Chapter 9: Defying Expectations Part VII
Shmi rubbed her hands together and wrapped her arms around her shoulders, trying to contain the shivers of fear as she waited in the west wing of the Halls of Healing. The Jedi Temple remained as imposing as ever, and more so when she had watched her husband's still form floated on a repulsorlift past the foreboding doors that she could not enter, surrounded by a dozen armed Jedi and several grim-faced healers.
The Jedi offered no apologies, simply told her that non-Jedi were not allowed past certain points in that eerie, offhanded way of theirs.
Eopie-wash, Shmi thought. The Jedi had nothing to fear from her; it wasn't as though she wanted to go snooping through their medical supplies. She wanted to know if Sheev would live.
She had caught a glimpse of his face as they brought him in, bloody and bruised but still alive. Still breathing, but something had been wrong with his breathing, because the healers pushed her away when she tried to reach him. He looked… shattered, somehow younger than his fifty-four years.
When he wakes up, I should tell him to frown less.
Because he would wake up. He had to.
She wanted Anakin to hug, but Anakin was off world; Palpatine had insisted that their son be kept far from Coruscant in case something went wrong with the deception. In fact, he was taking a vacation with one of Queen Amidala's acquaintances in a remote area of Naboo, as a favor to her fellow Naboo and old friend. He would be coming home soon. Bremé remained with her nurse droid, far away from the turmoil here.
One of the Jedi stepped through the large doors and walked in her direction, a blue-skinned Twi'lek female, her face grim and no-nonsense but her eyes soft with the compassion of a Healer.
Shmi's heart leapt into her throat.
He tapped the healed wrist carefully and flexed it. The healers had done an excellent job of repairing the shards of bone, of giving him back a nearly full range of motion. The public was incredibly grateful that the speeder accident had not been far worse and robbed them of their beloved Chancellor. He tugged the ornate sleeve back over his arm and lifted his eyes to the being sitting across from him in the empty chamber.
Yoda looked back at him with large green eyes. "Very popular, you are with the people. Reelection will be easy."
Palpatine met his gaze evenly. "Unless you choose to act."
"Capable of great evil you are, Chancellor," Yoda said, and paused. "But capable of great good, as well. If not for you, great damage this Darth Plagueis may have done. Irreparable damage. Hm…"
Palpatine felt the confusion crawling in his mind, along with something else. He shuddered and then lowered his shields somewhat, allowing the old troll to sift through his uppermost thoughts.
Yoda's face pinched with a hint of durasteel. "Remove your shields entirely, you will. Or end, this does."
Palpatine wanted to snarl at him, to set loose the Lightning he knew so well how to summon. Instead he bowed his head and thought of Shmi and Anakin and Bremé and let his natural shielding of decades fall away. He would not be able to help them behind the bars of a Jedi cell, which was where he feared he was heading regardless.
Yoda was not gentle with him. The old Jedi stripped every layer of subterfuge away until Palpatine's mind burned in the blinding, painful Light. For a short time, he thought he might die, and he wanted to so badly to crawl away into the shadows but couldn't. Yoda had a grip on him that was simultaneously hypnotizing and terrifying.
When Yoda finally left his mind, Palpatine was sweating and gasping for breath, shivering where he swayed on the gleaming floor. He hoped he wouldn't fall, not in front of this one. The diminutive Jedi master tilted his large head. "Such darkness, such darkness… Nothing like you has there been before, Chancellor. Not of the Light you are, but protected by it. Loved by the ones who wield it. This family of yours is unique, to love a Sith. One, by definition, who should not be loved, hm?"
Palpatine kept his mouth shut to avoid any ill-timed sarcastic responses, even if he agreed with the basic tenet.
Yoda slid out of his council seat and stumped over to the wide window, surveying the heart of the Republic pulsing just beyond in the Senate Building.
"Or love," he continued after a painfully long pause. "In your dark heart, sense it in you, I do."
Palpatine blinked but held his tongue.
"Spoke, I did, with Master Qui-Gon, and he made a point. If one can love, is one wholly evil?"
Yoda looked back at him like he expected an answer. Palpatine cleared his throat. "I wouldn't be in the position to make that decision." Good and evil were points of view, luxuries in a galaxy like this one. He had lived a life the Jedi could never imagine, seen things on the underside of Coruscant and in the bars of the galaxy's planets that would turn their sterile stomachs.
The little troll made a grinding noise in the back of his throat, then a high pitched laugh escaped. "So cautious, you are, hm? Afraid to not be evil?"
The Jedi grandmaster had clearly lost his mind, Palpatine thought as he stared and Yoda turned his back to him once more. What a ridiculous notion…
"Become Chancellor again you will, for a second term," Yoda sighed to the window. He twisted to look at the human. "And make right your mistakes with this great responsibility, you will. The Jedi Order promises that."
Palpatine nodded, mind reeling. He would not be hunted. He would be able to keep his position. Things could be salvaged yet…
Yoda tapped his gimmer stick thoughtfully on the floor, jerking Palpatine's wandering attention back to the old master. "Wild and untamed you are, dark and untrustworthy. Called you insidious, your master did, and right, he was."
He restrained the snapping reply.
Yoda's voice may have softened the slightest degree, or perhaps it was only his imagination. "But hopeless, none are. Perhaps even you will, with help, see this in time. May the Force be with you."
Palpatine fled from the strange creature with as much dignity as he could muster, glad to be dismissed.
There were, of course, several stipulations to being allowed to remain in politics. He was never to leave Coruscant except on official government business, and then he would be accompanied by Jedi masters. He was to take the significant earnings from his racing company and use them to ease the economic discomfort of the planets Plagueis had exploited.
Jag was understandably befuddled, but the older Weequay told Palpatine he was planning to retire soon anyway. Palpatine decided to let his oldest friend retire in peace, without ever knowing the real reasons behind the sudden charitable donations. He owed him that much.
The Jedi healers also put a location tracker in his shoulder and told him never to attempt to remove it, that the Council would hunt him down if he attempted to flee their oversight. It was to remain the rest of his life.
Shmi fumed, and he knew it brought alive memories of her time as a slave, monitored and practically collared.
He shrugged, pragmatic as ever. Location was irrelevant now that they already knew he was Sith.
It proved more difficult when they also installed listening devices in his apartments and offices, openly recording everything he said. Shmi panicked at that and complained to Yoda himself, but even her stubbornness did not dissuade them. They assured them both that the eavesdropping would cease when he finished his terms as Chancellor. Always careful with his words, Palpatine was less troubled by it than his wife.
He suspected her of letting those colorful diatribes against the Council slip on purpose. Lovely woman.
However, they could not control his intelligence and his political skills, not even when they assigned Jedi minders to be present constantly at his side, like prison guards for a golden cage. It required more subtlety on his part, but he managed it. Mace Windu, one of his primary 'advisers,' was no more adept in the subtleties of politics than a wild tuskcat, and so it was simple to talk around him. Some of the others provided more of a challenge, but he partly enjoyed the whetting of his wit on them.
He enjoyed getting his way when no one else thought he could. He might have even been able to wrangle an amendment to the term limits of Chancellor, riding high on his wave of popularity… Even the Jedi could not defy the entire Senate, and his approval ratings climbed higher every month.
It might have worked too, but he encountered stiff resistance in an area he was not expecting.
She wanted him out from under the Jedi, out of the position that pulled him constantly from his family. She spoke of him missing the best years of Bremé's young life due to the frantic requirements of high office. She spoke of Anakin missing his companionship like they had shared in the years before the election (especially before Plagueis), of how Palpatine would miss his grandchildren growing up someday if all he did was work.
Biting back horror at the thought of younglings running amuck and underfoot, Palpatine held his peace that day, because he also sensed that Shmi was worried for him, that he would attempt to do something unintelligent. Didn't she know him? Perhaps she did, too much.
But as time passed and he grew busier seeking to undo what corruption Plagueis had sowed, as the datapads accumulated and piles of flimsies began to stack up, Shmi's idea began to show merit.
It would get him away from that blasted Yoda, at the very least. He swore the little troll was obsessed with him.
He closed the last box of desk supplies and let the droid hover it away. Everything was like a dream this afternoon, the closing of a chapter that never should have been written.
His eyes narrowed. Should have been written differently.
"I… I wanted more, Shmi," he admitted, staring out the transparisteel window, a view he had admired for eight long and productive years now. A window that had seen the Republic grow strong and united once more under his rule, the corrupt portions shaving away with ruthless efficiency, with the Jedi always watching carefully. He was the most popular Chancellor in hundreds of years; already a rather grandiose statue was being commissioned to reside in the Senate Building.
"I know you did," Shmi said from her place on the far side of the desk, looking around the grand room.
The effects of Darth Plagueis were finally dissipating, for the galaxy, at least. For him… not so much. He had been under virtual house arrest since then, the Jedi completely untrusting of a Sith. He couldn't blame them, because he still was.
He would always be Sith. He sighed. "I wanted… everything. I still. I still do."
His wife came up behind him and wrapped her arms carefully around his waist and hugged him. He willed the automatic response of his training and younger life to the back of his mind, still there and still strong with the desire to lash out at unexpected contact.
Shmi sighed against his back. "But you do have everything, Sheev. Everything that matters. This office will grow old and weak someday, the building's foundations will fall, but not Anakin's love for you, or Bremé's, or mine."
He took a deep, slow breath. "I can't deny who I am, Shmi."
Shmi tugged him around to face her. "Of course not. And you know who is the most powerful in the end? The one who can control his urges, the one who can look tempting power in the face and say, 'I don't need you to satisfy myself.'"
He looked down, amused at her words, distracted. "More powerful than power. That doesn't make sense."
"It does to me, and you said you trusted me," Shmi grinned impishly, and he reached out and curled one of her graying strands around his index finger, marveled at the love radiating from her faint presence in the Force. He could recognize it more easily with each passing week. The question was why…
Why didn't really matter, he supposed, when she did. He didn't claim to understand it, perhaps he never would. But he wanted it. More than anything else. Maybe even power. Maybe.
In his own way, Palpatine managed to find a shred of contentment when he accepted Chancellor Organa's appointment as High Judge of the Galactic Supreme Court at age fifty-eight. The youngest judge to ever sit on the highest court in the Republic, he continued to make for a sensational news story, but since he was no longer in the position to rule over the making of laws, the Jedi regarded him as less of a threat and returned some of his autonomy.
A Chancellor might sign laws and introduce bills, but a judge determined what would ultimately be permitted to exist as law. He began to enjoy it, solemnly debating over the constitutionality of certain laws and passages, pretending to deliberate thoughtfully over the controversies when in fact he understood perfectly what should and should not be allowed.
He carefully ensured that court decisions were rarely unanimous, that his fellow judges showed some initiative of their own, just not too much.
True, ruling the High Court did not carry the same flash and external glory as ruling the Republic, but Palpatine reflected that it was, in fact, more in line with his personal preferences anyway. Pomp and circumstance mattered little to true power. Here, his word was law, literally. He could shape the galaxy and this government for centuries to come in subtle ways like no Chancellor could ever hope to do.
The nicest thing about this position: no term limits. Shmi laughed and laughed when he told her this with a straight face.
"What will you do without constituents to woo?" she teased.
"They irritated me anyway," he muttered. "There was a reason I was hoping to set up a dictatorship, you know."
"Kissing babies wasn't your thing?" she giggled. "And you should really avoid saying things like that. You'll upset Master Yoda if he finds out."
"They are no longer recording me here. They believe I am no longer a threat to their unofficial rule of the Republic."
"Is that so?" she grinned.
"The first part is. The second is yet to be determined."
Shmi reflected on his words, the playful glint fading from her large eyes. "Every day, I'm more glad Plagueis is gone. I love you, Sheev, no matter how hard you keep trying to take over the galaxy."
"I have work to do," he muttered, scandalized and secretly very, very pleased.
"Dad," Anakin coughed in embarrassment. "I really wasn't planning on a third degree interrogation."
"When you bring home a queen, it's bound to raise eyebrows," Palpatine said calmly, spearing his fillet of imported shaak. "Especially one older than you." Anakin winced.
"I can't live without her, Dad! She's the one, I know she is."
Shmi, Padmé Amidala, and ten-year-old Bremé were out shopping in Coruscant's largest mall complex, which was all for the best, he supposed, since this conversation was happening now. Since his nineteen-year-old son was being completely ridiculous over a female.
"Anakin, I've been alive for sixty years now, I know what tusk-cat cub love looks like," he sighed.
"Yes, Your Honor," Anakin lipped back, jokingly mocking his latest career. "I didn't need a ruling passed on my love life either."
"I haven't forgotten how to throw Lightning," Palpatine warned softly, and then smiled when Anakin paled and straightened up. Silly boy, he'd never even felt its effects, and never would. He had grown up, Palpatine realized with a soft sigh, from a slave into a racer into a promising young mechanic and officer in the Senate guard complex. A career that could lead places. A generalship. An admiralship. Something nice.
And now he was falling in love with his clientele… Preposterous. He stabbed the shaak with more enthusiasm than required.
"Is this because she was your queen after we met each other?" Anakin asked. "Please don't make this more awkward than it already is, Dad."
"It's not that," he protested softly. "Senator Amidala is a well-meaning individual, I know. But… isn't she a little old for you?"
"Daaaad…" Anakin whined and buried his face in his hands.
He couldn't stop the smirk curling his thin lips.
Shmi gripped his arm tightly through the thick brocaded sleeve as they walked along the columned veranda. Bremé laughed and scouted ahead, jumping from column to column, her presence bright in the Force. "Wasn't it a beautiful wedding, Sheev?"
"I've never liked Theed," he grumbled, eyes fixed on his daughter as she found one of her best friends and they skittered away into the depths of the Palace. He took a deep breath and let her go; Bremé was getting old enough to be on her own now and then.
But not too long… He'd send 11-4D after her before long to dissuade any of her hopeful suitors that he well knew lurked around nearly every rounded corner of this confounding city. Shmi patted his shoulder, pulling his attention back.
"Which means the wedding was all the lovelier, something to focus on. Take your mind off those nasty traditional buildings."
"You're mocking me," he said, slightly miffed, because she loved Theed. Shmi laughed and pulled his head down for a kiss. He was just starting to enjoy it when someone gasped behind his back.
"Mom, Dad! Please not here," Anakin begged. Beside him, on his arm, his new bride Padmé grinned and smothered a giggle.
Palpatine pulled back from a glowing Shmi and smiled at Padmé. "The newlyweds are off, then?"
She blushed and dropped her gaze. "We're going to Aquilaris."
Anakin grinned, his parents' faux paus easily forgotten. "Podracing and speederbikes-"
Padmé finished, "and white sand beaches!"
Anakin clearly didn't share her enthusiasm. "Yeah. Sand."
Palpatine said dryly, "You'll manage, I assume."
"We'll send lots of holopics, Father-in-Law," Padmé curtsied to him, and he mused that at least one of them had a sense of decorum. He nodded back to her graciously.
"Oh, please do," Shmi stepped up and hugged her new daughter tightly. "And take care of my Ani."
Then they were off, hushed giggles and hands everywhere, and Palpatine stood shaking his head in mild disapproval.
Shmi nudged his side. "Are we too old for that?"
"Undoubtedly," he sniffed.
She paused and smiled coyly. "Do we know that?"
He glanced at her and saw the look meant for him, only for him. He felt his own smile growing. "I doubt it."
He gave her a head start back to the apartment, but not much of one. He was Sith, after all.
It was a strange thing, looking down at two screaming babes and realizing: his grandchildren. Well, technically not his by blood, but the mother and father had accepted him into their family. Of all things, the grandmother had married him, and he had a real daughter now, something he still thought must be a dream. After all, his dreams were not so dark now, not since Plagueis' passing almost nine years ago.
"Would you like to hold her?" Shmi lifted the girl higher and without waiting for his inevitable protest, laid her gently in his arms.
He looked at the little name tag, done up in brightly colored and dancing zalaaca colts, how revoltingly childish. "Leia…"
"She's beautiful, isn't she."
"Hm," was all he was willing to say, because he didn't trust himself to speak. His throat closed a little with some emotion he couldn't define, didn't dare define.
He had a real family. This was a family? Yes. Anakin and Padmé, curled on the hospital bed together cooing over Luke, teenage Bremé making faces behind them, Shmi gazing up at him with blatant love in her eyes, Leia blinking sleepily in his arms... He could feel the Force power in her; they would be fighting off the Jedi once again.
He looked at Shmi, thought of all the times she had prompted him to say it, thought that she deserved to hear it more. She was the one. The one who had pulled him from his dark destiny. The one who had inspired him to tame the beast in his soul. The one who had given him a real family.
He thought he might be able to say it now if he tried. Unprompted. Genuine. Frighteningly so.
"What are you up to, Sheev?" she asked curiously when she noticed his stare.
He shrugged, careful not to upset the babe, and took a deep breath. "I love you."
The end. :) There is something strangely satisfying about writing a happy ending to an AU, particularly with Palpatine as the main character. He deserves it after all the things I've put him through, and am planning to put him through.
Hope you folks enjoyed the ending to this AU.