Perched atop a treatment bed in the busy med center, the young senator fidgeted in agitation as the medical droid continued applying a fresh round of bacta to the wounds on her back, her gaze firmly trained on the corridor outside her room. The battle on Geonosis had taken a heavy toll, and the corridor was bustling with grim activity as personnel of both droid and humanoid persuasion hurried back and forth, treating the many wounded clone troopers and Jedi. Determined not to miss him amidst the confusion, she was often forced to lean left or right and crane her neck at times when her view was obstructed by passersby, earning her constant reprimands from the medical droid to "remain still."
When she finally saw the robed figure pass by the open doorway, she leapt from the treatment bed. Clutching the flimsy medical gown securely around her body, Padm? Amidala hurried from the room, the medical droid calling out in protest as it trailed ineffectually behind her for a moment before giving up the chase completely.
"Master Kenobi," Padm? cried, keeping an eye on her quarry as she maneuvered through the throngs of beings milling about the corridor. "Master Kenobi," she tried again, but still the Jedi ignored her calls to him. Wincing against the pain in her back, Padm? quickened her pace. "Obi-Wan," she said as she caught up with him and grasped his cloak.
The Jedi Master whirled around, and Padm? saw that his face was drawn and weary, no doubt from worry over Anakin's condition. "Senator Amidala," he greeted her formally, bowing his head slightly. "How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine, thank you." Padm? laughed softly at his insistence on standing on ceremony. "But, please, after all that we have been through together, I don't think it's necessary to be so formal with one another." Padm? placed a hand on his arm and smiled warmly. Yet when the Jedi Master met her gaze, Padm? thought she saw a brief flicker of discomfort, almost annoyance, pass over his eyes, and he moved away from her touch.
She was unnerved by his action, but deciding he was merely tired and anxious, she brushed away her concern. Biting her lip nervously, Padm? gathered her courage. "How is Anakin?" She held her breath, anxiously awaiting his answer, yet terrified at what she might learn.
Now, Padm? was certain she saw Obi-Wan's eyes narrow suspiciously, but he quickly recovered. "He came through his surgery without complications," Obi-Wan answered with a small smile. "But we do not yet know how well he will adapt to the cybernetic limb."
Padm? exhaled in relief, all the long hours of tension and worry slowly leeching away. "May I see him?"
She watched as the smile slipped from the Jedi Master's face. "No," he answered quickly. "He is resting now and shouldn't be disturbed."
"Oh. I understand." Padm? nodded, a twinge of disappointment gnawing at her stomach. "Perhaps later, then."
The Jedi Master gave a heavy sigh, and Padm? noted that his lips were pursed in disapproval. "Senator," he intoned gravely. "If I may have a word with you? In private." He indicated an empty treatment room behind them.
Confused once more by his odd behavior, Padm? merely nodded and followed Obi-Wan into the treatment room. Once inside, she leaned against the medical bed, bracing herself for the worst. "Is something wrong, Obi-Wan? Is there something about Anakin's condition that you are not telling me?"
Padm? waited as the Jedi Master closed the door firmly behind them, but he did not turn to face her. "Padm?," he began at last, his back still to her. "I think it would be best, for all of us, if you did not see Anakin ? at all."
At his words, Padm? felt a blush of guilt creep along her neck. "I'm afraid I don't understand," she protested, although she was certain the Jedi Master could see through her fa?ade of innocence.
"Senator..." Obi-Wan paused, turning to her, and Padm? sensed that the Jedi was trying to choose his words carefully. "Anakin is an unusual young man. I am sure you are already aware that he is quite gifted in the ways of the Force."
Padm? nodded silently. Anakin had confided in her that he was widely regarded by the Jedi Order as 'the Chosen One' of ancient prophecy, and she had witnessed first-hand some of these mysterious powers of which Obi-Wan now spoke. Sometimes, his abilities amazed and entranced her, and although she felt guilty for admitting it, sometimes they frightened her.
"However, it is not just his abilities that set Anakin apart from the other Padawans his age." Obi-Wan was speaking to her again, and Padm? pulled herself from her reverie, intent on discovering the purpose of this conversation. "As you also know, Senator, while most younglings are brought to the Temple as infants, Anakin did not begin his training until he was much older."
"Obi-Wan," Padm? interrupted, growing impatient with his history lesson. "I am aware of all this, but what I do not understand is what any of this has to do with me."
The Jedi Master inhaled deeply, his features settling into a placating expression. Padm? narrowed her eyes. She had much experience with the intricacies and nuances of diplomacy, and she could spot a "politician's smile" a kilometer away. Obi-Wan wanted something from her, and she had a sinking feeling that she knew what it involved.
"There is a reason younglings are brought to the Temple at such a tender age. If still infants, they are able to sever the parent-child bond more easily. It makes the transition better for them." Obi-Wan paused, stroking his beard, and Padm? waited impatiently for him to continue. "This was not the case with Anakin. He was quite close to his mother when he came to the Temple. It was a bond that he could never fully sever. He missed her and he felt guilty for leaving her alone. Now that his mother has become one with the Force, I fear that his grief and guilt will only be compounded."
Padm? slowly nodded her agreement. "He blames himself," she admitted softly. "But again, Obi-Wan, why are you telling me all of this?"
The Jedi Master pulled himself up to his full height, folding his hands neatly together as he looked down at her with an indulgent smile, and Padm? knew he was going in for the kill. The politician in her was forced to admit a begrudging respect for his diplomatic prowess. He was very good at this.
"For various reasons, none of which I will delve into at the moment, Jedi are forbidden to form lasting attachments with other beings," Obi-Wan continued. "That is why Jedi do not marry. In Anakin's case, however, the bond with his mother was not the only bond he could not sever. Ever since he was a young boy, Anakin has harbored an infatuation with you, Senator."
Padm? shifted uncomfortably, her face growing warm. This wasn't a topic she longed to discuss with this man.
"While I largely overlooked this as just a harmless, adolescent fantasy, I understand now that I may have underestimated my Padawan's feelings for you." Padm? felt her blush deepening beneath his scrutiny. Yet she could offer no protests, for she knew he spoke the truth. "Now that he has lost his mother in such a tragic manner, I fear that his feelings for you will only intensify as he seeks solace from his pain. What concerns me the most, however, is that Anakin is not the only one who is experiencing these feelings."
"I am sure I have no idea what you mean, Master Kenobi," Padm? protested feebly.
Now it was Obi-Wan's turn to blush, and Padm? could sense that once more he was determined to speak carefully here. "I...saw the embrace you shared with Anakin in that hangar," he said pointedly. "Padm?, you are treading on dangerous ground."
Padm? exhaled with a defeated shudder. There was no more need for lies or claimed innocence. "What do you want from me?" she whispered coldly, although she was certain she already knew the answer.
"When Anakin recovers, he will escort you home to Naboo," Obi-Wan explained, all pretense of nicety having finally been abandoned. "Once there, you must make certain Anakin understands that there can never be a relationship between the two of you ? romantic or otherwise. In short, Senator, I am giving you this time in order to say your goodbyes."
Padm? stared up at the Jedi Master with pleading eyes. "No! Anakin is my friend. He saved my life, both on Naboo as a young boy and again now, on Coruscant. Please, you cannot ask me to sever my friendship with him." Padm? shook her head, her jaw set with firm resolve. "I can't. I won't. And you have no right to ask -"
"I am afraid a continued friendship with you would only serve to further confuse him, Senator," Obi-Wan interrupted with an air of finality. "And confusion is a dangerous thing, especially for someone like Anakin."
Padm? was stunned into silence, unable to comprehend what she was hearing.
"I am truly sorry," Obi-Wan said solemnly, and despite her anger, Padm? believed his words.
The Jedi Master turned on his heel to leave, but before he reached the door, he stopped, facing her once more. When he spoke, it was with a fatherly tone that somehow shamed her. "If you truly love him, Padm?, you will do what you know is best...for him. It is time to do your duty, Senator."
Padm? shut her eyes tightly against the harsh truth of his words, and when she opened them again, Obi-Wan was gone. And she was left standing in the empty treatment room, alone with her tears and broken heart.
After her release from the med center later that evening, Padm? went immediately to the accommodations her staff had prepared for her at a nearby inn. Refusing food or drink, she retired to her bedchamber, locking the door behind her. She climbed into bed, pulling the blankets tightly around her in hopes of shutting out the rest of the galaxy. Then she did something she had allowed herself to do only once before in her lifetime, on the night her beloved grandmother had died - Padm? Naberrie cried herself to sleep.
But it was a fitful sleep, at best. She tossed and turned, haunted repeatedly by nightmares, awaking almost every hour with Obi-Wan's stern voice and grave accusations still echoing in her mind. When the dawn finally seeped through the edges of the window coverings, Padm? climbed from the bed, bone-weary and feeling as if the entire clone army was marching around inside her throbbing temples.
Stumbling into the 'fresher, she groaned miserably at the woman staring back at her from the mirror. Her skin was pale and drawn, and her bloodshot eyes were swollen and puffy. "I look like I've been dragged across a field behind a herd of shaak," she mumbled darkly to her reflection. But compounding her foul mood was the fact that her body ached from her fall from the gunship and her back now throbbed from the nexu's slashes, the anesthetic medication administered by the med droid, and her earlier adrenaline, having long ago worn away.
She tried to stretch, hoping to alleviate some of the soreness, but she quickly abandoned the idea as her muscles screamed out in vicious protest. She made her way back to the bedchamber, and being careful of her wounds, she gingerly removed her nightclothes and pulled on a pale blue dress. Then ignoring Captain Typhoo's stern request that she remain in bed, she demanded to be taken to the med center. The senator and the security officer proceeded to wage a brief battle of wills over the matter, but Padm?'s resolve held firm. While she appreciated her friend's concern for her health, Padm? knew she would be leaving for Coruscant the next morning, and she had no intention of leaving the planet without seeing Anakin first.
And so it was that Padm? entered the doors of the med center only an hour later, her loyal handmaiden, Dorm?, at her side, her one concession to her security officer's pleas. But now, as her head spun and her stomach lurched dangerously, Padm? wondered if perhaps she should have heeded the advice of her friends to remain in bed.
The senator's step was unsteady, and she felt sluggish, as if she were moving against a current of water. More than once, Dorm? was forced to grasp her friend's arm and pull her from harm's way in order to keep her from colliding with chairs, doorways and the other visitors striding along the sterile-looking hallway.
"I told you this was not a good idea," Dorm? admonished with a superior tone, making Padm? wish for a moment that the med center personnel hadn't followed standard protocol by summoning her staff to the planet upon her admittance. "You were just released from this very med center last evening. You should be back at the inn - resting, healing."
Padm? exhaled wearily, but she voiced no argument. It was much easier to allow the handmaiden to believe her strange behavior was due to her injuries than to admit the truth. Yet as she approached Anakin's door, the senator was more certain than ever that her condition was more a result of nervousness than from her injuries and lack of sleep.
"I'll be right here if you need me, Milady," Dorm? said with a supportive squeeze of Padm?'s shoulders. The handmaiden indicated a trio of chairs positioned against the wall a short distance from Anakin's treatment room.
Padm? nodded silently. Standing in front of Anakin's door, she summoned her courage before knocking softly.
"Come in," she heard him call, and the weakness in his voice filled her with worry.
She opened the door only a few centimeters at first, peering through the tiny crack tentatively. "Anakin?" she called. She could see him lying on the bed in the center of the small room, his face weary and his hair tangled and matted wildly about his head.
"Padm?," he called out, and this time his voice sounded much stronger. "I was hoping to see you."
Taking a deep breath, Padm? opened the door wider and stepped inside. Anakin tried to sit up, and Padm? opened her mouth to protest, but a stern male voice issued the reprimand first.
"No, Anakin," Obi-Wan said, lowering Anakin back against the pillows. "You mustn't overexert yourself."
Padm? had not noticed that the Jedi Master was in the room until he spoke, and now she turned to eye him fearfully. Obi-Wan returned her gaze, his expression unreadable.
"I don't think sitting up qualifies as 'overexerting myself,' Master," Anakin mumbled under his breath, seemingly oblivious to the tension between his two visitors. "Obi-Wan, would you mind if I spoke to Padm? alone for a few moments?"
Obi-Wan smiled indulgently at his charge. "Of course not, Anakin, but only for a few moments." The Jedi Master walked around the bed to leave, giving Padm? a meaningful stare as he passed by her. "After all, the med droid just gave you a strong sedative, and you are not quite yourself at the moment."
Padm? gave a subtle nod, refusing to move any closer to Anakin's bedside until Obi-Wan was gone. When she finally heard the door close, muffling the bustling sounds of the corridor, she breathed a sigh of relief.
"How are you feeling, Anakin?" she asked.
"I'm much better now that you're here," he answered, patting the space beside him on the bed.
Padm? reluctantly perched on the edge of the bed, suddenly feeling very shy and out of sorts. She couldn't meet his eyes, and so she contented herself with examining his cybernetic limb. "Does it hurt?" She reached out to touch the metallic fingers.
"No, but to be honest, I can't feel much of anything right now." He laughed, his speech slightly slurred from the effects of the medication. "The med droids are being very generous with the painkillers. Not by my request, of course. Obi-Wan told them sedation would be the only way to keep me in this bed until I recovered."
Padm? agreed wholeheartedly with this assessment, and she tried to smile at his attempt at humor. However, she found that she did not possess the strength. This was proving to be more difficult than she had anticipated. Anakin still believed that there was a chance for them, and how could she sit here at his bedside nurturing that hope when she knew otherwise?
Anakin's own smile evaporated, and Padm? saw a cloud pass over his eyes. "It repulses you, doesn't it?" He lifted the cybernetic limb, staring at it with repugnance. "I can tell by the way you're acting, Padm?. You'll barely look at me, and you're too quiet. It's as if you're afraid of me now."
"No, Anakin." Padm? grasped the metallic fingers, cradling them against her breast. "You could never repulse me. It's just that...I'm still a little tired and sore, I suppose." Padm? grimaced, the argument sounding weak even to her.
"Your wounds from the nexu," Anakin gasped, and she saw his eyes clear as the memories flooded back to him. "Are you all right, my love? You should be resting, instead of sitting here with me."
Padm? winced inwardly at the term of endearment. "I'll be fine, Anakin," she assured him. "I think I can handle a few cuts and scrapes. It's you I'm worried about."
"I'll be all right." He smiled then, the smile that she thought of as uniquely Anakin, and Padm? felt her heart give a painful lurch. He wasn't making this any easier when he looked at her in that way.
Anakin lifted his flesh hand and began to caress her cheek. "Hey," he whispered tenderly. "I know something else is bothering you. What's wrong, angel?"
Unable to withstand any more, Padm? pulled away from his touch, releasing his metallic hand and letting it fall to the bed. "Please stop calling me that, Anakin. Don't you see? In your mind, you have built me up to be this...ideal creature, a standard no woman could ever hope to live up to or achieve. Angels are mythical beings, perfect in both form and temperament." Padm? lowered her gaze and began to pluck at the threads of his blanket. "And I'm certainly not perfect."
Anakin snorted in amusement. "I know that, Padm?."
Surprised, Padm? looked up at him. "You do?"
"Of course," he answered, his laughter lasting a little too long, and Padm? knew that he was slipping even further under the sedative's effect. "You're more stubborn than a bantha. You also have a tendency to order others around when you want things done your way and well..."
"And what?" Padm? prompted, her eyes narrowing as she regarded him warily, not at all certain she liked the turn this conversation had taken.
"Well...you snore, Padm?," Anakin announced with a great whoop of laughter.
Padm? gasped so sharply that she was certain she inhaled a tiny mota bug that had been buzzing about her head. "Why, Anakin Skywalker! I will have you know that I most certainly do not snore."
Anakin shook his head, laughing once again. "I'm sorry to tell you this, Milady, but you do. I barely got any sleep on that public transport to Naboo." His face turned a deep shade of red. "Although, I'll admit that having you sitting beside me, resting your head on my shoulder...well, it would have been difficult to sleep even without the snoring."
He reached up to brush away a lock of stray curls that had fallen over her face, staring into her eyes with such raw desire that Padm? had to remind herself to breathe. She remembered that look. It was the same look she had seen in his eyes just before he kissed her for the first time on the terrace of the lake retreat. For Padm?, it was the very moment when he had taken everything, her entire world, and turned it upside down, with all of her careful plans for her future scattered to the four winds.
Padm? felt her own face coloring with embarrassment as she remembered the way her body had responded to him when he kissed her that day, her heart beating so fast that she thought it would surely explode, every nerve ending alive and blazing, aching for his touch. She remembered the delicious tingle that had settled deep within her belly and the soothing warmth that had consumed her from head to toe.
And Padm? found herself gazing at his soft lips, yearning to feel that way again.
She longed to admit to him that she hadn't needed to use his strong shoulder as a pillow in order to sleep on that transport. She could have slept on the ship's hard floor. It was something she had done many times before during her work with the Refugee Movement, after all. In truth, she had slept beside Anakin because being close to him made her feel safe, at peace, as if nothing or no one could ever harm her - Anakin would make certain of that.
"Anakin, I..." she began, feeling very much like a shy schoolgirl. Then she imagined Obi-Wan's stern face once again, and the confession slowly died on her lips. "I should go now, Anakin," she said regretfully. "You need your rest."
He nodded his agreement, and Padm? knew it was a testament to the depth of his fatigue and the strength of the sedative that he did not argue with her. When she saw his eyelids begin to close despite his best efforts to remain awake, she stood up to leave, but Anakin grasped her hand with his cybernetic one.
"Wait," he said, pulling her down, close to him. Cradling her neck with his flesh hand, he lifted his head from the pillows, and Padm? felt the warmth of his lips as they brushed tenderly against hers, awakening all those wondrous feelings within her once more. She offered no protest at first, lost in the intimacy of this sensuous act, but when his kiss became deeper, more fervent, she forced herself to break away from him.
"No, Anakin," she panted, torn between guilt and the desire to lose herself once again in the soft warmth of his lips. "Please, not here."
He looked up at her through narrowed eyes, his gaze wandering over her face, as if searching for something, and Padm? swallowed nervously, wondering if he somehow knew.
"Are you sure you're all right, Padm??" he demanded, his voice a mixture of concern and trepidation. "You're trembling. There's something you're not telling me."
Padm? shook her head, struggling to offer him a reassuring smile. "Nothing is wrong, Anakin. It's just that...if someone were to see us..."
He said nothing, and Padm? could hear her own heart beating nervously in her ears as the moments passed at an interminable pace. "You're right, this isn't the place," he at last conceded, and Padm? breathed a small sigh of relief. It was a relief that was short-lived, however. "I suppose I'll just have to wait until I have you all to myself when I escort you home to Naboo."
A lightsaber to the heart would have been a kinder wound to endure at this moment, but Padm? smiled bravely. "Get some sleep now, Anakin," she said with a conspiratorial wink, "and that's an order."
Anakin growled low in his throat, the sound sending a delicious shiver coursing along Padm?'s spine. "Orders received, Milady."
Padm? kept her smile fixed firmly in place until she entered the corridor, closing the door to Anakin's treatment room securely behind her. Then, oblivious to her wounds, she fell back against the wall, the smile melting away as she buried her face in her hands and groaned in misery. It was only when she had the eerie feeling that she was being watched that Padm? finally looked up again. And there, several meters down the corridor, was Obi-Wan. He was standing erect against the wall - there would be no leaning for this Jedi Master - and he was watching her intently.
She knew he didn't trust her and was concerned about what might have happened in Anakin's room during his absence, worried about what she might have told him, and a part of her hated him for it. Suddenly, Obi-Wan moved away from the wall and began walking in her direction. Not wanting to give him the satisfaction of questioning her, Padm? hurried in the opposite direction, grasping Dorm? by the arm as she passed by her, pulling the handmaiden from her chair and along the corridor with her.
"Come, Dorm?," she said, trying to keep the anger out of her voice as they exited the med center. "We're returning to Coruscant soon, and there is much to do before we leave."
Coruscant's evening skyline was aglow with pastels, their palette calm and soothing, but inside Padm? Amidala's senatorial apartment, the mood was anything but relaxed. Clothes were strewn haphazardly about the bed as the young senator bustled about hurriedly folding the garments as she threw them into a pair of traveling cases lying open in front of her. It was not her usual nature to be so careless with her belongings, but her thoughts were elsewhere. Sneaking repeated glances out the window, she could see the spires of the Jedi Temple in the distance, and within those sacred walls, Padm? knew that at this very moment, Anakin was packing his own belongings for their trip to Naboo.
She wondered if, even now, Obi-Wan was offering the same warnings, the same speech about duty to his Padawan Learner. Or was that a grim task he would leave solely to her, choosing instead to cleanse his hands of the matter in order to feign innocence if he ever faced Anakin's scrutiny?
The thought incensed Padm?, and she shoved a white unisuit into the nearest case with unnecessary force. It was then she felt a gentle hand on her arm.
"Milady," Dorm? interrupted her thoughts. "Perhaps you should allow me to help you."
"No. Thank you, Dorm?," Padm? said with a shake of her head, "but I can manage."
Dorm? clucked her tongue in disapproval. Moving aside the traveling cases, the handmaiden sat down on the end of the bed. "Padm?," the handmaiden said, abandoning all formal titles, as was so often the case when the two friends were alone together. "Sit down." She patted the space beside her.
"I don't have time for this, Dorm?," Padm? sighed, irritated at the interruption.
The handmaiden fixed her with a disapproving look, the one that always reminded Padm? of a protective mother tusk cat reprimanding her wandering cub as she nudged it back to its lair. Sighing in defeat, Padm? sat down beside her friend.
"So," Dorm? began, "judging by the way you are mistreating your wardrobe, I assume you have not yet made your decision."
Caught off-guard, Padm? called upon her diplomatic prowess to maintain her composure. "I'm afraid I have no idea what you mean," she laughed weakly.
Dorm? shook her head sadly. "Padm?, I'm discreet, it is part of my position, but I'm not blind. I see the way he looks at you. More importantly, however, I see the way you look at him, and when you visited Anakin in the med center...well, you seemed nervous and upset. After you went into Anakin's room, Master Kenobi came out looking quite displeased. He didn't take his eyes off that door the entire time you were with Anakin. Then when you did come out of Anakin's room, you seemed so distraught, and you avoided Master Kenobi when he approached you. Forgive me for being blunt, Milady, but it doesn't take a Jedi mind trick to know what is going on between you and Anakin."
Padm? felt a brief flicker of irritation. She knew that being observant and watchful for any potential dangers was a necessary part of a handmaiden's many responsibilities, but for once, she found herself wishing that her friend hadn't been so thorough in her duties.
"I don't know what I'm going to do, Dorm?," she admitted in a small voice. "I'm a senator, and he's a Jedi. The scandal alone would be enough to destroy us both. But, the gods forgive me, Dorm?, I love him."
The handmaiden sighed deeply. She placed an arm around her friend's shoulders. "It is not a decision I envy," she said. "But, Padm?, do you truly love him, or are you perhaps in love with the idea of him? After all, he is quite handsome, and he saved your life. It is only natural that you would feel an attraction to him. Yet, what do you really know about Anakin?"
Padm? bristled. "I know that I love him, and that is enough."
"Please do not be upset, Padm?," Dorm? tried once more. "It is just that you have known each other for such a brief time. For most beings, it takes time, and trials, before you are certain about love. Are you willing to throw away everything you have worked so hard for, everything he has worked for, over something that could prove to be a mere infatuation?"
Padm? stood up, whirling around to face her handmaiden. "That is quite enough, Dorm?," she hissed. "Do not presume to know how I feel. I have never known any man like Anakin Skywalker. He is brave, compassionate, and he makes me feel safe, wanted. And somehow, I feel he needs me. I have had suitors, Dorm?, but no one has ever made me feel the way I feel when I am with Anakin."
Dorm? reached out, taking Padm?'s hands in her own. "That is what frightens me, Milady. You have never known love, and I am worried that you will act rashly."
Padm? wrenched her hands from her friend's grasp, and when she spoke, her voice was filled with hurt. "That will be all, Dorm?. I will finish packing my things alone. Your services are no longer required this afternoon."
Padm? watched as Dorm?'s eyes widened, her friend obviously pained by her words. Slowly, the handmaiden stood up, curtsying politely before her mistress.
"As you wish, Milady," she said in a quiet voice. Then in a rustle of skirts, Dorm? was gone.
Padm? experienced a twinge of guilt as she watched Dorm? leave. She hadn't meant to speak so harshly to her friend, but Dorm? was the one person she thought would understand her feelings, the one person who would encourage her to trust her heart.
With an anguished sob, Padm? fell onto the bed, feeling utterly alone.
The ship settled into orbit, and Padm? watched, entranced, as Anakin's artificial fingers flew over the ship's computer, entering the proper coordinates. She could not believe the ease with which he had adapted to his new limb in just the span of a week, and she wondered if his quick recovery was a result of his personal resilience or of the mystical powers he seemed to wield so effortlessly. Padm? had little time to ponder the question, however, as Anakin entered the final sequence of numbers and settled back into the pilot's seat, looking over at her with a lopsided grin.
Padm? nodded, settling back in her own chair just as she felt the brief, familiar jolt. She watched breathless as the stars turned into brilliant streaks of light, no less amazed at the beauty of the phenomenon than she had been the first time she experienced the jump to lightspeed.
Yet even this small moment of joy was short-lived, her thoughts immediately returning to the grim task she knew lay ahead. She closed her eyes in hopes of shutting out the pain, but in her mind's eye, she could see only Anakin, standing in front of the fireplace at the lake retreat, his face filled with hurt as he stared at her, disbelieving, the flames reflecting off the single tear that had escaped his eyes. She had broken his heart and soul that night, all in the name of duty, and now she was being asked to do so again.
I can't do this, she thought, feeling hot tears stinging at the corner of her eyes. Not again. Not to him. Not to...me.
As if even now he could sense her weakening resolve, Padm? heard Obi-Wan's deep voice echoing his stern reprimand in her mind. If you truly love him, Padm?, you will do what you know is best...for him.
Padm? felt that familiar anger welling within her as she tried to shut out the Jedi Master's voice. Yet it was merely replaced by another voice of reason as Dorm?'s words of warning continued to haunt her.
"Everything appears to be in order."
Opening her eyes at the sound of his voice, Padm? turned to watch as Anakin's gaze roved over the ship's readouts. Apparently satisfied that they were properly on course, he unbuckled his safety harness. "Would you like to go back to the lounge area and talk?" he asked her, and Padm? detected a hint of shyness in the request. "It's much more comfortable than this tiny cockpit." Anakin's eyes grew wide. "Not that there's anything wrong with your ship, Padm?. It's a wonderful ship, and the cockpit is the perfect size. I didn't mean to imply ? "
"It's all right, Anakin," Padm? interrupted with a chuckle, sparing him the need to continue. "I know what you meant. But, if you don't mind, I think I would prefer to go lie down in my quarters. I'm...not feeling very well. Then perhaps we can talk later. It's a long journey, after all."
"Oh," Anakin said, trying unsuccessfully to hide his disappointment. "Of course, I understand."
Flashing him a grateful smile, Padm? shrugged out of her safety harness and maneuvered her way to the rear of the cockpit.
"At least allow me to escort you," she heard Anakin call from behind her. Then she heard a brief rustling and felt the protective warmth of his hand on her shoulder as he moved to stand behind her.
Padm? cursed herself silently; she hadn't anticipated this. But finding no plausible way to decline without further hurting him, she decided to allow this small concession. "That would be lovely," she said, turning to look up at him.
She exited the cockpit, Anakin's arm slipping around her waist as they made their way to the rear of the ship. For Padm?, the journey felt like hours, although she knew it had only taken a few moments. At the door to her quarters, she paused, uncertain what to do next, but Anakin saved her from that decision. Turning her to face him, he wrapped both arms around her, his strong hands kneading the small of her back.
His touch was like fire, melting away her resolve, and when he pressed his lips gently against hers, she was powerless to stop him. For Padm? knew she had become nothing more than a helpless bystander to the unfamiliar feelings he had awakened within her. When Anakin finally broke their kiss, Padm? whimpered softly in protest. Unwilling to let him go, she buried her face against his chest, finding comfort in the steady beating of his heart as it pulsated against her cheek.
"I love you," she barely whispered against his tunic, feeling hot tears stinging her eyes. He wasn't meant to hear her words of devotion, but Padm? had to speak them...this final time.
"What did you say, Padm??" Anakin asked, looking down at her.
"Nothing, Anakin," she answered, trying to hide the sadness in her voice.
She felt Anakin kiss the top of her head. "Get some rest, angel."
Smiling up at her brave knight, Padm? entered her sleeping quarters. When the door hissed shut behind her, Padm? sank to the floor, burying her head within her hands to muffle her sobs.
So this was how it felt, love.
For years she had politely endured the incessant urgings of her mother and sister that she should find happiness outside the realm of politics. Yet she had been content with her life, fulfilled in the knowledge that she was serving the Republic she so cherished and never needing or fully comprehending that mystical force known as love. But now, at last, Padm? understood. It was as if a part of her had been missing, a part of her she never knew had existed.
And that missing piece was Anakin Skywalker.
Now, that empty part of her ached, a gaping wound in her soul, and she found herself longing for the days before she had known love. For without Anakin, Padm? knew she would never be whole again, and in this moment, the pain that accompanied that bitter knowledge seemed more than she could bear.
She knew she could not continue to avoid him the entire journey, and so it was with nervous trepidation that Padm? finally emerged from her cabin several hours later, her eyes red and puffy despite the cosmetics she had applied in an attempt to conceal the fact that she had been crying. Making her way along the ship, she found Anakin at last in the lounge area. He was sitting quietly, hunched over with his face buried in his hands.
"Anakin, are you all right?" she asked, immediately concerned. Forgetting her new resolve, she went to him, sitting beside him on the couch lining the bulkhead and placing a protective arm around him.
"No," he whispered matter-of-factly, his brutal honesty catching her off-guard. "I'm not all right, Padm?."
She immediately understood, and her hand began to rub large, slow circles along his back in an attempt to comfort him. "It's your mother, isn't it?"
Anakin nodded slowly, saying nothing.
"It isn't your fault, Anakin," she said, taking a guess as to the cause of his distress. "You did nothing wrong."
Beneath her hand, Padm? felt Anakin's back begin to tremble. "But, if I hadn't gone with Qui-Gon...I would've still been there with her on Tatooine," he moaned, and she could tell that beneath his hands he was weeping. "I could have gone out with the early search parties, and I would have found her before it was too late."
"You don't know that, Anakin," she argued, "and...if you were still his slave, Wattoo may never have allowed Cliegg Lars to purchase you. You were quite valuable to him. In all likelihood, you, or perhaps even both of you, would have still belonged to Watto."
"But if she had still been owned by Watto, then she wouldn't have married Cliegg, and she wouldn't have been taken by the Tuskens in the first place." They both knew that it was a feeble argument, but Padm? realized that Anakin was determined to shoulder the blame for his mother's death, no matter the circumstances.
Her heart aching for him, for what he must be going through, Padm? knelt down in front of Anakin, taking his head between her hands and forcing him to look at her. "Anakin, if she had never married Cliegg," she said softly, "then she never would have had all those years of happiness with him. Even if she could have known the outcome, don't you think she would rather have had those few precious moments with him than to have had a lifetime of nothing at all, of never having known him, of loving him and sharing a family with him?"
Padm? felt her breath catch in her chest as she realized the irony of her own words. For was she willing to face a lifetime without Anakin, or would she choose instead to risk the future, their future, in order to have this time with him, no matter how brief, no matter the consequences?
"No," Anakin answered, his voice sounding as if he was suffering from a small cold. "She wouldn't have changed anything, even knowing..." He took a deep, shuddering breath and sat back, capturing her hands in his own and pulling her back onto the couch beside him. "Thank you for listening and understanding," he said, pushing the hair from her eyes and placing his hand against her cheek. "I don't know what I would do without you, Padm?."
At his words, pangs of guilt began to stab at her heart, but Padm? forced herself to smile. "You're welcome, Anakin," she assured him, all the while feeling very much a traitor. "Why don't I make you a hot cup of caf?"
When Anakin nodded, Padm? got up and made her way to the galley. Finding the necessary supplies, she set about preparing a tray for them. She had hoped that the small task would occupy her mind, but even as her hands moved about, busily preparing the caf, Anakin's words continued to echo in her mind.
No. She wouldn't have changed anything, even knowing...
Padm?'s hand began to shake uncontrollably. She dropped the spoon she had been holding, and it clattered nosily to the floor. With a weary sigh, she knelt down to retrieve the spoon. Knowing she needed to calm herself, Padm? placed her hands on the counter and closed her eyes. She inhaled and exhaled deeply, trying to slow her breathing. Yet no matter how hard she tried, she could not shut out the sound of Anakin's voice, and although she knew he had been referring to his mother, to Padm?, it seemed he had been speaking to her very soul.
"But would I change it, Anakin?" she whispered. "If loving you means destroying your life, both our lives, how can I knowingly make that decision? But...what if Obi-Wan is wrong? What if we could have a life together...and I never take that chance..."
Composing herself once more, Padm? picked up the tray and exited the galley, certain that no matter what path she chose, it was a question that would haunt her for the rest of her days.
It was mid-afternoon when their ship finally arrived at Varykino. Despite Padm?'s protests and offers of help, Anakin carried both their traveling cases inside the spacious lake retreat, placing them at the corridor leading to the bedchambers.
"Where are your servants?" Anakin asked, and Padm? noticed that he was looking around the main living quarters anxiously.
"I left orders sending them away before we departed from Coruscant," she explained, not adding that she had done so in order to give them more privacy for what she knew lay ahead. Yet as she saw the brief flicker of excitement that passed over Anakin's eyes at her pronouncement, Padm? began to wonder if her plan had been a sound one, and she felt a slight panic rising in her throat.
"Anakin, if you'll excuse me, I'm still feeling a bit tired from our journey, and I would like to shower and dress before dinner," she said, needing a plausible excuse to be alone for a while.
"Of course," Anakin replied, smiling warmly at her.
Refusing Anakin's offer to carry her traveling case, Padm? made her way along the corridor to her bedchamber, certain all the while that she could feel his intense gaze on her. Once alone inside her bedchamber, she gave a heavy sigh of relief, placing her traveling case just inside the doorway as she stretched her tired muscles. Although it had merely been a ruse to avoid Anakin while she attempted to collect her thoughts, Padm? decided that a nice, long shower might in fact make her feel better, and so she hurried into her refresher.
It was some time later when she finally emerged from the 'fresher, drying her long hair with a soft, fluffy towel. Much to her disappointment, however, the warm shower had done little to alleviate her weariness. If anything, it had merely left her feeling more drained.
Entering the closet unit, Padm? placed the towel in a laundry receptacle before turning to stare at the long row of elaborate gowns, knowing that she should dress for dinner. But at that moment, she knew she did not possess the strength. With a heavy sigh, she pulled on a silken robe instead, and returning to her bedchamber, she sank down onto the stool at her dressing table. Then, as if both her mind and body were operating on autopilot, she instinctively picked up a jeweled comb and began to run it through her wet locks.
It was only when she caught a glimpse of herself in the rounded mirror before her that Padm?'s hand fell still. Slowly lowering the comb to the dressing table's surface, she gazed sadly at her reflection. Her eyes were red and swollen from her frequent tears, and the black circles underneath them were a testament to her lack of sleep these last days. Her skin was pale, drawn, and she reached up a hand to touch her cheek, prodding gently at the sallow flesh. Yet beyond the physical, there was something else that troubled Padm? as she peered intently at her reflection, something that only she could see hiding behind her brown eyes. It was as if her very spirit had been broken, along with her heart.
"What are you going to do?" she whispered to the shell of the woman staring back at her.
"You look...so beautiful."
Startled, Padm? whirled around to see Anakin standing in the threshold to her bedchamber, his long, lean frame leaning against the doorway as he gazed at her with nothing less than utter devotion.
"Anakin!" she cried, suddenly feeling very exposed, vulnerable. Instinctively, she pulled the thin robe more closely around her body. "You shouldn't be here. This isn't...appropriate."
"I'm sorry," Anakin responded instinctively, but there was no hint of remorse in his voice, a fact that only served to make Padm? feel more ill at ease. "I was growing worried," he continued, seemingly oblivious to her discomfort. "You've been in here for more than an hour, so I decided to see if you were all right. The door was partially open, so I..."
Padm? glanced down at the jeweled wrist chrono resting on her dressing table, her eyes widening in surprise as she realized that Anakin was telling the truth. "I'm sorry, Anakin," she muttered, slightly embarrassed. "I guess I just lost track of time."
"You're forgiven, Milady," Anakin teased good-naturedly. Then without awaiting permission, he entered her bedchamber, slowly crossing the room to her.
As each step brought him closer to her side, Padm? felt her flesh growing warm under his continued scrutiny. "Anakin, please...I-I'm a mess," she protested, very aware of the blush that was now creeping along her neck. She began to feel along her waist to make certain that her robe was fastened securely. "My hair is still...dripping wet, and..." He was beside her now, and Padm?'s voice slowly trailed away as she looked up at him, realizing the futility of further protests.
"You're beautiful," Anakin assured her once again, reaching out his hand to tentatively stroke her damp hair, "just like this. No elaborate headdresses, intricate gowns or ceremonial cosmetics. Just...you."
Padm?'s breath caught in her throat. No one had ever spoken to her in such an intimate manner. In the past, her suitors had only been interested in the queen, in the senator. They were only attracted to her power, never truly caring about the woman beneath the titles or about her feelings. Yet, this man had seen beyond all that, for he had first fallen in love with her when he thought her to be merely a handmaiden. He had seen her for the person she was inside, and it was this person, Padm?, that he loved, not Amidala.
Anakin, you aren't making this any easier for me, she thought miserably, staring up at the handsome Jedi through sad eyes. I can't do this. I love you too much to hurt you again, and I don't want to hurt myself again, either.
"Marry me..." Anakin said suddenly, as if he had read her very thoughts.
"What...did you say?" Padm?'s eyes opened wide in shock at his proposal, although a part of her had always known that Anakin would ask this question of her when they arrived here.
"Marry me, Padm?," Anakin repeated, kneeling on the floor in front of her and taking both of her hands in his own. "Please, become my wife. We can find a holy man and be married today, here in this beautiful place you love so much." He reached out to tenderly caress her face. "We could stand on the terrace where I first kissed you, surrounded by the beautiful sound of the waves lapping against the shore as the Naboo sun sets on the horizon, just for us."
"Anakin, I-I...can't..." Padm? whispered, unable to keep the bitter regret she felt at being denied this moment from seeping into her voice.
She winced as Anakin's face fell in disappointment, yet he quickly recovered, his features settling into a smile, and Padm? knew that he had no intention of giving up quite so easily. Her suspicions were soon proven correct as he tried once more to persuade her to accept his proposal.
"I know it seems sudden, my asking this of you." Padm? could sense that Anakin was proceeding slowly, choosing his words carefully. "But, we're at war now, and I don't know... If...I never see you again, Padm?, I would rather face death knowing you were mine, even if just for this one moment, than to have been a coward and a fool, never having taken this chance."
Padm? lifted her hand to her cheek, placing it over Anakin's and lowering it to her lap once more where she held it tightly. She forced herself to remain strong. It would be the only way she could convince him to see reason. "Anakin, nothing has changed. I'm still a senator and you're still a Jedi. It...would destroy us, you know that."
Anakin shook his head slowly. "It doesn't have to be this way, Padm?. We can run away, far away. We will find a place...where there is no Order, no Senate, nothing to keep us apart. There will be only Anakin and Padm?...together, for the rest of our lives."
Padm? took a deep, shuddering breath, struggling to hold back her tears. If only he knew how much she longed for just such a life with him. Why had the Fates been so cruel to them? Why, after denying herself this very happiness for so long, had she fallen in love with the one man she knew could never truly be hers?
"It's a beautiful dream, Anakin..." she admitted softly, her voice heavy with emotion. "But...we both know that is all it can ever be - a dream."
"No, don't say that. I know we can make this work somehow, Padm?," Anakin pleaded. "I love you." His voice was barely a whisper now as the depth of his own emotion overcame him, and Padm? felt yet another piece of her heart breaking away as she looked into his eyes.
Her entire body began to quake with grief, and the tears she had fought against for so long spilled forth shamelessly. But she no longer cared if he saw her tears. He needed to know that he wasn't alone in his suffering. "Sometimes...love isn't enough," she said quietly. "Sometimes the chasm is too great...the consequences...disastrous, unfathomable."
She watched as Anakin clenched his jaw tightly, and she braced herself for his response. "I don't give a damn about the consequences, Padm?. I don't care if I'm expelled from the Order."
"I care about you, Anakin," she struggled to explain. "And I know your destiny does not lie here with me. You were meant to be a Jedi. When it brought us together on Tatooine... I don't know what your future holds, but the Force has a purpose for you, Anakin, for all of this. You must believe that."
Anakin shook his head furiously, as if refusing to listen to her any longer. He stood up and began to pace, his voice growing louder with each word he spoke. "I don't want to hear any more about mystical destinies or the Jedi. The Force does have a purpose for me, Padm?, and that purpose is to be here, with you." Anakin stopped his pacing. Kneeling by her side once more, he rested his hands on her knees, gently caressing and kneading her tender flesh. "Do you know how much I love you, Padm?? After all this time, do you truly understand what you mean to me?"
"And I love you, Anakin, more than you will ever know," Padm? sobbed. "But sometimes loving someone means knowing when you must let go. Think of your own mother, Anakin. Think of the sacrifice she made, sending you with Qui-Gon. She knew that letting you go was the only way to ensure a future for you, and no matter how deeply it pained her to lose you, she loved you too much to keep you from the better life she knew awaited you with the Jedi."
"Padm?..." Anakin closed his eyes against her words, and Padm? felt his hands grip her knees tightly. She knew how deeply she was hurting him, speaking of his mother. But it was the only way...
"That's how much I love you, Anakin," she whispered, reaching out to touch his cheek. "I have to let you go, no matter how much my heart is breaking."
Anakin wrenched away from her touch, and Padm? watched, feeling utterly helpless and alone, as his entire body began to shake. With an angry growl, he stood abruptly, whirling around on his heel as he stormed away from her. Worried and confused by his behavior, Padm? stood up, instinctively wanting to follow after him to make sure that he was all right. Yet she forced herself to remain where she was; not trusting herself to stand her ground if she saw the ache in his eyes even once more, a pain she knew she had caused him to feel. It was an ache that she, too, felt and was certain she would continue to feel for the rest of her life.
She continued to watch him as he retreated, and with each step Anakin took, Padm? died a little more inside, for she knew then that this would be the end. She held her breath, afraid that if she did not, she would call out to him, pleading with him to come back to her. But her stoic efforts were in vain, for when Anakin reached the doorway, he stopped suddenly, and Padm? saw his fists clenching and unclenching rapidly before he turned to her once more.
"I won't let it end this way," he muttered fiercely, and she watched as his own tears started to spill down over his clenched jaw. "I will not lose you, Padm?."
Padm? shook her head sadly, wishing for the briefest of moments that her ship had never landed on Tatooine all those years ago, wishing that she had never met Anakin Skywalker. For the pain she felt in this moment was unlike any she had ever known.
"Anakin," she cried, wiping away her tears with trembling fingertips. "This is the only way..."
She saw a flicker of anger pass over his eyes, and he opened his mouth as if to speak. But he stopped, and she watched as he inhaled deeply, a cleansing breath. She knew he was trying to regain control of his volatile emotions, and it frightened her.
"Tell me this, Padm?," he began calmly, taking a step closer to her, tentatively, as if he were approaching a skittish animal. "Do you truly love me? Because if you can look me in the eyes and tell me that you do not love me, then I will accept it, and I will leave you. Forever."
Padm? buried her face in her hands, not trusting herself to look at him. "Anakin, please...don't do this."
"But if you do love me, Padm?," he continued, his voice growing softer. "I will move the stars and the planets to find a way to be with you, and I would gladly spend the rest of my life earning that love and loving you in return."
Padm? sobbed openly now, crying out in pain as she wrapped her arms protectively around her midsection, longing for an end to this unbearable ache deep inside of her. "I...can't..." she cried, falling to her knees on the lushly carpeted floor."Please, Anakin. You don't know what you are asking of me."
He was beside her in an instant, cradling her face gently in his hands. "I'm so sorry, Padm?. Please forgive me, angel." She continued to weep, and Anakin held her closer. "Don't cry," he whispered, and Padm? felt his lips brush gently against her cheek as he spoke.
It was a tentative touch, but it was enough to cause the first crucial stones in the wall of resolve she had built around her feelings for him to come crashing down around her. Her tears fell silent, and she felt him grow suddenly still against her, as if shocked by his own actions. When she did not flinch away from him, however, Padm? felt Anakin's lips press against her tear-stained flesh once more, this time more firmly.
The wall was toppling faster now, and she knew she would soon be powerless to stop it. Another thought echoed through her mind then, a thought that had remained hidden along the edges of her conscious, haunting her since her fateful conversation with Obi-Wan in the medcenter.
Did she want to stop this?
It was a question to which her mind quickly knew the answer, but convincing her heart - that was another matter entirely.
Anakin nuzzled her cheek softly, his warm breath against her skin causing her to tremble, and her own breathing quickened as she felt his arms slip around her waist, gathering her closely against him. She was losing herself in him, and in that moment, it was the most beautiful feeling she had ever known.
If you truly love him... Obi-Wan's voice interceded, pleading with her to do what she knew was right for both of them.
"Anakin," Padm? whimpered softly, trying in vain to summon an inner strength she knew she no longer possessed. "We can't ?"
He stopped her protests with a gentle kiss. She resisted at first, trying to pull away from the warmth of his soft lips, but Anakin's hands held her tightly, his touch loving and tender as he caressed her back.
"Please, Padm?," he muttered against her lips. In the quiver of his voice, she heard all of the pain, all of the longing she felt in her own heart, echoing back from him.
The wall was gone now, its stones lying crumbled and shattered about their feet, the final casualty in a battle that had been both waged and lost in the name of love. Conceding defeat at last, she returned his kiss, finding here in his arms a peace and sense of belonging unlike any she had ever known before or would likely know again. Yet, even this precious, fleeting moment was tainted with the bitter knowledge that it would be the last time that he would hold her, touch her, and the thought only served to fill her with even more remorse.
Slowly, Anakin stood, pulling Padm? to her feet. His hands caressed her sides, leaving in their wake a reassuring warmth that forced her to banish all the pain, all the regret, locking it away in a far corner of her heart where she could...forget...just for this one moment. Anakin reached down suddenly, and Padm? gasped, the sound borne of both fear and longing, as he lifted her into his strong arms. He said nothing, his eyes never leaving hers as he carried her to the bed, and Padm? felt her heart beating at a thunderous pace as he placed her gently atop the luxurious duvet. He stretched out beside her, pulling her close to him and stroking her hair with a tender lover's touch.
Padm? exhaled with a shuddering breath as she felt the sting of tears at her eyes once more. For she knew that no matter what happened between them now, here in this secluded bedchamber, far away from the reach of their separate lives and the subsequent powers that sought to keep them apart...
There could be no tomorrow.
"Anakin..." she cried softly, looking up at him, her eyes brimming with sorrow, needing him to understand this but unable to speak the words aloud.
Anakin's hand faltered a moment then fell still against her chocolate curls, and Padm? saw a flicker of grim acceptance pass briefly over his eyes. "I know, Padm?," he answered mournfully, using his thumb to wipe away the single tear that had slipped down her cheek. He pressed his lips against hers then, cradling her body beneath him as he settled into her waiting embrace. "I know."
She awoke just before dawn, feeling at first a glorious contentment as she slowly stretched her body, staring at Anakin's sleeping form beside her in the darkness. Then the fog of sleep cleared from her mind, allowing the memories to return. The smile slipped from her lips, and she reached out to touch his cheek, trying desperately to memorize the feel of his face beneath her fingertips.
Struggling to breathe despite the gnawing ache building in her chest, she quietly got out of bed, pulling on her robe as she opened the doors and stepped out onto the terrace. She walked to the same spot where he had first kissed her, shivering slightly in the cool, early morning air as she savored the precious memory of that moment; the way her heart had pounded so furiously she feared it would burst free from her body, the way his touch had filled her with such warmth and contentment. She reached up, pressing her fingertips against her lips as she remembered, and the ache in her chest continued to grow.
Padm? wasn't surprised when she soon heard a rustling sound behind her. She had known that he would find her here. Yet she could not bring herself to face him, to face this, choosing instead to keep her eyes trained on the glorious Naboo sunrise that was just beginning.
"Padm?," Anakin said when he reached her side, placing his hands on her shoulders and lightly kneading her tender flesh.
"I know," she said mournfully, accepting the inevitable as she rested her slender hands atop his, allowing her body to settle against the warmth of his tunic. "You must leave soon." Swallowing back her tears, Padm? continued to stare at the fiery pastels blazing to life on the distant horizon. "I used to think it was so beautiful," she said, her voice strained and filled with melancholy. "But now, whenever I witness a sunrise, it will only remind me of this...of goodbye."
She heard him exhale deeply, felt him bury his face against her neck, his hot tears damp against her skin. Then his grip tightened, and he turned her to face him.
"Padm?, I can't do this...I can't leave you," he moaned, his hands now moving up and down her arms, caressing her lovingly. "I hoped that after last night you might change your mind. We were destined by the Force to be together. Don't you see that? Please, angel, if you won't run away with me... We can keep it a secret, I know we can."
She placed her hands against his chest, feeling the pounding of his heart beneath her fingertips, her own heart crying out to her, pleading with her to do whatever he asked of her, to endure whatever deceptions, whatever fa?ade it took to be with this man for the remainder of her life. Yet, in her mind, she knew what she had to do. She only hoped that her heart would one day forgive her.
"Anakin," she protested. "Deep inside, you know that is not possible. No matter how hard we tried, how careful we masked our actions and feelings...we would be discovered."
Anakin shook his head. "No, I know we could succeed." His voice was confident, almost arrogant, as he tried to convince her. "I know how to shield my thoughts from other Force-users, and I could teach you, too, Padm?. We would be very discreet, very careful. Even Obi-Wan would never suspect the truth."
Padm? flinched at the sound of the Jedi Master's name, and she felt her face growing flush with guilt. She tried to recover, but as she saw Anakin's eyes narrow in suspicion, she knew her efforts had been too late.
"There is something you are not telling me," he said, his voice an eerie calm that sent a chill racing along Padm?'s spine. He stared at her, hard, and she was certain that he could see inside of her, into her very thoughts. She felt an odd pressure tickling against her mind then, and she frowned, certain that Anakin was the cause of it. "It's about Obi-Wan, isn't it?" he asked at last, confirming her suspicions that he had been trying to probe her thoughts, hoping to discover whatever it was that he believed she was hiding from him.
She knew lying would be a futile exercise, yet she feared his reaction if he knew the full truth. "Anakin...he knows," she whispered, choosing what she hoped would be a middle ground.
"What do you mean he knows?" he spat from between clenched teeth. Padm? said nothing, her silence only serving to further incense him. "What are you hiding from me? Tell me now!" he ordered, and Padm? felt him begin to shake her small frame as he held her closely.
"Anakin, please you're hurting me," she cried. Almost instantly, he stopped shaking her. Padm? had the uneasy feeling that Anakin had been unaware of his own actions, and the thought frightened her.
"Tell me about Obi-Wan, Padm?!" Despite her pleas, Anakin did not loosen his hold on her as he repeated his demand.
Anakin's voice was strained now as he struggled to rein his anger, and the look in his eyes only served to further unnerve her. Padm? no longer knew what to do. She was afraid to tell him the truth, terrified at how he might react. Yet, she knew that somehow Anakin would discover the information he sought. He would not stop until he did. As she continued to stare into his eyes, watching the storm that was slowly brewing within their blue depths, she realized that even his love for her would not spare her from his wrath if she denied him his goal for much longer.
"He...knows how we feel about one another, that we are in love," she admitted in a small, defeated voice. "He allowed you to escort me here so that I...he told me to..."
Anakin released her arms suddenly, causing Padm? to stumble slightly as she fell free of his powerful hold. Stepping away from her, Anakin turned to the stone railing; his hands gripping the surface with such intensity that Padm? feared the stone might actually crumble beneath his touch.
"Did Obi-Wan tell you to end our relationship, our friendship?" he asked, his words slow, deliberate.
"Yes," she answered quietly, "but he only did so because he cares about you, Anakin. We both know that he is right, that we could never have a future -"
Anakin whirled around suddenly, causing Padm? to backpedal in fear and effectively ending her explanations.
"This...entire time, even before we left Coruscant...you've known, haven't you? All along you planned to...all because of Obi-Wan..." Anakin's accusations died on his lips, and in place of his anger, Padm? saw something new when she looked into his eyes, momentarily pushing away the storm clouds. It was pain, betrayal. Gone was the normally brave, self-assured Jedi Padawan. The man standing before her now seemed lost and alone, and Padm? was reminded of that day in the workshop, when Anakin had confessed to her his slaughter of the Tuskens. His volatile emotions had made him seem like a different man then, just as it did now.
"Anakin," Padm? cried. "Please, you must know that ?"
"When you told me that you loved me, was it all just a lie, Padm??" Anakin interrupted coldly. "Was all of this just a game to you, perhaps?"
Padm? inhaled sharply, wounded by his words, and hot tears began to sting her eyes. "No, Anakin," she whispered. "When I told you how I feel about you...it wasn't a lie. I love you, Anakin Skywalker, but, Obi-Wan...he's right. I have to put aside my own selfish feelings. It is because I love you that I must let you go, no matter how much I am dying inside."
"Then Obi-Wan shall have his wish," Anakin muttered, anger seeping into his voice once more. "Perhaps you will both be able to rest soundly this evening, Padm?. The stern Jedi Master and the stoic senator, always doing what is expected of you, what your precious rules tell you that you must do, regardless of what your heart tells you is right."
Padm? reeled at this, his words piercing her heart yet again. "Anakin, please, don't say such things. I love you, more than you will ever know. Do you think this has been easy for me? I want to be your wife, to spend my life with you, only you, but we -"
"Enough!" he roared, and she fell silent.
Anakin stood his ground, staring at her, the storm in his eyes returning now, building in intensity. He bore down on her unexpectedly and took her face in his hands, stroking her cheek as he peered intently into her brown eyes, as if searching them for some sign of weakness that he could exploit in order to convince her that she was making a terrible mistake. If that were indeed his true goal, Padm? knew that he needn't look far to find what he sought. Her resolve was hanging by the thinnest of threads, and she knew that if he kissed her or asked her to leave with him, even just once more, that thread would break, leaving them both to tumble helplessly into the abyss.
But Anakin said nothing as he released her, leaving Padm? hurt and confused by his actions.
"I loved you, Padm?," he whispered at last, his voice dripping with bitterness, betrayal. "And I will always love you." Backing away from her, Anakin turned on his heel and stormed down the winding pathway leading to the water speeder that was moored securely along the lakefront.
"Anakin, wait," Padm? called out desperately, but her pleas were ignored as Anakin leapt into the craft and roared away, leaving her standing there in the soft morning sunlight...feeling very much alone.
Cleaved in two, her heart was nothing more than a hollow shell now, a relic to remind her of all that she had lost when Anakin had turned away from her for what she knew would be the last time. As she watched him disappearing in the distance, Padm? knew she would never forget the pain she had seen in his eyes.
She hadn't wanted it to end this way.
"I love you, Anakin," Padm? whispered, knowing that the words were futile now but hoping that somehow he could hear her. Her soul was bleeding, crying out in pain, and she sank to the hard stone, wrapping her arms tightly about her body as if she could somehow shield herself from the gaping wound that threatened to consume her. "I hope you are pleased, Master Kenobi," she whispered bitterly as she watched Anakin's water speeder disappear in the distance. "For, as always, I have done my duty..."
He entered the Jedi Temple, his stride purposeful and his steps pounding angrily on the polished floor. His chest heaved mightily, each breath more erratic than the last, and his heart throbbed painfully, crying out to him to end its misery.
She was gone. For ten years, she had been his angel, a beautiful creature sent to him by the Force. She had been there to comfort him when he left his home, his mother. Her memory had sustained him and carried him through the loneliness that always seemed to permeate his soul, even amidst the crowded corridors and training halls of the Temple. She had been there to comfort him once again on the floor of that dusty workshop as he openly mourned his mother's death.
If only he had listened. He tried to tell him about his dreams, about his mother's suffering. If he had been allowed to go to her, he could have saved her...
But taking his mother from him had not been enough. He had gotten to Padm?, too, poisoning her against him, and now...he had lost them both.
It was all because of him.
He made quick work of his search, finding his quarry alone in a training sall? practicing his saber techniques with the help of a training droid.
The older man obviously did not hear him approach, for his attentions never wavered from the droid hovering before him. Anakin bore down upon him quickly, seizing his prey's tunic within his hands as he used his momentum to shove the man roughly against the wall.
"Anakin!" Obi-Wan roared, both surprised and infuriated by what had just occurred. "What is the meaning of this?"
"How could you?" Anakin growled, his lips trembling in fury as he held his Master firmly against the wall.
"I am afraid I have no idea what you are talking about, Anakin," Obi-Wan said calmly, but there was no mistaking the warning in his voice. "However, no matter what has managed to upset you so, I must warn you, you are making a grave error. Your actions are unacceptable. Attacking your Master, any Jedi Master, is a dire offense, Anakin. I am sure you are aware that Padawans have been expelled from the Order for far less serious infractions."
Anakin snarled at the older man before releasing him. "Expel me then, but do not insult me by playing games and feigning innocence. You know damn well why I am upset, Master."
Now free, Obi-Wan set about the task of straightening his tunics while Anakin watched him carefully, waiting for him to admit the truth about what he had done.
"I did what was best for you, Anakin," Obi-Wan said at last, his voice soft and filled with pain. Neither man spoke for several moments, words seeming insignificant and powerless to heal the wound that had been opened between them. Then suddenly Obi-Wan inhaled deeply, and when he lifted his gaze to Anakin, the stoic Jedi Master had returned, his face devoid of any emotion, any remorse, as he looked his Padawan in the eyes. "One day, you will understand and see that I was right."
Anakin scoffed at this, shaking his head as he slowly backed away from the man he had once loved like a father. "One day, you will see that you were wrong, all of you ? the Council, your precious Code. I loved her, Obi-Wan, and she loved me. You took her from me..."
He whirled around, ignoring his Master's repeated orders to return as he raced along the corridors. Once outside the Temple walls, he wandered blindly through the streets, his vision obscured by the angry tears filling his eyes. He stumbled into passersby, ignoring their angry shouts as he continued intently towards his destination, a destination that remained a mystery even to him. He did not even realize he had left the streets and entered another building until he found himself standing in front of a private door, his finger automatically reaching out to press the buzzer that would announce his presence. It seemed only moments before the door hissed open, the older man's frame filling the open doorway as he greeted his visitor.
"Anakin," he said, sounding surprised to see the young man. Then Anakin saw his eyes narrow with concern. "You look distraught. Has something happened?"
"I'm sorry to bother you, Chancellor, but...you said if I ever needed to talk..." Anakin allowed his voice to trail away, feeling confused and suddenly very embarrassed for coming here.
"Of course, my dear boy," Chancellor Palpatine assured him, reaching out to take his arm and leading him into the ornate office. "Come in. Please, Anakin, tell me what is troubling you."
Original cover by Gina. HTML formatting copyright 2008 TheForce.Net LLC.