Message Number 39
Once in a while, a love letter arrives in disguise.
This vignette takes place in during the shadowy, speculative, morally relative time of the Clone Wars, between EPII and EPIII. The setting is the somewhat canon, somewhat AU universe of my story "The Winds of Change."
Padmé Amidala arrived at her office in the Senate building on Coruscant not long after dawn, and began grimly to work her way through the morning's usual tidal wave of messages. The Galactic Senator from the Naboo system told herself that this was the only way to keep up with the overflow of work that seemed to be getting worse and worse as the war progressed. Every day she arrived early and went home late, and still couldn't get over the feeling that, if she stopped working for a moment, she would drown.
Not that there was much to go home to when she finally did leave her office. Now that Anakin was working as Chancellor Palpatine's right hand, he rarely had an opportunity to spend time with her. He was forever being sent away from the capital on one mission or another. Even when he did spend time on Coruscant, his days were as long as hers. It was frustrating and disappointing. Deep down, Padmé had hoped it would be different. But of course, she had known that it wouldn't be.
Chancellor Palpatine never seemed to take his claws off Anakin.
What made it even worse was that communication was not exactly Anakin's strong suit. He always let her know where he was; if he couldn't do that, he always set up a complicated secure route so she could reach him if she needed him.
Actually, she wrote to Anakin every night, as though the act of writing could fill up the empty spaces. She used his emergency access channels to pour out her heart. She told him everything, down to the last details of her political and personal struggles. As long as she was writing, she felt closer to him. As long as she was writing, she could push away her worries about what he was doing, and for whom, and why.
Anakin's own messages to her were frequent – if he was able, he would get in touch several times in a day.
The problem was, they were messages. That's all. Short, to the point, and businesslike.
Mid Rim sector secure, he might say. Back in two days. Or, Skirmish successful. Minimal losses. I'm unharmed. If it was one of his all-too-frequent secret missions, a message might say something like, Thinking of you.
How Padmé wished for something more. Something in which he talked about his feelings, maybe. A few more words. Just a few personal, intimate words. They would make such a difference. Something … something that would leave her feeling less neglected.
Still, she couldn't stop herself from checking her messages compulsively several times a day, hoping to hear from him. Hoping that this time, he would send her more than a message. That this time, he would send her something that came from the heart.
Today was definitely going to be a grueling day. The first twenty messages contained at least fourteen additions to her "to do immediately list" and three brewing crises, each of which would take hours to deal with effectively. There were over thirty additional messages after that. And this was on top of the relentless schedule of meetings that stretched into the evening. Padmé took a deep breath, raised her chin, and began to scroll though the remaining messages. She stopped abruptly at number thirty-nine.
All is well. It was Anakin's code. There was no doubt.
Padmé stopped, and let out a short, sharp gasp of disappointment – the kind of jagged disappointment that comes straight after a hopeful stab of joy. "All is well." What was that supposed to mean? She scrolled backward and forward to see whether she had missed something. No. That was the whole message.
She felt like crying.
An hour later Padmé's staff had arrived and everyone was up to their eyebrows in the day's work.
With five minutes left to go before a particularly tricky meeting, Padmé's young secretary, Dellia, stuck her head around the door to Padmé's inner office.
"There's a private transmission for you from Naboo, Senator."
"Not now," Padmé began. "I have to…"
"It's your mother."
Padmé sighed. "I'll take it." The holo transmission flickered into life, and the image of Jobal Naberrie smiled at her through a flickering blue haze.
"Darling! I won't keep you. I know you're busy. But I have some very good news. Remember those export licenses we asked for your to help with? They've been approved, and your father was able to negotiate a ten-year exclusive contract with a major customer. It's going to be the making of our business! We all just wanted to say thank you, Padmé. Whatever you did, it worked!
That was interesting. Senator or no, Padmé hadn't had any luck in expediting that bureaucratic process in the six months she had been trying. The new military government on Naboo was corrupt and rife with favoritism, and ordinary businessmen like her father struggled daily to keep their supply lines alive. Only a directive from as high up as the Chancellor's office could have made a difference, and as far as Padmé knew, she was far from being in Palpatine's good graces. Bemused, she exchanged a few more pleasantries with her mother, and then signed off.
Oh, well, time to head off to her battlefield. Together with Bail Organa, Padmé was co-chair of a Senate Ad Hoc committee charged with resolving a major trade disagreement involving war quotas and subsidies among a cluster of competing agricultural planets. Their products were needed for the war effort, but the former competitors had formed a surprisingly strong coalition and were very effectively profiteering at the Republic's expense. It was likely that at the same time, they were selling to the Separatists at equally inflated prices. Bail, Padmé and the rest of the Ad Hoc Committee had the unenviable job of negotiating the prices down to reasonable levels, while working out a formula to continue the subsidies to the planets to ensure that they did not openly join the Separatist cause. It was a continuing headache that took up more time than either Padmé or Bail could spare.
When she arrived in the meeting room, five minutes late because of the call from her mother, Padmé had another surprise. Bail had a huge grin on his face, and the other Ad Hoc Committee members were lolling back in their chairs as though they had just finished work.
"We're done," Bail announced, as soon as Padmé entered the room. "The coalition has backed down and accepted our terms. We just need to finalize our contracts."
"What happened?" Padmé sank into the nearest chair.
"I'm not sure," Bail said, looking around the table to see whether any of the others had more information. The other Senators shook their heads.
"It's strange," Bail said. "The Coalition representative who contacted me said that some kind of negotiations had taken place." He frowned. "He referred to them as 'aggressive negotiations.'"
"Ahh…" Padmé said, with growing suspicion. Things were beginning to make sense. "Let's just finish this," she said quickly. "Before they change their minds."
As Padmé worked her way systematically through the rest of the day she had been dreading, her suspicions coalesced into a growing certainty. Problems that long had seemed intractable inexplicably resolved themselves in the oddest ways. Fierce political opponents either showed a greater willingness to compromise, or gave her a wide berth.
In the late afternoon she was two hours ahead of schedule and catching up on the overwhelming task of lobbying support for a new piece of legislation she had introduced, when Dellia popped into Padmé's office again, frowning at a datapad in her hand.
"This is unexpected," she said.
"What is it now?" Padmé asked, more dryly than she had intended.
"We have just received a blanket authorization to hire the extra staff we've been wanting for so long."
Now Padmé was really surprised. "How is that possible? The budget cycle doesn't finish for a couple of months!"
"I know," Dellia said, still staring at the datapad. "But we have been given the funds to hire three new staff members. It's free and clear, and effective immediately. We can start hiring right away." She looked up, puzzled. "The authorization carries the seal of the Chancellor's office."
"Well," Padmé said, "pull up that list of people we want to interview." Dellia wandered back out of her office, and Padmé leaned back in her chair. That was definitely not something that had come from the Chancellor. She was sure that if Palpatine had his way, she would disappear into some dark hole or other, never to be seen again.
But there was one other person who had the authority and the clout to arrange something like that. Someone who operated outside of the bureaucratic structure of the Senate. Someone whose intervention was feared, and whose word was rarely questioned. Someone who could make things happen, even from far away. The person for whose sake Palpatine left her alone.
Anakin. The Chancellor's right hand.
By the very end of that long day, when the sun had set and Coruscant was once again a multicolored blaze of artificial lights, Padmé had been surprised so often that it simply was not possible to shock her more. So when Captain Typho arrived to escort her to the Senate shuttle platform with a thunderous face and looking as though he had a lot on his mind, she merely looked at him and waited for whatever outburst was about to come.
"You could have told me!"
"Told you what, Captain?"
"If you were going to buy a personal armored transport, and then on top of it arrange for an impossible-to-get exclusive docking bay here at the Senate, don't you think you should have let me know?"
Padmé groaned. "You're right, Captain. I apologize." She almost added, "it won't happen again," but then realized that was a promise she couldn't make. Instead she asked him to wait outside for her for a few moments. When he had withdrawn, Padmé reached over to her message unit and scrolled back a long, long way to the first messages of the morning.
There it was. Message number 39. All is well.
It was a love letter after all. A love letter that only Anakin could have sent.
Padmé stared at it. All she really had wanted was a single unencumbered "I love you." Preferably one that was delivered in person.
Instead, she reflected as she dimmed the lights in her office and prepared to return to her empty home, she would be awake all night worrying about the number of arms that had been twisted to make her life easier; about how many people had been trodden down to raise her up.
She wished she understood the vagaries of her heart.