"Don't be afraid, Anakin."
Her laugh is like a melody, the sweetest music I have heard in months. She tries once again to take my flesh hand, and this time I allow it. Still lying in our bed, she places my palm against the naked mound of her burgeoning belly and holds my fingers firmly against her skin with her own hand.
I gasp as I feel the tiniest kick against my palm, and I raise my head from the pillows to stare at my hand in amazement.
"Did you feel it?" she asks joyously.
Rendered speechless, I merely nod, still mesmerized by the life moving beneath my fingertips.
For the first time, this simple word holds meaning for me.
Earlier, when Padm? stood in the shadows of that massive pillar and told me that I was going to be a father, it seemed unreal, as if I were watching a holodrama. But now, I finally understand. I am not merely a bystander, watching as these events unfold from a distance. I, Anakin Skywalker, am going to be a father.
Suddenly, my head is reeling, and my stomach is churning.
She is still staring at me, her bottom lip caught anxiously beneath her teeth as she awaits my response.
How can I be a father? I've never known one. Well, except for possibly Obi-Wan.
Hiding a marriage is one thing, but hiding a pregnancy? I will surely be expelled from the Order, and she will no doubt be disgraced in the Senate. Padm? tried to voice these very concerns to me earlier, but I brushed them aside with my usual bravado, unwilling to spoil our reunion by pondering the changes that this child will bring into our lives and unable to accept the inevitable revelation of our deception.
I look up at my wife. Her eyes sparkle with the light of a thousand stars, and her face exudes a radiance unlike any I have ever seen before. As a child, I remember overhearing my mother and the other female slaves describe pregnant women as "glowing." I used to laugh at such a notion, but now I realize that they were right. Padm?'s beauty at this moment takes my breath from my body, and her demeanor is one of contentment, as if she is now privy to a wonderful secret.
As soon as they began, my fears once again dissolve. I don't care about the Council or the Senate. The only things that matter to me are this woman and the child she carries, and I will do anything to protect them.
"I've always loved the name Luke," she says suddenly, seemingly unaware of my hesitancy. "It's such a strong name, wouldn't you agree, Anakin?"
Again, I nod mutely as our baby once more kicks against my hand. Carefully, almost reverently, I move down the bed and rest my head against Padm?'s stomach, kissing the alabaster flesh softly. How is it possible to love a being I have not yet seen with so much fervor? With an intensity I thought I could never feel for anyone other than the woman now lying by my side?
I smile against her skin. The word has never before sounded so wonderful.
"Anakin?" Padm?'s voice interrupts my thoughts. "Don't you like the name Luke?"
I return to the pillows, her abdomen pressed against my own as I cradle her in my embrace. I push a stray curl from her face, finding myself in awe of the gift this woman has given me.
"Yes, it is a fine name, indeed," I assure her as I kiss her tenderly. "Thank you," I murmur against her lips.
Padm? pulls away from me. "For what?" she asks, laughing softly as she looks into my eyes.
Before I can answer her, I feel a pressure pushing against my stomach, as if our child is reaching out to me.
"For making me a father," I whisper, closing my eyes as sleep comes to claim me, eager for visions of the family we will soon be to fill my dreams.
Original cover by Gina. HTML formatting copyright 2006 TheForce.Net LLC.