|The Ties That Bind
Author: Shawn30 PM
Given a brief period of time off during the Clone Wars, Padmé and Anakin visit her family at the Lake Country estate on Naboo. A family that still doesn't know they are married, although they are about to find out. Complete.Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Drama - Anakin Skywalker & Padmé Amidala - Chapters: 5 - Words: 56,485 - Reviews: 123 - Favs: 224 - Follows: 67 - Updated: 05-27-08 - Published: 01-02-07 - Status: Complete - id: 3322597
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Title: "The Ties That Bind"
Written by: Shawn
Summary: The Final Chapter: Parental guidance comes in differing forms from Palpatine and Jobal, while the dinner party thrown in Padme's honor turns into a night the Skywalker's will ever forget. At last the truth about their marriage is revealed to the Nabberie family.
Rated: M for all that it implies.
Ship: Anakin and Padme Skywalker
Timeline: I've always believed the Clone Wars lasted about three and a half years. This story takes place at the two and a half year mark. So it's been two and a half years since PA were married. None of her family know about the nuptials.
Disclaimer: GL owns everything.
Beta Read by: The Dark Lord of the pen, Master Anne bows respectfully
Authors Notes 1: At the end of the day life is all about family.
"We've got this gift of love, but love is like a precious plant. You can't just accept it and leave it in the cupboard or just think it's going to get on by itself. You've got to keep watering it. You've got to really look after it and nurture it." John Lennon
"Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs. Being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers' eyes. Being vexed, a sea nourished with lovers' tears. What is it else? A madness most discreet, a choking gall and a preserving sweet." William Shakespeare
"Family quarrels have a total bitterness unmatched by others. Yet it sometimes happens that they also have a kind of tang, a pleasantness beneath the unpleasantness, based on the tacit understanding that this is not for keeps; that any limb you climb out on will still be there later for you to climb back." Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960
"Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one." Jane Howard
A stone path leading through the garden
One of the Nabberie family home's located in Lake Country Retreat
"Guards, leave us," Palpatine ordered with a mildly deeper than usual voice, and then without a parting glance over his shoulder several crimson-clad Red Guard faded behind the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic. Walking with a withering hand over Anakin's shoulder, his voice suddenly filled with a great deal of fatherly affection. "Son, you were magnificent yesterday."
As a flock of Garcian Birds flew quietly overhead, Anakin tamed the emerging smile that curled his lips, seeking to convey maturity in his mentor's eyes. Still, it wasn't often Obi-Wan acknowledged his accomplishments with compliments. It was a nice feeling to have that for once. "As a Jedi, I was only performing my sworn duty to the Republic. No more, no less."
Palpatine gave something of a modest laugh, sensing the Jedi was repeating a phrase he'd heard before, probably from his Master, rather than echoing his own feelings. "Anakin, what you did in infiltrating Theed castle from an underwater location, defeating those deadly assassins, and then saving Queen Jamilla was the stuff of legends. At least allow yourself a moments glory over the good you've done. And don't let anyone make you feel guilty for it."
Stopping momentarily over a small pebble-stone bridge overlooking Varykino's magnificent garden, Anakin cast his eyes over the sheer beauty of Naboo and sighed. "I don't seek fame, Chancellor."
"Greatness rarely does," Palpatine replied with the utmost authority and then a gentle expression. Anakin's mood seemed to lift, as was his goal while in the young mans presence. "So tell me about the attack?"
Anakin began detailing what he witnessed and what he learned from interrogating those captured after yesterdays attempted assassination. Palpatine listened intently. "Someone hired the Draconian Horsemen to assassinate the Queen and Senator Amidala. Whoever hired them had direct access to the Castle renovation schedule, security protocols, and knowledge that Senator Amidala might be visiting."
Palpatine's gaze intensified. "There's a rat in the Queen's nest, Anakin," he pointed out. "Such information reeks of an inside job."
Closing his eyes to a warm Naboo breeze, Palpatine seemingly enjoyed the world he once called home. "I shall have a talk with Queen Jamilla personally. Where there is power, treachery and betrayal will follow. She must double and triple-check her inner circle to weed out who helped her would-be assassins."
Nodding, Anakin added, "As for Senator Amidala, how anyone knew of her trip here is beyond me. I trust her inner circle completely and can't imagine any of them betraying her." The Supreme Chancellor was quiet beside him. "I fear the new technology being used these days. All those advanced listening devices and miniature holocams the size of a writing pen are dangerous."
"Perhaps a more in-depth techno sweep of her personal starship, apartment, and office would be in order. I can have the finest of my security team look into it if you want?"
Anakin was humbled by the offer. "Chancellor, that would be wonderful. Thank you. Assuring her safety would ease my soul."
Pleased that Anakin would so easily accept his aid, Palpatine gestured for them to continue their quiet walk. "We must, above all else, protect those we love."
"I wish everyone saw it that way," Anakin noted with no small amount of wistfulness as they entered a winding path through the garden.
Palpatine turned to Anakin. "How are you doing, son?"
"Outside of a few bumps and bruises, I'm fine."
"No, Anakin." Palpatine drew Anakin's attention by stopping just behind him. His arms crossed his chest to convey how serious he was. "I mean how are you really doing?"
Obi-Wan, for all that his master had taught him, never knew him the way Palpatine did. Perhaps the Supreme Chancellor sensed exactly what was troubling him because he cared enough to ask and not simply brush his feelings aside with yet more Jedi rhetoric on self-control. "Just before I left for Theed Palace I did something to Sen... to Padme," he amended as he felt there was no need to hide the intimacy of using her first name with him. He began to explain his actions, detail his reasons, and express his guilt minus regret for doing what he felt was best.
Mindful of Palpatine's silent reaction thus far, Anakin patiently awaited his thoughts. "I was protecting her..."
Hands clad behind his back, Palpatine began a methodical journey around Anakin, considering his words carefully, taking his own dear time before offering his estimation. He gave the impression that he cared enough about what Anakin revealed to fully think it over before speaking. Stopping before the Jedi, he smiled while placing his hands on Anakin's shoulders. "My boy, you have done well," he began a nod. "Her pride may have been hurt, and so you will have to work to amend that and soothe her feelings. But better her pride taking a fall than losing her life."
Anakin exhaled. "I wish you could tell her that."
"Perhaps the day will yet again come where she trusts me enough to be her friend. Alas, that day may be far off indeed as the war rages on." Palpatine stood tall, his stature as regal as any king... any emperor would portray himself. "There are times, Anakin, when we must do what is best for our loved ones, even though at that time they don't recognize the gift of our leadership. We must be bold and strong in our convictions for time will judge us righteously in the end. Trust in that and your feelings."
Palpatine continued, "What you did yesterday, in risking your life to save Queen Jamilla's was a good thing. What you did to Padme was for her own good, no matter the means. Better her angry and alive then dead with you bearing the guilt of inactivity and grief on your shoulders."
"Why can't she see the error in her own ways?" Anakin asked unconscious of how much he may have subtly revealed with his outburst, all the while respectful enough of the Chancellors instinct that his secret probably was figured out years ago. "I do not understand women, your excellency."
From the very pit of his lungs came a hearty laugh as Palpatine regarded the young man with such amusement. "Not even your most ancient, most well hidden Jedi archives possess the answer to that eternal question. Rest assured in neither of our lifetimes will we unravel such a mystery as is a woman."
Sincerely feeling better, Anakin hugged his mentor. "Thank you."
"Son, I am here for you, always. I only want to see you reach your full potential, unhindered by the jealous sway of those who secretly fear your power." A daring rise grew within his voice. "The attackers would have killed Padme. They would have ripped her from your arms and left her lifeless body for the galaxy to mourn." Such delicious rage and anguish swept of Anakin through the Force. Palpatine delighted in it. "But you are powerful and decisive. You act for the good of the people you love. That is your greatest weapon. Right and wrong are opposing viewpoints the fearful squabble over while the innocent suffer. But you, my son. You will lead rather than follow. You will achieve rather than he held back by those unable to acknowledge your greatness. And you will save the lives of your dearly beloved... by any means necessary."
Anakin's chest swelled with pride as the respect he craved was given to him by the single most powerful individual in the galaxy. His heart needed a father-figure to unburden his worries and give the wisdom of his years. And then he smiled widely and teased, "So I take it you really don't know how to explain women, do you?"
"It appears even my highly regarded intellect has its limits," Palpatine offered humbly, smiling. And then saw two small children watching them from behind a tree. They attempted to hide when they were noticed. "Anakin, I think the little ones are seeking your attention. I won't trouble you any longer. I just needed to see for myself that you were alright."
While firmly shaking the Supreme Chancellors hand, Anakin saw his nieces attempting to hide their presence from them. "Padme's nieces have taken a liking to me, and I them."
"Then enjoy their youthful exuberance, Knight Skywalker." Palpatine bowed, and then began backing away. "And make peace with Padme. She belongs by your side. She is far greater ally than any Jedi, I fear. She truly cares about your well being. May the Force be with you."
"May the Force be with you, your excellency," Anakin bowed respectfully, and then zoomed so fast, using the Force, behind that tree that the girls didn't even see him move. "Boo!"
"Aiiihhh!" Both Ryoo and Pooja jumped, shrieking loudly when they saw their uncle appear seemingly out of nowhere.
Barely standing to her uncles hip, the youngest of Sola's daughter pointed at him. "That was not funny." Pooja pouted, as she was known to do, and then was swept off her feet along with her sister in Anakin's arms, who peppered them with kisses before setting them back on their feet. "Okay, I forgive you. But no more scaring us."
Laughing against her uncle, Ryoo clung to his Jedi robe. "Pooja, you were so scared you turned red."
"Did not. I just jumped a little."
"So did you."
"But not as loudly as you."
"Ladies," Anakin interrupted, and then took each of their hands in his own. They were such sweethearts. "There will be no fighting. I was just teasing you. I'm sorry, alright." They both nodded their forgiveness and hugged him. "Good. So what mischief are my favorite little girls up to this morning?"
"Uhm, we were looking for you," Ryoo announced as they began taking a walk. "We overheard our mother talking to Papa about something bad happening yesterday and that you were hurt. Are you hurt, Uncle Ani?"
They were young and unprepared to fully understand so much. He sought to ease their fears. "I'm perfectly fine, milady." Ryoo's face lit up magically.
Meanwhile, Pooja gently poked his stomach with her middle finger. "He didn't fall apart."
"His head looks on straight."
"No one took a bite out of him"
"And that's a very good thing," Anakin joked, thoroughly enjoying their company. This was life to his heart. Being on Naboo minus the responsibilities of a Jedi. Here, he was simply a man with his family. With the children he was family to them and nothing was hidden. Their presence soothed him like only one other could. "Whatever mischief are 'we' to get into this morning, ladies?"
Pooja ducked her head, looking both ways before whispering, "But Aunt Padme says we can't use you for our nefarsisis means any more."
"Nefarious," Ryoo proudly corrected her younger sister. "I think it means bad." Pooja shrugged.
Kneeling between them, Anakin lowered his voice, grinning. "What do you want me to do?"
The trio huddled, plotting their nefarious next caper.
North terrace of the estate
One of the Nabberie family home's located in Lake Country
For Padme, the soothingly warm lake breeze ruffling her thick brown hair was as welcome a feeling as the sight of the Republic Blade starship, and its military escort vessels, ascending into the distant skyline and then bursting through clouds into outer space. Good riddance, she thought to herself. With her small hands resting on the terrace railing, her regal poise and posture silently defied the departure of the Supreme Chancellor, a man she was growing to more than dislike as the war and his bullying politics continued.
To make matters worse, Palpatine's keen interest and strong friendship with Anakin troubled her greatly. She feared dire consequences were inevitable where that was concerned.
Sighing, she exhaled a deep breath, wishing to banish all thoughts of Palpatine from her mind. Days ago she arrived here to enjoy a much needed vacation with her family and was overjoyed to have her husband with her. Missing him for months at a time left her craving his presence, and to enjoy that with her family was a blessing she'd been looking forward to for some time now. Returning to her home world of Naboo awakened feelings of peace and joy within her whenever she was able to visit. But yesterday's attack at Theed Palace, the undeniable knowledge that she was a target as well, and her bitter argument with Anakin revealed a deep fracture in their marriage. Issues that have been long overlooked have surfaced and could no longer be ignored.
In her opinion, Anakin betrayed her yesterday. Deeply so. In a marriage based on trust and equality, she felt he denied her both, as well as her say in matters of the utmost importance. With a somber gaze cast over the beautiful shimmering lake her hands balled into fists at her side, frustration clouding her face. Her heart ached over being hurt by the man she loved above all else.
And yet, that very term wasn't shared by her husband. Causing a creeping sense of failure to boil inside her belly over their marriage. His accusations burned her to the core. Padme would have laughed if she wasn't struck so powerfully by the mere notion he was correct in his assessment. Nothing in all the galaxy compared to her love for him. Nothing ever could. She'd give away every single credit of her vast fortune and fame for him in a heartbeat, but the dedication and character that gave purpose to her life left her unable to fathom throwing away the ability to help the helpless for the selfish joy they'd steal by leaving everything behind.
Her head and her heart were at war just as surely as the galaxy was.
Padme lived with a secret belief, that to her, meant everything. There was a sincere part of her that felt Anakin was so important to the whole galaxy that she willingly sacrificed her happiness in the now for a future where she was sure he would triumph over the Sith, and then her reward would be a life where she was his universe. But deep down she knew that she already was, and there was guilt, no matter how thrilling the emotion, in that knowledge.
Anakin's profound friendship with Palpatine, his intense need to fix things no matter what, coupled with her belief that her way is the only way, and the numerous lies they were forced to live with were taking an immense toll on Padme. Again, she suffered quietly. As alone as she often was in her apartment on Coruscant. Alone when news broke of the war, her heart withholding its beat until she heard that Anakin was alright. Utterly alone if he died out there...
"By the Force, if I ever lost him..." softly escaped Padme's lips in barely a hush, a tremble shuddering over her body. Shaking her head, she pressed her hand over her mouth, her eyes misting ever so lightly.
As the sun's brilliant light danced across the lake, Jobal kept silent vigil over her daughter from the entryway. Careful to observe rather than act, it was obvious the emotional pain her child was dealing with. The mother in her wanted to rush in to save the day, but Padme was a stubborn one. Dealing with her required a certain deft touch. Thankfully, Jobal wasn't clueless as to what was crushing her daughter's spirit. "Dear, come in to have a bit more to eat. You barely touched your breakfast this morning."
Padme listened to her mother's beloved voice and the soft sound of footsteps closing in. "I'm afraid I don't have much in the way of an appetite this morning." Looking to Jobal when she joined her side, Padme offered a smile she hoped would disarm her worry. "I didn't sleep very well. I'm sure I'll make up for breakfast with a late lunch."
Padme's brown eyes were restless and somber, her face missing the sunrise smile Jobal so loved. If her daughter were younger she would demand to be told what was troubling her. But she was a grown, educated woman now. In every way, Jobal surmised as the days of considering her daughter innocent and naive were in the distant past. "You seem... edgy."
Ducking the subject, Padme switched gears, slightly. "Anakin told me about your talk last night."
"Did he now?" Jobal replied warmly. "Are you angry that he told me all of your secrets?"
Her mother, ever the family patriarch, was as clever as they come. Padme was sure she got that from her. "I abhor secrets."
"That doesn't mean one doesn't have them." Jobal was careful to enjoy the paradise of their surroundings, giving her daughter just enough space... for now. "Anakin is a remarkable man."
"Who sometimes thinks he knows what is right for everyone."
"And that is different from you, how?" Stifling a laugh as Padme's face took on a petulant expression reminiscent of those she wore as a child, Jobal continued, "You are often one who feels her way is the only way as well."
Hugging herself lightly, Padme offered, "I have never forced my will upon anyone."
"So I take it Anakin forced his will upon you?"
"He..." and then she stalled herself, cautious in dealing with the skills of a very intelligent, probing mother. "It's nothing."
"It's something, Padme." Deciding the time was now, Jobal took up one of her daughter's hands lightly, holding it. "Something deeply personal is troubling you, and I want to help. You are my child and that will never change no matter your political stature or power. I love you, and I can tell you are not yourself right now. Trust that your secrets are forever safe with me. And that I would never, ever judge you. I am your mother, and I will be until the end of time."
Padme hesitated, and then marveled at her mother's ability to calm, disarm, and guilt-trip her all at the same time she made her feel so loved. Smiling to herself, she figured Jobal would have made a great politician. She was certainly the very best mother. Even still, there were aspects of her life Padme felt she wouldn't understand. "The attack at Theed palace yesterday. We know for a fact that I was a target along with the Queen. That means somehow someone knew I was traveling to Naboo. They guessed my precise whereabouts, but knew that I was on the planet. That means I have a breach where my personal security is concerned."
Jobal's stare grew serious. "Do you think I am a fool, Padme?"
"Mother, of course not."
"Then do not pretend to be troubled by an attempt on your life. We very well know that is my cross to bear, not yours. You have dealt with threats before, and have handled them accordingly. That is not what is bothering you right now, and we both know it."
Feeling things were hitting far to close to home, Padme gently released her hand, turning away as her feelings threatened to overwhelm her. The lies and deception were weighing heavily on her subconscious. As was the fact that Anakin wasn't sure of her love. When she felt ready to crumble, that very moment she found herself enveloped in her mother's paternal embrace. For all her vaunted strength and self-reliance, the woman in her needed her mother as tears fell upon her cheek against her will.
Finally, Jobal thought to herself while holding her daughter. "I know that you love him, dearest." No reply, though she expected as much. "And I know that he loves you with all his heart and soul. He doesn't try to hide the affection he feels for you when you are around. His eyes betray his adoration. As do your own."
Speechless, Padme held her peace while embraced by her mother. She was slowly turned around to face her.
"Whatever the complexity of your relationship, that is your business. But do not think a mother doesn't know when her child is in love. And do not pretend that she can stand by and do nothing when her child is in pain. She can't. So allow me to give you some woman to woman advice."
A pointed finger silenced Padme. Jobal gently grasped her shoulders. "Men are the most imperfect creatures in all the galaxy." Ahh, there was that sunrise smile she lived for. "But we are no less imperfect, just more practical and rational." That earned her a gentle laugh. "I have seen you with him, and it is a thing of beauty how you have blossomed. I would have never wished for you a mirthless man missing even a trace of daring. There's a fire within him that won't allow a dull moment, and every woman needs that. But he is young and to be trained like all men, so patience is a virtue."
Padme verbally neither confirmed nor denied her mother's claims, although at this point her silence answered all.
"There's a balance in relationships, Padme. A careful, fragile balance where there are times we must compromise, ask for forgiveness and be forgiven. No one is perfect or right all the time. Everyone makes mistakes. Now if Anakin has made a grievous error in judgment recently, then he should apologize and understand how that made you feel. But you yourself must take a good, hard look in the mirror. What hand have you played in the demise of things? In what personal ways have you hurt him?"
Jobal continued, "Do not think your father and I have had a perfect relationship free from mistakes and conflicts. We are as human as any couple, only the personal business of our relationship is just that, personal. I don't need to know the inner workings of what you and Anakin share. But as your mother I do need to pass along the wisdom of one who's traveled the road you are on. Relationships are about compromise, Padme. Without that they can wither and die. Anakin might be the Chosen One who will bring balance to the Force, but you are the Chosen One who can bring balance to your relationship."
Jobal sighed, taking a careful step away. Padme's tears were gone, and she seemed better, no matter her silence. Her resolve was back in place, as was a spark of understanding in her eyes. "This dinner we are having. Allow me to cancel it. Your father has invited, amongst close friends of the family, a couple of single gentleman who are all interested in you. Surely you don't want to go through with this?"
Padme moved to hug her mother dearly, hoping to convey just how much she appreciated her. "Trust that I love you more than you will ever know, and that your words are exactly what I needed to hear. But to say that what Anakin and I share is complex... that barely scratches the surface. For now the dinner must go on, but rest assured I shall make things right."
Jobal couldn't ask for anything more. "Alright dear, I trust you. I may not understand you fully, but I do trust you. And I trust your Anakin." Padme made no attempt to deny that claim, much to Jobal's chagrin. "He is a remarkably sexy man."
Padme swallowed hard. "Mother, do not ruin this wonderful moment with such talk."
Jobal smiled brightly. "You're blushing."
Ignoring that bit of truth, Padme cast her hopeful gaze over the Lake Country, with its thick green grass, rolling hills, and the sparkling lake she so loved as a child. It was at that very moment she recognized a small row boat coming to shore with Anakin, Pooja, and Ryoo aboard. Her husband was rowing when they docked, and then exited the boat, helping the children ashore. Pooja was holding a thick brown blanket of sorts... that seemed to be moving. "Whatever are they..."
"Oh, I believe this is the culmination of their latest nefarious plot," Jobal laughed. "I overheard my grandchildren talking in a closet this morning about a trade they were making with three other children on one of the small islands. Apparently they're trading three dolls, a holo-picture frame, and twenty credits for a Delorion cat. They have been pestering Sola for a new pet for weeks now and have seem to take matters in their own hands. What is it about the women in this family that they can so easily keep a secret." Her curiously teasing gaze fixed upon her daughter.
"I have no idea what you are talking about," Padme declared while keeping a close eye on her husband and nieces. The nefarious trio stopped to unfold the blanket and sure enough, a small black Delorion kitten poked its cute little head out. "Are you going to intervene?"
Jobal gave a modest wave of her hand. "No. They are enjoying their sisterhood and time alone with their new best friend. Rest assured they will slip up before the day is out, and then they will pay. For now, I'll allow this trespass."
Padme leaned over and brushed a kiss over her mother's cheek, and then turned towards the railing and yelled as loudly as she could, "I'M GONNA TELL!!" The trio cast their gaze towards her, while she was pointing at them. Ryoo and Pooja's faces were priceless looks of shock, and then they were gone as Anakin Force-ran them in a blur away. "I'M STILL GONNA TELL!!"
Jobal shook her head, walking away with a smile. "Children indeed."
One of the Nabberie family home's located in Lake Country Retreat
Outside the main dining hall
As Teckla and Nandi excused themselves to finish the final preparations for tonight's dinner celebration, Ruwee regarded his complex wife with a most curious expression. Her private suggestion, just now whispered in his ear, was the last thing he expected to hear. "The dinner party that you helped put together, you now want to cancel at the very last moment? What brought this on?"
Unwilling to speak of her Padme's personal life, and the secrets that came with it, Jobal navigated tough waters. "I fear we've worked against Padme's best interest by essentially putting her on display tonight in hopes of finding her a suitor. My judgment in the matter has wavered, and I think canceling tonight's dinner would be for the best. Or perhaps simply sending our guests home and having a family-only affair?"
"Our guests have arrived already and sending them away would be in poor taste," Ruwee countered, and then gazed at his wife. "Dear, is there something I need to be made aware of? Has something taken place that you makes you want to cancel the dinner?"
The worry in his eyes caused her to briefly caress his cheek. Padme's silence during their talk earlier today was a confession unto itself, and Jobal would not betray that. Not even to her beloved husband. "No, things are as they were. I just worry that we have made certain assumptions about Padme that we should not have and that she would be better served by allowing her to live her own life minus our interference."
Ruwee kissed his wife's cheek, taking her hand in his. "Dear, outside of a fabulous meal with a few good friends, Padme will meet and greet three gentlemen. If no sparks fly the world won't end. Trust me, I shall not play matchmaker. The evening will evolve according to her wishes. Remember, all that we have done is put a few good men before her. If none capture her attention then so be it."
Despite her inability to argue his points, lest she arouse his further suspicion, Jobal nodded. Nonetheless, she felt tonight's dinner had the makings of a colossal disaster. "Alright then. Things shall go as planned. And I could use a glass of Zalor brandy... as the night to come may call for more than one."
"As could I," Ruwee noted with a smile. They were soon interrupted by the sound of Paddy Accu's voice as he announced the arrival of their guests. "And so it begins."
"Mr. and Mrs. Nabberie, it is a pleasure to meet you." Milas Vahn extended a firm handshake to Ruwee, and then bowed before kissing Jobal's hand in greeting. Possessing short dark hair and even darker eyes, the rich heir and current operations chief of Vahn Intergalactic Imports, Naboo's biggest shipping company, spoke of his surprise and gratitude over being invited to tonight's dinner in honor of the Senator. He added that he held a great deal of respect not only for Padme's political views and accomplishments, but of her business savvy as well. Tall and confident, he dressed for success and looked the part as he was immaculately attired from head to toe. Jobal had to admit to herself he was a fine specimen of man and seemed well spoken and sincere despite his vast wealth.
Next, the Nabberie's greeted Dr. Syne Kel, who brought a dozen fresh long-stemmed Gossa roses as a gift. Jobal worked with his father some years ago in social programs that aided the underprivileged, and commented in a teasing manner on Syne's uncanny resemblance to his father. Articulate to a grand degree, the doctor had a very good sense of humor, joking that he'd never found his father particularly good looking. That earned him a round of laughter from all around them. His warm smile and emerald-green eyes conveyed a genuineness that impressed Ruwee. He admitted a certain nervousness at meeting the former Queen, but was eager to enjoy her company for the evening and most grateful for the offer. His gentle nature was something Jobal instantly liked about him.
Last, but certainly not least was the arrival of someone Ruwee and Jobal met a long time ago when Padme entered the Legislative Youth Program. Palo hugged both of them on sight, genuinely pleased to see them again. It was easy to see that the acclaimed painter they knew as a boy, was now all grown up and assured of himself. He regarded the other gentlemen with a knowing nod, as they had all been told that the Senator was single. His past with her gave even at least a modest edge, or so he hoped.
Palo's celebrity status on Naboo was well known, and he seemed comfortable with it to a degree Jobal wasn't sure she liked. Though harmless enough, he seemed to lack that thrilling something a woman required in a man. Still, he was sweet in recalling a funny story from Padme's youth and remembered more than a few things about the Nabberie's to be able to ask them about their family. He was especially looking forward to seeing Padme again, as they had only exchanged a couple of holo-mails over the years.
All talk ceased when the guest of honor appeared at the top of the immaculately-decorated staircase. Dressed in a stylishly sleek V-neck black evening gown that screamed seduction, Padme was a vision of beauty as she slowly descended the stairs. She wore her thick brown hair down in luxurious curls, complimented by a shimmering tear-drop jewel around her neck. The more than appreciative stares of the men gathered below gave her reason enough to smile, although she didn't dress to kill for them. A certain moody Jedi craved her like the air he breathed whenever she wore all black, and she had every intention of torturing him throughout dinner and then pleasuring him all night long afterward. There was work to be done in her marriage and once order was restored all would be forgiven. For now though, she'd play the part of the lonely, single Senator in desperate need of a social life and a man in her bed.
Later on she would passionately ravage a certain Jedi-husband until he couldn't think straight, ensuring he would never, ever again question he was her heart's truest desire and the most important person to her in all the galaxy.
Upon reaching the bottom of the staircase Padme gave a quick appraisal of the male-herd brought before her. The mere thought of which she found amusing for some reason. Milas was handsome indeed, but she'd heard about how much and often he got around the Naboo social circles with various women. Not for her at all, but probably good for a sizable charitable donation to a worthy cause by nights end. Syne now, he had beautiful eyes and dimples. She was well aware of his hard work for the underprivileged in the poorer districts around Naboo. While admirable, he lacked any sort of danger about him. He seemed easily conquerable, lacking any ability to enrage her... or to captivate. He had the potential to be a girl's good friend and no more.
And she needed much, much more.
Palo, well, he still owned those dreamy eyes and that dark, curly hair of his. He'd grown up nicely in her estimation, but she's found a bit of arrogance about him unbecoming in some of his interviews. He seemed to enjoy the limelight in a less than humble fashion, no matter that he was truly talented. Still, he was a pleasant reminder of her innocent youth when she had just discovered boys and what kissing was. "Thank you all for coming. Although I don't know the faces, I look forward to making your acquittance. I want everyone to relax and enjoy themselves this evening. This isn't a state affair, it's a dinner party. Please enjoy the feast I'm sure my mother has worked very hard to help prepare. No one ever leaves our house hungry is her motto. Entertaining conversation and endless refills of wine glasses should ensure a most enjoyable evening."
One by one introductions were made, as Padme switched roles from guest of honor to hostess. She greeted each of the men warmly, exchanged a brief bit of conversation, and then moved on to the next. Palo was last, giving her an impromptu hug that went on a bit longer than she felt was necessary. She sensed the other men's jealousy toward him, as well as his uncaring attitude toward them. Nonetheless, they were ushered into the main dining hall as more guests arrived.
Sio Bibble and his wife arrived next, with apologies from the Queen as there were still emergency meetings going on concerning yesterday's attack. Padme understood, hugging the former Governor while engaging him in conversation over his thoughts concerning the attack. He gave her his concerns and theories as they walked for a moment, and then she saw him into the main dining hall before rejoining her mother. Together, they greeted Zsu and Sali Wesq, dear friends of the Nabberie family for many years now.
Soon after the Nabberie women were alone again.
Taking her daughter softly by the shoulder into a nearby corner, Jobal whispered, "If you would like to fake a illness to get out of this, I bet we could call the whole thing off."
Finding it necessary to needle her mother, Padme lifted her hand over her chest as if she were appalled. "Mother, that would be lying."
"You're a politician dear. Surely you are well versed in the art." Padme's mock of a shocked expression amused Jobal to no end. "I'm not sure if going through with tonight is the wisest course of action."
Understanding where she was coming from, Padme pulled her mother into a deep hug. "Trust that your dear words today struck home and that I will make everything right. I love you more than words can say."
Jobal had little choice but to trust her daughter. "I love you as well. I just hope you know what you're doing."
"Padme Amidala, you are truly a sight for sore eyes."
Upon hearing that most familiar Southern Naboo accent, Padme found one of her oldest and dearest friends, as well as former college dorm-mate, Cass Echo striding towards her. "Now this is truly a surprise," Padme happily noted, and then quickly embraced her, again reminded of just how tall she was. Standing at five foot ten, Cass was statuesque in height, never mind possessing the slender figure of a Coruscant model. Her long, fiery red locks and fair complexion were as lovely as Padme remembered. She still carried with her hazel eyes a carefree spark. "Its so good to see you again, Cass. What has it been? Two or three years?"
"Nearly four, my dear. But we've both been busy, so no one is to blame." Offering a polite greeting to Jobal, the elder Nabberie gave the women a few moments alone. "I was floored when I received the invitation, Padme. You never return home for your birthday or festivals, so when the opportunity came to see tonight I just had to attend." Taking a step back, Cass appraised her longtime friend. "You look amazing. I never would have guessed you would wear such a... wicked instrument of male manipulation."
Cass's effervescent smirk said it all. She was as blunt as she was a bad girl with a good heart. Padme sorely missed her when their careers led them in vastly opposite directions. "I've changed over the years, Cass. I am no longer the saintly wallflower you so mercilessly teased once upon a time."
"Thank goodness for that. You have blossomed into not only one of the most feared politicians in the galaxy, but a beautiful a woman as well. Praise the Force you are finally out of your former Queen attire," she laughed good-natured at Padme's expense. "One could not tell if you were a woman at all, you were so covered in heavy make up and layers of clothing."
"Perhaps I should have been more like you and made sure the boys knew what was under my clothes every chance I got?"
"If I didn't love you so I'd take that as an insult. And if you had then you would have enjoyed allot more fun." Their back and forth rapport was the same as it had always been. Whenever they were together, a fun time as had by all. "How have you been, Padme?"
"Aside from yesterday's unfortunate events, I'm fine. Just doing my best in the Senate to end this atrocious war. And I'm overjoyed to be home with my family. How are you?"
"Well, I haven't killed anyone at the Banking Union, so that's a plus," she noted in her usual flair. "I'm fine, just overworked and in need of a good, strong man to spend a couple of wild, sweaty nights with." Casting her gaze around, Cass leaned in and whispered, "I do hope your good friend will be attending tonight's festivities?"
Padme blinked. "Good friend?"
"That deviously handsome Force's gift to women, Anakin Skywalker... now he would be one amazing mountain to climb."
Suddenly, Padme wanted to push Cass off that mountain and fire at blaster at her while she fell, but kept her unsavory emotions in check. Her jealousy flared hot, so fast it surprised her, and it was coming from a good friend who if she knew that Anakin had someone wouldn't dare make a pass at him. Still, the wife in her wanted a pound of flesh for the comment alone. "Yes, my good friend should be here any..." And then he was there, standing before them, having arrived as quiet as a whisper on the wind.
Clad in a full black Jedi robe, Anakin slowly withdrew his hood, hands clasped before him. He looked the very definition of dark power, passion, and danger. Though he regarded them both, he only acknowledged Padme. "Milady."
Cass's facial expression screamed she would eat him alive and serve at the foot of his bed. She quickly shook her head free and then gently nudged Padme.
Stuttering briefly, Padme introduced, "Good evening, Anakin. This is Cass Echo. I think I mentioned her to you once or twice."
"A friend from college, I believe." Anakin took Cass's right hand and brushed a soft kiss over it. "It's a pleasure to meet you."
"Can I have your chil..."
"Cass, please show yourself in and have a glass of wine," Padme quickly ushered her off. "I'll be in shortly." Cass departed, offering a wildly flirtatious wink at Anakin. "She tends to come on strong."
"Since she believes she was flirting with a single man, can she be blamed?"
Issues between them lately came down to that and that alone. Padme quietly leaned into him, settling her hand over his chest. "Dear, I love you. And I want us to talk after dinner is over with."
"That I even have to endure this evening is an insult."
"It is one dinner that I ask for, and then we shall mend things between us. Again, I do apologize for asking you to do this." Padme felt, despite the frustration she was putting him through that he found her attire most pleasing. She smiled as his feelings were laid bare before her. "I will make this up to you."
"How?" Her invasion into his personal space left him momentarily breathless.
"By giving you what you deserve."
Anakin watched her walk away, eying the seductive sway of her gorgeous backside. Tonight was going to test him in ways Obi-Wan could only dream of. If he could get through the evening without killing someone then perhaps he truly was destined to bring the Force back into balance.
If not, then heads would roll.
"... so in runs little Padme screaming that we all had to come outside quick. She had something awesome to show us, and we had to see it right now," Sola regaled the guests with a story she was sure Padme, judging from her death-glare, didn't particularly want to be told. Alas, it was a universal right that all older sisters got to torture their younger siblings. "So I ran outside after her with our parents following us. That was when our esteemed Senator led us over a small hill to a stretch of grassy land that Shaaks graze. When we arrived my dear sister began jumping up and down while pointing at two Shaak's in particular, shouting that one was trying to...how did she put it, jump over the other from behind, but could never seem to do it. She told us it looked very determined."
The humorous roar around the table caused Padme to blush, never mind the youthful innocence the story conveyed. She silently swore sisterly vengeance on Sola someday when she least expected it.
Sola so enjoyed the spotlight when she could rib her sister. "My poor mother raced toward Padme, put her hand over her eyes and drug her away while my father simply shook his head at the scene. Suffice to say, that one Shaak never quite leapt over its friend, but he seemed to be smiling after the effort."
⌠Now that was utterly charming," Cass chimed in, enjoying the chance to tease her good friend. "Tell me, dear Padme? Did you ever get the chance to see a Shaak leap another from behind?"
Taking off her heel and throwing it just wasn't proper etiquette for a former Queen and current Republic Senator. "Cass, would you like me to show you the door?" Snickers around the table as she said it wearing a smile. The single-fingered gesture that was her friend's reply made Padme roll her eyes as laughter settled around them. All the while she felt Anakin's warm and tender gaze, wishing it were not from across the length of the table, but right next to her. Unfortunately, Palo held that seat. And he seemed to enjoy the nearness far more than she did.
While Milas and Syne had been perfect gentlemen despite their obvious romantic interest in her, Padme found Palo's constant need to lean over and whisper something in her ear a bit annoying. He seemed to think that their brief and platonic flirtation during their past gave him some sort of added intimacy. She could tell her mother, sister, and Cass recognized her mild discomfort. Anakin was not pleased at all, and her worry escalated when she saw that his light saber was with him. Nothing good could come of that.
At least the wine was excellent. And the feast looked and smelled magnificent.
No matter the circumstances surrounding tonight's dinner, Jobal was pleased as friendly conversations broke out around the double-pedastle dining table during the first course of dinner. Seated between Anakin and her husband, she admired the newly remodeled main dining hall. Adorned with a truly magnificent floral arrangement, antique Pilar vases, a massive wood-burning fireplace, and original artwork by a truly talented painter who was a dear friend of the family, she felt it gave off a warm sense of home despite the luxury.
Just across the table, Sio, his wife and Milas were engaged in a serious discussion over recent export restrictions placed on key off-world Naboo contacts by Palpatine's administration. Syne enjoyed a few words with Padme over an outbreak of Lunas disease in the northern hemisphere that relief efforts were only now getting under control. Palo found new fans in Zsu and Sali. He was more than happy to discuss his work and when his next art showing would be.
While keeping careful watch over Ruwee's sneaky attempt to secretly eat something Jobal knew wasn't good for his digestive system, she noted Anakin's utter boredom and frustration with even being here. She liked him the very first time she met him, but now she considered him family, and felt she had an understanding of him that caused her to care even more. Especially now that he'd captured her daughter's heart. But for a man accustomed to the front lines of war in recent times, a social dinner party probably didn't appeal to him at all. Add into that a couple of men who all had designs on the woman he loved... She leaned into him. "How are you this evening, Anakin?"
Taking a moment to wipe his mouth with a napkin, he offered, "I'm fine, Milady."
"You seemed bored."
She already had the ability to see through his facade. "This is not how I usually spend my evenings."
"Well, we are honored by your presence, and you are most welcome in our home at any time," Jobal declared sincerely, holding his gaze a moment. He seemed very appreciative. "And I'll have you know this," she began, and then lowered her voice for his ears alone, "I tried to cancel this dinner at the last minute."
"May I ask why?"
Jobal calmly favored him. "Well, you may ask."
Lips curling into a smile, Anakin couldn't help enjoying the quietly clever mother of his beloved. She was a refreshing change from Obi-Wan. He hadn't realized until coming here how badly he needed someone in his corner on a more personal level. "So what do you think of the men seeking to ensnare your daughter?"
Jobal studied him closely, and then drank from her wine glass. "I consider her already ensnared," she noted while looking away. Anakin neither confirmed nor denied a thing, not that she expected otherwise. "I saw that you brought your light saber to dinner tonight. May I ask why?"
His eyes slowly swept over the three men seated at the dining table, and then settled on Jobal. "Well, you may ask." She laughed softly and he considered the sound delightful. "I thought that if you ran out of knives I would have something to cut my meat with."
"Or perhaps cut through the loud aroma of Palo's cologne." They shared a chuckle, and then Anakin gave a slow nod. Suddenly, his eyes darted toward Padme with such possessive tenderness Jobal found herself dying to know how long he'd loved her, and how their relationship came about. That thought fled her mind the moment she caught sight out of the corner of her eye her mischievous husband using her conversation with the Jedi to reach for the tray of Norsian Crisp pasta. A favorite of his, but not the best thing for his body considering his advancing age. He didn't need another bad episode like last time.
Jobal gently tapped Anakin's wrist and then pointed toward the dish Ruwee was reaching for. He seemed to gather, without a word spoken, what she wanted him to do. Mesmerized as always by one who could command the living Force, she watched the dish slowly move farther out of Ruwee's reach until it was so far away he'd have to get up to go and retrieve it.
Padme and Sola's laughter soon alerted the room to what was happening as Ruwee crossed his arms, glaring at his wife. "You think that was funny, don't you?"
Jobal uttered not a sound, enjoying her dinner once more.
"Have I told you how truly amazing you look tonight?" Palo complimented in Padme's ear while dancing with her by the crackling fireplace.
Having heard Palo mutter something, Padme was otherwise occupied with observing Cass dancing oh so closely with Anakin. Her vaunted maturity was being sorely tested in ways it never had before as she couldn't stand the way he held her body against his, draped in his arms. Her head ached, and she wanted to drag him away from her and never look back. She was of two trains of thought as the soft music played on.
For one, her rational mind knew that Anakin loved her alone and that Cass was a good person who, if she told her right this second about her marriage, would apologize profusely and then tease her mercilessly. But she'd never seen her husband with his strong arms around another woman. She'd never seen a woman with her head resting against his shoulder, her eyes shut, loving the way his warm embrace felt. Knowing her friend the way she did, Cass was no doubt entertaining thoughts of a grand conquest tonight, openly lusting after Anakin. The knowledge of which left Padme terribly uncomfortable.
When Anakin smiled at something Cass whispered in his ear, and then returned the sentiment, Padme felt a hot stab of jealousy. Her eyes widened in surprise when Palo suddenly stopped in front of her, casting a most curious stare.
"Your mind seems elsewhere?"
"I... I'm sorry, Palo. Please forgive me." Pulling him back into their dance, the last thing Padme wanted was to cause a scene. "Perhaps the music has lulled me."
"And here I was hoping it was me."
"Your company is appreciated, Palo." Unfortunately for Padme, Palo took her modest confirmation as window of opportunity. He attempted to draw her closer, into a more intimate slow dance. She politely rebuffed his attempt, and with no more than an arched brow conveyed her meaning. He accepted without mention, and she hoped that would be his last failed attempt of the night to make more out of his invitation than a dinner party.
As for Palo, he felt the presence of her Jedi friend was probably the culprit as to why she was a bit distant. Anakin seemed the big brother type, his menacing eyes boring into him from the moment he led Padme onto the dance floor. And though she had already danced with the two other competitors for her affection, he was last and hoped to make the best impression.
Now if only that infuriating Jedi would give Padme room to breathe, Palo felt he could make a connection with the gorgeous Senator. One that would reawaken her obviously frozen heart and give him a greater piece of the spotlight than he'd ever enjoyed before.
Meanwhile, Jobal danced with her husband while keeping secret watch over Anakin and Padme. After dinner, but before dessert the guests decided to enjoy the soft music by candlelight, and so people paired off with who they came with to start, and then began pairing off for conversations sake. Anakin chose not to dance at first, but then was cornered by Cass as they were now seemingly enjoying each other's company. Jobal had no doubt where Anakin's heart lay, but maybe this was payback for tonight. Padme seemed distracted from the moment she saw them.
The young and the games that they play.
Her daughter was stubborn to an extent Jobal hadn't believed possible. Nonetheless, she had seen enough thus far. It was time for her to intervene. "Dear, could you please save Sola's feet from Sio's lack of coordination. I'd like a moment with Anakin."
"You're leaving me for the Jedi, aren't you?" Ruwee joked while brushing a kiss over her cheek.
"I think he's taken, dear."
"That's not entirely the best answer you could have given me," he smiled.
"I love you, but you're infuriating. Go." Offering her a bow of sorts, Jobal watched him walk off, and then made her way over to Cass and Anakin by the flower-trimmed windows. A polite tap on Cass's shoulder drew her attention. "Might I cut in? It's not often a woman gets the chance to dance with a Jedi."
"Certainly, Mrs. Nabberie." Cass gave a sensually lazy head-to-toe appraisal of Anakin before stepping aside. "He is a fine specimen and a skilled dancer. I can only imagine his other skills," she trailed off as Anakin took Jobal's hand.
"She's... interesting," was all Anakin could think to say.
"She's a predator and you, my dear Jedi, are the prey."
"Trust that she will never catch me."
"I do indeed." Jobal quite enjoyed his company as they danced. Sola even winked at her, ever the tease. She could easily see the allure this one possessed. Dangerous, gorgeous, and the supreme confidence he carried himself with were unmistakable. "Padme doesn't seem to be enjoying herself very much."
"It's probably her choice in dance partners."
"Then allow me to rectify that little problem." Not one to sit back and watch from the sidelines, Jobal guided Anakin past the other dancing couples to where Padme and Palo were. "Palo, dear. I would just love to hear about your amazing new exhibit." She sensed that man loved to talk, especially if it were about himself. "If you don't mind?"
"Not... not at all." Frustration simmered over the artist's face, but he held his tongue as he couldn't refuse. Anakin's presence didn't help matters in the least. With his fate sealed he politely took Jobal's hand, who immediately led him away almost against his will.
Wasting no time despite their differences, Anakin extended his hand. "Milady?"
Taking his hand, Padme nestled against him... home for her heart, her head resting over his chest, eyes shut, with his other hand warming the small of her back. She couldn't care less who saw them or what anyone thought. She was with the man she loved, who she knew was still bitterly angry with her, and yet couldn't hide his feelings. The way he breathed just over her neck, clutching her body to his, she knew his precious heart. "Would you think it unladylike if I clawed Cass's eyes out?"
A more unPadme-like phrase, he had never heard from her before. His bright smile lived for her alone, giving him the gift of her jealousy. He warmed the shell of her ear with his breath. "You could never be unladylike, angel."
The pleasant hum that escaped her lips found his notice as he squeezed her tighter in his arms. "I wish that I could kiss you."
"You have only to take what is rightfully yours."
"Soon." She wasn't sure he believed her, but she was dedicated to ending this farce and repairing the damage she'd done to their marriage. For the time being, she adored the man in her arms. "I see my mother has you wrapped around her little finger."
"She's a wonderful person."
"And she knows that I love you beyond words."
"Did you tell her about us?"
"No, but she's observant to a degree I may have underestimated. And she knows that you are in love with me as well."
"I don't hide it. I never have." Her silence gave way to guilt, as he felt she deserved a small bit of it. Not even the envious stares he received from the other men seeking his angel mattered as he was still upset. The only salvation was that even his anger lessened when she was in his arms, her head tucked below his chin, clinging to him and him alone. "I may have to kill Palo before the night is done?"
Her giggle was as surprising to her as it was to Anakin, that a darkly humorous joke could cause such a reaction. "He is an arrogant pest at best. Leave him be. He'll be gone soon enough."
"He lusts after you."
"But I lust only for you," Padme declared softly, and then tilted her head when the announcement that dessert as ready to be served. "If you will be patient just a little while longer, I promise everything will be the way that it should."
"Patience isn't one of my strong suits." And with those parting words Anakin left Padme alone with her thoughts.
Standing with his wine glass raised high, as were all the other guests and the Nabberie family, Milas offered a toast to the guest of honor. "To Padme Amidala. Naboo's champion. Unmatched in intelligence, character, and courage under fire. You are a shimmering jewel in the crown of our world, and a shining example to us all... And by far the most beautiful woman in the universe." His toast drew cheers and applause while he focused his attention on the woman of the evening, favoring her with a gentlemanly nod and a little wink that made her smile.
Padme wore a gracious expression. "Thank you, Mr. Vahn."
"Milas, milady," he teasingly corrected the Senator, who bowed her apologies. "Although I wouldn't consider you calling me husband someday an insult." Snickers around the table at his flirtatious comment, to which Padme gave a wave of her hand in dismissal. Still, she appeared less than offended. "Boyfriend wouldn't be bad either."
"Enough, Milas," Padme laughed, mildly embarrassed. "Thank you for the toast."
With his face set in a scowl, Anakin's hand brushed over the handle of his light saber. Jobal gently tapped his wrist out of the sight of anyone. "People don't ever die or leave hungry at my dinner table," she explained in a low tone of voice, and then saw the corners of his mouth lift as he took his seat again. She exhaled as one crisis was averted.
At that very moment another began.
The rumbling pitter-patter of little feet sounded down a staircase just outside the main dining hall. Everyone's attention peaked when the voices of children shouting at something could be heard quite clearly. As their voices grew in volume Neckla shrieked by the entrance door when something moving very fast ran over her foot.
"No, don't go in there... Noooo!" Pooja was heard yelling frantically. Alas, she was far to late.
The collective stares of everyone at the dinning table witnessed the appearance of a small black Delorion kitten racing into the dining hall, and then leaping onto the shoulder of a bewildered Sio Bibble. The loud sound that escaped his mouth was high-pitched and far from manly, as the kitten dove onto his wife's lap, and then ran across the backs of the chairs Sola, Darren, and Zsu occupied. Humorous chatter erupted when the animal leapt onto Milas's head, and then the table itself. It raced towards the massive, triple-layered cake that was the center piece of dessert and leaped in the air...
And then hung there.
Anakin's outstretched palm dangled the kitten above the cake, while the guests caught there breaths after such a surprising event. Never, ever, had an animal interrupted one of Jobal's dinner's. She looked to the dining hall entrance where a so-very-guilty Pooja and Ryoo stood, huddled together. Their little faces screamed, "We are so dead!"
"Children, come here now," Sola demanded while watching the kitten gently descended into Anakin's hands, and then begin to lick his fingers as if he recognized the Jedi. Curious indeed. "What is the meaning of this?"
Taking the longest route possible to their mom, Ryoo and Pooja, with their heads hung low rounded the table. When they reached Sola, who's arms were crossed as she awaited an answer, they looked to each other, not sure who should speak. Luckily for them, they didn't need too.
"Sola, I'm afraid I am at fault for tonight's... four-legged entertainment," Padme half-laughed while casting her gaze at her scared nieces. "I received the Delorion kitten this afternoon as a gift and asked Pooja and Ryoo to watch after it for me until after dinner. The little rug rat must has escaped their care. I do apologize for the disturbance."
Sola glanced from her sister, to her girls and then her mother, and finally back to her girls. Mischief was afoot, but she'd let it go for now. With just a look, Darren understood they'd discuss this with the girls later. "Take Padme's gift back upstairs and keep it safe and out of the way."
The girls, overjoyed that their favorite aunt hadn't told a thing, hugged their mom, and then raced around the table to hug Padme tightly.
Ryoo whispered, "I knew you wouldn't tell. I just knew it."
Padme gave a nod, and then shoveled them off. They ran to Anakin next, took the kitten and each kissed his cheek. After a quick goodbye to their dad and grandfather the children departed. Chuckles around the table over the unexpected intrusion as everyone took it in stride.
Soon after, Teckla and Nandi began serving dessert, which consisted of a slice of triple-layered Drizzle cake and two scoops of Veens ice cream. A wonderful evening thus was winding down, and for Padme, she couldn't be happier. The sooner the dinner was over with, the sooner she could fix things with Anakin. Her husband wasn't pleased with her in the least right now, and hadn't so much as looked at her in quite a while. She swallowed that bit of hurt, and then resolved herself to righting the wrongs just as soon as their guests left.
"Anakin?" Palo called out, catching the Jedi's attention. "How about you regale us with an exciting story from the front lines of the war?"
Amidst a hushed stillness around the table, Anakin sent a hard glare at Palo. "There is nothing exciting about war."
The painter could tell he struck a nerve, his intent all along. "Surely the Man Without Fear, as the HoloNet news agency so famously coined you, has had adventures that would leave us spellbound over dessert. Especially during the dark times we live in today."
"The dark times, as you put it, consist of a horrible war where millions of innocent people are dying. There are no adventures to be found or discussed for the merit of fun," Anakin noted in a sharp tone, his expression hardening. "Perhaps you have an exciting tale for us. I'm sure you've enjoyed some wild days with your paint brushes." Padme covered her mouth to keep from laughing, while the other guests found the back and forth between the men most interesting.
Palo's agitation grew. "Forgive me, Jedi Skywalker. I create, not destroy like you and the Jedi." "A Jedi's mandate is not to create, but to protect and serve the Republic," Padme spoke up, much to Palo's disappointment. "I have the utmost respect for them. Especially Anakin, whose bravery and character I admire above all others."
Jobal would have applauded if it wouldn't have caused a scene. Sola nodded her agreement. Ruwee watched them both thoughtfully.
Palo's jaw tightened. "And yet the Jedi are under constant HoloNet scrutiny over rumors of corruption, lies, and the intent to deceive the Republic."
Ruwee laughed to himself, and then offered, "The same could be said for Palpatine's regime. Only in that case I'm willing to bet everything I own it's true. These are troubling times, Palo. People are suffering while others debate rumors and conspiracies. I would rather deliver food and medicine to a grieving world than learn of the criminal dealings that happen behind closed doors."
Palo lifted his hands in mock defeat, though secretly angry at how quickly Padme's family came to Anakin's defense. "Perhaps my intent was misinterpreted. It's not often I dine with a Jedi, much less one with Anakin's hero status."
"So you hoped that I would entertain you?" Anakin pinned Palo with a menacing gaze.
"Jedi can use the Force. Parlor tricks and all," Palo said while refilling with wine glass. "Although I am not sure if one could expect anything more spectacular than lifting that kitten earlier." That very moment his wine glass took flight from his hand, floated just over the center of the table and hung there for all to see. Then it slowly descended down to the table. Palo suddenly felt a fool as he lowered his hand by his side. "And I thought the vaunted, unseen Force you Jedi believe in were capable of so much more."
"I find your lack of faith distressing," the words rolled off Anakin's tongue. Before Palo could reply his chair suddenly lifted off the floor. His obvious discomfort was the most pleasant sight Anakin's seen all night. "If you are looking for entertainment, Palo. Allow me to grant your wish."
Palo's chain began to spin while his hands clung to the arm rests. "This is not funny."
"I'm not so sure about that," Syne interjected. "I'm quite amused by the sight of a grown man spinning in mid..." Speech failed the esteemed doctor when his chair rose from the floor. Looking around the guests below him, he smiled, "I have now floated. My life is complete."
Padme enjoyed seeing Anakin put Palo in his place until her chair began to rise. One by one, each of the guests chair's lifted off the floor amidst gasps and cheers as they were all treated to a show of the Force. And then the dining table itself lifted, not spilling or turning over a single thing. And if the spectacle of the scene weren't amazing enough, the entire dinner table and all of the guests fully swiveled in a slow circle until everyone was sitting on the opposite side of the room they began on as each chair softly landed back on the floor.
Good-natured chatter filled the room, as well as questions about the Force and how it felt to use it. Anakin tried as best he could to accommodate everyone, answering to the best of his ability. He enjoyed the attention, as well as the respect he was given as the dessert and conversation lifted everyone's mood.
That was until Anakin caught sight of Palo leaning over Padme's chair to tell her something privately. The painter's carnal thoughts were wide open to the Jedi, his intentions clear as day. Though Padme had zero interest in him that wasn't the point that made Anakin so irate. It was that all night long he'd had to hold his tongue while men flirted with his wife, danced with her, their eyes full of longing and desire. Their minds filled with images of his angel in their bed. Finally, he'd had enough.
Standing from his chair, Anakin declared with a bow, "Thank you for a wonderful dinner. I'm going to call it an evening. Goodnight."
Offering no more of an explanation than that, he exited the dining hall with all eyes on him.
"Excuse me," Padme quickly stated, noting Jobal's nod. She had work to do and now was the time.
Cursing her short legs, Padme chased after Anakin's long, angry stride down the dimly lit western hall of the estate. Her heart begged her to shout after him, but she couldn't find her voice no matter how hard she tried. Damn whatever those back in the dining hall thought of her abrupt departure. Her marriage was on the line, so nothing else mattered.
She had to fix this, and she had to fix this now.
Padme saw Anakin enter one of the empty guest rooms at the end of the hall. Her pursuit came to a halt just outside the partially open door. There were so many things she wanted to tell him and to make him understand. And yet she considered that perhaps the correct course of action would be to listen.
Quietly entering the small guest room, she found Anakin staring out of an open corner window, his back to her. The black Jedi cloak he wore was on the floor, obviously thrown behind him. He was ever aware of her presence, so she saw no reason to announce herself. Instead, she fed off his emotions through their shared Force-connection and felt such a powerful wave of betrayal and frustration that tears moistened her eyes. By the Force, what had she done?
On the wing tips of a deep breath, Padme braced for his fury.
"I had thought," Anakin spoke in a grim tone as the moonlit lake surrounding the estate filled his line of vision, "That it hurt when Count Dooku severed my arm. But that was nothing compared to night."
Hovering close by, Padme lowered her head as his words struck home, and then gently wiped her sad eyes.
"Those men in there... each of them desired you," he nodded, his rage barely restrained. "Each of them imagined bedding you to their hearts' content. They smiled and laughed at everything you did. They hung on your every word, each hoping for the sparkle in your eyes to favor them just once. I listened to their thoughts from the moment they saw you. I was forced to sit there like a good little boy, holding my tongue the entire time while they danced and flirted with you in my face. I felt humiliated."
When Anakin turned around to finally face Padme, the shadows hid his face from her. She sensed he had much more to say, and though it hurt her so badly to hear it, she knew that she had too.
"My wife..." Taking a careful step toward her, only enough to see her stricken face, Anakin shook his head in defiance of her tears. "I've spent the entire evening being disrespected. I feel betrayed by YOU!" he shouted at her for perhaps the first time ever and even her pained expression did little to sooth his anger. "I am exhausted because of all the deception in our lives. I am surrounded by lies, and it sickens me. I feel hidden from your loved ones as if you are somehow ashamed of me." He paused for a brief moment, breathing heavily. "If I have to keep secrets from the Jedi and the Senate, then so be it. But I shouldn't have to with the only family I have left. And the vast majority of them don't even know that I am family. I would rather go back to the war than live like this another day."
Padme longed to hold him. To assure him of her absolute love, and swear that this would never happen again. But her mother's words came back to her here. In order to make this right, she had to know exactly what she did wrong. And so she quietly held her peace, brushing aside the tears as they fell. Though he was almost within arms reach, they felt worlds apart.
Anakin's glare drifted over her, the pain so fresh not even her sensual allure could tame it. "You made me feel unworthy because of what I had to endure tonight," he declared through tightly clenched teeth. Padme's hand covered her mouth as she cried before him. Her pain only amplified his own. "I've never been so angry with you... I don't have anything else to say."
Exhaling deeply, Padme gently brushed her tears aside while gathering herself. Her soft gaze followed him to the foot of the bed where he sat down, and then ran his hand slowly over his face. She recalled his apology to her over what happened yesterday, and his explanation for why he did it. She knew her anger and disappointment were valid. Her opinion stood over his mistake. She was still hurt over his actions, and yet, on some level she understood them. He was right in telling her that she should have not gone to Theed Palace with him. The danger would have been greater, and perhaps the assassins would have accomplished their goal of killing her. His methods were at fault, but his heart was in the right place.
Where was her heart tonight, she considered, while he watched these men parade around her? All of them seeking her affection and romantic interest. He suffered such disrespect, and for that she felt crushed at her hand in all this. Nonetheless, Padme Amidala did not fold when the day looked lost. She did not bow her head and allow the worst to survive for long. She was a fighter, and there was no greater battle for her than this one.
Even as her presence suffocated him, Anakin hated that the faint scent of her perfume clinging to her soft skin could wrench such a reaction from him as she invaded his personal space, standing before him now. He felt her turmoil, sadness, and regret. Felt it so strongly that all he wanted to do was take it all away so that she wouldn't have to bear it. Even though tonight was her fault, his love for her was that absolute.
"Before we were reunited after the assassination attempt on Coruscant, I had no personal or social life at all," Padme revealed in a measured tone voice, her arms wrapped around herself to ward off the emotional chill shivering hr body. "I was running on auto-pilot, with my every waking hour dedicated to the service of Naboo and the Republic. And while I took great pride and satisfaction in the work I was doing, behind closed doors I was so lonely and incomplete that I began to feel old. Very, very old."
Brushing a shaky hand through her hair, Padme continued. "I didn't have a clue how to develop a social life because I was so detached from everything normal. I cherished my time as Queen, but I was an oasis unto myself. There was the business of Naboo and nothing else. No parties. No vacations. Nothing that would signal a young woman enjoying her life. When you are Queen your focus is devoted to the people, so that is what I did. And when my time was done I used to dream that I would get away from the spotlight and live like all the other girls my age. I wanted to find someone special and fall in love. I wanted to go places and do things that were fun. But once my time as Queen ended I realized that I was so out of touch with how to live like a normal person that I rushed into negotiations for the vacated Senator position. I knew how to live a structured life. I knew how to work long hours, keep my composure and focus in meetings, and deal with politicians. I understood that sort of life. So I drowned myself in it. But then you returned to my life... and I finally learned to live."
"Ani," she spoke his name as affectionate as a gentle kiss. "When I fell in love with you my life became bright and new. I... I didn't know I was capable of being in love or even having a relationship. I was so woefully unprepared for you that I fought my feelings with everything that I had. But your dear heart won me over, and I thank the Force every day for that. You saved me, Ani. You saved my life and I love you more than I could ever say. But you need to understand that before you, I had no other relationships. I didn't have any experience with a man in any way before you."
His silence came without him even lifting his eyes to her. Nonetheless, Padme pressed on. "None of what I have done wrong is excused by my lack of experience in relationships. I guess I'm just trying to say...I'm... I'm not perfect. I sometimes only listen to the sound of my own voice. I make mistakes, and I have made a grievous one tonight. I am sorrier than I have ever been before, and I am heartbroken because I feel that I have failed you," she cried, her face wincing painfully, her hand over her heart. "That ruins me inside."
When her voice trembled and hitched, Anakin found he couldn't stand not looking at her anymore. Her tears crippled something inside him as she bled her heart.
"I am so sorry that I have kept my family away from you. I am sorry that I have fought you over telling them about us. I am so proud to be your wife. You are my sunrise and sunset, Ani. I only want a life with you and could live any other way as long as I had you with me. I need you by my side," she poured her heart to him with tears falling down her cheeks, her face stricken with sorrow. "I have felt like I was protecting you by hiding us because I think you are so very important to the Republic. I think you are destined for something so monumentally great that (it) will benefit the entire galaxy. But I went too far, and now I can only hope that you forgive me. I love you to the depths of my very soul. And I swear I will never fail you again."
Anakin's expression softened upon her, no longer filled with anger or resentment. His blue eyes pooled with longing, desperate to erase tonight from his memory.
Trembling as she stood between his legs, Padme felt fragile before him, awaiting his reply. "I think after breakfast tomorrow morning we should gather the family and tell them together. We will tell them everything. And I will apologize to you again in front of them. I feel you deserve that." His unwavering stare tore through her until she couldn't take it anymore. Through a fresh wave of tears her voice strained, "Ani, please..."
With intense urgency his strong hands clasped her beautiful face, bringing her soft lips to his, forcing her to straddle his thighs. The hot, visceral emotion behind his hungry kiss saw her shaking with sensation. Her husband's fiery passion left her wet and needy the second he began drinking from her lips, his arms clutching her tightly to his chest, unable to get enough of her. Her hands grabbed at his shirt, drawing him closer, craving the feel of his body against her own. Their tongues curled round and round inside her mouth, their heads gliding from side to side, inhaling the other's breath. Her dress bunched up towards her slender hips, though she barely noticed. Never had her body craved sex the way it did right now as she felt her moist center grinding over his throbbing erection, creating the most delicious friction.
By the Force, they needed to kill all the pain and anger and hurt that crossed between them in the last day.
In a quiet flash, they moved in sync. Anakin's right arm crossed her lower back, hauling her flush to his chest. He stood for a brief moment while she worked his pants down off his hips, before sitting again as they frantically kicked off their shoes. Having gone the night sans underwear to entice him, there was nothing in the way as she poised herself above the weeping tip of his thick shaft, and then slowly lowered her body until she was so full of him she swore she could feel his heart beating inside her own chest.
The entire time their gazes remained locked, sharing the raw need that threatened to overwhelm them.
"I love you," Padme promised before her lips caressed his in a brief, trembling kiss. Her arms locked around his neck as she began to ride, her hips grinding low and away, lazily impaling him inside her. Crying while making love to him, desire quivered her belly, causing her thighs to clench over his. When his lips parted with a husky moan her body liquefied around him. They were still partially-clothed, and yet he hadn't ever felt so perfect to her as he did now. She sighed pleasurably over his lips each time she slid down his cock, drew him out, and then drove him back inside deeper. "I love you so much," softly escaped her lips.
Watching Padme make love to him was a revelation of all that was good in his life. His fiery anger died a little more with every roll of her slender hips, her sex dragging and pulling him to madness. With his strong hands clutching her hips, she rode his lap in short, grinding circles until he groaned, "...my angel."
"Always," she panted, kissing his throat, over the shell of his ear and cheek, and then back to his lips, plundering them with her tongue. And when he finally fell onto his back, her hands braced his chest, her body taking him inside her with greater intensity. Her eyes squeezed shut, her body clenching around the fullness of his throbbing flesh. Up and down she moved over him tirelessly, adoring the expression of awe he wore, and the way he sighed her name.
Spiraling intense ripples of pleasure erupted when Padme threw her head back, her bottom lip caught in her teeth as the hot friction over her clit sent tremors of a blinding orgasm coursing through her body. She bent over him, shaking, trembling, her cries muffled in the hollow of his neck as waves of pleasure tore through her. His arms held her through the longest, most satisfying climax of her entire life.
Breathing heavily over him, Padme sensed Anakin was far from through with her.
When his mouth captured hers again, Anakin moved on sheer instinct alone. He lifted them into a sitting position, shoved his pants off with his feet, and then in one fluid motion stood and drove Padme's back solid against the nearby wall. At no time had he slipped from her body, his cock pulsing inside her tight, slippery warmth.
With a sharp intake of air, Padme was mesmerized by the need to conquer shadowing his blue eyes. To claim and dominate her for all time. She felt his greed for her through their Force-connection... his possessiveness and devoted love... his borderline obsessive passion. His intense feelings made her ache for him, wanting him to know that she was his for all time and that would never, ever change.
"Take me," she boldly pleaded with him, staring into his eyes. Her legs locked further around his hips, her ankles following suit. With her back braced high to the wall, his hips began to lift her body with hard, surging thrusts that caught her breath in her throat. "Take me... fuck me... Make me never forget that I'm yours."
"Loveyousomuch... Padme...Padme, my love." Anakin's hands shaped to the sensuous curves of her backside, using the grip to surge into her harder, his hips driving her up the wall with every resounding slap of their bodies. He was lost in the exquisite feel of her... in the way she aroused him to no end. An animalistic groan fled his lungs in a rush as he was swept in the lust of her potent allure. Unable to speak, his body conveyed his thoughts with every lifting, deep thrust that ripped a cry from her lungs. He couldn't keep his eyes off the beautifully flushed expression on her face, the way her beautiful features grimaced with passion, or the way her voice hovered just above a purr.
Padme arched wildly with his bouncing, deep thrusts. The act was rougher, her legs jerking wildly, being vigorously fucked out of her mind by the man she loved. He was so big, hot, and hard inside her... taking her at his whim, giving her all that he had as his thrust rocked her body against the wall until she soared through a euphoric, writhing orgasm that shot hot sparks through her. Not for a second did Anakin stop driving her up the wall, lifting her with his pounding hips, his groans loudly ringing her ears. Kissing him hard, she begged him, "Come inside me, Ani... let go... Come inside me... please..."
What shred of self-control he had left crumbled to ashes when her request entered his mind. Wrenching her body upwards one last time, Anakin roared through a savage series of ejaculations, his essence bursting warm and wet inside her until he had nothing left to give... until his legs nearly buckled from exertion, his heart lodged somewhere in the vicinity of his throat.
Padme, for a brief instant... felt a blinding, powerful sense of the Force sweep through her twice... and then it was gone as quickly as it came.
Moments later they were cuddled on the bed, still partially clothed, eyes shut, humming peacefully as their emotional storm had passed. The raw lust of their make-up sex ended, leaving behind this softer, quieter side of their relationship. They each apologized again, making promises in the dark that past mistakes would never return. They were on equal footing once more, and intended to stay that way.
Behind the locked door they undressed and fell asleep under the covers in each others arms, unconcerned with the thoughts and assumptions of anyone outside the bedroom. And unlike last night, a peaceful sleep was had by all.
The next day, early morning
As Ruwee sat motionless beside his wife, with the rest of the Naberrie clan gathered around them in the sitting room, the silence was deafening. He stared at his youngest daughter as if seeing her for the very first time after her startling revelation. In some ways he was seeing her for the very first time, as Padme Amidala was no more than a professional title at best. Her true name, taken after marriage rites performed by a holy man, was Padme Skywalker.
By the Force itself, she was married. And to a Jedi nonetheless. Ruwee held his peace, gathering his thoughts after Padme's revealing confession moments ago.
Just after breakfast this morning Padme announced that she needed the children to leave the room, as she had something of the utmost importance to tell the family. By closely judging his wife and elder daughter's lack of surprise, coupled with Padme's abrupt exit from last night's dinner after Anakin departed, he had at least a basic idea of what he was about to hear.
Seated beside Jobal, Ruwee expected that Padme would reveal her feelings for Anakin, and obviously that the Jedi returned them. That in and of itself had the makings for chaos but certainly wasn't the end of the world. And he wondered, had he paid closer attention would he have noticed something more between them. The implications of their relationship, both personal and professional, left him reeling with worry. But as Padme began to detail a story beginning with the accursed assassination attempt on her life years ago, shock and awe claimed Jobal as well. He'd suspected she was aware of some, if not all of Padme's secret life up to this point, but apparently even she wasn't informed fully.
As a family, they sat and listened to Padme discuss the most personal aspects of her life, why they married just before the war began, and their reasons for keeping it a secret. Ruwee detested secrets and had always taught his children the eventual downfall they led too. From his daughter's lips, he was stunned to learn of the hidden life she'd lived in the shadows. Of the worry over Anakin's position as a Knight and her's as Senator. And her constant dread over a war her husband fought on the front lines.
He never wanted a soldier for her. Though his respect for their duty never wavered, he well understood the pain those left behind were forced to endure. And now his precious Padme had taken the Chosen One as her husband.
"I can only imagine how all of this sounds to you," Padme conceded with Anakin by her side, standing before the family. "My one and only defense, of which I will never feel a day's guilt as I have lived a self-less life, is that I truly, deeply love Anakin. He completes me," she smiled, reaching for his hand. "And he makes me very happy. I only wish I could have shared this with you sooner. I should have, and I recognize that now. I have done my marriage and my husband a great disservice in keeping them a secret from my family."
Turning to her husband, Padme brought her hand to his cheek, caressing it softly. "I am so sorry for keeping this secret as long as I have. I love you endlessly, and I promise to honor you and our marriage from now on." He brushed a forgiving kiss over her lips, and then she took a deep breath and faced her parents again. Their shock hadn't worn off just yet, as evidenced by their blank stares. "I am sorry that I didn't share all of this with you sooner. Years ago, even. I hope you can forgive me."
"Forgive you?" Jobal spoke softly as she rose from her chair and took her daughter into the comfort of her embrace, holding her tightly. "Dear, you have nothing to be forgiven for. You are an adult and well aware that all actions have consequences. Nonetheless, you sought your happiness and joy. That is all any of us can do in this life."
Padme favored her mother with an apprehensive expression. "But I've lied to you all for so long."
"Your reasons are your own," Jobal began with such warm affection in her voice. "Today, you have given us such a gift," she smiled at Anakin. "All that a parent wants for her child is to be a good person. To live a life of high character, self-less deeds, and to reach for her goals whatever they are. You have accomplished all of those things and now have found love. There is no greater gift than to know that your child is happy and loved. So for that, I thank you and Anakin."
Sola approached the couple next, hugging her sister first, and then Anakin. "And to think, I thought Padme was boring and unpredictable," she teased her sister. "I have never been happier to be wrong in my entire life."
"Thank you, sister." For Padme, the morning's success seemed to hinge on the thoughts and feelings of her father. Although grown and sure of her path in life, the daughter within her still sought his love and respect. He often spoke of giving her away at her wedding and was from a more traditional courtship background. Nothing about her and Anakin was traditional, except that they deeply loved each other. "Father?"
Rising slowly, his expression calmly collected without a hint of emotion, he came to his daughter, standing before her and her husband. Husband... the word was still wrapping around his mind. Never could he have imagined... such was life though. Ever evolving and different for everyone. Still, Padme's soft brown eyes conveyed her feelings. He could always read them. Today they were filled with love and devotion for Anakin. Her days and night, minus the grueling war weren't filled with a hollow sense of love. She had someone and was happy. It might take a while to get used to, but her heart was true. His respect for her was unshakable.
Ruwee placed his hands on Padme's slender shoulders. His face lifted into a bright smile, and then he drew her into a comforting hug. "I knew you'd be trouble the day you were born."
Padme laughed, exhaling a lifetime's worth of worry. Tears filled her eyes... tears of joy. "I promise to be a bit more boring from now on."
"Perish the thought, dear." Ruwee kissed his daughter's cheek, and then moved to Anakin, whom he gave a long hug too as well. His voice whispered, "Please protect her."
"With my life, always," Anakin replied, and then shook Ruwee's hand. Darren shook his hand next, and then Jobal and Sola embraced him.
"Welcome to our family, Anakin," Ruwee offered as the mood lifted, and all was well again. "We are so proud to have you."
Family... outside of Padme he felt as if that word was meant for others. Never him. The Jedi were an institution. They were justice and truth and the protectors of the Republic. But they were not family. Not like the Naberrie's. For the first time in years, he felt truly at peace with himself. "Thank you."
A light tapping noise drew their collective attention towards the terrace. Pooja and Ryoo peaked out from behind the door. "Uhm, are you all done with the older people stuff yet?" Pooja politely asked after losing a bet with her sister on who should ask.
Jobal could see the mischief in her grandchildren's eyes already. And it wasn't even lunchtime yet. "Whatever do you two rascals require?"
Ryoo blurted out, "Can Uncle Anakin come out and play?"
Everyone turned to the Skywalkers, who both bowed their heads, a bit bashful. Ruwee laughed, "We are truly the last to know, I see."
"We shall all come out to play," Sola happily reported as she led the family out onto the terrace, and then down the long flight of stairs that led to the sandy beach front by the lake.
Anakin and Padme, hand-in-hand toured along the shore, watching the children chase each other and their grandfather across the white sands. Jobal cheered her grandchildren on, while Sola and Darren held each other, enjoying the moment immensely.
The war, the Senate, Palpatine, and the Jedi Order were far removed from this paradise. There was only room for love and togetherness here. Come what may in this most dangerous, unpredictable age, this amazingly complex, and yet loving family will endure.
After all, those are the ties that bind.
The End - No Sequel
Extra special thanks to my amazing beta reader Anne, who is just the best, the fastest, and most knowledgeable Star Wars fan I have ever known. Extra special thanks also to everyone who was patient for this final chapter. I hope you enjoyed it. I had a great time writing it. On to "Beloved"