This was it then; it was really over.
That was the thought that echoed endlessly in her mind as she lay in the big bed. She was not quite alone, for he was there beside her. Though a deep and abiding loneliness ate at her, she was not truly alone ? not yet. How odd to think that all the secrecy and heartache, the mad, reckless determination to be together at all costs would end like this, so ordinarily. All their fire and fury had come to this quiet, awkward moment.
If she reached out and touched him, would the abyss be bridged, could they go back to what they had once been? It seemed the time for building and healing had passed, however, and what was left was?this. The distance between them seemed to span a galaxy. They remained apart, two planets kept firmly in their orbits ? their lives ? by the order of the universe. They thought they could change the laws of nature, but they had been arrogant and rash and wrong.
She knew he was still awake. ?I?m sorry,? she whispered into the darkness. Her apology was for so many things. She had loved him both too much and not enough; she had failed him, failed them... Or maybe it was the circumstances that had failed them. She found a certain comfort in that thought.
He remained stubbornly silent for many long moments, and then his voice came to her, as unsure and full of regrets as her own had been. ?I?m sorry, too.?
Padm? shifted uneasily in the bed, for a part of her wanted to turn to him for comfort. For so long, he had been the only one in whom she could confide, because he was the only one who knew her secret ? he was her secret. She heard the sheets rustle and knew he was as restless and out-of-sorts as she was.
The ever-present lights of Coruscant streamed in their bedroom window, illuminating the war-etched features of Anakin Skywalker. Hesitantly, she finally dared to reach out, wondering if he would turn away from her. When her hand touched his shoulder, he trembled briefly, closing his eyes as if the contact pained him, but then he turned ? toward her.
He smiled sadly and lifted her hand to his lips. ?It seems like I?ve loved you forever,? he confessed, half-defiant, half-ashamed. ?What will I do now??
His eyes met hers and she glimpsed a lifetime of sorrow in those windows to his soul. ?I?ll always love you,? he said, as if challenging her to disagree with him. ?I can?t help that anymore than I can help breathing.? His lashes fluttered down, hiding his thoughts and feelings from her.
With a pang, she realized that she no longer had any right to the secrets he harbored in his heart. ?I never stopped loving you, Anakin,? she explained.
He leaned up on his elbow, his other hand still lightly grasping hers. ?I know,? he answered with another melancholy half-smile. Anakin looked at her. ?Loving each other was never our problem though, was it??
Padm? felt a single tear slip down her cheek as she shook her head. ?No, it wasn?t.?
She rolled so that they were facing each other ? close but not close enough. They were never quite close enough, she thought.
Once more, he brought her hand to his lips. His lashes came down again and he inhaled deeply. Then his eyes opened and she saw tears shimmering there. Surprisingly, they were the first he had shed that night. There had been anger and denial, but no tears until that moment. He must have known somehow that it was coming to this, she thought.
?I?ll never forget how good you smell,? he murmured. His lips touched her palm and his tongue danced along the sensitive flesh. ?Or how sweet you taste,? he added in a husky voice.
A sob welled up within her as the reality of what was happening crashed over her. This was the last time they would share a bed or whisper their deepest secrets in the quiet hours of the night. The sob escaped her and she crossed the short ? but endless ? space between them and threw herself into his waiting embrace.
?I feel?like I?m losing my best friend,? she cried against his chest. As always, the steady beat of his heart beneath her cheek soothed her, though she knew the healing was a temporary state.
But this was the last time for that, too.
Long, slim fingers lifted her face for his kiss. The touch of his mouth was warm and caring, but reserved, as if he, too, recognized that there were places he could not go anymore, small intimacies that were too awkward and painful to be allowed. A wall had risen up between them, between the past and the future. The final barrier had been forged this night, in this bed, as they spoke honestly for what seemed the first time in their marriage. she thought. His lips moved over hers slowly, with exquisite tenderness, as if he was committing the feel of her to his memory.
Anakin pulled back and brushed his thumb along her cheekbones, wiping away the tears she had shed in his arms. ?You?ll be fine,? he said with a half-hearted attempt at a smile. His eyes could not even manage that much, and remained deep blue pools of misery and loss.
Anakin?s hand came up to her lips and stopped the familiar words. ?No? Don?t say that again,? he hissed, anger marking the lines of his face. ?Don?t?? He took a deep, shuddering breath, obviously reaching for the calm Jedi center that was always so hard-won for him. ?Just don?t?? Anakin rolled on to his back once more and stared up at the ceiling.
?We?ve apologized to each other enough already,? he said quietly. ?I?m sick of the words. I don?t want ?I?m sorry? to be what I hear in my head when I think of you.?
She dared to reach out again, but this time was rebuffed. He slid out from between the sheets and tugged on his leggings and shirt, so optimistically thrown aside earlier in the evening. Anakin cleared his throat. ?I guess?? he started and then his voice cracked. He paused and closed his eyes briefly. ?I guess there?ll be legal things to take care of, won?t there?? His voice was stronger now, but it was a fa?ade and they both knew it. His pain bled into his voice, his grief stamped on his face.
Padm? sat up in the bed for a moment and then got to her feet. She slid a robe over her shoulders and tied it tightly around her waist as if that delicate covering would serve as her armor, protect her from the pain that swirled and echoed in the room. She nodded. ?Yes, there?s a dissolution decree,? she answered. ?I?ve already signed, but you?ll need-?
A bark of bitter laughter interrupted her. ?So you were just waiting for me to come home from the front to give me the good news, huh?? Anakin shook his head and put his hands on his hips. ?Welcome home from the war and by the way?? He sneered at her, his pain making him lash out.
She flinched at the words and he smiled coldly, clearly pleased that the barb had found its mark. ?Please Anakin, it wasn?t like that.?
?What was it like then, Padm??? he asked with exasperation and bewilderment.
?We?ve been married almost two years and I don?t think we?ve even spent an entire month together,? she said helplessly.
?And that?s my fault?? he snapped, turning away from her and pressing his forehead into the window. Then he banged his head sharply against the pane, startling her. His fists came up as if he longed to break through it and tumble down into the endless depths below them.
Lightly, she touched his back. ?No, it?s not your fault,? she whispered. Then she turned him to face her and cradled his face in her hands. ?But it?s also not going to change.? Padm? shook her head. ?I can?t live like that ? not anymore.? She picked up his hand and nuzzled into his palm.
?I can?t stand not knowing if you?re alive or dead and not being able to even ask. Officially, I?m no one to you.? A tear slid down her cheek. ?I want to hold my husband?s hand in public. I want to have children one day!? She trembled and her robe quivered around her. ?We can?t do any of that without everything in our lives crashing down around us.?
His hands clutched at her shoulders as if he longed to embrace her, but they remained a pace apart, always apart. ?We?re never together,? she whispered. ?We can?t be together. You?re a Jedi, Anakin. It?s what you were meant to do with your life.?
Suddenly, the fight and anger seemed to leave him and he sighed. He gathered her into his arms, placing a gentle kiss on the crown of her head. When he pulled back, his Jedi serenity was finally in place, and it seemed to settle about him as naturally as his tunics.
Perhaps I have been what?s kept him from being the Jedi he can be, she thought sadly. I?ve broken that bond that?s held him back from being what he was meant to be. The thought eased the aching emptiness inside of her just a little bit.
?If you ever need me?? he whispered.
?I know,? she answered as a tremulous smile settled uneasily on her lips.
Pulling away, he put on his cloak. Anakin glanced out the window, smiling wryly at the first hint of dawn. ?I guess this is the last time I?ll have to sneak back into the Temple,? he said softly.
She looked into his eyes and saw a shattered man. Padm? felt her own heart quietly tear into a thousand pieces. The Jedi would help rebuild this broken man, but who would heal her?
He kissed her tenderly, his lips feather soft against hers. Anakin brushed back her hair. ?I love you, Padm?,? he whispered.
Then he turned and left for the last time.
Original cover by Gina. HTML formatting copyright 2006 TheForce.Net LLC.