Padmé couldn’t see. She needed light to see and she had none, presently. It hadn’t truly occurred to her – not with the knowledge of experience – that darkness, like that of night, was the absence of light. Not the opposite, merely the total absence. Nothing had a new power in Padmé’s eyes. It was that special kind of darkness, where it is so dark your eyes see shapes and things that aren’t there, shadows of a brighter time. There was no relief from it. It was totally still, unchanging, even as Padmé closed her eyes and patterns danced across her eyelids.
She could hear, though. Obi-Wan was there, somewhere. Not too close, but not on the other side of the cell. She could hear him moving, even, if she listened closely enough, hear the scrape of his hand across the stone wall. She was fairly certain it was stone; it didn’t feel like durasteel, and the sole door was durasteel.
“Why do you suppose Palpatine put us down here?” Padmé said quietly. They hadn’t spoken much since being put in the cell, beyond confirming their stories – Obi-Wan taken in battle and Padmé drugged, waking up here. There wasn’t much to discuss, truthfully, and Padmé was uncomfortable with doing so anyway. Obi-Wan’s reaction to Anakin and Padmé’s marriage hadn’t been the best, and Obi-Wan, she knew, generally had a low opinion of politicians in general. “I mean,” Padmé added at the silence, “here, specifically.”
“To weaken us, perhaps,” Obi-Wan offered at last. His voice seemed unusually rich in tone, but she suspected it was simply something she had never noticed before. She hadn’t realized how much she depended on the slight visual cues to read him – or anyone, for that matter. Anakin had an expressive voice, all minute changes that told how he felt. “Though I don’t why. This has something to do with Anakin, but in what way, I don’t know.”
Padmé nodded out of habit. “I would think he would want us dead. To ensure that Anakin stays with him, as Darth Vader.”
“To . . . get rid of our influence,” Obi-Wan agreed. He sighed. “Perhaps he wants to make sure Anakin – Vader – has fully turned.”
Padmé was silent for a moment. “Anakin would never hurt us.”
“You, I agree. Me? Possibly,” Obi-Wan said quietly. His voice went lower at the end, coming closer to silence.
Padmé had nothing to say that, mostly because she wasn’t sure Anakin wouldn’t hurt Obi-Wan either. Anakin was not entirely Anakin anymore, even to her. He still had his lovely blue eyes and that smile, but it was all tinged with some burning in his voice. She hadn’t seen him in months, but she doubted that had changed. Sometimes he had made her feel – uneasy, and she distanced herself from him somewhat, observing him and trying to understand the changes being wrought in her husband. She had almost chosen another path, one that, had she followed it, would have left her pregnant – and most likely, her children in danger. She had chosen not to act, and yet, she felt sometimes that she had made the wrong choice, even knowing what she did now about Palpatine and the wars.
Instead of speaking, she sat down against a wall and briefly put her face in her hands, then smoothing back her hair, which was a mess, having fallen out of the tight, intricate bun. Her thick skirts rustled with every move she made, almost sounding like whispers.
She could hear Obi-Wan walking, investigating every square inch of the cell. Padmé had arrived first, and had done a cursory, cautious exploration. Four walls, a slightly uneven floor, and a few rocks she had tripped over.
“Why the darkness?” Padmé asked suddenly.
Obi-Wan said nothing for a moment. “Perhaps because we aren’t psychologically prepared for it.”
Padmé turned in the direction of his voice. “Then he’s a fool.”
“I hope so,” Obi-Wan said, an edge of uncertainty to his voice. It was like a rasp lying over the depth in his voice.
After a few hours – or what Padmé guessed were a few hours – Obi-Wan finally sat down. He sat near Padmé, but not touching; she could hear his breathing. The steady inhale-exhale slowed as time went on, and Padmé wondered if he was sleeping. Or maybe meditating; Jedi meditated, and would usually do so in virtually any situation, even in the middle of a battle, if there was time for it. So why not a dark cell?
They waited for something to happen as time dragged on, staring out into the darkness as if they would, at some point, see something.
When the noise came, Obi-Wan was lightly dozing, lying on his side with his arm as a pillow. He immediately leapt to his feet, scrambling in the direction of the noise. It was harsh, with a stretched out squeal. Obi-Wan’s hands blindly smacked into the door and he searched the area quickly, palms lightly skimming the smooth surface. His hands came upon something being – forced through the door, it felt like. A box. He tried to reach around the box, but his hands encountered vertical lines of something hard, like strings stretched to perfect tautness.
The box fell to the floor with a harsh clanging noise. Obi-Wan tried to get his hands to where the box had gone through, but the space was gone. There was only the hard lines.
“We have a box,” Obi-Wan stated. He picked it up cautiously, using his fingertips to investigate its surface. He heard the rustle of Padmé’s skirts, how her breathing grew louder as she drew nearer. Soft hands joined his, bumping into him and then withdrawing.
Obi-Wan found a latch. “I think I can open it.”
“What are you waiting for?” Padmé said, a hint of amusement in her voice.
Obi-Wan flicked the latch and slowly started to open it. The box opened exactly in the middle, and since it had fallen, it was hard to tell which way was up. Shrugging mentally, he opened it. He felt liquid hit his hands and he jerked in surprise. A large cup fell out, water splashing everywhere.
“What was that?” Padmé asked, alarmed.
“Something wet,” Obi-Wan said, telling his heart to slow down. Another brush of her hands, and a quick retreat. He put his hands in the box, finding something that felt like a wrapper. Two somethings, he amended. “These feel like rations.”
“Let me see,” Padmé requested. “Or feel,” she added.
Obi-Wan smiled and handed her one of the wrappers. The rest of the box was empty.
There was a crinkling sound, and he heard Padmé bite down. “Yuck,” she said. “Definitely a ration bar. All the nutrients most species would ever need, and utterly nasty. Hard to forget.”
“I think it’s a safe bet to say that the other container was water,” Obi-Wan observed, hefting the ration bar in his hand.
There was a moment of silence, then, “Yes,” Padmé agreed. “I keep forgetting you can’t see me nod,” she admitted ruefully.
“I know, I keep doing the same thing,” Obi-Wan assured her, and he felt her relax slightly. Her sense in the Force was constantly tense, alert, something he had noticed when meeting her as a Senator. He didn’t think she had had it when the Queen of Naboo, but he wasn’t as attuned to the Force back then, to even be able to tell.
“Do you think we’ll get three square meals a day?” Padmé asked.
Neither of them were eating. “I don’t know,” Obi-Wan said. “Ration bars are usually done so that one bar is enough for one day.”
“That water may be our last for a while, then,” Padmé said.
Obi-Wan winced. “I’ll have to catch the box next time.”
Another short silence, then, “Yes. Or I’ll have to. Do you suppose we should put the box back? I’m sorry, but I’ve never done this before and I keep getting this visions of old holodramas about prisoners . . .”
Obi-Wan laughed. “No, you may have a point. We can test your theory, but I’ll put the box near the door this time.”
There was a faint noise of fabric shifting, like Padmé was shrugging. “If there is a next time,” Padmé said uneasily.
“Point taken,” Obi-Wan muttered, then spoke more clearly. “We should probably eat these.” He waved the ration bar, even knowing she couldn’t see it.
“I may wait until I’m hungry enough to want it,” Padmé said dryly.
“If you do,” Obi-Wan pointed out logically, “your body may reject it from not having food for so long. Besides, as far as we know, Palpatine or anyone else could come along at any time. We should have our strength.” He paused. “If you don’t think about it, the taste isn’t so bad.”
“You know from experience?” Padmé inquired with polite amusement. He heard her discard the rest of the wrapping.
Obi-Wan tore his open. “Unfortunately,” he said with a smile, knowing it would carry to his voice.
They ate while conversing about possibilities. What did Palpatine want them for? Before waking up in the cell, both had met briefly with Palpatine. He hadn’t said much, just mentioned something about future use of them, then they were knocked out and thrown into the cell. Padmé first, then Obi-Wan. What Palpatine had said to them hadn’t differed much, and was largely vague. Both had seen the triumphant glint in his eyes.
Obi-Wan had heard hear the anger in Padmé’s voice. He shared the feeling, but more privately, and on a more controlled basis. Anakin . . . Vader, had turned and was serving the Sith. Palpatine wanted Anakin’s power and he had gotten it, along with the rest of the galaxy. Everyone was still reacting to the massive change in events. Padmé had been on Naboo, meeting with their government and trying to decide what to do with Palpatine’s takeover and declaration of the New Order.
Obi-Wan had been with several other Jedi running from Coruscant. The Senate had passed a bill introduced by Palpatine that declared all Jedi criminals of the state. Most Jedi were gone from the Temple by then anyway, but the rest were trying to get the children out and off Coruscant, to someplace safer. Obi-Wan had been with one such group.
He was fairly certain they were all dead by this point; if they weren’t, they probably wished they were.
Nothing new happened for hours, and eventually, Obi-Wan and Padmé quieted. They lay down close to each other but not touching, uncomfortable on the hard floor. They eventually slept.
“I don’t think we’re going to get more food unless we put everything back,” Padmé admitted. She sat in the middle . . . middle-ish, anyway, of the floor. Obi-Wan was walking in a loose circuit, an absentminded pacing.
“You’re probably right.” Obi-Wan’s voice floated over to her, almost seeming to come from everywhere. It was still odd, how everything was changed because there was nothing to see. Padmé was having difficulty orienting herself. The black seemed never-ending, even though she knew it wasn’t. It felt like taking a step was stepping off into an abyss. Obi-Wan, she noted, didn’t appear to have the problem – which made sense, as he was a Jedi, she supposed. But it wasn’t fair, she thought uncharitably.
“I guess that rules out digging our way out with the water cup,” Padmé said lightly, trying to cheer herself up. She considered herself a strong person, but the darkness was wearing.
A few steps, and then a gentle hand touched Padmé’s shoulder. “It’s all right,” Obi-Wan said softly. “I can . . . feel the room in the Force, but I know you can’t. I can teach you a few mental tricks to orientate yourself, however, if you want.”
Padmé nodded, then said, “Thank you.”
She heard Obi-Wan rise. “Besides,” he said, “I think the water cup would chip before these walls.” There was a twist to his tone, a note of dry humor.
Padmé smiled, but didn’t say anything. Obi-Wan would probably pick up on her reaction anyway.
After a few moments, she heard Obi-Wan doing something – it took her a moment, but she realized he was putting the wrappers and the water cup in the box, then putting the box up against the door. It wouldn’t accept the box without those things, and they wouldn’t get a new box until the old one was retrieved. No new box, no food or water. They had also discovered – to their embarrassed relief – a hole in one of the far corners. It wasn’t very deep, only a meter or so, and at the bottom they could feel more lines like with the door. It wasn’t hard to guess what it was for.
“What do you think Anakin is doing?” Padmé asked suddenly. “I wonder if he knows we’re down here.”
“I doubt it,” Obi-Wan said bluntly. “Whatever his personal feelings may be, he’s not the type to not act.”
Padmé laughed. “That can be a good thing.”
“Yes,” Obi-Wan said softly, almost affectionately. “And a bad thing.” He paused. “I suspect he’s helping Palpatine stabilize the New Order. I imagine everything is chaos out there.”
Padmé traced her eyebrows, the side of her face, her chin. It was a restless movement she had taken up in the past few days. “He’s killing people.”
Obi-Wan didn’t answer.
“He didn’t mean to change,” Padmé whispered. Anakin, Anakin, Anakin. She couldn’t help but think of him here, and she couldn’t stay silent and do nothing. The boredom was eating away at her and she knew it. So . . . she thought. She contemplated Anakin, politics, life . . . It was better than the alternative.
“I think he did,” Obi-Wan said at last. “Mean to change, that is. I don’t think he knew where it lead him.”
“I didn’t know. I’m sorry. I just didn’t see clearly enough,” Padmé whispered.
There was a rustle and the sound of Obi-Wan. Then she felt his touch on her back. They were always so careful about touching each other, here. “I’m sorry, too.” He breathed in sharply. “Padmé . . . whenever Palpatine or Anakin comes, you have to remember, Anakin is not who he was. Vader might be more appropriate to call him.”
“He’s not the person we knew, Padmé. Would Anakin murder Jedi?” Obi-Wan demanded sharply. Then he softened, becoming conciliatory. “He’s gone.”
“No, he’s not,” Padmé said defiantly, but she didn’t move. “Just lost. He’s lost. He’ll realize . . . he’ll remember . . .”
“As much as I would like to believe that, the Dark Side is . . . it’s powerful, Padmé. And he’s made his choice. Even if he was able to turn back, he would never be the same. You will never have what you had. Padmé, I’m not trying to hurt you. But you’re trying to hold onto an ideal that is gone.”
Padmé sighed, making herself relax. “I know. Things . . . time cannot go backwards.” She reached out for Obi-Wan, finding one of his hands and taking it in hers. “I know. But he’s still Anakin.” She felt upwards, touching his face. He started, but allowed it. “It’s almost appropriate. We’re so blind here,” she whispered.
Obi-Wan twitched. “Yes.”
They would stare out for hours. Obi-Wan knew Padmé did it, just like he did. There was nothing to see, yet they persisted, unable to help themselves. If he stared long enough, Obi-Wan would begin to see things in the darkness – things in his own mind. Eyes open or closed, it was all in his mind. It was like dreaming while awake, struggling to come out of it, even though there was nothing to struggle for.
The nothingness of the dark was bad, but Obi-Wan felt the silence was worse. The silence wasn’t just physical for him; the Force was silent as well. It was there, and that was a comfort – he spent most of the day meditating, when he wasn’t trying to talk to Padmé – but he couldn’t sense anything beyond it. There was no life other than themselves, wherever they were. Obi-Wan was so used to there being something. Even on long hyperspace missions, he had often had companions – Qui-Gon, Anakin, Garen.
He had never been alone for so long.
The darkness danced, and Obi-Wan closed his eyes.
“How long do you think it’s been?” Obi-Wan asked, wandering the perimeter of the cell.
“Three hours.” Padmé’s response came without hesitation, but it was doubtful she was confident of it. It was a thing they did, one of them asking how long it had been, the other answering. Every ‘24’ hours they would say a day had passed. They talked sporadically, with long periods of silence. Mostly, they thought, the memories gone over so many times they seemed altered by the remembrance.
Obi-Wan continued on his mindless circuit. He could feel nothing beyond the cell walls. The Force was silent. So he walked, restlessly pacing the edges of the cell, stubbornly trying to sense something, anything. And again and again there was nothing.
Obi-Wan shivered, pausing, and then started walking again, struggling to ignore the sounds of Padmé’s hitched breaths, to give her some privacy.
Obi-Wan finally grew tired of it. “If you would stay awake for a few hours – exercise or something – and then sleep, you’d be much better off,” he told Padmé.
Padmé sat up. She had been trying to sleep, and her efforts were keeping Obi-Wan awake. She would thrash around and then pause, fully waking. Obi-Wan had heard her go through the cycle a dozen times now. He almost asked what was bothering her, but it felt too personal a question. Padmé was . . . Senator Amidala.
“I’ll deal with it, Obi-Wan,” Padmé said coldly.
“Three plus four makes seven plus six makes eleven makes twenty-four . . .” A pause. Obi-Wan put his hands over his ears, but it didn’t block the sound of Padmé’s voice out. “Twenty-nine plus one makes thirty makes a month. Three hours plus twenty-nine days plus one day makes one month, three hours.”
“They aren’t coming!” Obi-Wan finally snapped, his voice breaking. “We’re alone.”
“No. No. Three hours plus twenty-nine days plus one day plus one month –” Padmé’s voice was flat, without inflection.
“No! Three hours plus twenty-nine days plus one day makes one month . . .” Obi-Wan trailed off. “They aren’t coming. I can’t sense anything. It’s all nothing. The Force is here, but nothing else is.”
“Shut up, Obi-Wan. How do you know? Maybe they’re just – just leaving us down here for a few months. Then they’ll be back.” Her voice rose at the end, becoming high-pitched.
How did he know? He felt it. He couldn’t explain it, but he felt it in the nothingness. Despair sang in his mind, yes, but there was something beyond that. They were alone; he felt their aloneness in its entirety, like they did not exist. The darkness hid everything. Didn’t Padmé realize that yet? It hid everything. They were gone.
Had it been a month? Was he cracking after merely a month? It was so hard to tell. They slept, and they didn’t know how long they slept. Obi-Wan kept track at first, but it became harder and harder. There was no comparison; there was just the endless span of time and the unchanging dark. He couldn’t keep track anymore.
They had to stay sane. Obi-Wan knew that. Being down here was psychological torture. For Padmé, for the never-ending darkness, for him in that he could sense nothing. There was no life here, wherever they were. He could sense nothing but the naked expanse of space. Even the Force seemed still.
When Padmé spoke again, he spoke along with her: “Three hours plus twenty-nine days plus one day makes one month . . .”
“He isn’t coming.” Padmé seemed almost calm, sitting totally still; Obi-Wan couldn’t hear her moving. But despite that, her voice was high and cracking.
“You don’t know that,” Obi-Wan whispered. He was walking back and forth. “We don’t know what’s happening out there.” Out there. Vague and mysterious and unknown. But couldn’t he believe there was hope out there, too, if he knew nothing? He had been the first one to believe they had been left here to . . . die. Stagnant. He hadn’t said it, not directly, but Padmé had heard anyway, in his words of Anakin.
And now, Padmé was convinced they would be left here forever. With only a droid supplying them with food and water, until or unless that ran out.
“It’s been three months,” Padmé pointed out rationally. Three months of long silences, of restless exercising – more on Obi-Wan’s part – and the two of them hardly having anything to do with each other, except for the occasional, fearing touch. Fear that the other person was disappearing.
“We think,” Obi-Wan said softly. “Doesn’t time drag on when you aren’t in a good situation? It could be less.”
Padmé was starting to breathe faster. There was an odd noise, too. Obi-Wan stopped walking and cocked his head, listening. It was sort of . . . scratchy, but squishy. Unable to identify it, Obi-Wan reached out to the silent Force – and found it starting to roil.
“Padmé? Padmé, what are you doing?” Alarmed, Obi-Wan stepped over to Padmé, nearly stepping on her. She scrambled back, but Obi-Wan grabbed her by the arms, forcefully. Her right one – it was slick, and very warm. Slick and warm – “Padmé!” He yanked her hands away from herself and sat by her, forcibly bringing her to his chest.
“Stop!” Padmé cried.
“You were digging into your arm with your fingers, Padmé,” Obi-Wan said hoarsely. “You’re trying to kill yourself! I can feel your blood.” He felt nauseous. Why hadn’t he guessed this? He’d kept his distance from Padmé because he thought she needed it, needed that privacy . . . had he only been separating her, making her alone?
Padmé sniffed. “Let me go, Obi-Wan,” she said angrily.
“That’s it, isn’t it? You’re angry. You want to punish Anakin. You want him,” Obi-Wan said slowly and deliberately, “to find your dead body so he’ll suffer.”
“No, I don’t!” Padmé snapped.
Obi-Wan found Padmé’s self-induced wound and put his hand over it. It didn’t seem to be bleeding that fast, so she hadn’t dug out the artery. “Liar,” he hissed.
She tried to yank her arm out of his grasp.
Obi-Wan softened his voice. “I’m here, Padmé.”
Padmé didn’t answer, but he could tell she was listening.
“I’m not going through this on my own, and neither are you. From now on,” he whispered. They had to stay sane. They had to stay together to do that, didn’t they? Not have distance, not create distance. “What does killing yourself accomplish, Padmé?”
Padmé stilled. He felt her nod. Not a verbal response, not even a total agreement, and even less of one since they knew the other couldn’t see nods. Padmé knew that.
“I hate the darkness,” Padmé whispered. “It’s nothing. Who knew nothing could be so terrible?”
“I know,” Obi-Wan said into her matted and dirty hair. They were both filthy, unable to properly wash.
She stopped fighting him. “It was stupid.”
This time, Obi-Wan didn’t answer. Nothing was to be gained. Padmé was not naturally depressed, or normally suicidal. She would be okay. Obi-Wan would be with her, so that she would be okay, and that would have to be enough.
He would be here. Not present; here.
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