Beauty and the Beast

Not every beast has a soul lurking under the cover.

She came with questions, so many of them tumbling around in her head, a nearly endless loop of fear and gnawing trepidation. He must know the truth. He was my friend, my mentor. He must know. To her faint surprise, Sly Moore ushered her through the waiting room and antechamber into his private office almost immediately. Almost as though he were waiting for her.

Palpatine sat with his back to her as she entered, the high chair obscuring him from her sight. Padme swallowed a sudden wave of irrational fear and stepped closer. "Chancellor, I apologize for the abrupt nature of my visit, but I and the Senate have urgent questions that cannot wait."

She heard a low rumble from the chair, entirely unpleasant and ripping at her resolution to stand her ground. She finally recognized the sound as a chuckle. "Of course, of course. It is a pleasant surprise to see you again, M'lady," Palpatine spoke as he turned in his silent chair, "though I must admit, my ability to receive visitors has been slightly diminished by recent events."

Padme stared, aghast. His face… had melted? It looked burnt and frozen all at once, bright yellow eyes peering out over a lopsided smile, loose skin that made him look a thousand years older, and she felt the bile rising in her throat. She choked out, "What – what happened to you?"

He waved his right hand dismissively at his face. "I hear it is no great thing of beauty. Unfortunately, the rumors were true, my dear. A miserable attempt by the Jedi Order to assassinate me."

Padme felt herself dropping slowly into one of the chairs across from his desk. Out of the corner of her eye, she now observed the missing window, the broken glass scattered on the sill, the random scorch marks engraved into the furniture. She could barely process it all, and she stammered for time. "But, Chancellor… your face. You should be in the medcenter –"

He cut her off, more sharply than he ever had. "The damage was superficial, my dear, and what's more, I can hardly leave my post in a crisis of this magnitude. That is why you are here, I assume?"

Padme sat back. "Yes…yes, I am." Anakin's dark face swam in her vision. I will not betray the Republic . . . my loyalties lie with the Chancellor and with the Senate . . . and with you. Oh, Anakin! "I am uncertain, Chancellor, but I feel something is very, very wrong."

His smile disappeared. "Revolt tends to do that, Senator. I assure you, all ill feelings may be directed to the Jedi Order-"

Boldly, she now interrupted him, watching as his expression smoothed out into a faint frustration. "That may be, Chancellor, but something isn't right! It doesn't make sense. The Jedi are sworn to protect the Republic, the Senate. They would never turn on us like this!"

"Things…change," he intoned softly, silencing her with a searching look. "If I may ask, from whom did you first learn of this?"

Padme looked down quickly, the fire replaced with a guilty confusion. What did that matter? "The young Jedi Knight, Anakin Skywalker. We ran into each other this afternoon. He told me what you are saying now, but…"

"And you did not believe him?" Palpatine queried. "My pardon, but I assumed you were good friends."

"We are!" she said, a little too quickly, and flushed. "We are, but he seems different now. Something has happened, and he was not telling me the whole truth. I know it. It's too strange."

Palpatine stared at her, before seeming to come to a decision. He leaned back and spoke slowly, "What I find most strange of this whole situation is that a wife trusts an entire order of religious fanatics before she will trust her own husband."

Stunned, Padme could only work her mouth, soundless until a soft squeak of horror and embarrassment escaped her. "You knew?!"

"I too, am fortunate to call Anakin a friend," his voice dropped lower, and he appeared amused at the thought. "You two were always rather obvious. He never could resist you, even at a young age."

"He shared…with you? About us?" Padme's mouth fell open further, and she felt betrayed suddenly, as if an intensely private part of her life had been thrown in front of the state holocams. Maybe it had. She would no longer put such an action past this unfamiliar man.

"All the time. Anakin is a man who hates to keep secrets, Padme," Palpatine peered at her, leaning forward and steepling his marred fingers. "I would think you might have noticed."

His words burned her deeply, taking her mind back… Yes, here! I'm tired of all this deception. I don't care if they know we're married. Padme shrank in the chair. "I did…" she whispered, "but it wasn't safe. He would have been expelled. I would have been forced to leave the Senate…"

"Of course, your career might have suffered. I cannot say I sympathize, but as one politician to another, I certainly understand," Palpatine nodded, succinct. "You did what you saw would be best."

"Why are you saying this to me?" Padme asked at last, her voice trembling and weak.

His yellow eyes narrowed. "Come now, Senator, can we not be honest? After all this time, after all these years? Let us pretend no more. I tire of the game."

The temperature in the room dropped, and her ears roared. Sitting in front of her was something she did not recognize, a creature of infinite darkness and danger. Something deadly. Padme clutched at the arms of her chair, staring at him, feeling like a newborn Jimvu before a mighty – and hungry – Narglatch. Her instincts screamed: a wild animal crouched before her!

"Game?" she pleaded, stalling for time. The change was sudden, as mercurial as the monsoons of the Nubian rainforests. "What do you mean? We are friends. I have always been honest with you. When did you begin to think of me like this? Why do you despise me? What have I done to you?"

He pondered her openly, until finally, quietly, "You exist. I suppose that is reason enough."

Padme felt the punch of his words in her stomach. She gaped. "We…we were close once! You helped me on Naboo, you asked me to run. You encouraged me!"

"And you were not content to remain my obedient servant. No, you thought to better the world," he sneered. "And in so doing, you meddled in my affairs all too often. You became a pest to me, Amidala. Not mention your clumsy attempts at matchmaking."

"I thought you wanted what I did! You said you wanted this Republic to thrive again, to become great again," Padme protested. "I tried to help you!"

"You have been in the Senate for some time now, yet you cling to a single promise of a rising politician," Palpatine chuckled. "Your naivety astounds me still. Not all spoken words are true ones, my dear. Certainly not from me, and not even from you."

"When have I lied to the Senate?" she asked, angry now.

"You ask that, when your whole life is a lie? At least I admit to it, Amidala."

Cut, alarmed, and ashamed, Padme felt the first tears since seeing Anakin drop from her eyes. She wiped at them desperately, grasped for some way to reach her old mentor. She simply could not believe what was happening. "Has our friendship these so many years meant nothing to you?"

Palpatine cocked his head, a beast of prey considering the kill. "Now, that is the question. Should I feel guilt for something that never was?"

Her vision tunneled. "What are you saying?"

"You show a glimmer of intelligence from time to time, Senator, but I have perhaps misjudged you. Do you truly not understand?"

"This was a lie." Darkness was pulling her under, wringing the last dregs of hope from her heart.

He stared at her, saying nothing.

"You don't deny it?"

He shrugged. "I see no need."

She shivered. "All of this…everything… a complete mockery of all we ever were. This whole time?"

"Always so trusting, and actually, M'lady, I have forgotten to thank you for that."

"Thank me?" What else could she say?

"Of course!" His hideous features twisted with perverse delight, and his smile only made her shudder and clutch harder to the arms of her chair. Palpatine noticed her growing fear and leaned back in his own seat, touching his fingers to his chin. "I have waited most of my life for someone like you, working my way up through one thankless political appointment after another."

"No," she cut him off, shook her head quickly, desperately. "No, I'm not responsible for you. You're not who I thought you were."

Palpatine spread his hands in a parody of supplication. "What we think and what is are rarely a reliable blend. You, of all beings, should know and appreciate the finer points of the masquerade, Highness." Her royal title became a slow hiss of scornful poison between his lips that stole the very breath from her own.

She gasped softly for air. The room blurred briefly. "I was under the impression that what we had was a true friendship, not a masquerade for…for a…" she was unable to avert her eyes or halt the word that sprang to her mind as she stared at that terrible visage. "…for a monster."

He tilted his grotesque head to one side and pondered her with a faint and thoughtful smirk. "A monster? A beast. Yes, well, I believe you underestimate me once again with that assessment, but we might leave it at that. Say we did, but few societies enjoy the thought of monsters in their midst. In order to join the worlds of… the less singular… a monster requires a covering, a cloak, a mask."

His growing smile was not meant to be comforting as he leaned forward again, eyes of sickly ochre spearing her into the chair. "What better for the king of beasts than a mask of beauty? Innocent, naïve, courageous. You were almost too perfect, Amidala." He stood abruptly and crossed over to the long, broken window. "We made a powerful team. The people loved you, but they trusted me. You inspired them, but I chose your steps. They followed you, but they found me waiting for them at the end of this tortuous journey." He watched her closely.

"I have never blindly followed you," she whispered, knowing even as she spoke the falseness of her words.

He knew it too and laughed, revealing blackened teeth in a cheerful grin, the gaping maw of Chaos itself. She almost thought he would bow to her, but he did not. "Then I must compliment you on your excellent judgment in the Vote of No Confidence, for that alone made my burden much less."

Her breath punched from her lungs, and she sagged in the chair with a low moan. "I have regretted that long before this day."

He appraised her. "But, I think, not with so great a capacity for understanding as you do now, here at the end. If it comforts you – " and he quietly mocked her once more " – know that I would have become Chancellor with or without your help. You only hastened the final curtain. Perhaps I am not so much a monster as I am the close to a fantastic daydream of this…Republic… nurtured long beyond any usefulness."

Palpatine rotated his head to look out over the teeming city below, his city soon. His words embodied insult to everything she held dear, and some of her fire flamed back to life. She surged to her feet to face him with all the righteous power of her position. "Chancellor, the Republic is no daydream, and you will know that as long as I am alive! As long as the Senate remains to stop you."

The silence of the dark office was oppressive until he offered a long, sideways, empty gaze. "So be it, Senator."

As if he had lost interest. As if she did not even matter anymore.

And as she watched him slide into his ornate outer robe, as he politely informed her that he must prepare for his acceptance speech – acceptance of what? – as the Red Guards forcibly ejected her from his presence, she could not convince herself that she actually did.

As I watched Padme Amidala through the prequels, her personality seemed to constantly waffle. Perhaps this was mostly due to inconsistent writing between the first two movies and the last, but half the time she seemed to drift between a headstrong politician and a weak-willed, desperate character. Her character in the TV show is a little more stable, but she changes from novel to novel, so… ah well. However, if anyone has an excuse to waffle, this time period in her life would be it.

Honestly, I just wrote this as a chance for payback for good (evil?) old Palpatine, for all the times I've put him through torture at the hands of Padme. This must have been therapeutic for him.

Apologies for any grammar mistakes contained within. Also many more apologies for not updating my major story recently. I have not given up on it. I am dealing currently with several cancer-diagnosed family members and a job change. When I get a longer spare second, I intend to keep going. This summer is looking hopeful.

Reviews are always beloved and nurtured tenderly… :)