Sometimes he’d pick a word and think about it. Avoid. Avoidance. It was impossible to avoid Padmé in here. Very possible to avoid everything else.
At first, he had thought that were things you couldn’t really avoid. But, he realized, you can always avoid it. Blank it out of your mind, forget it happened, refuse to believe it exists. He remembered a Jedi Master teaching a class of young, sixteen year old Padawans a survival course. Obi-Wan had thought it silly at first – he already knew how to survive in a wilderness, how to improvise in bad situations and trust the Force.
Then Master Jeltenth started talking to them about torture and pain. ‘The mind will do nearly anything to avoid pain.’ He told them to unlearn to what they knew, to never block out the pain, and as long as they did that, as long as the pain edified, as long as they could transmute its existence into purpose, they would be the sanest people in the galaxy. You could ignore a scratch, but ignore torture and you will be lost in what its absence creates, he told them.
Why he was thinking of all this now, he didn’t know. He didn’t avoid Padmé. He didn’t avoid the reality of her, the beauty of her nature or the fiery temper that lurked beneath. Not the rudeness nor the laughter. She was always here.
Sometimes it was peaceful. It was always quiet, unless they deliberately made it not quiet, but sometimes it was peaceful. Peace was a different thing, a thing of the essence of a person. A deep, settled contentment; unshaken, at least for now.
Routine. Their beautiful thing.
“Do you ever think our routine is a bad thing?”
“What do you mean?”
“That we get too . . . set.” To see new things.
Uncertainty. “I don’t know.”
“I would never avoid you.”
“Whatever that means, thank you.” Amused.
“I can see why your people fell in love with you.”
Padmé laughed. “Can you? I understood it, I suppose, but I think I could have done better. As Queen, as a Senator.”
Obi-Wan shrugged, knowing Padmé wouldn’t see it. They were both breathing a little more than usual, the exercise starting to become real exertion now. They were both doing the same kata. Even though Obi-Wan couldn’t see Padmé, he could feel her, and was timing his moves to coincide with hers, giving a murmured correction here and there. “I don’t even mean that, really. They forgave your mistakes because they loved you, they didn’t fail to see them because they loved you.”
“What do you mean?”
“They – loved your bravery, your strength, your determination. It amazed me even then, that you could rule Naboo so young.” He smiled. “You were a lot wiser than I at that age.”
“Don’t be silly. You were a Jedi at fourteen, weren’t you? I can’t imagine having to go out on dangerous missions, risking my life – I never knew I would when I became Queen.”
“I left the Order when I was fourteen, remember?” Obi-Wan said dryly.
“Ah,” Padmé said, and he could almost feel her wince. “You know, the thing I always admired about you was your serenity. You always had such clarity of purpose, in being a Jedi. I didn’t necessarily have that as a Senator. I wasn’t always sure what I wanted.” She sighed. “As you know,” she added, referring obliquely to Anakin, her voice soft with affection, and no regret.
“I have always known that I was meant to be a Jedi, and that has given me a certain degree of serenity, but that didn’t stop me from choosing wrong paths, making wrong choices,” he said quietly, reflectively. “I understood why Anakin chose to marry you, despite my reaction when I found out.”
“But he still made the wrong decision?”
“I’m not so sure as the Jedi were, even then. You . . . aren’t a weakness.” He hesitated. “You grant your friends strength by the strength of your own character and devotion to duty.”
Padmé suddenly stopped the kata, throwing Obi-Wan off balance. “Do you think Anakin is dead?”
“He could be,” Obi-Wan said easily, expecting the question would come again at some point.
“Do you think we’ll get out of here?”
“Looking doubtful,” Obi-Wan said, amused. He heard no regret in Padmé’s voice, just matter-of-factness.
She paused at his light tone. “We avoid thinking about it, talking about it, even now,” she said softly.
The past. “Yes, I know.”
“We pretend it doesn’t exist.”
“It might as well not, in here,” he said.
He twitched when she gently settled her hands on his shoulders. “But it does,” she whispered. “And I still – know you. I still love you, I still want to spend time with you.”
I never knew it could be such a gift to know another as well as I know you. But he didn’t say that. Instead, he reached forward and brought her into his arms, kissing her on the forehead, on her hair, heedless of the sweat and dirt. Both had ceased noticing that long ago. “As do I.”
To avoid pain, certain things must be done: first, denial. Then, a new reality. Then, sticking to that new reality. Whether your leg was broken and you thought of fields of lilies, or if your heart was broken and all you could think of was revenge easing it. It was normal. All very normal.
And then, what then? When the pain fades, does the new reality fade, too? But you’ve created it. Haven’t you. How does it go away, when it comforts you so?
Padmé was sleepy. Sleepy, but not yet enough to actually fall asleep; a light doze, maybe, but those didn’t give much rest, so she stayed awake, and dealt with being sleepy.
“What is the soul, do you think?”
“You want to discuss philosophy?” Obi-Wan asked, voice slightly breathless from sleep, but waking up.
“Philosophy implies just – reasoning, thinking, no actual answer. At least to me, it does,” Padmé remarked. “Do you think our souls determine what we act like? Do you think if you’re a bad person, you have a bad soul? Is the soul eternal?”
Obi-Wan didn’t answer for a moment. “I believe so. I also think what we do affects our souls. But . . . I think a soul is separate from a person’s personality.”
Padmé exhaled, then took another deep breath. “Some people have beautiful souls. You can see it shine out of them.”
A moment, then, “Yes,” was all Obi-Wan said.
“Spirit being . . .”
“Spirit!” Padmé said, whacking Obi-Wan on the shoulder.
“I know,” Obi-Wan said, amused. “I was just teasing you. You have a strong spirit. Not so much fierce, but strong. And serene.”
“Shouldn’t I ask you that?”
“Strong. And loving.”
Obi-Wan said nothing, but Padmé realized after a moment it was because he couldn’t think of what to say. He tensed slightly, and she thought, He disagrees? You may hide it, but you feel it. She had a feeling, though, that there was nothing else there – no pain, or fear. Something within him had settled, peacefully, over time.
“Go to sleep,” Obi-Wan said at last.
“You think I haven’t been trying?”
“You’ve been talking.”
“I’ll help you sleep, then,” Obi-Wan replied, “but you might have to stop talking first.”
They danced. Padmé hummed, quietly, but here quietly was more than enough. His hands were settled on her lower back, her arms were loosely encircled at the nape of his neck. He could feel her breaths, could feel the heat of her body. His thumbs caressed little circles into her bare skin, the ragged edge of her shirt not quite covering that dip, just right there on her lower back. She shivered when he pressed on that spot.
Her head lay on his shoulder, the curve of her neck set against his. He held his head up high, and she fit there perfectly that way. Her fingers tangled through his hair, longer now than it had ever been, and sometimes she would stroke up, from his nape into his hair, and he would shiver.
Do you think the changes are little or big? Good or bad? Are you more patient, more loving, can you sit in the silence and see the beauty of it? Should I not be a better person, forged anew and hammered into something new and more beautiful in the pain of the making?
They didn’t always get along.
Padmé didn’t want to ‘get along’. She didn’t want to get anything. Sometimes she just wanted him to leave her alone. So they would sit in darkness and silence, because if they did nothing that’s always what happened, and ignored each other to the best of their ability. But she couldn’t help tracking him, where he was sitting in relation to her, how fast he was breathing, even the sound of it –
They didn’t always get along. But they had to live with each other anyway.
“You know, this is a life changing experience,” Padmé said suddenly.
Obi-Wan said nothing, perhaps thinking it a rhetorical question, which perhaps it was.
“So how have we changed?”
Obi-Wan let loose a strangled noise. “You don’t think we’ve changed? We dream of new places, places we’ve never seen, we go days hardly talking, we’ve actually gotten used to never being able to see –”
“Are we better? Tell me, are we better?” Are we stronger? Wiser? She wondered, often, if they still viewed the galaxy the way they once had – as real, solid, present. Sometimes she realized he and her would have a totally silent discussion, from listening to breathing, to how far away they were from each other, from the way they subtly altered the routine . . . Their world had tightened, become smaller. They dreamed of it being bigger, but if the world were to ever become solid, and real, and present, where would the dream go? Could they let go of happiness for something so vaguely remembered?
Obi-Wan inhaled deeply. “All our experiences change us, no matter how slight. And we always learn. Learning never stops.”
Padmé closed her eyes. “Is it normal that I still grieve for Anakin?”
To her surprise, she heard Obi-Wan rise to his feet. He walked over to her. “Tell me,” he whispered, “is the grief still sharp and strong? Or part of you, accepted and brought into your life, while you live on?”
She reached out blindly, taking his hands. “Does grief ever leave?”
“Has your grief for the people of Naboo who died, all those years ago under the Federation, ever truly ceased? Or has it changed, been transmuted?” Obi-Wan asked quietly.
“I guess I have changed,” she whispered.
“But for the better?” Obi-Wan finished. His voice dropped. “I know you now. And that has changed me. Isn’t that enough?”
Padmé sighed. “How do know what to say?”
“I don’t until you ask it,” Obi-Wan replied lightly. He paused, and in that pause Padmé heard uncertainty. “I do my best to answer you.”
I am seeing the real you. Even if everything else I see is delusion, to stop the pain of the dark, you are real.
He reminded himself of that often.
Laughter was sweet; it energized and lifted up, and when the source of that laughter was real, it didn’t leave emptiness behind, but a gentle contentment.
Padmé made him laugh.
“Come now – surely you’ve thought about it? It’s subtle, but don’t you think it would have occurred to them?”
“That we have a dress code for that reason?”
“It’s like grade school –”
“Which you’ve never even been in, Miss Tutored.”
“- They make everyone dress the same to give a feeling of community, that no one is above any other. Or humbleness, as you say. But they also do it so you won’t dress like they do on holovision, don’t they –”
Obi-Wan laughed at the mental image of himself in leather pants.
Anakin was gone, and the present was real.
She had a nightmare. She didn’t dream in colors and light anymore, just black and shades of gray. The dreams varied, from detailed to the only vaguely but strongly horrific. Obi-Wan woke her by shaking her until she stilled. Then she turned in her arms, and put her head on his chest. His breathing deepened gradually, as he fell back asleep, whatever remained of his internal clock telling him it was still time for that.
Padmé remained awake, listening and feeling him breathe. She felt a sudden rush of feeling for him, powerful, and tears stung her eyes.
She wondered, frantically, mentally, if it was a rationalization that she was no longer Padmé, Anakin’s wife, or Padmé, Senator Amidala. Or even Padmé, daughter of Ruwee and Jobal. Or sister to Sola, or aunt to Pooja and Ryoo. . .
“Don’t hide from me. Don’t hide it. Don’t avoid it,” Padmé whispered into Obi-Wan’s ear.
He shivered, but held her tighter.
Padmé. Beautiful Padmé. Wise Padmé. He did love her, with desperate strength. He had always known he loved quickly, deeply, but always, always it had been tempered. And now, tempered by what?
He wasn’t sure if he kissed her or she kissed him, but either way, both went after it like it was a race, to see which could feel the other more, which could give into this wonderful feeling more completely. She was amazing beneath his hands, and the rake of her fingers against his back made his whole body arch.
“I love you,” he told her, over and over, and she whispered it back, louder and louder.
He wasn’t particularly padded, but neither was she. Nevertheless, sleeping on top of him was comfortable: her head on his chest, one leg thrown over his, her right arm curving around his, beneath his arm with her hand on his shoulder. Her other hand rested gently on the inside of his wrist, his arm loosely laying out. She could feel his pulse. Thu-thump.
They both breathed slowly, easily. Afterwards, they had said nothing, simply held each other. She hadn’t expected that, that quietness, but it didn’t seem out of place.
She thought of Anakin. Naturally. If she tried hard enough, she could remember his touch, his laugh, his smile. But with those wonderful memories, still treasured, came those others, that she could not forget, and knew she shouldn’t wish to forget. His anger, the blood on his hands, staining his spirit. And the pain, too. But her perception of those memories had changed over time, with new realizations and new truths learned even down here. He had made his choices, and he had had many; ultimately, he had made decisions that had separated him from her. She didn’t think it had been intended, on purpose, he had always needed and loved her, but he had still made those choices. Did this ultimate separation cut all bonds? She didn’t think so, but new bonds had been formed.
Obi-Wan. His gentleness, his spirit and his soul. His own pain, his own grief, but his own joys and happiness too.
“I love you,” she said, and she didn’t whisper it this time.
“I love you,” he said simply, breathing not altering a bit, and she had to laugh a little. She wondered if he had been asleep, dozing, or faking it entirely. She decided it didn’t matter, and relaxed against him, to the steady beat of his heart, and fell asleep.
She never could quite control her breathing. So he knew the exact moment she fell asleep.
Don’t hide it, she had told him. And she was right. He had hidden his love long enough, at great cost – not only to himself. Not mainly to himself. If this could heal, if this could heal her and him, that was more than enough. And he had more than enough, and even more than that.
“Why do you think most plays have happy endings?”
“You know why.”
“I know I know why, I just wonder if you do.”
“Because most people prefer happy endings,” Obi-Wan said softly.
“Most?” Padmé said with faint laughter.
Obi-Wan paused. “They prefer happy endings at all costs, I sometimes think. The thing about stories is that they can teach, edify . . . Life doesn’t always give you happy endings. Tales can deal with that fact, even teach us . . . if not how to survive, that there is meaning behind it.”
“Good tales,” Padmé said softly. She was curled against him, his arm around her and her head on his shoulder. One of her hands lay on his thigh. “Good tales do that.”
Obi-Wan smiled. “That’s why the Jedi have a lot of tales where everyone dies at the end – but justice, peace, civilization – they are preserved.”
“Jedi can be morbid. Don’t they have happy endings sometimes?”
“Yes, they do.”
“Are we learning from our tale, that we tell each other?”
That we speak in our stories of our past lives, our discussions of art and even philosophy, in how I learn every day how much I love you . . . “Yes. I think we are.”
“What is a soul?”
Blink. There was no light, but to blink – instinct to protect the vulnerable eyes, fear being the immediate reaction to shock? Who knew. “It’s . . . I don’t think it’s supposed to be describable.”
“Something . . . more, I think.” You have a beautiful soul.
“More than personality – more than reacting a certain way to a situation, more than liking chocolate.” You have a beautiful soul, that will never change.
“How then, does one see a soul?” You have a beautiful soul, that will never change, and I see it through the veil of mine.
“How then does one know love?”
“It’s about as indescribable.”
Smile. “Precisely,” and the words were a breath, a breach, a breaking through, a simple word.
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