Chapter 28: Goodbye for Now
The heavy silence hung between them as they lay in their bedroom together. Gone were the carefree days of love and laughter, and blissful ignorance, where they would look forward to time spent together.
For now, she knew, their days were numbered.
Padme didn't ask many details on her upcoming mission. Vader had asked her, eyes pleading, if she trusted him. Of course she did, with everything she was. Her life, her soul, her fate.... She would do whatever he asked, and knew innately that this decision was the right one.
What bothered Padme was the possibility that the plan would fail, that they would lose each other, again....
Padme was the first to speak, her voice heavy. "I'll speak with Jael. I'm sure she'll want to see her family again, be released from duty."
He nodded quietly.
She slowly got up and left, walking the palace to knock softly on her handmaiden's door when Jael approached her; she had gotten herself something to eat.
"Mi'lady," Jael said softly.
Jael studied her mistress, someone she had come to regard not just as a superior but a dear friend. Padme's eyes looked sad and drawn, she seemed to have aged in the last day or two. Jael had sensed a difference in her and could only presume it had something to do with Vader.
She asked few questions but from her limited observations knew that Padme and Vader carried on some sort of relationship; for the most part Padme had seemed upbeat, and pleasant. Not for the last day. She had never seen her as sad.
Padme faltered slightly; Jael was the first to extend her goodwill, she sensed her mistress needed something. "Would you like to talk about it?"
Padme smiled, a small smile that didn't reach her eyes. It was kind of Jael to care about her, but at this moment she could barely feel it. The pain of impending separation from her husband was beginning to permeate her entire body.
Jael did not expect what Padme said next. "Actually, I have just come to release you from duty. I appreciate your services, you have done a wonderful job and...the Empire thanks you. You are free to leave tomarrow."
As Padme turned and began to leave Jael stopped her by placing a hand on her shoulder. Many would have jumped at the chance to leave the employ of Vader and Jael would normally have thought herself crazy to push her luck. She knew she had no right but wanted to know more; she cared about this girl.
"Mi'lady....." her voice lowered. "What is happening? Why...am I leaving and what will happen to you?"
Padme squared her shoulders slightly and put up a brave front. "Things are changing, Jael; I have to go soon." She paused, "I will be joining the Rebellion. This should have few repercussions on you, I believe you will be able to peaceably resume life where you left off. I will be fine" she added with a small smile, hoping to assure her handmaiden.
"Does Lord Vader know?" Jael asked.
"You should not be without some form of protection."
"I have Commander Hur." Padme said reassuringly, and turned to leave.
Jael's hand caught her wrist gently. "I will go with you," Jael said softly.
Now it was Padme's turn to be surprised. She turned around and felt the first trickle of emotion-gratitude-that she had allowed herself to feel for the past day. "What?"
Jael smiled slightly, she had been surprised with herself for her decision, but only for a split second before she understood why. She didn't understand this girls connection with Lord Vader but knew she was a kind and honorable person; Jael could feel it. Her life before had been fine, but held little significance. Jael wanted to stay with Padme, and realized she would sacrifice her life to protect her in the future if need be. She believed in her, and felt somehow that she was serving a cause greater than herself.
Padme nodded and allowed herself to feel some relief that she would not embark on her journey alone. "Ok" she said softly, before squeezing Jael's hand. "We depart soon; you must gather your things."
"Do you need assistance with yours, Mi'lady?"
"No thank you, I'l be fine for the time being."
They looked at each other and their friendship was strengthened. What once had been simply servitude had evolved into something genuine, and where once existed obligation now was purpose. Padme understood, and remembered what she'd had with her handmaidens in the past life and was grateful history was repeating itself in this one small way. Padme nodded and turned, before returning to her quarters while Jael set about preparing for their trip.
That night Padme had her last dream. Eclipsed by darkness, she could feel herself lifted higher and higher, free from all the constraints of the living world and all at once her former life flashed before her in a series of images with a clarity she had never experienced. She recognized it as a life review, but knew she was not dying. Feelings from each image, both her own and of those she interacted with, were immediately understood.
One particular moment came into clear focus; she wore her Senatorial robes and embraced Anakin in the Senate building, hidden for the moment by a large pillar. He had just returned from his most grueling mission yet during the Clone Wars and it was the first time in six months they had seen each other.
She told him of her pregnancy, and shared her concerns. His face lit up, relaying all the emotion of surprise, disbelief; then joy. He was happy, simply overwhelmed, that they had created a life together and she watched as the mix of emotions crossed his face, knowing that despite the hardships of appearances and war, he was still her Ani. All of his previous concerns seemed to melt away as he told her this was the happiest moment of his life.
Padme was not as easily assured. Our secret is getting harder to hide...what are we going to do?
We're not going to worry about anything right now....our baby is a blessing.....
He leaned in to kiss her and she held him back, reminding him of the discretion they had to keep in public.
Not here, Ani.
Yes, here! I don't care who knows...I'm tired of hiding this..
Don't say that, Anakin. I won't let you give up your career for me. The Republic and this war needs you too much...
Padme could this time feel the hurt emanate from Anakin as a result of her rebuff. She thought that she was making the right decision, and they could maintain it all-her position as a Senator rallying for democracy, his status as the Hero With No Fear. And perhaps now, a family too.
Her priority was on the war and how this would endanger their arrangement while his was on......on her.
She now understood that this was the greatest of her mistakes, and her sole regret. This was the pivotal turning point at which she had truly failed him. He'd always respected her wishes to keep their marriage a secret, all the while just wanting to be with her and live their lives openly. Perhaps if they had come out, right then and there, he would have been expelled from the Jedi order and she would have faced repercussions as a Senator. But later events would not have ended nearly as tragically as they did.
Anakin was never evil, or truly power hungry. He sought respect, but love had been imprinted on his heart early on by his mother until the day of their separation. Since then, he craved what he needed but could never attain-Obi-Wans approval, Padme's complete devotion....the burdens of war and manipulation were finally too great for him to bear, until he turned to the one person for guidance who never seemed to judge him. Palpatine.
Padme could feel herself being pulled back and woke with a start, wiping away the tears with the pads of her fingers. She lay there in bed for a few minutes before realizing that he was also awake beside her.
"I couldn't sleep," he said quietly, and she nodded, laying beside him in bed for what seemed like eternity.
Silently they turned and reached for each other in the dark, divesting each other of their clothing with a quiet desperation and intensity unparalleled. She pressed her lips to his as he explored her, bodies smoldering and breathing growing shallow until again, they were one.
In this lifetime and the last, Anakin had always been unsure if Padme fully returned the feelings he had for her; this lay at the heart of his weakness, the sole factor Sidious had used to manipulate him.
This night they joined, their feelings a culmination of love and lust, passion and tenderness, each belonging to the other. Every kiss, every touch, drove deeper down her pain, and pushed further away his doubt until no more remained. Anakin wished he could remain this way forever, lost inside Padme, absolved and safe from his mistakes, but reality would eventually resurface. When they finished and lay together, exhausted, he finally knew that she loved him as much as he loved her.
They pressed their foreheads together and remained that way for some time.
"I'm scared." Padme whispered.
"Me too," he finally admitted, tracing her cheek with his thumb and twining his fingers in her hair.
There were no assurances in this, only principle and an elusive path to follow. Padme realized that just because the right decision was underway didn't make it any easier, and dreaded the coming day. She encircled his waist with her arms and held him more tightly, ignoring reality as sleep overtook them.
Padme sat in front of the vanity as Jael stood behind her, silver brush in hand. Jael's brown hair was pulled back tightly and she was styling Padme's in a similar, but slightly more ornate, fashion. Padme's eyes met hers in the mirror. "We'll only be traveling today," she gently reminded her.
Jael nodded and took out some of the jeweled barrettes she had affixed around the edges, gathering what remained behind in an intricate bun. Padmes eyes wandered the room, their bedroom, eyes resting first on her suitcases that lay on the bed, most of them packed and ready to be closed....
Her eyes drifted front the plain settee to the dark walk-in closet next to it. Jael finished her hair and patted it softly with a murmur of approval.
"Is that alright, mi'lady?"
"Yes..." Padme said absently, rising and walking to the closet. She felt herself being drawn in. Uniforms of Vader's hung to one side, some of her clothing to the other, although most had been cleared in the course of her packing. She walked to the end where the used linen container was placed and slowly pulled out his most recently worn tunic, holding it to her chest like it was something precious. Silly, she thought to herself with a slight chuckle, and imagined him laughing, but she wanted to take this one thing, this remnant, with her. She held it to her face and was still able to smell him; that seemed to comfort her.
"Mi'lady?" Jael's concerned voice came from the other room, interrupting her thoughts.
"I'm fine," Padme said, exiting the closet with the garment. Jael was finishing packing her bags and Padme moved to the remaining one that was about to be closed, gently folding the tunic and placing it on top. Jael shot her a quizzical look, then recognition seemed to dawn on her and she nodded slightly, closing the remaining bag for Padme. Her sympathetic eyes swept over the girl.
The door opened and Lord Vader entered. He had been in another part of the castle, giving instruction to Commander Hur. Jael had grown used to, though not entirely comfortable with, being around him. He and Padme conversed, Vader filling her in on recent details, while Jael discretely arranged the bags. Commander Hur would be taking his storm trooper uniform, and gear, but would not be dressed in it most of the time. He was to appear as a civilian and blend in, although he would flank Padme closely for protection.
Finished with her duties for the moment, Jael moved the luggage out of the room systematically, going to meet with Commander Hur to prepare the ship on the landing for boarding.
Padme and Vader were left alone in the bedroom and the door closed with a wave of his hand. Readying his oxygen, he removed his helmet and breathing apparatus so his face was exposed. Padme understood the mission, he had thought it out well and supplied her with all of the details. She was given an ample amount of credits to be used during her travels; if for some reason she ran out or the credit account was frozen she was supplied with various items that could be sold or bartered for large amounts in any location. He was giving her a craft that he had personally prepared with additional speed and armor, although he'd advised her to go into towns and change crafts frequently so she could not be traced.
He handed her a com unit. "You can reach me anytime with this, but don't use it in any event but an emergency. Even though I've encrypted it, It increases the likelihood you could be found..." his voice trailed off slightly.
She nodded numbly, understanding everything that had to be done but at the same time not wanting to do it. She sat down softly on the bed, after a minute he knelt down so he could look her in the face.
"Come with me," she said suddenly. It was the only time she had allowed herself to offer any resistance.
"I can't yet, Padme. There's more information I need to obtain before I can leave.....the second Death Star is almost operational, and it's very dangerous. I can't expect Luke and Leia to try to fight this with what they have now. It puts them in too much danger."
She nodded over the lump in her throat and could see the pain in his eyes as well. His blue eyes brightened a little as he pulled two dark objects from a pocket, placing them in Padme's hands. She recognized them as holo's and looked at them curiously for a moment.
"Go ahead, activate them," he said, seeming eager for her to see. They were both able to fit in the palm of her right hand; with her left she pressed the buttons, and two still green images appeared. Padme recognized them immediately.
The first, handsome, blond and blue eyed but attired mostly in black, his face possessed a solid integrity but a slight world weariness due to his experience with war and piloting. He looked so much like his father, she thought proudly, even though his hair was a little straighter, features slightly more broad. The second, a beautiful princess dressed all in white. Her gown flowed to the ground and covered most of her arms; she wore a overcoat with a hood drawn over her immacutely groomed brunette hair. She held her head high, posture regal, her features so like Padme's own, although she saw something of Anakin in the chin and the eyes.
Even though she had never met them as adults, Padme thought with some sadness, she got the impression Leia possessed more of her father's drive and temper, while Luke got his gentle nature and capacity to forgive from her. Speechless, Padme nodded, eyes starting to brim with happy tears. Only Anakin, she thought, could make her feel this way in such a difficult situation.
"Thank you," she said simply.
Seeing how much she appreciated the gift, he continued. "It's a basic file on them I obtained; I thought you'd like to have it. It has all of their histories, their accomplishments." She could hear a semblance of pride in his voice, and surmised he'd been over his children's information many times. "I wanted to surprise you with it," he finished.
She nodded and put her arms around him, placing a kiss on his neck before reaching back and turning off the holos, placing them gingerly in her cloak. She couldn't stop her chin from quivering and brought her eyes to meet his.
"Anakin..." she began shakily.
He took both of her hands in his before speaking "This isn't goodbye, Padme. What you've given me....it's more than I ever thought possible, a part of me I believed was lost forever. I promise, I will do my best to stay safe. I will find you," he added with determination.
"I'm afraid I'll never see you again," she admitted.
He swallowed, before he felt his fear release and fill with a sense of deja vu. "What does your heart tell you?"
She searched her feelings and nodded. He was right. She knew somehow this wasn't over. Silently, they rose together and made their way towards the front of the castle.
The craft's engines started as they observed from the front entryway, Padme absently looking at it and listening to the muffled hum of the engines through the glass. Commander Hur was outside preparing last minute details, Jael was in the castle doing final organizations. Vader had walked her to the front door but couldn't come any further. It was prepared with oxygen and pressure; he wanted their last meeting to be face to face.
He leaned back against the wall slightly, suddenly looking young and forlorn. They were both silent for a long time.
"Do you really think it's possible, Padme?"
She turned her head slightly to look at him.
"Turning back, I mean. I don't know if you remember it all...I've done so many things," he said, face darkening in shame when he thought of the younglings he'd slaughtered. He'd told himself that they had died a quick and painless death, that they were just orphans anyway like he had been, and he was really just doing them a favor by allowing them to join the Force that much sooner. That, like so many other deeds, was just another excuse he'd made; a justification, an evil means to an end.
"Nobody's promising it will be easy, Anakin." she said softly. "But nothing can take away your humanity unless you let it. Not one evil act, not a hundred."
"Yoda said that once you started down the path to the dark side, it would forever dominate your destiny" he said, and in terms of dark forces, he was deep in it. This was no doubt something that Sidious had used to hammer him into servitude.
"Then he was wrong." she said simply. Maybe that's why the Force allowed the Jedi to fall, she pondered. They were unbalanced themselves, and wise though Yoda may have been, she did not believe he was infallible.
To say there was no turning back was the greatest lie of the Sith, Padme believed. It was never too late, for if one person could become trapped and enslaved by an escalating series of mistakes, if forgiveness was not possible, then there was no hope for anyone.
Jael made her way around the corner and to the front foyer and involuntarily flinched before regaining her composure. She saw Padme and Lord Vader speaking near the front entrance, him leaning back against the wall and Padme standing slightly between his legs, her hand resting on his arm. She was startled when she saw his face. What had she expected? Jael wondered. There was no mistaking it was him, the large frame and lower half of his uniform was on. But the face....he was so handsome, so normal....and looked sad somehow.
Luckily they were focused on each other didn't seem to notice her, paying her little mind when she excused herself out the front entrance with the remaining luggage to board the craft.
Vader stared at some blank space in front of him and finally looked at Padme, nodding. It was time, but neither one of them could say goodbye. Padme leaned forward and closed her eyes, bringing her lips to his. She let them linger that way, burning this image and feeling in her mind for reasons she could not consciously admit to herself.....that perhaps this would be the last time she would ever feel him....
Finally, they broke and she turned, not looking back or she wouldn't be able to do it. One foot in front of the other, fists at her side, she forced herself to walk to the craft. He watched her, feeling a wisp of pride; memories resurfacing of the warrior she had been and now was becoming again.
She entered the craft and sat at the console. Jael was in the rear, preparing their sleeping quarters, Commander Hur was at the front with Padme, making recommendations on planets they could depart to to begin the journey. When they reached hyperspace he turned to her, ready for a decision.
Padme was deep in thought, before she finally spoke. There was someplace she had to go, a place to start.
"Set course for Naboo." she ordered.
Chapter 29: A Past Confronted
The craft, co-piloted by Padme and Commander Hur, landed with ease on her Naboo family estate. The pleasant atmosphere and lush scenery surrounded them, but Padme's thoughts were elsewhere. Her family's residence in view, she leaned forward, looking out the console with her head resting on her palm. Her stomach had started doing flip-flops, and she reached up to touch the necklace that held both her Japor pendant and wedding ring.
Padme didn't know how her family would react to her arrival, or even if they were there. She just knew that as she began her journey that would lead her to safety and hopefully back to her husband, she owed it to them to let them know how she was doing, where she was going....and offer them to chance to join.
For if she could be in danger from the Empire, Padme realized, they could too.
Be strong, Padme.
She took a deep breath and unharnessed herself, walking down the ramp with Jael slightly behind her while Hur stayed behind, guarding the craft. The footsteps that carried her closer and closer to her beloved family estate were slow, unsure, but deliberate.
Suddenly, a noise resounded on the deck; the door opened and Jobal appeared, followed closely by Sola. There was a stunned silence, followed by sounds of surprise, happiness, and then tears as Jobal ran forward first, throwing her arms around Ami.
Slowly, automatically, she brought her arms up to embrace her....Jobal. Padme felt strangely detached, feeling emotions of love, longing and betrayal all compete at the same time.
How did she feel about them now? Padme wondered. She didn't know how to define the relationships anymore.
She stood quietly as the rest of the Nabierre's came out and she was welcomed and embraced by Padme's family....Ami's family.....her family. Padme knew she felt more like the sister and daughter they had once had, but had no idea how to explain it to them. There was a lifetime, literally, of insight to fill them in on, and as much as she'd loved and trusted her family, she wasn't sure they could understand or believe her if she tried.
So, she settled for saying nothing, simply gathering her belongings and following them into the estate.
Vader sat in his quarters, alone in the silence. His illness had healed quickly, and the Emperor had recently commed him, informing him of an upcoming mission. No inquiry was made as to the status of his health. He was due back at the Executor to oversee a new mission within a standard week.
He'd woken up that morning, instinctively reaching for Padme.....and kept reaching.....
His momentary pain and rage at her marked absense caused him to lash out with the Force. A cold sweat had broken out over his body, causing him to question his sanity. Had he been so stressed by the Rebellion and immersion in the dark side that he had finally lost his mind? Did the ghosts from his past rise again to haunt him, causing him to imagine that his wife had returned?
His eyes drifted to her side of the bed and he could still see her imprint, smell the scent of her hair, and exhaled softly. His wedding ring hung on a chain around his neck, for even though he had slipped it on her finger when they were married as Skywalkers, they still wore it around their neck, close to their hearts, just as they'd done in the previous life. Anakin knew it had been real.
Now he could only look at the objects that lay strewn around the room-some intact, some shattered-and hear the deafening silence that permeated the castle now that the life had left it again. Anakin held in his hands the black helmet that was Darth Vader and stared directly into the orbs that were it's eyes. This suit had never been his idea, or choice. Decades earlier, he'd went down in flames and days later, simply woken up in it.
It was horrifying. He shuddered, studying the grotesque angularity of the black mask, coupled with the helmet and mechanical breathing, more menacing and foreboding than any storm trooper. He'd liked the way beings shrank away from him, trembled at his mere appearance and did as he ordered. It was, he'd felt, as far from being a padawan learner and young slave as he could get.
Now he knew better. Lord Sidious created this monster, this facade, to cover up what was nothing more than a walking corpse. The suit kept others at bay, virtually guaranteeing that he would never be close to anyone. Sidious wanted him polarized, and isolated; soon Vader learned how it felt not to feel. To forget what happiness was and lose his humanity was a frightening thing, a numbing and never-ending spiral towards Sidious' dark oblivion. It had almost worked.
And then Padme.
Remembering how to care for another person, to have human contact, and know what it was to be forgiven and loved unconditionally reopened Anakin's eyes. He had been lost, drowning, for over twenty-three years before she had extended her love and brought him back to the surface. Breathing the air again that was the lightside, contrasted with manipulation and darkness, told him just how far he'd fallen. He wondered why he hadn't died sooner, being immersed in such a Hell.
Vader threw the helmet across the room and it hit the wall with a sharp thud and landed, rolling back and forth slowly on the ground until it came to rest on it's side, the vacuous orbs blankly returning his stare.
Anakin was without options. He would have to wear this thing, perhaps permanently, for his own survival. He would have to pretend, at least until he could gather the data he needed and join Padme, and then......he didn't know what would happen to him. Perhaps he would be held and tried for war crimes, even executed, but those consequences he was prepared to face. He knew he deserved them, and serving Sidious wasn't a life he wanted anymore.
The night Anakin joined the darkside he was a danger to her, he knew that now. His actions were irrational, and for twenty-three years he had acted out in a manner that wasn't truly him. He felt as though she had left him, but realized that he had left her first. The dark side had given him insanity.
Insane, he thought, ruefully. He had gone insane. In so many ways, he and Padme were the same age in mind because when she had died and he had been cut off emotionally, he had stopped growing too.
The Force, in it's wisdom, forced him to spend those two decades miserable and alone so he could know in it's entirety the gravity his mistakes. No amount of power had ever satisfied him, no conquest ever filled his heart or gave him the solace the Sith had promised. As hard as it was for Anakin to admit, he was too arrogant to realize then, and needed a lifetime apart from his wife to finally understand.
He had learned his lesson.
Padme paced her family's house restlessly, as Jobal, Ruwee, and Sola watched her. They were elated to see her and full of worries, which finally gave way to questions and a tentative sense of relief. Padme knew she didn't have much time before she had to move on and was unsure of how to broach the subject. She thought for a moment before she began.
"I'm going to have to leave soon," she said slowly, and her families faces collectively fell. "There is a danger, and I don't have much time...."
"Honey," Jobal interjected, "You're away from Vader, you're safe now. Even if we have to hide you, he won't get you again, I promise."
Padme took a terse breath, and tried again. She felt as though her every assurance she was treated well had fallen on deaf ears.
"It's not him, it's the higher-ups within the Empire. I tell you this because if I'm a target, I fear you may be too." Padme knew how much Anakin valued her and how the Emperor could use her as leverage against him. Likewise, her family could be her leverage, tortured and killed, whether they knew her whereabouts or not.
"You have to believe me. I'm not delusional, or acting out." Her voice dropped an octave. " I understand why you cloned--....why you did what you did. I can't say it hasn't hurt me, but I will promise I will try to come to terms with it." Padme said, looking directly at Jobal.
Jobal closed her eyes and sighed, grateful for the chance Ami was giving her. She had not forgiven herself for the deception since Ami had left, and it had been close to a standard year. Only a divine act of mercy had brought her back to them, she was convinced. Now more than ever Jobal wanted to protect Padme, keep her close, and show her how much she was loved. She supposed she owed it to her granddaughter to at least hear her out, and try to see things from her point of view. She held a weary hand over her brow, cursing the involvement of the Empire that had drawn Ami into this mess.
Jobal nodded. "Ok. At least you're safe, and away from that monster--"
"He's not a monster, stop calling him that," Padme snapped, her demeanor changing in an instant. Her posture was defensive and voice razor sharp. Jobal blinked, shocked at the nerve she seemed to have struck and the way Ami spoke to her.
It's now or never, Padme...she told herself. She was tired of keeping secrets, both in this lifetime and the last. If she were to mend her relationship with her family, they would have to know, truly know, and accept her. And to accept her, they would have to learn to accept him too.
She looked at Jobal for a moment and her expression relaxed. "He's my husband," she said softly.
The room fell so silent, the sound of a pin dropping could have been heard. Ruwee and Jobal were stunned, Sola looked to the side and exhaled slowly. Jael, who had met the family but was now silently seated in the corner, clasped her hands in her lap and nodded to herself. She was never told outright but had suspected all along.
After a moment, the sound of Jobal's sobs filled the room. "W-what.....how....what do you mean? Were you forced?"
Padme knelt in front of her, drawing on all of her patience to deal with Jobal's emotional outburst. She had known they might not take it well, but couldn't help being disappointed anyway. She loved him with all of her heart and wanted to convey that to them; her ideas of bringing home a suitor for her family to accept and embrace had never gone this way.
"No, no coersion," she said quietly. "I'm loved, taken care of....I wish you could hear and understand me when I tell you that."
Jobal shook her head, comprehension still not dawning. "But, why? What could he possibly want from you?" Her head spun. She didn't know the horrors of what Padme may have went through, or even if Vader was a human species. Her mind turned to the worst.
"What.....what does he make you...." her voice trailed off shakily, and she looked at Padme.
Padme stood up and narrowed her eyes, studying Jobal for a long moment. She understood exactly what Jobal meant and could feel her anger growing; her jaw clenched. Her patience was wearing thin and she could feel the closeness she'd shared with her family begin to slip away. This was her marriage, not a spectacle.
"We do everything married people do," she said tersely, and the tone of her voice silenced Jobal.
Ruwee spoke up then. He was normally silent, but could not sit back and watch this happen to her. "It could still be annulled. Even if it's the Empire, there are ways out-they can't enforce these things against your will. I have a friend who handles law; he can provide more information and help us."
Padme had heard enough.
Shaking her head slightly, she turned and strode to the other side of the room, nodding at Jael, who stood and followed her. As she was leaving, she turned to face her family again, but her expression had changed. She had already begun to withdraw from them.
"I will stay the night, but tomarrow I depart. Goodnight," she said quietly, and turned on her heel, leaving them in stunned silence to contemplate what had happened.
Sola fidgeted with her hands, wringing and relaxing them intermittently, while staring at the floor. Ruwee and Jobal had been talking, and although her mother's emotional state had calmed, Sola thought, she still wasn't much better. Everything her parents had said seemed to set Ami off, and widen the chasm between all of them. Sola had wisely stayed silent throughout the whole exchange and watched Ami, although she had been just as shocked as the rest of them.
She saw a difference in her since she came back, a hardness and an edge, like she had matured years in the time she had been away. She could not quite put her finger on it. And the marriage to Lord Vader......still, Ami did appear to be well healthy and well taken care of. She arrived wearing some of the finest garments Sola had ever seen, reminding her again of the sister she had lost.
Sola sighed. She had no idea what to do now. The sound of her parents arguing that she had drowned out with her thoughts came into focus, and she was back in the moment.
"This is crazy, there must be some mistake." Jobal was telling her father. "And we can't just leave-"
"I think we should go with her," Sola said suddenly, and both her parents quieted, looking at her as though she was insane. Her mother began to speak and Sola stood, holding up her hand in a gesture of silence.
"Mother, I can't understand it, but I want to go with her. I don't feel as though we've given her a chance really, heard her out. She chose to come back, please remember that." she paused, and her voice lowered as she met Jobal's eyes. Ami was the only thing that seemed to matter at this point. "We have to give her the benefit of the doubt now. We're losing her again."
Jobal nodded her head softly. Perhaps Sola was right. She looked at Ruwee and could see he felt the same. They had to take this chance. They would have done it for their first Padme and they owed Ami at least that much. That night they went to Ami's room, where she and Jael were exchanging quiet conversation while packing. Ami was surprised at their decision, but agreed that they could accompany her in the morning.
Perhaps it was Sola's imagination, but she thought Ami looked relieved, even happy, that they were coming along.
She hoped so.
The following days passed into weeks, during which their travels took them into different towns, planets, even parsecs. The Nabierres grew very friendly with Jael, a sweet and protective girl who seemed to look quite a lot like Ami, although a bit more shy. They were weary of Commander Hur at first, but since he simply followed orders, never wore storm trooper armor and seemed to lack a personality altogether, their weariness soon turned to amusement.
It struck Sola one day as she was watching Ami converse about destination with Commander Hur that they were essentially the same creation. Clones.
Her heart grew heavy when she thought of that, imagining the pain it had caused Ami. Sola refused to believe that she was anything less than special, her little girl. An individual. She didn't bring up the topic to Ami and thought she probably never should again, that decision was their fault and their burden to carry. Sola only hoped that she could lessen it for her as time passed.
The day Jobal got in touch with one of her neighbors, she received the news. Storm troopers had been seen in Theed more frequently, and finally the inevitable happened-their house was raided. The official story was that they were performing an investigation currently underway for the Empire, and it was for the safety of all citizens involved. Jobal and her family were shocked, as much by the fact that they had made the right decision as by their estate being violated. As she looked at Ami, she saw pity, mingled with resolve, cross her features. She had been right all along.
Ami ensured they changed locations, and even crafts, frequently enough to avoid detection. She remembered what Vader told her about using the Force, and drew on this when she sensed it was time to go again. She prayed that it would serve her well in helping her find a legitimate Rebellion cell. Vader had given her some weapons and combat training before she left, but she knew use of the Force would be the essential element that would either make or break them. She had to trust that she would know when the time was right.
They stayed on a desert planet one night, similar to Tatooine, and ventured far enough from the local city to establish camp. A fire was made and soon everyone was sitting around it, relaxed and exchanging stories. Ami smiled absently, listening to them, before slipping away from the group to sit by herself on a berm and look up at the stars. They shone brightly tonight through the clear atmosphere, like jewels set against a velvet backdrop. She hugged her knees to her chest and shivered slightly.
He's out there somewhere, near one of them, she thought as her mind drifted to her husband again. She'd tried to keep focused on the mission, but he was in her heart always; watching, waiting, and moving to the forefront at every opportunity. She wanted him, so much, and fought the urge to reach out with the Force to feel his reassuring presence.
A memory resurfaced of when he had returned from a mission and brought her a rare necklace, a Chandyrri stone found only in one place in the galaxy that changed colors with every emotion. He beamed when he saw she liked it and gently placed it around her neck, followed by a long kiss. It was times like these he seemed to live to make her happy.
I thought you deserved a romantic moment, being stuck inside so long, he'd said.
You're one big romantic moment, Anakin, she'd teased dryly, watching the color flush his cheeks. She couldn't imagine him any other way.
Time spent apart had not lessened her need for him. She wanted to wake up every day for the rest of her life and see his face beside her. Aging together, settling down, simply being left alone; these were luxuries so many beings took for granted that always seemed well beyond their reach. She missed his lopsided grin, how young and spontaneous he was around her, the way he would make her laugh and keep her laughing.....
Exactly where he was right now, Padme didn't know. Every night they'd cohabited, it seemed, she would wake up and feel his arms around her, his face buried in her neck. She would look at the tousled, tawny head beside her and rest her lips on him, feeling almost maternal during these times when his attachment was so clear. He needed her. He murmured her name, reached for her whenever he was upset, whenever he was happy, whenever he was scared. Who would be there to hold him now?
I love you, Anakin. I'm still here.
The sound of Sola's steps beside her pulled her out of her thoughts.
"Hi," she said softly, sitting beside Ami, who shifted slightly to allow her more room. They both gazed up at the sky for a long moment, each to their own thoughts.
Sola had seen Ami leave the fire camp and had watched her for a while, studying her. Sola still wasn't sure what to make of the situation, but thought she knew what had happened. She'd heard of traumatic situations, mostly hostage, where the victim would grow attached to the perpetrator and convince themselves a bond existed. She felt this was what had probably happened to Ami, and wanted to be there to help her through it. As far as she could tell, simply listening and reserving judgement was what Ami needed right now. Anything more, Sola would gladly provide, but first she would give her space.
"How are you holding up?" Sola asked, and a small smile formed on Padme's lips. Padme knew they still worried about her, about her involvement with Vader. She didn't answer the question, instead her gaze returned to the sky.
"Do you remember when we used to watch the stars at night, and give our own names to the constellations?" Ami asked.
Sola's mind started racing. Had she done that with Ami? She remembered doing that with her sister, but not Ami....perhaps she had forgotten. Sola nodded and smiled benignly. "They're beautiful tonight, aren't they?"
"That one there," Ami said, pointing to one group in particular. "I think that's Kolaris, but from a different angle. I just figured that out."
They were quiet for a moment before she continued. "Your first boyfriend, Corinn, he named one of them after you. I gave you such a hard time about that, you were probably relieved when it ended." She laughed at the memory.
Sola's heart skipped a beat. How could she know that? She had only ever told Padme. Not her parents...not her friends....not her husband.....
Not anybody else.
Padme placed a gentle hand on Sola's knee before continuing. "And you repaid the favor in kind by teasing me mercilessly about Anakin Skywalker. You even told him he was the first boyfriend I'd ever brought home. Remember?" Her voice was soft, haunting. Her brown eyes rose to meet Sola's, which shone with unshed tears.
Speechless, Sola could only nod her head as she finally understood. By some miracle she was back with them, not just their Ami but their Padme. And she was more than she ever had been.
"How is it possible?" Sola finally asked.
"I don't know," Padme said. "I meant it when I said there was still good in him. I will turn him back to the light, and he needs me now more than ever."
Sola nodded as she remembered her dream, the one she'd had after they'd lost Padme but before Ami had been with them. The tears, unbidden, parted from her lids and trailed down her cheeks.
"How?" Sola asked.
"Darth Vader" Padme said, looking at Sola. "He's not who you think. Don't define him by the suit he wears."
Sola's stomach turned; she could tell what was coming, even though she could not put it into words. Ami did for her.
"It's him, Sola. It's my Anakin. I didn't know how to tell you."
Sola nodded and reached for Padme, burying her face and her tears of happiness in her shoulder. This time, she returned the hug in full, feeling as close to Sola as they ever had been. When they embraced, they embraced as sisters.
Later that night, when Sola returned to her family, she spoke to them in private. Jobal and Ruwee would not take to this lightly, and she hoped they could understand the gravity of what she was saying.
Padme's with us, Mother.....it's her. It's truly her.
Sola, always the rational one, was convinced. And suddenly, no more explanation was needed. They began to open their minds, to finally understand. Accepting the unorthodox situation wouldn't be easy, but it was far better than never having had Padme return. It was a blessing. As a family, they started to heal that night. They would welcome Padme back and in the process, begin to put the missing pieces of themselves back together.
Chapter 30: Before the Storm
Leia leaned over the balcony in the ship, taking deep breaths. The words Luke had spoken still echoed painfully in her mind. The Force is strong in my family. My father has it...I have it......my sister has it... Deep down, she had always felt the connection with Luke and known that a missing part of herself had returned when she met him. Now that she understood Luke's relationship to Lord Vader, it was a bitter joy. For while she was completed by the twin brother she had never known, she now grappled with the truth that he was a part of that monster. And when her brain processed the information, she realized, she was too...
Luke's blue eyes shone with hope and forgiveness; whatever interactions he had with Vader, he was clearly willing to overlook his flaws and embrace his estranged father. How little he knew, Leia thought bitterly. He had not been captured, tortured, and seen fundamental parts of the galaxy destroyed like they had never mattered. He could not bring back someone who had never been good in the first place.
Her thoughts went to Bail Organa, now lost with the destruction of Alderaan inflicted by none other than her despised enemy in black armor. Oh Father, how much I want to ask you. Why didn't you tell me? You trusted me to handle your position in the Senate, and then leading the Rebellion. Why didn't you feel you could tell me this?
Another, familiar face drifted in and out of Leia's mind. A face so full of love, beauty, kindness. And sadness too. This was the face of her birth mother. Leia had no idea how long she had known her. As she looked out the portal and viewed her galaxy from the remote parts of the Outer Rim, she clung to this image. This was what would sustain her during periods of loathing and self-doubt, Leia thought.
The only redeemable part of her.
Lord Vader stood at the bridge of the Star Destroyer, looking out into the darkness at everything and nothing in particular. An officer approached, informing that his presence had been requested by the Emperor.
Vader made his way to the throne room, the sharp clicking of his boots and mechanical breathing signaling his presence to all around him. The hipocrisy, the lie that was the Sith Code, reverberated in his mind.
Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
What was passion anyway, and what had it been worth? In Padme's presence, he knew peace, he had always known peace but had forgotten how it felt. Through the solace of her embrace, he didn't have to be the Emperor's Fist, or be the Chosen One, he could just.....be.
Through passion, I gain strength.
His strength as a feared man was intangible, and a mixed blessing at best; he could never trust anyone not to throw him. Strong in theory, not strong in body, and not truly strong in mind.
Through strength, I gain power.
He would never be powerful enough to overcome the demon that was his Master now, and he could not wish the same on Padme or his children.
Through power, I gain victory.
The faces of victory.....one pale, maimed and disfigured, the other burned and scarred in his youth. Both hateful with yellow eyes, until one discovered hope and their paths diverged.
Through victory, my chains are broken.
Black armor-a constant reminder of his distance from humanity. Mechanical limbs, which once were awkward and snagged on the interior of his prison, as if to frustrate and taunt him of all he had lost. That is, until they were replaced with something synthetic, something more realistic, more similar to those he had been born with. Weak, frail lungs, dependant on the armor in most places just to sustain the basic necessity of air.
The Force shall free me.
He'd never been free. Power, fear, intimidation, and possessions-these were not freedom. These were the fruits of his malice, an everpresent reminder of how far he was from that which he held dear. He was born a slave, and perhaps he would die one as well. For years he'd embraced this code, swallowed it whole just like the willing fool Sidious knew he had been.
A fire burned within Lord Vader; a bright, blinding love for Padme and a white hot hatred for Sidious. He'd never had a friend in him, he was a tool and a pawn, just as Dooku had once been.
Did Sidious know how much he hated him, how much he had always hated him?
The walls of deception erected themselves in Vader's mind moments before he entered the throne room, almost effortlessly. He knew how to shield his Master from particular thoughts, and that skill had never been more imperative. He could show Sidious exactly what he wanted to see, and needed to see now, to buy time and accomplish his objective. Patience, that too would be utilized; Vader realized, it was the only good thing Sidious had ever taught him.
The door opened and he approached the Emperor, kneeling in submission.
"What is thy bidding, my Master?"
He received his orders tersely for the second Death Star, and then he left, putting welcome distance between himself and his Master. Vader boarded his personal craft and departed, feeling a strange but warm presence pushing against his mind the further he was from the Sith. He allowed the walls to fall, and the presence to enter, tentatively at first and then fully when he realized what it was.
You will know when the time is right. The Force is with you, Anakin.
If he hadn't been wearing the mask, anyone would have seen the shock and awe plainly registered on his face as he flew numbly through space. It was moments later that he finally gave a name to the voice he knew but had so long forgotten.
"In here." Padme quickly waved her hand towards her family, and they followed. They were on a planet in the Bormean system, and had stopped in a store for goods. The shopkeeper attracted the attention of Padme; mostly it was through her connection to the Force that she felt drawn to him. They conversed, Jael standing closely by Padme's side, noting how the conversation took on casual and then gradually more cryptic meanings.
The shopkeeper eyed Padme cautiously. "They say there's been several Rebellion cells springing up in these areas."
"That is interesting. Particularly for people wanting to join." She met his eyes directly, all but outright stating what she meant.
"Yes. I've heard rumors of such a cell meeting later this afternoon, beyond the Borshyke Cantina at around 1350 hours. Again, they are only rumors," he said, glancing nervously at his supplies and retreating back into his shell.
"Thank you for your assistance." Padme gathered the supplies cordially and finished the transaction. She turned as she was leaving and gave an appreciative smile. "All of your assistance."
"Hey," he called suddenly, and she turned at the door, quirking an eyebrow. "They aren't always....receptive to certain civilians. But I do understand they enjoy Orion; the first time is a bravo performance, although the second seems to echo. It can be useful information"
"Thank you. I will indeed," she said, and then they departed.
Padme's heart drummed steadily; the Force was turning, undulating in currents around them and she could feel it. This would be the day, the day she may be joining the Rebellion and might finally meet them. Butterflies flew madly in her stomach for just that reason. She'd never had the chance to hold them as babies, and hadn't even thought about how to know them as adults.
Her family knew about her children, she'd shown them the holos. They were initially stunned, but happy at the discovery of their relatives. There was so much they realized they didn't know, and could only numbly follow her guidance. Padme told them to seek Luke Skywalker or Leia Organa as a contact should any of them ever be separated. Even as she thought, her insecurities regarding the twins writhed inside her; would they know her, would they accept her? Was she even equipped to be their mother, being the same biological age?
Padme glanced down at her watch. The time was approaching. She met Hur's stare. "Let's go."
They headed over towards the Cantina, through the thicket and to the clearing where they had been told. A group of what appeared to be mechanics were working on a craft, and when they noticed her approaching eyed her wearily.
"Greetings." She said quietly. "I am Padme, these are my family and friends." She stopped speaking and looked directly at the man who appeared to be in charge. He stepped forward slowly, glancing over her shoulder beyond even her family to ensure she'd not been followed. He crossed his arms.
"Hello, what brings you to these parts." His gaze was soft but firm, delving for information that would separate her from a spy to a potential Rebel.
"I understand the Orion have visited this area." she said levelly. It was all he needed.
"I pass you two," he said, seeking authentication.
"Echo," she replied.
He took her gently by the elbow and motioned towards the craft. "We've been here for about twenty standard minutes, but I don't know how much time we have. We must move quickly. There have been more troopers in this area as of late." He eyed her family. "They can board the craft now. Do you have all you need?"
She motioned her family, and they entered the craft; she stayed behind with Jael. Padme motioned to Hur, then glanced at the pilot. "He can help you, he has mechanical skills. Hur, inside" she said, and he acquiesced, heading to the cockpit to handle the controls.
The pilot nodded, starting final preparations. Nobody heard at first the parting of the grass, or even the winds pickup. The sky seemed to noticeably darken.
Nobody noticed anything until the first blaster fire sounded on the craft.
"Down!" Padme yelled vehemently, looking at the pilot and his crew to check their status. Jael grabbed her a moment later and pulled her into the prone position, Jael's body mostly covering hers.
Padme's eyes met those of the momentarily astonished pilot. "No interrogations, just preemptive firing, huh?" he said dryly. "They're picking up the pace these days." He shook his head. "Dammit, they were tipped off quick"
She smirked and reached in his direction. "Blaster?" He nodded and tossed one in her direction; she held it expertly and fired upon the legion of stormtroopers; although she hit them with regularity, they seemed to be growing by the second. It was clear backup was arriving and their numbers would continue to swell.
"Your men go first, then you, then us. I'll cover you while you go. It doesn't look like the craft has sustained enough damage to prevent a jump. My family's safe inside; keep them there." He gave her a strange look for just an instant, but nodded and continued to cover the craft with her. Her plan was a sound one and it was obvious she had experience as an on-scene commander; that was all that concerned him at the moment.
Padme ducked between shots. "On my mark," she said tersely.
"...two, three....go!" she yelled, rising to the kneeling position and covering him and his men while they went in. She continued to fire and held them back, Jael assisting with her own weapon while they both back paced up the entrance. A wind swirled, signalling an impending storm. They were almost inside.
Jael saw movement flicker from the corner of her eye. It took her mind a moment to register what it meant and act on it, but as it turned out, that was a moment too late. Stormtroopers had arrived from the side.
The blast that targeted Padme sounded unlike any of the others, it was solid and sharp and in that moment seemed to stretch an eternity in Jael's mind. Then she and Padme lay, on the ramp, and Jael could see the blood slowly staining her own dress. She hoped it was hers, but knew better; Padme's eyes were closed, the blaster fell from her hand, and she was unconsious. Jael leaned closely over her, eyes wide with guilt and desperation. Her motion to protect her mistress had failed.
With all the strength and logic she had at that moment, Jael pulled Padme's limp form up the remainder of the ramp and covered her while the door sealed and they made the jump to hyperspace.
And then, she wept.
Luke walked the length of the aisle, alone to his own thoughts. He told Leia about their relationship, and their relationship to Vader as gently as he could. She'd taken it with difficulty, perhaps even more than he initially had. It hurt Luke when his ideal of a Jedi father and hero fell from the pedestal in his mind and was replaced by one far more dark and menacing. But he could feel the connection, the potential and the hope, and loved him anyway. Despite any of Yoda or Obi-Wan's warnings, there had to be a way to help him and bring him back to the light.
He could sense no such inclination in Leia. Her hatred for the Sith Lord ran deep, so much so it almost consumed Leia in that moment; Luke felt sorry for her.
He sighed and considered meditation to clear his thoughts; as it turned out, meditation found him first. He recognized the voice in his mind instantly.
"Yoda?" he asked, astonished. He had been privy to Obi-Wan's consult and telepathy before, but not Yoda. It had not been that long since his training ended on Dagobah and Yoda passed on.
"Arrived, a presence from your past has. Be here soon, she will."
Luke's mind raced, he could feel a shift in the Force, and something important was happening. "I don't understand, Yoda."
"Joining the Rebellion, another Skywalker is. When first you meet, know her you will." Luke took a deep breath, he hoped his intuition was correct. He started to speak to Yoda, but it was too late, he had already disappeared back into the Force.
Luke was deep in his thoughts when his comm sounded. "Commander Skywalker," Lt. Caveas announced.
"We've received another group of Rebels. They've specifically requested your presence."
"Alright." he said slowly. "What is the matter at hand?"
"They arrived from the Boream system. Right now the family is housed in the general populace, and....there is a patient being treated in the med center. Name of Padme Skywalker. Do you want me to handle the situation."
Luke's eyes widened slightly as he considered his words. "Thank you, commander....I'll take this. That will be all."
"Yes sir," he said, and the transmission ended.
When Luke thoughts settled and he gathered his bearings, he went to find Leia.
This was something they needed to do together.
Chapter 31: True Force Rising
"Luke, whats going on," Leia implored as they tread briskly down the hallway.
He walked straight ahead, not looking at her. Something was on his mind, Leia surmised, but she couldn't determine what. He was leading them to the medcenter, where they would first cross a waiting area.
"Luke, I'm serious," she took on a more demanding tone. "Today hasn't been easy for me either," she added evenly, grabbing hold of his sleeve to stop him midstride. He looked at her reluctantly. "Would you wait! Tell me what's troubling you," she said.
"Someone by the last name of Skywalker has been taken into medical care onboard." he finally said.
"A relative of yours?" she asked.
"A relative of ours."
She glanced up for a second, then exhaled and nodded. She knew he was right, but it would still take getting used to for her. "Do you know who it is?"
Luke sighed and brushed his hand over his mouth briefly. The Force, the living Force, was breathing all around him and today, he chose to listen. "I think it's our mother."
Leia glanced at him, incredulously, and would have laughed if it hadn't hit so close to home for her. She adopted a pragmatic approach, and looked at him with sympathy. Clearly he was under too much stress. "That's not possible, Luke. She was gone a long time ago; if she was alive she would have been with you, or I, but not just show up inexplicably. I'm sorry you never got to know her as I did, but that's just the way it is."
"The Force has spoken, Leia. Someday you will understand and be able to hear it as well."
"I've heard enough about the Force for today, thank you Luke," Leia said, her impatience growing. The more Luke spoke of the mystical entity, his training with Ben, and the power they inherited from their.....father....the more she was beginning to adopt the galactic approach that it was just a crazy old religion, fading from existence.
"Leia..." he began quietly.
"I mean it, Luke." she seethed. "I'm trying here--truly--but your claims are remote at best. The next time the voices in your head talk to you, maybe you should stop listening to them and seek medical care."
The tone of her voice and her words stung Luke. He had some of his own. "Now listen-"
"Excuse me," a soft voice said, interrupting both of their thoughts.
The twins turned to see a middle aged woman, thin and pleasant looking, watching them. It was then that Leia realized they were standing right outside the med center waiting room. They must have forgotten where they were and, not paying mind to any audience their argument may attract as their voices grew louder, disturbed the visitors.
"Yes?" Luke asked.
"You're Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa" the woman said, not so much a question, but to confirm it for herself. Luke nodded slowly. She smiled softly then, seemingly looking at Luke and Leia but also a fond distant memory in her mind.
"I'm Sola Naberrie, sister to Padme.....I'm your aunt."
Luke rubbed his forehead tiredly in slow circles as he struggled to grasp what his newfound family members had told him. His mother. Deceased. Cloned. Returned. Married now to.......his father. It hit him moments later that she was actually younger than he was. Luke sighed and asked the Force for strength. His head was beginning to pound and he needed more time to wrap his mind around the situation. He wanted to rest.
But more importantly, he still wanted to see her.
He looked up at Leia, who was still taking in all of the information while getting aquainted with their grandparents. Despite her politician's facade, he could tell she wasn't taking it much more easily than he was.
The healer entered the room, and he stood up.
"Is she alright?" Luke asked.
"She's....in serious but stable condition. But the wound missed all of the vital organs and it looks like she will be fine. We are adjusting the pain medications, she's just now coming out of it but I wouldn't expect coherent conversation for at least a few days. She was very lucky" he added.
"Can we see her now?" Luke asked, glancing at Leia. She looked hesitant but with Luke's encouragement rose and came to where he was.
"I'll allow it," the healer said, somewhat reluctantly. "For a few minutes, but please be brief. We're starting a round of pain medication now."
Luke nodded and took Leia's hand softly. His stomach turned before he ever entered the room, wondering what she would look like, what she would sound like, if she would know him and like him. Her family assured him she would, but deep within Luke was a child's insecurity, a child who had never known a mother or a father but had always wanted to. He wondered how similar or different Leia's feelings were to his. She was a master politician; her faced revealed little now as they entered the room.
There Padme lay, so still and fragile, clad in a simple white medical gown with her long chocolate curls flared loosely by the side of her face and behind her head. The IV in her arm and all of the surrounding machinery ensuring her survival made this reunion that much more tragic. And beautiful.
Leia froze. Her stomach tightened into knots and her breath caught in her throat. She intended to be every bit the diplomat but was not prepared for the emotional reaction she had upon seeing the girl. Her face. That face. Beautiful, kind.....but sad. The same one she'd seen in her dreams and written off as a fairy godmother, or her very own ethereal angel. Just like she'd told Luke she was.
Luke's legs carried him slowly to her bedside and he saw the flitting of eyelids. Was she awakening? he wondered. Lips parted, no sound at first before she spoke, "An-..Ani?"
Luke knelt down by her bedside. "No." he said gently. "I'm Luke."
She breathed softly and her head turned to his side; ever so slowly her hand came up, tracing her fingers across Luke's forehead. His eyes closed. He knew her already, he remembered that touch; whispered in the Force, returning from his dreams, reflected in his hopes. From so long ago.
A smile played on her lips. "Luke," she whispered.
Leia was at her side now. "Leia," Padme murmured, and Leia nodded, tears starting to fill her own eyes.
Every second Leia spent with her, more of her own walls and defenses were breaking down. Maybe she was a clone and Vader's wife, Leia reasoned, but she was blameless and Leia could not keep from feeling connected to her. She wished no harm on this girl. Maybe Padme was trained to believe she was the real thing, who she had been previously, Leia thought, but who was she to dissuade her and throw reality back in her face? It was not her place. Leia was pragmatic, but would not be cruel.
Padme's pain medication was taking effect almost as soon as she had awakened, and she drifted back into sleep. They both stayed with her, almost protectively, until the healer came back in and told them visitation was over.
And then, reluctantly, they left.
The days turned into weeks, and the weeks into months, during which time Padme endured a slow but stable recovery. Her first lucid memories were of the twins; Luke, Leia, or both, by her bedside, and she felt complete in a way she hadn't experienced since she'd been with Anakin. Padme was soon well enough to sit and speak with them, and when discharged and given her own quarters, she chose to share with Jael by mutual agreement. Being alone was too much for her right now.
Leia was polite, and always concerned, but reserved. It wasn't hard for Padme to see she wrestled with her own personal demons regarding their complicated situation, and Padme resolved to be strong for her sake to give her time to work through it.
In Luke, Padme found a kindred spirit. He and Padme shared the same views on most things and he was the only person who didn't view her marriage to Vader with fear or repulsion; she was unyielding on her feelings for him and he seemed to understand and even share them. He looked so much like his father but was shorter like her, she thought with some amusement. And more in control of his emotions, she thought with some sadness.
More than anything Padme wanted to talk to them, touch them, know them, but didn't want to push anything on Luke or Leia too quickly. It would be best, she decided, to let them make the first move when they were ready. Padme held herself back, biding her affection carefully; they had adoptive families who had cultivated them into the people they were today, and she respected that. She could not have been more proud of who they became.
She needn't have worried. First Luke, and then Leia, began to open up to her and ease the transition until it was like no time had passed between them at all. They got along well and shared the same views, their closeness only diverging on one thing-Leia's views on Padme's marriage. Leia didn't think much of Vader, detested him in fact, and it hurt to watch.
Padme always knew Anakin would come, and save them; she had always known it was his destiny somehow and her faith on this never wavered. She didn't know how to approach Leia about the subject, and could see that as strong willed as she was, talking about him would drive her further away.
So, with regret, she chose to say nothing at all.
Leia found that the more she spoke with Padme, the more they had in common. Like her, Padme was strong in her convictions and would not bend them for anyone or anything, including herself. Padme's politics and sense of humor mirrored that of Leia's, but her marriage and loyalties to Vader had Leia uneasy. It wasn't hard to see how her father could be attracted to a likeness of her mother again, how anyone would want this lovely girl, but she couldn't dismiss the notion that he was using her.
She's 23 years younger and he is a Sith Lord, Leia thought disgustedly. He knows every quirk, every insecurity Padme has and she's nothing more than a manipulation of his to throw the Emperor and achieve galactic dominance. It made Leia hate him all the more that he would take advantage of her this way.
But she cared for Padme, and didn't want to hurt her. For this reason, Leia kept these feelings to herself.
"Everything is going according to plan, Lord Vader." Moff Jerjerrod stated, pulling him out of his thoughts. Vader stared out the portal at the green serenity of Endor below, and it's unsuspecting occupants. He was glad the Emperor was away, and entrusted him to handle this much. He was also glad for the privacy of the mask and the complacency of Jerjerrod. Jerjerrod was an easily controlled man, and Vader sensed his fear and desire to please as he addressed him. He could not even stand at attention without frequently blinking and the occassional shudder. This would work to his advantage.
"Show me to the Command Sector. I want to see personally the progress that is being made," Vader ordered, intentionally putting a displeased air in his voice.
"As you wish, sir," Jerjerrod acquesced, and escorted him immediately. Vader stood as Jerjerrod explained the construction, the remaining work, and the weaknesses contained therein, pretending to listen intently. His mind was elsewhere; far elsewhere. No one knew how nervous Vader himself truly was, and he thanked the Force at this moment that he was not amongst Force sensitives.
When the Commander completed, Vader dismissed him and requested time alone to review the schematics. There was much information there pertaining to both the strengths and the weaknesses of this new Death Star, the prize of the Empire. The second death star was far more dangerous than the original, and compensated for any weaknesses the first contained. Without it, the Empire would be at a severe disadvantage, compared to what they were accustomed to, anyway. It would be a matter then of Rebel might against Emperial might, and Vader didn't have to guess which side had more integrity and more heart.
He quietly gathered all the information he needed, knowing that as soon as his deception was discovered, it would have a rapidly dwindling shelf life. He turned to leave the room when his comm sounded. It was Jerjerrod.
"Lord Vader," Jerjerrod stated. There was urgency in his voice.
"Go," Vader said.
"There's been a rebel sighting on Endor. We believe they may have information on the whereabouts of the Rebel command ship. Our forces are currently working to detain them, but it appears that they have separated. Do you want me to handle this,"
Vader's heart skipped at the mention of Rebel command ship; he quickly pushed those thoughts away. "I will personally handle this, Commander. That will be all," he said, and proceeded to the craft that would take him to the surface of Endor.
The Emperor sat, still regarding the datapad he had received from his most trusted spy. He wanted eyes and ears everywhere, but to accomplish this and have discretion at the same time was proving impossible in the instance of Vader.
"You have nothing new to report on the clone," he said evenly, looking at his spy.
"No, my Lord. She has not been seen outside of the Bespin or the Vjun locations. Our sources have been thorough."
"I see," the Emperor said, carefully considering his words. His latest interactions with Vader had been interesting, very interesting indeed. Vader's feelings were shielded from him, as they had always been, but there was a new intensity there. A hatred to replace the obsession Vader had in years of late towards the Jedi, and that hatred was directed at the Emperor himself; that thought made him smile. This was good. If Vader and his son came to confront each other as he had forseen, if Vader remained focused and his son remained passionate, he would be inheriting a fine apprentice indeed, regardless of the outcome.
The clone the was only uncontrolled variable that threatened his plan. She could serve no purpose but to thwart his plan for Vader or Luke with emotional entanglements. Vader had long ago learned to watch his back; both of his residences were equipped with extensive security measures and spying within their walls while maintaining discretion was now impossible.
"Very well, then," the Emperor said coldly. "I want you to send two different ambush teams, one to the Vjun and the other to the Bespin location. Lord Vader is busy at the moment with an assignment he's been given. Use Lord Xizor's equipment; Vader will assume it is an attempt by Xizor to overthrow him."
"Yes, my Lord," the spy said.
The Emperor smiled to himself, satisfied. Perhaps he had entrusted Vader with too much, but he wouldn't let this slip out of his control. Vader's life as he knew it would shatter while he was overseeing the Second Death Star, and the Emperor would once again gain the complete advantage. But first a more aggressive approach would be needed.
He regarded the spy, who was ready to depart, and issued his final order.
"If you find the clone, eliminate her."
The grasses crushed relentlessly beneath Vader's boot heel as he surged forward, the team of stormtroopers obediently following with weapons at the ready. A planet, a forest full of lush green life surrounded them, on this beautiful day that would know only casualties. Vader's four man fireteam were split up; two with him to cover, the others to find the rebels. His comm sounded, "Lord Vader, we've pinpointed their location. Your one o'clock, approximately fifty meters. We're two mike away. Do you want us to proceed."
"Yes commander. We will meet up with you at their location and surround them from the sides. Good work."
"Yes sir," he said, and the transmission ended.
There was only so much stealth Vader could accomplish with his breathing apparatus; he made the most of it. He walked steadily, stormtroopers to his front, and within minutes was able to see the rebels. They were heading in a direction lateral to his, and had not heard or seen his team. He gave his leader the definitive hand gesture. Now.
It is time, Anakin. Go, now. It was Qui-Gon's voice. You must move quickly.
"Halt," stormtrooper one stated firmly, holding up his weapon. The rebel troops froze; their team leader visibly flinched, before they reflexively brought their own weapons up. It was immediately clear this would be an aggressive negotiation. Vader sprung to action and leapt to the forefront, his saber hissing to life as he deflected their rapid fire. He covered his stormtroopers with quick actions to the sides, to the top and bottom, holding off the rebel fire before it ever became a threat. His troops obediently stood to his sides, blasters at the ready but ordered not to fire.
Vader heard the ominous shk shk of the blaster barrels from the other half of his fire team; they had arrived, unbeknownsed to the Rebel fire time, at their rear and now held the blasters to the back of their heads. The Rebel fire ceased, and one at a time they stood slowly, first dropping their weapons before putting their hands obediently on the back of their heads. Vader's saber remained ignited, now the only sound in the otherwise silent forest.
They were escorted slowly to where Vader stood and as standard precaution searched by his troops for additional weapons; none were found. The Rebels looked defeated, resigned, and the expressions on their face indicated to him they clearly expected imminent death if not worse.
What Vader did next was something no one would have ever expected.
The deadly hum of his lightsaber filled the forest as he spun, in a blaze of red light, striking down the stormtroopers who had stood protectively beside him. Their bodies crumpled slowly to the forest floor. The stormtroopers apprehending the Rebels barely had time to react before they, too, were targeted, one by a strike with a thrown lightsaber, the other by a deadly Force push as Vader extended his right palm.
All four white bodies lay uselessly as the saber returned to Vader's hand; he looked at them and silently apologized for betraying their obedience. He had no other choice.
The Rebels hands slowly, tentatively lowered to their sides and they stilled, not fully comprehending what they had seen. No sense could be made of it.
Vader turned his lightsaber off, it sounded with a hiss at it retracted back into it's hilt. Then he took a step forward before placing it into the hands of the disbelieving Rebel leader and uttering the words they never thought they would hear.