Tragedy of an Imperial Catamite
I: THE GARDEN OF EDEN
Disclaimer: As always, everything belongs to George, and I am making no money
Long Author's Note: I started writing this story in 2006, a few months after finishing Room with a View. Back then, I started writing it to fill the ... ten years pass... moment in that story. It was very much tied to that story, plot-wise. The problem was that when I revisited it (because I found half a chapter on my laptop), I found I'd completely forgotten the quite complex plot that lay behind everything. Then a friend requested I post it on livejournal and write a cut-scene which turned into Under the Covers and I found a completely different story I wanted to tell with Alexis and Palpatine, exploring questions I could never have considered in 2006, and which the infrastructure (for want of a better word) of the old story could never have supported. Much of the Vader-orientated material will be changed, but those are the only major scenes that will go. Everything else will hopefully be expanded rather than deleted and minor characters will receive a better go of it than their author previously suffered them to have.
It should also be noted that I don't subscribe to the notion that the Empire was as humano-centric as its made out to be in the EU; I see the Imperial Military as being a Core human institution and having those biases, but as none of Palpatine's advisors in the Revenge of the Sith film were human, I'm sceptical that he would implement such a policy. In another canon note, though I like having some EU flavour, Palpatine will not have a legion of concubines! I mean, honestly! He's in his seventies for god's sake! And, despite this story's premise I am not going to let the old guy get away with more than he's capable of (emotionally or physically.
The Office of the Grand Vizier Imperial was rarely occupied. It's beautiful, Ciutric-inspired design boasted swirling patterns of stylised water on sparkling aurodium. Sate Pestage, on entering, stalled a moment in the doorway to wonder at its quiet serenity. It was only as he let himself fall into his chair - a thin slump of deep scarlet robe and headpiece with a chiselled, angular face - that he realised just how much his feet hurt and that he was still trembling. He'd almost forgotten just how catastrophic that temper - usually but a slave to its owner's durasteel will – really was.
In some ways it had been easier to deal with when Palpatine had been Supreme Chancellor. When the air stifled with barely-leashed fury, there was always another meeting which required the politician to master himself in order to seem what it was necessary for him to appear. One of the many qualities Palpatine possessed which had attracted Pestage to the service of the then Senator of Naboo was his almost total commitment to necessity. He performed best when swamped with pressing appointments, and for the chancellor's leisure his advisors always tried to arrange solitary activities which would be uninhibitive. This, admittedly punishing, schedule was optimal for other reasons besides his demeanour. Palpatine's formidable intellect was best in constant harness; otherwise that cruel streak of something akin to playfulness - which surfaced whenever he became bored - arose to spin surplus complexities within complexities which never failed to give Pestage a headache.
"Sate?" He turned to gaze at the cold face of his wife, crossing the threshold. Do the Naboo sculpt all their citizens out of ice? Moteé's lilac velvet dress was effortlessly elegant against her winter-pale skin. Dark eyes assessed him from beneath fine lashes "I heard it was quite the display." She chuckled, "You aren't hurt are you?" That sweet voice almost sounded sincere... almost.
He rose and took her hand in his – thankfully it seemed to have ceased to shake. "It's not for myself that I worry," the vizier's tone was thoughtful; another hand wandered to a milky shoulder.
"You're worried about him?" she gently disengaged.
He turned away as she lent casually against the desk, her silvery earrings catching the light. "Not worried, exactly. Concerned. I know he isn't sleeping..." Moteé arched an eyebrow, a smirk hiding in the corners of her pretty mouth. "Don't look at me like that. I need to contact Amedda... no, no... Sly. She was always good at solving this kind of problem."
"You must be desperate, to go crawling to Moore," her laughter tinkled, "Haven't you always said you know him better than anyone else?" one could always rely on Lady Moteé Pestage to slide the blade in.
The vizier shifted in his seat, embarrassed, yet unable to take his eyes of her lovely figure. That was why he had married her in the first place, after all. And it was as he gazed at Moteé, that inspiration struck.
There were only two beings, as far as Sate could tell, who had ever captured and held Palpatine's attention and even then the vizier could not be sure if he had ever actually... well… with either of them. The first had been Khameir: a young, idiosyncratic Zabrak, who often visited Palpatine for long periods of time in the days when he had been a mere senator. The scowling, scarlet Zabrak had looked like something that had tumbled out of a death jizz club on the lower levels at 0200; lean, muscular and covered in tattoos. The senator's staff could only assume that Palpatine's interest was due to the fact that Khameir was an animal in the bedroom (as well as make rather crass jokes about Palpatine's penchant for all things red).
The second was Anakin Skywalker. Another tall, lithe young being in his twenties, Skywalker had been allowed incredible liberties with the chancellor's time. Sate couldn't count the number of occasions when he'd been forced to rearrange dozens of meetings (and once or twice even a session of the Senate) so that Palpatine could blithely announce that of course he always had time for his young friend. The lift in mood just after one of Skywalker's visits was clearly discernable, as was the pride that shone out of the chancellor's eyes as he watched the young Jedi; one could even go so far as to say that the ordinarily frigid gaze practically sparkled.
The grand vizier had made several efforts to introduce amenable young men of a similar mould (dashing up and comers in the navy as well as dandified courtiers) to the Emperor, by placing them in Palpatine's vicinity at official functions, but he had met with a resounding failure on every occasion. Even young Rufaan Tigellinus, whose considerable charm and precocious talent were the talk of the Imperial Court, failed to interest the Emperor. At one stage he'd gone so far as to hope that Isard – mannish enough by anyone's standards and desperate to please – would fill the role, but no such luck. Still, it meant that she owed him several favours for facilitating such encounters, so it wasn't a complete waste of time.
He had told no one of his intention; although he was fairly certain that Dangor was wise to what he was doing and disapproved (Ars Dangor couldn't bear to think of any weakness in his idol). But then, it was an unspoken covenant between the two advisors that Dangor took care of the Empire and Pestage took care of the Emperor. The real danger lay in Palpatine realising what his vizier was up to, but Sate was confident that his subtle efforts at matchmaking would fall below the Emperor's notice, engrossed as he was in his own games.
These were the thoughts of the Vizier Imperial as he made his way along one of the upper colonnades looking down on the Grand Corridor, beings parting for him like schools of fish. The wondrous architecture that rose to dizzying heights around him went unnoticed. Below, citizens from all over the galaxy chattered to one another beneath the rustling leaves of the Emperor's prized ch'hala trees. Sate could never walk through without feeling as though he'd stepped into some tourist's holo-still. Here there were no storm-troopers, but guards in discrete black uniforms, well-trained and extremely polite.
It was one such guard who caught his attention now – requesting ID from a Bothan dignitary. It might have been a scene from one of Advisor Vandron's propagandistic holo-films; the guard – blond-haired and blue-eyed – was courteous to a fault. Pestage blinked, have I seen him before? Leaning on the balcony, the vizier turned to a hovering assistant. "Get me that guard's name."
He awoke to a dreadful screeching and an ache that seemed to encompass his entire body. Drawing a slow breath he realized that the shrieking had stopped. The Emperor extended a withered hand to pull the covers higher, tighter around him; shivering, even though the temperature in his rooms was always perfectly adjusted. He opened saffron eyes to stare up at the ceiling: it seemed impossibly high, arches flowing upward forever. The soft morning light did not touch the bed; but Palpatine watched as it edged ever closer, creeping across the polished floor, as he allowed the tension to seep out of his ancient bones.
A droid had drawn aside the heavy drapes, leaving the monarch an uninterrupted view of his gardens. The Imperial Gardens: a bazaar of diverse horticultural wonders; his gardens. He suffered them to be available to the public in the afternoons, but for now they were his alone… and beyond them, his galaxy... Sending out wide tendrils of awareness that spanned star-systems, Palpatine closed his eyes again, spreading his hands against the smooth pillows as his mind drifted on the solar winds; a smile coaxed its way onto his lips. By itself the smile wanted for nothing, but on the Emperor's face it was no more than another twist in a grotesque set of features.
Completing his morning meditations, Palpatine shuffled out of bed, drawing a voluminous outer-cloak over himself, leaving only his hands exposed, their ivory skin taking on a moonlike glow in the half-light. A small droid helped him put on a pair of soft, black boots. The Emperor lifted a careless finger and the droid shot backward to crash into the wall, shattering.
No one disturbed him as he made his way down to the gardens. His Royal Guardsmen still stood outside his quarters. Only he, a dead architect, and the re-processed construction droids, knew about the passage to the gardens from the Royal Apartments. Even if it were discovered by some enterprising individual, the pass-codes were ludicrously complex. Palpatine leaned on his cane – more necessity than show these days - as he entered the fragrant forest, yellow eyes half-closed, dreamy.
His apprentice was being difficult again. Surely he must understand the darkness by now? Its thrilling and chaotic nature… But Lord Vader still had problems with control… essentially the same problem he had with the Jedi concepts… He would not make the effort to master the Dark Side of the Force, content with simple usage… Perhaps I push him too far? Palpatine considered the thought: he was not taught from his earliest memories to regard it as an honour, an art. And though I am hard on him, I cannot discipline him as I would have Maul. It appeared to be a sad truth of nature that the ideal apprentice did not exist. Lord Maul had been too simple; Count Dooku too steeped in the ways of the Jedi; even though he possessed beautiful control he could never have become a true sith lord… and Vader? The last apprentice: could it be that I have spoilt him, as a parent does his last child? The Sith Master thought about himself when an apprentice. Too disobedient, too strong-willed and too clever... too much a master already to take heed… Palpatine chuckled, thank the Force I never had such an apprentice!
"This area is strictly off limits until 1430," an officious voice sounded from the other side of a fountain. A young man, perhaps twenty, a mere child, strode purposefully towards the Emperor, who looked up, startled out of his thoughts. It was as if a young sprite of nature had stepped out of the greenery; tall, his neat, black uniform doubtless giving him courage, lips set in a firm line, and blue eyes determined; the boy spoke: "I don't know how you got in, but I'm afraid I will have to arrest you for..." He stopped: mouth opening in a slow, horrified gasp of recognition.
"Quite," Palpatine replied laconically, lowering himself to rest on the rim of the fountain. Why, he looks so much like…
"Y-y-your M-majesty…! I…ah… I-I…" The boy was too mortified to even bow; though he would probably prostrate himself on the grass before long.
Highly amused, the Emperor decided not to punish the wretched child just yet. "I take it you have never seen your sovereign at close quarters before?"
"No, Your Majesty…" The tone was reverential, as was to be expected. But although there was a note of fear in those words, it was far outweighed by the sheer awe that seemed to hold the unfortunate physically captive, shining out of his bright, innocent eyes. It had been a long time since Palpatine had interacted with common citizens, had forgotten their gauche worship, so different from the sleek flattery of the denizens of the Imperial Court. And, he suspected, more genuine.
"And so... how do you find me?" Palpatine found himself, presumably out of habit, toying with the child.
"You… you are the most commanding person I have ever met, Your Majesty."
The Emperor smirked, while the boy smiled uncertainly, "Naturally. Now, what is a guard such as yourself doing in my gardens?"
"I was ordered here, sire, by Captain Zao of the 4th Security Division..."
Palpatine laughed; it could in no way be described as a pleasant sound. "For such a young man, you have chosen most influential enemies."
"I don't understand..."
The Emperor adopted a slightly melodramatic tone: "I fear you have been sent into this horticultural trap to be devoured by the terrible creature that prowls its glades…" Palpatine grinned, revealing desiccated teeth. "Your enemies doubtless expect me to punish you for your insolence." The boy was silent – fearful now – but awaiting for his inevitable fate with the blank stoicism of the soldier. "Fortunate then, that I will not tolerate such presumption. Come... sit." A chalk-white talon indicated the thick lip of the marble fountain. Gingerly, the lad perched on the edge, a respectable distance from the Emperor. "What is your name?" Palpatine's voice was velvet soft.
"Corporal Alexis Ts'umin, Your Majesty."
"Ts'umin...?" Palpatine mulled the name over, as if tasting it.
The corporal swallowed nervously, "My father... was an imperial governor," The Emperor did not reply, waiting for Alexis to continue: "He – ah – he died when I was seventeen."
"My condolences… May I ask why, given your background, you didn't receive higher education or training as an officer?" There was something connected with the name, some scandal or other, a memory Palpatine couldn't quite dislodge, hovering on the edge of his thoughts.
"M-m-my m-mother was... convicted of High T-treason."
Now he remembered! Volara Ts'umin, wife of a governor, had been discovered leaking classified information to rebel insurgents. She managed to evade her husband's frantic efforts and disappear, leaving Governor Ts'umin to take his own life. There had been no mention of children. "And do you bear any such sympathies, young Alexis?" The flush suffusing those handsome cheeks was quite mesmerising.
The boy shook his head fervently, "N-n-no, no, sir! I could never betray you, Your Majesty. I'd shoot anyone who did!"
There was a lot of hurt there, raw and barely contained. Palpatine wasn't fool enough to assume that anger was on his behalf, but that of the son whose mother had abandoned him and caused the death of his father, ending the privileged existence the boy must have been certain would last forever. The Emperor could well understand that kind of rage and he reflected that it would be enjoyable to watch this boy shoot his rebel mother. The blaster would tremble in those long fingers, cerulean eyes lit with tears of anger… or perhaps the hand would be steady and the eyes cold, bright with vengeance…? "I believe you," he said lightly.
With one rushed, yet oddly graceful, movement Alexis Ts'umin seized the Emperor's right hand and kissed it. Not the subtle brush of the courtier but a harsh, grateful collision of mouth and hand. "Thank you, Your Majesty!" And looking at that face – dark blue eyes and quivering nostrils – something shifted within Palpatine. In truth, he had no desire to pull away, but did so, overriding such an uncertain and sudden impulse.
He rose from the fountain, feeling the fragrant spray emanating from the water touch his face as he turned. The boy stared up at him, apprehensive. There was something odd about this the Emperor couldn't quite place. The corporal's lips still seemed to be imprinted into his hand, causing it to itch uncomfortably. Palpatine brought his hands together, resisting the urge to move his left fingers across the back of the affected hand. How is his simple flattery affecting me so? Pathetic gratitude was hardly an attractive quality, yet in this instance it was strangely…
But I should say something: "It is nothing, child," he splayed his right hand in benevolent invitation, "Walk with me…" It was only as Ts'umin rose that Palpatine realised the source of the niggling oddity – the only time any being sat in their Emperor's presence while their sovereign stood was when the Imperial Senate was in session. Prostration, now that was a different matter. How strange that he should forget.
Corporal Alexis Ts'umin felt like a Victory-class SSD had just collided with his head. He returned, reeling, from the light of the gardens into the dark, glossy corridors of the Imperial Palace, completely disoriented. He didn't even remember what his orders for the rest of the day had been. Or perhaps there had been no orders, if what the Emperor had told him was true.
The Emperor was not as Alexis had imagined. His mind had supplied a truly awesome concentration of power: tall, majestic, implacable… more like Darth Vader, really. Up until now, the dark lord had been the most powerful man Alexis had ever met. Lord Vader had been overseeing his father's appointment as governor; Alexis, a child then, had been scared and hid behind his mother – not that he would ever admit to it.
Of course, every Imperial citizen knew what Palpatine looked like… the enduring legacy of the evil Jedi. But stills and statues gave no indication of his lightness of manner, dry wit, or – most of all – those eyes that seemed to know all there was to know about everything; eyes that had seen eternity. It was a shock. Growing up under the Emperor's rule, it was easy to think of Palpatine like some elemental force, all pervading, yet hardly ever seen – as familiar, vast and insubstantial as the air one breathed.
He was too amazed to even be angry at the captain. He had never felt more honoured in his life. For Palpatine had continued to talk to him, though there had been no reason to do so, and even deigned to show Alexis some of the rarer flowers. Alexis had even managed to calm down once the conversation shifted away from his family, and enjoy himself; not that he was greatly interested in plants but even when differentiating between types of Haruun Kal creeper, there was something hypnotic in Palpatine's voice which made any subject on which the Emperor chose to hold forth interesting. Or perhaps, Alexis thought cynically, it was simply the fact that when a being possessed as much power as Palpatine, anything he did was fascinating.
Still dazed, he caught an air-taxi back to the apartment he shared with his sister Iulia. "What's happened, Alexis?" his sister asked over dinner that night, "You've gone off-world." Iulia Ts'umin worked in Imperial Admin., which she described as the most mind-numbingly boring work on the planet. Iulia had an on-off relationship with a co-worker, but she never brought him home. She'd promised to do so when it became "official" but it was three years later and Alexis still hadn't met him. He was starting to suspect she had lied about the whole thing and all she had was a hopeless office crush.
"What do you think of the Emperor?" He endeavoured to make the question casual, in between mouthfuls of what the pair called Ts'umin Soup – a type of nerf and vegetable broth they'd "invented" by altering a popular recipe slightly.
Iulia raised a curious blond eyebrow. "What kind of question is that? If this is some kind of covert way of asking if I knew about mother, I've told you-"
"No – I mean, as a person."
"You're asking me for my opinion of Palpatine personally?" She grinned, "You're not bugged, are you?" She dipped a piece of biscuit into her soup.
"Don't be stupid – just answer the question."
"Fine, I think he's a brilliant but flawed leader who needs to pay his administrative workers more. Happy?"
"Flawed in what way?" Alexis frowned.
"Are you practising interrogation techniques for your application to the ISB? Because I'm sorry to tell you but pouting at your big sister isn't going to cut it."
"Shut up!" His com-link beeped.
"That'll be them now, asking you for pointers," his sister drawled.
Alexis did not reply, but pressed a button to scan the visual message.
"Well?" Iulia asked.
"Just Drav asking about drinks later," said Alexis distractedly, getting up and cleaning away his bowl as fast as he could without looking like he was in a rush. Once safe inside his room – door magnetically sealed – he read the shimmering message in its entirety:
TO ALEXIS TS'UMIN, PALACE GUARDS CPL., 4th SECURITY DIV., GREETINGS.
HIS MOST SERENE IMPERIAL MAJESTY, SOVEREIGN OF THE KNOWN GALAXY, ETC… WISHES TO EXTEND TO HIS SERVANT, CPL. TS'UMIN, A REQUEST TO DINE WITH HIM TWO DAYS HENCE AT THE NINETEENTH HOUR IN THE GRAND SALON OF THE IMPERIAL PALACE; IT SHOULD BE NOTED THAT THIS IS NOT AN ORDER & THEREFORE THIS OFFICE WILL NOT BE OFFENDED SHOULD YOU DECLINE.
SATE PESTAGE, GRAND VIZIER IMPERIAL.
The vizier had been required to do battle with his facial muscles in order to prevent a triumphant smirk from crossing his face when Palpatine had told him to arrange another meeting with Cpl. Ts'umin. There had been no such leeway given for the boy to decline (Palpatine simply hadn't considered it), but Sate thought it made the request look suitably friendly. Besides, no one refused an imperial summons, certainly not insignificant guards' corporals. Sate could not be more pleased, even the boy's background worked to his advantage – if ever Ts'umin lost the Emperor's favour it would be all the easier to dispose of him.
But that was a thought for another day. For now he could bask in the success of his little gamble: ordering Captain Zao to send young Ts'umin to the gardens this morning, where he knew the Emperor walked in the early hours. Of course, there was always the danger that Palpatine would have killed the guard, but Sate had been prepared to take the risk, as he had realised his mistake on earlier occasions of trying to initiate private diversion at public occasions when the Emperor took centre stage, when Palpatine was not really a being at all, but a majestic construct of infallible power honed to perfection by years of practice. But alone in his gardens the galactic sovereign could be anything he pleased. And Sate would be willing to bet almost anything he possessed that Palpatine had bewitched the lad with the charm that could still entrance, though never as brightly as it had once upon a time.
And it was with considerable – or so he thought – daring that Pestage had robes of deep, wine-dark sienna laid out for the Emperor that evening. It was a good tone for him and lent that malformed skin some colour; whereas Palpatine's preferred black leached everything to a dead white. The vizier also made certain the Emperor's chambers were liberally stocked with alcohol – he had a feeling they would both need it.
Unsure of what to wear to such an occasion, Alexis settled for his black uniform. Any dress clothes he possessed would doubtless be inferior to what Palpatine was used to seeing, so there really wasn't much point in trying to pretend to be something he so clearly wasn't – not anymore. He'd long-since grown out of the formal garments he'd worn as a child. It was only an hour before 1900 that he realised that he had absolutely no idea where the Grand Salon was. He was forced to consult one of the many guidance droids for directions.
It turned out to be on one of the many private levels of the palace and when Alexis had his ID scanned through (no less than six times) he was told to wait. Beautiful murals lined the walls and polished boots sounded loudly on dark marble. Just sitting here was hell; his whole body was jangling with nerves. It was so quiet, beings spoke in hushed whispers when at all – there were several of them sitting on sculpted benches – and the expansive room reminded Alexis of nothing so much as a over-decorated medical clinic when a soft-spoken aides would fetch one of them through different doorways.
But it was no aide who came for Alexis, but Vizier Pestage himself. "Corporal Ts'umin?"
"Yes, Excellency," Alexis tried to keep the fear from his voice as he stood up hurriedly. He probably didn't succeed. He tried to smooth out the wrinkles his uniform had acquired while he was waiting without the vizier noticing.
"Please follow me," The vizier was already turning away, leading Alexis quickly through rooms of breathtaking luxury, coming eventually to a set of tall double doors of worked aurodium. There were two Royal Guardsmen on either side. All of a sudden the face of the vizier was frighteningly close to his own; black eyes dangerous as he waved a crooked finger under Alexis' nose. "Do not speak unless spoken to. Do not look His Majesty in the eyes. Bow from the waist when you enter. Do not eat before he does and do not sit unless he is seated. Understand?"
Alexis thought of all the rules he must have broken that day in the gardens and swallowed. "Yes, Excellency,"
Pestage gave a signal and the guards swung the hinged doors open. Alexis thought he imagined a whispered "Good luck!" from the vizier as he was greeted with the magnificence that was the Grand Salon. Bronzium sculptures were reflected in mirrored walls, lit by a stunningly-wrought chandelier shaped to look like the galaxy under which rested a long antique table made of priceless thyssel wood. A sumptuous banquet was laid out at one end of the table, looking out into a floor to ceiling view of one of the spectacular sunsets Imperial Centre was so famous for.
Alexis bowed deeply upon entering, even though he couldn't yet see the Emperor... There: a stark, deep red silhouette against the sky, Palpatine stood by the window, perhaps watching the air-traffic move far below – here they were so far up the palace rose above the cloud-line. Alexis moved to stand behind him, waiting to be acknowledged.
As he turned, the boy's beauty stunned the Emperor anew. Standing there in his dark uniform, the last shards of the sunset lighting his face, he could almost have been someone else, his perfect features a homage to what had come before. The differences were there, of course: short, pale hair shorn to regulation length, lighter eyes and a higher brow, a slightly more gamin expression, with fine Coruscanti skin free of the burn imparted by twin desert suns. Palpatine drew a quick breath and gave a tight smile, lips pressed together. "… Corporal," He inclined his head.
"Your Majesty," the boy bowed, smiling. It was such a trusting smile.
"Shall we?" Palpatine invited, waving an ivory hand toward the table; seating himself in the matching thyssel wood throne at its head, indicating that Alexis should sit on his right. "Tell me something about yourself." The Emperor poured Alexis some jewel green wine, its colours misty in the facets of the crystal goblet held out to him.
Alexis took the proffered wine, but did not drink, keenly aware of the vizier's instructions – it was safer not to touch anything until Palpatine did. For a moment he was afraid that the Emperor wasn't going to drink anything, but he poured himself some as well. Alexis desperately searched for something to say… "I… I…" he caught sight of the Royal Guardsmen in the doorway, "I once picked a fight with a Royal Guard…" the words shot out in a nervous rush. Clearly this hadn't been the sort of confession the Emperor had been expecting. Palpatine gave him a sideways glance, his golden eyes sceptical beneath the deep hood. Too late, Alexis remembered that he wasn't supposed to make eye-contact and looked at his plate. "Why does everyone look at me that way when I tell them? Seriously, somewhere on the HoloNet there's a vid of me getting my arse handed to me in the guards' cantina."
He shrugged, "I was drunk and bet one of my friends I could take on anyone there. You know, just one of those stupid things everyone does once."
The Emperor took a sip of his wine, "I can't say I've ever done anything quite that idiotic."
Grinning, Alexis took a long draught of wine. It was astonishingly smooth. "Oh, come on… there must be something you've done that was equally stupid?" The words were out before he could stop them, horrified at his thoughtlessness. Why can't I keep my mouth shut?
"Well… when I was – oh – about eight, I thought I could fly and jumped off a bridge."
"I broke most of the bones in my body," Palpatine smiled ruefully. "In hindsight, perhaps I should have started with something somewhat lower. But then, I've always been ambitious."
"No kidding!" Alexis took another gulp of wine, feeling himself start to unwind. This isn't so bad – I can handle this. "When did you decide… um, if you don't mind me asking?"
Letting the wine settle on his tongue, the Emperor considered the unspoken question: "I'm not entirely certain – as an unformed desire, perhaps forever. In practical terms, I decided I needed to become supreme chancellor when I was twenty-six." He paused, "Perhaps your true vocation is journalism?"
The corporal made a face, "Not me, Your Majesty!" He was starting to get hungry but Palpatine showed no sign of touching the food. "My sister, Iulia, wanted to do something like that but… I don't know… I kind of like working in the Grand Corridor." He'd heard that the Emperor had designed it himself.
Abruptly, Palpatine rose – forcing Alexis to leap up too, the wine going to his head. "Come," he said simply, beckoning Alexis to follow him. Regretting leaving all that delicious-looking food, Alexis did as the Emperor commanded, unnerved by the silent Royal Guards who fell in step just behind them as they passed through the aurodium doors. Across the hall, they stepped out onto a balcony with a view of the Grand Corridor far, far below – his fellow guards were merely black dots in the distance. One of those dots was Drav. Alexis leaned over the railing, gazing down into the artificial canyon. It really was an incredible sight. "Sometimes I despaired that it would never be finished."
"Did you really design everything?"
The Emperor gave a throaty chuckle. "Do they say that?" Alexis nodded. "While I am, of course, honoured to take the credit for such work; I'm afraid my artistic talent is rather exiguous. It was merely a case of choosing between various designs, though the trees were my idea." His Majesty rested his hands on the balcony beside Alexis. They were strange hands, oddly smooth considering the tapestry of lines that made up Palpatine's face, too pale to be human. The Emperor caught his stare and held it; his yellow eyes seeming to glow under the shadow of his cloak. And for the first time, Alexis questioned why he'd been invited into these sacrosanct chambers. He'd assumed that Palpatine had found him amusing… thoughts of promotion had been in Alexis' mind. But now, in contravention of the vizier's orders, returning that enigmatic saffron gaze, Alexis' mind raised the possibility that the Emperor's motives were both more and less complex…
"Your Majesty?" A deep voice called from behind them, causing Alexis to jump. Standing behind them was a man in the robes of an imperial advisor, with a thin, drooping, black moustache and dark eyes of a similar quality. Those eyes flicked to Alexis and away again, bowing to Palpatine, who didn't turn around; still gazing downward. The man spoke again: "There's been some action on the Outer Rim… rebels… Lord Vader is in pursuit, but… ah-" He broke off, clearly uncomfortable speaking in front of Alexis.
"Speak." The Emperor's voice was soft.
"They have – ahem – that is to say, they may be in possession the plans. Nothing is confirmed."
"When do you expect to have confirmation?"
"I'm sure Lord Vader-"
"I do not take kindly to being pestered with mere suppositions. Have Sate convene a full council tomorrow." With a flick of Palpatine's wrist, Ars Dangor, one of the most influential beings in galaxy, was dismissed. It made Alexis deeply uncomfortable.
Advisor Dangor gave Alexis a contemptuous sidelong glance as he bowed low to the Emperor. "As you wish, Your Majesty." He withdrew.
Palpatine still hadn't altered his gaze. "Forgive the interruption, my boy…" he turned to walk back to the doorway and gestured vaguely, "... it is impossible to escape such beings." He wandered back inside, Alexis in tow.
"Your Majesty, why am I here?" There was no bewilderment, no wide-eyes, just a quiet question, swallowed by the sudden stillness in the air as the Emperor halted – a red shadow on black marble. Alexis noticed the dark embroidery detailed on the hem of Palpatine's robes matched several veins of colour stretching across the floor.
The Emperor, inasmuch as Alexis could make out, appeared thoughtful. He turned away again and Alexis, although he dismissed the notion almost immediately, wondered if Palpatine was nervous. Six scarlet pillars had arrayed themselves along the edges of Alexis' perception. Within that perimeter, the Emperor finally turned toward Alexis. But the words he spoke bore no trace of any such feeling: "Because, Alexis Ts'umin, I desire it to be so."
This answer, or lack of one, built upon the suspicions which had begun on the balcony. A terrible chasm seemed to reveal itself in Alexis' stomach, pushing the choice he now faced up through his body in a nauseous rush.
A warm hand rested itself on his arm. Palpatine – so close – was staring at him intently. At this distance, his ravaged skin seemed like scrunched up, grey parchment inlaid with golden pools that seemed to draw Alexis out of time and into some other reality. "Refuse," that terrible voice said.
Palpatine's voice was horribly close and strangely distant all at once, yet it was nothing if not gentle: "I give you my permission. You need not fear recrimination."
"I… I..." Wordlessly, Alexis shook his head. Alexis looked to the guards standing silently in the shadows of the room. He thought of Drav – of the tentative advances Alexis had made, not yet enough to be called anything but…
"Ashamed?" the Emperor enquired, causing Alexis to colour.
Palpatine chuckled, "Leave us," the guards departed with a wave of his wrinkled hand. They are my superiors, the thought echoed in the back of Alexis' mind. "Shall we return to the salon?" the Emperor said lightly.
But Alexis had made his decision. He was aware, when he made it (which he suddenly realised had been some minutes before this moment) that it wasn't a wise choice. But this was the Emperor: His Imperial Majesty, Sovereign of the Known Galaxy; this was the embodiment of imperium who ruled over every being who had denied Alexis, every being who had spat on his disgraced father, who had silently accused Alexis and his sister of disloyalty as though it were some hereditary defect. Every moment spent with Palpatine violated everything Volara Ts'umin stood for.
Alexis knelt, and tentatively kissed his sovereign's white hand. Not as he had in the gardens, but slowly: lips pressing into the soft flesh – the world going warm and dark and terrifying as he closed his eyes. What am I doing? But stopping was impossible.
The Emperor disentangled his fingers from Alexis' hold and used them to lift Alexis' jaw, so that the corporal was once more staring into those yellow eyes. "This is not the place, Alexis – rise."
The Emperor's chambers were behind doors, behind doors, behind doors. They were smaller than Alexis imagined, really rather cosy, comparatively speaking. The dominant colour was Imperial Scarlet. Everything was beautiful, and perfectly appointed; yet, unlike many rooms in the palace, it bore a very lived-in appearance. There was a black cloak thrown over the back of a chair. A silvery tea-service bore a cup of half-drunk tisane.
Alexis shrugged off his clothes, but the Emperor had slipped only his shoes off, but his doubtless pale feet were invisible, covered by the long robes. He's uncomfortable, Alexis realised. I would be too, if I looked like that. He tried to imagine what Palpatine might have looked like if the Jedi hadn't attacked him with their disfiguring sorcery, but found the task impossible; he'd been a baby when it had happened. Some vague memories from school surfaced – a speech he'd had to study...?
Approaching Palpatine cautiously, waiting for some sort of signal – focusing his gaze on those grey fingers in deference, Alexis grasped the two hands once more in his own and, to his surprise, they trembled. This gave Alexis confidence – he leaned under that cowl and met the emperor's lips with his own, closing his eyes as he did so.
It wasn't an unpleasant sensation, but the teeth were a problem. Making his way through the teeth was quite difficult. But they didn't taste decayed, just a little sticky. No words were exchanged, but they continued to kiss and something wonderful, something that made his head spin with privilege, coursed through Alexis. The Emperor made a quiet, muffled noise in the back of his throat and reached ivory talons up into Alexis' hair, causing his voluminous sleeves to fall away from his wrists, exposing white arms shot with blue veins.
Alexis wrapped himself around Palpatine, intuitively understanding the Emperor's need to feel concealed. He wanted to preserve his sovereign's dignity so he drew him under the covers and only then did he begin to pull at the enveloping black material. Slowly, very slowly, he tugged down the obscuring hood, causing Palpatine's whole body to flinch. Oh gods, what did those Jedi do to him?
Palpatine's face was… wrong. His forehead was weighted down abnormally, bisected by a vertical dent in the middle, as though he had been struck. Lines blurred together in rivulets, creating waxen canyons in the Emperor's soft flesh. In the light, those yellow eyes were paler than they first appeared. He still possessed a thin layer of hair – the same colour as his skin – so that it appeared more like a light dusting of fine fur, reminiscent of cobwebs.
He became aware that the Emperor was shaking – really shaking – Alexis pulled him close, utterly appalled,so that Palpatine's head rested in the cavity of Alexis' neck. "That must have been torture," The boy whispered, mouth against his ear.
"It did hurt, yes," the monarch admitted, his light, spindly body finally beginning to settle in Alexis' embrace. His voice was utterly confident, but Alexis could still feel the tension of physical uncertainty. No one owned this collection of malformed limbs, not even the being with whose bleached skin they were covered. Overriding his pity and the horror coiling in his stomach and filled with a sense of purpose, Alexis vowed to himself that he would possess this ugliness, to cherish it as it deserved to be cherished.
Erratic sounds drew Alexis out of sleep. He was lying in a deep red darkness. Something warm lay in his arms and he slowly became aware that this was the source of dissonance. A wrinkled, white thing was coiled there, in the grip of some unknown terror. Its ivory fingers twitched, convulsing, suffering. Alexis, content, and wondering dreamily where he was and how much he drank last night, moved to wake his strange companion.
"Shh… shhh… It's ok, relax, it's ok…" The noises died down as the pale creature relaxed, its eyes remaining closed, into his embrace. It was very thin and skin hung off it like yet another layer of material. It yawned, showing him a pink mouth and a set of blackened teeth, and snuggled further under the sheets and into Alexis – who became very still, swallowing nervously. But oddly enough, sleep seemed to render Palpatine less worrying: without those eerie eyes shining with authority or trailing robes, he appeared a small thing – like a thin stretch of clay he'd see at some gallery with vaguely humanoid grooves pressed into it.
Alexis' stomach rumbled, bringing him back to the reality of last night – he hadn't eaten since yesterday, around 1600… Surely Palpatine must be hungry too? He had no idea what time it was. Alexis tried to wake him as nicely as possible with delicate kisses to the jaw. "Hey," he whispered.
Palpatine's eyes shot open and Alexis was thrown backward, taking the covers with him, to crash into the wall, knocking over a couch and a crystal sculpture which shattered as it hit the floor just as everything went black.
The Emperor drew on a robe and approached the boy. He lay at an odd angle on the floor. Palpatine moved a hand through blond hair and his fingers came away with blood. He knelt beside Alexis, brushing away the crystal that littered the carpet with a quick gesture.
I could kill him. It would, he felt, be the proper thing to do. It did not do to allow a being to hypnotise him so. Ever since that encounter in the gardens that boy had been in his mind. But he wasn't useful. In fact, he represented weakness more than anything else, but… a very beautiful one.
Alexis' brows drew together and he wrinkled his nose, "Huh? Whaa… th'ell?"
A white hand cradled the back of Alexis' head, and the pain lessened. "I'm afraid you startled me."
"Did I… imagine it, or did a seventy year-old man… just… hurl me across the room?"
"Do you m-murder all your lovers after you have your way with them?" His attempt at humour didn't quite disguise the shock.
"Oh, well, only those I suspect of trying to assassinate me."
"Well this assassin was hungry."
Alexis sat up – there was dried blood in his hair but his fingers couldn't locate the wound. Gods curse his big mouth! "Er – that's why I woke you up… we didn't end up having dinner and there's nothing to eat here…"
The surprise on the Emperor's face could hardly be more evident. Sitting beside Alexis on the floor, dishabille, and surrounded by debris, he began to laugh, shoulders quivering in mirth: a cracked, wheezing and slightly unhinged noise. And after a moment Alexis found himself joining in.
When they had finally calmed down, Palpatine stood up, drawing his robes tighter about himself, and pressed a finger down on a comm. switch beside the bed, exchanging a few indistinct words with the being at the other end of the connection. It only took a couple of minutes for a droid to enter carrying a aurodium platter loaded with what looked like an al fresco breakfast for seven. Alexis liberated it from the bemused servo-droid and set in down on the Emperor's bed, where the sovereign had retreated. Alexis (who was rather fond of midnight snacks) sat on top of the covers eating with fingers. "Are you sure you don't want anything?" In such circumstances, he forgot the niceties of address due to a sovereign.
"No, no, dear boy…" Propped up on pillows, the Emperor's amber eyes were half-closed, yet Alexis felt them moving across his nakedness – admiring. He tried to ignore the attention; it was difficult not to flush. He wondered how many beings had sat here before him.
"Not so many…" Palpatine whispered. Did I ask that aloud? "…Not after this palace was built." Alexis guessed at his true meaning: not since I became emperor; not since my injuries.
"Your Majesty…" Alexis began carefully, "What is going to happen?" He asked the question he'd been working up the courage to ask since this began.
"Explain," the Emperor closed his eyes.
"Well, I mean, to me… with you… and… so on."
"Ah," Palpatine cracked a lazy eye open, "well that depends, Alexis, entirely on whether you would enjoy being a monarch's catamite."
Now Alexis was blushing; but he could see why the Emperor had said it (it was what others would say, after all). "You mean – live here with you?"
"I can have alternate apartments arranged if you prefer…?"
"No, no…!" Alexis paused, "It's just… what about my job?" It sounded idiotic even as he said it.
"I'm afraid it wouldn't be appropriate," the Emperor extended a hand for Alexis to take, which he did after a moment, crawling closer over the expensive covers.