Anakin would never forget the first time he saw Padme. Walking through the doorway of the grimy shop, her figure was surrounded by a hallow of light. Coming closer, he noticed her soft skin and curious eyes were packaged in a proud frame. Her shoulders were pulled back and her head held high in a way no one in his world would dare. Now, laying on a bench, surrounded by cold dark metal, she looked as angelic as ever.
He had lost track of the times he had dreamed her asleep beside him. Now she was there, so close, he could hear her breathe and the space between them felt like a galaxy. He could not bring himself to cross it accept to use the force to delicately push a loose lock of hair behind her ear.
Then he turned, leaving her asleep.
Ahsoka was sitting outside the door, perched like a bird on one of the notches in the wall. She looked at him with her big eyes that seemed to see into his soul. She said nothing about what she found there, but her hopeful smile fell into a frown. He knew she still somehow hoped for fairy tales, he valued that about her. He had allowed her to keep it.
He sensed her jump from her perch and follow him down the hall, even though she made no noise. Stealth was her nature the way brutality was his. He could go unnoticed when he wanted, but she was like a ghost. If he did not know her, he would not know she was there. All of this was to his own design, but sometimes he feared that her lack of evidence was more sinister, a sign that she had been created for him as an imagined companion. Someone to keep him sane and a sense of rebellion to keep him controlled.
“What now?” she popped up beside him to ask once they entered the otherwise empty control room. Outside the windows of the ship, the stars drifted by. Their speed was almost incomprehensible to the ordinary eye. In the force, he could feel each one going by, slow and mournful.
“Now, we go back to training,” he explained. “This was a mistake. You were not ready.”
“I defeated the Jedi, I took down her master,” Ahsoka complained. Again, the annoyance surged outward from her. One of the control panels near her began to smoke.
He raised and hand and she sat down to meditate. The smoke quickly subsided, but he felt her frustration train on him instead. He was not overly concerned. He was not so flammable.
“You only distracted the Master, she was destroyed by her own clone bodyguard,” he half-laughed.
“Why. Why would they do that?” Her focus seemed to shift to her own troubled thoughts.
“There is more to this game than you have been told, or that I can tell you,” he admitted, and he could feel her interest peak. He smiled to himself, but it did not last.
The cold atmosphere of the ship jumped back into his bones enough to snap him back into the moment. The stars flew by in a blur as he turned to face his apprentice. Her eagerness in eyes had already begun to fade before he found them.
“No,” she whispered. Anger was radiating from her, but she was afraid. It was as obvious to him as if she were screaming.
“Do as I say,” he said, striding past her. “Go. Now.”
Ahsoka jogged after him, but the older and taller of the two of them, his fast pace kept him in the lead. She followed him down to the docking bay. Just before the end of the hall, she threw herself toward the floor. She slid smoothly into an open panel in the wall. Her fingers quickly pushed the missing panel back into its place, concealing her from sight, but also from his senses. He allowed himself a moment to let out a small breath of relief but quickly remembered what was now docking in front of him. A fresh sense of anger and hate flowed through him, washing away the relief, but creating the final veil to hide his apprentice.
He walked with purpose into the docking bay to the newly landed ship. The ramp descended. Anakin dropped to his knees.
“Master,” he offered.
Darth Maul descended the ship. The force moved around him like smoke, suffocating, and elusive. The hate in Anakin only grew with every step of the Sith.
“Is it done?” ask his deep voice. There was always a strange edge to the sound. Something unstable hummed beneath the surface, always threatening to overtake Maul’s tone entirely. It kept Anakin in an eternal state of anticipation.
“Just as you instructed,” he answered and as Maul’s boots passed him, he knew to rise and follow. “It was all as you anticipated. Even the clones.”
Maul stopped short.
“I did not ask for praise,” he sneered.
Anakin stopped short, waiting for judgment.
“But you have done well,” he continued. “My master will be the sole survivor of the Jedi attack on the Senate. He will become the Emperor. He believes his power to be absolute, but we will take it from him.”
“When?” Anakin asked.
“Impatience?” Maul raised an eyebrow or the place on his face that would be that.
Maul nodded. “And did you retrieve your prize?”
Anakin forced himself to smile.
“Then we should celebrate,” Maul said. And Anakin felt an old joy ignite within him, but it was poisoned with the wariness and bitterness of the years of disappointment. His body still remembered how to be that child, so lonely that even the company of pain was something he longed for. Another burst of anger shot through him, but the hate in his heart made everything clear. Now was not the time. There was something worse than his master feared. Anakin could not be free until he had slain both the demon before him and the one who pulled the strings.
“How long will you be staying?” he asked.
“My friend,” he said. “You disappoint me. Are you not lonely when I leave?”
“Perhaps, you believe that the queen is company enough,” he seemed amused. “But remember she is here for a reason. She has been joining senators together to create a system of resistance against my master. You have silenced her fellow conspirators in the senate, but they may not be her only allies.”
“I know what I have to do.”
“If you can control her and find the information,” he continued, voice teetering closer to that chaotic edge. “You may keep her for yourself in our new empire.”