Title: "Black Orchid"
One-Shot (2/?)
Written by: Shawn

Summary: In exile, Anakin trains his mind, body, and soul for the grueling task ahead. Across the galaxy on Naboo, a woman is awakened in the dead of night by a tremendous tremor in the Force.

Category: Action/Angst/Drama/Romance/Angst/Erotica/Mystery
Rating: MA
Timeline/Spoilers: AU Everything through Revenge of the Sith up until the moment Anakin arrives to save Palpatine's life before Mace Windu kills him. Everything after that is my AU. All else is explained within the story.

Ship: Anakin and Padme Skywalker, Padme/OC

Disclaimer: George owns everything. We're just playing in his backyard.

Authors Notes 1: The world of Mygetto that this story begins on is the planet Jedi Master Ki-Adi-Mundi was killed on during RoTS when Order 66 was declared. It is a wintry, frozen world bearing the harshest of conditions.

Authors Notes 2: Expect cameos from many familiar faces not only from the Prequel world, but the Clone Wars animated series as well.

Authors Notes 3: This Chapter picks up thirty standard days after Chapter 1.

Beta Read by: Master Anne

~~~~~~

“When loving hearts are separated, it is not the one who is exhaled to heaven, but the survivor, who tastes the sting of death”
~~ Duchesse de Praslin

"Since change is constant, you wonder if people crave death because it's the only way they can get anything really finished."
~~ unknown

"You taught me how to love; you taught me how to live; you taught me how to laugh; you taught me how to cry, but when you left, you forgot
to teach me how to forget you."
~~ Hendie

~~~~~~

******

Day 1

******

Northern Mountain Regions
58 miles west of New Zenthia City
Mygeeto

Thankfully, his threshold for severe pain was greater than most.

Shivering, Anakin's chilled breath fanned before him, each exhale a swath of billowing cold air. Ominous, dark clouds drowned him in robust flakes of snow that seemed without end. His gloved hands, even the one sheathed in a Derma-skin cloning shell over the new artificial limb, shook from the frigid minus fifty-five degree temperatures as he held the electro binoculars to his face. Standing atop a towering glacial ridge, he was finally close enough to the other mountain to see if any caves were near by. Clad in the thickest, best thermal gear Catana-Si could obtain, he searched for his place of exile, and found exactly what he needed.

Unfortunately it was across a wide gorge he could not traverse by foot. But it looked perfect for what he had in mind. Hidden on the jagged side of the mountain, by day shadows would hide it from plain sight. It was only with the electro binoculars he used that allowed him to see it at night. Finally, salvation was within his reach.

Or was it?

Heavy black boots dug small metal spikes into the icy surface of the ridge. He reached the icy edge of the gorge, peering at the long distance he'd need to jump in order to reach the cave. Swirling winds bit at the exposed skin between his thick scarf and hood, but he paid it no mind. He sat the two heavy duffel bags down, gauging what he'd have to do to reach his destination. And then he gave a great sigh.

Anakin wasn't ready for this and he knew it.

Catana-Si logically pleaded with him that a mere thirty days were not at all enough time for his body to recover from five standard years of carbon freezing. He agreed, but that didn't stop him. He needed to have rest, food, and medical treatment to regain even the most basic of daily functions. After that, he told her he looked forward to the pain. He wanted it. Would feast on it; as it would drive him forward.

There really was no better explanation he could give her for what he had to do. She again vented her opinion and then gave him what he needed.

In such a short time of knowing her, he already knew he'd had few friends as good as her. With the way she listened and talked to him no matter the subject, he'd begun to see her as something of a caring older sister. They parted with a dear hug, and he left her with preparations she needed to make for when he returned in six standard months.

Now he stood amidst a blustery blizzard on high ground where one small slip meant death. The glacial plains had claimed so many lives he wondered if it were the winds howling... or the spirits of the dead. Nonetheless, his determined gaze set upon the cave across the gorge. So deep was the space between that when he peered down he saw nothing but black. At the bottom waited death. "I'll see you soon" he swore at the great unknown and then lifted his gaze once more.

Fisting both heavy duffel bags, his feet planted firmly on the ridge's edge. The winds wrecked havoc with the thick, dark brown cloak he wore. And after the three-hour hike up the mountain, his body felt about to give out. But that wasn't the worst of it. Not at all. For here, he faced a new enemy. One he had honestly never faced before.

Fear.

Anakin Skywalker, for perhaps the first time in his life, was afraid.

Though mentally recovered to begin the task ahead, his body simply wasn't. Strength, speed, agility... they'd been taken from him, stolen like a thief in the night. He could feel the Force, but could not summon it to his will. Once upon a time he would not have given a second thought about leaping over that gorge. Now though, his mind remembered the power and skill, but his body no longer possessed them.

The cave on the other side of the gorge was not for him. If he tried to jump he knew that he would die. His wife and child would never receive the justice they so richly deserved.

Biting back the rage at his lack of ability, he settled his mind upon what he could do instead of what he could not. Shouldering both duffel bags again, he began hiking up the side of the mountain he stood on, seeking refuge elsewhere.

Nearly an hour of surviving the violent weather saw him shaking, his back to a massive boulder. He panted, his lungs filling with the cold air until he began choking on it. Moments later he caught his breath, shutting his eyes from the isolation around him to focus on why he was here.

Padme and his child.

He would live for them if for no other reason at all.

Before he knew it he was on the move again, planting his feet as firmly as he could with every grueling step. If his luck held out there wouldn't be any avalanches or wild creatures to encounter. His only weapon was a blaster, though he possessed the tools to create a new lightsaber. More than one, actually. The sheer possibility for that blessing, yet another reminder of how perhaps all of this was his destiny. Even if his body was giving out on him, his heart never would. If the Force truly led him here then it would not abandon him now.

It was nearly another brutal hour later of trudging through thick snow that he came upon a wide-mouthed cave shrouded in darkness up ahead.

His eyes could barely make it out, but he was sure it was there. Trembling legs that barely had the strength to stand were now asked to move. None of this was about him, so if he died in the effort it wouldn't matter. "Padme," Anakin declared to find his will to go on.

He did, somehow. And upon reaching the cave's entrance, never mind what might be inside, he collapsed from exhaustion ten steps within.

******

Everything felt frozen when Anakin woke up.

Thankful of the protective gear he wore, his legs weren't asleep or worse. Frost lightly caked his brows, but at the very least he wasn't being assaulted by the freezing air blustering outside. Thought still very cold and weak, he rolled onto his side, and then sat up, gazing into the darkness of the cave.

First things first, he thought. He reached for a pouch inside the heavy lining of his cloak, and produced a small light source. Flipping it on, he aimed the glow at the darkness and found a hollow cave bearing no beasts or tunnels. The walls were more jagged rock than ice the further into the cave he saw, and the ground was actually frozen dirt. This was certifiably perfect, and if he had the strength to muster a smile he would have.

Taking a moment to gather his thoughts, he sought after both of the large duffel bags for the supplies Catana-Si prepared for him. He took hold of a silver cylinder with a smooth surface, no bigger than a plate. He sat the object just inside of the cave's entrance, pressed a button on its side, and calibrated a small key-pad. Seconds later the device began to hum, and then a red wave of light extended from the top. The beam cascaded its light from the ground on the right, up the side of the wall, the cave's ceiling, and then to the ground on the left. A moment later a red wall of light completely walled-in the entrance. Anakin now had a mildly powerful force field to protect him from the weather outside. The fact that it was solar powered would see to it regenerating during the day while still operating.

"Well that's something," he noted to himself. Next up, he retrieved five old Republic Military illumination rods. As was the force-field generator, these solar powered light sources were much stronger than the small hand-held one he used earlier. Traversing the width and inner depth of the cave, he carefully screwed each into the ground all around the interior. The bright light blessed his blue eyes, giving him a full view of his home for the next half a standard year. Not much bigger than his official quarters aboard any number of Republic vessels, but more than enough for what he had to do.

His heat generator was next, also solar powered. The cavern and his weary bones began warming minutes later. He spread out the thick sleeping bag and workout mat next. The ground, ceiling, and walls were already melting away to reveal old rock and dirt. Catana-Si inoculated him against most Mygetto viruses and poisons, but he'd still have to be on the lookout for any sort of rash or infection. At least the temperature inside the cave was manageable. Not quite comfortable, but livable.

He would deal.

Military rations were terrible to taste, but could provide the necessary nutrients to survive for nearly a year if you had enough of them. Anakin carried as many as he could in one duffel bag, ever thankful they weren't perishable. He took out the water purifier, as that would turn snow into exactly what he needed. After that, the miniature projection device with fifty HoloNet books and news archive vids. Enough to catch him up on this cruel new age and better prepare him for his return to Coruscant.

Gazing around his modest new home, Anakin gritted his teeth, and then sighed. He had made it this far, but the true test was yet to come.

For now, he needed to face the greatest of his challenges before his exile could truly begin.

Anakin needed to properly grieve Padme and his child.

The memory of turning the HoloNet vid of one of Padme’s speech's fled him. But there she stood on the steps of the Galactic Senate dome, gloriously beautiful and intelligent, speaking out against the atrocities of the war and the millions of displaced Republic citizens. It was a sensitive subject as many approved of the war for various reasons, while others worried over their loved ones who fought for the Republic Military, and still others were religiously or morally against the war no matter the reasons. A masterful public speaker, Padme addressed all sides while attempting to draw them together toward the common theme this particular war served no real purpose and would only cripple both sides in the long run. She spoke of tomorrow’s children and the lessons the future could learn from its past decisions.

As she spoke, Anakin cried softly, his head bowed. Her beloved voice tore his heart to shreds. She grounded him. In so many ways she was his sole evidence that there was good in the world. He more than deeply loved this woman, he respected her. Even if she had not owned his heart, he would have respected her. Her character was above reproach. So much more educated than he, and yet she could talk to anyone no matter their background and make them feel heard and that their opinion carried equal weight as her own.

Her beauty caressed his soul as he watched her. Seated atop a workout mat inside the barren cave of a frozen mountain... so far from the high stature he enjoyed at the Jedi Temple. So far from the extravagance of Coruscant by night as he looked out over the balcony's of his Angel's apartment. Now all he had was the tragic memory of his wife and child. The sheer agony drew a cry from the depths of his soul. His head bowed, weeping that he failed her so thoroughly. His family was murdered and he wasn't there to protect them. What greater purpose did a husband and father have than to protect his family?

Wiping his eyes, Anakin recalled their so-called movie nights whenever he got time away from the war. He missed so much going on in the every day world, but she always caught him up with the latest movies and light-hearted things that helped him heal away from the war. She understood his need to escape, and yet provided his reason to stay and fight for those who couldn't. She loved him unconditionally and without end, something she told him often. Something she knew he needed to hear as he was pulled in so many directions at times.

And then there was his child.

Becoming a father was to be his grand reward for all the horrors he suffered during the war. For all the time spent away from PadmĂ©, the sacrifice of their marriage for the greater good, perceived disrespect from the Jedi Council, and his mother’s tragic death. The baby gave meaning to all that he had endured. To see a part of himself unconnected to destiny or fate. Innocent again. Without sin or blood on his or her hands. Tears fell in earnest when he recalled teasing his wife about the sex of their child.

He was so sure it was a girl, while she was equally certain it was a boy.

Now he will never know.

As the HoloVid ended, Anakin exhaled deeply, sitting back on his knees. He held his face in his hand, willing his breathing to calm. Padmé and his child were dead. There was nothing he could do to change that sad fact, but if he truly dedicated himself to a single goal. If he set his discipline and focus upon this one goal, he could give them what they deserved.

Justice.

That's when the tears stopped.

That's when his head rose, and for the first time in five long years, he assumed a Jedi meditative pose. His mind cleared, seeking the once powerful connection he enjoyed with the mysterious, elusive Force. He sought it with all his heart and soul... as his journey truly began.

******

Two months and thirteen days

******

Anakin's unshaven face became a stony mask of intense concentration.

Seated in a traditional Jedi meditative pose on the square-shaped workout mat, before him hovered three Republic Fighter-engine sized boulders. His thoughts cleared of all but the Force and his growing reconnection to it, drawing upon that endless well of mysterious power. This was his most draining, brutal exercise as it required acute focus and complete determination. He paid no mind to the mild chill of the cave, having recalibrated the heat generator to allow it as the icy bite of the air kept him alert. The steady hold he maintained on the immense chunks of rock grew stronger by the day, as he could now levitate them for nearly ten full minutes before succumbing to mental exhaustion. At first be barely could lift one off the ground for more than a couple of seconds.

This was progress. Slow, methodical progress. And for that he was grateful.

Breathing deeply as his chest rose and fell, Anakin shut his eyes to the world. Obi-Wan's sage teachings flooded his mind here, as if he could center his subconscious on the comforting sound of his Master's voice. For all the times he wrongly felt held back, feared, or disrespected by his Master they were dwarfed by the timeless respect and admiration he held for the man.

"Allow the Force flow through you, Anakin. Give yourself over to its sway. Do not attempt to command it. Do not war with it. Allow it to become your ally. Join with it and together miracles will become ordinary," Obi-Wan taught him through memory and repetition.

Straining with exertion, Anakin held fast to his Master's teachings. Day by day the Force returned to him through focused mediation and relentless practice. From sun up to sun down he tirelessly trained for the war to come. There was no life for him save to avenge his family and the Jedi. So to that dark end his strict discipline required he push himself far past his limits. Break himself if need be, for physical pain paled in comparison to the horrors of his nightly dreams. And to think... he thought they were bad before.

Padme’s assassination played over and over during his twilight hours.

Anakin lost his focus the moment he thought of his deceased wife. The thud sound of the heavy boulders striking the ground accompanied the sudden opening of his eyes. He exhaled deeply, sweat glistening on his brow and shirtless chest. Blue eyes angled toward the small black timing device next to him. It read 'Eleven Minutes and forty-nine seconds.' "Better... but not good enough."

He would settle for nothing less than pure perfection. The Jedi trained him with restraints. Here, there were none. No rules of conduct. No code of honor. No code, period. He wasn't seeking Jedi mastery or a seat on any council. His only intent was on becoming a deadly living weapon against the Empire. One that would slay Palpatine and ruin every single thing he touched. One that would avenge Padme’s honor and life.

The mere thought of the way Palpatine shamed her good name... his flesh hand clenched so tight his fingernails nearly drew blood from his palm. "No," he muttered to himself, shoving the grief aside for now. His eyes darkened with resolve.

Rising to his feet, Anakin stretched through a series of painful aches. Long unused muscles were slow to respond to his overly vigorous workout regimen. They rebelled with flaring sensitivity, aching for most of the day. Though slowly, that ache began to fade. He still felt soft and unable to move as he once had. No matter. In time his vaunted strength would return. For now he was simply repairing his body from the five standard years of hibernation sickness he endured.

One thousand sit-ups and push-ups each morning, followed by a dangerous three-hour hike up the side of the towering mountain his cave rested in were finally producing results. Speed was returning to him. Agility was slower, but his flexibility was improving. The road back to what he was and then greater than he had ever been wouldn't happen over night. The hard work necessary would have to be done. Nothing was going to be handed to him. Each day he would push himself harder than the last. For now he'd have to be patient. Something he severely lacked in his other life.

And that was how he refereed to it now. His other life. The one that he often bitterly complained about because it denied his marriage, his mastery, and his growing power. Looking back now, he would do anything to be able to go back to the way things were. When his wife was alive and forever waiting for him. Where the Jedi Order, flawed as it was, gave him a home and his life purpose. Where Obi-Wan exuded supreme patience with his arrogance and anger... forever a caring father in his eyes. One that was sorely missed.

"Enough," Anakin concluded, thus ending his sad walk down memory lane. Pity wouldn't bring down the Empire. Though the past drove him, the present was where his head needed to remain. He walked toward the far west wall and took a marker off the ground. Hanging from the wall was a very detailed map of the surrounding mountainous area that Catana-Si provided him. The Force had to have led him here, for the good fortune of this world afforded him a most welcome opportunity.

The entire world of Mygeeto was shrouded in a thick coat of crystallized glaciation. Everything built on it, as well as its natural culture bore its geologically dormant physical traits. According to Catana-Si, the mountain ranges were rich in precious stones. Massive nova crystal deposits and underground lasing crystals gave the planet a great depth of possibilities. None were greater to Anakin than the fact that Adegan lightsaber crystals could be found here.

Few people knew the hazardous mountain range the way Catana-Si did. She gave him a crystal energy locater and warned him that while it was possible he'd find what he was looking for, it was highly unlikely. In her decades here she'd come across enough of the precious Adegan crystal that it probably wouldn't power one lightsaber, much less the four he intended to create. But he was certain he would find exactly what he was looking for.

The Force would guide him. If he was truly its Chosen One, then it would not abandon him in his time of greatest need.

Now more than ever Anakin was certain this was his destiny. Surely not one he wanted but perhaps deserved. Blood forever stained his hands. For all the good he'd done the annihilation of the sand people required retribution. Payment in blood. A pound of flesh, perhaps. Whatever the case, Palpatine would die and his family would be avenged. And if the Force saw him to that ultimate goal, it could do with him what it pleased afterwards. At that point he wouldn't care.

His eyes searched the map. Across its outlines featured five red marks already. Smaller caves and alcoves he'd already searched for the Adegan crystals. So far no luck, but the mountain range was colossal and he had plenty time on his hands. His patience would be rewarded.

Back to the practice mat, he roamed inside the duffel bag containing his meal for the day. Nothing but water and limited military rations comprised his lunch. No matter. His body would have what it needed for sustenance. His heart, never. Taste no longer mattered to him.

With the sun near its mid-day state, his daily routine called for him to view the HoloNet news archives Catana-Si prepared for him. Five standard years was a long time, and much has changed since the Empire took control of the galaxy. To be properly prepared, he had to know the game and all its players. His study the past week focused on the man that would be his first victim and hearken his return from the dead for all the Republic to witness. Sitting down in front of the HoloNet projection device, it hummed gently before broadcasting footage of a dead man walking, reviewed by an unseen voice.

"Darth Vader. The Imperial General formerly known as Anakin Skywalker. A name he renounced five standard years ago upon learning of the Jedi Orders traitorous plot to overthrow the Galactic Senate and remove then Supreme Chancellor Palpatine from office. It was the Clone War 'Hero Without Fear' who saved our Emperor's life and assisted him in going after the remaining Jedi and bringing them to justice."

Revulsion quivered within his belly, but Anakin somehow held his meal down. The stock footage showed him stalking up the massive stone staircase at the base of the Jedi Temple with an invasion force of heavily-armed Clone Troopers. No one was ever interrogated or captured. The Jedi Order was slaughtered before his very eyes, and by his own hand. His lightsaber struck down Jedi after Jedi... the Younglings ran for their lives. Children who once idolized him. Who saw him as the future of the Order. Butchered by someone wearing his face. Wincing painfully, he turned his head.

"Once considered one of the most charismatic and courageous men in all of the Republic, galactic opinion polls now show he is among the most loathed in the universe. The once great war hero is now hated for the alleged numerous atrocities he's committed in the name of the Empire. The Emperor revered him as a champion of justice and order. Lord Vader makes no public statements, though his mere presence speaks volumes. He is one of the most feared men in the galaxy. And the single most hated."

For the next hour Anakin listened, took notes, and somehow stomached the horrific actions of his clone. He considered what those surviving Jedi must think of him now. Either they know Darth Vader is a clone and how he failed as the Chosen One, or that he betrayed the Jedi Order and everything it stood for. Neither opinion was favorable, but one day they would know the truth. All of it. And with his dying breath he would avenge his family and help restore the Jedi Order.

That would be his legacy.

******

Four months and ten days

******

His full concentration focused solely on the task at hand, Anakin worked almost as if in a trance.

This was his truest, most skilled art form. In private, Padme often teased him that if he had not become a Jedi he would have been one of the galaxy's finest technical engineers. When he was prepared to enjoy her complimentary comment she quickly declared that he would probably design the best toys children had ever had the opportunity to play with. Her attempt to sneakily depart his presence from such ribbing sent him flying after her, lifting her petite form off the floor, twirling her around, and tickling her until her laughter drowned all the sorrow he had ever endured.

Oh how he missed that beloved sound.

Shaking himself free from memories that would only depress him, Anakin's knee's dug into the dirt floor as he worked tirelessly to prepare the polished metallic handle of a new lightsaber with the precise control stubs and power source energizers. Jedi lightsaber construction was methodical, personal, and specific. For the last two hours straight his mind centered on nothing else. Three days ago effort and luck gave way to a fantastic discovery of Adegan crystals near the apex of the mountain. Enough to build the four light sabers he intended too. Three for himself and one for Catana-Si when she was delivered to her Master.

Now all his hard work and preparation neared fruition. Snapping the last piece in place, he modestly appraised his work. "Not bad at all." His right hand firmly gripped the familiar weapon, no longer the definition of his life. What worked for Obi-Wan as a Jedi was not what worked for Qui-Gonn Jinn. The same could be said for Master Yoda and Master Windu, as they maintained their own personal Force philosophies while working together for decades. So to that end Anakin meant for his new path through the Force to belong to him alone. This new journey might honor the past, but it belonged only to him. The lightsaber was indeed a weapon and a tool for justice. It was not his life.

The true definition of Anakin Skywalker rested at the royal grave site in Theed on Naboo. A tombstone and a angelic statue that read "Padmé Nabberie Amidala: Queen, Senator, and Beloved Champion of Naboo," no matter the horrendous lies spread about her character.

With his creation complete, Anakin pressed the activation button. The saber hummed to life, scintillating with its distinctive sound. The blue blade felt good in his hand as he swept it back and forth, testing its weight and feel. "Perfect," he allowed himself a moment of praise, and then wondered if this lightsaber would be the one the burn through Palpatine's heart. Or perhaps one of the other two. Shutting down the weapon, he rested it on the workout mat and then turned his gaze toward the materials that would make up the other three light sabers.

Exhaling a deep breath, Anakin's eyes lifted to the back wall where several large boulders hung in mid-air. No matter the precision and focus his mind required to finish building the lightsaber, his intense Force training maintained his hold over the rocks. He no longer used the timing device, knowing that they were suspended for the last couple of hours without fail.

Anakin knew that he wasn't capable of this years ago. His powers were greater than they had ever been before. The Force seemed willing to share its immense power the harder he focused. His daily meditation regimen doubled. At age twenty-six now, a fact that still amazed him when he thought about it, his abilities were growing exponentially. This was the incredible potential the Jedi deeply misunderstood and Palpatine evilly coveted.

It meant little to Anakin now. A means to a dark end and no more.

The heavy boulders fell hard to the ground with but a modest wave of his hand. The merest smile curled his mouth. It lasted but a moment.

Drawing a sleeveless brown shirt over the chiseled muscles of his chest, Anakin stretched his arms out over his head and sighed. His self-imposed isolation was nearing its end. Soon he would emerge from this mountain a new man bent on justice for his beloved Angel. More to the point, vengeance. The Force had to know his intentions. Could sense the truth in his fiery heart. Had to know the grand violence he would deliver to the House of Palpatine and all loyal to him. No mercy would be shown. If the Dark Lord of the Sith wanted to see a ruthless Anakin Skywalker, then so be it. But all of that ruthlessness would be dedicated against him.

The Galactic Empire will be reduced to ruin. Its so-called Emperor crucified before the eyes of the entire universe. The honor of his wife would be restored. And then....

Anakin did not know. Nor did he care.

Breakfast came and went, simple and bland as it was. He worked out on on the mat, now having progressed his regimen farther than the basic Republic military cardio training and Jedi hand-to-hand combat techniques. The new Derma-skin covering his robotic arm and hand gave him a sense of humanity he hadn't felt in such a long time. A pity it came when he could not have felt more dead than if he were buried next to his wife and child.

Hours passed.

Having broken out into a full sweat, his fists continuously pounded one of the rocky boulders, denting and cracking the dense rock with the power of his Force-enabled punches. Extending his palm facing the mass of rock, the ensuing Force push shattered the boulder into thick chunks of dirt. New, clever ways of using the Force began extending his fighting prowess. When he faced Palpatine at last he would be more than ready to rob the Emperor of his life.

All things in do time.

With his workout for the day complete, Anakin set about his study of the Imperial Empire. He craved knowledge of all the current movers and shakers. Especially those closest to Palpatine.

Information vids began detailing the Coruscant of today. With the destruction of the Jedi Temple, the new Imperial Palace became the largest structure on Coruscant. It resembled ancient Sith Temples he'd seen in the Jedi Archives. Anakin noted that he would have to get his hands on schematics of the entire facility. That would take a hell of alot of credits and fear to force someone against the Empire.

Additional HoloVids provided politically slanted views of those close to the Emperor, but names were names just the same. All of them would be researched and watched closely. All were targets. The Imperial Navy was now such a massive fleet Anakin knew the Republic shipyards could not have built such an armada. Sienar Fleet Systems did most of the dirty work and were now indispensable to the Empire. That company was now on his hit list.

Tol Sivron, Qwi Xux, Bevel Lemelisk, Ishin-Il-Raz, Rorax Falken and Lord Crueya Vandron were people of great interest to Anakin. All were highly acclaimed and closely tied to the Emperor. Especially Lord Crueya Vandron, one of Palpatine's most trusted advisors.

Another longtime aid, Sate Pestage, was named Grand Vizier and given the power to control all access to the Emperor. He would prove most useful. As would Ars Dango, who was said to run much of the day-to-day affairs of the Empire. Vice Chair Mas Amedda was another who could be a great help in bringing down Palpatine. Anakin took detailed notes on all of them.

After all, if they didn't help him they would die. Mercy was not part of his plans.

Grand Moff Tarkin... close attention would be paid to that man.

Eyes straining from staring for so long, Anakin shut down the holovid projector with the intentions of taking a nap. His sleeping bag was a far cry from Padmé's king-sized bed, or even the military beds he slept on for years. It was no big deal at the end of the day.

Lying down after a long, but productive day, Anakin found himself thinking of his former Padawan, Ahsoka Tano. Incredibly enough she would be twenty-one years of age now if she survived the Jedi Purge. He knew if anyone could it would be her. She was crafty and smart. She carried with her a little bit of his daring luck and recklessness, and she was one hell of a Jedi. He missed her dearly. He missed so many things.

Exhaustion claimed him before his heart broke anymore than it already was.

******

The sixth month

******

Intense with purpose, Anakin flowed with the Force as his ally... his fist... and his sword.

Sweat glistened his brow, nearly soaking through the black rag covering his vision. Muscles strained heavily from hours of painful exertion, his heart pounding a primal war drum so loud it seemed ready to burst through his chest. The blood coursing through his veins felt as it were on fire. The lightsaber clutched in his strong hands moved as fluidly as though it were an extension of his body rather than a weapon. Elusive and unpredictable, his actions mirrored no set pattern. Flashes of colorful heat whizzed by his head, though he deftly evaded each with speed and agility he never possessed before.

Five mechanically altered crystal-radar spheres, rebuilt to act as Jedi training orbs, tracked his every movement. Each was programmed to rapidly fire stun bolts at specific regions of his body from all angles. Two and three at a time, he deflected every burst inside the cave, with some striking back the sphere's themselves. He trained this final morning the same way he had for the last forty standard days straight - pushing himself past any limits he had before, accepting nothing less than perfection.

A short time later there was silence save for the whirling noise of his blue lightsaber. His skills had reached such bold heights that he was able to switch lightsabers mid-fight without being struck once. A lightsaber hung from each hip, with a third on a thigh holster attached to his right leg. For a man who had lost so many, his return to the living would see him better prepared than ever before.

Tearing the sweaty rag from his eyes, Anakin surveyed the five smoking sphere's, all destroyed by their own stun bursts. No smile came to his face, but a sense of pride swelled within his chest. The hard task was done. What Palpatine hoped to enslave in torturous captivity, he had freed and exceeded abundantly. He had regained... no, surpassed what he once was. His body was now chiseled with raw muscle, minus even a hint of body fat. Swiftness and fierce velocity had amplified his agility. The shattered boulders littering the back wall of the cave he’d called home for half a standard year bore the evidence of his immense power.

Whatever he hit, he destroyed.

But strength and power alone were enough to cripple Palpatine's empire. They were means, but in no way the end. Ruthless cunning would best serve him upon his return to Coruscant. One of his earliest lessons as a young boy was that the big bully detested one thing more than any other.

Courage by those he bullied.

Palpatine ruled with absolute fear. It was the way of the Dark Side. It was the path that led Anakin to the horrors of his life. Horrors he now intended to visit upon this so-called Emperor tenfold.

The past six months have given him ample time to plan his next steps carefully. His study of the people and players who now control the Republic had given him a clear picture of what must be done. He could have no attachments save fulfilling his promise to deliver Catana-Si to a Jedi Master. Outside of that, he has nothing... therefore there was nothing to be used against him.

First and foremost, the Republic severely needed a single beacon of hope to conquer this Empire. A rallying point that the Emperor was not indestructible and that he was not feared by all. With no ego clouding his broken heart, Anakin intended to be that hope. His unexpected return to the land of the living would herald a closed fist aimed directly at Palpatine, illustrating that the Emperor's attempt to kill Anakin Skywalker failed. That the Jedi shall rise again and with the Chosen One declaring all-out war on the Empire. Whoever was behind this Rebellion business would no doubt take great interest in him.

Anakin wanted no part of them, mostly.

His intentions were to go after Palpatine through all those he needed and used, while giving the galaxy notice that there were others fighting to end the Empire and they could rise up to help overthrow it. The public death of Darth Vader coupled with the return of the Jedi and Anakin clearing his name would be the wake-up call the universe so desperately needed. It takes one strong-willed person to stand up to the bully... and then so would others.

Four things would take place before Anakin finally went after Palpatine himself. First would be relieving Darth Vader's shoulders of his head, thus announcing his return and declaring war on Palpatine. Let the Republic see that the Empire wasn't feared anymore. Second would be to locate the hidden remaining Jedi and deliver Catana-Si to the Jedi Master as Qui-Gonn told him to do. Then they could begin to plan on the rebuilding of the Order once Palpatine was no more. Third, would be to find the cowards within Palpatine's inner circle. Those who would betray anyone to save their own lives. That was the one vice of ruling through fear.

At some point everyone who fears becomes determined to not be afraid anymore. Someone close to the Emperor would break. Or be broken.

Lastly, Anakin considered with a heavy heart as he began packing away his gear, was to go to Padme’s family and try to make final amends. To beg their forgiveness for his failure and promise them her honor would be restored. If they spat in his face he would not blame them. Her death came at his inability to protect her. Something for which he would never forgive himself. But they were owed a sincere apology just the same. For the untold pain and suffering they’d endured he would give anything to fix. Alas, all that he could do was this.

As it often happened to him lately, he finished a task without even realizing he did it. The heat generators and light sources put away in his duffel bag, as were the lightsabers and HoloVid viewer. There was no need to take the work-out mat or sleeping bag. Mementos best left behind and forgotten. His time here inside this cold, solitary cave had ended. He was prepared and focused, more so than he had ever been before. The swirling, frigid winds blew outside, waiting to bite at his face with icy claws. He welcomed the pain to come. "Palpatine," he swore out loud to himself. "Your days are numbered."

"Beware of the Dark Side, Anakin."

Craning his neck, Anakin found the calm, collected ghost-visage of Jedi Master Qui Gonn Jinn once more. This time, he was not so surprised. "I do not fear him. I do not fear anything. Not even death."

The Jedi Master regarded him closely. "The Emperor is strengthened by the Dark Side of the Force. He is master manipulator, extremely cunning and ruthless. He is formidable and no future you have planned is written."

"I have nothing left to lose," Anakin declared while still stuffing his bag. "He has already tried to kill me. He has destroyed my family, dishonored my wife, and enslaved the galaxy. I will visit upon him and all that are loyal to his Empire no less than utter devastation and cold-blooded murder." Certain of the warning to come, he added, "I won't turn to the Dark Side. I want no power over anyone for myself. I want no acclaim or title. I want nothing less than justice for my wife and child. Justice for the Jedi Order. And in that justice a great deal of sorrow and pain will enter Palpatine's life. I have no interest in his Empire or any empire at all."

Master Qui-Gonn approached Anakin, his hands clasped together in front of him. All was clear in the tortured man's steely blue eyes. "You wish to die at the end of this, don't you?"

Anakin halted what he was doing, rising slowly to his full height. "If the Force has any mercy at all."

"
You must understand, Anakin. Only a Sith deals in absolutes. You cannot. What lies outside these old cave walls might not be what you expect. There might be greater possibilities for you than you can possibly imagine. Hope never dies." He paused, and then continued, "All things in due time. For now, consider this. I challenge you to define what bringing balance to the Force truly means for the Jedi."

"Look, I've had enough of riddles. I just want..." Anakin found nothing. As easily as his former Master emerged was how he departed. Without so much as a sound. He shook his head and then slipped his cold weather gear and heavy boots back on, preparing to brave the dangerous weather conditions outside. Shouldering both his bags, Anakin took one final look around his home,
thinking of the modest dwelling he lived in as a boy on Tattoine. Long before towering temples and majestic apartments. Before Queens, Senators, Jedi Masters, and Sith Lords. Back when he was but a simple boy who loved his mother more than anything this galaxy had to offer.

Here... now... he’d come full circle. What he first traveled to Coruscant with all those years ago what was he now had. Only his drive and determination to succeed. Even as a boy he had it. As a man he’d honed it. And now he was going to unleash it furiously on the Empire.

His foot nudged the shield generator at the entrance of the cave. The red wall of light fell to nothingness as the frosty winds gusted his clothing. Anakin set outside at a running pace, pursuing his destiny, the Force guiding every step he took. The mountains hazardous conditions were a nuisance rather than a real threat as he descended the elevation with daring leaps, his boots planting firmly into the icy surface.

And when he reached that gorge he feared attempting to cross six standard months ago, he raced towards its edge and flew through the air with a powerful forward flip, landing far from the edge on the other side.

Fear was no part of Anakin Skywalker anymore. Purged from his soul. Physically, he was whole again. Emotionally... Dropping his bags to the ground as white blustered all around him, the cold so bone-chilling he felt it tthrough his protective clothing, his gaze searched the dark heavens above. His heart called out through the very essence of the Force. "With all that I am and will ever be, I love you, Padme. I will avenge your death. I swear it."

******

At the exact same time across the stars...

******

Lavish two-story Villa owned by Pilar Fahlen
Late Night
The City of Theed
Naboo


With her hand clutched tightly to her heaving chest, Pilar awoke with a gasping cry, sweat clinging her white night shirt to her skin. Her eyes blinked, adjusting to the darkness of her bedroom. Caid slept peacefully beside her, unaware of her sudden insomnia.

No, it was far more than that and she knew it.

The rapid beat of her heart calmed after a moment, but the sheer impact of the Force emotionally striking her was incredible. Something happened, though she could not focus on exactly what it was. Rain pelted the transparisteel glass window as the evenings stormy weather continued to drown Theed. Her brown eyes shut, while a mildly trembling hand swept through her mid-length, dark brown  hair. Lightening streaked across the sky, drawing her attention momentarily. Sitting up in bed, she sighed as she knew sleep would not return to her easily. And loathe as she was to use the sleeping medication prescribed to her by her personal healer, she was certain tonight might have to be the exception.

Slipping from bed without so much as a rustle from Caid, Pilar fled her bedroom for the refresher just down the short hall. She pressed the wall-opener as the door slid sideways with a wizz noise. "Light," she called out quietly as the twin lamp disks above the mirror overlooking the sink illuminated. Lifting her gaze, she exhaled deeply, noting the redness clouding her pupils. Sans make-up, she felt less feminine than she ever had before.

When was the last time she'd even worn any? That was a sad question indeed. The Queen couldn't be seen without it. The Senator sought respect, so a modest amount sufficed. And once upon a time the wife knew what flattered her most, and what pleased her hus...

"No," Pilar declared, craning her neck about. The pop was satisfying to say the least. Appraising herself in the mirror, the woman staring back at her appeared strong and hard as the last three years of rigorous Jedi training sculpted her once soft, petite form into a fit weapon she intended to use to strike back at the man who ruined her entire life.

And the man that devastated her heart.

She secretly hid the layers of her profound sadness from all who knew her. But the never-ending war to purge thoughts of 'him' from her mind felt like a losing battle. Fire burned under her skin, scorching her very soul that she had ever loved 'him'. Had ever allowed him to touch her... Hot disgust ate away her belly as she fought to control her rage. Biting back a sigh, her hand covered her mouth as she refused to cry again. Her fist smacked down on the counter-top in defiance.

"No more!" she swore to herself. Try as she did her regrets were obsessive and without end. How could she have ever been so wrong, when his love breathed life into her once? There was good in him and she knew it as she knew the very beat of her heart. And now every trace of the man she shared her world with was dead, buried beneath the vile plague that was the Dark Side of the Force.

In three days time though, they would meet again. For the first time in over five standard years she would be close enough to shout his name and force him to look at her. To face her! To see that he and his Emperor had not broken her. Had not defeated her. No, they empowered her to crush them and everything they stood for.

But all in good time.

"Harmonize mind, body, and spirit," her Master often preached. Splashing cold water onto her face, Pilar willed her mind to calm at the core. She was made new, and to be a Jedi Knight required she face her fear and conquer it. But her fears were so many. They all came back to 'him'. The man she swore to love for all time betrayed her so completely the wound he left would never heal. There was no peace for her heart. None. No hug or long talk or understanding advice that would soothe her soul.

She was utterly, viciously betrayed. And then forgotten as if she were nothing at all. As if what they shared was but a single sunrise against the fullness of time itself.

Unwanted memories returned to her with in a flood of emotion. The immense feeling of dread and horror as she stood on the veranda at her apartment. Obi-Wan's shockingly frantic message to get out of her apartment now. How helpless she felt at that late stage of her pregnancy when she witnessed the horrible footage of ... the way 'he' stormed the Jedi Temple and slaughtered everyone... even the Younglings. Children... How he never sought her before he fell to the Dark Side. Never reached for her when his world was falling apart.

How their love was so inadequate to the power he craved and finally found.

After butchering so many, though heart-broken she was not foolish. He was lost as she had to care for her children first and foremost. The plot came together so quickly. Faking her death, along with Mon Mothma and two others gave her children immediate protection and her the ability to help in the early stages of the Rebellion. But she had no clue how pure Palpatine's victory was. With the Jedi Order destroyed and its scattered remnants hiding all over the galaxy, the Empire was far to powerful to fight. Patience and wisdom reigned as the founders of the Rebellion plotted long-term. Diplomacy was dead. Justice was in Palpatine's fist to do with as he pleased. So they waited and watched. Were clever beyond words and courageous to face such an imposing enemy. Pooling their vast resources and garnering support from other planets was as daunting a task as she had ever undertaken.

The addition of her babies and crushed heart made the first couple of years such a terrible burden she often wondered if she could survive it all. If not for her family, who now knew everything, she knows she would have died of a broken heart at the very least.

Day after day the atrociously violent behavior of her husband was displayed on the HoloNet for her to cry over until she shed the last of her tears. How could he, how could he, how could he crushed her inside... laughed at her in the dead of night until the pain re-emerged as rage. As drive. As inspiration anew. Until she no longer dreamed of finding a way to save him and turned her sole concern on saving her children from him.

'He' became her nightmare.

And then life dealt her a most grand surprise. A shocking revelation that saw her take a new path. One she had never fathomed would be available to her. Afterwards, she was given to Master Yoda for intense Jedi training. He had changed as the ruin of the Jedi Order shined clarity on his old ways. Everyone in the galaxy changed. Stagnation offered no luxury in this dark new world, and so her new life began taking shape.

She began to live again.

Even as Darth Vader murdered in the name of justice, she trained in the same. Harder so that she could someday face him and his Emperor. So that she could regain her honor and remove any threat to her family. Even if it meant 'he' died by her own hand.

Pilar hated 'him'. So deeply she refused to even speak his name anymore. 'He' was Darth Vader, and any trace of the man she loved was dead.

She sighed sadly, bowing her head. Caid was an unexpected addition to her life as well. Strong-minded and brilliant, he began the slow thaw of her heart... or at least she hoped he was capable of the task. One and a half standard years ago they became friends. His starship manufacturing company greatly aided the Rebellion at a terrible risk to his life. Nonetheless, he did what was right. And he listened to her. Truly listened no matter the darkness threatening to claim her soul as well. He reminded her of Palo with those dreamy eyes and slender build. He had a good heart and treated her children as if they were his own. Her feelings for him were complex. She never told him she loved him. She refused to lie. Her notion of love was forever destroyed, perhaps companionship was all she could offer. He accepted as their relationship grew that she was only capable of so much. He accepted whatever she could offer and never pushed for more.

When rumors began of Darth Vader's whoring lusts a part of her died inside. She truly felt the past was dead. At least now they were even as she once again tasted pleasure.

That would have to be enough... for now.

A quiver of maternal feeling suddenly came over her. Restless and innocent. Through the Force she sought out its origin. "Luke."

Exiting the refresher, Padme felt for her son. Leia slept like a log, a fact she always enjoyed. But her brother was more like his father even at the tender age of five. Coming to the expansive livingroom’s entrance, she found her son standing on the long beige sofa gazing through the curtains at the storm outside. He seemed amazed by nature, loving to watch it in all its wonder. She considered him, sadly. His sun streaked hair, blue eyes, and youthful exuberance were all painful reminders of the father he would never have. Pilar loved her son endlessly, but already felt the Force strongly within him. And the way he constantly put together and even fixed his toys spoke of a keen growing mind. Shmi would have adored him. "Sweetheart, what's wrong?"

Luke spun around, eyes wide open. His head fell upon being caught out of bed at such a late hour. "I'm sorry, mom. I couldn't sleep. Loud thunder woke me up."

Smiling to herself as she knew it would take the destruction of a moon to wake Leia, Pilar walked through the dark room and scooped her son in her arms, pressing her lips to his forehead. He settled comfortably against her. "Its okay, love. Loud thunder isn't so scary."

"I wasn't scared mom. It just woke me up." He already possessed that boy's need to never appear afraid of anything. But he was still her little boy as he rested his head over her shoulder, yawning already. "Did I wake you up, mommy?"

"No, sweetheart. Not at all." Her hand smoothed over his soft hair while noting the purple stain on his brown pajamas. No doubt he'd snuck some snacks into bed behind her back. She'd scold him in the morning, but not now. He just wasn't one for rules. Just like his... "You have school in the morning, son."

Luke frowned, and then asked, "Are you a Jedi, mommy?"

Inquisitive eyes watched her closely. She was gone for months at a time training, and he’d caught her using the Force. Lying to her son wasn't an option. She measured her reply. "Yes I am. But no one must ever know, son. The Jedi are good people who want to help and protect the Republic. Do you understand?"

Luke nodded, smiling brightly. He was so proud his mommy was a Jedi and knew they were not bad people like it was said on the HoloNet. "Can I be a Jedi someday?"

Oh how she wished a life for him far from anything similar to his father's. But the Force was with him. She could feel it. As it was with his father. "Maybe, son. Maybe."

Luke knew not to tell a lie, even if it was one of mission. "I had a bad dream too, mommy."

His confession squeezed her heart, so she squeezed him affectionately, kissing him again. "Tell me about it, son?"

His hands clasped in his lap as he tried to recall his dream. "I think I was running from a man in all black. He kept trying to take me away, but someone saved me. I don't know who he was, but he was a Jedi. He was wearing the brown robe and everything."

"Was it Uncle Ben?"

"No, mommy. It was the bad man on the HoloNet."

Chills swept up and down her spine and she swore she would be dead and gone before Vader ever got his hands on her children. Still, Luke's dream didn't seem to harm him deeper than any other. "Jedi save
people, honey. Its what they do. They uphold the peace. So I'm glad your dream had a nice ending," she smiled.

"Me too. Except that was when the thunder roared and I woke up." Yawning, it seemed some snuggle time with mommy had him ready for bed again. "I'm going to go back to bed, mommy."

"Want me to tuck you in?" He proudly shook his head, scooting off her lap.

"I'm not a little kid anymore, mommy. I'm going to be a Jedi someday just like you."

With those parting words he was off, scampering down the hall into the bedroom he shared with his sister. Pilar sat in the dark, her right hand massaging the back of her neck. Stress again. Her son was already having trouble sleeping and he was just five years old. The last thing in the world she wanted was for Vader's legacy to follow him. He would never know his father, and for that she would forever carry the guilty burden. But better than to ever know his father was a traitor and murderer of children.

He will never know.

"Padme?"

Glaring sharply at Caid standing just inside the living room, her brown eyes narrowed. "That name no longer has any meaning for me."

******

Chapter 3: Darth Vader is present at the unveiling of the "Emperor Palpatine" statue of honor on Coruscant. Unbeknown to him, Anakin Skywalker's thirst for blood closes in around him while Rebel forces led by Jedi Knight Pilar Fahlen prepare his assassination. All Sith's Hell breaks loose!!!!