A/N: This story was written and posted on livejournal at the request of a "real life" friend whose birthday I'd missed. Wacky fun ensued. Anyway, he was happy with it and I thought I'd share it here, too ... my first attempt at Palpakin.
Disclaimer: George Lucas owns Star Wars and would probably never do anything like this with the characters. Fortunately, I am here to supply the lack, but I am not getting any profit out of this work of fanfiction.
Of Lightbulbs and Sketching
"Anakin, my dear boy, I cannot tell you how glad I am that you have come," Palpatine said, holding the chair the younger man was balancing on steady -- well, mostly steady. "I simply don't know what I would have done without you."
Called a member of your staff? Anakin thought, wondering why exactly Palpatine thought it required the expertise of a Jedi to change a lightbulb. Yes, it was true that the chandelier's form made it slightly trick to replace the bulb without cracking any of the precious glass -- no transparisteel here -- but still, really. Surely someone had had to change one of these bulbs before without recourse to the Jedi Temple.
On the other hand, Anakin was already there, and it was such a small thing he could do to help his mentor, the man who had looked after his wellbeing ever since he arrived on Coruscant. In those first, lonely months ...
Anakin shook his head and glanced down at the Chancellor, who stood with his head almost on a level with Anakin's butt. "I'm sure you'd have managed, sir. But I'm glad to help."
"Anakin, my friend, you are too modest. I know of no other young man but yourself who could have changed that bulb with no tools, so easily."
Tools would have been nice, Anakin thought. "Well, sir, it's nothing special." He cast Palpatine a saucy grin. "You're just used to all this soft living in the Core."
"My boy, I can only imagine the hardships you must have faced during your difficult childhood. But they have made you stronger. I believe I can say without hesitation that you are the most resourceful Jedi I have ever met." His voice hardened, just slightly. "You have lived in the real galaxy. It has taught you well."
"Master Obi-Wan doesn't think so," Anakin groused, forgetting his resolution not to complain about Obi-Wan this time. It was just ... Palpatine was such a sympathetic listener. Warm, caring, never too busy or judgmental. "He sees my life outside the Temple as a flaw. He wants me to forget about my mother."
The Chancellor lifted one hand from the chair he was bracing to lay it gently, affectionately, a little above Anakin's knee. "Can you blame him, my boy? He knows no other way. He will never truly be able to understand your pain. Your love. Your depth of feeling."
Anakin felt justification rise in him, sweet as passion. "Obi-Wan sees my feelings as a weakness! He doesn't care how I feel, he only wants me to stop!"
Palpatine lightly rubbed Anakin's thigh: a tender, fatherly caress. His hand felt good there: warm and gentle and real. Physical affection was unknown in the Jedi Temple; despite the affection between them -- when he wasn't lecturing -- the closest Obi-Wan had ever come to a hug was to lay his hand for a moment on Anakin's shoulder. Anakin knew it was meant to be a comforting gesture, but instead it just reminded him of how much he missed his mother and the way she would wrap him in her arms and make him safe.
"But you can't stop, can you, my boy?" Palpatine asked now. "You feel things so intensely. I can tell. Your passion gives you strength, Anakin. And -- I can't help but notice -- makes you far more attractive to others in your age group."
Anakin held the new bulb in place and blinked down at his mentor, surprised by the turn the conversation had taken. "I'm sorry, sir, I don't know what you mean."
The Chancellor chuckled fondly. "Oh, come, Anakin. You've become -- if I may say it -- quite the attractive young man! Surely you've noticed the young women watching your every move? I saw one of the Senatorial aides giving you quite the close examination out there in the anteroom."
Anakin could feel his cheeks burning. "She was just wondering why I got to move ahead of her in the line."
"Nonsense, my boy. Oh, she may have been jealous, too -- in a place like this, I've no doubt of it -- but she had that look in her eye. You know what I mean, don't you?"
Anakin did know. But the young woman wasn't Padmé, so it just made him uncomfortable. "I -- uh --"
"Ah." Palpatine shifted, probably trying to ease his back, and took his hand off Anakin's thigh to brace against the chair, compensating by putting his other hand on Anakin's hip. "You don't mean to say you've never ... explored the possibilities?"
If Anakin's cheeks had burned before, they could reignite a fusion reactor now. "Sir, I -- the Jedi don't -- that is --"
"But of course they do, my boy. They only refuse to allow themselves emotional attachments in the process. It's not so very different from the way many beings view such intimacies."
"Uh." How did we start talking about this? And more importantly, how do I stop? "Sir, I never ... uh ..."
"Oh, dear, I'm afraid I've embarrassed you," the Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Republic said, shaking his head. "I do apologize, Anakin. I forget that not all beings are as ... open to things ... as I am. I have never had the slightest patience with polite pretense. With hiding one's true nature." He slid his hand back, kneading with the fingers every so lightly. Anakin wasn't sure if he was even aware of what he was doing.
"Of course, sir. I understand."
"I shouldn't rattle on like this," Palpatine added, giving Anakin's hip an affectionate squeeze. "I certainly didn't call you over here to put in a lightbulb, or to talk about my personal philosophies. I was wondering if perhaps you could help me with another matter."
Anakin tucked the old bulb into his utility belt. "I'll do my best, sir."
"I knew you would, Anakin. It's ... well, I wonder ... I've taken up a bit of sketching in my free time. Silly, of course, at my age, but it helps me to relax. To forget for a moment the cares ... nevermind that. I've been wishing, lately, that I could move on to living subjects. Only I'm not close enough to anyone in the Senate to ask them to sit for me. My family is long gone, I'm afraid. And I don't want to hire anyone. You know the sort of ugly gossip that could create."
Anakin didn't, actually. He ignored gossip, even on the rare occasions when the other Padawans tried to include him as a participant, rather than a subject. But he was willing to let that ride. "I'm sorry, sir. How can I help?"
"Oh! Of course, my boy. I should have said. I was hoping, Anakin, that you might let me sketch you, when your Jedi duties allow it. You have -- if I may say it -- a very fit physique. And that way I could enjoy the pleasure of your company, as well. A double benefit."
Anakin blinked. "I ..." Master Obi-Wan is not going to like this. But how can I say no? Palpatine has been my friend, my mentor, ever since I came here. And it's such a little thing, really. I don't have to do anything at all, just sit still for a few hours. Like meditation. It's just a favor, for an old friend. "Of course, sir. When would you like me to come?"
"Tomorrow, my boy, if it's no trouble for you. Come to my private apartment in 500 Republica -- that's where my easel is. What do you say to dinner first?"
"Ah -- that would be wonderful, Chancellor, thank you."
"Splendid!" Palpatine looked as gleeful as Anakin had ever seen him, like a child with a present. Like me, drinking a ruby bliel. "And now I see that you've finished changing the lightbulb as well. I must say, you are efficient." He let go the hand that held Anakin's hip, his fingers lightly grazing the seam along the back of Anakin's pants on the way down. "I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to this, Anakin," he added, as Anakin turned on the chair and stepped down. "I can hardly wait."