Chapter Twenty-three

Anakin and Padmé left the Jedi temple hand in hand, both silent, both upset by the meeting they'd had in the council chambers. Anakin was concerned about his wife, for she had said very little since learning of the horrifying events he'd described.

"Are you alright, Angel?" he asked her as he held open the speeder door for her.

Padmé did not respond at once, and Anakin began to grow more worried. He looked at her, noting the distraught expression on her face.

"Angel?" he said again.

Padmé turned to him. "I think you need to take me to the hospital," she told him.

Anakin became alarmed immediately. "Why?" he asked. "What's wrong? Is it the babies?"

Padmé nodded. "I think I'm in labor," she told him. "But I'm not sure."

Anakin didn't wait for further explanation, and took off at once, directing the speeder to the other side of town where the medical center was located.

"I thought you had at least three more weeks to go," Anakin said as they raced through the city.

"That's true," she replied. "But the doctor also told me with twins they can come early." She hesitated before continuing. "She also warned me about undo stress, and that sometimes that can bring on labor early."

Anakin nodded his understanding, cursing himself silently for allowing Padmé to attend the session with the Jedi. Undo stress? Finding out your husband attacked you and you died in the future…that your precious babies were split up and raised as strangers…that the republic you cherish was destroyed and replaced with an evil empire…that would definitely cause stress, he reflected bitterly.

"What makes you think this is the real thing?" he asked her.

"I've had a few mild contractions," she told him. She tightened her grip on the arm rest. "There's another one now," she told him, closing her eyes.

Anakin put his hand over hers, giving her comfort in the only way he knew how at this point. "We'll be there soon, Angel," he told her. "Almost there."

Padmé simply nodded as she breathed through the contraction as she'd learned to do at the birthing class she'd taken. She had taken the class with Dormé, for Anakin had been absent for the first two trimesters, and for the large part of the third, he'd been too busy or preoccupied to do so. He has no idea what to expect, she reflected grimly. Childbirth was no picnic in a grassy meadow; she only hoped that Anakin was up to the task of supporting her. She needed him to support her, now more than ever. He'd been off at war when she'd found out the startling news of her pregnancy, when she'd suffered the nausea and fatigue of early pregnancy; he'd been absent when she'd heard the twins' hearts beat for the first time and saw the first hologram of their tiny, fetal forms. But now, at the end of the long journey, she needed him most.

"I'm sorry you had to hear all that back there," Anakin said after a few moments. "I can only imagine how it must have made you feel."

"I can't begin to understand how you could have become that monster you described," she told him, her eyes looking forward. "I don't know how you could do such things," she added, shaking her head. "The thought of you killing younglings, attacking me…" she stopped as her emotions got the better of her.

Anakin held her hand. "I don't understand it either," he told her. "But rest assured, that future has been eradicated, Padmé. Palpatine is dead. There will be no Jedi purges, there will be no Empire. From this moment on I am devoting my life to you and our children, Padmé. Seeing that future made me realize that there is nothing more important than family. Luke and Leia grew up without each other, without us. I would sacrifice anything to make sure that doesn't happen, Padmé. Even giving up being a Jedi."

Padmé turned to him and smiled. "I know," she told him softly. "I know that future will never happen. You've seen to that, Anakin. I've seen a change in you, and I'm sure that is because of the experience you've had. I've been so worried about you lately; I've felt as though you were drifting away from me. Now I know why you were, now I understand, and I can't tell you how relieved I am that you've come back to me."

Anakin said nothing, but picked up her hand and kissed it tenderly.

Anakin made it to the medical center in record time, and helped Padmé out of the speeder, guiding her carefully towards the entrance.

"You alright?" he kept asking her.

"Ani, try to relax," she finally told him. "Labor is a very long process in most cases. It could be hours before I'm ready to deliver."

Anakin frowned. "I don't know anything," he thought with dismay and frustration. "I want to help you in any way I can, but I never got to even one class, as much as I intended to…" he stopped as she squeezed his hand, heralding another contraction. Anakin felt helpless, and simply let her hold his hand while he used the other one to rub her back until the contraction abated.

"Let's get you checked in," he said as she released her grip.

Padmé nodded, and walked with him into the receiving area of the medical center.

Jedi Temple

Several minutes had passed since the departure of Anakin and Padmé before anyone spoke. Finally Master Ki-Adi Mundi spoke up.

"I'm not sure how to put this delicately," he began tentatively, "so I'll be perfectly blunt. I think Skywalker is lying."

Obi-Wan looked at the man sharply. "Are you serious, Master Mundi?" he asked.

"Very serious," he replied. "How do we know he's telling the truth? This could all be an elaborate scheme on his part."

"To what end?" Obi-Wan asked. "You saw the mental anguish he's going through; why would make up such a horrific scenario?'

"Perhaps he's gone mad," suggested another Jedi.

Finally Mace Windu spoke up. "No, he's not mad," he said. "We'd be able to sense it if he were."

"But surely one such as Skywalker could cover up if he were lying," Mundi suggested.

"Again I ask you, to what end?" Ob-Wan persisted. "Why would he put his wife through such an ordeal? She was obviously very upset by what he told us."

"Perhaps he did it for her," Mundi suggested. "Perhaps he knew that their marriage could not be kept secret any longer now that she is so obviously with child. Could he be attempting to deflect our attention from his blatant disregard for the Code by making up this elaborate tale?"

This statement was followed by a heavy silence as all assembled considered this. No one in the history of the Jedi had ever dared to marry; but then again, there had never been a Jedi that could rival Anakin Skywalker.

"No," Windu spoke up at last. "He's not lying. He's telling the truth, all of it. I'm certain of it."

"How can you be so certain?" Mundi challenged. "The man obviously has no regard for our precepts or laws if he would not have been so audacious as to take a wife! How are we to know that he can be trusted?"

Windu looked at him. "Because I saw what Palpatine really was," he retorted. "I saw the monster he really was, lurking beneath the surface. He fooled all of us except Anakin. Anakin alone knew who and what he was. And if it weren't for that knowledge…." He stopped as he remembered how Anakin had described the slaughter of the Jedi. "We owe him our very existence, gentlemen. There can be no denying that."

Yoda, who had remained silent at this point, nodded his head approvingly at Windu's words. "Agree with Master Windu, I do," he said at last. "A change in Anakin I have sensed. Always with him I have sensed Darkness, fear, aggression. Afraid I have been for his future. But now, a shift I have sensed from the edge of darkness into the light. Changed he is, the vision of the future has changed him, for he has seen what the Darkness could do if left unchecked. Never again will he be tempted by it. Destroyed the Sith he has."

"He is the Chosen One, then," Obi-Wan said softly. "He has fulfilled the prophecy, but has done so in a way that none of us had foreseen. Who could have ever imagined a trip to the future was possible."

Yoda nodded. "Through the Force all things are possible," he reminded Obi-Wan.

"The question still remains, though," Master Mundi spoke up. "What do we do about Skywalker's marriage?"

"You heard the man," Windu replied. "He would rather be expelled from the order rather than give up his marriage. Clearly he loves Senator Amidala a great deal." He looked at Obi-Wan. "You had no hint of this?" he asked.

"I knew that he and the senator were friends," Obi-Wan replied. "As we all did. But now that I know, it does make sense. He was always so anxious to get back here, to Coruscant; sometimes to the point of obsession. If only he'd confided in me," he said, shaking his head.

"How could he?" Mundi said. "He knew the risk he ran by marrying. He knew you would have no choice but to turn him in."

Obi-Wan nodded, wondering if he actually would have done so had Anakin decided to trust him with his secret.

"In any event, there is a more pressing matter that needs our attention," Windu spoke up again. "There has never been a child born to a Jedi in the history of the Order. And now there are about to be two. If we expel Anakin from the Order, the twins will be lost to us. Do any of us here want to see that happen?"

"Is that the only reason we'd allow him to remain a Jedi?" Obi-Wan asked. "In order to take his children from him?" he looked around at his the other masters. "Do we really think either he or Padmé would allow us to even if we wanted to?"

"These children are the offspring of the most powerful Jedi Knight who has ever existed," Mundi pointed out. "They must be trained to use their powers, their potential is simply too great to leave untrained. Skywalker has to see this."

Obi-Wan looked at the master, a frown creasing his brow. "You have certainly changed your tune, Master Mundi," he commented. "Moments ago you were convinced Anakin was lying, and now you expect him to hand over his children to us."

"No one expects that," Windu put in. "But this situation is…unprecedented. Anakin has saved us all from our own short sightedness. Surely that has earned him some latitude."

"What are you suggesting?" Mundi asked.

Windu sighed, and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I'm not sure," he admitted. "All I know is that we simply can't toss Anakin aside after what he has done for us. For the galaxy."

Yoda nodded. "Meditate on this, we must," he suggested. "A difficult decision this is, one that requires serious attention."

"I agree," Obi-Wan replied. "We owe Anakin at least that much."

The other Jedi masters nodded in agreement.

Medical Center

"You're progressing nicely, Mrs. Skywalker," the nurse told Padmé as she finished her examination.

"So when can we expect the babies to arrive?" Anakin asked anxiously.

"Oh you have a few hours to go yet, I'm afraid," the nurse told him with a smile. "There's no way of predicting exactly when."

Anakin nodded his understanding. The waiting was making him crazy; seeing Padmé's contractions growing progressively more painful even more so. He felt powerless to do anything to help her, and frustrated that he knew so little about what was going on. All he could do was be there for her, which, he reflected was far more than he'd done in the future he'd witnessed. No, Padmé had gone through the ordeal of labor and childbirth without him, had suffered terribly, and had died shortly after the twins were born. But not this time, he vowed. This time things will be different, he thought as he looked down at her. And then he realized something.

"Padmé, the vision," he told her. "It's gone, the vision is gone!"
Padmé looked up at him, trying to get some rest between contractions. "Vision?" she asked tiredly.

Anakin nodded. "The dream I had," he told her. "In that dream you wore a white gown," he told her. "And the place was totally different. Look, you're wearing a green gown, and this place," he added, looking around, "is nothing like the place I saw in my vision. I did it, Padmé! I changed the future!"

Padmé smiled, and placed a hand on his cheek. "You did that when you killed Palpatine," she told him.

"Yes, part of it," he agreed. "But your destiny was still uncertain. But now I know, I know that your destiny has changed too. I saved you, Padmé," he told her, his eyes filling with tears. "I finally found a way to save you!"

Padmé took his face into her hands and looked into his eyes deeply. "You saved me when you chose light over darkness," she told him, "when you chose our family over Palpatine."

"Yes," he agreed. "And now we'll be able to raise our children together," he told her. He smiled. "Wait until you meet them," he said. "They are amazing."

Padmé smiled. "Well we won't have long to wait," she told him. "Of course, they won't exactly be the way you remember them," she added.

"No," he said. "But one day they will. They can't wait to meet you," he told her, taking her hand. "They wanted me to tell you how much they love you," he added.

Padmé felt her eyes fill up with tears at this, but the tender moment was interrupted by a contraction. It seemed as though the twins had overheard their parents' conversation and were eager to show their mother just how anxious they were to meet her.

"Breathe, Angel," Anakin told her, having taken notes over the past few hours. He held her hand as she took deep breaths, noting that the intensity and length of the contractions were increasing. Not only that, they were getting closer together. Much closer. "Not much longer," he told her in an attempt to comfort her.

Padmé nodded as she struggled through the contraction, hoping that he was right.

500 Republica Boulevard

"Come in Master Kenobi," Dormé said as she greeted Obi-Wan at the door.

"Thank you Dormé," Obi-Wan replied, stepping into the luxurious apartment. He looked around briefly, sensing at once that Anakin was not present. "May I ask where Anakin is?"

"He and Senator Amidala are at the medical center," she told him. "He contacted me a short time ago. Milady is in labor."

Obi-Wan's eyebrows shot up. "Oh? Already? Isn't that soon?"

"A little," Dormé replied. "But not so early to be alarmed."

"Ah, good," Obi-Wan responded. "Well I will make my way over there now if you'll excuse me."

"I was going there myself to bring Milady a few things," she told him. "Can I ride with you?"

"Of course," Obi-Wan replied. "Let's be off."

Medical Center

"Ani, it hurts! It hurts!" Padmé cried. She was in the most intense stage of her labor, the transition stage, at her contractions were coming in rapid succession.

Anakin hated seeing her this way, and felt helpless and ineffective. "I know, Angel, I know," he said soothingly. "It's almost done, though."

Padmé looked up at him. "How would you know?" she snapped. "You're not the one going through this! You had the easy part!"

Anakin tried not to smile at his normally serene wife's accusations. "I know I did," he agreed. "I was there, remember?"

She frowned at him. "You think this is funny?" she cried. "You think I'm having fun?"

No, the vision was nothing like this, he decided. She is going to be just fine. "No, I'm sure you're not," he agreed. "I apologize for getting you into this, Angel. It's all my fault."

"Yes, it is," she retorted, wincing in pain.

"Even though you forgot the birth control pills," he countered, unable to resist.

She looked at him again, about to launch into a tirade that would have made her mother's hair curl when the nurse entered the room.

"How are we doing?" she had the misfortune to ask.

"How do you think?" Padmé retorted. "When is this going to be over? I can't take it anymore!"

The nurse smiled, no doubt having taken many a laboring woman's abuse in her time. "Let's check you out," she said as she moved to the end of the bed.

Anakin watched as she examined Padmé, hoping against hope that she would be able to deliver soon. A light knock was heard on the door, and Anakin turned to answer it. To his surprise, it was Obi-Wan and Dormé.

"How's Milady?" Dormé asked.

"She's close," Anakin said. "She's pretty mad at me," he added with a hint of a smile.

"Why?" Dormé asked.

"Because I got her pregnant," Anakin replied with a smile.

Dormé was embarrassed and looked towards the bed. "May I go in?" she asked.

"Go ahead," Anakin said. "Brace yourself, she's pretty grouchy."

Dormé smiled, and proceeded into the room.

"So you're about to become a father," Obi-Wan said when he and Anakin were alone.

Anakin nodded, sensing how hurt his friend was that he'd been kept in the dark. "I'm sorry," he said simply. "You must feel betrayed," he added.

Obi-Wan sighed. "Well, yes," he agreed. "Though I can certainly understand why you didn't tell me."

"I'm glad you can," Anakin replied. He hesitated for a moment before asking the question that had been lingering at the back of his mind. "And now that everyone knows, what's going to happen to me?" he asked.

"Well that's up to you," Obi-Wan responded.

Anakin frowned. "What do you mean?" he asked.

"The Council has decided not to expel you from the Order," Obi-Wan informed him. "Given the manner in which you have rid the galaxy of the Sith, there was really no other decision to be made."

Anakin was surprised by this. "I…I don't know what to say," he replied.

"There's more," Obi-Wan continued. "You are also to be made a master," he told Anakin. "That is, if you wish to become one."

Anakin nodded, his mind wandering back to Padmé. "I can't think about this right now," he told Obi-Wan, sensing that she needed him. "Padmé needs me, my children need me," he continued. "I… appreciate the council's offer, but I will need to think about this. My life is about to change irrevocably, Obi-Wan. I don't know if I can do both."

"I understand," Obi-Wan replied. "Go to Padmé now," he said. "And witness the birth of your children."

Anakin smiled. "Thanks Obi-Wan," he said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Thanks for not being angry with me for not telling you."

"Well given the alternative future you described, I'm just relieved to have you on our side," he told him.

Anakin nodded, and then left his friend to return to his wife's side.

Luke and Leia Skywalker were born, in that order, a short time later. Their father was the first to hold them, his kiss was the first to touch their newborn skin, and his tears were the first to baptize them.

"Padmé, they're so beautiful," he said as each of them held a twin in their arms.

Padmé looked down at baby Leia in her arms, smiling through the tears of joy that filled her eyes. "Yes, they are," she agreed. She kissed the baby soft hair on Leia's head, the very shade of her mother's. She looked up at Anakin. "You were wonderful," she told him. "I don't know how I would have gone through that without you."

Anakin looked at her, seeing at once why it was she had died in the alternate future he'd seen. "There's no where else I'd be," he told her. "This is where I belong, Padmé, with you and our children," he added, looking down at his precious son in his arms. "Now I'm complete."