Disclaimer: Star Wars is the property of George Lucas and Lucasfilm. I mean no infringement and make no profit.
A/N: A million billion thanks to my lovely beta Alicia, who is so good that she color-codes her comments. Feel free to be jealous. Thanks also to Marten and the Comstocks, who gave suggestions all those many moons ago when this story was begun. Here's hoping that my formatting issues are now fixed...
Ask me no more: thy fate and mine are seal'd;
I strove against the stream and all in vain:
Let the great river take me to the main:
No more, dear love, for at a touch I yield;
Ask me no more.
-Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Chapter One: Republic Cruiser
It was dark, and there was pain. All she was aware of was pain. A fire licked at her back and burned through her body. Where had the fire come from, why was it burning her so? She couldn't breathe. Everything was dark.
Padmé Amidala opened her eyes to the harsh glare of white lights on metallic walls. She was on a ship. For a moment, as her mind cleared, she wondered whether she was on her way to Naboo or Coruscant.
Comprehension came in a rush. She remembered the arena and the battle, although the whole thing was a frantic blur of sand and blasters and the flashing of lightsabers. The only truly clear image that came to her was Anakin, standing exhausted in Dooku's hangar, his arm severed.
She remembered that she had held him tightly, desperately. There had been others there watching, but in that moment she hadn't thought to care. Later, while boarding the ship-- a Republic Cruiser, she thought-- Mace Windu had pulled her away from Anakin, saying that her being in the way wouldn't do either of them any good...
And where was Anakin now?
Padmé tried to sit up and gasped as the pain shot through her. The nexu, with its claws and teeth that would haunt her nightmares-- the blasted nexu had scratched her across the back, that was why it burned like fire. Then she had fallen out of that shuttle over the Geonosian desert-- for the first time she wondered how long she had lain there in the sand. Surely not more than a few minutes...
At the time, she hadn't even noticed the pain. She hadn't allowed herself to feel it. There had been more important things to attend to, far more important than she was. But now the rush of battle was over, and there was nothing to distract her. Now she was bandaged and sore, and the slightest wrong movement felt like the stab of knives. Clenching her teeth, she had begun to edge out of her bed when a healer, a dark-skinned female Jedi, came in.
"Hello, Senator." The healer had a kind, soft voice, and introduced herself as Jedi Knight Stass Allie. Padmé felt sure she had seen her before.
"How long have I been asleep?" She hadn't wanted to sleep and hadn't thought that she could, but she'd been so exhausted.
"We left Geonosis about an hour ago, and will reach Coruscant in a few more." Stass Allie sighed. "You're very lucky, Senator. Your worst wounds are the gashes across your back. Those will heal, but they'll leave scars, I'm afraid."
"Thank you," Padmé responded politely, although she truthfully did not care and her toleration for polite conversation was rapidly wearing thin. There was only one question she wanted the answer to, only one question she was afraid to ask. "Anakin Skywalker... Is Anakin Skywalker all right?"
The smile faded from Allie's face, but she nodded. "He should recover." Padmé let out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding, but if the healer noticed, she didn't comment. "He'll receive a prosthetic arm on Coruscant."
"And Master Obi-Wan Kenobi?"
"Recovering as well." The healer hesitated. "They battled Count Dooku himself. It's amazing they survived." She stopped abruptly, unable to say more.
"How many Jedi... fell?" Padmé asked.
"So many... They aren't sure. Far more than half..."
The Jedi bent her head in a way that suddenly made Padmé recall meeting, in the aftermath of the Battle of Naboo, with people who had lost their families in the blockade. This woman was like that now. The Jedi Order was her family, probably the only family she had ever known. She had been seeing to all the wounded since departure, and the job was taking its toll. The battle had been so devastating, and there had been so few at the end. Padmé reached out to her and touched her arm.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, wishing she could say more. Stass Allie nodded, grateful for the Senator's understanding, and resumed her composure.
"Master Yoda wished to speak with you when you awoke. He should be in shortly."
Padmé bit her lip in frustration. She had hoped to search for Anakin immediately, if only to see him, to touch him. Then there was the fact that when the ship arrived at Coruscant she would have to inform the Senate that they were at war and somehow explain her own participation in the first battle alongside an army whose very creation she had fervently opposed-- a clone army, she recalled with a wince, whose creation must have actually begun long ago... and all she could think of was Anakin.
Yes, that was what frustrated her most. The only thing that seemed to truly matter in all this chaos was the young Jedi who had come into her life and suddenly changed it. And now he was alone, and suffering, and the only thing that made sense was to go to him and hold him and never leave. A part of Padmé told her that this was not rational thought, that nothing had changed since she'd refused to hear Anakin's pleas-- had it really been only days ago?-- but this was not true. In the instant she had told Anakin how she loved him, everything had changed. She groaned, watching the situation wheel giddily out of her control.
At this moment Master Yoda hobbled into the room. He looked worn, more troubled and weary than Padmé had ever seen him.
"Master Yoda." Her formal tone felt strange under the rather undignified circumstances; she had been given a spare Jedi undertunic to wear, and her hair had half fallen down. She must have looked ridiculous. "Your presence is an honor."
"Recovering well, are you, Senator?" the Master asked.
"Yes, thank you. But I would like to see Jedi Skywalker as soon as possible."
Yoda sighed, shaking his head. "Not at this time, I think."
There was something in his tone Padmé couldn't quite identify that put her on edge.
"Why? Is something wrong?"
"Meditate, he should," Yoda explained, "and rest."
"I wouldn't keep him long." She paused, overriding her emotional turmoil in favor of a logical appeal. "He saved my life. I believe I owe him my thanks, at least."
"Your life would not have been in such danger, if brought you to Geonosis, he had not."
"He didn't bring me there. I would have come with or without his protection." Her voice dropped as a feeling of guilt swept over her. "This was my fault."
Master Yoda appeared to accept this as truth. "Responsibility for Skywalker's choices, you cannot claim. Nevertheless, allow him to see you, we cannot."
Cannot allow it? Padmé bit back a retort she might regret. Yoda looked up at her, knowing she would have caught the change of phrase and waiting for a reaction. During the ensuing pause, Padmé had the unnerving feeling that the little green Jedi Master was somehow reading her thoughts.
"You're forbidding him to see me?" she asked finally, turning her eyes away. "May I ask why?"
"Emotional, young Skywalker can be. Easily conflicted."
"I have never intended to cause him conflict." If anything, he had caused her conflict during the past days on Naboo and Tatooine. But Master Yoda could not possibly know of that, so why this separation?
"Hmm." Yoda looked askance at her. "Typical among the Naboo, is it, to greet a Jedi with such an embrace?"
So that was the cause of all this. Padmé felt herself blush. Much to her dismay, her response came out sounding flustered.
"That was a very... I was emotional. I'm sorry if... I assure you, Master Yoda, Anakin and I are friends. Nothing more."
Again that penetrating gaze, searching into her very soul.
"Strong feelings I sense in you, Padmé."
Before she could think of another word to say, he had gone.
After another hour, the confinement of the small room had begun to seem like a punishment. Which, she supposed, it was. The Masters of the Jedi Order now apparently thought her a dangerous woman wont to compromise the morality of Jedi padawans. That was a problem that could be dealt with later. For now, she simply needed to see Anakin. It was as if an intangible but powerful force was drawing her to him. Once the ship docked on Coruscant they would be torn away from each other-- she to her duties in the Senate, he to his with the Jedi-- who knew when they would be this close to one another again?
If they would be this close to one another again.
It was a risk she was in no way interested in taking. She told Stass Allie that she only wanted to walk around, and was given reluctant permission. Ignoring the pain which came with every step, Padmé moved into the depths of the huge Republic Cruiser. The trick now would be to find Anakin before a Jedi who was aware of the situation found her and asked what she was doing, probably politely escorting her back to her room as she invented an explanation.
The corridors all looked the same, and most were eerily silent. Padmé could not begin to guess where she was or which room to go to. After a few moments of aimless wandering, hopelessly lost and seconds away from sitting down on the floor and waiting for someone, however unpleasant, to discover her, she found a friend. A small astromech droid was barreling down the hallway in her direction, squealing wildly.
"Artoo?" she smiled, kneeling down to level herself with R2-D2's domed head. "How did you get here? I thought you were going to stay on the ship." The droid whistled cheerfully. Padmé shook her head, realizing now that she should have known better. She knew this little droid well enough to know that he would never have stayed put. Somewhat like herself in similar situations. "Well, I'm glad you didn't. Did you bring Threepio with you?" He beeped an affirmative.
So, instead of being left in the Naboo yacht on Geonosis where they would probably have been scrapped, the two droids had made it through the battle and were currently roaming around on a Republic Cruiser...
Padmé hesitated, glancing down the corridor. She lowered her voice. "Do you know where Anakin is?" Artoo seemed happy that she'd asked.
Padmé followed the droid to a door not far away, where he whistled softly and backed away, allowing her to approach. She stopped before the door. Maybe it would be better if she went back to her room now and left him alone. But her heart was screaming out, Anakin is in here, and she didn't think she could bear the pain of ignoring it again. She pressed the button that would open the doorway and stepped inside.
The room was dim. Anakin sat in his bed, staring into space, his face a grim mask. The wrenching pain of his tortured thoughts and emotions where compressed, almost tangible, in the room's dark atmosphere. Padmé found herself pressed up against the wall, unwilling to break the deep silence. Quietly, she found the mechanism which closed the door behind her.
Anakin looked up at the sound of the door whirring shut. His features immediately softened as his eyes locked with Padmé's across the room. For a moment they regarded one another in a silence that neither of them knew how to break. Then Padmé came forward and knelt beside the bed, choking out, "Ani..."
"Padmé," he breathed, reaching out to touch her hand as though he wasn't quite sure she was real. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine." She almost wanted to laugh at the absurdity of the question. Her eyes traveled from his face to his right arm, which was covered with a sheet. She gently raised her hand to move it aside, "Let me see."
"No!" He jerked away with a sudden violence that was startling. Padmé looked at him in surprise.
"Anakin." Her tone was firm. He turned his head as she pulled the sheet away and drew in a deep breath, not quite a gasp. The arm had been severed just below the elbow, and above the bandage at the end she could see bruises and burns. She had expected it to be no better than this and had been prepared for much worse, but still she felt tears stinging her eyes. I will not cry, she told herself. Not here. Not now. "Oh, Ani..."
"The pain's not too bad now," Anakin said. He was lying through his teeth.
"I shouldn't have made you come. This wouldn't have happened..." Padmé didn't want to look at the padawan's face, but she saw him shake his head.
"No. Obi-Wan would've died." He gave a small smile. "And we wouldn't... You would never have kissed me." He was right. She probably wouldn't have. Padmé looked into Anakin's eyes and was somehow surprised to see that he, too, was fighting back tears. "I love you, Padmé," he said. He hadn't said those words before, he hadn't needed to, but hearing them made Padmé go warm all over. "I needed to tell you because... we may never be with one another again."
He stopped her. "At Geonosis... in the arena... you said you loved me. That was enough. I know what the circumstances were... and I don't expect anything more. But that moment... that meant everything. That's all."
"Ani." Padmé took his hand and held it tightly and kissed it. "Nothing's changed since then, not for me. I love you. It wasn't easy to say, Anakin, but I meant every word. And I won't take it back now... because it's true."
Anakin looked at her, looked into her eyes, as though he couldn't believe the words until he saw them there. His face lit up the same way it had at the entrance to the arena, when both of them had thought they were going to die and hadn't been afraid. But as quickly as that light came, it faded, and Anakin's eyes traveled down to the severed end of his arm. Padmé followed his gaze, wondering if he really thought that could matter to her.
"Even after..." He couldn't even finish the question.
"I love you. All of you. And that's not going to change." She kept her face somber as she added, "So you'd better get used to it."
Then she kissed him, elated at the freedom and passion that she had found somewhere within herself, almost overwhelmed by the love for Anakin that she no longer wished to escape. Anakin's hand moved to her back, pressing against the place where bandages covered the deep gashes from the nexu. The sudden stab of pain made her pull back with a sharp intake of breath. Anakin's brow furrowed in concern.
"Just scratches, courtesy of an angry nexu," she said lightly, shaking her head. "They'll heal."
He kissed her again, much more softly now. She wasn't sure how long she sat there beside his bed, looking into his eyes as he looked into hers, forgetting everything but the fact that they loved each other. Padmé didn't want that time to stop, but knew with increasing certainty that it would, and that they would then have to face a galaxy in turmoil and a question that neither of them knew how to answer.
"Anakin... what happens now?"
Anakin sighed, as if coming back from a long way away. "I don't know. I wish I knew."
So they had reached an impasse, so close to having each other yet just as close to being wrenched apart. Padmé could feel her hand still wrapped tightly in Anakin's, and she thought that no pain she could endure would be worse than taking it back and walking away.
"We need more time," she said, half to herself.
"There must be some way..." Anakin's eyes were trained on the door, listening as voices passed by. "If I could escort you back to Naboo--"
"They'd never let you."
"Who wouldn't?" the young Jedi asked indignantly.
"The Jedi Council. I had a talk with Master Yoda." Anakin nodded in understanding. "They're not too pleased with me right now. They seem to hold suspicions that I'm some kind of dangerous Jedi seductress."
"Yes, that's you." Anakin smiled. "And they don't exactly know you've come here, do they?"
"Not exactly." Padmé returned his smile. She felt like a little girl disobeying her parents. She wanted to laugh, but was afraid she would end up crying.
"Leave the Jedi to me." At her inquisitive look, he added, "I've learned a lot about diplomacy in the last few days."
"But Ani, if they won't allow it..." She squeezed his hand tighter. As afraid as she had been to love Anakin yesterday, she was now afraid that she would lose him, and never see him again.
"It's our only chance. We can't talk here." Anakin suddenly looked tired, his eyes once again moving to the place where his right hand should have been.
"I know," Padmé whispered. "You should rest."
He nodded, and kissed her. "No matter what," he murmured before letting her go, "this is not goodbye."
She left quietly, feeling him watching her until the door closed behind her.
Artoo was waiting in the hallway. He gave what sounded like a sympathetic whistle as they turned back in the direction of her own room. After only a few steps C-3PO appeared from behind.
"There you are, you miserable little machine! What were you thinking, leaving me alone like that? Oh!" He noticed Padmé for the first time. "Hello, Miss Padmé."
"Anakin's resting. You can come with me, Threepio," she said wearily, deciding that the droids' company would at least keep her mind off the way her heart was aching.
Threepio and Padmé followed Artoo down a corridor that would lead them to their destination. Approaching from the opposite direction Padmé saw a familiar figure in Jedi robes. Obi-Wan Kenobi. He stopped before her and nodded a greeting.
"Senator. It's good to see that you are up and about." His voice was courteous, but in his eyes she saw none of the familiarity and warmth of a few days before.
"Thank you, Master Kenobi," Padmé responded, automatically switching her bearing to that of Senator Amidala. "I must say the same of you. I was just trying to locate these droids of mine."
Obi-Wan's glance flashed to the two droids, then back to her face, searching. She had been well trained in keeping a neutral countenance under that sort of gaze. Finally he nodded again and said, "I'm glad you were successful. However, I suggest you return to your room now, M'lady."
"Yes, that was my intention. Good evening, Master Kenobi."
He bowed stiffly and walked past. As unhappy as the Council apparently was, Padmé had been prepared for Obi-Wan to despise her, but she felt a sadness as she watched him go. She felt that she had lost the promise of a valuable friend and gained, if not an enemy, then one more person to whom she must always play the civil and well-mannered Senator.
How much more would she have to sacrifice for this new love?
It didn't matter. She had no desire to go back now.
Anakin couldn't rest. His feelings, violent and confused, flashed from love for Padmé to hatred for Dooku at lightning speed. Only Padmé's presence had soothed him, just as it always did, and now she was gone.
Still, she had come to him. Until the moment she had stepped into his room and told him that she loved him, he hadn't known if he would ever see her again.
But his hand... he stared again at his severed arm as though willing it to become whole again. That he could never have back, nor his mother, nor his innocence. All of that was gone.
As these dark thoughts swirled through Anakin's mind, the door once again whirred and slid open. He looked up into the solemn face of his Master, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Obi-Wan said nothing, and Anakin responded with a defiant, angry silence. He wasn't sure why he was angry with his Master; perhaps he was simply angry with everyone. Or nearly everyone.
"How are you, Anakin?" Obi-Wan asked at last. He looked tired, Anakin thought, and concerned. He felt his anger gently melt away. "How are you feeling?"
"Like I've lost an arm, Master."
"You will recover," the Jedi said firmly, looking Anakin in the eyes to address his greatest fear. "I promise you, you don't need to worry about that. You'll have a prosthetic that you'll learn to use just as well as your own."
"Good," Anakin replied sullenly, and a little relieved. "Because when I find Count Dooku again, I would very much like to kill him."
"Control your anger, Anakin," Obi-Wan said, disapproval in his voice.
Anakin nearly exploded into rage. How dare he say that now, as Anakin lay there with one arm gone? What could he possibly know of anger? How could Obi-Wan know about his mother and the Sandpeople, about the terrible rage and the tremendous power? Instead, clenching his teeth, he said, "I'll try, Master."
"Good." Obi-Wan seemed as willing to drop that topic as Anakin was. "Is there anything you need, for now? We'll be on Coruscant in a few hours."
Obi-Wan looked down and picked at the bedcoverings. He cleared his throat. "Although you should have listened to me and done as you were instructed..." he hesitated, "I want you to know that I was very impressed with your fighting today. Or yesterday. Blast, I don't know what time it is."
Anakin couldn't help but smile, partly from gratification and partly at his Master's evident discomfort. "Thank you, Master."
"No, I should thank you. It seems a time or two, in all the confusion, you may have inadvertently saved my life."
"I believe you may have saved mine, also."
"Well, we'll call it even, then."
There was a pause. Finally Obi-Wan looked up again.
"I have a question," he said slowly, "that has been bothering me. I'm going to ask it, and whatever you tell me, I promise to save the lecture for later."
"All right." Anakin had some idea of what was coming. He was either going to ask if he was involved with Padmé or...
"What in blazes were you doing on Tatooine?"
"I wasn't disobeying my mandate. Padmé was with me."
"That almost makes it worse. That planet is dangerous."
"This is beginning to sound a bit like lecturing."
Obi-Wan sighed in exasperation. "Did you go to see your mother?"
The atmosphere in the room abruptly changed as Anakin tensed. "She was suffering. I could feel her pain." He felt tears beginning to gather in his eyes, and could suddenly barely speak. "If I'd gone sooner, maybe..." He didn't want to talk about this, not now, not anymore. "... maybe she'd still be alive."
Obi-Wan's eyes conveyed the surprise his face did not. "How did it happen?" he quietly asked.
"The Tusken Raiders took her. They tied her and beat her..." A well of hot anger began to churn in the pit of his stomach. "I went to save her, but I couldn't..." He couldn't go on. He knew he was crying now, and the last thing he wanted to do was cry in front of his Master. But Obi-Wan put a hand on his shoulder, surprisingly gentle.
"I'm sorry, Anakin. I know how much she meant to you."
Anakin nodded through his tears, thinking, No, you don't. You can never know. But he was thankful for his Master's words of comfort. He needed them.
After a moment of silence, Obi-Wan said, "You can take as much time as you need. To recover," he added, nodding to Anakin's arm. "I'll see that the Jedi Council allows it."
"Thank you." Ready or not, Anakin realized, this was his chance. "Master, I'd... I'd like to spend that time on Naboo."
"What?" Obi-Wan turned sharply to Anakin, who took a breath and plunged on.
"I mean in the interest of finishing my assignment. I think I should escort Padmé back to Naboo after her business on Coruscant is done."
"Anakin, has Senator Amidala," he put a cool emphasis on the name, "been to see you?"
"No, Master." Anakin continued with his argument so as not to let Obi-Wan catch the lie. "It's just that it was my first assignment and I think I should be allowed to finish it. Afterward I thought I'd stay on the planet because it's beautiful, and feels more like home to me than Tatooine ever did. I think I could heal there, Master."
Obi-Wan looked at him, calculating, for a long time. When Anakin's gaze finally wavered he sighed, turned away from the padawan, and stood up, hands behind his back, staring at the wall.
"It is true that Nute Gunray must not be pleased at the Senator's escape."
Anakin waited for something further, but nothing came. "Are you saying I have permission? I can go?"
"I am saying," Obi-Wan turned back to him, "that your charge may still be in danger and that if you feel up to it, it is your obligation to complete your assignment and accompany her back to her home planet. After that, take some time. Say goodbye. And that will be all." The words held a very definite meaning. "Do you understand me, Anakin?"
"Yes, Master." Anakin tried to sound properly abashed, but his heart was soaring. He didn't have to appeal to the Jedi Council or sneak away. He didn't even have to explain. He was allowed to go to Naboo. For some reason-- pity or guilt or both-- Obi-Wan was letting him go.
"Now..." The Jedi Knight seemed to be choking back the urge to warn him against doing anything stupid. "get some rest."
He stood and turned for the door. Anakin was suddenly seized by the urge to stop him and tell him everything-- what had happened after his mother died, the horrible loss of control... He had tried to explain it to Padmé, but only another Jedi could really understand. He called out, "Master!"
"Yes, Anakin?" Obi-Wan turned back, looking as though he had half expected to be stopped.
"Nothing," he mumbled. "I... nothing."
"Is there something else you wanted to tell me?"
He's nervous about Padmé, Anakin realized. He's dying to ask, but he won't now. And then another realization: If he knew everything, it would only be worse. He'd keep me on Coruscant, watch me every minute..."No. Just... if you see a confused protocol droid wandering around... That's mine."
Obi-Wan's already troubled expression darkened, but he nodded and left Anakin alone again.
He couldn't tell Obi-Wan about the slaughter at the Tusken camp. He didn't want to face his Master's disapproval or the pain that would come from reliving it. He didn't want to go through that again. But most of all... he couldn't tell Obi-Wan because Obi-Wan would understand. It wasn't like telling Padmé, because Obi-Wan would realize what Anakin knew-- that he had touched the dark side, felt its power more strong and consuming and real than anything he had ever known... that it frightened him. And it fascinated him.
But knowing that he held a secret from his Master made him feel stronger.
If he could keep such secrets... perhaps he would not have to say another goodbye.