They had penetrated Palpatine’s private rooms, crouched themselves in dark corners of barely-lit corridors with black walls. Padmé was fairly certain they’d been detected, but Mara seemed to be taking that in stride. The minute they’d stepped in here her demeanor had turned very relaxed. Padmé thought that if she hadn’t been here before, she had been some place very much like it.
“I think we’re mostly alone in here now,” Mara muttered. “But there’s something amiss...”
The corridors wound their way downward. They’d already entered from Coruscant’s lower levels, and it may have just been her imagination but Padmé thought the very gravity was getting stronger. She thought one could be buried down this low, and forgotten.
Several times during their descent Mara stopped them, directing Padmé to hide in a corner while she walked a corridor up and down, or put her ear to the wall, or simply knelt and tried to tune herself in closer to the Force. Each time it ended with her shaking her head and beckoning to Padmé.
As they went further Padmé had to fight back the urge to demand of Mara if she even had the slightest idea what they were doing. If she couldn’t trust her at this point, she didn’t know what she would do, but it was getting harder and harder.
Finally they turned a corner and found that the floor’s downward slant had turned very steep indeed. They both stared down the slope, which went on so long that they couldn’t see the bottom, only foreboding darkness down below their feet. Sudden fear made Padmé desperately want to turn back.
“Take my hand,” said Mara, and somehow Padmé obeyed, and her sweat-soaked hand was clutched tightly in Mara's dry one. “Now carefully.” She stepped forward, giving Padmé no choice but to do likewise.
Holding on to each other, they tottered along the ever-steepening slope. Or at least Padmé tottered; Mara seemed to have no problem with the floor, and walked as steadily as if it had been completely even.
She would have gotten to the bottom of it easily no doubt, if Padmé hadn’t been there with her. And it was only a matter of time before she slipped.
They both went tumbling down, and of course the floor had too little friction to get up, or stop moving, so down they slid, hurtling faster and faster, and after a minute Mara actually managed to jump up, but she couldn’t get Padmé up with her and fell back down, crashing into her companion in the process and sending them both careening faster still. The corridor was never-ending, it seemed, and Padmé wondered if they would keep falling until they reached the bottom of Coruscant as a trap set by Palpatine for intruders like them.
“It’s okay,” Mara said, unfazed, her voice not disturbed at all and only slightly louder, “I can blunt our impact when we reach the bottom, and I’m sure he knows we’re here. I think he underestimates us, though.”
"Anakin thought himself and his power underestimated once before." Ben had said that to her only a few months ago, though it had been too painful for him to go into details.
“I think we’re getting near the bottom,” she then added. Padmé didn’t ask how she could tell. “There’s noone down there, but...”
When Mara finally sensed it, Padmé somehow knew as well. They both cried it out simultaneously: “Luke!”
“He must have followed us! This was what I was trying to avoid!”
“I think he’s in danger.” Padmé felt herself shaking, partly out of shock that she just knew that, but mostly out of terror for her son.
“You’re right. I think he’s fighting someone...we’re at the bottom.” Mara raised her arm, and they both landed lightly on the dark floor of another dimly lit room. On each wall was an unmarked door.
What purpose the two-door setup normally served neither could guess, or care about anyway. Without even talking to each other they both turned towards the door on the right.
The door was locked. Mara took her lightsaber and sliced through it several times. Through the hole she made they could hear the sound of lightsabers clashing not too far away. They dashed through, and then as the sound of the lightsabers stopped they heard a thud that sounded like a body hitting the ground.
Suddenly Padmé felt as if a large, invisible hand was picking her up, her blaster was wrenched from her grip and hurled against the wall, Mara's blaster followed a split second later, and both she and Mara were flung through one last corridor and into a dark chamber, where they were suspended, struggling in vain to move even a limb. In front of them stood Luke, holding his ignited lightsaber. At his feet stood a beheaded human man in black robes. Padmé thought there was something not quite right about him, and then she heard Mara whisper, “Oh no...”
“Good, good.” They could hear Palpatine’s voice behind them. His voice itself was blackness, the kind that made the listener too scared to breath. How could she have ever found it soothing and kindly? “Now take his place at my side....after you’ve killed these two who would have denied you your destiny.
See the hatred in their eyes? The young girl can switch back between herself and your father all she likes; neither can hide it. Have they not lied to you now? Did your mother not play the martyr, practically, even as she denied your father what he had worked so hard for?”
“She did nothing of the sort,” Padmé heard Mara hiss. Then she heard a sound like lightning, and Mara cry out in pain.
“Oh come, Lord Vader,” he spat the name. “Did your wife neglect to tell you that while you were drifting about as a ghost, she let your old Master into her bed? Is it not true, Senator Amidala, that you’ve fallen in love with the man, and out of love with him?”
“Is it, Padmé?” The fear-Anakin’s fear, of course-in Mara’s voice was unmistakable.
“I don’t know...” Padmé started, but then she knew. “No. Most of it’s true, but the last part isn't, because I could never stop loving you. I guess I'm just in love with you both, and even if it’s wrong I can’t change it.” As she spoke, she felt something drain out of her. When she had heard Palpatine’s voice again her hatred for him had filled her and almost made her choke, but now that was gone, and she was floating lightly, feeling nothing but quiet love-for Anakin, for Ben, for Luke, for his sister back with Ben right now, even for Mara, whom for a year she had traveled the galaxy with.
“Do you really believe that’s true?” That oily black voice again, but it held no power over Padmé now.
“You don’t have to, Ani,” replied Padmé. “You know it is.” She should have been terrified, she supposed, because in theory he was perfectly capable of disbelieving her; he'd made that clear enough on Mustafar. But somehow Padmé knew that this day, he wouldn't.
And sure enough, she heard Mara reply softly, “You’re right. I know it is.”
“You’ve failed, Your Highness,” said Luke, and as Padmé watched he lightly tossed his lightsaber aside. “You’ve failed with them and you’ve failed with me. I’ll never turn the Dark Side. I am a Jedi-like my father before me.”
Padmé hoped Anakin could feel within himself just a little of the pride and love for their son that welled up within her own heart.
But then Palpatine’s voice dropped and turned very grim. “So be it, Jedi. If you will not turn, you will be destroyed!”
Padmé crashed to the floor as she heard the sound of the lightning again, but this time it didn’t stop after a second, but was joined by her son’s cries of agony, then Mara’s anguished, “Luke!” and she had no idea what happened next but suddenly they were both screaming and there was lightning everywhere including in her own range of vision, and her head was spinning so hard she still couldn’t move.
She finally forced herself to roll over and pull her head up slightly. It was as she feared; Palpatine had both Luke and Mara on the ground. Lightning streaked from his fingertips into them both, and they twisted and cried out and Padmé had no doubt that the lightening was slowly killing them. Palpatine was a figure clothed from head to toe in black; she could see only his gnarled hands-he had his back turned to her, having, it seemed, thought that she’d been knocked out.
But he’d know otherwise all too soon, and no matter how much he was underestimating her, he'd kill her then; she doubted she could last long against that lightning at all. If only she still had her blaster.
But lying next to her was the beheaded Sith Apprentice, and clutched in his hand was a lightsaber.
But by the time she had it pried from his hand, she knew Palpatine was on to her. He stopped his execution of Luke and Mara momentarily to turn towards her. His face was so drawn and sunken that had she not known who he was she would not have recognized him. “And what have we here?” he asked, and his amusement froze her blood. He raised his hands again, and aimed towards her.
“No!” Somehow Luke pulled himself up; his boots sounded loudly on the floor. Palpatine turned and shot him with lightning, and Padmé suddenly snapped into action, throwing herself at him while her hand groped madly at the handle. Somehow she got the thing ignited, and the next thing she knew she was tumbling to her knees in front of Luke and Mara with the red blade coming dangerously near his foot. Then Palpatine’s head, neck, shoulders, and part of his torso and arms landed in front of her. It was far messier than anything a Jedi would have done, but there was no denying its effectiveness.
Luke clambered to his feet. Gently he took the lightsaber from his mother’s grip and deactivated it. “We still need to get out of here...” he started.
“Shouldn’t be a problem,” Mara replied, pulling herself up. “The guards are all dead. I still can’t believe you’re here. Did you have to come running after me? Or after him? Or after her? I don’t care which one you were chasing, I still can’t believe it!”
“After all three of you. And I had to come. It was hard enough to convince Leia and Ben to keep out of it. But they were really worried about that Death Star. Let’s go upstairs; do you think you could hotwire some sort of contact with them, Mara?”