Chapter Three: Finally!

Anakin was meditating while seated on a soft patch of grass and under the shade of a tree in the Palace garden when he sensed Obi-Wan approach him from behind.

"Yes, Master?" he spoke calmly, without turning around.

"Good news, Anakin," Obi-Wan began. "I've just received a message from Sabé that the Queen would like to speak with us in her personal antechamber. It seems as though she was able to find some time for us, after all. "

Anakin's heart thudded heavily in his chest at Obi-Wan's words and knew that he had to compose himself before his Master sensed his feelings and gave him another long, boring lecture. He remained passive and silent, which pleased Obi-Wan.

Good. The boy's learning some mastery of his feelings.

Obi-Wan made sure that Anakin did not hear his thoughts though the Force link they shared.

"We should head over there now, Anakin."

"Yes, Master," came the calm and obedient reply, as Anakin stood up and brushed at his Jedi tunic.

The closer Anakin came to their final destination, the more anxious he became and the more he sought to reign in his nervousness. As it was, when they finally reached the Queen's chamber and the large door shut behind them, he was the perfect example of a model Padawan to anyone watching, mainly Queen Amidala and her stoic, all-seeing handmaidens.

"Master Kenobi, it is a pleasure to see you again," the Queen spoke in her formal sonorous tones.

Obi-Wan bowed deeply and flashed her a dazzling smile. The handmaidens shared a quick secret look with each other because they all thought Master Kenobi to be quite the handsome and dashing Jedi Knight. They collectively felt a pang of sadness, though, because they knew that Jedis were forbidden attachment and each of them carried a little torch for Master Kenobi in their hearts.

"The pleasure is mine, your Highness," he replied, chivalrously. He stood straight and turned to the reserved young man beside him. "And you remember my Padawan Anakin Skywalker, don't you?"

"Ani? This is little Ani?" Her cold manner thawed a bit and acted surprised and unconvinced it was him. The handmaidens perked up and took more notice.

"Why, you've nearly grown up," she added, teasingly.

Anakin blushed like a maiden and stuttered, "You've grown, too. Up- I mean grown up," he added lamely, mentally kicking himself for being such a gundark.

Mercifully, she turned her attention back to the older Jedi, because she had suddenly noticed what a handsome young man Anakin Skywalker had grown into.

And it made her uncomfortable.

xxxx

Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi and Padawan Anakin Skywalker were seated side by side at the long dining table.

As Obi-Wan spoke to him, Anakin would try to look interested as his eyes wandered to over Obi-Wan's shoulder to get a glimpse of Padmé. She was seated fairly far from him, but he studied her, nonetheless. She had changed into another intricate gown, but was still wearing that awful face paint. She looked subdued as someone told a humorous tale and that portion of the table erupted into polite laughter.

Anakin was not enjoying himself one bit. It was tortuous to be so close to Padmé, yet so distant. He was a grumpy, sullen Jedi-in-training. As grim as he seemed, he would have made Master Windu look positively jovial.

The meal ended and the evening's entertainment began. A troupe of Nubian performers began to sing some provincial music. Although everyone else listened with rapt attention, even Obi-Wan, Anakin was bored out of his mind and felt the need to stretch his legs. He'd rather look at the paintings and sculpture that lined the hallways and then go explore the gardens.

He was looking up at an ancient portrait of a former Queen of Naboo when he heard whispered voices in the hallway. He was going to blend into the background unnoticed until he realized who was quickly approaching him. It was Padmé and one of her handmaidens.

Sabé was immediately on guard when she saw a shadow move in the hallway ahead of her, but relaxed once she saw it was Anakin. Sabé, never one to miss a detail, caught the fleeting look of joy on Padmé's face. Ever looking out for Padmé's interests, she excused herself.

"Milady, I will meet you at the refresher lounge. I am sure Padawan Skywalker will keep you safe in my absence."

She nodded to them and then hurried off along the moonlit corridor.

There was a bit of awkward silence as Anakin and Padmé stood watching Sabé's retreating form. Then they slowly and silently walked along in Sabé's footsteps. Padmé broke the silence.

"What's wrong?"

They had both stopped in the deserted hallway.

"Nothing," he replied, and not very convincingly.

"Something's bothering you, Ani. Tell me."

"It's just…" he began, hesitantly.

She looked up at him earnestly and reached out a hand to touch him lightly. He started inwardly.

"It's just that I thought I'd get to spend some time with you and that's just not possible.

I guess I'm just disappointed." He shrugged his shoulders impotently.

She smiled with understanding. "Ah, yes, court is not the friendliest place..."

He looked down at his feet. She smiled at him.

"Tell you what…meet me on my balcony at 22:00."

He perked up at this. "That late?"

"Well, it will take me a while to get all the ceremonial paint off."

She smiled impishly at him, and then the smile was gone. Only the fleeting twinkle in her eye was there to remind him that he had a right to be happy.

They were also now in front of the lounge outsider the refresher. Eagle-eyed Sabé was waiting. Padmé turned to Anakin.

"We can catch up then. I must go now." Padmé and Sabé disappeared into the brightly-lit ladies' lounge.

Anakin stood there and smiled like a fool. If anyone had come upon him they would have thought him mad. He turned around and bounded back to find Obi-Wan and make his excuses early for the evening. He tried to contain his glee; it would not do for his Master to sense anything awry.

xxxx

Anakin climbed soundlessly up to Padmé's balcony.

He took a moment to sense where she was before he made his presence known. The doors to her room were open to admit the evening breeze. She was seated in her chamber reading a datapad when Anakin called out to her.

Her hair loose, she was dressed for bed and wearing a belted wine-colored robe with wide sleeves.

"Come in, Anakin." She called to him.

He stood in front of her awkwardly until she offered him a seat on a cushioned chair near hers. He squirmed nervously, seeking to break the tension.

"So…how have you been, Padmé?" He tried not to stare at her, especially since she was wearing only her nightclothes, but it was difficult because of how he felt about her. At that moment, the longing he felt for her hit him hard in the gut.

"Things haven't changed too much, with me. Just the ins and outs of governing Naboo," she explained modestly. "But, tell me, you've had a lot of interesting things happen to you. How has your Jedi training gone?"

Anakin visibly relaxed. He was relieved to have a subject to focus on and entertained his rapt audience with humorous anecdotes and stories of his time with Obi-Wan. In fact, he went on and on until he saw Padmé stifle a yawn. It was then he realized that the time had flown altogether too fast, but he'd have to leave her.

She is just too polite to tell me she's tired, he thought with chagrin.

"Sorry, Padmé, I forgot that you've had a long day. I should get going." He started to back away from her.

Padmé sat up alert, feeling ashamed that he had caught her. She was tired, yes, but she did not want him to leave. She quickly got to her feet as he moved purposely toward the balcony doors.

"Will you visit me tomorrow night?"

"Of course," he turned around and he smiled down at her. He wouldn't miss it for the world. "You're sure I'm not boring you, though?"

She laughed, and the sound of it warmed his heart. She put out her hand to touch him. He felt electricity flow through his body at her touch.

"Anakin, you're always so full of surprises; you could never bore me."

And, in true form, he surprised her by leaning down and delivering a gentle kiss to her parted lips. Her eyes closed briefly to savor the gesture.

When she opened her eyes, he was gone.