Title: "Shadows of Winter"

Chapter 2 in the "Heart and Soul" series. (2/5)

(4/4)

Written by: Shawn

Summary: Violently separated, Anakin and Padmé desperately fight for their lives as all they hold dear hangs in the balance.

Rated: M

Category: Angst/Romance/Drama

Pairing: Anakin/Padmé

Story Warning: Graphic Violence and Strong Sexual Situations.

Timeline: Obviously, knowledge of Star Wars: Episode 1 and 2 is needed. You must also read the story before this one "The Light and the Dark." This story takes place four months after that one, just days before Anakin and Padmé's two-year wedding anniversary.

Disclaimer: George Lucas and Lucasfilm owns everything.

Email:

Authors Notes 1: In this universe the Clone Wars will last three and a half years. It's commonly known that Anakin and Padmé were separated for five months before Episode 3 when Obi-Wan and Anakin were dealing with the Outer Rim Sieges. This story picks up one year and eight months after Star Wars: Episode 2, and will take us through the Clone Wars and up until Anakin's moment of truth in the Episode 3. From there, I take things in my own direction.

Authors Notes 2: While slightly over dramatic at a couple at times, I also imagine a passionate, playful, deeply loving relationship between Anakin and Padmé. They have so little time together, so when they have a chance to steal a moment together, it can go from intense to sweet to passionate and back again in a heartbeat.

Authors Notes 3: Dormé, Padmé's handmaiden/bodyguard and best friend in this story knows of her marriage to Anakin. Obi-Wan only suspects more is going on than he knows but, elects not to pry.

Authors Notes 4: The official Star Wars database provided many of the details for this story, though some things are my original creations.

Extra Special Thanks: Anne, my Jedi Master of good grammar and all around help.


How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it? -- Marcus Aurelius

Perfect courage means doing unwitnessed unwitnessed what we would be capable of with the world looking on --La Rochefoucauld

The most wonderful of all things in life, I believe, is the discovery of another human being with whom one's relationship has a glowing depth, beauty, and joy as the years increase. This inner progressiveness of love between two human beings is a most marvelous thing, it cannot be found by looking for it or by passionately wishing for it. It is a sort of Divine accident. --Sir Hugh Walpoe


The northern base at Gramorum Mountain

The world of Ezcaban, located in the Hoth System

"Your death will resurrect me as a living legend!" Xaria hissed through clenched teeth; his fist clutched tight around the handle of a razor-sharp bladed weapon as gusts of chilled air tousled the dark, heavy cloak he wore. "You have two options, Jedi. One is to close your eyes and accept a quick trip to oblivion. The second is to fight me to the death."

Paying no attention to his attacker's threats, Anakin's icy blue eyes remained solely focused on the single engine capsule docking with the 'H-Class' warship hovering above them. Reaching out through the Force with his mind he discovered Padmé was conscious, and though shaken up quite a bit, her thoughts were determined as her will was strong. Nothing else mattered. "You seek death so vehemently. I'll be happy to arrange a meeting."

"Such bravado. I expected no less from the 'Hero Without Fear,'" Xaria offered just above the foreboding storm swirling around them. "Exposing you will not only disgrace any honor you held, but your master and the Jedi Order as well. And to think of the political scandal Senator Amida..."

"Don't ever speak her name!"

"Don't pretend you are in a position to order anything," Xaria warned his prey, awaiting the attack he knew was to come. Having studied this one ever since he discovered him on Ezcaban it was well known that Anakin Skywalker killed first and asked no questions at all. "For the credits Count Dooku is going to pay me for your wife I will be able to buy a small pleasure moon to rule as I please. But that pales in comparison to having your lightsaber on my belt holster as an eternal symbol that the so called 'Hero Without Fear' died at my hands. The entire galaxy will tremble at the knowledge that I butchered the 'Chosen One' of the Force."

To call his current predicament grim would be a grave understatement. Unarmed and having just been blown off the side of a mountain by a powerful explosive device, Anakin prepared to do battle against a hulking, well-prepared enemy who had been tracking him and Padmé since they arrived on this world. His shoulder throbbed painfully, as did his ankle as blustering cold winds saw him standing in the eye of a howling blizzard. Temperatures fell well below freezing.

What was worse, the one thing Anakin struggled with the most was the key to surviving this. Patience.

"Have you no courage at all?" Xaria began slowly pacing around Anakin, his blade at the ready. The shroud of night had fallen, drowning them in pale darkness as the weather turned even more brutal. "Face me so that I might have the glory of murdering my fourth Jedi."

From Anakin's precarious vantage point the 'H-Class" warship hadn't moved from its lofty stationary perch above them. He stood to his feet while sensing Xaria's every movement.

Having failed to provoke Anakin's inner pride as a warrior, Xaria used another tactic. A far more personal one. "I've heard Count Dooku holds the beautiful Senator in high regard. I'm sure he would find many useful ways to best utilize her... talents. Especially in his sleeping quarters."

Red rage incited a fury in Anakin. Suddenly, he whipped around before Xaria could even lift his blade, crushing his fist to the beast's reptilian face, bloodying it with one single blow. The force of which knocked the bounty hunter clear off his feet in a heap of snow-crusted branches.

"This is your one and only option to live," Anakin's enraged voice rose above the blizzard's fury as he approached Xaria. "You will land your ship, give me back the Senator and her friend, and then I will wipe your mind of everything you've learned. Otherwise you will die here."

"I think not." One powerful swipe of his arm over the ground sent snow into Anakin's eyes, temporarily blinding him. Xaria roared forward, his blade extended, intending to embed it in his opponent's chest. The Jedi sidestepped the attack, though not a fisted backhand blow to the side of Anakin's head that staggered him backwards.

Seizing the advantage of having the Jedi off balance, Xaria used his huge body as a battering ram, slamming his shoulder into Anakin's mid-section. Years of honed combat skills saw Anakin turn Xaria's momentum against him despite the blow as he fell backward and then threw the bounty hunter over his head. Both leapt back to their feet.

Quickly retrieving his blaster, Xaria squeezed the trigger rapidly, firing at a fast moving Anakin who darted through the densely clustered snow-capped trees which hampered his accuracy. Still, the taste of his own blood on his tongue signaled the true hunt had begun. He fired in frantic succession, as angry that he missed his incredibly agile target as he was pleased to see such fight in his spirit. "And so it begins."

Bursts of green laser fire whizzed past Anakin's head, fracturing trees in his path, as he ran through the thickly condensed forest. His footing was anything but solid as he carefully navigated a route that kept him in eye contact with the bounty hunter's ship where Padmé was held captive. Heavy snowfall and high winds aided his ability to dodge Xaria's laser fire. He had little choice but to run as his entire being in the Force was focused on tracking Padmé's condition aboard that ship. How long he could keep that up remained to be seen.

Ever the predator. Xaria stalked after his prey, his heart beating a primal drum inside his chest. This was the glorious hunt he had always dreamed of. His eyes caught sight of the dark cloak Anakin wore just over a clearing near the edge of a cliff. Triggering his blaster, clusters of laser fire filled the air as he hit his target nearly eight times before he watched in horror as the smoking robe was draped over a fallen tree.

"Worthless Jedi! FACE ME!"

"You're out of your league, bounty hunter."

Xaria's head searched for the location of the voice. He couldn't see much of anything, nor find his prey.

"You will claim no legend for your name on this world. No fortune shall find its way into your possession."

"SHOW YOURSELF!"

"You will die here. Painfully."

Xaria began firing furiously all around him, and then was violently thrown off his stance when a huge snow-covered boulder slammed into his back, nearly sending him over the side of the cliff into the icy waters below.

The snapping crack of Anakin's heavy boot connecting with the side of the bounty hunters head sent him edging closer to the cliff. He watched his enemy stagger to his feet, but did not until the very last moment notice the blinking cylinder by his foot Xaria left behind.

The explosion nearly tore Anakin's torso from his body. At the last second he managed to get away from it, but not before the force of the blast knocked him clear off the cliff. Only his quick thinking led him to toss his grappling hook like around Xaria's leg, effectively dragging him over the side as well.


"The Halo-1" Xaria's starship

Hovering over the base of Gramorum Mountain The world of Ezcaban, located in the Hoth System

Slowly her eyes began to open...

A trifecta of air-compressed metal rail clamps locked solidly to the floor of the small single-engine capsule where Padmé found herself trapped. Adrenaline quickly refocused her mind as she immediately began pounding her fists against the glass shell and then noticed a twin capsule sat beside it. Despite the light bruise coloring her cheek, Dormé appeared as pleased to see Padmé alive as she was and as worried about what the others presence meant.

Obviously a rescue attempt had gone badly.

Through the Force-bond Padmé shared with her husband she felt his utter focus solely on her. She willed him to concentrate on preserving his own life as she possessed at least the bare bones of a plan. Sadly enough, he wasn't listening, not that she expected him to.

She'd worry about that later. For now they appeared to be alone on the ship as no one was in the back guarding them nor could she see that much more of the ship where another passenger could be hidden.

First things first. Obviously Dormé couldn't hear her as Padmé couldn't hear anything outside her prison. While taking in her surroundings she surmised they were housed in the tail end of the ship, and thankfully the ship felt stationary. Her many, many years of starship travel gave her a very acute ability to know when a ship was moving even at a very slow speed. This one wasn't moving at all, and that meant she wasn't far from Anakin. Good. Now she just had to get out of here.

Dormé watched her dear friend closely and found no signs of utter despair or hopelessness in her brown eyes. That meant Anakin was alive so there was hope of a back-up plan should whatever Padmé was about to attempt failed. Never one to sit back and wait for a rescue herself, she couldn't help but to smile when Padmé reached far inside the dark heavy cloak she wore and produced what looked like her husband's lightsaber. Never mind their current predicament, the former Royal Naboo bodyguard couldn't help but to be impressed. The Senator was never ill-prepared for any situation she walked into.

This would either work or trip some silent or not-so-silent alarm that could bring about trouble. Either way Padmé knew she had to make the attempt. She pressed her back as far as she could inside the small capsule and aimed the lightsaber down where the glass met the raised metallic base of the capsule. While saying a silent prayer she didn't hit the capsule's fuel cell, she ignited the lightsaber just the way Anakin had shown her and began slowly tracing the glass all around until it fell forward from its frame and shattered on the floor.

Quickly lifting the lightsaber, holding on with both hands, Padmé hoped she would spot a far more comfortable weapon such as a blaster before anyone arrived to halt their escape. Thankfully, it seemed as if the ship was abandoned except for them.

Dormé shoved the glass shell with both hands as soon as Padmé was done lancing it from the capsule. "Xaria's all by himself. He told me the ship is pre-programmed to take us to Count Dooku's location in the event that he is killed."

"His overconfidence is his weakness," Padmé was pleased to note as she urgently made her way to the front of the ship with Dormé in tow. "As badly as I want Count Dooku's location we have to land this ship as soon as possible. Then Anakin will fight back."

"Why isn't he..." And then Dormé realized what she should have known. First, last and always Padmé's safety is all Anakin would ever care about. Even unto his own death. Switching gears, she stood just over her friend's shoulder who had taken the pilot's chair. "I don't recognize this type of ship. I can make out some of the controls, but the language is foreign to me."

"Check for escape pods and blasters while I see if there's anything I can figure out." Padmé found what she believed to be the thruster controls, the landing gear handles, and the keypad for entering hyperspace coordinates. Weapons systems could be any number of colored buttons as she didn't want to risk trying them out. Then there was the very real chance that the ship's computer was rigged should anyone attempt to change its preprogrammed directives.

All she knew was that she had to take command of this ship before something happened to Anakin. "Dormé?!"

Carrying a blaster in one hand Dormé laid another by Padmé's right arm and then delivered the bad news. "Nothing, Padmé He must intend to go down with his ship, but he has a weapons cache that would rival the Naboo Royal Guard."

Swearing under her breath due to the blustering winds, swirling heavy snowfall and fall of night there was little Padmé could truly make out through the broad transparent hub looking out over the ship. Flashes of light suggested laser fire which worried Padmé greatly. "Okay, so we have no escape pods of any kind. I'm worried that if I take control of the ship some sort of security protocol might be triggered."

"A self-destruct device?"

"Possibly but unlikely as the bounty hunter would be stranded as well. I worry that perhaps the ship will just take off into space if we try to take manual control. But..."

Padmé's pause gave Dormé reason for concern. "Why do you have that Sith look in your eyes?"

"I have an idea."

"I'm not going to like this, am I?"

Never looking over her shoulder, Padmé slowly shook her head. "Nope, but I don't either," she replied. "I'm going to slash through the onboard computer and hope that the auxiliary manual controls take over. If I can gain manual control then I can probably fly us back down to save Anakin. At the very least he'll know we are in control of our own destines."

There was no time to think it over as Dormé trusted Padmé's abilities. "Do it."

Reigniting the lightsaber, Padmé stood a foot away from the control console, targeted the computer control array with the tip of the glowing blade and then slashed straight across it. Blinding sparks ricocheted wildly about as the ship's front end dipped into a vicious downward spiral.

"HOLD ON!" Padmé shouted upon grabbing the control handles and pulling up as hard as she could...


The frozen shore at the northern base of Gramorum Mountain

The world of Ezcaban, located in the Hoth System

After the fall...

Rising to his feet and gingerly rubbing his aching jaw, Anakin admitted to himself that Xaria's vicious, crushing blow was arguably the hardest he had ever been hit before. The force of the blow reeled him back on his heels as he was barely able to keep Xaria in his line of vision through the blizzard's swirling snow drifts. Stumbling for his footing, his whole face ached painfully, but his reflexes allowed him to tumble and roll out of the path of his opponent's curved blade currently aimed at his throat. The aggressive lunge caused the bounty hunter to lose his footing on the frozen tundra, sending him toward the icy waters of the lake.

Anakin seized the slight advantage and, with a powerful Force push, shoved Xaria face first into the brutally cold river. He was down for only a moment before a loud, beastly shrill disturbed the chilled night air when he rose from the waters, ice frosted over his soaked heavy cloak, eyes filled with an unholy rage to murder the Jedi.

And then his wrist band began beeping loudly.

Xaria glared at it before casting his gaze skyward toward his ship. Having fallen from its stationary perch, the Halo-1 rapidly descended in a nosedive toward the forest of Lycria Falls on the other side of the lake.

"IT SEEMS YOUR LOVER HAS CHOSEN DEATH OVER CAPTIVITY. A PITY THEN," he shouted above the howling winds at Anakin. "I SHALL RECOVER HER DEAD BODY AND WITH YOUR OWN COUNT DOOKU WILL REWARD ME WITH A KING'S RANSOM. MORE IMPORTANTLY, MY NAME WILL FOREVER BE FEARED AS THE MAN WHO KILLED ANAKIN SKYWALKER!"

Anakin ignored Xaria's arrogance and bravado and instead reached out to Padmé though the Force with all his might. He pushed past the pain, the cold and everything else in the universe to find her. Always to find her. One lone reply filled his soul with hope.

'Save yourself and trust me'

Seizing the moment, Xaria leapt at Anakin, blade in hand to sever his head from his shoulders. The attack was easily avoided with a forward somersault over the bounty hunter's head as the Jedi landed a few safe feet away.

When Anakin's blue eyes fell shut he welcomed the darkness. He refused to allow the Force to flow through him. Instead, he willed it as deftly as he did his lightsaber, commanding the world around him to slow down to an ethereal crawl.

Anakin knew when Xaria drew his blaster again... the twin seconds it took him to lift it into position... another second to train it on his heart... the precise instant his finger pulled the trigger.

"DIE JEDI!"

The blaster's green-laser fire, three death-seeking shots bolted through the storm toward their target, only to see the Jedi calmly lift his right arm. Palm raised, all three blasts ricochet off his mechanical hand. He quickly inverted his wrist as the Force tore the gun from Xaria's grasp, landing it squarely in Anakin's hand.

Stunned, Xaria could barely see the now cloaked dark Jedi through the blustering storm. It seemed as if the very wind itself feared rousing his robe as the snow seemed to fall around rather than on him. He appeared omnipotent, his face hidden in shadows, and for the first time fear swelled in the bounty hunter's heart that maybe he had bitten off more than he could chew.

When Anakin spoke Xaria didn't hear his voice in the verbal sense, but inside his mind.

"Attacking me is meaningless," Anakin began in a menacing tone. "I fear nothing. Not even my own death."

Suddenly unable to move, Xaria struggled mightily, growling and cursing at his foe. His was utterly helpless.

"I certainly don't fear you," Anakin continued. "But any attack on Padmé will not ever be tolerated. Attempts on her life aren't cause for warning. They are unacceptable. For that you must die."

Xaria heard a noise nearby, as if something was being forcibly torn from a heavy mooring. The next ten seconds of his life were filled with screaming in horrific pain as two thin eight-foot tall metal rods flew from beneath a mining platform near the base of the mountain and drove directly through his left and right shoulders. Blood and flesh erupted from his back as the metal rods embedded through him into the frozen ground, impaling his body to it. "RELEASE ME!!! I CAN SAVE THE WOMAN YOU LOVE!"

"You don't have the power to do that. If you did..." Anakin walked towar) Xaria, surveying the pleading grimace on his face, as well as the steady flow of blood water falling onto the snow, coloring the white with crimson red. "Instead of a fortune you will final eternal solitude here," he spoke barely above a whisper. "Instead of becoming a legend, you will die alone, cold, and forgotten."

"KILL ME THEN AND BE DONE WITH IT!"

"A quick, painless death doesn't equal your crime." Anakin slowly backed off after a careful wave of his hand, walking away as the upper part of the side of the mountain behind him began to rumble behind him. "You threatened the life of my angel, and so this world will be your tomb. Just know as you draw your final labored breath that you were beaten, broken, and humbled. Enjoy your afterlife. You've earned it."

"NOOO!!!" Xaria's booming voice was drowned out by a heavy avalanche of hard snow that devoured him whole, buried alive. Silence reigned as he was no more.

Racing along the shoreline as fast as the Force could carry him, Anakin saw a hulking four-legged Norian Boar grazing a frozen berry patch. He reached out to it with his mind, communicating that he needed his aid in saving a loved one. The Force conveyed the understanding as the creature galloped towards him and then slowed so that the Jedi might ascend its broad back. It quickly took off toward the forest as fast as it could run.


"The Halo-1" Xaria's starship flying low and fast over the forest of Lycria Falls

The world of Ezcaban, located in the Hoth System

The protective solar shield cast a golden array of warmth over the capital city of Dysines and complimented the radiant moons of Ezcaban, lighting the night sky as Padmé rode the emergency booster engines as hard as she could to veer away from the populated area. Holding twin throttles with both hands, her small frame shook violently as the ship struggled to remain just over Lycria Forest.

"Any chance of hot wiring the main engines back online?"

"Negative," Dormé grunted on the floor by Padmé's chair. The square hole she burned away courtesy of Anakin's lightsaber revealed that the main control panel's wiring and navigational computer had been far too damaged to be rewired. Luckily for them the manual emergency protocols were immediately available when the control console, for lack of a better term, exploded. "How much fuel do we have?"

Padmé took a quick glance at the dial. "Best I can tell only a few minutes left. We need to get as far away from Dysines as possible. Get up here and stretch the radar beacon as far ahead as possible. We need someplace unpopulated to crash."

To say Dormé didn't like the sound of that would be a grave understatement. "Don't you mean land?"

"I wish I did." Suddenly the entire ship jerked violently just before Dormé could take the other chair. The force sent her spiraling hard to the floor. Padmé winced, "Are you alright?"

"My pride and backside are bruised more than anything else." Dormé quickly took her post and began scanning the surrounding area. Dysines City wasn't very big and with the solar shield clearly marking it avoiding the city wasn't nearly as much a problem as trying to avoid crashing into the miles-long frozen river to their left or into the massively dense forest below. "I think if we can stay at this speed there's a valley within three sectors."

"Then that'll have to..." Padmé's neck snapped back hard as the belly of the rusted starship battered into a towering, frost-covered treetop. Something heavy tore free from the ship, and the sound was unmistakable. "We lost something."

"Anakin's dry humor isn't appreciated here, Padmé"

Resisting a small smile, Padmé knew the brief bit of levity was lost when the heat gage meters on both emergency engines began building toward the overheated mark. "We're going to lose our engines soon. We need to slow down." Taking a sharp veer to the far right, the valley ahead seemed unreachable at this point. Her immediate thoughts centered on ensuring that they didn't crash into the city. Her mind flat out refused to consider the possibility of leaving Anakin behind.

So she had to survive. For him even more so than for herself. That was all there was too it.

Performing her best estimate and judging by the rate the heat meter built, Padmé ascended the starship as high as she could in hopes the colder atmosphere might slow the overheating. "Open all hatches. Extend all flaps and drag pins."

Dormé did as she was told, ever mindful the expertise Padmé possessed in her knowledge of starships. "Will this slow us down?"

"Just enough, I hope." Sensing Anakin's dire worry over her safety saddened Padmé a great deal, though she had to push it aside to give her and Dormé the best possible chance to survive. "That small patch over there. I'm going to crash us there."

"Could you please stop saying crash?"

"Strap yourself in." Padmé quickly locked in her chair's safety belts and then killed the engines entirely. She fired three rockets ahead in hopes of cracking the hard, frozen ground into something that might not tear the ship apart as soon as they land. If they had more room to land she would have thanked the Force for the flatlands as the ship would have slid to a stop, provided they crashed upright. As it was she needed as much loose snow and dirt as possible shape on impact. If the fuel lines are punctured the ship would explode and then... Well, she couldn't think about that right now.

The rusted starship rattled, shook and rolled in its free fall, with Padmé guiding it as best she could by manipulating the drag fins. If she overshot the strike zone she chose, the ship would ram into a cluster of huge trees, and that would end things in the blink of an eye. But if she could just hit the ground with the nose end up, provided the rockets gave way to softer snow she figured they had at least a 30 chance of survival.

"HOLD ON TIGHT!" Padmé shouted at the moment of impact.


The forest of Lycria Falls

The world of Ezcaban, located in the Hoth System

For the Chosen One of the Force his entire life hung in the balance.

Anakin Skywalker wasn't affected by the brutally frigid temperatures biting at his face nor the dangerously foreboding environment as the Norian Boar he rode hard through the densely packed forest galloped at its best speed. He could care less about his throbbing jaw, badly bruised ribs, or the frostbite threatening his hands. Let Count Dooku, General Grievous and Darth Sidious himself cross his path right here and now, and he'd annihilate them all. No, it was the badly smoking spacecraft flying just barely in his line of sight that encompassed his sole focus in the galaxy. He could sense Padmé's utter concentration on veering the ship as far away from Dysines City as possible, while her own safety was secondary in her mind.

The Force itself be damned, for him, her safety was all that mattered to his very existence.

Hurdling high over a large fallen tree, Anakin held onto the beast's thick neck skin while Force guiding it around a wide sheet of ice toward a ragged trail ahead. They seemed to follow Padmé's assumed flight plan; provided she actually had one. All he knew was that he had to get to her now! Nothing else meant anything if she she were to...

She wouldn't!

"NO!!!" Anakin cried out from his very soul when the starship fell in a rapid downward spiral and then out of sight, only to be marked by a booming explosion and a dark, pillowing cloud of smoke mushrooming into the night sky.

The Norian Boar roared when Anakin urged it faster and faster, leaping over anything in its path with the Force as its ally, driving it hard toward the ship that housed its rider's reason for living.

The longest moments of Anakin's entire life were probably only a few minutes, yet at no time did he breath when they finally entered the debris-clustered clearing that saw Xaria's spaceship lying in its side, with one wing burning against a cluster of trees. It seemed the fiery smoke he saw came from that rather than the ship itself.

That had nothing to do with those inside.

"PADMÉ!!!" Leaping from the Norian Boar's back, Anakin rushed toward the smoldering wreckage and then came to a sudden halt. Summoning the absolute Force with all his might, he willed the ship slowly off its side and back onto its rusted, torn belly. He sprinted the short distance to the front of the ship and then manipulated the Force into tearing off the heavy, paristeel ramp and door free from its encasement. He quickly climbed inside the ship. "PADMÉ!!"

Making his way through a heavy patch of smoke, Anakin reached the cockpit and found Padmé with her arms around an unconscious Dormé. Despite a few bruises coloring her fair skin she looked no worse for wear. His universe became whole again.

"Help me get her outside," Padmé shouted when she saw her husband, thankfully alive and well. He reached her that next second, pressed a fast kiss to her lips in thanks that she was alive and then scooped his arms underneath Dormé's legs and lifted her.

Willing her still trembling legs to move, Padmé led Anakin out of the ship and a few feet away as the painfully cold temperatures burned at her face. She stood close to her husband as he carefully laid Dormé down on the ground. "When we crashed her chair broke free from the floor, and she hit her head on the wall. I think she has a concussion. I checked her as best I could, and I couldn't find any wounds or bleeding."

With a slow wave of his hand over Dormé's body Anakin couldn't sense anything fatal in her life-force. "I'm not worried about how we're going to get back to the cabin. The weather's only going to get worse, and we're a long way from home. We need shelter, and I don't trust the ship. If the fuel cells ignite..."

"I know, but we..." Salvation came out of nowhere from the west. Ever thankful for small miracles, Padmé pointed skyward toward the twin Ezcaban Home World Security shuttles that no doubt saw the smoking starship streak just past Dysines City. "I think helps on the way."

Smiling, Anakin reached for her small hand, squeezing his anchor to humanity. "How ever did you slow down the ship enough to prevent it from nose-diving?"

Padmé sighed in relief as they had yet again survived. "I'll tell you everything later. And with your track record for crashing ships you had better listen."

Anakin promised that he would.


Anakin and Padmé's cabin

Located on the far side of the forest of Lycria Falls

The world of Ezcaban, located in the Hoth System

"... I lost my footing for a moment and then fell seventeen feet to the cold, hard ground below."

"So much for Jedi reflexes."

Obi-Wan's trademark dry wit was as sharp as ever. With his eyes shut while seated in a meditative pose before the massive stone fireplace, Anakin saw fit to respond, "Perhaps I needed a better instructor in teaching me the ways of the Force."

"Provided you ever listened to the amazingly patient instructor you had, you might have learned how to land on your feet and not your backside," Obi-Wan jokingly quipped to his former Padawan. His expression bore a fatherly smirk in the shadowy blue visage provided by R2's holo-communicator. "Other than your pride and few choice bruises the adoring masses of young women who follow your exploits might disapprove of, how do you feel?"

Pausing for the question to truly sweep over him, Anakin lifted his gaze and offered the sincere truth of what being with Padmé meant to him. "I feel free."

Obi-Wan nodded his understanding. For the former child-slave turned Jedi to utter those meaningful words carried a great deal of personal weight to them. The seemingly never ending war had aged them both, but an even darker restlessness had begun to creep into Anakin. While affording his friend the privacy and respect due his adulthood, Obi-Wan struggled to, for lack of a better term, look the other way when it came to activities out of his line of vision. Activities he was certain were taking place. Still, hearing that spirited tone return to Anakin's voice again, so unlike the stark weariness he heard before they separated days ago, signaled an ease to his troubled soul. And there was only one person in all the galaxy who had the power to do that.

Choosing to appreciate that it was not Supreme Chancellor Palpatine rather than focus on who it actually was gave Obi-Wan something to appreciate. "Hopefully that fall knocked some sense into you."

"I wouldn't count on it," Anakin laughed with his former Master and then turned the tables on him. "Enough about me. Tell me all about the trouble you're no doubt getting into in Cloud City? I do enjoy hearing how you bend but don't break the Jedi Code."

Widening his gaze in mock shock, Obi-Wan replied, "Such assumptions hurt my feelings, old friend. And coming from you they are a bit, wouldn't you say,
hypocritical?" Something of a cautious stare down took place... just before both men gave a light chuckle as some things were better left unsaid.
Another time, perhaps. "I'll at least admit to having enjoyed a couple of drinks."

"And just how many bartenders have you actually paid for those drinks?"

"That's... that's not important."

"Right."

"All the drinks were on the house I assure you." Obi-Wan continued despite Anakin's snickering, "I might of have enjoyed the beautiful art of dance by some rather attractive, talented females."

"Obviously they were fully clothed during their performance?"

"Obviously," Obi-Wan replied tongue firmly planted in cheek. "How one wishes to express her art form, in whatever manner of dress or lack thereof is her own council to keep."

Anakin shook his head while stretching his tired arms about, noting the slight ache in his back. "What about the games of chance for profit?

"While I have kept no winnings at any of the gambling tables or hands of Sabbac I've played, I must admit that I've done quite well."

"Might I ask how you came about the credits to play these games?"

"Well... you may ask," Obi-Wan offered while rubbing his beard behind a hidden smile. "Of course how you were able to rent that cabin has crossed my mind as well. Perhaps we could exchange explanations?"

"Understood, Master." Anakin didn't push things any further, not that he had a leg to stand. Anything to recharge the energy needed to wage this war was worth it in his eyes. His Master didn't know the love and passion a romantic life offered the way he did. In that area alone he felt a wisdom that eclipsed even his vaunted former Master. But more than anything else he loved the man and enjoyed the sparkle of mischief that seemed to have returned to his eyes. For the foreseeable future he hoped Obi-Wan got into as much trouble as possible.

"Well now that I can go about my evening assured that you are alive and relatively well, I shall say goodnight. I'm attending a lower level speeder bike race through an obstacle-laden tunnel network. I may enter just to keep my piloting skills sharp, of course."

"Oh, of course," Anakin nodded a bit enviously. "Enjoy, and take care of yourself. Goodnight, Master."

"Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

"Obi-Wan... Master, you're breaking up. I didn't get that last remark."

"Perhaps R2'S loose wire problems are greater than..."

Anakin killed the transmission with a simple wave of his hand and then sat back on his heels as the roaring fire warmed his bare chest. Clad only in his Jedi pants, he sighed happily, looking forward to the next couple of days alone with his Angel. Never mind the danger they faced tonight; they'd erase it with such beautiful memories that someday they might forget it happened at all. "R2, call it a night. Go recharge." A couple of beeps and chirps later the droid rolled of towards the next room. "No backtalk next time, alright. Obi-Wan's just teasing you."

The sound of light footsteps overhead signaled that Padmé's hot bath had ended, and soon she would be joining him. This one seemed even longer than the last, but after tonight a little extra pampering was due. Let her take her time indulging in whatever secret feminine rituals men had no business knowing about. She had earned that and so much more.

They had a bottle of Corelian White Wine, a gorgeous fireplace, and this huge soft Geshen-fur rug where he intended many a sinful activity to occur.

All that Anakin needed was his wife to join him. He had been starved of her beloved presence, and now she was his and his alone for the next couple of days. Smiling to himself, he felt like he did the first time a lightsaber was placed into his hands. The euphoria and anticipation were glorious.

Just as the old Krysian-wood staircase squeaked her arrival his eyes ascended to find her lovely form glad in a slinky black robe, her thick mahogany locks brushed out over her slender shoulders. His heart swelled from the sheer sight of her until her slow descent revealed the absolutely crest-fallen expression she wore.

Suddenly Padmé's feelings of sadness and underlying anger swept over Anakin in such powerful waves that he moved to her with haste, drawing her slim form from the bottom step and into his protective arms without uttering a single word. Whatever had gone wrong now? Would they ever know a moment's peace?

Padmé's emotional armor wilted at last, failing her as she began to tremble. The words that would separate them yet again choked bitterly in the back of her throat, so foul she hated to utter them out loud. If only she could stay in her husband's arms for all the days of her life she would be whole. Alas, fate seemed to have other ideas. "Dormé just contacted me. She received an emergency communication for Senator Amidala. Due to the recent failure of the latest peace talks all Senators are expected back on Coruscant to convene in the Senate within a day's time."

Suddenly crushed, Anakin drew back to look at her. "I just spoke to Obi-Wan, and he never mentioned anything about the peace talks having failed."

"Perhaps he hadn't been informed as of yet. But rest assured soon he will, and then you will be called back to the front lines." As if losing even more precious time together wasn't bad enough, to know that he would leave her arms to go right back in harm's way felt cruel beyond words. "We'll have to leave in the morning. I refuse to give up one more night with you."

Unable to speak as his heart wrenched inside his chest, Anakin smoothed the pad of his thumb over a fallen tear on Padmé's cheek. Yes, this was just one more unfair occurrence amongst so many he had lost count. And as badly as he hated having to leave her again, he hurt more for her. She had so looked forward to this time away from Coruscant and all prying eyes. She meticulously planned everything and to see it all fall to ruin angered him greatly.

She didn't deserve this.

"Come sit with me," Anakin whispered against her temple and then pressed his lips to kiss her there.

Padmé reached for his hand as she was drawn down on the floor between his legs with her back to his chest. His loving arms encircled her when she turned her face to his shoulder. Her emotions overcame her that very second. She winced painfully, her nails digging into his gloved right arm and then cried for all the lonely nights they'd spent apart. She cried for every cherished moment of their lives that they had to hide as if it were something sick or twisted. Her breathing hitched as the tears fell against his skin in hot waves.

She held onto him as her soul finally released all its pent up sorrow. So many days without end she held strong to her convictions while fighting in the Senate for a peaceful solution to ending this war. She hoped and wished and prayed for Anakin's safe return every night, ever mindful that the sacrifice of time with her husband was for the greater good he could do out there fighting for the Republic.

All that she asked for were a few short days. Just some breathing room alone with the man who shared her soul. A wedding anniversary to be remembered in those dark, quiet nights in her lonely apartment with no word of her husband's safety or even where he was.

Memories to sustain her when she had no promise of forever.

Lying in Anakin's arms, Padmé cried for him as much as herself, knowing that he simply wasn't capable. But he held her tightly to his chest, whispering how deeply he loved her and how she owned every breath of air he took. She let her guard down in front of the only person she felt comfortable doing so. She hadn't cried this hard in years, gasping against his shoulder.

"Angel," Anakin chanted softly over her hair line before gently cupping her face so that she turned in his arms. Grim determination gazed into her warm brown eyes. "I swear to you I will end this war. I swear it on my life."

"Oh Ani." Padmé rested her hand over the one on her cheek and then turned his wrist to kiss it. He smoothed away her tears, taking such good care of her. "You don't have to make promises like that. I only want you to come home to me safe and sound."

"I'm serious, Padmé. I will end this war. I won't have you suffering because of it."

"I suffer because we're apart, but do not mistake my tears as a rebuke to our responsibilities. We are needed by the people of the Republic."

As the sharp retort dangled on the tip of his tongue to damn the Republic and all who dwelled in it, Anakin held his peace for her sake. She took what she needed from him, a moment to release all the deep seeded pain she held inside, and now the strong woman he married had returned. She was still,
always his Padmé. "I need only you."

"And I, you, my love." She gave him a lovely smile, and he seemed to find his own when he saw hers. An arch of her neck permitted her lips to discover his, caressing his mouth with such heated longing as they pushed aside what they had lost for all that mattered most to them. Their mouths mated with hot urgency, a need growing out of control to fight back against a universe that seemed against them.

He laid her down on the large plush rug, quickly covering her slender form. He captured her lips once more, hungrily devouring the lush taste of her mouth, eagerly curling his tongue around hers. The feel of her fingers combing through his hair sent flashes of heat up and down his spine. She was ravenous for him, lapping at the roof of his mouth while his gloved hand slipped between them, carefully dragging the knot holding her robe together loose.

Sitting back a moment, Anakin drank in the sight of her lovely ivory skin as he pried open Padmé's dark robe, revealing her gorgeous small breasts capped by hardened nipples. Her beauty never ceased to amaze him no matter how many times he gazed at her nude form. "You are the most beautiful woman in the galaxy."

"You're making me blush," Padmé shyly admitted under his adoring gaze. The steady rise and fall of her chest quickened when his flesh hand trailed fingers over her skin, setting her nerves on fire.

"I am enchanted by you, Angel." Burying his face in the hollow of her neck, his mouth fed on the regal column of her throat, nibbling the fair skin until a husky groan escaped her lips. The sensuous sound left him throbbing against the floor with need. "I could never love another."

"Never," Padmé agreed as the decadent feel of his eager mouth all over her throat left her whimpering. She hissed from the sweet sensation of his gentle bite into her skin and then soothed softly by an agile tongue that brushed a sweet poetry down her chest. When his flesh hand firmly cupped her right breast, squeezing it so pleasurably, his lips fastened around her left nipple. Urgent, rough suckling commenced that felt so good she shuddered uncontrollably beneath him. "By the Force, I love you so much."

Urged onward by her dear proclamation, Anakin's teeth gently clamped around the pebbled nipple, biting just enough to make her squeal before drenching it in wet saliva, and then sucking hard enough that her back arched off the rug in response.

The sensual foreplay of his mouth all over and around her breasts sent fiery sensations streaking up her spine. He lazily descended her body, allowing his tongue to ghost over her quivering belly before delving into her naval. Her unrepressed rapture for him to do whatever he wanted, however he wanted too, was absolute. Giving herself to him was the purest freedom she had ever known.

"Trust me," Anakin whispered to his love when he took her hands in his own and stretched up them over her head, her right wrist lying over her left. Descending her body once more, he inhaled the heady aroma of her arousal and then slowly parted her slender, toned thighs. Summoning his will, he reached out with the Force... bonding her wrists to the floor.

"Always," Padmé panted as warmth radiated all around her wrists, strongly holding them in place without discomfort.

The scent of her lovely feminine rose, surrounded by glistening chestnut curls, was far too alluring to resist. That first long, slow taste of her left Anakin aching for more as Padmé cried out in ecstasy. His tongue traced every nuance and detail of her moist flesh, lapping the length of her in lazy brushes that left her in a whirlpool of pleasure. "You taste divine."

Padmé's mouth hung open, her teeth gritted as her eyes remained riveted on her husband's mouth suckling her tender flesh. She stared as the full-body trembles began in earnest each time his tongue slowly swirled over her swollen clit. She began to wail and yet no words escaped her lungs. Her legs unconsciously scissored over his back, her thighs quaking around his head. Being eaten like a ripe piece of fruit, her breath caught in her throat when his tongue focused on lashing harder at her clit before he drew it into his mouth and began to feast insatiably.

Padmé's thighs trembled as she came in thundering waves of sensation. The exotic taste of was her so divine Anakin bore the pain when she twisted to and fro, almost on her side as her hips bucked and fed her sex to his hungry mouth. He couldn't stop... wouldn't stop until she finally had to push him away when his touch became to sensitive.

The sound of Anakin's labored breaths were in time with the rapid beat of her heart as Padmé felt she could hear it inside her very chest. She was soaked in a fine sheen of sweat, lying half on her side, eyes shut, her body limp after such exquisit satisfaction.

Jedi Mastery woefully paled in comparison to the pride Anakin felt when gazing upon a fully sated, flushed Padmé Amidala Skywalker. He kissed her right hand as she would have been kissed when she was a queen, and then slowly up her arm until his body was aligned with hers. He lovingly pressed his lips to her forehead. "Does milady approve?"

Anakin enjoyed how Padmé still hadn't opened her eyes. She blushed yet again and then nodded slowly as her reply. He pulled her closer for another kiss, having thoroughly ravished his beautiful wife. "What I just did to you," he chanted sincerely in her ear, "I would love to do every single day of my life."

"I just might let you." While still feeling a bit lightheaded, Padmé soon regained her faculties. She turned to face him, seeking his kiss. He gave it willingly, closing his arms around her. She loved the groan he emitted against her lips when her hand snaked down between them to grasp his aching erection through his pants. "Undress."

Her wish was his command. Anakin pushed his pants down and off his legs, now lying flat on his back with Padmé staring lustfully at the length of his hard body. His breath lodged in his throat when her small hand wrapped around him, her fist thrusting slowly up and down. His voice trembled when he uttered, "Mercy."

"Never," she promised him, kissing his lips before slinking down his muscular chest. Her tongue curled round and round his small male nipples, sampling the texture while gazing into his eyes. Soon after her attentions fell towards the throbbing, hard flesh beckoning her. Taking her time with him, enjoying his body at her leisure, she slowly licked across the head of his cock, and then her tongue chased a clear droplet of moisture down the length of him. It twitched its approval so she did it again... and then again before finally engulfing him fully. The more she took of him, the louder he moaned her name in a litany of worship until she found a heady rhythm of rising and falling. She increased the suction while stroking the base with her fist, inhaling him to the limits of her abilities.

Anakin's breathing grew louder and more out of control by the second as the warm, wet cavern of her mouth wickedly tortured him, her cheeks pulling harder to force a violent orgasm. The sense of power was such a rush that she sucked with a near frantic need, driving him so close to the edge... and then she gently released him, kissing the tip at the end.

"Padmé..."

"Patience, my love." Sliding over his lower body, Padmé deftly straddled his lap. Her slender hips lifted just enough to trap the head of his cock against her slick entrance, and then she pushed back, slowly thrusting him deep inside her. The sudden rush of pleasure/pain made her feel alive and wanton. She was full of him now, her hands braced on the hard plane of his chest as her inner muscles gave way to his size. He felt hot and so hard her lips trembled. The fit was so tight they shuddered as one.

And then she began to rock.

Taking her pleasure as she pleased, Padmé rode him in steady, measured gallops. A well-practiced technique she knew drove him mad with desire. The flushed, awed expression he wore seized her subconscious, spurring her on. With her head thrown back, her thick brunette tresses spilled over her shoulders as she rose and fell urgently, grinding her hips in hard circles. His hands found the high, round cheeks of her backside, kneading them in time with her slow rocking over his lap. He felt so big inside her, hot and full of his very being. She loved him... by the Force she loved this man to the depth of her soul.

Letting her set the pace gave him a moment's reprieve, but her talents were far too great and already Anakin could feel the need to lose himself deep inside her fast become inevitable. She would withdraw him almost to the tip, and then slam him back in until he could go no further. The constant throbbing sent tingling shivers of arousal all over his body.

Fiery tremors swept over Padme out of nowhere, and it seemed Anakin understood. She loved when he held her hips tight to him whenever she was on top, as he did now. Only a couple more short, hard thrusts while squeezing around him on each descent saw her orgasm crash over her in white-hot flashes that left her gasping her husband's name. Her nails dug into the meat of his shoulders as she clenched uncontrolably all around him through her thunderous climax.

"So close... Angel, so close."

Anakin's harsh plea struck a definitive cord in Padmé, who quickly recovered as she needed something more... something primal to mark this moment... this trip and their relationship and everything they meant to each other. She needed him... needed to feel him so deep. Needed to be utterly possessed by him.

When Padmé lifted off his aching shaft Anakin groaned almost painfully, but the sight of her moving onto her knees away from him took his breath way. It seemed as if even the flames roared their envy.

"Like this," she panted in a sensuous tone, her backside arched for him alone. "I want you like this. Now... please."

The crackling flames seemed to give her ivory skin an ethereal glow. In his eyes she would forever be an Angel of the stars. But here and now she belonged to him, and so Anakin swiftly moved behind her as an animalistic need to claim her for all time took control of his humanity. He shoved forward, hard inside of her, buried so deep she let out a cry loud enough to rattle the windows. His hands filled with her hips as he began pounding into her from behind with a mindless savagery he had never taken her with before.

This sort of wild, untamed passion was what Padmé craved tonight. So unlike the reserved, always under control Senator she portrayed in the daytime. No, she wanted to be taken hard by her husband. To have him utterly lost inside her, so out of his mind with lust he gave into the dark side of his soul. She gave herself to him, grinding backward, meeting his pummeling surges. Her body ached, and yet loved every second of his fiery rage. She felt the very pulse of him within her, the smacking noise of their heady union drowning out even the fireplace.

This was for him. For his pleasure. For him to fight this war and know what he had to come home to. She was his! His for all time!

"Let go, beloved. I'm yours. Take me and let go."

Anakin grunted loudly through his final, powerful thrusts and then erupted deep inside her as his climax drenched her in bursts of wet heat so deliriously pleasurably he slumped over her back, shaking, calling out her name time and time again.

Moments later they laid in each others arms on the soft rug, breathing the other's air, holding onto what mattered most. They were one living, breathing, fighting entity. Unbreakable and forever. Silently, they stared into the flames, yet again ready to face whatever the galaxy saw fit to throw at them.


Senate Office Building

The public office of the Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Republic

Galactic City, Coruscant

"The Ezcaban Home Security computer-log details that HoloNet photographer Bella Sorsi, accompanied by her husband Syain and partner Calis were on an evening sightseeing excursion when they witnessed a smoking starship plummet from the sky. They tracked its descent in hopes that there might be survivors. Fortunately enough the ship was unmanned, but Calis suffered a concussion from a fall on the ice when they made their way towards the ship."

"What of Bella and Syain?"

"No injuries were reported, my Lord."

"Are you certain?"

Swallowing hard while crouched behind a barrier, the brutally frigid outdoor temperatures didn't affect V'Nor nearly as much as the being he was communicating with. "I am sure, my lord. The Skywalkers are in good health. I saw them myself."

"What of Xaria's fate?"

"Murdered by Anakin Skywalker in battle. He was impaled on metal rods embedded in thick ice and then buried alive by a Force-enabled landslide. I would venture to say he suffered greatly before passing."

Withered lips curled into a gentle, malicious smile. So, the tremor he felt echo through the Force had been the Chosen One's rage... perfect. "Make sure the wreckage of the bounty hunter's ship is destroyed and the Ezcaban Home Security computers memory banks wiped clean. I want no record of the people we speak of having ever been on that worthless planet."

"It will be done, my Lord."

After his servant bowed Darth Sidious ended the transmission and then pressed a button on his chair that slowly swiveled it around. The curved paristeel window situated behind the Supreme Chancellor's desk revealed Coruscant's breathtakingly endless cityscape. He loved to observe the bold, vibrant and angry society that lay before him, and he wouldn't have it any other way.

Recalling in his mind's eye the massive five-year renovation of the Galactic Senate Dome, with its seventy-five ethereal night-beams that gave it an omnipotent presence in Galactic City. A facade of course, but an intimidating structure none the less. A brilliant jewel in the crown of the city. The construction seemed to go on without end, angering many who found such elaborate decor unnecessary and a nuisance.

They lacked patience. The lights gave an appearance of power to whoever visited Coruscant. They served a purpose no matter their vanity. That was the point, after all.

With his wrinkled hands resting peacefully in his lap, Darth Sidious sat quietly, patiently watching over his empire. He would turn in soon for the evening, and a glass of Brandy would probably aid his ability to sleep. Unfortunately, he had yet another meeting with the Jedi first thing in the morning. The Senate's convening in the early afternoon, so the Jedi were to bring him up to speed with the current progress of the war.

As if he didn't already know how the war he created would play out. A war he had written the end of before it even began. But there was no need to rush their fate. No need to tip his hand too soon. All the necessary pawns were in place. Business as usual would remain the status quo as his Red Guard would bow respectfully when the Jedi arrived and departed. He would offer Master Windu his customary handshake in greeting, to which Mace would return half-heartedly. A polite bow to Yoda would follow.

Their well-practiced dance of information, possibilities, rumors, wins, and losses would take place. The Jedi would try in vain to Force-probe him and come away with no more than a shrewd politician with a knack for swaying the emotions of the people. The Dark Side was subtle in that way, ever aware of the need for those it manipulated to be happy with what they were allowed to have. The Jedi would never understand that. They clung to a mandate written thousands of years ago, never mind the restless publics' desire for change.

Never mind their own Knights' secretive cravings for so much more than the Order could provide.

Darth Sidious's enemies were digging their own graves with a shovel made of lies, deceit, and stagnation. His unrestricted vantage point gave him a clearer view of the Force as he saw it. And for the practices he lived by, unlike the Jedi, he was aligned with what was expected of him.

The Sith were supposedly untrustworthy, and yet it was the Jedi who lied to the Republic rather than admit it had no knowledge of one of their own requesting the creation of the Clone Army. Their pride couldn't face the public scrutiny and loss of trust such a revelation would cause. If the Sith were so deeply entrenched in personal greed then why was it the Jedi Order would take children from parents whether they wish them to become Jedi or not? What parent would dare refuse?

Certainly no Dark Lord had ever had to force a pupil to learn the ways of the Sith.

If fear were the true path to the Dark Side, as Darth Sidious had often heard in his travels, then why hadn't every Jedi in the galaxy failed to turn? Certainly there was no greater fear that existed than that of the Jedi Code's outdated mandates. The fear of seeking pleasure and personal fulfillment would breed freewill, ambition, and individuality. Something the Jedi frowned upon. But because they had access to the abilities of the Force are they above the heroism, self-sacrifice, and respect due a law officer in Coruscant? Are they better than everyone else? Are their lives worth more and those that go home at night to families?

Darth Sidious smiled more often than people would expect. He possessed a certain point of view that was so simplistic in nature even he at times was surprised at how easily his enemies fell into his trap.

The Galactic Senate freely gave him control of the Republic. He never took it by force. Never raised one blaster. Never fired one shot. He accomplished more with kindness and an air of confidence than any individual ever had before. Behind the scenes affairs that brought about the emergency powers vote were cunning to be fair, but it was the Senate and not a fleet of warships that handed him what he now controlled.

The theory that the Dark Lord of the Sith clouded the Force was nearly hysterical to him. He had no such ability. No Sith Lord ever possessed that much influence over the Force. The Jedi was its own worst enemy. They subjugated and controlled their own while covering up lies and deceit. They refused to change. Refused to heed the will of the living Force over the written word of the Code. And for that reason alone the Force was abandoning them.

All he had to do was wait. Patience was the key. Patience led the Galactic Senate to grant him emergency powers he parlayed into absolute power. Patience led the Jedi down this path that would only lead to their utter destruction. And patience would lead Anakin Skywalker to his knees before him.

Many months ago when the Corellian freighter "Excavator" was attacked while transporting a contingent of Senators he handpicked, it was arranged so that the Republic Assault Cruiser "The Engager" would be the only vessel in the vicinity to heed the freighter's call for help. And when Anakin and Padmé were unexpectedly reunited for that brief time the Dark Lord knew what his future apprentice would do.

Anakin seized the day. He lied to his Master and betrayed his Jedi Code to be with Padmé. To share an unexpected liaison with his wife. With the most important person in his entire life. And with that all too brief moment of joy they were torn apart again. Anakin's resentment and anger toward the Jedi grew as he was forced to deny his heart and marriage, hiding it in the shadows of darkness as if it belonged there.

When Anakin next visited Coruscant, he had found time to visit his good friend and mentor, Chancellor Palpatine. In private he told him what took place, and was told in turn he did the right thing in finding a way to be with Padmé under any circumstances. Who were the Jedi to tell him he couldn't perform his sworn duties while loving a woman? Who were they to question his bravery in battle if he gave his heart to another? The Jedi were misguided, and Palpatine told his young friend as much, all the while providing the fatherly encouragement that he still owed the Jedi for delivering him from slavery.

Friendship, patience, and a kind word...

The recent attempted peace talks gave Anakin a dream vacation with his Angel. Darth Sidious knew he would look forward to the extended time away from the war and the Jedi, and so the Dark Lord abruptly ended the peace talks to further the Chosen One's frustration and fuel his fire. Testing him now, Anakin and his Master were being sent to one of the most war-torn battle zones in the galaxy. And when he returned to Coruscant, Palpatine would congratulate him on his victory, ask about his adoring wife, and encourage him to trust in the Republic... while keeping his eyes open around him.

Patience. That was all that Darth Sidious needed. And one day, in the not too distant future, he would give the final "order" that would end the Jedi existence. All with his heir by his side.

And with a little luck, someday... a new Sith Order would rise courtesy of the Skywalkers.


Ezcaban Home World Security Starship Landing Bay

The early morning hours

The world of Ezcaban, located in the Hoth System

"Take care of yourself, Dormé," Anakin expressed warmly despite the notoriously cold temperatures, and then hugged her close on the landing platform where Padmé's R-TYPE Bavorian shuttle was being prepped for launch. He sensed a quiet sadness overcome her and knew it wasn't for herself. Her compassion was one of her finest qualities. "And thanks for everything."

"I love both of you, Anakin. I would do it all again in a heartbeat," she confessed as her emotions threatened to overcome her. Pulling herself together for her friend's sake, she exhaled softly and then whispered, "Do take good care of yourself as well. And know that I am always looking after Padmé. She is like a sister to me. Rest assured no harm will come to her."

Anakin nodded his appreciation and then released her. She gave a curt bow, smiled, and then ascended the starships boarding ramp.

"Master Anakin," C-3PO carefully approached with R2 closing in from behind. "While I regret that we had such a short time together as I needed you to take a look at my belco-transistor, it was good to see you again. I wish you well on your next mission."

"Thank you, 3PO." Just over the droids shoulder stood a very solemn Padmé, her long curly hair being brushed by the icy winds. Anakin couldn't meet her gaze just yet. "The next time I'm on Coruscant I'll take a look at that belco-transistor."

"I look forward to your expertise as I do not let just anyone work on my inner circuitry. Farewell, Master Anakin." The golden droid bowed and then turned to board the starship. But before his exit he added one last thing. "Master Anakin. Do look after R2. He was acting rather erratic this morning and I fear he has a loose wire or something."

Providing only a moments levity, even Padmé seemed to stifle a grin. Anakin shooed C3PO off with a wave of his hand. "I'll look into it."

Heavy snow drifts fell in waves of white as Anakin and Padmé erased the short distance between them for their final, private farewell. All morning long they had said nothing, dreading their imminent separation. Now faced with their inevitable return to the separate wars they fought for the Republic, yet again their personal lives suffered because of it.

Having sworn to herself that she wouldn't cry, Padmé felt tears sting her eyes when Anakin's flesh hand softly cupped her cheek. She tilted her head as the tightness in her throat became nearly painful. Almost as painful as the expression her husband wore.

"Ask me?"

One simple, solitary question as the airy gusts of wind chill blew around them. Padmé wished she could feign ignorance, but she knew him too well. She loved him with her all and everything that she would become. "I can't."

She broke his heart, but he knew that she would. He knew his wife. Her beliefs, morals, and utter righteous convictions. How could he ever hate the honorable way she lived her life? He couldn't. Not now and not ever. "Do you know that I would walk away from the Order this very moment for you?"

"Yes," Padmé acknowledged, now holding his hand in her gloved on, their fingers twined between them. "I know and I adore you more than I am able to convey."

Lifting her hand to his face, Anakin kissed it, ever worshiping his Angel.

"Do you know that neither the Republic nor my post as Senator of Naboo combined come close to meaning as much to me as you do?"

Padmé's gently pleading stare, tears burning her eyes left Anakin humbled before her. "Yes, I know. I always have. I'm just stubborn sometimes."

Her sad eyes matched the soft laughter she was surprised she was even capable of. "I hate this."

"So do I, my love."

Never mind her aching sense of loss, Padmé found her lips curl with a hint of sarcasm. "I have decided not to bore you with yet another lecture on duty and responsibility."

Anakin cast his attentions skyward and shut his eyes. "Praise the Force."

She suddenly wanted to mash snow in his face. And then kiss him. And after that marry him all over again on Naboo with her whole family present and the Jedi Council watching on the HoloNet so that the entire galaxy knew how truly proud she was to be Anakin Skywalker's wife. And that she loved him to the depths of her very soul.

"I suppose you don't want me to bring up the finer points for running away together again?"

"They'll only make me cry."

Anakin gathered her slender form in his arms that second, clutching her tight to his chest, his lips pressed to her hairline. She didn't cry after all, not that he expected her too. When Padmé Amidala put her mind to something, even if it involved reigning in her own emotions, she rarely failed in the attempt. So he simply held her in his arms and whispered his love and devotion. "You'd probably get tired of having me around all the time anyway."

Padmé nestled against his shoulder, a half sigh escaped her lips. "I think I'm to neat for you. Perhaps you would tire of my rearranging your stacks of starship engineering manuals."

"I do like to sleep late when I can. And you're always up so early."

"You leave your boots anywhere. I almost tripped and fell over one a few months back."

"You don't like blue milk."

"You're always jumping from high places."

"I'm breaking the Jedi Code every chance I get to be with you."

"My hidden marriage to a Jedi could jeopardize my career as the Senator of Naboo, as well as bring undo controversy and criticism to the position I've worked so hard to win respect for.

Anakin gazed into her beautiful brown eyes. "We're doomed."

"No doubt about it."

Unable to resist a moment longer, Anakin captured her soft lips with a hungry, deeply loving kiss. His arms circled her slim waist while her own wrapped around his neck, leaving no space between them. They buried their immense hurt and aching loneliness in this sweet, slow mouth caress.

For a brief, perfect time the universe stood still.

When at last they parted, gasping gusts of cool air between them, Padmé remembered that Anakin had told her before bed last night that Obi-Wan contacted him again. "Do you know where they are sending you next?" His pause and the protective way he held her spoke volumes.

"I only know the rendezvous coordinates."

She forgave his lie as he knew not only that but exactly where he was being sent into battle. No doubt a place of great danger. She surmised that perhaps it was best she didn't know as it would only make her worry more than she already did. "I'm going to miss you so much."

Gently lifting her chin, Anakin bent down for another lingering kiss, his forehead pressed her her own. "We won't be apart much longer, Padmé. I swear it."

"Just take care of yourself. Don't do anything... well since its you I can't say crazy," she managed to smile in the midst of her tears which she could no longer be hold at bay. "At least don't do anything suicidal."

"Trust me."

"I do with our lives." Ducking her head, Padmé released him and slowly stepped away. It was time to go. There was was nothing else to say. No way to make the hurt any less painful or the sense of loss any less devastating. "Till we meet again, love."

They never said goodbye. That word had no meaning for them. Anakin calmly lifted his hood over his head. "Be careful."

"I will," Padmé offered in a trembling tone. She enjoyed one last, long look at her handsome husband, prayed that the Force watched over him, and then turned to board her starship.

Anakin remained as he was, standing perfectly still when the ships white-blue engine bursts ignited. His Jedi robe billowed with the blustering cold winds as the ship carrying his Angel slowly lifted from the ground, its landing gear retracted, and then quickly ascended into the sky before thrusting through the clouds and out of sight.

He felt as utterly hollow as he ever had before.

And then his mechanical hand clenched tight into a fist as if he were choking his grief to death. Cloaked beneath his hood, Anakin walked off with purpose towards his ARC-170 fighter not far away. Upon reaching his ship he saw that R2 had already been loaded inside his compartment. "Fire up the converters, R2."

Using the ladder provided, Anakin climbed inside the fighter cockpit. R2 beeped a chirp or two while he strapped himself in. "Set coordinates to rendezvous with the Majestic," he ordered as the canopy fell and air-compressioned into place.

Memories of the short, precious time spent with Padmé on this frozen tundra of a world set his grim determination to the maximum. "Lift off, R2. I have a war to end."


The End of "Shadows of Winter"

Chapter 2 in the "Hearts and Souls" series.
Chapter 3 is called "Beloved"

Summary: The death of Anakin Skywalker rocks the galaxy, but Padmé is unwilling to accept it. But the only person willing to help her is the last person she should ever trust.