The beautifully decorated ballroom of the ornate Senate building glimmered with thousands of miniscule rainbows dancing off the chandeliers that lit the immense room. Myriad Senators, politicians, wealthy benefactors, and other well-to-do, elaborately dressed sentient beings from all corners of the Republic mingled and socialized as they sat at the long, polished dining tables and waited for the wait staff to clear away dessert. The room buzzed with conversations ranging from debates over the Supreme Chancellor's pre-dinner Address to the Senate to small talk about families and weekend plans.
"So, after the dancing dies down tonight, I'm heading to my favorite palace, the one on Dantooine, and spending a few days there before I have to march in a parade."
"Mmmhmmm." Senator Padmé Amidala of Naboo absently brushed back some loose ends of hair and politely nodded at the words of the man sitting beside her.
"I just hope my room is fixed up by now."
"Yeah," Padmé unenthusiastically agreed, picking up her pure glass fork and pushing the uneaten mound of her entirely-too-rich dessert around and around her plate.
"My slaves have been really lazy lately, and I just don't-"
Padmé abruptly dropped her fork, which clattered onto the expensive china dessert plate and sent bits of the indescribable thing posing as dessert splattering into the face of the surprised young man. Padmé's dark brown eyes, suddenly afire, glared up at the tall Coruscanti nobleman next to her.
"You have slaves?" she spat, furious.
The dark-haired man looked taken aback. "Yes, yes, of course. Don't we all, Senator Amidala?"
Padmé shook her head, her elaborate curls whipping around her flawless face. "No, Lord Tiniall. Only those of us who still live like the barbarians of the Sith era. Now, if you'll excuse me…" Standing up and pushing out her chair, the youthful Senator crossed the crowded room, making her way towards a brown-cloaked, bearded Jedi Master talking quietly in the corner to Senator Bail Organa of Alderaan.
The Coruscant lord, perplexed and astounded by her reaction, stared hungrily after Padmé Amidala. "You can't get away that easily," he whispered under his breath. One way or another, he thought, smiling to himself, she would soon be his.
Padmé, either oblivious or entirely apathetic to the advances of the wealthy nobleman, did not even turn to glance back at him as she departed. She had more important things on her mind than the pandering and lust of some egotistical idiot.
"Senator Amidala." Bail Organa embraced her warmly as she joined the tiny group.
The Jedi looked at her and nodded vaguely, as if he barely registered her presence, then turned back to Senator Organa. "I just don't understand why he hasn't contacted me, or anyone else at the Temple, for that matter."
"The Chancellor doesn't seem worried," Bail responded, attempting to comfort his friend.
"That's what concerns me," Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi replied.
Bail put a hand on the Jedi's shoulder. "He's very skilled, Obi-Wan. I'm sure he's alright."
"He's been out there for three months," Obi-Wan countered. "And due to Palpatine's lovely new security measures, we don't even know exactly where 'there' is."
Bail Organa sighed. "I hate to say it, but even if he is dead, the Chancellor won't let word of it leak out, so it will be a while before we know anything for certain."
"Yeah," Obi-Wan muttered, a tinge of sarcasm coloring his voice. "Palpatine wouldn't want the Republic to find out that he sent their savior off to his death alone in the Outer Rim, without even a troop of clones to back him up."
"Plus, all the Hero with No Fear propaganda is the only thing keeping half the systems from joining Dooku," Senator Organa added.
Padmé, who had been silently half-listening to the conversation all this while, snapped to attention and stared at Obi-Wan, her face suddenly pale and her eyes ablaze with raw fear. "Obi-Wan," she began slowly, her voice shaking, "wh-what are you talking about? Is Anakin…?" She couldn't bring herself to finish the sentence.
"I don't know," the Jedi Master replied softly. "But we haven't heard from him since the Supreme Chancellor sent him off by himself on some top-secret mission three standard months ago."
Bail Organa put an arm around Padmé's waist and helped the trembling young woman fall into a nearby chair. For a long time, the Senator just sat there, gazing at the floor as silent tears ran down her otherwise-perfect face. Obi-Wan Kenobi, his own eyes watery and his face worn with stress and loss, knelt down and held her hand, and Senator Organa placed a hand on her shoulder, the three of them forming a tight, silent circle bound by grief and unspeakable pain.
"Why?" Padmé murmured at last, looking pleadingly at Obi-Wan as though he could somehow undo Anakin's death. "Why? It's not fair." She shook her beautiful head, then stood up furiously, grabbed a costly vase of flowers resting on the tiny decorative table beside her, and angrily threw the vase to the ground. The glass splintered and shattered, and water flew everywhere, drenching two Malastarian aides who happened to be walking by on their way to the dance floor in the middle of the room. The two turned to glare nastily at Senator Amidala, who returned their gazes with an equally cold glance of her own.
"Padmé, control yourself," Obi-Wan cautioned, worriedly looking around the crowded ballroom in the hopes that no one else noticed the exchange taking place between the three.
Padmé bristled. "How dare you tell me how to behave right now! Don't you even have feelings? You expect me to just accept what's happened, get over it, and act like a proper little Senator right after hearing about the death of my-" She caught herself, and her voice drifted off. "I need him," she murmured quietly, sinking back into her seat.
Obi-Wan's eyes shone with sympathy. "You're not the only one who does, Padmé."
"But he wouldn't want you to compromise all you have worked for just because he's…gone," Bail added. "You must continue to uphold the duties of your position if you wish to end the war that took your friend's life."
"My friend!" Padmé felt like screaming at the two men. How could people be so naïve, so practical, so cruel? But deep within her soul, she knew they were right. Though nothing could possibly replace the loss of the man who had been her husband, lover, protector, and closest friend, if she wished to somehow slightly avenge Anakin's death, she would have to play the part of a composed Senator; she would have to shove her pain under the unemotional mask of decorum and grace that she customarily wore when dealing with politicians. Wiping her eyes and expertly fixing her makeup, she put on a gracious smile, nodded to Obi-Wan and Bail, and rejoined the squabbling, gossiping throng of dinner guests. When Lord Tiniall approached and asked her to dance, she placed her hand in his and allowed him to lead her out onto the gleaming golden floor.
Six dances later, the young Senator was dizzy and breathing heavily, yet she had no desire to stop. If she stopped, she would start thinking again, and she couldn't think right now. She had to finish the evening like the regal Senator she was, and only when all the arrogant, scheming nobles and politicians had left and she was alone in her penthouse bedroom could she begin to properly grieve for her husband.
As she spun past the bar, she glimpsed Senator Organa and Obi-Wan Kenobi purchasing very deadly-looking cocktails and numerous shots of various highly-intoxicating substances. If only she could join them, she thought. If only she were allowed to drown out her sorrows and forget about everything for just one moment…
But the only time she could forget the pain, the grief, the war, was when Anakin held her in his strong arms, when he slid little love notes under her door while passing 500 Republica on his way to a Council meeting, when he took her flying at night and they zoomed around the Coruscant city-tops so fast she swore he would crash and they would die in a fiery explosion, die laughing and enjoying life, die together…
"You're shaking," Lord Tiniall informed her, breaking uninvited into her thoughts. She suddenly realized they had stopped dancing. The Coruscanti nobleman pulled her close and tried to wrap her in his velvety green cloak, but she pushed him away. Anakin, with his simple clothing, would never wear something as hideous and pretentious as that gaudy garment.
"What's wrong, sugar?" the dark-haired man cooed menacingly, his green-gray eyes flashing with hidden agendas and secret desires as he seized Padmé's wrists and drew her to his chest. "You want more than a cloak to warm you up tonight?"
Men. Padmé rolled her eyes. Anakin never treated her like this. With him, she was a princess, a precious, priceless treasure, not a commodity. "I think I'm going to head home," she began, turning and attempting to wriggle out of Lord Tiniall's grasp.
He only forced her closer to him. "Perfect. I'll escort you to your bed, Senator," he whispered into her ear. "And then we'll see what happens from there."
"Let me go!" Padmé demanded, suddenly afraid. "Leave me alone!" She raised her voice authoritatively, no longer caring about maintaining her unflusterable image, no longer caring who overheard and observed what was going on.
"I'm sorry," the Coruscanti lord remarked in a voice that suggested far otherwise. "But I have other plans for you."
"Oh, really?" A sweetly-familiar voice, a protective voice full of anger, rang out from the ballroom's front entrance, and all the guests turned as one silent mob to gape at the unannounced newcomer. In the open doorway, illuminated by a background of twinkling city lights, Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker stood, calm and composed despite the tears in his plain black cloak and the thick blood matting his sandy hair and dripping slowly from his hairline down his unusually-pallid cheeks. "Let her go," Anakin ordered in a tone commanding instantaneous obedience. "Now."
The heavy silence broke as three voices spoke at once.
"Ani!" Padmé cried, tears flowing down her face in relieved amazement.
"What in the name of the Force-?" Obi-Wan exclaimed, his expression as he stared at his best friend and former Padawan alternating between disbelief and very pure, very un-Jedi-like joy.
Lord Tiniall, for his part, glared at Anakin with hatred in his eyes and held Padmé trapped close to him as he smoothly removed a small, shiny blaster from his cloak, pointed it at the Jedi, and hissed, "And who exactly are you to tell me who I can and can't have?"
Anakin did not reply, but merely waved his hand, sending the blaster zooming towards him through the Force. He deftly caught it, and in the same motion leapt over the dining tables and halfway across the room to Padmé, kicking out at Lord Tiniall's chest with one black-leather-booted foot and sending the overdressed nobleman flying unceremoniously into the back wall.
Padmé watched Lord Tiniall dash out of the ballroom in embarrassment as the multitude of guests broke into laughter. Padmé glanced at Anakin and giggled, and he in return gave her that charming half-smile she had so missed for so long. For one blissful moment, Padmé smiled up at her husband, admiration and love shining in her gorgeous face. Anakin reached out to take her hands, but his world began to sway and whirl violently, and the next instant found him kneeling on the floor, clutching his stomach as he vomited pools of blood. Padmé and Obi-Wan gasped in unison and ran to his side, holding back his sweaty hair and attempting to calm him. The rest of the Coruscant elite, by now totally perplexed by the uproar, quickly began filing out of the ballroom. The horrors of war, after all, had no place in their refined lives of political maneuvering, rumor-mongering, and accumulated wealth.
An hour later, Anakin Skywalker lay unconscious in the Med Center of the Jedi Temple. Blood soaked his dirty leather tunic and stained his otherwise-peaceful face. Obi-Wan Kenobi paced up and down the length of the hospital bed, running countless medical tests and calling on all his Force abilities, while Padmé wiped the blood off Anakin's face with a cool washcloth. Gently sitting down on the bed beside the ill Jedi, she reached out to stroke his forehead. "He's burning up, Obi-Wan," she informed the Jedi Master. "His fever's getting worse."
Obi-Wan, weary from worry and sleeplessness, moved from the heart rate monitors he had been studying to stand by Padmé's side. "Help me get him out of his uniform," he instructed, and together the pair gently removed Anakin's cloak, tunic, shirt, and boots, leaving him in only his dark, extremely worn Jedi pants. "That should cool him down a little," Obi-Wan said, hoping more than guaranteeing the accuracy of his words. The Jedi Master returned to the medical equipment, filling IVs and scanning Anakin's blood samples for any recognizable signs of disease.
"Don't…wait…Mom, no…please…" Anakin shifted suddenly and sat up in his sleep, opening his azure eyes to stare blindly at Padmé. He looked at her for a long while, unsure either of who she was or of what he was doing beside her. "Padmé?" he finally managed, his voice soft and exhausted. His eyes glazed over again as he fell back onto the pillows, murmuring "My angel…" before drifting back to his feverish nightmares.
Padmé Amidala laid her soft head on his chest and listened to the rise and fall of his choked breathing and the pounding of his rapidly-beating heart. She could feel every bone in his chest with her cheek alone, and she suddenly realized that she could practically count Anakin's ribs. "He's so thin, Obi-Wan," she whispered.
Obi-Wan came over to her and placed his hands on Anakin's chest, closing his eyes and willing the Force to heal his friend. "He's obviously been sick and seriously injured for a while," the Jedi Knight said at last, opening his eyes and caressing Anakin's cheek with his fingers.
"Will he…I mean…" Padmé began, not sure if she truly wanted to know the answer. "He will survive, won't he?"
Obi-Wan remained silent, refusing to meet Padmé's searching gaze.
"I…I don't know," he finally conceded. "He's on life support, and he should be completely rehydrated within the next hour. But if his fever doesn't break…" Though his voice trialed off, it left no room for debate. Either Anakin would be strong enough to overcome whatever terrors had befallen him in the death-trap of the Outer Rim battlefields, or he would die.
Padmé fingered the jabor snippet she wore on a thin strip of faded brownish leather hanging from her slender neck. "He made this for me," she whispered, her brown eyes glimmering with more unshed tears. "He was so young then, so idealistic, so innocent…"
"Ani was never innocent," Obi-Wan chuckled, half-smiling as he took his former apprentice's calloused, unmoving hand. Anakin's breaths were coming slower now, and each gasp for life caused his whole body to shake. "But he still managed to be so irresistibly child-like. So powerful, yet so needy." Obi-Wan sighed as he remembered the many escapades his mischievous, rash friend had led him on during the course of the past years.
"He was never afraid to say exactly how he felt," Padmé continued, tears flowing freely down her face now. "And sometimes, late at night, when he had finally come home from a mission, he would just hold me and-" She stopped, suddenly aware of what she was saying, and flushed scarlet.
Obi-Wan looked away uncomfortably, and the conversation paused awkwardly until Master Yoda, bent and wizened by his hundreds of years yet a formidable presence nonetheless, appeared in the doorway. "Still watching him, are you, Obi-Wan? Not anymore your Padawan is he."
"Well…not exactly," Obi-Wan admitted. "But he's still mine…He's still my friend, I mean," the Jedi Master hastily amended when Yoda shot him an oddly suspicious look.
"The path to much suffering, attachment is," the diminutive Grand Master reminded Obi-Wan. A pregnant silence filled the small hospital room. Eventually, Padmé gracefully stood, smoothed her bloodstained skirts with firm motions that did not betray her exhaustion, and moved over to the windowsill, where she began rearranging the assortment of wildflowers she had placed there.
"Recovering well, young Skywalker is?" Yoda finally asked, turning his piercing gaze to the sweat-drenched man in the bed. Obi-Wan glanced at Padmé out of the corner of his eye, shook his head slightly, and motioned for Yoda to join him outside. With one last look back at his wounded friend, Obi-Wan shut the door quietly as the two Masters stepped into the hall to discuss the current state of Anakin's health, or more accurately, lack thereof.
Alone with her young husband, the husband no one else in the galaxy knew she had, Padmé Amidala stretched out on the bed beside his too-still form and took one of his colorless hands in both her own. She didn't remember falling asleep, but the next thing she knew, the rising sun was creeping through the windows, sprinkling the little room with tiny rainbows of sparkling light. Obi-Wan Kenobi, sound asleep, lay sprawled across the floor at the foot of the bed, and next to her, Anakin stirred and sat up, dazedly looking around as if not entirely believing what he saw.
"Padmé?" he asked questioningly, gazing down at her before tentatively reaching out to stroke her fair, tear-streaked cheek. "How did you get here?"
"You're back at the Temple," she told him.
He furrowed his brow quizzically. "The Temple? But Ventures and Dooku…and the children…so many children, dead, all of them…I couldn't stop it…"
"Ssssh," Padmé soothed, taking him in her arms and gently rocking him back and forth. "You've been sick," she added, feeling his forehead with the back of her hand. His skin, though still unordinarily ashen, felt cool to her touch, and the young Senator breathed a grateful sigh of immense relief. His fever was broken. Her Ani was safe. Her eyes again sparkled with tears, only these tears embodied her joy rather than her sadness, her gain rather than her loss.
"Sweetheart? What is it?" Anakin asked, concerned, as he reached to brush away her tears. "What's wrong?"
"Oh, Ani." Padmé smiled lovingly, tousled his long, wavy hair, and ran her fingers gently down his face. "Nothing's wrong. Everything is absolutely perfect."
Anakin took her in his arms, and she pressed herself close to kiss him, over and over, their lips melding together in absolute bliss, wordlessly declaring the eternality of their undying love as the sun slowly rose to herald the arrival of a new day.