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Kerosene beauty queen, looking for her matchstick king

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Anakin knew he had come on too strong. It was apparent in the way Padmé winced when he expressed affection for her, even still, as if ten years had not passed.

Rationality hit him like a blaster smacking him on the temple, stars careening on the edge of his vision.

Anakin couldn’t just saunter into Padmé’s life and go declaring his undying love for her. He had always been illogical when Padmé was mentioned. What was a childhood crush had not dampened like Obi-Wan thought; it had only strengthened.

But that did not mean the love had matured.

Anakin resolved that he would not make such a brazen mistake again. Padmé only saw him as a slave boy, before. It was up to Anakin to show that he was an adult, and a capable Padawan learner, even without his master present.

He apologized for his outburst and backed out of Padmé’s bedroom. He didn’t want to crowd her space while she packed away her ideals all because of assassination attempts.

He could sense in the Force that leaving Coruscant for Naboo before a bill passage hurt her tremendously. He did not want to upset her any more.

————

Padmé’s tongue was forged of silver. Her thin lips and sour face as they were transported to Theed made her disdain clear.

She was stubborn. Even hours later, she silently riled against the decision to leave.

Anakin remained quiet beside Obi-Wan, sitting with his head bowed and hands in his lap. His master did not make to break the tension, mirroring Anakin’s pose.

Padmé observed his profile from a diagonal angle, as she sat near the transport sliding doors, across from them.

Anakin stared at the Padawan braid curved across his left cheek, dangling over his shoulder and stopping tightly at his robe collar. Obi-Wan had tied it with a dark blue ribbon, the color of his eyes, and it mingled with his sandy hair like water. It contrasted sharply with his robes, maroon brown over black.

When he side glanced at the door, Padmé had chosen to stare out of the panoramic window instead.

————

As they prepared to exit the transport, Obi-Wan held onto Anakin’s shoulders. He was going to speak the obvious, but something in Anakin’s eyes stayed his words.

Blue eyes met determined ones, and Obi-Wan shut his mouth, prodding at Anakin’s Force signature.

He narrowed his eyes and said, “you know what you must do.”

Anakin inclined his head. “Remain cautious. Be overly vigilant. Stay in the shadows unless absolutely necessary.”

Obi-Wan could not conceal the spark of shock in his irises, the way they jumped out, his reaction expressing a great interest. “Yes,” he said blankly. “That was what I stated before we left. But Anakin,” there was a pause, “remember your duties to the Jedi Order. Meditate. Keep a clear mind. Now is not the time to slack on your lessons.”

“This is Naboo,” Anakin said. “There isn’t much else to do but practice, Master.”

Obi-Wan nudged their Force connection once again, as if trying to suss out a lie. Anakin pinched his eyebrows together, but allowed it nonetheless.

The way he would daydream about Padmé, even on the most faraway planets, would concern Anakin too if he were in Obi-Wan’s position. He had to remember to have a one-track mind. The mission came first, and nothing else after that.

Obi-Wan murmured, “I am proud of your candor and dedication, Anakin. That is important, in situations such as these.” He removed his hands from Anakin’s shoulders. “May the Force be with you.”

————

Anakin’s poncho itched. It took every single urge inside of him not to throw the outerwear off of him this instant.

But he had a cover to maintain. Only for a little while.

He busied his hands, preventing his fists from clenching, by holding his meager belongings in one hand and helping Padmé with her many bags in the other.

He tipped his head down, the sun glaring his vision. The low-hanging roofs didn’t seem to help with blocking it.

No matter. He was made of the desert.

Anakin dipped into the Force, focusing on the crowds all around them as they slowly walked to the palace. The majority of Naboo was so sprawling and open that it was an immediate cause for concern.

“Ani?”

Anakin tilted his head towards Padmé. “Yes, Senator?”

The title made the corner of her mouth downturn. “You seem worried.”

“That’s because I am,” Anakin said frankly. He remembered to speak properly, like Obi-Wan taught him. He didn’t want to admit it was for his own state of mind, so he wouldn’t focus on how her blue poncho accentuated her delicate face, the curls in her hair. “Senator, a single bodyguard could not protect you here, even if I am a Jedi.”

Padmé’s displeasure appeared in place of a deep frown, her eyes like tempered steel. “We cannot stay in Theed?”

“No, Senator,” Anakin confirmed. “On this walk alone, I have found several weak spots in which,” he stopped himself.

“In which what?” Padmé’s eyes slid over to him, and their brown pools were so intense that Anakin averted his gaze to his feet as he walked.

Anakin ignored his burning cheeks, and said gently, “in which a shooter could easily assassinate you.”

Padmé pursed her lips and looked away. “Well,” she said, “at least you’re honest with me.”

Anakin strode in silence for a moment, asking quietly, “am I not supposed to be, Senator?”

“No.” Padmé’s curls shook as her head did. “I mean yes. I appreciate the honesty.”

They made it to the palace steps, and Anakin walked forward, unsure if he should offer Padmé an arm.

Padmé ascended alongside him before Anakin could stutter out the question.

“Tell me about the Queen,” Anakin said instead.

Padmé glanced at him in confusion. “Queen Jamillia does not matter, if we are going to the Lake Country.”

“Lake Country?”

“It’s where I’ve decided we will go,” Padmé said. “It is a more isolated part of Naboo.”

“Good,” Anakin said blankly, because no, he wasn’t thinking about the benefits of isolationism with Padmé. He wasn’t. He wouldn’t.

He can’t.

————

Anakin lifted Padmé from the canoe, stamping down on the butterflies making a mess of his stomach.

He thinks Padmé is testing his will. Her dress, an ombré flowing gown that went from soft yellow to sunset pink to deep purple, almost made her ethereal, sunlight hitting metal clasps that kept the fabric together.

She was made of light, and Naboo was made of pure Force energy, and Anakin found himself very out of place.

Padmé’s hand was warm in his as she stepped delicately onto the cobblestones, and left his skin on fire when she slipped it away.

Anakin asked, “is no one on the property?”

“Not at the moment,” Padmé replied. “Why?”

Anakin leaned over the dock, shouldering out their bags. He took two in his hands, decided to make an impulsive move, and smirked.

He closed his eyes, spun off the dock, and used the Force to lift the bags. The Force acted as the hands he didn’t have, and he could hear Obi-Wan protesting the action in his head.

Anakin opened his eyes and began to move. He caught Padmé watching thoughtfully as the bags floated out of their own accord, trailing behind him like curious buzzing astromechs.

Padmé said nothing as they entered the rather large country house, Anakin setting the bags on the couch. He cut off his tap into the Force abruptly, his hands falling to his sides.

“I’ll inspect the house. Stay here,” Anakin said.

Padmé didn’t make to protest, plopping on an empty space next to the bags. Her face betrayed her emotions for the slightest instant, expressing uneasiness and uncertainty.

Since Anakin could not alleviate her worries, he ducked out of the open living space, turning at an archway.

————

Falling into the Force was easier in the Nubian grasslands than it had been anywhere else.

Anakin sat crisscrossed a little ways from the property, the thin flowers tickling his knees, the breeze caressing his cheeks. As soon as he shut his eyes and honed on the Force, he felt the breeze bend in the opposite direction.

He nudged the air left, and the breeze followed his movement. In disbelief, with bated breath, he nudged the air right. The breeze went right in a quick sweep, before ebbing and flowing in its natural direction.

His eyes were light when he opened them, but the implications on his heart and mind were heavy.

He felt like he was meant to be here. The Force sang around him, and it was easy to get lost in the melody.

This place would be wonderful for strengthening his abilities. He knew he had to be careful though, as Obi-Wan always instructed him, and he would heed his master’s words.

An unfamiliar sound filled his left eardrum, and he turned his head to the side.

The creature had a bulbous body, surprisingly large for a herbivore. It munched on a nearby grass patch, and Anakin was surprised he did not notice it sooner. Its body may be gigantic, but it moved with light footsteps, and stooped down to suck up the grass in an almost gentle manner.

Anakin grinned brightly. “Hello,” he murmured gently. “I’ve never seen one of you before.”

Anakin reached out with the Force, giving the creature a feather-light brush of air. The creature blinked its red eyes, and regarded him from a short distance away.

Its head lifted from the grass patch, and the name of the creature was sent back to him through the Force.

“Shaak,” Anakin whispered in answer, his breath catching upon realizing what just happened.

Animals directly connected to nature, and the Force around them, were extremely rare. Anakin and Obi-Wan, throughout their decade of traveling across the galaxy, had only encountered three such species.

Upon hearing its name, the Shaak drew towards him, its feet surprisingly light and swift. Anakin held his breath, slowly rising to tuck his lower legs underneath his thighs. He turned his body to the side, so it faced the Shaak.

When it got close enough, the Shaak ducked its head a tad lower, and Anakin raised his palm out.

Its bill-shaped head nudged against Anakin’s fingers, and he smiled.

“Hello,” he said softly. “Oh, you’re a wonder, aren’t you?”

The Shaak exhaled against his palm, as if agreeing.

Anakin’s grin widened, observing the creature’s calm eyes incredulously.

After a moment of blessed silence, the Force singing around them, the Shaak pulled back. Anakin dropped his hand sadly, and couldn’t help but smile wobbly. His eyes welled up for no good reason at all, the Force melody coming to a soft resounding finish.

The Shaak exhaled through its small slit nostrils, and turned back, its bulbous body leaving him in search for another pasture.

A shadow appeared in the corner of his eye, and he turned his head.

Despite her schooled expression, Padmé was so beautiful that Anakin had to squint to prevent his eyes from hurting.

There was something in her warm brown eyes that betrayed her, but Padmé simply said, “dinner has arrived.”

Anakin tucked away his curiosity and rose from the grass.

————

After several security sweeps, Anakin settled on the balcony in his bedroom, looking out over the lake.

The landscape was something out of a dream. There were stars in the night sky, making the lake shimmer. Even the grasslands had a colorful quality to them, a blue and purple hue despite the late hour. A peaceful hush fell over the entire Lake Country, the Force humming in the silence.

Before he could flip open his comm, he received the call.

The single chime was answered instantly. “Yes, Master?” Anakin used a quick swipe of the Force to shut the double doors that lead to his bed.

“Status update,” Obi-Wan said, his communication link a tad finicky.

“Theed was too dangerous,” Anakin said. “We are at the Lake Country. Isolated in her family’s country house.”

“I...see.”

Anakin furrowed his brows. “Is something wrong, Master?”

“No. No, Anakin.” A pause. “Tactically, that is the best option. Explain the surroundings.”

“A lake on one side, fields in the other.”

“How did you get there?”

“By boat. The closest river and house is a quarter mile away.”

Another beat. “Good. That’s good, Anakin.”

“Are you,” Anakin smirked, “impressed, Master?”

He heard Obi-Wan sigh. “Anakin,” he could feel him rubbing his forehead, “I hate to say that I am.”

Anakin chuckled. “Thank you, Master. There is another thing.”

“Oh?”

“There are these animals...Shaaks…they are connected with the Force.”

“Really?” He could picture Obi-Wan’s salient eyes light up at the information. “How very interesting.”

“The Lake Country is strong in the Force. It will be a good place to meditate.”

“Well,” he sensed Obi-Wan smirk, “I never thought I would hear you say you wanted to meditate. You are full of surprises, Padawan.”

Anakin grimaced, and was glad Obi-Wan could not see it. If he knew the real reason why Anakin decided to stay away from the property, he would not be pleased in the slightest.

“How is your solo mission going?” Anakin asked flippantly.

“I’m researching at the Temple. I will be off in a few days. That means,” he waited a beat, “it will be up to you, Anakin.”

“Yes, Master,” Anakin said, projecting confidence in his tone, but not too much confidence. Now was not the time to be brash and impulsive, especially with a Senator’s life on the line.

“Follow the Code,” Obi-Wan instructed, “and be safe, Padawan.”

“Yes, Master.” Anakin broke the transmission, shutting off the comm.

The silence of the night hit him hard, and he went back inside the house.

————

Anakin stood atop a smooth rock, a pace away from the lake. His lightsaber ignited, he balanced on one foot, the other lined against the side of his lower leg.

He bathed in the untapped Force energy, closed his eyes, and began practicing his forms. He remained on the tall rock batting away unseen foes until the Force alerted him to a change in the environment.

The breeze tickled his cold cheeks, going southward, and Anakin opened his eyes in that direction.

He shut off his lightsaber upon seeing Padmé’s look of uneasiness. She wore a soft silk sundress, pearly white and excess fabric swirling around her legs.

Anakin stepped off his perch, sliding his lightsaber on his belt. His braid curled against his cheek as he asked, “how may I be of service, Senator?”

“You were a mechanic before you were a Padawan,” Padmé stated.

Rather than wincing at the mention of his old life, Anakin said blankly, “I was, Senator. Why do you ask?”

“My family house is very old,” Padmé said. “I thought you would not mind if-”

“Okay,” Anakin said. “I will, Senator.”

————

Padmé started to linger in the background when he wasn’t meditating.

Anakin would fix the drain pipes, and Padmé would lean against the kitchen counter, her gaze on his backside. He would clean out the plumbing outside, and she would sit on the balcony, looking down at him. He would improve the functions of their serving droids, and she would hang nearby, a fly on the wall, while he gratefully upgraded their systems.

Working on droids would always put a smile on his face.

But Padmé’s behavior was certainly unconventional for a Senator of her status.

Since he was her bodyguard, and could not say anything against something so harmless, he learned to mind his tongue.

————

A string of beeps aimed at Anakin as he fixed the astromech’s communications array had him laughing on the floor.

He was crisscrossed in front of the droid, and leaned back, laughing more joyfully than he had in a long time. Perhaps since he was a boy who won his freedom in a pod race.

The Force laughed with him, and the astromech continued cursing in binary. Anakin couldn’t stop chuckling for the life of him, not until the astromech finally calmed down.

After a few more soft chuckles, his laughs tapered off. “You remind me of Artoo,” Anakin murmured fondly.

“You still have my droid?”

Anakin blinked in shock, then glanced towards the archway. In all of his elation, he had not sensed Padmé coming.

“Yes,” Anakin said with a throat clear, “Senator. He grew attached to us.”

Padmé stepped inside the unused room, where Anakin had compiled tools and spare parts that needed tweaking. “You and Master Kenobi?”

“Yes, Senator.”

“You can stop calling me Senator,” Padmé said decisively.

Anakin concealed his emotions. He thinks his master would be proud. “What would you prefer, Senator?”

“Padmé.”

Anakin’s breath caught in his throat. He swallowed thickly. This blurred the line between personal and professional behavior. Anakin only called her by titles so his mind wouldn’t get the wrong idea. But being personal is what Padmé wanted, so he could not refuse her.

“Okay,” Anakin parsed out, “Padmé.”

Padmé tilted her head to the side. Her hair, still in chocolate curls, were tied in two buns underneath her ears. A curl broke free from their netting, lining the beauty mark on her cheekbone. Her dress was floral, patchwork daisies on bronze fabric. “You had no issues calling me Padmé as children.”

“That was before I had duties and rules to uphold,” Anakin said warily.

Padmé cut to a different topic abruptly. “Are you truly not offended by my denial?”

Anakin was reminded of coming on too strong on Coruscant, and felt his mouth go dry. His hot head had gotten him into no small amount of messes over the years. When would he learn?

Anakin replied coolly, “it was wrong of me to try. I apologize, Padmé.”

“You didn’t answer me.”

“No,” Anakin said, turning back towards the astromech, who had gone deathly silent, “I am not offended. You did the right thing.”

He heard Padmé shift, confusion swirling around her in the Force. “You...will not pursue me?”

Anakin pursed his lips, stared at the astromech, and gathered the courage to look at her again.

Padmé was admittedly surprised, and it played across her entire face. She did not blink, and she did not move.

Anakin pinched his eyebrows. Her reaction confused him, but he did not know enough to decode her mind.

“No,” Anakin said carefully, “it would not be right, for you or me.”

Padmé seemed to inhale for the first time in a long moment, batting her eyelashes. “Yes,” she said, a note of sadness there, “it would not be right.”

————

Anakin, out of boredom and something else, decided to take all the books in the house and stack them in his bedroom.

Obi-Wan always said he needed to be more educated, especially as a Jedi meant to protect the galaxy. Anakin slacked off on his studies as he grew up, citing his constant missions and travels with Obi-Wan as reason for not picking up a book.

Upon seeing what Padmé did all day, Anakin realized how ignorant he was to the galaxy’s problems.

Padmé was always reading. Always receiving the news on an untraceable holo and rifling through all political information she could find. It was her job, but he could tell she enjoyed teaching herself.

Anakin made himself as scarce as possible, locking himself away and reading books on anything he could find. The history of Naboo. Political issues as they stood today. How to speak and write Nubian.

He wouldn’t say it was because of Padmé, or to impress her. It was because he was curious, and he realized there wasn’t much he knew about the planet he was on. He always did enjoy hearing planetary facts from his master, wherever they went. It was only right that he learn about Naboo, since their stay had no expiration date as of yet.

When Anakin got through the books, he programmed an astromech with a language algorithm. Since there was no protocol droid there, this would have to do. He programmed Nubian into the astromech’s system and began to practice the language.

He was nearly deterred from learning the day Padmé overheard him. Instead of roiling against it, though, she merely corrected him on a mispronounced phrase and got back to her datapad.

He may have seen a smile as she disappeared behind an archway, but he refused to entertain it.

————

They never talked during dinner. The table was so long that it left a chasm of room between them. They normally ate in relative silence, which only increased the volume of Anakin’s tangled thoughts.

That night, however, Padmé spoke as her fork stabbed a slice of fruit. “You’re learning Nubian.”

Unsure whether it was a question or a statement, Anakin replied, “I am.”

“Why is that?”

Anakin bit the inside of his cheek, chewed the rest of the fruit, and swallowed. He released his cheek and said, “I enjoy learning languages.”

That was true enough. Anakin had discovered patterns between languages, and once he knew Basic, he could follow most core and mid-rim languages. Huttese and outer rim dialects aside, Anakin proved to have a knack for formal languages.

Padmé’s brown eyes found his from across the table. She paused in her meal and asked, “is that so?”

“Yes, Senator.” Anakin added, “once you understand a few, you can understand the majority.”

Padmé blinked in shock. “I’ve found that to be true as well.”

Anakin inclined his head, stabbing another forkful of fruit to distract himself. He felt his skin heat up, and felt like an idiot for the involuntary reaction.

After a moment, Padmé asked, “why are you reading all of the books?”

Anakin felt a blush coming on, and dipped into the Force to project calm and dump an excess of flustered butterflies into the ether.

He replied shyly, “Master Obi-Wan...I mean Master Kenobi...always gets on my case for not reading enough. I took it upon myself to read about Naboo, should I need the information.” He said as an afterthought, “I should have asked. I apologize.”

“It’s perfectly alright,” Padmé said. Her pink lips curved into a half-smile, and she glanced down at her food. Her eyelashes fanned her cheeks, and soft blush powdered her skin. It brought his attention suddenly to her light pink frock, made of a thin fabric that looked soft to the touch.

Anakin looked back at his food and continued eating, shuttering his thoughts for the hundredth time.

————

Anakin thought he was imagining it.

He was balancing on the rock by the lake, simply nudging the breeze towards the faraway waterfalls, when Padmé determinedly approached him.

She carried a basket of food in one hand, and a blanket over the other. She wore a soft yellow sundress adorned with violet flowers, her wavy hair in buns above her ears. She seemed to glow with the sun, the Force singing at her presence, at her purity.

So beautiful, yet so unaware of it.

Anakin dropped off the rock, schooling his expression despite slightly widened eyes.

Padmé set the basket on a grass patch surrounded by flowers. She called out to him, “I’ve decided we’re going to eat outside.”

Her innocent smile betrayed her clear intentions, and Anakin was left reeling.

As Padmé smoothed the blanket on the grass, Anakin asked, “are you sure you can take the time?”

That only spurred Padmé to grin, and it was so bright that Anakin didn’t know how to feel. “I can do what I want. And I want to have a picnic with you.”

Anakin blinked once. Then twice.

“Okay,” he said, dropping onto the splayed-out blanket.

“Okay,” she said brightly, opening the basket between them. “I picked some fruit with the protocol droid.”

Anakin blinked again. “Is he new?”

“Yes. I had him sent discreetly from Queen Jamillia.”

“Good. That’s helpful.”

“Yes,” Padmé said curtly, plucking fruit from the basket. “Do you still have yours?”

“My protocol droid?” Anakin furrowed his brows. “I left him on Tatooine.”

“That’s too bad,” she said carefully.

“You remembered that?”

Padmé plucked a loaf of bread, slicing in half, and placed it between them. “Of course.” She smiled, and there were nerves behind her mask. “How could I forget the boy that won his own freedom to become a Jedi?”

Anakin averted his gaze. Her eyes were too brown, too kind, too much. She recalled he did not like the word slave, and was good enough not to use it.

Before he could grasp for words, she asked, “what have you been doing for the past ten years?”

Anakin was surprised that she cared. She was worming her way past his shields, and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

After days and days of silence, why was this happening now?

Anakin started in on the bread, and said, “I’ve been traveling with Master Kenobi. Been to all sorts of planets, assisting with missions wherever the Order requires us. All while training, of course.”

“I wish I could do that,” Padmé said with a dreamy sigh. “Travel the galaxy without worrying about my people.”

“Your people need you,” Anakin beseeched. “Your job is far more important than mine.” He plucked up his fruit. “I have the utmost respect for those who can speak in front of so many people and not freeze up.”

“Sometimes I wonder how I do it,” Padmé said, exhaling a little laugh. It was almost girlish, and as pure as the Force.

“Practice really does make perfect,” Anakin offered. “I’m still trying to get to the perfect stage,” he shrugged, biting into a pooja fruit, “but you’re already there.”

He realized absentmindedly what he just said, and felt like the sun had just set him ablaze.

He managed, “my mouth ran away from my mind. I apologize. I meant-”

Padmé huffed another small laugh. “I know what you meant. It’s alright, Anakin. Really.”

Anakin glanced up at her sheepishly. “Call it a character flaw. A stubborn one.”

“I understand. I really do.”

Anakin blinked, biting into the fruit. “You do?”

There was a glint in the depths of Padmé’s dark eyes. “I lost count of the times I had to mind my tongue, especially as Queen.”

The reminder that the woman across from him was a former Queen had Anakin’s mind fall backwards into the past. He remembered being an awkward boy stuttering after her, and it sobered him.

He refused to be that little boy anymore. He was better than that. He had a mission, and he could not do what he wanted to.

“That is,” Anakin said after a beat, “comforting.”

Padmé smiled weightlessly, and the sun hit her at an angle so wonderful that her skin seemed to glow. “I suppose we have that in common.”

“Yes,” Anakin said, tripping over the words he wished he could say and falling flat on his face.

Padmé did not seem to know this, because she said, “outsiders don’t know much about the Jedi.”

“And you have questions?” Anakin picked up. “I am unsure of how many I can answer.”

“Try,” Padmé encouraged. Like a young girl, she crossed her legs and leaned forward, her eyes sparkling in interest. “What is the Force, really?”

Anakin recited the classic definition. “The invisible energy that binds all life together.”

Padmé furrowed her eyebrows.

“For example,” Anakin held out his arms, motioning to the nature surrounding them, “this planet is incredibly strong with the Force. The nature is wonderful here, and that creates a more harmonious ecosystem. As a Jedi, I meditate here because I can tap into Naboo’s life source and fix what needs correcting.”

“Or wield it,” Padmé added, a tinge of an unnamed emotion clouding her eyes.

“Only in a bad situation,” Anakin set her at ease with a smile, “which is rare.”

“Why do you have lightsabers, then?” She inquired.

“For when we guard officials such as yourself,” Anakin replied, “and when we are on a battleground.”

Padmé hummed in consideration. “I thought apprentices only trained on Coruscant.”

“Let’s call me,” Anakin said, “a special case.”

Padmé pursed her lips, biting into her fruit absently. “Is it because you are strong in the Force?”

“Yes. Stronger than most.” Anakin lightened his tone deliberately. He didn’t want to seem like he was bragging.

“Is that why you were assigned to me?”

“Not exactly,” Anakin said. “As I understood it, my master needed to go on a mission alone, making me available for the job. Since I have guarded many politicians already, I was chosen above a few others.”

Padmé perked up in interest, finishing off her pooja fruit. “Who have you guarded?”

“Mainly ambassadors from core planets on behalf of Coruscant. Chandrila, Corellia, Hosnian Prime, Kuat, Plexis. I also spent a year in the mid rim on Trandosha, as well as Mandalore protecting the Duchess.”

“Satine Kryze?” Padmé gasped, a radiant grin on her face. “I know her well! I’m proud to call her a friend.”

“My master seemed to know her from previous missions too,” Anakin said considerately. “They are around the same age.”

“That would make sense.” Padmé’s bout of joy diminished naturally. “Why do you have a braid?”

Anakin glanced at his braid, which fell over his left shoulder. He had recently taken out the blue ribbon and traded it for a maroon ribbon to match his robes.

He answered, “it is to mark my status as a Padawan learner. Once I pass the three trials to become a Knight, I get to cut it off.”

“I bet you’re excited for that.”

Anakin smirked before he could remember himself. “I’ve grown used to it, but you’re right. I wish I could just take the trials, but my master says I am not ready.”

“You will be,” Padmé said, sounding like she knew it for a fact, like it was prophecy.

“Yeah,” Anakin said with a grimace. “Someday.”

————

Anakin swam in the Force as he guided Padmé to her family home. He made sure not a single hair was out of place, not a single thought was negative, not a single thing was amiss in their fairly congested surroundings.

Bringing her back to a portion of the city was dangerous, Anakin knew. But Padmé’s resolve and steady mind had been nearly extinguished. She admitted that she wished to see her family, and Anakin was moved to help her.

Anakin took the risk, knowing full well that Obi-Wan was someplace far away and could not holo call to protest.

Anakin soon found himself face-to-face with the people who raised the woman a part of him loved vehemently. He remained in the shadows, allowing Padmé this time to speak candidly with her family.

He does not know how she goes to Coruscant knowing that her family was on Naboo, longing for her to come home constantly. It took a certain brand of dedication and steel to leave, and he admired that Padmé put the Nubian people first.

Padmé tried to get the attention off of him, and Anakin was grateful. He is unsure how to speak with them, and was afraid he would trip over his words or say something stupid about his true feelings. He did not trust himself to speak, and Padmé seemed to notice that and accommodate him.

He was just her bodyguard here. Her Jedi bodyguard, required to linger in the shadows for her safety.

The only time he allowed himself to falter was in the presence of her nieces. They were both rather small, the age he was when he left Tatooine, and he found himself captivated by their playing in the field outside.

He never got to have the life that Pooja and Ryoo have now. He was glad that, at least, on some worlds, children did not suffer as he had.

The children were just as captivated by him as he was by them. Since children were naturally inquisitive and had zero filter, they were not afraid to approach him as he sat alone.

Two balls of innocent light in the Force approached him, and Anakin found himself leaning down, trying his best to seem shorter than his tall stature allowed.

“Hello,” Ryoo said. “I’m Ryoo, and this is my sister, Pooja.” The little girl beside Ryoo beamed. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Anakin,” he said lightly. “Anakin Skywalker.”

Ryoo’s eyes bugged out of her head. “Wow!”

“Sky-wal-ker,” Pooja sounded out softly.

“Can you walk across the sky?” Ryoo inquired.

Anakin chuckled. “That’s impossible. You can only fly across the sky.”

“Do you fly across the sky?” Pooja asked.

“Yes,” Anakin said, “I do.”

“You should be called Sky-fly-er,” Pooja enunciated with a giggle.

Anakin smiled softly. “You’re absolutely right.”

The three of them chuckled, and he sensed Padmé look at him. He pushed away the thought of her burning gaze and wore an innocent smile instead.

————

Music played softly on a boom box Anakin had constructed, spare parts littering the open space he had designated as a mechanic’s room. He was working on a malfunctioning astromech meant to serve their food. The astromech in question, an older model, had nearly collapsed in a fit of sparks the day before, and Anakin had gotten to the task at last.

As upbeat music played beside his scattered toolbox, Anakin knelt in front of the astromech, which had been shut off for approximately twenty hours. Its innards were splayed open, wires jutting and its claw squeezed shut in a vice grip.

He had just screwed in new bolts for the claw when a song he liked came on the finicky homemade machine.

He rose from his crouch fluidly, flipping the wrench between his fingers like he usually twirled his lightsaber hilt. It was a maneuver he had perfected over several months between missions to the core rim, when he was somewhere between fifteen and sixteen standard years old. He would twirl his new lightsaber hilt from his ring to index fingers, completing the action by securing it with his thumb. He became so good at it, in fact, that Obi-Wan regularly scolded him for doing it without realizing it.

Obi-Wan wasn’t here, though.

Anakin smirked, twirling the wrench between his fingers with an increased speed. He didn’t mess up once, and started to wander around the room, bobbing his head a little.

He lost himself in the beat, and felt himself losing grip freely. The Force ebbed and flowed around him like an unfeeling breeze, swirling around his form as he walked with no destination.

Tools began to lift, an invisible hand floating them away from the table, twirling them slowly as if they dangled on ceiling strings.

Anakin couldn’t help but grin, the Force creating a melody alongside the already existing one. He continued to bob his head and glide across the floor, allowing the Force to sing to its full potential.

This planet truly was a treasure.

Anakin laughed as a socket wrench spun in a small circle and dipped, as if bowing like a dancer. He bowed to the socket wrench, and it acknowledged him with another bow.

Anakin spun on his feet and twirled the wrench in his fingers, hearing an astromech roll inside and beep excitedly in binary. Anakin chuckled at the droid and watched his screwdriver spin.

As the song reached its crescendo, Anakin held out a hand, tapping his floating bolt tightener. The entire room of tools rose a tad higher in the air, and they bowed to the softening beat.

The Force knew the song was on its last notes, and Anakin stopped twirling the wrench. It left his grip, floating until it reached eye level.

Then, unceremoniously, the tools dropped back onto the work table, the wrench falling into his outstretched palm. The song ended, and the Force retracted slowly, as if basking in the harmony for a moment.

Anakin threw his head back and laughed, feeling more free and peaceful than he had in his entire life. The elation took another moment to fade from him, and his grin stayed for a minute after that.

He tipped his head down, and he heard stifled giggles.

His eyes shot open, and his head tilted towards the sound.

Padmé was laughing by the archway, and in all his revelry, he had not heard her approach.

Her eyes were closed, and she leaned against the side for support, her stomach bent as she doubled over in laughter. Her dress, navy blue and form fitting, was the only indication of her age. She laughed like she was still a child, no older than her nieces, innocent to the galaxy’s horrors.

Anakin felt a blush redden his entire face, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He was paralyzed by her presence, and how she always managed to sneak up on him.

He was supposed to be protecting her, but she didn’t need it. She could laugh her way into anyone’s heart, charm anyone so effectively that no one would dare lay a hand against her.

Padmé leveled her head, her gaze catching Anakin and smiling disarmingly. A hand laid against her stomach, her laughter losing traction. The other laid flat against the archway for stability, and upon realizing Anakin’s long silence, her smile fell into a wobble.

Anakin’s mouth dropped into a small gap, and he forced his jaw shut. “I can explain.”

Padmé seemed to find that even funnier, because she chuckled again, leaning against the archway as her shoulder stifled her laugh. Her hair, which had been tied back earlier in the day, fell across her face in delicate waves.

A strand in particular dropped beside the corner of her lips, and Anakin clenched his fist to prevent from walking over and brushing it away.

Padmé caught his gaze, and soon cleared her throat. The strand of hair fell back into place by her ear, and she said, “there’s no need, Ani. I’m glad you’re growing used to my homeworld.”

“Right.” A half-grimace tugged at the corner of his mouth. He found himself admitting, “I do love it here.”

At his sudden elation, Padmé’s smile downturned an inkling. “It’s too bad.”

“What’s too bad?”

“That you’re a Jedi.”

Anakin furrowed his brows. “Why?”

Padmé pursed her lips, and glanced down at her sandals. “Never mind.”

————

After their flummoxing conversation earlier that day, Padmé made herself scarce for multiple hours. Anakin focused on the tasks he had assigned himself, but the back of his mind was stuck on her words, and what they could possibly mean.

Padmé emerged from the opposite side of the country house later that night. She wore a different outfit, a gray dress that was tight around her hips, and dipping slightly down her chest. Her hair was in a braided coil at the back of her head, and she wore a bronze necklace around her throat.

She sat on the couch beside the fireplace, her eyes ablaze, watching and waiting.

Anakin felt the faraway flames lick his cheeks, pretending to finish a passage on Shaaks he had already reread a dozen times. His lashes cast over his eyes, he stared at the pages and only saw blurred ink. His mouth dried, and his mind ran away in circles, tripping over obstacles and crashing to the ground, skinning his knees. He threw his emotions into the Force, and projected an aura of calm.

He suddenly realized how close in proximity they were. There were only a half-pace away, but it seemed farther at first glance.

Anakin clenched his jaw to gain some semblance of self-control, and released a beat later.

His mock turned the page, closed the book, and fluttered his eyes up to Padmé. The formal greeting, before he could voice it, caught in his throat. His thoughts were nothing but dust, and all rationality was thrown out the window.

She was beautiful, and he was only human.

If she asked him to capture a star from the night sky, he would do it. If she asked him to stay here with her forever, he would stay. If she asked him to forsake the Order, he would betray them and run away with her.

This whole time, he was trying to rationalize a love that could not be rationalized. Love was irrational by nature, and the Force was nature, and did that make loving her wrong?

The Jedi Order certainly thought so, and it didn’t make any sense to him!

“I knew it,” Padmé said, in a voice so hushed and sacrilegious that it garnered Anakin’s entire attention. “You feel it too.”

“Feel,” Anakin cut himself off, feeling everything and nothing all at once. “Feel what?”

“You’ve felt it for ten years,” Padmé said absently. “How do you deal with it?”

Anakin’s mouth dried, and his mind blared out alarm bells. It hit him like a blaster to his temple, and he stared at her, unable to breathe or blink or move.

“I,” he whispered brokenly, “I’m not.”

His sorrow was mirrored in Padmé’s own face, and he felt his lungs closing in on him, eyes welling up.

“Ani,” Padmé said softly, “I changed my mind.”

Anakin remembered her warranted rejection on Coruscant, the way she analyzed him on Naboo, her remark when he was repairing an astromech days and days ago.

‘Yes,’ she had said, ‘it would not be right.’

The admiration that Anakin still held for Padmé Naberrie Amidala had a twin. An equal amount of admiration, he realized, was present in Padmé’s eyes.

For him. Anakin Skywalker, slave boy turned Padawan. A boy made of the desert, meant to be inconsequential to her.

Maybe that was why she finally shared his feelings. Because he did not treat her any differently than he would a servant, or a droid, or a Shaak.

“You,” Anakin swallowed thickly, “are you sure?”

He did not make to deny her, or protest their actions. They would be moot, and they did not matter.

Padmé leaned forward, and Anakin was helpless to stop her lips pressed against his.

He sank into it, his eyes closing and the Force rejoicing around them, both of them.

Anakin was unmade and remade in the span of a few seconds, his body realigning itself with reality after a transformation he couldn’t put into words.

His eyes fluttered back open, Padmé’s dark ones looking at him, and he surrendered.