Pas De Deux, a Jedi Dance Academy AU (Part 5 of 7)
Padmé drew her hands through his hair and down his shoulders with gentle grace, coming to rest at his heart as the last notes played and the light cut out.
Anakin dropped his hands in frustration. “Something is still missing.”
Padmé drew back with a sigh. The showcase was just over a week away, and they were on stage for a tech run that had drawn out nearly an hour past their scheduled time. She was tired, and thirsty, and impatient to leave the spotlight, but Anakin was dissatisfied with absolutely everything.
"The story isn’t getting across.”
Padmé tugged her sweater over her hands. “Maybe this is just part of the story,” she murmured.
Anakin frowned but before he could reply Ahsoka appeared at his elbow. "We need to clear out.” The next group of dancers were clustered upstage, waiting. Anakin’s dance had three times the light and sound cues of any other piece but impatience was catching.
"Fine, but I want to go over it again in the studio.”
“Ani, we need a break.” Padmé ran a hand down his arm, tight with tension.
He frowned. “Just one more time.” His eyes met hers, pleading. “Please?”
Padmé sighed, and nodded acquiescence. Anakin grinned and ran off the stage, pulling her hand to follow. "Come on, Snips, Artoo,” he called as he walked with purpose through the underground tunnels to their assigned rehearsal studio.
"I want a cupcake,” Artoo replied as the three women walked after him with somewhat less enthusiasm.
“Then cake?” she asked at the door. Anakin rolled his eyes.
“He means yes,” Ahsoka intervened and playfully pushed Artoo into the room.
“Absolutely,” Anakin agreed.
Padmé pivoted, her right leg raised behind her and pushed against Anakin’s chest. Smiling widely she turned again to step step leap and – but as she spun back, raising her leg forward, her foot slipped and she fell out of the turn and down to the ground.
“Aaargh, turn it off,” Anakin ordered as he stepped out of position. Artoo cut the music with a sigh as Ahsoka ran to give Padmé a hand.
Anakin turned at the question, concern coloring his eyes, but at Padmé’s nod their hardness returned. “You can take five,” he muttered, the implication they would then return to practice clear. Padme and Ahsoka stared at him with identical expressions of disbelief.
"She needs a rest,” argued Ahsoka. “We all do.“
"We need work,” countered Anakin.
“We need a break!” Ahsoka persisted. “We’re getting worse!“
"And quitting is going to fix that?” shouted Anakin.
“No one wants to quit,” Padmé interrupted, her voice soft in an attempt to defuse the situation. “But I do want a rest. And a stretch.”
“A third of ballet injuries happen in the week before a show,” Artoo added.
Anakin visibly trembled with a deadly cocktail of emotion. Pained eyes locked on Padmé. “I would never hurt you…!”
"I know,” she assured him. “Let’s go for a ride. Or get dinner, all together.”
He shook his head. “You go. I need to work.”
"Come on, Skyguy–” Ahsoka reached out but Anakin slapped her hand away and turned to glare at the wall of mirrors.
Artoo spun immediately, indignation etched on her face, and pulled a reluctant Ahsoka away with her. Padmé pressed his hand in support before following.
Anakin watched them leave in the mirror. The face that stared back at him was drawn and dark. He hadn’t been sleeping well, plagued by nightmares of failure ranging from the ridiculous (a sudden volcanic eruption splitting the stage in two, ripping Padmé out of his arms just as he turns to lift her) to the all too plausible (Yoda kicking him out, leaving him to fend for himself in the sand). And awake he was constantly on edge. Artoo’s comment hit home because he knew all about injury rates, and Padmé, or Ahsoka, or one of the boys, being hurt was the worst of his disturbingly plausible nightmares, asleep or awake.
You have to be stronger, he told his reflection. He’d put his whole self into this dance and it was still lacking. His whole self wasn’t enough. Would never – be – enough. A storm of emotions flooded his face. Anger, fear, resentment, frustration, loneliness, despair, desperation. With a guttural cry he pulled back and punched the reflection. His wild eyes grew wide in the mirror for a split second before it shattered into pieces. Anakin jumped back, reflexively, and the shards fell to the floor before him with a strangely melodious crash.
Obi-Wan peered into the dim room. Anakin stood at the barre running through exercises in methodical silence. The broken glass had been cleared away, one blank panel in the mirror wall the only evidence of the incident. That and Anakin’s bandaged hand.
“Are you alright?”
Sighing, Anakin stopped his exercises. “You heard what happened.” Probably the whole school had. The nurse and custodian who’d helped him didn’t seem the type to gossip but it was a small community, all of them currently stressed out… His heart felt tight in his chest as he imagined his friends’ reaction. They must be so disappointed.
"I’m worried about you.” Obi-Wan placed a hand on Anakin’s shoulder in tentative support. "Perhaps, you need to take a step back, it’s just one performance –” Anakin grunted in annoyed disbelief and turned to storm off. “Anakin –”
He pushed Obi-Wan’s hand away. “For months, years, you’ve told me everything depends on this performance and now you’re angry with me for taking it seriously?”
“I never said –” Obi-Wan sputtered. “I never meant –” He shook his head, disturbed. “I’m not angry. I’m worried.“
"You don’t think I can do it,” Anakin accused.
“What? No, of course I –” Obi-Wan reached out to clasp his shoulders with both hands. “Anakin, I have always believed in your potential.“
"What about me?”
Anakin’s eyes flickered with the depth of his hurt. “I want you to believe in me.”
Obi-Wan’s hands tightened on his shoulders. “I do. Of course I do.”
Anakin’s shoulders collapsed as his anger dissipated into weariness. “There’s no of course about it.”
He found Artoo in one of the smaller workshops, making adjustments to a ramp. In the past weeks they’d spent many hours together, working on their set. Anakin was more mechanically inclined than his peers and they’d developed a great rapport. But now she greeted him with wary eyes.
“What’s that?” she asked of the small box he held out to her.
“A peace offering.” Artoo glanced through the sheer top to find a brightly colored cupcake. “It comes with an apology.“
She crossed her arms. "I’m listening.”
Anakin placed the box carefully on the worktable “I’m sorry. I couldn’t do any of this without you.”
He frowned. “Artoo, I mean it. No one else would have even tried.”
Artoo shook her head. Silly boy didn’t understand the power of his personality. “Look, just.” She bit her lip, raised her eyes to find him braced for rejection. “Don’t shut us out.” She understood the obsessive tinkering and practicing, the shouting and the smashing, were all symptoms of a desperate need to control his narrative, on stage and off. “We’re all on the same team.“
"I don’t deserve you.”
“True!” Artoo said again. “But you’ve got us.” She wrapped her arms around his waist and smiled at his shaking relief when he returned the hug.
Ahsoka glanced up at the shadow that fell across her bench. “I hear you’re on an apology tour.”
A familiar self-consciousness flashed across his face. “Something like that.”
She slid to the right so he could sit beside her. They sat in awkward silence a long moment before turning to speak, both at once.
They traded a smile.
“It’s not okay, Snips,” Anakin answered. He pulled his lips in over his teeth. “Sometimes I just get so angry.“
Ahsoka shrugged. "Me too.” She raised an eyebrow at his frown. “Did you think you have the monopoly on anger?” She shook her head at his surprise, her brightly colored braids swinging. They’d clicked right away because neither really fit into the Academy’s definition of a proper dancer. Or person, most likely. “I know it’s ‘unbecoming’ in a ballerina or whatever but it’s normal. Working with you …helps. I thought working with me did, too.”
“It did,” Anakin assured her. “It does.” He glanced away. “The past few months, with you, and Padmé, Artoo, and the kids – I’ve felt so–“ Safe? Free? Grounded? He couldn’t find the word. ”– I’m scared to lose it. To lose …you.“
"You won’t.” Ahsoka reached over to force him to meet her eyes. “It’s not a real war, Anakin, it’s a story.“ He made a face, started to answer he obviously knew that, but she had more to say. "If we fall on our face, if nobody gets it, if Coruscant says no…. If you decided to never dance again, you’ll still have me.”
Anakin trembled at the simple sincerity of her promise. “I’m pretty messed up, huh?” He tried to keep his voice light, but did not entirely succeed.
She shrugged, again. "Me too.” Ahsoka grinned as Anakin’s laughter filled the air.
Padmé blinked as she stepped outside. Sundown was close, but it was still far brighter than backstage. As her eyes adjusted she realized Anakin was waiting, feet turned out with the nonchalance of a star, but there was none of that confidence in his expression. She waited, quietly, for him to speak. But at meeting her eyes, wide with compassion and encouragement, he burst into tears. Padmé ran and pulled him into a tight embrace.
"I’m sorry,” he said, when she’d gotten him to the cafe and forced him to drink a hot chocolate. Chocolate heals all wounds, her mother said, and it may be silly, but she expected Anakin didn’t have much chocolate – or silly – in his past. “I just…it needs to be perfect.“
"Nothing is perfect.”
“I should be. I’m supposed to be…” Special. He looked away, his shoulders tightening again, with frustration.
Padmé touched his hand across the table. “I’m worried about you.”
Like Obi-Wan, he thought. Anakin met her eyes, still encouraging, but crowded with concern. He closed his hand over hers. “I don’t want you to worry.”
She took a sip of her own hot chocolate. “What do you want?”
He frowned. Had anyone ever asked him that? Maybe his mother, but he doesn’t remember. Qui-Gon didn’t. Nor any of the masters on the council. Obi-Wan and Plo Koon acted as if they already knew. None of them were malevolent, and none of them were necessarily wrong in what they chose for him. But… Now he didn’t know what to answer. Didn’t know how.
“Young Master Skywalker, I’m looking forward to your piece in the showcase.” Anakin glanced down to the old master. Yoda was less than half his size and older than dirt, but his presence filled the entire hall. “I’ve heard many things.“
Anakin felt himself pale. The grand master of the academy had intimidated him since their first meeting, when he was a barefoot nine year old, dirty and grieving. Yoda hadn’t wanted to take in an undisciplined stray but Qui-Gon convinced him it was in the school’s best interest. Anakin had never forgotten how he felt that first day. Yoda could make him feel that small and worthless again with the slightest look.
"Anakin?” Threepio handed him a clipboard. “I need you to sign off for the program.” He scanned the list of names and read through the synopsis one last time. It still wasn’t quite right, but the book was going to print, the showcase was days away. It would have to do.
He initialed the page and started to pass it back to the waiting stage manager when an idea struck. “There’s one change.” He scribbled two words after the title.
”‘Episode Two’?“ Threepio asked.
Anakin nodded. "To make it clear,” he explained with a wolfish grin. “This is just part of the story.”