Chapter 24. The Way Home

As soon as Anakin was given leave to go Padmé put all of her considerable energy and resources into getting them to the Lake House. It was the only place she felt safe from prying eyes. She allowed only a small, handpicked service staff to accompany them. Sabé was so angry at being excluded from her confidence that they were barely on speaking terms, but Padmé was beyond caring.

It was of course far too late to avoid gossip, but Padmé decided that it might work to her advantage. By leaving people to gossip about an affair she could more easily hide the marriage. Mercifully, in the beauty and serenity of the lakeside retreat is was easy to forget that the rest of the world existed. It was the first time she and Anakin had been together without the constant threat that it would also be their last.

For his part Anakin used all of his meager resources to practice standing up. He would not allow Padmé to marry someone who couldn't stand on his own feet. On the afternoon of their first day in the Lake House Padmé found him collapsed on the terrace by the bedroom, shirtless, in bare feet and shivering. It was a warm day but Anakin was always shivering.

She flew to him. "How did you get here?"

"I walked," he said through chattering teeth. He was very pleased.

"You're freezing!" she scolded, helping him awkwardly to his feet and trying to support him as he made his painful way back inside. "Why would you let yourself get so cold?"

"I am going to walk on my own tomorrow."

"You don't have to do this, Anakin. It doesn't matter to me."

"It matters to me." It mattered enormously. The idea of letting her down in any way was much more agonizing than walking.

"Come inside. I'll help you get warm." Padmé spent a lot of time wrapped around Anakin. Her vibrant presence in the Force was often the only thing that could calm his chills.

"That's another good reason to get cold," he said, shaking.

Until that moment Padmé had not allowed herself to have expectations of any kind about Anakin's eventual recovery. She had decided firmly that having him alive was enough. But this definitely was beginning to sound like the old Anakin. She felt an exhilarating surge of hope.

"You fool," she grumbled. "You don't need an excuse for that. And neither do I."  But she took the hint and spent the rest of the day and night draped over or around him to keep him warm while they talked and dozed. Neither one could remember having spent a more peaceful or healing time.

* * * * *

During the night while Padmé slept Anakin got up again and practiced walking unaided until he was satisfied that he could stay on his feet for a reasonable amount of time. Only then did he allow himself to rest.

On the afternoon of the second day Anakin dressed with difficulty in his Jedi robes, made his way painfully to the broad terrace that overlooked the lake, and waited for his bride.

If he had not already been as weak as an infant the sight of Padmé in her white gown and veil would have had the same effect. He lost all power of speech and his heart, which had still not found its proper rhythm, started to pound alarmingly. He took care to remember to keep breathing.

She came close, making him dizzy with wonder. She was glowing – perhaps from the afternoon sun.

"Ohh…" he moaned softly, his powers of articulation no stronger than his body.

Padmé looked at him seriously.

"Are you all right?  Can you stand?"

"For this?  For you?" he managed to whisper. "Yes, I can stand…"

The wedding ceremony was brief and poignant. It was miraculous, really. A quiet, kind man spoke a few profound words and afterward the universe was changed. Padmé took his hands, one metal and one flesh, and that in that instant he became whole. She kissed him gently and everything that had felt broken was mended.

The Holy Man left quietly and Anakin managed to remain standing. Somehow with Padmé by his side it was easier.

"Now you really are mine," she said. "I can't believe it."

"I always was," he managed. "I always will be."

"It's different," she said. "Everything seems better now. I'm not afraid of losing you any more."

She could have been speaking directly out of his own heart.

"I still can't believe you want me…this way." Anakin's breathing was growing a bit ragged. She inclined her head closer to him and he tried hard not to wobble.

"Pay attention, Anakin," she said. "It's you I love. Just you."

"Me," he said, finding it hard to believe. "Just me." Even so, he resolved that she would not have to put up with him like this forever. One way or another, he would get his powers back. He would do it for her. From the moment Padmé had reached out to claim him as her own Anakin had suddenly begun to care what became of him again. He wanted to be worthy of her.

Padmé gently pulled his arm over her shoulder to give him support and began to slowly guide him back inside.

"I…I'm sorry there is not going to be much of a wedding night," he said faintly.

Padmé's smile arose out of a deep private place inside of her. "Oh," she said, "I think we have already had a few of those. Besides, you have to leave in a few hours."

It took some doing, but they made it into the bedroom where Anakin collapsed gratefully, already exhausted. Padmé watched him with love and longing as she slowly took off her veil and put it aside. Still wearing her wedding dress she lay down beside him, curling up against him so that she could feel his every heartbeat and hear every breath. She was deeply and consciously grateful for each one.

Even though Anakin could scarcely reach out and embrace her he felt her presence in every cell of his body.

"Padmé," he whispered. "Thank you for this gift."

"Thank you for yours," she said softly.

They sank into a blessed and heartfelt silence.

After a while she whispered, "Anakin?"

"Here."

"Anakin, "is this destiny or is it free will?"

He thought for a while.

"I don't really care," he finally decided, "as long as it brought me to you."

They remained there, linked together from head to toe, until it was time for him to go.

* * * * *

Anakin was true to his promise.

On schedule he boarded the Naboo Star, a spice transporter on its way to the Capital city of the Galaxy. He would arrive in Coruscant in less than two standard days.

He spent the journey entirely by himself. Being so weak he chose to spend most of his time in meditation. The cargo vessel, although large, was for the most part automated and the Captain and two crewmen generally ignored their Jedi passenger and went about their business. Only occasionally did one or the other of them wonder how a person could remain so still for so long. Or need so many blankets.

Oh, well. The Jedi were a world unto themselves. The ordinary workers of the Galaxy rarely had occasion to encounter them.

Anakin may have been by himself but he was anything but alone.

Under his shirt, over his heart he wore a small but perfect Nubian star stone jewel, one of the rarest gemstones in the Galaxy and unique to Naboo. They were prized not only for their deep night-blue color and transparency, but for the pinpoints of white reflections, like stars, that appeared deep inside if a carefully cut stone was held up to the light.

A star stone was a galaxy unto itself.

It had been a gift from Padmé. But despite its value and rarity, it was nothing compared to the gift of which it was only a token.

The gift of sacred promises. Of a place where he finally belonged.

Of commitment. Of permanence. Of unconditional welcome.

Of a home and a family and a place to come back to no matter where life took him. No matter where else he might be excluded.

Because of her gift he could go back and face his Masters and take whatever consequences they exacted from him.

By giving herself to him in marriage, Padmé had set him free to choose his own path.

THE END