by indie
set in the The Senator's Wife au universe.
Takes place 15 years after 'Revenge of the Sith'

The party is everything Leia expected it to be – which is exactly why she didn’t want to come.  The music is deafeningly loud.  Bodies pack every millimeter of available space.  Despite the fact that almost everyone present is close to Leia's age of fifteen, alcohol and other far more potent diversions are readily available.

When she gets splashed with someone else's beverage for at least the tenth time, Leia finally reaches her limit.  “I’m leaving,” she shouts in Jori’s general direction.
He frowns at her.  “Huh?”  Leia is struck yet again by how handsome he is.  He's somewhat on the short side, but that hardly matters.  His curly dark hair and bright green eyes captivate her almost as much as his smile.  And still, he isn't worth enduring this party.
Leia points to herself and then the door.  She turns on her heel without waiting to see if Jori is following.  She likes him but this isn’t her idea of a good time.  She doesn’t particularly like Neesah Visht or the group of spoiled uber-rich girls with whom she surrounds herself.  They’ve always been nice enough to Leia, but she watches them.  She sees the cruelty they display to other girls who are too weak or shy or defend themselves.  Leia is breaking curfew to be here with Jori and while she enjoys his company, she’s not having near enough fun to offset how much trouble she will be in come morning.
Leia makes her way out of the gargantuan penthouse owned by the Visht family with Jori on her heels.  Outside the main entrance is a sprawling rooftop arboretum.  The party spilled outside and there is a raging bonfire ringed by several dozen inebriated teenagers.
Some of the older boys dance around the fire, showing off for the girls.  One of them is obviously pretending to be the Emperor’s henchman, Vader.  Draped in a black cloak that obscures his face, he talks in a rasping voice.  Leia considers the joke to be in particularly bad taste.  One of the girls seated nearby, Inarra Deloaria is dumbstruck as she watches the display. 
Over the last decade Inarra's family experienced a meteoric rise in power and wealth thanks to certain biotechnologies pioneered by Inarra's mother.  It catapulted them into the stratosphere of Coruscant's social elite.  However, as a counterpoint to his bookish and driven wife, Inarra's father is infamous for his overindulgence in wine and women.  The man apparently ran afoul of Lord Vader at a recent Imperial dinner. 
In a matter of weeks, Inarra's family was stripped of most of their status and money.  Leia noticed how quickly Neesah's circle of friends cooled toward Inarra.  Leia is quite shocked that Inarra is even at this party and she finds it unforgivably cruel of the boy to ridicule Inarra so openly.
Leia approaches the bonfire.  Jori grabs her arm attempting to pull her back, but she shrugs him off.  "Stop it!" she yells at the boy pretending to be Vader.
The boy pulls back the black hood and scowls at Leia.  "What's your problem?" he demands.
Jori continues to try and pull Leia away, but she ignores him.  "It's not funny," she informs the boy.
Inarra jumps to her feet, glaring at Leia.  "I don't need help," she bites out.  "Especially from you."
Leia stares at Inarra, shocked.  It's true the two were never close, but Leia has no idea what she did to offend Inarra.  "I was only trying to help," Leia replies, hurt.
"I don't need help from the daughter of a whore!"
Leia opens her mouth, but before she can reply, Jori succeeds in pulling her away from the bonfire and ushering her toward the turbolift.  Leia lets him.  She is stunned, hurt, confused.  They enter the turbolift and Jori pushes the floor for the pedestrian mall.  Leia stares at him blankly.
"That was really uncalled for," Jori says quietly.  "Inarra shouldn't have said that.  You were only trying to help."
"What was she talking about?" Leia whispers.
Jori shrugs and looks away.  He finally meets Leia's gaze again and seems genuinely shocked that she is still watching him expectantly.  "Are you serious?" he asks.  "You really don't know?"
"Don't know what?" Leia demands, her confusion morphing into anger.
Jori opens his mouth, but doesn't speak.  He's saved by the turbolift door opening and he quickly exits the lift.  Leia follows him, glaring.  He starts walking toward the public transport stop, ignoring Leia's pointed expression.
"You're going to tell me," Leia informs him.
Jori finally stops walking and turns to face Leia.  "It's nothing," he says uncomfortably.  "You know.  Rumors.  Bullshit."
"What rumors?" Leia asks darkly.  She is quickly tiring of having to ask him time and time again.
Jori finally sighs in defeat.  "Your mom," he says quietly.  "But you know how it goes.  People get jealous and suspicious and they make things up."
Leia ignores most of his words.  "What about my mom?"
"You know," he says uncomfortably.  "That she, uh, she … you know.  It's a rumor, Leia.  A rumor.  People lie all the time.  I mean it's probably not even possible.  No one even knows if Vader's even human under those robes."
"Vader?" Leia repeats incredulously.  Then it clicks.  "Vader and my mother?” she yells, aghast.  “That's a lie!"
"Hey look, I didn't make it up, okay," Jori says, backpedaling.  "Besides, I thought you knew."
"Why would I know?  It's not something I talk about around the dinner table with my mother and my father and my sister and brothers."
Jori holds his hands up in surrender.  "Don't shoot the messenger."
Leia is still angry, but she forces herself to calm down.  Crossing her arms over her chest, she stares at Jori.  "What else do you know?
He shrugs.  "I heard Inarra's dad made a pass at your mom at some Imperial dinner," he says. 
"And that means my mom is having an affair with Vader?" Leia stammers incredulously.  "It's a lie.  A sad, pathetic lie.  My mom and my dad have been married for years.  They're very happy."
Jori doesn't look convinced, but he is far too bright to push the issue with Leia.  "I didn't say it was true.  I just said it's what I heard."
Huffing in irritation, she turns and stalks toward the public transport stop.  This night is so not worth getting grounded for.
Leia doesn’t allow Jori to escort her to the door.  She is far too upset and she needs some time alone.  The fates must take pity on her because she is able to sneak into the apartment without running into either of her parents.  Tiptoeing, she makes her way through the apartment and out onto the sprawling veranda.  Curling up on one of the curved couches, she stares out at the busy night skyline.
Vader.  Leia’s mind immediately, reflexively shuns the idea.  But she persists.  She forces herself to think about him, to consider Inarra’s cruel taunt as well as Jori’s information.  Vader is the boogeyman, the Emperor’s terrifying beast.  He’s a creature and Leia knows for a fact she has never considered if he is human.  She’s never met him, never seen him up close.  She knows his voice rasps because everyone knows his voice rasps, but she has never actually heard him with her own ears.
Her mother and Vader?  The idea is so repulsive, so hurtful that she doesn’t even want to think about it.  Her mother loves her father.  Her parents are happy.
But at the back of her mind are the niggling rumors she has ignored for years.  None of them ever mentioned Vader, but she knows people have questioned her mother’s devotion to her father.  Leia has always shrugged it off, denying any possibility of truth.
And yet …
She looks like her mother, everyone says so and Leia would be the first to agree.  But Luke …  He looks nothing like their father.  Where their father is tall, Luke is short.  Where their father is swarthy, Luke is fair.  And while it is most evident with Luke, the truth is none of the Organa children particularly resemble their father.  Ten year old Annaé is tall, but willow thin with long curling golden blonde hair and eyes the same pure blue as Luke’s.  Ru, the youngest at eight, shows signs that he may one day be as tall as their father.  His hair is the same chestnut brown as both Padmé and Leia’s, but his eyes are a cool, mossy green.
It wounds Leia deeply to even consider the idea that there is any truth to the vicious rumors.  How could it be true?  She has fifteen years of happy memories as evidence to the contrary.  Family vacations spent in Naboo’s lake country, holiday mornings in front of a roaring fire in Aldera Royal Palace; there are scores upon scores of memories that attest to how happy and whole her family is.
They are wrong.  All of them.  Inarra.  Jori.  They know nothing.  Leia knows her family.
Padmé is standing in the living room, looking out the window when Leia exits her bedroom early the next morning.  Padmé turns, watching her daughter carefully as she sips her caf.
“Where is everyone?” Leia asks quietly.
“Your father took Ru with him to inspect Senator Mott’s newest ship.  Annaé is at dance class with Sheltay and Winter.  Luke is still in bed.”
Leia nods and sits down on the couch, tucking her feet beneath her body.
“You got in kind of late last night,” Padmé says carefully.
Frowning, Leia looks at the floor.  “Yeah,” she mumbles.  “Sorry.”
“You know your father is going to stop letting Jori take you out if you can’t return home at a decent hour,” Padmé continues.
Leia nods.  She looks out the window.  She and Padmé remain silent for several long moments.
“Mom,” she says quietly.
Leia’s cheeks burn with a blush and she can’t bring herself to look at her mother.  “Some people said some things last night at the party.”
“What things?” Padmé asks, taking another sip of caf.
Emboldened, Leia meets her mother’s gaze.  “Do you know Lord Vader?”
Padmé goes very still.  She stares at her cup of caf with inordinate interest.  Slowly, she lifts it to her lips and takes another sip.  “Lord Vader,” she says smoothly.  ”I suppose I do know him.  He is a fixture at most official Imperial events."  She looks at her daughter carefully.  "What does this have to do with your party?"
Leia nods again, inexplicably bothered by something in her mother’s reaction.  “Jori said a few things,” Leia says, fumbling for words.  “Inarra Deloaria was there –“
Padmé groans, screwing her eyes shut wearily.  “Deloaria.  I should have known.”
“Known what?”
“There was an Imperial banquet several weeks ago,” Padmé explains.  “Your father and I attended.  Inarra’s father was drunk, belligerent.  He made unwanted advances toward me and at least a half-dozen other women in attendance.  He finally made the mistake of finding fault with Imperial policy very loudly at which point Lord Vader … intervened.  She sighs heavily.  “I have no doubt that Kort Deloaria is trying to find any excuse, no matter how absurd, for the Imperial retribution that followed.  It is much easier to fabricate rumors than to hold one’s self accountable.”
Leia wants to weep with relief.  Her mother’s explanation makes so much sense.  “I knew it couldn’t be true,” she says gratefully.  “I knew there was no way that you and Lord Vader –“  Leia shudders and falls silent.  She can’t even finish the sentence.  “He’s a monster.  I don’t even know if he’s human.”
Padmé’s lips purse together tightly.  “Yes,” she says quietly.  “It would be quite absurd.”
Oddly, Leia has the sensation she upset her mother.  Padmé smiles brightly, but somehow it doesn’t reach her eyes.
“I should run,” Padmé says.  “I promised Sheltay I would meet her and the girls for breakfast.”
Leia watches her mother leave the room and knows that something is very wrong.
The rest of the day passes as any other.  Leia can’t shake the feeling that her mother is off kilter, that something about their conversation upset her greatly.  Padmé walks through the motions of everyday life, but somehow she seems muted.
That evening, Leia watches the small gestures between her parents.  She notes how her mother puts her hand on her father’s arm as she reads his datapad over his shoulder after dinner.  She watches her father kiss her mother on the cheek before he shuts himself in his office to review official documents.
Frowning, Leia heads to her twin's bedroom.  The door is slightly ajar and she finds Luke laying on his bed searching through a database of star fighters.  Leaning against the doorjamb, Leia tries to ignore the deplorable state of her twin's room.  He is such a slob.  "Dad took Ru to see Senator Mott's new ship this morning.  You missed it."
Luke looks up at her.  "I know," he says wistfully.  "It's a new SoroSuub Personal Luxury Yacht 3000.  I've been dying to get a look at one."
Leia suppresses the urge to roll her eyes.  Luke is failing their Literature from the Mid Rim Civilizations class because he claims he finds it too hard to keep track of details.  Somehow she doubts his reasoning.
Luke continues to study his datapad, but she knows his attention is fixated on her.  "What's up?" he asks casually.
Carefully, Leia chooses her steps across Luke's room.  She has no desire to discover what lurks beneath the piles of clothing, books and machine parts that litter the floor.  Luke reprogrammed all the cleaning droids years ago to avoid his room – she often questions the wisdom of that action.
Luke scoots over and she takes a seat on the bed next to him.  Neither of them speaks, but the silence is not uncomfortable.  None of Leia's friends understand the connection she shares with her brother.  She and Luke are so different in both appearance and demeanor that it's easy for some people to forget they're even related, much less twins.  Their interests are vastly divergent and they don’t hang out in the same social circles.  Yet, Leia counts Luke as her closest confidant and she knows he feels the same. 
"Do you think Mom and Dad are happy?" Leia asks.
Luke switches off the datapad and rolls onto his side, looking at his sister.  He contemplates the question for a moment, closing his eyes like he's listening to music no one else can hear.  It used to unnerve Leia when he did things like that, but now she takes it in stride.  Luke has certain abilities she doesn't want to understand.
He opens his eyes and looks at her calmly.  "They're content.  They love each other."
Leia bites down on her lip considering his answer. 
"Why?" he asks.
Leia shrugs.  "That party the other night.  Some people said things."
With a grunt, Luke rolls over and picks up his discarded datapad.  "Your friends suck," he says seriously.
"And your friends are all a bunch of gear heads," Leia counters.
Padmé steps out of the private fresher in her master suite the next afternoon and is startled to find Leia sitting at her vanity examining her jewelry.  "You know you need to ask permission if you want to borrow something," Padmé says pointedly.
Leia nods.  Her already compact form is further folded up on the small vanity bench, knees pulled up to her chest.  In her hand is a glittering jeweled necklace.  Leia glances over her shoulder at her mother.  "Where did you get this?"
Padmé regards her daughter carefully.  Leia is quite adept at political maneuvering, however, Padmé has years of experience her daughter lacks.  It is quite clear to Padmé that Leia is still upset about the accusations concerning Vader.  Her daughter is fishing for evidence.
“It was a gift from Dormé,” Padmé explains.  “As a thank you for introducing her to her exceptionally wealthy and attractive husband.”  She smiles wryly at her daughter.
“Oh,” Leia says, resting her chin on top of her knees as she tosses the necklace carelessly on the vanity.
Crossing the room to the vanity, Padmé carefully picks through her ornately carved jewelry box.  Respectfully, she removes a necklace of large silver squares.  “This has been in the Organa family for generations,” she explains, handing the necklace to Leia.  “I’m sure your father would love to see you wear it.”
Captivated by the necklace, Leia lowers her feet to the floor and straightens her spine.  Lifting her heavy chestnut braid, she allows Padmé to fasten the clasp around her neck.
Padmé leans over, meeting her daughter’s gaze in the mirror.  “It looks beautiful on you.”  She presses a gentle kiss to the top of Leia’s head and then watches as Leia rises to her feet and leaves the room, all the while running her fingers over the necklace.
Picking up the discarded necklace gifted to her by Dormé, Padmé returns it to its rightful place in the jewelry box.  Overcome by a moment of melancholy, Padmé opens the bottom drawer on the jewelry box and releases the secret compartment.  Reverently, she presses her fingertips to the carved Japor snippet on its weathered leather band.  She knows better than to remove it from its secret home with Leia hovering so close.
With a sigh, she closes the compartment and shuts the drawer.   “I’m sure your father would love to see you wear it,” she whispers.
The next morning at breakfast, Leia watches as her father absently places his hand at the small of her mother’s back to gently urge her out of the way so he can grab a glass out of the cabinet.  It is yet another small intimacy that speak of affection, companionship and a close bond.
Bail’s hand still rests in the small of Padmé’s back when he turns to face his daughter.  “Is there a problem, Leia?  You seem distracted.”
She shakes her head and quickly turns away, concentrating on the mathematics homework she neglected the previous evening.  “Big test,” she mumbles.
Leia doesn’t see the searching look Bail gives his wife. 
Padmé shrugs, turning away.
It’s been nearly a week since the party, and despite Leia’s watchful eye, she’s found nothing to make her believe her family is anything other than happy and whole.  And still… she remains unsettled. 
Evening fades into night and the Organa family retires to bed.  Yet, the restlessness that has plagued Leia all week makes it particularly hard for her to sleep.  The snores coming from Annaé’s side of the room do not help matters.  Frustrated, Leia makes her way to the living room and curls up on the couch staring blindly out the window. 
She sits there for an hour, maybe more.  She snaps to attention as the door to her parents’ bedroom hisses open.  She watches as her mother glances around the living room.  Mostly obscured by a blanket and pillows, Leia escapes her mother’s notice.  She watches as Padmé crosses the room, grabbing her cloak and heading for the door.
Burning with curiosity, Leia grabs her own cloak and follows.  Padmé makes her way to the pedestrian walkway outside their apartment building and hails an air taxi.  Several times, Padmé glances over her shoulder and Leia is forced to hide.  Leia waits until her mother’s taxi is almost out of sight and then hails her own taxi and tells the driver to follow.  They leave the Ambassadorial Sector and make their way toward the exclusive Orowood District.  With each passing moment, the dread in Leia’s heart grows.
Leia instructs her driver to slow without letting Padmé’s air taxi out of sight.  Padmé’s transport approaches the elite Vivendi Towers and ascends to the uppermost penthouse.  Leia can see the penthouse has an expansive veranda and landing platform. 
As her own taxi approaches the Towers, Leia can see the lone figure waiting on the penthouse’s landing platform.  She knows without a doubt it is Lord Vader.  Leia watches as her mother exits the air taxi.  There is no embrace, no physical intimacy that would suggest an affair.  Yet her mother is visiting Lord Vader in the middle of the night at a private penthouse in the poshest private residence on the planet aside from the Imperial Palace.

He does not offer his hand and she does not ask.  Wordlessly, he turns toward the penthouse's entrance.  She follows.
“Your summons was unexpected,” he says.  "Apologies for the delay.  I have been away on Imperial business."
"It's just as well.  Leia should consider a career in surveillance.  I haven't been able to take a step without her watching."
He waits until they are inside to speak again.  Pulling back his hood, he looks at her and cannot help but smile.  As much as he hungered for the young woman she used to be, he has no trouble admitting to himself that he finds the woman she is now infinitely more beguiling and engaging.  Time has been generous to her, imbuing her with wisdom rather than wrinkles.  She is still stunningly beautiful and his body still aches for her after all this time.
She gives him a sharp look.  “You never should have attacked that idiot Deloaria.”
Her topic of conversation is a more potent mood killer than a cold shower.  Obviously, she did not contact him for any reason they might find mutually enjoyable. He sighs, reining in his desire for her.   “Why not?”
Padmé is clearly agitated, pacing back and forth in front of him.  “Leia went to a party last week where Deloaria’s daughter and Leia’s boyfriend both alluded to our affair.”
He startles.  “Leia has a boyfriend?  How old is she?  She’s not old enough to have a boyfriend.”
Padmé ignores his comments on Leia’s love life.  “If teenagers are discussing us at parties, it’s a safe bet the Emperor knows as well.”
“What’s his name?” he presses.
Would you please focus!” Padmé yells.  “The Emperor, Anakin, dammit!”
He frowns.  Padmé is right.  Palpatine is a much bigger threat than Leia’s boyfriend.  Though he files that tidbit of information away for later.  He will get to the bottom of it.
“There have been rumors for years.  That’s what happens,” he says smugly, “when none of your children look like your husband.  Why should Deloaria’s comments make any difference now?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she counters waspishly.  “Maybe because they’re true.
“It’s been true for nearly twenty years,” he says, unconcerned.  “And while people may correctly assume that you regularly cuckold the Viceroy, they have little reason to assume I’m involved.  As much as it wounds my pride, I suspect few truly believe I’m up to the task.”
Padmé snorts at the irony.  Anakin is most certainly up to the task.  He's worse now than when he was a teenager.  But he’s right.  It serves the Emperor’s purposes quite well to have people view Vader as an inhuman monster.
He crosses the small space that separates them and forces her to stop pacing.  Gently grasping her chin, he tilts her head toward him.  “You’re not here because you’re worried about Palpatine,” he says quietly.
She sighs, her shoulders slumping.  She shakes her head.  “No.”
“You’re upset.”
Nodding, Padmé pulls away and walks to the couch, falling into it heavily.  “It’s Leia.  Or rather, all of the children.”
He follows her, taking a seat at her side.  “What about them?”
She laughs mirthlessly.  “I thought I could do this,” she says.  “Can you appreciate the hubris?  I thought I could lie to my husband and my children and the galaxy and no one would ever know.”
“It has to be this way,” he says seriously.  “You know that.  Palpatine is a danger to my children.  It cannot be public knowledge they’re mine.”
“I’m not talking about the public, Anakin.  I’m talking about Luke and Leia and Annaé and Ruwee having the right to know their true heritage.”  She looks at him, her expression softening.  “They deserve to know you.”
He can’t meet her gaze.  He pushes himself off the couch and walks to the window.  “They can’t.  You’ve always known that.”
“I know,” she says wearily.  “I’m just not sure I’m stupid enough to believe it anymore.”
He turns and looks at her.
“You should have seen Leia,” Padmé says softly.  “She was so repulsed by the very idea of you and me together – “  She stops, searching for words.  “I don’t expect her to like the idea.  Of course the children adore Bail, of course they’re loyal to him.  He’s the only father they’ve ever known and he has been so good to them, loved them so much.  But the fact that Leia doesn’t even know if you’re human, that she can’t even wrap her mind around the concept of you as a man with feelings … Anakin, that’s not right.”
He turns away again.  The knowledge burns.  His children mean more to him than anything in the galaxy and it has taken years for him to accept that the status quo must be maintained.  He would love nothing more than to openly acknowledge them, but he knows that is not a possibility as long as Palpatine lives.
“They deserve to know you, Anakin,” Padmé continues.  “They deserve to know how much you love them, how much you’ve sacrificed to keep them safe.”
“You’re being naïve,” he says bitterly.  “They won’t see it that way.  If you step back for a moment and think about it, you’ll see I’m right.  All they will see is your betrayal of their father, your lies and my monstrosity.”  He sighs sadly.  “They will not be happy to claim me.  Don’t do that to them.”
She is silent for a long time and Anakin knows she is weeping.  “I love you,” she whispers at last.  “I want them to be able to love you too.”
“That would mean everything to me,” he says honestly.  “But it is not possible.”
Angrily, she wipes away her tears and springs from the couch.  "Something has to be done about Palpatine.  We find excuse after excuse to maintain this course."
He rounds on her, equally angry.  "You've seen what he's done to me.  Would you have him do that to our children too?"
She stops, watching him closely.  She isn’t certain exactly what he means.  She doesn’t know if he refers to his physical injuries and the inadequate care he receives from Palpatine's physicians.  Or perhaps he means the myriad mental and emotional tortures his Master employs to keep him in line.  For years, she has watched the way Palpatine breaks him down a piece at a time in an attempt to keep Vader firmly under his thumb.  It wounds her to watch the vicious game they play, but she feels helpless to intervene.
Regardless of his meaning, none of the options are something Padmé would wish for any of her children.  "Of course not," she says.  "But what if he already knows?  What if he counts on our fear for the children to keep us all in line?  What if he plans to tell them himself so he can use their anger to his own ends?  You know how devious he is.  You know how adeptly he twists the truth."
He doesn't reply because he doesn't have an answer.  It's entirely possible she's right.  It's entirely possible that Palpatine does know about the children and they somehow figure into his plans. 
She crosses the room to him, gently placing her hand on his arm.  "You're close to him," she says.  "You're the one person in the galaxy who is in a position to  - "
"Kill him?" he asks when she fails to finish the sentence.
"Yes," she says boldly, sticking her chin out defiantly.
He looks away with an expression close to shame.  "If it were that simple, I would have done it years ago."
"You don't have to do it alone," she says, pleading.  "There are people, powerful people who wish to see Palpatine fall.  The Alliance – "
"Padmé -"
"The Alliance has resources and dedicated – "
"Padmé!" he yells, finally succeeding in silencing her.  He looks down at her, his jaw clenched tightly.  "Stay away from the Alliance," he says darkly.  "You and the Viceroy too."
"We have to do something," she counters.  "At least the Alliance is trying to make a difference."
"And how does this end?" he demands, leaning down, his face inches from hers.  "What happens when I'm forced to arrest you or the Viceroy for treason?  Have you considered how that will affect the children?"
She stares up at him, her eyes shimmering with unshed tears.  "I don't know," she admits.
His anger fades and he pulls her close, resting his chin on the top of her head.  "I'll find a way, something, I don't know.  Just don't do anything stupid."
Leia crouches on the landing platform outside the penthouse, her nose pressed against the thick transparisteel widows.  There isn't much illumination.  She can see two forms, but it is difficult to discern actions.  The only time she can see anything clearly is when one of them paces in front of the large windows on the other side of the penthouse and is silhouetted against the skyline.  As far as she can tell, they don't seem to be doing much aside from pacing around the lavish living room.
Nearly an hour later, she sees them approaching the landing platform.  Reflexively, she dives behind a large crate.  Peeking out, she watches the pair carefully.  Vader - there's no doubt in Leia's mind as to his identity - doesn't wear his hood.  Leia is shocked to find he is definitely human.  Even more astonishing, he is quite handsome – and young.  She has no idea what she expected Vader to look like, but it certainly isn't the tall, graceful man standing next to her mother.  He turns and the light catches him just right.  His hair is slightly longer than is fashionable, curling around his ears and the nape of his neck, the same honeyed color as Annaé's hair.  His eyes are a bright, piercing blue.  He is much younger than she expected, at least twenty, maybe thirty years younger than her father. 
She watches Vader with her mother and is shocked to realize they must be close to the same age.  She is struck by the realization of how much older her father is than her mother.  Somehow, it never seemed odd before this moment.
They are speaking too softly for Leia to hear, but Vader says something and her mother turns to look at him.  The expression on her face isn't one Leia has ever seen before.  She looks … young.  She laughs at him and gives him a bittersweet grin.
"Be careful, Ani," she hears her mother say softly.
He nods in response, but doesn't speak.  The two stand on the landing platform, watching as the air taxi approaches.  He helps her mother into the taxi.  There is no embrace, yet the moment is so undeniably intimate Leia knows the rumors are true.
The taxi departs and Leia turns to watch Vader disappear into the penthouse.  There is no ship docked on the landing platform so he must intend to take the turbolift to the building's lower levels and acquire transport from there.
Now, Leia has to figure out how she's getting home.  She leans forward, resting her forehead against the crate.  She's stranded on the landing platform with no way home.  Short of a miracle, she won't reach home before her mother.  She doesn't want to call Luke for help.  Or Jori.  Or Typho or anyone else she would normally call.
Grinding her teeth in irritation she rises to her feet…
… and comes face to face with Darth Vader.
Leia yelps in shock and stumbles backward.  Vader reaches out, grabbing her forearm and steadying her before she lands on her backside.  When she has her footing, he releases her and steps back, watching her warily.
"Princess," he says quietly.  His voice is damaged and gravelly, but it's gentler than she was expecting, warmer.
He sweeps his arm to the side, motioning for her to enter the penthouse.  "Allow me to escort you home."
She shakes her head.  "Uh, I'm fine," she says lamely.  She would cannot imagine a worse fate than being escorted anywhere by Darth Vader.
"It wasn't a request," he says firmly and Leia knows she has no choice.
The door to the apartment hisses open and Padmé's eyes go wide, accusing.  She glares at Anakin unable to believe he has the audacity to knock on her door in the middle of the night.  He has always been bold, but this is approaching insanity.
"You lost something," he says tightly, nudging Leia forward.
Padmé's gaze drops to her daughter and a surfeit of emotions grip her; anger, fear, embarrassment, relief.  "Leia, what are you doing?" she demands, grabbing her daughter's arm and pulling her inside the apartment.
His vision fixates on Padmé, then Leia, then back to Padmé.  He says nothing.
"Thank you, my lord," Padmé says formally.
With a bow, he turns and leaves.  Padmé shuts the door.
"Leia," she groans wearily.
Leia turns on her mother, glaring.  "Is he my father?" she demands in a whisper.  The rest of the house is still asleep.
Padmé looks at her daughter and is uncharacteristically at a complete loss for words.  Despite fifteen years of knowing this confrontation was not only possible, but probable, she finds herself woefully unprepared.  In spite of Anakin's warnings, she somehow didn't believe that Leia would react with such anger, such betrayal.  She sighs.  "Bail Organa is your father," Padmé says lamely, falling back on a lifetime of excuses.  "He signed your permission slip for the field trip next week.  It's sitting on the counter."
"That's not what I – " Leia starts.
"I know what you mean," Padmé says, cutting across her.  She cannot do this right now.  "Go to bed."
"I have a right – "
"Go.  To.  Bed."  Without watching to see if Leia heeds her orders, Padmé turns and heads for her own bedroom.
The door to the bedroom hisses shut and Bail pretends to be asleep.  He glances at the bedside chrono, confirming it is indeed the middle of the night.  In the dark, his lips pull into a tight frown.  It has been a long time since Padmé disappeared in the dead of night.  Once the children reached school age, he thinks she found it easier to sneak away during the day.
"I know you're awake," Padmé says quietly.
He rolls over and looks at her in the dim light filtering through the window. 
"Leia heard rumors," she says.  "At that party Jori took her to last week.  Some stupid scared girl threw around some accusations she shouldn't have."
"Can I assume this is about you?" he asks, unable to completely quash the bitterness in his tone.
"And Vader," she confirms quietly.
Bail's eyebrow arches in surprise.  Though he has always known, he did not realize anyone else suspects his wife's involvement with Vader.  "You went to him tonight," he says.  It is not a question.
"I needed to talk to him," she answers lamely.  "It was stupid.  Leia followed me."
Bail sits up in bed.
"It wasn't – " Padmé starts.  "He and I … we just talked.  He found Leia snooping around after I left.  He brought her home."
Bail often tries to pity the man who used to be Anakin Skywalker.  It is easier accomplished when his wife isn't standing in their bedroom in the middle of the night admitting she just saw Vader.  Leaning over, Bail turns on the bedside lamp.  He wearily rubs his eyes.  "We knew this would happen eventually," he says. 
She sits down at the foot of the bed facing the wall.  "I've made such a mess of all our lives," she says quietly.
"Children are resilient," Bails replies, putting years of political knowledge into his words.  He knows Padmé wants him to absolve her of her sins.  The truth is he loves and accepts her, shortcomings and all.  He accepts his own blame in this situation.  He knew she was in love with Anakin Skywalker before he proposed.  He foolishly allowed himself to believe she could love him enough to forget Skywalker.  Even now, in his more self-deprecating moments, he acknowledges his wife's affair might not be such a bad thing on a galactic scope.  Vader loves her, that much is evident.  Vader's attachment to Padmé, to the children he fathered with her humanize him in a way nothing else could.  It gives Bail hope that one day perhaps the Emperor's apprentice might overthrow his Master.  
However, at the end of the day, Padmé is still his wife.  Despite its potential to benefit the Alliance, he will not condone her infidelity.  He may be an old man, but he isn't dead yet. 
But he also knows there is no benefit to anyone in her torturing herself for events she cannot change.  Vader is the children's biological father.  And even armed with that knowledge, Bail still loves his wife deeply.  He knows she loves him in return.
"Come to bed," he says, pulling back the covers on her side.  "It will wait until morning."
Leia tosses and turns for hours, unable to sleep with all the chaos in her heart and mind.  She watches the sunrise and finally falls into a deep, dreamless sleep.
When she wakes, it is late afternoon and she is intensely grateful there is no school today.  The penthouse is deserted save her father who sits in his office reviewing a trade agreement.  Leia leans against the doorjamb, watching him.
"What's troubling you?" he asks without raising his head.
Leia smiles sadly.  Her father always reads her easily.  Walking into his office, she perches on the corner of his desk.  "I need to talk to you."
Bail switches off the datapad and leans back in his chair, regarding his daughter carefully.  "About what?"  Though he adores all of his children, he and Leia have always shared a particularly close bond.
Sitting there, she searches for the words.  She looks up at him, her eyes shimmering with tears as her chin quivers. 
"Is this about the rumors you heard?" he asks, worried.
She nods quickly.  Sighing loudly, she takes a deep breath, fighting to get her emotions under control.  "Are you and mom happy?"
"I love your mother very much," he says softly.  "And she loves me.  We both love you."  He takes a deep breath, regarding his daughter carefully.  "Your mother told me you followed her last night."
Leia frowns and looks away.  Turning back to meet her father's gaze, she asks, "You know about last night?  You know about mom and …him?
Bail considers his reply carefully.  Leia is young and she is his child, so the urge to protect her – even from the truth – is nearly overwhelming.  But such a move could be very dangerous.  Leia needs to know the truth.  "Yes," he says quietly.
Leia looks at him aghast.  "You know?" she demands.  "You know that mom is cheating on you?  That she and Vader are … are – " She can't bring herself to say the words.  "You know she's a whore?"
"Enough!"  Bail rises to his feet.  "I understand that you are upset, but you will not speak of your mother in such a manner."
"It's the truth," Leia says insolently, but the words are half mumbled, like she can't fully commit to the deed.
"There are many truths," Bail says firmly.  "The most important truth is that you and your sister and brothers are the most important things in my life and your mother's life."
Leia gapes at her father.  "How can you say that?  How can you say she cares about us when she can do something like this to our family?"
Bail looks at his daughter.  "I do not approve of everything your mother does," he says truthfully.  "But Vader cares for her, deeply.  I shudder at the thought of what he would be like without that human connection."
"He's a monster," Leia says quietly, staring at the floor.
"Some think so, yes."
Leia looks up at him.  "Do you?"
Bail looks at his daughter – at Vader's daughter - and forces himself to temper his words for her sake.  There is no love lost between him and Vader.  There have been many days – and nights – when he would have had no greater satisfaction than putting a blaster bolt in the bastard's back.  But that information will not help Leia and she is Bail's priority.  "Mostly I see an incredibly misguided and manipulated young man who made some tragically bad decisions."
"You knew him before he was Vader?"
Bail nods.  "I did.  His name was Anakin Skywalker.  He was a Jedi Knight."
“Did you murder younglings?”
Vader swivels around and finds Leia standing near the shuttle’s gangplank watching him.
An Imperial trooper grabs her roughly.  “My lord, I don’t know how she got past security.”
“Release her,” Vader commands.  His voice is rough, harsh, nothing like it was last night when he spoke to her.
The trooper immediately releases Leia and she straightens her jacket, glaring at the man. 
“Leave, soldier,” Vader orders.
The busy landing platform is bustling with activity.  Vader closes a good deal of the distance between himself and Leia, stopping only a few feet from her.  “Do your parents know you’re here?”
“No, I didn’t tell my father where I was going.”  She peers into the shadows beneath his hood looking for some reaction to her words.
He chuckles softly.  “I deal with Palpatine on a daily basis, child.  Your inelegant banter will do me no damage.”  Despite his words, the icy cold in his heart tells a different tale.  “Walk with me.”  He turns, striding toward the Senate building.
Hands clasped behind his back, he measures his gait to accommodate Leia’s much shorter stride.  “How did you find me?” He shouldn’t allow this contact.  He knows that.  But since his conversation with Padmé last night, he is acutely aware of his distance from his children.  Greedily, he wants to talk to his elder daughter.
“You always attend the opening session,” she replies.  “Everyone knows that.”
“And you came here to interrogate me about my past?”
“Yes,” she answers boldly.
He glances over at her and his lips curl into a grudging smile.  She’s a fiery little pest.  He is accustomed to seasoned generals cowering in his presence, yet this little girl feels it is well within her rights to make demands of him.  “You want to know if I killed younglings,” he says, rather than asks.  “Yes, I did.  And Padawans and Jedi Knights and many Jedi Masters.”
She glowers at him and a sensation suspiciously like shame creeps into his heart. 
“Why did you want to know?” he demands.
She refuses to answer his question, instead asking another.  “Were you a Jedi?”
He stops walking and looks down at her.  She stares back up at him undaunted.  “In another lifetime,” he admits.
“Anakin Skywalker?”
“That name means nothing to me,” he replies coldly, turning and continuing on his way.
Leia jogs after him.  “I don’t like you,” she snaps.
He slows his stride, allowing her to catch up.  “Pity,” he says.  “I find myself oddly fond of you.  I’ve murdered leaders of entire civilizations for daring to show me the slightest hint of insolence yet you seem to think you can order me around.  It is quite novel.”
“You’re a … jerk,” she counters rather lamely.
He laughs in genuine amusement.  “You’re hardly the first to voice that sentiment."  He looks over at her.  “Tell me about Jori Semme.”
Leia scowls.  “He’s my boyfriend.”
“No he’s not.  You’re too young to have a boyfriend.”
“I am not,” she counters testily.  “I’m fifteen.  My mom was younger than me when she had her first boyfriend.”
“No she wasn’t.”
“Yes she was.”
“No she wasn’t.”
“Yes she was,” Leia says, stopping long enough to stomp her foot. 
Vader turns and looks at her, unable to hide his amusement. 
“She was thirteen,” Leia says, crossing her arms over her chest and popping out one hip.  “His name was Palo.  He was an artist.”
Vader leans in close enough that Leia can clearly see his features beneath the hood.  “Your mother’s first boyfriend was named Anakin Skywalker,” he says firmly.  Then he turns and continues walking.
Leia hurries after him, unsure of why she wants to continue the conversation.  She loathes Vader.  At least she thinks she does.  He fully admits to being a deplorable human being.  Yet, she feels compelled, driven to continue speaking with him.
“Have you considered a monastic vocation?" he asks conversationally.  "There are some truly awe inspiring convents in the Mid Rim worlds.”
Leia sputters in horror at the very idea.  “I’m not going to be a nun,” she informs him curtly.  “I’m going to be a Senator.  I’m going to work with the Alliance – “
She doesn’t finish the sentence.  Vader turns on her so quickly she doesn’t even see him move.  He has the front of her jacket clasped in his fist and he holds her so her toes can’t touch the ground.  “The words you speak are treason,” he says in a biting whisper, shaking her hard for emphasis.  “You could be executed simply for uttering them.”
She stares up at him, willing herself not to cry.  She looks into the perfect blue of his eyes.  “Are you the Emperor’s executioner?  Will you kill me?”
Looking pained, Vader sets her gently on her feet and turns, continuing on his path inside the Senate building. 
She watches as he rounds one of the giant columns and turns up a hallway before she runs after him.  “You didn’t answer m-“
Leia doesn’t finish the thought.  She is crushed against a hard chest and a cold metal blaster barrel bites into the tender flesh under her chin.  Panic floods her senses and her eyes go wide.  Instinctively, she claws at the hand holding her.
Several paces up the hallway, Vader spins around.
“Don’t even think of going for the lightsaber,” a male voice slurs. 
Leia is nauseated by the stench of booze wafting from the man.  He holds her so tight and so close she can barely breathe.
“Release her, now.”
“No,” the man counters, shoving the blaster barrel even harder under Leia’s chin.  She whimpers uncontrollably and her eyes burn with tears.  The man pulls her even closer, running his stubble-roughened cheek along hers in a mockery of affection.  “Heh,” he laughs.  “Guess I shouldn’t be shocked you like ‘em young.  Always took you for a sick fuck.  If you’re already nailin’ the mother, why not nail the daughter too.”
Leia is released so abruptly she stumbles forward, crashing to her hands and knees.  She immediately scrambles out of the way, backing herself against the wall, staring back at her attacker.
The man collapses to his knees.  Forgotten, the blaster clatters loudly to the floor as he scratches his neck bloody.  He makes a horrible choking noise, his eyes bulging.   Time seems suspended.  Leia watches him gasp futilely for air, fighting for breath he will not find.  There is one final crunching noise and he crumples heavily to the ground, tongue lolling between his purple lips.
Leia’s gaze snaps to Vader, watching as he slowly lowers his outstretched hand.  Leia’s vision immediately returns to her attacker.  She’s never seen anyone die, never seen a dead body.  She stares at his sightless eyes, the spittle trickling out of his gaping mouth.  Unable to prevent it, she heaves, vomiting on the floor.
She retches and retches until there is nothing left in her stomach.  Sobbing uncontrollably, she leans against the wall for support.  Vader is there, his hand on her shoulder.  “Leia?”
Blindly, she turns into him, burying her face in the coarse material of his cloak.  She can’t seem to stop crying.  She doesn’t want to let go of him.  Letting go of him means having to look at the man’s dead body again and she doesn’t think she can do that.
Vader pulls her close, holding her for several moments before he forces her to take a step back and meet his gaze beneath the hood.  He looks her over and seems satisfied she wasn’t physically harmed.  Without a word, he tucks her against his side and ushers her down the hall.
As they turn the corner, Leia can't stop herself from looking over her shoulder one last time.  The body lays exactly where it fell.  As Leia watches, a group of young Senators turn the corner and gasp in horror.  One of them looks up and locks eyes with Leia across the distance.  It is Pooja  Naberrie, the Senator from the Chommell sector.  Leia's cousin.
Vader leads her around a corner into a labyrinthine series of passages.
Leia doesn't know where they are, some office within the Senate complex.  Imperial guards are stationed outside the door.  She sits on a nondescript chair, her mind spinning.  In her hand is an untouched glass of water procured by some Imperial lackey.  Across the room, Vader stares out the window, hands clasped tightly behind his back.  He hasn't moved a muscle in at least half an hour.
"Thank you," she says, her voice scratchy from the retching and crying.
He turns, watching her.  His dark hood is pulled back far enough that she can clearly see his face.  His jaw is firmly set and there is some emotion in his eyes she cannot read.
"I would do far worse than rid the galaxy of that traitorous piece of filth to protect you, Princess," he says quietly.
His words are dark, the intention behind them even darker.  Yet Leia finds them perversely comforting.  She looks down at her hand, at the glass of water.  "Are you – " she starts to ask and then falls silent.  She glances at him.
He looks at her, his expression gentle.  But then his vision searches the room in a gesture she takes to mean they may not be as alone as it appears. 
His lips don't move.  He didn't speak the words aloud.  But she hears his voice clearly in her mind.  She supposes the fact that she can hear his answer is confirmation enough of its veracity.
She gives him a watery smile, shocked to realize she is not shocked.  She has known this truth for some time.
"My Lord," the Imperial trooper positioned outside the door announces, "Viceroy Organa has arrived."
Vader gives her one last look before pulling down his hood to obscure his features.  "Send him in."
The door hisses open and Leia looks up at her father.  He immediately crosses the room and kneels in front of her, taking her hands in his own.  He turns, regarding Vader.
"Deloaria," Vader says, answering the unspoken question.  "He attacked Leia."
Her father opens his mouth to say something and Vader cuts him off.  "He's dead.  It is regrettable that the Princess had to witness it."
Without a word, her father urges Leia to her feet.  She immediately complies.  As they leave, she glances over her shoulder at Lord Vader and finds him watching her.


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