Title: higher than soul can hope or mind can hide
Author: Ariana Kristine
Disclaimer: I do not own nor am affiliated with Star Wars, Disney, or LucasFilms.
Author's Note: I a newcomer to Obidala (and Star Wars in general), so I felt the need to contribute a little kindling so that coming late doesn't mean missing all the fun. Forgive me if my timeline is off; most of my knowledge of the prequel films is from fanfic and thus can be shaky.
Can be read as a one-shot, may become a multi-chapter (if muse is good to me).
Summary: In the aftermath of the Naboo Crisis, a seed of friendship is born.
It was a friendship that began covered in death and shrouded in struggle. That didn't make it any less significant, but its impact wouldn't be felt until years after.
Padmé stood tall as the funeral pyre was prepared for Master Jinn. Silver-blue branches from the vilayati tree, bright coral palasa fruit, and spicy red and green leaves from the mayaram were laid beneath his long body, an exotically colorful flora beneath his unnaturally pale skin. His salt and pepper hair was swept back from his tranquil face in the only style she had ever seen on him, half tied back with a dark leather cord. Cold hands were crossed in such a way as to cover the wound on his abdomen, as if to hide this vulnerability. His Jedi robes were cleaned and draped benevolently across his body. Somehow, he still looked dignified, even in death.
She may have had conflicted feelings about the Jedi's actions and personality, but she was truly saddened by his loss. He had, after all, been dedicated to her safety. Even when she had only been a handmaiden, he had kept careful watch over her and protected her from harm. She had seen the way he had been patient and thoughtful with Anakin even as he agreed to put his life in danger. And despite their disagreements, he had been mostly kind and devoted to the liberty of the Republic. In a way, the funeral would be symbolic of the loss and freedom her planet had suffered and won.
As sovereign, she was no longer able to project the character of the personable Padmé, the person she was behind the heavy gowns, elaborate hairstyles, and thick makeup. A simple gold crown encompassed her forehead, attached to a lavender mourning gown that swallowed her petite body. Her hair was twisted into a plaited bun and her face was made pale without other adornment. Every class she had ever taken shone through at this moment in her posture, schooled expression, and folded hands as she focused on a diplomatic and regal presentation. Still, her eyes drifted over to the pair next to her more and more frequently.
Anakin looked lost, unsure of his place in the world now that he was free and the one that promised his teaching dead. The strange bout of protectiveness washed over her again, pulling her thoughts to him again and again. Her heart went out to the young boy as he tried hard to fight his tears. However, it was the older of the two that made her heart wrench. She hadn't had much time to talk with Padawan Kenobi, but he had been a gentle and determined presence throughout their trip. She had noticed him from the beginning, drawn to his eagerness and grace. His eyes had always been alight with happiness, from a startling blue-grey to a deep thoughtful emerald. Now, they were dimmed, grey conquering the other colors like a storm covering the sky. Sorrow could not be hidden by Jedi stoicism.
The priest said a few hushed words over the body in both ancient Naboo and Basic, as per the custom. He lit a torch which sparked red and blue before calming to gold. He then motioned for Master Yoda to come forward. The undersized master stepped up to the platform slowly and closed his eyes. He brought his hand over the body and seemed to murmur something under his breath, his ears lowered. Padmé felt that something significant had occurred, like the air around them had lightened and calmed, though she had no proof of such a notion. After the feeling had passed, the diminutive Jedi turned to the priest and nodded.
The fire began, casting a fragrant smoke over the mourners tinged with a smell that was eerily both familiar and alien. It covered his body quickly, enveloping it with its heat and making a faint crackling sound. She winced; in her mind it was if his very bones were splintering in fulfillment of his demise. In the dancing yellow flames, she imagined she saw her grandmother Winama in its midst. The painful memory took her by surprise. She swallowed a cry and her eyes misted.
She felt a hand on her lower back, and she turned to meet Kenobi's stare. He offered a nod, his eyes still solemn. She nodded back, finding comfort in the slight gesture and hoping that she was offering the same to him as well. He turned to Anakin and they exchanged a few short words in a hushed whisper that she missed. He turned back to the procession after that, even though his gaze could no longer focus directly on his master.
The funeral ended shortly after, with its attendees slowly and systematically leaving the site of the pyre. She turned to leave as well, the smoke finally beginning to sting her eyes and cloud her lungs. She spoke softly with her handmaidens, indicating that she was going to bed and would not need them for the rest of the night. Sabé began to protest, but after seeing the fatigue bruising the bottom of her eyes even under the pale foundation, she stopped and smiled tightly, wishing her a good night.
Padmé made it out the door of the temple before she saw Anakin running out. "Ani?" she called to the young boy.
He stopped, wiping his nose with the sleeve of his tunic. He turned and his eyes were dark with tears. "Padmé, why did he die?" he asked mournfully.
Again, she felt a foreign pull to comfort him and make him feel safe. It was odd; she had never felt such need to attach herself to someone so young. She sighed and kneeled to pull the young boy into her arms. She pet back his thick blond hair and bit her lip in contemplation. She was unsure how to answer his question to make his spirit lighten. "He died so he could save us all, Ani. Without his sacrifice, we would still be in danger or perhaps have been killed."
He looked rebellious at that. "Obi-Wan was there. He was the one that killed the bad guy! He should have been able to save him!"
Padmé shook her head at that. "He tried all he could, Ani. He didn't want Master Jinn to die, either."
Anakin crossed his arms defiantly. "He's not even sad. I hate him! He gets to be a Knight now, so he doesn't even care!" A hiccup began and was stifled in frustration. His eyes were narrowed and bloodshot, heat palpable in his aura.
Padmé drew back, unused to this kind of anger in mourning. "Ani, I'm sure that's not true. Master Jinn was with him for a very long time and they were friends –"
"No! You don't understand! He doesn't even cry! He doesn't care about Qui-Gon, and he doesn't care about me!" he cried and ran off.
"Ani!" she called, surprised. She leapt to her feet to follow him. Apparently being a slave for nine years afforded some speed and skillful hiding, because she quickly lost his tracks even in her own land. She rubbed her temples as she felt a headache brew. Where was her diplomatic skill now?
Her earlier fatigue had dissipated into restlessness. With nothing else to do, she made her way back to the palace. She hesitated at the entrance, choosing to instead pass into the gated gardens. The hinges were soundless as she crossed the threshold, then shut behind her with nary a whisper. She wandered through the greenery, weakly hoping to catch sight of Anakin. She removed the hood over her head and unraveled her hair from its styling to drape heavily down her back in a mass of tangled curls. The air was pleasantly humid and the moon was full, casting bright light through the thick foliage. It was a deep contrast to the feelings of the evening, but somehow refreshing as a cool breeze picked up to pull the hair off her shoulders. The memories of her grandmother had left her uneasy, and the confrontation with the child did little to help that.
She turned down the path that would take her deeper within. With a quick swipe, she cast of a majority of her makeup on the sleeve of her gown. She had no want to remain hidden when she was alone with her thoughts, feeling more like the girl and less like the queen. She kicked off her shoes to feel the cool, smooth stones under her feet and breathed in the thick fragrant air deeply.
"You shouldn't be out here all alone, milady."
She startled and turned toward the hoarse tones. In the dark, she could make out the shape of what the accented voice had already told her. Kenobi had found a place to be alone in the gardens. He was darker than he should have been in the brightness of the moonlight, covered in the dark brown hood he had been wearing during the funeral.
She cautiously stepped forward and sat next to him on the bench.
"It's a lovely evening, isn't it?" he asked finally when he saw that she would not reply to his slight reproach.
She nodded unsteadily. "Very. Jedi Kenobi … I just wanted to, I mean, what I meant to say –"
He raised a hand and sighed heavily. She could hear a barely perceptible hitch in his breathing. "Thank you, milady, but I don't care to hear any more platitudes."
She frowned and found her regality again. "I do not wish to relay mere platitudes, Jedi Kenobi. While we may not have been the best of friends, Master Jinn not only did a great service for my people but he also showed a great principled mind. He was outspokenly devout to what he thought was right and fiercely protected everyone around him. He will be forever commemorated in Naboo, and I certainly will never forget the good he did for me and mine."
She saw a small smile beneath the hood. "Thank you for saying so." He turned his head up to look at the stars, and the light showed tear tracks along his handsome face. "He certainly was outspoken, wasn't he?" He turned to her and shook his head at the sympathetic face she was giving. "I apologize, milady, I am not supposed to show such emotion."
Her frown deepened. "Not supposed to show emotion? What is that supposed to mean?"
He folded his hands in his lap and stared at them a moment. "'There is no emotion, only peace.' Part of the Jedi Code, your grace, and I am afraid I am unable to uphold that at this moment."
She reached out to cup a hand in hers. "You have no need to show stony silence in front of me, Jedi Kenobi. I do not care for it. In fact, if it helps, I demand that you show emotion in our solitude."
He chuckled, and the warm sound fizzled inside her. "I thank you for that decree, dear Queen. I perhaps won't take full advantage of it, however."
She squeezed the hand in comfort. "Whatever you need. Master Jinn is not the only one to whom I owe an insurmountable debt."
He looked down again, turning her hand over in his and studying it deftly. His calloused thumb traced over the lifeline, leaving a trail of ignited nerves. She wondered if he was seeing something with his Force-enhanced vision that she never would be able to. Finally, he spoke. "I wish no debt between us."
She smiled softly. "Then perhaps I can provide my friendship instead."
He turned his liquid gaze toward her and she stifled a gasp. Funny how tears could darken Anakin's gaze almost black but for Kenobi they had turned a bright ocean blue. "I would be honored to be your friend, highness."
She grimaced. "No friend of mine should call me 'highness,' Please, Jedi Kenobi, call me Padmé. I have so few people who do so."
His gaze was questioning. "I thought that was your handmaiden pseudonym?"
She smirked and shook her head. "My given name is Padmé Naberrie. When I became Princess of Theed, I was given an honorific name that I shall carry until the day I retire from politics: Amidala. I will be known by that name during my reign, but I don't wish my friends to call me that."
He smiled and she noticed that his dimples were slightly uneven, the left being deeper than the right. She liked that about him; it gave his face more character. "Then you are Padmé, milady, and I am Obi-Wan."
She beamed up at him. "Obi-Wan. The name fits you."
He quirked an eyebrow. "In what way?"
She cocked her head to the side and looked at him in speculation. "It is Stewjon, your name?"
He nodded, surprise igniting his features.
"It's your eyes that give it away. The people of Stewjon have those chameleon eyes seen little elsewhere," she said with a glittering gaze and his head ducked in response. "The spoken ancient Naboo is similar to ancient Stewjon. In Naboo, obiwan means 'hero of light.'" She grinned then, glad to be able to share such knowledge.
He looked down, his expression darkening. "I don't know that I can live up to such a name after my failure."
She grabbed up his hand again, her body stiffening in worry. "You feel like you failed?"
He laughed bitterly. "Didn't I?"
She shook her head, her brow furrowing. "Don't ever believe that, Obi-Wan. You may have lost your friend, but you still managed to save us all."
He broke from her grasp and stood, all lightheartedness gone. His body slouched forward, as if he carried the world's guilt with him. "He wasn't my friend, Padmé. We were closer than that. He chose me, in a way of speaking, when I was thirteen years old to be his padawan learner. We lived together, we trained together, we went on missions together. He knew my strength and every little weakness that I needed to work on. He was the closest thing I had to a father and he still cast me aside when …," he trailed off there, bringing his hands to his face in submission. "But I still, he was still my … my Master. I could have been faster. I should have been faster. Two seconds could have changed everything."
Her heart broke at the sight of his shattered figure. "Obi-Wan, you can't blame yourself. What if you had been faster and you would have been the one who died?"
His hands gripped his head and then he looked up to the moon in anguish. "Maybe it would have been for the better."
She gasped and stood in front of him, forcibly grabbing him into her stern gaze. "Never think that, Obi-Wan. He would not want you in his place, I am sure of it. And if you had fallen, what makes you think he would have succeeded? What if you both could not stop him and that … that thing had taken over everything? Look at what you prevented instead of what you failed to prevent!"
"You didn't know him. He was one of the strongest swordsmen in the Order. He was the greatest advocate for change. He was wise, but truly frank and had his own way of doing things. There has never been someone who was so in-tune with the Living Force … how could I ever measure up to such a great Jedi?"
Padmé shook her head almost violently. "You can't compare yourself, Obi-Wan." She hesitated, calming her heart rate as she looked at him, not in pity, but in awe. "Do you know what I see when I look at you?" He refused to meet her stare but she persisted, moving herself into his space and yanking down the hood that was covering him. Her face softened at his deep frown and she grasped his arms tightly. "I see a man devoted to his Order. A man who fought and overcame a Sith, not for the glory, but to protect all that could have been harmed. A man who is so strong, gracious, and cunning but he fails to see it." She sighed, seeing how he had turned his head down even lower as if his whole body was refusing her honest perusal. She shook her head and dropped her voice to a whisper so that he would have to strain to hear it. "Your humility is your weakness, Obi-Wan. You can't see what a great person you are, what a commodity to the people and your Order. How lucky I am to be considered your friend."
He was quiet, but something in his breathing told her that he wasn't convinced. His gaze was mournful and he couldn't look straight at her. "What did you see, Padmé? When you looked into the flames?"
She turned her head away at that, losing her grip on his forearms. "I don't know what you mean."
He shook his head. "Yes, you do. I felt what you were feeling. That sudden grief and guilt was not for my master. What did you see, Padmé?" he asked again.
She bit her lip, feeling herself concede to the blatant change in subject. "My grandmother. Winama Naberrie. She passed away when I was seven."
His eye contact was steady and calming despite the memories he was invoking. "What was she like?"
She looked into the distance, seeing her dark eyed grandmother with her kind, warm hands. She never knew that somebody's hands alone could be kind, but hers were. They just were. How could she begin to describe the nuanced way her grandmother had loved? "She was amazing. She was our matriarch, which is something not to be taken lightly in our culture. She was intelligent, graceful, strong, and gentle. She loved us all dearly. She cared for us. She was the best woman I have ever met."
He nodded thoughtfully. "How did she die?"
Her gaze darkened and she looked away. "During a trip off-planet. A speeder hit her."
His voice was coaxing as he spoke next. "How?"
She shuddered in memory. "I wasn't paying attention. I was arguing with my sister Sola. It was over something so silly that I can't even remember it. I wanted to get away. I walked into the street, right in front of a speeder about to take off. She pushed me out of the way."
He rested his palm on her shoulder and it seemed to radiate with heat. "And you've felt guilty? You still do? You've wished it had been you, no matter how rational the others' choice was?"
She felt backed into a corner and knew perfectly well that he already knew the answer. "Yes," she finally said gruffly. Then she smiled sweetly up at him as something occurred to her. "But I also always had someone to shake me out of those thoughts, like I am here to do for you."
He smiled brokenly in concession. "Then I thank you, my friend." His fingers brushed the bottom of his hairline, searching for a braid that was no longer there. The nervous tic was noted and filed away in her memories.
She turned toward the palace, studying the vines creeping up the trellis to the windows above. "Tomorrow is the celebration, Obi-Wan. I know you don't feel much like celebrating, but it would mean much if you were there."
He nodded. "I will be there. Anakin will wish to go, so I will need to accompany him, anyway. But know that I am also coming because I believe that the things you have done for your planet are commendable and still you take the time to cajole an amateur Jedi out of sadness and offer him your friendship. You have one of the purest hearts, milady."
She wriggled in embarrassment. "Padmé, remember?"
He finally joined her on the bench once again. "Padmé, my dear friend. We will have to find a way to keep in touch once I leave, won't we?"
She rested her head comfortably on his shoulder. "Yes, we will. You said you need to accompany Anakin. Are you training him?"
She felt his head bob in agreement. "Yes. The Council gave me the right to this evening," he said, his voice flat.
She looked up at him, feeling a fresh wave of sorrow course through him. "You do not wish to train him?"
He shook his head. "It's not that, milady." At her pointed look, he reframed his address. "Padmé, it's only because I am not sure I am ready for a padawan, especially one coming so late into his training. But it was Master Jinn's final request, and no one else will train him because of the Council's initial reaction. Besides, I would be asked to choose a padawan after a while, anyway. It is only my fear holding me back."
She choked back her initial response. "It was his last request?"
He looked down and his voice was resolute and melancholy. "Yes, it was his last words to me, asking me to train Anakin, as he is the Chosen One and will bring balance."
She rose to her full posture, anger surging through her. "Did he say anything else to you?"
Obi-Wan looked at her, startled at the swift change in emotions. "No?" he said, the word drawn out and carrying his confusion.
She took a breath to steady herself and then wrapped her arms around the older man. "I am sorry that your father's last words were about another," she whispered tightly, feeling tears stir at how badly the request must've damaged the man, her newest friend.
He was stiff in the embrace, but as she held him he slowly melted into it. After a few moments, she felt a shudder pass through him before it was followed by sporadic clones. Sounds emerged from his chest but died in his throat, and she made soothing circles along his back to accommodate their expulsion. Was this the only way that he could cry? So silently and restrained? His arms looped at her waist, holding her close and yet keeping his distance. She had never felt closer and further away from a person as she did then. In her swirling emotions, there seemed to be a struggle; something pulling and something else pushing without a victor.
After a few moments, he drew back. His face was splotchy and eyes downcast. "Thank you for your support."
She placed her hands on his hot face, only then feeling the tears on his skin. Again his glorious eyes met hers. "You are my friend now, Obi-Wan. You will always have my support. And I hope that I will always have yours."
He nodded, giving a shy smile. "Always, milady … Padmé."