I believe in peace, bitch.
-- Tori Amos
Padme is in a meeting of the select committee on emigration taxation when Threepio brings her the message. One word: tonight? She half turns her head to whisper, "Yes." Threepio inclines his head, and shuffles out.
Her heart beats a measured pace, but time passes slowly. She is impatient for the rest of the meeting. In one way, this is not new; they are a ridiculous bunch, devoted to their own insecurities, blind to what needs to be done. She lost patience with them a long time ago, with how slow and careful a touch was needed to enable them to proceed at all.
She has a new impatience this afternoon. She thought she might never see him again. He did, after all, go after one of the most skilled Jedi in the galaxy.
He did, after all, go after his former Master.
Though she knows the thought disloyal, Padme has doubted Anakin would be a match for Obi-Wan Kenobi.
He's waiting in her apartments when she returns, just a silhouette against the dusk turning towards her, but she grins to see him, and when she's in his arms, he's grinning too.
"Anakin," she says, and lifts on tiptoe to kiss him, her hands on his face, in his hair, on his shoulders. She can't stop touching him, can barely stop kissing him to ask, "You're well? You're not injured?"
"I'm fine," he says, with his smooth, pleased arrogance - oblivious to the possibility of damage to himself, happy that she's worried. He tilts her mouth back to his, and she bites his bottom lip for that, for making her worry.
He just grins more, kissing her harder. Hefts her closer, one hand bunching up her skirts, and she wraps both arms around his neck. Tugs him towards the couch.
She thought she might never see him again.
It's cramped on the couch; Padme has to lie half on top of him, but the sound of his heartbeat beneath her ear is reassuring. The two of them are wrapped up together in the darkness, and that's reassuring as well.
"You didn't find him?" she asks.
His hand traces idle patterns on her bare hip. "I found him."
Her mind leaps, and she wishes sometimes that it did not do that. That she could prevent it providing her immediately with facts and logic that she could do without.
For if he found him, and he is wholly uninjured (and he is, she has just checked, quite thoroughly), then they did not fight. If they did not fight, it is still possible that Obi-Wan returned with him, but in that case, Anakin would still be at the Temple, not here with her. And she would have heard, in any case. The defection of Kenobi rocked the Senate to the foundations; his return would be a cause for wild joy.
So they did not fight. And Obi-Wan has not returned. But Anakin has. Unharmed.
Padme sits up. Finds a lamp. Anakin is already watching her when the light comes on. He doesn't say a thing, just watches her.
"He wants you to join him," she says, because some things need to be said.
Anakin shakes his head, and she knows she looks sceptical, scornful. He says, "He wants us to join him."
"Oh," she says, and I was right, I was so very right, you are not a match for him, not nearly close. It was a fight after all, and not one for which you have any armour, any weapons. But she does not say that, any of it. Merely says again, "Oh."
They go to bed, properly. They go into the bedroom, and turn off all the lights, and lie together beneath the covers.
Padme does not sleep. She is thinking of things she does not understand. She thinks of when Obi-Wan did not return to Coruscant, and she did not see Anakin for a week, merely heard reports; things broken, terrifying stillnesses, unexplained roamings through the lower levels of the city. She hates, more than anything, ignorance. Not knowing.
Anakin rolls over to face her, and she knows without looking that he is awake. She turns her face into his shoulder. Whispers against his skin, "Tell me about the Dark Side."
He does. She listens to his voice in the dark, trying to make sense, trying to find something for herself in what he says of power, will, choice.
Power she can't wield; will she can't hope to persuade; choice she never thought she'd even be required to contemplate.
But before she can say, "Do not go where I cannot follow," Anakin takes her hand and says, "I will not go without you."
She is struck dumb again. And still, she maintains, his hand enfolding hers, still she does not understand.
She has a nightmare about applause. This happens frequently; adulatory acclaim for something that grips her with its irrational stupidity and no, it must not be, she must stop it. She is used to that.
This one is different. The applause is for her. And she loves it.
Padme gets up early. When she comes back from the 'fresher, Anakin's awake, sitting on the edge of the bed. Just as well. She has things to do, and he should get back to the Temple. Shouldn't he? He is going back, isn't he? Why was he back on Coruscant? (To fetch you to Obi-Wan's side as well.) If she were Obi-Wan, and sending him away so soon, what else would she bid him do? How would she bind him to her?
"What's wrong?" Anakin asks, standing and curling a hand around her waist.
She shakes her head, holds still for his kiss, then steps away to begin dressing. "Thinking about the day ahead."
"Meetings," Anakin says, disparaging. "Politics." He steps out into the main room, hunting for his trousers.
"In the morning," she allows.
"Time for me in the afternoon, then?" he calls from the other room.
She hesitates, but she's always hated lying to him. "I'm going to the pit-racing," she admits, and then smiles as he hops back in, one leg trousered.
"It's your fault." She grins, shrugging her camisole down her body. "I mentioned something about pod-racing once, and now they all assume I'm into bloodsports."
A reputation she's been cultivating recently. No one notes who speaks to whom at those places. And if people are gossipping about her violent predilections, they're not contemplating her politics. Desperate times have called for desperate measures; they've had to move fast recently. Obi-Wan's defection changed everything, cast such a pall of panic that it enabled the formation of the thrice-damned Security Council. Should Anakin go the same way...
Padme can feel it all slipping out of control. The Republic becoming an impossibility. This decision of his like a pivot point. She can't even blame Anakin, for it is not truly his fault. It is people, their fear, their blind stupidity, the things it will lead them to. Stars help her; how can she save them all from themselves?
Anakin catches her arm. "Padme," he says, and he knows she has not been convinced. "What can I say?"
She shakes her head. She doesn't know. There is nothing he can say. One of the two. "Give me time, Anakin. It's not so simple for me."
His eyebrows go up. "You think it's simple for me?" he demands.
Her shake is more vehement this time. "No, of course not," she says, but really she does, because she knows how he does things, with his heart, full to the brim of conviction. It is how he has loved her. Yes, she thinks these things come easier to him than they do to her.
His fingers graze her cheek, down her jaw, and as always it melts something inside her, the gentle touch of hands that know violence intimately. She sways against him, just a little, and he whispers in her ear, "I'm not asking you to do this for me. Padme." His finger beneath her chin lifts her gaze to his. So much burning hope in his eyes; a vision of a glowing, golden future. "This is for us. This will be the end of compromising."
For a moment, she is sure she is going to cry. She holds hard to her control, and knows that if he kissed her now, he'd taste the tears she's swallowing.
"I will think about it," she promises, when she can. "But I need time."
"Of course," he says, giving to her once again.
It haunts her all morning. Those words - end of compromising. Through the petitions from trade consortiums and even through the teeth-gritting farce of the Security Council. As though they are burned into her.
For the truth - the hard, vicious truth that she wishes she did not know - is that she has not compromised one bit. Not who she is. Not what she does. Not what she hopes to achieve. She loves him with everything she is and will be, but it suits her for it to be kept a secret, for their love to belong only to the two of them. When she stands alone at parties, there is no way Anakin can be used as a shortcut to her. When she speaks out against the continuing war, no one can use her marriage as a convenient excuse to circumvent the truths in what she says.
She is happy. Just like this. But how much has he given her?
How can she deny him the first thing he has asked since he begged her heart from her?
She dresses plainly for the racing, rebraiding her hair into one simple plait down her back. Women aren't so rare in the crowd at these events. Ladies are downright unique. Just because there are unlikely to be observers who care is no reason to be stupid.
Bail finds her just as she's getting her betting chit. He looks stern and disapproving. "Don't encourage them," he chides.
"Just blending in," Padme says, blithe. "What news?"
The first time she came here, it was entirely overwhelming - the noise, the stench, the vicious purpose, the violence in the air. She scarce notices it anymore. It is not so different, she thinks, from the Senate. Less fear in the crowd, here.
Bail leans against a balustrade, but she knows he doesn't even see the death-defying flips of the competing racers. Anakin has done this once, she remembers. He has told her. A complicated story; an assassin, a rescue by Obi-Wan. All of his stories are complicated. Most of them involve Obi-Wan.
"Sorry," she says. "What did you say?"
Bail frowns at her. "Senator Eekway says she will vote with us, but I am unconvinced. She is worried. Close to scared."
"We will lose her, then," Padme says.
Bail's eyes are steady on her. "What do you know?"
She knows that Obi-Wan's defection shook confidence in the Jedi. She knows Anakin's defection will shatter it. She knows that Chi Eekway will be the least of the losses they will suffer. Full half their numbers - and she suspects that's an optimistic assessment - will be frightened back to the Chancellor and his promises of security, security.
It would be so much easier if she could hate him. If she wasn't so sure he thought he was just doing the right thing.
She knows that if she tells someone - Bail, for instance, who is still watching her, waiting for an answer - if she lets it get back to the Jedi and they arrest Anakin (or try, at least), it won't help at all. It might even be worse; they might try to deal with it internally, oblivious to the fact that it has long ago become a secular issue.
She knows there is nothing she can do.
"We've failed," she says.
Bail grabs her arm. "Padme," he says, almost begging.
She realises that her name sounds different when Anakin says it. Almost as though he's talking to a different person. Someone everyone else doesn't see.
"There has to be something we can do," Bail says, but his voice tells her that he can't think of anything either.
They have not discussed possibilities beyond this point. They both know what the options are. Give up entirely. Take up arms. Either way, they give up on democracy.
Either way, they abandon everything they've fought for.
Either way, they lose.
Around them, the crowd gets even rowdier. The race has finished. Padme glances at the screen, the announced winner. She fumbles her chit out of her pocket. "Oh," she says. "I've won."
Once again when she comes home dusk is malingering in the upper atmosphere. Once again, someone is waiting in her apartment, outlined against the window.
Not Anakin. Shorter. More restrained. And she freezes in the doorway.
He knew Anakin wouldn't convince me.
Obi-Wan does not turn from the window. "I am not here to kill you," he says.
Padme hurls her cloak onto a chair, marching into the room. "Get out of my head," she snarls.
He turns around then, amused. "I am not in your head, Padme." It's almost too dark to see, but she feels his eyes on her anyway. "You look troubled."
"Your doing," she spits, reaching for a lamp. She does not want to be alone in the dark with him.
He chuckles. "Flattering."
In the lamplight, he looks well. Unchanged. She can scarce believe it. It could be this time last year. He could have popped around for a drink and a friendly chat, a few moments of relaxation. He is the Obi-Wan she remembers and misses so desperately.
He is a criminal. One of the most wanted men in the galaxy. She could raise the alarm. Have him arrested. Would that solve everything? Remove the fear? Reclaim some ground? She could be a hero. Build upon that. Challenge the Chancellor.
Obi-Wan is watching her, his eyes uncomfortably still. He is himself, and not. There is something sharp behind his gaze. Something brutal.
She doubted Anakin could match him. Does she think the guards could?
"You shouldn't be here," she says finally. It sounds weak, but it's all she has left.
"Probably not." He is perfectly at ease, sauntering across the room, taking a seat, crossing his legs nonchalantly. He knows what has passed in her mind. She wonders if she has always been so transparent to him.
"Anakin's not here," she snaps, and immediately regrets sounding so short. Giving so much away.
"No," Obi-Wan says, "he's not. I imagine he's still at the Temple, and you understand it would be unwise for me to seek him out there." He meets her gaze, steadily. "I can go, if you prefer."
He makes no move to leave, however. She wonders if she would let him go; if he leaves, if he finds Anakin, will she ever see him again? He wants us to join him. Anakin might believe that; she is not sure she does. It is not just that the Dark Side - the Force - has nothing to offer her; what does she have to offer it? She cannot look away from Obi-Wan. "Stay," she says, an order.
He smiles, and it's unbearable - like an old slice of joy, lifted from the immediate and lost past. It's too much. She turns away hurriedly, sitting by the window where, she realises too late, he was just a moment ago. The view is blurred, too dark to make out anyway.
She will not cry. She won't. Tears are the last thing. Tears mean defeat, and she is not ready to give up. She isn't.
"Padme--" he says, and she squeezes her eyes shut.
"How could you do it?" she demands. Silence, and she opens her eyes, looks across at him. He is golden in the lamplight and comfortable and it's all his fault. "And don't tell me any of that nonsense about the Dark Side and will and choice because that's the sort of thing that Anakin believes, but you..." She glares at him. He's so unperturbed that she wants to shake him, make him feel half as shaken as he's made her. "You knew, Obi-Wan. You had to know, what this would mean. What it would do. How could you do it?"
He meets her glare with mild eyes. "The Republic is dying. Perhaps it is already dead."
They are sitting, the space of the room between them. They could be engaged in polite chit-chat. She cannot stand the charade; she leaps to her feet. "You," she accuses, not needing to point, her fingers fisted in her skirts. "You have done that. You have killed it."
"I merely accelerated what was inevitable." She is shaking her head, and Obi-Wan leans forward, hand on knee. "Yes, Padme. Look at the Republic - really look at it. Look at the future."
"The future is unknown," she says, steel in her voice, and brittle iron too, a bitter taste in her mouth. "Was it you who told me that, or Qui-Gon? Even with the Force, the future is unknown."
He shakes his head now, as though he's disappointed in her. "You do not need the Force to see. The galaxy will burn. You could see it, Padme, if you cared to. If you could face it."
She sucks in a breath. "There are still avenues, possibilities..."
"Yes." Her feet want to pace, her hands to grip. Is this how Anakin feels all the time? She is not him; she stands still. "There must be. There are things that can be done."
"Are there?" he repeats. Unflappable fucking Jedi. Except he's not, anymore. Not Jedi. Something else. "Are there?" He says it again, an insistence moving towards force.
"Yes." But it's barely a whisper. Barely beyond her own lips.
There is sympathy on Obi-Wan's face, an understanding that's almost insulting, could she but summon the will to feel it so. It passes as he stands, and when he's facing her, on her level, there's nothing there but a sternness. Master Kenobi, she thinks, who has taught Anakin, who has shifted the whole galaxy and him with it. Her with it. She has never seen him like this before.
"You started this, Padme," he says. "You lit the spark, and I tell you, and you know it; the whole galaxy will burn for it. It will end as ash, or be reforged in some brutal new image."
There are tears on her face, and no, no, tears are for giving up. Tears are for weakness, and she won't be weak. "No," she whispers (sobs). "There has to be another way."
"Yes." He steps forward, embraced by the lamplight. So sure, Obi-Wan has always been so sure, and now he is a rock, the only firm place in a shifting universe. "Yes, Padme. Help me find it."
She looks down at his hand, held out to her.
She thinks, This is the end of compromising.
She thinks she understands.
Compromised by dee