Senator Padmé Amidala sighed.
Another day, another useless congregation of the Imperial Senate.
Indeed, in these, the final death throes of democracy, the emperor only occasionally graced the Senate with his glorious presence. Even then, he never paid heed to the voices of the people, issuing what decrees he willed and leaving the Senate with nothing but pointless busywork to complete.
Another melancholic sigh escaped Padmé.
Maybe I should just retire. No one needs me here. There’s no point in having rebel spies in a dying Senate. I haven’t done anything important since the Republic fell.
A third sigh. The epidemic continued.
I could be a full time rebel instead of a spy, I suppose. I’m good with a blaster.
Of course, Padmé knew that would only make her even more depressed. She was a politician. One of the best in the galaxy! What a waste of her skills it would be to make her a common foot soldier.
Maybe I could negotiate alliances. I’m high enough up the chain of command to do that. It wouldn’t exactly be what I’m used to, but what’s life without a little variety?
Padmé traced a line of cheap, itchy twine about her neck, a habit that had become more and more common over the years. Slipping her finger beheath it, she tugged a small japor snippet from beneath her clothes. Her thumb slowly traced the familiar grooves cut into it.
Maybe I could make myself truly useful and find Ani.
No matter what anyone said, Padmé refused to believe that Anakin Skywalker had died. No body had ever been found. No one even knew when or how he’d disappeared from the Jedi Temple. The only sentient she could think of who might have wanted to abduct him just to kill him in person would have been Nute Gunray, the former Viceroy of the Trade Federation. But he’d known nothing about it; Padmé had made sure of that herself.
Besides, Qui-gon Jinn had said that Anakin was the ‘chosen one’ who would destroy the Sith and bring balance to the Force. He could hardly do that if he were dead.
Padmé sighed yet again. Such weighty thoughts needed time to be considered before she made a final decision. For now, she packed her bag and bid her staff goodnight. She left the Naboo delegation’s office and froze the very moment she turned to leave the Senate Building.
As she’d been trained to do, Padmé tightened the shields protecting her mind. Casually and silently, she turned and crept away from Darth Vader himself. Fortunately, he’d had his back turned to her as he gazed out the window upon Coruscant. If she walked a little faster the further she moved away, no one but her needed to know.
And then Padmé felt a tug at the back of her dress. She ignored it and pressed on, but the force never let up, leaving her stuck in place. Eyes widening, she pressed forward with more insistence but got nowhere. Footsteps approached from behind her. Once they stopped, the deep, deceptively attractive voice of Darth Vader replaced them.
“Senator Amidala,” Vader said. The pull on her dress let up. As she rigidly turned in place, he gave her a shallow bow. “Good evening.”
Steeling herself, Padmé returned the gesture with a curtsy. “Good evening, Lord Vader. You wished to speak with me?”
Vader nodded, or so Padmé assumed by how the hood of his robe dipped for a moment. “We have much to discuss. If you would, I would like to buy you dinner.”
Since when did Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith, ask anyone to dine with him? No one found pleasure in his company nor vice versa. Half the galaxy was convinced he was a cyborg with no need to eat or sleep. And everyone agreed that Vader held no interest in women – or men.
“I don’t suppose I have any choice but to accept?” It came off as a question despite Padmé’s best effort, and Vader answered her.
“There is always a choice, but that only means you always have the opportunity to choose poorly.”
“I see.” Padmé had expected nothing less. “Then I would be honored to have your company, say, tomorrow evening?”
“Very well. Shall I escort you directly from the Senate or would you like me to pick you up from your home?”
“Home, please. I’ll need a chance to change…”
“Dress casually,” Vader offered.
Padmé quirked a curious eyebrow but made no further comment. What would Darth Vader consider casual dress? As ever, he wore long robes today that masked his face in shadows. “Until then,” she said.
“Until then, Senator,” Vader said. He then turned and walked away at his own brisk pace, vanishing around a corner in but moments that lasted an eternity.
Padmé slumped against a wall in relief, glad to be alive and not under arrest nor awaiting interrogation.
By the Force, what now? Do I run? I’d never be able to show my face in public again. Running would scream that she had something to hide. Which she did, of course. Even if she no longer felt important, she was a rebel spy.
That said, her perspective may be a little skewed on what constituted ‘important’ both to the Rebel Alliance and to the empire. She could admit that. Before turning spy, she’d been a Republic senator, a diplomat in the thick of the Clone Wars, the Queen of Naboo, and the Princess of Theed before all that. She was probably helping more than she allowed herself to believe. Running away could cause a lot of problems.
On the other hand, if she stayed, she had a date with Darth Vader.
Oh, kriff. I have a date with Darth Vader.
“Would you like to eat somewhere else, Senator?”
Even having been told to dress casually, Padmé had not expected this.
“No. This is fine.”
The Drunken Angel Pub, that was where Darth Vader had brought Padmé to eat – a pub! Of all places, he’d brought her to some disreputable, vermin-filled pub. It was loud. It was crowded. It was filthy. This was a creditless university student’s idea of a night out. Vader was the second-in-command of the entire galaxy!
Padmé shifted on the bench she’d been left on, trying not to get anything on her dress or shoes. Then she noticed Vader returning with their meal fetched straight out of the frier and still dripping in grease. It said a lot about someone when he went out of his way to eat unhealthily on the most technologically developed and medically advanced planet in the galaxy.
As Vader sat down across from Padmé, she immediately stomped down on the biggest surprise and danger of all. Vader was handsome. No, that fell too short of the mark. Vader was gorgeous. He was muscular, and rugged, and possessed thick golden locks that looked so soft and endless blue eyes that called forth beautiful memories of Naboo’s crystal clear waters. In a word, Vader was attractive, and the surprise of him showing her his face made him all the more tempting.
Vader smirked, and Padmé broke her stare with all due haste, mercilessly suppressing her blush at having been caught not just looking but considering. He handed off her food without a word, but he knew, and the demonstration of tact made it so much worse.
Seeking refuge in purpose, Padmé asked, “What is this all about, Lord Vader? Why are we here?”
“Can I not simply wish to enjoy the company of a beautiful woman?”
“No,” Padmé replied without a shred of doubt.
Vader’s expression showed no offence as he asked, “Why not?”
“Because this is massively out of character for you.”
“And how would you know?” Vader asked. “I don’t imagine you announced to the public that you would be spending the evening with me. Would you expect any other woman to in your place?”
Padmé hesitated. That was a fair point. But the explanation fell flat when she considered it. “Perhaps not,” she said, “but unless you expect me to believe you spent all your free time taking women out to din…to pubs” – this was not dinner – “I don’t see where you’d find the time.”
“You have to admit you’re not planetside often,” Padmé explained.
“Ah. I see you’ve followed my career as closely as I’ve followed yours.”
“What? I have not!” The very idea! “I–” Padmé cut herself off as realisation struck her. She was being watched. She’d known that on some level, but to have it so blatantly stated really brought it home.
“You’re not being watched,” Vader said.
Halfway to her feet in anger, Vader interrupted and said, “Nor am I reading your mind. As much as I would like to, you’ve learned well how to shield your thoughts, unlike your colleagues.”
Padmé quietly sat back down. Anger would not help her here, and if Vader was not bluffing, she and her friends in the Senate were in a lot of trouble already without making a scene.
“I admit,” Vader continued, “that Senator Mothma’s and Organa’s defences were harder to slip past than most, but in the end, only you and the emperor can keep me out.”
Regretting not leaving Coruscant when she’d had the chance, Padmé did her best to stay calm. Vader was just making educated guesses. If he knew there were rebel leaders amongst the Senate, he’d have removed them already.
Vader then said, “I must confess I am…disappointed.”
Padmé had so many questions. She had no idea where this conversation was going. For the moment, she settled on, “Disappointed by what?”
“To some extent everyone in the galaxy, but mostly the rebellion.”
“Are they not giving you a glorious enough fight?”
Vader frowned. “Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is as much my failure as the rebellion’s. I believe I expected too much with too few clues, so I’ve decided to be blunt with the one rebel I unreservedly respect.”
Padmé blinked, not sure how to respond. In the waning days of the Republic, if accused of being a Separatist, she would have outright rejected the notion. Her service record spoke to her character well enough that she need not say anything. And that was entirely the problem now. If Vader was convinced she was a rebel, well, there was little she could say or do to prove otherwise. Deny, deny, deny was not in keeping with her character, which she was sure he knew. Doing so now would only admit her guilt, but not doing so did much the same.
Indifferent to her dilemma, Vader continued.
“I have spent the last decade throwing tantrums and keeping the Imperial Army’s and Navy’s chain of command in constant disarray. I have killed every single semi-competent officer trying to rise above captain, leaving in power only fools and those few capable moffs close to the emperor. I have deliberately turned a blind eye to the vast majority of the rebellion’s activities. I have only arrested or destroyed enough of your members to keep the emperor from getting off his throne and pursuing you himself. I have gone out of my way to micromanage my entire army and navy for ten years so that you could steal ships, weapons, and technology without drawing suspicion onto myself. I have spent the entire decade being unnecessarily cruel, untrustworthy, and sowing unrest. I have even let one of your own rise high enough to be a somewhat legitimate successor to the emperor were I and Xizor to disappear.”
Vader paused a moment and looked Padmé in the eye. “And now I ask you this. What the kriffing hell are you waiting for?”
The seconds that passed before Padmé regained her wits felt like hours. Even once her thoughts returned to producing actual words, her brain was still short circuiting. Eventually, she realised that she’d been gaping and closed her mouth.
Padmé weakly fumbled for words. “I, uh – if I – well, I wouldn’t be one to know what the rebels are up to.”
Vader rolled his eyes and summoned a napkin and pen from elsewhere in the bar, not that anyone seemed to notice. He, much to Padmé’s shock and horror, proceeded to write down the entire rebel chain of command including the real names of aliases she’d only heard the faintest whispers of. He spun the napkin around and pushed it across the table. On it, he tapped her name. Shaking slightly, she looked up to find him quirking an eyebrow at her.
“This is not a bluff, Senator. This is not a trick. This is not me reading your mind.” Vader paused, a seductive smile growing on his face. “But this is most certainly a trap. Which one of us will fall for it, however, that remains to be seen.”
The distinct feeling that she was walking into the trap occurred to Padmé, but she had to ask, “What do you mean?”
“The emperor is a monster. We can both agree on that easily enough. The empire, under his rule, is a twisted nightmare from which I fervently wish to awaken.”
Since Vader apparently knew everything about the rebellion and her role in it, Padmé felt little trepidation in nodding her agreement. “No one wants that more than me. This whole mess is my fault. He was my senator, I’m sure you know.”
“Actually, I’m not entirely convinced Palpatine is native to Naboo. If you hadn’t given him the opportunity, he would merely have moved on to the next planet.”
“That doesn’t much ease my conscious.”
Vader shrugged, an odd expression from a man such as him.
“So where does the trap arise?” Padmé asked.
A moment passed as Vader weighed his words. “I am not a Jedi, Senator. I am…greedy, in a sense. I desire a complete victory over my master.” He spat the word as though it were a poison.
Padmé quirked her eyebrow. “And what exactly counts as a complete victory? Do you wish to restore the Republic just to conquer it and raise your own ‘better’ empire?”
“While that would present an intriguing challenge, no. I admit I do very much wish to rule the galaxy. There are a great many wrongs in it that I desire to correct which the Republic refused to address. Yet I have no taste for politics. I might be able to hold an empire together myself, but in doing so, I would become much worse than the emperor, something I will never allow. Becoming my master would be my ultimate defeat.
“That said,” Vader continued, “I still dislike representative oligarchy. I believe wholly in benevolent autocracy.”
“At the cost of the people’s voice?” Padmé said. She was not prepared for a philosophical debate, but she only needed a few moments to get her thoughts in order.
“You’re forgetting the keyword ‘benevolent’. A benevolent emperor responds to the needs of his people.”
“A single point of failure is a disaster waiting to happen,” Padmé countered. “Even if, and I do mean if, there existed a truly benevolent monarch, a poor successor will eventually be chosen.”
“You should have more faith in yourself.”
Padmé sent Vader a questioning look.
“Well, you were a benevolent monarch, were you not?”
“That’s hardly what you meant,” Padmé said, rolling her eyes. “Naboo’s royalty are elected for limited terms. I was a chancellor in all but name.”
“And yet as the Senate did for Palpatine, your people tried to vote for you to be queen for life.”
Padmé frowned at the quiet emphasis Vader placed on ‘tried’.
“Curious how you deny the people’s will when it suits your purposes.”
“It was the correct choice to make,” Padmé said, sounding more defensive than she’d like. “Changing the constitution to allow a queen to not only serve indefinitely but to be elected once for life would have left my people open for those with less than noble intentions to take advantage of them.”
“In other words,” Vader said, “you knew better.”
“Don’t twist my words.”
“I don’t need to. You did know better as should be expected. You were, after all, the queen. You were raised and educated to make good decisions for your planet. Would you have endorsed replacing your reign with that of any random person off the streets of Theed? Would you have expected them to rule even half as well as you?”
Rather grudgingly, Padmé admitted, “Well, no.”
“And that’s exactly how I feel about myself,” Vader said in a surprising show of humility. “I know I’m not the right man to rule as emperor. No amount of good intentions will make up for the skills and experience I lack. Of course, if a rebellion were to, tragically, result in the emperor’s death and leave the galaxy looking for leadership, I would be the only legitimate successor. Any other choice would spark further civil war.”
“So you’re using us.” The fact came as no surprise to Padmé, although some part of her had hoped Vader really was a rebel at heart. She actually kind of enjoyed talking with him. What a surreal thought.
“Not exactly,” Vader said. “Or at least not until now. I may not believe in the Republic, but it’s a far better choice than my master's empire. And yet I’m rapidly losing faith in the rebellion. As such, I’ve decided to indulge my greed and partake in a rather large gamble.”
“Oh? And what would that be?” Padmé had to admit she was curious what a man like Vader would consider a large gamble.
“I’ve decided that I will ascend to the throne,” Vader said. He held up a hand to stall Padmé’s objections. After a moment of thought, she decided to indulge him and listen. “Like the Jedi, I’m a peacekeeper. Even if I’m only familiar with aggressive negotiations. It’s the only life I care to remember. Enforcing the law will remain my task, and I assure you that I will go about it with a much less heavy hand than I have been.
“Of course, I will require someone with authority second only to my own and left mostly to her own devices to handle the more important affairs of state.”
Incredulous at the implication, Padmé said, “You cannot be serious.”
“I highly doubt you fully understand my intentions in this gamble,” Vader said simply. “You see, I’ve decided to woo a benevolent monarch.”
Padmé’s brain tripped over itself. Indeed, she most definitely had not fully understood Vader’s intentions.
“The question is, will you ruin me, or will I corrupt you into my empress?”
There were no words to put to such a blunt declaration of romantic intent from a Sith Lord.
“To be honest,” Vader said, “I’m equally surprised and ecstatic you’re still available. Despite his best efforts, my master has never been able to rid me of my infatuation with you.”
“I…” A strange feeling worked its way through Padmé, and she asked, “Have we met before?”
“I’m not surprised you don’t recognise me,” Vader said, a hint of disappointment in his voice.
Padmé felt her necklace shift beneath her top of its own volition, emerging soon after. The precious japor snippet hovered before her eyes for a moment before it fell to rest against her chest.
“But I am glad that you’ve never forgotten me, my angel.”
A moment passed in relative silence against the noise of the pub around them.
One ring, two, then three. Part of Padmé hoped the call never connected, but most of her just wanted to get this, the most awkward conversation of her life, over with. She could avoid it for a good while longer, but she wanted to be the one to break the news, not the HoloNet.
The ringing stopped. While it continued to request for others to join them, the first person had connected to witness Padmé make a fool and liability of herself.
“Good morning, Padmé.” Mon Mothma paused to take in Padmé's expression. “Is everything alright?”
Padmé mumbled, “Kind of.” Then more clearly, she said, “I had a date last night.”
After the initial surprise faded, Mon asked, “Not go well?”
Lux Bonteri joined the holocall. “Morning,” he mumbled sleepily.
Padmé and Mon returned the greeting.
“What are we talking about?”
Before Padmé could say anything, Mon said, “Padmé was telling me about her date last night.”
Lux raised a skeptical eyebrow. Encrypted, secret rebel channels were not to be used for gossip. Such irony that Padmé technically could not refute Mon's assertion. She was here to talk about her date.
“So tell me about him,” Mon said.
Padmé shifted uneasily. She would rather not do this more than once, so she would wait until everyone was present to drop the bomb.
“He was…very handsome.”
“And…” Mon pressed.
“He wasn't what I expected for an imperial.”
Lux, now interested, asked, “You went out with an imp?”
“He asked me, and I wasn't in a position to say no.”
“Oh, Padmé,” Mon said. “Nothing happened, did it?”
“Of course not. He was…nice.”
“Oh?” Mon said, dragging out the word with a grin. “Has someone moved the heart of the eternally single Padmé Amidala?”
Padmé refused to dignify that with a response. Fortunately, Obi-Wan joined the call and interrupted that line of inquiry. Unfortunately, once he was brought up to speed, Mon pressed the attack.
“So how loyal is he to the empire?”
“I, uh… He struck me more as loyal to himself than the emperor.”
No one was fooled, and Obi-Wan said, “That's political speak if I've ever heard it.”
Padmé averted her eyes. “He doesn't have anything personal against the rebellion or really much interest in it, good or bad.”
“So just a regular guy trying to get by,” Lux concluded oh so very incorrectly.
“Are you going to see him again?” Mon asked.
With a sigh, Padmé sealed her fate. “Yes.” It was too big an opportunity to pass up, and despite everything, she had enjoyed herself last night after politics had been set aside.
Mon let out a girlish squeal. Obi-Wan smiled encouragingly. Lux rolled his eyes at their antics. Bail Organa chose that moment to join in, very confused.
Naturally, Mon told him everything, because of course Padmé's love life was now the most important topic in the galaxy. Sadly, that was somewhat true.
“Who is it that's captured our Padmé's heart?” Bail asked.
All eyes turned to Padmé. She looked at each one of her friends in the rebellion with an ever increasing feeling of dread. This was not going to be fun. Obi-Wan especially, considering he'd once briefly been Anakin's mentor.
Actually, maybe she should keep Vader's real identity to herself for now. She hardly needed the additional pressure to reform the chosen one. Only stupid girls thought they could change a man; she would suffer enough flak already for that without also being constantly told she must.
Padmé cleared her throat and gathered her courage.
“I…may perhaps be romantically involved with Darth Vader.”