Chapter 10

Bast Castle

Padmé was so stunned by his suggestion that she was rendered speechless for a few moments. The fact that he was still capable of fathering a child surprised her somewhat, given the extent of his injuries. The fact that he'd suggest that they resume a sexual relationship even more so. Clearly believing that their child had died had affected him deeply; otherwise he'd not have made such an audacious proposition.

"As wonderful as another child would be, don't you think that would complicate our situation even more?" she asked finally.

Vader made no reply, for he didn't want to think about complications; he only wanted to consider the hole in his heart, the hole that must be in her heart since the death of their boy.

"Are we together?" she continued. "Are we going to be? How could we possibly have a child together when we're on opposite sides of this conflict?"

Vader walked away from her, his mind and his heart troubled. He thought he'd had the perfect solution, but she was pointing out all too clearly how problematic his suggestion was.

Padmé could see that how disappointed he was, and walked over to him. "Surely you can see that I'm right," she said, standing beside him.

Vader nodded, not saying anything. "Will you come back?" he asked her as he watched the acid rain beat down upon the battlements outside.

"Yes," she replied at once.

He turned to her finally. "When?"

"In three weeks, like I was supposed to," she replied.

Vader was hoping it would be sooner, but he knew that he was lucky that she was returning at all.

"I should get going," she said, growing unnerved by the way he was staring at her. "I don't imagine the rain ever lets up here," she added, trying to lighten the moment.

"No, not for long," he agreed. "I installed stabilizers in your instrument panel to enable your ship to withstand the atmospheric abnormalities here," he told her.

"Thank you," she replied. "Hopefully I'll make a better landing next time."

"You will," he told her. "I've seen to it."

Padmé nodded, growing uneasy with the tension between them. She wasn't quite sure what it was she felt in his presence, but decided it would be prudent to leave before things grew more intense.

"I'll walk you to your ship," he said finally, resigned to the fact that she was leaving.

Imperial Palace- Coruscant

Palpatine was every bit as paranoid as Padmé believed him to be, and it wasn't long before he noticed that the imperial network had once again been breached. No, not breached – this time the download was executed according to standard procedure using a verified security code. And that code belonged to Grand Moff Tarkin.

Palpatine frowned as he considered what this meant; for it was not just any information that had been downloaded; it was the entire schematics of the Death Star. First his sloppiness results in a breach of security, and now this… Palpatine pondered darkly, tapping his fingers upon the arm of his throne. He needed answers, and he needed them quickly. Why had Tarkin accessed such highly sensitive information? What was he doing with it? Why did he need it when he was on board the station at all times? And, most importantly of all, was there a connection between Tarkin and the recent rebel infiltration on board the Death Star?

Stabbing a finger into the comm panel imbedded on the arm of his chair, Palpatine hailed the flagship of his fleet, the Exactor.

"Yes your majesty? How can I help you?" Ozzel said.

"Where is Lord Vader?" Palpatine demanded.

A moment of silence. "He is at rest, sir," Ozzel replied. "Should I summon him?"

"No," Palpatine replied. "Set a course for Coruscant, Captain," he commanded. "I need to speak with Lord Vader at once."

"Right away sir," Ozzel replied. "I shall let Lord Vader know of your orders."

"You do that," Palpatine replied, and ended the transmission. He frowned as he considered the fact that Tarkin was most likely a traitor. Vader had never trusted the governor; and Palpatine suspected that he'd been right about Tarkin all along. But he would never tell Vader that of course; to give Vader credit went against everything Palpatine believed in. No, keeping Vader firmly in his place, humbled and humiliated, was vital in the master/apprentice relationship. Should Vader ever take it in his head to question his master's orders, or turn against him that would be very dangerous. So long as Vader remained controlled, he was a valuable asset. Palpatine didn't want to consider what the loss of that control would mean.

Essowyn

It was night when Padmé arrived home. She was so happy to be there that she ran from the ship into the house, anxious to see her beloved twins. But she was prevented from doing so when Obi-Wan appeared and stopped her in her tracks with his stern countenance.

"Where the devil have you been??" he demanded.

Padmé frowned, resenting his attitude. "I was on Vjun," she told him.

"You said you'd be gone twenty-four hours," Obi-Wan reminded her. "Twenty-four hours, Padmé. You've been gone almost five days!" he stopped as he noticed the traces of bruises on her face. "What did he do to you?" he demanded.

"You have no right to question me," she said, pushing past him. "I don't appreciate your condescension."

Obi-Wan took her by the arm, and she winced in pain, for it was the arm that had been fractured. "What did he do to you??" he demanded. "You're hurt!"

"I was hurt because my ship crashed onto the landing platform," she informed him. "He took care of me, Obi-Wan, he didn't hurt me. How could you think he would?"

"Because I saw him choke you on Mustafar," he reminded her. "If I hadn't stopped him he would have killed you. Or have you forgotten that?"

"Of course I haven't," she replied angrily.

"I have to wonder," he replied. "You seem very comfortable with him now."

Padmé frowned. "I'm going upstairs to see my children," she told him. "If that is acceptable to you, that is," she added sarcastically.

Obi-Wan said nothing, and let her walk away.

Padmé headed upstairs, not caring if she woke up the twins. She was so anxious to see them that the fact that they were sleeping didn't deter her from entering their room.

Luke and Leia were already awake however; for they had sensed that their mother was home.

"Mommy!" they shouted in unison as Padmé gathered them into her arms.

"I've missed you both so much!" she told them, kissing them both repeatedly.

"Where have you been?" Leia demanded. "You've been gone a long, long time!"

"You promised you'd be back home by the time we got back from school," Luke reminded her.

"I know, and I'm sorry I had to break my promise," she told them. "But I had trouble landing, and my ship was damaged."

"Did you get hurt?" Leia asked with concern.

"Yes, but I'm okay now," Padmé assured her. "My ….friend looked after me."

"Your friend is the one you were visiting?" Leia asked.

Padmé nodded, doing her best to hide the truth from them. But Luke and Leia were too intuitive, and both of them sensed that there was more to their mother's visit than she was telling them.

"Obi-Wan wanted to go look for you," Luke informed her, "but Yoda told him it was too dangerous. Why would he say that?"

Padmé frowned. "I'm not sure why," she lied. "I was in no danger. I was well cared for, they needn't have worried."

Luke and Leia were silent as they digested this. "Were you with our father, Mommy?" Luke asked finally. "Is that the friend you went to see?"

Padmé was so shocked by her son's question, by his ability to see in her heart that she didn't respond for a moment. That was all the time it took for the twins to realize the truth.

"It was him, wasn't it?" Leia asked.

Padmé realized that it was pointless to lie at this point, and nodded. "Yes, it was," she admitted at last. "I didn't know he was alive until recently, and was as surprised as you must be."

"Can we meet him, Mommy?" Leia asked finally.

Padmé sighed. "No," she replied. "It's not possible, honey."

"But you just told us that he took good care of you," Luke pointed out.

"Yes," Padmé agreed.

"And that you were in no danger," Leia added.

"That's true, but that doesn't mean I want you to meet him," she told them. "It's a very….complicated situation."

"What's complicated?" Luke asked with a yawn.

Padmé smiled. "I'll explain it another time," she replied. "Come on, time to get back to sleep," she told them.

"Can we sleep in your bed tonight, Mommy?" Leia asked.

Padmé nodded. "Come on," she said. "Let's go to bed."

Coruscant

Vader watched out the window as his shuttle drew closer to the planet surface. He didn't come to Coruscant often, but whenever he did, he was always inundated by memories that seeing the cityscape heralded. But now it's different, he reminded himself. She's alive and there is hope that we can be together.

Padmé's words came to his mind as he pondered this: Are we together? Are we going to be? How could we possibly have a child together when we're on opposite sides of this conflict? As much as he hated to admit it, she was right. He knew that at some point that he would be forced into a decision- that he would need to choose. But didn't you already make that decision when you committed treason? He reflected.

The shuttle landed, and Vader proceeded to the exit, preparing himself for his meeting with the emperor. A small spark of fear nagged at him as he made his way through the palace, as a concern that his plan had gone awry entered his mind. No, I was careful; I made sure that the blame would fall on Tarkin, not me.

"You may go in," a red robed guard informed Vader as he arrived at the throne room.

Vader entered at once, his mental shields firmly in place.

"Welcome Lord Vader," Palpatine began.

Vader relaxed a bit, knowing that he was never welcomed by the emperor when he was angry with him.

"What is thy bidding, Master?" Vader asked.

"We have a serious problem, my friend," Palpatine said. "It seems that there is a traitor in our midst."

Vader did his best to appear shocked. "A traitor? Are you sure, Master?"

"Quite sure," Palpatine replied smugly. "Tell me, how was your meeting with Tarkin?" he asked.

Vader smiled to himself, immensely pleased that his plan had worked so well. "He was arrogant and condescending," Vader reported. "Which is not unusual. However, he seemed rather….defensive, Master. He was definitely hiding something."

"Were you able to discern what it was?" Palpatine asked.

"I had the impression that it had something to do with the recent security breach," Vader replied.

"You don't say," Palpatine replied, frowning deeply. "I have recently learned that the entire schematic plans of the Death Star were downloaded from the intelligence files," he told Vader. "And it was Tarkin's personal code that was entered to access the files."

Vader nodded. "So my suspicions were correct," he replied. "He was hiding something."

"Indeed he was," Palpatine replied. "He's gone too far this time. I want you to arrest him, Vader," he continued. "On the charge of high treason."

"Yes, my master," Vader replied. "It will be my pleasure to do so."