They met at the bar, jostling for the bartender's attention. Quick glances and then double-takes, laughing recognition. That is what he will remember about that night; her laughter.
"I wasn't sure," he said, "for a moment there. Without the..." He gestured to his face.
She touched her clean cheek. Her hair was her own, unlacquered, short and loose against her shoulders. "Just a senator now," she said. "I wasn't sure myself. Of you. With the..." Her turn to gesture, to her chin. "I like you better without."
"I like you better without as well," he replied. She was fresh, young. Real.
They had drinks in their hands by now. No question was asked, no decision made. There was a spare booth, room for two. They took it.
"Why are you here?" Obi-Wan asked.
Padme's drink hissed as she stirred it. "Tomorrow is my maiden address to Congress," she admitted.
"We'd better get another one, then," he said, lifting his drink (his didn't hiss, but it was bright green). She laughed, her face bright, and young, and womanly, all at once. Lifted her own glass towards him, then drained it, one quick backwards toss of her head, the arch of her throat. "You're nervous," he said, getting the waitress's attention.
"Petrified," she admitted, almost happily.
"But you've done it before," he pointed out. How it all started, ferrying her across the galaxy so she could speak to the senate. So simple, but if she hadn't done it, none of it happened. Qui-Gon still alive. No Anakin.
"Not the same," she declared. "I was a Queen, I was terrified for other reasons, and I had--" she waved her hand in front of her face "--this mask. To hide behind. I wasn't me, I was an icon. That was the point."
"And I thought it was just to confuse Jedi." He smiled, and she actually blushed, the colour seeping up into her face. She picked up her new drink - a prop, a blind. Flicked the straw away before she took a sip. "Imagine them naked," he said.
She coughed, splashed over the rim of her glass. "What?"
He grinned, leaning back in the booth as he picked up his own drink, nonchalant. "Qui-Gon's advice to me the first time I had to give a report to the full council. I was, I think, even more tense than you are."
"I just hide it better." She licked her spilt drink off the back of her hand, her colour still high. "Did it help?"
"Not even a little." And they were both laughing, helplessly, together.
"I had such a crush on you," she murmured, her head tipped back against the seat beside his shoulder.
"Really?" He was surprised. The young Queen had not seemed the sort of person to cherish crushes. She hadn't, indeed, seemed like a person at all. But she was also Padme, the headstrong handmaiden. The one Qui-Gon had described as a "forceful girl", with an inflection that made Obi-Wan laugh in recognition. (He'd also said, "Watch her," and Obi-Wan had, and for that reason he'd seen who she was. He felt blind without Qui-Gon. Still.)
"We all did," she said, and laughed at his lifted eyebrows. "Oh come now. A shipful of impressionable young women, trapped inside with a handsome young Jedi protector. You were so brusque. We were smitten."
Her hand was on his chest, her breath against his neck, laughter still in it, but something else as well. There was a tremour, he realised, in his fingers as he wrapped them around her wrist. It was supposed to be a restraint; it felt like an embrace. "Padme," he said.
"Obi-Wan," she replied.
"I'm n-not," he said, "I can't." How embarrassing. He hadn't stammered in a long time. He was blushing now.
"I know," she said, and he met her gaze, her dark eyes smiling but sincere. "I know what you aren't allowed." He supposed she did. She knew enough, more than enough. She wasn't innocent, wasn't a girl. Except that she was. Still young and energetic and vibrant, and he'd felt so old so soon this past while. She knew what that was like. Her hand - her other hand, not the one already inside his grip - against his face. "Take me home," she whispered.
She lived in a nice building - comfortable, but not ostentatious. In the lift, she leaned against his side, head on his shoulder, and the other occupants of the lift - an older couple - gave them benevolent looks.
Beneath the occlusion of her skirts, his cloak, her thigh was pressed against his, sliding, and her hand was in the very small of his back, fingers curling beneath his obi. The universe seemed to be shrinking to those things, and her hair against his neck, her perfume. He was fighting the physical manifestation of what she was eliciting, and blessing the layers of tunic in the Jedi uniform. They hid a multitude of sins, or at least this very pertinent one.
The lift stopped, and she took his hand, their fingers entwining as she led him out, into a hallway. The doors had barely closed again when he pushed her against the wall, her breath catching in her throat and her fingers knotted with his.
She half turned her head, looking down, as demure as circumstances allowed. "I've been," she said, almost apologetic, "very insistent."
But she arched a little into him, and he pushed her back, hardening against her softness. When he spoke, it was against the lobe of her ear, and not quite so dispassionate as had been his recent habit. "I am hardly resisting."
She breathed his name, weighted with desire and her arm over his shoulder and then, finally, he kissed her.
She met him with certainty like ferocity, her mouth opening and her tongue against his tasting of all the ridiculous things they'd drunk that night. She made a noise far back in her throat, and kissed him again, deeper, and again, until his fingers were pressed so firm into her hip that he might fear he was hurting her, were she not urgent and yearning against him, her fingers in his hair.
The apartment was silent, behind their breathing, and empty. Her attendants -only two, for a senator no longer a queen - had already gone to bed. Her bedroom was dark, but the city beyond the window stained the night sky and glinted in her hair, turning her skin luminous beneath his hands.
His skin was harder to reveal. "If I'd known Jedi were so hard to unwrap," she said, threateningly, laughingly.
He shrugged off the last tunic, and tumbled her still laughing onto the bed. In a jumble of limbs he kissed her, hard, until she was breathless and no longer laughing, arched and needy beside him.
It was humbling, how much he wanted this. Wanted her.
She took him inside her like that, side-by-side, her thigh against his waist and the space between them shaped into something heated and taut. They moved together, and he thought it could be enough, his hand on her hip, her hand on his face, fingers stroking.
"So beautiful," she murmered. "So gentle." Her thumb on his bottom lip, her words more felt than heard. "You don't have to be."
He caught her hand by his face, fingers around her wrist. Pressed his lips to her uncalloused palm, and then, tilting her hand, bit at her wrist, high, at the base of her thumb. She hissed a breath, and beneath his fingers her pulse jumped.
When he let her arm go, she wrapped it around his shoulders, held him tight as he pushed her back against the mattress, deep inside her and held so close.
"Yes," she whispered, head tilting back against the pillow, and that was the last thing she said until she came wordless and gasping, urging him after her with the tight rapture of her face and the shudder of her body beneath his.
She sat by the window, naked and city-lit, neon striping her body. He lay on the bed, but he had not felt so awake in a long time. He should go. Soon, he would.
"Why were you there tonight?" she asked.
He propped himself up on a pillow. It would be easy to give her something that came wreathed in truth, like I was ordered to have a night off. But the evening had become a place of momentary but complete honesty. So he told her.
She would, after all, understand.
So he told her, about the natural progression of things, and situations and people that disrupted them as surely as rocks placed in a stream. Death and those left to carry on. Promises made. He had been, really, still a Padawan himself when he took one of his own. The natural progression diverted. Everything altered. A man aged beyond his years and before his time.
She smiled at him, from the window; the smile of a girl not even out of her teens who had held men's lives in her hand and watched them trickle away, who had wrestled with fate and won. "One night," she said, "will not make us young."
Maybe not. He smiled back at her, and suspected that it was the smile of a man whose life was a succession of one nights. But he could not crumble forever; there was a lot of time left to him, and did that not make him young? He felt the smile slip, now that of a man alone with a woman, beautiful and light-clad, at the end of a night such as this had been. "Worth a try," Obi-Wan said.
Padme leaned her head back against the window, and laughed.
That is what he will remember of this night, always: her laughter.