Hey, guys! Sorry this chapter has taken so long. I had my finals and moving back home, and I just needed a little down time to rest! Hope you guys enjoy this next update. Thanks for reading, and all reviews are welcome!
She was dashing ahead of him, colored ribbons streaming behind her like wild bands in a rainbow. Her strides were short, though surprisingly fast, and his legs were pumping at their full speed to keep her within his sight.
Her eyes sparkled whenever she would turn back to gauge his distance from her, her mouth open in a carefree, abandoned giggle that made his heart pump wildly. "You're too slow!" she cried, her stamina seemingly never ceasing.
He heard himself laughing, wondering how such a small thing could travel so quickly. But if he'd learned one thing in the past three years, it was never to underestimate his wife, regardless of the task at hand; she had a way of being infuriatingly good at most things she attempted.
Finally fed up with the distance between them, he called upon the Force to increase his speed, not caring that his wife would later indignantly declare that he was a rotten cheater. With his legs pumping three times as fast as hers, he caught her in only a few seconds, trapping her around the waist as a small cry of surprise escaped her lips. In a chaotic tumble of limbs and fabric, they fell to the mossy ground beneath them. He caught himself on his arms, careful not to trap her beneath his weight—which was not exactly trifling in comparison to hers. Padmé landed on her stomach, face into the grass, and Anakin felt a flash of concern, worrying that perhaps he'd been too rough with her, noting that her alarming silence. But when he turned her to lie on her back, he saw tears streaming down her scrunched, red face, contorted with silent laughter.
Anakin couldn't help the joy he felt at the sight of his wife in such disarray; laughing uncontrollably, covered in dirt and grass, and unbelievably beautiful. "Gods, Padmé," he choked through his laughter. "How did you ever get so kriffing fast?"
Padmé grinned, still giggling. "How in the name of the Force are you so slow?" she countered quickly, her chocolate eyes dancing with mirth. "Is this what you have to show for 13 years of Jedi training? Maybe we need to reconsider who we have protecting our galaxy!"
Anakin laughed, and gave Padmé a playful swat on her stomach. "I love you way too much for my own good," he chuckled by way of answer. Her resounding laughter was enough to kindle all his pent up passion, and fervently he reached down to press a desperate kiss to her open mouth. They kissed for what seemed like eternity, time slipping easily through their fingers, so lost in each other that all else seemed but a dream…
Vader felt a painful lump rise in his throat at the vivid memory, marveling at the simplicity that they had once enjoyed, when their love was young and their spirits light.
Though in retrospect, nothing had been as perfect as it seemed; just outside of their awareness, the galaxy had been desperately falling to pieces.
Vader breathed a deep sigh of resignation, turning away from the ocean of stars outside his massive viewport. Through mechanical, tinted lenses, he perceived the members of his crew toiling endlessly, running about the main deck of the ship as if something were on fire, all the while carefully avoiding him like he could kill them all with his mere presence. Nothing inspires productivity quite like a healthy dose of fear, he mused, crossing his arms in front of his breastplate, although the thought of it was not so much satisfying as it was strangely uncomfortable.
Shaking all thoughts of his wife from his mind, he slowly began to pace the bridge, sensing the sudden, cautious observance of his crew, somewhat irritated that they responded so acutely to his every move.
Vader's body still felt unnaturally heavy and disconnected, though he knew that every limb would obey him just as he commanded. His kinesthetic body sense felt entirely wrong, despite the fact that his motor skills were completely intact by medical standards. He felt the familiar pangs of disgust deep within his gut, and quickly redirected the path of his thoughts before they turned towards the frighteningly dark corner of his mind for which he reserved all thoughts of his accident—and all those involved.
Vader was jostled from his introspection with the frantic beeping of his comlink. He fumbled with his utility belt and retrieved the infuriating device, bringing it to his helmet. He felt an urgent pressure on his mind, like his consciousness was being pushed underwater by a persistent force, and knew that the familiar sensation was his Master attempting to contact him.
"Master," he said into the comlink, turning his face from the crew and back towards the viewport. Knowing his Master insisted upon private communication, he impressed upon all within earshot that whatever the dark lord before them was saying was of little importance, and he sensed their attention completely reabsorbed back into their work. Satisfied, he turned his attention towards the conversation at hand.
"Lord Vader," came the throaty, slow voice of his Master. "I trust your mission was successful, as usual."
"Yes, my Lord," Vader was quick to reassure him, careful to not let his mind stray towards the grimy details of this particular mission—though this task had been relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things, he found it distressing to focus on the details. His Master demanded no less than his absolute obedience, which often involved pressing the boundaries of his comfort zone; probably the after-effects of many years adhering to that damned Jedi Code, which forbade practically everything under the twin suns. Vader found it easy, however, to disassociate, a talent he had acquired over the years, a talent that had kept him alive in many precarious situations.
"Good," his Master affirmed. "I am comforted to have such a competent apprentice serving under me. Your work here is invaluable, Lord Vader."
Vader felt a swell of pride at his words, contemplating how the Jedi had always managed to make him feel small and incompetent, as though he were an errand boy instead of the Chosen One. Palpatine often sent Vader on missions that required skills far beneath his capacity, but he was always quick to reassure his apprentice that his work was of absolute importance. Though Vader often wished he would be presented with more opportunities to harness his newly acquired powers, he knew that—as the saying went—Coruscant was not built in a day, and it would take time before Palpatine restored enough order to the galaxy to where these small missions would no longer be necessary.
"Thank you, my Master."
There was a lingering pause on the other end of line. "There is another matter to discuss," Palpatine spoke evenly. "There is the matter of your wife's health."
Vader immediately felt his heart clutch painfully, his thoughts spinning instantly into a wild panic. Thousands of worst case scenarios swirled through his mind, leaving his stomach feeling like it had dropped all the way down to his feet. "Is she all right?" he demanded, dimly noting the sudden attention of the men closest to him.
"She is in no immediate danger," his Master assured him, though Vader only felt the vice around his heart ease up fractionally. "Physically, Padmé is well, but I am concerned about her mental state. I have had one of my physicians evaluate her, and unfortunately he has deemed that she is unstable."
His stomach was right back up in his body now—all the way in his throat. "Unstable?"
"Dr. Ruskin seems to think she is suffering from bouts of hysteria," his Master explained, and Vader recalled the night he had gone to her, having felt her terror in the force, and watching as she'd wildly sobbed against the floor. "It is only natural, of course. Senator Amidala has experienced many significant life changes in a short amount of time. Dr. Ruskin has assured me that she will recover with time, but for the moment, he has started her on a medication regimen to help ease her symptoms."
Unbidden, memories of his wife flashed before his eyes. Padmé, standing before the Gungans, revealing herself as the true Queen of Naboo, all eyes fixated upon her regal form. Padmé, addressing the Senate, her words powerful and stirring, creating lasting change. Padmé, the galaxy's—and his—paradigm of strength.
"That being said," his Master continued, unaware of his apprentice's inner turmoil, "I would advise you to listen to your wife with discretion. Besides her usual disadvantage of being female, her emotions may be even more out of control than normal."
Vader felt his heart twist. "Yes, my Master."
The remainder of the conversation seemed to Vader nothing more than an instinctive and unintelligible murmur of sounds, and before his awareness could catch up with him, his Master had already cut the connection, leaving him to his thoughts and his view of hyperspace.
Barking a few swift orders to his crew members, he turned on his steel boots and marched from the bridge towards his hyperbolic chamber, knowing that his first duty upon arriving back on-planet would be to visit his wife.
Padmé had learned from a very young age to dress deliberately.
Though there were many men who considered fashion a trifling game for little girls, Padmé understood very well that it was subtle art.
Fashion had played a significant role in her political career from the very beginning. As the youngest Queen ever elected, her appearance had been critical; she knew the ability of a gown to portray confidence; a color to reflect occasion, and a hairpiece to command attention and convey regality. Her clothes had been fashioned in such a way to minimize her femininity, to appear as less of a woman and more of a unisex symbol of strength and sovereignty.
This day was somewhat different. She was not addressing a Senate, or negotiating a treaty, or charging into a battle; but that didn't mean she wasn't treading dangerous ground.
Anakin had contacted her that morning, telling her that he wished to meet with her immediately when he arrived on-planet. His estimated time of arrival was that evening, and the time was nearing when she would make her move.
Now, as she dressed, each item she adorned herself with was chosen with great consideration: a simple purple, Senatorial gown, the color of royalty, the style of someone who had no time for nonsense; a simple hairpiece, to convey elegance and grace; and lastly, significant pieces of jewelry. She had chosen to wear her coronation ring, a large, blue stone set in a band of thick silver. And most importantly, she donned the japor snippet around her neck, setting it carefully upon her delicately exposed collarbone, to remind Anakin of all the ways in which she had once been his beloved, tender wife.
Dormé entered the room, her expression visually pained. "He's arrived, my lady," she spoke, her voice shaking almost imperceptibly.
Padmé had never been a religious woman—nor did she know if it was appropriate to pray to the Force—but she sent up a silent plea to whatever was listening that her characteristic strength would not fail her now, when she needed it most.
"Thank you, Dormé," she said, her tone completely neutral. "Perhaps now would be a good time to have a visit with the babies." Their eyes locked, and unspoken words passed between them, desperate words that were only understood in times like these. I don't know what's going to happen. Protect them with your life.
Dormé nodded without hesitation. "Yes, my lady."
Padmé strode past her friend and handmaiden, and arrived in the sitting room, in front of her seated husband.
Forcing her body to calm, she smiled cordially. "Welcome home."
"Thank you," he said, and she imagined that he was eyeing her carefully somewhere in that mask of his. "Sit," he ordered her, and gestured to the chair opposite him. "I have a matter I'd like to discuss with you."
Padmé sat slowly, folding her hands in her skirt. "As do I. But tell me what you have to say first." Her words were calm and even, her expression neutral. She was careful to keep her emotions in check, knowing that not only was her husband incredibly perceptive, but he had a little extra help in that department from the Force.
He wasted no time. "I'm worried about you, Padmé," he confessed, though as usual, she could sense no emotion in his robotic voice. "You've seemed quite distressed lately."
"Well, things have been a bit distressing lately," she countered easily.
Anakin paused. "The other night," he began hesitantly, "I sensed you having a nightmare. I could feel your fear. I've never sensed fear like that before—not even in battle. I was concerned for you."
Padmé nodded diplomatically. "I appreciate the concern. But it was just a nightmare."
Again, her husband hesitated. "Perhaps that's so," he conceded, "but what I encountered in the hallway when I came for you was not 'just a nightmare.' You were sobbing hysterically on the floor, Padmé. You were huddled there like an animal. You were practically screaming."
The contents of her dream flooded back into her mind, and she desperately tried to shove them back into her unconscious mind. She noticed Anakin's body language shift, and she could see that her efforts had been in vain; he had already sensed the fear in her emotions.
"Padmé," he said, his hands flexing in his lap, as if he wanted to reach out and touch her. "You have nothing to be afraid of. I am the most powerful man in the galaxy, Padmé. I'm second in command in the Galactic Empire. I'm the Chosen One. Nothing could ever possibly hurt you. No one would dare."
Padmé chose her words carefully. "You see, Anakin," she began, "this is where you and I disagree."
Anakin's shoulders visibly stiffened. "I am the most powerful man in the galaxy, Padmé," he spoke, his voice deep and rumbling. "Do you doubt me?"
"Though I cannot understand them exactly, I have never once doubted the breadth of your powers," she assured him truthfully, meeting his gaze unwaveringly. "It is not your ability that I doubt. Rather, it is your judgment."
Though Padmé was not a Force-user, she could have sworn that his anger was palpable. "You don't trust me," he accused her, and she knew it was the worst insult. "In what way have I shown myself to be untrustworthy?" he demanded. "Have I not given you the galaxy? Have I not sacrificed everything for you? Have I not always risked everything to protect you and keep you safe?"
Fighting her newer instincts to keep silent, Padmé pressed forward, knowing she must speak her mind. "Anakin, if you think that all this was what I wanted, then in all your years of knowing me, you have not understood me at all."
She took a deep breath, knowing the time to speak was now. She would not get another chance.
"Anakin, many months ago you came to me with a nightmare," she began, her hands clenched tightly in her lap. "You had a vision of me dying in childbirth-"
"And you almost did," he bit out, clenching his fists once more. "Palpatine saved you. Without me, he never would have done so. I saved you."
"Yes, Anakin," she agreed, her tone hard. "I'm alive. But all this, Anakin…none of this is worth it. Do you even realize what has happened to the life we knew? What you've become?"
"I've become more powerful than the Jedi ever let me be," he hissed.
"At what cost?" she pressed, her voice growing louder. "Anakin, take a look at the world around you. Wake up. Democracy is dead. The galaxy is in shambles. The entire Jedi order is dead, at your hand. Our children are being raised to be Sith Lords! How can any of this be worth my life alone?"
"You have no idea what you're talking about," he spat.
Padmé stood, towering over him. "Do you even see what's happened to you? Look at you! You almost died, Anakin. You run around the galaxy, doing who knows what, all in the name of a man who lied to the entire galaxy about his identity for years, and then seized absolute control over it in its most desperate hour."
Vader stood, his full height almost making her want to take back all her words. "The Emperor has restored order to the galaxy. The Senate was doing nothing but squabbling over insignificant matters, and the Jedi were merely standing in Palpatine's way."
"Order?" Padmé spat back at him. "Walk outside for a moment and you will see that there is no order to be found. People are living in the streets and dying-"
"If they cannot keep themselves alive, then they do not deserve to live," he hissed at her, his body tensing—if possible—even further.
Padmé marveled at his callousness. "You once swore to protect the weak," she said quietly. "You once were the defender for those who had none. And now you coldly shove those aside who could most benefit from your power. You have the capacity to do so much good, Anakin, but instead you've used your gifts to turn to the dark side and oppress those who desperately need your help!" She found herself struggling to keep the tears from falling down her face. "Do you remember what your mother said to you, after you won the pod race on Tatooine? She said, 'Anakin, you've given homes to those who have none. I'm so proud of you. You give without thought of reward.'"
Anakin slapped her across the face, hard, and she fell to the ground from the force of it. "Enough! Don't speak of her!" he cried, gloved finger pointed at her.
Padmé cradled her cheek in her hand, trying to ignore the sting in her face. The tears were falling swiftly now, and Padmé chided herself for having lost control of the situation so quickly. "You are not the man I married," she hissed at him, quietly. "The man I married would have never laid a hand on me. I would have rather died after all, than be called your wife." Her words were venomous, she knew, but she could see no other way to make him see reason.
A strange sound came from his voice box, a noise that sounded almost like a choked cry. His body shuddered, and Padmé thought, for an instant, that perhaps he was beginning to understand, but she was horribly, horribly wrong.
The sensation came without warning, just as it had the first time. Instinctively, her hands flew to her throat, and she felt terror invade her mind as the invisible hands began to once again constrict her airways. "Anakin," she choked out, gasping wildly.
But it was no use.
She felt her body being lifted from the ground, until she was suspended in mid air. Everything was start to swirl in her vision. Her lungs were screaming. Her legs were wildly kicking.
He was going to kill her.
Luke, she thought, her mind slowly drifting into unconsciousness. Leia…
But then, without warning, the sensation stopped, and she crumpled to the ground in a heap, choking and gasping for air.
"My Master was right," Vader spoke aloud. "You have lost your mind, Padmé. You are no longer fit to live in this house with your children. I will send for the medic at once." He turned away from her, his cloak billowing behind him.
"No," she tried to cry, but her voice was nothing but a mere whisper. "Please." The tears were streaming heavily down her face, and she felt as if her skin were the only thing keeping her together.
But Vader heeded her no attention. He exited the apartment swiftly, without hesitations, mercy, or remorse.
How horribly wrong she had been. How horribly wrong.
Padmé sobbed, knowing everything was now completely over.
She had lost.
To be continued...