Right, so, I'm aware that it's been awhile since I've posted a story. And here's the thing—I can't promise regular updates on this. I'm actually in England at the moment doing two terms at Oxford University, so my time is really limited. This story is about two-thirds written, though, so I figured I'd start putting some of it up. I figured that would be better than nothing. And who knows—maybe I'll get a huge burst of inspiration from reviews/editing the story/posting it/whatever.
"After this shall succeed two dragons, whereof one shall be killed with the sting of envy, but the other shall return under the shadow of a name" –History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth
Anakin Skywalker is an attractive man. Tall, with dark blond, wavy hair that falls around his face, he looks remarkably like the holonet portrays him. Maybe when someone looks this good, the reporters don't feel the need to alter his appearance. His eyes are brighter in person, though—sharper, and a more prominent blue. They snap with intelligence, and not for the first time, Padme has to wonder just what she has gotten herself into.
He cuts a handsome figure in his black military robes, tall—much taller than she is—and broad in the shoulders. It's possible that the way he's built adds to his presence, but Padme is rather inclined to think that, even if he were shorter and slighter, he'd still command the respect of everyone in the room.
No, Anakin Skywalker is not the pawn she supposed him to be. Ten minutes in his company—none of that spent talking, as one does generally not talk when standing at the altar—and she can guarantee that. The way his eyes rove over her, assessing, hints of someone who notices details, who plays them to his advantage. A political pawn has no need for that… but Skywalker—he is something else entirely.
"I do," she says when asked, even if she doesn't—not really. Judging by the ironic twist of his lips—so slight, not enough to draw the attention of anyone in the crowd—he is fully aware of that.
And then they are married. Legally.
She doesn't think she could hate him any more than she does at this moment.
He does not kiss her, thankfully. Here, in front of all these people, she's not sure she could tolerate it. As things stand, the way he settles his hand on her back—proprietary, and she will not be owned—sends skitters of unease and disgust up her spine. His touch won't burn away her flesh, but it's hard not to irrationally wonder if, maybe, it will, and she'll be left standing here as literally naked as she already emotionally feels.
Once she's been led away from the altar—all to the obligatory applause of the spectators—he escorts her out the doors of the large ceremonial room and into a small waiting area. A normal newly married bride might be ecstatic to be alone with her husband, but, Force help her, she'd rather face down all manner of rapacious creatures—she couldn't be more relieved at the fact that they don't seem to be slated for any immediate bonding time.
Bonding. As if she ever could with this man. This Sith.
Of course, she's not foolish enough to think that the man who trails after them out of the ceremony—he'd stood up with Skywalker at the wedding, the only one to do so—will possibly be on her side. Still, his familiarity with Skywalker suggests that he might be something of a distraction, at the very least. Someone to talk to, perhaps—or someone for Skywalker to talk to who is not her.
Skywalker pulls the double doors shut behind them, ensconcing them in an opulent sitting room. At a loss for what else to do, she slips over to one of the large ceiling-to-floor windows and frees her gaze to wander out over the picture Coruscant makes in the late afternoon light. In the corner of her vision, she sees the other man settle in a chair on the right side of the room.
The dying light of the day catches in his hair, and the color, mixed with the way the light ripples when disturbed by a passing speeder outside the window, reminds her of dancing flames. Though, not burning, but more flowing. A river of flame.
This other man—he's less threatening than Skywalker. It's not that he strikes her as a weak personality—quite the opposite, actually. But, unlike Skywalker, he doesn't radiate energy. He's calmer, subtler about the way he takes things in, and therefore less intimidating… though, she suspects that if he wished, he could be about as off-putting as he wanted.
Of course, she has no idea who he is. She was told nothing about what she was walking into. No, the bitter twist in her gut reminds her. Every sleepless night, every grinding nerve, everything, until she'd wanted to scream—and she had screamed. Oh, she had, but it had come out long and low and sounding like a yes. Yes,because she hadn't want Naboo to face decreased trade contracts, or the possibility that, over the course of a few years, it might be cut off from trade who knew? Perhaps there might even be some sort of outbreak of disease. Malnutrition makes the immune system vulnerable, after all.
There was never a "no" in her—not when it was her people who would pay the price. And so she has willingly agreed to be a trophy and an incubator, ahem, wife, to Anakin Skywalker.
Once the doors shut, Skywalker turns sharply on his heel, tucking his hands behind his back as he turns to face her. In the chair across the room, the other man lifts his right ankle to rest on his opposite knee, settling more deeply into the chair as he watches the situation unfold, a mild frown tugging the corners of his lips downward.
Skywalker lifts an eyebrow. "Oh, don't be like that, Obi-Wan."
Obi-Wan volleys back Skywalker's glance with a raised eyebrow of his own. "I haven't said anything."
Snorting lightly—oddly, he manages to make it fairly dignified—Skywalker eyes the man a little longer, shaking his head, before finally looking away to favor her with a slight smile. "I'm sorry. Obi-Wan is being very rude, and I'm afraid his manners are influencing me—"
"—not my doing—" she thinks she hears Obi-Wan mumble.
"—and for that I apologize." How sincere he seems, with his head slightly inclined and a small smile turning his mouth far more generous than it appears when he's leading stormtroopers out to annihilate anyone who disagrees with his father the Emperor. His lips are always thinned then, set and determined, like murder is a simple task to be accomplished with the greatest concentration.
This time, it is Obi-Wan who rises from his chair, tucking his hands behind his back and mirroring Skywalker in position—or Skywalker may have even learned it from Obi-Wan, as Obi-Wan seems to be the older of the two—halting what Padme is sure would have been an introduction by Skywalker. Somehow, she appreciates that this man sees fit to introduce himself. "I don't believe we've been properly introduced," he says calmly, stepping toward her, extending one of his hands.
She takes it, letting it swallow her own smaller one, and, strangely enough, finds that she does not feel the same animosity toward him as she does toward Skywalker. And, yet, she still has no concept of who this man is—only that he apparently works for a man she hates. He must if he's this familiar with Skywalker, and she doubts he's here out of genuine affection—Sith Lords do not tend to inspire that.
"Obi-Wan Kenobi. And you are Padme Naberrie, yes?"
She nods. "Of Naboo."
"I'm aware," he says, lips curling into a knowing smile, causing his beard to twitch.
Ah, so then he's aware of why she's married Skywalker. So much can be conveyed with so few words.
"I'm quite pleased to meet you, Obi-Wan Kenobi."
He nods. "Likewise."
Again, all she detects is sincerity. And his eyes—they seem honest, almost warm. They're changeable in color, yes—even up close, it's difficult to determine whether they're blue or green—but they don't hint at shifting motives. That may seem absurd—judging someone so quickly seems unwise—but she has always been a remarkably good judge of character. And this man strikes her as very different from Skywalker.
"Padme Skywalker, actually," Anakin interjects, just the barest hint of satisfaction in his tone. "Or Lady Vader if you prefer formal titles."
She won't turn to look at him. Won't give him the satisfaction. "I do not, actually."
"Padme Skywalkerit is then."
Obi-Wan shoots him something of a reproachful gaze. "Anakin, surely-"
It seems Obi-Wan has finally reach some sort of limit: Anakin's brows pinch together, and his stare grows sharper. "This was not my doing, Obi-Wan." A warning. Not yet a rebuke, but both she and Obi-Wan seem to read his words as the command for silence that they are. "Now, would you please show Lady Skywalker to her quarters?"
"I'm not really asking, Obi-Wan."
Then, she has to wonder, why pretend to?
Stilling, Obi-Wan takes a deep breath, glancing away toward the windows. For a few moments he seems to be far more interested in the flow of traffic outside the window. Frankly, she expects Skywalker to push the issue: instead, he does the opposite and simply waits, permitting the delay, saying nothing until Obi-Wan turns back toward him, face passive, and nods.
"Yes, My Lord."
How strange that the title brings a smile—an ironic one, but still a smile—to Skywalker's lips. It's not a pleased expression—he's not gloating at being addressed in such a way—but it is very knowing, as though he suspects Obi-Wan of using it in a way that's not quite conventional. To her ears, she has to admit that it sounded like something of a rebuke, veiled in the guise of respect.
It's something to think on.
Moving away from the window, Obi-Wan smoothes out a line in the dark blue tunic that he's wearing and tips his head toward her. When he does finally make his way in her direction, his movements are collected, and if a moment ago he wasn't fond of the task of escorting her, there's nothing in his manner to suggest that he objects to it now.
Given that they were just married, it's certainly strange that Skywalker is sending her off with another man… but it's not as though she wants to voice a protest. Already she's far more comfortable with Obi-Wan than with her husband. Force only knows what that ought to mean.
When Obi-Wan offers her his arm, she slips her own through it, allowing him to lead her toward the door. Everything about his actions is solicitous, and if this man is a gentleman as she is beginning to believe that he is, why is he working for the Empire?
Obi-Wan pauses at the sound of Skywalker's voice, hand on the door. "Hmm?"
"I want to see you later."
"Later does not mean tomorrow."
It's probably for the best that Obi-Wan has not turned around and is instead still facing the door: she doubts that Skywalker would appreciate the sudden, amused upturn of his lips. The beard does some work to hide it, but she's certain Skywalker would catch it. He seems to be quite familiar with Obi-Wan's moods and actions.
"Yes, all right," he says finally.
Skywalker is apparently satisfied with that, because he says nothing more, and Obi-Wan pulls the doors open, guiding her out into the hallway. They're alone then, no Skywalker to consider, and, in his place, she finds herself considering Obi-Wan further.
He can't be more than forty, and if she had to guess, she'd place him somewhere in his mid-thirties. Without the beard, he might seem younger, but even clean-shaven, there would be no way to hide the age in his eyes. Whoever he is, he's seen things, done things—probably things she would never understand, and it shows in the way he holds himself, even in the way he talks. There is no obvious youthful exuberance in him—there probably hasn't been for a very long time.
"You work for him?" she asks once the doors have closed behind them, blocking Skywalker from hearing. Her husband or not, she's not ready—probably never will be—to share her thoughts with him.
Obi-Wan dips his head, watching her out of the corner of his eye. "You find that undesirable, I presume?"
"Two months ago, I saw footage of him slaughtering living, breathing beings. I find him undesirable."
If her opinions shake him, he doesn't show it. And, really, why would she tell him that at all? Does she want him to go back and tell Skywalker?
Actually, she may want exactly that. She may be here, married to a monster, but she doesn't have to let him think that she likes him.
"You could do worse," Obi-Wan replies simply.
"Oh?" What? Marry a Hutt?
"You could have been forced to marry Palpatine like Anakin's mother was."
Yes. How convenient that, just when she thinks she's gotten the worst situation in the world, this man manages to prove her wrong. She shouldn't really be irritated by that, but, at the moment, she would prefer to indulge in the frivolous action of self-pity. And here he has to go and ruin that.
"The holonet framed her as lucky if I recall."
Though Obi-Wan's arm tenses under her hold, he hardly pauses. "You don't believe that."
"And apparently neither do you." That's far more surprising—he's the one who is finding his employment with these sorts of people. And that—it doesn't make sense. He doesn't seem like that type, but… here he is.
Obi-Wan just shrugs, turning down another hallway. "Apparently not."
"And you? Why do youwork for Skywalker?"
Never faltering, he raises both eyebrows, shrugging lightly, letting his gaze fall toward the walls, as though he actually cares about the fine art that's there. "Why did you marry him?"
"I didn't have a choice."
Oh. Oh. How insensitive can she possibly be? She ought to have known, or at least guessed. Maybe if she hadn't been so focused on herself, she might have. As a senator, she's usually better at this sort of thing—quite good, actually.
"So you—you don't—but you don't seem like you hate him—" If Skywalker or Palpatine is somehow using extortion to ensure Obi-Wan's employment, she would have expected more hostility.
But there is not. There's nothing. He doesn't flinch or glower when Skywalker's name is mentioned. And to some degree, he has even defended Skywalker—not blatantly, but enough to make it clear that he doesn't hate the man.
Right, and that's just—dear Force, what has she walked into? Madness, obviously, but at least Obi-Wan seems content to let her be silent about it—to process as much as she possibly can. He says nothing further, anyway, and if not for the slightly prickly sensation skittering over her—as a senator, she's learned how it feels when she's being watched—she'd have thought he was hardly paying attention. No doubt he is, though, and if she hadn't noticed it, the small glance he gives her when he stops at a door would probably have disabused her of that notion. Unlike the double doors from earlier, this one is electronic: he punches in the code with a few quick flicks of his fingers, and the door slides open.
"I don't hate him," he tells her, holding out his arm and beckoning for her to precede him into the room. "Anakin is… complicated. But there is good in him. He is not his father."
How absurd. From the way Obi-Wan is talking, it sounds as though he thinks there is hope for Skywalker. It's unfathomable. She saw Vader, just weeks ago, put down a rebellion on Alderaan. The way he killed—it was so cold, like it was a job. He hadn't cared.
And she is married to that monster. She is married to him, and she will have to sleep with him, and—
She ends her line of thought there.
"So you stay because you think there is hope for him?"
"I didn't say I could leave. I merely said I think there is hope for him."
"Then, what, exactly, is your position?"
No flicker of anything on his face, but his eyes—there is something there. It's too deep for her to get at, and it's gone before she can try, but her comment has, somehow, affected him. "I suggest you ask Anakin that. In the meantime, I hope you'll find your quarters suitable."
Only if Skywalker isn't in them… and is he going to be? Everything about the room is well-done, tasteful, with classic solid wood furniture, and wide windows that look out over Coruscant, but if he intends to share with her, there's nothing that could possibly make them tolerable.
Obi-Wan knows: he sighs, watching her sympathetically. "They're yours, My Lady. Anakin doesn't sleep here."
Is she mistaken, or does he seem almost sad for her? He certainly appears to be blinking just a little more rapidly than before, not nervous, but… unsettled, as though her worry has dredged up his to be directed at her.
"Padme, please, Obi-Wan," she corrects him. If she has to stay here, she would at least like familiarity with someone. Is it too much to hope that perhaps she and Obi-Wan could be friends? It would be lonely without a friend, she thinks, making her way over to the bed and laying a hand on the comforter. It's soft, durable—more luxurious than she was used to, even as a Senator.
A nod. "Padme, then. Now, I need to go. Anakin is… not patient, especially not when he has questions he wants answered."
Her hand stills. "Questions? What about?"
"Oh?" He cocks his head to the side just slightly with a hint of amusement. "You can't guess?"
Of course she can: Anakin wants him to report on her. It's just—she doesn't want it to be true. Still, no sense in avoiding the truth. If Obi-Wan is willing to be blunt with her, she can at least return the favor. "And what will you tell him?"
"That I approve of you."
Well. That—he hadn't seemed disapproving, but, somehow, hearing that—it holds meaning. Here is this man, whom she doesn't know, and who works for Skywalker, and, yet, she is already valuing his opinion. Strange.
"I'm flattered. Will your opinion carry much weight?"
"When Anakin asks for it, it does. Given spontaneously I find that he's not quite so apt to listen to it. In this case, however, he has asked, so, yes." He pauses then, giving her a small smile as he crosses the room and heads to the door, which slides open under his touch. "If you require anything, the servants will be more than willing to help you. Do you need anything else from me personally?"
"Answers," she admits, crossing her arms. An impulsive reply, but she doesn't regret it.
Obi-Wan shakes his head, amused. "We all need answers, Padme. But I'm afraid I'd be overstepping my bounds if I so obviously gave them to you."
Obviously? Meaning what? "In that case, no, I don't need anything else from you."
Giving her a deep bow—she's strangely reminded of how the Jedi used to do that before they were annihilated—he leaves the room, pausing just outside the door. Oddly enough, he seems almost serene, and certainly collected in his emotions: his face is smooth with lack of expression. "Anakin will probably want to have first meal with you tomorrow."
"Tell him I'm ill."
His lips thin, holding back laughter that gives itself away in the tensing of his cheeks. "I'll tell him you'll attend."
The door shuts behind him. Yes, goodnight indeed. Goodnight to any chance of a life.
And why does she get the sense that Obi-Wan knows exactly how she feels?