Vader returned to his ship, his mind working furiously to formulate a plan to protect Padmé from the emperor. For once in a very long time he felt grateful to Obi-Wan Kenobi for having managed to keep Padmé hidden all this time. Palpatine would undoubtedly kill her, Vader realized grimly. She represented the past; the humanity in Vader that Palpatine had done his utmost to drive out of his servant. The Sith had no use for love, their only companion was the Darkness that defined their very existence. Palpatine had taken great delight in ridiculing Vader for what he perceived as Vader's weakness where his wife was concerned, and frequently used the memory of her to torture Vader. No, he must never find her, he must never know she is alive…he'll die first by my own hand before I let him harm her…
"Lord Vader, the emperor is demanding an update," Ozzel reported, meeting Vader in the hangar bay as soon as his shuttle had returned to the ship.
"I will contact him at once," Vader replied. "Prepare to leave orbit."
"Yes my lord," Ozzel replied, and hurried out of the hangar.
Vader proceeded to the holochamber, raising his mental shields in preparation for facing the emperor.
"Well, Vader?" Palpatine began as his image come into view. "What news?"
"We will no longer be troubled by Black Widow," Vader announced. "She is dead," he explained. "Along with her treacherous lieutenant."
Palpatine smiled slowly. "Excellent, my friend," he replied. "Did you enjoy it? Finally getting your hands on your nemesis?"
Vader was sickened by the thoughts behind the emperor's words. "Yes, it was most enjoyable," he lied smoothly. "My men burned their bodies on the surface of the moon we tracked Folstrom to."
Palpatine nodded. "You've done well, Lord Vader," he said. "And I want to reward you for your hard work and successful destruction of our enemy."
"That is not necessary, my master," Vader replied.
"Nonsense, you've earned it,"
Palpatine replied. "Perhaps you are familiar with the castle I
recently acquired on Vjun," he continued. "Bast."
"I have heard of it," Vader replied.
"I want you to have it," Palpatine continued. "As a reward for a job well done."
"You are too generous, Master," Vader replied, bowing low. "I am honored."
Palpatine smiled benevolently, enjoying his apprentice's servitude.
Obi-Wan and Yoda stood on the landing platform as Padmé's ship made its final touchdown. She had contacted them earlier to let them know that she was okay, knowing how worried they would be. Both Jedi were greatly disturbed to hear that Nikko had been killed, and relieved that Padmé had not met the same fate.
"Thank the Maker you're all right," Obi-Wan said, meeting Padmé at the bottom of the ship's landing ramp.
"I'm fine," Padmé said, doing her best not to let the pain in her back show. "I can't say the same for Nikko unfortunately."
Yoda nodded grimly. "Careless he was," he pronounced. "And arrogant."
Padmé frowned at him. "He was dedicated and brave," she said. "And I won't let you denigrate him now that he's dead," she added, striding past the two Jedi and into the house.
Obi-Wan waited a moment, and then followed her.
"Tell me what happened," he said, following her into the kitchen.
Padmé said nothing as she poured herself a glass of juice.
Padmé turned to him. "Vader and his clones arrived shortly after I did," she told him, watching Obi-Wan for a reaction.
"Vader tracked him there," Obi-Wan stated.
"Yes, he must have," she replied.
"He killed Nikko?"
"Yes," she replied. "And
then took me to his ship."
Obi-Wan began to grow uneasy. "Why? What did he do to you there?"
"Nothing," she said. "Although we did have a very interesting conversation," she added.
Padmé nodded as she took a drink. "Yes," she said, setting the glass down on the counter, trying to manage the anger she was feeling. "He told me the truth, Obi-Wan," she said. "The truth that you and Yoda have been keeping from me for four years now," she continued. "The truth of who he truly is."
Obi-Wan said nothing for a moment, trying to discern how she was feeling; but Padmé was doing an effective job of hiding her feelings.
"Why didn't you tell me the
truth?" she asked, an angry edge in her voice. "Why did you lie
"To protect you," he replied. "To protect the younglings. It wasn't done maliciously, Padmé. Knowing what had become of Anakin, I reasoned that you were better off thinking he was dead."
Padmé scowled. "You had no right to make that determination," she told him hotly. "You had no right to assume you knew how I'd feel. He's my husband, Obi-Wan, the father of my children, remember?"
"Anakin Skywalker was your husband," he corrected her. "He is the father of your children, not Vader. Vader is a cold blooded monster who wouldn't think twice about turning you and the younglings in to his master."
"Well that's where you're wrong," she retorted. "Don't you wonder how I got away?"
"Well, as a matter of fact I am," he admitted.
"He let me go," Padmé informed him. "He brought me back to my ship on the moon. And do you want to know why he let me go?"
Obi-Wan made no reply, and so she continued.
"He let me go to protect me," she told him. "He was afraid that if I remained on his ship that Palpatine would find me. And he won't let that happen. In fact, he's going to tell Palpatine that Black Widow is dead, that he killed her. Does that sound like the actions of a monster?"
"An ulterior motive he has," Yoda said, standing in the doorway. "Nothing he does is without consequence."
"Did you ever consider that he loves me?" she asked. "And that he only wants to protect me, nothing more?"
"That may be," Obi-Wan conceded, not believing it for a moment, "but I'm certain that he wanted something in return."
Padmé turned away and put her empty glass in the dishwasher, annoyed that Obi-Wan was right. "He wants me to meet him in a month," she said casually.
"Why?" Yoda asked suspiciously.
"Why do you think?" Padmé asked testily. "He hasn't seen me in four years, he's believed me dead all that time," she continued. "And I'm his wife. Isn't that enough reason?"
"Padmé, please tell me you didn't tell him about Luke and Leia," Obi-Wan said, suddenly seized by panic.
"No, I didn't," she replied. "I…I told him our child died at birth."
"Wise of you," Yoda commented. "Trust him you cannot."
Padmé frowned. "I know," she replied quietly, hating the ugly truth. "But I did agree to meet him in four weeks," she told them. "I gave him my word. And in return he gave me his that he wouldn't track me here. We're to meet at a neutral location."
Obi-Wan and Yoda exchanged a look of concern.
"I have to admit that I don't like this," Obi-Wan told her.
"That's too bad," Padmé replied, turning back to face them. "I'm doing it. Get over it," she added, and then walked past them both and went upstairs to bed.
Obi-Wan watched her leave and then turned to Yoda. "This could be a problem," he commented.
Yoda nodded thoughtfully. "Protect the younglings we must," he replied. "At any cost."
Star Destroyer Exactor
The Exactor was on its way to the Auril Sector in the Outer Rim. The Emperor had graciously given Vader a few days' respite to go to his new fortress. Vader was grateful to have the time off, for he had a lot of thinking to do.
Finding Padmé alive was beyond his wildest dreams; the fact that she was willing to see him again even more so. But as happy as finding her made him, he also knew that he had to be very, very careful. If Palpatine learned that she was alive, and that she was Black Widow, both of their lives would be forfeit. Vader had never got over the loss of his wife; and now that he'd found her, he wanted her in his life. Seeing her once a month wasn't going to be good enough, he knew that already. But how do I change that?
"Lord Vader, we have reached the Vjun System," Ozzel announced, shaking Vader from his reverie.
Vader turned to the captain and nodded his understanding. "Make for the planet Vjun," he commanded. "And have my shuttle prepared."
"At once, my lord," Ozzel replied with a bow.
The planet Vjun was a dark, almost lifeless planet known for its acidic rainfalls and resultant lack of plant life; a perfect refuge for the Sith. Vader recalled being there once before, when he had been another man, to save Jedi Master Yoda from Count Dooku, with Obi-Wan Kenobi at his side. That was a different lifetime, Vader reflected somberly, reflecting on the irony of his return.
"We've established orbit, sir," Ozzel reported after a short time. "Your shuttle is ready in hangar bay six."
Vader left the bridge without responding, something Ozzel was certainly accustomed to.
As he piloted his shuttle to the surface of the planet, Vader thought about all he knew about the castle that was now his. It had been a Sith fortress for centuries, and according to legend, there was a Force resistance field that surrounded it, which acted as a shield to all who resided within the castle. And then an idea came to him: this is perfect, he thought. This will be the perfect place to meet Padmé.
The surface of the planet came into view, and Vader was struck with the utter dreariness of it. It was the stark opposite of the world his beloved was born on, the world where they had fallen in love and been married. She will hate this place, he realized grimly as the imposing towers of the castle came into view. But there is no better, safer place for us to meet. She will understand that, he reminded himself.
Having committed Padmé's comlink frequency to memory in order to protect her, he transmitted a short message to her that included the coordinates he was following right now. Somehow the thought that she would come to this desolate place made it seem more appealing; and he kept this thought firmly in mind as he landed his craft inside the hangar that was connected to the castle.
Padmé had just started getting ready for bed when she found a disc in her pocket. Pulling it out, she remembered where it had come from- Nikko had given it to her just before the clones had stormed into the cabin. The Death Star schematics, she remembered, looking at the disc; this is what Nikko was able to download – this was what he gave his life for.
Walking over to the computer, Padmé fed the disc into the reader and sat down to watch what it was that Nikko had downloaded. Much of it was in code, as she expected; but it was clearly a set of schematic plans of some sort. I hope this is worth the price we paid, she thought sadly as she ejected the disc and placed it in a safe spot in her desk. Mothma will know for sure, she reflected, standing up again, deciding she'd send it to her first thing in the morning.
She had just slipped her nightgown on when the comlink on her dresser sounded. Padmé frowned, for it was only used by a handful of people, and one of them was now dead. And then she remembered; Vader has my frequency now. She walked over to the dresser slowly, almost afraid to open the transmission, part of her still unsure if she could trust her husband, or rather, the man he had become. She picked it up and looked at the small screen, seeing that there was a message there for her. Opening the message, she saw a set of coordinates, and realized what it was: this was the meeting place Vader had decided upon. From what she could tell it was in the Outer Rim somewhere; no doubt a remote location since Vader would be anxious to keep their rendezvous secret. And what will we do at this meeting? What will we talk about? How will we pass the time?
Deciding that stewing about it would do her no good, Padmé decided to put it out of her mind as much as possible and go to bed.