Whatever Comes To Us
Obi-Wan had been allowed inside the treatment room with Ani, of course. Obi-Wan was his master, his friend, and the closest thing the Jedi Order recognized to his father.
Padmé was just his assignment.
She didn't dare let her frustration and anger show, or the horrible fear for him that she couldn't help feeling. There had been questions en route from Geonosis to Coruscant, questions about an embrace and a kiss, questions Padmé didn't know how to answer without knowing what Ani wanted her to say. She could destroy his future with a word, and she knew it.
But Ani had gone into shock as the transport loaded, and the medical droids had bustled him off to a quiet corner, where she couldn't talk to him, where she couldn't find out which future he had decided on. And the questions, carefully worded: "Warm feelings, you seem to have demonstrated, Senator..." or "Is such a kiss a customary greeting among the Naboo, Senator?"
She had mumbled something about being afraid and about how much was going on around them. How much could the Jedi pick up of her real feelings?
She didn't know.
At any rate, it didn't matter if they knew she loved Ani. It only mattered that they never find out that he loved her, too -- that he was, in fact, willing to risk his place in the Order for her. She supposed she should question that. It might have been said in the heat of the moment, which had been considerable, and nineteen-year-old boys were known to have a healthy store of insincere statements for use in such situations.
But not Ani. Not to me, anyway.
The Jedi had seemed to accept her demurrals to an extent. They didn't look happy with her, but no suspicion was cast on Anakin. They had whisked him away to the Temple infirmary as soon as they'd gotten back, and the door had been shut ever since. The infected scratches on Padmé's back were treated there, as well as the deep burns in Obi-Wan's arm and leg, and had given her a simple dress and robe to wear while she waited. Then...
Obi-Wan had gone into the cybernetics lab, and Padmé had been left here, in the vestibule outside, to pace with Mace Windu, Yoda, and Threepio. Artoo kept circling her in a protective way, cooing what sounded like comforting words. And the most she could do was inquire every now and then about his progress.
"Much concern you have for young Skywalker," Yoda said the sixth time she did this. But he was smiling.
She nodded. "I... Well it's my fault. I was the one who insisted that we go to Geonosis to try to help Obi-Wan. If it weren't for me, he'd be at home on Tatooine with both of his arms. And we didn't do a bit of good, did we?"
"Hard to measure is such a thing. But brave you were, and fought well, you did."
"I should have realized the Jedi would come for Obi-Wan in time. It just seemed to be so far."
Yoda frowned in a puzzled way, but didn't elaborate on whatever he'd noticed. When he spoke, his voice was gentle. "Without his padawan by his side, lost his life, Obi-Wan would have, in the battle with Dooku. Save him, you did, by bringing young Skywalker... even against our orders."
"And lost Ani his right arm."
"For young Skywalker's injury, you bear no responsibility. Reckless he can be in a fight, and skilled at exploiting such a weakness is Dooku. Be at ease, Senator Amidala."
The door to the cybernetics lab opened, and a hooded figure came out. Padmé's heart rose, then fell again when she realized that it was just Obi-Wan. He crossed the room to her.
"Master, the surgery is complete. The initial cybernetic replacement has taken."
"How is Anakin?" Padmé asked.
Obi-Wan looked over, noticing her for the first time, or at least acknowledging her. "Physically, he is well. There was no lasting damage from the shock, and the arm is performing adequately. He is concerned that he may lose some of his skills if the hand doesn't function as expertly as his natural hand. He is also upset about its appearance." Obi-Wan sighed. "I am worried about him. He seems distant. Despairing."
"May I see him now?"
"I'm not sure that's a good idea, Padmé. He... Anakin is under the impression that you might find his appearance distasteful."
"Which is all the more reason for me to go in there." She bit her tongue -- hard -- before following it up with, He needs to know that I'll love him no matter what sort of arm he has. That would be difficult to explain. "Please, Obi-Wan. With the vote over, Queen Jamillia has asked me to go back to Naboo and help the people get ready for the war. She believes -- and I agree -- that it's likely to expand, and the Naboo will need to be trained and armed. She wants me to contact Boss Nass and ask him to oversee the project." She bit her lip. "At any rate, I want to see Ani again before I go. I don't know when I'll get back to Coruscant and he... he cared for me very well."
"I don't doubt it," Obi-Wan said dully. He raised his fingers to his temples and rubbed them in small circles. "I'm sorry, milady," he said. "The tone was uncalled for. And you're right. Whatever Anakin thinks, I believe a visit from you would be beneficial to him. Wallowing in his wounded vanity isn't likely to help much, and nothing I have said for the past hour seems to have had much of an impact on him." Padmé's face must have registered shock, because Obi-Wan put a comforting hand on her arm. "I do care for him, Padmé. I know it must not seem so to you, and rarely does to him lately. I would lay down my life for him. But I believe we both know that he can be... difficult. And he is being difficult at the moment."
"I understand. May I see him now?"
Obi-Wan nodded and gave her the chip that would let her pass the security line. She didn't look back or ask any further questions. All she wanted was to get to him, and her ability to put a respectable face on that desire was weakening with each passing moment.
She didn't give the security droid so much as a second glance when she breezed by it.
Ani was lying on an inclined sickbed at the far end of the room, looking shrunken and pale in the harsh glare of the lights. He turned his head when she came into the room, then made a horrified grab for the blanket with his left hand, pulling it up to his right shoulder. "Padmé! I told Obi-Wan... "
"Yes, he said you were being difficult." She sat down on the bed beside him and reached for the top of the blanket.
He took her hand gently, but firmly, and pushed it back. "I'm not ready for you to see me," he said.
"It doesn't even look a little bit real, Padmé. It's... it's ugly."
"I don't care." She brought her other hand up to his real one, folded his fingers between her palms. "I meant what I said, Ani. I don't love you any less for losing an arm. Do you really believe I would?"
He looked down at the strangely shaped line under the blanket on his right side, his long eyelashes shading his eyes entirely from her view. "How could I ever touch you with this?" he asked quietly. "What if it hurts you? And it doesn't feel real, Padmé. It'll be cold."
Padmé brought his hand to her lips and kissed it. His skin tasted sweet to her. She kissed his knuckles more deeply, fascinated by the sensation of it. When she looked up, he was looking at her again. "There aren't security cameras in here, are there?" she asked.
He hesitated, then shook his head.
She leaned forward and pressed her lips onto his, tasting him, letting him taste her. He pulled his good hand from hers and caressed the back of her neck. She touched his hair, his neck, his shoulder...
He broke the kiss. She could feel his heart beating quickly, and his eyes were panicked. "Padmé... "
She sat up, keeping her hand at the top of the blanket, waiting for permission to go on.
"Padmé," he whispered again. His good hand traced circles at the base of her skull.
Slowly, she tightened her fingers around the blanket and pulled it away from his cybernetic arm. He watched the process with apprehension, but he didn't stop her.
The stump of the arm was capped with durasteel, and the skeletal framework of the same material emerged from it. Wires trailed up and down; Padmé knew they attached to his nerves in some hidden place. She touched the arm curiously.
"You can feel it, then?" she asked.
He nodded. Sweat was dampening his face, and he was watching her hands as though she were practicing a complex craft that he could never hope to learn.
She ran her fingers down past the elbow, to the place where the structure changed. The wrist approximated the human skeleton, with several sensors placed to create a rolling motion. The bones of the hand were duplicated precisely, though without flesh it appeared to be only several long fingers extending from Ani's wrist. The wires spread throughout it. She touched one directly and Ani gasped.
She drew her hand away. "I'm sorry. Did that hurt?"
He smiled faintly. "No. It didn't hurt. It... Well, it didn't hurt."
"Isn't it dangerous for the wires to be exposed?"
"I'm going to find some way to cover them later," he said. "The droids say they should be fine. Threepio's wires were exposed for a long time and he never..." Anakin stopped. "Great. Now I'm building myself."
"At least you know you can trust the builder." She deliberately wrapped her hand around the metal rods and wires. Ani had been wrong. It wasn't cold. It warmed to her touch immediately. She drew it up, and folded it between her hands, as she had the other, and kissed it softly. "Can you still feel it?" she asked.
Padmé kissed a finger again, surprised that the taste, while not like the other, wasn't actively unpleasant. And from the way Ani's breathing sounded, the sensations in this hand were actually more intense. It was a powerful feeling. She kissed each new knuckle, exactly as she had the other hand, letting herself imagine its firm caress, enjoying the way Ani's eyes locked with hers as she touched him, sharing secrets that no one else would ever know.
The hand flexed and tightened suddenly around hers. Ani drew in a ragged breath. "I'm sorry. Did that hurt?"
"No. Is that what you were worried about? It's not any tighter than your left hand."
He drew it tentatively away, touched her face reverently, then drew it down her side. He looked to her for permission.
She nodded, and he stroked her side again, the firm steel fingers awakening her nerve endings. Her own fingers fumbled for the clasp of her gown. She had no thought other than freeing her skin to feel his touch more clearly, but he stopped abruptly and pulled her hand away from the mechanism. "Padmé, no. Not like this. Not here."
Padmé blushed, suddenly realizing exactly where they'd been headed. She wouldn't have stopped. She knew that as surely as she knew she should have. "I'm sorry," she said. "I wasn't thinking. Of course..." She let go and stood up beside the bed, straightening clothes that had become somewhat disorganized. "I shouldn't have done that," she said.
He smiled. "You keep saying that. Honestly, I don't mind at all."
"I have a feeling your master and the Council would mind." The real world started coming back to her a piece at a time. First and foremost, Ani would be expelled from the Order if they went on like this. Chancellor Palpatine had told her years ago, on one of his ever-more-infrequent visits to Naboo, that Anakin had the potential to be the greatest of all the Jedi, and she would hate herself if she stole that from him. Would he hate her for it? He would say no, of course, and he'd mean it now, but in ten years? Twenty? Would he mean it then?
Then there was the matter of her own future. She often complained about her life in politics -- or lack thereof, sometimes -- but she loved to serve her people, and there was much that needed to be done. This would mire her in scandal for years, and impede her ability to do what she needed to do. She could hear the whispers now, about the aloof and oh-so-noble Senator Amidala seducing a teenage Jedi. She could live with it for herself, but she would not be able to work around it. It was the sort of thing the electorate would destroy her for.
"You're being rational again," Ani said quietly.
She looked up. He was watching her warmly, but he had withdrawn physically, pulling the blankets over himself. "One of us has to be, Ani," she said. "And you've already told me that you can't."
He nodded. "You're right. I know you're right."
"Ani -- "
"I love you. As long as you know it, I... I'll be all right."
Padmé wanted to say something, some perfect thing that would make everything fit, but she was afraid that if she opened her mouth, she would simply start to cry and scream, It's not fair! Instead, she just grabbed his good hand again and kissed it hard, then left without saying anything else to Anakin, or to the Jedi gathered outside, or to the air taxi driver who took her home, or to Dormé and Jar Jar, waiting in her apartment. She just smiled at them in a shaky way and went to her room to lock herself in.
Even when the tears came, they were silent.
Anakin returned to his quarters at the Temple two days after losing his arm. The new one was behaving better than he would have expected looking at it. He'd been able to repair several circuits in Threepio's neck with no trouble on the fine work, and, though he'd approached it with some trepidation, he'd been able to both draw and carve as well as he ever had, once he'd gotten used to not having flesh to rest his instruments on.
Unfortunately, all he'd been able to draw was a dead Tusken child and all he'd been able to carve was his mother's death mask.
He destroyed both projects.
He hadn't told Obi-Wan about the Tusken camp yet, though he knew his master suspected that something had happened on Tatooine. Obi-Wan, at any rate, was being kind and more compassionate than he'd been for quite awhile.
He closed his eyes and imagined her sitting beside him on his sleep couch, holding his hands. Before she had come in at the infirmary, he had seriously contemplated destroying himself. Between what had happened on Tatooine and what had happened on Geonosis, he felt there was little worth living for. But she had come to him and accepted him, both his maimed spirit and his maimed body.
There had been a replacement for the part of his body he had lost. It wasn't complete, but it worked. Could there be a replacement for the part of his soul he had lost in the Tusken camp?
(No. You are damned. Embrace damnation and claim the power you knew there in the night of blood and sand.)
He squeezed his eyes shut against the voice. It wasn't the first time he had heard it, but it was something that he wouldn't even share with Padmé. He didn't want to burden her with what he was afraid was some kind of incipient insanity.
A soft tone told him that someone was at the door. He reached out with his senses and recognized Obi-Wan. He keyed the door open.
Obi-Wan came in hesitantly, looking around the room as though he hadn't been in here once a day for the last ten years, except during missions. He sat down on the stool at Anakin's desk. "Padmé has contacted me to ask if you would escort her back to Naboo."
Anakin looked up, surprised. "Really?"
"What's going on, padawan?"
The choice had come: Lie or stay silent.
He couldn't lie.
"I love her, Master."
"I see." Obi-Wan breathed deeply. "What is to become of you? Are you leaving the Order?"
"No. She... she says we need to be rational. She has a career. I have a future. The real world, she says."
"And you are able to do so?"
"I'm able to respect her wishes, Master. I would not go against them."
He nodded. "I told her you could go."
"She'll be leaving in an hour. You should meet her at the Senate launch pad."
Obi-Wan stood up, started to leave, stopped. "Anakin... I'm sorry I've held you back. I know it's frustrated you."
"It's all right, Master. I am unpredictable and... " Anakin stopped himself. "My anger isn't yet under control."
"And yet the realization of that is in itself a great deal of growth." Obi-Wan smiled. "How I will miss you after your trials, Anakin."
If Obi-Wan had been another man, Anakin might have embraced him at this point. But despite his warm words, he still seemed uncomfortable with the closeness; so instead, Anakin just grinned and said, "You'll be too busy with a new apprentice to miss me."
Obi-Wan laughed softly. "I will have to take three padawans to consider myself busy after ten years with you."
It came out before Anakin knew he meant to say it. "I love you, Master."
Obi-Wan just looked at him steadily, but Anakin could feel a lot of confused responses coming from him. It wasn't the first time it had been said, but Obi-Wan had never known what to do with it. It wasn't within his realm of experience. At last, he said, "Thank you, Ani. It means a great deal to me."
He left, and Anakin quickly packed a bag for the trip to Naboo. He brought his dress robes, thinking that he might be received at Queen Jamillia's court again and wanting to look more suitable this time, then headed out. Obi-Wan was gone from the common area of their quarters when he left the Temple.
"Master Ani?" a voice spoke up from the shadows.
"Are you leaving again?"
The vocoder sounded almost forlorn. Anakin smiled. Threepio had been a companion when he'd most needed one, and he'd been pleasantly surprised to find that he still liked the fastidious droid. "I'm going back to Naboo with Padmé."
"Naboo. Her home?"
"Yes." He grinned. "Would you like to come along?"
If the droid could sigh with relief, Anakin was sure he would have done so. "Oh, yes, Master Ani."
"Well, then, come on. There's a speeder waiting to take us to the hangar."
Dressing this morning had been a complex and daunting task.
On Coruscant, Padmé always dressed symbolically, but she almost always knew what signal she meant to send. Now...
She didn't want to wear something too formal, something that would seem a repudiation of everything they'd been through and everything she'd said. She didn't want to wear the soft clothes she'd worn on Naboo--Ani didn't need any more mixed signals from her. And she didn't want to wear any outfit that she'd worn on Tatooine. She wanted Ani to put Tatooine behind him.
In the end, she chose a formal Senate gown--she was traveling as Senator Amidala--but one of the looser, more mobile ones. It was a simple velvet shift in pale lavender, with a long outer coat of deep purple, nipped slightly at the waist by a clasp in the back. It looked respectable, but not forbidding; friendly, but not... inviting. Her hair, she left free, except for a silver circlet to hold it in place. A single pale purple gem depended from it.
She inspected herself.
It would do. She hoped.
If, of course, she could manage enough self-control to keep from unclasping it this time around.
The Jedi Order had lost nearly two hundred knights on Geonosis. She couldn't ask Ani to abandon them now.
(It wouldn't have to be like that. We could keep it a secret.)
The idea, insane as it was, kept recurring to her. That wasn't good.
There was no reason for her to ask him to accompany her back to Naboo, but she hadn't slept properly for two days, and she needed to see his face again. She couldn't remember exactly how the light hit it, and she needed to be reminded. His face was like a melody stuck in her head, one that needed to be listened to over and over until she finally had her fill.
It wasn't rational. But she could control anything further, and maybe, just maybe, they could come to some kind of workable understanding. Maybe they could find a friendship that could survive everything else that was true between them, and she wouldn't need to live without him entirely. Maybe...
Maybe the planets would suddenly start spinning backward and the stars would spell her name.
But she'd already invited him.
She went with Artoo, Captain Typho and Dormé to the Senate launch pad. They were taking fighters; she would be returning with Anakin on board the cruiser they had borrowed for their travels. Dormé had asked if she wanted a chaperone on board, but Padmé didn't think it would be necessary. Her "no" would be enough to protect her virtue with Ani.
She wasn't sure what was meant to protect his, if her resolve failed, so she couldn't allow it to fail.
He arrived only five minutes after her party had, See-Threepio clattering along a few meters behind him, and looked at Typho and Dormé in a vaguely surprised way. "Dormé and the captain also need to return to Naboo," she explained. "They thought it unwise for me to wait alone in the hangar until you arrived."
Ani nodded. "Good thinking. I doubt Gunray is just going to give up."
"But Anakin is here now," Padmé said. "We can handle it from here on in."
Dormé smiled wisely, and led Panaka over to the fighters. Padmé stood beside Ani and watched them blast into the sky.
Threepio looked away first. "People come and go so quickly," he said.
"That's life on Coruscant," Ani told him. He shrugged and looked at Padmé. "He wanted to come along. I hope you don't mind. He doesn't seem to be very happy at the Temple."
All of her nervousness melted away, and she laughed. "Oh, Ani. You can bring Threepio anywhere you like."
"Do you think he could stay with you? With the war, I'm going to be gone a lot, and he's not much for battles."
Fear tore through Padmé's innards as though a small, hungry nexu had taken up residence in her heart. She didn't want to think about Ani in any more battles. She didn't fear her own death, but the thought of Ani's was unbearable. She forced herself to only pay attention to part of the question. "I'd be happy to. Threepio, what do you say? Would you like to stay with me?"
"Oh, if I may, Miss Padmé! But Master Ani... you won't need me?"
"I'll muddle through," he said.
Artoo had already rolled up the gangplank, and was beeping impatiently from the top. They followed him.
Padmé took her place in the navigator's seat, and Ani slid comfortably into the pilot's chair.
It felt good to be together like this, as good in some ways as it felt to kiss and hold him. She wondered if it would be possible to steal this kind of moment again.
"I was surprised you asked me to come along," Ani said, starting the launch sequence. "I thought... well, after what you said about being rational..."
The thrusters fired, and the ship took off smoothly. Navigating around Coruscant's orbital junkyard required too much attention to answer him, so she avoided the question until after he'd made the jump to hyperspace.
"Padmé? Are we still being rational?"
"I don't know, Ani. I just woke up and... I wanted to see you." She turned the navigator's chair around to face him. He was looking studiously at the controls. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have called. I shouldn't try to--"
His hand--the mechanical one--covered hers. "I'm glad you called, Padmé. I'm not sorry to be here."
Her fingers wound through his of their own accord. She watched them curiously. "Ani, I don't know what to do. All I know is that I... I can't always be rational. I... " But she didn't know what it was she wanted to say. Ani would have found something, she knew. Some strange but true bit of poetry. I am not who I am when I don't love you, maybe. All she could do was squeeze his hand and let herself feel the wild, irrational thing that had taken over her mind since he'd come back to her.
Maybe that was enough. He seemed to feel it coming from her, and he pressed a kiss onto her forehead. "It's okay. What are we going to do? They need me there. I can't..."
I don't know. Why am I the one who's supposed to know?
She didn't say it. "There has to be some way to get through this, Ani."
"Just be strong? Pretend not to feel what we feel?"
"I can't do that anymore. And you couldn't do it in the first place. I need you, Ani. I need you in my life. I need to love you. And it's not possible."
He nodded and let go of her hand, and they flew in uncomfortable silence until the ship shuddered out of hyperspace above Naboo. She watched him the whole way, watched his hands on the controls, watched his face in the light of the starlines. She felt him watching her.
It's not fair! It's just not!
She turned away and looked down at the naviputer. The coordinates for Theed's landing platform were coming up. Her hand hovered over the enter key.
"Padmé? The coordinates?" He grinned. "Or do you like flying blind into a city? I do."
She smiled weakly, her hand still shaking. Then she pulled it away.
"Take me back to the lake, Ani."
He looked up at her sharply. "What?"
"The lake. Don't go to Theed."
"But Queen Jamillia--"
"--can learn to function for a week without my advice." Padmé winced at the sound of that. "We'll send word that we've gone back. That we're taking time to recuperate from the battle."
"Will you be able to take that much time away from the Order?"
"I am recuperating, but Padmé..."
She closed her eyes and swallowed hard. "I can't have you forever, Ani. I know that. But maybe we can have each other for a little while. Maybe we can get past this by --"
She opened her eyes. He looked horrified. "What?"
"Padmé, I couldn't... not... " He kissed her forehead, her cheeks, the hollow of her neck. "I don't want to be your lover," he said finally, quietly.
"I want to be your husband. I couldn't be with you otherwise. I could never let you..." He kissed her hands. "Padmé, do you want to be my wife?"
"Yes, but we're forbidden. We can't..."
"What you suggest is forbidden as well. If we can keep one secret, we can keep the other."
"But could we keep either?"
"I don't know." He hit the autopilot key on the controls, and dropped to his knees before her. "But we have to decide, Padmé. I can't be with you like this anymore. And you can't do it, either. Either we commit to this or... " He took a sharp breath. "Or we don't see each other at all. I don't think there's an in between for us."
"Would you leave the Order?"
"I don't think they would let me go. There's a prophecy..." He shuddered. "And with so many dead and a war coming... I will, if it comes down to it, Padmé. But I need to be there for them one way or another. They're my family."
"But we'll be lying to them."
"Only until the crisis passes. Then I'll tell Obi-Wan everything. I mean everything." He laid his head down on her knee. "Marry me, Padmé. What comes next will come. But let's be there together when it does."
She let her hand rest in his hair, felt the good weight of his head on her leg, and tried to imagine life with him, and life without him. Both paths were full of shadow and mystery, but she knew the demons that lay down the one where she walked away from him--the demons of Despair, Loneliness, and Self-Annihilation. The other demons that stalked them... they could face them together.
She put her hand under his chin and raised his face to look into his eyes.
"Take me back to the lake," she said again. "Whatever comes to us can begin there."