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Prologue

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From the journal of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Jedi

Undated Entry

Location Unknown

 

Every day is a struggle.

I’m holding on by my fingernails over some fathomless abyss, and I don’t dare look down into it.  If I lose my concentration, if I slip, I’ll become more intimately acquainted with what’s down there than I’m comfortable contemplating.

I’m tired.  Tired of holding on.  I’m trying to maintain my grip, because there are people depending on me.

He is depending on me, though he doesn’t know it.  Not yet.

Force.  So many days I wake up and I just want to let go.  I’ll have to, one day.  What’s happened to me wasn’t meant to be endured this long.

One day I’ll have to let go.

Please, not until I have him back.  Please.  Hold on, damn you.

Just a bit longer.

 

*          *          *          *

 

It was late enough that the sun was nothing more than a soft glow on Padmé Amidala’s workstation, and she pressed her hand against the warm wood and sighed.  It had been a long ten-day, a long year, made more so by the cleanup necessitated by the Trade Federation’s blockade and subsequent invasion.  Her role as Queen was difficult enough without the endless extra tasks, but she’d made it, completing her first year as ruler of Naboo. 

Padmé had taken what little time that could be spared in the middle of reconstruction, gone to Kaazcint, and watched Naboo’s heroes wed.  That shining moment had made all the work, frustration, and tears more than worthwhile. 

The first-year anniversary of the Battle of Theed had been marked by a quiet, solemn ceremony, as it should have been.  There were too many families who still mourned loved ones. 

Quinlan Vos was on duty that evening.  She harbored no hope that the young Master wouldn’t notice and comment on her moment of melancholy.  He was too sharp-eyed for that. 

“Something wrong, Highness?” he asked, glancing up from the datapad he held. 

She’d learned a lot from him, despite the fact that she wasn’t supposed to be doing Jedi anything yet, and considered him a good friend.  Sometimes, though, he was far more observant than she liked.

“I think I’m declaring a rest day tomorrow.  I’m patting warm wood and craving sunlight,” Padmé said, giving up and confessing all anyway.  He wouldn’t hold it against her.  “Too much flimsiplast and paperwork.”

Quinlan nodded in agreement, smiling pleasantly, but there were tired circles under his eyes.  He’d been studying his datapad for hours, long after Aayla had gone to dinner.  Padmé had looked up on occasion to find a thunderous frown on his face.  Possibly the news from the Jedi was bad, but she wouldn’t pry.  If it applied to her, or those she cared about, he would tell her soon; if not, it was one less thing to be concerned with.

“One little wedding wasn’t enough time off for either of us,” Quinlan said, dropping the datapad onto his lap and stretching.  Right now he was her sole guard, giving the Handmaidens the evening off.  She knew from keen experience, and an assassination attempt kept utterly secret, that Quinlan was as good as every single soldier in Theed.  “It’s a good idea.  Why not the lake house?  Aayla absolutely adores it,” he said, not even trying to be subtle about the hint.

Padmé didn’t care about subtlety, considering what the suggestion meant.  Less security and more freedom, letting her roam the shore under her family name, unnoticed and blissfully ignored.  Sabé could stay in the capital, wearing the heavy robes and makeup and grinding her teeth every time someone called her Highness.  Padmé considered it just vengeance for the gossip Sabé had given Sola, which her sister had told to her parents, and now she would never hear the end of it.

All right, so perhaps that was why she was petting that particular spot on her desk. 

Quinlan laughed.  “You’re loud again, Highness.  Tighten those shields, and I shall go back to my datapad while you enjoy your gift.”

Padmé blushed furiously.  “Ass,” she said, but did add a new layer to the shielding she was still learning to create.  It was a frustrating process.  Both Quinlan and Aayla had informed her that she was a natural broadcaster, now that the talent was being nurtured.

“Yep,” Quin agreed, and promptly did as he said he would, becoming re-absorbed in reading. 

Padmé opened the drawer of her desk, pulling out the simple white box that had arrived in the arms of a beaming, mercilessly grinning Sabé two days ago.  Her friend would have already studied the contents, making sure of Padmé’s safety—and was therefore well-versed in what sort of gift it was, who it was from, and why.

Inside the box was a note, written on true paper, not plast.  The words were not scripted, and held no elegant flourishes or swirls, but the letters were crisp and clear, written by a steady hand. 

 

Vossils are yellow,

Roses are red,

I am absolute crap at poetry;

Have a flower instead.

 

The simple poem had made her laugh, as Anakin had probably been hoping.

The flower beneath the note, resting on soft cloth, had left her lips parted in surprise.

She took it out of the box with gentle hands, still just as awed by its beauty as she had been upon first seeing it.  It was less a single flower and more a branch the length of her hand, covered in tiny blossoms.  The twigs were thin and silver, elegant where Anakin’s handwriting had not been.  Each sprig was covered in delicate blue flowers, the color of the skies above the lakes in the south.  The flowers hung like bells from each tiny twig, dark blue petals fading into soft white centers.  The branch had been treated, frozen in time and perfectly preserved. 

It had instantly become one of her most prized possessions. 

Padmé put the branch back onto the soft cloth, turning over the paper note to read the missive Anakin had scrawled in a messier hand on the back.

 

Padmé,

You gave me permission to write to you, but I’m not sure it will be what you expected.  I’d rather hear your voice, given the choice, but your schedule is insane and mine is unpredictable.  So, this will have to do.

We never did this before, you and I.  Our relationship was more spur of the moment, even when we got married, and romance wasn’t high on my list of priorities.

It should have been.  Or at least, better than it was.  I think the height of courtship between us was exchanging droids.  Even I’m bright enough to realize that as romantic gestures go, that’s pretty pathetic.

I’m not kidding about being bad at poetry, or at romantic stuff in general, and it’ll be years before I can really hand you anything more than words and friendship.  I’ll be flying by the seat of my pants, says the pilot, and figuring this out as I go.

One of the shops in Falaft had this.  I didn’t go in looking for impressive presents.  I think I was looking for food, honestly.  Instead, I saw those flowers, and the first thing I thought of was you.  It’s not as fragile as it looks—it’s blue ironwood.  It takes a lot of strength to break an ironwood branch, even the tiny ones.  It may be pretty, but it’s also one of the toughest plants on Kaazcint. 

Really, that’s not supposed to be a metaphor or anything

We’ll be heading back to the Temple in a few days.  It’s odd to be going back.  And scary.  I have friends I miss, but I’m not sure if I know how to talk with them anymore.  I guess I’ll find out.

May the Force be with you.

~Anakin

(And, Force, if I sound creepy, tell me to stop, okay?)

 

Padmé never found out who started it, but within days of receiving the gift, she began to hear herself referred to as the Ironwood Queen.  She swore and grumbled and then gave in, smiled, and wore blue more often.  The wardrobe change was very well received by her constituents.

As nicknames went, there were certainly worse ones.