9.

Choice

The low vibration of the sublight engines below me grew deeper as I walked from the small kitchen into to the room's living quarters. I put down the glass of water I had just filled and took a cautious step to look out the viewport.

A planet swirled with white, gold, and blue, half of it covered in shadow. There was a moon floating close by which seemed to be casting the darkness. I watched as space glided soundlessly beneath us, expecting the ship to turn at any moment towards the planet's serene surface.

Instead we continued to coast forward, the engines' thrum growing quieter by the minute. I craned my neck and looked confusedly at the approaching moon.

Before I realised it wasn't a moon at all.

I took a step back, finally seeing the full silhouette of the space station. A gasp broke free from my chest as I watched it inch closer to us. It was enormous, rivalling the size of Rori and Tasia. The sun dully glared on its surface, obstructing it from the planet below. Fighters danced across the vast grey arrow of the Star Destroyer stretching out in front of me. Two more ships paralleled us in perfect formation, their bows cutting through the pristine darkness around them. Anxiety began to once again grab hold of me.

I had been reassured enough that being on this Star Destroyer would be safe. Anakin would at least be on board; though I hadn't forgiven him, he wouldn't lose me again. But this was a vast station; the size would mean that he couldn't be in close range. I would be alone, surrounded by the Empire.

I took a deep breath to soothe my nerves. It didn't help. My pulse continued to pound in my ears, prickling heat creeping from my shoulders to my neck.

What is he thinking?

Droplets of anger added to my flare of anxiety. He hadn't told me anything aside from when we were leaving, I hadn't seen or heard from him since I had asked him to leave earlier. I didn't truthfully want to see him. I still hadn't even thought of forgiving him.

If I was ever going to.

I bit my lip as I glanced towards the viewport again. We were even closer, the space station obscuring half of the limpid pane. I took a step back; it almost made the choices that I needed to make seem less important, trivial. Though I never had wanted to escape from adversity before, I felt truly overwhelmed. My mind wandered back to the most recent talk with Anakin and the tingling of nervousness returned with it.

If he had wanted to tell me something earlier...If he knew anything...

My conscience screamed at me.
You shouldn't have pushed him away, you should've told him.

The two choices played over and over in my mind, shrill and demanding. To tell him or continue to hide the truth. Neither was any more appealing. The ghosts of the past joined them, whizzing about and weaving a seemingly impenetrable wall of emotions. I pressed my palms to my eyes, trying to stop my churning thoughts and fall away from the present. Just seconds would be enough.

I stood motionless in the centre of the room for what felt like hours, letting my mind push against the boundaries. My surroundings became ethereal and the incessant voice finally dulled to a drone. I slowly pulled my hands away; bursts of vibrant blue and black floated in front of them. Stars dying out moments after their birth, lost to history. It was then I realised that I was insignificant and truly lost. I knew nothing. It was as if I had been pulled from the past and placed in some grotesquely shaped future that I could never begin to understand. Even the one person I had sworn to love eternally had been moulded to the same twisted fate. I no longer knew the only one I had left.

I waited for my eyes to readjust to the dimly lit room before looking back to the viewport, once again feeling anxiety begin to slowly break free from underneath the calm. The station was now unavoidable. Only thin slivers of space separated the ship from the cold, dystopian surface. Lights glared out from behind the jagged edges and spires of metal jutted from the crevices. Fighters swooped in front of the bridge, criss-crossing as they circled the ship dizzyingly. Directly in front of us a hangar, an open maw waiting to swallow the ship; to take me from whatever past I once had and trap me. Red lights glistened on either end like threatening fangs, warning me against any attempt to escape.

I instinctively stepped back. My heart was pounding. My blood coursed through my veins, whispering doubt filled questions with each throb. I couldn't hold them back any longer.

Where was he? Was he hiding something? Was Palpatine here?

But the questions stopped abruptly and a single word took over.

Trust.

The whoosh of blood repeated it like a broken holo recorder. Over and over again, mocking me. Trust was something I had already given, only to have it used against me in the end. I didn't know what trust truly was to Anakin, I certainly didn't want to give it again. Not now, perhaps not ever. Though somewhere deep in my heart there was that belief that he was still good. That we could redeem him. There was the part of me that just wanted us to be back on Coruscant, wrapped in his embrace as the sun rose, the golden light dusting his hair and warming the world around us. For it to simply being us, together, nothing more to worry about. I wanted more than anything for this all to be some twisted dream that would fade away into oblivion.

I realised I did trust him; though it was only a sliver hidden deep within.

But how could I?

I clenched a fist, feeling my nails dig deep into the skin. I vaguely realised that my thoughts were going in circles. I let a long sigh out, watching the last view of space slip behind the enormous orb. Giving up had never seemed an option until now. Now I felt trapped, anxious to find the truth but surrounded by shadows and lies. I felt as if I wasn't grounded, that I was simply floating between two realities.

I turned away from the panel of transparisteel and walked slowly back to the kitchenette, picking up the glass of water. I hoped something to drink would help calm me. The warm water at least felt soothing as I held the glass. My hand shook slightly as I took a cautious sip. It wasn't much; I hadn't eaten in two days. Instantly I had to brace myself against the wave of nausea that followed. I leaned back against the durasteel wall, closing my eyes to stop the heaves that burned in my abdomen. It passed soon after and I made my way back to the couch, leaving the glass behind.

I simply closed my eyes, pushing everything else away.

-

As I focussed on the ships quieting whine beneath my feet and then my breaths, I heard the door click against the lock. I snapped my eyes open and stared straight towards it, frozen, waiting for it to slide open. Part of my mind knew it was Anakin, but there was still the creeping doubt it would be someone else.

I looked away right as the door opened; trying to hide the fact I had even cared to glance over. The click of his armoured boots ended abruptly and I moved my eyes slightly to the side to see he had merely stopped. I ignored him and as discreetly as possible directed my eyes away again. He still stood; his alien breathing causing the hairs on my neck to stand on end. I refused to move until he did. The noise of his respirator encroached into my mind and made it more than impossible to ignore him.
The harsh breathing turned to knives against my eardrums. The sickening worry and fury like white hot metal in my chest, I tried to keep my eyes averted. A few more moments passed, and I felt I could almost touch the frustration between us. I couldn't hold out anymore. I felt like my anger was charring my heart as it smouldered deep in my gut. His mechanical breaths continued to grate against my nerves.

I stood up in a rush, taking two steps forward before either of us registered it. Another violent wave of nausea caused my stomach to lurch and I staggered before getting my bearings. I stood only a few feet away from him.

My eyes narrowed, glinting with frustration. I wanted to scream.
"I did not agree to this," I growled, my boldness surprising me and sending jolts up my spine. I didn't give him time to respond. My voice became frigid.

"After everything," I paused, the words shrill. "I do not condone being put on a space station surrounded by them."

I didn't care the consequence. If he truly loved me like he had said, he would listen. If he didn't... I wouldn't stay. I knew I couldn't love him the same I had 20 years ago either way. As much as I wanted to rewrite the past, I couldn't just ignore it.

"Padmé?"

His voice shattered my thoughts and brought me back to the living room.

"Yes?" I asked.

"I've arranged for you to be in a suite near the meeting rooms. I'll be on that level the entire visit. My best men will be patrolling as well." he said, his voice now bizarrely quiet.

Though his words should have been soothing, I was now concerned about the attention it would gain from others, as if the idea of simply being on the station wasn't enough. My back stiffened instinctively and I shook my head. "Who's in control?"

His head leaned back with what I assumed was shock.
I repeated myself after a second. "Who's in control of it?"

He cleared his throat, briefly interrupting the rhythmic breaths. "Wilhuff Tarkin." He was almost sheepish, reluctant to tell me the truth.

My eyes narrowed. "Him?"
I had never liked Tarkin. Self-centred and arrogant, his only loyalty lay with power in his hands and credits in his account. He was quick to judge and quick to use whatever authority he was given. The times I had met him, once in particular on Coruscant, he had pushed my diplomacy to its limits. He spoke as though he was above others and had addressed them with obviously facetious respect. Anakin hadn't disliked him as much as I did; but then again he hadn't spent his life dealing with the unsavoury types, picking apart their every movement and word. Whatever intelligence and potential Anakin had seen in him was, in my mind, buried beneath his immoral causes.
I placed my hands on my hips. "You trust him?" I asked incredulously.

The void mask betrayed no emotion, not even in the deep recesses of the lenses. I hoped his temper was under control. I couldn't believe he wanted me to let Tarkin take control of my fate. Or that Anakin thought he could trust him with my life. I bit my lip to stop the venomous remarks that stung the tip of my tongue. If this was twenty years ago - during the Clone Wars - I would've more than likely disagreed with his judgment. Now the man had a space station under his command, not just lackeys. I spoke again when he didn't respond. "I can't believe you trust him, Anakin. You know how I felt- how I feel about him."

He nodded once, slowly. I strained to tell if he was truly acknowledging my feelings or simply dismissing them. Regret gnawed at my stomach. I chided myself for the outburst - for speaking against him - reminding myself how volatile his mood was. The warm energy of his that usually surrounded me had turned to a cold, parasitic void. My back tensed and my hair stood on end as the darkness settled into every corner of the room, dense and foreboding. I retreated two steps in an attempt to escape the atmosphere.

His anger was something I didn't understand, one of the only fears I truly had. I didn't know what exactly I had done to set it off and I had no idea how close he was to lashing out. The suit revealed nothing of his emotions. His deep black cloak had shifted, now it draped around his shoulders and shrouded him in mystery. A small glint of silver from his lightsaber hilt sent another shudder through me. I froze my eyes on the chrome handle, expecting him to ignite it at any moment.

But he didn't.

He took a long stride backward as well, distancing himself from me. I felt my eyes widen in shock, the fear that snaked up my spine waning slightly. His helmet tilted toward the ground as he averted his gaze. The mechanical breaths became staggered; I knew he was fighting with his emotions.

The glow of compassion sparked deep inside me. It was dull, but palpable. His mood hadn't settled, he was far from it, but the fact that he was fighting the darkness to spare me was oddly comforting. Proof that a small piece of my Anakin still lay beneath the monstrosity of a suit.

I shook my head, looking back to the room around me. I watched him in silence for a few moments. He still took harsh breaths, but his posture seemed to have relaxed. The oppressive aura of the room had receded. He snapped his head up, the soulless eyes meeting mine.

"A escort group awaits you. My personal best to guard you at all times. You will be safe," he stated, "I promise you."
He ended the sentence abruptly, awkwardly hanging on the last syllable.

I could almost read his thoughts; he had said the sentence so many times before.

I found my mind rushing back to the night he had the first dream; how troubled and devastated he had been. As the sun rose we sat in silence, its rays shimmered across his tear-streaked cheeks, scattering the night's dark fears into glittering jewels upon his face.

I promise you.

I shook my head absently in response. The words changed nothing; in fact, they just brought me more pain. The memory splintered into painful shards, cutting easily through the wall I had built between us. He should have been able to feel he fear that still bled from my aura, the only words he had offered as comfort did nothing to stop it. He still stood back from me with his head turned away. I knew he was still fighting to gain control, to push away the temptation of the darkness, but I wished he would listen to me. The empty feeling of worry returned as I watched him. He turned abruptly, his tall figure hovering over me.

His breath hitched again and he cleared his throat. An indiscernible whisper slipped from the vocabulator.
Somehow I knew it was meant to be an apology. As much as he struggled with it I pulled it in, letting myself tuck it close to my heart reigniting the compassion that had lay there minutes earlier. I started to doubt my earlier hatred and stubbornness, thinking my reaction too severe. I shifted on my feet and waited for him to speak again.

Instead, he spun and left abruptly.

My heart dropped. I had wanted him to change his mind, to have listened to me for even one moment. I fell back into the couch; the cushions were cold and uninviting. My eyes darted around the entire room, the once familiar Naboo art pieces now foreign. There was no comfort in any of the décor. The kind sun of Varykino was long gone from the trinkets around me, leaving desolation in its place.

Just leave.

The words came suddenly as I saw the empty path to the doorway. If I did, the past could fall away. I could change my future and find a new life alone. Nothing would have to matter anymore. I could find the children on my own; have the life I had always wanted.
But I did the opposite, taking another step backwards.

I knew that I couldn't do it, no matter how I afraid I was of him. I couldn't give up. Not then, not when I could see how weak he was now. I couldn't hurt him when I could still see that glimmer of hope in the vacant mask, that small spark of light that reminded me of our past. I realised he could hurt me again at any moment, that I would have to cope with the constant reminders of my past. But that was trivial. I was safer here than I would be at any far corner of the galaxy.

I turned my back to the door and let my eyes wander back to the viewport. The enormous hangar had closed around us; I had barely noticed that the ship had glided to a halt within its seemingly infinite walls. The air around the ship was filled with whorls of steam, creating a ghostly fog as it scattered the bright lights that lined the walls. A distant beam of crimson light wavered in the mist. I marvelled at the size of the room. Level after level of scaffolding lined the duracrete walls and I could barely make out figures upon them, ant-like people clad in white passed in and out of the fog seamlessly.

I took another breath and continued to watch, knowing that Anakin would return soon. Another jolt of anxiety came with the thought, the unknown encroaching into my already frail confidence. The battle between my conscience continued on; the anger that was still so unfamiliar to me beginning to form as I replayed his words. I had to trust him.

I didn't want to go without a fight, especially not to what might be a death sentence. There was no way I was in a position to attack his decision. Everything was different. I was as vulnerable as I felt, and though I hated him for cornering me… I knew beneath the layers of scarred memories and fear that I had to relinquish some of my control. I had to allow him to help me. I told myself it was only for my safety and nothing more. In the tangled mess of thought and emotion, I wasn't sure that was the truth, or why I even gave in. Whether it was the past, my own weakness, or the future was a mystery.

Anakin returned minutes later, standing at the doorway and waiting for me to follow him. He didn't bother to ask my decision, but I stood and followed behind him without a sound. I made sure I took my time, trying to show the slightest annoyance in my gait. I didn't know if he noticed my reluctance or if he even cared. I felt like a prisoner being lead down the winding path to an insufferable fate. Fear still clawed at me with every step, but I couldn't change anything. Even if I could, I didn't know what was right and I still couldn't see past the uncertainty of the future.

We made a sharp turn into another corridor and I turned away from everything around me; ignoring the commotion, the officers and droids flooding the halls. I resigned myself to simply taking each new step. I knew there was nothing more I could do.

I only hoped I wasn't making another mistake.