"Two things only the people anxiously desire -- bread and circuses."
-- Juvenal (circa 60-130 AD) on the Roman Empire.
Padme strides down a corridor in the administration wing of the palace, two secretaries flapping behind her. She has three of them in total, and either they are constantly underfoot, or else she can never find one. Maybe she should get another one. Maybe she should get an assistant to organise them. That's a good idea, actually.
"Hold," Padme says, mid-sentence. Secretary-the-first's fingers pause over the dictation. Padme snaps her fingers, and Secretary-the-second springs forward to her elbow. (See? Constantly underfoot.) "Prepare me a shortlist of non-core-world junior senators, preferably not in their first term. I want dossiers of administrative experience, official and social affiliation."
Secretary-the-second makes quick notes. "To what end?"
"I am seeking an assistant. That is all; you may go."
They turn at the corner, Secretary-the-second falling away, and Padme looks back at Secretary-the-first, who stills his frown, not quite quickly enough. "Was there something?" she asks.
Her staff know better than to demur when asked directly. "With all due respect, Chancellor, is it really suitable for a senator --"
"Moreso than a clerk," she breaks in. "Resume." As the secretary twitches his datapad back into position, she finds her mental place. "--at that rate is, of course, simply untenable. New paragraph; I look forward to your revised request at your earliest convenience." She waves a hand. "In unity, Chancellor Amidala, etcetera. Have it ready to be signed in an hour."
As Secretary-the-first falls away from her side, Padme turns the final corner. The third secretary - the one she thinks might actually have some talent - is waiting outside the reception room. Padme holds out her hand for the datapad, glances at it once - the basic briefing, the historical notes, the resource notes, correspondance reports, infiltration reports. "Good," she says. "Thank you."
The door hisses open at a touch of her hand, and inside, three Teofilian ambassadors twitch their plumed heads towards the door. One almost jumps to his feet. Threepio, tray of refreshments in hand, totters a little beside that one. Good, she's left them to stew just long enough.
She comes in, the swish of her robes against her legs, the steps of Secretary-the-third keeping pace behind her. "Gentlemen," Padme says, crisp and inclusory, if not precisely welcoming. A mutter of greeting ripples across them. They shift in their seats as she takes hers, secretary poised at her elbow. "Not for me, thank you, Threepio. Now." She smiles, quick, insincere and fleeting; a smile she knows the effect of. "You have half an hour."
To their credit, they do not all try to speak together, nor does the leader (to whom the other two turn immediately) speak at once. Rather, he folds purple-taloned hands in front of him, and gives her a long look across the table. It is far from the most intimidating gaze she has held. "With all due respect, your excellencey," he says, "we rather hoped to present our case to your Master himself."
A different smile, this one. Thin, flat, sharp and knowing as a blade. "I am aware of that; I have read your application," she says. "But he is a very busy man, I'm sure you understand, and his days are filled with the concerns of the Republic. Of which you are not a member."
That is, after all, the very point of this meeting. Padme, too, is very busy, her days filled with myriad concerns, and she has little patience for those who refuse to acknowledge the common good that their petty priorities obscure.
"Teofil is independent and self-sufficient," the chief ambassador begins, and perhaps on his planet his gravitas and aplomb give him a certain status. A certain respect.
This is Coruscant, and Padme is not in the mood. She interrupts. "Teofil uses our shipping routes, buys and sells at our markets, benefits from our technology and is cradled in our enfolding peace. You are dependent and supported in every way that matters, gentlemen, and yet you contribute neither to our taxes nor our levies." No trace of a smile now, as she leans forward, holding the ambassador's gaze still. "I can tell you just as well as my Master that we are reasonable, but that can last only so long as those with whom we deal are likewise. Our largesse is not unlimited. It would be most unfortunate if matters between the Republic and Teofil became..." She tilts her head a little. "Unreasonable."
The two junior ambassadors are not nearly so inscrutable as their elder; they edge back in their chairs, rims of ultramarine showing around the glossy black pupils of their eyes. Padme lets the moment stretch, until the senior ambassador blinks and looks down at the table.
"But of course things shan't come to that," she says then, brisk again. "We are sure that rational minds can resolve the situation to everyone's benefit. Indeed, we are almost certain that is what you had in mind when you mentioned in your application -- what was it again?" She picks up the datapad, flicking through to the information. "Oh yes. A relationship of mutual appreciation and respect. We do quite agree. In fact, I have every confidence you will find our preliminary suggestions for the alignment of Teofil with the Republic --" She snaps her fingers, and Secretary-the-third leans forward, sliding the chipset across the table. (Yes, she is definitely worth keeping.) "-- address all your major concerns."
One of the junior ambassadors takes up the chipset, plugging it into his datapad and scanning it with a faintly sick expression.
The senior ambassador says merely, "We will have to confer with our government."
"Of course," Padme says, and stands up. "I look forward to hearing from you soon. My secretary will make arrangements. Gentlemen." With a nod, she turns and sweeps from the room.
Secretary-the-first (or is it second? no, he has the letter ready for her) is waiting in her private office. As she checks through the letter, the door hisses open again, and she sighs mentally. Scrawling her mark at the bottom of the letter, she hands it back to Secretary-the-first, and glances up idly, wondering if this is the second or third secretary, back to plague her.
It is neither. Her visitor is tall, broad-shouldered, a vision of power and strength in black and brown, a darkly glowing sun, stealing her breath (hers and half the Republic's) effortlessly as he pushes back his hood. Anakin grins at her, and she grins back, raising one finger as she says to the secretary, "The select committee on fuel tariffs is meeting in the octagon room. I want notes on their conclusions, as well as their official recommendations. You may go."
The secretary gives Anakin a wide berth on the way out, which seems to amuse him today. He's smiling as the door hisses shut and Padme steps into his arms. The certainty of his kiss catches her up, and she sighs, leaning against him.
"What a coincidence," she says. "I've just been threatening someone with you."
"Trouble with Senators?" Anakin asks, lips against her hair. She could correct him, but one petty political title is more or less the same as all others to him. "I only just got back and you're planning to send me off again?"
She smirks. "Eager to go?" she teases back, poking at his ribs.
He catches her hand, and draws her close again. "Not even slightly," he mutters against her mouth.
She laughs as his hand creeps upwards from her waist, ghosting over her ribs. "Are you just here to distract me?"
"Actually," he says, "I came to remind my highly organised wife that we're due at the opera in an hour and a half."
"Oh spit," she gasps, pulling back as he laughs.
"Where's Threepio?" Anakin asks. "I told him to remind you."
"I sent him to keep some ambassadors off balance." She turns, heading for the door. "I'll meet you downstairs in time to go."
"I'll be there!" She blows a kiss from the door.
Padme strides through the door to her private rooms with less than half an hour to go. Her handmaidens lift off their perches like a flock of some elegant raptor, descending upon her with sharp fingers and breathless babble.
"--dress ready and waiting," Enke says, waving a hand towards an absolute confection of a costume, waiting stiffly on its stands.
Padme shakes her head, even as she holds her arms out so that the handmaidens can begin divesting her of her robes. "Not enough time. Something simple. The red Saava silk."
"Enke," Padme says, warningly, then shivers as cool air hits her skin.
What does it matter, in any case? Yes, the HoloNet press will be there in force, tabloids and all, but they are, quite frankly, the least of her concerns these days. Anything she wears is fashion, and sometimes it is good for the luxury guilds to remember who is dependent upon whom.
Cleansing, new undergarments, the new dress, scents and cosmetics, the final touches; Padme wishes, occasionally, that her official staff, or even the Senate, were as deft, as quick, as competent (as obedient) as her handmaidens. They have her ready, dressed, descending the stairs to the foyer of the residential wing of the palace, and not even a little late. Imagine what she could achieve for the Republic with a Senate like that.
Laughter rises from the floor below her. Masculine laughter, two-toned, warming her through. She pauses on the final landing, her hand on the railing, to look down at the two sandy heads together below.
She suspects Anakin knew the moment she left her rooms, has known where she was all afternoon - even now, she is unsure to what extent he can feel her, precisely what he is aware of. But it is Obi-Wan - robed in darkest grey and opalescent purple, hair drawn back and beard immaculately trimmed as ever - who is the first to acknowledge her, merely lifting his gaze to settle upon her, almost idly and without intent, as though he also has known she was there all along. His smile is gentle, almost genial; he is relaxed, arms tucked into his sleeves, at ease here in his home, with his friends.
She can imagine he is still a Jedi.
Anakin turns as she starts down the last half-flight of stairs. Meets her at the bottom with a warm smile, a kiss on the back of her hand. "I was about to send a search party." He draws her in, kissing her cheek as well. "You're so beautiful," he whispers, between the sweep of her hair and the vicious claw of her earring. He smells very good, her face turned briefly against his neck. (What does it matter what she wears, when the only opinion that matters is his?)
He keeps hold of her hand as they come back across the foyer. "Good evening, Obi-Wan," Padme says, smiling - genuine, no meaning, no effect, couldn't it be that simple? - to see him. "I hope your day has been pleasant."
"It's improving with every moment," he says, his smile lingering as he takes her other hand, pressing her fingers with his own. "You're a vision, Padme."
"Yeah, enough of that," Anakin says, laughing as he tugs her back a little, and Obi-Wan is laughing too, letting her hand go.
She stands between them, close by Anakin's side, looking up a little to Obi-Wan. There are footsteps at higher levels - the palace staff going about their work - and guards by the doors, at the foot of the stairs, but it feels like they're alone. The three of them, nothing else; a moment so unutterably rare in these times that she wants to hold onto it, actually clasp it in her hand. "Are you joining us for the evening's entertainment?" she asks.
He smiles again, broader now, and his teasing tone warms her through as he says, "Anakin asked me the same thing. Would I really be welcome?"
"Don't be ridiculous," she says, feeling colour in her cheeks, Anakin's hand against her back now, the press of his fingers tangible through the thin silk.
"I told him that, too," Anakin says, and when she looks up at him, he's smiling across at Obi-Wan, the I-told-you-so smirk that is only ever directed at this man. Her husband reaches over and clasps Obi-Wan's shoulder. "Come with us, Master."
"Of course," Obi-Wan responds. His gaze rests on Anakin, benign but heavy, and when it slides to her, Padme feels a shiver slink down her spine. It prickles the skin where Anakin has just removed his hand, turning to lead the way out the door.
The hovercar - always cavernous - seems less immense with Obi-Wan inside as well, stretching his legs out from his corner with a sigh of relief, balancing one ankle on the other.
Anakin is, as usual, making a brief survey of the minibar. Padme is never sure why; perhaps, though the contents never change, his tastes might. "You two," he says, smiling fondly across the car at them. "Sighs and grumbles like the elderly. Padme, I'm surprised at you."
She laughs, as Obi-Wan growls, "Mind your manners, boy." Head tilted back, his smile is lazy, but his eyes glitter, and Padme looks away, watching them in reflection against the spiralling coruscation of the city out the window. Obi-Wan adds, "Some of us haven't just come back from a holiday."
A bark of disbelieving laughter from Anakin. "Holiday! Fine, old man, next time you can slog through the mud chasing dissidents and I'll swan about in the capital."
"Dealing with the Senate?" Padme asks, turning back with a smile.
He laughs, really and truly, out loud and leaning back in his seat. "On second thought, give me the mud and dissidents any day." He shakes his head, still chuckling, checking their progress out the window. "I don't know why you don't shut that bunch of ingrates down. They just get in the way."
Obi-Wan most certainly does not look at Padme. She knows, because she is looking at him.
When Anakin turns back to them, halfway through muttering something about traffic on Coruscant being worse than ever before, she cuts him off. "We missed you, you know."
She told him that the night before - not quite the same; I missed you. Whispered it into his skin and flavoured it with his sweat as she welcomed him home, welcomed him in and felt complete again. She told him that and he held her so tight it may have hurt had it not been him, had it not been her, and he said, "So much," not even needing to repeat her words.
She says it again now, and as quickly and smoothly as if it is something planned, something they have arranged beforehand, Obi-Wan adds: "Yes."
Anakin's head ducks a little, his grin boyish, and perhaps she loves him the most like this. Impossible to say. But she does know that here, now, this space does not feel immense. It feels like all the universe that matters. It feels like sanctuary.
They are announced as they step out, one at a time; too much weight in them to be dropped all at once. Not even the thickness of the crowd, the press a throttling cordon between them and the landing stage, could withstand that.
"General Skywalker," the protocol droid announces, as Anakin strides forth, and then, "Sword of the Republic." Padme smiles, imagining the twist the words would bring to his lips; however much he hates the appellation, it appears to have stuck.
She barely takes a breath before stepping out, into the dazzle of lights and applause and the serene, impersonal amplification of the droid saying, "Chancellor Amidala." She mentally adds "his wife" before it, as she always does; no less true, no less important, no less well known.
He takes her hand as she raises the other, waving to the crowd, smiling endlessly and meaninglessly to the HoloNet recorders. The response of the crowd winds around them, snaking between them, its sussuration and shriek familiar against Padme's skin.
And then, as if somehow (impossibly) in anticipation, there is the faintest lull, and into its false, serendipitous hush, the droid says, "Master Obi-Wan Kenobi."
The noise is overwhelming, adulation like an assault. They scream for him, and Padme feels him step out, behind her and Anakin. Without prompt or thought, her hand falls away from her husband's; they step apart.
Obi-Wan steps into that space between them, forward past them a little. He breasts the wave of the crowd's demand. He is untouched and exalted, lifting his hands barely to the shoulder, palms open to the crowd, embracing and accepting their acclaim. He is awesome and humble, their Emperor who will not take the title, the simple father to the universe. Their master.
He steps back, between Padme and Anakin again, and they are drawn in against his side. Padme feels herself held close by the roar, ever escalating. It chooses them, it bestows upon them their power; they are the will of the people, and none could doubt it, feeling it all around them. The three of them, a golden bubble.
His hand is nothing at all, pressed into the small of her back, where Anakin's rested earlier.
Bread and Circuses by dee
All stories are works of fan-fiction by Dee. "Fan-fiction" means that she does not own any of the core creative concepts and characters, but she does heap adulation, appreciation and awe upon those people who do hold the intellectual property rights to those concepts and characters. Further, any instances of real people are fictional, and the author does not wish to suggest any truth should be attached to the actions, emotions and words attributed to them in these fictional stories.