Woah! Thank you for such wonderful reviews! I'm very flattered, truly. :-) -writer disperses hugs-
Okay, this is really quick, especially for me. To be updating a 12-page chapter with a 9-page chapter only about two days later? -jaws drop in shock- But, hey, whose complaining:-) Yay A/P/V stories!
UPDATE AFTER INTIAL POST: Giving thanks when thanks are due: A heartfelt "thank you" to JazzSkywalker, who was kind enough to be a last minute advisor for me on a tricky part in the chapter so that I could go back and improve it. Thanks are certainly due to this person who was able to un-confuse the writer when the writer was confused about her own chapter! Thanks Jazz!
Reviews are always appreciated... I hope you enjoy...
A Warm Breeze in the Snow Storm
A fortunate characteristic about sonic-windows was their ability to eliminate any outside noise from getting in. They dutifully proved a flawless sound-proof barrier between the deafening Coruscant traffic lanes and the cozy arenas of citizens' apartments that towered above the planet. The buildings could be surrounded by boisterous travel on all sides, but no audible proof existed if the sonic-windows were in place. It was especially nice to have when the Senator of Naboo had important meetings in her elegant living room, for no sound got out of the apartment as well. There was no product available that could penetrate the material to listen in on conversations held in the sitting rooms, making it, of course, standard for all politicians' residences and offices. Very nicely, it also added to the illusion that the inhabitants were the only people in the world.
A very handsome, though perhaps not very innocent, young man was presently lying on the golden sofa situated in the living room with his wife. They were snuggled up against the right arm of the rather comfortable couch. The young woman with an old soul had positioned herself cradled in his secure arms, her lower torso strung over his lap as she looked up at him. Her head was nestled on the arm of the sofa, and her chocolate curls spilled over her lover's shoulder lazily.
The conversation was light and playful, and the late-morning sunshine basked their faces in a heavenly and happy glow.
"Admit it, Anakin. You worship that star fighter. If that thing was a woman you would marry her instead of me. Good luck with the wedding—probably couldn't get through the vows! You can't live without that thing and the freedom of flying through space." Padmé knew her husband very well, and she delighted in that fact.
He broke into a wider smile. "Are you implying that I'm needy?"
Padmé only giggled mischievously in reply.
"You are much more fun to lay with on a couch than a star fighter, my dear."
Padmé pretended to cheer in triumph. "Finally! The answer to the question that I have pondered all my life: am I more fun to lie with than a star fighter? Thank you, Anakin, for answering my life's dilemma." Even as he gave her a mock bow, well, as much as he could while sitting down with her trapping him under her petite body at the waist, her smile faded somewhat as she remembered something she'd rather forget. "Anakin, soon… I have a meeting."
"Cancel it. You know you want to."
"I can't. I have to put on this very elaborate," she waved her hands theatrically, "show to convince the Landscape Committee about upgrading those conditions on Re'Ker. Some politicians need so much persuasion."
Anakin's eyes grew darker. "I can help you put on a show."
"Ani…" she warned, tilting her head knowingly. The sparkle in her eyes grew brighter.
"It'll be quiet an elaborate show, I assure you. One those uptight dignitaries would certainly not forget."
Padmé was turning pink. "Anakin!" She swatted at him. He caught her hand and kissed it, then proceeded to interlock his fingers with hers. He very slowly, very smoothly began to bend her hand backwards at the wrist, staying well within the pain-free realm. He raised an eye brow to accompany his ministrations.
"Maybe it'll even be flexible. Where did that table that used to be in here get moved to?"
"Anakin Skywalker!" Surprised, and blushing so hard that her face was now bright red, Padmé tried to shuffle her bodyweight in an attempt to flee Anakin's clutches. But his hold on her remained firm, yet gentle.
"Oh, we'll have none of that, My Lady. No escape for you," he purred.
She settled back into his embrace, her cheeks still warm. "You're such a tease, Mister Skywalker."
He chuckled lightly before questioning, "Now what made you think that I was teasing? I was completely serious."
"Oh, sure." She rolled her eyes, smiling. "And I thought I was the serious one."
"You are. It's rubbing off on me. It's contagious."
Padmé grinned, followed by purposely coughing lightly in his direction. He awarded her with a fake frown, followed by pretending to be progressively and rapidly sicker and sicker as he caught 'Padmé's-contagious-seriousness-disease'. Padmé leaned up heroically to kiss him, pretending to breathe new life into the suddenly healthy Jedi.
"Ahh," he sighed, letting his head drop back onto the cushions supporting him. "The kiss of life." He looked down to her beaming face, dropping the theatrical act. "Quite a show, huh?"
Padmé laughed as she raised her hand to brush the back it across Anakin's cheek. "Don't talk about shows. I can't even imagine what the faces would look like on those stiff diplomats." Anakin was about to murmur that they could still find out exactly what her collogues would think of it, first hand, before she continued, swooning, "That would probably make a crack or two in their concrete political faces!"
"Ah-ha!" Anakin exclaimed gleefully. "So you admit that they are stubborn, self-righteous, stiffy, boring, and all around unpleasant to be around!" He raised his arms into the air, lifted his victorious face, and shouted to the ceiling, "At last, she admits what I have known all along!"
Padmé shifted herself in his lap, a look of mild indignation on her face. "You got all of those descriptions from two sentences of mine? And I have never said that politicians make the most festive and entertaining company—"
"—No, I hold that title."
"—But the work isn't about interesting social meetings. It's about the people without the fancy ruffles, pleats, and other silly adornments, and the service to those the people. That's what it's all about in the end."
Anakin's tone sobered slightly as he dropped his arms. "I'm glad you feel that way, Padmé, but you're one of the few with that ideal. Other politicians aren't so righteous."
Padmé stroked his cheek and neck lovingly. "Yes, but politics has always been like that, ever since the institution of politics was established, I assume. It is just a part of the business. It always has been, and always will be."
Anakin's eyes seemed to look into another, far off place. "It can't have always been like this. Times are getting bad… really bad." He wanted to add, 'You don't see what I see on the front lines,' but she was already distressed enough by the fact that he was always in danger while fighting. There was no need to add to her nightmares.
Padmé sighed with a sense of finality. "Which is all the more reason for me to start getting ready for that meeting. Genuine public service is important, especially now."
Anakin's playful yet intent demeanor returned. With a dazzling smile, he countered, "I'm important. Come on, you can't expect me to believe that you want to get all dressed up in those constricting, breath-taking—literally—gowns and stab your head with pins in some painful hairstyle that will leave your head sore all night."
You'd rather be with me. The thought was sent to her and received, but she ignored it and the tendrils that it sent down her spine.
Padmé batted her eye thick lashes seductively. "Girls play dress up all the time."
"You aren't a girl."
A sly grin spread life wildfire over Padmé's face. "And how would you know?"
Anakin leaned down towards her alluring lips. "A husband always knows." He captured her in a smoldering kiss, which didn't leave his wife blushing with naiveté this time.
"Besides," Padmé purred once their kiss had ended. "Gowns? Pins? Who said anything about those? I thought I would wear your favorite outfit of mine to the assembly."
Anakin's crooked smile appeared. "You mean the one where you aren't wearing anything?"
"I'm afraid I can't allow that, Senator. What would your noble, dignified collogues think?"
"They'd think I'd been influenced by you. What would my darling husband think?"
"I think he would be very jealous."
Padmé laughed as he buried his face and, most importantly, his lips into her shoulder and neck. "I don't know… some of those politicians are very alluring."
Anakin snorted loudly from her shoulder. The muffled noise was added to by the sound of Padmé's giggle, for his vocal reaction and subsequent vibrations on her skin happened to cause a tickling effect in a sensitive spot.
"They couldn't possibly be half as much fun to wake up to as me."
"That Orn Free Taa has caught my eye a few times," Padmé replied, teasingly.
Anakin pictured the five-hundred pound obnoxious blue Twi'lek and grimaced. "If he's actually your type, this marriage is going to have some serious issues."
Padmé grinned. "Nah… I actually like the tall, blonde kinds. The men who come from desert planets—preferably Tatooine— who are Jedi Knights. They must be dashingly handsome, funny… I suppose a tad bit on the rebellious side, unfortunately," Anakin made another undistinguishable sound, "and have blue eyes that can pierce my very soul."
Anakin sat up suddenly, with a confused frown so sincere he could have been an actor in another life. "You know what, Padmé? I don't know a single being in this whole universe that fits any of that description."
Padmé raised an eye brow, her smile growing. "Anyone?"
Anakin's mask broke a little. "Well, maybe I do know someone who is dashingly handsome. And, as a matter of fact, he has been told on several occasions, by this very beautiful woman that he's absolutely madly in love with, that he has these blue eyes that pierce her very soul."
Padmé gasped very dramatically. "Really?"
"Yep. But, unfortunately for you, he's very, very taken."
Padmé's face shifted into a pout. "Oh, that's too bad."
"I know," he purred again.
"I guess I'm stuck with you then, Skywalker. What ever shall we do with ourselves?"
Anakin's eyes shimmered. She knew this was coming. "Oh, I have a very, very pretty good idea, Senator." He raised his arm to encircle her more.
"Anakin! My meeting!"
His arm flopped to his side, dejected. "My wife!"
Padmé pouted sincerely. "I've already delayed for too long."
But Anakin was relentless. "Padmé, love, how often do I get a break away from the war? How often am I able to see you?"
Padmé's eyes instantly dimmed, and he regretted the look of remorse on her perfect face, as he saw himself as the source. She whispered, "Not often enough."
Now it was Anakin's turn to caress as he ran the tips of his fingers across her bare skin.
"'The Hero With No Fear'… that's what they call me. What a joke." He looked deeply into her eyes, easily seeing past what was on the surface. "If they only knew how much I have to lose. Then, they'd know why I feel so much fear."
But they can't know… it would destroy our lives.
The thought wasn't said in only one mind or the other. It was echoed in both simultaneously.
"I like you," he announced, his eyes twinkling more fantastically than the jewels she sometimes wore.
This resulted in a new giggle from Padmé. "You like me? Only like me?"
Anakin cupped her face in his trembling hand. "I suppose I do…. even with all of your hair pins and pretty dress-up costumes." The expressive eyes that she looked into betrayed his attempt at a playful behavior. She saw through to his boiling emotions and into the infinite depth of his love— he was barely containing it— and the moment grew more solemn and soulful for her as well. Only a final trace of self-control was keeping him from gathering her up in his arms, not that she would have refused at all.
But Anakin didn't want to frighten her with this immeasurable depth of his devotion to her. It scared even him sometimes. He contented to cup her face gently in both of his shaking hands and gaze into her adoring eyes. His voice was heavy and thick with unrepressed emotion. "You are the center of my universe."
With a shaky sigh, she replied, "I missed my husband." Her voice was as soft as a pillow.
"I missed my wife."
The simple words conveyed more poignantly and with more weight than any "I love you" could have at that moment.
The soothing darkness that swirled around her mind was broken randomly by painful stabs of white that blinded her, and she tried to run desperately from them. She couldn't move. The light penetrated more, and she wrestled with it in vain. It was as if someone was slashing through the blanket of black that covered her body and mind. The bright white pricks made her yearn even more to stay in her safe dream, to be back in that moment, so many years ago. The blackness was keeping her in her fantasy. The white was trying to kidnap her from it. Padmé anxiously tried to mentally duck under her black blanket once again, like a child trying to escape her nightmares. For Padmé, her nightmare existed when she was awake, when there was no Anakin. Back in the dark, where she could pretend, he was never gone.
The white light tugged more on the blanket that shielded Padmé from reality. Come to me, Padmé…
His caring face was fading, replaced by more hated black. The more she tried to search through the darkness for him, the more achingly painful the white lights became as she regained more consciousness.
Her urgent repetition followed. She thought she felt something… someone… they were holding her hand tenderly. This wasn't part of her memory. This was the present, the reality.
She recognized the audible sound of her own voice, though she wasn't sure what she was saying. Am I on a bed? A couch? Does it matter? She just wanted to stay in the memory she was loosing more and more perception of with every second. Bits and pieces of that lovely afternoon fleetingly stayed with her, while others flew away as the darkness dispersed.
"I'll… I'll cancel the meeting." Please let me stay in this memory forever. Let me relive this again and again.
"I'll cancel the… meeting," she sighed, relieved and happy that she would now spend the afternoon with her desirable and desiring husband. She saw the last fragments of the memory—his pleased, loving, satisfied smile when she had given in at last—as she finally came almost completely into consciousness.
"Talk to me, Padmé."
The low voice sounded strangely mechanical and far away. It was both familial and foreign all at the same time. She didn't know if she could trust it.
"I'm here. You fell when you fainted…" she wasn't listening. "Padmé? Padmé, can you hear me?"
Tears were pushing at the corners of Padmé's eyes. She just wanted to go back, go back to when she was looking up into the adoring face of her beloved as she was enveloped in his embrace. It had felt so real, even as real as it had been at one time. Her mind was not in a logical place where she could realize that she was reliving a treasured memory, and she was merely clinging to the past. It had been years that had felt longer than they had actually been since she had snuggled with her husband in her Coruscant apartment.
Talk to me, Padmé.
The intruding voice had not received an invitation to enter her sorrowful mind, and its presence was not wanted. It's Vader, her mind warned her.
I just want to go back to my memories… please!
Though less pressing, the voice was still there, attempting yet again.
Talk to me.
"I'll talk to… to you… ah…. about anything. Anything that you want… later… just please," her head rolled on the pillow beneath her. "Just please let me… let me go back now…" She refused to open her eyes. There was perspiration on her neck. "My memories," she whined.
Several lengthy moments later, the white shards finally disappeared at once, and Padmé was once again laced with comforting black. She breathed out long and slow as she nestled back into her loved and loathed abyss.
But the black, gloved hand never left her side, and it continued its tender hold as his automatic breathing continued. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.
She found herself melting into a tranquil park in the country. The shifting colors were of abnormal pastels; the landscape was decorated in shades of pink, orange, purple, and blue. It was as if everything was cast into the glow of a stilled sunset, yet the sun was shining brightly overhead. A cool breeze ruffled Padmé's airy white dress. The surrounding mountains and the nearby trees that flowed silently in the wind were not of Naboo, nor of any other planet that she recognized.
The realization came quickly and harshly.
This wasn't a memory. This was a daydream. And as she saw the vision of her approaching company, it frightened her how much she wanted it, and it terrified her how much she didn't.
But the rules of consciousness ignored her and vanished as the bright image of a beautiful little toddler came tumbling gleefully into her arms. The sight of brown, bouncy curls and the angelic sound of blissful, innocent laughter brought joyful tears to Padmé's eyes, which were now shut tightly in emotion. She squeezed her little girl in the hug, her hand gently rubbing the child's back in random patterns. A soft lullaby sang through the trees, and Padmé forgot that this was only a dream in every sense of the word. With heavy mother's love, she sighed aloud in both her dream and in reality, "Leia…"
The tender grip on her hand tightened its hold, and grew still.
I just had to write that chapter. I know it doesn't necessarily move the story taking place on the Lake Retreat forward by leaps and bounds... but I just had to write it! Forgive me? Please? -writer gives puppy dog eyes-
Besides... you may have noticed that we... or, at least, Vader... got started getting somewhere with this chapter. :-)