She began to regret her decision to stay as Palpatine allowed Ani little time to be with her. The few times they spent together, he seemed almost desperate, though he refused to share his burdens with her. Sometimes he would merely sit with her, not saying a word as he held her close. Then, he would allow her into his meditation chamber for the twenty to thirty minutes he allotted to giving her physical proof he still could love her.
During the long days, she wandered the eerily quiet hallways, vainly trying to strike up conversation with the few harried Senate underlings and uniformed Imperial troops who scurried through the shadowed passages. The Jedi Temple stood abandoned, the news filled with appalling lies of their supposed duplicity in the Clone Wars... How they had actually backed the Mandalorians in the conflict while appearing to work with the Republic, had actually encouraged the wholesale slaughter of innocents. It took every ounce of her strength not to stand in public and cry out in outrage. Didn't Ani realize how dreadfully his Master painted the efforts and sacrifices that the Jedi, and Ani himself, had made?
Not long after the Emperor's lies began spreading, she caught wind of his further plans. Amidala watched pictures from the Imperial Senate chambers' cam droids as he urged the few remaining members to hunt down and return any Jedi to the Empire for trial on charges of war crimes. Her heart ached as she recalled the brave Jedi she'd known... Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, Adi Gallia... so many more who had pledged their lives to the service of others, never asking for more and often giving those very lives. And sadly, so had Ani. She tried and failed to understand how he could give his allegiance to the monster creating such hatred for the Jedi.
In horror, she watched the Temple razed and construction of an Imperial palace begun where once she and Ani had embraced in what now seemed a million life times ago. The Emperor encouraged his citizens to turn in any one with even a hint of Force ability. Ostensibly, he claimed it as a safeguard against 'rogue Jedi' who might seek to overturn him and return the galaxy to chaos. Rich rewards provided further incentive, along with the unspoken threat that those providing safe haven for the fugitives would suffer the same fate.
Ani hadn't told her what his latest mission had been, but she suspected Palpatine had sent him away to 'sniff out' Force users. Ironically, his very strength in the Force might prove the undoing of the few surviving Jedi. All Amidala could pray for was that they would be successful in shielding themselves from even his potent capability.
He returned in the night, unexpectedly coming to her room, shaken and terribly subdued. Without a word, he swept her from her bed and strode with her in his arms through the deserted corridors to his quarters. She clung to him, feeling naked in her thin nightgown and loose hair. He opened his chamber, lay her on the bunk, then ordered the droids to divest him of his mask and respirator.
"Ani?" she ventured once the whirring and clicking of the droids as they withdrew the equipment quieted.
"I can't talk about it, Am. All I ask is that you hold me. I've made the oxygen concentration thirty percent." He knelt beside her, such torment in his eyes she bit her lip, trying not to cry out her own pain. "Stay with me."
"Of course, love. But what of you? I thought--"
"It doesn't matter right now. I'll tolerate it. I... I just need to feel you close to me. At least this once, I'll endure it. Just need you to hold me."
She held out her arms and he bent closer until he touched his lips to hers. Unbidden, the contact strengthened their dormant bond and visions of what he'd experienced... what he'd done crashed into her mind.
"Oh, Ani," she wept, pulling him closer as their tears mingled.
"I had to, Am. When he tells me things, I believe him and I do as he orders. Then, in the night, I begin to understand just how far I've fallen. How I can never go back."
Amidala moved over, making room for his not inconsiderable bulk to join her on the bunk. With a minimum of care for his garments, he shed his clothes and went to her. His need for redemption drove him to make love to her in such way he left her limp with satiety. Once replete himself, he gathered her close, one leg over hers, her head resting on his shoulder with her hair spread over his chest.
Despite her fatigue, Amidala knew she must address one concern that terrified her. Children.
"Ani, we have to talk."
"Not now, Am."
She raised her head, giving him her best 'There is no better time' look and went on in spite of his obvious reluctance to discuss anything.
"We have to speak of it, Ani. Every time we make love, there's the chance I might become pregnant. You must know that. And if that happens, as happy I will be to bear your child, we must think of what Palpatine will do."
He remained silent, though his grip on her arm tightened almost painfully. Then, as if each word hurt, he spoke. "I am aware of his nature, Am. Indeed, I have some idea of what he intends. Though you might think less of me, I must tell you I won't stop just because of it. You're mine and though he may be my master, I will not allow him to come between us. What he wants for the galaxyíµ€í¿²der, justice... As offensive as some of his methods are, I will not leave him."
"But what of any child of ours? What if he intends to take him or her and raise them as Sith? How can you bear the thought of that? I want your child, Ani, but to raise with you... with love. Not in some harsh, unforgiving atmosphere."
Memories of his childhood in slavery, never far from his mind, came slamming back through their link. He seemed to force them away and withdraw into himself. She sensed he pulled on the Force as he closed his eyes.
"They won't become Sith. When the time comes, they'll become more powerful than even my Master can stand against. That's what he fears." He gave her a wounded half-smile. "Luke and Leia. We should name them that."
At her startled look, he quieted her with a kiss. Once she began returning his caresses, he linked with her again.
Keep them safe, Am. And give them the love I no longer deserve.
She awoke the next morning in her own rooms, every trace of her night with Ani... Vader... erased as if it never happened. Except that deep inside she knew. Knew that once again life grew within her. And with that knowledge came the realization that soon she would need to flee. With a heart torn between grief and joy, she rose and dressed for her morning meal.
The food held little appeal for her, but she forced herself to eat, aware she must keep her strength for both her own and her child's life. Childíµ€í³¨ildren, if Ani's vision meant anything. Luke and Leiaíµ€í¸¯w appropriate. Bound together with the ties of blood and the Force, for she knew they would both be as strong as their father with the abilities she had thought in the past only Jedi possessed.
Her next move must be to contact Obi-Wan... And for that she must speak to Sabe'. Somehow she must return to Naboo, but first she must find a way to escape Palpatine's watchful eye. She drew on every bit of her strength to shield herself from him... the techniques Obi-Wan had taught her in combination with her not inconsiderable will. He must not suspect her pregnancy and though it broke her heart, she knew she must go without a farewell to her husband. Once she fled to her home planet, she would make further plans. But first, she must get away from her beloved, for with him near she had no will to leave. Hot tears dripped down her chilled cheeks as she stared out at the scene before. Like her life, the Jedi Temple lay in ruins, evidence of Palpatine's evil influence on the world around her.
Palpatine granted her an audience later that afternoon. She had chosen to wear her full Naboo regalia, face paint and all. Donning it alone had been a challenge, both physically and emotionally, but she felt she needed every protection she could muster. How she hated the amused look on the old creature's face.
"Queen Amidala... How... good to see you, though from your attire I take it this isn't a social call," he said, his voice heavy with both sarcasm and humor at her expense.
"I regret to say I must return to Naboo... Emperor Palpatine. I have been away too long. Though you have refused to give us assistance, I can no longer remain apart from those who need me most."
"And what of your husband? Does he not need you more?"
She dipped her head for a moment, gathering her royal personage about her like a cloak before she spoke. The words pained her, but she must not let the evil thing sitting before know how much she still loved Ani.
"Perhaps, but he has you now. And I am only in his way." Her eyes narrowed as she watched him raise his eyebrows at her pronouncement. "The man I married no longer exists, as you so eloquently informed me months ago. During the time I have spent with him, I have at last accepted that truth and realize he no longer requires my presence."
Forgive me, Ani. I must go for both our sakes... For all our sakes.
The Emperor rose and moved toward her. She forced herself to remain where she stood instead of shrinking back at his loathsome presence. He walked around her and she could feel him probing her with the Force, looking... seeking... trying to find the evidence she prayed he would not find. That hope he dashed with his next words.
"Well, my dear, I suppose I should allow you to return to Naboo. Your pregnancy will proceed better in that climate than here." His voice lowered, he bent near her, his words filled with menace. "But be aware, Amidala. That child is *mine* to do with as I see fit. I will seek it out once it is of age and ensure its training as a Sith. Don't try to hid from me, for there is nowhere you can go that I will not find you."
He straightened and she could only again hope he wouldn't read her mind as he had read her body. Whatever he sensed, it seemed to satisfy him, for he waved her off and returned to his throne. She turned to go.
"Remember. You live on my sufferance. And after you deliver, your usefulness to me will be... shall we say... extremely limited. Make the most of your time," he warned her.
Amidala stalked from the audience, not collapsing until she reached her room. Her hands shook as she made the call to Naboo. They felt so cold she couldn't help rubbing them as she waited for the connection's completion. Sabe's face greeted her and she let out a sigh of relief.
"Thank the Force you're the one who answered! I need to get a hold of Obi-Wan right away," she told her friend in a hushed voice.
"Not now. Just tell him... It's as he feared. I have to leave right away. Before... before Vader returns."
Amidala squeezed her burning eyes shut against the tears that threatened to overwhelm her once again and shook her head.
"Not Ani. Not any more. You know I'd hoped my being here would... would help him. Would keep him from that spider's influence. I was wrong. All I've done now is fall in with his plans." She took a shuddering breath. "I'm pregnant again, Sabe'. I can't allow either Palpatine or... him access to the child."
"Oh, Amidala. I'm sorry. When should we expect you?"
"Within the next week. I'm leaving tonight. I can't stay here any longer. Tell Obi-Wan I need to speak to him when I arrive," she told Sabe', then bid her goodbye.
As quickly as she could, she shed her regalia for a simpler black dress. Mourning, she thought, for the death of her marriage and the world as she had known it for the last twenty-seven years. She took only what she could carry, abandoning the heavier clothes as she left behind her other life, and slipped out to the landing pad and her shuttle. As she readied to leave, Imperial guards rushed toward the ship. Without hesitation, she closed the landing ramp and instructed the pilot to hurry. Blaster fire shook the shuttle briefly as it sped off, then wove its way through traffic into open space.
Amidala could only believe Palpatine had changed his mind and had wanted to keep her close. She realized that perhaps this would be the last time she would be able to evade him. What happened once she bore her baby only time would tell. Sitting beside the pilot, she said nothing, her mind turned inward to thoughts of her husband and wondering if he would miss her at all or if Palpatine would tell him yet another spate of lies he would believe.