Disclaimer: I own nothing; all credit goes to the brilliant mind of George Lucas, and the title was inspired by the song "Everlasting Friend" by the band Blue October – check it out!
A/N: An AU where Anakin and Padmé did not get married after Varykino, and how their friendship changed the course of the galaxy. This is just a rambling idea for now, I'm not sure if I will continue it or not. Enjoy!
Because duty had always come first for Padmé. It was almost as if now, she knew no other way to live her life. She and Anakin had admitted their love for each other, but that had been as far as she could permit it to go. It was hard for Anakin to accept at first, but even he understood that acting on their feelings was asking for more than they could handle. So, they compromised. They would see each other as often as polite courtesy and the war would allow, usually in public places, or on occasion at Padmé's penthouse apartment. During the day and by appointment, of course. While Padmé was not willing to pursue a romantic relationship, neither of them wanted to be separated from each other again. They would maintain their friendship and keep in touch. No one would know about what was hidden barely beneath the surface, about the sacrifices they were making for the Jedi, the Republic, the galaxy, in order to serve those who couldn't speak for themselves. It wasn't what they wanted, it was barely what they needed, but they made it work.
In a way, it was easier. There was no lying, because Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala truly were good friends. They had met as children, and together had saved the Senator's home planet of Naboo. Reunited as adults, Anakin had protected Padmé from several assassination attempts and served as her personal Jedi bodyguard. She had been there on Tatooine when he had lost his mother, and together they had fought in the battle on Geonosis, what would later become the beginning of the Clone Wars. It was natural that two people who had shared so much together were bonded after the experiences.
And when their close friends, like Obi-Wan, Dormé, and Sabé, asked about the time when it seemed the two of them might become romantically involved, they could still be honest. Anakin could admit that he did have very strong feelings for the Senator, an attachment that he'd had ever since he was a child. And Padmé could confess to her confidantes that Anakin had awakened a part of her that she never knew existed. But duty and responsibility had prevailed, and they could both tell their friends with complete sincerity that they had put those feelings aside and simply remained good friends.
The truthfulness, however, was the only easy part of the entire situation. Everything else about their friendship was so incredibly difficult, that at times they wondered if it was worth it. To force themselves into the role of friend, it was almost as if they were denying a part of who they were. It felt awkward and insincere, and there were so many times when Padmé was tempted to reach out and grab his hand, or when Anakin looked at her and all he could think about was kissing her. And as painful as it all was, they continued to endure it, because the suffering was better than nothing.
And so, life continued on, as it inevitably does. Anakin fought on the frontlines of the war, with Obi-Wan by his side, and gained a Padawan learner on top of it. Padmé continued to serve in the Senate, doing her utmost to bring an end to this devastating war. Both of them were surrounded by friends and colleagues who they trusted with their lives. But at the end of the day, it was the silent torch they carried for one another that brought them peace and comfort at night, and a reason to keep on fighting.
Anakin sighed as the shuttle pulled up to a landing platform full of people. This was the part that he dreaded. Rescue missions, flying through space, dueling with Sith Lords – he could handle that. Dealing with the press, the Republic Senators, and members of the Jedi Council? That was another challenge entirely. As the door to the shuttle opened, Anakin followed Chancellor Palpatine onto the platform, Artoo trailing behind him. He paused to wait for Obi-Wan, and then realized that his former Master had made no move to leave the transport.
"Aren't you coming Master?" he asked.
"Oh no, I'm not brave enough for politics," Obi-Wan grinned. "Besides, someone needs to report to the Council, and we both know how much you love doing that. You can be the poster boy for the day."
"No way, I'd take the Council over this mess any day," Anakin insisted. "And anyway, this whole operation was your idea, your plan, and your lead. You can take the credit with the politicians."
"Ah, but let's not forget," Obi-Wan added, "it was you who rescued me from the buzz droids, you who killed Count Dooku, you who actually rescued the Chancellor, and, again, you who managed to land that burning piece of garbage safely."
"All because of your training," Anakin said with a smile.
"You humble me," Obi-Wan chuckled. "But let's be fair. You were the hero today Anakin, and you deserve your glorious day with the politicians."
"Fine," Anakin grumbled. "But you owe me! And not just for saving your skin for the tenth time."
"Ninth," Obi-Wan corrected. "That business on Cato Neimodia doesn't – doesn't count."
Anakin just grinned as Obi-Wan left in the Jedi Shuttle. He walked confidently up to the group of politicians waiting to greet him, joining them at the tail end of the Chancellor's speech.
As soon as the politicians caught sight of him, congratulations were doled out and he was showered with praise and questions about the mission. Anakin answered them as patiently as he could, trying to be diplomatic and professional. But honestly, who was he kidding? Obi-Wan was much better at this sort of thing. Damn him for leaving him here to fend for himself.
"It seems I no longer hold the honor of being the only politician to be rescued by the beloved Hero-With-No-Fear."
Anakin didn't even try to suppress the feeling of pure joy that he felt at hearing her voice again. Turning to his left, he realized that Padmé was standing at his elbow, having somehow managed to maneuver herself next to him as they walked into the Senate Building.
"That may be true, but you are still the most beautiful politician I've ever had the honor of rescuing," Anakin stated. "Even more beautiful than the last time I saw you, it seems."
"You flatter me Master Jedi," Padmé smiled. Force she had missed him! Five whole months without a single chance to visit – not even a call or a message of any sort – and now, finally, he was back on Coruscant. For once, Padmé did not care how it appeared to anyone else, she was going to monopolize as much of Anakin's time as she could. Who knew when she would get another opportunity like this one? She was going to milk this for all it was worth.
"General Skywalker, the Republic cannot praise you enough." Bail Organa fell into step beside Anakin and Padmé as the three of them made their way into the Senate. "Your defeat of Count Dooku has brought us much closer to ending this war."
"Thank you, Senator Organa," Anakin replied. "I only wish it had been enough to truly end it."
Padmé frowned slightly as she heard Anakin's response. Usually, Anakin would modestly accept the compliment before crediting the effort to Obi-Wan or the rest of the team. Looking closely at Anakin, she could read the tension on his face, the hidden anguish written in places only she could find. Something more had happened on Grievous's flagship, and she intended to find out.
"Perhaps we could move this conversation to a more comfortable venue?" Padmé suggested. "I have Threepio waiting at my apartment with tea, if you both would care to join me."
"I would be delighted," Anakin grinned.
"I'm afraid I must decline," Bail said. "I have put off a few too many meetings as it is. Another time, to be sure."
Bail excused himself as Anakin and Padmé continued on their way, this time heading for Padmé's speeder.
"I do hope you are hungry," Padmé said. "Because I warned Threepio that you might be coming, and I have to say he got a bit…over excited when it came to preparing a, as he put it, 'welcome home feast,' for you."
"I'm always hungry, you know that," Anakin replied. "Good old Threepio, I've missed having him around."
"Yes, well, he's very glad to have you back," Padmé smiled. "Artoo as well, I think Threepio misses having another droid to argue with."
"Is Threepio the only one happy about my return?" Anakin asked. He looked straight ahead as he waited for an answer, acting as casually as if he had simply asked about the weather. But Padmé knew what he was truly asking. It was another game they played, a way of wordlessly reassuring each other of the depth of their "friendship." They would never again be able to speak the word "love" out loud, but they always found ways to tell each other how they felt every time they were together. It was the little things like this that kept them going through their separation, their sacrifices, and this dreadful war.
"We are both ecstatic to have you back, my dear Jedi protector," Padmé answered.
"And I cannot tell you how overjoyed I am to finally be home, Milady," Anakin said.
If either of them were suspiciously teary-eyed or choked up after this silent confession, they refused to acknowledge it. Just being together was enough.
"And I – I shouldn't have done it. It's not the Jedi way, to murder someone in cold blood like that. Even if it was Count Dooku. I shouldn't have done it."
Padmé sat quietly as she listened to Anakin describe the events of Dooku's demise. What Anakin had done was, essentially, a good thing, but the way he had gone about doing it troubled her. As did the Chancellor's involvement in Dooku's downfall…
"And I know what you're thinking too," Anakin added. "You don't like that the Chancellor demanded that I kill him. But you have to understand; Palpatine had just spent the last few hours of his life thinking he was going to die. Dooku had kidnapped him from a place that he thought to be safe, and he was at the mercy of the Sith Lord and his army. He wasn't thinking straight, and when he realized I had subdued Dooku, he simply wanted the man gone. I can understand that, and I know you understand that too. The Chancellor isn't the problem here; the problem is that I listened to him. I know better than that, I promised myself I would never do something like that again, and I wish I hadn't let myself do it."
Without thinking, Padmé reached over and held Anakin's hand. Anakin stiffened in surprise at the gesture, but Padmé hardly noticed, she was so deep in thought. Anakin's slip today had been dangerous, something that he had sworn never to allow to happen again, not after the incident at the Tusken camp. But at least, in this incident, he regretted it. He knew that what he had done was wrong, and wished that he had never done it. He couldn't exactly say that about the village of Tusken Raiders who had killed his mother.
"You did a great thing today in defeating a Sith Lord," Padmé began, "that is still an accomplishment and a step towards ending a horrible war, a necessary step. But you are right; you should not have given in to the Chancellor's demands. You know better than that, you know the risks of giving in to that type of persuasion."
"I just – I couldn't keep it to myself," Anakin explained. "And I know that I can come to you with anything, absolutely anything, and that you will not repeat it."
"Of course, always," Padmé assured him. "And I'm very glad you told me. Do you think, maybe, that it might be a good idea to tell Obi-Wan this? Just to let him know the truth about what happened."
Anakin was silent as he thought it over. Confiding in Obi-Wan wasn't the issue per say, he and Obi-Wan did not keep many secrets from one another. It was more that with confiding in Obi-Wan he ran the risk of a lecture and a judgment for his actions that he really didn't want to deal with. He wasn't sure if he was ready to be so open about his failure with his former Master, even if Obi-Wan had taken on the role of brother as of late.
"I'll think about it," he conceded, knowing that there was wisdom in Padmé's suggestion. Padmé smiled happily and gave Anakin's hand a squeeze before pulling away.
"Speaking of your friend Palpatine," Padmé said. "I wanted to talk to you about him. But only if you promise to keep an open mind."
"I promise," Anakin nodded. "You'll always be my favorite politician, don't worry."
"I better be," Padmé teased. "It's just, I don't think the Chancellor is still the same man we've come to respect and admire, Ani."
Anakin hid a small smile when he heard Padmé use his nickname. Only she and his mother had ever called him Ani, and it thrilled him to hear Padmé be so familiar with him.
"How do you mean?"
Anakin ran from the office as fast as he could, dodging aides and Senators along the way. He couldn't think straight, couldn't even properly comprehend what had just happened, he only knew that he had to get away. Now.
As he exited the Senate Building, he found himself faced with a choice. Duty demanded that he go and report what had just happened to the Jedi Council, explaining the circumstances leading up to the confrontation, and the final result. But after what had just happened, Anakin didn't think there was any way he could fully explain the events to the Council. Especially with Obi-Wan not there to listen to him.
And so, Anakin found himself flying through Republic airspace, headed straight for 500 Republica. It would be the only time he had ever arrived at Padmé's apartment unexpectedly, without some sort of invitation. He knew that she would be unhappy about it, but he honestly didn't care anymore. He needed her, now more than ever, and there was no place he would rather be right now than in the sanctuary of her home, in the soothing atmosphere of her presence.
Anakin didn't even bother to park in the regulated parking areas. Instead, he pulled right up to her private veranda and parked his fighter next to it, leaping out and dashing into the house as soon as the engine was off. He could hear the sound of fading voices and sliding doors as he approached, and a distant part of him realized that Padmé had guests over. Still, that did nothing to stop him.
He entered the sitting room at a run, stopping suddenly when he saw Padmé standing at the doorway, speaking with Bail Organa. As soon as he saw her, he let himself relax, and dropped exhaustedly onto a couch, resting his head in his hands.
It didn't even register that he was still covered in blood.
After a few moments of confused whispers, Anakin heard the door slide shut as Padmé raced to his side.
"Anakin! Anakin, what happened? Are you alright?"
He lifted his face to meet her worried gaze.
"Chancellor Palpatine is a Sith Lord. And I – I killed him."
That was all it took for Anakin to completely break down. The tears came in streams, and soon he was sobbing in Padmé's arms, clinging to her for dear life, because now she was the only thing good and pure and true left in this world, and if he lost her he didn't know how he was ever supposed to survive.