Kerning

Title: Kerning

Author/Artist: pronker

Gift for: luminations on LJ as part of the 2008 jedi_mistletoe gift exchange

Rating: R for language

Pairing: Palpatine/Anakin

Summary: Palpatine as mentor, Anakin as student, a slight role reversal.

Disclaimer: No profit is made from this fanfiction set in George Lucas' Star Wars.

Author's Notes: kerning : In typography, kerning refers to adjusting the space between characters, especially by placing two characters closer together than normal.

IOIOIOIOIO

"Pass the fucking butter."

The platinum droid's servomotors froze. Palpatine speared his sole dinner guest with a glance Anakin had never seen before. The chamber music swelled past its near-subliminal level to become a crashing counterpoint to Anakin's blush.

"Please?"

A droid did not sniff. It looked to its Master as if to query whether to give this lout the bum's rush out the door from sixty-six stories up.

"My guest requires butter." Palpatine's voice was septsilk draped over duranium.

The droid complied. Anakin waited until the salon was empty of eavesdropping audio receptors before speaking. "What did I do wrong? It looked like it wanted to strangle me."

From three meters away at the other end of the intimate dining table, Palpatine's ready smile reassured Anakin's heart. "We have very few manly warriors at our table, and none so distinguished as you. A few lapses in etiquette I'll overlook, Anakin, but your use of the word 'fucking' has become a habit since Geonosis. I know the Temple encourages genteel manners. I certainly have tried to inculcate them in you." He sipped his Alderaan Ruge, rolling the rich stuff against his palate. A drop escaped his lips and his tongue pursued it.

Anakin cast his eyes downward, then up at the framed portraits, each one depicting a worthy ancestor of his elderly friend. They none of them looked down their patrician noses at him, but he felt put in his place all the same. He was a cipher. He was an uncouth soldier, fit for battle, nothing else. His scarred face was proof of that. "Sir, I apologize. It slipped out. It won't happen again. Your teaching me all these wonderful things, it, the opera tonight, I appreciate --- "

"My dear young man" --- Palpatine had not called him his dear 'boy' in some months, Anakin realized --- "our Republic needs you, in whatever form you take. I merely try to prepare you for a life after the war, as well."

Anakin swirled his fork in his salad, trying to make it more palatable. Both his mentors urged him to eat his greens, Obi-Wan requisitioning salad dressings on the sweetish side and Palpatine ordering his chef to prepare a new savory blend each time Anakin and Palpatine enjoyed a comradely meal, such as this one tonight. Their evening had gone well until now.

Beyond the para-rolls and unsalted butter and into the main course of braised nerf, Anakin concentrated on chewing with his mouth closed and answering questions after swallowing. He yearned to use his leftover bread to mop up the delicious au jus from the meat. He had just gotten past his shame when the same droid arrived with dessert. It was on fire. Anakin rose halfway out of his seat, but Palpatine showed no alarm. "Excellent, excellent! What a treat, Anakin. Chef has surprised even me." Anakin watched closely. Palpatine waited until the flames died and acquited himself as a doughty trencherman with the icy confection. Anakin followed suit.

"Delicious, sir. My compliments to Chef." The ultimate sophistication of the entire evening scrolled through his mind as Anakin sipped a smooth after-dinner liqueur. He felt as if he had almost gotten the theme of the opera this time; certainly the pyrotechnics possible underwater were impressive, like glowing shapes of lava delineated by their relative temperatures, the orange shapes cooler and moving slower than the white-hot ones. He sipped his libation in a pleasant, relaxed haze until Palpatine changed the subject of their dialogue.

"Anakin, have you ever wondered why it is that beings marry?"

Anakin stepped out in confidence. "Because there is no surer way of proving one's commitment. Friendship simply doesn't have the same gravitas, sir."

"It is mere biology."

"Perhaps, but are we not creatures of flesh and desires, formed by biology?" The words were out of Anakin's mouth before he could stop them. Shmi ... Shmi ... what had happened to her? His own mother; had she misled him about his parentage? Was her story to him completely false, was she a liar ... Anakin slapped the dainty liqueur stemware on the table. He'd never partake of alcohol again if it led to thoughts like these, suspicions of the purest, most devoted being in his life. No one else even came close. He felt disloyal to her image. It was as if someone else's thoughts poisoned his precious memories. "Your point?"

Palpatine leaned back in his seat. In the candelabra's soft luminescence he seemed haloed. He had been eager to press this issue with Anakin; most likely he was leading up to a profound statement. It would be so like him, Anakin thought fondly. He was not disappointed.

"Marriage, in the ideal society, would be for procreation only. Mine was."

Someone had removed Lady Palpatine's portrait from the gallery on the quilted maroon veda-cloth walls, Anakin noticed. He trod warily. "I didn't know."

Palpatine's gaze grew as distant as it had been in the aria this evening, when the bubbles formed by the Mon Cal diva swirled in patterns that had the cognoscenti gasping in admiration in the less ornate boxes surrounding their private one. Anakin had understood only half of the melody's meaning, but had enjoyed his boxmate's fuller enjoyment of it all the same. Anakin waited for his erudite friend's mind to return to the mundane.

The Supreme Chancellor of the Republic put down his Denuvian crystal goblet and grimaced. "Eh, I don't speak much of her nowadays. I do her memory an injustice." He leaned both elbows on the table, cradling his chin atop interlaced fingers. He portrayed wistfulness as much as the mezzo soprano had with her thin string of elongated emanations of delicate bubbles. "We tried for decades to procreate. In the end, I have found fulfillment in my work." A smile directed at Anakin softened his features even more. "And in certain close relationships, I have found my progeny."

It took all Anakin had not to tear up. But a niggling thought intruded, this time one of his own, he was certain. "So you have a low opinion of the married state? What would happen to our society if marriages ceased?"

Palpatine snorted. "Certain institutions would fail, undoubtedly the tourist industry for honeymoons would suffer, what do you think, Anakin. But society in general I believe would flourish as the strain of understanding such a foreign concept as a mind of the opposite sex gave way to appreciating those of our same sex in a more evident fashion." The Force-currents in the salon pulled the evening along to a destination that Anakin could not see. If this was refinement, he was not certain that he desired any more of it. With Palpatine's next words the mystery receded even more.

"At this stage of my life, I find the physical manifestations of sex more repugnant than I ever thought possible and that bothers me." The leader of the Republic's voice held steady as he pursued his thoughts. The platinum droid approached to clear away the remnants of their meal, but Palpatine waved it away. Anakin waited until they were alone again before speaking, wishing he had his old Master's eloquence.

"Why, sir, you've done your duty, as you say, to contribute to the gene pool. It simply was not to be." Padme's words came back to him and he wished, he wished that he could be all-powerful for his friend and banish the troublesome thoughts that tarnished their pleasant time together. He was running out of comforting words and moved to the seat reserved for the guest of honor at the master of the house's right. At least his proximity could offer moral support.

Palpatine's aura sang notes of desperation as a leitmotif. "What good am I to the Republic if I cannot connect with the most basic needs of my people? I have no one to help me." He shrugged off Anakin's hand from his shoulder.

Anakin squirmed. "Sir, I am no soul healer --- "

" --- but you are, Anakin," Palpatine sighed. "Your very presence soothes me in ways that I cannot express. I need you, Anakin." He leaned forward and for a moment Anakin saw him as one of the portraits of noble statesmen hanging on the wall. Everything in him was self-sacrificing, Anakin thought, every motive worthwhile. His voice, an instrument of power that could almost purr, his skin, pale as cream, yes, someone could find him attractive and soothe the man's baseless fears.

"I shall become like Valorum," Palpatine added before Anakin could frame words of solace. "I shall be accused of effeteness. And what is more, they will be right."

Palpatine would never have to suffer a vote of no confidence. He was a hospitable, kindly servant of the Republic, and a true friend. Anakin knew he had to do something. "Chancellor --- "

But Palpatine's mood had shifted. "I knew the love of a woman, Anakin, though I did not reciprocate," he mused. "I suppose that ought to be enough for one person in life. With her, there was always the undercurrent of sexuality and I have come to want more, though I know I shouldn't. Politics is a dirty business, Anakin, and the good man fares ill. I wanted to reach out to Beauty, the ultimate principle in all things. I have failed. I must accept that."

"So. You need me. You want me." The truth hit Anakin. "You always make me feel better, sir. I had some rough times adjusting to my new life in Coruscant and you helped." Sitting this much closer to Palpatine, the waves of cologne that Naboo upper classes indulged in tempted Anakin as much as had the braised nerf. He leaned away to clear his head. Glancing sideways at his friend, he found that Palpatine's pale blue eyes were appraising him frankly.

"You are correct in stating that we lessen each other's anguish at the vicissitudes of life, my lack of offspring and your lack of a real and true family." Palpatine spoke as if these things were not personal, as if they were happening to the object of a scientific study.

Anakin stiffened. The Jedi were his family, weren't they, supporting him physically and morally? But why shouldn't he add another member to his family? He was on the verge of standing up and making some excuse to leave. If he couldn't talk to Padme about this, then perhaps Obi-Wan would offer sage advice. The gallery on the wall regarded him.

Anakin stared at a portrait of Palpatine's mother, her painted lips upcurved in an aristocratic smile, her bejeweled headdress caught by the portraitist just so, and considered. He knew what the Chancellor meant, of course, had seen things and overheard things in the back alleys of Mos Espa and in the elegant clubs of Coruscant, things of which he knew the significance with his maturity. Palpatine was his friend; Palpatine only wanted to guide him. And perhaps he could be more of a match for Padme's urbanity if he learned new techniques. His own mood shifted downwards. If he and Palpatine began an affair, he would be deliberately adding another layer to the deceitfulness he practiced with everyone about his family life, and this time he could not speak of it to Padme. He must have been subconsciously considering confiding his legal relationship with Padme to Palpatine at some point, he thought dully; living a lie was getting to him, and who better to confide in than someone who had been a friend all these long years away from Tatooine? He made his choice. "All right, Chancellor. I trust in your instincts, though the thought of you being considered effete makes me laugh. You are very much a leader."

The look Palpatine gave him puzzled Anakin. He hadn't expected such a broad smile, showing teeth. Then the two of them were standing, gravitating to each other and the candles guttered as if in an icy wind, though all windows were sealed in the outer room. Their salon had no windows, each diner expected to concentrate on making conversation with his or her companions and not be off cloud-gazing. In a pause of good conversation, the portraits provided inspiration to contemplate Naboo's tradition of hospitality. Anakin would show Palpatine that Tatooiners could be just as gracious, and get something out of it besides. When the truth came out about his marriage, surely Palpatine would put in a good word for him with the Council and he could remain Jedi? Someone whose body he had enjoyed would not deny him in this. He had not much desire for Palpatine as yet, but perhaps that was a genteel thing, too. He felt no hot yearning as he had for Padme; this would be a learned love steeped in refined good manners, a sigh of appreciation replacing the uncouth shouting out of a partner's name.

"Bring along the fucking butter, Anakin, and follow me." Palpatine seemed to glide towards the door opposite the one leading towards the kitchen. If Anakin didn't know better, he'd swear that the man was walking on air. He picked up the butter dish.

The End