Padmé nodded her farewell to Anakin's doctor and the engineer in her employ, then left the suite.
"M'lady," a harsh voice greeted as it emerged from the turbolift.
"My day is done," she reported in a no-nonsense fashion that befitted the co-chancellor. "You will of course escort me home."
She sent him no covert looks, not even the slightest hint that the dark menacing creature meant more to her than security.
His head bowed and he took a step back, allowing her to enter the turbolift and not enquiring as to the identity of her last meeting's participants. He knew better than to ask. It was always someone mediocre.
Mindful of cameras placed in the small enclosed space her bodyguard stood rigidly in front of her, hands clasped behind his back. On alert for danger.
Behind him she stood silently.
The harsh sounds of forced and rhythmic mechanical breathing filled the small room as they quickly ascended to the landing platform. He respectfully followed a pace behind to her shuttle, though his senses were stretched out far in front, routinely scanning their transport for anything untoward.
"Are my children at home?" Padmé inquired, seemingly innocent as she eyed the pilot warily.
The shuttle took off smoothly, moving quickly through lanes of traffic towards her apartment.
"On last check with their minder they were about to take their baths," he replied.
She nodded curtly and kept her eyes forward, travelling the rest of the distance in silence. She knew he didn't trust himself to speak to her beyond that of a professional in her employ when they were outside their home. And it helped maintain the pretence that he was a ruthless, heartless bodyguard.
As they landed beside their lavish balcony space he allowed himself one small luxury. Moving quickly he stepped off before her.
Very unusual, she noted, her thoughts suddenly flying in panic to ideas of what could be waiting before them. What could be inside that had harmed their children.
What happened instead startled her.
He stood on the platform and offered out his hand. Her breath caught in her throat at the simple gesture, and her heart couldn't stop itself from leaping.
With a small part of her mind always thinking about who could have been watching them, and maintaining pretences, she reached out and confidently placed her hand in his.
"Thank you," she said clearly and stepped out onto their long low balcony.
But her eyes lingered on his helmeted head just enough to ensure the – albeit disguised, romantic gesture – was understood and subtly appreciated.
As soon as they were within the small alcove off her bedroom and their privacy was assured from any peering eyes, she stopped walking away from him. She turned around, placed her flat palm in the middle of his chest and said softly "thank you" with a lot more love and feeling behind it.
"You're welcome," that stiff, mechanised voice answered.
She hated that it portrayed a creature much older than the one who lay within the dark helmet. She longed to see the person she remembered, and hear the lost voice that murmured to her in dreams. Hopefully her special project in the apartment next door would be completed soon.
"We're home!" she called, giving him a last smile then turning to find their children.
"We're just getting dressed after a bath!" the happy voice of one of her trusted Nubian carers called out.
She made her way into the lush nursery and smiled to see their twins, just being picked up from being clothed.
Though he cut an imposing figure, whether he wanted to or not, the people who cared for the children had come to understand that just because you couldn't read his emotions didn't mean he was angry.
As Padmé held her arms out and was cheerfully handed Luke, Anakin's cold dark form was accordingly handed Leia, and the pair of women disappeared with a small smile.
"Hello my precious!" Padmé greeted her son with a big smile, nuzzling her face into his hair as she raised him for a cuddle.
"Mmmm, you smell so sweet and fresh. Did you have fun in your bath? Yeah?"
She bounced the baby a little and held him close, smiling at Anakin as he held Leia.
He couldn't smell them. Was afraid to hold them close in fear of crushing them. And it killed her that, though she knew he doted on their twins, she couldn't see the love in his eyes.
"They're so perfect," came the harsh cold voice.
Look past it, she reminded herself. Imagine his voice, he truly means it.
"I know," she grinned.
Luke got a lot of the kisses she couldn't give to her husband. And then she leaned over into Anakin's arms and gave Leia a whole lot more. Raising her head as she finally pulled away she pressed a quick one to the suit which sustained Anakin's life, right over his heart. Despite the fact that he couldn't feel it, the gesture still meant something to her.
"You are so beautiful," the voice conveyed without feeling as she placed her baby son into his tiny bed.
Anakin placed Leia down beside her brother and awkwardly put an arm around Padmé as she settled them both in.
"It's only because I'm so happy," she grinned, not actually looking at him as she tucked little blankets up.
He raised his free hand and a small set of shapes nestling by the window came floating across the room, drifting above each of the twins in small circles, one of them emitting a soft tune.
She stood up and leaned into the thick padding that encompassed him, resting her head lightly on his shoulder. He was obviously self-conscious about it and she did everything she could to assure him, reaching up and holding his hand to her shoulder, though she knew he couldn't feel it.
They stood watching as their twins slowly drifted off, each one fascinated by the paths Anakin force-manipulated the small, shiny shapes to gently move in, to a point where slumber settled over them.
"Good night my precious ones," Padmé murmured, leaning over to kiss each of their two-month old heads goodnight as Anakin gave the shapes a final gentle push with his palm, returning them to their home on the window seat.
Anakin watched in fascination as she gave the small team that protected their younglings the night off and settled to eat her dinner.
"Why did you do that?" he asked, hating the way his voice sounded.
Accusing or ordering. Those were the only two tones his voice could take. Why not loving? Why not a soft inquiry? Why did it always have to sound so cold?
She smiled at him and it stabbed at his heart like it did every time. Her focus always ended just before his eyes. She couldn't see him anymore. Only the helmet that covered his head. And though he despised what his body looked like now, he hated even more that Padmé could no longer look him in the eye.
"I sent them away because I don't have a very busy day tomorrow. I'd like to get up for my own children tonight. Will you help me?" she asked confidently, his heart pounding.
"Of course," came his rough answer and he wanted to scream.
He wanted it to sound soft, and reassuring. Like he felt. He was pleased that she wanted him to do something so normal with her. He wanted to get up in the middle of the night like any other new parent. And he wanted it to sound like that! He wanted her to see the smile on his face!
"Most of my meetings are in my office tomorrow, and I have the morning off. If you'd like you could visit the temple tomorrow," she gently offered.
There was a silence filled by the sound of his forced breathing as she focused intently on her dinner.
It was a very careful offer, and he knew how much she longed for him to take it up. He still felt so awkward, so filled with remorse. He felt he was defiling the sanctity of the place even thinking about it, let alone pondering stepping foot within its walls.
"Obi-wan mentioned to my assistant that he wanted to see you," she prompted as the silence stretched out interminably.
"Would you like me to go?" he asked.
She looked up at him and paused as she lifted the laden shiny utensil to her mouth. She paused, then nodded.
"I think you need to talk to him," she encouraged.
From behind the one-way vision of his mask he watched her chew quietly and finally nodded.
"Thank you," she grinned at him.
He sensed an unusual amount of glee coming from her and wondered what that was about. No doubt he'd find out sooner or later – she couldn't be that happy about him going to meet the person who had put him in this suit in the first place.