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A Dark And Twisted Path

Chapter Text

The senate was silent enough to hear the buzz of the pods. The senators, their assistants, the Chancellor, they all had their eyes closed. All that is, save for a beautiful senator from Naboo. Padme Amidala hated to shut her eyes. Too many close calls, too many betrayals, and too much war had left her uneasy. At least, that was what she told herself while she studied the faces of the others.

They were faces she knew almost as well as her own. Over the past thirteen years she had learned to read them, to anticipate how they would vote and how she could sway them. Now they were blank as if attempting some semblance of sadness, but falling into boredom instead. It was not real for them. The Battle of Naboo had happened long ago, before the Clone Wars. It was far away from the current troubles of their constituents. Padme envied them and it burned dully in her like the ember of a fire that refused to die.

She had won the battle but at a cost.  Not only so many of the royal guards and even the common people and her own dear Handmaids but also the Jedi who protected her were killed by something she could not explain. This moment of silence was for them, there were funerals and memorials every year. Senator Amidala could not keep her mind from the boy that only she and a slave woman knew to morn. No older than ten, he had been cold his first time in space. She shivered, cold thinking about it, even if she could not now remember his name.

Padme whispered a voice in her ear and she turned to see nothing. Always nothing. No matter how many times she turned, or switched on the light, or checked behind the curtains to find nothing there, the voice persisted as it had for nearly three years.

“Wow, quiet in here,” said a young and vibrant voice. “I thought there would be more shouting.”

A ripple of sound traveled through the chamber as the senators opened their eyes.

“Made for a great entrance though,” the voice laughed.

Padme leaned over the edge to get a better look.

A young Togruta female sat on the Chancellor’s chair. She was wrapped in smart black robes and smiling. She looked like an ordinary teenage girl, save for the decapitated politicians on either side of her. Two red lightsabers glowed in either hand, illuminating her face. Somehow the light did not reach her orange eyes.

The girl quickly learned what the counsel usually sounded like. The room was flooded with confused and fearful shouts. Padme sat back in her seat, something seemed to overtake her, an inevitability. It would always come to this, and yet the wrongness of the scene was so clear. This girl should not be here. This should not be happening. They were safe and well-guarded. Deep down, in her soul, Padme had not felt safe for years. So, while the others shouted for guards and assistance, she stayed silent.

“Senator,” she barely heard her attendant say. “We have to get you out of here.”

She was aware enough that it was strange to have the attendant take her hand, but the sound of blaster fire pushed it from her mind. The Tagruta girl started to laugh, deflecting every shot. Padme barely saw the figure of her handmaid fall behind her.

“We should help them,” she said.

“I have my orders, your majesty,” the attendant explained, tightening his grip on her arm.

“Padme!” someone shouted. “Get away from her!”

Padme turned to see Rush Clovis racing down the hall toward her, blaster at the ready. His dark hair was abnormally out of place and his clothes were ripped and wrinkled. There was a stain on the shoulder, red, but darkening by the moment.

Without a word, the attendant stopped and turned. His grip of Padme did not change, but from this new angle she could see the attendant had his black hood pulled fully over his face. The jaw beneath was hard and suddenly highlights in a red glow. His lips pulled into a cold sneer.

The blast from Clovis’ weapon hung in the air a breath from the stranger’s face. Nothing could keep it hung there except power, sheer, and terrifying power.  The hand around her arm tightened as if it knew she was beginning to feel afraid.

“Please,” Clovis begged. “I’m sorr—”

His own blast shot him in the chest.

The man beside Padme lowered his other hand and smirked.

Padme looked at the smoking body of her old friend and the world around her snapped into place. Screams carried from every corner of the senate building. It smelled of burning meat and she was suddenly back in the palace of Naboo, fighting impossible odds. As if called from the reaches of her memory, the Tagruta appeared again. Instinctively, she reached for the delicate charm hanging around her neck as the floor of the senate hall seemed to fall away.

The last thing she felt was the arms of the stranger beside her wrapping around her to catch her fall.

Chapter Text

“I thought you wanted that one alive?” Ahsoka complained, looking at the senator limp in her master’s arms. “What happened?”

“She is still alive,” Anakin snapped back.

Ahsoka rolled her eyes and flipped her lightsabers, already a little bored. She had been promised Jedi and so far, not a single one had bothered to show up to fight her. Not one.

“Ahsoka, come,” Anakin called.

With the spring back in her step, she moved into place beside him.

“She’s pretty,” she offered, taking a quick look at the woman she had heard so much about.

“Please stop skipping,” he sighed, but she could see the slight glint in his eye. Things had gone surprisingly to plan for the two of them. It put her on edge a little, but he was too consumed with moving things along to notice. 

She slowed herself but felt the energy rising still with nowhere left to go. They passed by a set of ugly sculptures. The one nearest to her began to crack down the middle.

“Ahsoka,” Anakin warned.

“I just thought this would be more…” she looked around the almost deserted hall. “Anything.”

“It will be,” he said. “I promised you a challenge and you will get one.”

He paused just before the doors. His mouth shut and she knew he had closed his eyes as well. Ahsoka copied him and held out her hand, trying to sense what was in store for them beyond the doors. A surge of excitement gripped her. There was something outside that she had never felt before. It was as if an energy was pushing back against her, a power equal, but different from her own.

“You took care of the surveillance?” he asked.

“Of course, Master.”

“There can be no witnesses,” he reminded her.

“I understand, Master.”

“If you fail,” he whispered this time, looking down at the face of Padme as if he needed the reminder that she was still there. “Do not bother returning to me. I will not be able to protect you. You will doom us both.”

Ahsoka answered with the hum of her lightsaber.

The door opened.

The night was warm and lit by the glow of green and blue blades. Jedi. But they were already engaged in combat? For a moment Ahsoka was stunned by their grace, like smoke from a fire or water gliding down glass. The robed figures shielded themselves, but also each other blaster fire. Ahsoka followed the red beams to their source. Clones. An entire squadron, firing on the Jedi.

“What are they doing?” she asked, but the confusion she felt was not echoed by her master. His lips pulled back into a smile. And he turned to her without an answer, except to tilt his head toward a young Mirialan with a single blue blade.

As the girl’s compatriots began to fall around her, Ahsoka caught her eye.

“What—” the girl began, but Ahsoka ran at her, arms behind her to help with speed and swiped at the girl’s green face.

She was quick enough to block, but only just.

“Oh,” Ahsoka gasped. “This is going to be fun.”

It was not fun.

The girl seemed more surprised than threatened by her presence. It was a fight to the death but only she knew it. The Jedi only saw her as a distraction, keeping her from helping with the fight. There had to be a way to get her attention, to show her what this was. It was not worth beating opponent whose heart was not in the fight.

Ahsoka extended her senses to find where the girl’s focus truly lay.

“Barris!” someone shouted another Mirialan female, older, more graceful, and powerful. Ahsoka could sense it from across the landing pad. It was like feeling the sun against her skin, natural and comforting. It radiated from the Jedi, but it also bound her to the girl.

A sudden sharp bolt of jealousy struck Ahsoka. With on Saber locked with Barris, she sent the other flying through the air. It whirled into the chaos, vengeful and quick.

“Luminara,” Barris began, but it was already too late.

Ahsoka’s blade returned to her outstretched hand just as the Jedi Master’s body hit the ground.

Barris screamed and her watering eyes found Ahsoka’s. They seemed to clear as they narrowed. Her shout quieted and her mouth shut. Ahsoka felt the focus of her opponent instantly. The energy between them switched like a change in the wind. Suddenly, a force of equal will pushed back against her own.

Barris moved quick, vaulting over Ahsoka’s head. She landed beside her and swung, almost too fast. A burst of pure adrenaline surged through her and she felt as if she was seeing the young Jedi for the first time.

“Well, hi there,” Ahsoka said.

Barris only growled and swung at her again. With every blow, Ahsoka realized how much she had underestimated the Jedi’s practices. She was suddenly hit with a sense of gratitude that her master had never gone easy on her. She channeled the extent of her training, keeping her edge, but she met her match at every turn. The longer they fought the more she felt the force mobbing around them. With every swing, every counter step Barris’ opposing energy shifted until it felt like a competition between them.

Rage flowed from every inch of the girl as she lashed out, moving so quick, Ahsoka could only feel the saber being knocked from her hand. The blade that killed the Jedi Master slid to the edge of the dock. Barris dared to remove one hand from her saber and extend it, reaching for discarded saber.

“That’s not fair!” Ahsoka screamed, realizing that the supposed Jedi was using the Dark Side.  HER Dark Side.

Instinctively, she extended her own hand, but not to the discarded saber. Barris dropped her weapon.  She began to claw at her neck. Ahsoka kicked the saber over the side to the sound of her opponent choking.

The first drops of rain trickled over her skin. Then she turned her eyes up to the girl. She looked so young, so much like herself. All around them lay the bodies of her fallen friends and the clones who served them. Rain sizzled against her still ignited blade and Barris eyes begged her to stop.

The eyes were full of tears again and Ahsoka felt a strange sting in her own. The feeling like sun prickled over her skin again, but this time it seemed to be moving through her. Barris’ toes scraped the ground as she kicked, and the sound echoed in Ahsoka’s soul. Every gasp of breath tore through her.

“Ahsoka,” growled Anakin from somewhere far far away. “Finish it.”

She tried but numbed by the sharp contrast of familiar cold in the bones and the new warmth in her heart, she could do nothing.

A red blade sliced through Barris’ heart and Ahsoka let her fall. The warmth disappeared, but the cold felt buried and out of reach in a way it had not been in a long time. She looked up. Anakin’s hood had fallen away, revealing his orange eyes. She searched him for answers but found nothing.

“Bored the ship,” he said, picking Padme up from where he had set her. He did not turn back again to check if she was following. She called her fallen saber back to her hand and hurried on behind him.

Chapter Text

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.

Ahsoka twitched.

“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.

“Eagerness.”

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.

Maul smiled.

“My friend,” he said. “You disappoint me. Are you not lonely when I leave?”

“I –”

“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.”

Chapter Text

Ahsoka climbed quietly through the secret corridor. Her montrals brushed the cold metal ceiling, another reminder that she was growing too old for hiding. Her growing anger made her keenly aware of the few inches between her and exposure.

“How should we celebrate?” Anakin asked. He sounded so distant. She suspected it was not just the wall separating them. His false master made him cold and closed off, sometimes for days afterward.

Maul’s footsteps stopped and so did Ahsoka’s breathing.

Anakin began to scream.

“What are you hiding from me boy?” Maul asked, but Anakin only continued screaming. “You should know better by now.”

The metal began to heat beneath Ahsoka’s fingers.

“Oh, I see. My presence disrupts your plans, your plans with her,” Maul continued, his voice dropping to a whisper as Anakin’s screams fell to silence. She reached for her sabers. “You fear I will harm her, take her from you. You have nothing to fear from me boy.”

Anakin’s body fell to the floor and the sound shook Ahsoka’s bones.

“Why would I take what you have rightfully earned?” Maul asked as Anakin coughed. “But I do expect to see Amidala before the night is through.”

Ahsoka let out a breath.

“Come, let us dine together, and then we will check on your guest,” Maul finished and finally his steps began again.

“Yes master,” Anakin managed, and his footsteps joined the Sith’s.

Ahsoka’s curiosity dropped. She climbed away, wiggling, and squeezing through smaller and smaller spaces. The corridor was designed uniquely by Anakin himself. It was small enough that no one, not even he, could follow her to its central point. Additionally, it was intricately woven through the belly of the ship, so while Maul was powerful enough to rip the corridor apart to reach her, he would have to tear the ship apart to do so.   

She tried to remind herself of this as she tried to stop shaking. What did she have to fear in her sanctum? Her power had helped to dismantle the major political system in the galaxy only hours before.

Finally, the corridor opened again in a small, octagonal room. It was barely enough space for her to stand in. There were pillows piled together as a bed, a set of books to read, and a set of candles to see from. Ahsoka used a single flash from one of her lightsabers to light the first candle. It flickered a lonely light over the small walls. She sat to watch it and was briefly reminded of the feeling she had gotten watching the Jedi Master. Warmed, even by the half-memory, Ahsoka laid down on the pillows and began to drift toward sleep.

But as the light flickered, the shadows around her began to grow. A wind from nowhere blew out the flame, leaving her nodding off alone in the dark.

Suddenly, a red glow cut through the darkness. Maul was there, inches from her. The familiar hum of the lightsaber flooded her ears. His black robes billowed around him, pulled by the same invisible wind that put out the light.

“How are you here?” she gasped, reaching for her own saber.

His looming figure bent down, but his face remained impossibly shrouded. He spoke, but it was not the voice of the Sith she knew. It was raspy and clipped, a voice she knew as well as her own.

“You will come with me,” he said with the voice from the past. “I am your master now.”

“No!” Ahsoka tried to say, but the phantom wind whirling around them sucked away her voice. She jumped to her knees turned on her sabers and swung at him. The blades collided and the furious sound of their power crackled through the corridor. She summoned all her anger, all her rage, but she was no match for him. He bowed over her, forcing her to bend until her head was nearly on the floor.

Desperate, she dropped her weapons and raised her hands, choking him in her grip of the force. Maul’s blade clattered to the floor beside her own and she got to her feet. He clawed at the invisible hand around him, but he could do nothing now. She moved closer, desiring to see the look of helplessness on his face, to make him pay for all he had done and all had planned to do.

Finally, she could see his eyes. They were dark and full of tears. The eyes of Barriss the Jedi.

She dropped her hold and staggered back into the wall of the cell. Maul’s figure fell but never hit the floor. It vanished as if it had never been there at all.

Ahsoka forced herself to wake.

She was still laying on the pillows. Alone in the now dying light of her candle, she was surrounded by nothing but her own fears. Taking her sabers from her belt, she lit the rest of the candles. Then she sat back again, bringing her knees to her chest, and swore not to sleep until Darth Maul had left the ship.

Chapter Text

Padme had been a prisoner more times than she cared to count. She knew that soon, someone would come, open the door, and demand she answer them. She knew that she would not give them what they asked. But mostly, she knew that waiting around for them to come was the worst part of it all.

The anticipation frayed her nerves in a way confrontation never had. Despite what she projected to others, patience was not her nature. Waiting always brought her sharply back to the moments on Coruscant when the adrenaline of her flee from Naboo and the assassins had worn off. She had sat and waited in comfort while her people suffered. Not just her people, but her friends and family. It nearly killed her, but it had also given her the strength to survive in the following years. She knew that if she had withstood that longing and fear, she could withstand anything.

So Senator Padme Amidala sat up and pulled back her shoulders. Her eyes cleared of any sting of tears, trained on the door.  She held her head high and waited for what came next.

Hours or moments passed, she had no way to know which, before the door finally opened.

A man descended, the attendant from the Senate chamber. He looked the same, his dark cloak still hung from his hulking shoulders. His hands clenched at his side. Only now, his hood was lowered, revealing his face. His orange eyes found her the moment he entered but quickly found somewhere else to look. The right side of his face was marked with a nasty scar, like lightening, reaching up over his eye and even the bridge of his nose. That was the only sign of his true nature. Otherwise, he looked ordinary, even handsome. The eyes, despite their color, were nicely shaped. His features almost perfectly mirrored from one side of the face to the other, and the jawline was strong. His brown hair fell in waves down nearly to his shoulders, perhaps in an attempt to cover the scar.

“What are you?” she demanded, getting to her feet. He did not look at her again. Instead, he turned his attention to the new shadow filled the doorframe.

A figure cloaked in equal blackness entered. His face was far from ordinary. A Zabrak male, covered from the top of his head to the collar of his robes in black tattoos. His head was crowned by sharp, curled horns. He was older and larger, but she recognized him immediately and the shock pushed her back. She stumbled and fell back onto the metal bench.

“Welcome,” he sneered.

“You killed Master Qui-Gon Jin and his apprentice,” she spat back.

“So you remember me?” he mused and gave a strange look to his companion, but he got no reaction from the man.

“The Republic will find you and you will stand trial before the Jedi council,” she told him, this time keeping her tone even. She was not some hysterical damsel. She had seen first hand what the Jedi had done in the war. They were not the same as the two unprepared men he had fought in her palace. She spoke with truth and she would use it against him. “I will tell them all that you did and they will have justice.”

The monster began to laugh.

Padme got back on her feet.

“Even if a Jedi survived being gunned down by their own troops,” he finally sighed. “This ship is designed to mask us in the force. They have never found us, and now they never will. The Jedi have become the hunted ones. I will find and execute them for the slaughter of the entire Galactic Senate.”

He reached out a hand and his long nails brushed her chin.

“Don’t worry, my lady. I will avenge your death,” he whispered.

The man beside him flexed his fingers.

Padme realized what he was saying, that the Jedi were lost. The clones had turned against them. There were no other survivors from the senate. Everyone she knew and loved believed her to be among the slain.

“My apprentice will see to your needs while you remain with us,” the monster continued. He did not remove his nails from her face, instead, his grip tightened and she felt the sharpness dig into her skin. “Every breath you take is indebted to him now, and to me.”

It was clear he was going to say more, but Padme drew the pin from her sleeve and struck him. His hand pulled back from her face, taking a bit of her skin. She saw the surprise and pain enter his eyes, but it was not like the look of pain she had seen in anyone before. There was a spark in them that had not been there a moment ago.

Before she could blink, the other man had come between them, using the force to push them apart.

Padme looked back and forth between the two of them. For a moment the man looked almost afraid. She tried to ready herself for her chance to escape. If they fought, there would be an opening. That is, so long as the man in front of her ever stopped staring at her. His eyes were fixed on hers.

Then the other began to laugh. He held his side, but the blood was slipping between his fingers. He let his head fall back and cackled louder and clapped his other hand on his companion’s shoulder.

“My apprentice has dangerous taste,” he sniggered. “She’s all yours, boy. I like mine grateful.”

He backed out of the cell, leaving her and the other man alone. The apprentice looked at her again, his eyes unreadable. For a moment they stayed frozen like that. Drops of blood from her chin splattered to the floor. Then he reached out and used the end of his sleeve to wipe her face. It was so surprising, she did not react.

“Come,” the master interrupted. “That’s enough.”

“Yes, master,” he answered, taring his eyes from hers with some effort. The door shut between them. She was left alone, searching for a word. The word was ancient and evil. Prying the word loose from her memory, the severity of her situation became undeniably clear.

She was a prisoner of the Dark Lords of the Sith.

Chapter Text

Palo Jemabie sat alone, picking the paint from his fingers.  He had not gone back to the apartment since the attack on the senate. He had not slept, changed his clothes, or scrubbed his hands in forty-eight hours.

An attendant opened the door at the other end of the hall. She was tall and dressed head to toe in black in the style of Naboo mourning. With a quick wave of her hand, she invited him into the office.

Palo tried to ignore his thumping heart and followed the attendant's lead.

“Chancellor,” he greeted Palpatine with a shallow bow in the doorway before coming all the way in. The chancellor was a dark shadow, sitting behind his oversized desk. Light streamed in from the window, but it did not reach him. Every corner of the room had a guard.

“Jemabie,” said the chancellor, barely looking up to see who was there. “I am sorry, but only the family of the deceased are permitted at this time and as you and Senator Amidala have no official relationship –”

“Padme is not among the dead,” he interrupted, moving ever closer to the man. Guards who looked much more menacing than Jedi readied themselves to get between them. Palpatine raised a hand to halt them.

“It is true not all the senators have yet to be accounted for,” he sighed, reluctantly. “ But there were no survivors of the attack.”

“Besides you,” Palo reminded him. He was dressed like Palo’s own father might, but there was some hidden edge to it. Like he was a Lothwolf in sheep’s clothing.

“Which is how I know,” Palpatine reminded him, gravely but it rang false.

“Yes, of course,” Palo answered, taking a strategic step back. “My deepest sympathy for what you witnessed.”

“And mine for your loss.”

“Which is why you should know that most of the senators were killed by their own security blasters being fired back at them,” he continued.

“How does an artist from Naboo acquire such knowledge?” Palpatine sneered and gave a pointed look to Palo’s hands.

“Padme wears counsel robes designed to shield her from exactly that kind of attack,” he pressed. “She would have been singed at best.”

Palpatine stood, he walked around the desk and set his hands on Palo’s shoulders. It surprised him, almost enough to make him falter in his performance. The chancellor was clearly the superior actor. Palo looked at the man in the eyes and let him do his work.

“My dear boy, why would the senator take such incredible precautions?” he sighed.

Palo leaned in, mirroring the man’s own strategy back at him. He had always been a fast learner. If Palpatine was aware of his unintentional apprentice, it did not read on his face. Palo did note a strange burnt tint to his eyes. As a painter, Palo was keenly aware that he had never seen eyes that color.

“For weeks,” he lowered his voice so only the man in front of him could hear. “She has ill at ease, unable to eat or sleep. She thought she was being watched. She was in danger.”

“Senator Amidala was often in danger,” Palpatine sighed, finally taking his hands from Palo’s shoulders.

“That is why I believe her,” Palo insisted. “What terrified her should concern us all.”

Palpatine slowly began the lap back around his desk. He dragged a finger along the edge. It took time to get back around to his chair. His lips pushed together into a line. He sat down in his chair once again.

“I understand it can seem unbelievable after she has survived so many things for her to come to such a tragic end,” he said and sat down in his chair once more.  “Perhaps you should reach out to the Naberrie family. Their grief is greater than your I am sure. And besides, you will need their permission to identify the body when we find it.”

Palo slammed his hands down on the desk.

“THAT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH!”

The guards lunged. Palo had one on either side before he could remove his hands from the desk. They pulled him back from Palpatine, and he thrashed against their hold to no avail. He dug in his heels and glared at the chancellor as the guards dragged him away.

Palpatine had his eyes on work, finally finished with pretending to lend a sympathetic ear.

Bang! The doors of the office slammed open once more, and suddenly he was no longer being held by the guards. They had advanced on the attendant from before. She looked much more rattled than before.

“Senator Amidala has been found!” she announced, and the room filled with a sharp silence. “Alive.”

The chancellor was unable to hide the surprise on his face, but he quickly recovered.

“It seems Mr. Jemabie, you will have your wish,” he said. “There is not enough time to summon the senator’s family. You will accompany me for identification.”

The guards began to push Palo through the door and he caught another glimpse of the attendant. Under her dark hood, a lock of her hair had come loose. She was twisting her hands together nervously, and still panting from her rush back to the room. Despite all this, when he looked at her, she smiled.

Continuing out into the hall again, he wondered if he imagined the hopeful look in her eye.

Palpatine and his Guard boarded a shuttle and Palo was forced to sit between the wall and an armored elbow. He watched the towers of Coruscant fly by outside. The setting sun flashed between the gaps in buildings, but it also painted the lower levels of the city with a red hue. It was eerie like the city was being flooded with blood.

By the time they arrived at the hospital, Palo’s heart was racing, but he made no effort to calm himself.

They were greeted by a medical droid and followed it down into the bowels of the building. It was bright and sterile, different from the elaborate hospitals of Naboo. Clearly, the healing power of art and creativity was not something the people of Coruscant concerned themselves with. Eventually, they were joined by a human doctor. She explained that senator Amidala had been brought to the most secure part of the facility, but there had still be several reporters who learned that a senator had been found alive.

“We told them nothing,” she assured Palpatine. “It is unclear how they knew; she was brought straight here.”

“How is she?” Palo interjected before the doctor and the chancellor could go any further.

The doctor paused and looked away.

“She is stable,” she finally said. “But – I suppose it will be easier to show.”

They stepped off the lift and into a wide room with small medical stations in rows on either side. The doctor led them through the room to a door on the opposite side. It opened, revealing a much smaller room with only one station.

There lay a woman figure in a gown that was a traditional Naboo style, colorful and elaborate. It was singed in places and ripped in others. Her dark hair had been pulled from its elaborate loops and hung in frayed locks around her face. The face was unrecognizable, covered in cut and bruises. The flesh was swelling so badly in places one eye was squeezed shut. Despite all the damage, what was visible was undeniably like Padme.

“Padme,” he whispered, moving closer.

The rest of the party had gone silent. He felt their eyes on him, especially the chancellors. If he believed this was Padme Amidala, it would be.

He looked at her face again and imagined what she must have endured. Who took her? What had happened? The artist allowed himself to feel it all finally and dropped to his knees, clutching her hand. Tears burned his cheeks and he bowed his head, so the drops splashed onto the floor.

“Doctor,” Palpatine broke the silence. “Find someone to speak to a reporter. It appears we have a survivor. Senator Amidala of Naboo.” He was unable to stop the venom from dripping from every word.

Palo squeezed the limp hand in his. It belonged to Sabe. A woman who had kept her handmaid name from the time of Padme’s rule as queen. She had chosen to remain in the service of Padme long after her rule had ended. Now, she severed even in her absence.

Sabe squeezed back.

They succeeded. They were in the game.

Chapter Text

When they had finished with the interrogation, Anakin accompanied his master back to his ship.

“I must leave you to put the last pieces in place,” Maul signed, and if it weren’t for the bare of his teeth, he may have seemed truly sorry. “Be ready for the final phase of our plan.”

Anakin dropped to his knee once again and bowed his head.

“Yes, my master.”

He stayed down until the rumble of the engine had been swallowed by the silence of space. The weight of all he had suppressed in the presence of his master crashed down on him all at once. He had to use his hands to push himself to stand.

He should have gone to give Ahsoka the all clear, but he took a moment in the silence to himself. The familiar vibration of power crackled in his veins; it was burning him from the inside out, but he felt only cold. This was not how he had planned the moment of his reunion with Padme. Maul had now poisoned her against him. He should not have been surprised. He should have known his master would come and check in on his investments.

He could not clear his mind of the look on her face. She had studied him, sized him up. She had spoken to him. She had feared him. But she had not truly seen him.

His fingers ached from how tightly he had begun to clench his fists. The stars beyond the docking bay began to wiggle as if they were about to go to lightspeed, and he felt, for a moment, powerful enough to control them. He thought, for a moment, that it was he who moved the stars.

Then a scream reached his ears. It bounced out of the walls. Ahsoka’s scream.

The ship was shaking. He was making it shake. Quickly, he opened his hands and released his grip on the vessel. The screaming stopped.

Anakin ran to the grate, blowing it open with the force before he reached it.

Ahsoka crawled out looking exhausted. Her knee was scraped, and one elbow was bleeding. Her clothes were wrinkled and twisted. She looked at him with wide and wild eyes.

“What was that?” she gasped. “Did we get hit?”

Anakin offered her his hand, but she had already jumped to her feet.

“I don’t know. It was so fast,” he lied.

She tilted her head.

“You, Anakin Skywalker, didn’t check it out?” she asked. He ignored her and started to walk away. Thankfully, she didn’t push further, which was uncommonly considerate of her. In fact, she wasn’t acting her usual self at all, he thought, realizing she was lagging a few steps behind him.

“Keep up,” he grunted but tried not to sound too terrible. Something strange was radiating off her, an uneasiness he had not felt int a long time.

She picked up the pace, but only just. He led her back down all the halls and she paused when they reached Padme’s cell, but he did not stop. He walked her down the hall and to the dining hall. The droids had not yet cleared the table.

When he opened the door and she saw all the food, she snapped back into the young girl he knew. She skipped to one of the chairs and began to shovel food onto Maul’s dirty plate. He smiled at the gleam in her eye. One day she would use the finest platters, designed by artists of Naboo to her own taste. For now, he was glad to see she had something more exotic to eat that the usual half of his portion on protein bars. Unfair as it was, they could not have Maul ordering food for two and suspecting them.

Ahsoka loudly pulled the chair from one side of the table all the way down to the other. She plopped down in it and began eating. Mouth full, eyes wide, she turned her eyes up to him and back to the empty chair.

He sighed and sat down.

“We have our work cut out for us,” he said.

“Don’t we always?” she said, but he could barely understand her through the food in her mouth.

He smirked.

“Slow down,” he told her, pulling a fork into his hand to give to her. “This food isn’t going anywhere.”

She nodded and took the fork.

He stopped trying and let her eat for a while. There was no way to know how long it would be until she might have the luxury again. Before she began licking the plate, he started again.

“Maul scared the queen. I suspect she will not speak to me,” he started.

“Ouch,” she said, but it was quiet. 

He shot her a look, but it was playful. He swiveled in his chair and looked out at the stars. Slowly, they slipped by in the deep belly of space. Out on the edge of traveled republic space, so far from the crowded, dusty streets of Tatooine cities.

“I need you to… to speak to her for me,” he tried to explain. “I think that might make her more comfortable and give us back some control. If she can start to believe you are safer - and I know you’re just as…”

He looked back around, hoping to get in the explanation before she could argue with him.

That wasn’t going to be a problem.

Ahsoka’s arms were on the table beside her plate acting as a pillow for her head.

“Ahsoka,” he tested, but she was out.

He got up and scooted back her chair, careful to catch her before she fell out of the chair. He lifted her into his arms and carried her out of the dining room. Down the hall was her room. A guest quarters, he told Maul, for if he ever decided to hire some company. Maul was always fascinated to find the room untouched. A tribute to his love for a woman who did not know he was alive. In truth, he had designed the room for Ahsoka. She kept it spotless in case the Sith boarded without warning.

He set her down on the bed and tucked her into a blanket. They could start tomorrow. Ahsoka would have to be her cleverest self to play a politician.

Anakin turned off the light on his way out and was careful to quietly shut the door.

He stalked back through the hall to Padme’s cell. His finger hovered above the lock panel and paused. He could feel her in the force. It was stronger than any time he had ever tried to reach her through the stars. It warmed him like stepping into the sun after spending too much time in the darkness of space.

“Hello?” she asked. “Is someone there?”

Anakin lowered his hand and sat down, resting his back against the door. He gave her no answer. All that separated them was a slab of metal. She was no longer far from his help, in danger from enemies she did not even know she had. His eyes closed and rested there between Padme and whatever might try to take her from this world, her captor, and her sentry.