A Flicker of Hope

Disclaimer: It all belongs to George.

Note: Well…it's been a while. Sorry for my lack of updating…All I can say is college is really really really hard. Some of this story is in response to a challenge that was issued months ago (over at the AMAZING Obidala Always fan message board which I can't link to here for some reason...so google it!), and I've finally fleshed out the chapter. But enough of that, here we go again! I hope I can live up to all your very flattering reviews :o)

Chapter 9

Padme's feet were moving, but her mind was not. Her senses were shut down, and she walked blindly down a hallway, guided by the hand at her back. Thoughts floated aimlessly in her head, unreadable and lifeless. She stared ahead blankly, incapable of feeling. A robe of darkness surrounded her, dousing the flames that once burned within. The flicker of hope had died out, now only a pile of smoldering ashes in the corner of a basement prison cell.

Obi-wan watched Padme with growing concern. She was slipping away again, venturing closer and closer to the precipice from which she could never return. He couldn't sense her thoughts or presence in the force, and it terrified him. She reminded him of a child, lost in the forest, trapped in a sea of vines and thorns, unable to escape. He wanted to cut through the barriers between them, but had no idea how. It was as though a living wall had sprung up between them, silently taunting him.

He knew he'd pushed her too far today. She hadn't been ready to think about her future, and he should've known better. Obi-Wan wished he could go back and try again. He'd cornered her at the top of a mountain, giving her two choices – to follow him or jump. And she'd followed him at first; she'd agreed to secretly return to Naboo with him, to let him determine her child's future. But along the way down the peak, she'd slipped. And now she was losing her footing more and more, and while he tried to reach out to her, she wouldn't take his hand. Obi-wan was losing her, and he didn't know how to pull her back to safety.

But he couldn't lose her. His feelings for her were jumbled. Confused. But he knew that he cared about her, and that was enough. He could puzzle out his emotions later; she was the one in the spotlight tonight. But the spotlight was dimming, and the woman he thought he knew was beginning to disappear.

He rubbed his thumb in circles, gently caressing her back as they reached the door to her sleeping chambers. He couldn't stop touching her – he had to know that she was really there. She was slightly swaying as Obi-wan keyed the entrance pad and the doors hissed open.

Bright, white light illuminated the tiny bedroom, offering little contrast to the artificial glow in the hallway. From the wall protruded a small twin-sized bed, spartan gray blankets its modest covering. A metallic table and two shiny chairs were the only furniture in the room besides a small dresser in the corner, seated next to the door to the refresher.

"You can sleep here tonight," Obi-Wan said quietly. "I know it's not what you're used to, but if you need anything, I'm next door."

She said nothing and simply stood in the doorway.

"Padme?" he asked hesitantly.

She could hear him speaking to her, hear him call her name, but she didn't want to answer. She was tired of thinking, tired of everything. She needed to be alone, yet she wanted him with her. There was no explanation for her feelings, and she wanted to sweep them to the deepest corner of her mind. She took a deep breath and turned to face him.

"Thank you," she whispered. She realized she sounded frightened, and mentally kicked herself for showing more weakness. She was bitter and angry, but she couldn't bring herself to take it out on him. She felt guilty, more so as his eyes immediately softened to her "damsel in distress" state. How could he still care for her when she was the cause of all the misery in his life? His strength was supporting both of them, and that was too much for her to ask. She didn't have the right to need him, and yet he let her take him anyway. Her eyes darted to the floor, unable to meet his gentle gaze. She wanted to disappear in the blanket of shame that was slowly covering her.

Immediately he brought his hand up to cup her cheek, absentmindedly brushing his thumb over her lips. Her eyes flashed to his, and she found more love and compassion than she could take pouring from him.

As he gazed down at her, surging with emotion, he murmured, "Let me carry you, Padme."

She was speechless. The woman inside her had taken complete control; the warrior was gone, drowned in the strength flowing from Obi-Wan. She had no idea what to do. And when he reached out to her, she was surprised to find herself wrapping her arms around him. She rested her cheek against his shoulder, and let her eyes close. He pressed his lips to her hair, and she trembled as his breath danced across her forehead. He felt so right.

Obi-Wan wrapped his arms tighter around her and whispered, "I can carry us both. Let me take care of you."

His hands had somehow wound their way through her hair, and Padme felt completely incapable of speech. How could she say no to this man? This perfect man! Despite her flaws, her mistakes, he still cared about her. And he wanted to carry her! Her! She didn't understand it.

"Obi-Wan." It was all she could say. The sensations coming from his fingers - innocently stroking her hair - were entrancing. She grasped the back of his robe, and pulled herself closer to him, sighing. It was a perfect moment; time had been frozen by a drop of the purest, gentlest love that sparkled brighter than all the stars in the universe. Nothing could shatter their fantasy.

And it was in that perfect moment that Obi-Wan came to a startling realization. He loved this woman. He loved her! It wasn't a passionate or lustful love, but a genuine, heartfelt adoration that flitted through him like a sweet summer day. In just a few short days, she'd become his world. She was his only source of happiness, his last chance for redemption. She was his chance for rebirth, his new hope. And he would do anything for her. He'd give her anything she wanted, simply to see her happy. If he could only fix what had been broken, they could both start again.

He closed his eyes, reveling in the feel of her in his arms. He softly swept his fingers down her back, gently caressing up and down. He could sense confusion and peace fighting for control inside her. He needed to take her away from here.

"Padme, open your eyes," he whispered.

The room surrounding her had disappeared. Electric blue light enveloped her, carrying her, flowing through her, opening her mind to an abyss that was full and empty all at once. The blue light morphed into a silky red, rippling through the void, surrounding her with comforting warmth. Obi-Wan was gone, but the memory of his presence lingered. She should've been frightened, but she wasn't. Something about this place felt safe. It was as though this was where she belonged.

The red light hovering around her seeped closer, almost within arm's length. She reached out to it, and was surprised when it swirled around her hand, quickly slinking up her arm. Immediately she tensed, unsure of this new discovery.

"Let me in." She heard Obi-Wan's voice dance through the void. "Relax." His voice echoed through her consciousness. A flame of hesitation burned through her but quickly died out. She took a deep breath, and oh-so-slowly let the red light cover her.

"Close your eyes."

She did as she was commanded, and felt solid ground beneath her feet again. She could hear the roar of a waterfall, smell dew-covered flowers, and taste a hot, summer day. Birds were chirping all around her, and a soft breeze tickled her face. A characteristic crunch of leaves from behind caught her attention. He was here.

She smiled as he wrapped his arms around her, shivered as he kissed her cheek, and melted into him when he whispered in her ear.

"Open you eyes."

She didn't hesitate. She was standing atop a mountain that overlooked a lush green valley. Giant, flowered trees decorated the lip of the bowl that surrounded a crystal blue lake. Sunlight streamed through the canopy of the dew-covered trees, jumping through the dewdrops and decorating the valley floor with specks of jeweled light. Cascades of liquid azure-tinged diamonds flowed from a sloping cliff far across the valley, pouring into the lake with a magnificent roar. The reflection of a dancing rainbow glistened in the center of the lake, mirroring the streaks stretching through the center of the waterfall.

Neither Padme nor Obi-Wan made any move to speak. Both simply stared in wonder at the beauty that was flowing around them. Padme reached one hand up to Obi-Wan's – lightly resting over her belly – and laced her fingers through his. She sighed in complete contentment as he squeezed her fingers gently, sending her a force wave of reassurance.

"So beautiful," she murmured.

He regarded her for a moment, and then smiled. "It is."

"Where are –"

"Shhhhh," he hushed. "It doesn't matter."

It felt as though he'd whisked her off to a secret dream world, where only they could go. Perhaps it was a place hidden somewhere in his mind; she felt detached from her own thoughts and experiences, as though she was floating away from her consciousness and becoming much more aware of another's. What was this place?

"Relax, Padme." He reached up and traced the curve of her cheek. "Feel. Don't think."

Feel indeed! She couldn't help feeling. Every nuance of touch between them was sparking through her nerves, creating a jumble of thoughts – some innocent and others not – in her mind. He was sharing something special with her, that much was apparent. This was a critical piece to the puzzle of Obi-Wan, and she wanted to tuck it away in a safe place, ready to bring out again when the time was right. She was beginning to see him as much more than just a Jedi Master. The man was starting to surface, and he was more precious and beautiful than she ever could have imagined.

But why was he sharing this with her? He was being far too kind to her, and it made her uncomfortable; she had no idea what to do. He said he could carry her, but could he? Did he really want to? Deep down she wanted to be taken care of; she wanted him to hold her, tell her everything would be alright, and keep her safe. And yet, she was terrified she'd be nothing more than a burden. The last thing she wanted was to be added to his list of problems. The shame that had begun to fade reappeared, darkening her thoughts. She had no right to take his offer.

"Obi-Wan?" His name escaped her lips. It didn't register in his mind at first. She whispered his name again, and this time he looked down at her. He felt uncertainty in her mind. She wanted to give herself over to his care, but something was holding her back. He probed deeper, and saw he was the cause of the uncertainty. She didn't feel worthy. He saw that she had put him on a pedestal high above her, and felt too low and cumbersome to be of any concern to him. He tilted her face up to look at him, smiling as her deep brown eyes met his own icy blue.

"Padme, let me in."

She took a deep, shaky breath. "I don't deserve you."

"You deserve better."

"Obi-Wan-." He silenced her with a finger.

"Just tell me what you want, Padme, and I'll give it to you. Anything."

Unconsciously, she let a small whimper escape her lips, and he pulled her closer.

And suddenly she realized she wanted to say yes. She wanted him to carry her. It was time to lighten her load, to give up her burden to someone stronger than she. And oh-so-slowly, she began to sink deeper into his embrace. Little by little, she let more of her weight shift into his arms, until she wasn't holding herself up any longer.

He smiled as she leaned into him. Relief swam through his mind, and he nuzzled his cheek against her hair. She wasn't lost anymore. The living wall was scorched; the precipice was far to the south. And now they were traveling north, out of the winter, and into a new spring. She had given him her trust, wholly and completely. He had to be careful now; he needed to plant her trust in a safe place, and wait for it to sprout. It was too early to test that trust. It needed time to root, and he would have to water it carefully if he was to keep her.

"It's time to go back." Sadness laced his voice.

She simply nodded and closed her eyes again. The sounds of the valley began to fade, and the buzz of the corridor on Polis Massa began to re-emerge. A great sense of loss flooded through her, as though a part of her had been ripped away. Slowly she let her eyes open again, and looked up to see Obi-Wan regarding her thoughtfully. He looked down and took both her hands in his own, and then met her eyes again. "Tell me what you want," he murmured.

What did she want? She had no idea. A few hours ago she would've wanted to go home to her family, to go back to her old life, and to forget about the Jedi. But he had changed her mind and her heart. Her heart. It was amazing how fickle it could be. Despising him one minute, adoring him the next, but always keeping him at the forefront of her mind. And maybe that was it: him. He was all she could think about, and they'd shared so much in such a short time. It was hard to imagine what they'd share after a year (or even years!) together. Perhaps what she really wanted – what she really needed – had been in front of her all along. And then she said something neither of them expected.

"I want you."

His eyes widened in surprise and he straightened, seeming to grow taller. He couldn't have heard her right. She wasn't that bold, and there was no reason for her to make such an admission. And yet he wanted the words he'd heard to be true. He knew he shouldn't, that his attachment to her was wrong, but he wasn't sure that he really cared anymore. He deserved happiness just like anyone else, didn't he? And especially after what he'd been through.

"Stay with me," she continued. "I don't want to do this alone." She reached up and traced the line of his jaw with her finger, feeling a slight satisfaction when his eyes closed and he leaned into her touch. "Carry me, Obi-Wan. I'm not strong enough."

His eyes reopened and met hers, and his gaze softened to a feather-light touch. "You're strong enough, Padme, you've just forgotten. You need to rest, to forgive yourself, and remember who you are. And I'll keep you safe until you're ready."

She bit her lip. "Stay with me tonight?"

He leaned down and softly kissed her cheek. He let his lips rest against her skin, murmuring, "Anything you want."

She let out a quiet, sad laugh. "I wish it were that simple."

"Things will get better, Padme. I promise." He took a deep breath, collecting his thoughts. "It's not going to be easy. I know."

He watched as her head fell. He reached out and lifted her chin, forcing eye contact. "But it's going to be alright. We're going to get through this. It won't happen tomorrow, or next month, or even next year. But slowly the pain will fade, and you'll accept it. You won't forget, but it will be smoothed over. You'll understand the pain and that will be enough."

Padme nodded. She wanted to believe him. Her heart ached to be free of its burden, and to have the promise of hope, flickering just beyond her, yet still within reach. Oh how she yearned for peace! Everything was changing; she was changing. Where once had stood a strong, proud woman, she now saw a weak, ashamed girl, lost in the tempest of life. She needed to cling to her newfound hope, and let Obi-Wan remind her who she was. But not yet. She wanted to be free, and yet she was beginning to come to terms with her newfound enslavement. Sadness and pain had suddenly become facets of her life that were not so strange. She could feel them molding into her, and feelings of resignation began hammering her into something new. Returning to and remembering who she used to be wasn't going to be easy. She felt like a rag doll, weak and powerless. Exhaustion was seeping through her skin, saturating her body and hastening her acceptance of a fate that wasn't hers.

Obi-Wan tugged her hand, pulling her into the bedroom. He pointed to the doorway within the room and said, "The refresher is in there. I'll try and find something for you to change into."

A knot twisted in her stomach. "You're leaving?"

He smiled. She really did trust him. "Just for a little while. I need to talk with Master Yoda-" He stopped short as she frowned. Gently he stroked her cheek with his thumb. "I'll be back. Don't worry."

She nodded, somewhat surprised by how much she wanted him to stay. Though she knew it was absurd, she was terrified that he wasn't going to come back, terrified that he would forget about her. She'd let him in, shown him her weaknesses, and he knew about the fissures and cracks that were beginning to surface. Even the smallest change or tremor could cause her to crumble. Obi-Wan was carrying a piece of her with him now, and that piece was the key to her stability. With him she felt safe, but the thought of losing him made her feel incredibly vulnerable. She crossed her arms, hugging herself, as her eyes darted to the floor. She didn't like feeling this exposed in front of him.

Obi-Wan could sense her discomfort, and leaned down to give her a small kiss on the cheek. "I'll be back soon."

Padme closed her eyes as he swept out of the room and the doors swished closed.