Obi-Wan is a menace in Padme's palace. Unfocussed, off-balance with grief unhealthily repressed beneath the weight of observing eyes and his own self-denial. He's going to be leaving very soon, they all are. In his heart, she thinks, he's not here already.
Padme is fascinated. Still. It's aggravating. She would have expected this ridiculous crush to have subsided by now, but the distractions have settled and it's still there, a pulse-beat of urges knocking against her skin, rattling around her brain at the most inconvenient moments.
She doesn't have time for this. There is a planet to run, the aftermath of an occupation and a war to be dealt with. She doesn't have time for catching herself watching him, in the odd moments when they are actually sharing the same space, in meetings, or ceremonies, or elaborate meals with many pauses for idle eyes to get themselves into trouble.
He's caught her as well, and under normal circumstances, she knows that he would not have done anything in response to such a thing. A Jedi in full control of himself would never have met her gaze for as long as she could stand to hold it. Would never have started watching her back.
He's a menace. He's visibly not himself, a tautness in his shoulders, an awareness in his movements, even at the table. That edge of grief that means that no matter what he is telling himself, he does not feel like a Jedi in this moment. He is just a man, beneath her skittish gaze, and no matter what he denies, he is in pain.
At the high table, Palpatine to one side, Master Yoda to the other, Padme feels a hand on her arm that belongs to neither of them. And she realises many things, all of them at once. That her muscles are just about to clench, preparatory to rising. That she has no idea where she means to go, whether to him or out of the hall entirely. That it is, of course, Sabe's hand on her arm. She knows that without looking; it's on her left arm, and who else would know to exert this gentle pressure before Padme herself even knew she intended to stand.
She knows, also, what Sabe would say, were they not in public. You cannot, milady. (No censure in the words, no judgement, the depth of her sympathy somehow just as admonishing.) You are the Queen of Naboo, and your politics cannot be compromised by your body, or by your heart.
Padme hears it just as loudly as if the words were spoken, and her chin comes up as Sabe's hand leaves her arm, the memory of the touch lingering a moment longer than the actuality. She turns to Palpatine, asks about the viability of trading embargoes and diplomatic means to end this conflict that seems likely to spiral onwards.
She feels his eyes on her, not constantly but unexpectedly, and there is nothing Sabe can do about that, nor about the way each glance makes Padme's fingers tighten around her fork, her concentration waver.
Soon, she tells herself. Soon he will be gone.
There is no comfort in the thought.
Her handmaidens are chosen to aid her, to support her, and to protect her from all things that might threaten her ability to perform her duties as Queen. They are her comfort, her messengers, her assistants, her bodyguards. They are her friends. They are her keepers.
Padme has dismissed the others; only Sabe remains with her as she readies herself for bed. Brushing her own hair, because usually the activity relaxes her, brings her calm. It does not tonight, but she does not mention that as Sabe folds robes into their chests. She is sure the other girl knows, in any case.
The knock slices through the silence like a laser blast.
They are frozen only a moment, and then Padme turns, the brush falling from her hand to clatter on the floor, and Sabe steps to the side, coming between Padme and the door. "No," she says, simply, and Padme can tell that she is well aware what she is denying. They both know who is on the other side of the door. They both know the danger here.
"Please." Padme doesn't realise she's taken the steps until Sabe meets her, blocks her, in the middle of the room. Padme closes her eyes, Sabe's hand on her sleeve (just that, no more). "Sabe, please." She doesn't even know what she's begging for, really; just a need, just beyond her reach, just so very nearly visible.
"No," Sabe repeats, barely more than a breath, and Padme's hands clench into fists at her side.
The knock comes again, a little louder this time, and a voice. His voice. Saying her name, a questioning lilt to the end, that crack through its timbre that she knows will take so long to heal.
It clicks something over inside her. Clarity cuts through desire, and she lifts her chin, opens her eyes.
"Don't make me turn him away," she says. "Not like this. Not tonight."
And Sabe hesitates. She is Padme's closest handmaiden, the cleverest, the strongest, the bravest, but also the most compassionate. A year older, but always the nearest to her. Padme thinks she knows now how Sabe has known when to catch her sleeve. "You must--" Sabe begins, unconvincing.
"You needn't," Padme interrupts, and Sabe looks not at all surprised. Her hands flutter against Padme's arms, and Padme traps them with her own, pressing them together. "Your Queen asks it of you."
The breath Sabe takes is shaky, but her nod is firm enough.
"Just a moment," Padme calls, loud enough to be heard beyond the door, quiet enough to be intimate.
And it is the work of a moment, swapping herself with Sabe. They are so practiced at this, and what preparation cannot provide, in clothing and a quick twist of her hair, the dim lighting of the bedchamber will cover. The fabric of Sabe's gown feels cold against Padme's body as she tugs it on. Sabe's shoulders are back, her chin high, her fingers clasped only partly to hide their tremble. She looks up with clear eyes as Padme finishes the last quick smear of make-up.
Padme pauses only to kiss her cheek, before hurrying across the room. The doorway to Sabe's chamber is covered only by shadows and a heavy gauzed curtain. Padme hopes both will shelter and conceal her... because she finds herself incapable of going any further than the doorway.
Sabe stands a moment longer, serene in the centre of the room, before turning to the main door. When she opens it, she draws it wide, far more than a timid crack to peer through. On the threshold, Obi-Wan's head comes up, surprise flaring in his eyes, along with a hope that is... not darkening, but gaining an earthly edge. It has Padme's hand at her throat, across the room and huddled in shadows. She can't imagine what it's doing to Sabe, barely a metre away, under the full force of it.
"I thought..." he says, and it fades away. He takes half a step, almost as if it were against his will, his hands bracing against the doorframe, but his eyes are still on Sabe, and kindling. "Isn't this forbidden?" he asks.
"I don't know, Jedi," she replies, quiet but strung tight. "Is it?"
Padme doesn't know what he sees in Sabe's eyes, but it makes that kindled flame burn suddenly and fiercely. He is in the room, two steps, and the door is out of Sabe's hand, closing quickly but quietly. Padme wouldn't notice if it slammed (others might, though) when Sabe is swept up in Obi-Wan's arms, and he's kissing her. Hard, his head tilted, fingers splayed through her hair and bracing the back of her head. Like it's a need.
Padme's hand covers her mouth, trapping the sound, the breath she doesn't need. She's watching Sabe's hands. Hand. The one at Obi-Wan's neck, fingers curled hard, Padawan braid brushing the knuckles, her thumb pressing up beneath Obi-Wan's chin. She is arching against him, bent by his forearm across her back, bent by the force of him, bent - Padme knows - by her breathless want. He's larger than her; taller, stronger, bigger. Padme's trembling. Sabe is kissing him back, her mouth just as hungry. Her need just as great.
He shuffles her back towards the bed, his hands smoothing over her, fingers tensing in fabric. It's awkward and yet, at the same time, the most elegant dance Padme has ever seen.
When Sabe's back hits the bedpost, it's a little off centre, and Obi-Wan shifts her, hands on her hips as he pushes until her spine is straight along the post, her head tilted back against it to kiss him still. One leg lifts, bent knee slipping free of fabric that skitters away up the length of her thigh, and Padme realises that Sabe's robe (her robe, on Sabe) is open, unfastened. It's lost its line down her side, his knuckles beneath the spill of material. She is pushing his tunic from his shoulders, baring him to the waist, and his skin is revealed golden in the thick light. Padme feels her breath on her knuckles, watching Sabe's fingers on his shoulders, his arms, his back, pressing into muscle that flexes beneath her touch. Working at his trousers, pushing material from his hips (his skin, the beautiful sweep of him). He hitches her a little higher against the bedpost, hand under her thigh, and her breath catches. Padme's too.
Obi-Wan lifts her, a step sideways, his knee on the bed as he tips her over. She falls, slides backwards, up the bed and out of the robe entirely (her skin pale, and Padme's seen it before, but she's luminous here, warm against the white sheets) as he's crawling above her, the muscles in his back shifting, the flex of his thigh light and shadow.
A twitch on his face, and he stops, hands braced either side of her head. He's staring at her, at Sabe, so deep and still. Padme feels the tremour in her own body, being under the power of that regard.
He says something, so quietly his voice is just a rumble of sound, and Padme can't make out the words. Sabe's response is a lilt, but likewise wordless. The drapery twines around Padme's fingers in a long, stretched moment, Sabe's breasts lifting on each too-short breath, Obi-Wan balanced perfectly above her.
Then he moves again, pulling back onto his knees between Sabe's thighs, sitting on his heels but his hands are on her, trailing fingers over her breasts, down her ribs. His hands curling under her waist curve her torso up towards him, her head lolling, her back arching, her wideflung hands curling into the sheets as he lowers his mouth to her skin. Her leg lifts, drapes against his, the slide of their two-toned flesh. He lifts her further, a taut arch, and then she rises, coming up off the bed and into his arms, straddling him, sinking down onto him. His hands brace against her back, and there's expected surprise on her face and Padme bites her lip, feeling her skin flush and prickle.
Sabe moves like an undulation, languid but with intent, and his mouth is on her skin where his hands are not, and his hands are moving, pressing and urging, on her breast, at her hip, smoothing down her stomach between their shifting bodies. Sabe's eyes flutter closed, her fingers tight on his shoulder, in his hair, and her mouth open, full of breath, and she's beautiful, so beautiful as her head lifts, throat arching against the shadow of his mouth, and her face twitches, contorts, opens.
He moves again, the elegant sureness of his motion, holding her close as he shifts, tilts them. Lays Sabe flat on the bed and he's above her again and inside her. Now Obi-Wan moves, steady, measured, leonine, growing less so, growing wilder. Harder. More insistant. Padme suspects her breath is synchronised to his rhythm and she doesn't care, not when Sabe's limbs are twining around him, not when he's starting to shudder, bucking against her, gasping at her shoulder.
Padme closes her eyes, turns her head a little. Breathes hard against the wall, trying to unknot the drapes from her knuckles.
When she looks back, he is shuddering still, his shoulders shaking in a silent earthquake of deeply buried grief, his head still against her shoulder, almost silent. Sabe is still wrapped around him, arms and legs and warmth, holding him close with a different desperation. When she whispers in his ear, Padme still can't hear the words, but she knows that is because there are no words, there is merely comfort.
She parts the drapes, meets Sabe's gaze over Obi-Wan's bowed head.
And then she turns, passes silently through the doorway. Goes to sleep in her handmaiden's bed.
The official leavetaking is staid and circumscribed, scripted and extremely dull. Padme is glad when it's over.
Obi-Wan has no part to play. She does not even pick him out of the group until they bow. He has lost the edge that drew her eye.
This is what Padme tells herself, Sabe at her left shoulder as they leave the hall, and she goes to walk in the gardens until they've left.
He meets them there. She and Sabe are ahead of the others, who are dawdling and weaving garlands, and they turn a corner to see him striding down the arbour towards them. He has his cloak on, like a shadow clinging to his back, and she was right. That edge is gone, or at least diminished, but it only means that when her eyes run over him there is nothing sharp. A smoothness has returned to his movements; though there is still a sadness, it no longer catches and snags. He places his feet today without thinking about it. He is remembering who he is.
"Your Majesty," Obi-Wan says, but does not bow, and his eyes are upon her, and her heart is wild.
"Obi-Wan," she says, much too informally, but how can she greet him stiffly when she can remember him naked and golden? Sabe is still behind her left shoulder, and Padme can feel a blush rising in her face. She is grateful for the make-up that means he will never see it.
She wishes, suddenly and fervently, for a formula to follow. She knows precisely how to bid farewell to Jedi, senators, diplomats, delegations, but she does not know how to say goodbye to a man who has not quite been her lover. She is, she thinks for the first and only time, too young. Too young to be Queen and woman both.
She offers a hand, and when Obi-Wan takes it his fingers against her palm make her tremble, though not even enough to set her hair ornaments tinkling.
"I wanted to thank you," he says, voice low and a smile in his eyes. "And to say goodbye properly."
He tugs against her hand, and Padme feels dizzy, but there is no hand on her sleeve, and unrestrained she is drawn towards him. His other hand is on her shoulder, the pressure unfamiliar, and when she tilts her face up to his her hair shifts, weight pulling weirdly against her scalp. But his lips on hers are like a strange flesh-coloured memory. She does not give way before him so much as she welcomes him in, his tongue along hers, and there is an unfamiliar taste - of him - beneath chalk and rouge.
When the kiss ends, she releases her breath and opens her eyes. He is still close, not quite holding her, and when she looks up into his eyes, she realises he knows. Has known before now. How ridiculous to think he might not.
"Thank you," he says, "for what you have given me."
Suddenly her vision is blurring, watered down, and she can't see when he kisses her again, the quick press of his lips jolting the tears free, so she has clarity as he is bowing to Sabe, saying, "My lady." She nods, by Padme's elbow, and there are more tears as he strides away, wiping at his face with a sleeve, and Padme realises what she must look like, make-up smeared by his mouth and the tears carving tracks through the powder on her cheeks.
She can't bring herself to care. "I'm sorry," she gasps, not knowing what for, only knowing that she is astonishingly out of her depth, out of her mind; for the first time ever, entirely adrift.
Sabe shakes her head. "There is nothing to apologise for."
Padme turns to fully face her handmaiden, looking into that face so much like her own. "What did he say to you?" she asks. "Last night, on the... on the bed, he said something I could not hear."
"He said, 'You are not her.'"
Padme found Sabe's hand, the familiar fingers pressing her own. "And you said?"
"Am I not?"
Then there are other voices behind them, the other handmaidens catching up, and Sabe is shaking out a veil, casting it over Padme's face. The universe disappears behind white, and Padme hears Sabe saying that the Queen is unwell; too much sun; they will return to the palace.
It is Sabe's hand on her sleeve that guides Padme back.