Author's Notes: Many thanks to Buttercup and Andrian for beta reads. This fic is in response to the Quotations Roulette Challenge on the Jedi Council Fan Fiction boards on The quote I received was:

Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken. Author unknown.

Feedback is always appreciated!

Masks of Duty

WendyNat


"We- I… I hope it works out. I've been so nervous around him, lately." Dormé glanced away, her face troubled. "I'm not sure-"

"Just be yourself," Padmé said softly. Then, with a small smile, she said, "Everyone else is already taken, after all."

Dormé nodded slowly, then turned back to look at her, gratitude in her expression. Padmé knew it wasn't gratitude for the advice, but for her acceptance of what Dormé had just confessed. Had the other woman actually thought she would condemn her for admitting her feelings for Captain Typho? Had the other woman actually thought she hadn't noticed the small smiles, the stolen glances, the way their eyes lingered on each other?

"I'm happy for you, Dormé. Never doubt that. I hope he knows what a gift he has in you."

"Well, I'm not certain what will come of it, we've really just begun to talk, but… thank you, milady-"

"None of that here, Dormé. It's just Padmé. We've been friends for too long."

Dormé smiled and opened her mouth but before she could speak, they both heard Captain Typho's voice rise in the other room as he greeted someone at the main entrance. They stared at each other a moment in silence. The Jedi had arrived to escort them to the transport vessel. To send Padmé back to Naboo, under cover, with Anakin Skywalker as her Jedi protector. Which meant it was time for them to leave.

Dormé reached out and touched Padmé's headpiece, adjusting it slightly before she was satisfied. "Then, as a friend, I'll give you back the same advice. Be yourself."

Padmé sighed as her friend left the room to meet the Jedi. Be yourself. Such a simple command, a simple statement, and for most it would be obvious. Easy. But for the former Queen of Naboo, Senator Amidala, Padmé Naberrie… it wasn't so simple. She wasn't even certain, anymore, who "herself" was. She had worn the mantle of office for so long that she imagined it had sunk into her very flesh, and the masks she wore as Queen and Senator, as servant to her people, were as much a part of her as the raw, indefinable Padmé that lay beneath. In fact, the weight of her many identities seemed so heavy at times that she wondered if she even remembered how to remove them – not just to switch them with another mask, but to remove them completely.

Then, she stopped to wonder just what Dormé had been getting at, when she-

"Milady, are you ready?" Captain Typho stood at the door and, Dormé's words forgotten for the moment, she nodded and followed him from the room.

--

She recalled those musings a few weeks later as she sat at her dressing table, preparing to leave Naboo. Be herself? She had thought she would no longer remember how to remove the masks, but as she spent more time with Anakin the true problem became apparent: it was near impossible to remember to keep the mask firmly on, when he was near. His smile, his laugh, the depth of his seemingly innocent comments… yes, the mask was difficult to keep. And it scared her.

Whenever she let go the mask, whenever she allowed that wall between them to be breached, she felt herself slipping into a deep chasm. Very deep. It appeared that being herself could be more dangerous to her heart than even the venom from the two kouhuns would have been. The thought of the kouhuns brought her mind back to Anakin, to the way her view of him had changed forever that night on Coruscant, after he had saved her from the deadly creatures.

She could remember, so well, how he had looked when she sat up in the bed, awakened by the hum of lightsabers and the presence of the Jedi in her sleeping chamber on Coruscant. He had been control and skill and concern, confidence and power, and it had struck her like a blade through the heart that he was, indeed, no longer the nine year old boy she had once known. Her eyes had locked with his when he spoke to her, bidding her to stay, to be safe; and her gaze had followed him as he ran from the room to continue the pursuit.

Perhaps that was when Dormé began to guess, for she had been the first at her bedside and had seen the look in Padmé's unshielded eyes as she followed the sight of Anakin Skywalker. Yes, that must have been when Dormé began to suspect. Dormé had always seen too much.

Padmé put down the hairbrush and sighed.

Her sister, Sola, was another who had always seen too much. The late night talk she'd shared with her, before coming with Anakin to the lake country, still played and replayed in her memory.

"You should get to know him, give him a chance. Just be Padmé for a while. You have this time, why not forget Senator Amidala while it lasts and just be yourself?"

Padme looked at her sister. "I can't do that. I… it's my duty." She took a deep breath, wondering how she had thought speaking to her sister about her relationship issues – if they could be called that - would be a good idea. "I have my duty, and he has his."

"There are more things in life than duty."

"But my duty is my life, Sola. Naboo is my life," she replied, a small smile on her face. A smile that faded with her sister's next words.

"You have a duty to yourself also, not just to Naboo, Padmé. Don't forget that."

But neither her sister nor Dormé truly understood. When her masks were off, when she was just herself, she was in danger – they could not give in to this. It was folly, it was fantasy, a dream. It could not be. She was a Senator. He was to be a Jedi. The Chosen One, or so the whispers had said. How could she come in between the Chosen One and his destiny? She could not. She would not.

When she was just herself, she couldn't help it, she couldn't stop the inexorable slide towards ruin. Without her mask, she could not deny the piercing longing she had felt when their laughter mingled underneath the Naboo sun. She could not ignore the unnatural draw she'd felt for him even when she'd told him that their love could never be. She could not forget the way it still wounded her, that vision of firelight and shadow playing across his face and revealing his pain and love. A love rejected.

And now, even with the mask on, she couldn't deny that the raw feelings he exhibited were a balm to her, filling a void she hadn't realized existed. An emptiness, a hollow inside her, filled by his smile and his laugh and his need for her. Your presence is soothing. His words from that very morning – how long had he known she was there? She had stared at him, sensing his turmoil, drinking in the vision of him standing on the balcony in meditation, his lithe form outlined by the Naboo sunrise. How could she not be drawn to him? How could she not want to soothe the darkness that peeked around the edges of his brightness, a darkness – she believed - borne of that desperate need that they both shared but dared not pursue…

Her mask was cracked, flawed, and she desperately grabbed at the pieces, determinedly rebuilt it. She studied herself in the mirror, realizing that time was short, and she needed to hurry so as not to delay their departure for Tatooine. With a silent nod, she stood, resolute, mask firmly in place. She could not risk it, not… no. She could not follow Dormé's advice, her sister's advice. She could not be herself.

It would destroy them.

--

Many years before, she had stood in front of the wall in the antechamber of the Queen's private offices, studying the newly replaced marble. The battle to free Naboo from the Trade Federation had caused a small amount of damage to the palace, and this had been one of the final repairs made.

Bright white marble, with soft gray veining – it was subtle and beautiful, like the planet itself. Peaceful. Except for one section, where a jagged vein of deepest black ran across the pale surrounding colors. She had traced it with a finger, silent, and hadn't heard Sio Bibble come up behind her until he spoke.

"It is a rather distinct flaw, isn't it, your Highness? We can have it repair-"

"No," she had said immediately, finger still tracing the jagged line, admiring the way it tore through the white marble without care, heedless of order and restraint. "It is not a flaw, Governor. It is its beauty."

Silence had answered her, and she'd let her hand drop back to her side, continuing to trace the vein with her eyes. In a low voice, almost to herself, she had said, "It makes the white look even more pure. Would you have realized the beauty so much, would the white look so bright, if the flaw wasn't there?"

Now, years later, that scene returned to her as she knelt in Cliegg Lars' dusty garage, as she held the shaking form of Anakin Skywalker. His words, his confession of death and hate, delivered with tears and fire, echoed in her mind. His pain. His darkness. It wasn't simply peeking from behind the brightness, as she had thought on Naboo; rather, it was an entity of its own, a presence in and of itself – not yet fully realized, but fueled by the same raw passion as the brightness was.

It should have frightened her, but instead it fascinated her. The darkness in him was what was drawing her in; she knew in her mind that that was the ultimate folly, but she was unable to resist its pull. The darkness in him was like that jagged vein of deepest black, and to her eyes it made the other part all the more beautiful for the comparison.

--

Beautiful. Anakin stood beside her in the odd chariot, days after he had wept with her on the dusty floor of the Lars garage. He was beautiful, strong and tall and fearless. No, not fearless… but his fear was for her, not for himself.

They were going to die.

They could hear the crowd's roar, its eerie bloodthirstiness filling that void inside of her with cold dread… there was something else that could fill it, that could protect her from that biting cold, but it would destroy them both. Wouldn't it?

But who cared, now? They were going to die, to be destroyed anyway. Why not, finally, take the advice of Dormé and her sister? Why not be herself? What reason, now, for her mask? There was none.

And so, she let it go. She felt it slide from her, as if it were a physical mask, the poorly mended fractures falling apart with little effort. Very little effort.

She turned to him, silently mourning the fact that their hands were bound and she could not touch him. Words of love, of truth, escaped her lips but she was mindless of them, her sight and heart and her very being only noticing him. And then… his lips were on hers, warmth and need and desire and love, and the void was filled, flooded.

Then the cart jerked under them and they were moving into the arena, the cheers and calls for blood growing louder. Their lips broke apart in the harsh sun and she looked up past the assembled aliens and into the brightly lit sky, a fierce determination welling in her very being. Suddenly, she wanted very much to live – not only to fulfill her duty to her people, but to fulfill her duty to herself.

The End