Chapter 28

After notifying the local authorities on the situation, Anakin took Padmé to the local hospital to have her injuries looked at.

"I'm fine, Ani," Padmé said.

"I'd like to have a doctor check you over, so humour me," Anakin said.

"I'm just happy that this ordeal is over," she said.

Anakin looked at her. "None of this would have happened if it weren't for me," he said.

Padmé frowned. "What do you mean?" she asked.

Anakin shook his head. "I'll explain later," he said as they arrived at the hospital.

The emergency ward was rather quiet when they arrived, which was fortuitous. A nurse took Padmé in after a very short wait. When Anakin started coming with them, the nurse stopped to question him.

"I'm sorry sir," she said. "But family members only. Are you a family member?"

Before Anakin could reply, Padmé spoke up. "Yes," she said. "He's my husband."

"Oh I'm sorry," the nurse said. "Right this way."

Anakin looked at Padmé who simply smiled at him.

After another short wait in an examination room, a doctor came in to see Padmé. He listened while she explained what had befallen her, frowning as he heard of the callous manner in which she had been treated by her captor.

"Well, I certainly hope that this woman has been apprehended," the doctor said.

"She's been stopped," Anakin said. "I made sure of that."

"Very good," the doctor said. "Now, let's have a look," he said, turning his attention to Padmé.

Anakin left the room to let the doctor perform his examination. He wanted to contact Obi-Wan to let him know that Padmé was safe, but before he could do so, he was approached by a nurse.

"Excuse me," she said. "You're Anakin Skywalker?" she asked.

"Yes," Anakin said.

"I thought so," she said. "But...I don't know how it's possible," she said.

Anakin frowned. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that I was on the ward the night you were brought in," she said. "The emperor's men brought you in, what was left of you," she said with a frown. "I've never seen anyone so badly burned as you."

Anakin was chilled by her words, for he now remembered the incident on Mustafar. "You assisted with the surgery?" he asked.

"Oh no," she said. "The emperor wouldn't let any of us near you. In fact, the burn specialist who was on call that night tried to suggest a treatment but the emperor had him removed. What they did to you was nothing short of butchery, if you don't mind me saying so. That's why I can't get over that you've recovered. How did this happen?"

"The cloners on Kamino regenerated the parts of my body that were damaged," Anakin said. "Something that could have been done if the emperor had wanted me to be healed. He was happy to see me suffer, though," he said. "As Darth Vader I was more useful to him because I was in constant pain."

The nurse didn't know how to respond. "I'm sorry you had to go through that," she said. "Just know that there were many of us here who wanted to help, but were prevented from doing so by the emperor and his troops. I've never forgot the sight of you that night. I'm very happy to see that you have finally been able to receive the treatment you needed."

Anakin smiled. "Thank you," he said. "It's changed my life." He returned to the examination room where Padmé was talking to the doctor. She looked over at Anakin as he entered the room.

"Everything okay?" she asked him.

"Yes," Anakin said. "How is she?" he asked the doctor.

"Seems fine, but I want to run a full body scan just to be sure," the doctor replied.

Anakin looked at Padmé. "Good," he said. "When will you do that?"

"Right now," the doctor said.

Anakin nodded, then turned to Padme. "I'll be waiting," he told her giving her a quick kiss.

Padme smiled at him as the nurse escorted her out the door. Anakin followed, and watched as Padme disappeared down the corridor. Once she had left his sight, he activated his comlink.

"Obi-Wan, do you copy?" Anakin said.

"Affirmative," Obi-Wan said. "Is everything all right, Anakin? Senator Organa told me you were looking for Padmé. Did you find her? Is she safe?"

"Yes she's safe," Anakin said. "Nira took her, but I got to her in time."

"Nira?" Obi-Wan asked. "How is that possible? Didn't she leave Coruscant?"

"Apparently not," Anakin said. "Seems she threw her lot in with the dissidents. They wanted to use Padmé as leverage. They were foolish to try."

"And where is Nira now?" Obi-Wan asked, feeling sure he knew what had happened to her even without asking.

"Dead," Anakin said. "She'd completely lost her mind, Obi-Wan. But now that she's dead, maybe this whole nightmare will be over."

"She was their last hope," Obi-Wan told her. "We've sent a squadron to clear out the quadrant where they were headquartered. It's over, Anakin."

Anakin nodded, still unsure he could believe it. "I really hope so," Anakin said. "I just want to be with my family and put the past behind me."

"I think you've earned that right, Anakin," Obi-Wan said.

Anakin said nothing, wondering if he could ever do so. Can I ever say I deserve my family? He reflected. Will there ever be a time when I've atoned for all that I've done?

"Ani?"

Anakin looked up to see Padmé standing there. He closed the transmission and took her hand.

"Everything all right?" he asked.

Padmé nodded. "I'm fine," she said. "Let's go home."

A few weeks later

Anakin and Padmé stood before the holy man, their hands joined as he performed the ritual of marriage. The location was the same, on the terrace of the lake house, but this time, they bride and groom were surrounded by family and friends. Their children, Luke and Leia, stood by their sides. There was no need to hide, no reason to keep their union a secret. The galaxy was a different place now, a better place, and the Jedi Order had seen that denying a person's right to love was both foolish and dangerous. Anakin Skywalker had taught them that lesson through his own transformation, his own atonement, that family was far too powerful and important to be denied. The Chosen One had gone through hell to prove that.

"A toast," Obi-Wan said, as he held a glass of champagne aloft. "To Anakin and Padmé, may they enjoy a long and happy life together, with many, many more younglings."

Anakin laughed and looked at Padmé, who smiled knowingly. "Padmé?" he said. "Is there something you want to tell me?"

Padmé nodded, and then leaned over and kissed him.

THE END