pleas. After what felt like an eternity, his tears too eventually subsided leaving him gulping down shaky breaths of air as he continued to rub Dormé’s back and run his hands through her hair. Though his gestures were meant to comfort her, it also helped sooth him a little knowing that she was near and understood his pain as well. Despite everything, Dormé was thankful that they had each other. She didn’t know what she would have done if he hadn’t returned home. ‘I saw her,’ she whispered, her voice barely audible against his chest. ‘She—Anakin...’ She caught her breath, unable to continue. Anakin caught her whispers and furrowed his brow feeling new tears returning to his eyes as the lump in his throat returned with a vengeance. ‘...I know...I saw her too...’ he whispered in sorrow filled tones as her voice faltered. His embrace tightened around her and Anakin drew in a shaky breath as she spoke his name. Closing his eyes, he swallowed hard as the tears once more began to spill as the memory of his own vision returned with a vengeance. ‘Anakin...’ She knew she didn’t have to say anymore. She didn’t know what they were going to do. Why? Why must you punish her like this? She is innocent! She has done nothing to deserve this! I am the one who murdered the younglings at the Temple not her. I am the one who deserves this pain, not her. Anakin inwardly pleaded with the Force as he clung onto his beloved feeling as though the entire universe was conspiring against them. As time passed, Dormé’s body healed but her spirit continued to waver. She began over-training in an effort to feel the pain she thought she deserved, punishing herself because it seemed like the right thing to do. Once word reached the public about the death of Princess Aené, thousands of flowers were laid outside the palace doors. Some held candlelit vigils in her memory. There were many who hated the Empire and all it stood for who sympathized with the royal couple’s grief. All of this was lost on Dormé who wanted her little girl back as well as the other two who returned too soon to the stars. They had a memorial created for her, in which Dormé placed the finished blanket she had created for Aené. Her only consolation was that at least Aené had company wherever she was. But there was solace to be found in this world, with her grieving husband. In time, Dormé’s body deemed her spirit ready to move on, as painful as that final step would be. It was the first time they made love since the loss and it was a moment Anakin would never forget for as long as he lived. Hours later, he could still taste her tears on his lips, recalling how he kissed them away as they spilled down Dormé’s cheeks, not caring that his own mingled with hers. Dormé cried for many reason. This meant they were moving on with their lives and she didn’t want Aené to think they would forget her. Dormé also cried because she loved Anakin so much and had missed this. It was a big step, but a move in a positive direction. Perhaps now, she would be able to forgive herself, to let go and stop punishing herself for things that were out of her control. Perhaps now, she would be able to sleep. Her body, silky soft like the petals of the idaceae that decorated their bedchambers, was still intertwined with his flesh. Her arms were wrapped tightly around him, just as his own held her with equal fervency. It was hard to ignore the desperation of their embrace, the unspoken understanding that Anakin didn’t dare dwell upon but couldn’t deny. Much like the way Anakin couldn’t ignore the feel of her bones beneath his lips where soft flesh once was when he kissed her body, how fragile she felt in his arms. Wrapped in Dormé’s arms—like a second skin protecting him from his broken heart—Anakin for the first time in what felt like an eternity was able to find a moments rest. Yet as the sun began to peer through the shades of their bedchamber, the young Sith Lord knew that this moment of silent security would soon draw to a close. Deep down he knew that the events of last night was more than just a gesture of love, it was the mark of two broken souls beginning to heal. Though the storm was far from over, and hope just a distant dream, Anakin could already feel the results of Dormé’s healing touch taking effect. The tears he shed were like a healing balm for his wounded heart, just as the taste of hers was like medicine for his shattered spirit. Dormé’s touch, so gentle and so fragile, did more for him than anything in the universe ever could and never in his life was Anakin more grateful to be able to have her to hold as he was in that moment. Chapter Five Dormé hated them, all of the mothers with their children so happy...gloating about their successful pregnancies where Dormé had failed. It wasn’t fair. It was as though they were mocking her with their words of gratitude and smiling faces. While she hadn’t left Coruscant much while she was carrying Aené, she now travelled frequently and saw all of them who adored her for her charitable work and dedication to children’s rights. In her travels, she was often accompanied by legions of stormtroopers to bring peace to other planets not yet part of their empire. She continued to do so for three long years as she coped with the loss of Aené. Anakin and she contemplated ways in which to bring more resources into their empire and provide for their daily increasing imperial army as well as the training schools on Coruscant for recruits. At one point, she came across the former Supreme Chancellor’s plans for a planetary vanquishing machine, but she had them destroyed. Taking away the weapons from all the other planets and giving them to her stormtroopers was far more effective in her opinion. This way their weaponry and defensive power wasn’t localised. Not long after Anakin and Dormé were finally able to begin healing from Aené’s death, Dormé became pregnant again. Though she recognised all of the symptoms, she dismissed them as stress as she was still trying to get her life back on track. With the time spent running the Empire and the long hours of training she did to keep up her own agility and strength, it was no wonder that her cycles weren’t normal. As much as she still wanted to have children with Anakin, she hardly wanted to be attached to this one or to make any plans. She knew it would be futile and she would only end up getting hurt again. Dormé denied the obvious for many months until there was no way around it. She knew Anakin was aware, for he was, after all, Force sensitive, but he didn’t say anything. Even when it was evident from the changes in her body, nothing was said. The denial was hard to get over, but one morning in the fresher as the water poured over her now four-month slightly swollen torso, she couldn’t ignore it. She cried. The truth was that Dormé was scared. Pulling herself together, she dressed slowly and solemnly went to visit Aené’s memorial. It was partially lit from the early sun shining through a window on the far side. She lit a candle and knelt in front of the memorial with her head bowed. Though she wasn’t a spiritual person, she had to believe that Aené could hear her. She spoke of her regrets and fears, and that she hoped Aené could forgive her, that Aené wouldn’t hate her. When she raised her head to look up once more, the way the light bounced off the walls was almost surreal. It seemed like she could almost see her. Though it was brief, the vision of a little blonde girl with eyes of dark amber, and freckles decorating her nose and cheeks smiled. Dormé blinked and Aené was gone. Surprisingly, she felt incredibly at peace. Even if it was just a dream, Aené seemed happy and this was such a relief to Dormé. Now she knew what she had to do. She would tell the medics not to spare her if this little one didn’t make it. She knew she wouldn’t be able to go on if she were to lose another child. Anakin threw himself into his work with a new vigour he never had before, not out of his need to solidify their empire—which was already more than established—but rather to keep his mind off the discovery he had made. Though not a word was spoken between them, Anakin was aware of Dormé’s pregnancy as much as she was. Upon learning that Dormé was with child again, the emperor felt more sorrowful than excited. He felt even guiltier at the fact that he hadn’t been more mindful of Dormé’s fragile state and ensured that it wouldn’t happen again. While it was too late to turn back time, it didn’t stop Anakin from unwittingly punishing himself. Long hours of work and little sleep began to take its toll but it didn’t stop the Sith Lord from continuing his rigorous schedule. It wasn’t long before he would even forget to eat as his thoughts were ever on the duties of ensuring peace for their empire and ridding them of all threats. On this particular morning, when exhaustion ensured he returned home, Anakin knew that it was time to speak to Dormé about what they had been avoiding all along. It broke his heart to think of how his wife would react to having the discovery out in the open. He also knew that if she didn’t visit a medic soon complications were certain to arise. If anything was to go wrong, he didn’t want her to blame herself for it and knew that unless something could prevent it, it was certain she would. With the passing of Aené, the Sith Lord was aware that if something happened, he would lose more than just another child. He tried not to allow himself to think of the fact he knew what would happen should they lose this little spark of life. It was just too painful and during those moments of weakness when he did, Anakin was careful to hide the tears that came or if these too couldn’t be helped, he would take to the shower to wash them away. As he entered the palace, he soon sensed that Dormé was at the memorial of their little princess and immediately departed for it to meet her. Though he knew what had to be done for now he wanted nothing more than to hold her even for but a moment. To just feel her arms around him and be reminded that he wasn’t alone in this, that they were in this together. If any peace was found, it slowly faded once more as she set off to return indoors. With each step, it dissipated into sorrow, though Dormé didn’t feel it as powerfully as she had felt her own earlier. If she knew better, she would have recognised it as her husband’s sorrow. As if on cue, she saw an exhausted- looking Anakin heading towards her. She quickened her pace to greet him. It felt like an eternity since she last held him. Upon seeing Dormé, the young emperor couldn’t help but smile a little. She looked lovely as always though he could sense she was in a bit better spirits than usual and drew hope from it. Pulling her into a tight hug Anakin gave a deep sigh feeling his own mood lightening a little at her healing touch. ‘I’ve missed you so much,’ he murmured softly into her ear as his hand slipped to hair. When she finally drew back slightly to touch his cheek and study him closely, she could see the wear of all the weeks, the sleepless nights, the lack of taking proper care of himself. She vowed silently to see to it she did everything in her power to remedy it and prayed it wasn’t because of her or something she had done to cause this, though deep down she had a feeling it was. As she drew back, he felt her hand against his cheek and instinctively leaned into it. Her gaze was sharp and studious and he could feel her concern which caused his cheeks to slightly warm. No matter how hard he tried to keep up appearances, he knew there was no hiding from his wife and immediately he felt bad for causing her to feel concern for him. She had so much on her mind already that the last thing he wanted was to add his own shame and fear to it. She pulled him in for another tight hug, as though it would make up for all the times she couldn’t. Though she was worried for him, she was able to exhale what seemed like the weight of the universe, or at least of their empire, and for a moment find peace once more. This moment held all the solace he had been longing for during their time apart. Holding Dormé tightly and rubbing her back, he closed his eyes and breathed her in deeply, feeling his racing heart beginning to calm and his despairing, fearful thoughts starting to clear. He knew what had to be done and as he held her close, Anakin finally found the courage to speak of the matter he knew deep down that should have been discussed some time ago. ‘Dormé, we should talk…not here, but somewhere just as private,’ he began softly, knowing that she would be aware of what it was he wanted to discuss and already feeling his heart ache for her because of it. Nodding slowly in agreement, she wrapped an arm around his waist and started back indoors. She would rather avoid the subject and fix him something to eat or suggest he have a rest first, but Dormé knew that as convincing as she could be, he was just as stubborn. In reality, this conversation ought to have taken place months ago. Once they returned to the privacy of their own quarters, she took his cloak from off his shoulders before moving with him to the nearest couch. She knew there was no use in avoiding it, not even to get something to eat or drink for Anakin. Anakin didn’t stop her from helping remove his cloak and silently helped her out of hers. Though not a word was exchanged it was obvious neither wanted to discuss the matter at hand but were aware that time had run out for running away. As they sat on the couch, Anakin gently slipped an arm around her and silently held her for a moment wanting to express his unspoken support and understanding. After a moments silence he quietly spoke what weighed on his mind and heart. ‘I think it’s time you should see a physician,’ he began gently as he studied her with concern and love. ‘I know it’s not something you want to do Dormé, but I’m worried about you, about...’ he faltered as though fearing if he openly admitted to their baby’s existence, he would spell its demise. ‘I’m just concerned and I think its time we face what we already both know to be fact. We can only deny it for so long and well, I think it’s only fair that you at least get examined to ensure everything—’ he fell silent then. He already knew how fruitless this would be, as every time their child was lost no one ever seemed to know what was wrong. Dormé was always in perfect health as was their baby yet something was obviously very wrong. ‘I want to find you a healer Dormé, someone who is familiar with the natural side of medicine who isn’t so easily lost in the game of politics,’ he continued in determined tones. He struggled to hide his emotions only to fail miserably as he gave a shuddering sigh. He knew this was his fault and inwardly cursed himself once more for not being more careful, for being more mindful of her fragile situation. Dormé swallowed hard, trying to fight back tears as he mentioned what they both knew they needed to speak of. She exhaled slowly. ‘Oh what’s the point anyway?’ Dormé said exasperatedly at the situation, not at his concern. ‘What’s the use if nothing, no one has been able to...’ she began though she was unable to finish the statement. Dormé’s exasperated reply tore at Anakin’s heart and left him feeling worse than before. Furrowing his brow, he struggled with his own tears as she spoke of things neither could openly speak about. Though this was meant to be a happy moment for them both, it was hard to feel positive about something that always ended in such despair and loss. His embrace tightened as Dormé struggled to speak. Like her Anakin too was struggling with his own despair and tears as he bowed his head feeling ashamed of his lack of sensitivity. ‘What more can be done that hasn’t been done already? What could another healer possibly offer that—I just...’ She shook her head. ‘I can’t—’ Her jaw clenched tightly as she continued fighting tears. ‘I know...Believe me, I know...’ he murmured in reply at her words. ‘This is all my fault, I should have been more careful. I should have been more mindful,’ he continued in shamed tones as he bowed his head. ‘Now it’s too late and...I should have known better. You’ve been through so much already and I know—’ he didn’t dare continue his thought, as this too was another unspoken understanding. It was also one he knew if were to ever to be discussed openly would surely break him. Dormé shook her head to his expression of guilt. ‘If anyone’s to blame, it’s the both of us. Gods know there are times when I’m with you that I wouldn’t be able to tell the time of day if asked, let alone think about preventative measures.’ She offered a small, knowing smile. Anakin studied Dormé in silence feeling his cheeks warm slightly at her admittance which in reality mirrored his thoughts on the matter. ‘I can’t say I’m any different. But I just can’t help but feel responsible for not being more aware. It’s just so easy to lose myself in the moment when you’re near,’ he admitted softly. ‘I’m so scared to lose you,’ he finally breathed not daring to speak of the little one he was so certain would be lost as well. ‘Please let me do this, please just let me find someone for you. That’s all I ask.’ Knowing what she knew: that she wouldn’t want to face losing another child, that she would rather sacrifice her own life to save the child, she wasn’t about to lie to Anakin saying he wouldn’t lose her, she wouldn’t make promises she had no power to keep. ‘I just need you, Anakin,’ she murmured. He hadn’t been there when Aené left them and it was utter hell for her. ‘I need you more than any healers or medics or any of them, but if you want to find a healer, I’m not going to discourage it.’ Anakin felt his heart clench as he bit his lip struggling against his emotions once more. Though it meant a lot to hear those words Anakin couldn’t help but feel that his presence just wasn’t enough. That in the end he would be the one forced to stand helplessly by Dormé’s side while she endured the nightmare of losing another child again. ‘I want to everything I can for you and for our baby. But I would feel so much better if I knew that someone who is more familiar with these things is looking out for your and the baby,’ he said gently as Dormé leaned her head against his shoulder. Instinctively his fingers began to twirl through her hair as her words made his heart ache. He too was so scared for the child but was also equally scared for Dormé. She pulled him closer as well and leant her head on his shoulder. ‘And I promise I will do whatever I can to—I do want this baby... I’m just so scared for it...’ ‘We will do everything we can to ensure nothing happens to our child and I will do everything I can to ensure nothing happens to you,’ he whispered in a voice thick with emotion. It pained Dormé that Anakin felt he was inadequate in any way. He didn’t have to tell her, for it was all too clear in his expression. She meant it when she said she only needed him. Even just knowing he was near would be enough to lift her spirits and assure her that everything would be all right, that they would make it through this. But she wasn’t about to prevent him from being proactive, even if it meant when the time came that he wouldn’t be there. She knew it would hurt him too much to be there and be helpless. She wouldn’t force him to bear witness to it. ‘I understand,’ she replied softly, gazing up at him from where her head rested on his shoulder. If only she knew just how much Anakin needed her in return. Her simple statement said all that needed to be said and Anakin was so relieved to know that Dormé understood his need to do all he could to ensure the safety of his beloved and their child. It meant everything to know that despite his failings, his flaws and the fact he wasn’t everything that the Jedi or the Sith had hoped he would become, he was enough for her. She reached up to touch his cheek again, stroking it with her thumb. She had missed him so much and hoped he wouldn’t soon be parting once more at least not until he had rested up and had a few proper meals in. But she also knew just how futile it would be to try to keep him here with her for long. Part of her just wanted to go with him to find more healers, but knew this was another unspoken impossibility. Without a word, he pulled her in closer, wanting her to know all he couldn’t bring himself to say in that moment as his emotions were running too high. Anakin felt her concern and wanted nothing more than to ease it. ‘I will do everything in my power to ensure that my search doesn’t take me away from you or our baby for long,’ he said in soft and sincere tones as he drew back a strand of her hair behind her ear. ‘Good,’ she replied. Studying him closely, she could tell there was something else, though she wasn’t exactly sure what it was. It wasn’t only that she felt he wouldn’t be around, it’s that she felt he didn’t want to be around, in case there was another miscarriage. Dormé felt as though he would rather not be home when it happened again, so that it would be easier for him, that this search was just an excuse. Deep down, she knew it wasn’t true, but she had a hard time convincing herself that it wasn’t. She wasn’t aware just how keenly he felt things she went through, that because of their Force bond, he had experienced the miscarriages as if they were his own. Because of this, she had no idea just how prominently it affected him, even when he wasn’t home. Holding her close Anakin tried to keep his thoughts from slipping into despair, from falling prey to the hopelessness that seemed ever looming at the back of his mind. This time he would not fail, this time their baby would make it, it just had too. Even as he tried to convince himself that this time they would finally have a child, Anakin couldn’t deny the feeling that everything was now hanging on a thread. That one wrong mistake, one wrong move could cost him everything he had ever loved and ever wanted. Without Dormé, he was nothing, and never did he feel the weight of that fact as he did in that moment. It was these thoughts that confirmed his need to find a healer, to locate someone that would understand why this was happening and ensure it wouldn’t happen again. ‘When are you leaving?’ she asked. ‘I want to begin the search right away but I’m going to try and do as much as I can at home before departing,’ he admitted uncertain how long he’d be able to stay at home or how long he’d be gone for. After the time spent in Aené’s memorial, Dormé had felt something she hadn’t since she discovered she was pregnant again: hope. With Anakin’s return, for some reason, that hope seemed to dissipate with each passing moment. Dormé didn’t understand why this was, for Anakin had always been her strength and security. As much as Dormé understood Anakin’s desire to find help, even his desire not to be there should another miscarriage occur, she couldn’t fathom why part of her thought it was for the best. If she lost another baby, would it sever them so severely that—no, she wouldn’t consider that. She had an empire to run while he was away. Their people needed her to be strong in the face of tragedy. While eager to find someone to assist Dormé as their child grew and developed, there was a part of Anakin, which longed to remain by her side. He feared that something would happen in his absence that once more, their baby wouldn’t make it and that neither would his beloved. However, such thoughts weren’t encouraging and in the face of this opportunity—as hopeless as it might appear— Anakin didn’t want to dwell on anything but the positive. He knew he had to if not for her sake than for the sake of their child for the strange and unknown struggle that awaited it. He would not fail her this time, not again. Just as Dormé’s thoughts turned to their empire, the buzzer on their private quarters sounded loudly. How dare someone interrupt! How dare they tread their private wing! Anakin uttered a soft curse of frustration. Dormé slid from Anakin’s embrace, saying, ‘I’ll take care of this,’ in a deadly tone. She grabbed her wakizashi on her way to the main chamber to answer the door. At her deadly statement, the emperor couldn’t resist a smirk as he watched her grab her blade and depart to the door with all the pomp and stance of a dark goddess. She didn’t wait to hear the message, but slaughtered the messenger. The officer accompanying him, didn’t dare to speak as Dormé said, ‘You will tell everyone in our empire that today is an official day of remembrance for Princess Aené. It is a day of rest and reflection. There will be no more interruptions today. My husband is home. Is that understood?’ The officer nervously nodded in response. ‘Good. Now, have a droid tend to this mess and leave us.’ The officer nodded, bowed, and scurried off to do her bidding. He didn’t need to ask what she had in mind as it was clear enough and as he felt the man’s spirit return to the Force, his smirk turned to a dark smile that reflected the brief peace felt. It was satisfying to feel another’s pain, to hear their cries through the Force and to know that even for a moment his own sorrow had been silenced because of it. While he didn’t hear the entire conversation between his wife and the officer—for his thoughts were elsewhere—Anakin caught the tail end and felt another rush of satisfaction though it was bittersweet. The memory of Aené was even now, three years later, a painful one for him and just thinking about their little princess made his heart ache once more. Dormé returned her sword to its resting place without bothering to wipe it clean of the messenger’s blood and embraced Anakin, sighing. ‘I—I think I saw Aené today at her memorial...at least I think I did, but it could have been a daydream, but I just...I think she’s all right. I think she’s happy and isn’t angry with me, with us.’ The Sith Lord’s thoughts shifted back to the memory of their daughter and, pulling her closer, he listened to Dormé intently. His eyes shone with unshed tears as for the first time since the princess’s passing he felt a hint of peace. ‘I have no doubt in my mind that it was her. I’ve heard many legends, stories from my younger days about loved one’s returning from the Force to comfort those who remained here,’ Anakin said softly as his hand slipped to her cheek. The thought that their daughter had returned to comfort Dormé was a wondrous one indeed and while he wished he could have been witness Anakin was so thankful that Dormé was able to see Aené. That their daughter was able to return to let her ama know she was okay, that she loved them and that she was happy where she was now. ‘I wish you could have been there to see her,’ Dormé said as he touched her cheek. Anakin fell silent at Dormé’s words as inwardly he recalled the sight of their daughter but under very different circumstances. He didn’t want to speak of them however as this was a sacred moment, one he would much rather Dormé look back on fondly over the recollection of his own experiences. ‘She was—she’s so beautiful...’ Dormé went on to describe how she looked, though it was only a split-second it would forever remain etched in her memory. She was unaware that Anakin had already seen her, only under other circumstances far grimmer. Hearing Dormé speak of their daughter only confirmed his belief that this was more than just a vision or a trick of her mind. The little girl she spoke of looked exactly as he remembered and upon hearing of the brief interaction that occurred between ama and daughter the Sith Lord couldn’t help but feel touched by it. Despite the fact he wasn’t there to witness it first hand he knew how much it meant to Dormé and that was enough for him. ‘I’m so glad you were able to see her. To know our little girl is okay and happy,’ he whispered feeling his emotions getting the better of him as a sad smile crept into his features. ‘She returned because she loves you, Dormé, and didn’t want to see you in pain,’ he concluded gently. Dormé was relieved to hear that it was real, that it had not been a dream, that Anakin believed Aené had really visited her. His concluding words hardly prevented tears from coming to her eyes. ‘I love you, Anakin,’ she said before kissing him, hoping to ease his pain, assure him that Aené and she were both all right and that she had come to terms with what happened. It would not reflect whatever would happen with this pregnancy. Aené had returned hope to her and she wished it for Anakin as well, despite his need to leave her side, which deep down she knew was not going to be forever. Holding her close the emperor closed his eyes as her words moved him deeply for Dormé wasn’t one who easily expressed her feelings. Touching her cheek, he opened his eyes once more to gaze into hers ‘I love you so much, Dormé’ he whispered in reply before returning her kiss. Finding assurance in both her kiss and all that could not be said. Though their daughter could not physically be with them, the fact she had returned to his wife, to express her love was a sign that Anakin could not ignore. Finding hope for the first time in what felt like an eternity Anakin tightened his embrace as he gave a contented sigh. Maybe, just maybe this time their deepest wish and prayer would finally be answered. In silence, Anakin studied the old woman waiting with much impatience to hear her decision. If she seemed bothered by his obvious annoyance, it didn’t show as the petite form continued to place slender sticks into the small fire place in front of her. Had it not been for the fact his head advisor Kei Breemu had suggested he visit the healer Anakin would have long since departed. But Kei was adamant about the matter saying that the former high priestess had practically raised his wife from when she was a baby. ‘You’ll never find another more trustworthy or skilled in her arts Anakin. Believe me; Edeja is as cautious as you are when it comes to this sort of matter.’ Anakin frowned at the memory of Kei’s words. He couldn’t help but find it odd that Edeja herself couldn’t be bothered to tell him this information in person. Although when he challenged Kei about this fact the tactician just gave an apologetic look and admitted Dormé’s treatment of the messenger she had sent to reach the empress had unnerved her. Anakin had no real memory of what Kei was referring to he soon learnt that it had occurred about four months ago. Hardly finding this to be an excuse Anakin demanded that in the future if she had something to tell him or Dormé she was to do it in person. Kei promised he would relay the message. It had yet to occur to Anakin that the last time he had seen Kei’s wife was just before Edeja learnt she was pregnant with their son. This was almost a year ago. But after spending four months of constantly seeking out healers of every faith, culture and world, Anakin was beginning to run out of hope. Though he knew Kei meant well and had no reason to lie to him, Anakin couldn’t help but feel sceptical. Never in his life had he encountered so many charlatans—all claiming to be masters in their field. Naturally, he slaughtered them all so as to ensure they wouldn’t further mock the people of their empire with lies. ‘Why have you come here?’ the woman stated in soft tones, breaking the silence as she studied him with piercing emerald eyes. The Sith Lord forced his thoughts clear as he kept his attentions on the fire in front of him. This woman he knew was Force sensitive and a fairly powerful one at that. However, she was obviously untrained, though it was no small wonder how she managed to evade training with the Order. ‘I should think the reason is obvious,’ Anakin replied after a moment’s pause. He was hardly in the mood to play such games but with his options rapidly running out Vader felt he really had no choice but to play along. At least this one appeared to be a real healer. ‘No, I am not referring to your request,’ she began before pausing for breath. ‘I’m asking you to tell me why you have personally come here,’ the healer clarified as she poked at the small fire in front of her and Anakin. The emperor gave a frustrated sigh as he glared at her. ‘What does it matter? So what if I’m here in person or not, I need you to return to Coruscant with me to act as the empress’s midwife,’ he growled. While normally most would have cowered under such a reaction, the old woman just shook her head slightly in reply and remained silent. The fire continued to crackle and snap, while the flames cast shadows all over the small but cosy work shed. Though he knew little of such things, Anakin could tell just by looking around this small building that the old woman enjoyed crafting jewellery. Vader could also tell that there was a blacksmith who resided here—most likely the old man he saw shovelling snow upon his arrival. ‘You seek answers to questions you are too afraid to ask,’ she said before pausing to catch her breath. Had the emperor been less self-absorbed, he might have been curious as to why the old woman struggled to breathe, or why she walked with a limp. But Anakin wasn’t renowned for his observance and so it was promptly missed. However, the meaning behind her words was not and his expression grew almost desperate upon hearing them. ‘What do you know? Tell me now,’ Anakin stated a little too quickly to deny his concern and fear over the entire matter. The old woman just bowed her head in reply leaving the Sith Lord feeling both frustrated and impatient. ‘You will tell me now or I will kill you for your insolence!’ he shouted now as he drew his lightsaber. The woman’s head suddenly snapped up catching his attention immediately as her eyes held his gaze demanding his full attention. ‘Only your absence will assure that your heart’s desire is granted.’ Anakin’s eyes flickered with confusion at this statement as he furrowed his brow. ‘What? What is that supposed to mean?’ he demanded feeling a rush of fear that only his subconscious could understand. Her eyes were now glazed and distant marking that she was in a trance of sorts. ‘The dark mistress never gives; she only takes…always takes. Your hands, so covered in blood, tainted by the darkness you wield, chokes out all the life that you touch. Only death awaits you should you return now. Only death awaits mother and child,’ the old woman stated with frightening clarity as Anakin stared at her in horrified disbelief. The terrifying revelation left his mind reeling as all coherent thought was lost in that moment. Though Vader was not one who easily grasped metaphors or riddles, this message was just too painfully clear to ignore. Panic gripped his heart as did despair and confusion. If what she had said was indeed true, it would mean Aené and the others were dead because— Immediately, the Sith Lord drew upon the dark side forcing with such speed that it left him feeling light-headed from the powerful rush it brought on. With Anakin’s fears and pain now numbed by the darkness and his doubts buried beneath the lies, he told himself Anakin promptly succumbed to his rage. ‘SHUT UP!’ he screamed, grabbing the woman by her long, red hair, causing her to cry out in pain. Speaking swiftly in her language she began to cry out to the goddess she served to protect her. Anakin was swifter and with unnatural speed slammed her face full-force against the stone fireplace. ‘SHUT UP!’ The woman’s screams still echoed in his ears along with the sound of bone being crushed but it didn’t stop him. ‘SHUT UP!’ The woman fell silent and soon went limp. Her face was a bloodied mess, but still, he continued to vent his rage. ‘SHUT UP!’ Her features were no longer recognisable now as blood and matter decorated the once elegant and beautifully crafted fireplace. The fire continued to flicker and dance with life adding to the surrealism of the moment. Anakin was too lost in his rage and in the dark side to even register that the woman was long dead now. He was so tired of the lies, so tired of the games and of the incompetence of those he so desperately sought help from. Even this was bearable by comparison to the horrible suggestion that this witch had made. How dare she speak such blasphemy! Did she not know that he had only a short time ago lost his little princess Aené? Did he not tell her that his beloved had already lost three children? That should this baby die, his beloved would die too? Did she not know what that would mean for him? That without Dormé he too was as good as dead? It was these thoughts that poured through his enraged mind as he continued to beat the lifeless corpse against the fireplace while demanding silence. But despite his continued violence Anakin could still hear the sound of weeping and it made him even more furious. Screaming louder for the old woman to shut up, Anakin became so consumed by the dark side he could no longer register his actions or the tears of rage that spilled down his bloodied cheeks. ‘Stop it, Daddy!’ It was only at the sound of a little girl’s panicked and terrified voice begging Anakin to stop was he able to regain some semblance of control. Whirling around the Sith Lord immediately dropped what was left of the old woman’s corpse. It was only then that he realised the weeping he had heard before was that of a child, not the old woman. ‘Please stop it!’ ‘Aené?’ he whispered in horror and shame as his sickly yellow eyes—now fading back to blue—fell to the phantom image of their daughter. Staring up at him in silence, the young princess said not a word. It wasn’t necessary as her terrified and sorrowful expression spoke volumes. Speechless, Anakin opened his mouth to try and apologise, to beg forgiveness, but it was too late. The blonde-haired, freckled princess was swift to step back just as he was about to step forward before disappearing out of sight. Shaken by his experience, Anakin leant heavily against the wall as he struggled to keep from openly weeping. Sensing the old man still nearby, the Sith Lord decided it was time to leave. Not bothering to hide the evidence of his actions, he promptly departed for his ship, not caring about the old man’s reaction, but not wanting to be around for it either. While it would have been only too easy to kill him, Vader was far too shaken by the visit of their daughter to contemplate such thoughts. Right now, he wanted nothing more than to return to the only place he truly ever longed to be: Dormé’s arms. Upon returning to his ship, the Sith Lord was finally able to regain some semblance of control over his emotions. Though he loathed returning home empty-handed, Vader decided it was time to call his hunt off, at least for now. It was proving to be a fruitless cause and after the incident involving the hermit healer, he was more than ready to take a much needed break. As hard as it was, Anakin finally managed to bury the memory of Aené’s image into the back of his mind, just as he forced himself to ignore the echoing recollection of her weeping and desperate pleas for him to stop. To dwell on it would only lead to despair and he wasn’t about to return home to his beloved in such a state of mind. After cleaning up, the emperor was about to make contact with his empress when he discovered a few messages waiting for him that were marked Urgent. Given the channel they came from, Anakin knew it meant only one thing and though he was guarded, the possibility of finding a real healer who could help them was too much to resist. It was because of this that he accepted the messages and made the final arrangements to ensure the healers in question would arrive to the palace upon his return. Once this was completed and everything was set in motion, Anakin cleared his thoughts of the haunting experiences of earlier before preparing to contact the empress herself. Though he was excited to return home, he was even more impatient about making contact with Dormé, as he desperately missed her and wanted to let her know of his return. For four whole months, Anakin had been home for maybe a few days total, less than a standard week. Dormé tried her best not to let this bother her and kept busy with running the empire and staving off (or satisfying) her odd food cravings. Lately, Dormé was kept up at night with their son kicking her in her abdomen. Sometimes the kicks were rather painful right up against her ribs, but she was hardly bothered by it. This only increased her hope that this time, this baby would make it. After all, he had already made it through to the eighth month. Today, she received a transmission on one the secured line which only Anakin and she used. He was coming home. ‘It’s about time!’ she said, only partially joking, partially pretending to be fierce, for she had missed him and she thought their son did too. The sight of her brought an immediate smile to his features and Anakin felt almost at peace for the first time in what felt like an eternity. Her teasing caused his smile to widen though it didn’t hide the silent sorrow in his eyes that marked his agreement. ‘It has been far too long,’ he admitted truthfully as his fingers danced along the shimmering outline of her cheek. ‘The search is over, Dormé,’ he continued, ‘I have a few healers who will be arriving shortly after my arrival that I hope will suit our needs.’ ‘We have to think of names, you know, for our son. I’m most certainly not doing that alone.’ Anakin’s expression softened as he felt his heart swell. However, it wasn’t without its cost as he immediately recalled the old healer’s final words to him. Promptly, he glanced away, swallowing hard as he buried the memory before returning his attentions to Dormé once more. ‘I’m already looking forward to it,’ Vader said in sincere tones as he studied her intently. ‘I will see you and our son soon,’ he concluded gently. ‘I eagerly await your return, my love,’ Dormé concluded, ending the transmission before tears surfaced. It was such a relief to hear that he would be home for good and that he had succeeded in the mission which had taken him away from her for far too long. She hoped the separation hadn’t also created a space between them. Anakin gave a loving smile at her words as his fingers continued to outline her cheek through the transmission. ‘I will be as quick as possible,’ he promised with fierce sincerity. It was with the joyous news in mind that Dormé hurriedly began preparing a huge celebration feast for him. She invited all of their closest allies and friends, like the Breemus and Saché and Captain Typho. There was so much to celebrate and her heart was full with expectation and hope. Rubbing her still growing middle, she murmured happily, ‘Daddy’s coming home,’ smiling softly. Once the transmission was over, the Sith Lord found his thoughts falling back onto the healer’s words and the image of Aené. Struggling with his emotions Anakin drew in a shaky breath as he prepared for departure. Now is not the time to dwell this, he reminded himself fiercely as he quickly blinked away tears before taking to the skies. Soon enough, the healers Anakin spoke of had arrived and Dormé had a lieutenant greet them with a simple entourage of troopers. Instead of the medical bay, she had them attend and examine her in one of their private chambers. It was a simple bedroom, but she thought it would be more fitting. Each one took their turn and came to the same conclusion: she had not gained enough weight yet, but she and the baby were both healthy. Dormé was very pleased by this and was excited about seeing Anakin again to tell him in person. After her examinations, she went to change and took her time finding the perfect gown for the celebration. She ended up choosing a simple yet elegant scarlet gown that folded gently over her curves. Once she fastened her golden wedding band around her arm, she was ready to welcome the guests. Not long after the majority of the guests arrived, Anakin was landing and she rushed to the platform to greet him. It wouldn’t hurt if they were both a bit late, fashionably so, to the celebration... She hardly paid the security team mind as she was on a mission of her own to greet her wayward husband. ‘Anakin!’ she cheered, racing over to him. The journey home was a swift one although not nearly as swift as Vader would have liked. Upon his arrival, he was promptly greeted by his security who informed him that the healers were already looking at his wife. However, Anakin hardly paid this any mind as his thoughts are elsewhere as he was far more concerned about seeing his wife once more. Anakin could sense Dormé’s presence even before he laid eyes on her just as he could sense their son. His heart swelled at the sensation and for the moment the words of warning were entirely forgotten as was the haunting image of Aené. It wasn’t long before he saw his beautiful queen and promptly rushed forward to swoop Dormé—albeit carefully— into his arms before pulling her in for a passionate kiss. How he had missed holding her close, the feel of her lips against his own, the sweet scent of water flowers that lingered about her. He was truly home now and the Sith Lord couldn’t have been happier. ‘Oh Dormé, how I’ve missed you!’ he whispered feeling as though it was only now in her arms that he was truly able to breathe again. Dormé kissed him back in such a way as to reveal to him how much she had desperately missed him. ‘Anakin,’ she said after they parted, stroking his cheek. Anakin studied her intently as their kiss concluded before leaning in to meet Dormé’s lips once more. He was elated to see how healthy she looked and to feel the small life growing within her. Everything was as it should be and it almost made him light-headed with joy. It wasn’t until their son began kicking her that she gasped and had to cease kissing him. ‘Looks like someone else missed you too,’ she said, grinning wildly. Anakin was about to reach out to touch their son’s Force signature -by means of greeting- when Dormé gasped and end their kiss abruptly. Distracted by her words, the Sith Lord beamed in reply as he gave her a gentle squeeze. ‘I’m so glad to see your both are health and safe,’ he breathed as his hand slipped to her small but swollen belly. ‘I’ve missed you so much my little one,’ he said in gentle tones to the growing baby. ‘She then informed him what the healers told her about their conditions. The news was good to say the least and this added to Anakin’s good spirits. ‘That’s so wonderful!’ he said with a grin as he touched her cheek before she took his hand and led him inside. ‘But that’s not all we have to celebrate,’ Dormé said, taking his hand and leading him inside. ‘I had a little surprise planned for your return...’ ‘Oh? Dare I ask?’ he teased with a wink. ‘That part of the surprise will be later,’ Dormé said giving him a wink of her own. ‘Actually, I’ve got a celebration feast—a large gathering of allies awaiting you in the great hall.’ Anakin’s expression grew mischievous as she gave him a wink and promptly he pulled her in for a quick kiss. As she further explained that she had planned a celebration feast for them and their allies, Anakin grinned rather liking the idea. Although in truth he was far fonder of the after surprise, which he hoped would involve Dormé’s gown being long forgotten on the floor. She blushed slightly. ‘I hope you’re not too tired from your journey...’ she said, still pulling him along eagerly towards the hall. For now, Anakin was just as content to enjoy Dormé in all of her splendour and he did little to hide this as he followed her towards the hall. At her words he just shook his head as he gave her an admiring smile. ‘Not anymore,’ he remarked with an impish look. Dormé beamed at him as they entered the hall. Resounding cheers and applause echoed in the grand hall upon the imperial couples’ appearance. From the minute she entered the vast hall, everyone’s eyes were on empress, the least of them being the emperor himself. Magnificent didn’t even begin to describe the beauty of his Empress. Radiant and ethereal came to mind, but didn’t come close to embodying his thoughts pertaining to her. Though Empress Dormé Vader was just about eight months along, she barely showed. Unless one was aware of her pregnancy and knew just what to look for, the folds of her gown virtually hid all evidence. But Emperor Anakin knew and was more than bursting with pride at the very subtle hint of a bulge which the folds revealed as she moved. Dormé raised a hand in acceptance and appreciation of their applause. She scanned their adoring friends and wondered where the Breemus were. She thought she had seen Kei, but thought perhaps she might have been mistaken. The gathering was grand and the celebrations worthy of the beauty who now stood by his side. Dormé outshone even the most extravagant of the partygoers and it took all of Anakin’s willpower and control not to have his way with his wife right there and then, but politics demanded a certain level of restraint and so, out of duty, he refrained. This didn’t, however, stop him from caressing her form with his eyes. What he would give to send everyone home or depart early with his queen! Soon they were seated at the high table, enjoying the feast and more importantly each other’s company. Dormé was all smiles, eager to end this celebration to begin the private one. Elsewhere, Edeja stared out of one of the many vast windows that decorated their small but elegant home. With arms wrapped around her small frame remained frozen in silence as though she were but a finely crafted statue. Though she didn’t weep, her sorrow was clearly evident in her features. How could such a simple gesture of friendship gone so incredibly wrong? She closed her eyes and gave a shaky exhale as she felt her husband’s silent arms slip around her waist. He didn’t need to say a word for his actions spoke volumes and right now, this was all she really needed and desired. Why? What had she done to deserve this? What reason did he have to do this to her? her thoughts cried out to the goddess only to receive silence in answer. The news of the former high priestess’s death had only reached a short time ago and Edeja was still in shock over it. The old hermit had always led a peaceful life even when she served in the temples she was always loved by the people. Everyone referred to her as though she was their grandma or mother and Edeja knew her death would not be taken well by the remnants of their people. Though she mourned the death of her mentor, she also mourned the loss of life that was certain to follow once word of the old priestess’s murder reached the public. It would only be a matter of time before the truth was revealed and she knew that it would be this truth that would cause the streets to run red with the blood of the innocent. If only she could make Kei understand, if only she could make him listen. But this was not the moment for such discussion and so she remained silent and instead chose to find what solace she could in his arms. Tomorrow was another day and it would be tomorrow that she would confront him and plead once more for him to end their alliance with the Empire. She could only pray to the goddess that this time he would listen but she had a sinking feeling it would take more than that. As glorious as the reception was and as delicious as the feast was, nothing compared to just how happy Dormé was to have Anakin home for good. However, there was the small matter of her Force sensitive baby who didn’t welcome Daddy’s return so well. Despite the fact Anakin was more eager to begin the private celebrations with his wife, he couldn’t deny the fact the evening was a wonderful success. As the night wore on, Anakin could sense something was wrong with Dormé and though she spoke not a word of it, the Sith Lord’s old fears began to return with a vengeance. Recalling the fact she had seen a few of the healers earlier in the day, Vader began to grow paranoid. He wished he could have been there so as to monitor their actions, to at least sense through the Force if they were being honest. Nevertheless, he kept his thoughts to himself as the memory of the old healer’s words returned to haunt him as well. Dormé ignored the kicks, feeling it was nothing unusual and hardly anything to worry about. And when the kicks became softer and then stopped, she thought it was only that their son was sleeping. But then the sour feeling in her stomach increased to the point that even water no longer tasted good. As their guests filtered out of the hall and she was bidding farewell alongside her husband, Dormé’s head began to spin and she could no longer keep her balance. She gripped onto Anakin’s arm, steadying herself momentarily before sliding to the floor. Instincts immediately took over and time suddenly seemed to move to a crawl. Anakin swiftly placed his hand around her waist as he turned to catch her eyes rolling to the back of her head while the rest of her body went limp. Sheer panic flooded his thoughts as he caught her petite form before it completely slid to the floor. ‘...No...Not again. This isn’t happening...’ he whimpered in barely audible tones as he swiftly scooped her up into his arms. Everyone around began to swarm closer to learn what had happened, but promptly drew back as Anakin glared at them using the Force to silently order them away. Struggling to maintain control of his emotions, the Sith Lord ordered members of security to contact the medics. The med droid who had been stationed at the banquet as a precautionary measure promptly approached and began to monitor Dormé’s condition. The results were inconclusive in regards to the cause but it was apparent that both the baby and the mother were both fading and quickly. ‘Your hands, so covered in blood, tainted by the darkness you wield, chokes out all the life that you touch. Only death awaits you should you return now. Only death awaits mother and child.’ The old woman’s words returned with a vengeance and from it came another rush of panicked rage. It was the healer’s doing. The horrid witch and her allies did this to them! Anakin closed his eyes as he struggled to steady his breathing to control his raging thoughts while the med droid continued to monitor Dormé and their baby. ‘Blood pressure dropping 15...heart-rate up 12...’ the med droid droned on informing the rest of the medical staff that arrived to tend to the unconscious form that still remained in Anakin’s arms. ‘Your grace, if I may—’ a polite voice stated causing Anakin’s eyes to snap open. Registering that it was a physician, he said nothing, but silently assisted in placing the now ashen form of Dormé onto a repulsorlift bed. Frozen in position, Anakin could only watch as his worst nightmare began to unfold before his very eyes. For a moment, he couldn’t move and in silence watched frozen in position as the medical staff disappeared out of the great hall. It was only when he was alone that Vader was able to register his surroundings once more. Consumed by rage, despair, and sorrow he did the only thing he knew how to do best. Anakin called upon the darkness using it to numb his sorrow once more while focussing on his rage. It was the healers’ fault, of that he was certain. Though nagging doubts lingered in his thoughts it was just easy to point fingers at everyone else, far less painful too. It was with this in mind that the emperor drew his lightsaber and promptly departed for the guest wings where he knew the healers would be residing. He would make them pay and would ensure they suffered slow and painful deaths. It was their fault after all that his wife and child’s life once more was in peril. Their fault that they had come so close to fulfilling their dream of having a child only to have it all fall apart once more. Yet despite his wish to make their death’s long and painful, Anakin was swift in his slaughter. Even though the dark side coursed through his veins, leaving him drunk with bloodlust, Anakin couldn’t ignore the fear that he might encounter their little princess again. The thought of Aené watching him, with her amber eyes so filled with sorrow and terror, was too much to bear. As such, his plans of torture were long forgotten as he chose to behead them one-by-one instead. As the last body fell the ground, with her head only a short distance away, the Sith Lord felt his thoughts returning to him once more. This time there, was no phantom image of Aené, no childlike weeping or voices begging him to stop, and Anakin couldn’t have been more relieved. But this moment was short-lived as soon his thoughts returned to Dormé and their son and with it came another rush of fear and sorrow. Racing down the hallways, the emperor moved as swiftly as he could towards the medlabs. Though it wasn’t far from the royal wing, it felt like it was light-years away for the frantic Vader, whose thoughts were racing with panic. Though he could still sense Dormé’s Force signature as well as their son’s, it was weak, far weaker than he had ever witnessed before. As he entered the medical lab, an old man, whom Vader recognised as a specialist, approached him. Not one to mince words, Anakin demanded to know Dormé’s condition as well as their son’s. He soon learnt the prognosis wasn’t good, but before he could succumb to his panic or even have a chance to react, he was being escorted out of the surgery room. Though Dormé’s situation was critical, it appeared they were on the verge of stabilizing her and the baby until his arrival. It was only when he was led to the old doctor’s small office down the hall that Anakin came to his senses. The doctor grimly presented the emperor with a datapad that held even more bad news. ‘What is this?’ Anakin demanded as he stared at the data pad that had been given to him. The old doctor furrowed his brow as he gave a soft sigh. ‘It is legalities pertaining to the complications surrounding your wife and son. I can explain it to you if you like, but I imagine you probably prefer to read it yourself,’ the doctor said quietly. The young emperor stared in frustration at the data pad in his hand cursing the fact the document was written in Basic. Not exactly a skilled reader even in his native tongue of Huttese, Anakin found much of the document to be indecipherable to him. ‘I don’t have time for this; just tell me what I need to know so I can get back to my wife and our son,’ Vader snapped, retuning the datapad. ‘What you need to know, your grace, is that your wife and son are in critical condition. While we have been doing all we can to stabilize both mother and child, we have been running into repeated complications. The worst of these complications is what you were witness to moments ago.’ Anakin fell silent at the doctor’s words. He glanced away, turning his attentions to the window as his mind struggled to understand what was happening. Had he not killed the healer’s responsible? Did he not remove the threat? So why was this still happening? ‘What exactly are these complications? And what is causing them? And don’t bother trying to tell me you don’t know because I know damn well that you do!’ he growled. Though his words were directed at the doctor, Anakin’s eyes remained focused on the window that overlooked the surgery room where Dormé was held below. ‘Don’t you think if I knew what was wrong I would have tended to it by now? Listen to me, young man, I’ve been in this line of work for over thirty years and I’ve never seen anything like this. ‘Whether we like it or not, we are dealing with a most unusual situation, one that hasn’t been logged or recorded in medical history—’ Anakin gripped his hand around the doctor’s throat as he slammed him against the back wall. ‘That is what they say and I killed every single one of them for it. Now, you either tell me what in the abyss is going on with my wife and our son, or I will snap your neck as though it were a twig,’ Anakin hissed through gritted teeth. Though the man was obviously terrified, his expression remained stoic as he returned Vader’s poisoned gaze. Clawing at his throat, he struggled to breathe, let alone speak. The familiar and haunting sound of a baby’s cry echoed through the Force. Staggering back from the now confused and concerned doctor, Anakin swallowed hard as he struggled to clear his thoughts. Closing his eyes, he prayed that when he opened them, he wouldn’t see the sorrowful eyes of their unborn daughter. ‘Emperor Vader, I do not wish to sound callous, but this is an urgent matter, one that cannot wait any longer,’ the old man stated in a voice that was far steadier than most would be in his position. After a moment’s pause, Anakin opened his eyes and returned his attentions to the specialist once more. ‘What is it that I am signing exactly?’ he stated in quiet tones. ‘In the event that only one can be saved, it is often decided amongst the parents whom it will be. This is the document stating your decision to save either the mother or the child.’ Long gone was the fierce and frightening Sith Lord of moments ago, leaving in its wake the broken man who now stared at the specialist with a look that only a man who has lost everything could truly understand. ‘Mother or child?’ Anakin croaked in pained horror, already knowing the answer Dormé had given without even looking at the datapad. The old doctor nodded his expression as grim as Anakin felt in that moment. ‘I’m sorry, son, but with a pregnancy as complicated as this one, such a possibility is very real,’ the old man said in understanding tones. Anakin drew in a shaky breath as he continued to stare out the window struggling to wrap his mind around the severity of the situation. ‘She chose to save the child, didn’t she?’ the Sith Lord whispered as he continued to look straight ahead. Though Anakin should have been grateful that the baby’s weeping of earlier had been silenced, he couldn’t help but feel that it was another bad sign. ‘Yes, she did.’ How such a simple statement could wound so deeply, Anakin couldn’t say, but for a moment, he was rendered speechless because of it. He shook his head in reply as he struggled to find his voice. ‘No. I won’t do it. I won’t let her do it,’ he whispered through clenched teeth. ‘Why not?’ the old physician challenged. ‘I can’t,’ Anakin said hoarsely in reply as he fought back tears of despair. ‘I can’t lose her, I won’t lose her.’ ‘Lady Dormé has already lost three babies, one of which was stillborn. She is now on the verge of losing her fourth should you not grant her this last wish.’ ‘Do you think I’m not aware of this already?!’ Vader shouted in reply as he slammed his cybernetic fist against the metal ledge causing it to bend out of shape. The old doctor didn’t react to the emperor’s outburst and continued as though Anakin hadn’t shouted in the first place. ‘How much more do you think she can take? The empress’s life was hanging by a thread long before all of this came to pass. I knew that the minute I saw her that she would not survive another miscarriage.’ ‘If you knew she was dying, why didn’t you tell me?!’ Anakin growled, whirling around to face the old doctor once more. ‘Because she wasn’t dying in the literal sense of the word. She was dying in here,’ the old man snapped back as he poked Anakin in the chest. ‘Surely you could see it when you looked at her that she is a woman who has seen and been through so much more than a woman her age—or any age for that matter—should ever experience in their lifetime. Do you really think by physically saving her, you’ll be able to save what has died inside of her? Or are you just so lost in your selfish need to keep her alive for your own sake that it doesn’t matter anymore? If she loses this baby and survives to speak of it, I can assure you that she will become nothing more than a shadow of what you once knew and loved.’ Anakin staggered back until he felt the glass pane against him. Closing his eyes, he tried once more to clear his thoughts to deny the old man’s words, to tell himself that he had every right to save Dormé, that it was his duty to protect her from harm. But the more he tried to deny Dormé’s last wish, the clearer it became that he really had no choice left, but to grant it. As though sensing Anakin’s thoughts, the old doctor continued to speak quietly. ‘Listen to me, son, I know you are in a difficult position where there are no easy answers. Believe me, I know how hard this is, but in all honesty, I think you should you should respect your wife’s decision. If not for anything than for the fact that she would want you to be supportive of her and of the choice she has made.’ As much as he didn’t want to hear this, Vader couldn’t deny the truth. With a shaky breath, Anakin forced himself to clear his thoughts before opening his eyes and quietly asking for the datapad once more. Once it was in his hand, the Sith Lord let his eyes scroll down the bottom of the pad where his fingerprint and signature was required. With a shaky hand, and eye blurred from unshed tears, the emperor proceeded to place his signature and fingerprint onto the document, marking his silent support of Dormé’s decision. Upon completion, Vader promptly shoved the datapad and electronic pen into the old doctor’s hands before swiftly storming out of the small office and then out of the medlab. Though he knew that time was swiftly running out, Anakin wouldn’t allow himself to believe that there was no more hope to be found. As he stormed down the hallways, another thought occurred to him, forcing him to stop in mid-step. The Sith Lord knew he had no choice. It was either face his former mentor and brother once more or be forced to standby and watch as Dormé died in the battle to save their baby. Chapter Six The years following the Vaders’ rise to power and the cleansing of the Jedi Temple had been extremely taxing on Obi-Wan to say the least. Having lost his brother and former Padawan to the dark side, it was hard for Obi-Wan not to fall prey to depression. The silent gesture of giving him the Padawan braid without explanation was incredibly hard on him to say the least. It was something he would not forget. He blamed himself for having failed Anakin in some way. It was as though he hadn’t been the mentor he should have been...as though he hadn’t lived up to their father’s expectations of him. He hadn’t guided him as well as their father could have...to be the example Anakin needed. He had failed their father as well, for it had been his wish for Obi-Wan to train him, but yet, Obi-Wan also knew there were so many expectations placed on the boy since his birth, some of them quite outrageous. Chosen One by their father, the next Coruscanti Emperor by his mother stepfather...was it any wonder the boy rebelled? Anakin chose to marry against his parents wishes and chose to the dark side. Despite this, it was still hard for Obi-Wan not to blame himself for Anakin’s choices. Even when asked by Master Yoda, Obi-Wan refused to fight and kill his brother. Many others had tried in his place and failed. He knew Anakin wouldn’t challenge him, so Obi-Wan resigned to living in the protection of the Organas on Alderaan, helping the fledgling Alliance when they needed him. The Alliance was now based on Dantooine, providing hope to the remnant Jedi, but none was so reassuring to Obi-Wan as his long-time friendship with Sabé Nabish. He risked rescuing her from being taken to her exile after her mistress’s highly publicized execution. Despite the burns on her neck from his brother’s lightsaber, her words brought hope to him, just as her presence and kind-hearted understanding brought him a peace he had not felt in many years. It was through her that he found out of Lady Vader’s protection of the Jedi younglings. The older children who had not been placed in Nabooan homes were taken by him personally to Dagobagh to train with Master Yoda. Obi-Wan didn’t trust himself to take on a Padawan yet after his failings with Anakin. He still needed time to cope with it and helping the Alliance was one of his ways of coping, in order to undo some of the damage he had done. For the most part, Obi-Wan worked alongside Sabé, whom he now had the honour of calling his wife. Though not many Jedi survived the cleansing, Master Windu relayed that instead of arriving at the Jedi enclave, which Vader ended up destroying, he had found Jedi Arxia on a wayward planet. She had lost her Padawan in the attack on the Temple. As the Jedi Order disbanded, the Grand Master gave them final parting orders to continue their lives as Jedi, train and protect the Force sensitives the Force blessed them to cross paths with, and continue underground knowledge of the Force and the ways of the Jedi. It was through this that Obi-Wan came to broach the subject of marriage with his dearest friend and former principle handmaiden. It was not long afterwards that Master Wundu revealed the comfort and support found in Jedi Arxia, whom he had refused to train many years ago because of his feelings for her. Now, with the loss of so many Jedi and the collapse of the order, the children of the Jedi would become an essential part in preserving their culture and spreading reverence of the Force. The landing gears hissed as Obi-Wan de-boarded the Alliance craft borrowed for this trip to Naboo. He had been making frequent trips to the imperial planet in order to check up, from a distance, the Jedi younglings placed in homes by Saché Maberrie. Though Obi-Wan was always questioned by the ever-increasing security, he never had any trouble sneaking in unnoticed, ever thankful for the ability to perform Jedi Mind Tricks and the weak-mindedness of the clones. When he heard the news about Anakin’s wife and child, as hard as it would be, Obi-Wan would not let him down. Yet, he wanted Sabé to go with him to Coruscant, dangerous though it would be. He requested this not for support, but rather for her patience and ability to deal with Anakin, whom he expected to be a handful. He then departed swiftly from Naboo to Dantooine to pick up Sabé before heading to Coruscant. This was hardly the type of reunion Obi-Wan had in mind, let alone preferred, but Sabé reminded him that Anakin reaching out to him like this was a good sign. Greeted by a slew of imperial officers, Obi-Wan was ushered into the palace and directed to the medical facility in which Lady Vader was being tended to. Anakin waited with much impatience and even more dread for the arrival of his brother. In silence, he watched and listened in on Dormé and their son’s prognosis. His heart sank further as he learnt it was progressively deteriorating. When the matter of the legalities was once more brought up, the young emperor threw a fit of rage and came close to murdering the old doctor right on the spot, but once more, fate intervened for the old man as Anakin suddenly picked up on his brother’s approaching Force signature and lost his lust for bloodshed. Shaken, he departed without warning and ordered his officers to greet the Jedi Master and escort him to the medical wing. Unfortunately for Saché, the emperor soon discovered that Obi-Wan wasn’t alone and upon discovering this, he proceeded to have another royal fit on his head of security. ‘Just when were you planning to share this piece of information with me?!’ Vader growled at an equally surprised Saché who had no idea her friend was joining Master Kenobi. ‘I’m sorry, but this is as much news to me as it is to you,’ Saché stammered out in reply. Inwardly she couldn’t help but fear for Sabé’s safety, despite knowing she was more than well protected and trained. ‘Why didn’t you have your people stop her from entering? She is not welcome here or was the fact she was exiled not clear enough for you?!’ Anakin growled in utter rage to a less-than-amused Saché, who folded her arms and returned his glare. ‘I was not informed that all others were to be refused. The only instructions were to escort Master Kenobi to the medlabs upon his arrival. Her ID codes came up clear as did her travel history. She is also his wife, which means by law, she is to be treated in the same fashion as he. Unless of course His Majesty would care to question Master Kenobi about the nature of his relationship to Lady Sabé—’ Vader promptly unleashed the dark side on his head of security via a Force choke. Studying her closely, Anankin curled a lip in disgust. ‘I’ve about had enough of your attitude, Maberrie,’ he growled, knowing she hadn’t been lying about not knowing of Sabé’s presence, but infuriated that she hadn’t sent her away either. Even before landing the ship, it was difficult to ignore the darkness surrounding almost everything on Coruscant. The dark feelings of desperation, despair, rage were almost overwhelming. It would take a well-trained Jedi to be able to look past them in order to feel anything outside of it, let alone be of any use to the suffering young mother. Obi-Wan was more disappointed than surprised at the sight he came upon. ‘Let her go, Anakin,’ Obi-Wan commanded upon his arrival to the area of the medical facility that his former Padawan and brother-turned-Sith Lord now stood, choking the security officer. Despite the name Anakin fashioned for himself upon becoming a Sith, to Obi-Wan he would always be his little brother who was currently venting his anger instead of being of any use. Lost in his rage at the lack of control he had over the situation and the despair that he was going to lose his family anyway, Anakin proceeded to vent it all out on Saché. The petite woman valiantly struggled but was helpless to the Force attack unleashed. Had he not been so consumed by his own emotions, Anakin would have realised Obi-Wan was nearing, but it wasn’t until the Master Jedi spoke his name that Anakin registered his presence. Immediately, he released his Force attack on Saché who dropped to her knees and began coughing as he turned his attentions to his brother. Speechless, Anakin opened his mouth to speak only to close it again. This was not at all the sort of reunion he had in mind. For the moment, his rage with Sabé’s arrival was forgotten as was her presence, which was now by Saché’s side, trying to ensure she was all right. Obi-Wan exchanged looks with his wife to be certain that the former handmaiden was all right before returning his attentions to the Sith Lord he called brother. Sabé caught Obi-Wan’s glance and gave a small nod, marking her friend was fine and that she was ready. Shame flooded Anakin’s thoughts, though he couldn’t say why as it was Saché’s fault for withholding information and Obi-Wan for having the gall of bringing Sabé with him. But the thought was a fleeting one as he knew time was running out for Dormé and their son. ‘...She’s in here,’ he said in barely audible tones before turning to lead Obi-Wan to where Dormé now rested unaware his presence was not only unnecessary but detrimental. He followed Anakin to where Lady Vader lay unconscious. ‘I’m going to ask you to remain outside of this room, Anakin,’ he said softly though his voice was strong as he approached the pregnant woman. He rested a hand on her forehead. ‘I must impress upon you the importance of this request. You know I am only here to help, but I cannot do that with too much distraction. That is why I asked Sabé to come with me.’ He looked back at Anakin with an expression to illustrate his seriousness in this matter before returning his attentions to Lady Vader. He placed his other hand over her womb and began to clear his thoughts in order to begin a healing meditation. Anakin frowned at Obi-Wan’s instructions and was about to argue that it was his right to remain by his wife and son’s side but the Jedi Master’s expression caused him to falter. However despite Obi-Wan’s obvious wisdom, Anakin was afraid that something would happen in his absence and was hesitant to depart. ‘Obi-Wan, I promise I won’t interfere,’ Anakin pleaded in quiet but desperate tones. ‘I just want to be near her,’ he admitted quietly. ‘I understand that, Anakin, but it would be best for all involved if you weren’t,’ Obi-Wan insisted, though not harshly. He was having difficulty reaching the lifesigns he needed in order to figure out what was wrong. Anakin glared at Obi-Wan in silent challenge when the Jedi Master informed him that his presence would be better elsewhere. He had yet to understand that his darkness was in reality causing more damage than good and thus took it personal. ‘The dark side is clouding my vision,’ Obi-Wan said, his eyes closed, trying to concentrate. ‘I must ask you to leave us.’ Anakin’s expression fell and in place of anger came the strange familiar sense of guilt and shame. ‘...right...I’ll leave you then,’ he murmured quietly feeling more wounded now than irritated. Had this been under other circumstances, he would have smirked at what he believed to be proof that the dark side was stronger. Now it just left him feeling more afraid for his family than before. As he turned to depart Anakin promptly found himself in Sabé’s presence as she had quietly entered the room in order to assist in the Emperor’s departure. However it wasn’t necessary as Anakin brushed past her quickly without a word or even a glare. Obi-Wan was thankful for Sabé’s presence, knowing what a difficult position this put her in. After seeing Anakin in person committing such atrocious acts on Lady Maberrie who had done nothing but help the boy, and that he himself had banished Sabé from the empire, he knew it would not be safe for her to return. He was glad that she decided to join him though, if only to be able to bring hope to Anakin who was so lost in the darkness. Perhaps some of Sabé’s wisdom would be able to reach him, where Obi-Wan had failed. For now, Obi-wan’s sole concern was Lady Vader and the innocent child she carried. Sabé didn’t need to be Force sensitive to pick up on his emotions and knew that it was going to be quite a task to mind him. However, her concerns were more on Obi-Wan and the empress as well as her child. She prayed to the gods to guide her husband’s hand and that Empress and baby would be saved. But before her prayer drew to a close, she also asked for patience as she had a feeling she was going to need it. Once Anakin left, it became clear to him that both mother and child held remnants of the dark side of the Force. It had been draining them both. Anakin was hardly impressed at having the former handmaiden around watching him. Sabé was ever silent and distant yet watchful and obviously ready for anything reminding Anakin of a cross between a phantom and a vornskr. Which in reality was a good thing as his mood was foul to say the very least. Torn between despair and frustration at having to standby and depend on his brother of all people Anakin was a bundle of emotions -all of them negative. In his mind, he replayed his short but potent conversation with his brother just as the image of Obi-Wan’s disappointed expression upon catching him strangling Saché haunted his thoughts. Caught between these memories and the ever present fear that he was about to lose Dormé and their son Anakin found it difficult to keep it together nevermind play the role of a proper host. Saché, having recovered from her ordeal with Anakin, thought ahead and graciously had the servants prepare a room for the Kenobi’s to rest. She also had one of the maids bring tea and Apsintho’s to both the Emperor and his unwanted guest. Anakin, albeit grudgingly, couldn’t deny the fact he was grateful to have something to drink to settle his nerves. Downing the first glass swiftly, in practically a single swallow, the Sith Lord promptly had it refilled and soon drained the second glass with equal speed. If Sabé’s appalled look of concern bothered him it certainly didn’t show. Feeling less out of sorts now, Anakin poured a third glass, not to ease his nerves, but to properly enjoy its potent taste. It didn’t taste nearly as good as when he was enjoying it with Dormé but it was definitely better than what Sabé was having. However, the former handmaiden obviously felt otherwise and softly voiced her concerns, irritating his already delicate mood all the more. ‘Maybe you should go easy on that,’ she suggested politely. Anakin shot her a withering look before hissing in reply, ‘Maybe you should mind your iquicha business!’ Sabé readily returned his glare before giving a soft sigh as she just shook her head and sipped on her tea in silence. The rest of the day, evening, and most of the night was spent in silence with the only the occasional few words exchanged mostly with Sabé attempting to be polite. While it irritated Anakin to no end, there was some small part of him that was grateful, as it kept his mind off his fears, even for a short time. In the end, all he really wanted was to be left alone so he could deal with his thoughts and emotions on his own. Despite his exhaustion, he didn’t bother going to bed as he knew that he wouldn’t sleep anyway. He tried to suggest that Sabé return to the guest room that Saché had set up for her and his brother in the hope she would leave. Sabé, however, just politely shook her head and explained that she was fine to wait for Obi-Wan to be finished. As the hour grew late, Anakin felt another powerful shift in the Force and knew it involved their son. Eager to learn what had happened, he rushed off towards the medlabs, only to be stopped by Sabé who attempted to talk him down. Anakin growled and verbally fought her with all the venom he had. He demanded that it was his right to see that Dormé was well, that their son was OK, that he could kill her without a moment’s warning should she not comply to his demand. Sabé did not move, leaving a furious Anakin to slam his cybernetic fist into the nearest wall that was, thankfully, a short distance away from where Obi-Wan and Dormé were. Cursing profusely in his native tongue, he once more attempted to threaten Sabé who held her ground and drew her blade in warning. ‘I’m sorry, Anakin, but I can’t let you pass. This is obviously a delicate procedure. If you interrupt Obi-Wan now, who knows the damage that could be caused? Do you really want to take that chance?’ she pleaded desperately with him. Anakin’s thoughts returned to the terrifying experience with the hermit healer and the phantom image of Aené and immediately scattered leaving him to abruptly turn around and depart down the hall. Sabé silently followed to ensure he wouldn’t try to find another way into the room. It was a very long and difficult process. Many hours were spent, concentrating on healing the child, trying to keep him safe within his mother for he still had growing to do, but eventually there was nothing else he could do. Eventually, the medical droids had to initiate delivery. The baby was born healthy and soon Obi- Wan returned his attentions to the mother. He remained intent on healing her until he felt himself growing dizzy and knew he needed to stop, at least for a few hours. He went to find Sabé and wondered if they had a chance to rest somewhere. Anakin knew that Sabé was nearby, as she wouldn’t dare leave him alone, despite the fact he was a grown man capable of behaving himself when necessary. Even so, he didn’t acknowledge her as he stared ahead to the bright city lights that blinked and flashed into the night sky. With his back turned to her, the Sith Lord hoped she wouldn’t bother him. The last thing he needed was for her to see the tears collecting in his eyes as his thoughts continued to linger on Dormé’s weak Force signature. Though he hadn’t see their son he knew from the powerful aura that was his Force sign that the baby was alright. This was a relief in and of itself but didn’t erase his fears that Dormé still might not make it. However despite this it wasn’t long before he sensed his brother’s now quite weakened aura nearing and knew that the Jedi Master had ended his healing prematurely. The thought infuriated him as Dormé was obviously far from healed for her aura was far too weak even now for his liking. Promptly he blinked back his tears as he frowned, facing Sabé, who had now rushed with much concern on her features to greet her exhausted husband. ‘What is the meaning of this! Why have you stopped? Dormé is still in need of healing! She is on the verge of dying and you’re stopping now!?’ he snapped. Had Anakin the decency to properly read Obi-Wan’s Force signature, he would have realised the Jedi Master was hardly in any shape to do anything but rest. But the emperor was selfish by nature—a trait that was more than exploited due to his titles and constant use of the dark side. As such, he cared little for his brother’s weakened condition or the fact he had just saved his family, only the fact that Dormé was still recuperating and hardly fully healed. Obi-Wan was in no condition to argue with Anakin or defend himself, let alone process the location Lady Maberrie set aside for him to rest in. He was accurate in his assessment that a few hours rest was all he needed before he could resume healing the empress. At Anakin’s rather ignorant protests, Sabé was quick to defend Obi-Wan and promptly explained that his brother would not leave unless he was certain Dormé was well enough to permit his absence. She withheld mentioning that had Anakin trained enough in the light side, he could have healed Dormé himself. Though Anakin was doubtful of this fact he never had the chance to continue his argument as Sabé was promptly guiding Obi-Wan to their temporary quarters nearby so he could rest. Sabé was concerned about Obi-Wan and stayed with him as long as she could massaging his back and arms until he fell asleep. Then she departed from their chambers, for despite her exhaustion, she didn’t trust Anakin. Fortunately for her, or more exactly for Dormé and their son, the emperor refrained from visiting the medical wing. Having not slept since Dormé collapsed, Anakin was hardly in any state to do much himself. But Anakin had discovered that while the baby was healthy, he was intensive care because of his premature birth and was eager to learn what he could. He also wanted to learn of Dormé’s condition and was more than eager to pay her a visit. But due to his own exhaustion, Vader unintentionally nodded off while waiting for the med droids to bring him up to date on his family’s condition. Sleeping half-lying down, half sitting up on the plush couch of the living space that overlooked the cityscape was how Sabé found him a short time later. The handmaiden didn’t bother to wake him up and promptly returned to Obi-Wan. A short time later, Anakin awoke to find himself wiser than he did before he slipped off to rest. Furious at the fact the medical droids never informed him of the news pertaining to his wife and son, the Sith Lord destroyed the first two droids he encountered. Still fuming, he then stormed off to the medlab to demand an explanation and more importantly access to his still healing wife and their son. The Vader’s son was in intensive care due to his premature birth, but he was quite healthy. When Obi-Wan returned later, he felt the boy’s distress lessen, no doubt recognising Obi-Wan’s Force signature. He thought perhaps it would be helpful for him to be near his mother, so Obi-Wan carried the newborn over to where the empress rested. Though the baby was still unable to feed, Obi-Wan sensed the comfort the boy felt being near to and touching his mother. Once he slept, he returned the newborn to the intensive care unit in order to be monitored closely and receive vaccinations. Obi-Wan then resumed a healing meditation to aid in the young mother’s recovery. Once Dormé regained consciousness, she was extremely weak and disoriented. When she realised that she was in the medical facility, she turned her head to the side to see Master Kenobi. ‘My baby?’ she queried, her voice dry. ‘He’s healthy, Your Highness,’ Obi-Wan replied softly, smiling to see her awakening. ‘You have a healthy baby boy.’ Dormé smiled. ‘I want to see him.’ Obi-Wan complied and fetched the little one. Though the empress was far too weak to sit up properly, he assisted her in holding the newborn. Dormé was elated to see him, to touch him, kiss him, hold him, albeit with the aid of Master Kenobi. Tears of joy spilled down her cheeks as she marvelled at his tiny form, his little hands and fingernails, the little noises he made. His eyes weren’t open yet, but soon after his little hand wrapped around her finger, they did and Dormé gasped, despite how quickly he shut them again. He yawned and she murmured to him just how much she loved him. Once the baby fell asleep, Dormé had to ask, ‘Where’s Anakin?’ At the question, Obi-Wan was not about to tell the young mother that he would not be in to see her because of the dark side’s effects, for she was far from fully healed and didn’t want to burden her. Instead, he touched her forehead with his free hand telling her, ‘Right now you need to rest. You will see him soon.’ he then used the Force to usher her back to sleep while the medicine did the rest. Obi-Wan then returned the baby to the intensive care unit before resuming his healing meditation for the empress. When he was satisfied that, with the assistance of the medical team, she would make a full recovery, Obi-Wan left the medical facility to confront his younger brother with the truth. Anakin didn’t get too far as he found himself in the presence of his brother who had departed from the medical facility in search of him. Vader’s once stormy mindset promptly faded away leaving in its place a mixture of concern and the desperate need for hope. ‘Dormé—how is she? What about our son? I heard he was intensive care. What is going on with them? When can I see them?’ he quickly asked his anger long since forgotten as he studied his brother impatiently waiting for answers. Obi-Wan found himself swiftly in his younger brother’s presence and expected the questions he received. This time, he was in a far more stable shape himself to answer the heavy questions. ‘The empress will make a full recovery and your son is healthy, but this is a very dangerous time for the both of them and they will have to be monitored carefully over the next few days for any changes in this assessment.’ Anakin nodded slightly in reply to his brother’s words and was about to demand that he see them immediately as he wanted to witness their recovery first hand. Placing a comforting hand on his shoulder, Obi-Wan added, ‘There is much we need to discuss. I think it would best be said in private.’ The truth was that he knew the dark side’s effects were not limited to a small circumference and that it would be best if Anakin used the dark side if they were farther away from his wife and child. Uncertain what to make of this, Anakin complied with Obi-Wan’s request to speak of such things in private. Though Vader was curious and anxious to learn what Obi-Wan had to say he also didn’t press the matter as he knew better than to bother trying. Obi-Wan was a patient man who had no qualms about refusing Anakin’s constant nagging if he wasn’t ready to share what was on his mind. The walk was in silence as Obi-Wan was not about to reveal anything until he was certain they were far enough away from the medical facility that if he needed to, he could prevent Anakin from going there, by force if necessary. Obi-Wan was extremely guarded, even once they were alone. He knew Anakin would hardly believe him at first, but in the end he would come to realise the truth. ‘This is not going to be easy for you to hear but you must.’ ‘What was the cause? I swear if it was the healers tampering with her I will have them all skinned alive,’ Anakin growled, momentarily forgetting that he already had them killed. Obi-Wan was unaware that the empress had already lost three children, as he was only aware of Princess Aené’s death. Had he known, he would not have been surprised there had been other miscarriages. In fact, it was a miracle at all that the empress was able to become pregnant with the amount of the dark side surrounding her so intimately. It took Vader a bit to realise that Obi-Wan was leading him well away from the medical labs and this caused him to grow increasingly suspicious of his brother’s motives. However the Sith Lord withheld his thoughts on this matter too as his curiosity and concern was too great to ignore. Once they were quite alone and some distance from the medlab Obi-Wan finally spoke up. His words were simple but direct and deep within Anakin had a sinking feeling he knew what this was about. But he had long since grown used to lying to himself and to believing the dark whispers of the dark side, leaving him easy prey to blatant denial despite the truth that resonated deep within his heart and soul. ‘I know this is the first time Empress Dormé has come close to dying; I felt it in her Force signature. There is only one way to prevent this from happening again and if you want your wife and son to live, you must stop using the dark side. This is the only way. It was sapping both the child’s Life Force and hers as well. Even the residue from having used it before being in her presence has negative effects. The answer was hard and unexpected, hitting Anakin’s straight through the heart as though he had been shot. In stunned silence, the emperor could only stare at his brother in utter disbelief and shock. In the back of his mind, he could almost hear the hermit healer’s words reminding him of what Obi-Wan was now stating as fact. Shaking his head, Anakin’s expression turned from shocked disbelief to pained denial. Silently he fought the truth with the lies he had so desperately come to depend on over the years. ‘I believe this is what caused the death of your daughter as well. I’m sorry, Anakin.’ The Sith Lord felt the last of his control deteriorate. He drew the darkness around him with unnatural speed—an instinctive reaction, one he wasn’t entirely aware he was doing. ‘How dare you suggest I would do such a thing!? You honestly believe I would kill my own children!? That I would use the dark side to harm my own wife?’ Vader hissed in pained rage as his hand slipped to his lightsaber. Obi-Wan allowed Anakin to vent his emotions and retaliate verbally to what he knew to be the truth. The dark side was slowly sapping them of their life energy, the residue was blatantly evident in their cells. ‘I know you wouldn’t do it on purpose, Anakin. I’m not blaming you, just trying to help you understand what’s happening to them—’ Anakin did not make any effort to activate his lightsaber, neither did he remove it from its hilt. As furious as Obi-Wan made him, there was still a part of Anakin that couldn’t hurt his brother. ‘You think that by blaming me for the loss of Aené, for the loss of our other children that I’d just turn my back on the dark side? That I’d readily toss aside my destiny as a Sith Lord? I was never meant to follow the light side brother and you know it! No amount of your self-righteous lies is going to ever change that fact!’ he snapped in rage feeling utterly insulted and wounded by Obi-Wan’s facts. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve had about enough of your pathetic attempts to guilt me into changing my mind,’ Vader retorted sharply as he brushed passed the Jedi Master. Though the doubts flooded his mind and the truth continued to plague him, Anakin still hung onto the lies and was now more determined than ever to see his beloved and their son. If not for anything than to prove to both Obi-Wan and himself that he was, without question, not responsible for their condition. Oh by the Force, there were more! Shocked at this, Obi-Wan felt Anakin’s grief hit him tenfold. ‘This is no ploy to get you to return to the light side, Anakin!’ he replied, though he was not yelling at him. But Anakin was stalking towards the doorway. ‘You will be risking their lives going in there with the darkness surrounding you. Your wife cannot sense it. She cannot defend herself from it—’ Anakin just shook his head to Obi-Wan’s words as he glared at him in disgust and rage. ‘Oh spare me your lies. What sort of fool do you take me for Obi-Wan? Or is this your way of making yourself feel better over the fact I chose to follow the Sith instead of remaining a Jedi!’ Anakin snapped before storming off towards the medical labs. Despite his initial plan to stop Anakin via his lightsaber, Obi-Wan knew that using weapons would only increase Anakin’s use of the dark side and perpetuate the downward spiral. ‘For the sake of your children, Anakin,’ Obi-Wan called after him, ‘don’t do it.’ Though Anakin was quite lost in the darkness the emperor wasn’t so lost as not to hear his brother’s warning. He didn’t bother looking back but uttered a string of Huttese curses in reply. Anakin had about enough of his brother’s self-righteous attitude and wanted nothing more than to see for himself that his family was doing well. But as he neared the medical labs, the emperor was stopped by Sabé who tried much like her husband to talk him down. Vader however was in no state of mind to argue with Sabé and promptly used the Force to send her flying back across the hallway. Saché, who had been with her at the time with intents on visiting the empress herself, received similar treatment. Furious now and ever determined to see Dormé and their son, Anakin proceeded to enter the small room that would take him to the empress. With great impatience, he waited for the miserable med droids to give him clearance to see her while watching Dormé intently through the glass that separated them. However, just as his eyes settled onto her healing form, Anakin’s eyes were soon focusing on something else entirely. Returning his gaze through the glass was Aené. With her hands firmly pressed against the glass, she stared at her father with amber eyes filled with sorrow. Frozen in position, Vader found himself unable to move as his heart jumped to his throat. The last time he saw Aené was when he was killing the hermit healer. The three-year-old wore the exact expression then and in his mind, he could still hear her voice begging him to stop while sobbing softly. Obi-Wan followed him, but at a slower pace. He didn’t put his words to heart, knowing the boy was hurt and overreacting. If he had to learn the hard way, that would be the only way that it would reach him. He hardly reached them in time to ease Sabé and Lady Saché’s fall, though he cushioned them as best he could. When he was assured they were all right, he saw Anakin walking back from the direction he came. He couldn’t stop himself from breathing a sigh of relief, though he felt it wasn’t just his words that reached the young man. Speechless, and more than a little spooked by this turn of events, the Sith Lord swallowed hard and promptly departed from the med lab’s entrance. The droids attempted to ask him if there was a problem but Anakin’s thoughts were elsewhere leaving him unable to register anything save for his need to leave this place. Rushing out into the hallway, he barely even registered Sabé and Saché’s presence as Vader proceeded to depart for the nearest exit with a single intent in mind: to return to Aené’s resting place where he hoped he could confront this ghost of the past and, Force willing, perhaps even be able to make peace with their daughter. Dormé was just rousing when she saw the form of Anakin stalking away from the medical facility. She wanted to see him. ‘Anakin,’ she said, weakly, but he had since departed and did not hear her. Chapter Seven In silence, Anakin departed for the back of the gardens where the memorial to princess Aené rested. As Anakin approached the elegant mausoleum, the Sith Lord felt his emotions return forcefully. Pausing in mid-step, he drew in a shaky breath as he tried to silence the memories of his recent discussion with his brother. This was supposed to be the happiest moment of his life, yet joy was hardly the word he’d use to describe his emotions. Entering the mausoleum, the Sith lord silently studied the elegant room with a furrowed brow. Even though it had almost been a year since Aené’s passing, it still felt like yesterday for the emperor who struggled with his emotions. Approaching the small shrine built in memory of their dear princess, Anakin swallowed hard as he remained frozen in position. Though he couldn’t see her, Vader knew she was near and with this in mind he began to speak in hushed tones. ‘You know I would never hurt you Aené,’ Anakin began in shy tones. ‘I would never do anything to hurt your ama or your brother or any of my children. I know I was never given the chance to get to you know you, but I do love you my little princess and I’m so sorry—’ he faltered not wanting to discuss the past events in which he had seen her. ‘He was lying. You know that, don’t you?’ Anakin continued referring to Obi-Wan’s words and warnings. ‘He was just saying that because he’s unhappy with me, that I chose a different path than him,’ Anakin explained to the empty room imagining in his mind that he was speaking to the youngling he had witnessed moments ago. ‘You know I would never hurt you,’ he repeated softly as he tried to ignore the memory of Aené’s face and her tears upon witnessing him killing the hermit. ‘It’s not my fault, Aené. It isn’t. I just...’ More memories began to flood his mind, images of fallen younglings whom he had killed during his moment of bloodlust at the temple. Though it was an impossibility, Anakin couldn’t help but feel that their daughter knew of his crimes on that fateful day, that while she didn’t exist during that time, Aené knew through the Force what he had done. He could still hear their screams in his mind, the silent requiem of their souls joining the Force, just as he could almost hear Aené’s weeping and her silent pleas for him to stop. ‘Your hands, so covered in blood, tainted by the darkness you wield, chokes out all that you touch. No life can from you now, only death...’ ‘...I believe this is what caused the death of your daughter as well.’ He closed his eyes as he struggled to silence the doubts in his mind. Clenching his hands into fists, Anakin closed his eyes and struggled to steady his breathing. This wasn’t his fault, the healer was just trying to scare him and Obi-Wan was lying. But just when he was about to convince himself of the lies he still clung onto, Aené’s face, so riddled with fear and horror, returned to the forefront of his mind. ‘I’m so sorry you saw that,’ he murmured in shame, thinking the hermit and of the Jedi he had killed on the day of Aené’s passing. ‘I couldn’t help myself. I was just so angry with her. I— The things she was saying—’ he stammered as in his mind he could hear her voice and Obi-Wan’s reminding him of their words of the message they bore. Tears began to spill down his cheeks, for the truth of the matter began to pierce through the lies. Anakin knees buckled as he dropped to the ground. Desperately he began to plead to the deceased princess as shame flooded his thoughts and sorrow began to devour the last of his denial. ‘It’s not my fault! I didn’t mean to— I didn’t know! How could I have known? My dearest Aené...I am so sorry. I didn’t know...Oh Force help me, how could I have known...’ Anakin whispered as his body wracked with sobs. With head bowed and arms tightly wrapped around him, the Sith Lord wept as though his soul were shattering in two while begging forgiveness from their children. It was never the doctors, healers or specialists’ fault that they could never have children. It had been him all along and never in his life was Anakin more ashamed or so broken. He had become the master of his sorrow and the demise of all he had loved and Anakin had no one left to blame but himself. To Dormé’s disappointment, it wasn’t Anakin who next entered the room. Instead, Saché had come in to see how she was faring and despite how happy she was to inform her former mentor of their son, she wanted to see her husband and was wondering why everyone was so guarded about him. ‘What is it? What are you not telling me?!’ Dormé demanded. Despite her incredibly weak state, she twisted herself to toss her legs over the side of the bed and forced herself on her feet. She didn’t listen to the voices of concern. ‘I’m fine, just tell me where Anakin is.’ Obi-Wan admitted the general location, which Dormé immediately recognised as Aené’s memorial. This, as well as slight dizziness, caused Dormé to pause and grasp the edge of the bed to steady herself. Once she got her balance, she walked over to where their son was being kept. She hardly noticed a robe being wrapped around her shoulders as she queried of when he would be released. It would not be for some time, she was told, and she touched his head and kissed him, murmuring so that only he could hear just how much she loved him. Though Sabé, Saché and Master Kenobi insisted she return to bed to prevent further complications and finish healing, Dormé’s thoughts swiftly returned to her beloved. ‘If you will not bring him to me, then I will go there myself,’ she said matter-of-factly. Not one to be argued with, the empress was granted her request when they allowed her to leave for the memorial of their little princess. Barefooted and somewhat cold, Dormé’s sole concern was Anakin and coming upon his hunched over and sobbing form broke her heart. ‘Anakin, it’s all right. We’re both all right,’ she murmured, putting her arms around him and holding him, in spite of her own physical weakness and pain. Anakin didn’t know how long he had been there for and in reality was too lost in his shame and guilt to even pay it much heed. The realisation his ignorance had cost him three of their children and almost their fourth nevermind his beloved had left the Sith Lord shattered in sorrow and shame. Though he was letting go of the darkness he was in a very fragile state of mind making him easy prey to his despair. As such in his state of mourning Vader was not aware of Dormé’s presence until he felt her arms around him and heard her soft voice speaking to him. It was only then that he also sensed her pain and was once more reminded of Obi-Wan’s words and the warning given to him by the hermit. His eyes snapped open and looking to Dormé with eyes swollen and red with tears he shook his head in concern. ‘Dormé, you shouldn’t be here. You are not fully healed—’ ‘It’s all right,’ Dormé tried to reassure him, but he was having none of it. ‘And I—you need to stay away from me! I’m going to hurt you. I’ve already hurt you,’ Anakin rambled as his thoughts raced, leaving him imagining the worst. He didn’t want to tell her what he had done and yet he knew he had no choice. It had to be said, no matter how hard it was for him to admit it. ‘Stay away from you? Anakin, what are you talking about?’ She was confused at first, thinking she had done something wrong, but the truth soon revealed itself. She knew Anakin had never intentionally harmed her so all of this was quite alarming to her to say the least. ‘You haven’t—you’re not going to hurt me—I need you—’ she said, but he was pulling away from her. ‘I never meant to, it was my use of the dark side...Oh Force, Dormé I’ve done something so terrible, but I swear to you that I never meant to, I never even knew what I was doing...Our children, our Aené are now dead because of me. Because of the dark side I wielded...I almost lost you and our son because of it and now you must get away from me before I hurt you again!’ he pleaded between tears while trying to gently draw away from her arms to put distance between himself and Dormé. ‘I don’t understand, Anakin...What do you mean?’ He was telling her to get away from him as though he were plague-ridden. Tears, that were in actuality from his pain, sorrow, and despair, flooded her eyes. ‘Don’t you see Dormé? I’m the reason we lost our children! I am the reason Aené died, the reason you and our son almost died! The dark side I touched, I tapped into has been draining the life from our children and from you! Even though I never used the dark side on you or our children I still was -am causing your damage! It radiates from me, from my Force aura so that even if I’m not using it I’m still causing harm. I’m still draining life energy from everything around me...’ he stammered in shame and sorrow as he continued to back away from her. The way Anakin was acting was starting to scare her. ‘What’s all this? Who is feeding you these lies?!’ she countered, not wanting to believe that what he was saying was true. She didn’t understand all that he was saying about Force auras and draining life energies. It made little sense to her. ‘Please, Dormé, you have to leave me I will only cause you more harm if you remain. I need to tend to this before I can see you again, before I can see our son,’ he continued in despair. ‘Anakin, stop it! Stop talking this way right now!’ she cried, wrapping her arms around herself. She hadn’t felt this cold when she first walked here. Anakin gave a shaky sigh at Dorme’s questions and demands, knowing it wasn’t her fault that she didn’t understand the intricacies of the Force. He just wished he knew how to explain it better to her so she could understand, to at least comprehend the threat he now posed to them. ‘These aren’t lies Dormé. I truly wish they were, but they’re not,’ Anakin said in pained tones. ‘Remember how you told me about Aené visiting you? I saw her as well,’ Anakin continued in soft tones. ‘The first time was when I was hunting a Jedi in the outer rim, I went to kill them and just as I was delivering the killing blow I saw her. In the vision I was—’ he faltered fighting back new tears. ‘I killed her in the vision. But it wasn’t the only time I saw her. I saw her again when I visited a hermit healer; Edeja’s mentor. ‘The old woman told me that I was killing our children. That if I was to return home to you and our son I would end up killing you both. I was furious and so I killed her in a fit of rage. Aené returned to me again and begged me to stop...I’ll never forget the look on her face,’ Anakin explained before falling silent as Dormé begged him to stop. In silence he could only shake his head. ‘I need for you to understand what it is I’m trying to say, Dormé. Aené was trying to warn me of what the dark side was doing to my family, just like the hermit healer did and my brother. This is real, Dormé. I’m the one who has been causing your miscarriages. I’m the reason Aené isn’t with us now or our other children. That is why you can’t be near me until I tend to this, that is why our son can’t be near me either,’ he admitted in sorrowful tones. Dormé shook her head, unbelieving. This wasn’t happening. This couldn’t be happening, not to them... Struggling back to her feet, she turned away from him, trying to get this all straight. ‘You..?’ she asked, turning toward him once again. ‘How could you?!’ It would not be until much time later that she understood he hadn’t meant to and had no idea he was responsible for it. Anakin felt his blood run cold and as though recalling this warning as well Dormé’s mood shifted as her statements posing as questions hit him hard. Staring up at her as she whirled around to face him the Sith lord found it was a struggle to breathe, nevermind find his voice. The Sith lord opened his mouth in an effort to speak, to explain that he wasn’t aware of the effect the Dark side had on their children. That until the many warnings were presented, he had no idea what he had been inadvertently doing. As Dormé continued Anakin visibly winced before closing his eyes as he struggled to clear his mind. Neither was in any condition to continue this conversation but it was too late to back down now. ‘All of them? Like those in the Temple you accidentally killed? Your own children?!!’ she demanded, reeling on him like the tempest dammed within her. ‘I told you that I didn’t know,’ he replied quietly as he opened his eyes to stare up at her once more before asking in hoarse tones. It was now, as the cold washed over her, that she felt the pains coming back to her, but this time it was not only the pains from the premature labour, but the pains of all the miscarriages, the hollowness she had felt and how long she had thought it was her fault. ‘I thought there was something wrong with me,’ she said, her tears feeling like icicles down her thin cheeks. ‘I thought—I thought I had failed you—that I wasn’t worthy to be a mother—and all this time...all this time...it was you doing this.’ ‘Do you really think I would purposely murder our own children?’ Even without the darkness seeping in her veins and poisoning her, Dormé had never felt so angry and rightfully so. ‘How could you not know?’ she retorted. Anakin couldn’t find the words to properly express how he was feeling in that moment. Though he knew that Dormé had felt this way for some time hearing her admittance tore at his heart and brought new tears to his eyes. Bowing his head the Sith Lord didn’t dare refute her words for the truth was just too powerful to deny. ‘Just because I’m sensitive to the Force doesn’t mean I know and understand everything about it,’ he said weakly knowing fully well her anger was justified. But she was hardly in any state to hear his words and no matter how he tried to argue that he truly did not know Anakin knew it was a lost cause. Ultimately Dormé was right, he should have known and despite the fact he didn’t was hardly a comfort. ‘I cannot touch that Force you wield. I cannot sense it. But you—you have no excuse, Anakin! You couldn’t tell that it was killing them?! That YOU were killing them?!’ She wound up and slapped him across the cheek. The force of the blow was lacking due to her weakened state, but the effect was much the same. ‘If you ever use your powers to hurt me, Anakin, I will leave you.’ She had nothing left to say to him and despite how much it ached to walk, she could no longer stand in the same vicinity as him. The slap across the face was hardly painful due to Dormé’s weakened state but it didn’t matter it still felt like a knife to his heart. Vader didn’t react to her slap and only closed his eyes in reply as he struggled to keep some semblance of control. Once she was back inside, it was easy to put up a façade that nothing was wrong, but she had no desire to pretend. She went straight to Laic’s cot and picked up the sleeping baby, holding him close to her body as though with his very presence he would be able to warm her broken spirit and return the peace that had been lost in the mausoleum. It was over of that he was certain. It was only after Dormé had departed that Anakin succumbed to the tears of despair once more. All was lost of that he was certain and he knew there was none more deserving of this fate than himself. Saché was anxious for Dormé and almost immediately after the empress’s departure, she trailed after her with the hopes of acting as silent support. She knew the sort of man Anakin was and was fearful of Dormé’s safety especially given his moody behaviour. But Sabé was the wiser one of the two and managed to talk down the fiery woman reminding her that this was a private matter one that she had no right to interfere in. 'Your presence may even worsen matters,' the former decoy explained as Saché muttered a curse under her breath before complying. Upon seeing Dormé return a short time later, Saché’s heart immediately went out to her. The young empress looked so worn and so weak that it was frightening to behold. However, she was also determined and before Saché had a chance to move to her side to help her Dormé had slipped into the medical lab where she went to hold the baby. Watching her in silence the older handmaiden furrowed her brow in concern, as she wanted support the empress, knowing something bad had happened between Vader and her. She knew it wasn’t her place and so, for the moment, she watched in silence before taking Sabé’s advice and finally returning to her quarters for a nap. Obi-Wan could sense the empress’s incredibly weakened Force signature returning and though he knew he would have to resume healing her once more, he also knew she needed time alone with her son. But when her signature drastically began to fade, he motioned to Sabé and entered the facility. Dormé sobbed as she held her baby, thinking of Aené and the other little ones who hadn’t made it. She had asked for nothing save to have healthy children. Their son, so tiny and fragile, was helpless and needed her to protect him, to feed him, to love him... It was a good thing Anakin had been gone so long or else she would not have had a chance to hold this little one. When Obi-Wan entered, he placed a hand on the empress’s shoulder in a effort to escort her to the main part of the medical facility to continue her healing process. He didn’t expect her to turn towards him as she sobbed into his chest. Though this made him a little uncomfortable, he motioned to Sabé once more to take the baby from the empress before helping her to the examination bed. Half a day later, once Obi-Wan had another chance to rest and recover his own strength from the healing meditations and have something to eat, he returned to visit the empress to check up on her. He came upon her feeding her son and averted his eyes automatically to politely give her privacy. To be able to hold and feed her baby filled Dormé with such joy. So happy to have this chance, she hardly minded the Jedi Master’s presence. She wouldn’t have cared if the whole empire witnessed it. Once the baby finished, she shifted him to her shoulder, rubbing his tiny back. She took note of the Jedi Master’s averted gaze and told him he was free to have a seat nearby. It was not much longer after he sat down that Dormé said, ‘Four babies...I would have had four...’ ‘I’m sorry,’ Obi-Wan replied softly. Dormé sighed, feeling the baby heavy in her arms, knowing he had gone to sleep. ‘Anakin really didn’t know that he was—’ She couldn’t finish the sentence. Obi-Wan shook his head. ‘No, I don’t think so. The dark side is very deceiving and easily blinds someone from seeing the truth, especially if they don’t want to know it.’ Dormé nodded in understanding, but turned her attentions back to her son. Obi-Wan eventually left the two with much on his mind. No matter how much he wanted to help guide Anakin back to the good side, he also knew it would be up to Anakin to make that transition. Anakin didn’t last long in the mausoleum, for the argument and revelation wore heavily on his thoughts, leaving him feeling unworthy to remain there any longer. He quietly wandered the gardens in an attempt to clear his thoughts, to mourn quietly, and to replay the discussion too many times to count. Only when exhaustion had finally taken its toll did Anakin return indoors to palace and found himself taking refuge on the couch that overlooked the balcony. Sleep didn’t come for the Sith Lord neither did peace. With a heavy heart and thoughts filled with the memories of the dark revelation, Anakin was hardly received any rest by morning. If anything, he felt even worse than the night before. However, duty demanded his presence. As much as Anakin wanted to do nothing more than hide from the world, he began his day in discontented state of mind, despite the joy of his son’s birth. His advisor and compatriot Kei immediately caught his friend’s dark mood and attempted to learn why Anakin was in less than joyous spirits. After all, his son was healthy despite the premature birth as was the empress. Anakin was hardly in the mood to speak of the Force and the complications it now caused him to someone who didn’t understand. It was late in the day when the emperor was permitted a break from his duties, leaving Anakin with little else to do but return to his quarters. Though he wanted to train, to keep his mind off matters, he was weak from lack of sleep and his mind was too preoccupied to even bother attempting to meditate. In truth, outside of seeing Dormé and their son, which was an impossibility at this point, Anakin wanted nothing more than to speak to his brother. Though things between them had become strained, Anakin still longed to feel the comfort of his brother’s silent presence, to know that ultimately things would work out and that there was hope yet. He felt too ashamed to cross that line though. It reminded him of what a fool he had been and how, in his arrogance, he had almost lost everything because of it. After many failed attempts to further distract himself, Anakin decided to chance speaking to his brother after all. Quietly he made his way through the halls as he focused on the Force signature of his brother. Though each step left him filled with dread and hesitancy, Anakin knew he had no other choice. He had to tend to this matter or he would lose all he cared about. Obi-Wan was currently meditating in the temporary quarters he shared with his wife when he sensed Anakin’s approach. He hoped this meeting would be on more emotionally level terms than the last one, however, he wasn’t counting on it. As if to prove that point, upon opening his door to the haggard-looking young emperor, he had a feeling it wouldn’t be. He politely gestured for him to enter. Anakin just shook his head as his brother motioned him to enter. As much as he knew it had to be done, Anakin at least had enough sense to know he was in no condition to linger. In truth, he felt ugly in his brother’s presence and felt awkward being around him now that he had accepted the truth. There was no point of pretending that Obi-Wan didn’t know why he was here and so the young emperor began. ‘You know why I am here and what it is I am about to ask,’ he quietly began before giving a deep sigh. ‘But before I can continue I need to apologize first. I need to apologize for so much but I—’ Anakin glanced away as he shook his head for his thoughts to clear. ‘I will never be the Jedi our father hoped I would be, or that the Order expected me to become. In truth, I don’t know if I’m even capable of it, but if it means repairing a little of the damage I’ve done, then I would like to try again,’ Anakin admitted quietly. Obi-Wan didn’t let it bother him that Anakin hadn’t even thanked him for what he had done to help his wife and child. Exhausted or not, Anakin was a very selfish person much like the Sith way he currently followed. ‘Following one path or another takes more than simply trying, Anakin,’ Obi-Wan said seriously. ‘You have to seriously commit yourself or else you have already failed.’ Anakin wanted to apologise for his actions, for the damage he had already caused and for ruining what relationship he had with Obi-Wan but he was also more than aware of his weakened state. Anakin knew if he were to try and speak his thoughts on the matter he would only embarrass himself. He was too tired to think clearly nevermind keep his emotions in check. Anakin gave a long sigh at his brother’s words as he glanced away. He was tired and already frustrated with his situation leaving him less than eager to hear Obi-Wan’s warnings. Though he was willing to give it a try, ultimately, Anakin wasn’t ready to truly return to the light. If a chance availed itself to permit him to remain within the dark side without causing damage to his family, Anakin wouldn’t hesitate to take it. He had yet to learn his lesson, leaving this moment to haunt him for the rest of his life. ‘I committed myself to the ways of the Jedi and look at what a success that proved to be,’ he grumbled. ‘Let’s face it, I’m about as suited to being a Jedi as you are a Sith. I’m doing this because I love my family and I don’t want to lose them,’ he admitted in frustration. Placing a hand on his shoulder and not wanting him to be turned away from trying, Obi-Wan offered, ‘What has happened in the past cannot be undone, but our future actions are what we can change.’ The simple gesture of support helped ease a little of his frustration and Anakin nodded weakly in reply, wanting to find some comfort in his brother’s words. ‘I know...It’s just...It’s going to be hard to start from the beginning again,’ he murmured. Noble though the reasons might be, Obi-Wan saw straight through it. Obi-Wan hoped it was the case, that he would succeed this time and thanked the Force for being given this opportunity. ‘Once tampered with, the dark side will forever consume you,’ he recalled their father teaching him. ‘This will not be easy; it won’t be a quick fix or an overnight cure. This is something you will combat, for the rest of your life, I’m afraid. That is why you must be fully committed to getting rid of the darkness within you. It will be difficult at first, but over time, it will become easier.’ Obi-Wan’s warning fell on deaf ears as Anakin in truth just wanted to rest and work on the problem in the morning. ‘Why doesn’t that surprise me?’ the Sith lord murmured. liking the sounds of this even less. With that, Obi-Wan began helping Anakin find the inner peace, the calm from the very essence of the Force itself, aiding in meditation. He hoped it would bring him enough peace of mind to rest properly. Some time later, a rather exhausted and light-headed Anakin surfaced from his meditations feeling far better than he had in some time. Though he was far from well the emperor took this as a good sign. As he prepared to depart for his quarters in the hopes of finding some sleep it suddenly occurred to him that he hadn’t expressed his gratitude to his brother. Though he wasn’t exactly renowned for thinking about others outside of himself or even caring to the realisation did cause his cheeks to flush slightly in shame. Turning to Obi-Wan once more Anakin gave an apologetic look. ‘I...I never did thank you did I?’ he asked quietly despite the fact he already knew the answer. For awhile, Obi-Wan couldn’t help reminiscing after Anakin left. It had been in many ways like times past, with him teaching his little brother of the ways of the Force. But it was also very bittersweet in many ways and the dark side still so prominent in Anakin’s signature did little to counter the feelings of regret. Ultimately, what gave Obi-Wan the most hope was Anakin’s expression of gratitude, guarded and somewhat reluctant though it was. It made him feel like he was reaching him, that what he had done for him actually had a purpose, outside of saving innocent lives. ‘I owe you for so much,’ the emperor continued. ‘You saved my family and the only thanks I gave you was to accuse you of lies. My behaviour was hardly appropriate and I am truly sorry for putting you through that,’ Anakin admitted quietly before falling silent. In truth, there was so much more he should have apologised for and even more to thank his brother but Anakin was a selfish man whose moments of enlightenment were far and few between. For him to be aware of even this was a feat in and of itself and in time this too would become one regret of many. ‘Thank you, for everything,’ he quietly concluded before turning to depart. Almost as soon as his head hit the pillows on his couch, the Sith Lord slept. Though it was hardly a long rest, it was better than anything he had experienced and for that, he was most grateful. It was a small step, but in the right direction. Chapter Eight The month seemed to fly by for Anakin who spent much of his time divided between training with brother, completing his duties as emperor and spending as much time as possible with his family. Laic, though only a month old seemed to be growing right before Anakin’s eyes. Despite his attempts to spend as much time with Laic, it wasn’t always possible and even when he was apart from Dormé and their son his heart was with them. However, as time passed and his return to the light was growing more certain the young emperor began to grow cocky and sure of himself. Therefore, Anakin spoke to his brother about the matter and despite Obi-Wan’s concerns believed he no longer needed the Jedi Master’s support any longer. In truth, Anakin wanted to spend more time with his family and felt that he would be able to control his struggles much better now. Just being around Laic added to his determination to tend to his darkness and it was with this in mind that Anakin decided he would further his training while at home. Having completed the last of his duties -much pertaining to the aftermath of well wishers who had partook of the celebration of their little prince. Returning home in good spirits Anakin entered their private quarters to hear the familiar melodic tones of his beloved singing to their son. For a moment, he paused at the entrance of the veranda, watching and listening in silence as Laic’s Ama sang. It was moments like this that Anakin cherished and held onto. It was hard to believe that Prince Laic was already a whole month old. Dormé relished every moment of the day, every feeding, every time he needed to be changed. She loved soothing him when he cried and singing to him to sleep, which was her current occupation. That morning, Master Kenobi left and Anakin and she presented their little prince to the public for the first time. Laic was hardly in the mood and didn’t like all of the people, but was now snoozing peacefully in his ama’s arms. Laic was now a healthy size, which was reassuring to Dormé and she made no qualms about the Jedi Master leaving once he checked Laic again. Every night the little prince slept with his parents in their bed, as it was easier for Dormé to feed him and comfort him when he awoke. Anakin didn’t seem to mind this and she couldn’t be happier. Concluding her song, she headed back indoors when she spotted Anakin. She smiled at him, though it was evident in her features that it had already been a long day for her. Though she had gotten used to having a nap or sleeping whenever Laic did, she wanted to spend time with Anakin outside of duty. He had been so busy as of late with training and imperial duties, especially since she had been little help while recovering from childbirth and taking care of Laic. She quietly slipped indoors to rest Laic in his cot before returning to Anakin. Dormé’s smile immediately made him forget all about the busy day as once more his entire universe consisted solely of her and their son, which was, in his opinion, as it should be. Despite his joy at returning home, the emperor took note of his wife’s exhaustion and offered to aid her in putting Laic to bed. The little one was already ready to rest and soon Dormé had him placed in his cot. ‘Sound asleep,’ she said, ‘for now at least. Have you finished with your duties?’ Anakin smiled as he nodded in reply before reaching out to touch her cheek. ‘I’m all yours,’ he murmured gently before allowing his hands slip to her shoulders as he gently massaged them. ‘Mmm good,’ Dormé replied, leaning into his touch. ‘It’s been a long day for all of us,’ he continued as his expression softened and grew gentle. ‘You rest and I’ll rub your shoulders,’ he offered as he could feel knots in her shoulders and wanted to work them out for her. At his offer, she said, ‘Let me take my hair down first.’ She hadn’t even changed from Laic and her first public appearance since Laic’s birth. Donning a rich, wine- coloured gown of velvet with an equally majestic diadem, the young empress had shown off her once again lean form while not taking the spotlight away from the little prince. The emperor nodded simply in reply at her words, though the hint of a smile that crept into his features marked that he wasn’t about to refrain from interrupting either. Following her to their bedchamber, he let his eyes roam over her slender form feeling a bit envious of the gown that hugged her body. As Dormé let down her long hair, the emperor’s thoughts grew less impish and more peaceful. Watching her for a moment longer Anakin couldn’t help but feel so at peace. As always, Dormé looked radiant and with long locks tumbling about her shoulders and trailing down her back, the petite woman reminded Anakin of the legends he had heard as a child about goddess’s taking human form. The need to touch her hair and feel her skin beneath his fingers soon grew too irresistible and despite the fact Dormé was obviously watching him the emperor was soon sidling up behind her. ‘May I?’ Anakin offered as he let his fingers wrap over Dormé’s own that held the brush. Dormé enjoyed the way Anakin’s eyes followed her. It made her feel loved and appreciated in ways she had never felt before meeting Anakin. The revelation about the dark side was long forgotten over this past month and she was thankful she would be able to spend more time with the love of her life. She smiled as he approached and allowed him to take over brushing out her hair. She relished the feel of his calloused fingers gliding lightly over the skin of her neck and shoulders as he gently brushed her hair. He did so with such ease and grace; it seemed as though he wanted to take the time as though this was an honour. When he was nearly finished, she turned around to run her fingers through his hair before giving in to her desires and kissing him. Anakin could feel her enjoying his watchful gaze and it only added to his own enjoyment. One of the many things he loved about Dormé was that she relished his rather possessive nature and hardly minded his need and desire to enjoy her. He loved the feel of her hair against his fingers as he gently brushed it out. There was a time when he used to dream of having such an opportunity and he could still remember the first time she let him brush her hair. A smile crept into his features at the memory of how heavenly he felt at being able to have such a chance. Soon his thoughts were returning to her once more and after some time Dormé was soon running her fingers through his own far shorter hair. His expression easily reflected his thoughts as did hers and soon Anakin was eagerly returning her kiss with fervent passion. Dormé couldn’t recall the last time they really had a moment to themselves after all that happened since Laic’s birth. Everything had been about recovering, for both Anakin and Dormé. Tonight, it was about them and in Dormé’s opinion, it was perfect timing. Unaware of the damage Anakin’s impatience would inevitably cause, Dormé communicated to Anakin, in her own way, that she was fully ready to enjoy his presence this evening. ‘I suppose I don’t have to ask if you’re game,’ Dormé chuckled between kisses, already initiating the removal of hindering attire. Anakin was more than eager to make the most of this evening and did little to hide it as he eagerly returned her kisses. At her words, he just gave an impish grin as he chuckled. ‘The question you need to ask is, when haven’t I been game,’ he purred into her ear as he promptly began to undo the clasps of her gown. Dormé smiled at his words, while unhooking his belt. ‘Never?’ Dormé replied with a mischievous grin, helping him out of his tunic. ‘You have to take heed to be gentle with me,’ she said, pulling back to meet his eyes to emphasize the point. Anakin didn’t need to reply as his expression said it all as his fingers continued to unclasp her gown until she pulled back. Immediately he gave her a questioning look until her eyes met his own and the warning was given. Furrowing his brow Anakin nodded in reply understanding the weight of his words and putting them to heart. Despite his best intentions, it was certain that reminders would be needed throughout the night. As nice as it was to have this time together, so far without interruption, Dormé was hardly impressed with Anakin’s attempt at being gentle with her. Dormé had to physically make her point while gasping, ‘Anakin—gentle! Unless you want to be the one to give birth next time—’ Anakin in his opinion was trying to be gentle. But it was hard not to lose one’s self in the heat of the moment and it was only upon feeling Dormé’s nails running across his skin did it finally hit home. Giving a yelp of pain, he cursed in Huttese and debaucherized Uriashian before catching Dormé’s remarks as he turned crimson. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to...’ he sheepishly apologized before attempting once more to be mindful of Dormé’s delicate situation. Despite his best efforts, Anakin continually forgot himself, making hardly the most pleasant time for Dormé who had to compromise. However, she only winced slightly as she continued her methods of reigning him back. In the end, they were probably in the same amount of pain, though it would decrease in time. Anakin continued to try to be mindful of Dormé but every time he tried to get into things the emperor would forget himself and soon need a reminding. Though it hardly went as expected there was amusement to be found and as he eyed the marks on his waist, he could help but chuckle. Seeing the impressions on his waist and back, Dormé felt a little bad, but couldn’t help chuckling. Kissing his bellybutton, she giggled, ‘We’re implacable, aren’t we?’ ‘This does bring back memories doesn’t it?’ he teased as he motioned to his far older i battlescars /I . ‘Vividly,’ she replied, grinning. He purred at Dormé’s kiss and soon was playing with her hair and leaning in to kiss her neck as he grinned. ‘You say it like it’s a bad thing,’ he replied with a wink as he pulled her near. They continually tried to be together, despite the pain, because they couldn’t help themselves and Dormé couldn’t help having a laugh about it. She giggled as he kissed her neck, enjoying the way the vibrations from his chest felt against her skin as he spoke. ‘Mhmm, a terrible thing,’ Dormé said before kissing him on the lips. Her final words brought another mischievous grin to his lips, one that didn’t fade as he eagerly returned her kiss while running his fingers through her hair. Though it was a delicate situation to say the least, Anakin was grateful they tried nonetheless as it had been awhile. When it involved basking in Dormé’s presence there was little if any, when it came to resisting such opportunity. Fortunately, despite the pain, there was some pleasure found and Anakin couldn’t help but find some amusement in the situation. He grinned at Dormé’s reply as his expression turned wistful. ‘I still remember showing them off to Kei.’ She spaced kisses along the battlewounds as he explained how he showed them off like some war hero. ‘You didn’t!’ she gasped, as though finding it hard to believe, but knowing it to be true. ‘You’re terrible.’ ‘The look on his face was hilarious!’ he recalled with snicker. ‘I showed others too. I can’t remember them all. Anyone who was willing to listen pretty much,’ Anakin admitted with a wry smile as he could still remember their reactions. ‘Kei, I swear was going to faint. Mikal just told me I probably deserved it, which now that I think about it, I guess I probably did,’ he continued with a mischievous grin that didn’t hide his warm cheeks. Soon talk was forgotten as Dormé was kissing him leaving Anakin to forget about said topic in the first place. Dormé was not that shocked at the revelation and couldn’t say she didn’t find it heartwarming. Anyone and everyone knew Anakin was hers, just as she was his. This time as Dormé kissed him, she took the initiative to take things into her own hands. With more control this time, there was less need for punishment and consequently less pain. Curling up next to him, now quite sleepy, Dormé murmured in a mixture of Uriashian and Basic how much she loved him. Dormé was, by far, the finer artist when it came to such things and Anakin despite his inability to truly focus was eager to learn. This time things went about more smoothly and as sleep became more the focus of his thoughts Anakin was soon wrapping his arms around Dormé as she whispered her love to him. Through the Force he uttered the words of his heart while playing with her hair and kissing her cheek. The meeting with the loyalist Humbarine faction, led by Queen Breemu, Kei’s mother, and other parties involved in efforts to reunite the Humbarine people through political persuasion instead of war, went far better than Dormé could have hoped. However, the young empress had difficulty managing Laic and had to have one of her handmaidens watch him for a few hours. She decided it would be best if Laic didn’t attend meetings with her, despite her hesitancy to leave him with anyone else. This whole week had been one arduous meeting after another, trying to find a solution to the conflict. It had been taxing on Dormé, who still was up early in the mornings to care for Laic, and as much as she wanted to retain control over the split Humbarine factions, whose home planet had been destroyed by General Grievous, Dormé cared more about spending time with her family. She was incredibly stressed out and exhausted, finding little energy to enjoy her time with Laic. Even with Anakin’s help and support, it was difficult to balance work and home life and Dormé would much rather quit being an empress and stay home with Laic. However, as this was an impossibility, Dormé tried to make the best of things. Dormé knew absolute control would not be an option in this case with the Humbarines and inevitably, they decided to let the traitors go, but they would not be able to return or travel in imperial space. Anyone caught doing so would be executed without question. It seemed the majority was satisfied with this decision and as Dormé left the meeting to go to the handmaidens’ quarters where Laic was being cared for, one of the senators approached her, offering her their congratulations. ‘Thank you.’ Raising an eyebrow, Dormé queried, ‘What exactly are you congratulating me for?’ The Bothan replied, ‘For your pregnancy. Your aroma shows clear signs of it.’ Confused by this, Dormé just smiled and politely thanked the senator again before heading in the opposite direction: this time, to the medical wing. Surely, the Bothan was only smelling the hormones still present in her system from Laic. After all, she was still breastfeeding him… Anakin had been away this past week and they had barely spent much time together… Dormé shook her head, finding the nagging possibility highly unlikely. The medical droids disagreed with her. Finding their assessment incredibly surprising, but hardly negative, Dormé was all smiles as she bounced to the handmaidens’ quarters to retrieve Laic. ‘I’m pregnant!’ she told the five young girls who acted as her handmaidens. ‘Laic, you hear that? You’re going to be a big brother soon! We have to tell Daddy the good news!’ ‘Milady—’ one of the handmaidens began, but the empress was already out the door, heading to her private chambers. ‘So much for telling her that headdress is about to fall off,’ she muttered to the other girls. Carrying Laic, who was smiling happily, Dormé found whatever exhaustion she had leave her as she was filled with excitement over the news. She used their private codes to transmit a message to Anakin. ‘Anakin, whatever you’re doing, you have to come home right now because I have something very important that I have to tell you and I want to do it in person!’ Laic still hadn’t learnt to talk yet, but he tried to reach out to the holovid projector. Despite Anakin’s wish to remain home with is family duty demanded his presence elsewhere. As reluctant as he was, the young emperor couldn’t ignore the matter any longer and thus parted ways with his family for the worlds that made up their empire. Though it was easy to remain in the light side when his family was near, Anakin couldn’t say the same about being on the front. Though battles were more often fought in meeting halls over space and fields, the struggle to remain focused on the light side grew more difficult for Anakin. It wasn’t long before he began to touch the darkness once more. This time, he was mindful of his use and kept it at a minimum using it only when encountering the rebels or threats. As time passed, it wasn’t long before the excuses began to present themselves on an even more regular basis. Though Anakin did his best to resist, it was met with mixed results. On this particular day, the struggle proved to be worse than usual as he found himself caught up in a rather violent and ruthless attack made against him on the world he was visiting. Though he tried to tell himself that using the dark side was necessary to remove his enemies, that they were traitors even Anakin couldn’t deny the fact that there were innocents who suffered for it too. Though most heralded him as a hero for saving the people, the struggling emperor felt awkward and out of sorts by his actions. He couldn’t stop thinking about Laic and of Aené and the other children they were to have but never could. Yet at the same time, he couldn’t ignore the fact his assailants were traitors and deserved justice. Struggling with these thoughts, he returned to his temporary quarters to discover his commlink was chiming, demanding his attentions. Hurriedly, he activated it upon recognizing the transmission and codes used. At the sight of Dormé and Laic his struggles were forgotten as his eyes lit up and a smile graced his features. How he missed them both so much and the thought of returning home to them soon was almost too good to be real. At her words, he furrowed his brow curiously though he could tell it was something exciting as Dormé’s joy was radiating off of her and was equally contagious. Anakin rushed out the door to the hanger bay where his ship was held. Though some of the senator’s were caught off guard, most were used to this sort of behaviour and didn’t bother attempting to question his actions. Anakin, on the other hand, had only one thought in mind to get back to Coruscant as swiftly as possible. Whatever it was that Dormé wanted to tell him, it was exciting indeed and, never a patient man, the young emperor was more than eager to learn what it was. Dormé took Laic back home to change him before going to the platform near their chambers to meet him. With Coruscant’s controlled temperatures, it wasn’t too cool, but she didn’t want to chance it. Instead, she placed Laic in his cot and waited until she saw her husband’s ship. Dormé had been smiling broadly since the news was confirmed and was bubbling over with joy. ‘Anakin, we’re having another baby!’ she practically yelled, bounded over to him. Anakin had gotten no further then got clambering out of his ship when Dormé was rushing towards him. As if seeing her once more wasn’t joy enough, her blurted statement took little time to sink in as his eyes further lit up leaving him to pick her up and whirl her around in joy. ‘We’re having another baby?’ he asked hopeful before reading her joy and realizing this was no joke as he whooped in joy and twirled her around again. ‘WE’RE HAVING ANOTHER BABY!!!’ The thought was just too wondrous to keep to himself and the young emperor was soon shouting the news to the world as he laughed and kissed his wife feeling as though he was the luckiest man in the universe. Dormé squeezed him tight, so thrilled that he was as happy and excited about this news as she was. Dormé kissed him with all the love she bore him. Anakin returned Dormé’s kiss with equal fervency and felt as though he had reached a new level of joy. The thought of having another child was beyond wondrous and Anakin couldn’t help but thank the Force for blessing it once more. ‘I just found out a few hours ago and I—I had to tell you in person!’ she exclaimed. Their dreams were coming true and Dormé was so incredibly happy, tears came to her eyes and the overwhelming emotions rendered her speechless for a moment. With Anakin knowing the cause of the previous difficulties, and it having been solved, there were no doubts that this pregnancy would be successful. Holding her close, her Anakin caught her words and beamed finding even more joy in the fact that she had discovered this only a short time ago. ‘I can’t believe it, Dormé. We’re having another baby!’ he whispered in excitement before eagerly returning her kiss. ‘So how far along are you? Do you want to start preparations for their nursery or wait until we find out if it’s a boy or a girl? What about names? I guess it’s too early but we can still toss ideas,’ Anakin rambled in excitement before catching himself as his cheeks warmed. ‘Three weeks,’ Dormé replied, grinning like mad. ‘Sorry to flood you with questions. I just can’t help myself I guess,’ he admitted with a lopsided grin. ‘I was thinking it might make more sense to have another room for Laic when he’s older and use the nursery for our next little addition. Oh names—yes! We should!’ Anakin grinned at her exclamation and grew even more excited at her idea. ‘Agreed, that will definitely be better! Either way we need to think up how the new room will look,’ he said eagerly as ideas for Laic’s new room were already filling his thoughts. ‘When do you want to think of names? Its not too early to do it now is it?’ he suggested eagerly. Dormé’s joy was contagious and despite himself Anakin found his eyes too were filling with tears as held her close buried his face within her hair. Dormé gasped, breathing Anakin in as he pulled her close. Her fingers danced in his hair. She remained so, just holding him and breathing him in, relishing the moment she would cherish in days to come. Once they pulled back slightly, she kissed him again, slowly. Lost in the moment, Anakin ran his fingers through her hair as well just nuzzling his face against her neck and lightly kissing her throat and holding her near. Bliss was found in this place and he was reluctant to ever let it end. Her kiss was equally inviting and enticing leaving him torn to relish the moment of their discovery or bask in her presence once more. ‘This is such wonderful news,’ he breathed. ‘Just think Laic is going to be an older brother now,’ he said as another rush of joy flooded his thoughts making him feel light headed and giddy. Dormé took his hand, leading him indoors, for she didn’t want to be far from Laic for long. ‘I told Laic he’s going to be a big brother soon. I know he’ll be a good brother...and teach them things...I can’t wait...’ ‘Just think, it won’t be long before they’ll be playing together and run around the palace making all sorts of mischief,’ he said wistfully. ‘And playing tricks on the palace guards.’ As they entered the nursery Anakin caught sight of Laic reaching for him leaving the young father unable to resist picking the baby up. ‘I’ve missed you so much, Laic,’ Anakin said as he kissed the baby’s forehead before giving Dormé a smile as she spoke to their son. He had just learnt to lift his head up and she thought he would be crawling soon. ‘Would you like starship holos in your room, Laic?’ Dormé asked. ‘Starship holo’s now that is a definite must,’ Anakin agreed. Dormé watched serenely as Anakin cradled their son. He had been so afraid to hold him a few months ago, but now it was like second nature to him. Laic was very happy because his parents were so happy and he tried to express this. His verbal skills were still far from anything resembling Basic, or Uriashian but resembled Huttese. Anakin loved being able to hold their son like this to feel the baby’s joy radiating from him. At their words, Laic spoke up and appeared to be in agreement which caused Anakin to chuckle as he lightly ran his hand over the baby’s hair. Dormé kissed Laic’s cheek. His hair was starting to come in quite rapidly in dusty blonde. ‘You like that idea, don’t you?’ she asked Laic. Smiling to Dormé’s words, Anakin gave a contented sigh. Laic felt like Daddy could understand him and would soon come to find that Daddy understood him better than Ama. Smiling, he continued trying to speak, since they knew what he meant. ‘I want to name our next baby Ani,’ Dormé said quite seriously. Anakin’s eyes widened in shock as he looked at her in concern. Had he not been distracted by Laic the young emperor might have understood this was but a joke but right now he was too caught up in the moment to see anything beyond her statement. ‘Ani? Are you sure that’s such a good idea? I mean—’ he tried to hide his obvious disdain over the idea as he believed his wife was serious. Dormé gasped, pretending to be shocked by her husband’s reactions to her suggestion of names. ‘But Ani is such an endearing name...’ ‘...It might be all right when they’re a youngling, but when they grow up—’ he faltered trying to figure a polite way of talking her out of this idea. ‘You certain you don’t have another other names you like?’ he offered finally. Anakin was continuing to object, which she was ready to counter. ‘Oh, but Anakin, I wanted to name our baby after you.’ Dormé put on a face akin to one he was so found of putting on when he was a teenager. Though the last thing he wanted was to hurt Dormé, Anakin was hesitant about this matter. He had always hated the name Ani and dreaded the thought their child would be cursed with the same name. Anakin felt his cheeks warm as he tried to bury his panic. ‘But...Ani? I mean when he’s a youngling he’s not going to mind, but what about when he’s an adult...No one is going to take him seriously with a nickname like that. I mean...If that’s really what you want to call him...I suppose...’ he said trying to placate her but at the same time dreading the possibility of having a child bearing such an awful name. Dormé listened as she nearly won the argument over names and couldn’t help giving herself away. Her grin became undeniable, despite her attempts to remain placid. ‘I can’t believe you fell for that twice!’ she laughed, kissing his cheek. Laic thought Ama was being silly and burst out laughing, though he couldn’t understand the complexities of adult conversation. Anakin finally began to piece it together that she was teasing him once more. ‘Hey it’s not my fault! You’re a far better actress then you realize!’ he remarked in defence before chuckling as she kissed his cheek. ‘I swear you are going to be the death of me!’ he teased before catching Laic’s laughter as he shook his head at their son. ‘Death by brattiness? Highly unlikely, Ani,’ she teased, wrapping her arms around him. ‘You knew Ama was teasing Daddy all along, didn’t you?’ he teased as he lightly tickled under Laic’s chin. ‘He gets his brattiness from you, you know,’ Anakin teased as he gave Dormé a wink. Laic laughed as Daddy tickled him, kicking his legs around. Dormé laughed at his assessment and wasn’t going to argue the point. Anakin laughed as he poked out his tongue. ‘Sure it is, you keep calling me that awful name I just might go so crazy that my head explodes,’ he teased back before tickling Laic as he grinned. ‘Isn’t that right, Laic?’ Feeling Dormé’s arms around him and the laughter of his family filling his ears, Anakin felt as though he was whole once more and in silence he kissed Dormé’s cheek as he slip his free hand around her petite waist. This was harmony and this was peace but little did he realize soon fleeting both would become because of his own foolishness. Coming down from her excitement at the news, Dormé felt her exhaustion hit her with full intensity. Leaning in to Anakin, she watched Laic smiling and giggling in his Daddy’s arms. She felt as though everything was perfect in the galaxy, that there were no wars or slavery, or violence (because it was no longer necessary). Here, with her family, she felt as close to Harmony as a mortal could be. Leaning his head against hers Anakin gave a sigh of contentment as he could feel her exhaustion which in reality was beginning to mirror his own. But the moment was perfect and he didn’t want it to end and so for a brief time he continued to hold them both feeling as though he held the most important things in the universe in his arms. Dormé hummed softly, which seemed to reflect in Laic who was also getting tired from the excitement of only a few moments ago as they pondered names for their newest addition. Though she knew her body wanted rest, she didn’t want to miss a moment of this with her boys. Anakin gave a soft purr to Dormé’s humming as the sound of her voice was always soothing to him. Laic seemed to agree with this assessment and was promptly growing sleepy. ‘Maybe if it’s a girl, we can call her Ani then,’ she added, only joking of course, as was evident in her smile. ‘All right, all right,’ she giggled. ‘Shani? Rune or Runa...’ she mused, listing a few more off the top of her head for boys or girls. At Dormé’s suggestion he raised a brow and made a face though it was obvious he was equally teasing before her giggle brought another smile to his features. But her actual suggestions for names did catch his attentions and Anakin furrowed his brow listening intently to the suggestions. All sounded appropriate though one or two stuck out in his mind. ‘If it’s a girl, I think I’d like the name Runa. What do you think?’ he offered. She kissed him before saying, ‘Princess Runa...I like that.’ The young emperor smiled as his expression softened. He rather liked the sound of it as well and was more than eager to meet the newest addition to the Vader family. But before he could dwell on this any further Anakin found himself reminded of Dormé’s exhaustion through Laic’s sleepy form and decided it was best to call it a night. ‘I can only imagine you must be about ready to drop, I know I certainly am. Perhaps we should continue this name business somewhere more comfortable,’ Anakin murmured as he kissed Dormé’s cheek. ‘I think that’s a good idea,’ Dormé replied, smiling softly at him before helping him with Laic, who was now drifting to sleep. She then took his hand and led him to their bedchamber, curling up next to him and falling asleep soon afterwards. Chapter Nine The past two months had been extremely draining for Dormé, who was now in her ninth month with her fifth child. This was the longest she had been able to carry a child and was well past worrying about their little girl making it. In fact, Dormé was eager for Runa to hurry up and be born because she was taking a lot out of her ama. Laic's new room was complete and Dormé had even finished sewing a stuffy for Runa. It was just a matter of waiting for her to come into the world. This morning, Dormé completed a series of meetings and just wanted the day to be over with. It was hard being empress and the extra duties made her long for time alone with her family. Worn out, Dormé returned to her chambers and passed out on the bed for an hour. Later the comms chimed, alerting her that she was to be at a senate meeting. She told her handmaidens to tell the senate that the meeting was cancelled because she didn't feel like going. She didn't think about or care what other people would think of this. She was too exhausted to care about it. In the past eight or so months, Dormé had gone through three different caregivers for Laic, all of whom she ended up having killed because she was paranoid and didn't trust them long with her son. All of the girls had been no older than fifteen or sixteen and none with dark black hair. All of them were chosen after intense background and loyalty checks, as well as their homely appearances. The current caregiver was an elderly woman, whom Dormé trusted more than the previous girls were because she was near the end of her life and cared nothing of politics. Also her memory wasn't very good. Today marked the fourth anniversary of Aené's death. The past four years, people from all over the empire brought gifts and flowers to lay outside her memorial, though none of the public was allowed past the gates, let alone up close to the memorial or inside, which was reserved for their imperial majesties. This year, Dormé noticed that not as many people stood outside the gates with candles. She assumed it was more due to the Humbarine civil war than that the people were starting to lose faith in the empire. After visiting with Aené, Dormé began her march back indoors. <hr /> It felt like an eternity had passed since he was able to do this, to be able to lose himself completely in the slaughter, to openly enjoy the heady rush of the dark side pulsating through his body without the shame or doubt. Though there was still a part of him that questioned his actions, the young emperor was confident that his brother's prognosis was premature and in reality, it was nothing more than a sad excuse for him to return to the ways of the Jedi. After all, neither Dormé nor their daughter showed any signs of complications thus confirming his thoughts on the matter. While it infuriated him to think that his brother would go to such lengths to make him turn his back from the dark side, at the same time, Anakin knew from personal experience how convincing the Jedi's tutelage could be. Knowing that his brother had been raised with this mindset all his life, it was hardly any wonder he was so determined. Even so, it still hurt to think his brother truly believed that it was his dark side usage that caused the loss of their first three children. Despite his doubts, Anakin refrained from using the dark side in Dormé's presence, just to be safe. As for their son, it was just a given that he didn't use it in front of the toddler. The memory of Aené's presence after he killed the shaman healer ensured that there would never be any question of that. But as his lightsaber thrummed with life-its crimson blade seemingly glowing brighter with the souls it consumed-Anakin's only thoughts were of righteous vengeance. These people had been nothing but ungrateful and caused nothing but sorrow for the innocents who followed the empire's rule. They deserved this judgment and Vader was more than happy to give it to them. As the requiem of their souls echoed in his mind, filling him with a sense of omnipotence, Anakin couldn't resist a dark grin as he continued his merciless slaughter. Naturally, they tried to stop him with their pathetic weapons and poor attempts at guerrilla warfare. But being a Force sensitive-and a well-trained one at that-meant that all their plans were for naught. They fell like the treacherous insects Anakin knew they were. Despite his need for justice, the Sith Lord soon found it wasn't just enough to remove the members who had started the civil war. He knew if he left any of their relatives or families alive, they in turn would form another resistance and the uprising would begin again. What started out to be a short visit with Kei to assist in finding a solution for the resistance, soon turned into a mission that lasted for longer than a couple of weeks. So lost was Anakin in his lust for the slaughter and the dark side that he eventually forewent both sleep and food. After a several days of hunting and slaughtering, the Sith Lord collapsed from exhaustion, leaving the remaining family of yet another Humberine rebel to escape to freedom. Discovered by one of his security officers who had been aiding Anakin in his hunt, the emperor was promptly brought to the nearest medical centre where he was treated for malnutrition and exhaustion. Having last seen Anakin just before his departure to look into the matter of the civil war, Prince Breemu remained unaware of both the emperor's condition and of his actions. Though rumours ran rampant and the names of the missing rapidly grew, Kei remained oblivious as he was still caught up in the attempt to find a more diplomatic solution to the problem. This ensured that Kei was far from the Humbarine colonies as he tried to gain assistance from neighbouring worlds who might sympathize with the plight of his people. He would not be returning home until shortly after Anakin's departure from the medical centres. <hr /> Meanwhile, the empress did not to remain in the dark over the matter for long and almost as soon as Anakin arrived to the med centre, the security officer who found him made haste to contact Lady Vader. Not only did he inform her of Anakin's condition, but also that her husband single-handedly brought the civil war on Humbarine to an end. Once Dormé returned indoors, a serving girl bombarded her with the news. 'Was he hurt?!' Dormé demanded. 'No, milady-at least, I don't think so-' the girl protested anxiously. 'What do you mean you don't know, you foolish girl!' hissed Dormé, grabbing her by the arm. 'The officer who has been trying to get ahold of you only informed me that he collapsed and was in a medical facility. He single-handedly defeated those who stood against the empire, milady. He ended the Humbarine war...' She prayed the empress wouldn't take out her vengeance on her. Dormé released the girl as her attentions moved at lightspeed. She returned to their chambers and activated the comms to find out the exact location of the emperor and hopefully find out more about his condition. She spoke with the officer who found him and was hardly relieved upon hearing the news. As the war was over, Dormé decided to go after him. She clambered into one of the smaller imperial vessels with a handful of clones, two handmaidens, and Laic. Despite their voiced protests against the very pregnant empress leaving Coruscant, they were not about to disobey her orders. A few hours into their journey as they flew through Humbarine territory, past all the debris and other leftovers of the emperor's path of destruction, Dormé began having pains. She thought it was a muscle cramp and attempted to walk it off, which seemed to help initially. <hr /> Upon healing from his exhaustion, Anakin was prompt to try to reach Dormé. He both wanted to learn of her condition and to fill her up to date on his own situation, not to mention he was eager to let her know that he was coming home. But after a few failed attempts, the Emperor was no more in touch with his wife than when he first woke up. Growing concerned and fearing that she might have gone into labour, Anakin tried to contact one of his officers on Coruscant to learn of the situation. The answer caused his heart to race and his temper to flare. Furious, he promptly summoned the officer who had informed Dormé of his unexpected visit to the medlabs. Upon the man's arrival, Anakin didn't bother waiting to hear his pathetic excuses and promptly unleashed the dark side upon him. The officer's death was both bloody and painful, leaving little to the imagination as to the cause of his demise. Hardly caring of the mess he had made or of the corpse in question, the young emperor was swift to depart from his quarters and ultimately the medical labs. 'I'm leaving and don't bother trying to stop me,' Vader snapped as the elderly doctor attempted to remind him that he was far from healed. 'Thanks to that fool, my wife, who is about to have our daughter, believes my life is in danger and is now on her way!' he growled in rage. The physician wasn't given a chance to reply as Vader shoved him out of the way. Moving swiftly to where The Tempest was located, the young emperor soon heard a familiar voice calling his name. Agitated at being interrupted, Anakin whirled around about to draw his lightsaber with the intent of striking down the one who would dare to stop him from seeing his wife. However, the one attempting to interfere was not just one of his many officers but his childhood friend Kei Breemu. 'Anakin, I just heard-' the younger man blurted in relief as he neared. 'I'm sorry I can't stay for long, Kei. One of my former officers stupidly told Dormé that I was in the medical centres. Now she's on her way to the colonies as she fears for my health,' Anakin said as his expression briefly grew dark reveal his concern for her and their unborn daughter. Kei furrowed his brow and expressed his apologies though it was obviously not his fault. The emperor's mood soon shifted then as his smile promptly returned. Not only was he about to become a father again, but peace had been once more restored to the empire. This was without question a wondrous moment indeed. 'I'm glad you caught me in time. I wanted to tell you in person that the civil war is over. I saw to it personally,' Anakin said with a proud grin. Kei aware of the rumours just studied his friend in curiosity as his expression grew increasingly baffled. 'How did you do it? I mean we've all been working to end this for months. Yet somehow you managed-'Kei's expression grew concerned and if Anakin didn't know any better he'd almost swear that the prince was growing fearful as well. The Sith Lord however was too eager to depart and too pleased to pay it much mind and so Kei's emotions were swiftly dismissed. 'I told you I'd take care of it, Kei, and I did. They've all been tended to and to ensure that no future resistance would occur again, I made sure that their families were removed as well.' 'What about the younglings? Have your officers already tended to the matter of their relocation? If not, do you at least know where they are? Seeing as they are now orphans, we will need to find them families,' Kei continued calmly though his stoic expression didn't reflect in his eyes. Anakin's thoughts began to falter and fill with shame. '...I... they...' Vader tried to form the words to express a decent excuse but none came. Swallowing hard he glanced away, feeling his cheeks burn as he registered the fact that the truth could no longer be hidden from the younger prince. What was worse was the fact that ultimately, it would only be a matter of time before Dormé would know of this. If there was one thing Anakin knew about himself and his relationship with his wife, it was that he never kept anything from her. Kei was looking at him with obvious shock and horror, forcing the frantic Sith Lord to say something, anything, to ease the man's concerns. 'It was a complicated situation.... You know how it is... I mean... It's a long story...' Anakin stammered weakly as he couldn't quite bring himself to say the words necessary, to admit that once more he was too lost in the dark side to register the innocence from the guilty. Before the moment grew too awkward, Vader felt a powerful pain rip through his sides. Clutching his stomach, Anakin uttered a string of curses as Kei instinctively went to help him. 'Anakin? You all right? Should I get a doctor?' The emperor bit his lip so hard he tasted blood as he shook his head. 'I'm fine. It's just a passing pain, nothing more,' he said through gritted teeth before forcing himself to stand straight despite how much it hurt. Deciding it was definitely time to depart, the Sith Lord used his pain as a means of parting ways from his friend without having to finish the suddenly awkward conversation. Without saying another word, he promptly turned his back on the confused Kei before slowly -painfully- made his way to The Tempest. Trying to move as swiftly as his pained body would permit him, Anakin started up the ship and took to the sky. With his thoughts and fears entirely focused on Dormé and their unborn daughter, the young emperor was ironically too distracted to register that his pain was in reality a reaction to Dormé's own. <hr /> Dormé demanded to know when they would arrive at the colonies so many times it became increasingly hard for the crew to respond politely, though they knew the empress was an impatient person. 'How long?!' 'Another half hour at least, Your Highness.' Dormé's body ached fiercely, the pain only growing steadily more frequent. 'Not now, Runa!' she almost pleaded, gripping the nearest support. She was now fully aware of the stupidity of her decision to go chasing after her husband, despite her concerns. She didn't want to have Runa on a ship! Once the empress's pain overtook her, the pilot made an executive decision to turn the ship around and head back to Coruscant without the empress's permission or knowledge. 'Lie down, milady,' one of the handmaidens suggested. 'It will slow the birthing process. Before she had a chance to take the advice, her water broke. Dormé uttered a series of Uriashian and botched Huttese curses. Trying to delay the birth now would only put the baby at risk. The handmaiden escorted her to the nearest room to lie down, for the medical facility was too far away. Even if they got there, it only had basic medical supplies and med droids, which another handmaiden went to fetch. Laic was miserable and crying in another room, concerned about his ama. It was not long before Dormé was cursing and crying out for Anakin. Laic's birth, in her mind, had been so much easier for she had been unconscious for most of it. Once she heard Runa's cry, Dormé was so relieved and happy. Runa was much bigger than Laic had been, since he was born early. Dormé admired her, noticing her bright blue eyes and dark hair. Laic was confused by his sister, though he had long since gotten to know his sister's Force signature, to see her for the first time was odd. He didn't like her crying. Runa was happier after eating and receiving Ama's kisses. Upon finding out that they were landing on Coruscant, Dormé decided she would unleash hell upon whoever made that decision...after she rested. <hr /> The journey to Dormé's location proved to become increasingly difficult for Anakin to fulfil. Through the Force, he was able to pinpoint the Empress's location but remaining focussed on it was proving to be another task entirely. Despite his attempts to mask and ignore the sharp pains felt from before, his departure the feeling only grew increasingly worse. No longer was it just restricted to his stomach and chest but it seemed to move lower, far lower, until Anakin now screaming in pain swore that something in the Force was trying to tear his groin apart. Desperate and frightened by the unknown cause to his suffering, the young emperor attempted to activate the autopilot on the Tempest. Consumed with the pulsating pain of his lower body, Anakin had little control over his actions. His fingers felt thick and useless with little motor skills as every movement of his body seemed only to worsen the pain. Trapped in the cockpit of his ship the Sith Lord struggled not to succumb to his ever growing panic at the fact he was too distracted to even touch the Force to activate the controls. Somewhere in the back of his delusional thoughts, Anakin could almost hear the cackle of his former master's voice, mocking and laughing at his sufferings. It was only then he began to wonder if he was indeed dead and that he was being slowly torn apart by the chaos that was the dark side of the Force or so the legends and rumours went. Until now, Anakin never held much credence in such tales, as they were more phantom stories shared amongst older younglings as a means of scaring the younger recruits. Now, as the inky blackness of unconsciousness began to dance behind his lids, Anakin found himself desperately praying-between screams and curses of Huttese and Uriashian-to all higher powers to spare him of whatever nightmare awaited him beyond the veil. Fortunately, for the young emperor, the physician who had tended to his exhaustion had trailed him and while it wasn't their intent to aid, Anakin there was little way around it. Almost as soon as the emperor lost consciousness to his pain, the ship began to lose control and at its current speed was promptly headed towards the debris that had once been a destroyer. Thinking fast the pilots of the medical ship promptly locked onto the signature of the Tempest and attempted to override its controls. The task was tricky leaving the unconscious Vader with little idea of how close he came to facing his demise. Though it was a risky course of action, it proved successful and soon the ship's engines lost its speed permitting the medical ship to approach and manually force the star ship into its hanger bay. But if they believed the worse was over they couldn't have been more wrong. The emperor soon stirred awake only to scream out in pain once more as he struggled to clamber out of the ship without little comprehension of his location. Once he stumbled out of the starship, he promptly dropped to the ground doubled over as he attempted to protect himself from the unseeing enemy that he was certain was ripping his privates from his body. Both confused by this display and reaction, the elderly physician ordered a couple of nurses to prepare a cot for Anakin while ordering the med droids to scan his vitals to learn the cause of his pain. To the officers who were piloting the ship, the physician swiftly gave orders to have them return to Coruscant. While technology was up to date on the ship, it was limited, and if this was something serious, he would need all the help he could get. Nevertheless, the answer he sought didn't come as swiftly as he would have liked and came at the price of lives, both sentient and otherwise. Anakin lost in his nightmare of pain and suffering promptly tapped into the Dark side of the Force and in doing so soon caused both of the medical droid's heads to explode while their chest plates sparked and smoked. Groaning to the loud noises around him, the emperor struggled to form the words to order someone to stop the screams but only pained moans escaped his lips. The nurses having gone frantic at the explosive sight were hesitant to near him but in the end they did as they were ordered for duty overrode fear. The doctor knowing his presence was needed soon joined their side to help with the situation. Unfortunately, while determination overrode fear it didn't override the danger that faced them. If anything, it left them as easy prey to the frantic and disorientated Anakin who screamed upon feeling them attempting to lift properly onto the cot. Grabbing one of the woman's hands, he pried her fingers off his arm thus breaking her fingers in the process. The other, less fortunate, tried to scream in pain but to no avail as blood poured from her nose and mouth. Her eyes soon rolled into the back of her head as her skin grew ashen and then white before she fell lifeless to the ground. Despite the semi-retired doctor lack of experience with Force sensitive beings he thought fast and soon had a hypo-gun placed to Vader's throat which promptly rendered him unconscious once more. Knowing he had to keep it together at least till the entire ordeal was over he continued to remain in charge of his senses. Turning his attentions to an officer who had been witness to the entire ordeal the physician ordered teh man to collect the nurse -who was now crumpled on the ground weeping- and help her back to the medical bay. He informed the man that her wounds would be tended to by one of the droids and that he would rejoin them once his patient was examined. Despite the aesthetics, the young emperor continued to drift in and out of consciousness as the pain ensured there would be little if any rest for him. However fortunately for all around him Anakin no longer was able to touch the Force so readily as the drugs in his systems numbed his thoughts leaving him in a semi-conscious state. It would be some time before Vader would finally awaken to discover -much to his relief that the pain had finally subsided. Once he was certain that he wasn't dead, nor trapped in a living hell where his groin would be repeatedly removed in the most painful fashion by the Force the young emperor was swiftly scrambling out of his cot with the intent of finding Dormé. <hr /> Dormé had no idea how long she slept before the ship landed on Coruscant She briefly awoke as the medical team arrived to transport Runa and her to the medical facility. Runa was warm and content in her ama's arms and did not make a fuss. Laic had also calmed down and seemed relieved to be back home. After being examined thoroughly and spending a few hours in the medical centre, Dormé was deemed fit to return to her private chambers as was Runa. The news was very good indeed and she was eager to know of Anakin's situation. All she knew was that he had left the colonies and ought to be heading home. She wasn't sure if they were just humouring her, telling her what she wanted to hear, because everyone was so anxious around her. It was as though they knew her thoughts, that she would kill them all if something worse happened. 'You need to rest, Your Highness,' the doctor insisted. 'We will let you know the moment we hear anything about the emperor.' Dormé finally gave in, realising her threats were getting her nowhere and they knew she wouldn't be able to do anything until she regained her strength. What she didn't know was that the doctor administered a sedative in order to be sure she would get the rest she needed instead of trying to go after the emperor once again. <hr /> Rushing through the hallways of the medical labs Anakin swiftly sought out the medical doctor who was treating him to learn of Dormé's situation and if she had arrived home safely. The physician having not treated or aided Dormé before wasn't aware of much of the details but had received word that the empress had given birth to a healthy baby girl and that both ama and daughter were back at the palace safe and sound. When Anakin had run into the elderly doctor, he was speaking to one of the officers who had aided in Dormé's safe return via commlink. Informing them that the emperor had arrived safely on Coruscant and would be permitted to return home upon a final examination. Though the details of Anakin's condition was left out it was obvious the Doctor had still yet to figure out what caused the emperor's violent reaction as the young man was fairly healthy all things considering. Once the message had drawn to a close, he turned around to find himself suddenly faced with an anxious and demanding Sith Lord who ordered the physician to fill him in on all that he knew, which was little but painful enough to hear. Though elated, Vader was heartbroken and sorrowful at the fact he missed the birth of his daughter as well as his son. It was as though the Force was conspiring against him to ensure he would never be there when Dormé needed him most. 'Both Dormé and Runa are safely home now?' he asked yet again as the elderly man nodded. 'I'd tell you that you should be examined once more to ensure that you are well enough to depart, but somehow I doubt you'll listen,' he dryly replied as Anakin was already wards the hanger bay where he presumed his ship would be waiting for him. Upon arriving at the palace, the Sith Lord was swarmed with questions pertaining to his collapse and the end of the Humberine civil war. Ignoring them all, he swiftly headed towards his private chambers where his heart raced in joy at the thought of seeing his family again and finally being able to meet his daughter in person. Entering their private chambers, he was greeted by the doctor who filled him in on all he needed to know before warning him that Dormé was currently resting under the influence of a sedative. While he wasn't happy to learn that Dormé was drugged into rest, he couldn't deny the truth of the physicians words. Given Dormé's nature, she wouldn't hesitate to try to reach him despite her weakened condition. Under healthier circumstances, Anakin would have been touched by such a thought but in this moment he was just relieved to know that someone interceded and thus kept her from hurting herself. After ordering the doctor to grant him privacy, Anakin silently approached the bed where Dormé was resting and taking a seat at it edge, he gently reached out to draw back a strand of her hair. 'I'm home my love, he whispered into her thoughts as his fingers continued to play with her hair gently. Anakin continued to watch over Dormé for as long as he could. But despite his wish to remain by her side until she woke, Anakin missed seeing his son and couldn't resist paying Laic a visit. Unfortunately, Laic seemed to be in bad spirits upon his daddy's arrival and to Anakin's sorrow, seemed more content to play in the next room with one of the handmaidens than see his daddy. However, this wasn't the first time Anakin had encountered this reaction from Laic. Lately, it seemed as though the toddler had grown shy around Anakin. Vader believed it was because he was away from home so much on missions pertaining to the civil war amongst other duties. While it tore at his heart to know his son was no longer comfortable around him, Anakin had faith that this would soon change. After all, he had once more restored order to the empire, which would permit him to remain home more often now. It was with this in mind that the Sith Lord found himself thinking about his newborn daughter. He wanted so desperately to see her again, but wanted to wait until Dormé awoke before paying Runa a visit as well. Ultimately, the temptation grew too great and it wasn't long before Anakin was slipping off to where Runa rested. Though the baby was born healthy, the physician remained and kept watch over her to make sure everything remained as it should. Upon initially seeing him, Anakin grew concerned, but was assured that his presence was only for preliminary purposes as he'd rather be safe than sorry. The sight of their daughter took Anakin's breath away, and for a moment, he could only study the sleeping baby in awed silence. Gingerly he reached out to touch the baby princess's cheek only to recoil back in shame as the memories of bodies of the younglings he had slaughtered on the Humbarine colonies return to haunt him. Biting his lip, Anakin immediately wrapped his arms around himself as he swallowed hard and quietly departed, feeling unworthy to call himself a father to Laic and Runa. It was with troubled spirits that he returned to Dormé's bedside where he silently played with her hair while trying to bury his thoughts and focus on the joyous birth of his daughter. Even this encouraged bittersweet thoughts as he once more had been unable to be there for Runa's birth. Dormé was soon stirring, bringing a gentle smile to his lips as he felt her fingers slip over his own. Giving them a gentle squeeze, he kissed her cheek. Had she known she had been sedated, she would have been quite put off and ready to punish those responsible, but now that Anakin was here, nothing else mattered. Smiling at him, Dormé asked, 'How are you?' His smile widened as his hand slipped to her cheek. 'I'm doing much better now that I know you and Runa are home safe and sound,' he murmured. Have you had a chance to see our little princess?' His cheeks warmed to Dormé's final words. 'I wanted to wait until you woke up, but I couldn't resist,' Anakin admitted sheepishly while swiftly burying the memory of his swift departure or rather the reasons for it. 'She's so beautiful, Dormé,' he concluded as his expression softened. 'I don't blame you. I wanted to see her too...I-' Cutting herself short before admitting how she wanted Anakin to be there this time, Dormé sighed. She only heard second hand about the situation surrounding the events of Laic's birth, but she had truly hoped and fantasized about Anakin being there this time for Runa. Despite this disappointment, what truly mattered was that Anakin's injuries didn't appear to be bad and that Runa was healthy. The young emperor was both shamed and yet relieved to know that Dormé wasn't disappointed by the fact he had slipped off to see their little princess. However, he could sense her sadness and knew that it pertained to his absence. In truth, it mirrored his own as he had desperately hoped to have been there for Runa's birth as well. Thanks to the Humberine resistance, this wasn't possible and even though he was pleased to be rid of them, Anakin was still furious to think they interfered and took away from what would have been an even more happy moment with his family. In the end, what mattered most was his family's safety. Both Runa and Dormé were not only safe and alive, but they were both in perfect health. He couldn't have been more relieved if he tried. Unable to resist herself, Dormé slowly sat up and drew him into her arms. She breathed him in deeply. Slipping his arms around her petite form, the Sith Lord was mindful of her current state and didn't smother her. He buried his face in her hair, kissing her throat. 'I've missed you so much,' he murmured softly into her ear. With Dormé in his arms, nothing ever seemed insurmountable or too much to bear. Feeling his strong, yet cautious, arms around her solidified her assumption that this was where they belonged and that they were stronger together. She couldn't help closing her eyes, feeling as though everything was set right once more in the universe. Runa's cries broke through their happy moment and Dormé furrowed her brow. 'She must be hungry,' she said, pulling back slightly to look him in the eyes. 'Would you mind getting her for me?' Smiling shyly, the memory of learning how to hold Laic returned to Anakin's thoughts. He had long since had much practice holding a baby and was feeling more confident about it. 'I'd love to,' he said as his eyes lit up at the prospect of being able to spend some time with their daughter once more. Anakin did his best to try to calm their tearful daughter but Runa didn't seem to respond to any of his gestures to sooth her. Presuming it was because their daughter was hungry, Vader didn't take it to heart and was just content to be able to have this opportunity to be with their little princess. It wasn't long before he returned with the bundled form of their little princess, Runa, in his arms. Gingerly, he offered Runa to her ama, but not before kissing the little one's forehead. Dormé smiled at Anakin as he carried their youngest so gently in his arms. She couldn't have asked for a more loving family and at this thought, tears came to her eyes. She took Runa and helped her begin to suckle. 'Her eyes are so blue,' she remarked softly. 'Just like someone else's I know,' she added, grinning at Anakin. He touched Dormé's cheek, feeling so at peace and content to be home with his family again. Studying Runa for a moment, he soon reached out to touch her small hand once more, marvelling at how small and perfect it was. 'She is so beautiful, Dormé,' he whispered in reply. 'I still can't believe how lucky I am to have all of this, that it is all real,' he continued in gentle awe. Runa's face was no longer contorted in displeasure as she contented herself with her ama's warm presence. She liked the feel of a calloused finger against her hand, but was too focused on her ama to pay heed to the darkness surrounding Daddy. She slowly became sleeping and her eyes droopy. She paused before resuming eating once more. Anakin could feel Runa's contentment and grew shy as he sensed that she rather liked the feel of his finger against her hand. Gazing down at their little princess, the Sith Lord felt his heart swell in joy as all memories of guilt faded away leaving only peaceful contentment. Soon his attentions drifted to his beloved and with it came a new sense of joy as he reached out to touch her cheek. Dormé smiled, torn between looking at their princess and at her husband, whom she had missed. She knew exactly how he felt and once Runa fell asleep, she drew Anakin in for a kiss, so glad he was home and that the Humbarine issue had been resolved. 'Thank you,' she said, for it was just as much their happy moment to share. Her simple statement held so much meaning for Anakin, who studied in silent admiration and love. There was so much he wanted to share with her, but in this moment, words just didn't seem to suffice and so in silence he leaned in to steal another gentle kiss. 'I love you so much,' he murmured softly in her ear before his eyes drifted to the sleeping form of their daughter. Reaching out to gently touch Runa's cheek, he whispered similar words of love to their daughter, feeling as though he truly was the luckiest man in the universe to have a family as wonderful as his own. Dormé felt as lucky as Anakin did to be able to share this family she had always desired to be a part of. With Anakin and their children, she felt entirely complete and loved in ways she never thought possible. If anything was close to a dream, this was hers. It was not long before evening was upon them and Anakin joined her in bed. Dormé decided as with Laic, to share their bed with Runa to make it easier for midnight and early morning feedings. She had spent the last few weeks of her pregnancy getting Laic used to his new room, but now that Runa was here and Daddy was home, Laic felt extremely lonely sensing the three of them in one room and him all alone. Laic made his objection quite clear and after a little persuasion, Anakin was carrying their eldest in to rest with them in their large bed. Laic was much happier after that. Dormé smiled sleepily at Anakin before gazing at their two sleeping babies and looking back at him. Sleep then returned to Dormé and with it, the most peaceful rest she had experienced in awhile. Sleep wasn't nearly as peaceful for Anakin who initially drifted to rest in the comfort of his family's presence. It wasn't the first time the Sith Lord found himself suffering from nightmares and in reality he was slowly growing used to them. That was until tonight. Waking up with a start, Anakin caught himself just before he cried out in pained horror. Visibly shaken by memories, he was too shamed to dwell upon the Sith Lord's eyes immediately went to his family who were for the most part sleeping in peace. He was too distraught to register that Laic was awakened by his father's nightmares. A soft sigh of relief escaped his lips as he took in the sight of his sleeping family. Their children were alive, safe, and well and that alone eased much of his fears. But almost as soon as the relief was felt, a rush of shame poured over him and it was only then that Anakin registered the tears that lingered on his cheek and stained his pillow. Just as he took note of cold sweat that covered his body and the fact his hands were shaking so badly that he was certain he wouldn't even be able to touch Laic's cheek or Runa's forehead without waking them. Chapter Ten A whimper escaped Anakin’s lips as he fought back renewed tears at memory of the nightmare, more exactly the memory of the corpses of his children at his feet, dead because he was too lost in his bloodlust to decipher them from the others. Biting his lip until he tasted blood, Anakin quickly clambered out of the large bed feeling too dirty and disgusting to remain in this place of peace and harmony. Silently, he grabbed his robe—for despite controlled temperatures, the night was still far too cold for the Tatooine native’s liking—and departed for the balcony. Upon taking his place, half leaning, half sitting, on the couch’s edge, the Sith Lord struggled to keep his emotions and thoughts together. He had restored peace, had he not? The guilty paid, didn’t they? Closing his eyes, he forced his thoughts to clear. The more he wanted to ease his conscience, the worse he felt. How could he return to his family, call himself a father, with the blood of so many younglings on his hands? The thought brought a shaky sigh to his lips and furrowing his brow Anakin found himself struggling to resist the urge to keep the truth of his actions from Dormé as even now he could still recall her warning from years ago. Everything in his life was finally in control and as it should be, yet Vader couldn’t shake the eminent feeling that he was on the verge of losing everything. Through the Force he finally registered Laic’s troubled emotions as well as Runa’s and realized he had awoken them in his disorientated attempts to flee from his solace. But as much as he wanted to return to comfort them, the Sith Lord felt too unworthy and thus remained frozen. Guilt seemed weighed him down, rendering him unable to move. For a while longer, Anakin remained, staring out to the night sky as he struggled to clear his mind and bury the memories that continued to haunt him. Though he longed to return to his family, Anakin eventually retired to the couch where he once more fell into a fitful sleep filled with dreams of blood and loss. <hr> Laic’s cries awoke his ama and infant sister, which promptly awoke Dormé. Though Dormé expected Runa would wake her, she was surprised that Laic was upset, for he had been sleeping through the night for months now. In the dark, Dormé called to Anakin, only to find he was no longer in bed. She then set about comforting Laic first. Once Laic’s cries slowed and his breathing returned to normal, Runa calmed down as well. Dormé kissed them both, figuring they were upset because Daddy had a nightmare. Over the years, Dormé had grown accustomed to Anakin’s bouts with nightmares he believed to hold future truths and those that forced him to relive the horrors of war. This night was no different and as much as she wanted to be there for Anakin, she knew their children would not be safe in bed alone so she remained with them, though her thoughts were with her tormented husband. After everything he had done to ensure the peace of this empire, he was the least deserving of restless nights. Dormé awoke again later, in the wee hours of the morning to feed Runa, noticing Anakin still had not returned to bed. She lamented the fact he wasn’t resting with them and immediately began to think he wasn’t comfortable, that perhaps it wasn’t a nightmare at all. She fell back into a discontented sleep. Once it was daylight, Dorme rose with Runa and summoned two handmaidens to help her with their children so she would be able to wash up and change for the day. It was a slow process, for she was still recovering and she had a droid fix breakfast instead of doing it herself so that she could check up on Anakin. She found him on one of the couches on the balcony and slowly approached. The position he was sleeping in looked rather uncomfortable, especially given his tall frame, but as she drew nearer, she realised she had disturbed his rest and felt bad. It was too late though and when he stirred, he collapsed onto the floor. Dormé clamped a hand over her mouth as she smiled and tried not to laugh. In the end, she couldn’t help it and at his greeting, she giggled. Awoken by both his fall and the pain of smacking his elbow Vader cried out a curse of shock before struggling in his disorientated state to grab for his lightsaber, believing himself to be on the frontlines. It was only when he noticed Dormé’s presence and the fact his lightsaber wasn’t on his person that Anakin glance around and take in his surroundings. As his eyes settled on Dormé his cheeks immediately lit up like two super novas as he grinned, embarrassed. ‘...morning...’ ‘Morning to you too,’ she said, offering him a hand. ‘I’ve got breakfast ready, though I have to admit I didn’t make it.’ necessary. Taking her hand, the Sith Lord soon rose to his feet before growing serious as Dormé spoke of breakfast. To his relief, Dormé didn’t try to overexert herself and had the droid tend to it. ‘Are you all right?’ She wasn’t about to ask why he was out here or why he felt it was ‘How are you feeling?’ he asked at the same time. Dormé smiled kindly when they both enquired about the other. She waited for him to answer her question first, as her own issues were to be expected. ‘I’m fine, just the usual nightmares. I’ll explain later,’ he admitted knowing that ultimately he would have to tell her whether he wanted to or not. Anakin tried to bury the shame that seemed to grow at Dormé’s concern for him as he knew he was hardly worthy of it. He was grateful to be home and was eager to help in what way he could with Dormé’s recovery. She nodded to his words, though her expression did not belie her concern. Wrapping an arm around him for support, she admitted to the usual pains, but was sure to add that, ‘It’s certainly better than last time,’ offering him another gentle smile. Feeling her arm around him, the Sith Lord soon had his wrapped around her as he studied Dormé intently at her admittance that things were an improvement this time Anakin couldn’t help but nod. The memory of Laic’s birth had been both wondrous and painful at the same time. It also reminded him that, once more, he had missed the birth of their child and this did little to ease his shame. ‘I’m glad this time wasn’t so bad, but if there is anything I can do to help with the recovery, be sure to tell me,’ he said with gentle concern before pulling her into a hug. Dormé hugged him back, grateful that he was home now. ‘You can start by coming inside and having breakfast with me,’ she said, hoping he would at least have an appetite. She also hoped that he might be able to get a few hours of sleep in later as well. Anakin grinned at Dormé’s words and was reminded of the fact that outside of the nutrition given to him at the medical centre he really hadn’t had much in the way of food. ‘That I can do,’ he said eagerly as he kissed her cheek before growing a bit more serious as he decided he would see to it that Dormé was able to get some much needed rest as well. ‘Did you want the doctor to come and have a look at you?’ she asked, referring to what happened while he was gone, as they made their way inside. Vader furrowed his brow as he shook his head. ‘No, I’m fine. Besides, I think I’ve put up with enough doctors in the past couple of days to last me a lifetime,’ Anakin teased as he followed her inside. ‘Although, I’ll have yours stop by to make sure everything is as it should be with both Runa and yourself,’ Anakin continued as he was most mindful of Dormé’s delicate condition and didn’t want to encourage trouble. ‘That’s probably a good idea. Thank you,’ Dormé replied with his suggestion of having the doctor check in on Runa and her. Though none of the Vaders particularly enjoyed examinations, they knew there were some instances when they were unavoidable. Anakin gave an understanding look to Dormé’s reply knowing how much she enjoyed having such visits but knowing it was a necessity given the situation. ‘I’ll look into it after breakfast then,’ he said gently. Breakfast was wonderful and having not eaten real food for some time it was quite a treat to say the very least. Anakin’s thoughts were heavy as he knew had and would tell Dormé what had happened in his absence. As if sensing his thoughts, Dormé spoke up. ‘Did you have a chance to speak with Kei?’ she asked offhandedly, figuring he would be excited to share with him the good news of the order restored to the Empire. The Sith Lord’s expression grew troubled. Glancing away, he swallowed as he nodded. ‘Yes—I saw him when I first learnt that you were on your way to meet me on the Humbarine colonies,’ Anakin began carefully. ‘I filled him in on the details...He seemed pleased to a degree...’ he hinted not really wanting to out and speak his thoughts just yet while at the same time uncertain how to describe the deadly pain he had experienced then either. ‘Oh,’ Dormé replied, blushing. ‘I really wasn’t thinking straight,’ she said, shaking her head and feeling quite embarrassed about that decision. ‘I was just so worried about you—and I really should have brought proper medical care with me...’ Anakin just shook his head at her words, feeling her embarrassment before reaching over to take her hands into his own. ‘It’s okay, Dormé, what matters is that both you and Runa are safe and fine. It’s that fool’s fault for scaring you like that,’ he continued as his expression darkened. ‘I made sure that was the last mistake he made,’ the Sith Lord continued in fiercer tones before his expression softened as he reached to touch her cheek. Dormé nodded at his words and squeezed his hands in return. She was glad to hear it had been the officer’s last mistake, which reminded her of the handmaiden she had allowed to live. The thought was fleeting. ‘I didn’t even consider the possibility that I might go into labour on the ship. I was so stupid... Runa could have—and it would have been all my fault.’ She paused to take in a long breath, trying to comfort herself with the fact that Runa was just fine...that no harm had come to her by being born aboard a starship...that people were born and died in space all the time. ‘It wasn’t your fault, please don’t ever think that. He should have known better than to frighten you like that. He is to blame not you,’ Anakin continued gently as he couldn’t help but feel bad for causing Dormé to worry as she did. ‘Besides, as I said before, Runa is safe and healthy and so are you. In the end, that is all that matters.’ She leant forward to rest her forehead against his. ‘And so are you,’ she murmured, temporarily forgetting about the nightmares which caused him to miss resting the entire night. Closing his eyes, Anakin tried to bury the shame that left him feeling more than unworthy of the family he now belonged to. After a moment, she pulled back to give him a more well-rested kiss than those he received the day before. He wanted to drown himself in the solace that her embrace offered, but his conscience wouldn’t allow him this moment of peace. Once their kiss drew to a close, the Sith Lord sighed as his expression grew troubled. ‘I—I need—there is something I need to tell you…about the Humbarine conflict,’ he admitted finally as he bit his lip and glance away. As much as Dormé wanted to content herself in her husband’s presence and in the joy of their newborn and their family, it seemed that whatever was weighing on Anakin’s mind came to the forefront of his thoughts. She heard it in his tone as much as it was visible in his expression. Dormé hoped that by telling her about it would put his mind at ease. She squeezed his hand again in a silent gesture of encouragement. She would not force it out of him, even though she could tell it was something that bothered him a great deal. Her thumb softly brushed over his hand. Her gentle gesture of assurance did little to ease his thoughts but it did encourage him to face what he knew he had to do. Rising to his feet, Anakin continued to hold her hand, enjoying the feel of her fingers over his own though hr knew he was unworthy this loving gesture. ‘Perhaps we should continue this in the next room,’ he said, uncertain of her reaction and inwardly fearing their children might hear. Rising with him, Dormé silently followed him to the balcony once more, having a growing feeling that this was far more serious than she imagined. She didn’t want her thoughts running away with all the possibilities, but despite her curiosity, she held her tongue. She held his hand through his silence, waiting as patiently as she could for the inevitable revelation. Anakin remained silent for a moment longer as his eyes drifted to the vast city ahead. ‘...I went too far...again...’ he admitted quiet and shamed tones. ‘I was able to take down the resistance, but when I went to destroy their families—so as to ensure there wouldn’t be a second uprising—I—’ he swallowed hard and fell silent knowing he didn’t need to explain himself further. His admission tore her heart as the news sunk in and she released his hand. ‘Anakin—’ she began, her tone of horror, not condemnation. Though she was no longer touching him, she remained close as she gasped, ‘Why?’ As Dormé released her grip from his fingers the Sith Lord suddenly felt incredibly alone and cold, despite the fact it was both warm on the balcony and Dormé remained near to him. Her voice so filled with horror, yet without judgment, only added to his shame as turned his back to her and began to fiddle with his utility belt marking his nervousness. Her question was justified and yet Anakin didn’t know how to respond as he bit his lip so hard he tasted blood. Shaking his head, he just closed his eyes, forcing himself to keep it together, not to fall apart or try to leave. There was no running away when it came to Dormé or denial of the facts. ‘...I...I don’t know....’ he croaked in barely audible tones. ‘I was just so caught up in the battle...I...’ he shook his head, trying to ignore the nagging doubts that warred within him, telling him that he was truly a monster, that his children would come to hate him because of his actions. ‘...I don’t know why I keep doing this...I can’t seem to stop myself,’ Anakin admitted as he fought back tears of despair and shame. ‘You don’t know,’ she breathed in response, folding her arms around herself as she suddenly felt cold. Just when Dormé thought everything was set right once more, something like this had to happen to ruin everything. She couldn’t comprehend the power of the dark side or the light side or anything having to do with the Force, but what she did know was that there was something in Anakin that he needed to either eradicate or learn to control. Certainly, his brother wasn’t going around killing younglings for no reason. Certainly, when Obi-Wan went into battle he engaged in some sense of self-control. The distance between them wasn’t missed by Anakin who didn’t dare look at Dormé whose simple reply said so much more than words ever could. Vader wished he could say that he knew why he always seemed to lose himself in battle or why it was that he could no longer tell the difference between the innocent and guilty. Though he didn’t admit this aloud, Anakin found himself suddenly wishing he hadn’t killed his Master, as he was in reality the only one who would know what was wrong and how to mend it. What did this mean? What was going to happen now? Dormé wasn’t sure. Would he ever become too angry to think straight and kill her without intending to? Dormé didn’t care if he did, so long as the children were safe. It was because they were the enemies...the children of the enemies... Certainly, Anakin wouldn’t see her as an enemy. He wouldn’t see their children as enemies... Vader could feel Dormé’s shift in emotions and felt another wave of shame for it. Her concern wasn’t unfounded and he could only imagine what was going through her mind, which encouraged more thoughts of despair. He knew things were getting out of hand and knew that something had to be done otherwise—Anakin closed his eyes once more at the thought not daring to allow it to reach its conclusion. This was the second, no, the third time he had killed innocent people. It was unforgivable. Shaking her head and letting out a despondent sigh, she grasped the railing they installed a little while ago for a safety precaution for their children. After a moment, she looked over at Anakin. ‘I don’t care how you do it, but you need to learn to control it, not for my sake, but for our children.’ She didn’t need to remind him why. Vader’s eyes opened as he stared ahead once again, not daring to look over at his beloved, for the chasm that had formed between them felt more like a wall than anything else. Swallowing hard, Anakin furrowed his brow as he weakly nodded in reply, feeling every bit the monster he knew he was. ‘I...I will stop at nothing until I find away,’ he whispered in sincere tones as he fought back his despair and shame. He had no idea where to go or how to tend to this matter but he was determined to find out one way or another. ‘I’m sorry...’ Anakin murmured quietly, wishing he could better express his thoughts but not daring to try lest he fall prey to his guilt and self disgust that now flooded his mind. Dormé had heard a similar testament before. She knew he meant it, but at the same time, something within wouldn’t allow her to believe it fully. She didn’t know she was already being to forge walls to protect her heart from him. It was infuriating that Anakin wouldn’t even look at her when he spoke. While apologies were sometimes necessary and desired, in this case, it just made her angry. ‘You’re a father, Anakin...’ She moved in front of him in an effort to make him look her in the eye, grabbing his arms forcefully. ‘...and a husband,’ she continued, her voice firm. ‘It’s time for you to grow up.’ Staring at her in disbelief, the Sith Lord just gaped as he shook his head. ‘Grow up? Just what the iquicha is that supposed to mean?’ he snapped. ‘You think it’s just that easy don’t you? I’ll just flick some hidden switch and immediately be in control of the Force?!’ he snapped in sarcastic tones. ‘I told you, I don’t care how you do it.’ Sighing, she fought back tears as she said. ‘Not that it matters to you! It’s nothing more than an optical illusion at the best of times or a joke at the worst,’ he snapped in defence, shirking her touch. ‘You’re right; I don’t care about your powers. I don’t care about them until they hurt our children.’ ‘I said I am going to tend to the problem and I will. It’s not like I can just go to a random Sith Lord and ask for help. I’m the last one remember?’ he continued before growing serious once more. ‘You’re not the only one who is worried about all of this—’ Anakin admitted in quiet tones. ‘What about your brother?’ Dormé replied, not letting his attitude get the better of her. Vader’s eyes wavered at her statement and he swallowed hard as he glanced away. He didn’t dare face his brother now, not like this, not after all that had transpired. While Anakin had convinced himself that Obi-Wan had overreacted pertaining to his use of the dark side, he couldn’t deny the truth of Aené’s loss and the loss of the other children. ‘I thought he helped last time—when—’ Dormé swallowed hard and looked away from him, not wanting to remember the fact that his brother could have saved Aené. Dormé unfinished statement also reminded him of how his brother could have saved their daughter and with this memory he fell silent. Any and all further denials and defence faded away leaving behind only vulnerability and shame. Instinctively, he was about to slip his arms around Dormé, but his guilt wouldn’t permit him to, so he refrained. ‘Obi-Wan doesn’t know, nor does he care to know, about the dark side. All he’ll do is try to convince me to return to the ways of the Jedi. It would be a lost cause,’ Anakin whispered. ‘I’ll just have to find another way.’ She put a hand over her mouth, trying not to cry at the thought of Aené. She didn’t say anything further as he whispered that he would have to find another way. She didn’t say that she thought his brother loved him and would do what he could to help, or that if the Jedi didn’t kill things that maybe that would be a better course to take. Instead, Dormé placed her faith in Anakin as a person. Unknowingly so much like Obi-Wan, Dormé had faith in Anakin, a kind of faith that would never fully break, tried and worn, as it would become over the course of their lives. They had already come so far and this was just another test. She had to believe that. The silence was almost deafening and despite Anakin’s initial hesitation to hold his wife, in the end, the sight of her struggling with her tears proved to be too much. Quietly, the Sith Lord approached, feeling more than aware of how unworthy he was to stand by her side. Cautiously, he slipped his arms around her, neither expecting her acceptance, nor about to hold it against her either. At the same time, he couldn’t deny the fact they were in this together, no matter how much this was entirely his own problem. Though his darkness would remain between them, Dormé held him tightly in return. It was as though she were clinging to him, trying to pull him away from someone else who strained to hold onto him. There was something almost desperate about Dormé’s embrace that wasn’t missed by the Sith Lord who held her with equal fervency. Though he couldn’t explain it, it felt as though they were once more caught in an unseen storm that was threatening to drown them both. ‘I will not fail you,’ he murmured, wanting to desperately believe his own promise, yet unable to deny the sinking feeling that this matter was far from over. In that moment, Anakin made an oath to her, that he would find a way out of this, that he wouldn’t harm their children and Dormé so desperately wanted to believe it that it would become true. She wouldn’t know what to do if this weren’t the case. Not only was she relying on him, but Laic and Runa were as well. Anakin knew that this was his doing and if they were to survive, he would have to be the one to calm the storm. There would be no running away this time, no pointing fingers or passing the blame onto other people. However, though the emperor’s determination was unwavering, he would soon learn that the storm had only begun.