Padmé wakes to the back of Obi-Wan’s head, his hair mussed and his arms spread, outstretched over her knees as though to shield her from all that would come. (Too late, Padmé thinks, feeling the dull ache around her throat, where phantom hands tightened. Much too late for that now.) His head is heavy on her thigh.
From where she lies, she can see there is already frost—fine, but silver in the light—on the wheat of his hair.
Anakin will never go grey, Padmé thinks dispassionately. (She has never been dispassionate, and it feels odd to allow such chilly thoughts.) Anakin will never be anything but young and handsome and ash, so much ash on the banks of Mustafar’s burning rivers.
Obi-Wan stirs when she does, as she is bending to press a kiss to the crown of his too-heavy head.
“Where are my children?” she asks.
Obi-Wan blinks at her. He looks like a bantha, with his long lashes, the open, dumbfounded expression on his face. “Your…?”
“My daughter,” Padmé says, and does not stumble over the word though it feels strange in her mouth. (She is a daughter, how can she have one of her own?) “And my son. My children. I just gave birth, I doubt they wandered away under their own power.”
“The droid,” Obi-Wan says with a vague gesture. His arms are still spread over her knees, and she can feel the way his muscles shift for so small a thing. It makes her feel unexpectedly tender, the reminder that even Jedi Master Kenobi’s elbows are sharp.
(Will her son have Anakin’s bony knees? Will her daughter have his strong jaw? Thought experiment in genetics have consumed Padmé for eight months—but it is suddenly very real, to have those hypotheticals outside herself, existing in the world.)
Obi-Wan makes a pained sound when she moves, struggling to shift so that she might plant her feet on the deck of the starskiff. “You should rest,” he protests. “The meddroid said—”
“I want to see my children,” Padmé says, holding out her hands to Obi-Wan. The deck is very cold under her feet, and she shudders at the feeling. “Take me to them.”
She feels stretched-thin and trembling as Obi-Wan escorts her from the room, all her weight balanced on his arm. Occasionally they stop, so she might lean against the wall and take a few deep breaths. “The meddroid said you should not—” he begins.
“Be quiet,” Padmé says weakly, resting her forehead against the cold inside of the metal hull. (The sound of the engines is a low, distant whine shivering through the wall. She loves that sound now, more than anything else.) All she wants is to see her babies; she refuses to think of meddroids right now, or of the Senate, Bail, Palpatine or even Obi-Wan, with early frost on the gold of his hair, how Anakin will never—
There is Luke, and there is Leia, and the whole galaxy is the corridor between them and her.
Obi-Wan is quiet.
Her children are very small and sleeping in the bassinets, their mouths soft. They breathe quickly, little chests rising and falling. “They’re perfect,” Padmé says in a shaking voice, touching Leia’s skullcap, Luke’s cheek. (She is not sure how she knows which is which, but she is sure, inexorably.) “Look at how perfect they are, Obi-Wan.”
“They’re perfect,” he echoes, a strange note in his voice. When she turns back, he is looking at Luke as though the baby holds all of Obi-Wan’s heartstrings in his fat fist.
What a thing to inherit from their father, Padmé thinks. A heavy gift—the awful and unflinching love of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
“We should set course for Naboo,” she says, half to herself, half to Luke and Leia, still sleeping. They are so small—they were inside her, she thinks, looking at their faces, red and puckered up, like a minister of defense she had once when she was still queen. They were what she felt, pressing on the inside of her skin. And now they are real. “Naboo will protect us.”
“You know Sidious—Palpatine will look there first,” Obi-Wan says quietly. “And I am certain he will look. For Anakin’s children, he would do much more.”
Padmé does not flinch at the name.
“He won’t look among the Gungans,” she says instead. She feels a strange, supernatural equanimity, looking at the faces of Luke and Leia. Maybe it’s the Force, she thinks, and resists the inappropriate urge to laugh because Maker, she is done with the Force. The Force can fuck itself on the business end of a blaster.
She does not ask if Obi-Wan plans to follow her to Otoh Gunga. She is afraid to give him the chance to refuse.
(In hindsight, she is not sure why she thought he could refuse—Obi-Wan Kenobi had stood as the Jedi Temple crumbled around him; Obi-Wan Kenobi had followed his padawan to the burning shores of Mustafar, where only death walked. Obi-Wan loves things to their ending, and Luke and Leia had only begun.
He was never going to leave.)
They move under the cover of dusk, each with a swaddled child in their arms. Somehow, Luke and Leia sleep through the flight from the star skiff, Padmé and Obi-Wan’s quiet argument about stealing a submersible. (Borrowing without express permission, Obi-Wan insists, as though that is better.) Obi-Wan swears under his breath as he fusses with he wires under the console, and Padmé watches him, cradling her children in her lap and not thinking about another set of hands, sure and steady even with the most finicky bits of tech.
She sighs. “Obi-Wan…”
“This is not precisely within my skillset, Senator,” he says with the crushing politesse that has become his trademark. (She remembers when he wore his feelings on the corner of his sleeve, and somehow misses that boy, scowling and fidgeting with his padawan’s braid.)
Obi-Wan growls, and brings his fist down on the console. The submersible suddenly sputters to life, lights sweeping across the dashboard. For a moment, there is silence.
“Huh,” Obi-Wan says, and there’s something almost like a smile, fighting for the corner of his mouth. “He wasn’t lying, when he said that worked sometimes.”
They do not need to discuss who Obi-Wan refers to.
Boss Oughem meets them at the wharf. She and her assortment of councilors stare, when Padmé and Obi-Wan emerge, each with a swaddled child in their arms. Padmé suspects some of them are in their nightclothes, but then, she is still dressed in the white medical gown, the hem wet and dragging.
“Sevit defas, Senator Amidala,” Oughem says. “Wesa honored, and—surprised, by your visit.”
Padmé feels suddenly tired. The words come to her sluggishly, her tongue too heavy: “Unfortunately, it is not a visit, honored Boss Oughem. Though I am loathe to abuse the friendship between the Gungans and the Naboo, so lately renewed, I seek—”
In her arms, Luke stirs, and begins squalling, and Padmé’s voice dies. She looks beseechingly at Oughem, caught somewhere between falling to her knees and simply falling. Asylum, she thinks, the sweetest word she can think. It sticks in her throat.
(The horrible irony of this is not lost on her—she all but dragged the Gungans into the Republic, burning with certainty that recognition alongside the Naboo would ensure their protection, their voice among the planets. Now she must beg their protection from the Republic she believed in so ardently.)
“Come, and bring yousa tadpoles. We talk once you have rested.”
Padmé falls asleep on Obi-Wan’s shoulder in the speeder, after settling Luke in Boss Oughem’s arms. (Her son looks almost comically small, measured against that enormous chest. “I have never been so close to a human tadpole,” Oughem says at one point, touching the fine hair on Luke’s head. “So small, ours are still in jelly.”) She drifts in and out of sleep, catching strands of conversation—Obi-Wan saying, the temple, and Oughem asking if he was sure. Palpatine’s name, and Sideous’. An order, and fire, and death.
Mostly she remembered how warm Obi-Wan’s shoulder was, how reassuring it was to feel the hum of the speeder, to catch glimpses of the blue-dark water above their heads
(At some point, she is upright again, Obi-Wan’s arm around her—his hand gentle against her still-distended stomach, newly hollow. The world shifts as he helps her lie down someplace dark and warm, the air thick with moisture and smelling of loam. He pushes her hair from her face, and she whispers, my children. In the half-darkness, she sees his mouth curl. yes, I have them. I will keep them safe, until you wake.
She hiccups, and then she is crying into his hands, stifling her sobs against his palms. shh, he whispers, and she thinks he is crying too, but perhaps not. She’s not certain he can anymore. shhh, Padmé, shhh—
He is a dark, solid thing where he comes to sit beside her, and he strokes her hair until she has nothing left to cry with. The inside of her mouth still tastes of salt, and the particular chemical burn of Musafar.
Padmé wakes in half-darkness with her breasts aching, a sharp, full pain that demands satisfaction. It takes her a moment more to realize she’s lying on a bed of moss, the smell of it thick in her throat and stinging her eyes. She turns over, and the sight of Boss Oughem seated on a low bench, cradling a twin in the crook of each arm, is so surreal that she shuts her eyes, sure that she will wake properly in a moment—
“Stepped out, Master Kenobi did,” Oughem, and Padmé opens her eyes again.
Her head spins when she sits up, and she only steadies herself by digging her fingers into the soft moss of the bed. The haze of steam in the air is good, allowing her to breathe deep, and fill her lungs. She licks the film of sleep from the inside of her mouth.
“Did he,” she croaks. She gestures, and is grateful when Oughem understands, rising from the bench and bringing Luke and Leia to her. They are warm, and still smell inexplicably powder-sweet; when she puts a finger in Leia’s palm, Leia grasps it tightly, strong. Luke yawns, his mouth round and soft.
“I have to feed them,” Padmé says, trying to calculate the last time—how long had she slept? She’s already unbuttoning the flap of the gown when her sense catches up with her. “Though I do not wish to offend you…?”
Padmé’s never seen a gungan look bemused before. “Offend?”
“Human children feed from—their mother’s mammary glands,” Padmé says, hoping clinical terms will help stave off her blush. “I do not know your feelings on seeing human secondary sex characteristics—”
“Mammals,” Oughem scoffs, turning and retreating to the bench once more. However, she politely gazes elsewhere as Padmé finishes unbuttoning the flap of the gown, then coaxes Leia, Luke, to latch as the meddroid showed her.
“Did Master Kenobi tell you what brings us here?” Padmé asks, when she’s satisfied they’re nursing. Oughem looks back—glancing over Padmé with clinical curiosity—then extends her sac and lets out a deep rumble in response.
“Brought the scrutiny of a hostile power to Otoh Gunga, yousa have.”
Padmé shakes her head. “He will not look here.”
“Master Kenobi seems to think the Emperor willsa look everywhere for these tadpoles. Especially on Naboo.”
“No, not among the Gungans. You and I know Palpatine of old, he’s—traditional, when it comes to thinking about relations between your people and mine. He won’t think to venture here.”
And if he does, I will tear out his eyes with my fingernails, Padmé thinks, but she’s been at statecraft too long to let those sort of thoughts slip free.
“Call me Padmé, please. I don’t think I’m a senator anymore. I’m not even sure there’s still a Senate.”
“Isa going to need more than your word,” Oughem says after a moment, her gaze is heavy. “Yous are a friend forever of the Gungans. But a Boss must do more than rest on goodwill; shesa must protect her sentients too.”
“Is that what I am? A threat to your people?”
Oughem is silent. It is answer enough.
Before she can think of a reply, Obi-Wan is striding into the room, frowning deeply. At the sight of her, though, his brow smooths out, and he almost sags with relief. It makes Padmé feel warmer, steadied, to see it. “You’re awake.”
“Good,” he says. “You needed the rest.”
It’s almost funny, when she can see the exhaustion he’s carrying. It weights his shoulders, has put shadows beneath his eyes. For a man she has always known to be the bright edge of a sharp blade, it softens him, military posture slumping.
“And when was the last time you slept, Master Kenobi?” she asks, and he smiles bitterly. She does not let him answer. “Oh, for the—lie down, Obi-Wan,” she says, something of the old noblesse slipping into her tone.
She can tell he notices, because genuine humor lightens his expression. “Motherhood has made you overbearing, Senator,” he chuckles, but he does come to sit at the edge of the bed, his whole body sagging into the soft moss.
“I was Queen of Naboo at fourteen,” she reminds him primly. “I have been this way for much longer than seventy-two standard hours.”
Luke finishes suckling, and there is a blessed moment of silence before she knows he will start wailing. Padmé is a little astonished, then, when Obi-Wan reaches out and scoops him up, tucking him against his shoulder with a practiced ease. Before she can even suggest it, he begins rocking Luke back and forth, humming something—a Coruscanti drinking song, she thinks, though it is not exactly tuneful.
She arches an eyebrow, and he shrugs. “Seventy-two standard hours is longer than you think,” he says. “Finish feeding Luke.”
“Leia,” she corrects him. “You have Luke there.”
“I do?” Obi-Wan asks, craning his neck to peer at Luke’s face. “How can you tell?”
Padmé laughs a little, readjusting Leia against her, and turns again to Oughem, apologies for their rudeness on the tip of her tongue—
But when she looks, Oughem’s expression is changed. Grief scores it deeply, revealing fissures in her smooth skin Padmé had not seen before; she looks as though she would weep. (The words stall, caught in Padmé’s throat.) At Padmé look, though, Oughem seems to wake, and stands abruptly; Padmé blinks.
“Yousa will stay,” she says, and oh, Oughem can fill her voice with noblesse too. “As long as the tadpoles need.”
“Stay. Isa have duties to attend to,” she says gruffly. “Sevit rayorm, Senator.”
“Sevit rayorm,” Padmé echoes, but Oughem is already crossing the room to the door, and then she is gone.
“Did we offend her?” Padmé wonders, but Obi-Wan only goes on humming.
Padmé doesn’t think of it again until that night, lying in the half-dark with Luke and Leia fast asleep on the moss, Obi-Wan curved around them like a shield. An argument Padmé had years ago now, with Jar-Jar—something about the Gungans’ traditional spawning ground, the expanding range of the sea killer due to overfishing. Providing the military presence necessary to protect their spawn would grind Gungan society to a halt; it would be impossible if the Naboo continued their larger fishing operations in the southern seas.
(She had agreed to speak with the Queen, but fisheries were a powerful interest among the Naboo—)
Padmé has met Oughem’s mate, spoken with him at various political functions, but there had never been any mention of spawn. The Gungan children Padmé met at those events—tadpoles, though they had always looked more like human teenagers, spindly and pale green-yellow, fussing with their tails—were this general’s, or that councilor’s, not Oughem’s.
Then the years wore on, and there weren’t any tadpoles at all.
Exhaling, Padmé leans over, presses a kiss to Leia’s forehead. Breathes in the sweet-powder smell of her, and lets herself sleep.
(“I don’t want you to overrule your better sense and your duties to your people on behalf of my children,” Padmé says to Oughem, a week and a half later.
They have taken to spending the later hours like this, passing a mug of hot protein slurry between them. It is, apparently, considered a great delicacy in Otoh Gunga, which is lucky, because it is all the medroids will allow Padmé to drink, rich in the necessary nutrients and vitamins for her breast milk.
She’s been craving a glass of Rhydonish wine for days, but apparently Luke and Leia do not need Rhydonish wine.
“Isa told you,” Oughem says, stealing the mug from Padmé’s hands. “You must stay, and keep the tadpoles safe.”
“They have been, and I am grateful,” Padmé says, turning her gaze to the viewport. Beyond, the water is darkening, the lights of Otoh Gunga flaring to soft light. (It makes Padmé long for the oppressive brightness of Coruscant, the hum of traffic and the loudhailer of the Congressional District. Naboo and the water has always been home, but Coruscant was the place she chose, and she longs for that. More than ever, she resents any choice taken from her.)
“But I am—I have been selfish,” Padmé continues, swallowing hard. “To have taken advantage of your generosity as long as I have. I cannot permit you to endanger your people for my sake. Vanishing from the galaxy will—Palpatine will look for Luke and Leia that much harder, knowing that they must be somewhere. Perhaps he will not look to the Gungans first, but he will look eventually. And then—”
When she turns back, Oughem is looking at her speculatively. “Yousa have a plan.”
“Master Kenobi and I have a plan, yes.”
Oughem nods, lifts the mug to her mouth and drinks deep, smacks her lips. “So long as the tadpoles are safe,” she says, nodding. “Or else what are we keeping our civilizations safe for?”
Beyond them both, the sea is growing darker with coming night.)
Padmé Amidala returns to Naboo the second time with a great deal of fanfare, and even more rumors. She takes up residence in the house of her family, wears heavy black crepe even though it is the height of summer, and a miasma hangs heavy over Theed. Soon it is common knowledge that Padmé Amidala is a widow, mother to a stillborn child. (Though, the gossips say, she will not name the husband-father lost to her. She is tired of it already; the holonews is full of doom, but people are petty, and they would rather whisper about her supposed bastard child than fight the oncoming storm.
Not that she is fighting it either, holed up in her childhood rooms as though she might undo the past fourteen years just by staring at the clumsily-coded star map on her ceiling.)
She spends most of her days with Sabé and Dormé, in their little house on the edge of the water. They have only just adopted a pair of infants—orphans, twins; a boy with a fine dusting of golden hair, and a girl with a strong grip. Padmé graciously watches them when Sabé and Dormé leave for their work each day.
“A favor,” she says, when asked. “For my oldest friends.”
“A means of coping with her loss,” her mother will tell any who listen. “To love those children as if they were her own.”
(A stratagem, she and Obi-Wan had agreed. No one will look for Anakin’s children in any arms but Padmé’s.)
Sometimes, there is a man in long robes, who comes to Sabé and Dormé’s door begging scraps to feed himself. Padmé has always been soft-hearted, and will sit with him on the back stoop, sharing whatever food can be spared, as they speak of nothing much. Then he will leave, sometimes for months on end. Once, he comes to the door hollow-eyed, heavy with a grief he will not name. Instead of bread, Padmé brings him Sabé and Dormé’s daughter, gives her over to his arms. He stays here for hours, rocking the infant girl in his arms, and murmuring nothings.
(Obi-Wan Kenobi will always spoil Leia Naberrie a little better than her brother, which is no one’s fault but his.)
Padmé’s life is small and quiet, but visible. Her rare appearances at Naboo functions—Queen Apailana’s birthday, a debate at the university which its students graciously asked her to moderate—generate small items on the holonews. None could be unaware that Senator Padmé is on Naboo, that she is staying with her family.
She it not sure she has been successful, at least until she receives a transmission marked with the imprint of the Republic. Closer inspection reveals certain marked differences, new lines, blacker, changed, and it makes her uneasy.
She reads it through three times, before going to the front parlor, where she knows her mother sits, helping her sister with her astro calculations. “Padmé!” Pooja says gratefully, when she lets herself in. “Please help, I am trying to figure out the parallax, and mother is—”
“Padmé?” Mother interrupts gently, her gaze searching Padmé’s face. (She has never understood Padmé’s ambition—she dreams in pure mathematics, not political change. But there are not many mothers who would take one look at their daughter, milk still leaking from her breasts, mourning a secret husband, and wordlessly embrace her, take her back into their household without question.) “Padmé, what’s wrong?”
“We are to have guests,” Padmé says.
“Friends of yours from the Senate? I still remember the Organas fondly, they were such pleasant—”
“No,” Padmé says. “The—Palpatine. The Emperor.”
She spits it out bitterly. (She will have to work on that.) Her mother sets down the datapad and stylus. “Oh,” she manages to say.
“Yes,” Padmé says.
Mother’s mouth goes thin, then relaxes into something approximating a polite smile. “Well, then I will order those persame puffs from the bakery, he praised them so highly at the last fundraiser for your campaign. And we will have to get your study aired out—you should receive him there, it’s much more official than the reception room, he must not forget that you were a queen—”
Padmé crosses the room, and wraps her arms around her mother’s shoulders. “Thank you, mama,” Padmé murmurs, kissing her hair. Her mother pats her hand, absently.
“You will understand someday,” she says. “There are no lengths you would not go to, for your children.”
Padmé breathes deep, laying her palms flat against the desk in an effort to stop them from shaking. Far off, she can hear her mother’s voice, no doubt offering pleasantries, exchanging small talk with their guests. She had glimpsed them out the window—Palpatine and all his guards, soldiers, troopers, even a handful of generals she vaguely recognizes from bulletins from the Clone Wars.
It is a unnecessary retinue for vising an old friend, and for the first time Padmé wonders if there is more cause for Palpatine to be on Naboo than renewing the diplomatic ties between his homeworld and the perversion he has made of her Republic.
(She had known his transmission was full of lies, but she had assumed he meant simply to ensure Naboo was still loyal to his abominable empire. He did not need generals for that. Generals mean something is in the works—)
The approaching sound of Pooja’s voice snaps Padmé from her reverie, and she exhales.
Deliberately, Padmé arranges herself stiffly and lets the grief reach up and swallow her whole, a widow who lost her children before they could breathe. (What children? She has no children, she has nothing but this bitter fury, rising like a tide.) Padmé doesn’t know what she looks like at that moment, but Pooja falters when she shows Palpatine into the study.
Padmé rises to her feet, ignoring the way Pooja’s eyes widen. Inside she is a maelstrom of anger and pain and loss, a barely-suppressed howl behind her teeth. See what you have made me, she wants to scream at Palpatine, her fingernails digging into his jugular. See what you have taken from me.
Pooja leaves them alone, and for a long moment there is nothing but silence.
Palpatine looks as though he has aged a thousand years since she saw him last—the spry Chancellor replaced by this hunched old man, face deeply lined, eyes yellowed. For a wild moment, she wonders if that is what happened, a Sith Lord somehow having fooled them all into thinking he was the same man as the Chancellor, just to twist the galaxy into a vision of monstrosity—
But this is not a holodrama, and Padmé knows better. Palpatine and his ambition engineered the downfall of the Republic, these things are true. Now he simply looks the part.
“My sincerest condolences, Padmé, my dear,” Palpatine says, the words sliding, oiled, from his tongue. (Had he always sounded like that? Had Padmé truly never noticed the obvious hiss in his voice, the roiling ugliness there?)
She takes a steadying breath. “You do not look well, E—” she chokes on the title, and Palpatine’s smile widens into a sickle.
“‘Sheev’, my dear. We are old friends, are we not?”
She imagines Anakin’s lightsaber running him through. She imagines holding the hilt. “Of course.”
Palpatine smiles, and smiles, and smiles. “It is true, I have not been well, since the awful betrayal of the Jedi. Dark times call us to do dark deeds in the name of defending our Republic, but they weigh heavily on us all the same.”
Padmé knows a royal ‘we’ when she hears it. She is sure her voice comes out strangled, pained, when she asks, “Shall we take tea on the—”
Before she can continue, there is a flurry of noise from the hallway beyond. Padmé picks out Pooja’s voice, high and frightened, ‘you are not permitted—!’ and another, harsh and deep, replying with something below hearing.
She is not startled, then, when the door swings open, and a black figure shoulders into the study. It drags its feet, moving inelegantly, as though pained, or somehow unused to its own skin. She is prepared when it lifts its head, and meets her gaze with the sightless eyes of a mask. She is prepared when—
She is not prepared.
“Lord Vader, you were meant to be resting aboard my shuttle, you should not tax yourself this way,” Palpatine says, like a schoolmaster chastising a pupil, instead of commanding a creature twice his height. “Padmé, my dear, you have not met my new chief enforcer, Darth Vader—”
Padmé cannot breathe.
She knows it is Anakin, the way she always knows which of her children is Luke and which is Leia, or when Obi-Wan is standing just beyond the door. The way she knows the direction of light falling on her skin.
(A consequence of carrying two children powerful in the Force, I suppose, Obi-Wan had said, something like the old amused spark in his eyes. Though I would like to see Master Yoda send you to the creche…)
She thinks she makes some sort of noise—she isn’t sure, her ears too full of holostatic and the rush of the sea. She almost doesn’t hear Palpatine say with exaggerated concern, “Oh, you didn’t know,” or how Anakin breathes, “Padmé…” in the wrong voice, distorted and deepened, mechanical.
She does not remember opening her mouth, any more than she remembers forming the words that emerge from it: “Get out of my home.”
“What?” The vocorder clicks, whirs, and later Padmé will wonder why such outdated tech was chosen, when she can rattle off a list of Core worlds that craft beautiful cybernetic-assistive devices, functional, individualized, almost biotic themselves. Later, she will wonder if such a thing was deliberate, yet another tie to bind Anakin to his master. But just then, she loathes the sound, the wheezing mockery of breath, the oppressive black armor, like a horrible parody of a stormtrooper’s gear. A reminder of all her failures, wrapped in one.
She turns her gaze to Palpatine, whose delight is obscene, badly-hidden behind his mask of concern. “Get him out of my home. I will not speak with a man who murdered children in cold blood. Who did irreparable harm to me, and to his—his own unborn—get him out. Take him with you and go.”
“My dear—” Palpatine begins, but she is past caring, she is past rational thought, she has gone beyond the threshold of anger into some pure white country, cold and absolute.
“Leave, Emperor,” Padmé Amidala says. “And take your Sith pet with you.”
Without another word, she strides past them both, and removes herself from the study. Pooja gapes at her, but she does not stop. In an unthinking haze, she goes to the potting shed, where she knows the head gardener keeps a packet of cigarras.
She is there, sitting on the dusty floor among the powered-down gardening droids, when Obi-Wan finds her. He has cut his hair, since she last saw him, and his beard as well. It makes him look older, new lines revealed on around his mouth, his eyes deeper set, and grave.
“I didn’t know you smoked,” he says.
“It was how we rebelled during training, the handmaidens and I,” Padmé says absently. “There was an old woman who sold cigarras on the street outside the barracks for a few credits, so we would slip out at night and share one between us, feeling very disobedient, and so very adult,” Padmé said, leaning over to knock some of the ash from the tip of the cigarra into a container of potting soil.
Obi-Wan does not sit, considering her with a long look. “Your sister told me you had a visit from Palpatine.”
“Yes,” Padmé says, “and his new guard, Darth Vader.”
Obi-Wan sighs. “I’ve heard rumors of a new Sith lord serving at the right hand of the Emperor. Did he harm you, or attempt to cull your memories? Your rage should have shielded—”
Obi-Wan is silent, and when she looks to him, the blood has drained entirely from his face. “No. No, Anakin is dead. I left him—I left him there, limbless and burning, he—had to have died. He must have died. You are mistaken.”
“I swear to you I am not. Anakin stood in my study, all in black armor, and Palpatine called him Darth Vader. He knew me, and I knew him. I knew him, and…it was him, I am sure. I would stake Luke and Leia’s lives on it.”
Obi-Wan sits then, like a tower collapsing on itself. He stares at the wall of sleeping droids as though they hold all the answers of the galaxy in their darkened panels. He looks as though he is about to be ill.
Padmé takes a deep draw from the cigarra, then reaches out and nudges his hand. Holds it out to him.
They pass it between them, until it is burnt up to ash.
The first transmission from Darth Vader arrives a few scant hours after she watches the Republican—the Imperial shuttle—burn an ion trail through the skies of Naboo. (They questioned her neighbors. They questioned Dormé and Sabé, who lied to the Emperor for Padmé’s sake, because she is their queen, though she is long removed from the crown. Darth Vader questioned every sentient for ten klicks, and found nothing, nothing at all, because Padmé is many things, but not reckless. She had every loose end tied up weeks ago, Luke and Leia sent to the Lake Country to stay with Dormé and Sabé’s family, official documents filed and backdated, medical records and—
Padmé is too tired to be reckless.)
She doubts they’ve even dropped out of hyperspace, but still she gets the transmission, which bears the imprint of ‘Darth Vader’ and yet is signed ‘Anakin Skywalker’.
Padmé, please. Let me explain.
Padmé, our child—
(I did not mean)
Padmé, I love you. I have always loved you. I will love you, continue to love you, will love you—I did not know, my master told me—
Pleasepleaseplease. Please, Padmé, whom I love.
Padmé writes back after the fourteenth transmission. I have loved but three things, in the true understanding of love: first you, then our children (twins, you did not ask), and then the Republic. Through your actions, you have doomed two of the three. What measure of love can I reserve for you now?
She blocks his transmissions after that.
She writes to Bail with shaking fingers, craving a cigarra, a death stick, something with a more straightforward danger. (Her mother’s words in her ears, and yes, there are no lengths she would not go to for her children. Luke and Leia deserve the Republic she loved, the rebellion that would bring it back again, but she doubts she would survive the attempt. Is this selfish, or noble?)
my dearest friend, she writes to Bail. it has been so long since we were in one another’s confidence. I long to see Alderaan again, and talk as we once did. Should you be amenable, I would love to summer on Alderaan, and escape the persecuting heat of Theed in the rainy months. My retinue is smaller, in these days of hardship—only one bodyguard, two handmaidens and their children—but say you will allow our visit, for I much desire to see you and Queen Breha, and share your confidence.
Come to Aldera, Bail writes in return. We are a haven, forever, for kindness and friendship such as you have shown us.
I warn you, I come heavier you may have last known me, Padmé writes.
These are heavy days, Bail writes. Come, all the same.
She disembarks in the silver mother-of-pearl shadow of Aldera, breathes deep of free air—always free, never Imperial or even Republican, but belonging to Alderaan, absolutely.
Bail and Breha greet her there on the dock, kiss her cheeks, her forehead, and exclaim over the sweetness of Luke and Leia. (Sabé and Dormé’s children, Padmé insists, even as Breha’s gaze traces the shape of Leia’s nose, Luke’s smile, and proves her liar.) Bail pretends he does not know ‘Ben Kenobi’, though Obi-Wan’s smile is sardonic and familiar to anyone who has even passing known him.
After that first dinner, she and Bail go walking in the gardens, discussing things that skirt the very edges of permissive beneath the Empire. (Padmé is not ready for outright talk of rebellion just yet, and she is grateful for his vague generalities as much as the honest truth of what is occuring in the wider galaxy.)
When they return to the palace, Breha is playing with the twins on the soft rug making Luke squeal with laughter and grab at the air. Sabé and Dormé converse with Obi-Wan over glasses of Rhydonish wine, occasionally glancing over to smile at their antics. The whole scene is limmed with light, looking like the one good thing snatched from the jaws of the Empire, a memory of the Republic that was.
Padmé turns to say as much to Bail, only to realize he has stopped dead. He is staring at Breha as she plays with the twins, a complicated gladness and grief on his face.
(Padmé will never tell any living soul, but that is the moment she decides to join the rebellion. For Luke, and Leia, and also whatever child is so fortunate as to be born Bail’s—they all deserve this world, this shard of something good, shielded from the darkness.)
She lays her hand on his arm, and he startles, breathes out in a rush. “After you, Senator,” he offers with a rueful smile. She goes on ahead of him, into the light.
It is Breha who rouses her in the middle of the night, Obi-Wan a familiar shadow behind her. When Padmé opens her mouth to ask—Breha shakes her head, gestures for Padmé to rise and follow in silence.
The palace is strange and harrowing at night, full of shadows. Something cold settles in the pit of Padmé’s stomach, and she reaches out for Obi-Wan’s hand as they turn down another corridor. Babies? she mouths when he looks to her, but he shakes his head, squeezes her fingers reassuringly.
Breha leads them out through a side door. Padmé blinks against the darkness, before remembering that Alderaan has no moon to light their way. Breha seems to know it by starlight, for it is not long before Padmé catches sight of Bail, standing beneath a copse of trees.
When he turns, the halolamp he carries makes him look like the Naboo personification of death, and Padmé’s heart stops in her chest.
“I’m sorry,” Bail says as they draw near. “We received a visit from the Emperor and his retinue only last month, and—I thought it best to leave his listening bugs intact, a sort of affirmative defense. This is the only place I trust to be safe.”
“What’s wrong?” Padmé demands. “If it is not Luke or Leia—news of your rebellion?”
Bail breathes out, meeting her gaze. “A friend informed me that just a few hours ago, the Emperor approved an order to establish a military garrison on Naboo,” Bail says, and Padmé’s whole world upends, the cold in her stomach suddenly alive, reaching up to her throat, seizing her entirely. She is entirely ice, frozen. “They have been preparing for this, Padmé, they will begin converting districts of Theed to military blocs tomorrow morning. And Palpatine has demanded you appear before the Imperial Senate, as you are still technically the sitting senator from Naboo.”
Padmé looks to Obi-Wan. “I was supposed to remain outside politics, to neutralize any threat towards—and now!—I could have stopped this! I could have spoken to the counselors—”
“This is not your fault,” Obi-Wan insists lowly. “Queen Apailana has fought this at every turn, as has her cabinet. But there is… An emperor does not have to consider the opinion of the people the way a senator does.”
Padmé stares. It has been—she has never known less about the affairs of her planet than anyone, let alone Obi-Wan Kenobi.
“Then I could have asked Anakin,” she says, and Obi-Wan goes still as a hunted animal. Padmé can feel Bail and Breha staring at her—she thinks they believe Anakin dead, though she has never asked—but she holds Obi-Wan’s gaze
“I would warn you away from such a dangerous thought,” Obi-Wan says quietly, and for that moment she hates him. She hates him, entirely and completely, with all of herself. His people, his home, are dead. (By Anakin’s hand, but dead, all the same.) Hers are not, not yet, and she could have saved them from this.
“Padmé,” Bail interrupts, and when she turns to him, he is wearing the look she remembers from their Senate days. It is steadying, somehow. “What do you want to do? You know Alderaan will give what aid it can.”
She takes a deep breath, forces her thoughts into something like order.
“I must get my sister and mother off-world, as soon as possible, they will make too obvious targets. Boss Oughem must be notified, Palpatine will prey on the anti-xeno sentiment among the Naboo and turn opinion against them, I am not certain how dire it will become. Sabé and Dormé’s families—“
He interrupts, occasionally, to inform her that such a thing is impossible, or tell her that yes, he understands, it will be done. When she is done rattling off her list of what must occur, she takes a shuddering breath in. “And—I don’t suppose your rebellion needs an informant within the Imperial Senate?” she asks, trying for levity.
Even to her ears, it sounds bitter. (She will have to work on that.)
“What of Luke and Leia—” Obi-Wan begins, but she cuts him off with a look.
“There is no reason for my handmaidens not to accompany me to Coruscant. Or not to bring their children with them.”
Obi-Wan has hidden behind the Negotiator’s mask, and she resists the urge to curl her lip at him. “If the Emperor, or—Vader ever is near enough to know them—”
“They will not. I do not know what you think of me, but I am capable of keeping my children safe.”
His eyes flash. “And what if Vader is close enough to find the thoughts in your mind?”
“Now you are underestimating me,” Padmé says coldly. “If you think my anger would ever abate enough to—”
Obi-Wan holds up a hand, in what Padmé is sure is only a temporary surrender. But it is enough for Padmé, at least until she can discuss it with him alone. She turns back to Bail, tries for a brave smile.
It aches, her muscles unused to the gesture. “When did our great and glorious Emperor request my appearance, then?”
Bail is smiling faintly, the light from the halolamp turning his eyes the same bright white as the stars. “Two standard weeks,” he says, and Padmé nods. She had hoped for more, but two weeks was enough to bring mother and Pooja here, enough to see her family gathered together this last time.
She’s craving a cigarra. She wonders if that’s normal; weren't men facing execution said to want a last smoke?
Padmé startles a little at the touch of Breha’s hand. But the embrace is offered freely, and Padmé lets herself sink into the warmth of it. She’s buried her face in Breha’s shoulder when she hears Bail say, very quietly, “Welcome to the Rebellion, Senator Amidala.”
“Force help us,” she hears Obi-Wan echo, and despite everything, she finds herself laughing.