She didn't know how long she had been there, pacing the balcony outside her sleeping chambers. She only knew the sky was growing much darker.
Her home planet was beginning to settle down for an evening of slumber with only the sound of the waves below or the occasional call of a bird to break the peaceful quiet. It was the time of evening she usually loved. But not tonight.
A slight breeze drifted across her exposed shoulder, sending a chill through her. She wasn't even aware her silken robe had fallen, and she pulled it more tightly across her body, trying to find warmth.
"Ani, where are you?" she whispered to the emptiness around her.
It was a question Padm? had been asking more and more often lately. The first few months of her marriage to Anakin had been so intense and so passionate: stolen moments at the lake retreat where she now stood or evenings together disguised as innocent social meetings between old friends when their separate duties called them both to Coruscant. When they were together, it was as if nothing or no one else existed. For most people, this sort of constant sneaking around would have been too much to bear, but to a Senator who had spent her life playing by, as well as making, the rules, the deception was exhilarating, almost empowering.
Lately, however, things had started to change between them.
Her time with Anakin had become less frequent since Chancellor Palpatine had taken her husband under his wing, requesting him for highly sensitive missions, molding his career. Anakin was often gone for long periods of time, and he never offered details of his whereabouts or what he was doing.
This new relationship between the Chancellor and her husband made Padm? uneasy. The longer Palpatine held the reins of the Galactic Senate, the more power he seemed to crave, and Padm? was finding it more and more difficult to trust the Chancellor. She knew it was a sentiment shared by many others.
When they were able to find time together, Anakin seemed ...different. He was often distant and argumentative. When Padm? discussed goings-on in the Senate, Anakin never failed to criticize the efforts of those trying desperately to hold the Republic together. He constantly spoke of Palpatine and how he had plans that could end the fighting with the Separatists and form an even better, stronger Republic. However, he never answered Padm?'s questions about what these plans entailed.
"He thinks my talents are being wasted by the Jedi Council. As a matter of fact, he doesn't believe the Jedi are even practical now that we have the clone army. He has such powerful insights as to how the Republic could truly function under the right leadership, and he thinks I could be part of that leadership, Padm?."
She had heard this refrain from Anakin many times, during meals together or as they walked along the shores of the water. These excited revelations from her husband always frightened her, and at first, Padm? had tried to reason with him, begged him to understand why the Chancellor would want to poison Anakin against the Jedi Order, and in fact, the Republic. While she pleaded with him, he would stare at her with empty eyes. Sometimes he would storm out of the room. Other times, he would offer a mumbled excuse about a new mission, and leave for weeks at a time, ignoring any communications from her.
No, Anakin did not take kindly to criticism of his new mentor. It was a lesson she had finally learned. Now, whenever Anakin spoke of Palpatine, she would respond only with a half-hearted smile, not wanting to anger him or ruin what little time they had together.
In the last remaining light, Padm? leaned against the balcony railing. She smiled for a moment as she watched a colorful Manaw bird flying low over the water in search of an evening meal, but the smile faded as her mind drifted back to the reason for her worry on this particular evening.
She had been anxiously awaiting Anakin's return from his latest mission on behalf of the Chancellor. He was due to arrive at any moment, and she had something important to share with him. Her stomach was fluttering, but whether from the life inside of her or from her nervousness at her husband's possible reaction, she did not know.
Padm? hummed softly to herself as she walked to her closet and chose a silken deep blue nightgown, his favorite, and slipped its soft folds over her body. She was just putting on the matching robe when she heard the shrill call of the holovid. She smiled to herself as she rushed to the main living quarters. It had to be Anakin. To her surprise, it was not her husband, but rather Obi-Wan Kenobi's image she saw before her. She self-consciously clutched her robe around her revealing attire as she acknowledged his communication.
Rami was dead. A slave discovered him lying in an alley in Mos Espa. There was no doubt he had been murdered. His larynx was crushed, as if he had been strangled, but there were no marks on his throat, or anywhere else on his body, for that matter.
As Obi-Wan relayed this information to her, Padm? sank slowly into a chair near the holovid. A murdered Jedi was nothing new, especially now during the escalating conflicts with the Separatists, but Rami had been one of Anakin's closest friends.
Anakin often told her how Rami would try to comfort him during his first days at the Jedi Temple, when the pain of being away from his mother was almost too much to bear. They had grown up together, almost like brothers. On more than one occasion, Anakin had entertained Padm? by recounting humorous stories of their exploits.
Unfortunately, the friends had suffered a falling out recently. Anakin did not reveal all the details of their confrontation, but from what he had shared with her, it was apparent to Padm? that Rami shared her concerns about Anakin's growing relationship with the Chancellor and the effect it was having on him.
Padm? was heartbroken. How was she going to break this news to Anakin? She knew guilt because of their rift would make this news even harder for Anakin to accept. Then a new fear crept into Padm?. Anakin had felt guilt over his mother's death, and she knew what that guilt had led him to do.
"...obviously murdered by someone with a mastery of the Force, but the other mystery is, no one knows why he was on Tatooine." She looked up as Obi-Wan's voice broke into her thoughts. Then it occurred to her, why was Obi-Wan telling this to her.
As though he was reading her mind, Obi-Wan continued. "I'm concerned about Anakin, Senator. It's a dangerous time for the Jedi. I know he is on a mission for the Chancellor, but I want him to return to the Temple as soon as possible." He hesitated before continuing, "I must be completely honest with you, Senator. There are those who believe Palpatine is not to be trusted, and Anakin's long absences and his continuing favor with the Chancellor are causing certain... murmurings within the Council."
"I understand your concerns, Master Kenobi, but I have no knowledge of Anakin's whereabouts. I haven't spoken with him since my last visit to Coruscant." She stared at the holovid, struggling to show as little emotion as possible.
The image of Obi-Wan stared back at her, disbelief and disappointment evident on his face. "Padm?..." he pleaded softly.
It was as if a lightsaber had pierced her heart.
How? They had been so careful. Her fears for Anakin and the strain of everything they had been hiding crashed in on her, but she still could not bring herself to betray her husband. "I'm afraid I can be of no help to you, Obi-Wan." Her voice was barely more than a whisper.
Obi-Wan sighed. He begged her to contact him if she received any communication from Anakin. His image disappeared. Padm?'s mind raced as she contemplated Obi-Wan's words. How long had he known of their marriage? Had he revealed their deception to the Jedi Council? Why were they so anxious to talk to Anakin?
She sat before the darkened holovid, trying to make sense of what was happening.
After a while, she rose and walked out onto the balcony.
The water gently lapped at the shore below as Padm?'s mind returned to the present. She absentmindedly laid a protective hand across her middle. As shaken as Padm? was by Rami's death, something else was nagging at the corners of her mind. Something she had been too afraid to admit to herself. Anakin was so loyal to the Chancellor, and she knew the wrath of his anger could be...
Before Padm? could finish her thought, she heard the hiss of a door. She turned and saw Anakin entering the main chamber. She ran to him and embraced him tightly. As Padm? inhaled his scent, she felt so safe, so peaceful. How could I ever have doubted him? He will always be my Ani.
"Wow. Now that's what I call a welcome," Anakin teased as he lifted her chin and softly kissed her lips. Then he hugged her tightly, rubbing his arms tenderly up and down her back. They stood that way for several minutes until he playfully kissed her forehead and then broke the embrace.
"As tempting as you are, Senator, we have several days together, and right now, I'm starving. Do we have anything good to eat?" he asked as he walked toward the kitchen and began rummaging through compartments.
Padm? wanted desperately to tell Anakin everything that had happened. He needed to know about his friend's death and that Obi-Wan knew the truth about their relationship, and she longed to tell Anakin about his baby, but his face looked so tired, so weary.
She decided her revelations could wait a little while longer.
Padm? picked up the traveling case Anakin had left just inside the door. She carried it to the sleeping chamber where she placed it on the bed and began to unpack Anakin's things.
She was reaching into the case to remove another shirt when her fingers brushed against something hard. Curious, she pulled out the object. It was a holograph in a handcrafted frame. In the holograph was Shmi Skywalker, dressed in a simple but beautiful dress and clutching a small bunch of flowers. Standing by her side was Cliegg Lars. This was obviously their wedding day.
"She was so beautiful, wasn't she?"
Startled, Padm? turned to find Anakin leaning in the doorway. She had been so engrossed in the holograph, she hadn't heard him approach.
"Yes, she was, and she looks so happy, Anakin," Padm? replied as Anakin walked over to join her.
As he stood behind his wife, Anakin encircled her small frame with his arms. "Cliegg gave it to me. When my mission was over, I went to see him and visit my mother's grave. We talked for quite awhile, then he gave me this, I guess sort of as a way to remember my mother in happier times."
Anakin stroked Padm?'s side as they stared at the couple in the holograph. Although Padm? knew how much this gift meant to her husband, she could sense the renewed hurt and sense of loss it was causing in him.
After a few moments, Padm? turned her head and smiled up at him, wanting him to know that she understood his pain.
Anakin returned her smile with a whispered "I know."
He gave her shoulders a quick squeeze as his lips gently brushed her cheek. Then, he moved to finish the unpacking Padm? had started.
Padm? watched his strong back as he worked. She was thinking about the best place to display this precious family treasure when she suddenly felt her body grow cold as she was overcome by realization.
"You were on Tatooine?" she asked slowly.
"Yes, Padm?. I just told you that," he laughed softly as he pulled more clothing from the case.
Tears started to form in Padm?'s eyes as the pieces began to fall into place: his odd behavior, the mysterious missions for Palpatine, his fight with Rami. Obi-Wan's earlier words echoed in her mind... obviously murdered by someone with a mastery of the Force.
It couldn't be true, but in her heart she knew better. As she stared at the tall figure of her husband, Padm? realized the man she loved more than life itself was now a stranger to her.
"Anakin," she began, the tremble in her voice betraying her fear. "I received a communication from Obi-Wan earlier this evening. Rami is dead. He was murdered, Anakin," Padm? hesitated, but she knew there was no turning back, "by a Jedi."
Anakin gave the slightest start before continuing his task.
"Why, Anakin?" Her voice now sounded surprisingly calm to her own ears.
He stopped working and slowly stood up straight, but Anakin would not turn from the bed to look at her. "Padm?, do not dare to speak to me of things you cannot understand." His voice was hard, threatening.
Despite his warning, Padm? continued.
"He followed you to Tatooine, didn't he? Why? What did he know, Anakin?"
When Anakin remained silent, she pleaded with him for a reason, some way to understand. "Why won't you say something, anything?"
Still, she received no reply.
Padm? still clutched the holograph in her hands, and she stared sadly down at the woman who had been the universe to her husband. Her delicate fingers gently traced Shmi's face. It was weathered with lines from years of work on a harsh planet, but her eyes still held a sparkle. The same sparkle Padm? remembered seeing when Anakin first brought she and Qui-Gon to his home all those years ago. She had loved her son so much. Yes, she was truly beautiful.
When Padm? finally spoke, it was in a quiet voice.
"Anakin, she gave up everything for you. She gave up watching you grow because she wanted you to have a future. She had such hopes for you." Padm? sensed his anger and saw his body tense, his good hand clenching into a fist, but still she continued.
"She knew you were destined for more than the life of a slave, Ani. Can't you see it? Everyone you've ever cared about, everything you've always believed in and fought for- you've turned your back on all of it. He's controlling you, Anakin. You're not Watto's slave anymore, but now you're his slave." She could see Anakin's body heave with every breath as he struggled to control his anger.
Padm?, now sobbing openly, glanced again at the smiling face in her hands. "I'm glad she's dead, Ani. At least she never had to see this, see you. If she were alive, knowing what you have become would have broken not only her body but her spirit." Padm? couldn't believe what she had just uttered.
She felt the blow before she even saw him move.
The impact of his anger had thrown her to the ground. Her head throbbed with pain. She struggled against the blackness that was threatening to overtake her. She cowered as she saw him move to loom over her.
"Never. Speak. Of. Her. Again." His words were punctuated by his fury.
She had never seen his eyes look so cold, so dead. He moved to strike her again. Padm? cried out as she covered her face in fear, but the blow never came. Instead she felt a rush of air as he disappeared.
Even now, hours later, Padm? was still weeping as she laid in bed, staring out the open balcony doors at the water, illuminated now only by the light from Naboo's small twin moons.
She blamed herself for what Anakin had become.
She knew about Anakin's protectiveness of Palpatine and the destructive power of her husband's anger, but she had done nothing. She had refused to believe that Anakin would ever betray the Republic or a friend. She never believed he would betray her.
Now she was forced to accept what her husband had become.
As she contemplated these thoughts, Padm?'s grief began to give way to fear.
Ever since she had found out she was expecting Anakin's child, Padm? had dreamed of nothing but becoming a family. She saw herself singing lullabies as she rocked her daughter to sleep. Or perhaps it would be a boy, a son with whom Anakin could play and roughhouse, a boy with his father's eyes and roguish smile. These images always filled Padm? with such happiness. She longed for a life like her sister, Sola. Now, she knew this could never be.
Anakin's child would surely be Force sensitive. What if Palpatine discovered his prot?g? would soon be a father.
She had not yet told Anakin of the baby.
Padm? vowed to herself that she would not allow her child's fate to follow the same path as its father.
The door hissed open, and Padm? quickly stifled her cries and closed her eyes, pretending to be asleep.
"Padm?? Pad?" he whispered softly as he approached the bed.
Oh, Force, please help me, she begged as she struggled to shield her mind from him.
Finally, when he received no answer, Anakin believed her to be asleep. Padm? heard rustling sounds behind her as he began to undress. Then he climbed into the bed beside her and began to gently stroke her hair. After awhile, Padm? could feel trembling beside her. Anakin was crying.
His voice choked as he whispered to her. "Padm?, I'm so sorry. Please. I never meant to hurt you. I'll do anything you ask. Forgive me, angel."
Padm? felt herself beginning to weaken. She wanted desperately to hold him, for things to be the way they used to be. Maybe it wasn't too late. Maybe she could save him. She started to open her eyes. Then Padm?'s resolve strengthened as she thought of their baby.
No, she had made her decision.
After awhile, Anakin became silent, and his steady breathing assured Padm? that he was in a deep sleep. As quietly as possible, she crept from the room and went to the holovid.
As Anakin awoke the next morning, he reached out for his wife. When his hand met nothing but empty pillows, he opened his eyes in confusion. Perhaps she's just in the refresher, he thought. But when he could hear no other sounds in the rooms around him, he climbed out of bed. It was then he noticed the empty closet. He walked to the dresser and opened the drawers only to find that they too were empty. An animal cry of rage tore from his throat as he threw the drawers across the room.
His fury increased as he began to destroy the contents of the room piece by piece, but it wasn't until he felt the presence of Master Windu and Obi-Wan approaching the retreat that he fully understood the extent of his wife's betrayal.
Defeated, he sank down onto the bed.
Anakin then noticed the holograph, still lying on the floor where it had fallen during his struggle with Padm? the previous evening. He picked it up and placed it on the small bedside table next to a smaller holograph of Padm?.
During his life, Anakin had truly loved only two women, and now, both were gone.
How could you do this to me, Padm?? How could you do this to us? You are part of me, and I won't let you walk away from me.
Anakin could now hear faint voices. His unexpected guests were growing nearer.
There was nothing left for him now.
Don't you understand that you belong to me? You cannot hide from me, Padm?. I will find you.
Anakin reached for his lightsaber as he walked slowly to open the door to face the waiting Jedi.
As he passed through the doorway, he left all that remained of Anakin Skywalker behind him.
Original cover by Lyra Luminara. HTML formatting copyright 2003 TheForce.Net LLC.