"...your presence is soothing..."
Anakin Skywalker, Attack of the Clones.
author's note: When I wrote this, I had intended for it to have taken place in the refugee ship en route from Coruscant to Naboo. Not soon afterwards, I realized that the secluded setting of the story did not fit in with the environment of a refugee transport. However by then, the story had already been written and only drastic modifications could have corrected that. So although this fic is a missing moment that is supposed to take place between Coruscant and Naboo, it is technically an AU.
The Padawan finished his ninth kata. He would have to postpone sleep with thoughts. The nightmare hovered at the edges of the Padawan's consciousness. Waiting. Patient. Eventually, he would sleep. Eventually, his defences would be so weakened by the discouragement and despair that he, of all the Jedi, seemed to be particularly vulnerable. And he would lose the battle.
His thoughts did little to encourage him.
He missed Master Obi-Wan.
How strange to admit to that even in the silence of his own mind.
When he and his Master had stood in the centre of the Council Room and listened while Master Yoda said those five insignificant little words that had completely altered his equilibrium - "Handle that your Padawan will" - the first thought that had entered his head was - "Padmé." then "An assignment of my own." then "No Master Obi-Wan."
The Chancellor had filled him with so much confidence. Anakin never really understood how much the Chancellor was privy to the Council's private considerations. The Jedi Council worked very closely with the Senate at times and he assumed there must be some shared confidences between the two. That was one part of his Political Appreciation studies that he never fully understood - how the Jedi maintained a working relationship with the Galactic Senate and still harboured prejudice against politicians in general. Many times, he had wondered if Palpatine had somehow learnt of the prophecy, of his destiny to be the Chosen One of the Jedi.
He rather hoped not. He liked to think that Palpatine was drawn to him because of Anakin's own personal charisma. He liked to think that the Chancellor saw some hidden potential in him that made Palpatine think even more highly of Anakin than the Padawan's own Master.
The Padawan had harboured a lot of resentment towards Master Obi-Wan ever since their separate missions had been assigned. Right from the start, his Master had not even bothered to try and mask his scepticism, his lack of faith in Anakin's capability to handle a mission on his own; Anakin even suspected that Master Obi-Wan must have privately expressed his doubts to some of the members of the Council later. And afterwards, his Master had bombarded him with lectures: lectures on comportment and deportment, on self-control and detachment. Master Obi-Wan's fears had been glaringly obvious: Anakin alone with a woman for whom he had carried a torch for ten years. Under normal circumstances, the Padawan would have been amused.
In this case, he was hurt and infuriated.
After the initial euphoria, it had finally sunk into Anakin's mind that by leaving his Master to go off on a mission of his own, Obi-Wan was leaving him to go on his own mission by himself. The last time that had happened was in Anakin's first year at the Temple. The Padawan had not liked it then; and now, he liked it even less.
He and Master Obi-Wan were a team. His Master's adherence to protocol complemented the Padawan's unconventionality; Master Obi-Wan's patience - Anakin's quickness to act, Master Obi-Wan's skill - Anakin's strength. What would happen the next time Obi-Wangot tangled in a Mon Calamarian political crisis? Or even the next time he fell into a nest of gundarks? The Padawan had been worried that Obi-Wanwould not be able to cope without him.
All Master Obi-Wan seemed to worry about was that Anakin would make a nuisance of himself in front of the Senator.
The Padawan had not needed lectures as much as he had needed words of encouragement and confidence. Even naggings about his carelessness with his lightsaber and his rashness during confrontations would have been more welcome. He had especially needed his Master to press and poke and pry until Anakin broke and confessed the truth about the dreams that he always shied away from elaborating on. That these vaguely disturbing dreams were no longer dreams. They had now become nightmares.
Dreams about his mother were not a new experience to either of them. The Padawan had been dreaming about her from the first night that he slept in the Temple at the age of nine. In the beginning, they had disturbed the little boy so much that he had insisted on his Master returning him to Tatooine. Anakin had believed these dreams were prophetic visions about an impending danger to his Mother; his Master had believed that the dreams were a manifestation of homesickness. The disagreement that had ensued had needed to be settled in front of the Jedi Council. The ruling had been done in Master Obi-Wan's favour. The Padawan needed to severe all ties with his old life if he was ever to grow properly as a Jedi. The Padawan also needed to learn to accept and trust his Master's guidance at all times. Anakin had borne Obi-Wan no resentment. In their short time together, the Padawan had learnt to trust his Master implicitly. Anakin believed that his Master genuinely cared about him and acted in his best interests. He had accepted the Council's decision in good faith.
Sure enough, the dreams, reducing in frequency with time, had finally stopped in his pre-adolescence. Eventually, even the memory of his mother had faded in clarity if not in poignancy.
Then a few months back, the dreams had restarted: increasing in intensity until they made the Padawan fear sleep. And this time around, Anakin could not bring himself to confide in his Master.
After ten years in training and a strength and naturalness in the Force almost unmatched in Jedi history, the Padawan was still no nearer to approaching his trials. He knew his Master's reasons: Anakin's impetuousness, arrogance, unpredictability. The last thing he needed was for Obi-Wan to add to that list that Anakin, at the age of twenty, was suffering from homesickness and was yet to master the cardinal Jedi code of detachment. And it would have been so far from the truth. The real truth about the dreams was even more damaging.
The dreams followed no known pattern. They seemed to come irregularly with random intensity. Each was horrifyingly real. And every time Anakin woke up - bathed in sweat, gasping and grateful for reality - his heart would be pounding, not with loneliness or melancholy but with fear.
Fear was of the Dark Side.
Jedi do not know fear.
Jedi do not have nightmares.
The Padawan grimaced as he channelled his thoughts elsewhere. Presently they gave him no comfort.
The alternative came to him as natural as breathing. If the events of the past few days had not happened, the image of her, perfectly honed and preserved in his mind would be enough to give him consolation. He would speak to her imagined form of his problems, write letters to her in his head and listen as she replied with her wisdom and love.
But now, thoughts of Padmé were no longer a guarantee of comfort. It was amazing how someone that could give so much pleasure merely by breathing and smiling and being could also be the arbitrator of pain. As much as Anakin longed for her - her presence, her attention - sometimes, it hurt to be near her. When he was with her, he would find himself pouring out his soul in a way he had never done with anyone else- not Master Obi-Wan, not even his Mother. He could speak about his problems with Obi-Wan and his insecurities without fear of her thinking less of him. He could speak about the devotion that he had carried for her for ten years and not fear being rejected. What hurt him was the shield that would come over her eyes; the way that she would draw herself away after a particularly intense moment of sharing. She knew what was between them, what could be between them - and she was fighting it. It didn't hurt that Padmé did not care for him. It hurt that she did - almost as intensely as he did for her, and that she was going to use her entire will to fight against herself ever succumbing to it.
Of course, Master Obi-Wan was right. The Padawan really should not be thinking about her.
Anakin shut his eyes and thought of her. Black-opal eyes speaking words that her lips denied. Her figure framed in the doorway, small and vulnerable. Her whole body at once calling him and rejecting him.
It should not have been so hard to be patient. He had waited ten years. Padmé was his destiny as he was hers. Nothing could possibly change that.
Always in motion, the future is.
Nothing was ever written in stone. There was always the fork in the path, the decision that could take one's life in either of two completely opposite directions. For him, as far as Padmé was concerned, there had been no decision, no turning point. He was hers completely and had been from the first moment that he laid eyes on her. But he knew her strength of will. He knew that she would not accept that she was his; he knew that she would not come to him easily. That she might never come to him at all.
In the ten years they had been apart, this hold she had on him had haunted him, soothed him. Now that he was with her again, it was an ache. Whispering her name in the silence of his thoughts, seeking for her aura and enveloping it around him was no longer enough. The devotion he had carried for ten years was piercing his insides like a living creature, looking for something to nourish on. The closer he got to her, in every possible way, the worse the ache. It was as if partially pacifying his longing only increased its appetite, only made him want her more.
Padmé would come to him. He had to believe that.
Nevertheless, hope was dim and doubt plentiful. Anakin's mind succumbed to sleep, weakened and despondent. There was no hope of a struggle.
The nightmare claimed it.
The sand was rising, a swirling whirlpool of dust and heat and darkness. It might have been night. It might have been day. In a sandstorm there was not much difference.
Anakin struggled against the tempest on stunted legs. He felt large in his body, or his body felt small encasing him. His mouth struggled against the cries that he knew that once started, would continue too easily. Instead, he swiped a chubby hand roughly against the dampness of his face - from the sand, of course - and forced himself to call urgently but not plaintively.
Mom. The word was almost alien in his world now but in the nightmares, it always fell out of his lips so naturally. The years had rolled back in this reality. Anakin the Jedi Padawan might never have existed. He was only Anakin the slave boy, a little slave boy who had misplaced his mother.
Sometimes she answered. There was always a franticness in her voice that he had no memory of from real life. Desperation rose with his tears. His small body turned hopelessly in the eddy. The winds caught at him and lifted him, throwing him this way and that. It was futile fighting against the rage.
Her cries were getting fainter, more anguished. He struggled against the vortex. He did violence to himself to get to her. But it was useless. The winds swept him across the desert plain. Half blinded, he forced himself to squint into the dust and darkness.
She was there. Faded and ageless and standing impossibly straight in the eye of the storm, the expression on her face one of abject agony. Her lips formed his name.
"Ani." Hopeless, now. She had given up hope. She had given up on him.
Mom! Please hold on. I'm coming. I won't fail you.
A wave broke against his face. When his vision cleared, she was gone.
Darkness, smoke, heat. The sand beat against him mercilessly, punishing him for failing his mother, making him feel the torture that she was going through... He was drowning in his despair. He would die of it and he would welcome it.
Abruptly, in the consciousness that was neither dream nor reality, he saw - felt the image of water quenching fire. The heat from the desert receded.
The hand had slipped into his so simply he had not noticed when it did. But now he grabbed at it, clutching at it fiercely, desperately. A lifeline. She had found him. Her sunshine moonshine presence was filling him to the top; her aura was pouring into his like ice cold water on a raging fire.
Hold on, please - The storm was dying down. The light was coming.
"Shh, Ani." Her soft hand on his face, stroking back his hair like his mother had done so often, so long ago. And his mother was there. In the increasing light, he could see her clearly. And though her face was sorrowful, she was smiling and whispering.
"Don't look back."
No. I'm coming.
"I'm right here. It's OK."
The storm had lifted. The twin suns shone brightly, harshly, briefly against the desert plain and reflected on Shmi Skywalker's ageless face. Then abruptly, sulkily, the nightmare receded. Tatooine, the desert, the storm and his mother receded with it.
"Don't look back."
He could feel the dampness of his clothes, the sheets beneath him. His chest was still heaving and he could hear his blood as it rushed behind his ears. Her fingers were still smoothening his hair; they passed over his ears and felt like rainwater. And he could feel his body - long, strong powerful. He was a Jedi once more. The particulars of the dream were already fading. And it had not been a vision. Just a bad dream.
Dreams pass in time.
He rolled so that he pressed closer to her. His eyes were still closed and maybe he was dreaming. He dreamt of her always, waking and sleeping. The other dreams had never felt so real. Her skin was soft against his cheek. One hand was dancing in magic circles across his face. His own hand rested in the other; he felt as if she was squeezing his heart with her hand; he welcomed the pain. Her aura brushed against his, soothing, intoxicating.
The slightest pressure on his hand. "Shh... I'm here." Her voice came to nestle against his ear like a warm animal.
He sighed and rolled entirely on his side, burying into her softness, throwing the arm that she was not holding around her. Her hand slipped to the nape of his neck. He felt a tug against his braid. He sighed again and refused to open his eyes.
He could not guess how long he remained like that. Perhaps he drifted to true sleep while she laid guard above him. But then she was pulling away, retracting her softness from him. He tried to hold onto her but with that deceptive strength that she had, she had already pried herself loose. He rolled onto his back, sulking.
Her soft laughter was very close. He could feel the sweetness of her breath across his face and then - briefly, very briefly and yet still unmistakable, the softest pressure on his lips.
His mouth burned.
The living creature in him clawed so sharply that he gasped aloud and his eyes flew open. Padmé's shocked black opals stared down at him in the darkness. For a few seconds that felt like an eternity, their souls connected. With the Force, he felt the perfect rhythm of their heartbeats and breaths.
Then Padmé was drawing away from him, not physically yet but the sunshine-moonshine presence that had recently filled him up was withdrawing as she distanced herself from him. He could see that incredible willpower in action, reining in her emotions, forcing them back in their chains. For an insane moment, Anakin's own will wanted to rise against hers, clash and battle and then see who came out victor.
The moment passed. Her hold over him would never break. He was hers even though she might never accept that she was his. He could do only what she wanted. And he could never fight against her.
Her eyes were still staring into his the way he always knew that they could. He closed his eyes, wanting to carry that image to his dreams.
Padmé's weight slid off his bed, so feather-light that it was no wonder Anakin had not felt it when it first came to rest. He could feel her presence drifting out of his chambers. He fought against the urge to open his eyes to catch a glimpse of her form. He fought against the stronger urge to call after her, to plead with her to come to him. Instead, he kept his eyes tightly shut and held onto yet another piece of her to feed his devotion.
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