They keep her in a box room.
Not that it is a bad room - it isn't, especially considering the current economic state of the whole damned galaxy. It has a bed, it has a table, it has holovids and datapads to keep her occupied. It has a set of chairs for the table, too, though she can never understand why they are there - do they really expect her to have visitors?
But yes, it is a nice room. White and clean and sterile, but she can scarcely remember anything else save for infrequent flashes of memory. Sometimes she will just lie on the bed and try to summon them up, try to remember something of whatever has happened before the box room. Trying to remember where all the vivid flashes of color had come from ... dresses? She thinks she remembers something of colorful dresses, long ago, before the sterile white they dress her in now. The memories are random and disconnected; a moment here and a minute there, but she revels in the comforting flashes, when they come, nonetheless.
"We're going to live happily ever after," someone whispered to her, and she smiled at the promise in his well-known, well-loved voice.
Because she believes in happily ever after. It is a common line from the holovids and the occasional datapad that they leave for her amusement, she knows, but she believes in the promise nonetheless. It keeps her hopeful, it keeps her optimistic, and for a very long time, it helps her hang on to the remnants of her sanity.
Most often, she gets nothing when she tries to remember. Sometimes she prefers that.
Because ... because. There are times when she remembers - never very much, and never anything very pleasant, but she remembers. Night after night, for a long time after she arrived, she would wake up screaming with the sound of cold laughter ringing in her ears and an indescribable pain deep in her bones. Times like that, her dream self would open her mouth to scream but be unable, the sound trapped in her throat until she pushes at it with every fiber of her being until, finally - she wakes.
But, in time, the dreams go away, and she can't decide whether she misses them or is happy they have disappeared. Because there are some dreams that she looks for, some dreams that keep her hoping and awaiting the promise of a future outside this box.
Her room has a view. A view of nothing in particular, but it has a view. If she squints, she can make out the cityscape and lights - at night, she can see the lights glowing on the horizon, pink and yellow and green and red. She likes to imagine what the people over there are doing, who they are, what kind of lives they lead.
She finds that she has an immense amount of time for that - for imagining things, that is. The puzzles they leave her, the datapads with their stories and whatnot keep her occupied for only a bit of the day - even insane, her mind is accustomed to more strenuous work than brain teasers and crossword puzzles. Hers is a mind equipped for dealing with different matters: how to feed a planet of people during a famine, how to outmaneuver a Senator at his own game, how to sidestep the left prong of an army trying to besiege your capital city.
So, yes, even now the doctors marvel at the particularities of her mind and how she can solve problems in a matter of minutes that leave the best of them puzzled for hours ... and yet be unable to talk very much or eat on her own or change her clothes for herself. So, after a while, they give her different puzzles, puzzles based in what the world outside must be like. More often than not, they are military puzzles of strategy and space battles, but once in a while they give her the puzzles she had once been accustomed to - those forgotten exercises over which she had once racked her brain, to help her people, her cause, her planet.
Sometimes they leave her stories. Always pointless, innocent little stories with heroes and princesses and happy endings, but the doctors insist on it, saying that it's part of her treatment. She rolls her eyes at them, but reads the inane little tales when they aren't looking nonetheless. Most of the stories make her smile ... and some of the stories make her remember, and she isn't sure how she feels about that.
They come every day. They change her clothes from an old sterile white gown to a new one. They feed her food of no discernible shape. They tell her she is pretty when she knows she is no such thing. They let her out of her room to use the 'fresher and for tests and to tell her sternly that every one else is having a good time being crazy on the ward and why does she have to be so different and be crazy in her own little box?
She gets to ride on the lift every third day, and once, on another day that she remembers distantly, when a rebel faction of some sort - though she can never understand why they have been rebelling in the first place and the doctors never tell her - said they had infected the planet's water supply with some lethal poison.
To her immense dissatisfaction, though, it had proved to be a hoax, and a lousy one at that. All told, it only changes one thing in her daily routine: she drinks her water with an unhealthy ferocity, in a vain hope that this would be the one cubit of water they get around to poisoning. It never is, though, so her days keep tumbling on.
She doesn't have a calendar in her room, and she has no idea how much time she has passed in it. Once, there had been a mirror, but they took it out after she broke the glass and tried to slash her wrists with the shards. Instead, she judges her age by the rough and lined hands she uses to grip her spoon.
Though it seems long ago, those hands had once been smooth, she knows. At times, she will remember. She'd used them to grip different utensils, at a different table, with a pale fruit floating - and, at times like that, she will remember that floating fruits are likely the reason she is in a box room in the first place.
When she asks the doctors what year it is, they smile but never tell her.
And so her life tumbles on, every day the same as the last. It isn't a bad life, she might say, if she could. It isn't any more unpleasant than maddening boredom, so no, it isn't bad. She can't remember anything that she can compare it to, anyway, but she doubts the rest of the galaxy and its problems - those problems that the doctors and nurses whisper about when they think she can't hear - is any more pleasant than her little box room. She never complains, never looks forward to anything more than her next ride on the lift. And, for a very long time, she is quite happy with that.
She believes in happily ever after, and she is content to wait for it to appear.
Until one day, as if out of the blue - although precisely which blue she has never decided, as she always thinks of the blue water in the staff 'freshers, where she'd hidden the last time she'd tried to escape, and she will never think that 'fresher water is an acceptable blue - someone comes and changes that forever.
His name is one she remembers. She has heard the rumors the doctors pass around when they think she isn't listening - she isn't so brain dead as to neglect learning what she can about the outside. The rumors, of course, say that he is a rebel outlaw who may or may not be within the system. Dangerous, supposedly. And a Jedi. The rumor mill also has it that he is in the system searching for something - or someone. Not that it makes any difference to her, but she stores the name away in any case: just a reminder that her captors have fears, too.
So, yes, she remembers his name. His name is Kenobi.
And he climbs in through her window.
She hears him coming in, of course, though he tries to be quiet as he scales the wall. But she listens, listens to the quiet scuffle of his feet and the soft creak of the window opening as he carefully makes his way inside. She pretends to be asleep, keeps her eyes closed and her breathing even and waits for him to do something.
She knows it is dark, and that it should be well after midnight. Beyond that, she doesn't really know, because she broke the clock the first day she was in here, and after a while they stopped giving her more. She doesn't know why she did it, not really, but she knows that it didn't stop time from ticking onward.
She thought he might come. She dreamt it, and kept her window open.
There is silence for a moment. He is in the room, she knows that much, but she doesn't know he is so close until she feels the bed sag slightly under his weight as he sits down. He is quiet, very quiet, she marvels briefly, keeping her eyes closed in the illusion of sleep.
Jedi, some part of her mind notes. And the rest of her mind simply wonders what that word means.
She's heard it before, of course - the doctors and nurses whisper it among themselves when they think she isn't listening. But though she listens, all she really caught was that they were afraid. That the Jedi were the cause of that fright, and in her mind she had been picturing something monstrous, with long claws and sharp teeth.
She nearly flinches - nearly destroys her comfortable little illusion - when she feels his arm upon her. He lets it rest there, gently, for a moment, and does nothing more, seemingly content in watching her or in just being there. And still she waits, wondering who this man is, and why she feels a shadow of a remembered fluttering somewhere deep inside her stomach.
She keeps her body still, though her mind is in turmoil, trying to assess the scarcely remembered reactions that his presence arouses from her. Because she doesn't have the strength to look at him, not yet, and see him ... and maybe remember. Because even though the memories are sometimes pleasant, she isn't ready for the nightmares again. Not yet.
"Padm?," he whispers.
And it's this whisper that finally stirs her from her feigned sleep, spurs her to open her eyes and flip over to look at him with something very much like shock. This whisper stirs something inside of her, something she thought long ago forgotten, something she cannot recall during her time in this little box she has called home for so long.
Because when he says her name, he says it reverently, perhaps even lovingly. And it has been so long since she has heard anyone say her name like that outside of infrequent dreams.
"Padm?," he whispered behind her, and she turned around, feeling the soft swirl of skirts around her legs. He said it worshipfully, a man at the altar of his goddess, and his voice belied all the passion and love and devotion that linked his heart to her own.
She sits up, and he moves over a little to accommodate her legs. Silent again, she takes in his ragged appearance: the tattered clothing hanging off his emaciated frame, the unkempt red hair, salted with silver, and the bright wary eyes that seem so much more alive than the rest of him. He is thin, dirty, and looks far older than he should. Yet there is something familiar about him, and a shiver of trepidation makes its way down her spine. Is he from before?
Well, he's not a fanged monster, at any rate.
"Kenobi," she finally responds. His name, she knows. "Jedi Kenobi." The words are hesitant, slightly slurred, but the doctors have not yet found a total cure for her mental afflictions.
His eyes widen. "Milady," he returns in surprise. "The file said that ..." He trails off, looks away slightly, and even in the dark she can see the flush of color on his cheeks, beneath the dirt and stubble. "I was under the impression you were not entirely in your right mind," he finishes, still blushing.
And she smiles at him, the secret smile that baffles the nurses and doctors. She claps her hands twice, sharply, and watches as he covers his eyes quickly to avoid the sudden glare of white light that floods the room.
She regards him in silence, waiting again for him to act.
For the moment, he seems content to let her watch him. His eyes trace the curve of her face, and - in a sudden flash of feminine vanity - she wonders what it is that he sees. After a while, his eyes drop back down to his hands, a very human gesture that makes her wonder why all the doctors and nurses were so frightened.
He takes her hands in his own. Wrinkled by time, both of them, but his long fingers caress her palms and fingertips, and she shudders again, a half-remembered tingle running through her body.
His hands are big and strong. She lets him take one of hers, gently, cupping his big hands around her small ones. And they smile at one another, the blissful post-victory adrenaline winding down to something else. She loses herself in the moment, just for a moment: those beautiful blue eyes, that childish smile she fell in love with ... she laughs, hoping that it will last forever, knowing that it will not.
"I traced you across the galaxy, you know," he tells her hands, his long fingers dancing across her own gnarled digits. "The Rebellion thought you were lost long ago, assumed you taken and killed during the siege of Coruscant ... so imagine my surprise when I saw the plan you used on Geonosis being used against us?"
His voice shakes with suppressed mirth - or is it suppressed tears? She can't tell - as he remembers, his fingers still tracing invisible patterns. "It was different, of course, modified for a space battle, that sort of thing, but essentially the same. And essentially yours. It had 'Padm? Amidala' written all over it, and I knew it was yours from the moment I saw the ships in that formation.
"They didn't believe me," he continued, his fingers still dancing their way across her hands, his eyes still down and his head still bowed. "They didn't think you could be alive, that you'd prostitute your mind to the Empire ... but I found you." He shakes his head in wonder and looks up, briefly, a light of something - is that relief? triumph? - shining in his eyes before he looks down again.
His fingers linger, just a bit longer than necessary, on the place her wedding band had once been.
She wonders if he was married. She'd been married. The ring was on her dresser, where they'd made her leave it because she'd twisted it so incessantly around her finger that she'd made the skin break and bleed. Hooper, who was fat yet jolly and made inane jokes about the daily gruel pots, had said that she imagined Padm?'s husband was a very handsome man. She'd said, with a smile in her eyes, that she would not be surprised if he was a pilot, or a pod-racer, or, and this was the funny one, a chartered surveyor. Padm? wondered if Hooper had once been in love with a chartered surveyor and he had not returned her affections.
By this time, with Kenobi sitting on her bed and his long fingers still tracing her hands, she has refused Hooper's gruel twenty-three times. It is a record she is extremely proud of.
He looks up, awkwardly, proving her assumption that this is not a talkative man. "You're looking good," he offers.
She rolls her eyes at him, an action that feels far more familiar, more right, than the usual juvenile wailing she subjects her nurses to, her pouting and her adolescent sneering. She imagines, before, she had been beautiful. He looks at her as though she had been beautiful once. When his view touches her features, sorrow twitches across his face; if her gnarled and shrunken hands have not been sufficient proof of her decline, his disappointment is enough. She is not, nor ever will be, the woman he remembers.
But ... the look is momentary. It is fleeting, gone after just a moment, and the eyes are back to studying her face and looking like it is something beautiful, something to be worshipped.
She was lost in those eyes, again. Those beautiful blue eyes that meant the world to her. He smiled, a hesitant little smile that called to her mind, yet again, the tiny little nine-year-old that stood in front of her so many years ago.
"Are you an angel?" he whispered softly, clearing a stray strand of her hair from her face. And he smiled again, that secret grin that made her want to abandon the world for his arms.
"Maybe," she told him, matching his smile with one of her own and taking a step closer to bury her face in his chest.
And she finds herself buried in Kenobi's chest, simply being held. Once he relaxes his alarmed stature and puts an awkward arm around her, it is enough.
She inhales his scent, trying to remember what to compare it to. He doesn't smell like anything in her little box environment, not like any of the sterile scents she has gotten used to over the years. He smells ... spicier. He smells of outside. He smells of things she has no words for, things she may once have known but cannot now remember.
And he smells of sorrow.
And he smelled of motor oil.
"Stars," she laughed into his chest, "have you been working at the docks again, my naughty boy?"
"I have," he confirmed, tilting her head up to meet his eyes. "And what of you, milady? Speaking to the Council or studying all day in your chambers?"
"A little of both," she acknowledged. "Though more of the former than the latter, today."
"Lips like yours are made for kissing, not speaking, milady."
And he brushed his lips against hers, and it was the most perfect feeling in all the world.
"Padm??" he asks hesitantly, awkwardly patting her back.
She pulls away with a sigh, the lingering scent of him in her nostrils. She looks at him again, tries to remember who this man is, and why he makes her feel the way she does. The feelings ... are familiar. Familiar in some way she cannot describe, familiar in some way she has not experienced in her time in her little box room.
The look he gives her - that same wondering, sorrowful look - makes her ponder.
"Do you love me?" she asks, frowning a little. She cannot remember, try as she might, but these feelings ... these little flutterings deep inside her body ...
The question puts him off guard. He looks up at her, eyes as innocent and neglected and open as she has ever seen them, or ever remembers seeing them.
"Do I ... Padm? ... I searched across the galaxy for you for nearly five years. I never abandoned hope, even when the Rebellion thought you were long gone, and I kept looking all the while. I couldn't abandon you after all that we'd seen happening, all that happened to you, and it was my fault that he hurt you in the first place and I couldn't stop him, but -"
She stops his ramblings with a finger held to his lips. "But do you love me?" she whispers, softly, looking into eyes that seem so familiar, but so different.
She doesn't wait for him to answer, but reaches up and firmly captures his lips with her own.
It was the most perfect sensation she had ever felt, and his lips fit hers perfectly, seemingly molded just to meet with her own. The kiss was gentle, wholly undemanding, a caress that seemed sacred beyond anything else she had ever dreamed. It was surreal, dazzling, to be held so tenderly - to feel the brush of lips against her own, that simple and familiar caress that had always been, for her, sickeningly like the storybooks. She had fallen in love, and it would be forever.
He broke off the kiss, gently, nuzzling at her cheek. "Force, I love you, Padm?," he whispered.
"And I love you, too, Anakin Skywalker," she breathes.
He pulls away abruptly, startled. She opens her eyes, confused and off-balance, reaching slightly towards him to steady her. Why did he -
"Not Anakin, Padm?," he says at last, shaking his head and carefully keeping his eye on her, as if she was some animal that would scare at the slightest move.
"No?" She frowns, brow knitting.
Because if he wasn't Anakin, and he made her feel like that, then who was Anakin? And more importantly, where was Anakin? Her eyes flickered to the gold band on her bedside table. Dawn is coming and her world is dampening, turning the light many shades of gray. "But do you love me?" she asks, voice breaking just a bit.
Kenobi's quick eyes note her look towards the ring. "I don't think I ever loved you quite the way Anakin loved you," he answers quietly, sadly, the weight of a thousand regrets evident in his words, even to her.
She nods, slowly. "Not Anakin," she murmurs, looking down at her gnarled hands. "Not Anakin ... "
She is startled when his hands cup hers again, and he places a tender kiss on the back of her hand. "No," he agrees, "not Anakin."
Her eyes flicker to the bedside table again, and, despite herself, a tear makes its way down her cheek. He sees it, frowns, and carefully, tenderly, wipes it away.
He is silent for a moment, studying her. He tilts his head a bit to the side, as if to look at her from a different angle, as if searching for the woman he had once known and he can no longer find. She knows he won't find her. Not here, not in this box room. "Come with me," he offers, putting a hand forth to offer her the galaxy.
She looks at him. Looks up into his face, his strangely familiar yet unfamiliar face, and studies the earnest expression she finds in his eyes. He scoured the galaxy in search of her, going through systems and planets and hardships and trials to find her; he has only come for this moment, she knows, has come to free her just as surely as she has craved that freedom.
As surely as she knows what her answer will be now.
"Come with me," he pleaded, his eyes passionate and pleading both as he hugged her to his chest one more time. "It will be safer there, Padm? ... and I promise we can be together. I swear it."
It took all her willpower to say what she knew she had to say. "No, Anakin," she told him gently, knowing as well as he did that it would never be an option for either of them. "They need me here just as surely as they need you there, and you know it."
He nodded, as she expected he would, and surprised a gasp from her with an unexpected pinch. "Then I might as well make the most of these last few hours, shall I?" he offered with a wicked smile, making his intentions very clear as he lowered her onto their bed...
He looks shocked, his "But why, Padm?? I can take you away, I can take you away from all of this," he gestured, encompassing her entire world in his little motion. "I can take you away ... don't you want to get away from this?"
She shakes her head, not knowing how to explain. She doesn't know how to tell him that she is still waiting for her happily ever after, that the hero always comes to carry off the princess in the end. She doesn't know how to say that her hopes have not been dashed, that she will wait here for her hero and for her happily ever after and for her story to come to its end.
He looks at her, uncomprehending, and she wishes for the first time in quite a while that she had the words and the ability to say what she was feeling. His eyes are open, wounded, the eyes of a small boy whose hopes have been dashed upon the rocks beyond all hopes of repair. He knows that he can take her by force, that she can't really resist him if he decides to do it - but she knows he won't. Just as surely as he knows the real reason why she can't leave with him.
These eyes, she decides, must be the blue they were talking about. It is certainly a better blue than the blue of the 'fresher water, and, for her, that is enough. It isn't the other blue, the twinkling blue eyes of before, but enough, nonetheless. They are brimming with confusion and despair and compassion and grief, some complicated mixture of emotion she knows she cannot fully comprehend.
He casts a glance towards the window, sees the rising sun painting the horizon the bloody colors of dawn. She knows from long nights of experience that, right around now, the building is starting to stir. As soon as the sun is all the way up, the staff will arrive in all their white-uniformed glory to check in on each of their patients, just as they do every day. They will check in there, moreover, and the Jedi can't be there once they come.
The sky is on fire, and he has to hurry if he doesn't want to get burned.
"Then ... if you're sure you can't come with me ... I have to leave," he whispers softly. His voice is tinged with a touch of shame, and she isn't sure whether or not the red upon his cheeks is entirely a result of the rising sun. He has come to rescue her, only to discover she doesn't want to be rescued - it is a difficult decision, she imagines, one he will have to wrestle with once he is less pressed for time.
She bows her head in assent.
"Hmm?" he grunted, a tousled head of blonde hair rising almost imperceptibly from its place on the bed. She smiled as she watched him, amused by the pure domesticity of the scene. Her bed, rumpled after a night, her husband still sleepy. It was never something she could have predicted would ever be on the horizon for Senator Padm? Naberrie.
"The sun's rising," she told him. "Isn't this the point where you have to go?"
She stood by the window and watched the sun rise while he got up from the bed. Rays of gold and orange and red, shooting over the horizon, a myriad of colors dancing across the sky. The sky is on fire, she thought to herself, and smiled at her own sentimentalism.
She gasped as his arms wound around her waist, catching her off-guard. He nuzzled her neck a bit, and followed her eyes to the scene in the window.
"I have to go," he told her gently. Regretfully.
"Anakin?" she asked softly.
"What happens next?"
"Well, I have a meeting with - "
She placed a finger to his lips. "Lie to me," she demanded, voice breaking only a little. "Lie to me, please."
"What happens next?" she asks him, raising her head up to watch as he throws on a tattered robe and makes his way to the window.
He blinks and looks back, a little startled. "Padm? - "
"Lie to me," she hisses desperately, nearly begging. She closes her eyes briefly, shakes her head to banish the dreams of a dawn like this one, long gone. "Lie to me, please."
He looks at her again, a flicker of compassion running through his eyes. He takes a few steps forward, puts up a hand to trace a gentle trail down her cheek, and wipes the tears from her cheeks. He looks at her for a moment. "Padm?," he begins, and she closes her eyes, trying to memorize the gentle pressure of his hand on her face. "You're going to ..."
He smiled down at her. "I don't have to lie, love," he responded tenderly. "We're going to..."
"...live happily ever after," he promises, and puts a gentle hand to her forehead.
She feels a slight tingle before everything ceases to matter. Warmth, warmth and light envelop her, and Padm? finds herself slipping into one of the first peaceful sleeps that she has had in the box room, free of dreams and nightmares and memories.
And Kenobi never comes back.
But this time, after she awakes from her slumber, she knows that happily ever after is a lie.
Because she is still in her box room on the day a dark giant comes into her room, a dark giant whose presence blocks the light and who the doctors and nurses scurry around, afraid and fearful for their lives. He carries a sword of blood and is enveloped in a cloak of night, but, for some reason, she finds that his appearance brings her a strange sort of satisfaction. Of completeness: finally, finally, this is the end of the story.
And she closes her eyes. Happily ever after, she repeats to herself again and again as he takes the first few steps into her little box room. She knows it is a lie, but it is her personal little mantra nonetheless.
Happily ever after.
Original cover by obaona. HTML formatting copyright 2004 TheForce.Net LLC.