Weary and heartsore at the tasks his master set him, Anakin returned to Coruscant. How he ached to hold his wife again, have her soothing presence lay a balm on his dark soul for just a little while. Deep inside, he realized he must send her away soon, before his Master knew of her pregnancy. Sadness and regret mingled with his determination, for he wished he could be at her side when she birthed... Be there for her and the little ones they'd made together as a father should. Perhaps he could at least visit them, even if he remained unable to truly share their lives.
Much as he desired to go to Amidala first, he knew he must see Palpatine before giving himself any relief. Beneath the respirator's mask, his face sweat and itched until it tempted him to rip it off and take his chances without it. He strode toward the Emperor's audience chamber, the few people in the corridors scurrying out of his way. Once he stood before the double doors, he took as deep a breath as his ventilator would allow and opened them with the Force.
"Ah, my young apprentice. You've returned. And how did your mission go?" The Emperor scrutinized him and Ani felt the probing of the Sith Master... Looking for any weaknesses and then turning to attack. "Perhaps you should remember who is the Master here. You have not completed your trials as a Sith yet and cannot afford such... shall we say... lapses."
He gave an evil smile and raised one hand. Ani felt as if a mountain had fallen on his shoulders. He grunted and stumbled to his knees. Palpatine gave a satisfied look and a nod.
"Better. Now, tell me of your mission."
"As you bid, my Master," Ani managed through clenched teeth. He gave his report as briefly as possible, glossing over the loathsome details. He'd tried... he'd truly tried to give the Jedi a chance to fight back, but when the Dark Side power began to flow through him he found himself giving no quarter.
"Good, good. Soon the Jedi shall cease to exist. The only ones we must concern ourselves with now are Yoda and Obi-Wan, for the others will fall beneath your skill without a great deal of effort."
Ani kept his head bowed, his emotions roiling as he considered the prospect of killing his former friend and Master Yoda. In many ways, he had no qualms about terminating Yoda as he remembered his treatment at the old creature's hands... The disdain, the dismissal, the outright hostility he'd felt from the Jedi master. But Obi-Wan... Though he'd taken his hand... been responsible for the... accident... that had left him like this, Ani still recalled all the good times they'd had, the things they'd shared.
"Vader, are you quite certain you are clear about what I require? There can be no room for hesitation."
"I am clear, my Master. I understand what you need from me."
"Very well. Once you have found those two, return to me," the Emperor told him with a dismissive wave of his hand.
The pressure lifted from Ani's shoulders and he rose. He bowed once, then turned to go to Amidala before he must leave once again.
"Oh, and Vader... You won't find her there. She left without so much as a word. Seems she communicated with someone on Naboo, then departed rather in a hurry." Palpatine's voice held a smug note. "I've saved the logs. Perhaps you might wish to review them... I'm sure you'll find them... enlightening."
Ani's hands clenched at his sides as he dipped his head in acknowledgment of this unpalatable information, then he stalked toward the abandoned quarters his wife had most recently occupied. There, he found most of her formal regalia hanging untouched in the closets. An unfinished meal still sat on the table, the fork poking into a piece of meat as if she had decided she could eat no more and just cast it aside.
Why had she fled without a word to him? Had he done something to drive her away? Had his master? Or had she felt she could no longer tolerate his absences... or his presence? Drawn to the open closet, he reached out for one of her dresses, removing his glove to feel the cloth between his fingers. Strands of her hair still clung to it and in a moment of desperation, he pulled the mask away, pressing the cloth to his face to inhale her scent. Tears burned his eyes and fell unheeded, staining the fine velvet he crushed in his hands.
His lungs began to protest the decreased oxygen content, but he ignored them a few moments more before slapping the mask over his mouth and nose once again. He straightened, pulled his glove back on, then began sweeping the raiment into his arms and dumping them onto the bed. As he composed himself, he bent over the comm unit.
"This is Lord Vader. I require someone to clean these quarters and package the personal belongings here."
"Yes, Lord Vader. Right away." The voice on other side hesitated. "Will you need anything else?"
"I wish to view the security tapes from the day I departed last until today for this sector. Send them to my quarters."
"As you wish, my Lord."
He shut off the comm and without a backward look, retreated to his own rooms to brood and contemplate his next move before attending to his master's task. A chime at his door interrupted his dark thoughts. A young Imperial non-comm stood nervously outside, his arms filled with boxes of tapes. Behind him, a contingent of stormtroopers guided a grav-sled loaded with a good-sized container.
"Put those there, Petty Officer," he indicated a place on his desk next to a viewer, then pointed to the box. "And take that to my ship. I plan to depart in the morning."
They did as he bid without a word and left as quickly as possible. On the surface, he felt amused at their reaction to him, but deep inside it angered him. As Palpatine had instructed him, he drew on that anger to strengthen his resolve. He sat at the viewer and began scanning the tapes, the expression in his eyes growing grimmer with each scene. Once he finished, he made another call.
"Esme', I require your presence in my quarters. Immediately." The healer looked up from her work with a frown. When she saw his look, she nodded and turned her project over to her subordinates.
"I'll be there in a moment, my Lord. Do you need me to bring anything?"
"Only yourself," he told her, then snapped off the connection.