She hardly needed to give an explanation for this yearly ritual. She was not the first person of high rank to express interest in her relations after they had been removed into the Jedi Temple. The Order dealt with such inquisitive relatives in various ways. Her they had decided to tolerate. And of course, there was the ever-delicate matter of relations between the Jedi Order and the Senate. Ever since they had openly removed a Chancellor from power, with no more excuse than the belief that he was intending to destroy the Republic, the Senate had fought a fierce battle to return the Order to subservience to them. The Order would not be returned to such a state, and Padmé could not even blame them. Still, Master Anakin Skywalker, formerly representative of Palpatine on the Jedi Council, was now liaison between the Council and the Senate, and so met regularly with Chancellor Organa, and often with the other Senators.
Though despite her sympathy with the Jedi, in the end, Padmé was a member of the Senate, and though Anakin had explained to her exactly why the Chancellor had needed to be removed, including the details the general public didn’t know, some part of her could only see the Jedi striding into the Senate, holding those Senators who protested at the tips of their lightsabers, self-righteous as the worst of the politicians, taking authority in a manner similar to that as a military coup. No, not just in a similar manner. It had been a military coup, because the Jedi had been the military then. That they had retreated when Organa had taken control and probably saved the Republic in the end couldn’t change that.
If there had been a trial for the man they had overthrown, a chance for his supposed sins to be evaluated publically, the truth of it all properly judged, perhaps that would have made her feel better. But Palpatine himself had thwarted that. Master Windu had very nearly subdued him, but he had distracted the Jedi Master with Force Lightening and escaped. Or as least that was what Windu had said, and Anakin had repeated. The Senate in general had heard only that Palpatine had killed three Jedi Masters and escaped. Many of them believed Windu had killed Palpatine. Anakin had admitted to her that he wouldn’t put it past Windu, but added that he didn’t think he would lie about it, at least not to his fellow Jedi.
At any rate Anakin couldn’t understand why the actions of the Jedi had upset Padmé so much; he'd said he'd thought her smarter than that. For all his claims he didn't understand the rest of the Council, his view really was theirs, and he had no more ability than the rest of them to understand why civilians would have a legitimate reason to see differently. Perhaps that was what started it. Nor could he understand why, having passed Luke and Leia off as her sister’s children, Padmé insisted on their being turned over to the Jedi. Perhaps that decision and his angry reaction was what had destroyed them.
Or maybe they simply hadn’t been able to stand living a lie any longer.
When Anakin came in, Threepio went out. Padmé envied him and Artoo, strange as it sounded. While she and Anakin would eat, drink, and be anything but merry, they would watch the city and be content. Of course, they’d probably feel some concern over their obviously distressed masters, and they occasionally argued, but in the end, they knew what they were at. While she and Anakin weren’t really sure why they did this at all.
She bowed. Her lips formed the words, “Master Skywalker,” but she could not bring herself to say them. That was one barrier that need not be built yet. “Shall we?” she asked, on rising.
He just nodded, and they sat down. Every year, it seemed the table grew longer.
They needed noone to serve them. When either couldn’t reach something, Anakin merely gestured with his hand, and it flew neatly into their grip. Not an entirely appropriate use of the Force. Padmé didn’t care. She felt frozen to her seat during these dinners, and she couldn’t stand the thought of even a droid intruding onto them.
The food provided an excuse not to speak at first. But the silence grew too heavy, and she asked, “How are my nephew and niece?”
Her nephew and niece. How they were required to refer to their son and daughter. Did he flinch? She didn’t trust her eyes to tell.
“They were well, last I heard. I’m afraid I’ve been off-planet for nearly two months. I only came back this morning.”
Sooner or later, Padmé supposed, there’d be a year when he wasn’t on-planet on this day. What would they do then? Would they meet whenever he came back? Would they simply skip that year and meet again the next?
Though five years so far, and he’d never missed their dinner. Had he somehow contrived to get this mission over in time to come to her tonight? It wouldn’t surprise her. This was something they always had to do, after all.
“How much have you heard about what they've been doing lately? Are they moved out of the Creche yet?"
"I believe so. It probably would've been a month ago, when they move most Initiates within half a year of their fifth birthday. Though they would've gone through some basic tests first..." He started going into details Padmé didn't entirely understand, but she listened anyway.
He asked after her sister, her family, Jar Jar, her handmaidens, the Chancellor. She asked about his latest mission, then after Obi-Wan. She did note at least he didn’t seem bothered by her bringing him up. He was finally convinced she hadn’t been having any secret affair with his old Master. After all, he'd been provided with proof that she wasn’t even capable of keeping up a secret marriage with him.
And he very nearly laughed when describing a debate that Obi-Wan had led within the Council. Apparently he had recently started communing with his Master, old Master Jinn, who had managed to come back as some sort of ghost, and had often clashed with the Council while alive, so now was acting, according to the Council, as a bad influence on Master Kenobi.
Padmé thought Anakin had laughed in the Council chamber, earlier that day during the latest argument. She would liked to have seen that.
Recalling it made Anakin smile, even make a sound which almost sounded like a laugh. But it died in his throat. He couldn’t laugh. Not here.
As that knowledge weighed her down, Padmé knew he would be gone soon. They could only take so much of this each year.
“He does have a point,” Anakin mused, more to himself than to Padmé. “If you watch the way the new Padawans are trained, the way Luke and Leia will be trained, it becomes clear quickly enough that the changes the war has brought to the Order, the ‘damage’ some will call it...it's going to be permanent. At the very least, the Order isn’t going to be the way it was before the war for many generations. Maybe if we have another thousand years of peace the Jedi can again lead their lives untainted. But not now.”
“Do you think the Council will accept what he’s saying?”
“I don’t know. I think it’s too early to tell anything. Another ten years and we’ll see what happens.”
Their plates were nearly empty. Anakin helped her take them into her tiny kitchen, wash them, and put them away, for which she thanked him.
“Well...” he started. This was always a tense moment. Through the rest of the evening, what was to happen was too well understood. But now was when the feelings between them that could not be purged, that railed against the cages of their hardened hearts every time they glimpsed each other over the year, that they refused to give outlet too at any other time, would never let them part unmolested.
She reached out and took his hand, and started, “Ani...” but could say no more.
Then he took her hand to his face, and kissed it. His lips burned her skin, and his eyes burned her soul, so much passion and pain, enough to make her want to scream out her own. She wanted to throw her arms around him and kiss him hard, demand to know why they were doing this, beg him to take her back, cling to him and refuse to let go.
But she stood still, and when he released her hand, it fell limp at her side. Then he bowed, murmured, “Goodnight, Senator,” turned, and strode swiftly away.
By the time she left the kitchen, Threepio had come back in, and she knew by this that Anakin had departed, headed back for the Jedi Temple which she couldn’t help but feel he had finally chosen over her, just as she had chosen her own career over him. He was a successful Jedi Master, and as for her, there was talk of her succeeding Bail Organa as Chancellor. And once a year, on the naming day of the children they had given up, they met to remind themselves of the price they had paid.
Only one part of the ritual left. Padmé started dressing for sleep, and by the time she had curled up on one side of the bed, leaving the other, where Anakin had once lay, as empty as it had been for the last five years, the tears had started.