Title: "Salvation" Chapter (3/3)

Written by: Shawn

Summary: The public and private lives of Anakin and Padmé Skywalker are about to change forever.

Category: Drama Rating: PG Ship: Anakin/Padmé

Timeline/Spoilers: Everything is canon up until Anakin's arrival at Palpatine's office during the Mace/Palpatine duel in Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith. It's AU from a certain moment there on throughout the rest of this story.

Disclaimer: Lucasfilm owns the right to everything and everyone.


My personal archive: http/groups.

Special Thanks: Always and forever to Master Jennifer and Master Anne for their help and support. bows before my Masters

Authors Notes 1: This story is not set in the "Hearts and Souls" universe.

Authors Notes 2: I have always assumed the Clone Wars lasted at least three and a half years; so keep that in mind when reading this story.

Authors Notes 3: This chapter picks up two and a half months after Chapter 2.

Put love first. Entertain thoughts that give life And when a thought or resentment, or hurt, or fear comes your way, have another thought that is more powerful -- a thought that is love. --Mary Manin Morrissey

To love means not to impose your own powers on your fellow man but offer him your help. And if he refuses it, to be proud that he can do it on his own strength. --Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

Personal mastery teaches us to choose. Choosing is a courageous act: picking the results and actions which you will make into your destiny. - Peter Senge

The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another's desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together. - Erma Bombeck

Hyperion Medical Facility The thirty-ninth floor. Padmé Amidala-Skywalker's private room Galactic City, Coruscant

There was no darkness here.

No misery.

No conflict.

No deceit.

No shadowy presence ever threatening the light.

And no fear.

Nothing cruel or devious or even the hint of evil.

Before Anakin sat the single purest joy he had ever known in the form of his precious wife. She was thoroughly exhausted and still the most beautiful woman in the galaxy as she held their newborn children, one cradled in each arm. Her luminous smile lit up the room, and her mood was simply euphoric.

It matched his own. His nightmares hadn't come true. His life hadn't ended. His wife and their children were alive, healthy and here for him to glorify and always take care of. The future wasn't written nor would the past be forgotten.

Anakin could breathe again.

Thirty minutes ago the birth had been particularly difficult for reasons unknown. Padmé had weakened a great deal all of a sudden and then... Nonetheless, as always, they pulled through together.

Padmé had every intention of asking Anakin exactly what happened at one point just after Leia was born, but that could wait for later. This was a family moment. The best of her entire life.

Their sweethearts were wide-awake and looking for some attention.

Nestled in a pale-blue sleeper, Leia yawned while staring up at her father. She was every bit as awestruck as he stared back at her. Smiling down at the incredible wonder of his child, Anakin gently brushed her soft dark hair with his fingers. Leia was pink from head to toe and already she had captured every square inch of his heart. She was six and a half pounds of the greatest gift he had ever been given.

Luke seemed as enthralled with his mother as his father was. Anakin's eyes were focused on Padmé from their son's matching pair. He was cute, cuddly and picture perfect with his very light colored hair and matching pale-blue sleeper. "I knew you were inside me, little one," she whispered to her son and then pressed a gentle kiss to his temple. His wiggling amused her to no end. Already impatient as his father, or, at least in her mood, she thought so. Her eyes lifted to her beloved husband, her lips curling into an impish smile. "My motherly intuition was right. I knew I was carrying a boy."

"Hey, I was right too. This little lady is testament to that."

"Your evidence was that if the child kicked hard it had to be a girl. You were lucky."

Bending over to ghost a light kiss on Padmés lips, Anakin added, "How about we settle on being lucky together?"

"How about you tell me what you did when..."

"Padmé, please."

His expression hid something not entirely secretive, as much as something he'd discuss soon enough. Just not right now. She sensed his utter happiness and saw no reason to place a damper on that. He knew she wouldn't let this go anyway. "I'll take a rain check."

"You are so beautiful." Anakin smoothed another soft kiss over his wife's cheek. "I love you so much." He then kissed his son, who gurgled something of a reply, and then his baby girl's little balled up fists. "You make amazing children," he complimented while wearing a smile so wide it seemed to light up his soul. "They are spectacular. I just can't even..."

He was so sweet he didn't know what to say at all. That was as cute as it was a balm to her spirit that she could please him. "You had a hand in this too you know." Padmé looked on as he carefully caressed his fingers over his children's faces and thought her heart would explode with joy. True, she was sore, tired, and a bit overwhelmed, but none of that mattered because her husband's love for her and their family was so powerfully tangible in the way she felt it that she swore she could see it lift around him. "Do you want to hold them?"

His eyes widened and he seemed to want to speak, but wasn't quite sure what to say. He seemed to think it over for a moment. Padmé thought of the warrior within him, only months removed from a war he fought for over three years. From that lifestyle to this one had to be a strange adjustment. "It's okay you know. You can do this."

"I want to hold them," Anakin stated without a hint of doubt, albeit a bit nervously. "I just... I don't want to drop them or anything."

Padmé laughed at his caution. "You'll be fine. We'll do one at a time, and Leia is closest to you. Take her and support the back of her head. It's easy; I promise you." As careful as she had ever seen him do anything, he lifted his new daughter into his arms. Tears stung Padmé's eyes as she cuddled her son a little closer while watching his father hold his sister. This was worth all the pain and suffering and loss they had endured to reach this moment. Their family validated their struggle. This was worth everything and far more than that.

"Hello Leia." Soft coos and squeaks of an age-old baby language provided her end of the conversation. Anakin gently nuzzled his face next to hers and marveled at having felt nothing so soft as baby skin before. "I'm your father." Saying those words seemed to echo in his mind as the sheer gravity who he was now cemented itself inside his head. When Leia's tiny little hand grasped his finger so tight, he couldn't help but fall in love with her all over again. "Your mom and I are so happy that you and your brother are here." His lips pressed the top of her head again while she wiggled in his arms.

Padmé could not stop kissing her little boy. "As much as I love you and your sister, the constant kicking and punching was driving me crazy."

"Now you two can kick and punch each other." Padmé's subtle quirk of a brow caught his eye. "Until your mom tells you to stop," he quickly amended. Mrs. Skywalker then cleared her voice. "How about we forgo the kicking and punching altogether."

"Aggressive negotiations aren't something you two will learn about for some time."

"In either of the term's meanings," Anakin winked at his wife as he remembered a heated argument on Naboo in the Lake Country some seven and a half months ago that ended in some very passionate "aggressive negotiations". Looking back on that night, it more than likely was when his children were conceived.

Padmé saw Luke becoming a little fussy. "Come around and hold your son, honey. He's getting jealous." Anakin took a deep breath, whispered "I love you" to Leia, and then looked to his son. Padmé graciously accepted her baby girl back, and then waited until Anakin came around to the other side of the bed. He gently lifted Luke from her.

As he began rocking their son, Padmé felt their connection immediately. It wasn't in the least that he loved Luke more or Leia less.

It was something infinitely familiar that joined father and son.

The Force was already with Luke. Within him. Around him. A part of him, through and through.

Anakin could not take his eyes off of his son. Children were truly miracles. He understood that now.

"I've witnessed so many unimaginable things throughout my travels, son. From the cockpits of Jedi-fighters I've seen war and death and things your mother and I pray you will never see. But nothing at all compares to looking upon you and your sister with my own eyes." He then gazed at his angel, now holding his other little angel. "I want you both to know that I love your mother more than anything else in all the entire universe. More than my own life. That's the same way I love the both of you, and that will never change."

His beautiful words only solidified what was already unbreakable. The absolute love she held for him alone. "Mommy loves daddy too. More and more every day."

As Leia began yawning and she was adorned with more kisses from her mother. Padmé sighed happily. Whatever the future held, their family would face it together and thrive no matter what came their way. The only thing that could have made this moment better was if she could have delivered the twins on Naboo as she had planned. But after Senator Bail Organa's nomination and subsequent winning of the election to be named the new Supreme Chancellor, she had to be on hand for the historic vote.

Just before Supreme Chancellor Organa took the oath of office he offered Padmé the position to serve as the Galactic Senate's Vice Chair. A very lofty position for sure and one coveted greatly in the political world. Vice Chair was two seats from being the Supreme Chancellor.

Padmé had not given him an answer as of yet, and he graciously gave her three months to decide if she would take the position. She greatly appreciated the opportunity and felt she could do the job justice, but the scandal of a secret marriage between a well-known Senator and a famous Jedi Knight was the talk of Coruscant for months now. Luke and Leia's birth wasn't going to lessen the gossip hounds' hunting them. Bail countered by stating that if the HoloNet truly felt her marriage was a bigger story than the Senate electing a Sith Lord as the Supreme Chancellor and having him in office for years, or the things the Jedi Council withheld from the Senate, or the recently ended war then their priorities were in the wrong place. Plus, with a wry grin on his face, he said he wasn't above a bit of scandal himself. The job offer stood.

Padmé planned to talk things over with Anakin on Naboo once they were settled.

"... might make jokes about R2 having a loose wire, but I assure you that daddy knows R2 does not have any loose wires at all. Daddy can fix anything, you know."

Father talking to son warmed her heart. If only Shmi had lived, Padmé considered. Alas, their quiet moments alone seemed at an end as a commotion of some kind began to erupt down the hall from her private room. Padmé saw lights filtering in through the blinds and thought she heard Obi-Wan's voice shouting at someone.

Anger swelled within Anakin's chest when he heard ravenous HoloNet news reporters yelling questions at Obi-Wan and the medical staff on hand. Captain Typho's voice carried above the shouts as well.

Anakin placed an apologetic kiss upon his son's brow, and then handed him back to his mother. "You and the babies need your rest. I'll handle this."

"Leave your light saber in here."

An almost whimsical grin lifted his face. "You're joking, right?" Padmé slowly shook her head. With some hesitation, he unhooked the light saber from his tunic and laid it on a small dresser next to the bed. "There."

"And the other one."

Being totally honest with your wife wasn't something Anakin was sure was the absolute best idea. When he began carrying two sabers in recent weeks, as his attempt to create a new saber fighting style intensified, he had told her all about it. Reaching inside his robe, Anakin removed the second hidden light saber and placed it beside the other one. "Better?"

"No Force-choking either."


"Do not Force-choke the press. We have enough things written about us as it is." Padmé laughed again when she thought she heard him mumbling "... never let's me Force-choke anyone."

"I heard that." The slight rise in her voice alerted the babies, who began sniffling. Padmé held them closer. "It's okay. Daddy won't Force-choke the press. He doesn't want mommy choking him after all."

The hallway ceiling-lights glared off of the mirror-reflective dome shells covering the twelve HoloNet droid-cams. They hovered amidst a crowd of news-hungry reporters. Their presence immediately spoiled Anakin's good mood as it signaled that even his best efforts to keep Padmé's delivery location a secret had failed.

The so-called 'News story of the millennium' was as potentially dangerous as it was an invasion of their privacy.

Shutting his eyes as he entered a calming Jedi meditative state to purge the fast growing red rage, Anakin waited outside his wife's room. Emotions aside, he quickly assessed the situation. He knew he'd have to move his wife and the children to a new location immediately. He wouldn't take chances with their lives, and he knew they still had enemies out there. There were powerful, vengeful enemies who were promised their wildest dreams in exchange for aiding Palpatine in his quest to build a Galactic Empire from the ashes of what was to be the former Republic. Now the owners of the banking clans, along with five other very influential organizations that were all being heavily investigated by the Jedi, were being closely watched by the Senate and losing millions in Republic credits by the day sought retribution.

The influentual, opinionated Senator and the most dangerous Jedi in the Galaxy. The faces and deeds of those responsible for Palpatine's co-conspirators' troubles were broadcast nightly on the HoloNet's endless array of programming channels. So far no incidents had occurred, but the Jedi were warned by 'underground connections,' and those fearing for their own lives, that there were huge bounties on Anakin and Padmé Skywalkers' heads.

What was worse, there were dark whispers that kidnapping the Skywalker child carried a 'name your own price' offer.

If Anakin had his way, he'd annihilate them all before they had a chance to strike. If he knew where those people were who plotted death against his family, he would bring that same death to their doorsteps and show them and anyone else why attacking the Skywalkers meant losing everything, including your life.

Alas, that was not the Jedi way... but that was Anakin's way. The way of a father and husband who intended to take each threat to heart and end it before anything was attempted. End it permanently and in a violently bold way that would scare the Force out of anyone else who might be entertaining similar thoughts.

Casting his eyes down the hall Anakin watched as Captain Typho and nine of his men held a large assembly of HoloNet reporters at bay. The species with longer reaches or tentacles were already trying to get around the guards, as well as questioning them. Obi-Wan stood just behind, offering a curt 'No comment' to each and every inquest thrown his way.

Wearing an amused gleam in his eyes, Anakin knew his Master hated the press like the Sith and had as little to do with them as possible.

Nonetheless, he was trying.

As any good husband and father would, Anakin felt an overwhelming need to protect his family. But deeper still he warred within himself at the best way to do that. Part of him knew Padmé was right when she said that the HoloNet reporters were going to say anything about them anyway, so there was no need to give them any statements or interviews where they could further twist their words against them. His intelligent, practical wife used common sense as well as her wealth of experience in dealing with the press.

Anakin had another answer to their problem. One simple meeting with the HoloNet Board of Directors to inform its members, in no uncertain terms, if any pictures, video, or false documentaries aired on any of their channels they would answer to him personally... and would not at all enjoy the discussion.

Suffice to say, Padmé nixed his idea as soon as she heard it. So fast in fact that he couldn't help but to laugh.

The current situation, however, was no laughing manner.

Anakin finished his brief meditative state when Obi-Wan finally noticed him, and then back-peddled. "Good evening, Master."

Obi-Wan nodded his greeting. He had been summoned here only an hour ago. "I've kept the hounds at bay as long as I could," he smiled as the euphoric sense of wonder his former Padawan exuded came over him as well. He leaned in closer and asked in a quiet tone, "Please tell me you didn't bring your lightsaber out here?"

Anakin's glare held no real annoyance. "My wife took it."

Holding back a smirk, Obi-Wan slowly rubbed his beard. "And the other one?"

"Are you two talking behind my back?"

"We're just looking out for you. Headstrong has been used to describe you in the past."

"What would I possibly do with my lightsaber in a hospital hallway?"

"Oh, I don't know. You might ignite it and begin threatening reporters' lives while destroying all the HoloNet droid-cams, thus justifying your current Holonet-spread persona as the angry, reckless Jedi who romanced, married, and had two children with the esteemed Senator from Naboo in secret, killed the Sith Lord Supreme Chancellor Palpatine in his office, and was removed from the Jedi Council and suspended indefinitely for breaking the Jedi Code."

Anakin quickly pointed out, "You were suspended too."

"And whose fault was that?"

"I never asked you to keep your suspicions to yourself."

"You never confided in me what you were doing either."

"Well, I... I didn't tell anyone else either."

"The droids knew!"

"So you're jealous of C-3PO and R2?"

"A droid with a loose wire knew before your best friend," Obi-Wan said with a straight face, and then shut his eyes and shook his head. He knew his former Padawan was smiling. He did himself after a moment. They could go from the most heated argument to something so silly in no time at all. "How is Padmé doing?"

Anakin's joy could barely be contained. "She's wonderful," he replied. "She and the babies are perfect. Just perfect."

Such a brave new world Anakin had entered that Obi-Wan knew so little of, and now found himself harboring a deep curiosity. "Congratulations," he offered before he rested his hands on Anakin's shoulders. "This is a momentous occasion that should be celebrated."

"And it will be just as soon as we can get Padmé and the children out of here."

Obi-Wan shifted his stance and looked back down the hall. Even more reporters had arrived. He had little doubt all the exits were being staked out, and there were probably shuttles fit with engine repulser emission detection technology that would be capable of tracking any ship that left the hospital. "I don't think that's going to be easy."

The growing numbers gathered began shouting at the two Jedi. Obi-Wan had to hold Anakin back from raging down the hall to engage them.

















And then there was silence.

As if a gentle wave of something invisible to the eyes filtered throughout the hall, minds were changed. Expressions altered into a sort of blank stare for everyone in the crowd. A pin drop could be heard, and then the sounds of HoloNet droid-cams smashing into the floor. Each began smoking as sparks flew from their exhaust ports.

In every direction except the one facing Padmé's private room, the reporters walked away as if they could have cared less about what was going on, as if they couldn't even remember to begin with. They simply vacated the floor, exiting toward the nearest turbo lifts. Captain Typho and his men had no clue what had happened.

That was when Master Yoda's hover chair appeared from the closest turbo lift. The legendary master only spared the merest glance at the HoloNet droid-cams when he passed by them.

Anakin had never been more grateful to see Master Yoda. "Thank you master," be bowed in respect.

"Master," Obi-Wan acknowledged as the hover chair levitated alongside them.

"A beautiful day, this is," Yoda nodded his head with his hands folded comfortably in his lap. "The welcoming of children into the world is a blessing of the Force. Joy fills my heart for you and your wife this day, Anakin."

"Again, thank you master."

"Over news of your children's birth, overjoyed is the Jedi Council. Understand we do this moment where your priorities are focused here. Nonetheless, speak with you soon, we must."

Looking to his Master for a brief time, who appeared as genuinely surprised as he was, Anakin couldn't help but wonder what this was all about. "I was suspended indefinitely pending the Jedi Council's evaluation period. If the Council wishes to strip me of being a Jedi I would hope an official meeting wouldn't need to take place. I will walk away if you ask me to."

Wisdom, which came easily to Obi-Wan, would still take a time with Anakin. The Chosen One's gifts of the Force would see him one day become the most powerful Jedi ever. Yoda had sensed that in his presence ever since Palpatine's death. He need only temper his inner guard with patience. "Walk away, the Jedi Council will not ask you. The Skywalkers, summoned are they as soon as the Senator is well enough to travel."

'The Skywalkers,' Anakin pondered? "You wish Padmé to be present as well?"

"And your children," Yoda added. He sensed Anakin's anxiety as well as that of his Master. "Decisions that will affect every Jedi, the Council has reached. Easy, they were not. Change, the evolution of life is. The Jedi, change have we not for far too long. With you and yours, we wish to begin. A more powerful statement we could not make."

"And what of Master Obi-Wan?"

Yoda angled his hover chair toward Anakin's former master. "Your suspension, lifted it has been, effective immediately, Master Obi-Wan. The morning session, the Council expects you to attend. Your seat awaits you."

As if a weight lifted from his shoulders, Obi-Wan bowed. "Thank you Master. I will be there."

"Good. Very good." Master Yoda addressed Anakin again. "The northwest 60th floor exit, Jedi are there. They await to escort you safely to whatever your destination. Intrude no longer I will on this family occasion." He glanced between master and student. Brothers now and forever. Yoda and the other Jedi Council members were only just beginning to accept that connection. The times were changing indeed.

"I will talk with my wife and her personal medic. We will make arrangements within a day."

"May the Force be with you both."

The trio bowed respectively, and then Master Yoda left them behind. Anakin exhaled a breath he didn't even know he was holding. "Do you have any idea what this meeting is about?"

Obi-Wan's expression could be read as unsure. "I haven't a clue. When I was suspended I wasn't made privy to any of the meetings the Jedi Council held as they evaluated themselves and the whole of the Order. I'm in the dark as much as you are." A woman clearing her throat caught his attention Dorme came from around the corner with three of Padmé's assistants.

"Excuse me, Masters," she greeted both respectfully, though her lovely brown eyes rested a bit longer on Obi-Wan. She then turned to Anakin. "Anakin, would it be possible if we visited with the Padmé?"

"Of course. She'll be happy to see all of you." Anakin held the door open for them as their smiles widened brightly when they saw Padmé resting with the children in her arms.

Before he shut the door, Anakin reached out to Obi-Wan's shoulder. "Come in, Master. Let me introduce you to my children."

Speechless, he had taught this man all that he knew and now the student was about to begin teaching the Master. Obi-Wan looked forward to the lessons to come. "Let's go."

Five Days Later

Padmé's apartment Located in the Republic Plaza Galactic City, Coruscant

Luke and Leia finally fell asleep.

Watching his wife give him the finger-to-her-lip signal for silence as they quietly crept out of their children's bedroom was as amusing as anything Anakin had seen before. Padding around barefoot was her style, and when she accidentally stepped on a baby toy the wincing face she made was priceless. He was at her side that very instant, gently covering her mouth with his hand while slipping the other around her slender waist to lift her off her feet and out of the bedroom.

Once they were clear he switched off the light and then with a wave of his hand quietly shut the door.

Anakin set Padmé down and had to force himself not to laugh at her minor discomfort. While wiggling her foot she appeared far from pleased and glared at his obvious smirk. As the minor ache faded she began smiling herself and then brushed past him on the way to the kitchen. "Okay, fine. I'll wear house shoes from now on."

"Are you okay?" Her expression answered 'are you kidding.' Still, he knew she appreciated it enough that he asked. "How long do you think they'll sleep?"

"Hopefully as long as possible." Padmé stretched her tired arms out as she rounded the island toward the food refrigeration unit. The droids were having their mid-day recharge down the hall. "I need a few hours of rest before I lose my mind."

"If you'd just let me..."

"Ani, I am not gong to allow you use to the Force on our children to make them sleep longer. It was bad enough you diverted Luke's little accident with it yesterday."

That scene was perhaps the funniest thing Anakin had ever seen. "My son tried to pee in my face when I removed his diaper. I had to do something."

"He didn't try. He couldn't help himself."

"Luckily, my good Force-reflexes spared me."

Her arms crossed as she stared at him. "And diverted his accident at me."

"Yes, well..." He hoped his sly grin would soften her mood. She had a sweet spot for him but didn't find what happened humorous in the least.

Sending his most sheepish smile her way, Anakin offered, "I'm sorry."

No reply. Nothing.

With her back to him, Padmé removed one of the double-layered sandwiches and a slice of Morderian pie from Dex's Diner they'd had delivered last night and then poured herself a glass of Shaak milk. She felt her husband's envious eyes upon her but paid him no mind. She stood in front of the island and sat her plate and glass down. When he invaded her personal space so close that she could feel the warmth of his breath sweep across the nape of her neck she did her best to ignore the sensation.

He didn't utter a single word.

He didn't need to.

Whether anyone believed the HoloNet Entertainment Channel's recent proclamation that he was the sexiest man in the universe or not, his sex appeal was undeniable. No one was more aware of that than Padmé. He towered over her as commanding as he was dangerous. He wasn't only the most powerful Force Being in the galaxy, he was one of the most feared men alive. Wild, untamed, and as anti-authority as they came.

And yet, with his undivided attention focused solely on her, Padmé lifted her hand to caress his cheek with her fingertips. Those waterfall blue eyes of his shut slowly as he was tamed by her touch alone. All was forgiven, unimportant as it was to begin with, in that instant.

"I won't use the Force to divert pee anymore. I promise," spoken in as serious a tone as he could muster. Hearing her laugh at his awful pun was just another sign that she loved him. She leaned into his side and rested her head on his shoulder.

Of all the strife and angst they'd faced in recent years this flash of levity was simply intimate.

Padmé sighed when he pulled her to his chest. She felt his chin rest affectionately atop her head and the strength of his arms circle protectively around her. "Ani, you make me so happy,"

"That's what I live for." No greater truth gave his life meaning. Mastery and power and position carried no worth at all without her in his life. And now the blessing of two healthy children had nearly filled the hole his mother's death left in his heart. "I'm so tired of changing diapers," he complained with a chuckle.

"The projectile spitting up is what gets to me. Sometimes I think Luke is using the Force."

"Those middle of the night feedings are brutal."

"Nursing two children is tiresome work."

"I still say if you let me fit C3PO with some new arms he'd be able to help more."

"It's enough that his voice soothes them. He can rattle on forever, and they listen and hang on his every word." Padmé noted her husband's sudden interest in her sandwich. She thought she heard his stomach growl a moment ago. "Cut it in half."

"I could use my lightsaber."

"I think this," she handed him a knife. "Will suffice." Her sarcastic grin complimented his bashful smile. He cut the sandwich in half and handed her one. They shared the milk, cake, and a quiet moment alone devoid of babies crying, spitting up, burping, crying, needing to be changed, crying to be held, and a few moments of cute giggling.

The quiet was the Skywalkers' friend. They certainly hope he'd be around more often.

Their snack aside, Anakin yawned beside Padmé. It was contagious as his wife yawned a moment later.

"You're tired."

"I am." She didn't try to hide it for once. She knew he was exhausted as well. "Ever since we brought Luke and Leia home we haven't had more than four hours of sleep straight. My mother told me this was how it was going to be with infants."

Padmé's handmaidens were more than capable of helping and longed to do so, but she wanted that connection only parents could make with their children in those first couple of weeks. Anakin followed her lead in that regard.

Placing the dish and empty glass in the sink, Anakin returned to Padmé and took her hand in his. "Let's get some rest while we can, milady."

"You'll hear no argument from me." As he led her to the bedroom she saw this as an opportunity to get an answer to a question that had been bugging her ever since she gave birth. He wasn't going to avoid answering her any longer.

Padmé checked the baby monitor's video feed next to their bed before slipping in under the thick covers. Anakin snuggled in and wrapped his arms around her waist. The days seemed to go on without a merciful end during the war when she wished that she could curl around her husband in bed and fall asleep. To just have him close enough to touch and listen to so that she knew he was alive. "Ani, I want to ask you a question, and I want an honest answer, okay?"

Lying on his side, Anakin faced his wife and sensed what this was about long before she did. "I will."

"While I was delivering the twins there was a moment when... I can't really explain it, but there was this incredible weakness that came over me. It wasn't exactly painful..."

"It was painful," Anakin interrupted her and then swallowed deeply. "It was painful and potentially harmful to you. I can't say I know what it was or how I knew it was going to happen, but I did."

So he didn't have all the answers after all. For some reason that made Padmé feel better. "It was as if suddenly I didn't feel it anymore. The weakness faded away."

"That's because I took it from you." Anakin remembered a sort of leeching sensation in the Force that attempted to drain her life force. He fed it off of himself until she was out of danger and then willed it into oblivion.

Padmé didn't seem shocked as much as very curious. He wasn't quite sure he could explain it. "I sensed something in the Force that seemed to be draining your essence for lack of a better word. I seized that pain before it could hurt you and took it upon myself."

"I thought you were grimacing because I was crushing your hand."

"It hurt pretty bad." He quickly added, "You almost crushed my one good hand."

His attempt to switch gears failed. "Why didn't you tell me about this sooner?"

"I was afraid," he admitted. "There are so many things I can't explain about me, and now that's extended to you. I don't have a father and..." he paused for a moment. "I've come to live with the mysteries of my life. But when they apply to yours I can't face them. I can only remove them, so that's what I did."

She carefully considered his words as always, his heart. Destiny, however much she hated it, had a plan for them. She couldn't shake the feeling that they somehow averted a tragedy, but that fate wasn't quite done with them yet. "You were meant to be there," she said without truly understanding why she said it. It was a feeling more than anything else. "You had to be at our children's birth. If you weren't..."

"Don't even say it."

Fear wasn't something Padmé often saw in his eyes. She leaned over and tenderly brushed her lips over his in a soothing kiss. "Our family is healthy and safe. That's all that matters. Everything else will work itself out in time." She lay halfway over his body and reveled in the solid feel of him.

With her small hand drawing slow circles over his chest, Anakin shut his eyes and pictured a happier future than their tragic past. "Just think. In four days we'll be back on Naboo."

It was a pure joy to her soul that he loved her homeworld as much as she did. "I can't wait. To be on Naboo at the Lake Country this time of year with our children and my whole family is such a blessing." At the mention of family she felt a subtle swell of sadness come over him. She knew its origin. "Shmi would be so proud of you."

Could he hide anything from her? Would he even want to? The answer would always be no. "I hope so."

If the case were otherwise it would kill him.

"As I get older I keep thinking I'll miss her less."

"But you miss her more."

"In a different way," he added onto her statement. "I wanted her to know how amazing you are and to hold her grandchildren in her arms. She would adore them with all her heart." His lips found her temple for a kiss. "I struggle to recall the sound of her voice sometimes."

Having been born into slavery wasn't what burned her husband's soul at night. What he perceived as his failure to save his mother from that life did and always would. That was one wound Padmé knew would take a very long time to heal, if ever. "I truly believe somewhere, somehow, she's watching over us all right now and she's happy. She's so proud of the man you've become and the choices you've made. She's in a good place, Ani. She may not be with us physically, but she'll always be with us. Every single time I look at you or we look at our children we'll see Shmi."

Anakin couldn't hold her any closer or love her more than he did. "You're so good to me."

"You deserve it, Ani."

He gazed into her beautiful brown eyes and said, "I love you, Padmé. More than my own life." She whispered the same back to him before another soulful kiss. He slowly massaged her lower back, and the serene smile she wore lifted his spirit. "Do you think you'll want to leave Naboo?"

"I don't know what you mean?"

"If you wanted to stay for good, I'd be okay with that," he declared. Judging from the way she was looking at him he knew she was searching for the hidden meaning of his offer. "I love Naboo. I could never object to making a home there."

"Moving to Naboo now would be a perfect ending to our story in a fairy tale sort of way, but in real life there is still so much suffering and pain and corruption that trillions of beings across the galaxy are living through each day. There's still so much work to be done." His nod was for her benefit but not in a way that meant he didn't agree. No, there was much more to this than that. "Why do I get the feeling this has nothing to do with Naboo?"

"We meet with the Jedi Council tomorrow," he reminded her with no small amount of reservation.

Whether she took the position of Vice Chair, remained the Senator representing Naboo, or took any of the five job opportunities with political influence offered to her, he might have to live on Coruscant as someone less than a Jedi. Something he wasn't at all familiar with. The Jedi Temple loomed in the distance from the apartment's veranda. It would be a constant and painful reminder of who he longer was should things not go his way tomorrow.

Padmé had no doubt that all of the times Anakin offered to walk away from the Jedi to be with her, he meant it. But meaning it didn't come with any less pride in being a Jedi. It was a matter of priorities, and he never had an issue with placing her first above all else.

She knew being a Jedi meant the world to Anakin. Just not more than she did. Third in his life, he coveted what he felt he'd earned during the Clone Wars. He sought Obi-Wan's pride in his accomplishments. He wanted to honor his mother's memory, not by the dark deeds of his hands one angry night at a Tusken Raider settlement but across the galaxy by using his gifts to help people.

Padmé understood it all. "Tell me what's on your mind?"

"I would never allow my status as a Jedi to interfere in the work that fulfills you. I would never stand in the way of that. I want you to pursue whatever it is that inspires you and makes you feel like you're making a difference in peoples lives. I know how important that is to you."

"You sound as if tomorrow is a foregone conclusion."

"If they make demands to take the children immediately to be trained we already decided that I would walk away. We discussed a number of scenarios that would not be acceptable to us. All of them would see me walk away from the Order. I can't believe..."

"That everything will turn out alright?"

How did she have more faith in the Order than he did? "It's a lot to hope for."

"Look at that baby monitor over there. That's a lot to hope for," she pointed out. His lips curled into a smile at the thought of his children. "Tomorrow will be whatever it will be. Regardless, our family will be fine."

"And in danger every single day if we return to Coruscant." He hadn't wanted to have this particular talk with her not because of any belief that she hadn't the courage to deal with it, but that it would forever be their worst nightmare. "Returning to Coruscant to live here will be a non-stop media circus for some time to come. And if you remain or take a new office it will never end. The invasion to our privacy and the danger to our children will increase."

"The same can be said if you remain a Jedi."

She had a point, reluctant as he was to admit it. "There will be those who will want to hurt us through Luke and Leia. They will be targets. People will try to kill them," he spat out the vile words knowing they had to be said. Padmé seemed to think it over and then took a deep breath. "I don't mean to scare you, angel, but I won't lie and make it seem as though there will be no danger. Or that the danger won't be extreme."

"I haven't lived a life without the possibility of a danger to mine since I was a child. I wouldn't know any other way to live."

"But neither you nor I have lived with it as parents before."

"Then tell me the name of a world, any world, even Naboo, where those who would want to harm us wouldn't ever travel to, and I'll make plans right now for us to relocate there permanently."

"If something happened to Luke or Leia I wouldn't be able to take it."

"Neither would I. But living in secret or hiding out or disappearing with new identities, all of which we've discussed, won't solve anything. We can't do that anymore. Our enemies, whoever they are, want us to live in fear. They want us to alter our lifestyle and run from them. We can't do that. We have to stand up to them and live life on our terms. We have to remain strong and defiant. We'll take the best security pre-cautions we can, just the same way Bail and his wife are with the baby girl they just adopted."

"If I discover that someone is plotting against us..."

"Then if the proper channels to end the threat fail you are free to handle it as you see fit." Years ago she would never have gone along with such a thing. She was no fool when it comes to her husband's abilities or his darker side. But any threat against her children wouldn't be tolerated.

"If I'm not a Jedi I won't have the protection and support of the Order."

"If you are not a Jedi are you any less of a man? A husband or a father?"

"No," he sighed. "Of course not."

"Then come what may, we'll face it together." She took his face in her hands and looked deeply into his eyes with all the love and trust in her heart. "You're all we need. You're all we'll ever need. Just as you are today."

She could humble him so easily and spark his drive and determination like no other. "I will protect you and the children, Padmé. Never doubt that."

"And I will protect you and the children as well." His smile was exactly what she was looking for. "There are two of us in this, Ani. You have to remember that."

"I do. I will, I mean. I'm a work in progress."

"It's okay," she snuggled against his neck. "You're my work in progress."

Anakin yawned again. "We should be sleeping while we can."

"Is that a subtle way of saying you don't like talking with your wife?"

Her soft voice carried with it the early signs of dozing off. "Let's take a nap."

"You didn't answer my question, Ani."

His eyes shut as soon as he pulled her closer. "We have no idea when the babies will wake up. There's no time to discuss this as a committee."

Padmé yawned just before she fell asleep, "I am not a committee."

The Next Day

Padmé's Royal Starship Approaching the Jedi Temple Galactic City, Coruscant

In its purest essence, to be a Jedi meant sacrificing a life of self inorder to serve the people for the rest of one's days.

Unified by its belief and observance of the Force, the Jedi were the guardians of peace and justice throughout the galaxy. They proudly served in thename of the Galactic Republic for over a thousand generations. Every planetary governing body that existed respected them. From one corner of the universe to the other they're held in the highest esteem imaginable.

The Jedi are humble servants of the people. They're warriors for a civilized age. They shall not covet wealth, nor power, nor love. They shall not fear, nor experience passion, nor share the bond of marriage to another person.

To be a Jedi is to be above all of that. Want and need are words removed from a Youngling's vocabulary at a very early age. To understand and have the innate awareness of why one was born with the gifts of the Force was the backbone of what it meant to be a Jedi.

Thousands upon thousands have been trained, and yet only twenty ever left or were removed from the Order. Only twenty. The Lost Twenty...

Despite his best efforts, the number twenty-one firmly resided in the back of Anakin's mind as he sat beside his wife onboard her personal starship. Padmé had expressed an eagerness to get behind the controls of her ship again, but he surmised that she probably didn't think he'd be up to flying today. He hadn't slept well last night and had been a bit impatient with her. When they woke up this morning his apologies were accepted, as she understood what had been on his mind. She knew the stress he was under.

"... a Geonosis droid factory. That disgusting place was as dreadful as I knew it would be. That was the first and last time I followed R2's lead into a dangerous facility..."

C-3PO's distinctive voice carried near the front of the ship as he told the barely awake twins some of the adventures he'd had ever since he first stepped foot on a starship. Dorme was back there as well, tending to the children. Oddly enough, the morning hours were Luke and Leia's most quiet time of day.

As the colossal height of the Jedi Temple loomed in the distance, Padmé did her best to give her husband the space he needed. Forcing him to talk wasn't the way to deal with him. She felt his restlessness over their meeting with the Jedi Council. What was worse, what she hated most, she sensed his fear. Whatever did he have to truly fear? She sought to remind him of that. "Ani?"

"Yes?" he asked without looking up from the data pad he was reading.

Padmé reached for his flesh hand and then twined their fingers. When his gaze fell upon her, she hoped he realized he wasn't alone. Sometimes he had to be reminded of that. "You're my hero," she declared simply enough. The hint of a frown he wore softened into something of a more relaxed expression. "You're my champion," she confided in a whisper meant for his ears only. She felt his adoring love for her swell and enjoyed the shared sensation. "You're the love of my life, and I will never love another."

"Even if all I am for the rest of my life is Anakin Skywalker, a pilot from Tatooine?"

"I would still want to spend the rest of my life with you if you were Anakin Skywalker, a nerfherder." She sensed his peace of mind slowly return due to having her love assured. "Relax, honey. Think positive."

"For you, I'll try."

The Jedi Temple stood alone in a private sector of the planet-wide city. It towered above all other structures, a grand beacon of security and strength for the Galactic Republic. The temple's five spires housed multiple chambers, but it was in the outer spire that the Jedi Council convened.

That was the Skywalkers' destination.

Compared to the modern skyscrapers of the megalopolitan planet, the Jedi Temple's ancient design gave off a majestic quality. Padmé descended the starship at a lower velocity, angling towards the visitors' docking bay on the north spire. She sat the craft down smoothly. "It's now or never."

Through the starship's cockpit hub, Anakin recognized two female Jedi approaching from the open hanger bay. He lifted his wife's hand and pressed a kiss on her knuckles. "As long as you're with me..."

"Always," she reminded him as they stood together. They walked to the back of the ship and checked the graviton settings on Luke and Leia's individual hover-carriages. The soft hum signaled the levitation device was working as it should. Padmé took the small remote in her hand.

"Shall I stay with the ship, Milady?" Dorme asked.

Padmé adjusted Luke's blanket. "Yes, Dorme. The droids will remain as well. Thank you."

As if time were winding down on the life he once had, Anakin watched the landing ramp slowly lower as the doors opened. At this altitude he felt the wind blustering before he was even out of the ship. Padmé told him that the hover carriages were ready. "Let's get this over with."

Anakin followed Padmé and the hover-carriages down the ramp as their Jedi welcoming party approached.

"Greetings Knight Skywalker and Senator Amida..."

"Senator Skywalker," Padmé politely corrected the Jedi.

"My deepest apologies," the female Glorian Jedi ducked her horned head, as did the Padawan by her side. "Welcome to the Jedi Temple. My name is Kyloth." She graciously stepped aside. "The Jedi High Council is assembled. They await your presence. Please follow me."

Having not uttered a single word, Anakin held his peace as they entered the hanger and then made their way through to a huge corridor lined with statues of legendary Jedi that led to a row of turbo lifts. They took a turbo lift up four floors and then began walking a path Anakin could have traveled in his sleep.

Each Jedi they came into contact with bowed graciously.

On this floor were two gigantic Force-training chambers where dozens of Younglings learned how to hone their abilities. It seemed everyone in the temple was aware of what was taking place this morning as the curved glass domes were filled with rows of curious Younglings watching the Skywalkers' arrival while chattering amongst themselves.

As often as Padmé had wanted to visit this extraordinary structure, she found herself uninspired as well as lacking any of the interest she previously had in touring it. If her husband was neither respected nor welcome in these hallowed halls then she felt she had no place here either. At least the babies were sleeping comfortably. The quiet of the temple was good for them.

They took a final turbo lift and then found themselves in the centermost sacred section of the Jedi Temple's north spire. They passed the chambers that held the original manuscripts of the founding Jedi, the Council of Reconciliation, the Council of First Knowledge, and the Reassignment Council.

They reached the last chamber at the end of the hall.

"Breathe," Padmé whispered to Anakin. She wore a small smile in hopes of calming his nerves.

"I'm working on it."

When they came to the entrance of the Jedi High Council chambers, its ceiling-high twin doors slowly opened to a light so brilliant one had to look away momentarily. Their Jedi escort excused themselves.

The circular Council chamber, with its twelve seats for the twelve Jedi Masters who served were all occupied except one. That was the first thing Padmé noticed as she stood beside Anakin in the center of the room, with the hover-carriages behind them. Before them sat Jedi Masters Ki-Adi-Mundi, Depa Billaba, Eeth Koth, Saesee Tiin, Yarael Poof, Oppo Rancisis, Plo Koon, Yaddle, Obi Wan Kenobi, Mace Windu and Yoda.

"Masters," Anakin greeted them with a respectful bow, as did his wife. In trying to read their faces he could only come up with a sense of their own anxiety. He had no clue what that meant. Obi-Wan was actively Force-shielding his thoughts as well. That was very curious indeed.

"The Skywalker family, we welcome your presence before our Council," the ancient and revered Yoda acknowledged them from his seat. "A long time, we will not keep you. Aware we are of your trip to Naboo. A time of joy it is."

A fellow senior member of the Jedi High Council, Master Windu spoke next. "The Jedi Council has held numerous private meetings for weeks now to thoroughly assess Palpatine's rise to power, Anakin's discovery as the Chosen One, and our part in all of this. The Jedi Code has come into serious question, and as our internal investigations went forth we discovered a number of things we did not expect to find. Ultimately, this Council recognizes its substantial role in Palpatine's plot."

"What we have come to realize is that our teachings have become stagnant, as if the journey of life and understanding through the Force ended when one became a Knight," Master Koth explained. "Respected Knights of the Order were interviewed and given the opportunity to speak candidly. They all expressed a listless growth in our knowledge of the Force."

"Unwilling to change with the age we live in, the Council has been," Yoda added with no small amount of regret. "The Jedi Code of old, necessary it was at the time of its creation. Written a thousand generations ago, it was. Ability they have granted every Council after that if they so chose, alter the Code they could. None ever have." With a weary shake of his head, Yoda sighed. "Abandoned us, the Force threatened to do, and still we blamed the Sith. Ourselves, we refused to look upon as the true culprit. But no more. Learn from our mistakes, we must. Begin today, we shall."

Master Windu continued, "Effective immediately, any children found to have a midi-chlorian count high enough to become a Jedi will have up until age twelve to be voluntarily sent by their parents to the Order for training. No longer will the children be taken at birth. The Force wishes us to make no demands of anyone, and we won't anymore."

Yoda emphatically stated, "The deepest commitment and the most serious mind, of almost any age if one applied themselves, Jedi could they become. Quite the lesson you've taught us, Anakin."

Anakin glanced at his wife, who seemed as pleased as she was genuinely surprised at this turn of events. "I believe that is a wise course of action."

"So do I," Padmé interjected.

Having spent decades teaching against this, Mace accepted at long last that the time for change had come long ago. At least now the Jedi Council was catching up. "While there are many layers of interpretation when it comes to the Jedi Code, one of its most ardent rules were that a Jedi couldn't love. But love is determined only in the romantic sense, as compassion, kindness, and trust are forms of love as well. We on the Jedi Council have chosen to alter the Code by removing that aspect. Jedi are now free to pursue romantic relationships and even marry if they choose to do so. Each and every Jedi will be judged individually on his or her own merits." He continued, "Anakin, for over three years you performed your duties as a Jedi Knight above and beyond what was called for during a time of war, and never once did your love for your wife interfere with your sworn duties. That wasn't easy for this Council to recognize, but recognize it we have. Marriage is no longer forbidden."

Yoda further admitted, "Learned we did of a great many hidden truths our Jedi kept to themselves. Your situation, more than one we discovered during our investigations."

Anakin's stunned silence had more to do with feeling a bit overwhelmed by these sweeping changes than anything else. As for Padmé, ever mindful of her surroundings and details others failed to pick up, she considered that curiously empty Council chair and the changes to the Jedi Code which affected them most of all led her to hope for a positive outcome. In addition to that, she knew Obi-Wan was Force-shielding his thoughts but couldn't Force-shield his attempt to hide a grin.

"A Padawan learns by training and example from his or her Master. But it is the Master who truly learns from the Padawan what it means to be a Jedi. Teaching the Force in a way that says we know its every facet takes our powers for granted. No one will ever know everything there is to know about the Force," Master Koon concluded. "It is important that a Master show a Padawan that even one granted mastery is still a Padawan before the living Force. The quest for knowledge and understanding is a never-ending one. To that end, each Master on this Council will take a Youngling of our choosing as our Padawan."

"Students of the Force, we are once more," Yoda declared as much to the whole of the Jedi Council as to their guests. "In talks with Supreme Chancellor Organa, a personal liaison to the Galactic Republic, he felt was needed. Mistrust has festered between the Jedi and the Senate for far to long. To that end, named we have Master Kenobi as the official eyes, ears, and voice of the Jedi Order. Respected and trusted, he is."

"The trust this Council places in my abilities is greatly appreciated," Obi-Wan commented from his chair. "While I've never been a particular fan of politics, I understand each and every one of us must do our part to mend the fences, so to speak."

"With all due respect," Anakin drew the attention back to himself in a way he hoped was not offensive to Obi-Wan. "Why has the Council requested my presence and that of my family?"

Mace sensed Anakin's restlessness. So much like himself once upon a time. "Anakin, not only did you save my life, but you destroyed the Sith as the prophecy said you would. You averted no less than the absolute genocide of the Jedi Order. You ended the war. And you accomplished those things despite Palpatine's dark influence. It speaks admirably of your character. Your deeds during the war spoke well of your courage. Your ability to manage all that you had to deal with at the same time, with all of the outside and personal influences, spoke highly of a new age of Jedi. An age we are about to enter."

As Master Windu rose to his feet and drew his lightsaber, so did the other Masters. They all ignited their blades at the same time and aimed them at Anakin. "By a unanamous vote of the members of this Jedi High Council, mastery is granted to you, Anakin Skywalker. Your life as a Knight has ended. Now and forever more you are a Jedi Master."

Such pride and joy filled Padmé's heart that she could barely contain it all. A joyous expression lit up her entire face as she tilted toward her husband, whose look of shock began to fade as he adjusted his robe. He sent a smile his wife's way and then took a step forward, fell to his knees, and bowed his head. "Thank you, Masters. This is a dream come true. I... I am at a loss for words. Thank you again."

"More there is to say, Master Skywalker." Yoda recalled how unbelievable he felt the very first time he heard a Master refer to him as the same. He sensed Anakin's euphoria as well. "As this Jedi Council seeks to better itself in the future, more than the voices of old, we will need. We offer to you, Master Skywalker, a seat on this Jedi High Council. An equal Master, with equal voice, you would be."

Obi-Wan allowed his Force-shielding to dissipate. He experienced such personal pride in sharing this moment with his former Padawan. To see him ascend to the rank of Master was all that he had hoped for.

Still a bit in awe over all that had happened, Anakin exhaled a deep breath and then rose to his feet. He walked back to his wife and stood beside her. "My wife and I are traveling to Naboo to spend time with her..." Padmé cleared her throat. "Our family," he smiled. "I would like to ask for at least a month's time to decide if I will take the position."

"Granted, as it was expected." Master Windu hooked his saber. "The Jedi Council has a meeting with Supreme Chancellor Organa in one hour. We thank you for your appearance. This meeting is adjourned." He strode over to the man he once mistrusted a great deal and extended his hand in friendship. They shook hands as equals. One after the other, each of the Masters congratulated Anakin until only Obi-Wan and Yoda remained.

"Master Kenobi, excused you are from the meeting. A month's time off has been granted to you as well."

"Thank you, Master."

"Senator Skywalker." Yoda bowed and then piloted his hover chair from the chamber.

Obi-Wan stood to the side of his friends, allowing them a moment of privacy... and intimacy. He couldn't and didn't try to make out the soft words Padmé spoke to Anakin as she held his face with tears in her eyes. He felt the undeniable connection they shared, it was beautiful and wondrous. And when he looked up once more they were kissing softly.

Kissing in the Jedi Council Chambers. With a quiet chuckle, Obi-Wan pictured Qui-Gonn's unruly grin somewhere in the grace of the Force.

"You deserve all of this, beloved," Padmé told him from the bottom of her heart. She shut her eyes when the tears fell, as he caught each and every one with his thumb and brushed them away. "I never doubted this day would come. You are the Chosen one, after all."

"I am your husband first of all," he reminded her before hugging her so tight. He peered over her head to his former Master. "How long have you known about what they were going to do?"

"I was briefed forty-eight hours ago," Obi-Wan replied with his hands behind his back as he approached the couple. "It wasn't easy avoiding you, but I knew that you had your hands full."

"Saying this is a surprise would be a massive understatement." Anakin held Padmé to him as he gazed at his surroundings. Mastery... he was a Jedi Master now. And offered from Yoda himself an equal seat among the Jedi High Council. That chair right over there, between Master Koon and Obi-Wan. If he accepted the post he would be seated right there. His name would forever be addressed as Master Skywalker.

Padmé lifted her head just a little to gaze at her handsome husband. "If you want to accept the offer today I won't mind."

"Thank you, but no. We'll decide on Naboo the way we planned too." Just then Leia began waking up. Her precious baby squeaks woke up her brother, who quickly made his presence known as well. "Come here little one." Anakin scooped up his infant daughter and began kissing her face all over. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Padmé lifting Luke in her arms and whispering something to him.

"... he's just a big softy."

"You're making fun of me."

"Oh no. I'd be much to frightened to tease a Jedi Master." Words from their past turned upside down. She snuggled Luke against her face. Anakin regarded her with such adoration she wished she could share it with the entire galaxy.

"I told you that patience would see you achieve all of your goals," Obi-Wan reminded his best friend.

"You also recited the Jedi Code to me daily."

Obi-Wan took in the scene before him. "Judging by your wife and two children, it's a good thing you never listened." Anakin rolled his eyes.

"Leave him alone, Ben." Padmé was one of a very select number of people who knew him by that name. He didn't mind when she called him that in the least.

Anakin pressed another kiss to Leia's tiny fingers and then leaned over and brushed his lips across Luke's forehead. This was one of the most special moments in his entire life and to be able to share it with his wife and their children, along with his best friend was more than he could have possibly hoped for. "Padmé?"

"Yes." Anakin gently placed Leia in her mother's arm and then led her over to the chair that was meant for him.

"Sit down, please."

Padmé did as he requested. "Okay, now what?"

Anakin slowly back-peddled to the center of the room and took in the incredible sight of his wife sitting in his Jedi Council chair while holding their children. He knew he would never, ever forget this moment. A snapshot for his soul. Now he finally felt his mother would be proud.

Padmé looked to Obi-Wan and then back to her husband. "Ani?"

He was speechless. All that he could do was smile and breathe.

"It's okay, Padmé. I think he has a loose wire." Obi-Wan's former Padawan's glare wasn't the least bit lethal. "What?"

Anakin shook his head as he walked past his former Master. He stood before his family with his arms across his chest and felt that he had found the peace he had long sought for his restless spirit. That he needed no more than this for the rest of his life.

"What are you thinking about?" Padmé asked.

"That I now have three angels in my life. And how lucky I am."

"Varykino" The Naberrie family home in the Lake Country Naboo

Everything seemed brighter and far more beautiful on Naboo.

Seated on the grass in the retreat's expansive backyard area, Anakin clenched and unclenched his right hand a couple of times for his nine and seven-year-old audience. Ryoo had the courage to touch his hand first, and then her younger sister Pooja poked his palm with the tip of her finger. They sat in front of him with the most curiously interested expressions on their faces. "It doesn't hurt, you know."

Pooja leaned in for closer inspection. She took his hand between her smaller ones and squeezed. "It isn't hard anymore." She ran her finger over his knuckles. "It's soft like it used to be."

"Some very tall and smart people on a planet called Kamino gave me a new arm," Anakin explained to her.

Ryoo's brown eyes lit up. "Kamino? I read about that world at school. It rains all day and night there, doesn't it?" Before Anakin could answer Pooja interrupted.

"When you go next time, will you take us with you? Pleeeaaaase?"

Pooja's legendary pleading-face tugged at the Jedi Master's heartstrings. "We'll see," he replied. Padmé would have listed in a very sweet and paternal way why they couldn't travel across the galaxy with her at this young age. As for Anakin, he took great satisfaction in being the uncle who broke the rules and winked with mischief. He also snuck them sweets inside his Jedi robe when they weren't supposed to have any. He was now their favorite uncle ever. And it didn't matter one single bit that he was their only uncle.

"You don't have to wear that long black glove anymore, do you?" Pooja examined his fingernails and felt for his pulse.

"No, I don't have to wear that anymore." Anakin noticed that they seemed pleased to hear the news but were still a bit somber about the whole thing.

After spending most of the morning fawning over their new cousins, Ryoo and Pooja had decided they just had to see their Uncle Ani's new hand. Aunt Padmé had said it was good as new. With so many people around them, Luke and Leia weren't falling asleep so Anakin volunteered to take Sola's kids outside for a little while.

Still holding his hand, Pooja's cherub-like smile emerged. "It feels just like a real hand, Uncle Ani. It won't fall off, will it?"

He tenderly brushed aside some of her curly hair. "No, it won't fall off. What the smart people did was something new that they had been working on for a very long time. I wanted to have a real arm again, so I went to them, and they gave me this one. I've only had it for two days." He wiggled his fingers and marveled himself at the sight and feel of it. He truly felt whole again.

With her head tilted to the side, Ryoo gently traced a finger down his forearm. There was a purplish bruise-like ring of discoloration where his arm had been separated years ago. "Is this someone else's arm?" Her uncle shook his head. "Will you need to get a new one if it gets hurt or infected? I was bit by a bug one time, and it was itching me so bad I wanted another arm."

She was such a sweet child that Anakin couldn't help but to imagine how his children would act one day at her age. "If I get hurt, or anything like that, a medic can treat me like anyone else. I'll be fine." Little Pooja scurried over and climbed in his lap while Ryoo held his hand.

Through the curtain of her straight brown hair, Ryoo looked from his arm to his face. "Uncle Ani? Would you be mad at me if I told you that I thought your robot arm was cooler than your new real one?" Pooja nodded too.

Shrieking with glee, Ryoo soon found herself yanked toward her uncle and tickled along with her sister as they rolled back on the grass and began wrestling each other. The joyous laughter of children filled the air as surely as the endless clear bright sky.

Having easily won their tussling match, Anakin sat up on his knees while holding his giggling nieces in his arms. He adored them to no end. They were flushed and laughing and seemed to think the world of him. "I won't be mad at all if you like my robot arm better," he assured them with a smile. "I could never be mad at either of you. I love you both dearly and forever."

"And even longer than forever?" Pooja grinned all her perfectly white teeth. When her uncle nodded, she hugged him tightly. "Okay, Ryoo. Ask him." When she saw her Uncle Ani's eyebrows raise she buried her face in his shoulder.

Ryoo wrapped most of her upper body around his left arm and gave him her very best smile. "Once every twenty standard days our teachers at school ask all the children to bring one thing with them from home that they know a lot about. We have to stand in front of the class and tell all about it and answer the other students' questions."

"Tell him what happened with Sanani?" Pooja begged excitedly.

Anakin remembered that Sanani was Ryoo's pet Voorpak. The poor animal she constantly dressed up in dolls' clothing. This was going to be interesting.

Something of a bashful blush fell over Ryoo's cute face. "The last time I had to take something from home to talk about I brought Sanani with me. I didn't know that Jucia..."

"A very mean boy," Pooja grumbled. "With bad breath."

Ryoo frowned when she remembered the boy's breath. "He brought a big Zaro horn and blew it when I was holding Sanani in front of the class. It scared Sanani really bad, and he ran all around the room knocking things over. He caused a big mess. Then he accidentally did you-know-what on the teacher's desk. She was very displeased with me." Unlike her mom and dad, who both told her not to take her pet to school, Anakin laughed hard when she recounted her story. That only made her love him more. "So I was wondering if you'll come to school with us tomorrow, and then I can tell my class all about you."

"Yeah," Pooja added. "You can go to Ryoo's class first and then come to mine. We don't have to act like we don't know you're our uncle anymore. You and Aunt Padmé are on the HoloNet every night and in all the papers. Now we can tell people that our uncle is the greatest Jedi Master in the galaxy."

Their youthful energy and sheer pride in him only deepened Anakin's affection for his nieces. He pulled them both closer for a hug and then hauled them down on his lap. "Are you supposed to bring people? I thought you had to bring something from home?"

"You've been in our home before," Ryoo countered, with her head resting on his shoulder. "And we know that you love our Aunt Padmé very much. You married her, and you're our uncle now. You even have babies," she giggled.

"And some of the students don't believe you're our uncle. I try to tell them every day that you are, but they don't believe me. But if you come to school with us we can show everybody, and they'll know we were not lying." Ryoo gave Pooja something of a glare, only to find a tongue stuck out at her. "I want the other kids to know that you're our Uncle Ani. Oh, and I want them to see you do tricks with your Jedi powers."

Ryoo nudged her sister. "I thought we agreed to 'only' tell him about the school thing?"

"Well, I forgot."

"You always forget."

"Don't yell at me. I'll tell mommy."

"I didn't yell."

"Ladies," Anakin drew their attention to put an end to their disagreement. "I'll talk with Aunt Padmé and your parents. If they don't mind I'll come with you to your morning classes, okay?" They wrapped their arms tightly around his neck. He suddenly wondered what Sola was feeding them.

Pooja kissed his cheek. "Thank you Uncle Ani."

"You're the best," Ryoo praised.

Anakin didn't mind their compliments one bit. Let them hero worship a little. He was their uncle and spoiling them every now and then couldn't be that bad a thing. Especially since he wasn't spoiled at all as a child. "Maybe we should be getting back inside now."

Ryoo glanced over Anakin's shoulder at the estate's back entrance and then all around the vast yard. She looked to her sister and saw exactly what was on her mind written all over her face. She bent down and whispered in her uncle's ear. "Can we go flying again? Please, pretty please?"

Before Anakin could utter a word, Pooja was whispering in his other ear. "No one will know. It'll be our secret forever. And when we go back inside I'll share my jelly sandwich with you. I promise I will."

The whole Naberrie family frowned on this particular request. Nonetheless, Anakin didn't mind bending the rules for them and was sure enough in his abilities to take good care of them. Calmly, he reached out with the Force to sense anyone's presence nearby. Finding nothing, he instructed them to stand.

Ryoo and Pooja were jumping up and down already in anticipation. Of all the benefits in having a Jedi Master as an uncle, this was their absolute favorite. When they wanted to go flying they didn't mean in a starship. They meant it literally.

Anakin took a deep cleansing breath and then settled himself in a meditative pose. He extended his palms toward his nieces. Undone by their excitement, he couldn't help but to share in their exuberant mood. He surrounded them with the Force as their feet slowly lifted off the ground and their arms spread out like bird wings.

Ryoo and Pooja rose and then dipped forward so they were floating in mid-air with their legs extended.

Controlling them with his hands, Anakin concentrated on slowly flying them in a circle over his head as their joyous glee couldn't be contained. He separated them a little and followed the movements of their hands as if allowing them to guide themselves. They soared and laughed and made bird-like noises as they flew no more than six feet off the ground for about ten minutes all over the yard.

The first time their Uncle Ani did this was in Pooja's bedroom nearly a year ago, and they thought it was the coolest thing ever in the history of anything that was cool. They were so loud as they flew around the room that when their parents came racing down the hall and saw them they weren't pleased in the least. They worried that Anakin might somehow drop them, as any parents would. He promised he wouldn't do it again but had done so twice already.

Pooja and Ryoo were his little sweetheart nieces. They could always get their way with him. He doubted that would ever change. Nor did he want it to.

"Okay, alright, young ladies," Anakin called out as he gently guided them upright and then back down on their feet. They scampered toward him for another big hug. "Did you have fun?"

"It was great, Uncle Ani." Ryoo panted as she held onto him.

Pooja blinked a couple of times. "I'm a bit dizzy, but I loved it."

"I'm glad you had fun." Anakin took their hands in his as they walked back toward the estate. Naboo had always been synonymous in his heart with joy and peace. A paradise far away from the strife that was his day-to-day existence. That was never more true than right now. His amazing wife and their beautiful children were surrounded by their whole family. Everyone was healthy and together. For this brief moment in time he sought to enjoy the here and now instead of worrying over the future.

Before they reached the back entrance of the estate, Obi-Wan appeared in the doorway. He appeared relaxed and strong. Jobal's breakfast this morning more closely resembled a feast than a meal and no doubt when another guest arrived he was offered the same.

"Master," Anakin greeted his good friend.

"Master," Obi-Wan returned the respect and then bowed before Ryoo and Pooja, "Miladies."

"Good morning Master Kenobi," Ryoo and Pooja said together while waving at him.

Pooja turned to her uncle. "I miss Luke and Leia."

"Me too," Ryoo added. "Let's go see them. I bet I can make them smile before you can," she said to her sister

"Not before me." Pooja chased after her sibling.

"Hold on a second." Anakin crouched down on one knee before his nieces. "The twins might be sleeping. Find your aunt before you run into the nursery, okay? Ask her if it's alright to see them. Promise me?"

"We promise," Ryoo said while Pooja nodded her agreement.

Obi-Wan sidestepped the two running children and then approached his former Padawan. He stretched his arms out as the warmth of a noonday sun cast upon him and inhaled the clean air. "I haven't slept that late in years," he commented as the two men took a walk together. "Naboo is truly amazing."

"It's home," Anakin stated simply as the shimmering lake that surrounded the small island came into view over a small hill. "When I'm here, I feel at peace."

Anakin's eternal, restless soul faded away on Naboo. It was a sight Obi-Wan had longed to see for many years. "Thank you for inviting me on your family vacation. I think I needed the time away more than I realized."

Anakin knew that no two Jedi had experienced the stark brutality of war from one end of the galaxy to the other quite the way they had. Three and a half long, hard years of nearly non-stop missions left them mentally and physically exhausted. And that was before they returned to Coruscant after the vicious Outer Rim Sieges. "We've certainly been through enough in the last couple of months alone to warrant leave time."

"That's putting it mildly," Obi-Wan chuckled under his breath. They crossed the garden and saw Pooja and Ryoo through the window of Luke and Leia's nursery. Apparently the twins still weren't asleep.

"You're uneasy, Ben. Relax."

Obi-Wan thought of the irony. "I see our roles have reversed once more."

"Things change."

"That they do." Obi-Wan peered out over the sparkling lake and sighed. He had come here to get away from Coruscant and regain his bearings. A new world had been open to him. One that involved a personal life he was raised to never consider living. However was he supposed to proceed? And when had Anakin come to know so much more than he did when it came to these matters? "I feel stuffed. I haven't eaten that much food in ages."

Anakin glanced back at the estate. He sensed Padmé in the kitchen snacking on sweet Juju bread. It occurred to him that she might have picked up on his "flying lessons" with their neices. "Is it safe to assume Jobal fed you?"

"She could feed the entire Jedi Order with her leftovers," Obi-Wan offered humorously. "She's a kind and pleasant soul. I see so much of Padmé in her."

"So do I," Anakin agreed. "All of the Naberrie women possess a luminous spirit. They're so compassionate and strong." He laughed to himself. "Unfortunately, my wife didn't pick up her mother's fantastic cooking skills."

"You had better never let her hear you say that."

"Padmé has the uncanny ability to take command of a packed Senatorial debate and hold her own against beings twice her age and who speak in advanced alien dialects. She can do all of that in a calm, even tempered tone of voice while intelligently expressing herself in a way that makes everyone feel as though their points of view are respected and valued while still bringing them over to vote her way. But ask her to bake anything and you might as well picture Master Windu with a full head of hair."

A wry grin came over Obi-Wan. "It's good to see your wit hasn't fled you in this time of domestic bliss."

Amidst their light discussion thus far, Anakin sensed a deep well of somber feelings come over Obi-Wan. "Are you going to tell me what's on your mind or do I have to use a Jedi mind trick?"

"I taught you those tricks, remember?" Obi-Wan's half-hearted attempt at a grin failed to reach its full potential. Instead, he moved forward with a more serious topic. "Pressing matters are upon us, Anakin."

"I'm assuming you are referring to the eminent and very public Senate trials of Intergalactic Banking Clan Chairman San Hill, Commerce Guild President Shu Mai, and Techno Union foreman Wat Tambor?"

Obi-Wan wouldn't have begrudged him for not keeping up with the news ever since the twins were born. Apparently he hadn't so embraced this brief moment of bliss that he ignored the outside world. One that was becoming far more dangerous by the day. "Three of the most powerful, wealthy, and reportedly deadly men in the galaxy are going on trial next week for committing atrocities against the Republic by aiding Palpatine."

"They assisted him in creating and waging the war. Obviously they will be found guilty, right?"

If only it were that simple. This was why Obi-Wan hated politics. "Nute Gunray has escaped prosecution for years. Now, I'm well aware that had a great deal to do with Palpatine controlling the courts, but this trial brings with it a whole new set of issues. Not only will a trial of this extreme significance be broadcast across the galaxy on the Holonet for the very first time, Jedi and Senators will be called to testify. The attorneys representing those three individuals will use any means necessary to keep them from facing execution. If that means threatening or outright killing witnesses as well as tampering with or destroying evidence, then so be it."

Anakin expected no less. "I'm sure they will use the argument that they did not know Darth Sidious was Palpatine all along and that they were just following orders."

"In addition they intend to make it known to the entire galaxy every secret the Jedi Council kept from the Senate during the years Palpatine served as Supreme Chancellor."

"They are going to discredit the Jedi," Anakin stated what he knew Obi-Wan was thinking. "I'm not surprised. Unfortunately, they have a great deal of factual evidence to present."

Obi-Wan pointed out, "As much as I detest politics and dealing with the media, a public relations nightmare isn't something the Order needs in this time of transition. As if that wasn't bad enough..."

"With the Order's new referendum that parents can choose to send children with high midi-chloran counts to the Jedi to be raised, there could be a sharp turn of events with the negative publicity the Jedi will receive during this trial. There could be fewer Jedi in the future."

"Change doesn't happen without consequences." Obi-Wan continued, "We are entering a new age not only in the Jedi Order but in the whole of the Republic. It will take many, many years to rebuild the trust and faith between the Jedi, the Senate, and the people."

"There's work to be done for sure."

Obi-Wan halted a step behind him. "Am I to assume you have reached a decision to join the Council?"

The note of hopefulness in his former Master's voice gave Anakin a sense of pride. He turned around. "Nothing official but soon."

Obi-Wan slowly nodded. "I noticed the extra security forces Captain Typho has stationed around the estate."

"Double and a half the normal guard." The hard lines returned to Anakin's face that very instant. "And that's just for our security on Naboo. If we return to Coruscant and Padmé becomes the Vice Chair of the Republic the guard numbers may double again."

"That worries you," Obi-Wan stated rather than asked. He didn't need to.

Anakin's fists clenched at his sides. "Whether we like it or not, Padmé and I are targets. A small group of Senators have already called for Padmé's dismissal or for her to resign her post as Senator. They think she was aware of the secrets the Jedi kept because of her marriage to me. They act as if purifying every connection to Palpatine, those who vehemently opposed and supported him, is what the Senate needs to move on from the scandal and shame."

"Politics is a dirty arena."

"No, it's the easiest thing we're facing," Anakin confided. "Those five bounties offered for Padmé's murder disgust me. If I can track their origins they won't liv..." His eyes shut as he fought to push aside the dragon's phantom growling. "My children are in danger, Obi-Wan. They always will be. It doesn't matter if Padmé and I retire here and live lives outside of the public eye or return to Coruscant and positions of such high rank, we'll never live a normal life. There are organizations out there that were going to take command of sectors full of planets under Palpatine's empire. Now they are being hunted. Sanctions have crippled their business, and no one wants anything to do with them due to the Jedi's extensive investigation. They have an ax to grind and it's aimed at my family."

Obi-Wan rested his hand on Anakin's shoulder. "Each day we live carries with it a risk, Anakin. Those that would do your family harm are cowards. We face their cowardice with courage and defiance. We plan, prepare, and remain ever vigilant. But we do not cower." He stood face to face with his friend. "We are Jedi. We don't fear."

"Didn't that change?" Anakin smiled at last.

"Not everything changes, you know." Obi-Wan's eyes followed the flight of a flock of long-winged Narian birds over the lake. "I can't believe what's happening tonight."

Anakin's eyes widened with surprise. "Don't tell me you finally decided to take Dorme up on her showing you around Naboo?"

That was another story entirely, Obi-Wan thought to himself. "I meant the HoloNet documentary on me."

"That's airing tonight?" Anakin knew he couldn't resist laughing at his expense? "Obi-Wan Kenobi: The Man, the Beard, and the Force." The title of the documentary embarrassed his former master to no end.

His former Padawan's sarcasm didn't help matters. "Thank you for your unwavering support."

"I'll watch it with you if you want?"

"I have no interest in watching it."

"Then what will you be doing?"

"Ask Dorme." Obi-Wan offered no more than that and a smile.

While sampling the same sweetness from her fingertips, Sola watched her sister dip her Juju bread in the steaming chocolate sauce just the same way she did as a child. Padmé wore a youthful smile reminiscent of an innocent yesteryear just before she ate a piece of the bread. Her "Mmm..." was oh so satisfying. The little girl who had been queen was now the Senator of their homeworld, the wife of the most talked about Jedi Master in the universe, and the mother of the two most precious babies just down the hall.

Wherever had the years gone, Sola pondered happily to herself.

They enjoyed the Naboo sun's golden rays cascading warmth through the angled windows inside this small sitting room just a few feet from the nursery. With Ryoo and Pooja apparently taking a nap, and their parents sitting with Luke and Leia, the sisters sought a quiet refuge where they could indulge themselves a little. There was nothing else in all the galaxy that tasted as good as fluffy sweet Juju bread dipped in warm chocolate sauce.

Sola, seated with her sister on a Wyverian Oak hand-carved bench that overlooked the garden, reached for another slice of the sweet bread. "When you were checking on the twins, dad told me the HoloNet just reported the Queen has offered to allow you to remain as Naboo's Senator if you wish."

Padmé tore another slice of Juju bread in half, revealing its soft yellow center. "I was told that wouldn't be announced for another day at least."

"It wasn't an official statement from the royal spokesman," Sola replied while dipping her slice in the gooey chocolate sauce. "More than likely word was leaked on purpose. The sway of the people has to be gauged at all times it seems. Naboo has become a mirror of Coruscant in that regard."

Whenever did Sola become wise about the ways of royalty and politics? Padmé was impressed. "Queen Apailana assured me my position was secure, but I know she has a short list of possible candidates to immediately replace me should public sentiment turn the other way."

"What makes you think that?"

"It's what I would do given the circumstances." Padmé took another drink of Norsha milk from her glass. "Queen Jamillia wasn't nearly as concerned with public opinion as Queen Apailana is. While I do not believe she will recall what she offered me, I would not be shocked either. She's had a brief history following media exit polls and making decisions at the last minute once a percentage of the populace had voted."

"Her advisors have a greater influence on her that I fear isn't for the best interest of Naboo so much as their own."

"There are still good people in her cabinet, and I have hopes that as she governs she will find the backbone needed to rule justly. It's going to take a while. I talk with her as often as I can, and she has an open line to reach me any time day or night."

"Queen Apailana could probably do without you even with Senator Amidala's honorable work and acclamation. After all, even you said there are some good people serving in her inner circle." Sola's comments weren't in the least meant as a slur against her sister's accomplishments but rather a gentle nudge toward the life to which she hoped Padmé would now feel drawn.

The true meaning behind what her sister said wasn't misunderstood. Sola refused to meet the glare Padmé sent her way. "We've discussed this before."

"Exactly," Sola pointed out in no way mean-spirited. "'Before' you weren't a mother."

Padmé needed no reminder of that. As if her mother hadn't gone over this with her for the longest time last night. "I enjoy the life that I lead. It's more fulfilling now than it's ever been before."

"But it's so dangerous." Sola hated making Padmé feel guilty over how much her family worried about her, but she felt she had no choice. "You received death threats before you experienced your very first kiss. An assassin tried to murder you twice before you fell in love for the very first time. You'vemade a number of powerful enemies and political opponents who would love nothing more than to hurt you through your family. Surely you must be giving serious consideration to a life free of such threats?"

"Such a life doesn't exist for me, Sola." Padmé was mindful of where this all originated. Her sister's dear love was never in doubt, but her naivety on the current situation was an issue. And it would never be an easy one to deal with, not when her heart was in the right place. "Anakin and I have made enemies who do not care if we live here on Naboo out of the public eye in a two room hut or if we are the toast of Coruscant's powerful elite. The day-to-day precautions we take to protect our children and ourselves can't be cast aside because of a new address. In addition to that, while we haven't made any diehard decisions yet, we abhor the thought of anyone believing he or she wields so much power over us that we would abandon the life we chose to live out of fear. I have lived and will continue to live with more courage than that."

"Your courage is an admirable trait, sister. But, no matter how you explain it, a life of normalcy on Naboo would be far safer than the life of the Galactic Republic's Vice Chair whose marriage to the galaxy's most controversial Jedi Master ever would be."

"Even if that were the case I refuse cower in fear. I will not hide my face from those who would threaten my family. If we decide to go back to Coruscant and resume our lives we would want to be an example to people that doing the right thing might not ever be easy or safe, but it is what people of character and courage do." Padmé added, "I would never want Luke and Leia to read about this time in our lives and see that their parents chose to turn a deaf ear to those in need of help who have no voice. That would break my heart." A serious silence hung between them until her sister regarded her with an understanding nod that was greatly appreciated.

"You... you have a little smear." Sola pointed to the side of her sister's lip and smirked at Padmé's suddenly blank expression. She handed her sister a small napkin and when the offending bit of chocolate sauce was gone all Padmé could do was duck her head in embarrassment.

"The sauce is sticky," she defended herself, hardly in the commanding voice she used in the great Senate Hall but in the tone of a whiny younger sister just for old times sake. "I can eat without making a mess."

"You've picked up Anakin's bad habits."

Padmé laughed at the truthfulness of that comment. "My husband lacks a caring for good table manners. I have been helping him though. He even listens... sometimes."

"A young man requires patience in a woman," Sola asserted with an air of confidence. "Darred was the same way when I met him. Every single time we went out to dinner he would have a stain of some kind on his shirt. He ate with his hands as had all six of his brothers. It's taken many years to make him presentable."

"My Ani's going to be a tough one to fix. He just wants to shove food in his mouth at a rapid pace. And he'll eat anything, Sola. He even loves Shaak meat." Padmé shook her head slowly. "I can't even stand the smell of it, and it's native to my homeworld. But he'll eat it covered in any sauce or spice that you have."

"Whatever would the young girls across the stars who voted him the sexiest man in the galaxy think of him chowing down on a plate full of deep fried Shaak meat the way he did last night?" Sola remembered fondly.

"They would be appalled," Padmé assured her while smiling. "Of course he hasn't stopped reminding me of the title they bestowed upon him." She looked straight ahead and set her shoulders high. She attempted to mimic his voice. "Padmé, the sexiest man in the galaxy would like a back rub," she mocked him to the tune of Sola's uproarious laughter. "Padmé, the sexiest man in the galaxy wishes to be freed of his diaper changing duties tonight."

"You have got to be kidding me," Sola said.

Padmé told her that she wasn't in the least. "What do you say to him?"

"I simply remind him that the sexiest man in the galaxy is forbidden to own anything, and if he wishes to sleep in 'my' bed and eat 'my' food he better give me a back rub and then change Leia's diaper. He complied." Padmé relaxed her shoulders. "He's learning... slowly."

What joy and wonder Sola felt to be able to finally share stories of their relationships and the love in their lives with Padmé. For far too long she worried that her sister would remain forever lost in her work, never to know the bliss of sharing one's life with another. And now that old Padmé was nowhere to be found. "So have you kept up with the newspaper headlines lately?"

Mischief twinkled behind Sola's brown eyes. Padmé rolled her own. "I have tried to avoid them at every turn. They are salacious, untrue, and downright ridiculous."

"So what you're saying is that the headline reading 'Padmé Skywalker and Why Dating The Younger Man Is In' isn't one you'd be interested in?" Padmé actually had the nerve to steal her last piece of Juju bread. Sola tried to look appalled. "How about 'Sex in the Senate: Naughty Naboo Nights'? Did you read that one?"

"All lies, I assure you"

"What's your take on '101 Reasons Why You Can't Blame Padmé Amidala For Seducing Anakin Skywalker?'"

"It was the other way around, trust me." For the one-millionth time Padmé wondered why some people were so obsessed with those absurd tabloid magazines. Didn't they have lives of their own?

Teasing her sister was one of Sola's favorite pastimes. "When I was at the market I almost picked up 'Anakin & Padmé: Total Access and Totally Unauthorized.'"

"If R2 and C3PO didn't write it then don't believe it. They're the only ones who've been with us since the beginning."

"Did I tell you that I've been approached and offered a handsome sum by no less than nine HoloNet news agencies for an interview? So were Paddy, Accu, Teckla, and Nandi."

The estate's caretaker and two attendants were trustworthy, thankfully. Padmé sighed. "The media circus of sorts may never die down. And you know what the worst thing is?"

Padmé's groan only made Sola laugh harder. She knew what her sister was going to say. When she'd seen the commercial for an exclusive tell-all interview with a mysterious man from Padmé's past she just about fell out of her chair cackling when she saw 'his' face. "I'm all ears."

"When Dormé ran into the nursery and told me that Palo, of all people, was about to give an exclusive..." Padmé laughed right along with her sister. The artist who was the proud recipient of her very first kiss was always a topic of merciless teasing between the sisters. "Anyway, he's acting as if he learned some great truth or has an insight into the woman I am today because of the girl I was at age twelve. I had Moteé try to reach his office to contact him, but he never returned my inquiry."

"What did Anakin say?"

"He didn't say much. He wanted Palo's address." Padmé reached for her glass. "That would not be a good confrontation for Palo."

"I can only imagine."

The sisters had so few moments alone with one another over the last couple years that this was as welcome as it was seldom. Nonetheless, they found the bond they shared easy to fall back into. They were sisters after all. Different as night and day and yet the same.

Sola and Padmé looked up and were surprised when a yawning Pooja appeared in the doorway. "Aunt Padmé, please tell Uncle Ani I left him half a jelly sandwich on the food table." She looked to Sola. "I love you, mommy. Bye." She padded off just as quickly as she arrived.

Sola quietly resolved to give her youngest child fewer sweets from now on. That child just couldn't sit still. "I wonder what that was about?"

Padmé dipped the last piece of Juju bread in the chocolate sauce and then bit into it. She sensed what Anakin had done not that long ago. And she was sure he knew that already. Couldn't he follow even one rule? Would she love him as deeply as she did if he followed rules at all? Not in the least, she surmised.

"Padmé, you're glowing." Sola's compliment caused her sister to blush. "You look amazing."

"I'm very happy," Padmé exhaled softly. "I'm in a place I never thought existed for me. To have a husband and a family to love and adore is far beyond my wildest dreams simply because I never dreamed them. I had given and given and given so much of myself that I began to feel at a very young age that was the meaning of my life. And then I met a little boy on Tatooine named Anakin. My life's never been the same since."

"I saw an interview with a group of young girls who felt that your love affair with Anakin was the most romantic thing they ever heard. They live on pictures of the two of you together and collect any articles written about your marriage."

"The hero worship and the belief that we've lived a fairy tale disturbs me. Neither Ani nor I are perfect in the least."

"No one is. But when you're young you tend to over romanticize everything. To them you are the beautiful Senator who met her dangerously handsome Jedi Master and fell in love despite its forbidden fruit. Your love endured a war and months of separations, and yet you remained true to each other. You defied the Jedi Code itself because to deny what you felt would have been the greater betrayal. And now you are the proud parents of twins."

Padmé turned to her sister. "That's a bit simplistic and over dramatic."

"That's how many are viewing you and Anakin."

"Well, the other side of the coin seems to feel I am a horrible role model for young girls and that the Jedi Council is so corrupt and untrustworthy they will allow a Jedi who broke almost all of the Jedi Codes to become a master. Neither side of the story portrays reality."

"And yet you don't walk away."

"It isn't because being in the public eye holds any allure for me. Helping those who can't help themselves does."

Sola's chest swelled with pride for her sister. "You're an amazing role model for Ryoo and Pooja."

"If I am it's only because of the shining example I had in my older sister."

Sola leaned toward her. "You just want me to bake you more Juju bread, don't you?"

Padmé shrugged. "I debate. I don't cook." She reached for her glass and just before her hand reached it the glass slid two inches away from her. Thinking nothing of it at first she reached again. The glass moved further away. "My husband is such a big kid sometimes."

"I am not."

The voice came with no sign of her Ani in sight. Padmé was well aware of his age, although ever so often he refused to act it. Those silly carefree times were often as critiqued as they were amusing. "Hiding behind corners isn't conduct befitting a Jedi Master."

"And no Galactic Senator should ever look as beautiful as you do every day of your life."

Anakin certainly had a way with words. Padmé had long ago accepted that over the top romantic lines were his specialty. Even Sola had gotten used to him uttering dramatic compliments like that out of the blue. "I don't converse with men I can't see. Show yourself, Mr. Jedi."

When Anakin stepped into view Padmé drank in the delicious sight of him from head to toe. Sola noted how enchanted her sister truly was with her husband. She gazed at him with the eyes of a woman deeply in love and so assured of its equal return.

As Padmé had the ability to command a room's sole attention by the tone of her voice and a spectacular mind, Anakin accomplished the same by simply standing there. Years ago Sola saw him as handsome in a boyishly charming way. That boy grew into a man who now exuded charisma, power, supreme confidence, and an irresistible element of danger. The scar on his face in no way lessened his appeal. In truth, it only enhanced his natural good looks.

The irony of Padmé never having had a boyfriend before and then suddenly marrying a gorgeous Jedi wasn't lost on Sola. Her sister just kept right on surprising her. Hopefully that would never change.

"Are you just going to stand there?" Padmé dared to ask while unable to steal her eyes away from him. He just looked so damn good to her.

"I thought you might need a moment to appreciate the sexiest man in the gala..."

"Oh give it a rest," Padmé interrupted before he could go any further. She tracked his movement into the room as he crossed over to kiss Sola on the cheek, and then came to her. "Whatever will you do when the HoloNet anoints a new man with that title?"

From the thick luscious curls of her brown hair to her sensuous lips and that captivating air about her, Anakin knew he was born to love this woman and no other. Padmé, in his heart, encompassed the whole of the universe. "It won't matter one single bit because I'll still be married to the sexiest woman in the galaxy." He bent down to her soft lips and feasted for a short time on her breathless allure.

"Be careful now. That's how you got those two children down the hall," Sola teased.

Even as a well-known and quite powerful Senator, Padmé still felt self-conscious about kissing a man in front of her sister. The more things changed the more they stayed the same. "Speaking of those two..."

"They're sleeping comfortably with their grandparents watching over them." Anakin sat beside his wife. "I'm sure they will awake shortly and require feeding, holding, burping, and changing. For the moment I suggest we leave them be."

Checking on them was on Padmé's soon-to-do list. A mother just had to know. "Where's Obi-Wan?"

Sometimes Anakin wished Padmé wasn't so inquisitive. He knew as soon as he answered she'd get that knowing glint in her eyes. The one that meant trouble. Normally, he loved that look. But not in this case. "Ben is visiting with Dormé on the balcony overlooking the garden." Padmé's instant smirk didn't help matters in the least. "We shall leave them be, remember?"

Glancing at Sola, who knew of her hopes that Dormé and Obi-Wan's subtle attraction in recent months would blossom into more, Padmé settled against her husband's side. "Nature will take its proper course."

"Without any help from us," Anakin asserted in a way that was not to be defied. Of course he knew that was a mistake as soon as he said it in that tone of voice.

In Padmé's opinion, with some of the wild and crazy stunts Anakin had pulled in his life, he had some nerve to politely warn her not to interfere in Obi-Wan and Dormé's potential courtship. Decisions were the end of arguments after a compromise. An order simply did not exist in their marriage, "If I choose to lock them in a closet, I will. And if I seat them next to each other at the dining table, I shall. Furthermore..."

As Padmé went on and on Sola snickered behind the hand covering her mouth. It only made Anakin feel smaller. Of all the things Padmé disliked, being told what to do was at the top of the list. She was so much like him in that regard. "Let's just let them work this out on their own, alright?"

Her sweetheart understood when to back off. Indeed he was learning. Padmé smiled triumphantly. "Fine."

Not to be completely outdone in front of his sister-in-law, Anakin gently took Padmé's hand in his and then dipped two of her fingers in the small dish. Her sudden intake of breath complimented the faint blush that stained her cheeks when he inhaled those two chocolate covered fingers inside his mouth and slowly began sucking them clean. His tongue curled round and round until he had devoured every little bit. His blue eyes held her spellbound the whole time.

However, the sensation of his mouth devouring her fingers caused her to tremble and tingle everywhere. "Nice," was all that Padmé could utter.

"You didn't leave me any Juju bread. I had to dip with something."

A wicked sith's grin, a pledge of mischief and a lifetime promise that things would never be boring for them, curved Anakin's face. Thankfully, Padmé knew that no other woman had ever had him or ever would. He belonged only to her.

Sola often said when they were in a room together the rest of the galaxy disappeared. Anakin knew she had been staring at them the whole time. "Whatever have you and my wife been discussing this morning?"

Now if that wasn't an open-door opportunity then Sola never saw one before. "We were discussing that HoloNet news article '101 Reasons Why You Can't Blame Padmé Amidala For Seducing Anakin Skywalker'." Her sister's glare didn't register enough for her to stop. "She told me you seduced her. Is that true?"

"Hardly," Anakin pointed out in spite of Padmé's near shocked expression. "Do you remember the dress you wore the first day we arrived here at the Lake Country? I sure do," he leered in her ear.

With a polite push away, Padmé sought to set the record straight. "Might I remind you of the warm weather we have here on Naboo? I dressed accordingly that day."

"You wore that soft, yellow, strapless, backless down-to-here dress that revealed so much of your lovely skin I could barely breathe."

Tongue-in-cheek humor aside, Padmé felt she had to accurately remind him of the past. "I did not wear that dress to entice you."

"What other reason would you wear it?" Anakin challenged her. "I had seen many forms of appropriate attire for women from the moment we landed on Naboo but none so revealing as what you wore that day." He was pleased to add, "You set out the bait. However was I to resist?"

"You kissed me first!"

"You didn't pull away."

"And you touched my shoulder."

"I've touched Obi-Wan's shoulder before as well."

"You softly caressed my bare shoulder. If you've done that to Obi-Wan then I think there are a few things we need to discuss in private."

Sola was having such a good time at his expense. Nonetheless, Anakin pressed on. "You wore that dress to arouse my interest in you."

"You were already interested. You were the one who did that little trick with the fruit."

"So making fruit float is an act of seduction?"

"Don't forget the afternoon we spent at the meadow. You fell off that Shaak you tried to ride to impress me, and when I ran over to make sure you were alright, you grabbed me. You were dying to hold me in your arms." If ever there was a fact Padmé knew he could not refute, it was that one.

"You held on tight."

"But 'you' made the first move."

"I only reacted to your come hither smile. And it wasn't enough that you tried to make me jealous by telling me all about Palo. You were quite the seductress that day. I did the very best that I could to follow my mandate to protect you. I had no idea of your sensual plot." He maintained a straight face as they squared off.

If Sola laughed any harder she'd wake up the twins. Padmé could scarcely believe her sisters' reaction to their disagreement. "When we sat by the fireplace you were actively trying seduce me."

"I simply relayed to you my feelings as best as I could express them."

Padmé crossed her arms in a pose reminiscent of him when he wanted his way. "I am haunted by the kiss that you should never have given me. My heart is beating, hoping that kiss will not become a scar. You are in my very soul, tormenting me."

Sola just shook her head, grinning wildly.

"You remember what I said word for word?"

When Anakin had the nerve to wiggle his brows it only incited Padmé more. "You were seducing me that night."

"I was fully clothed, while yet again you pulled another very tight, tempting, strapless down-to-here in the front dress out of your bag of tricks."

Appalled best described Padmé's facial expression. "I didn't have a bag of tricks back then!"

Anakin peeked at Sola over his wife's shoulder. "She was planning to have her way with me. I was the innocent Padawan trying to perform my very first assignment to the best of my abilities."

"Your memory is seriously lacking." Having heard enough, Padmé turned away from him. When she attempted to stand, he gently hauled her down across his lap. She didn't try to get away, but she didn't cozy up to him either. "You're just performing for my sister's amusement," she accused him.

"And what a grand performance," Sola added in a fit of giggles. "Thank you both."

Anakin inhaled the light scent of her perfume. Then he pulled some of her hair back and kissed the side of her neck. "Milady, would you care to take a walk with the sexiest man in the galaxy?"

After thinking it over, Padmé shifted in his arms and leaned in so close her lips were a fraction of an inch away from his. "I thought you told me Obi-Wan was visiting with Dormé?"

Sola just about lost it laughing at that one.

Anakin didn't react or say anything. He simply lifted his wife off his lap and deposited her beside him. Then he rose to his feet without sparing a glance her way. He smoothed down his tunic and robe, bowed before Sola, and walked away.

Sending a wink her sister's way, Padmé caught up to him in a couple of strides and looped her right arm through his left. "Pretending to be mad at me when it's simply not possible is unbecoming of the sexiest man in the galaxy."

"What am I going to do with you?"

"Spend the rest of your life with me."

"Yeah," Anakin agreed when he stopped in front of her. "I guess so." They fell into one long lingering kiss before making their way to the nursery to check on the twins. Now satisfied that they were comfortable and asleep, they entered the kitchen.

Anakin walked to the dining table and crossed his arms. "She only left me half a sandwich?"

The slight disappointment laced within her husband's voice was child-like in nature. Padmé watched him scoop the half-sandwich from the plate and wolf it down in two bites. It might be far to late to get him to eat with any maturity, but she silently swore her son would not follow in his father's footsteps. At least not in this regard. "Ani?"

Licking his lips, he graced her with a little smile. "Yes?"

"Why did Pooja leave you half of a jelly sandwich? They are her absolute favorite snack, and she's only allowed one a day." Guilt was written all over his face. He needed only to admit his transgression. Of course being the man that he was, he wouldn't.

"Uhm, she really loves her Uncle Ani."

"Especially when he takes her flying around the backyard via the Force." Anakin knew he was busted. That was why he ducked his head and didn't utter a single word in his defense. "Whatever am I going to do with you?"

"Remain in love with me forever."

"I think that can be arranged." Padmé reached for his new hand and twined their fingers as they strolled out of the back door onto a stone path that led to the garden.

Feeling in no rush at all, Anakin and Padmé traveled the long way around the estates vivid landscape as a peaceful quiet accompanied them. Lush green hilltops, plants and flowers bursting with rich color, and a brilliant clear sky were the order of the day.

None of that compared to them just being together like this. Out in the open, free of the lies told and secret rendezvous that marked the early years of their marriage. No more and never again was their rallying cry. This was their time. Their life would be lived on their terms and to the fullest.

This was their love. And it was going to last forever if they had anything to say about it.

Perhaps destiny and fate convened as one. Unconsciously, they found their way to the garden terrace overlooking the shimmering lake and the mountains rising beyond. The site of their very first kiss.

Both seemed to realize that the same time, though Padmé spoke of it first. "I did not seduce you here," she joked as they held hands.

"I am so in love with you."

He could take her breath away any time he chose to. The effect he had on her soul was nothing short of magical. "Must you be so sweet?"

Anakin wore a possessive smile as he took Padmé in his arms. "You deserve the entire universe and whatever is on the other side of life."

"I only require your love." She rested her head against his chest and shut her eyes, safe in his warm embrace. Her arms slipped around his waist inside his robe, clutching him to her. "I've come to a decision."

"The Galactic Senate could never elect a superior Vice Chair than you."

She wasn't surprised in the least that he knew what she had decided in advance. She lifted her head from his chest to explain. "There are so many reasons I feel I need to take the position. Foremost is that I want to. I feel that I could do a great deal of good in that position with that amount of influence. I feel that Bail will need my help, and I think he's going to make an outstanding Supreme Chancellor. I want to be a part of returning honor and justice to the elected officials of the Republic."

"That's a pretty lofty goal."

"But a very worthwhile one."

"Then do it. I feel there is nothing you cannot achieve."

Padmé knew she had more than her husband's unwavering love when he recognized her need to do this. She had his respect as well. "There's also the fact that Palpatine was a native of Naboo. He has left a horrible mark on its people. If I take the position and do a good job I can be a force to change the image he's left behind."

"And you would also be the first female Vice Chair in the history of the Republic."

"Yes, there's that as well," she admitted. "I do like the idea of Luke and Leia one day knowing that I blazed a trail for women in the Galactic Senate. That's important to me."

"You don't need my blessing, but you have it. I know you will excel at your duties and accomplish great things. I am very proud of you."

"That means the world to me."

Anakin softly kissed her forehead. "You're welcome."

"Now what about you?"

"Well, I've been looking into nerfherding and..."

"Be serious," Padmé asked politely in his arms. "You were meant to be a Jedi Master."

"I was meant to fall in love with you."

"Is it impossible to do both?"

"Only one matters the most in my life."

"Secondary goals need not be ignored as long as everything has its proper priority."

"Yes, but..."

"I refuse to ask if you want to take the seat on the Jedi Council when I already know the answer."

Refuting her claim would have been a futile gesture. "It's so strange when the one thing you dreamed of the most is finally offered to you, and you're apprehensive about taking it."

"The Jedi Council offered what you earned. No more and no less." Padmé felt that his worth as a man, a Jedi, a husband, and a father were incalculable. She only hoped that one day he would reach that same conclusion. "They need your outlook on the galaxy as it is today, your example as a Jedi, and your rapport with the people if they are to regain the Senate's trust. A new day has dawned, and new views are needed. I think you'd be such an amazing asset to the Jedi Order. I think you should take the position."

"If we do this it will mean many late hours and separations again when I'm on assignment. Then there's the media attention and the absolute lack of privacy we will have to endure. Let's not fool ourselves. If we thought it was bad before it's about to get infinitely worse."

"We won't be lying or hiding or out of contact with each other for fear someone will learn of our relationship. That's the difference. We'll do the very best we can and spend as much time together with the kids as possible. We will take every security measure that we can. What we cannot do is ignore the work that needs to be done, the abilities we have to do that work, or let our enemies feel they have defeated us."

His courageous Padmé, he thought as he tightened his arms around her. As long as she was by his side he knew that he could weather any storm. "The Skywalkers will not live in fear. We will return to Coruscant and the work of the people."

"I love you, Ani," Padmé whispered to him, her gaze overflowing with adoration. The sun had nothing on his smile. "You're my heart and my life."

"And you're mine," he whispered back to her. "You saved me. Your love led me out of the darkness."

"You saved me from a life devoid of all the things that made it worth living."

"We saved each other."

And they kissed.

What a glorious kiss overlooking the same lake that witnessed their first. Nearly four years ago their hearts discovered each other. Today, they are were one. Whole. Solidified, battle-tested, and ready for whatever the galaxy might throw at them next.

"Ani?" she managed to say between kisses as her feet suddenly dangled in mid-air. "Why are we floating off the ground?"

"Just kiss me, Padmé."

"Even though we're levitating over the lake now?"

"You talk entirely too much."

All talk ended when she kissed him again...

The End

It's possible you'll see a series of one-shots in this universe. It all depends on if this is well recieved. Please reveiw and thanks in advance for reading.