Padmé almost didn't recognize the tall boy – young man – looking at her above Obi-Wan Kenobi's shoulder. If she hadn't been expecting to see him, she would have passed him on the street as a complete stranger.
Or maybe not. Even though he was taller, and leaner and impossibly more handsome than she remembered, the one thing about Skywalker that had not changed were those remarkable eyes.
"Senator Naberrie, it is a great pleasure to see you again."
The dry sound of Obi-Wan's voice broke her out of the semi-daze that had fallen on her the moment Skywalker stepped into her apartment. She turned to return Kenobi's greeting, her eyes narrowing a little at the knowing look on his face, before her attention returned to Skywalker.
"Anakin, my goodness, you've grown," she said and she didn't even need to make her voice soft and meaningful.
His eyes didn't quite meet hers as he stammered something in reply, but he didn't blush as easily as he did four years ago. She would have to remember that.
"So what have you been up to these five years?"
Skywalker looked up from his pensive gaze at the window, and smiled a little. Padmé felt something in her chest loosen a bit.
"Studying with my Masters." His smile broadened. "Remember when I used to complain about my studies in Coruscant? It's nothing compared to the work I had to do in Correllia."
She laughed, walking around the sofa and sitting. "How is the Temple there? Is it very different from the one here?" She shifted the pillows so that he could sit beside her.
He came to stand by her side, but he didn't sit down. "I have more Masters there. I have less friends."
She sniffed. "You'd know all about keeping friends, won't you?"
He started. "I don't understand…"
"You hurt my feelings, you know? Leaving without a word?"
"That's not true. I sent a message to you."
"A message!" Padmé snorted. "Is that all we meant to each other?"
He just stared at her, apparently at a loss for words. He actually looked more surprised than flattered. "I would have liked to have said good bye to you," he said at last. The unspoken words were just as loud: But I didn't want to bother you.
She reached for the pitcher of water beside her and poured it into the two glasses. "So why did you run off to Correllia then?"
"I didn't run off," Skywalker retorted, taking the glass she offered him. "Master Yoda thought a change in atmosphere would be good for my training."
"So he ships off his own apprentice to other Masters to train? I didn't think that was the Jedi's style. Aren't you supposed to be by your Master's side until you graduate from Jedi school?"
"You really don't know much about the Jedi at all, do you?"
"And… I can see they didn't teach you much manners in Correllia."
"Correllia politics is less pretentious than Coruscant, if that's what you mean. Talking of which," he continued over her small gasp, "congratulations on your appointment as Senator. I remember you telling me that you weren't a likely candidate."
"I'm surprised you remember anything about me at all," was all she managed to say.
"Oh, I remember enough." The insufferable Jedi brat lifted the glass to his lips and looked down at her over the rim.
It annoyed Padmé to no end how often she played back the memory of that last glance. How often her mind dwelt on those half-lidded eyes, the hint of blue just peeking… smirking down at her and making her blood boil. How the way his lips had grinned around the glass had set her blood boiling. Or the way her own eyes had followed the strong line of his throat as he drank. How the whole conversation had completely thrown her off balance – this was not the shy, awestruck boy she remembered from five years ago – and how her hands had simultaneously itched to slap him and to reach out and touch that sharp, sarcastic mouth.
It annoyed her but she forced herself to examine the matter rationally. So she was attracted to Anakin Skywalker. It made sense that she would go from being sympathetic to the young boy whom she befriended to being attracted to the man he had grown up into. The long separation and the unexpected confidence, bothering on arrogance in him had only served to make him more appealing. That was something she could use. After all, her role in this scheme of her father's did not have to be distasteful.
It would be so much easier to seduce Anakin Skywalker now that she actually wanted to.
The small party gathered on the landing platform waited while the Padawan and Chief Typho did a sweep of the Senator's speeder.
The senator in question was testy. "This is getting tedious. A droid could have performed those checks."
The Jedi Knight beside her said quietly, "Droids can be re-programmed. Jedi cannot. Pardon the inconvenience, my lady, but we take your security very seriously."
"Yes, I know how much you would hate that anything happened to me, Obi-Wan."
At first he said nothing, and to all appearances, his attention was trained on his Padawan and the Naboo security chief. Padmé had almost forgotten her own statement when he finally did answer, "If you don't trust me, why did you request me to be part of your security detail?"
She smiled. "Perhaps I wanted the company of an old friend."
"I know what you're up to, you know."
"Anakin. I know what you're trying to do to him and-" he spoke over the words she was about to say, cutting her off without once raising his voice or turning to look at her – "I won't let you succeed."
She actually laughed. To her secretary Teckla and Guan, the other security officer who stood a little away, just out of earshot the Senator and the Jedi Knight might have appeared to be having a companionable conversation. Across the landing pad, Anakin actually looked up from the datapad in his hand. She couldn't tell for certain, but there was a slight frown on his face.
Still laughing, she rested her hand on Obi-Wan's arm, feeling the tension beneath her grip. "Let's pretend that I really have some nefarious plan up my sleeve for the young Padawan. Let's even pretend that I don't have any kind of hold" and her fingers clenched just a little on his arm "on you. What, pray tell, can you do to stop me?"
Obi-Wan turned to face her then. The trapped, furious look on his face was exactly what she had been expecting and she leaned towards him, her smile never wavering as she watched the young Padawan approach them from the corner of her eye. Obi-Wan opened his mouth to speak – and then shoved her.
She fell hard on her side, one wrist twisting painfully beneath her as she tried instinctively to break her fall. She screamed – not from pain, but from shock – then screamed again when the sky was suddenly blocked by the figure of Anakin Skywalker, crouching over her, his lightsabre swinging over her head so swiftly, it looked like a laser shield.
"What-?" she tried to sit up.
Anakin pushed her down with one hand. For one still, charged moment, she was looking directly into bright, hard blue eyes, then he looked away and as if the sound was slowly being turned on, she started hearing the buzzing of lightsabres, the ricochet of blaster fire, and the screams from the people in her party…
"Teckla." She tried to sit up again and Anakin held her down effortlessly.
"Stay down, milady," he shouted. "Typho!"
Padmé could hear her captain shout something but she couldn't make out the words. She was listening hard for the sound of Teckla's voice, for her screams, even but she couldn't hear anything. The blaster fire had not abated.
Memories of the Battle of Naboo assailed her.
An exploding grenade throwing her across the field as a dead body (Sache) landed beside her own. Her leg trapped under a droideka as a line of battle droids approached.
"I expected better of you, Padmé."
It was rare to see Father angry. He wasn't angry now, not really. But the dark splotches on his cheek showed that he must have been when he first got the news.
Padmé held her tongue and fought against the urge to twist her fingers. She was humbled but she was not contrite.
"It is reprehensible enough that you would endanger your own life. But your actions endangered the lives of everyone around you. That man's death is on your head."
She blanched. It was only the sensation of Anakin's strong and sudden grip on her shoulder that steadied her.
"Your Excellency-" Anakin said quietly.
"I am extremely disappointed in you, Padmé."
"Your Excellency, that will do!"
Padmé jumped. She wasn't the only one. Father had fallen abruptly silent. Jedi Kenobi and Master Dooku had turned sharply to glare at the Padawan standing above her.
"I beg your pardon, Padawan Skywalker?" Father asked, and Padmé was probably the only one in the room who could tell from his voice that he was extremely furious.
Anakin retorted, "Guan was already dead when Senator Naberrie took action. The rest of us-"
"Padawan Skywalker," Master Dooku said, his voice alone a warning.
"No, Master, I have to say this. We all might have died if the senator hadn't acted when she did. Master Kenobi had gone off in pursuit of the bounty hunter while I defended the party against the probe shooters. If not for her quick action in taking out the source of the shooters, I would have been overwhelmed eventually." His hand squeezed her shoulder. "There is nothing to reproach her with, Your Excellency. Nothing whatsoever."
There was silence. Her Father's eyes were unreadable, even to her. Dooku looked expressionlessly furious. Obi-Wan was staring at her – or rather at her and Anakin – with narrowed eyes.
Then the Chancellor sighed. "It looks like I owe you an apology, my dear. Can you forgive a father who worries too much for his child?" he asked gently and stretched out his hand.
"There is nothing to forgive, Father," she said softly and took his hand, allowing him to pull her into an embrace. She had to step away from Anakin and perhaps she imagined that his grip had tightened momentarily, as if he had not wanted to let her go.
The momentary reluctance that she had felt when she reached for her father's hand filled her with guilt.
Above his daughter's head, Palpatine locked gazes with Anakin Skywalker and smiled.