Disclaimer: All characters owned by George Lucas
Thanks to: HonorH, for betareading.
Timeline: During Revenge of the Sith.
To no one's real surprise and everyone's disappointment, the Chancellor had rejected the petition of 2000 senators Padme had presented to him. Oh, not in as many words; but the intention behind the polished phrases was clear enough.
"That's it," Bail Organa told her. "He'll never give up his emergency powers. Not if Grievous dies, not if every single Separatist surrenders right now. And we still don't have a majority to call for his resignation anyway."
Bail and Mon Mothma began to talk of alternate plans, but Padme withdrew. She had her reasons. For one thing, she still refused to give up on the possibility they were all misreading Palpatine. This had less to do with her husband's feelings for the Chancellor, though she had never been more aware of Anakin's veneration for Palpatine, and more with her own history. She had known Palpatine for most of her life. Along with her classmates in the legislative youth programs, she had watched recordings of his speeches for Naboo in the Senate. He had been an example for her. Later, when she had been elected as Queen, he had helped her find her way. They had gone through the horror of the invasion together, him fighting in the Senate and her on Naboo, and later, after her term had ended and her successor had insisted on appointing her as Senator, the then-Chancellor had taken the trouble to help her find her place in Coruscant as well.
You made him Chancellor, a voice whispered inside her. You brought down Valorum with your vote of no confidence. As he advised you to. What if that was when it all started?
But no. It couldn't be. She didn't see the Chancellor with the same unquestioning faith Anakin showed; Padme did not doubt that the years of increasing power with fewer and fewer legal restraints had done their share of turning Palpatine into what could at best be called a benevolent despot. No living being should be allowed to have access to complete power for too long; that was one of the oldest sayings on Naboo, and the reasons why the monarchs of Naboo were always changing, and always young, too young to have lost the fire of idealism, too young to have their own families and interests to care for.
Still, whatever he was now, she refused to believe Palpatine had not started out with good intentions. And if that was so, it should be possible to persuade him. To remind him of how they all started out. She remembered the day of the victory celebration on Naboo, sharing the feeling of joy at the liberation of their people, with him at her side. How certain she had been that now, with Palpatine of Naboo as Chancellor, the Republic would be restored to what it used to be.
Before she placed her call, she changed her dress. Sometimes, there were good-natured jibes at the opulence and extravagance the Naboo officials displayed in their wardrobe in the Coruscant media, but outsiders did not understand the reason. Clothes were not simply what you wore. When the Naboo saw their Queens, they did not see girls named Amidala, or Sakala, or Jicun. They saw the Queen, the incarnation of the people, who did not have a face save the public one she painted on her skin, and whose ceremonial robes were not given to any individual but to the office. The Queen was not supposed to change. A senator did not carry the same symbolic weight, of course, but the senatorial robes still placed her in the chain of public service. These days, they were also useful for hiding her condition, of course, but that would soon be impossible anyway. If she wanted to make her last appeal to Palpatine as effective as possible, she had to be prepared for risks. Still, she felt like committing the betrayal of a sacred trust as she unpacked a robe she had not worn for a decade. The smell of old perfume and dust made her choke for a moment.
There were legends on Naboo, legends about fallen Queens, who had not handed over their power when they should have. In one variation, one such Queen simply stopped breathing. Her stolen robe of office became tighter and tighter, and choked every bit of air out of her. Trying to squeeze her swollen belly into what had fitted a young girl beautifully, Padme was inclined to believe it. For a moment, she felt the child moving inside her, and stopped. Then she shook her head. It was a legend, nothing but this. Still, legends could be used effectively. Palpatine would understand. He was Naboo, after all.
If she had tried to get another audience as Senator Amidala, the Chancellor's secretary would have deflected her as usual. But the secretary did not see Senator Amidala. He saw a woman with her face painted in white, wearing the ceremonial dress of a Queen of Naboo, and a call from the Queen had to be patched through to the Chancellor directly.
Palpatine recognized her at once, though, and for a change looked genuinely surprised. Given how strong the taboo she had broken was with all the Naboo, she had counted on it.
"Well," he said.
"I thought it appropriate," Padme stated in her cool, official voice, used less and less these days. "Given that one might say you always were my mentor, Chancellor."
She could see he understood the accusation. By not giving up his office and his powers when duty and tradition demanded it, he had become as obscene a criminal as that traitorous Queen of legend. Palpatine sighed.
"My dear," he said, "these are different times. Asking for different measures. As I tried to make clear earlier to you and your esteemed colleagues. Did you really resort to children's tales just so we could have this conversation again?"
The important thing was to see him alone, and in person. Now that she had his attention, she could not allow this last chance to go the way of the others. If it was necessary, she had to use a false pretense.
"Let us have a different conversation then," Padme replied, and tried not to flinch as she continued: "About your representative in the Jedi Council."
Forgive me, Anakin, she added silently. It was a gamble. Given all the attention Palpatine had lavished on Anakin, her husband had to be important to the Chancellor. And while Anakin swore he had not confided about their marriage to him, she was reasonably sure that Palpatine at least guessed. The cleric who had married Anakin and herself had called her just two weeks ago and mentioned there had been an enquiry from the Chancellor's office. All of which made her certain Palpatine would rise to the bait. He could not refuse a conversation about Anakin. And once they had started talking, Padme was sure she would find a way to steer their exchanges into the right direction. He might have been her mentor, but she had been a politician for more than a decade now herself.
For a moment, Palpatine looked startled, for the second time in a row. Then his face became bland. "But of course," the Chancellor said smoothly.
An hour later she met with him in the suite he had temporarily moved into. After being abducted by Grievous, he had had everyone's understanding sympathy when declaring he wished for a new, securer place of residence to be build. When she passed the red-clad guards, she saw herself in the mirrors of the floor; a tiny woman, dressed in the blue and brown gowns of a Senator once more, surrounded by straight red lines. It made for an image of surrender, and she suddenly wished she had carried the broken taboo further, for there was a hierarchy of colours on Naboo, and red was high. Again, the child in her stirred, and she pushed the thought away.
Palpatine had aged in the years since he had taken office, but there was nothing of the grandfatherly aura he sometimes projected in him now. In war, Mon Mothma once had said to her, you can die only once; but in politics, you die again and again. Padme had agreed with her then, and she was aware of it now. She had suffered her share of deaths in the Senate; today, though, she could not afford another one. She had to win.
"Chancellor," she said, as he rose to greet her, giving him his title in their own language, which is richer and more complicated than the Standard they spoke here on Naboo. Anakin, who grew up speaking Huttese and Standard on Tatooine, had learned the language of the Naboo during the ten years they were apart, and used it at intimate moments, because he knew it pleased her; she felt strangely out of place using it now. For the first time, she wondered whether Anakin learned it in the Jedi Temple or from Palpatine. She was too composed to allow a blush to colour her cheeks, though; or rather, too coiled, an instrument waiting to be released.
"My dear," he said again, and Padme did not miss that he didn't give her a title in return, though he, too, used their own language now, "I regret there are so many misunderstandings between us now. I am so proud of you. Of what you have accomplished. No father could be prouder."
I have a father, she thought, but was too much of a diplomat to say it out loud.
"I used to be proud of you," she said instead, and the regret and affection she puts in her voice were only partly artificial. "I wish I could be again. Chancellor, you could become a legend and an example to all rulers, not just of Naboo but of the Republic. I know it is hard to let go. To trust that others will be able to take care of the people as well as oneself did. And you were entrusted with far more than I ever was. You carried the burden. But if you put it down now, you could become more than any other Chancellor has been. "
He raised an eyebrow, and she knew her flattery had remained without effect. "And here I thought you wished to talk about your own reason for retirement," he said, and left it open whether he referred to Anakin or her pregnancy or both. They were both aware, of course, that the Queen would not allow her to continue as Senator once it became known she was married to a Jedi. Diplomatic relations with the Order demanded no less.
"This is indeed what brings me here," Padme said, painting a smile on her lips. "As I succeeded you as Senator of Naboo, something for which your help has been invaluable, I thought it would be appropriate if I helped you in a similar way. Why not take up your old post after I have left? It would form a perfect circle, and we know the circle is the most elegant of forms, do we not?"
If he proved Bail and Mon and even her own ominous feelings wrong, if he stepped down and ended the emergency laws, becoming a Senator once more would be easier than becoming a private citizen for him. Power and the awareness of being the embodiment of it could be an addiction as well as a burden. She was aware of that. Sometimes she thought she first fell in love with Anakin because he never saw the Queen in her, only ever Padme, and sometimes she was afraid she started to fall in love with him when finding in him the adoration for Padme that Amidala used to get from everyone.
Palpatine steepled his fingers.
"Succeeding your gracious self, you mean? That does sound appealing. Maybe I should start by taking your husband from you," he said, so casually, so matter-of-factly, that it took her a moment to be sure she had understood him correctly.
"I need him," he said, smiling at her. "As my representative on the Council. I am afraid I could not let him go to Naboo with you, as charming a picture as the two of you make."
A part of her wondered whether she should bother to deny her marriage. A larger part was still in shock. Which she shouldn't have been. She was the one who brought up Anakin first. It was to be expected that he would as well, and the disturbing phrase was just that, designed to disturb. It meant no more and no less than any of the verbal games politicians played with each other. She was well and truly sick of them. When this was all over, she would go to Naboo, and have her child there, and she and Ani would raise it together. No more power plays within the Senate or the Council. But it couldn't be before the Republic was at peace and safe once more. She had to be Amidala long enough for that. And Amidala has to use Padme now.
"If I asked him to come with me," she said coolly, "do you really think he would hesitate?"
Gambling again. If Anakin was important to Palpatine, and he had to be, given all the investment of time and attention, she had something to negotiate with. It was unworthy to broker with your power over your husband, but was all she has left right now. As Bail said, the two thousand voices they have gathered still weren't a majority, and Palpatine could dismiss them. And she was increasingly sure he would not listen to her appeal at his conscience.
Palpatine leaned back, and regarded her with that same expression he showed when she told him, here on Coruscant, she would go back to Naboo to fight for their people's freedom. It was a strange mixture of apprehension and pride, with a hint of bemusing satisfaction.
"No," he said, finally. Did this mean she has won? It was not like him to give in immediately. Not like him at all.
"But I am forgetting my manners," he said. "Please, allow me to offer you some refreshments. Your… condition… must leave you hungry."
If he hadn't known before, her appearance in the royal gowns had told him. Well, that was the risk she had been prepared to take. Soon, everyone would know anyway.
"Thank you, but I am quite satisfied," she said, thinking of the traditions of the Naboo again, of the verbal fencing that was as complicated and skilful as anything the Jedi do with their lightsabers. His seeming withdrawal has to be a feint. "With what I have."
"Ah, but how long will you have it?" Palpatine asked, all concern. "Now if the Jedi find out…certain things… and I am no longer able to protect your husband, I shudder to imagine what disciplinary measures might be taken."
"He is prepared to leave the order," she said, deflecting the implied threat. "He doesn't want to, naturally, but he will if he has to."
"I was not referring to your blessed union," Palpatine said, smiling at her. "Marriage is not exactly a criminal offence. Wiping out an entire village, on the other hand, and not in a war, either… why, I believe that without our emergency laws which leaves jurisdiction in the hands of my governors, such a thing is punishable with lifelong imprisonment."
She stared at him, unable to stop her face from expressing her shock this time. Anakin told him. He hadn't told Obi-Wan or anyone else but her. She could still hear the horror and the shame in his voice, mingled with fury and exhaustion. Back then, she had seen him on the brink of something, and herself as the only tether he had left. Sometimes he still had nightmares about it, all mingled with the death of his mother, and now with those things he dreamt about her.
"He was not himself at the time," she said automatically while her thoughts raced. Would Palpatine actually do this? Tell what Anakin did to the Tuskens if Ani followed her to Naboo instead of working for him?
"I'm sure that is an explanation that will satisfy the criminal court," Palpatine returned, watching her. "And once your own child is born, it will be thrilled to hear what its father did to other children, yes?"
Padme had not hated many people in her life. It was not an emotion she was very familiar with; the closest she had come was with Nute Gunray, because of the invasion he had led against her people, and once she had met the Neimoidian herself and had seen him crumble in fear and embarrassment, desperately trying to come up with excuses by telling them all a tale about a Sith lord goading him into everything, her loathing had disappeared into a mere dislike mingled with pity. The fact that he had tried to kill her later had not changed that. She only thought about him when some Nubian or Gungan mentioned having lost family during the invasion, but he obviously spent years obsessing about her.
So what she felt now, looking at Palpatine, was new. She had not realized how deeply she has trusted him, despite her increasing disillusionment about his devotion to the democratic ideals, until this moment, how deep her conviction that he was a good man beneath the corruption through power ran. The taste of betrayal, sharp like the spices of Tatooine, burned her mouth as she pressed her lips together to prevent herself from saying anything.
Aside from betrayal, this new, engulfing sensation of hatred was also fuelled by self-loathing. If she had insisted that Anakin tell Obi-Wan about what happened after his mother's death, or Master Yoda, anyone but this man whom they had both trusted in varying ways, he would have listened. It would have been better. In a way, Palpatine was right, their marriage was trivial next to this. But she had made a decision then, on Geonosis, when she had found him alive after his fight with Dooku; what was done was done, she had decided, nobody could bring the dead back, not Shmi, not the Tuskens, and it would be their burden to share and no one else's. It would remain in the past.
It was easier, her mind, schooled in the merciless logic of legislators and philosophers of ages past, told her. You chose the easier way. But obviously he could not leave it in the past, and he told this man, and now your one weapon is worthless and turned against you. You thought you could blackmail Palpatine with his need for your husband. But whatever importance Anakin has for him, it is nothing compared to what Anakin means to you. And Palpatine knows. If you already were willing to keep silent about a massacre once to protect Ani, he can be sure of what you will do now.
She had a choice, clearly. She could call his bluff. Maybe it was a bluff, after all. Maybe he would not do anything if she made her move and asked Anakin to go with her to Naboo. But she looked into Palpatine's eyes and was certain. He had no use for an Anakin outside of his influence, and Palpatine would not hesitate to throw him away. He would tell the Jedi and what legal authorities were left at this stage. And the worst of it was, while the Jedi might not to anything but exclude him from the order, the law she herself was sworn to respect would have no choice but to prosecute. She could not deny the right of it without becoming a worse hypocrite than Palpatine.
"I think," Palpatine said softly, "everything will remain as it is. I at my office, and you, Senator, at yours, for how long your… condition… permits it. And your husband at my side. Don't you agree, my dear?"
She would continue to support Bail Organa and Mon Mothma in their endeavours. But it would have to be in secret, and that alone was a concession she never thought she would make. In public, she would remain silent. There would be no protest from Naboo against the continuing emergency laws, not anymore. For a moment, she thought she was still wearing her old robes, and they were choking her, like the legend promised. A true Queen would rather die herself than allow this blackmail. At fourteen, she would not have hesitated. But she was not fourteen any longer, and the love for her husband engulfed her and tied her worse than any chains of office ever did.
She rose and left. He made no effort to call her back. He did not need to; he knew when he had won.