A Jedi's Reward
Anakin could just see Padmé's cloak ahead of him, swirling and dipping across the floor. Her steps were silent on the marble. He had only been to the Palace a couple of times; if he took his eyes off her he would be lost. Just before she disappeared around a corner, he thought she glanced briefly in his direction.
His pace quickened.
He rounded the corner and stopped short. At the end of a short hallway was a set of open double doors. Beyond the doors she stood in front of a blazing fire, her back turned to him.
For long moments, he just stared at her, transfixed. She had thrown back her hood and dark curls trailed to her waist. The old urge to rush to her side and run his fingers through her hair, to find out if it really felt as velvety as it looked, threatened to overcome him. He held himself back sternly. This was Padmé's game and the next move was hers.
"I'm glad you came. I wasn't sure… I'm glad."
Her soft words, said so softly, so uncertainly, almost broke him. He dragged his eyes away from her and stared into the white-walled room. It was filled with bright tapestries and objects of intricate beauty. Her private Palace chamber. He had only glimpsed it once. Not far from here would be the yellow-walled stateroom where she worked. Where she had told him in no uncertain words that he was no longer a part of her life.
Even now, the memories still burned.
"I want you to leave, Anakin."
Yet here she was alone. With him. Whom she had lured here. He couldn't begin to fathom why.
"Anakin." Her shoulders rose and fell.
Her voice was like fire in his veins.
Helplessly, he took a step through the doorway, hesitation heavy in his boots. "Padmé."
She turned around to face him.
Behind him, the doors swung shut.
The massive, ornate doors framed Anakin's dark form. Against them, he looked almost small, vulnerable. His face was naked; every emotion – anger, hope, need, fear, love – plain for her to see. It physically hurt Padmé to look at him.
"Anakin, I…" His eyes, those blue shard-like eyes seemed to bore right into her. Her throat closed painfully over her voice and she stopped. Swallowed hard. Tried again. "I'm so… Thank you for coming, Anakin."
He just stared her, silent, his jaw clenched, his hair falling softly into his eyes. She had forgotten how his beauty disarmed her. Nothing had ever broken the perfect composure of the stoic Senator from Naboo like Anakin Skywalker.
From the moment she had left her office for the ceremony, events had unwound themselves beyond the power of her control. Just like everything that involved her and Anakin Skywalker. There was no reason, no logic, no plan. There just was.
In the fireplace the flames crackled. Their reflection sparkled in Anakin's eyes like a strangely metaphorical dance. Neither his gaze nor his silence wavered. As she watched, the riot of exposed emotions in his blue eyes turned implacable, like candles being extinguished one at a time. He was trying to close himself off from her.
Whatever last lingering misgivings she harbored towards this encounter, the sight of Anakin walling himself from her vanquished them. She hadn't wanted to believe it but the evidence was before her very eyes. Anakin needed saving. And what sense did it make to save the galaxy entire if she could not act to save the man she loved?
"Anakin." She unclenched her hands, held one beseechingly towards him. "Please, I want to talk. Can we talk?"
A halo of orange firelight danced around her dark green silhouette.
Here is Padmé Naberrie, trembling in front of me, asking me to talk. He had dreamt of moments like this so often that a part of him still wasn't sure this was real.
From the desperation in her eyes he drew a horrible sort of satisfaction.
"How may I be of service, Senator?"
Like he intended, his cold, formal address made her flinch. Her hands clenched and unclenched. "Anakin, please."
He smiled joylessly. "As a Jedi, it is my sworn duty to render help to those in need."
She backed up as he drew nearer. Her voice was small, nervous. "I want to explain…"
"Oh, pardon me, milady!" Anakin exclaimed with mock-realization. "I am no Jedi, after all. Just a Padawan learner."
Grief welled up in the brown pools of her eyes and Anakin fell silent at once. Whatever lengths he had planned on carrying his façade of cruel indifference, they ended at the sight of her pain.
Guilt and anger warred in him and he looked away, into the fire. He breathed sharply, trying to focus his mind, willing the Force to give him peace.
"What is there to explain? What can you possibly say to me?" He choked out the words through the knot in his throat.
From the corner of his eye, he could see her hands fold back around each other. "I want to explain about why… I'm so sorry, Anakin. I never meant… I never meant to hurt you."
"Don't you lie to me!" he roared. He had rounded on her, backed her up against the wall before he had even realized what he was doing. "You knew you were going to hurt me! You counted on it. It was your plan, wasn't it? Hurt the silly little Jedi boy until he's 'over' you. Wasn't it? Wasn't it?" He smashed his metal hand into the wall beside her head.
"No!" Padmé shouted. "No! It was never like that!"
"What was it then? Go ahead and explain it to me!"
"I wanted you to let go, yes! But not by manipulation or lies. You read my letter. I never hid my feelings for you. I never pretended not to care!"
That letter was on him even now, pounding against his left breastbone. He carried it everywhere. A reminder of broken promises and shattered dreams. A reminder that he'd have to be a fool to trust her ever again.
"What was Ohma D'un about then?" He growled, reliving the pain and confusion he had felt then at how she had thrown her duty in his face yet again. How she had avoided him since then. How she had acted like if the kiss they had shared had meant nothing. Like if everything that had ever happened between them meant nothing.
"I was confused, too, Anakin! I never expected to see you there… and then we kissed and then…" Her eyes suddenly flashed fire. "I didn't expect to meet you there! If I had known, maybe things might have been different. I don't have all the answers. You're the Jedi, not I! I've never claimed to have all the answers!"
His eyes blazed back. He could feel the banks of flame burning in his face. The rage actually blurred his vision. "Don't know? You claim you don't know but you make all the decisions for us! I've only ever been sure of one thing in my entire life, Senator. I've only ever-" Suddenly and horrifically, he realized that the flames in his face were the burning sting that preceded the outbreak of bitter, angry tears. He turned away, and rushed to the door, determined to get as far away from her before he shamed himself once more in her eyes.
"Leave me alone!" he howled.
She moved faster than Anakin thought possible and before he realized it, she was between him and his escape, her hands curled into his tunic. He tried to pull away but she held fast. Desperately, he turned his face away but it was already too late. The knot had dissolved and a single tear rolled itself down his cheek. He let out a despairing sob.
Her hand was strong on his chin and against his will, he looked at her. Her face hadn't twisted into the contempt that he had been afraid to see. It was softened into compassion so deep; it made the tears flow faster.
"Ani," she whispered. Her free hand reached for his cheek –
He grabbed her wrist with his metal hand.
She gasped. "Please let me…"
"Don't touch me! Don't you ever touch me!"
"O gods!" Her despair almost stabbed him right in the heart. "Won't you ever forgive me?"
"Why should I?" He snarled. "I gave you my heart. You spat on it. How dare you ask me to-to-? What the Hell do you want from me?"
"Anakin, you're hurting me!" Her voice was barely a whisper. The very stillness of it was more telling than a shout.
He saw the fear in her eyes then and his eyes went to her wrist which he was seconds away from breaking in his metal grip. Appalled, he let her go at once.
Padmé put her hand to her mouth. He watched as the white indentations from his fingers on her wrist filled rapidly with blood; and he was horrified. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry…"
He reached for her hand, thought she was holding it in pain and then he saw the little streams that had broken the banks in her eyes. She was trying to muffle her sobs. Her eyes never left him.
The Force was a tumultuous, explosive riot of pain, love and fear between them. It blurred the line where his feelings ended and hers began.
Anakin closed his eyes and made himself take a deep breath… then another one… then another one until his tears finally stopped.
His centre was too weighted in sorrow for him to lift it. He needed to get out of here. He had to go. He should go.
"Anakin." His name was an anxious plea.
He shouldn't be around her the way he felt. He could hurt her. He had hurt her. He should walk out of that door now and never look back…
Leave me alone! Leave me alone!
"Anakin, please don't leave me."
"Why not?" He asked, his eyes still closed against her plea. "That's what you wanted, wasn't it?"
His voice had gone flat, emotionless, but he didn't leave.
Padmé's breath came in ragged gasps. Her own tears had stopped but they might as well have been flowing for all the devastation that flooded her very soul. For a moment, Amidala struggled, grasping to reclaim the indifferent façade of the Ice Queen. But it had melted long ago, long before this meeting, long before she had made the decision to see him, long before they had met at Ohma D'Un. Maybe it had happened on a windy overlook in the Coruscant capitol.
I'm so tired of being strong.
She gazed at Anakin, saw his spirit, his courage, his passion, his utter and unwavering devotion to her. Even now. Even after everything. He was unmistakable, undeniable. She wandered how she had ever thought she could live without him.
"Have you forgotten why I am here, Senator?" He asked suddenly. He didn't open his eyes.
More tears threatened at his impersonal use of her title and she forced them back. No more tears, Padmé!
He was still speaking, "We're in a war, Senator, a war where people are dying. The Jedi. My friends. Innocent people. They call me the Hero without Fear." He laughed bitterly. "I'm no hero, Padmé." He opened his eyes and the self-deprecation in them made her flinch. "Do you think I risk my life for the Republic? For the Jedi? This award? This medal of honor?" In a sudden motion, he tore it from around his neck. It clattered loudly on the floor.
I know why you risk your life, Anakin. It's the same reason I do.
Padmé moved away from the wall, coming to stand between Anakin and the fireplace. The fire was hot against her back, but the heat radiating off Anakin was infinitely more intense.
"Do you think I don't understand?"
He didn't speak or move, his eyes pointedly staring over her shoulder.
"I too have fought this war in my own way. For the Republic, for justice and peace." Padmé laughed, short and bitter. "To do that I am changing – no, I have changed into something… something I don't want to be. Something that I hate. I hurt people because I'm hurting inside. I push on because to look back would be to give into despair. And then I ask myself if I am making any difference? If there is really a higher purpose to what I do or if I make-believe there is to justify the suicide of my soul. I ask myself: How can I fight for peace for others when I have none within myself?"
His eyes shifted. A shadow of the old empathy, the old sense of complete understanding shone in that familiar blue gaze.
Padmé didn't see it. Her head was bowed, defeated. This was a mistake. Yoda had been wrong, completely utterly wrong. She had hurt him beyond hope of mend. Anakin would never, ever forgive her.
"I never meant to hurt you," she whispered. "I hope you'll find it in your heart to one day forgive me."
Much as she struggled against them, more tears – stupid, foolish, belated tears of weakness – were already seeping past her lids. She thought she had felt pain like this before when she sent him away from her. She was wrong.
Gently, his hand closed around hers.
Anakin, just let her go. End this. End this now.
It wasn't even Obi-Wan's voice speaking reason in his mind. It was Anakin's own voice, the voice of fear, the voice of a man that had known first hand what it felt like to have the woman before him take his heart in her hands and crush it into infinitesimal pieces.
So why did not he not heed it?
Obi-Wan had once tried to make him understand the purpose of this War. What Obi-Wan had not realized was that he, Anakin, understood more than even Master Yoda. There was only one thing worth saving, one thing worth fighting for – saving those he loved. First his mother, then Padmé. If he let Padmé go now, then the Hero without Fear would never really have anything worth saving. Only one question burned in him at this moment… if Padmé was willing to be saved… could he save her? Even if he could… how much of his own soul would be lost? Assuming it hadn't been lost already…
Padmé raised her head at the touch of his fingers and brown eyes met blue. Anakin stared into those deep pools of sorrow and begged her to be honest with him.
"What is it that you want from me, Padmé?"
The touch of his hand was like a lifeline. His question was like a death knell. The answer in Padmé's head had a hard time finding its way to her lips.
"I want you to forgive me," she said – begged. "I want you to not hate me."
How could a smile so beautiful be so broken?
"I don't hate you, Padmé." His chest rose and fell. "Not for want of trying, I assure you. You would think that would be easy to do, but it turns out that I can't hate you."
No more tears, you stupid girl!
"What about forgiveness?" she whispered. "Can you do that?"
His cut-glass blue eyes stabbed her.
She swallowed hard. Painfully. Fear like nothing she had felt before now filled her. She was terrified of saying the wrong thing. Irrationally, she was most afraid of losing him forever. The thought mocked her delusion that she'd reconciled that loss long ago.
"Anakin, the day I cast you away, it was like I… tied my fate with yours. I see the reports of the war, of you. I know you, Anakin. I know what drives you to do the things you do. Because they drive me as well. I know why you have no fear. I know what it is to feel you have nothing to lose."
"Well, it's true," he said stiffly. "I don't."
"You have me, Anakin. You will always have me."
He laughed. It wasn't a happy sound.
She continued boldly, "After Ohma D'un, I knew fear. Fear that I would die… a traitor to myself and to you. I couldn't live with myself if I left you in such pain. I've already done enough of that."
The bitter smile had melted from his face. He looked uncertain, confused.
She took in a deep breath, brushing her hair back with shaking hands, then moved closer to him. She was speaking slowly now, making sure that every word was clear. Making sure that he didn't miss anything she said. "It's as though we're back on Geonosis again and I stand at the edge of the end of my life. I'm not afraid of dying. With you or without you, I die everyday. You may never forgive me, but that will never stop me from loving you. Don't you understand, Anakin? I will always love you."
The only sound in the room was the crackling fire.
They stood so closely now that she could feel the rise and fall of his chest. He opened his mouth but silence poured out. Those incredible blue eyes were locked with her own.
Tentatively, Padmé's hand reached up and touched his cheek. A little muscle worked in his jaw but his gaze did not flinch.
And because she could hold back no longer, she kissed him.
It was as if Anakin was watching it all happen from outside his body. Her lips moved against his immobile ones with fevered passion; but he was utterly numb.
"Anakin," she whispered into his mouth, her breath was joy and pain and life and death and it was enough. He felt her kisses then, so sweet they were bitter, so hot they were cool on his face… his cheeks… his lips… and it was not enough.
Oh sweet Force!
He caught her up against him then and kissed her back. Hard, desperate, frightened kisses. What was she doing to him? How he loved her, loved her, loved her…
He pulled her flush against his body, bent almost double as he buried his tongue in her mouth. Another woman might have been frightened. Padmé's arms tightened even more fiercely round his back, drawing him down into her. He was sinking, drowning, dying in her kisses…
He would die. He couldn't do it, couldn't let himself be hurt again. It would kill him.
Abruptly, he pulled away, turning his shaking body away from her as he buried his face in his hands.
But she would not let him be. Her small fingers wrapped themselves around his arms, enflaming him where she touched. He shuddered violently.
"Please… please Anakin," she pleaded, "please."
It was the pain in her voice, not the passion, that moved him. He lowered his hands and turned to face her once more. Grief etched hard lines into her delicate features. He couldn't bear to see her in so much pain. Force help him, he never could.
But what did this mean?
"I don't understand, Padmé!" He cried. "What do you want?"
"You," she said with heartbreaking honesty. "I want you."
Don't you know? It's never a matter of what we want, Anakin, but of what we must.
Those words that she had said to him not too long ago stood at the tip of his tongue, primed to hurl themselves at her; but he held them back. They would wound her and that was something he no longer had the strength to do.
"What has changed?" His voice rose in urgency. There was a line to be crossed here and he was perilously close to being pulled over. "How can I trust that you won't turn me away again?" Don't you understand, Padmé, if I let go…if I give into this… I'll lose myself in you forever.
For a long moment, she merely looked at him, her eyes dark and unreadable. And he realized that he was more afraid of her answer than he had ever been of anything in his life.
When she finally responded, it was simply and earnestly.
"Why can't we just have tonight? Why must we always think about the future?"
Something inside him cracked.
It came down to this, then.
Save her or save himself. She would not allow him to do both.
"Just tonight." It was half a question, half a statement of intent. His voice was strangled with hope and misery.
Tears shimmered his vision. He felt like he was being torn in two, such was the extent of his agony.
Then her lips were on his again, this time with such tenderness it took his breath away and his fate was sealed. They held onto each other as if they would drown outside the protective confines of their embrace.
She had to stand on her tiptoes to kiss him. He had forgotten that.
Never once breaking away, Anakin deftly removed her cloak and was finally able to wrap his arms around her narrow waist. The shimmer velvet was soft beneath his fingers, but not soft enough.
Together they collapsed onto the soft rug in front of the fire, their legs refusing to support them any longer. His hand twisted in her hair, pulling her lips to his, crushing his mouth against hers.
"Padmé …" It was both a prayer and a plea.
Her answering moan, a sound born of the same need that raged through him, nearly drove him mad. The numerous layers of defenses that he had built around his heart for this woman were crumbling down like sand. An inferno was being unleashed. His hands were reaching for those places that he had given up any hope of touching, tearing through her gown where it stopped him. With every layer he removed, he couldn't get close enough to her. If the physical barriers between them were to vanish… if somehow they could share the same skin, the same heart, it still wouldn't be close enough.
She broke their kiss and he groaned in protest until he heard her voice in his ear. Her words seemed to resonate in his ribs, echo along the length and breadth of his entire body.
"I want you, Anakin." The intent of her words was clear and the trembling that had begun when he had entered this room grew from his core to encompass his entire body. She pulled his mouth back to hers with the urgency of someone who needed his kiss like they needed air to breathe.
Her hands reached for his tunic and his soul began to sing with joy. This was Padmé… his Padmé…and she was touching him because she couldn't not touch him. She needed him, at least, for this one night.
Then he was drowning in her… and she in him. They were drowning in each other.
The flickering light of the fire sputtered and danced. Somewhere beyond the sound-proof windows, the rain was committing suicide against the rooftops of Theed.
The hall was emptying. The crowd had mostly dispersed and only a few honored Naboo, Palpatine and the Jedi remained. Anakin had disappeared. Barriss recounted her encounter with him after their medals had been presented. Careful inquiries had led them nowhere. No trace of Anakin could be found and Senator Amidala was unreachable. Obi-Wan had tried admitting to her handmaidens that they were aware of the decoy, but the young women had politely and firmly held their ground.
Obi-Wan didn't need to put two and two together. He was too busy trying not to imagine the activities his Padawan could be engaging in.
He should be upset; he should be worried. But a strange feeling was drifting in the Force and it filled Obi-Wan completely. It was a feeling of… contentment and it was coming from Anakin himself. Even without the added connection of their Master/Padawan bond, Anakin's extreme emotions had the power to affect all those near him. He was near – regardless of what Amidala's handmaidens claimed – and he was happy. More happy than Obi-Wan could ever remember.
Perhaps he had worked his problems out with Amidala after that disastrous encounter months ago. What that had involved was not something that Obi-Wan wanted to consider in too much detail. In the end, the only thing that mattered was that for the first time in a long time Anakin was happy.
That was, after all, the only thing Obi-Wan had ever wanted for his Padawan.
The storm had ended. It was going to be a clear morning.