by Love and Rock Music. (TCW) The first half of "Destroy Malevolence," as Anakin and Padmé make their way towards each other.
FAN FICTION : ATTACK OF THE CLONES ERA
by Lady Aeryn
Disclaimer: Padmé and Ani and Naboo and every blasted copyrighted thing mentioned in here are the creation/property of George Lucas - I'm just borrowing them for an angsty semi-romantic outing. ;-)
Was it possible to feel one’s ghost when still alive? The young Senator didn’t quite believe it, but found herself shivering anyway as she made her way down the long corridor to her suite.
As a girl-Queen still finding her place, and even now as a galactic-level politician, for Padmé Amidala Theed Palace carried the weight of centuries in its floors. Ancient sculptures in arched foyers, oil paintings of long-dead kings and queens on high walls as vivid as when they'd first been painted. One day her own would be up there too, preserved as every monarch before her had, one more small thread built into the growing tapestry that every ruler before her had contributed to.
Other things seemed timeless and unchanged too - aides who had served under her still bustling around to one assigned task or another; the patterns the sun made on the marble tile floor.
All of which just put into starker relief how much had changed.
One of the biggest reminders was Queen Jamillia – once a junior advisor during Padmé's reign, now in the elaborate gown and makeup, seated in the throne Amidala had held for eight years (reupholstered to a deep green instead of Amidala's favored scarlet), five handmaidens trailing behind. And perhaps an even bigger change seemed to be Padmé herself, now walking through these halls as little more than a glorified civilian. Less, even, since few knew she was here; no one bothered to look for a former planetary ruler in the traditional Naboo refugee garb - which was the point, of course. Even Jamillia didn't know where in the Lake Country she and Anakin were staying, only the frequency of the solitary comm unit they would be using.
That was what stung, when she got down to it. The fact that whoever was doing this to her, despite the fact that she still drew breath, had for all intents and purposes silenced her. In the way that mattered most, they’d won.
Anakin hardly saw it that way, and had asserted as much on their voyage here. He'd argued, and Padmé had had to concede (however silently), that as long as she was still alive, she could always fight. She couldn't fight anything if she was... he hadn't been able to finish that thought. She remembered the look on his face the moment the words faded from his lips - as if his world hinged on the fragile thread of those syllables - and sighed, leaning back in her chair.
Even his presence was linked to the memory of this place now, part of her ghost. It had been here he'd returned to a hero's welcome after destroying the Federation battleship imprisoning Naboo, and it had been in the gardens here they'd said goodbye, the last time they'd seen or spoken to one another before several days ago.
You've changed so much...
The air of the suite seemed to thicken that way it always did when he was in the room. She held her eyes closed for a moment, forcing Anakin from the center of her mind; true to his nature, he refused to be budged completely from attention. But it would do for the moment.
The room she had been offered for the night was almost indistinguishable from the one she'd inhabited as Queen, the place that had been closest to home out of any of her official residences. Her beautiful apartment on Coruscant would never quite lose the sterility that tinged even her tiny corner of that world, no matter how she decorated it. But the Palace... every time she looked out a window, walked in the gardens - she could see and feel the beauty of the world she loved, that every duty she was fulfilling here, no matter how mundane or frustrating, was going towards keeping this world as grand as she had always remembered it for the people who lived here.
That physical separation from Naboo had been part of why she had been reluctant to become Senator, even at the Queen's request. In the end it had been knowing she could accomplish far more as a Senator for her world than she'd been able to as Queen that convinced her to accept the position.
Unable to draw reassurance from the world around her, Padmé had compensated by throwing herself into her job with renewed intensity. Which made the times she did get a glimpse outside those duties bring to mind more strongly the other reason she'd been reluctant to become Senator, but had since accepted was not the path for her now. No matter how old she was, she was accomplishing far too much now to end it for what in comparison was an extremely selfish wish: political service generally ended among the Naboo at a young age for a reason, one Padmé was reminded of every time she saw a young smiling couple out with a small child, enjoying one of the many warm, springlike days of Theed's climate.
She'd seen several during hers and Anakin's long walk from the spaceport.
More and more often lately during the lulls in her thoughts, in her mind would spring up an image of herself as one of those smiling people, a small chubby hand clinging to hers as its owner swung gaily between her hand and the hand of another unseen person next to them.
The memory of that hand lingered longer and longer with each daydream. And somehow she was never able to see the face of the person holding that other tiny hand, it always sliding out of focus the moment she tried to look, but lately –
"Actually, I'd hoped to have a family of my own by now..."
She shook her head again.
Sifting through the rainbow of fabric from one of her luggage cases for a suitable gown for evening tea with the Queen, her hand halted as it brushed something the fading yellow-to-pink of early sunset. True, she'd had to pack her less formal gowns -- her elaborate state ones would be useless undercover -- which this most certainly was. But she couldn't fathom why she'd packed this one. Her sister had given it to her for her birthday two years ago, her latest attempt to encourage some desire in her career-driven sister to focus on something... else, Sola’d said with a devilish wink that had left little doubt exactly which else she’d had in mind. Padmé had never had occasion to wear such a thing - while certainly beautiful (her fingers returned to it again and again), it resembled not so much a gown as something that might blow off her the moment someone near her breathed.
Not that you have a particular someone in mind.
Ignoring the warmth in her face, Padmé moved on, choosing an off-the-shoulder dark green gown and doing her hair in a loose braid down her back, immediately grateful to be removed from the layers of her disguise. She fiddled with the shoulders of the dress several times, frowning at her reflection in the mirror. The gown's v-neck was a little lower-cut than she generally wore, but hardly indecent. Not as if you have much to worry about covering anyway, came her sister's teasing voice.
The dress was fine. She liked how she looked in it, and certainly Ani -
She bit her lip again, eyes flitting to the locked door separating the suites they'd been assigned for the day, to refresh in before making the last leg of their journey to her family's old retreat in the Lake Country next morning. She wouldn't - couldn't - allow this presence in her mind. It had been a steadily increasing weight tugging at her mind since she’d first locked gazes with a tall, blue-eyed Jedi apprentice in her apartment. She could see Anakin's expression as he looked on her in this, the deep eyes drinking her in, full lips parting ever so slightly.
Just as clearly, she could see herself looking back.
She closed her eyes and exhaled a breath slowly, trying to flush the images out of her mind. Stop it.
It was childish to pretend she wasn't attracted to him. At least acknowledging that (to herself, certainly not to him) was the first step in moving past it.
It was still only a small step.
She hadn't seen him in over an hour, since being delivered by one of Jamillia's handmaidens to their separate (but adjoining, the Queen had too-casually added) quarters, since the silence following their spat before Jamillia's court.
The memory clashed like a confused child against the once airtight memory she'd had of him in this place. Her friendship with Ani had always been comfortable, comforting. Even with that aside, she'd stepped too far, too clumsily, in trying to maintain that professional distance she'd felt start to slip away since Coruscant. She should never have snapped at him that way, and certainly not in front of an audience. She'd never done something like that before.
She owed him an apology.
She knew that wasn't the only reason she wanted to see him, but it was the only one she would allow.
At his door, she found her hand moving to adjust her braid again, jerking it back down irritably as she caught herself, then using it to rap on the thick wood of the door.
No answer. Concern piqued, she tried the knob and found it unlocked, easing it open -
She turned quickly back to the door, gripping the knob until its faceted edges dug into her palm. It was only for a moment - perhaps two - but for a long time afterward the image would remain seared into her eyelids, her brain.
Anakin had also evidently taken the first chance to cast aside the uncomfortable refugee attire (the pieces now hanging in a tossed-aside fashion off a corner bedpost) and relax. His long, lean form lay stretched over the length of the bed in only the dark pants of his normal Jedi uniform, arm slung across his slender waist, bare chest rising and falling rhythmically.
She wondered if he always slept like that – then shoved the image to the base of her thoughts, berating herself for intruding.
She'd begun to close the door behind her when something seemed to tug inside her, to turn back around. His voice, murmuring her name.
She liked the way her name sounded when his voice said it. Or was it the way his voice sounded when he said her name?
Did it matter?
She turned back, and had to remind herself to breathe. That blue gaze was directly on her, branding her eyes, then sweeping over her much in the way she'd imagined. She felt it slide down every curve of her body, lingering briefly like a ghost of a caress on her hips and bare shoulders, then back up to her eyes again. Something low and hot in her lurched, and she felt as if her eyes had taken on a mind of their own. She couldn’t take them off him, off the way the sun fell on the tousled golden hair and the lines of his bare chest and torso - moreso when she realized she was probably the first woman in a very long time to see him this way, in such personal quarters.
“Padmé...” he began again, snapping them both out of the shared almost-trance. Glancing downward, his cheeks reddened and he turned to snatch for the nearest garment, a loose undershirt Padmé thought she recognized as the lowest layer of his Jedi uniform. She willed herself, not entirely successfully, to focus on the embroidery on her sleeve as he slipped the shirt on and came toward her. “Is something wrong?"
"Oh - no." No, nothing at all, that Sola-like voice flared in her mind, traitorously flashing her another glimpse of Anakin's slim back and shoulders, the way the muscles had worked as he'd put his shirt on.
"I had no idea - ”
She shook her head. “It's not your fault. I don't knock nearly loud enough," she added, affecting a brief chuckle that sounded forced even to her. "I'm sorry I bothered -”
“You could never be a bother.”
The words lapped pleasantly against her ears, softening any remaining worries about his mood toward her. She had to look up higher to continue meeting his eyes, and her words died in her throat when she realized how close he was, that his gauzy undershirt really didn't hide anything she hadn't just seen. The idea that she was standing here, seeing Anakin alone in such a private setting, hit her even more strongly.
She wasn't sure how long she'd stood there, until Anakin had raised his eyebrows and too-innocently given a small cough.
A bit of hope was in his eyes, and Padmé felt a newer layer of guilt and embarrassment settle in atop the original one. Anakin undoubtedly hoped this was purely a social call, that she'd come to see him simply to... see him. She was powerless to stop the heat rising in her neck when another image flashed into her mind of just what he'd probably been hoping for. His smile widened almost imperceptibly, but if it was because he'd noticed her reaction or somehow picked up her thoughts, she certainly didn't press.
“I'm sorry for earlier,” she began, slowly looking upward into his eyes, trying not to remember that moments-ago image of him that still peeked in at the edges of her mind's eye. Ani's eyes darkened at the mention of their incident, but said nothing. “I was unappre-"
"Don't," he interrupted, taking her hands. The gesture was completely innocent, but that image had flashed into her mind again at the contact, and it took all her attention to force it from her mind again. It should not have been so difficult. His hands were warm, steady. Gentle. "You had every right. I had no reason not to trust you."
"No, Anakin - "
"It's all right. Really," he said, squeezing her hands and flashing a smile that was more than a little tense. He wasn't entirely over it - but he was willing to put it out of his mind for the sake of their continued association. As if to drive home his point, he brought one of her palms to his lips and quickly kissed it. If he'd intended to make Padmé feel more relaxed with the gesture, it was far from a success.
“Besides, we could spend all afternoon here apologizing to one another,” Ani grinned slightly, moving even closer; as the space between them lessened something in her chest and stomach gave an involuntary, simultaneous leap. “We're supposed to be relaxing.”
"We're supposed to be in hiding," she corrected almost reflexively, eyes frozen on his. The words sounded flat even to her.
"Nothing that says the two have to be exclusive," he pointed out.
Padmé started to open her mouth to counter that, but then halted and found herself mirroring Anakin's small grin, the look in his eyes wiping all objections from her mind. How does he do that?
"I suppose you have something specific in mind?" she said without thinking, mentally scolding herself for the lead-on.
A corner of his mouth drew upward. "Always."
Anakin volunteered no clues to their destination, but as their feet landed on the cobblestone thread outside the side entrance, none would've been necessary anyway.
They'd made their way outdoors, to one of the large forested gardens that flanked either side of the Palace complex, where she'd often found solace in her time as Queen. She looked at Anakin in wonderment as they walked, a warmth sparking somewhere in her chest - not just that he'd remembered (he seemed to have treasured every moment of their old time together), but that he'd seemed to know this place was what she had needed at this moment. He, who had been here one time ten years ago, had known, yet she had forgotten.
She knew that should have bothered her, but as they walked further she realized that the place's charm hadn't worn off in her absence, and seemed to shut out her previous concerns completely, layer after layer falling away the further inward they went.
He took her hand, and an old memory instantly blossomed in her mind. A smaller, chubbier hand, ten years less weathered, seizing her own and leading her forward with none of the reverence and gentleness it used now, but still with the desire to impress. Impress her.
“Come on, I'll show you Threepio!”
Perhaps it was the fondness of that memory; perhaps it was the way his hand slid like a glove over her own - this time, she did not move hers away.
Her feet found their way unconsciously down the path, one she'd followed a hundred times as Queen, winding along a narrow branch of the Solleu River before ending in a grassy area with a stone bench under the near edge of the surrounding trees, looking down the side of a steep hill at the city and hills beyond. A root that had grown over the path years ago had thickened in her absence; Anakin halted to guide her over it, his hand lingering at the small of her back just a moment longer than necessary. Padmé couldn't help the brief flash of disappointment when it moved away.
It was a place that had never failed to soothe her in her more frustrated moments. It was pure Naboo, what all her sweat and frustration had gone toward protecting. The flowers, the rush of water and feeling the sun on her bare shoulders that now almost made her feel as if she were that young girl once more. Glancing over at Anakin, she saw him close his eyes and inhale deeply. It seemed almost as if he were taking part of the world in him with that breath, and it occurred to her that maybe he was - thanks to the Force he could probably feel the pulse of Naboo in ways she could only begin to imagine, and she found herself envious.
And yet it warmed her, that he also loved her world and drew comfort from it.
She'd made it here only a couple of times since becoming Senator, and this was the first she'd ever been here when there wasn't a duty immediately pressing on her head. Smiling, Padmé sat down on the bench, laying her palm on the cool stone where she and a newly-minted Jedi Padawan had sat ten years before.
As though it were a conduit, the sensation immediately brought others along with it: his chubby arms around her neck as they'd hugged goodbye, the fading-but-still-warm smell of sun and sand under his newly-scrubbed Jedi exterior... the scorching blush on his round cheeks as she'd pressed her lips there...
A sharp pain yanked her out. Her fingers were digging fruitlessly into the unyielding bench, sudden inexplicable anger a hot swell through her brain. A swell that intensified as she thought of Anakin. Anakin, now an extraordinarily gifted, passionate, handsome young man who made her heart lift every time he looked at her, the child of her comfortable memory forever gone.
She hated it. Hated that even that simple thing had been taken from her.
Children grow up all the time. This should not bother you so much.
But it did.
Suddenly the pain vanished, covered by what was becoming a familiar, solid warmth. She looked down to see Anakin kneeling before her, his fingers closing around her own and lifting them away from the stone. Clear eyes the color of sky bored into hers, the concern in them tugging at her. She wished he’d stop looking at her that way. How could she tell him what was really bothering her? Even if it wasn’t highly inappropriate, she knew it would only hurt him. An idea that made her chest suddenly ache more than the new scrape on her knuckles.
Which she remembered were no longer hurting, because Anakin’s fingers still rested atop them. She tried not to look at him directly; with him kneeled this way, she could pretend he was still that little boy that barely reached her shoulders.
But then she heard his voice, murmuring her name again in that low, aching way that seemed to vibrate through her entire body, nothing like that of a small child, and for a moment she was angry at him. Her hands tensed – and then the warmth was gone, leaving them colder than before he’d touched her.
“I’m sorry,” he said quietly, averting his eyes, but not before she saw the flash of hardness in them. “If I’ve done something, if you didn’t want to come here –”
“Oh – no, no, Anakin.” Those eyes darted up to her again, and their naked hope nearly took her remaining words. She’d never known anything like these eyes, something so small that held so much raw power, so much passion – and every erg of it was focused on her. A thrill ran through her; whether from fear or anticipation, she didn’t let herself examine. Instead she looked out at the landscape, a view that still took her breath. The pure green hills that seemed unchanged from the moment she’d first seen them, and would likely remain so long after she took her last look; the outskirts of Theed a garden of smooth stone glinting in the sun beneath them; the blue river flowing not far from her feet that continued on to the horizon. No would-be assassin could change that, she realized.
“Thank you,” she said softly, squeezing his hands without thinking. She still didn’t look at him, but sensed the smile tugging at his lips anyway. “I needed to remember this place.”
Then she did look at him, and his already dazzling smile widened. At that same moment as he tilted his head just a bit the sun briefly caught his hair and face, highlighting them in gold. Padmé felt her breath catch, and that ache in her chest expanded and sharply tightened all at once.
She’d never seen anything so beautiful.
It was as if the thought had been waiting in ambush for such a moment, where the gap in her thoughts was relaxed enough for it to slip through into the open. Gods, she was slipping into trouble, and at this moment, she almost didn’t care, as long as he just sat there with her.
He cocked his head and his eyes softened, as if suddenly realizing something.
"You're so... beautiful," he murmured. Padmé smiled weakly, ducking her head to hide the heat in her cheeks. She wasn't sure if it was from the way his thoughts had mirrored her own, or from the depth she knew lay behind those words.
It wasn't the first time she'd been called beautiful. From those men – usually other Senators looking to persuade her on some issue – it was polite, polished flattery.
But there was nothing polished about the way those words fell from Anakin’s lips. With nearly everything he said or did, it was unvarnished, pure, so raw it burned... pure Anakin. It was the only way he knew to be.
In some ways he was still very much the same little boy, she realized. Despite herself she felt a smile creep onto her face.
His brow furrowed. “What is it?”
“I was just thinking,” she said, making a small act of idly pulling a leaf off her skirt and flicking it away before looking back at him. “The last time we were here you barely reached my shoulder.” She tilted her head, one corner of her mouth slowly stretching upward. “Apparently some things don’t change."
His eyes narrowed, and suddenly Padmé found herself squealing as a strong grip hauled her to her feet. Her balance tottered, and she reached out blindly to the nearest solid thing to steady herself, which of course was Anakin. Before she could move away, though, a long finger came to her chin, where it tilted her face upward, somehow stilling her more effectively than if she’d been chained. Blue eyes, a shade she'd never seen anywhere else, glittered down at her above a boyish smirk. He seemed much taller than she’d thought and she swallowed, surprised at the difficulty.
“Is this better, milady?” he murmured in that low voice that awakened all her nerve endings at once.
She was acutely aware of the sudden thickness in the air, of every hair on her body standing on end. Of her palms still against his chest, of the way his hands perfectly encircled her wrists, of the naked longing in his eyes that burned her. He wanted her to acknowledge, really acknowledge, that he was a grown man now. And not try to take it back, as she had clumsily done several times already. Something in her lifted at her validation meaning so much to him. But she'd taken those earlier times back for a reason, and now –
She couldn’t remember the reason, because Anakin’s thumbs had started tracing warm circles on the back of her hands where they lay against him, where she could feel the strong pulse beneath that was going as fast as her own. It seemed he was having trouble breathing too. Something in his eyes - so close she saw her face in them - went soft, like he was about to slip into a trance.
He leaned forward, just slightly. His warm breath fell on her lips and cheek as he whispered her name again, making her pulse race even more wildly.
Her own breath caught in her throat, audibly.
Then suddenly her wrists were cold, and her hands were touching nothing but air.
Anakin, evidently mistaking her reaction, had pulled back in an instant. He'd turned toward the stone railing and fixed his eyes on the landscape, his face hardening. Padmé opened her mouth to apologize, but as was becoming usual, the words dried up the moment she looked at him.
Apologize for what? Not being the one who'd pulled away? Something other than common sense kicking in? She wished she could tell herself it had been common sense, and not a sense of a completely different kind.
"It's late," she said, quickly turning from him. "The Queen will be expecting us for tea soon." There was some truth to this, but it still felt hollow to her. Anakin didn't question her, though. Risking a glance back at him as she turned to walk away, she felt a mixture of relief and sadness that he had not moved from his spot, still facing the vista, back turned to her. She couldn't see his face, for which she was thankful, but she was certain she saw a tensing in the hand still resting on the railing.
The urge to comfort him clawed at her desperately again, and she shoved it down. She hated hurting him, more than she'd realized.
And it wasn't going to diminish any time soon.