"I don't suppose you know where Anakin is," Obi-Wan said, with an apologetic smile. The smell of cologne came with him, hanging noticeably in the still air of Padmé's living room. It reminded her of Anakin, but there was an underlying scent that was pure Obi-Wan.
Padmé frowned and sat up a little straighter. Her synthesatin dress rustled, and the beads adorning it clinked together softly. Was Obi-Wan trying to get at something, or did he genuinely want to know Anakin's whereabouts? "I haven't seen him in a few days," she replied. Beside her, Moteé shifted on her feet.
"Haven't you?" Obi-Wan stepped further into the room, moving with the same cat-like grace Anakin had. Not every Jedi possessed this grace, but Anakin and Obi-Wan did. Padmé sometimes wondered if it was innate to them, or if it was something Obi-Wan had trained into Anakin. "The last time I spoke to Anakin, his comm unit reported his location as here. That was yesterday. He said he was on his way to the Temple when I told him we had a new mission, but he never reported in."
Padmé stood up and turned her back to Obi-Wan. He knew far too much, and every time she saw him, she feared exposure of her marriage to Anakin. It would ruin all of them. Even Obi-Wan. She glanced back. "He was visiting me. But he left shortly after you called."
Obi-Wan cast his gaze to the blue carpet. "I am not trying to pry into your life, Padmé. Anakin's visits to you have nothing to do with me. But it's been twenty-four hours, and Anakin has not reported in. That's not like him."
Concern over her secrets being exposed shifted into concern over Anakin in the blink of an eye. Padmé turned to study Obi-Wan. "No, it's not. You have no information on his whereabouts?"
Obi-Wan glanced up and straightened his tunic. "None."
Padmé folded her hands in her dress, dread eating at her stomach. "You'll find him, won't you?"
"Nothing will stop me from that." Obi-Wan bowed. "I must continue my search, milady. Until we meet again." He stepped back, heading to his fighter, where Artoo beeped softly at him.
Padmé collapsed into a seat, wondering what had happened to Anakin. When she removed her hands from her dress, she found she ripped it at the seams.
Anakin had been missing three days when Obi-Wan called for her. Padmé stepped out of her airspeeder into the alleyway where he awaited her. Seeing the ground covered in grime, she lifted her skirts and moved further down the alleyway, pretending that the smell of garbage did not disturb her. She paused several feet from Anakin's yellow speeder, trying not to let her gaze linger too long on the bent metal and blackened holes. Two other speeders lay nearby, their droid drivers shattered into pieces. It seemed Anakin had put up a fight. Not that she thought he would have done anything less. It was not in his nature to give into anything without a fight.
"You look so out-of-place here, milady," Obi-Wan said. Though his tone was jovial, his smile did not extend past his mouth. His eyes were a murky gray in the alley's gloom.
Padmé did not bother trying to fake a smile. Instead, she studied Obi-Wan intently, noting the dark circles beneath his mood-changing eyes, and the lines webbing across his still handsome face.
Obi-Wan looked away. "We're confident he was alive when taken. We will find him, Padmé. We will." He sounded as if he meant to convince himself more than her. Padmé wondered if he shared her fears and her loss. It was odd that she shared this fear with a Jedi Master, but the fear was there, naked on Obi-Wan's face.
Before Padmé could respond, the warning ping of an imminent report from the Galactic News Network sounded above them. She and Obi-Wan looked up at the floating holoscreen that served the area.
The image of Count Dooku appeared above them. His eyes looked dark in his pale face, his appearance as austere and stern as ever. "Citizens of the Republic, you know who I am. I am not appearing now to threaten you, but rather to demonstrate to you the quality of your heroes."
Dooku's image shifted to a blank metal room. Manacled to the wall was a familiar Jedi Knight, his face bloodied and his eyes strangely glassy. "Anakin!" Padmé screamed, though he could not hear her.
"Witness Anakin Skywalker, Jedi hero of the Republic. Our prisoner now, and as weak and fallible as any man," Dooku rumbled. His tone suggested that he could not care less whether Anakin was in a Separatist dungeon or having tea with the Chancellor. "Your Republic will not stand for much longer."
As the image of Dooku and Anakin winked out, cries of dismay erupted from everywhere. Padmé could hear them, and yet they meant nothing to her--nothing mattered besides the pounding of her own heart, the churning of her stomach, the screaming in her mind. She gripped the side of Anakin's speeder for support and turned to Obi-Wan.
He stared back, white as sheet. Though she had no gift for the Force, she knew then that he felt what she felt.
"Milady," Threepio intoned as he proffered a glass of water and two pills, "you should take your fertility controllers. You have not finished your course."
Padmé looked up from the table and studied Threepio's golden face. As always, he bore no expression, and the light of the room reflected on his face. In many ways, her droid seemed just like her public persona. She pushed the tray away. "It doesn't matter right now, Threepio. I don't need them."
"But milady! You already missed last week."
"And last week is gone, and I cannot change that I was too busy to remember."
Threepio made a sound that reminded Padmé of her mother's weary sigh, and laid the tray on the table. "In case you change your mind," he said, and shuffled off to dust again.
Padmé stared at the small pills. She had been so stupid, to forget them. Naboo woman were only fertile once a year, but for an entire month that required fertility controllers to deaden the multiple eggs they carried. Most Naboo women took them for the first three weeks to limit themselves to one child at a time. Padmé had been so wrapped up in Senate business that she had not been home long enough for Threepio to remind her of her fertility controllers. And when she had come home, Anakin was there, and--
Padmé took a deep breath. If by chance that she was pregnant, she would not take the chance of destroying the only thing that she may have left of Anakin. She had no guarantee he would return. The Separatists could already have executed him.
Realizing her train of thought might drive her mad, Padmé stood up. She would not leave Anakin's fate solely in Jedi hands. She must be proactive. Sitting around mourning would do no one any good. She grabbed her white cape.
"Threepio!" she called out. "Tell Captain Typho to ready my speeder. I'm heading to the Jedi Temple."
Breathing seemed easier as Padmé hurried up the steps to the Jedi Temple. She would rescue Anakin herself, and there was no person better to assist her than Obi-Wan Kenobi. She marched into the central hallway, turning Jedi heads as she passed. She could not recall too many non-Jedi daring to enter the Jedi Temple, but she did not mind breaking precedent--not for Anakin.
"Senator Amidala." Obi-Wan stepped out of a lift and headed towards her. "This is highly unusual." Behind him were Mace Windu and Yoda--the true powers behind the Jedi.
Padmé stood a little taller and dipped her head in respect to the three Jedi Masters approaching her. "As is the kidnapping of Anakin Skywalker. He is a savior of the Naboo people twice over, not to mention a hero of the Republic in this regrettable war, and it is a political fiasco for him to be taken hostage. I and my men wish to offer our full assistance in his rescue." Her voice was clear and calm. Her logic was impeccable--no one need dig any deeper to find her true motivations.
Yoda's ears perked up, but Mace shook his dark head. "We appreciate your offer, Senator, but it is unnecessary. Master Kenobi has this well in hand." With that, Windu and Yoda turned to leave.
Kenobi glanced back at the two of them, then studied Padmé. Their gazes met, and after a moment, his lips twitched. "Indeed I do, Master Windu, but I see no reason why I cannot take the Senator up on her gracious offer."
That stopped Windu dead in his tracks. Yoda's ears rose even higher, and he said, "Wish for Senator Amidala's help in rescuing young Skywalker, you do?"
Kenobi maintained his gaze at Padmé. "Yes, Master. I do."
Windu exchanged glances with Yoda, then nodded. "So be it. The Senator may lend her assistance."
"Thank you, Masters," Padmé said. She bowed to hide her face, so she would not betray how grateful she truly was.
As Windu and Yoda walked away, Obi-Wan gripped her shoulder. "We'll get him back, Padmé," he promised.
"We will," she whispered.
Within two hours, Padmé's sleek Nubian rocketed into space with her, Obi-Wan, Captain Typho, and six Clone Troopers onboard. She had left Threepio and all her handmaidens on Coruscant to handle Senate business during her absence. They had not been in hyperspace more than an hour when Obi-Wan called for a briefing.
Captain Typho had the holoscreen on by the time Padmé walked into the conference room. Obi-Wan stood beside him, his stance so similar to Anakin's that she had to do a double-take to ensure Anakin had not mysteriously appeared on her ship. There was something eerie about how the way Obi-Wan reminded her of Anakin--they had the same cock of the right hip, the same placement of their booted feet, the same slight tilt of the head. Even the way they crossed their arms was the same. They had been Master and Padawan for years, and it showed in every move they made.
Obi-Wan bowed to her as she took a seat, then motion for Typho to start his presentation. The lights dimmed and three planets glowed on the display.
"Clone intelligence has narrowed Anakin's most likely location to this planetary triad-- three planets located in the Reimoar system, and known as The Triplets. They orbit each other as they orbit their sun. They're an odd trip, all the same size and in the same orbital path."
"Do we know which planet he's on?" Padmé asked.
Obi-Wan shook his head. He tapped the screen and highlighted a planet that looked nearly choked by its own overgrown flora. "Cholto is a jungle planet with a thick atmosphere and fierce wildlife, but no civilization." He next highlighted a planet that looked as if it were mostly covered by a forest made of stone. "Straopo is largely a calcified forest--strangely preserved in its original lushness. The air is thin, and its population largely consists of scientists and exiled colonists from Ishalecs."
When Obi-Wan paused, Padmé quickly prompted him for more information. "And the third planet?"
Obi-Wan did not highlight it, but pointed to a healthy forest planet with cities shining in what seemed like vast meadows. "Ishalecs is a fully developed forest planet colonized by progressive humans, which boasts a more temperate climate. It's a solid Republic supporter. He's likely not there, as there are few places to hide, despite the breadth of the forest. It is well-cultivated and developed beneath the canopy."
"Where do we start?"
Obi-Wan frowned and highlighted Cholto again. "Due to the thickness of cover and atmosphere, Cholto is most likely. We begin our search there. We have a clone ship already in orbit--the Loyalty--which scanned Cholto for us. They were able to locate several bunkers from orbit, which narrows our search spread. A small camp awaits us with vehicles and equipment so we can begin. We should be armed and prepared to deal with the beasts down there, which are highly aggressive."
Typho looked as if he wanted to argue, but he kept silent when he caught Padmé's gaze. No one really had any questions, and the meeting ended. Padmé stepped up to Obi-Wan as the others trickled out.
"You don't really need me, do you?" she asked, studying him. He seemed younger with the light of the holoscreen flickering on his face. "You and your men have this well in hand."
Obi-Wan did not answer, but he cast his gaze at her. His eyes were bluer than usual as he shut off the holoscreen, ending the illusion of his youth, but the grace of his movements drew Padmé's gaze again. Everything he did seemed as if part of a dance.
"Why did you agree to let me come?" she whispered, suddenly seized by doubt. Would she truly be of any help in a mission assigned to well-trained clone troopers led by an experienced Jedi Master?
Obi-Wan smiled a little. "The Force willed it, I suspect." He studied her. "And I can think of no one more devoted to saving Anakin than you."
Padmé returned the smile, feeling relieved. "Thank you, Obi-Wan." She meant to hug him in thanks, but her arms froze before they went around him. Something did not seem quite right about it, and he appeared confused by the movement.
"And thank you, Padmé." Obi-Wan dipped his head, as if to hide his confused expression, and headed towards the door. "I should get back to work."
Padmé wrapped her arms around herself, instead. She stared at the blank holoscreen and prayed they would find Anakin soon. As soon as niggling doubts came to her, suggesting they might not find him alive, she swept from the room and prepared for the mission to Cholto.
Even with the breathing mask fixed uncomfortably over her face, the smell of rotting foliage and pure oxygen made Padmé feel light-headed. Cholto was a miserable planet, full of tall black trees with garish green leaves that could double as bedsheets. Vines choked near everything, and though they were one of the few non-predatory creatures on the planet, they writhed in a sickening fashion, almost like mating serpents. The air felt so thick that Padmé imagined they could drink the water right from it, though breathing here would be toxic without her mask. Her white clothing stuck to her skin, perhaps revealing a bit more than she intended, though the men with her did not seem to notice--whether they actually did or not, she could not tell.
The other search parties were not having much luck with their assigned bunkers--most were filled with smugglers, not Separatists. Several had taken heavy losses from the planet's native beasts. Obi-Wan and Padmé's party was headed towards the bunker most likely housing Anakin. Their gunship sailed below Cholto's nearly planet-wide canopy, and the thrumming of the engines kept Padmé on edge. Thus far, they had managed to dodge the large, three-horned creatures that occasionally tried to eat the gunship as it passed. The clone pilot was almost as quick as a Jedi. Padmé watched the armored man fly, wondering what Anakin would have thought of his skills.
"We should reach the end of our search coordinates soon. The other gunships are also making good time to their destinations. Everything all right?" Obi-Wan asked, moving up to sit by her. His skin glistened with sweat--the hot, humid environment did not appear to suit him.
"I'm fine, thank you." Padmé studied him. "I haven't seen you this sweaty since Tatooine."
"Do I smell that bad?" Obi-Wan smiled as if in apology.
"The smell of the jungle outweighs you, don't worry." Padmé studied him. "You really don't like heat, do you?"
"No, I'm afraid it's a quirk of my system. It doesn't seem to bother you, though."
Padmé smiled. "The humidity mitigates the heat for me. Naboo can be very humid in places. It's amazing how different humans can be, planet to planet. Sometimes, we're near a new species. What planet are you from?"
"Oh." Obi-Wan smiled. "Chandrila, I think."
"Really? I am well-acquainted with the Senator from there, Mon Mothma. I've been there twice. It's a lovely planet, mountainous and cool. I'll bet you loved it."
"I don't really remember much of it. I was two when the Jedi took me to the Temple. Rather old, but not so old as Anakin." Obi-Wan's gaze grew distant. "I do remember my mother, a little. Not that it matters."
"I should think that would matter a lot to her," Padmé said delicately. Never before had Obi-Wan spoke of anything so personal to her. "You are, after all, her son."
Obi-Wan focused back on Padmé. "She's dead," he said flatly. "Nothing matters to her now."
"I'm sorry." It seemed that, like Anakin, Obi-Wan was an orphan. It was difficult for Padmé to imagine life without a family to support and love her. She would not be the person she was without her parents and sister and nieces. Something about Obi-Wan and Anakin's family-less life spoke of lonely terror to her.
The pilot spoke up. "General, we have an underground bunker on our scanners."
Obi-Wan stood up and grabbed the balance bar. "Then let's pay them a visit, Corporal!"
The pilot landed the gunship smoothly in a small clearing surrounded by trees choked by vines. Obi-Wan headed out first with two clone troopers. As Padmé stepped out with Captain Typho and a few clone troopers, she heard strange hooting and birds calling in the distance--perhaps they had alarmed the natives. What looked like a hatchway stood open thirty feet away, metal gleaming under the dappled sunlight.
"Stay there," Obi-Wan ordered, all business as he walked up to the hatchway with two clone troopers. He carried his unlit lightsaber in his hand.
To the east, Padmé heard a strange rumbling. Captain Typho shifted his feet and raised his weapon. She opened her mouth to speak, but the clone trooper inspecting the hatch beat her to it. "It's completely burnt-out, General!" he called out, then faced the direction of the rumbling.
"That's not good," Obi-Wan commented, just as a three-horned monstrosity burst into the clearing, roaring furiously. Its spiked tails thrashed against the huge tress, causing large clouds of splinters to fly as it lumbered in.
"Obi-Wan!" Padmé cried, whipping out her blaster and firing at the beast as it charged towards the Jedi. Obi-Wan dodged out of its path, quick as a Naboo hare, but one of the clone troopers was not so lucky. Padmé ignored his screams as the beast trampled him beneath its hooved feet, focusing instead on keeping the beast away from their only escape--the gunboat.
The beast whipped around, feathers rippling across its back, and teeth dripping green saliva as it charged towards Padmé and Typho. She took half a breath and then took off running for the gunship with Typho at her heels. She knew she would never outrun a beast that size, but she was not about to stop.
A strong arm suddenly wrapped her around the middle. To her right, Typho gasped in surprise. Before Padmé could even think to struggle, she was whisked into the gunship with one impossible leap. Obi-Wan had saved her and Typho at the last moment, as appeared to be his style. The gunship quickly rose up into the air, buffeted by the beast's roars and the thrashing of its tails. The violent motion caused Padmé to fall backward, pulling Obi-Wan down with her. Light suddenly filled the hold around them as the gunship burst out of the canopy and into the sky. It threw the planes of Obi-Wan's face into sharp relief, and Padmé was struck by his beauty. How had she not noticed it before?
Typho picked himself up from the floor and pulled their savior off Padmé. Once Obi-Wan's weight was removed from her chest, Padmé took a breath. She lay there panting, uncomfortably warm from his touch. "Thank you. That was close," she said, glancing down through the open door at the angry beast below that was loudly protesting its loss of lunch to the universe.
Obi-Wan smiled weakly, his face flushed, and glanced down. He breathed heavily, too. His smile faded. "But not close enough. Anakin is not on this planet. I can feel it. We try Straopo next."
Though Straopo took only twenty minutes to reach, they all agreed they needed food and rest first. After they ate, Padmé bathed and then checked on communications from her handmaidens on Coruscant. Obi-Wan sent orders to the Loyalty, then dove for the shower when she exited, beating Captain Typho with Jedi reflexes. By the time Padmé finished listening to updates from the Senate, Obi-Wan had returned to the cockpit, presumably to check up on the Loyalty's reports.
As Obi-Wan walked past her, the smell of Anakin's cologne wafted past her nose again. She had forgotten that Obi-Wan wore the same sort of cologne, a cool, yet spicy scent. Anakin likely used the scent because Obi-Wan used it first--as much as he struggled to leave Obi-Wan's shadow, he could not resist imitating him in small ways. She studied Obi-Wan, her gaze resting on his neck, where his wet hair lay stark against his pale skin. It was so different from Anakin's skin, which was bronze all over. She wondered if Obi-Wan's skin would feel different from Anakin's, too.
"Is something wrong?" he asked, turning to her, blinking.
"Oh, nothing." Padmé wondered why Jedi like Obi-Wan and Anakin even bothered with cologne. It seemed such a vain thing for a Jedi to be interested in. They seemed such spiritual creatures, eschewing material things, all but for Anakin. Yet, of all the Jedi Padmé had ever met, both Obi-Wan and Anakin seemed the vainest. She smiled a little at what was no doubt seen as a character flaw to the Jedi.
"And now you're smiling. How mysterious," Obi-Wan said, smiling as if in irony.
"Mysterious? I thought Jedi were supposed to be mysterious, not politicians."
"It's the other way around, I think. If politicians weren't mysterious, then no one would like them."
"Ah, I see Anakin inherited his loathing of politicians from you."
They both lapsed into an awkward silence at Anakin's name. Obi-Wan quickly turned around and checked the reports, his expression unreadable. The silence stretched for a long moment
"He'll be all right, of course." When Obi-Wan spoke, his voice sounded sure and confident. Though he stood with his back to Padmé, when she turned to face him, she saw from the hunch of his shoulders that his tone did not match his feelings.
"He has to be all right." Padmé could not allow herself to think otherwise of Anakin. The alternative was an abyss that beckoned her to sink into it, and she would not allow it.
Obi-Wan turned around, and suddenly his body was too close to Padmé's, close enough for her to feel his body heat. Padmé stared up at Obi-Wan, entranced by his large blue eyes, until she realized how close his lips were. He seemed to have noticed this, too, and his expression shifted to one of faint curiosity. She turned away, her face heating as she stamped down the sudden desire to kiss Obi-Wan.
"Ah," Obi-Wan said, licking his lips. "I should go rest. Thank you for being a good friend to us, Padmé." He hurried out without looking back.
Padmé stood on the bridge a few moments longer, trying to sort out why she felt a sudden surge of attraction to Obi-Wan. Unable to fathom it at all, she headed to bed and decided to forget it happened.
Straopo was a dusty planet, dominated by towering calcified trees. Padmé had never seen calcified trees stretch so high. Since the ground consisted mostly of sand and rocks, they took a small skiff through the forest, blowing up dust as they sailed past. Padmé's breath mask filtered out the dust and provided her the necessary oxygen to breathe, since the air was too thin for human beings. Unlike Cholto, half the bunkers they were looking for did not show clearly on radar, due to the planet's heavy mineral deposits confusing the scanners. All the scanning had to be done planetside and would take much longer.
Obi-Wan sat up by the pilot, quiet for most of the day. His gaze was long and distant. When she asked, he told her that he was using the Force, trying to find Anakin in his own way. Half the time, he merely looked lost as the skiff traveled over their sector. Something of his usual personality seemed drained away, leaving him faded. Alone, he seemed half a man. Padmé wondered if he needed Anakin back, alive and whole, more than she.
"Tomorrow," he told her as they met to warm their food packets in the warming unit, "you and I will head west. I'm sending Captain Typho with the clones to the east. We need to cover more ground."
Padmé's belly twinged at the thought of being left alone with Obi-Wan, though it never had before. "Maybe Captain Typho and I should go together."
"The clones and I both know how to operate the equipment." Obi-Wan frowned. "It's best we split apart. I could always send you with the clones alone."
Padmé glanced at the clone troopers. They all continued about their work, wearing the same masks, the same faces, the same voices. They made her skin crawl. "No, you're right, Obi-Wan. I'll go with you. I'll just have to convince the Captain."
Obi-Wan smiled a little. "If anyone can, it will be you, milady." He gave her a small bow and retreated to his tent.
Padmé studied his tent for a moment before turning to find Captain Typho. She pushed away her concerns. There was no doubt her attraction was meaningless, a passing infatuation born of Obi-Wan's similarities to Anakin. If Anakin were there, she would not be longing so desperately for his company.
Despite these mental assurances, Padmé found it difficult to sleep that night.
The next day passed with little reward. The scanner revealed nothing out of the ordinary, the Force showed Obi-Wan nothing, and he behaved as a perfect gentleman. By nightfall, Padmé was convinced that she had overreacted to a perfectly normal moment of confusion during stress-filled interactions.
Padmé placed their holocomm transceiver in the center of the camp that Obi-Wan built. While Obi-Wan warmed their food packs, Padmé managed to find Coruscant's signal and bring up the HoloNet.
Moteé's haggard face appeared over the holocomm. "Oh, milady. You--it's about to broadcast," she said.
"What's wrong?" Padmé asked, her stomach suddenly growing cold without explanation. Obi-Wan paused in his work and glanced over.
"Chancellor Palpatine. He just announced that--" Moteé swallowed. "It's coming through."
Moteé did not answer. Instead, she patched Padmé to a HoloNet channel, where Chancellor Palpatine gravely surveyed the Senate. "This is a sad day for the Republic. My friends, we have new footage obtained by clone intelligence, revealing the monsters our enemies are. Please, brace yourselves."
When Anakin appeared, naked and chained to a rack, Padmé stopped breathing. Her heart stopped beating. Everything stopped. Her gaze remained glued to the holocomm, as frozen as the rest of her. Behind her, she heard Obi-Wan gasp, as if he had just been shot.
A bald woman appeared from off-screen, carrying a pain-whip. Anakin's eyes widened when he saw it and he began to thrash feebly against his bonds. Pain-whips not only flayed the skin but also activated all the surrounding pain receptors. Anakin had told her stories of how he once saw Gardulla beat a man to death with one. Fear coursed through her, and her mouth went dry. She could not lose Anakin like this.
The woman on screen gave the camera a cruel smile and then turned to Anakin. The whip in her hand lashed out, and Anakin screamed. She hit him again and again, Anakin's screams getting louder with each blow. Blood sprayed on the woman's dark robes, but she paid little heed to it. Padmé thought she might start screaming with her husband, but no sound escaped her mouth. Instead, she watched the man tortured by the very instruments that had once plagued his childhood with fears that no child should have borne.
"T-turn it off," Obi-Wan's voice broke on the last word. "Turn it off!"
The sound of Obi-Wan Kenobi pleading with forces he could not control, a sound she had not heard since he was but a Padawan and she but a Queen, stirred Padmé back to life. She reached out and turned the holocomm off, not daring to think or feel, afraid of the flood that threatened to burst behind the dam of self-discipline she had erected. She turned back to face Anakin's Jedi partner, a man who arguably was closer to Anakin than even she. A man who had raised him since a child, half-father, half-brother, all partner. But all she saw was a boy, pale and shaken. The naked pain on Obi-Wan's face seemed as real as what had been on Anakin's.
"Turn it off," he repeated, his voice weak, staring at the blank holocomm as if it still played Anakin's torture--what had become his own.
"Obi-Wan," she said, getting up to him. He did not respond, so she put a hand on his shoulder. "Obi-Wan."
Obi-Wan turned to her, his face a mask of Jedi neutrality. "I'm fine now. Thank you for turning it off." His sudden calm tore through her like a blaster bolt. She slapped him across the face, hoping it might force him to emote the nameless horror she felt inside. No one should look so calm after having witnessed the torture of someone they loved.
The slap did not seem to faze Obi-Wan. He only bowed his head.
Padmé turned from him. She wrapped her arms about herself and stared at the glittering night sky. Her heart ached in sympathy, in worry, in fear. The emotions rushed through her veins, until they burnt themselves out. In the end, she was left with sadness, longing, and emptiness. She crawled into her tent then. She would have sealed it and curled up on the bedding, to sleep on her misery, but for the hand that grabbed her wrist.
"I don't want to be alone," Obi-Wan whispered.
Without thinking about it, for her mind had grown tired of thinking, Padmé only nodded and let him in. He sat on the bedding, staring down at the blankets. Padmé sat across from him, focusing on Obi-Wan, trying to disassociate him from Anakin, from the horrible sound of Anakin's screams. Obi-Wan pulled off his mask and stared back.
"I don't know what your relationship with Anakin is," Obi-Wan said after a moment. "I don't want to know. But I don't want--I do want--" He cut himself off, appearing young again. "He'll be all right. Tomorrow, we will continue to try and find him. He'll be all right."
"He'll be all right," Padmé repeated, finding the words soothing, if not entirely believable. She pulled off her own breathing mask and set it carefully to the side.
Obi-Wan leaned forward and kissed her then. His beard scratched against her chin, and his hands felt cool on her arms. Padmé knew what he wanted, and what he had come in here for. And tonight, just tonight, she was willing to give it to him. She ran her fingers through his thick hair and pulled him down onto the bedding. His hands ran clumsily along her sides, as if encountering a territory he had never explored before, and he slowly peeled her clothing off. It occurred to Padmé as she tasted his tongue on hers that he might not know his way around a woman.
The kiss broke apart. Obi-Wan dipped his head to her bared chest and pressed his face to her breasts. He did not move for a long moment, and Padmé stroked his hair. She considered ending this before she did something she regretted, before she broke her vows for a meaningless moment of comfort, but Obi-Wan had other ideas. He lifted his head and pushed her back on the bedding, his mouth finding her neck. He ran his hands down her sides and across her belly for a moment, before slipping one between her legs. His touch was tentative and awkward, so much different from his usual grace. He gently explored her, obviously searching for her clit. She was just about to help him when he found it, causing a flush of heat and pleasure to run through her.
"Different," Obi-Wan muttered. "So wet." He kissed her neck again, and he brushed his hard groin against her thigh. Only cloth separated her from his cock.
Padmé deftly ran her fingers across his waist and undid his trousers, pushing them down so she could explore his cool skin. Her fingers followed the curves of his body to where warmth radiated. She took Obi-Wan's cock in her hand, finding the skin soft despite the stiff length. A part of her tried to compare it to Anakin's, but she quickly pushed that thought from her mind and stroked his length. He shivered at the touch and pressed harder against her.
After several moments, Padmé withdrew her hand and cupped his firm ass, nudging him between her legs. Obi-Wan seemed confused for a moment, then quickly took the hint. He thrust against her, but his aim was off, so she took his cock in hand and guided him in. He slipped inside her, slow at first, only quickening when she urged him on. She ached as he stretched her, but the pressure increased the sharpening haze of pleasure. He followed her guidance and thrust as she directed, building from slow and gentle to fast and hard. His face flushed, and he did not meet her eye.
Obi-Wan came first with a soft moan, but he graciously kept moving. He returned his hand to her clit, stroking it and thrusting inside her until she came. The orgasm was brief, but intense. It left her drained as he moved to lay beside her, having recovered his usual grace now that the act was over. Padmé closed her eyes and breathed deeply.
"Thank you," Obi-Wan whispered, gazing at her. She thought about how his awkwardness matched Anakin's own when they first slept together, but she did not allow herself to dwell long on comparisons. She wondered if Obi-Wan had ever been with a woman before, but it seemed rude to ask. She felt calm now, drained, but not empty--comforted, even. Whereas Anakin seemed a raging inferno against her, Obi-Wan was a cool evening spent on the beach, watching the tide roll in.
"And thank you," Padmé whispered, though she knew she would wish to forget this night ever happened once they rescued Anakin. She rested her head on his chest, comforted by his presence. As long as Obi-Wan was here, beside her, Anakin would return. They were inseparable, two halves of the same whole--a whole she was not yet part of, but one day hoped to be. So long as Obi-Wan's heart beat, so would Anakin's, she told herself as he wound an arm around her.
She closed her eyes, willing away guilt until she finally slept.
Anakin thrust deep inside of her, his expression drunk with pleasure. She did not know when he returned or how, but she did not question it. She only guided his hands to her breasts and thrust up to take more of him in, desperate to prove that it was he that she loved, he that she needed.
But Obi-Wan's hands circled around to stroke Anakin's chest. He kissed the side of Anakin's neck, and Anakin closed his eyes, smiling in a way he never smiled for her. She reached up to cup his face, but he drew away, leaning back into Obi-Wan's embrace. She tried to speak, but no words emerged.
Anakin left her there, turning to meet Obi-Wan's urgent kisses with his own, his hands now cupping Obi-Wan's ass as her hands had. He left her alone, filled with his seed, but empty of his love. She sat up and tried to pull him away, but her arms were weak. She tried to stroke his back, but her pathetic touches could not compare to the way Obi-Wan took him, as he had taken her on Ishalecs. The two locked together, moaning and thrusting, with no place for her. Nothing she said or did would change that Anakin was not hers. He belonged to Obi-Wan.
Padmé sat up abruptly, the taste in her mouth sour. She glanced around her tent, but she was alone. Only the rumpled blankets beside her indicated that Obi-Wan's former presence. She took one deep breath after another, trying to calm the panic that swelled up in her. It was a dream. Only a dream.
The sound of her name broke the silence. Padmé slipped on her breath mask and opened the front of her sealed tent. Obi-Wan stood by the holocomm, speaking to a clone commander. He turned to her, beaming.
"They found him, Padmé. He's on Ishalecs! I was wrong." A man never seemed more delighted to be wrong. "We need to pack up and move out immediately to rescue him from their secret base."
Padmé returned Obi-Wan's smile. For that instant, all her worries ceased to exist, and hope made her feel light. Any relief she had ever felt in her life paled before this awe-inspiring emotion that brought tears to her eyes.
"Let's go get him, Obi-Wan," she said.
On Ishalecs, lush green trees towered beside cold metal skyscrapers, whose towers emerged from the surrounding trees like flower pistils. The durasteel-strength vines offered bridges and rails for people's transport. Homes were built upon their lengths, businesses upon their rigid leaves. In the subterranean basements built along the roots of the largest vine, a battle raged. Clone troopers led the way, blasting any droids they saw into so much scrap metal. Padmé and Obi-Wan followed them, searching for Anakin.
Ahead of them, the clone troopers drew short. From the dark room ahead, a lightsaber snap-hissed to life. The corridor filled with red light, revealing the bald woman from the holo-broadcast. "Ventress," Obi-Wan snarled, before he launched himself at the woman.
Ventress and Obi-Wan traded lightsaber blows, red and blue merging to purple at points. Padmé could not keep up with their furious movements, as they bounced from wall to wall like a deadly game. She trained her weapon in their direction, but she had no hope of ensuring she hit Ventress, not Obi-Wan. She thought she would never vent her rage and frustration over Anakin until droid suddenly poured from side corridors and began firing on Padmé and the clone troopers. She found herself in the thick of a firefight, hoping she would survive long enough to free Anakin.
Captain Typho stepped up beside her, his blaster whining from overuse. She signaled for him to move right, and she dodged left, firing as ducked and rolled for cover in an empty room. She felt heat by her right side, and the smell of burnt hair, and she remembered to tuck her head down. Using walls as shields, she fired upon the droids beside Typho. Clone troopers hid behind large metal shields and returned the droids' fire. The oncoming droids screeched and whined, but they soon fell beneath the blaster bolts as quickly as they emerged. Eventually, their numbers thinned. A few clone troopers had fell, but the mechanical casualties vastly outweighed their own losses.
Padmé surveyed the aftermath, then picked her way through the hall-length battlefield to the dark room where Obi-Wan and Ventress had disappeared. Light poured in from an open hatch leading to the surface, a box of white against a room of darkness. Padmé saw no sign of Ventress, but Obi-Wan sat on the floor, leaning forward, as still as a Theed pool in the summer.
"Obi-Wan!" Padmé cried, her heart fluttering at the thought of losing him, too. She ran forward, her palms slick with sweat against her blaster, her heart threatening to crack her sternum.
A sigh, and then Obi-Wan looked up. His eyes appeared green in the gloom. "I'm all right. She got away. I couldn't make her pay for what she did to Anakin." His Jedi mask threatened to slip for a moment, then he took in another breath. "I'm sorry."
Padmé smiled, more from relief than anything else. "It's all right, Obi-Wan. I know you will eventually. Anakin will understand. Let's go find him."
Obi-Wan returned the smile, weak as it was. "We mustn't keep him waiting." He stood and returned with her back to the clone troopers.
Ventress's lone Jedi prisoner had been left in his prison cell to rot. They found him sitting in a dirty corner, his dark-golden head cast downwards and his fingers twitching. It was not Padmé that reached him first, but Obi-Wan, whose Jedi-like reflexes outclassed that of any mundane woman. He stopped short before touching Anakin, holding his hands out as if a wall of glass separated the two men.
Padmé stopped next to him. "What's wrong?" she asked, hoping there were no traps.
Obi-Wan gestured at the collar around Anakin's neck. "It's a Force-inhibitor. That's how they controlled him." He made no move to remove it, seeming both disgusted and repelled by its very existence. Padmé leaned forward and unclasped the device from Anakin's neck. His skin felt cool beneath her fingers. She flung it far from Anakin and Obi-Wan, leaving it for the clone troopers to dispose of.
A flash of blue light, and Obi-Wan cut Anakin's bonds. He covered him with his cloak and cupped Anakin's cheek. When he called his name, Anakin only moaned. Padmé grasped Anakin's hand, but all she elicited from the touch was the flutter of his eyes. His hand felt small somehow, reminding her of how his hands had once been as a boy, when he first took her hand and led her around Mos Espa. She saw that slave boy now, in Anakin's pallid face, in the misery written across his bruised body.
"Mom," Anakin muttered. His blood-caked face reminded her of the corpse that he had brought home from the Tusken Raider camp. Padmé stroked his hair, feeling her heart crumble at the sight of him.
"Let's take him home," Obi-Wan whispered, and took Anakin into his arms.
It took nearly a week before Anakin emerged from the bacta tank. Though Padmé had no doubt he had strict medical orders to remain in bed, he arrived at her apartment the next day, wearing his Jedi robes and the ghost of a smile. Only one scar remained to remind him of his kidnapping--a scar over his right eyebrow. The scar was small, an irony that drew Padmé to trace it with her finger.
Anakin jerked his head back and frowned down at her. "Don't touch it."
"Does it still sting?" Padmé asked, dropping her hand back to her side.
"No, it--" Anakin cut himself off and forced his ghostly smile back on his face. He was as handsome as ever, but the intensity of his eyes seemed darker--even darker than it had after his mother died. "I'm fine now. Everything's healed."
"Everything?" Padmé asked, studying his taut expression and rigid stance.
"Everything," he murmured, and took her into his arms. She relented at the embrace and wrapped her arms around him. His heartbeat sounded as strong as ever. The sound of it reminded her of how she slept listening to Obi-Wan's heartbeat. She drew back as guilt made her stomach squirm.
Anakin put a heavy hand on top of her head. "Are you all right?" he asked, studying her face. "You look pale."
Padmé smiled. "I'm fine," she whispered. "I love you, you know."
"And I love you." He took her back into his arms. "More than anything or anyone. I knew you and Obi-Wan would come. I knew."
Padmé's heart clenched at the mention of Obi-Wan's name. He had smiled at her as always, treated her politely as always, and even sent her updates on Anakin's health for the past week. Everything was the same. Sex apparently mattered little to him. But Anakin might not feel the same way, and for the thousandth time since waking up on Ishalecs, she regretted her indiscretion.
"Obi-Wan--has he said anything to you?" Padmé asked as she led Anakin to the dining room.
"Oh, you know how Obi-Wan is." Another smile appeared on Anakin's face, but not so ghostly as before. "He doesn't say anything, but he would sit and read by my tank all the time. He'll be very cross when he finds out I'm gone." He limped after her.
Padmé paused by the dinner table and glanced back at her husband. "I'll be sure to have Threepio explain to him you're in good hands."
"Mm, hands." Anakin seized her hands and placed them on his hips. "Definitely good ones."
Padmé laughed and pulled away. "Eat first, Annie. You need your strength."
With a sigh, Anakin dumped himself into a chair. He waited for her to sit and then set upon his meal like a wild rancor. Padmé watched him eat while she nibbled at her own. "Maybe you should find Obi-Wan a nice girl to distract him from checking on you like a mother gie-hen."
"Obi-Wan?" Anakin shook his head. "Obi-Wan doesn't like women."
"How do you know?"
"Trust me, I know." Anakin smirked. "But don't worry about it. Obi-Wan doesn't need any other boys to distract him."
"'Any other boys?'"
Anakin grabbed a quay-roll and stood up. "I'm going to go enjoy your view. Come join me."
Padmé finished her sweet Naboo wine and stood up. She smiled as always and went to sit with Anakin. His fingers ran over her body, his touch warm. She cuddled against him, but her thoughts lay elsewhere. Obi-Wan had seemed quite clumsy indeed with her--a clumsiness rather out-of-character for a man as graceful and experienced as he. Anakin had been that clumsy, too, once, though he had grown out of it. She wondered what really went on between them on their long missions, before and after she had married Anakin. She wondered if Obi-Wan slept with her to claim a small link to Anakin--one of her reasons for sleeping with him.
When Anakin's touches turned to twitches, Padmé looked up. Anakin stared off at the glittering ecumenopolis of Coruscant, his look dark again, his fingers moving as if of their own accord. His jaw seemed firm, and his gaze faraway. Padmé stroked his face, but he did not respond.
"Come on, Anakin, let's go to bed," she whispered, and kissed his ear. He followed her to the bed, but as she expected, he had no energy for lovemaking. He slept beside her, occasionally moaning as he had when they found him in the Separatist hideout. She stroked his hair and wondered if he would truly ever be all right again--if he had ever been to begin with.
"We have another mission. Back to the Outer Rim," Anakin told her a week later. He shivered, perhaps because the air in her bedroom was too cool--they never could agree on a comfortable temperature.
Padmé unpinned her headdress and turned around. "To the Sieges? But you've only just recovered."
"I'm fine," Anakin said, stalking through her bedroom like a neirpanther. "There's nothing to worry about for that. I just don't want to be gone so long. I need you."
Padmé sat down on the bed. "You'll have Obi-Wan. I'll be the one all alone."
"Obi-Wan's not the same as you."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Anakin frowned. "Are you sure you're all right? You don't seem yourself lately."
"You're a funny one to say that." Padmé stared down at her hands. "Oh, Anakin. I don't know what to say. I'll miss you. You'll have to hurry back. We have to win this war. There's been too many losses already."
Anakin sat beside her, setting the sun flashing as he moved away from the window. "I won't let you down," he whispered and kissed her, as he once had on Naboo, a kiss that left her breathless. A kiss that let her believe him, if only for that day.
"Mistress," Threepio told her a few days later, "you have been quite pale lately, so I took the liberty of arranging a medical appointment for you. The med-bot is waiting for you in the bedroom." He gleamed under the lights of her main room, as expressionless as ever.
Padmé looked up from her datapads filled with Senate reports and stared at her protocol droid. Captain Typho coughed to cover up his laughter, and the handmaidens did not bother to hide their smiles. Padmé put a hand on her hip, causing the synthesilk to rustle.
"You schemed against me, Threepio," Padmé said.
"Oh, no, Mistress! I am concerned for your well-being! Please see the med-bot. It will set my mind at ease."
Padmé sighed and smiled at her people. "What else can I expect from a droid built by Anakin? I will return shortly. This shouldn't take long." She glanced at Threepio as she passed by. "Thank you for caring, Threepio."
If Threepio could beam, she imagined he would have. She headed back to her bedroom, her smile fading as she went. Normally, she would be annoyed with Threepio's meddling, but not today, not now. She felt almost relieved, for her stomach had refused to settle since she returned to Coruscant. She hardly ate, and since Anakin departed for his mission three days ago, she hardly slept.
The med-bot was quiet and efficient as he worked, allowing her to sit in her chair as he examined her. She just stared out the window, wondering where Anakin was, if he was safe. When the needles pricked her skin, she barely noticed.
"When was your last fertility cycle, Senator?" the med-bot asked as he scanned her.
Padmé frowned. "It just finished. I did not take my fertility controllers." The sudden realization gave her a shudder of terror. She had been so busy lately, and she had slept with both Anakin and Obi-Wan.
"How long is your fertility cycle?"
"A lunar month. Naboo women can release four eggs, one each week." Padmé covered her mouth to prevent herself from vomiting. She could be--!
"I see." The med-bot performed a few additional scans, then hovered back a few feet. "I have confirmed the source of your physical ailment is pregnancy. I recorded two gestational sacs in your uterus, a week apart in development. Do you wish to abort?"
She could say yes. One simple word, and her life would return to normal. There would be no worries about the Queen recalling her from the Senate when the news of her pregnancy broke, separating her permanently from Anakin. No worries about Anakin coming with her and revealing their marriage, ending both their careers. No worries about the Jedi expelling Anakin and taking her children in order to train them to become the perfect Jedi that their father had failed to become.
The thought of the Jedi taking her children made Padmé pause. She could not imagine never knowing her own children, never holding them, never passing on her hopes and dreams. She did not want to become a shadowy memory, like Obi-Wan's mother was to him. If she chose to abort now, her life would end with her, her memory would stretch no further than Anakin.
Padmé imagined what her children might be like. She could almost hear her mother laughing and pulling out birth charts. Naboo tradition dictated that a person's personality and destiny were determined by what month of the year the mother was fertile and what week in that month the baby was conceived. Her mother would tell her that since she had been fertile during the month of Guroo, her children would be leaders. Anakin's child would have the compassion and patience of an Uttura, while Obi-Wan's would be a Kritti, full of fire and spirit. They would be the opposite of their fathers.
Their fathers. Padmé swallowed at that thought, but found her mouth dry as Tatooine. Obi-Wan would never leave the Jedi, even for a child, but Anakin was another matter. She thought of her nightmare and how in it Anakin had chosen Obi-Wan over her. She was no psychiatrist, yet she wondered what it meant. Was Anakin also Obi-Wan's lover? Did he love Obi-Wan more? And if he did, did she have any right to contest that, even if she was his wife, given her own indiscretion?
Or was her dream more symbolic? Was Obi-Wan the Jedi? Did Anakin belong to the Jedi, not her? Their marriage was illegal and forbidden, and the Jedi could claim her children for their crèches, as they could all Force-sensitive children. Perhaps nothing of her family truly belonged to her.
Worse, perhaps her dream was prophetic. Perhaps Anakin would discover her moment of weakness and spurn her and her children. It was not that she could not bear the thought of having children that disturbed her, but the thought that she would be alone while doing so. She had already tainted her marriage. Would she taint her children, too? Would she infect them with her own weaknesses? Was she even fit to be a mother, and Anakin fit to be a father? She could not tell Anakin about the second child, not unless she knew he could fully accept that child as his own.
"Would you like to abort?" the med-bot repeated, its voice as neutral as its faceplate.
Though two small lives slowly grew within her, Padmé had never felt emptier. The glittering lights of Coruscant seemed cold and distant, and her room dark and dreary. She felt alone and apart from everyone, even though she was surrounded, as if walled off in a tiny room made of glass. That both Anakin and Obi-Wan were the fathers was not in doubt. She did not care which was which. They were both hers--her mistakes and her responsibility.
"Would you like to abort?"
One simple word, and either her life would return to normal or plunge into the terrifying unknown.
Padmé closed her eyes. "No."
She always had been one to take risks.