"Don't you ever wish you could have another chance?"
The voice was male and full of anger. Paylene turned, curious, looking for the one who had spoken. The small, antique bookstore was mostly empty in the late afternoon. And really, it was more for the odd person who enjoyed a book more than a datapad - there was a store for every odd whimsy on Naab. Because of the near-emptiness, it wasn't hard for her to guess who the originator of the comment was.
The young man sat at one of the complimentary tables, a book before him. He wasn't looking at it, though, instead glaring ahead at the woman seated in front of him. She had a classically beautiful face, completely chiseled - the straight blond hair and icy blue eyes went with the look. She shot the man an answering glare, and stiffly stood. Without another word, she left. For a moment, the muted roar of the city - speeders and alien tongues, ships landing - came into the secluded store, but as quickly as it happened, it passed as the door shut.
His comment, when Paylene thought about it, had been more of a dismissal of a refusal to believe in second chances, rather than a pleading for one.
The young man sighed and relaxed in his seat when the other woman was out of sight. His hair was more of a dirty blond. Where the woman had been icy perfection, he was rough and imperfect. His hair was shaggy and falling into his muddled blue eyes. Even his clothes were baggy and unassuming, darkly muted.
Seized by a sudden impulse, Paylene walked over to the distraught man. Her slender fingers gripped the book she held tightly, and she smiled down at him. "Hi," she said shyly. "I couldn't help but overhear." She paused, feeling foolish, then hefted the historical book she was holding: The Tale of the Skywalkers. "She should believe in second chances," Paylene said. "They've saved the galaxy more than once."
He looked up at her, glanced at the book, and laughed. It lit up his face, and the rough edges of his face smoothed into a smile. "Thanks," he said wryly. He held out his hand, and Paylene took it. He kissed it lightly. "I'm Ander."
She smiled. "I'm Paylene."
"Oh, Ani, you'll always be that little boy I knew on Tatooine."
She had the most beautiful brown eyes. When people thought of brown, they rarely thought of the color of bark, the deep richness of time present in the olden trees of Ithor. But that's what Ander saw when he looked into Paylene's eyes. That, and so much more.
Sometimes, when he was watching her, as they would talk and laugh and play, he would see great age in those eyes - like they had seen things few ever had, that they had viewed the world through different times. He saw royalty and regality.
Then she would turn and laugh, her short brown hair caressing the edge of her jaw. And she would be Paylene again. Compassionate and passionate. The corners of her eyes would crinkle, and she would smile, the rich dark of her eyes shining out through the smoky veil of her bangs.
"What is it?" she asked him, smiling curiously.
Ander looked away, at the garden around them. "Nothing," he said, mouth quirking into a smile. "What were you saying?"
"Oh, just about my family," Paylene replied, her hand, clasped with Ander's, briefly squeezing. "My sister wants me to hurry up and get a family, you know," she said, casting a cautiously amused look at Ander. "I tell her to hurry up and wait."
Ander laughed. "Do you want kids?"
"I see my nieces..." She shook her head. "Yes, I do. I just haven't had the time for it. I thought of going into politics, and I'm rather glad I didn't - I'd have less time for myself than I do now."
Ander nodded. "You still get to help people in the Agriculture Corps. Not so much in politics, I would think," he added, making a face.
Paylene raised her eyebrow. "Let me guess - you're one of those who think that we should throw everyone into a room and make them work it out?"
"That's the easy route," she said with a playful correction. "Who makes them work it out? And who gets them to agree?"
"Are you're sure you're not a politician?"
Paylene hit his arm. "Hey!"
Ander laughed. "Politics isn't my forte," he said simply. "Taking care of my mother and myself is more than enough."
Paylene nodded, smile fading as she no doubt remembered the tale of Ander's past - how they were saved from slavery when Ander was young, and that Ander didn't even know who his father was. She was glad things had turned out all right, though Ander still carried the hard edge from his youth. He had a playful personality with a hint of hardness - something strong and unbending.
Wanting to distract her, Ander said, "Hey, look," and pointed at something he had noticed a few minutes before.
Paylene looked at where he was pointing, to a bush. "What...?"
"Look closer," Ander said, as he walked slower, letting himself fall behind Paylene. He wrapped his arms around her waist, and she glanced back at him, then studied the bush more closely, until her eyes rested upon a single, occupied leaf. Ander let his chin rest against her bare neck as he smelled her hair.
"Oh!" Palyene said with an embarrassed flush.
"Must be in the air," he breathed.
Paylene giggled, turning in his arms and kissing him soundly.
"That sounds an awful lot like a dictatorship."
"Well, if it works..."
"You're making fun of me!"
"Oh no - I'd be much too frightened to tease a Senator."
"You're so bad!"
"You're always so serious."
It was light outside the house, but dark within.
"Ander, it's all right!"
"No, it's not!" Ander said angrily, turning away from her and storming into the living room. Paylene followed. "She nearly died," Ander said fiercely, eyes dark and his jaw clenched. "I should kill them. I should kill them all!"
"And what would that accomplish, besides your new residency in prison?" Paylene snapped.
Ander whirled. "They deserve it. They nearly killed my mother, Paylene."
"I know that," Paylene said with a sigh. "But Sihm is all right. Let law enforcement deal with the robbers. They're capable." She softened her tone. "I don't want to lose you. Even if the law didn't consider you a vigilante..." She took his hands, and he looked down at them, at how they were joined. "I don't want blood on these beautiful hands," she whispered, trying to meet his eyes.
At last, Ander nodded. His eyes flashed up briefly, meeting hers. Paylene drew him closer to her, and very slowly, his body gradually relaxing, he let himself hold her, and let her hold him. He put his head on her shoulder, and she was his strength.
"Why couldn't I save her? I know I could have!"
"Ani, you tried. Sometimes there are things no one can fix. You're not all-powerful."
"But I should be! And someday I will be!"
"Anakin, don't say such things."
He looked so dashingly handsome, Paylene thought. His bright blue eyes were electric. The rest of the world seemed to fade to nothing when she looked into those eyes.
Ander swung himself off the speeder bike, and held out his hand to help her ease off of it. He insisted on driving them everywhere. He loved to fly the skies, he said, and he took her everywhere with him. "Milady," he said with a brilliant grin.
Paylene smiled and flushed, taking his hand.
They were in a garden. Ander loved taking her to gardens, and he took her to a different one every time. This one was a desert garden, with stones and colorful dirt forming it as much as pale plants made to survive with little water. Small, wildly colorful blossoms dotted the area, but everything was muted, especially in the dimming light as the sun slowly started to fall beneath the horizon.
Ander silently led her through twisted, flat walkways until Paylene lost her sense of direction. She noted, though, that they were slowly going uphill.
After a time, with a large bush obscuring what was up ahead on the trail, Ander stopped her.
Paylene raised her eyebrows. "Ander -"
He put a finger to her lips. "Close your eyes," he whispered. "Trust me."
Taking a deep breath, Paylene closed her eyes. Ander took her hand again and started to slowly walk, leading her. His fingers would brush her eyelids shut whenever she twitched, anxious to open them.
"Don't be so impatient," he said softly.
Paylene made a frustrated noise. "I'm not normally the impatient one," she retorted.
Ander exhaled a laugh. "It's okay. We're here," he said, coming to a stop. He slipped behind her, his hands around her waist, and his chin settled on her shoulder. "Open your eyes."
Paylene opened her eyes to a beautiful sunset. Ander had taken her far from the city, to the desert outreaches of Naab. They stood on a small cliff, desert spread in vistas below them and as far as the eye could see. It was like a painting of red and gold, the colors as fiery as the hues of the sunset.
The sun had just started dipping below the horizon. Its orange fieriness seemed to melt against it, briefly and just slightly becoming one with it.
"Oh," Paylene whispered.
Ander kissed her neck.
Paylene turned her head to look at Ander. His blue eyes were calm now, darkened with passion. Paylene raised her hand to touch the side of his face, and slowly turned her body to meet his.
"I love you," Paylene said suddenly, knowing instinctively that was what Ander had brought her here to say - to her. "I truly, deeply love you."
Ander's eyes shone. "I love you," he said. "I love you down to my soul."
Paylene kissed him.
"You love me? You love me! I thought we decided not to fall in love. That we would be forced to live a lie. That it would destroy our lives."
"I think our lives are about to be destroyed anyway. My love for you is a puzzle, Ani, for which I have no answers. I can't control it - and now I don't care. I truly, deeply love you, and before we die, I want you to know."
He had such power in his eyes, Paylene thought. At times they were a darker blue, muddled and distant, and at other times, they were icy - and yet, sometimes when he looked at her, they would be the color of the sky. She could see dreams and thoughts dancing in those eyes, and could have sworn the sky itself couldn't compete with the utter depth.
Then he would look at her, make some sly joke. And those eyes that seemed to see so much sometimes would be focused on her. For her.
"Paylene?" Ander inquired, looking puzzled. "Something wrong?" He paused. "You're worried that we're too different -"
Paylene lay her head on his shoulder, closing her eyes. "It's nothing," she murmured, her smile lazy with contentment.
The sunrise was brilliant in the starkness of its surroundings. Violet and crimson mixed in the sky, forming new colors entirely above the darkened desert. It was appropriate, they felt, to do this here, where they had first admitted their love for each other.
Paylene's face glowed in the light, and Ander was breathless.
"You may kiss the bride," the holy man intoned as Sihm, her brown eyes full of tears, looked on with a smile.
Ander could hardly wait for him to finish the sentence, and he felt Paylene's light laugh against his lips.
"Where is your apprentice?"
"On his way to Naboo. Escorting Senator Amidala home."
It was storming, as it so rarely did on Naab. Heavy clouds lay over the city, weighing everything down with silence as the citizens waited for it to pass. The sparkling lights of the city, which so often reached to the heavens in their brilliance, were refracted and dimmed, keeping the city in a state of twilight.
Paylene cried out. The pain was insurmountable, overwhelming, and she gasped for relief. Her body felt torn apart, and she knew she was dying.
Ander held her hand, his rough calluses scratching her soft skin. "Push," he whispered into her ear, and she did, because he asked it of her.
She exhaled harshly, and he kissed her sweaty brow. "I love you," he murmured into her ear. "I love you, I love you..."
"You better after all this," Paylene managed. She felt so weak now, but she looked up anyway as a small, flailing bundle was placed next to her.
Ander touched the newborn reverently. The child's face was scrunched up into a picture of discomfort and irritation. "Our daughter," he breathed, new tears falling down well-worn tracks on his face.
"A boy and a girl. Perfect," she said with a smile. She lay her head back, and someone took her baby girl, as they had done with her boy, to check her over. She felt the need to hold them, both of them, but she knew she couldn't now. She focused on her breathing, each breath coming out as a tired rasp. She felt the chill of the air to her bones.
"Leland and Leynay," Ander said quietly to Paylene. "Leland and Leynay."
Paylene smiled, and drifted off into sleep in Ander's arms.
"The other he spoke of is your sister. She will find it no easier than you to destroy Darth Vader."
"Sister? I don't have a sister."
Leynay squealed when Ander picked her up and threw her into the air. Her brown hair went flying around her and she grinned happily, a gap in her teeth showing. Ander laughed, and Leland danced at Ander's feet, waiting for his turn in the game. Ander placed Leynay down in the thick carpet, and picked Leland up. The boy's blue eyes sparkled just like his father's.
Paylene watched from her vantage point on the floor. Her elbow was propped up on the couch, her head upon her fist as she watched her husband and children play. Their new home, while warm and inviting in lush earthy colors, was still nearly empty - they didn't even have chairs yet. Leland and Leynay didn't feel the lack. The twins were happy nearly anywhere, as long as they were together.
Ander finally set Leland down, smiling at the boy's protests. He shooed them off into another room, telling them it was time for bed, and yes, he would be along in a minute to tell a story, and then headed for Paylene, a mischievous glint in his eyes.
Paylene stiffened. "Oh no, you -"
In a smooth, graceful movement, he picked her up, one arm supporting her back and the other underneath her legs.
"Ander!" Paylene squealed, laughing.
Ander smiled down at her, and gently placed her on the couch, nearly the only furniture in the house. She smiled, relaxing deliberately and shifting her position to one more seductive. His hand went up her leg, to the smooth white silk of her nightgown. Paylene raised an eyebrow.
Ander's other hand stroked her short hair, still just barely brushing her jaw. Then he pushed her bangs out of her eyes. "You have such beautiful eyes. Like the forest," he murmured. "Smoky and mysterious."
Paylene grabbed his shirt and pulled him closer. "Quit talking."
"As milady commands."
"She was very beautiful, but sad."
"We didn't need a second chance," Paylene murmured into Ander's shoulder, remembering the first words she ever heard him speak. Their whole lives had opened before them, and they had stepped eagerly through into those wide doors. No, they hadn't needed second chances, times when they would have done things differently. Through fights and fears their marriage had grown stronger, and she wouldn't have missed any of it for the world. She smiled, remembering all those years. She pushed her hair out of her face, noting that the streaks of gray were growing ever wider. Her body ached slightly after being outside all day, playing with the ever energetic grandchildren.
"How do you know we weren't the second chance?" Ander pointed out, tightening his grip on Paylene. They lay together on a long couch, Paylene stretched out comfortably and Ander sitting, nearly holding Paylene in his lap. His hair, the dark blond lightened with strands of white, fell into his eyes, as he had so often complained hers did.
Paylene looked up, twisting her neck around to meet Ander's serious blue eyes. "Are you getting philosophical?" she demanded.
"Never!" he said with a mad twinkle in his eyes. "I'm wounded, milady. Truly."
Paylene reached up and tugged his gray hair. "Better not be. That's my job."
He laughed. "I know."
"It doesn't matter, anyway," Paylene said, letting her head fall into a more comfortable position.
"No?" Ander murmured.
Paylene smiled. "I bet," she said softly, "that even if we are the second chance you are so fond of philosophizing on, we were still smart enough to be together on our first chance."
"You think so?"
Paylene lay her hand over Ander's arm, lying protectively around her. "I know so."
Original cover by obaona. HTML formatting copyright 2007 TheForce.Net LLC.