Sins of the Father
She tries to look at him objectively. He's a young man now, not her youngling. His blond hair is in need of trimming, his skin tanned by Tatooine's twin suns. His blue eyes are weighted with a worldliness that no one this young should possess. She takes the blame for this as she does for so many other sins. Her most recent victim, this young man with the wizened soul and heavy heart. She tries to imagine him another way. She tries to imagine him impatient and adventurous, whining, cajoling. But she can't. For none of those words could ever be used to describe her son.
"I'm sorry," he says quietly. She knows he means those words to the very depth of his soul. The care she has taken to keep certain realities from him has been futile.
Her son has a very good idea what his request can – and will – cost her.
And yet, he has to ask. Maybe he understands just how desperately she needs to do this.
She smiles, gently touching his cheek with her calloused fingertips. "You never have to apologize to me, Luke," she says. "It's long past time."
It's the truth and he knows it because he can sense these things just as Obi-Wan or Qui-Gon would have been able to sense it. And he is a far better Jedi than his father ever was because Luke will not attempt to change her fate.
Her heart aches with the desire to see the tiniest bit of relief on his features, to know that she has lifted his burden the most minuscule amount. But she knows that she hasn't. She's just added yet another weight for him to bear.
She blinks, pulling her cloak more closely around her head and shoulders. The coarse material does little to shield her, for it is not desert sand and wind she's trying to block. It is so loud here, so pungent and kinetic. Her senses are assaulted as she steps from the ship.
She forgot. She forgot this place.
The sights, smells and sounds of Coruscant rush at her from every vector before she's had time to completely traverse the gangplank. It has been more than a decade since she last looked upon this teeming throng of life and death. The mass struggle for survival is a palpable force, reverberating in her bones. It is hard for her to imagine that this was once her home in a way that not even Naboo had ever been. This is where she had shared tender nights as a blushing bride. This is where she bore her children. And yet it is foreign and desolate in ways she cannot articulate.
Those forgotten memories took place a lifetime ago. The long years on Tatooine have made this place alien and discomfiting. This is not home. This is the place she fled. In the wake of the war's end and subsequent purges, Coruscant was no longer her refuge. She could not bear to be here. She could not bear to be near him.
She pushes the word from her mind, shifting her vision to the towering structures illuminated brightly against the night sky. He has kept her from her home for far too long, both here and Naboo. For more than a dozen years she has cosseted herself away in her forgotten, dust-filled corner of the galaxy.
He was eager to abet her retreat. He did not threaten her. He would never threaten her. Point of fact, he did not and does not address her at all. This is because she does not speak to him - and he has always been a vain, prideful creature. Luke and Leia had just learned to speak the last time she was in the same room with him.
Padmé casts her eyes to the ground and follows Threepio and Mehht across the landing platform. She does not wish to linger here. Lingering would mean the possibility of drawing attention and that is the last thing she wants to do – for now. Given her former life as a politician, she will not rule that out as a future tactic. But for now, it would not serve her well to have it known that she has returned to Coruscant.
She doesn't mean to surprise him. Her presence here would never do that. Though she would never doubt the loyalty of those closest to her, Padmé is not naïve enough to underestimate either her husband's influence or his power. He always knows what she's doing. There's no way she could have made it to Coruscant without his knowledge and – as much as it angers her – his tacit approval.
For a time she was certain that he no longer cared, that he might have forgotten her entirely. Not even the vast expanses of space and social status separating Coruscant from the Outer Rim are sufficient to silence the rumors of his consorts and conquests. It shames her that she cared and was wounded by his actions. She foolishly thought his obvious attention to other females meant that she was beyond his notice. She was wrong. And Nar Dooja paid for her naïveté with his life. Nar was a good man, kind and thoughtful. But he wasn't her lover, wasn't even her confidant. He was a friend. And the mere fact that Nar dared to visit his attentions upon the wife of Emperor Skywalker sealed his fate.
Despite Padmé's sense of propriety, she didn't attended Nar's funeral. She didn't even extended her condolences to Nar's family. She hadn't wished to give her husband any excuses for further violence. She was grateful that he waited until the twins were away to punish her supposed indiscretion.
That is the single common ground they now share – the care for their children. He is ruthless and cold, yet she can not deny his devotion to Luke and Leia.
She knows it is love he feels for his children, though as with all things in his life, it isn't that simple. Anakin never had a father. Obi-Wan was his mentor and the closest thing he had to a father figure, but the relationship between a Master and a Padawan was by necessity different from a parent's relationship to his child. Anakin has no life experience to guide him, so she knows he's improvised as usual – to varying degrees of success.
Anakin does not relate to Luke and Leia the way Padmé's father related to her. Anakin isn't one to provide quiet, unconditional acceptance, effusive affection and gentle discipline. He is mercurial, demanding absolute loyalty and perfection from his children. She knows from eavesdropping on the twins' conversations that he upbraids his children for being soft and pampered in one breath and then spoils them rotten in the next.
She cannot depend on him to provide the twins with a stable environment. That has always been her role to play. She has no choice in the matter. He is their father. When the twins were younger she often thought of running, of trying to keep the twins from him. Only the cold dread of knowing he would have found them, that he would have taken Luke and Leia from her, is what kept her firmly under his thumb.
She spares a glance over Threepio's tarnished and battered shoulder at the skyline. She is unable to prevent the frown that tugs at her lips. Even on the landing platform far above Coruscant's surface, the Emperor's castle towers on the horizon. This monstrosity had not been completed when last she was here. It was in the rooms of her own apartment that she woke after Mustafar. Cocooned by the familiarity of her bedroom, her medical droid and her devoted handmaiden, Dormé, she never felt so alone.
Sixteen years later, the births of both the twins and the Empire are nothing more than an agonizing jumble of memories. The physical pain was excruciating, but it paled in comparison to her emotional turmoil. Her love for her children was immediate and desperate and pure. But that love was eclipsed by heartache so profound it was nearly fatal. She is shocked that the heartache didn't kill her.
She feels somewhat sheepish now, even thinking such nonsense. But it is true. She knows that people don't literally die of broken hearts, but she knows that somehow it was her destiny.
In those dark moments after Mustafar, he somehow used his newfound power to bind her fading soul to her body, to shore up her heart, patch it together so she could survive the death of her beloved Republic just as she survived the death of her Anakin Skywalker.
He was right. The brash pronouncement he made as a young man following his mother's death came to pass. He became so powerful he could prevent people from dying.
It took months for Padmé to recover physically. Finding emotional stability took years. He stayed away for weeks at a time, looking in on her when she was sleeping, receiving his children at his new Imperial residence.
He was more driven than ever during that tumultuous time, making good on the grim future he offered at Mustafar. Perhaps invigorated by his triumph over his first mentor, Obi-Wan, Lord Vader stopped at nothing. Luke and Leia were toddlers when he turned on and murdered his newest mentor, Emperor Palpatine. But the newly christened Emperor Skywalker's absence didn't offer Padmé's heart any respite. His presence permeated the very air she breathed.
One day it was finally more than she could take. She flung open the doors of her gilded cage and forced Typho to escort her to the Emperor's private quarters. As usual, her presence did not shock him. But he refused to meet her gaze, whether from shame or boredom, she neither knew nor cared. She would not stay there another moment. In retrospect, she knows he expected it. He didn't argue. He didn't speak a single word. He merely inclined his head in a slightly mocking bow.
Love. That was his exact phrasing. He would be so powerful he would keep those he loved from dying. Yet she felt no love in what he had done for her – to her. Some part of her knew that he kept her bound to the mortal coil as punishment whether he realized it himself or not.
Padmé fled to the one place in the galaxy that she felt would be the most benign to him. Tatooine was the antithesis of the verdant lushness of her own homeworld. She had no ties to the planet, no friends or family. Despite the fact that he showed no desire to either see or speak to her, Padmé knew better than to run to Naboo or Alderaan. If she attempted to surround herself with friends or family, it would do nothing but provoke his jealous and possessive nature. Anakin had no love for his step-brother or sister-in-law, but he knew them well enough. He knew they harbored as much distrust for the Jedi Order and Padmé's Senatorial allies as Anakin himself held.
It was as easy to blame him then as it is to blame him now. But in her heart, she knows that her own shame drove her to Tatooine. She didn't want to face the people she loved, to have to explain to them how this had happened. It was easier to forget, to hide.
But Tatooine wasn't the prison she imagined. In its own alien way, Tatooine welcomed her. Its harsh, desolate climate echoed in the space in her chest that used to contain her heart.
Tatooine's environment was treacherous, its inhabitants a motley bunch of slaves, criminals and uneducated farmers. And yet, in that absolute bleakness in which her lover had been born, she found her own rebirth. Luke and Leia were with her, on that point he hadn't argued. Owen and Beru took them in, as glad for the company and the extra hands as they were for the modest stipend she drew from his Imperial accounts.
That too, had been a point of much contention. She vehemently rejected his proclamation that he would pay for her lifestyle, whether frugal or fantastic. She ignored his mandate and pawned the set of Irian jewels he presented to her upon the twin's birth. She used the shockingly few credits the jewels garnered to pay for new vaporators during her second season on the Lars farmstead. The next day both the jewels and the pawn broker's dead body were delivered to their doorstep. She quickly learned to accept his generosity with – if not grace, then at the very least - silence.
When they were old enough to be away from her, the twins were escorted to Coruscant regularly to see their father. His summons for his children to be delivered to the nearest spaceport at the appointed time were always relayed through some Imperial lackey. As much as she resented being at his beck and call, she didn't dare risk giving him an excuse to visit personally. She dutifully packed the twins up with a smile and a kiss, leaving them in the capable care of Captain Typho.
Why she trusts a Dark Lord of the Sith with her children remains a mystery. She knows he did nothing to deserve her trust. Obi-Wan told her about the younglings Vader murdered at the Jedi Temple. He never even bothered to deny the charge. And yet she did trust him. She still does. Some part of her understands that Anakin and the twins need each other in ways she will never fully comprehend.
Leia is here somewhere. Possibly within his castle, but more likely out at a nightclub. She's too young, of course, to legally enter, but everyone turns a blind eye for the heir to the Empire. Tatooine was hard on Leia. The vibrant young girl always preferred the teeming masses and frenetic energy of Coruscant to austere silence of Tatooine. Leia has always preferred her father's company.
The thought does not wound Padmé as much as it once might have. She understands now that it is the inherent likeness that draws Leia and her father to one another. Their similar dispositions just as easily could have put them vehemently at odds with one another. Padmé would not have wanted that. She is grateful that they have one another, that they can look to each other and see their own reflection. She thinks perhaps Leia is the only thing that keeps him human.
Their transport takes them from the landing platforms to the Senatorial apartment block at 500 Republica. They enter her small penthouse and Threepio makes conversation while Typho stands at attention. Padmé allows her gaze to wander, pulling back the hood of her cloak as Mehht does the same.
The interior is just as she remembers. Obviously, he's kept the apartment maintained. The view is every bit as impressive as it ever was. Padmé takes a deep breath and despite the sense of unease pulling at her insides, she knows she is finally home.