Darkness fell on Coruscant, and she was alone. ?Again.
Her pain rose to the surface whenever she was away from the seemingly constant companionship of her fellow senators.? Now that she was home, she finally allowed her emotions to surface from their well-hidden spot deep in her heart.
Uncertainty was, by far, the worst part of being a Jedi?s wife.? From the day she had married him, Padm? had known she would rarely get to see her husband - at least until the war was over.
He had a duty.? And she had a duty, too.
"Where are you, Anakin?"? She knew he couldn?t answer, but the vocalization almost helped.
She had to bear her pain privately, unable to talk to anyone else.? Her marriage had to be a secret, at least until the war ended.? Sometimes she longed for some kind of support, but she was strong and never failed to put on a stoic front.? No one could find out the truth.
Still, the dearth of communication left her nerves frazzled.? She watched the holo-news every night, hoping to hear something about her husband, but dreading the worst.
Oh, she was nothing more than a masochist waiting for news of her husband?s death.
At times like this, she felt like she might break.? She curled up on the couch and pulled her legs up to her chest.? The holo-news flickered before her, but nothing kept her attention.
A series of tears fell down her cheeks and she didn?t bother wiping them away.? Anakin could die out there, and she wouldn?t find out until she saw a news report or heard something in the Senate.
She hiccupped loudly and brushed at her eyes.? Life wasn?t fair.? Even if it was only for one night, she deserved to fall asleep in her husband?s strong arms and wake up to his soft kisses.
Suddenly, she felt so small in her large apartment.? Without Anakin, her home seemed like a barren wasteland.
Every bone in her body missed him terribly.
It had been months since she had seen him; maybe it had been a year.? She had the occasional letter and the even rarer com, yet the small, shiny, orb-shaped locket in her hand contained her only image of him.? Sure, she had countless memories, but she often needed something tangible to protect her own sanity.
She ran her fingers along the locket and softly touched the latch that released the encased holo.? Suddenly, his tall, lanky body appeared before her. ?It was Anakin.? Her love.? Just how she remembered him.
His hair was short and curly, and the long padawan braid brushed against his neck.? His passionate blue eyes stared at her with intense love and eternal devotion.? That beautiful impish grin was spread across his face, and she wanted nothing more than to kiss him until that annoying smile was erased.
"Anakin," she breathed.? If she concentrated hard enough, it was almost like she could reach out and touch him.
She sighed deeply.? She hated this war that had drawn them apart so soon after they had found each other.
Why did he have to be a Jedi?
Why did she need him so badly?
Suddenly, she turned her attention back to the holo-news.? She had missed the headline, but it seemed like two Jedi had been killed somewhere in the Outer Rim territories.
What if her worst nightmare had been realized?
Her mind jumped to the inevitable conclusion.? Anakin.? Anakin.? Anakin was dead.
"No," she breathed.? "It can?t be."? Her heart pounded wildly and her body trembled with fear.? "Not Ani."? Surely, she would know if he had been killed.? There would be a profound emptiness deep in her heart that would cripple her.
The holo-news reporter?s mechanical voice read, "The team of Kenobi and Skywalker..."
"No!" she screamed.? She didn?t hear the rest of the report.? Her entire body went limp.? "It can?t be.? Not Ani!"
She fell back and closed her eyes.? The tears she had shed so many times before now failed to fall.
Her Anakin couldn?t have died on a distant planet all alone.? Not without her having the chance to say goodbye or to tell him how much she loved him.
She felt sick to her stomach and almost needed to run to the refresher.
The newscaster continued, "The Jedi team perished heroically in a battle..."
"No!"? Padm? took a deep breath.? He was lying.? Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi were alive.? This was all some horrible joke.? "Ani!? No!"
Suddenly, she was jolted back to reality by her com-link?s incessant beeping.? She stood up and rushed to her desk.? A sinking feeling possessed her, knowing this could be a call from one of her colleagues confirming her gravest fear.? Anakin was dead.
How would she go on living?
When she gazed at the com-link and saw the preview, her heart fluttered wildly.? She pressed the button and his holo appeared before her.? "Ani!"
Tears streamed down her cheeks and she didn?t bother to wipe them away.? "You?re alive."? She probably looked horrible to him:? eyes red and puffy, cheeks flushed, dressed in one of the tunics he had left.?
Anakin smiled benevolently, love shining from his eyes.? "Padm?," he breathed reverently.? "Don?t cry, beautiful."
"I?m not beautiful," she replied instinctively.
"You?re always beautiful."
"You?re just saying that because you haven?t seen me in so long.? You?re desperate."
He laughed.? "I am desperate, and you are beautiful."
"You?re just blinded by love."? She smiled, but took a deep, shuddering breath.? "Ani, I thought you were-"
"You thought a little blaster could kill me?? Never." ?He waved his hand dismissively.
She bit the inside of her lip.? Was this just a cruel dream?? She couldn?t believe his holo was standing right in front of her.? "The news just said..."
"Oh, Padm?, I?m so sorry.? I made a promise to you, love.? I said I?d come home and I will."
Padm? took another heaving breath.? "Oh, Ani."? She shook her head slowly.? They both knew promises could be broken so easily.? "I thought I?d lost you."
"Hey," he breathed, in what he probably thought was a reassuring tone.? "I love you.? I couldn?t die without telling you."
She sighed.? Her Ani was different.? His voice was deeper and more soulful than she remembered.? He seemed older, like he had aged years in the months he had been gone.? Once the shock had worn off, she allowed herself to study his image.
He was not the boyish husband who had left her so long ago.? This Anakin was a man.? His hair had grown long and curly, and gone was the padawan?s braid.? "Turn around.? Let me see you."
He easily obliged.? Padm? gasped at this new Anakin before her.? He was still tall, but seemed even taller.? His lanky frame appeared thicker, more muscular, sculpted by many hard battles.
He had an air of maturity gained only by witnessing the horrors of war.? All of his innocence was long gone.? More impressively, he was confident rather than cocky.? Yet that intense love and longing in his eyes meant only for her remained.
The change had probably been a gradual one, catalyzed by months of war, but she had missed it all.? And it saddened her. The boy who had left her had undergone a metamorphosis into the man who stood before her now.? And what a gorgeous specimen of a man he was!? If only he was with her...
"What do you think?" he asked softly.
"Wow, Ani, you?re all grown up."? Her heart pounded in her chest and her desire for him raged.? She wanted to rip off all his clothes and plaster kisses over his entire body; she longed to feel his hard muscles under her hands.? But she forced herself to sublimate that desire.? Conversation was all they had.? For now.? "I feel like I?ve missed so much."
He smiled self-consciously.? "War does that to you.? Tell me, what have I missed on Coruscant?"
She sighed deeply.? "Nothing unusual.? Other than the war, we?re just squabbling about budget deficits, pandering to special interest groups, making tedious changes to insignificant clauses of legislations -" She saw that instead of listening to her in rapt attention, his gaze had drifted down to her chest.? "- but you don?t really care about that.? You?re just being polite."
"What are you talking about?? I care!" ?A wicked grin spread across his face.
"It?s, you know, business as usual."? She took a deep breath, ending the pretense of idle chit chat.? "I?ve missed you."
His intense love and devotion shone in those deep blue eyes; that was the one part of him that remained completely unchanged. ?"Not as much as I?ve missed you.? Every day.? Every moment.? I long for you, for the day I can hold you in my arms again."
"Ani, I?m desperate for you.? Please don?t make this any harder."
He smiled sheepishly.? "I?m sorry."
"No!? Don?t be!? This is so hard for both of us."? She let her gaze drift up and down his muscular frame.? "You?re hurt."
His hand came up to the fresh wound through his right eyebrow.? "It?s not that bad."
"You?re lying."? Her breath caught in her chest.? She longed to jump through the galaxy to soothe all of his pain.
"It?s not that bad," he repeated in his deep, breathy voice.
"Ani!? You don?t have to be a stoic Jedi around me."
"But I am a stoic Jedi."? He chucked and shrugged.
His face turned down into a frown.? "I hear Obi-Wan.? I have to go."
"No."? She was reluctant to let him leave because she wasn?t sure when the next time she could hear from him would be.? "Please don?t go."
"I love you," he breathed.? A sad smile crossed his lips.
She blew him a kiss and said, "I?ll be waiting here for you when you return."? If you return.
"Don?t worry.? I?ll be fine.? I promise."? Then the com ended and the holo dissolved.
"Don?t worry," she echoed, knowing her fears would never disappear.? She wrapped her arms around herself and sank back down on the couch.
Darkness crept around her bed, only interrupted by the soft flames of light that streamed through her large window.? Padm? knew sleep would elude her again tonight, just like it had nearly every night since he?d been gone.? The sun would rise in just a few hours; morning would signal the start another long day of sleepwalking through the senate.
"I can?t do this any more," she moaned.? She had taken up talking to herself in his absence.? Since she couldn?t share her pain with anyone else, she needed some sort of outlet.? Their marriage had to be a secret - at least until after the war.
Night was the worst time for her; she felt so small in her large bed. ?She had never been scared of the dark as a child, but now it terrified her.? If only Anakin could wrap his strong arms around her lithe frame and make her feel secure and loved.? Then she would be able to sleep, nestled against his strong, warm body.
"Anakin, I need you."? She hated how selfish she had become.
Padm? yawned loudly and stretched across the bed.? If she imagined hard enough, she could still sense his scent on the pillows; she could almost feel his soft breath against her cheek.? But she couldn?t feel his arms around her.
"I used to have no trouble sleeping.? Why did you do this to me?"? It wasn?t really his fault.? She worried about him.? She missed him.? She needed him.? The thought was quite disconcerting.
Before she knew the power of true love, she had been unaware of how alone she really was.? Now that she had experienced a world with him, she couldn?t bear to be without him.
A queen at the age of fourteen, she used to be strong.? Solitude had been her sanctuary.? Now she was sure she would crumble without his support.
Where was that powerful young queen she once was?
She heaved a woeful sigh.? "It?s crazy.? And I?m talking to myself, so I have to be crazy."
All common sense told her she couldn?t be so desperate.? She lived in a real world, not in the midst some lovesick pity party.
Yes, Anakin was fighting a war and he was in constant danger, but she also had an important job in the senate - a job for which she needed to be awake.? And that meant she had to sleep.? Now.
Still, she couldn?t close her eyes without seeing his handsome, smiling face.? And then...? Was it a doom-filled premonition or merely a haunting dream filled with the sights, sounds, and pain of war on a distant planet?
What if she was seeing the world as he experienced it, through the portal of her dreams?? Sometimes, like tonight, she saw him writhing in pain.? Suffering.? Dying.? Slowly.? Painfully.
She shivered and pulled the blanket up to her chin.? No warmth could sooth her ice cold fear.? She turned onto her other side and pulled his pillow to her chest; it was a poor substitute for the man she loved.? Her bed was still just as empty as it had always been.
Regardless, she had to sleep!? She buried her head against the pillow and tried to close her eyes again.? She tried to focus on her memory of his handsome face.? Maybe that would soothe her enough so she could sleep.
Or maybe not.? Her heart raced with fear.? She had no idea where he was or what horrors he faced, even now as she slept in the safety of her warm bed.
He might never come home again.
No wonder she couldn?t sleep.? "Ani, I need you," she breathed.? She sighed deeply and again flipped onto her other side.? Her eyes stayed propped open, unable to face her dreams.? She stared out the window, studying the night sky, but not really seeing anything.
"I?m here," his familiar soft, deep voice wafted through the cold, dark air.
It couldn?t be.? "I?m crazy."? She buried her head in her pillow.? "I?m really crazy."
"You?re not crazy, Padm?.? I?m here."?
She knew that voice so well.? "Ani!"? Was her Jedi warrior really home?
"Padm?."? He said her name so reverently, like she heard it so often in her dreams.
She pulled the pillow away from her head and was greeted with the image of a tall, handsome man standing in the shadows of her doorway.? Those familiar deep blue eyes stared at her with an intense passion she had missed desperately.? "Are you really here?"
"I?m here."? He silently took a step into the room, and she could see all of him.? It looked like he was ready to climb into bed with her, dressed only in a pair of black pants.? His metal hand shimmered in the moonlight against his bare, sculpted chest.
"Are my eyes open?? Are you a dream?"? Her breath caught in her chest as she studied the man in front of her.? It was the Anakin she had seen in the holo just last night.
He was not the young husband she remembered, but he was undoubtedly still her Ani.? It had been so long since she touched him.? She longed to run her hands through his curly blonde hair; she was desperate to kiss his muscular chest; she wanted to feel his lips against hers in a passionate kiss.
"Are you an angel?"? ?He rapidly closed the distance through her room stood at the foot of her bed.
Padm? opened her mouth to respond, but Anakin quickly wrapped his arms around her neck, leaned in and pressed his lips against hers.? She wasn?t sure how he had crossed the room so quickly, but she didn?t bother to ask.
When their lips touched, she felt all of her pent-up pain and fear dissolve.? The puzzle piece that had been missing from her life was now reunited, and her heart was full again.? She laced her fingers together behind his head and fully surrendered herself to the feel of his lips against hers.
"Oh, Padm?, I?ve missed you so much." ?He ran his hands up and down her back in an irregular pattern.
"You have no idea how much I?ve missed you."? She was desperate to touch every inch of his hard, warm body.? If this was real, she wanted to take full advantage of her opportunity to commit his new appearance into memory so she could access it at any lonely moment.? She traced a path down his well-sculpted chest and back up along his face.
He pulled back and stared into her eyes.? "I?m so sorry.? I wish it didn?t have to be this way."
She sighed.? "I know."? She ran her hands along his face, taking special care to avoid his fresh wound.? Her fingers inched their way through his soft, curly hair and around his neck.? She stopped her hands just below his jaw and gently cradled his head between her hands.
"You shouldn?t have to suffer like this."? He turned his head and planted a soft kiss on one of her hands.? "It is my fault.? I hate this war."
Instead of answering, she pulled his head towards her then brushed her lips against his.
She offered no resistance when he pushed her back onto the bed and pressed his lips hard against hers.? She surrendered herself to the passion swirling through her body.? Her lips instinctively parted when his tongue demanded entry, and she closed her eyes and passively let him explore the warm depths of her mouth.
He pulled away from the kiss, and she released a delighted sigh when his lips brushed a path against the side of her face and down her neck.? Her husband?s head stilled and she felt his long moan against her bosom.
"I?m exhausted," he breathed.
She held him close and ran her fingers up and down his muscular back, trying to soothe all of the horrors of war he had experienced.? "You must be.? You?ve turned down the opportunity to rip my clothes off."
Anakin laughed against her chest.? "I?m too tired to do anything other than kiss you tonight."
"It?s okay.? I?m so happy you?re home."
"I had to come home.? You sounded so worried last night.? I couldn?t bear another day apart."
"How long do you have?"
He laughed.? "Until they find out I?m gone."
"What!"? She swatted against his back.
"I?m just kidding."? He turned his head up and smirked.? "Obi-Wan knows I?m gone.? I have at least three days."
She narrowed her eyes.? "Are you sure."
"Would I lie?"
"Yes!"? It didn?t matter why he was here or how long he had.? She was grateful for the time she had to hold him, kiss him, and love him before he left again.
He took a deep, shuddering breath.? "I had to show you I?m not hurt... and that I?m still alive.? I?ve missed you so much."
She could tell that through all his well-crafted bravado, he was scared.? Even though he had grown up so much, he was still the boy she had met on Tattooine and the young man she had married.
War had changed his appearance, but not his soul.
What would she do without him if she ever really lost him?? She chewed her lower lip thoughtfully.? "Ani, I thought you were dead; I was so scared."
He took a breath and looked down at his hands.? "I?m not worried about myself.? They might call me the Hero With No Fear, but no one knows how terrified I am that something might happen to you when I?m not here to protect you."
She took a deep breath.? "Ani, if I?m not supposed to worry about you, then you can?t worry about me either."
He shook his head.? "This is different.? I know you aren?t sleeping, Padm?.? You?ll make yourself sick."
How could he know?? "I?m fine, Ani."
He tilted his head up to look into her eyes.? "I?d leave if you asked me."
"What are you talking about?"
"The Jedi.? The war.? I would leave if you asked me to."
She pushed him away softly.? "Ani, I love that you?d throw your life away for me, but I can?t ask you to do that!"
He looked up at her with the innocent eyes of a little boy.? "I don?t want you to make yourself sick worrying about me.? We can go to some far off world away from all of this and start our lives over.? We?d be together."
"You?re crazy.? We all have sacrifices to make."? She threaded her fingers through his hair and planted a soft kiss on top of his head.? One of her hands disentangled from his messy curls and ran up and down the hard muscles of his back and sides.
It was just like one of her many dreams of him, but this time he was real.? Warm flesh, soft skin, hard muscles.? "I know you said ?Don?t worry,? but I have to worry.? I love you.? And when you?re so far away, I can?t help but be frightened for your safety.? But, Ani, I can?t tell you not to go.? You have your duty, and I have mine."
He nodded woefully.? "After the war..."
"I know.? After the war, we have the rest of our lives.? But right now, I?m just happy for whatever time we have together."
His voice grew heavy with sleep.? "I love you so much."
"I love you, too, Anakin."? She stroked his cheek with her thumb.? "We can only be happy for the moments we have."
"The moments," he repeated.
She shifted so he could wrap his strong arms against her small body and she could snuggle against his muscular chest.? This was the security and love she had desired to feel for so long.? Tonight, she would sleep, finally nestled against his strong, warm body.
Before she let her eyes close to meet the sleep that finally appeared before her, she placed a soft kiss on her beloved?s cheek.? Even though their time together was so short, she would always be happy clinging to the memories they shared during their stolen time together.
Original cover by YellowDart. HTML formatting copyright 2005 TheForce.Net LLC.