True Happiness by Naboos_Princess
Marry Me by Guri
Hope by Melyanna
Past Echoes, Future Promise by Elinon Bybeth
The Cold Touch of Love by Darth Lothi
The Hour of Souls by geo3
Whatever Comes To Us by FernWithy
You Meet the Nicest People in Your Dreams by Wilhelmina
Naboo glittered like a sapphire jewel beneath me as the pilot waited for clearance to land. There were few clouds to obscure my view, so I could see the sparkling oceans and golden plains that I remembered well. I was going home--for a time. Duty called from Courscant but just this once it would have to wait. I needed time to rest and reflect; I needed time to gather my thoughts after the crisis on Geonosis.
Then there was Anakin to consider. Anakin, the man I loved more than anyone I'd ever met. Anakin, who loved me with a passion no words could describe.
Anakin, whose commitment to the Jedi Order ruined any chance of a life together.
As though my thoughts had summoned him, I turned to find Anakin walking up behind me.
"Padme," he said warmly as he drew closer and took my hand, gazing out the viewport. "Your planet is beautiful."
"It looks like a jewel," I told him. When he didn't speak, I added, "I'm so glad to be going home."
"Yes," Anakin agreed, with a dreamy expression in his eyes. The expression vanished as quickly as it had appeared as he turned to me and said, "I need to talk to you about something."
I realized this conversation had been coming, but feigned surprise. Perhaps he had something else to discuss.
"What do you mean, Anakin?"
"You know. You must know," he said with a pleading certainty.
It was what I had been dreading, then, and he was right. I knew what he was going to say. I'd known since I'd spoken those words on Geonosis - words I never should have said, even if they happened to be true. Somehow, I'd hoped that he would forget. Still, Anakin was a Jedi, and things rarely escape them. Of course, I doubt he would have forgotten even if he weren't a Jedi, just as I would never forget what he had told me as we sat by the fire on Naboo.
"Yes," I whispered, unable to meet his eyes, "I know what you are going to say."
He smiled, and I couldn't help but smile back as I met his gaze. He always seemed to have that effect on me; his irresistible grin was contagious.
I realized too late that the smile was a mistake.
"I know you love me, Padme," he said. "I love you. My heart and my soul were dying before, longing for what I could not have. But now that I know that you feel the same way, I feel whole again. We can't hide this any longer, Padme."
I had to stop him. I had to persuade him to let go. We could not go through with what he wanted. I had an obligation to serve my people as a senator, and could not be distracted by love. Anakin would be a Jedi soon, and the Order would never allow him to be with me.
"No, Anakin," I objected. "We can hide. I love you, but I have duties, responsibilities. So do you. You must realize this."
"Responsibilities be damned!" I jumped as he slammed his fist into the bulkhead. "When was the last time you did something for yourself, for Padme, without thinking of what was best for everyone else? You're killing yourself, Padme. You've enslaved yourself to your people. You can suppress so many things, but you cannot suppress our love."
I knew he was right; I couldn't pretend my feelings for him didn't exist. But there were other things to consider. The galaxy had rules, regulations and ways of doing things that we had no control over and were powerless to change.
"You're right, Anakin, but it's not just about me. What about you? What about the Jedi? They have rules."
"Leave the Jedi to me, Padme. I'll take care of them."
"Anakin, stop," I pleaded. "Please, leave it at this. We can go on with our separate lives..."
"Padme," he said, cutting me off. "Tell me the truth: do you love me?"
He already knew the answer, of course. I had told him I loved him more than once before. This time, though, it would be different. Years of dealing with politicians had taught me to guess where the speaker was leading me. Anakin's question was merely a formality, leading me up to the one question that would change both our lives forever. I hesitated. If I told him I loved him, I could never go back. He would never stop trying to persuade me. But I couldn't lie to him; I didn't have the heart to do that.
"You know I do," I murmured.
"Then you must marry me."
I knew the statement had been coming, but was jolted nonetheless. I couldn't look at him. I was afraid that if I did, I would fall apart. I didn't know what to say to him. So I looked to the one place I could always trust, no matter what. I looked to Naboo.
Somewhere on that glittering sphere my parents were living: sleeping and working like all the other citizens who depended on me to represent them. I knew what my mother would say. She would say, "Trust yourself. Only you know what is best." She was right.
Somewhere down there was also the palace where I had reigned as Queen. I knew what my queenly self would say - she would say, "Do what is best for your people." And she was right, too.
Two different sayings, two different choices. If I said yes, I would be doing what was best for myself; experiencing a life of love instead of one of loneliness, putting myself and Anakin before my duty. If I said no, I would be doing what was best for my people, forsaking Anakin for them and continuing to serve them with all my heart. But I would be condemning myself to loneliness; I knew I would never be able to truly love anyone but him.
Love Anakin, or lose him.
The thoughts swirled in my head. Even my planet, my jewel, began to whirl. Then I looked at Anakin.
He was staring at me, a stare so intense that I could not draw away. At that moment, it was the only thing that was clear in my life. The deep blue of his eyes showed only love and passion for me. He loved me so much; I could see it, in everything he did and everything he was, but most of all in the way he gazed at me.
I looked back at Naboo once more, like a child making sure her comfort item was still there before drifting off to sweet dreams, then I met Anakin's eyes. I could not give him up - not for my people, not for my duty, not for anything in the galaxy. My choice was made. I took his hand and said, "Yes."
He kissed me then, deeply, and for once I didn't think about my people. I didn't think about my duty, or the turbulent events in the galaxy. I wasn't thinking about the implications my decision could, and would, set into motion.
The only thing I thought about was Anakin, and the life we were going to have together.
I was truly happy.
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Anakin flashed his youthful grin at her and Padme felt her heart leap in excitement, or was it fear? She had a difficult time telling. Now that the first battle was over and the immediate danger was past, the reality of what she had said to the young Jedi was glaring at her from behind his boyish eyes.
"Anakin," she said, glancing down at her hands.
He immediately kissed her, without any hesitation in his actions. Padme was loath to push him away. She knew how deeply his passions went, and though it served to draw her to him it also gave her great pause. At first Anakin's attention was an amusing, flattering crush, but Padme feared his feelings were so intense that they clouded his judgment. When it became necessary, she wondered if he would be able to make the right decision and put feelings aside for duty.
He pulled away and said, "Now that I know your heart returns my affections for you, the fire in my heart has turned into a blaze and has ignited my flesh with desire unimaginable! Your beauty consumes my every thought." He kissed her again and drew her close to him.
To be loved that much by someone so powerful was every young girl's dream. But Padme felt that even for someone who once ruled over a planet, she was in over her head in this. Gently she pushed Anakin from her and took a step back.
"Your love is going to swallow me whole, Anakin," she said. "Captain Typho is in the next room and will be returning shortly. He cannot see us in an embrace. There would be too many questions for which I do not yet have any answers."
Anakin laughed lightly and said, "But isn't that what you politicians do? Come up with diplomatic answers to impossible questions?"
"Yes," she said as she took a seat and crossed her hands over her legs. "But this time I have my work cut out for me."
She looked away, thinking how she could handle Anakin diplomatically. Out of the corner of her eye she could see him watching her as he paced with his hands behind his back.
"It must feel good to be vindicated by what happened on Geonosis," he said. "You were right about Dooku and the Trade Federation's involvement in the Separatist movement."
"Vindication is no solace for the state in which the Republic now finds itself. I fear my work as a senator has all been in vain," she said. She looked up at Anakin.
"Why do you think that?" he asked with a smile. "The Republic is stronger now than it's ever been before." He stepped closer and sat beside her. "With the clone army to enforce the laws of the Republic, so much more can be accomplished." He scooted closer to her and said, "Don't you see? The Republic is alive at last. With a strong army injustices like what happened on Naboo will be eliminated! With the threat of the Republic's army, nobody will dare try what Nute Gunray did!"
Padme stared at him, searching his face. "The Republic has never needed an army before. It's our solidarity of peace that has been our strength."
"Times change," he said, placing his hand on the couch behind her. "And with Chancellor Palpatine in charge, we are guaranteed a strong, wise leader."
"People change too, Anakin," she said gently. "Palpatine may be a man of peace now, but with great power comes great responsibility. Nobody is immune to the lure of absolute power and therefore nobody can be fully trusted not to be corrupted."
Anakin laughed lightly and said, "I don't want to have another political argument with you, Padme." He leaned forward and kissed her again. "I do much better when we talk of ourselves. You hide your feelings so well from me! Or perhaps it's my own passions, which cloud my ability to see yours. Tell me again how much you love me. I've been longing to hear you speak those words again ever since we left Geonosis."
His handsome face was so close to hers and his cool sweet breath was flowing lightly over her cheek. She trembled and looked away.
"Are you afraid of me, Padme?" he asked, his face an expression of confusion and hurt.
Something inside her awoke and Padme realized she must say what he was asking to hear. She could not dare tell him the truth. She shook her head in the negative.
"Then tell me, what are you feeling?" he asked. "Your silence is torture to me."
Breathlessly she answered, "My heart feels so many things for you that I'm at a loss for words to explain it."
She looked into his eyes and said as earnestly as she could, "This I know and am convinced of: no man has ever or will ever inspire me so deeply and fill me so completely as you do Anakin. Being with you brings me such fear, but fear only of your departure. How can I live without you? And yet we cannot be together."
"Marry me," he whispered.
"Anakin!" she said, her heart stopping. She had hoped he would see what she was saying.
"When we get to Naboo," he said. "Marry me."
She stood and turned away. "You ask the impossible."
He got up and stood behind her, pulling her to him and saying in her ear, "I know it's what you want."
She closed her eyes and held on to his arms around her waist. She tried to imagine what it was she really wanted and found herself mixed up between what she wanted and what she should want. She truly did want what was right for her people and for the Republic, and if she loved Anakin, she would want what was best for him. The thought of what could happen if they were found out ripped her apart.
"I don't want you to be hurt," she said, holding on to his hands. "I can't bear to cause you pain."
He spun her around and bent down slightly looking right into her eyes, "If you say 'no'," he choked and his chin quivered as he tried to regain his composure. "I can't live without knowing that you will love me forever. Even if we can only be together for brief moments." She saw the making of tears in his eyes as he spoke. "I've been thinking about what you said about how we would be living a lie and I realized something." A tear fell gently down his cheek.
He continued, his voice shaking. "The lie would be to pretend that we don't feel what we feel. If we marry we may have to hide it from the world, but in those moments when we are together, we can be honest with each other."
Since she was very young Padme had not cried. But as she touched his cheek and her fingers felt the moisture from his tear, her heart broke, knowing he was right. She blinked the sting away and looked in his eyes.
"Yes," she said. "I can't imagine my life any other way."
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Padm? was positive that very few people would have recognized her in her current state.
Senator Amidala from Naboo, weary and tired, winced with almost every move she made. Injuries from the claws of whatever that beast was, compounded with falling out of a Republic gunship and getting sand in those open gashes, had put her in a state of idle pain. She had been pricked by more injectors than she cared to remember, tested for infections and any possible complications, treated for those complications, and sent on her way. Almost immediately, she had obtained a shuttle and headed back to Naboo.
Anakin, who had saved her life that night on Coruscant. Anakin, who had protected her as they traveled to Naboo. Anakin, who had kissed her on the balcony. Anakin, who had proclaimed his agony in being so near his love. Anakin, who had become a man whom she deeply loved.
Anakin, who had avenged his mother's death through the slaughter of innocents.
There was so much good in him - Padm? knew this, as she had known it since he was a little boy, generous and selfless. But his time with the Jedi had changed him somehow, and at times, Padm? did not like what he had become. He had become arrogant and self-centered, proclaiming that he would be the most powerful Jedi ever, but somehow he was not always that way. Anakin had saved Obi-Wan's life on Geonosis, an act of love and compassion that had cost him greatly, though even that was shrouded in darkness. Perhaps love, her love, could dispel that darkness.
Yet Padm? was afraid of loving him - afraid of what that would do to him as a Jedi.
And so she sat in the rear cargo bay of this shuttle, watching the hyperspace tunnel with what seemed to be her undivided attention, but was actually nervous indifference. Padm? had put on a simple blue jumpsuit that covered her injuries, and now she sat on the floor, her back against a large shipping container, her knees hugged up to her chest, and her hair falling down in dark locks nearly to the floor. It was a state in which she never wanted anyone to see her.
She tried to turn her thoughts away from the young Jedi to things more serious, such as the war that would doubtless follow this battle on Geonosis and Chancellor Palpatine's new powers in running an army. Naturally, it was at that point that Anakin chose to enter the cargo bay and say: "Padm??"
"I'm over here," she said softly, needlessly. Anakin had known where she was before he entered the room.
He stood there for a few moments before she heard him approach and come around the container on her right.
Padm? looked up at him. He was dressed in his traditional apparel, but somehow he looked older now, rougher - and then he moved his right arm, now prosthetic, out of his heavy cloak. Padm? forced herself not to look away, but as the gold metal of his prosthetic arm reflected the hyperspace tunnel in glinted distortion, a cold feeling crawled over her, as if this machine now attached to Anakin's body was merely a translation of that darkness, and a sign of things to come.
Anakin sat down next to her, close enough that she could feel his warmth, but not quite touching her. She continued to stare into his eyes - such a dark blue - but then suddenly looked away. "Padm?, what's wrong?" he asked.
Padm? took a long deep breath. "Anakin, do you remember your first trip to Coruscant?"
She looked back at him in time to see him smile. "Of course," he replied. "You were so sad then, and worried about your people."
Padm? nodded. "And you were scared, and missed your mother."
Anakin wrapped his arm around her shoulders, and Padm? leaned against him, suddenly very glad to have him there. "It doesn't seem like much has changed," he replied. "Does it?"
She shook her head. "No, it doesn't."
Minutes passed in silence, and Padm? lifted her head to look at Anakin. He had been watching her, his fingers rubbing her shoulder and winding through her hair. Now they migrated to her neck, the calloused tips brushing away her hair and gently playing across her skin. Their eyes locked, and Padm? looked deep into the icy blue that stared at her. Strangely, the conflict in them was subdued, though not absent, as if he had found a level of peace, but had not fully reconciled everything in his mind. Doubt still lingered in his eyes.
Anakin leaned closer, as he had done at the lake; Padm? closed her eyes and moved toward him, as she had done at the lake, but this time she held nothing back and did not pull away. Anakin's hand slid to the back of her head, cradling and tilting her head back as he kissed her, a kiss reflecting all the passionate intensity that had molded their relationship.
Padm? pulled away reluctantly, her bottom lip caught between his lips in a gentle tug. Their foreheads touched, and for a long time they were both silent. Padm? ran a finger across the palm of his prosthetic hand, and the cold, amber fingers wrapped around hers. She stifled a cry, suddenly understanding his doubt. He was afraid of how she would react to his touch. He didn't need to hear her reaction to the part of him that had become a machine.
Anakin's lips soon traced her jaw, then kissed a spot just below her earlobe. "Padm?," he murmured, his breath warm against her ear.
Anakin pulled back and looked into her eyes. "Padm?, we could..." He trailed off.
Padm? maintained the contact. "What, Anakin?"
"Marry me," he whispered.
Somehow Padm? was caught between complete shock and complete prescience. She had suspected it had been coming, yet at the same time, he had managed to surprise her with the words. And she already knew the answer to the question she had tried not to expect.
He let out a long-held breath and grinned, a boyish, mischievous expression that Padm? had learned to love. Padm? leaned forward and touched her lips to his, gently kissing the man to whom her heart and life now belonged.
But does his life belong to me now? she asked herself.
Anakin must have sensed her sudden reluctance. "What is it, Padm??"
"Anakin, what about the Jedi? They will never approve of this," she said.
"Padm?, this is the right path for me," he replied. "For us. I feel it." He took a deep breath. "And if they don't approve, I will leave them. This is how it should be."
Somewhere in the back of her mind, Padm? noticed that Anakin's prosthetic hand was lightly gripping hers. But it wasn't cold anymore - the warmth of her living flesh had heated the metal. It seemed fitting, and Padm? realized that she could pull him out of this darkness.
But when she drew her hand away, his hand would turn cold again. If something happened to her, would Anakin sink back?
Am I his last hope?
Yes, she decided, looking deep into his eyes, she was his last hope. But that meant there was hope.
And for them, that hope was all they needed.
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Past Echoes, Future Promise
She's lying sleeping, curled up on the bunk, her chest rising and falling in even, easy rhythm. A few tresses of long, dark hair have fallen to hide much of her porcelain face from my view. She looks so small and fragile, like she might break if I touch her. My Padm?. I never get tired of watching her sleep. Stars, I never get tired of watching her while she's awake either. Her very presence is compelling and intoxicating.
Be mindful of your thoughts, Anakin.
The memory of my Master's berating is an unwelcome intrusion in my contemplation, an intimation of realities yet to be faced. I turn to watch the starlines stream past and consider half-forgotten thoughts.
I have broken the Jedi Code. I love her. I have from the second she glided into Watto's shop, an impossibly beautiful angel, bequeathed by the stars. And she loves me. My heart joyfully swells once more, recalling that sublime moment on Geonosis. It is more than I had hoped and far more than I deserve that she, a manifestation of perfection, should love me.
Be mindful of your thoughts.
Yes. I know. I know that I've broken the laws, but I couldn't stop loving her, even if I wanted to. I need her, like a drowning man needs air. I need to protect her and to ensure her happiness. I need to be with her.
Obi-Wan and the Council will not be happy. I've dreamed of becoming a Jedi Knight since before I can remember. I haven't been a model Padawan, but I have studied and trained hard. Will they demand that I sacrifice one dream for another? Yet, I cannot lose my Master, my brother Jedi, my family. I've already lost Mom.
What does your heart tell you?
That I'm torn. There is endless love and utter devotion within me, sweet, warm and deep. Just glancing at her can make my pulse race. A love that is young and exciting, yet enduring for all time. But I feel honor-bound to the Jedi Order. My adopted family, I can't abandon them, especially in this time of great need. My duty lies with them.
I feel her stirring out of her sleep, but do not turn back, lost in the peace and beauty of her Force-sense.
What does your heart tell you?
It says yes. It tells me that I cannot survive without her.
I sense her rise and cross the room, like a sun, radiating light and warmth after a cold, grey night. Turning slightly, I extend a welcoming arm, my real arm, around her. She doesn't even flinch when I enfold her with my robotic arm as well, wrapping her in a tight embrace. How could something that feels so good possibly be wrong? I release her gently, pulling back slightly to meet her brown eyes, lit with the light of stars. Her gentle smile is enchanting, as we stand, as if each breathing the other's very essence.
Surely this is the will of the Force.
Search your feelings.
I love her. Against duty, against reason, against hope, perhaps. But, Stars, I love her. I would walk through fire for her. Would I leave the Order for her?
Search your feelings.
Yes. I would. And I will, if I must. Perhaps they will not expel the Chosen One, particularly in times of war. But if they do, that is a sacrifice that I am willing to make.
She has turned to watch out the view port and I encircle her from behind. We are beyond words, in a realm of our own, existing with just each other, without the complicated matters of the galaxy, which sometimes seem so trivial next to such complete happiness. I bend slightly and kiss her slender neck. Spinning gracefully to face me, a smile plays on her petal lips. As she slides her arms up around my neck, we lock gazes once more, before I move down to her and our lips meet in a sweetness unparalleled.
Upon breaking, I hold her close, her head leaning upon my shoulder.
"Will you marry me?"
She starts slightly and looks up at me, eyes wide with surprise. Moving back slightly, she draws breath and avoids my eyes.
But her words die as I place a finger on her smooth lips.
"I don't want to hear about our responsibilities or our duties or all the reasons why we shouldn't. This feels too right. I love you, Padm?," I say simply, moving my hand down to cup her jaw.
Her eyes return to mine, uncertain and concerned, as I easily pull her back to me.
"Marry me", I whisper gently, stroking escaped wisps of hair off her delicate face.
The lights in her eyes shine as a grin spreads across her lovely features.
"Yes", she breathes, soft and sweet, as we draw each other closer.
Be mindful of your thoughts. What does your heart tell you? Search your feelings.
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The Cold Touch of Love
Anakin stood by the viewport and stared out at the collection of Republic warships that floated above the dusty red ball that was Geonosis. He wasn't sure why the fleet was still hanging around - they had mopped up the remnants of the Separatists' battleships several days ago. That is, he thought bitterly, we finished off the ones that didn't manage to escape.
Too many had managed to escape. Including Count Dooku. Anakin flexed the fingers of his new mechanical hand and winced as a phantom pain shot through the area that had once been his right arm. Dooku had cost him many things - his arm, his pride, and very nearly his Master.
And Padm?... Anakin shook his head, trying to clear away the image of his love tumbling across Geonosis' powdery sands after she fell from the clone gunship. He'd been so close to leaping out after her. Only Obi-Wan's admonishments and his own desire to make Padm? proud of him had kept him on the ship. Anakin had been determined to do his duty, just as Padm? would have.
Yet he had failed. Just as he'd failed his mother. Suddenly furious, Anakin slammed his mechanical hand against the transparisteel viewport. Again and again, but the hateful thing didn't even give him the satisfaction of hurting as he abused it.
"Please, sir," came a metallic voice, "you will damage the device." Anakin turned to see the medical droid standing behind him. "The servos are very delicate," the Emdee went on, "and will take some time to repair if you break them."
Anakin nodded and let his arm fall back to his side. Seemingly satisfied, the Emdee went back to its tasks at the medcomp. Anakin's gaze dropped to the droid's thin silvery arm, and he shivered at the similarity to his own. Was he still fully human? He flexed his new hand again. Or was he becoming a machine?
No, I can't be. Machines do not know shame. Or anger. Or hatred. They feel nothing...
Perhaps it would be easier to be a machine.
The door to the medical suite swished open, and Anakin felt a surge of light and warmth through the Force. Padm?. In spite of his bleak mood, he smiled. He turned to greet her, drawing his new arm up into the sleeve of his robe as he did so.
Machines do not know love.
"Anakin!" Padm? said. She hurried across the room and wrapped him in hug, burying her face in his chest. "I was so worried."
Anakin enfolded her in his arms, relishing the feel of her body pressed close against his. He rested his cheek on the top of her head and closed his eyes. Opening his senses, he took in everything about her. The soft, steady rhythm of her breathing; her scent, a mixture of soap, flowers, and something uniquely Padm?; the warmth of her back beneath his hand, and the comforting glow of her presence in the Force. Had it really only been a few days since he had last seen her? It seemed an eternity.
Anakin pulled her even closer, running his human hand down her back. Padm? jerked and winced, reminding Anakin that he wasn't the only one who had suffered. The wounds inflicted by the nexu would be slow to heal, even with the time she had spent in a bacta tank. "I'm sorry, Padm?," he murmured into her hair. "I never should have brought you here."
Padm? pulled back and put her finger over his lips. "It was my idea, remember? And you could no more have left Obi-Wan to be killed than you could me," she said. "You can't be everywhere, Anakin. You can't save everyone, no matter how much you want to."
You're not all-powerful, Anakin. Anakin pushed away the memory of that terrible time on Tatooine. It would never happen again. He would never again let someone he loved be hurt.
Looking down at her, Anakin swallowed hard. Her dress hugged the curves of her body, and dipped just low enough to tantalize him. He ran his hand up her side, acutely aware of her body heat through the thin material. Padm? slid her hands up his chest and around his neck, making his heart skip a beat. He bent his head and brushed his lips across hers.
He pulled back and they stared at each other a moment. Then Padm? brought her hand up to cup his cheek. "I love you, Anakin," she said softly.
Anakin's heart swelled in his chest. As nervously as he had the very first time, he pulled her against him and kissed her. Not a passionate kiss, but tender, softly stroking her lips with his. Her body trembled and she wrapped his Padawan braid around her fingers. Anakin felt a surge of pleasure in his middle and a sudden weakness in his knees.
They broke the kiss and Anakin rested his forehead against hers, trying to control his breathing. Barely aware of what he was doing, he brought his right hand up to caress her cheek. Padm? flinched as the cool metal touched her skin. Her eyes widened at the sight of his cybernetic limb, and Anakin could sense her shock.
"Oh, Ani..." she murmured, and for once, Anakin felt no anger at her use of the childish nickname. He felt only shame as he stepped back from her and turned away, trying to draw his new arm up into the sleeve of his robe.
Padm? clutched his good hand. "I'm sorry, Ani," she said. "I didn't know. Master Yoda didn't tell me...." She tugged at his hand, trying to pull him back. "Please...look at me."
"How can you love only part of a man?" Anakin asked softly.
"What makes a man is inside, Anakin," Padm? said, stepping toward him and placing her hand on his chest. "Here." She shook her head. "Not what's out here." She took his mechanical hand and cradled it between her breasts. "This isn't what matters."
Padm? stretched up to kiss him. Anakin pulled her against his chest and deepened the kiss. He couldn't get close enough to her, taste enough of her, breathe enough of her. He buried his face in her neck and squeezed her as hard as he could, letting up only when he heard her gasp for air.
"Padm?, my Padm?," he mumbled against her neck. Padm?'s fingers ruffled his hair, and Anakin felt as though he could stay that way forever.
"Marry me, Padm?," he blurted out.
"W-what...?" Padm? stammered. Her brown eyes were round with surprise. "D-did you just ask me to marry you?"
Anakin pulled away and stared at her, a bit taken aback at his own words. "Yes," he said after a moment, "I guess I did." He knelt in front of her, holding her elbows by her sides. "Let's get married."
"Anakin, I -"
He cut her off with a shake of his head. "Padm?, please, " he said. "I've loved you from the first minute I saw you. You say you love me. What else is left?" He slid his hands down her arms and gripped her hands. "Will you marry me?"
Padm? dropped her gaze to their clasped hands, then met his eyes. She gave him a small smile and nodded. Anakin rose and pulled her into his arms.
"This is right, Padm?. This is right," he repeated over and over as he kissed her. But he wasn't sure if he was trying to convince her or himself. Pulling back, Anakin studied her face, taking in everything, trying to memorize each feature. "I love you."
Padm? wrapped her arms around him and lay her head on his chest. "How will we do this, Anakin? The Order - "
"Forget the Order!" Anakin said, his voice low and harsh. "I'm not letting them stand between me and the ones I love any longer!"
Padm? recoiled, and Anakin looked down at her. Her brown eyes reflected surprise and concern, and just a touch of fear. He softened. "We'll make it work, Padm?." He held her shoulders and looked into her eyes. "It has to work."
But even as he spoke, he felt a chill, a sense of foreboding. He pushed it out of his mind and bent to kiss Padm? again, sliding his mechanical hand up to caress her neck. He felt her shiver at its touch, and the chill returned. No, he thought as he deepened the kiss. This is right.
This is right...
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The Hour of Souls
There was an hour, late in the day, when the billion, billion lights of Coruscant began to blaze while the fading daylight still shone over the infinite labyrinth that was the capital planet of the Galactic Republic. This combination of natural and artificial light gave the atmosphere a glow as though the air had turned to fire. Everything seemed illuminated from within. Even the purple shadows that managed to withstand the powerful ambient light seemed clear, and deep and somehow transparent. This daily event was called the "Hour of Souls" on Coruscant, because it was said that in this light nothing could be hidden. Criminals stayed indoors. Living beings from every system known in the Galaxy slowed their pace, looked and wondered. One had the impression that the city quieted, just a bit, until the light faded. Then night fell and the powerful throb of its night-life took over.
In the Jedi Temple the Hour of Souls was always used as a time for meditation. From the smallest Padawans to the most ancient Masters, the fire glow outside meant the calming within. This daily rhythm was so central to the lives of the Jedi that everywhere in the galaxy, wherever their tasks took them, Jedi Knights tended to stop at sunset to meditate on the transition from light into darkness.
At the very beginning of the Hour of Souls, Anakin Skywalker stood at the wide window of his chamber in the Healing Center of the Jedi Temple and watched the vast city-world outside slowly become light. It was the fifth day after the Battle of Geonosis and he was confined to the center until he could be fitted with an artificial arm to replace the one Count Dooku had severed. Anakin was not meditating. He was brooding.
The Healing Center was located deep in the heart of the Jedi Temple. Most of its chambers lay at the interior of the towering building where the work could take place without distraction. Obi-Wan lay in an interior room not far from Anakin's, where he had spent most of the last five days in meditation in support of the healing process. His severed thigh bone had yet to knit and the damage to his internal organs from Count Dooku's lightsaber had been considerable. Anakin had been given an outer chamber with a wide sweep of windows overlooking the city. He was not often alone. In fact, he had a steady stream of visitors.
The healers came and went, working on him and checking his progress. Every member of the Jedi Council had visited, paying respects to the Padawan who had fought gallantly in the first battle of the Clone Wars and who had most likely saved his Master's life. Sometimes they came in groups, and Anakin had found himself in the new position of being part of a discussion rather than on the receiving end of orders or lessons. They asked his opinion; they were very interested in his experience of Dooku's power that was beyond anything experienced in the Jedi training.
Master Yoda himself had sat by Anakin's pallet for a long time on the second day, speaking kindly and watching him closely during the long silences when Anakin had struggled with pain and a profound sense of loss and failure. Anakin had felt better for Yoda's presence there. For the last three days Anakin had been allowed to visit Obi-Wan once a day, and he found that their conversations were warm and based on mutual respect. There had been no lectures at all.
Now the stump of his arm hardly hurt at all any more and Anakin was caught up in another mighty battle - an internal battle against indifference. Not long ago he would have felt that all of his deepest wishes were coming true. His recent major breaches of discipline were not being discussed - yet. He should be happy at his apparent subtle shift in status in the Jedi Order. He should throw himself into the work at hand - the mourning rituals for the Jedi Knights who had been lost in the battle, the support of those who like himself were healing, the war-talk and the planning discussions. Yet he felt himself going through the motions without a deep feeling for them. The Jedi life was losing its attraction for him.
Anakin had not seen Padm? or heard from her since the day of the battle. She had traveled with him and Obi-Wan on the transport back to Coruscant, and then the healers took away both of the wounded Jedi. They had to pry Anakin out of her arms. And then she was gone, and he felt her absence much more deeply and bitterly than the absence of his arm. He yearned to see her but could only stand here by this window. He hated feeling powerless. For five days he had thought back to the fight in the hangar on Geonosis and wondered at how easily he and Obi-Wan had been defeated.
The light outside was changing from the pale yellow of afternoon to the palest orange of early evening when a healer-assistant came silently to the door of his chamber, bowed, and announced with a small flutter of excitement that Anakin had visitors. He looked up to see two elegantly robed figures sweeping down the hallway towards him - one tall, one small. Two Jedi Knights followed behind at a respectful distance. The Chancellor of the Senate himself was coming to see him, and with him was the Senator from Naboo. I should have meditated was Anaken's first conscious thought when his feelings slammed so suddenly from apathy to anticipation that he had trouble keeping both his inner and outer balance.
To be on the safe side, Anakin did not look at Padm? right away. He was afraid that if he did, he would be unable to look away and greet the Chancellor with all due courtesy.
"Well, my young Jedi," Palpatine said genially, "once again I hear great things about you." He paused. "I am sorry about your injury."
"Thank you, but it is nothing," Anakin responded formally. "I am assured that it can be replaced in such a way that I will still be able to carry out my duties."
"Oh, I'm sure of that," Chancellor Palpatine said, with great charm. "But I think that it is for your willingness to go beyond the call of your duty that we owe you the greatest debt of gratitude." Before Anakin could work out why he suddenly felt uncomfortable, the Chancellor continued, indicating Padm? with a graceful gesture of his hand. "The Jedi are not generally happy to receive visitors inside the sacred Temple. But your Masters have graciously allowed us to come pay our respects to all of the Jedi who fought so bravely in the battle and who were wounded in those efforts. Senator Amidala was as anxious as I to come and express her appreciation in person." He chuckled. "Since she fought side by side with all of you at the center of the battle, I think they could not find reason enough to prevent her visit to her colleagues."
Anakin bowed to the Chancellor and to Padm?, although he still did not look at her. "I am grateful for your visit."
"If you don't mind," Palpatine said smoothly, "I would like to have a small private discussion with Master Kenobi. Perhaps the Senator can remain here and keep you company before we continue our visit to the others." Anakin bowed to the Chancellor again, and finally, as the leader of the Republic left the room, he could allow himself to look at Padm?.
She came to stand next to him in front of the window, which was ablaze with the clear light of the Hour of Souls. Feeling awkward and intensely aware of her position, she stopped just out of arm's reach. Anakin fizzed with impatience. Before Padm? could say a word, he burst out, "Five days! I haven't heard a word from you in five days! I have seen every Jedi Master and Padawan in Coruscant, but all I wanted was to see you. Where have you been?" Then, quickly, "Are you all right? I couldn't even get word ..."
"I'm fine." Padm? interrupted. "My wound is almost healed." Then, incredulously, "Don't you realize where you are? You're in the heart of the Jedi Temple."
"Yes?" Anakin didn't understand her question. He spent most of his time in Coruscant in the Jedi Temple. It was home.
"You might as well be inside the most impregnable fortress in the galaxy. There are precious few places in this building where outsiders are allowed, and this is certainly not one of them!" She frowned thoughtfully. " I still don't know how Palpatine pulled off this visit." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "Our guides are two fully-fledged Jedi Knights." Outside in the corridor, Anakin could see one of them, standing in the familiar pose of quiet attentiveness. The other must have accompanied Palpatine. "Perhaps the war is putting everything on a different footing."
Anakin suddenly realized that it was true. While he took his access to the temple for granted, he had rarely seen outsiders in the building above the first few levels. He had a sudden mental image of the Temple as a prison disguised as a Sanctuary. But at this moment Anakin could not spare a thought for political reflections. He searched Padm?'s face as the clear light from outside began to bathe the room in a deeper flame color. Five days ago they had been fighting side by side and almost inseparable. Now they were making polite conversation and she was keeping her distance. He couldn't stand it.
"I want you," he said.
Oh, no, Padm? thought. He's not going to make this easy. His directness was as unsettling as always.
"You have me," she said. Her eyes left his face and she looked out the window as though she were seeing another time and another place. "My feelings have not changed."
"But something else has?"
"Everything has changed in the course of a few days."
With a quick movement, Anakin closed the space between them and captured her hand in his. Her eyes moved up to the place she had not dared look before, the empty sleeve of his robe that was fastened just under his right shoulder. With her free hand she touched the empty fabric, very gently. She thought about loss, and sacrifice and the battle that had been fought and the many that were yet to come. No words came to her.
Anakin said, "Nothing else seems important without you."
"Oh, but it is," Padm? said sadly as the sky, the city and their own faces began to glow crimson as the sun slowly sank further toward night. "Everything else is important now. More important than we might wish. You and I are standing at the center of the Galaxy, and it's spinning out of control." She looked into his face through a haze of oddly reddish light. "Listen to me, Anakin. We could run away somewhere to the outer rim or beyond and we could live out our lives as we pleased. But I believe that it would not bring either one of us happiness, not in the long run. I believe that we are here now because we have to be - because we have work to do and a role to play. Especially now."
"I have always respected your unshakable sense of duty," Anakin said humbly.
"It's not just a sense of duty. It is a sense of ... of destiny."
Anakin allowed himself a smile - his first. "You sound like a Jedi."
"And you are a Jedi! That is where your duty should lie!"
"I see." Anakin's smile disappeared. "You came here to tell me that my duty is here and that your duty lies elsewhere." He stepped forward, pulling her closer to him by the hand. "I think we had this conversation before."
"The problem is," Padm? braced herself against an outburst from Anakin, "the problem is that now others are having this conversation. About us." He looked sharply at her and waited for her to go on. "Some members of the Jedi council came to see me two days ago. They are concerned ..." She couldn't resist smiling. "They are concerned that I am leading you astray." She smiled even more broadly at the memory. "Apparently my charms are considerable and you are still young and impressionable. As the older and wiser, it is my duty to discourage you so that you remain on your chosen path."
No outburst came. Instead, the room suddenly became very quiet, as though all the air had been sucked out of it. "I see," Anakin said quietly. " And what did you tell my Masters?" He deliberately brought her fingers to his lips. She did not pull away.
"I apologized, of course. I said that any influence on my part had been unintentional and that it was surely a passing fancy on your part."
"I see," he said again, turning her hand over and kissing her palm. The stillness pulsed in the room. "And will you do your duty and give me up?"
"By all rights I should give you up," she muttered darkly. The silence in the room became even deeper as Padm? struggled with her feelings. "But I can't." The light outside was slowly beginning to pool into violet. Darkness would soon be here. The glowlamps in Anakin's chamber began to light up, just a little at first, like candlelight, then becoming slowly brighter as darkness fell. Padm? whispered, "I don't know what to do with you."
"I love you," said Anakin. "Do anything you want with me."
Padm? felt her pulse beating in her throat as she asked the question she had been struggling with day and night. "Does that mean that you place me above your commitment to the Jedi Order?"
Anakin paused. His face was becoming harder to see in the growing gloom. "I am member of the Jedi Order, yes. But I can no sooner change my feelings about you than I can change the stars in the sky."
Padm? fell silent. She was acutely aware of her hand resting in his. She whispered, "So you are saying that you have no choice."
"I have no choice," said Anakin.
Padm? suddenly remembered her position and pulled back from him. He allowed it, but refused to relinquish her hand. "Is the guard still there?" Anakin's eyes flicked to the hallway outside and then back to her face.
"Yes, but no one else. Not yet."
"Palpatine is taking a long time." Then, in a low voice she said, "I don't want to hide like this. I never have."
She swallowed, and continued. "Of course I want to be with you. But I am already lying to people. I hate it. I just want the right to love you openly."
Anakin glanced at the door again and took one more step toward her so that his hand could slide up her arm and touch her cheek. "No one will ever give you that right. If we are to remain here you will have to choose to love me this way - or not at all." Heedless of the sentry outside in the corridor, Anakin leaned close to her face and declared, "I promise you that you are the most important thing in my life. I will not allow anything to stand between us. No matter what."
Padm? felt her self-control crumbling. This was what she had come to find out, and this was what she was afraid to hear. She was so tired of fighting her feelings. She wanted to weep. "Are you asking me to make the same promise?"
"No," he whispered, still stroking her cheek, "That is something you have to decide for yourself."
"And if I pledge myself to you, what then?"
"Then we love each other, whatever happens. We will do whatever it takes to be together."
"That sounds like a marriage."
Anakin laughed, surprised. "Well, Jedi don't marry, so I don't know much about it. But I always thought that marriage was a worldly arrangement about property and influence and children." He thought for a moment. "I never will have any property." Then he grinned at her, and went on. "You have officially been identified as a bad influence on me. And given the present circumstances, it is unlikely that either one of us will live long enough to have children." He reached down and took her hand again and used it to begin to pull her closer. "I want more than your hand. I want your soul."
This time Padm? laughed too. At the absurdity of it all. At the hopelessness. At the sheer enjoyment of standing there talking to him. "Appropriately enough," she pointed out, "the Hour of Souls is ending." She looked outside. The sky was almost fully dark and the lights of the city blazed a full spectrum of colors so bright that they hid the stars from view. "I also have no choice. About loving you, I mean. But I suppose you knew that."
"I had hoped it was true."
"So we are promised to one another. Secretly. Because we can't bear to be apart." Then her mood changed abruptly, and she said, dryly, "This is going to come as a real surprise to my future husband."
The glow lights had brightened enough for her to see the expression on Anakin's face, and it was priceless. "What future husband?" He looked ready to reach for a lightsaber, had there been one.
Padm? was so accustomed to relying on Anakin's strength and skill that his fundamental unworldliness always surprised her. "The other new problem. The Galaxy is at war. Imagine the strategic alliances that could be formed with the Senator and former Queen from Naboo. Especially since the newly powerful Chancellor is from the same planet. Negotiations are under way with a number of systems."
Anakin's expression went from enraged to deeply offended. "So this is what you refer to as your destiny? Submitting to political necessity like a game piece? After all you have accomplished?" He shook his head unbelievingly. "Why would you agree to this?"
Padm? shook her head, suddenly feeling the exhaustion of the last five days. "War always brings a return to barbarism," she said bitterly. "We have not yet sunk completely into the ways of the past, but you would not believe the discussions that are going on."
"I always thought of you as a leader and a warrior. I thought you decide your own destiny."
He thinks of me as a warrior. Much later in her life, when grief was a constant companion and she had too much time to think about the past, Padm? would remember those words and realize how powerfully Anakin's faith in her had affected her choices. But for the moment, she was angry. "Is this any different? With our hidden love and our pledge? Are we truly deciding our own destiny?"
"You already made that choice for us, My Lady. No running away, no shirking of duty. Those are the conditions, are they not? Given that love is not a choice, that leaves us with the games and the hiding that you hate."
Padm?'s anger subsided. "I want you," she said.
"You have me."
"But if I marry -" she looked up and managed a wry smile, "- if I form a strategic alliance - I will have to give you up."
"You can't. I won't go away. " He looked far from defeated. In fact, he looked pleased with himself as he began to pull her arm around his waist, never letting go of her hand. "I have your soul, remember?"
Padm? found herself smiling in response to an irrepressible fantasy of Anakin, lightsaber in hand, saving her from her own wedding to some dignitary or other. "This could get very awkward." She forgot about keeping her distance and allowed him to draw her closer.
Looking at her shining face that was so soft and open in the lamplight, Anakin felt the last of his inner struggles about his chosen path fall away as though they had never existed. "Then you will have to find other ways to forge your political alliances. You are promised to me. On second thought, perhaps I had better have your soul and your hand."
Before she could answer, voices sounded in the corridor outside Anakin's door, and Padm? quickly stepped back two steps and snatched back her hand. The tall figure of the Chancellor strode back into the room. "I am so sorry to have kept you waiting this long," he said. "Masters Windu and Yoda were visiting with Master Kenobi when I arrived, and we had a most interesting chat."
"Don't worry, Chancellor," Padm? said in her best formal manner. "My young friend has been the perfect host." Anakin decided it was better to bow than to splutter and so he did.
"Well then," said the Chancellor, "we had better visit our other wounded warriors before we wear out our welcome." He nodded to Anakin. "Do come and see me when your recovery is complete." Anakin nodded, still unwilling to speak.
"You have my best wishes for your full recovery," Padm? said formally to Anakin. Her face was perfectly composed, but her eyes glittered. "I may well have need of your services."
"As you wish, my Lady," Anakin managed, bowing again with just the correct amount of deference. And so the games begin, he thought.
Despite her best efforts, on the way back down the corridor Padm? let slip a small smile. The Chancellor noticed it immediately, as though he had been waiting for a sign.
"You seem quite entertained after your sojourn with young Skywalker."
And so the games begin, Padm? thought. She didn't feel afraid any longer now that she had made up her mind. She wanted Anakin at any price. "Chancellor, you know how fond I am of our young friend. He seems to have a knack for saving my life."
"Well, then," said the Chancellor lightly, "we will have to ensure that he remains at your disposal."
Standing by the darkened window in his chamber Anakin contemplated his own destiny, and found himself thinking about the world outside the Jedi Temple and about his pledge to the Senator from Naboo. It seemed that there were more paths available to him than the one he had originally chosen. His earlier feeling of indifference had vanished like the golden light of the Hour of Souls.
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Whatever Comes To Us
Obi-Wan had been allowed inside the treatment room with Ani, of course. Obi-Wan was Ani's master, his friend, and the closest thing the Jedi Order recognized to his father.
Padm? was just his assignment.
She didn't dare let her frustration and anger show, or the horrible fear for him that she couldn't help feeling. There had been questions en route from Geonosis to Coruscant, questions about an embrace and a kiss, questions Padm? didn't know how to answer without knowing what Ani wanted her to say. She could destroy his future with a word, and she knew it.
But Ani had gone into shock as the transport loaded, and the medical droids had bustled him off to a quiet corner, where she couldn't talk to him, where she couldn't find out which future he had decided on. And the questions, carefully worded: "Warm feelings, I sense in you, Senator..." or "Is such a kiss a customary greeting among the Naboo, Senator?"
She had mumbled something about being afraid and about how much was going on around them. How much could the Jedi pick up of her real feelings?
She didn't know.
At any rate, it didn't matter if they knew she loved Ani. It only mattered that they never find out that he loved her, too - that he was, in fact, willing to risk his place in the Order for her. She supposed she should question that. It might have been said in the heat of the moment, which had been considerable - and nineteen-year-old boys were known to have a healthy store of insincere statements for use in such situations.
But not Ani. Not to me, anyway.
The Jedi had seemed to accept her demurrals to an extent. They didn't look happy with her, but no suspicion was cast on Anakin. They had whisked him away to the Temple infirmary as soon as they'd gotten back, and the door had been shut ever since. The infected scratches on Padm?'s back were treated there, as well as the deep burns in Obi-Wan's arm and leg, and they had given her a simple dress and robe to wear while she waited. Then...
Obi-Wan had gone into the cybernetics lab, and Padm? had been left here, in the vestibule outside, to pace with Mace Windu, Yoda, and Threepio. Artoo kept circling her in a protective way, cooing what sounded like comforting words. And the most she could do was inquire every now and then about his progress.
"Much concern have you for young Skywalker," Yoda said the sixth time she did this. But he was smiling.
She nodded. "I... Well it's my fault. I was the one who insisted that we go to Geonosis to try to help Obi-Wan. If it weren't for me, he'd be at home on Tatooine with both of his arms. And we didn't do a bit of good, did we?"
"Hard to measure is such a thing. But brave you were, and fought well, you did."
"I should have realized the Jedi would come for Obi-Wan in time. It just seemed to be so far."
Yoda frowned in a puzzled way, but didn't elaborate on whatever he'd noticed. When he spoke, his voice was gentle. "Without his padawan by his side, lost his life, Obi-Wan would have, in the battle with Dooku. Save him, you did, by bringing young Skywalker... even against our orders."
"And lost Ani his right arm."
"For young Skywalker's injury, you bear no responsibility. Reckless he can be in a fight, and skilled at exploiting such a weakness is Dooku. Be at ease, Senator Amidala."
The door to the cybernetics lab opened, and a hooded figure came out. Padm?'s heart rose, then fell again when she realized that it was just Obi-Wan. He crossed the room to her.
"Master, the surgery is complete. The initial cybernetic replacement has taken."
"How is Anakin?" Padm? asked.
Obi-Wan looked over, noticing her for the first time, or at least acknowledging her. "Physically, he is well. There was no lasting damage from the shock, and the arm is performing adequately. He is concerned that he may lose some of his skills if the hand doesn't function as expertly as his natural hand. He is also upset about its appearance." Obi-Wan sighed. "I am worried about him. He seems distant. Despairing."
"May I see him now?"
"I'm not sure that's a good idea, Padm?. He... Anakin is under the impression that you might find his appearance distasteful."
"Which is all the more reason for me to go in there." She bit her tongue - hard - before following it up with, He needs to know that I'll love him no matter what sort of arm he has. That would be difficult to explain. "Please, Obi-Wan. With the vote over, Queen Jamillia has asked me to go back to Naboo and help the people get ready for the war. She believes - and I agree - that it's likely to expand, and the Naboo will need to be trained and armed. She wants me to contact Boss Nass and ask him to oversee the project." She bit her lip. "At any rate, I want to see Ani again before I go. I don't know when I'll get back to Coruscant and he... he cared for me very well."
"I don't doubt it," Obi-Wan said dully. He raised his fingers to his temples and rubbed them in small circles. "I'm sorry, milady," he said. "The tone was uncalled for. And you're right. Whatever Anakin thinks, I believe a visit from you would be beneficial to him. Wallowing in his wounded vanity isn't likely to help much, and nothing I have said for the past hour seems to have had much of an impact on him." Padm?'s face must have registered shock, because Obi-Wan put a comforting hand on her arm. "I do care for him, Padm?. I know it must not seem so to you, and rarely does to him lately. I would lay down my life for him. But I believe we both know that he can be... difficult. And he is being difficult at the moment."
"I understand. May I see him now?"
Obi-Wan nodded and gave her the chip that would let her pass the security line. She didn't look back or ask any further questions. All she wanted was to get to him, and her ability to put a respectable face on that desire was weakening with each passing moment.
She didn't give the security droid so much as a second glance when she breezed by it.
Ani was lying on an inclined sickbed at the far end of the room, looking shrunken and pale in the harsh glare of the lights. He turned his head when she came into the room, then made a horrified grab for the blanket with his left hand, pulling it up to his right shoulder. "Padm?! I told Obi-Wan... "
"Yes, he said you were being difficult." She sat down on the bed beside him and reached for the top of the blanket.
He took her hand gently, but firmly, and pushed it back. "I'm not ready for you to see me," he said.
"It doesn't even look a little bit real, Padm?. It's... it's ugly."
"I don't care." She brought her other hand up to his real one, folded his fingers between her palms. "I meant what I said, Ani. I don't love you any less for losing an arm. Did you really believe that I would?"
He looked down at the strangely shaped line under the blanket on his right side, his long eyelashes shading his eyes entirely from her view. "How could I ever touch you with this?" he asked quietly. "What if it hurts you? And it doesn?t feel real, Padm?. It'll be cold."
Padm? brought his hand to her lips and kissed it. His skin tasted sweet to her. She kissed his knuckles more deeply, fascinated by the sensation of it. When she looked up, he was looking at her again. "There aren't security cameras in here, are there?" she asked.
He hesitated, then shook his head.
She leaned forward and pressed her lips onto his, tasting him, letting him taste her. He pulled his good hand from hers and caressed the back of her neck. She touched his hair, his neck, his shoulder...
He broke the kiss. She could feel his heart beating quickly, and his eyes were panicked. "Padm?... "
She sat up, keeping her hand at the top of the blanket, waiting for permission to go on.
"Padm?," he whispered again. His good hand traced circles at the base of her skull.
Slowly, she tightened her fingers around the blanket and pulled it away from his cybernetic arm. He watched the process with apprehension, but he didn't stop her.
The stump of the arm was capped with durasteel, and the skeletal framework of the same material emerged from it. Wires trailed up and down; Padm? knew they attached to his nerves in some hidden place. She touched the arm curiously.
"You can feel it, then?" she asked.
He nodded. Sweat was dampening his face, and he was watching her hands as though she were practicing a complex craft that he could never hope to learn.
She ran her fingers down past the elbow, to the place where the structure changed. The wrist approximated the human skeleton, with several sensors placed to create a rolling motion. The bones of the hand were duplicated precisely, though without flesh it appeared to be only several long fingers extending from Ani's wrist. The wires spread throughout it. She touched one directly and Ani gasped.
She drew her hand away. "I'm sorry. Did that hurt?"
He smiled faintly. "No. It didn't hurt. It... Well, it didn't hurt."
"Isn't it dangerous for the wires to be exposed?"
"I'm going to find some way to cover them later," he said. "The droids say they should be fine. Threepio's wires were exposed for a long time and he never..." Anakin stopped. "Great. Now I'm building myself."
"At least you know you can trust the builder." She deliberately wrapped her hand around the metal rods and wires. Ani had been wrong. It wasn't cold. It warmed to her touch immediately. She drew it up, and folded it between her hands, as she had the other, and kissed it softly. "Can you still feel it?" she asked.
Padm? kissed a finger again, surprised that the taste, while not like the other, wasn't actively unpleasant. And from the way Ani's breathing sounded, the sensations in this hand were actually more intense. It was a powerful feeling. She kissed each new knuckle, exactly as she had the other hand, letting herself imagine its firm caress, enjoying the way Ani's eyes locked with hers as she touched him, sharing secrets that no one else would ever know.
The hand flexed and tightened suddenly around hers. Ani drew in a ragged breath. "I'm sorry. Did that hurt?"
"No. Is that what you were worried about? It's not any tighter than your left hand."
He drew it tentatively away, touched her face reverently, then drew it down her side. He looked to her for permission.
She nodded, and he stroked her side again, the firm steel fingers awakening her nerve endings. The kiss deepened, and she allowed herself to become lost in it.
He stopped abruptly and pulled her hand away from the mechanism. "Padm?, no. Not like this. Not here."
Padm? blushed, suddenly realizing that the kiss had become more intense than she'd intended. "I'm sorry," she said. "I wasn't thinking. Of course..." She let go and stood up beside the bed, straightening clothes that had become somewhat disorganized. "I shouldn't have done that," she said.
He smiled. "You keep saying that. Honestly, I don't mind at all."
"I have a feeling your master and the Council would mind." The real world started coming back to her a piece at a time. First and foremost, Ani would be expelled from the Order if they went on like this. Chancellor Palpatine had told her years ago, on one of his ever-more-infrequent visits to Naboo, that Anakin had the potential to be the greatest of all the Jedi, and she would hate herself if she stole that from him. Would he hate her for it? He would say no, of course, and he'd mean it now, but in ten years? Twenty? Would he mean it then?
Then there was the matter of her own future. She often complained about her life in politics - or lack thereof, sometimes - but she loved to serve her people, and there was so much that needed to be done. An affair - especially with Anakin - would mire her in scandal for years, and impede her ability to do what she needed to do. She could hear the whispers now, about the aloof and oh-so-noble Senator Amidala seducing a teenage Jedi. She could live with it for herself, but she would not be able to work around it. It was the sort of thing the electorate would destroy her for.
"You're being rational again," Ani said quietly.
She looked up. He was watching her warmly, but he had withdrawn physically, pulling the blankets over himself. "One of us has to be, Ani," she said. "And you've already told me that you can't."
He nodded. "You're right. I know you're right."
"I love you. As long as you know it, I... I'll be all right."
Padm? wanted to say something, some perfect thing that would make everything fit, but she was afraid that if she opened her mouth, she would simply start to cry. Instead, she just grabbed his good hand again and kissed it hard, then left without saying anything else to Anakin, or to the Jedi gathered outside, or to the air taxi driver who took her home, or to Dorm? and Jar Jar, waiting in her apartment. She just smiled at them, hoping they would not ask, and went to her room to lock herself in.
Even when the tears came, they were silent.
Anakin returned to his quarters at the Temple two days after losing his arm. The new one was behaving better than he would have expected looking at it. He'd been able to repair several circuits in Threepio's neck with no trouble on the fine work, and, though he'd approached it with some trepidation, he'd been able to both draw and carve as well as he ever had, once he'd gotten used to not having flesh to rest his instruments on.
Unfortunately, all he'd been able to draw was a dead Tusken child and all he'd been able to carve was his mother's death mask.
He destroyed both projects.
He hadn't told Obi-Wan about the Tusken camp yet, though he knew his master suspected that something had happened on Tatooine. Obi-Wan, at any rate, was being kind and more compassionate than he'd been for quite awhile.
He closed his eyes and imagined her sitting beside him on his sleep couch, holding his hands. Before she had come to him at the infirmary, he had seriously contemplated destroying himself. Between what had happened on Tatooine and what had happened on Geonosis, he felt there was little worth living for. But she had come to him and accepted him, both his maimed spirit and his maimed body.
There had been a replacement for the part of his body he had lost. It wasn't complete, but it worked. Could there be a replacement for the part of his soul he had lost in the Tusken camp?
(No. You are damned. Embrace damnation and claim the power you knew there in the night of blood and sand.)
He squeezed his eyes shut against the voice. It wasn't the first time he had heard it, but it was something that he wouldn't even share with Padm?. He didn't want to burden her with what he was sometimes afraid was some kind of oncoming insanity.
A soft tone told him that someone was at the door. He reached out with his senses and recognized Obi-Wan. He keyed the door open.
Obi-Wan came in hesitantly, looking around the room as though he hadn't been in here once a day for the last ten years, except during missions. He sat down on the stool at Anakin's desk. "Padm? has contacted me to ask if you would escort her back to Naboo."
Anakin looked up, surprised. "Really?"
"What's going on, Padawan?"
The choice had come: Lie or stay silent.
He couldn't lie. Nor could he stay silent.
"I love her, Master."
"I see." Obi-Wan breathed deeply. "You always loved her."
"Yet something has changed."
Anakin didn't know where to begin discussing the change with Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan was not a man who would understand it. "She... loves me as well."
Obi-Wan nodded tightly, and Anakin couldn't name all the feelings that came from him. Fear was one of them, but it was far back, unrecognized. "Are you leaving the Order?"
"No. She... she says we need to be rational. She has a career. I have a future. The real world, she says."
"And you are able to do so?"
"I'm able to respect her wishes, Master. I would not go against them."
After what seemed a long time, Obi-Wan spoke again. "I told her you could go."
"She'll be leaving in an hour. You should meet her at the Senate launch pad."
Obi-Wan stood up, started to leave, stopped. "Anakin... I'm sorry I've held you back. I know it's frustrated you."
"It's all right, Master. I am unpredictable and... " Anakin stopped himself. "My anger isn't yet under control."
"And yet the realization of that is in itself a great deal of growth." Obi-Wan smiled. "How I will miss you after your trials, Anakin."
If Obi-Wan had been another man, Anakin might have embraced him at this point. But despite Obi-Wan's warm words, he still seemed uncomfortable with the closeness; so instead, Anakin just grinned and said, "You'll be too busy with a new apprentice to miss me."
Obi-Wan laughed softly. "I will have to take three padawans to consider myself busy after ten years with you."
It came out before Anakin knew he meant to say it. "I love you, Master."
Obi-Wan just looked at him steadily, but Anakin could feel a lot of confused responses coming from him. It wasn't the first time it had been said, but Obi-Wan had never known what to do with it. It wasn't within his realm of experience. At last, he said, "Thank you, Ani. That means a great deal to me."
He left, and Anakin quickly packed a bag for the trip to Naboo. He brought his dress robes, thinking that he might be received at Queen Jamillia's court again and wanting to look more suitable this time, then headed out. Obi-Wan was gone from the common area of their quarters when he left the Temple.
"Master Ani?" a voice spoke up from the shadows.
"Are you leaving again?"
The vocoder sounded almost forlorn. Anakin smiled. Threepio had been a companion when he'd most needed one, and he'd been pleasantly surprised to find that he still liked the fastidious droid. "I'm going back to Naboo with Padm?."
"Naboo. Her home?"
"Yes." He grinned. "Would you like to come along?"
If the droid could sigh with relief, Anakin was sure he would have done so. "Oh, yes, Master Ani."
"Well, then, come on. There's a speeder waiting to take us to the hangar."
Dressing this morning had been a complex and daunting task.
On Coruscant, Padm? always dressed symbolically, but she almost always knew what signal she meant to send. Now...
She didn't want to wear something too formal, something that would seem a repudiation of everything they'd been through and everything she'd said. She didn't want to wear the soft clothes she'd worn on Naboo - Ani didn't need any more mixed signals from her. And she didn't want to wear any outfit that she'd worn on Tatooine. She wanted Ani to put Tatooine behind him.
In the end, she chose a formal Senate gown - she was traveling as Senator Amidala - but one of the looser, more mobile ones. It was a simple velvet shift in pale lavender, with a long outer coat of deep purple, nipped slightly at the waist by a clasp in the back. It looked respectable, but not forbidding, friendly, but not... inviting. Her hair, she left free, except for a silver circlet to hold it in place. A single pale purple gem depended from it.
She inspected herself.
It would do. She hoped.
The Jedi Order had lost nearly two hundred knights on Geonosis. She couldn't ask Ani to abandon them now.
(It wouldn't have to be like that. We could keep it a secret.)
The idea, insane as it was, kept recurring to her. That wasn't good.
There was no reason for her to ask him to accompany her back to Naboo, but she hadn't slept properly for two days, and she needed to see his face again. She couldn't remember exactly how the light hit it, and she needed to be reminded. His face was like a melody stuck in her head, one that needed to be listened to over and over until she finally had her fill.
It wasn't rational. But she could control anything further, and maybe, just maybe, they could come to some kind of workable understanding. Maybe they could find a friendship that could survive everything else that was true between them, and she wouldn't need to live without him entirely. Maybe...
Maybe the planets would suddenly start spinning backward and the stars would spell her name.
But she'd already invited him.
She went with Artoo, Captain Typho and Dorm? to the Senate launch pad. They were taking fighters; she would be returning with Anakin on board the cruiser they had borrowed for their travels. Dorm? had asked if she wanted a chaperone on board, but Padm? didn't think it would be necessary. Her "no" would be enough to protect her virtue with Ani.
She wasn't sure what was meant to protect his, if her resolve failed.
He arrived only five minutes after her party had, See-Threepio clattering along a few meters behind him, and looked at Typho and Dorm? in a vaguely surprised way. "Dorm? and the captain also need to return to Naboo," she explained. "They thought it unwise for me to wait alone in the hangar until you arrived."
Ani nodded. "Good thinking. I doubt Gunray is just going to give up."
"But Anakin is here now," Padm? said, glancing briefly at Typho. "We can handle it from here on in."
Dorm? smiled wisely, and led Typho over to the fighters. Padm? stood beside Ani and watched them blast into the sky.
Threepio looked away first. "People come and go so quickly," he said.
"That's life on Coruscant," Ani told him. He shrugged and looked at Padm?. "He wanted to come along. I hope you don't mind. He doesn't seem to be very happy at the Temple."
All of her nervousness melted away, and she laughed. "Oh, Ani. You can bring Threepio anywhere you like."
"Do you think he could stay with you? With the war, I'm going to be gone a lot, and he's not much for battles."
Fear tore through Padm?'s innards as though a small, hungry nexu had taken up residence in her heart. She didn't want to think about Ani in any more battles. She didn't fear her own death, but the thought of Ani's was unbearable. She forced herself to only pay attention to part of the question. "I'd be happy to. Threepio, what do you say? Would you like to stay with me?"
"Oh, if I may, Miss Padm?! But Master Ani... you won't need me?"
"I'll muddle through," he said.
Artoo had already rolled up the gangplank, and was beeping impatiently from the top. They followed him.
Padm? took her place in the navigator's seat, and Ani slid comfortably into the pilot's chair.
It felt good to be together like this once more, as good in some ways as it felt to kiss and hold him. She wondered if it would be possible to steal this kind of moment again.
"I was surprised you asked me to come along," Ani said, starting the launch sequence. "I thought... well, after what you said about being rational..."
The thrusters fired, and the ship took off smoothly. Navigating around Coruscant's orbital junkyard required too much attention to answer him, so she avoided the question until after he'd made the jump to hyperspace.
"Padm?? Are we still being rational?"
"I don't know, Ani. I just woke up and... I wanted to see you." She turned the navigator's chair around to face him. He was looking studiously at the controls, and she felt a sudden surge of doubt. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have called. I shouldn't try to -"
His hand - the mechanical one - covered hers, and his voice was warm. "I'm glad you called, Padm?. I'm not sorry to be here."
Her fingers wound through his of their own accord. She watched them curiously. "Ani, I don't know what to do. All I know is that I... I can't always be rational. I... " But she didn't know what it was she wanted to say. Ani would have found something, she knew. Some strange but true bit of poetry. I am not who I am when I don't love you, maybe. All she could do, though, was squeeze his hand and let herself feel the wild, irrational thing that had taken over her mind since he'd come back to her.
Maybe that was enough. He seemed to feel it coming from her, and he pressed a kiss onto her forehead. "It's okay. What are we going to do? They need me there. I can't..."
I don't know. Why am I the one who's supposed to know?
She didn't say it. "There has to be some way to get through this, Ani."
"Just be strong? Pretend not to feel what we feel?"
"I can't do that anymore. And you couldn't do it in the first place. I need you, Ani. I need you in my life. I need to love you. And it's not possible."
He nodded and let go of her hand, and they flew in uncomfortable silence until the ship shuddered out of hyperspace above Naboo. She watched him the whole way, watched his hands on the controls, watched his face in the light of the starlines. She felt him watching her, and wanted to cry out against the injustice of it.
It's not fair! It's just not!
But she didn't. She turned away and looked down at the naviputer. The coordinates for Theed's landing platform were coming up. Her hand hovered over the enter key.
"Padm?? The coordinates?" He grinned. "Or do you like flying blind into a city? I do."
She smiled weakly, her hand still shaking. Then she pulled it away.
"Take me back to the lake, Ani."
He looked up at her sharply. "What?"
"The lake. Don't go to Theed."
"But Queen Jamillia -"
"- can learn to function for a week without my advice. We'll send word that we've gone back. That we're taking time to recuperate from the battle."
"Will you be able to take that much time away from the Order?"
"I am recuperating, but Padm?..."
She closed her eyes and swallowed hard. "I can't have you forever, Ani. I know that. But maybe we can have each other for a little while. Maybe we can get past this by -"
She opened her eyes. He looked horrified. "What?"
"Padm?, I couldn't... not... " He hit the autopilot key on the controls, and dropped to his knees before her. He kissed her forehead, her cheeks, the hollow of her neck. "I don't want to be your lover," he said finally, quietly.
"I want to be your husband. I couldn't be with you otherwise. I could never let you..." He kissed her hands. "Padm?, do you want to be my wife?"
"Yes, but we're forbidden. We can't..."
"What you suggest is forbidden as well. If we can keep one secret, we can keep the other."
"But could we keep either?"
"I don't know." He bit his full lip and looked up at her, his eyes stormy. "But we have to decide, Padm?. I can't be with you like this anymore. And you can't do it, either. Either we commit to this or... " He took a sharp breath. "Or we don't see each other at all. I don't think there's an in between for us."
"Would you leave the Order?"
"I don't think they would let me go. There's a prophecy..." He shuddered. "And with so many dead and a war coming... I will, if it comes down to it, Padm?. But I need to be there for them one way or another. They're my family."
"But we'd be lying to them."
"Only until the crisis passes. Then I'll tell Obi-Wan everything. I mean everything." He laid his head down on her knee. "Marry me, Padm?. What comes next will come. But let's be there together when it does."
She let her hand rest in his hair, felt the good weight of his head on her leg, and tried to imagine life with him, and life without him. Both paths were full of shadow and mystery, but she knew the demons that lay down the one where she walked away from him. Any other demons that stalked them... they could face them together.
She put her hand under his chin and raised his face to look into his eyes.
"Take me back to the lake," she said again. "Whatever comes to us can begin there."
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You Meet the Nicest People in your Dreams
The swift, sleek Nubian ship stitched its way across space, blithely oblivious in its mechanized way of the ordeal its passengers had just been through.
In the cockpit, a grim Master Yoda and a sore but revived Obi-Wan Kenobi discussed the day's events. R2-D2 attended to C-3PO's mangled circuitry in Maintenance, while the ship's other two occupants lay in side-by-side beds in the medical bay. Padm? was facedown, having the gashes in her back attended to by a clucking medic droid. To her left, Anakin dozed on his back, still unconscious from the anesthetic administered so his new prosthetic arm could be attached.
"I believe our patient is coming around," whirred the maternal medic droid.
Anakin groaned slightly and opened his eyes.
"Ani? Are you in pain?" asked Padm?.
"Nope, can't feel a thing," he said groggily. "I was having a great dream, though. I didn't want to wake up."
Padm? smiled, then winced. A good deal of Geonosian sand had gotten into her wounds, and the medic droid seemed to be removing it one grain at a time with its steely sterilized fingers.
"What were you dreaming about?" she asked.
"You," said Anakin mischievously. "We were in a field, and I was chasing you, and you tripped and fell, and I reached out to help you up-" he repeated the gesture, and got a glimpse of his right arm for the first time.
"Aagh! What happened to my arm?" he yelled.
"Not so loud, if you please," clucked the medic droid. "It won't do to get agitated while you're recovering."
"Recovering from what?" asked Anakin at the same volume.
Oh, no, thought Padm?. Either the anesthetic's fogged his memory, or he blocked it out himself.
"We were on Geonosis," she prompted. "Do you remember what happened - ouch! - on Geonosis?"
Anakin shut his eyes in concentration. When he opened them again, they were shining with the excitement of the nine-year-old boy he had once been. "There was a duel," he said in awe, "with another Jedi. I used two lightsabers," he grinned, "mine and Obi-Wan's-"
The grin vanished. Anakin snapped upright. "Obi-Wan! Where is he? I've got to find him!"
"Obi-Wan is all right," Padm? reassured him. "You saved his life. He told me all about it. He's in better shape - ouch! - than you are."
"Please lie down," fussed the droid, leaving Padm? and rolling over to Anakin's side, pressing gently but firmly on his shoulders until he complied.
"Do you remember anything else?" Padm? asked. "Before the duel?"
"Before?" murmured Anakin, looking intently at Padm? as though he might find the answer in her face. "There were?chains? an arena?" His eyes widened. "You told me you loved me." He smiled at the memory. "I knew you would."
"Really?" asked Padm?.
"Yes, I - I dreamed you would, again and again for ten years - and I knew I must be seeing the future, so I kept waiting, all the time we were on Naboo, to hear you say it. I didn't know you'd have to be facing death to say you loved me."
"Anakin - ouch! - I-"
"It's all right. You don't have to explain or apologize or anything. Now I know my dreams were right. I've dreamt of you nearly all my life. Didn't always know it was you, of course. When I was really little, I had dreams of a woman all in white, with soft kind eyes, her arms held open - an angel, come to rescue me and my mom - and now I see it was you all along. You rescued me from Tatooine." Anakin's brow furrowed as he repeated the word. "Tatooine. Why do I feel there's something about that place I ought to remember? That's odd. I haven't been there in ten years."
Padm? was silent for a breathless moment. In that moment, these thoughts flurried through her mind:
He doesn't remember. He doesn't remember that his mother is dead or that he slaughtered an encampment of sand people. He has to know. Once he knows-
He will be just like me. He will live with the guilt of murder as I do. Wasn't it murder to send countless Gungans to certain death for the sake of my people? Oh, certainly I told myself, "It is the only way," but a voice deeper within was saying, "Better them than us." That is the voice I struggle to silence every day. Because of that struggle I refused admit that Anakin and I are alike, that I understood and understand better than perhaps anyone else what happened on Tatooine. That voice is the reason I would now turn first to Anakin for help, for friendship, and yes - for love.
We understand each other, and perhaps if we can unburden ourselves to one another, we can ease the pain, lessen the guilt, and ensure that no other innocents die at our hands.
For that to happen, he has to know.
How can I burden him with that responsibility again, even knowing that I will be there to help him through the pain? I must tell him, of course - but not yet. Not now.
This is my gift to you, Anakin Skywalker. For this time of grace, you will not carry the mark of "murderer" on your heart.
The moment passed, and Padm? spoke.
"I'm sure it's nothing, Anakin. You've been through an ordeal, and it's natural that your thoughts would turn to home - ouch!"
"I suppose you're right." Anakin looked doubtful, but let it pass, as he finally seemed to notice Padm?'s predicament. "Why in the galaxy are you letting that droid fix you up without any painkillers?"
"The ship's supply was low," said Padm?. "I made the medic give it all to you." She grimaced.
Silently, Anakin reached out with his left hand and touched Padm?'s shoulder. In a few moments the pain had vanished.
"Better?" he asked.
Padm? nodded. I wouldn't take comfort from Obi-Wan or Yoda, but I will take it from you, Anakin.
"Thank you, Padm?."
Another wordless moment passed as the medic droid finished irrigating Padm?'s wounds and began applying a bandage, humming to itself.
"I just have one more question," said Anakin.
Padm? tensed, afraid of what it might be.
"Apparently death threats lower your inhibitions, so if I dangle you over the Sarlaac pit back home, will you marry me?"
"Will I what?"
"You mean it?"
"Yes! Skip the Sarlaac pit, though."
"Oh, how wonderful!" cried C-3PO from the doorway. By his side, R2-D2 chirped his approval.
"Threepio! Artoo! You heard all that?" asked Anakin.
"Oh, yes! Shall I share the good news with Master Kenobi and Master Yoda?"
"Yes," said Anakin.
"No!" said Padm?.
"No?" asked Anakin. "You said we couldn't keep it secret. You said we couldn't live a lie."
"It won't be," said Padm?. "When we get to Naboo, you and the droids can escort me home, and we can get married right away - then we'll tell the Council." So they don't get the chance to stop us, she thought. Even the Council is wrong sometimes.
"You heard the lady," Anakin said to the droids. "Mum's the word."
Threepio and Artoo left the medical bay, and not another word was spoken there, save the medic droid's:
"Sir, what are you-" before being cut off by a datapad Force-flung against its on/off switch.
The little ship zipped along to its destination, ever unaware of all that passed inside.
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