"Three years," Anakin groaned dejectedly.

It didn't come out as a groan though. And it wouldn't for three long years.

"Is there no way to accelerate the process?" Padmé asked the doctor calmly.

The medic carefully shook his head.

"It takes three years to grow the organs, and then there's only a week in which to implant them. So they have to be grown especially."

Padmé nodded and sat back in her chair thoughtfully.

Anakin, on the other hand, was holding back from speaking. His complaint seconds before had reminded him of how he sounded to the rest of the world. And he'd changed over the past few days. Ever since he'd started going into the new room where his loved ones saw him for who he was and heard his voice with the emotion he injected. He no longer wanted to sound like the heartless bodyguard. So from him, silence reigned.

"And then is that it? What happens once they're implanted?" Padmé asked clinically.

"There is a necessary three month secluded period – for rehabilitation. The patient can't leave the confined oxygen-pure environment."

There was a quick glance shot in Anakin's direction but no more. She was the conductor of this meeting. And all information was addressed to her. In another time, Anakin would have been outraged for being ignored. He wouldn't admit to feeling it, but there was a little there right now. He understood how he looked, how removed he was from the world, but it was his body. Still, he let Padmé handle it. She seemed to know all the questions to ask anyway.

"Order them," Padmé said quietly.

But very confidently. Stern. Requiring immediate action.

The doctor hesitated and squirmed a little in his chair.

"M'lady, the cost is substantial –"

"He will be able to live without the suit at all, correct?"

"Well, yes but –"

"And he will be able to subject his body to all the activities he could before, even those most strenuous physical ones?"

"Of course but –"

"Then order them today," Padmé commanded.

"But milady it can cost up to eighty thousand daktaris. Per lung!"

Padmé reached over and pushed a button on her desk.

"Would you see to it that the good doctor has one hundred and sixty thousand credits transferred from my personal account to that which he specifies on his exit please?"

The doctor's eyes widened in disbelief.

"I'll need a skin sample, to begin the process," he finally managed to say as Padmé returned to her comfortable position in her large chair.

She turned to Anakin and softly commanded

"Go now."

He nodded once and the doctor rose to his feet.

"I will cover whatever costs are incurred for you to begin your journey to the facility today with that sample," Padmé offered.

Not offered. Ordered. And Anakin was reminded once more of how much he loved her.

As he went to follow the doctor from the door he turned to her. He didn't want her to hear him like this, but some things had to be said before they could return to the privacy of their sterile chamber.

"Do not leave your office milady. I will be back shortly and will inform security to be watching extra carefully."

Padmé nodded curtly, forever business like outside their home, and returned her attention to a data pad on her desk as Anakin let the door shut behind him.

---

Anakin stopped outside Padmé's office door and bore his considerable gaze down on her secretary.

"Y-yes?" the young woman trembled, terrified of him.

Normally he'd be frustrated because everyone judged him so much on his physical appearance. But right now he didn't mind, it would make what he was about to say seem that much more serious. Especially as he rarely spoke to anyone.

"A whole battalion up here to protect her. Now," he seemed to bark.

She ducked her head and he left her, assured temporarily by the force that Padmé's safety wasn't at risk.

Just in case he kept his feelings focused on her office. Even as he made his way behind the doctor to the docking bay, his awareness was centred on the light of his life. She was a little annoyed at his over-protectiveness when so many armed soldiers filed into her office, but content to focus on her work.

He climbed into the waiting speeder beside the only other person that had seen him as the man he now was. His doctor, Padmé's very well-paid employee, carefully pulled out into the Coruscant traffic. Anakin scrutinised the driver warily as he accelerated with the cautiousness of a person double what must be his age.

"Why do you drive so slowly?" Anakin's voice asked.

He was genuinely curious but the sound came out tinged with accusation.

It was harder to remain concentrated on Padmé as the physical distance between them increased and at that moment his ability to focus on her winked out. He reached out to touch his comlink. Just to make sure it was there and she could talk to him.

Now it was just him and the slow-moving doctor. The sluggish journey was definitely not what he had in mind. The time Padmé was away from him would only be longer and he didn't trust even a whole battalion to protect her as well as he could.

"I don't want to harm you," the doctor said calmly.

"The air rush doesn't effect me," Anakin quickly replied confusedly.

"I wasn't talking about the air. I wouldn't want to get you into an accident."

There was a long pause of silence from the black guardian.

"She obviously cares for you. She has had a bedroom built beside her home for you, with a decon unit for someone to join you. And now she is paying an obscene amount of money to return your long-term health. I would not wish to harm something so precious to her."

Anakin's eyes widened behind his mask even as their own behaviour washed over him. The past long evenings with Padmé had been so fulfilling he hadn't stopped to consider the trail of evidence they left.

And she was paying so many credits for his company, this man suspected.

"Blast," he muttered.

It was so soft it never left the confines of his darkened helmet but the feeling was there.

She'd talked to his doctor about how she could touch him too. This man knew. Knew about their relationship.

His heart gave a tiny flutter as he was silently thankful the twins were well hidden in their apartment. The news that they had a relationship was not nearly as bad as the news that they had two very tiny babies.

"Doctor-patient privilege, my silence is assured," came a guarantee from beside him.

Anakin couldn't help but remain stiff against his seat back.

"She is an incredibly kind woman who is swiftly moving us to a strong form of compassionate republic. I would not harm her by revealing your secret."

With that they pulled up inside the medical centre's docking bay. Anakin allowed himself to be accompanied to the hyperbaric chamber where he could disrobe. The doctor raised an eyebrow at him as he unclipped his helmet and started tugging at his gloves without a hint of his previous shame.

"What is it?" Anakin asked.

The sound of his own softer voice reminded him of how he could now share himself with Padmé. Even though he was confined to his suit a lot of the day, he felt like a human being again. Young, in love, and existing with the possibility of not only being consumed by her presence, but her body too.

The change in him was obvious to the doctor. The physician gave a genuine smile and reached for his tools.

"Lets get this over with."

Wincing, Anakin had to channel the force to further numb the area as first a small patch of skin, and then a blood sample, were removed from his upper thigh.

It was over quickly but he had to sit for some time as a bacta treatment was applied to his thigh to heal the emerging wound.

In the silence he had enough time to calm his racing thoughts and remember who he was.

"We are not together," he told the doctor quietly, looking directly into his eyes.

Anakin's fingers moved across the man's face and he tried very hard to change the man's perceptions. It took almost a minute as the doctor stopped what he was doing and eyed him curiously.

"I was so sure," his doctor muttered as he turned away and started entering details into a datapad.

When he was facing Anakin again the young Jedi tried once more to protect himself.

"Chancellor Amidala would never compromise her position for an errant Jedi," he persuaded.

Apparently that was more likely.

"Chancellor Amidala would never compromise her position for a Jedi," the doctor nodded as if that made sense.

Content that their wonderful secret wasn't about to get out, Anakin focused his attention on his pulsing leg.

"Can I go now?" he asked anxiously.

"No, you have to wait here for that to heal before you can go outside again. It will be a few hours."

Anakin scrunched his eyes tight, frustrated.

"Could you hand me my belt please?"

He held out his hand then fished the com out from a small pouch.

"What's wrong?" came Padmé's soft voice immediately.

"I have to be here a few more hours. Are you alright?"

He shifted on the bed and looked down at his leg.

"I'm fine. I've got enough protection, don't worry."

"Alright, well I'm here if you need me."

They ended their call without any more platitudes. Anakin was with the doctor and Padmé was surrounded by the soldiers he had sent, they couldn't say "I love you" without any more people finding out about them.

He put his comlink down beside him and nodded when the doctor left him alone.

Now he could focus on the bright red skin and try to speed up its healing with the force.

To be continued...