Padmé bent over the desk in her private quarters, sorting through stacks of flimsiplast. In just the few weeks she'd been back on Coruscant since the battle at Geonosis, a thousand urgent matters seemed to have arisen that demanded her personal attention, and she must bring some order to them all before she departed again for Naboo. She had just signed one sheet, folded it, and tucked it into an envelope, when the door chimes sounded.

She muttered in annoyance as she rose. Stretching her aching shoulders, she moved to the door and disabled the security, then swung it open. At the sight of the young man who waited there her face lit up, and she stepped forward to meet him as he swept her into a one-armed embrace.

His kiss sent her heart racing. Much too soon, she broke it off, and looked anxiously down the corridor. Relieved to see it empty, she stepped back and drew him inside with her.

"Anakin, you're out of the med center!" She had visited him there several times since their return from Geonosis, but had not dared to go too often. She shut the door behind him and reactivated the security system. "Come in, sit down. How are you feeling?"

"Fine, I'm fine," he said, laughing at her worried expression. "The healers gave me a clean bill of health. I have to report to the Jedi Temple soon, but I had to come by first and show you this."

He had kept his right arm tucked carefully behind his back, out of her sight. Now, with a flourish that could not quite disguise his shyness, he swept it out and offered it for her inspection.

The last time she had seen him, more than a week ago, his arm had ended just above where his elbow should have been, in a heavily bandaged stump. Now a shining construction of metal bones and wire tendons completed it, five articulated fingers opening and closing as he turned it under her gaze, looking anxiously into her face to gauge her reaction.

She kept her head bowed, studying it. How could she let him see that her first, instinctive response was one of aversion, even revulsion? Her heart ached that his strong, graceful, sensitive hand was gone, replaced by this thing that looked far more like it belonged on C-3PO than attached to her beloved Anakin.

She knew that this feeling would pass. It was a part of him now, and for the sake of their love for each other she must learn to accept it. It would not even be difficult. Did she not have extensive training and experience in learning to accept the strange, the foreign, the alien? It was one of her greatest gifts. She knew what she had to do. She had been educated from a very young age that familiarity cast out fear, that knowledge defeated prejudice. She must learn this new part of Anakin, as she was learning every other part of him, until in her mind and heart he was whole.

It was not in Padmé's nature to put off a difficult or unpleasant task, and Anakin was still looking at her. So she reached out and tentatively took his prosthetic hand in hers. She cradled it in one hand and stroked it delicately with the fingertips of the other. Curiosity flared in her. She traced the wired connections, puzzling out how it was constructed, wondering how it functioned.

"It's top-of-the-line technology," Anakin boasted. "It's got all the latest features." Enthusiasm grew in his voice. "They attached it last week, and I've been in training ever since to learn to use it. Look." He rotated the wrist and took her hand in it, the metal fingers closing with just the right firmness as he solemnly shook her hand. Then he released her and waved it in front of her, putting elbow and wrist through their full range of motion. "It's very strong, too. Much stronger than my other hand was. Watch." He reached up and hooked the fingertips over the doorframe, then flexed it, lifting himself off the ground. Then he lowered himself and without warning wrapped his left arm tight around her waist, and lifted both of them up into the air.

"Anakin!" Padmé protested, laughing.

He set her gently down and grinned at her. "I really like it. I think it will work out very well."

"I'm glad, Ani." Padmé meant it with all her heart. He had faced the loss of his arm stoically, never complaining about what she knew must be great pain, never giving any outward sign that the maiming of his body affected him very deeply. Only occasionally she had caught him looking down where his hand should be, a lost, confused expression on his face. "I'm so glad you're happy with it. So, tell me all about it." She drew him down to sit beside her on the couch. "I want to know how it works, how it's made, what it feels like – everything."

"Well, it's fully cybernetic." Anakin pushed up his sleeve and showed her the place where metal met flesh. "It's bonded directly to the bone, and has full connections to all muscles and nerves. So I can do anything with it I could before." He shot a diffident glance at her. "I could have chosen one with a synthskin covering, but that would have sacrificed a lot of function. And it would have felt… fake, somehow. Like I was lying about what I am, now."

"What you are?" Padmé tried to understand what he meant, using all her diplomat's skill to put herself in his place, to see through his eyes. He was still so new to her, after all, constantly surprising her with revelations of unexpected facets of his personality.

"Well, nobody will say it to my face, of course, but I can tell from the way they look at me. Jedi, mostly. They think it makes me less than human. Part machine."

She was indignant on his behalf. "That's ridiculous!"

"It doesn't really bother me that much. It's mostly people who never liked me anyway. And I've always had an affinity for machines. They're a lot easier to understand than people. As long as the people who really matter don't feel that way. Chancellor Palpatine, Obi-Wan, you…"

"Of course not. No one who cares about you could think such a horrible thing."

"I'm glad to see we agree. Now, what else do you want to know? Ask me anything."

She studied it a moment more. "Isn't it kind of awkward?"

"It was at first. But they've had me doing hours of practice every day. They said it will keep getting easier as I get more used to it. Here, hold still." He reached out toward her shoulder, his brow furrowed in an expression of intense concentration. "But it's already almost…" His words came in distracted clusters, as he focused on his task. "…But not quite exactly… like using… my real… hand." Padmé felt a gentle pinch, and Anakin grinned triumphantly as he displayed a single strand of her long brown hair, held neatly between thumb and forefinger.

Padmé returned his smile, and reached again to catch his hand in hers. She stroked it with more confidence this time. "It has nerve connections? So you can feel with it?"

"Yes." He studied her hands moving along it. "Not as well as before," he admitted. His grin flashed. "I already have ideas for a few modifications I want to make to help it work even better."

"Can you feel this?" she asked, clasping it and squeezing gently.

"Yes." He smiled at her.

"What about this?" she asked playfully, running her hands in a long sensual stroke from shoulder to fingertips. Already she was much more comfortable looking at it and touching it. She knew she was past the most difficult part of adjusting, and that she would be able in time to forget there was even anything strange about it. He was still her Anakin, and always would be.

"Yes." His smile had faded, and his eyes focused intently on her hands.

"And this?" She lifted it to her cheek and pressed it there, cold and hard between her fingers and her face.

"Yes…" he whispered. He closed his eyes, and reached out with his left hand also, placing it on her other cheek, and cupped her face between flesh and metal. For a long moment he held them there, and she could feel the fingers of both hands tighten, pressing into her skin. He turned his face to the side, away from her, and she could see the muscles in his face working, pressing his lips tightly together and squeezing his eyes shut. His hands dropped to his lap, and balled into fists.

"Ani, what's wrong? Anakin?" He shook his head, unable to speak or even look at her as he fought to keep control.

She watched him, feeling helpless. She knew he needed her comfort, but had no idea how to give it to him. Finally, she reached out and took his prosthetic hand in hers. Gently opening the curled fingers, she raised it to her lips and kissed the center of his palm.

Suddenly his control snapped in a great, shuddering sob, and he was in her arms, head cradled on her chest. She tightened her arms around him as his body was wracked with the grief of his loss. Feeling more helpless than ever, she still knew, instinctively, that she was providing the only thing he needed, the only thing that could be any comfort to him at all. Words could only fall as meaningless platitudes, pats or caresses or kisses would only deny the enormity of his sorrow. But the strong, sure support of her arms and body provided an anchor for him while the storm raged.

Among the sobs she could make out a few ragged words. "My arm… my hand… it's gone… forever…" As his shaking subsided, his voice dropped to a bleak, despondent whisper. "I'll never be whole again…"

Tears swam in her eyes, and she bowed her head over his, the truth of his despair stabbing her heart with shared pain.

Eventually he quieted, and lay still in her embrace a long time. Then he stirred, and pulled away from her, turning his head aside and scrubbing at his eyes with the left sleeve of his tunic, his right arm hanging limply. He did not quite meet her eyes as he rose and gestured toward the door. "I'm sorry. I've really got to go; they're probably already wondering where I am at the Temple…"

She rose, too, and placed herself between him and the exit. "Anakin, stop."

He still wouldn't look at her. "I have to go."

"I know you do." But she wouldn't let him leave like this, his embarrassment and shame a barrier between them. What did it mean to love someone, anyway, if not to be there for each other through the depths of their grief, to trust each other with the nakedness of their hearts as well as their bodies?

She grabbed both his hands, snatching the artificial one before he could pull it away, and held them tightly in hers, one warm, one cold. She stared up at him until, reluctantly, he met her gaze.

"Anakin, I love you. All of you. Just as you are. Nothing can change that." She pulled him toward her, placing his hands behind her back, and then releasing them to wrap hers around his neck. "Now hug me," she demanded imperiously, and he complied, slowly tightening first his left arm, then his right, pressing her to him.

"That's more like it." She ran her fingers through the spiky softness of his hair, grasping the one long braid behind his ear and pulling his head down to hers. "You are whole in my heart," she whispered into his ear, before turning to meet his kiss, at first hesitant, then eager.

The breathless grin on Anakin's face when they finally drew apart rewarded her. His arms remained tight around her. "Now go," she said, laughing, giving his chest a gentle shove.

He complied, releasing her and turning toward the door. "Chancellor Palpatine says the council will let me escort you back to Naboo. Have you made the arrangements?"

"Yes. Everything is ready."

"Good." Their eyes glowed at each other in anticipation of the secret ceremony that would seal their bond, joining them forever as husband and wife.

She released the security and opened the door for him, checking to make sure the corridor remained empty. As he made his way toward the lift, he paused, turned back, and fixed her with his burning gaze.

"Padmé, only you can make me whole."

Then he was gone.

She shivered a little, for it struck her suddenly how heavy a burden of responsibility his words had placed on her. But she had never feared responsibility, so she turned back to her preparations for their departure for Naboo, savoring the sweet memory of his kiss, and both his arms embracing her.