Title: "Echoes of the Dearly Departed" (1/2)

Written by: Shawn

Summary: Some things in life are simply too heartbreaking to imagine. Too painful to even consider. But the essence of life is what if...

Category: Drama Rating: PG-13 for very mild sensuality Ship: Anakin and Padmé Skywalker forever

Timeline/Spoilers: Revenge of the Sith AU from the moment Mace Windu allows Anakin to accompany him when he goes to arrests Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. The fight that ensued ended with Palpatine being killed. Anakin never turned to the dark side. The official investigation into everything and everyone associated with Palpatine has been ongoing for six months following Revenge of the Sith. Anakin and Padmé are still married in secret, but Obi-Wan knows about and has accepted it. The Jedi Council, following its near massacre at the hands of Palpatine is reevaluating the Jedi Code. No official decision has been made as of yet.

Disclaimer: George Lucas and Lucasfilm own everything.

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Authors Notes 1: Luke and Leia Skywalker were born on Naboo and are six moths old.

Authors Notes 2: Padmé confided in Queen Apailana concerning her post as Senator of Naboo. Due to her impeccable service record, intelligence, and the support of other key Senators she has been allowed to remain the Senator for Naboo. Her post is secure if and when it is revealed that she is married to Anakin.

Special Thanks: To my Jed Master beta readers Anne and Jennifer. You gals are the very best of the best. bows


"Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation." Kahill Gibran

"Hope" is the thing with feathers-- That perches in the soul-- And sings the tune without the words-- And never stops--at all." Emily Dickenson

"The family is a haven in a heartless world." Attributed to Christopher Lasch


Officially: Senator Padmé Amidala's apartment Unofficially: Anakin and Padmé Skywalker's apartment The early morning Located in the Republic Plaza Galactic City, Coruscant

Few things in existence were as perfect as the dawning of a new day.

Yawning softly against Anakin's bare shoulder, Padmé felt the warm, sunny rays of light caressing her face through the parted curtains of their bedroom window. Her rosy lips curled lazily into a smile when her fingertips grazed her husband's chest, the smooth skin over toned muscle pleasing to her touch. He didn't stir, his slumber as deep and satisfying as the fiery passion they shared last night when he returned home after a four-day assignment.

Had she worn him out? Her sleepy mind wondered with a note of pride, mentally grinning at the notion that she could exhaust him. He had certainly and thoroughly shown her seven shades of paradise before she fell asleep in his arms.

And now as a new day began, Padmé saw no reason to open her eyes just yet. Thinking a pleasant, silent prayer that her children would sleep just a little while longer, she nestled closer to the soothing, warm comfort of her husband, ever thankful he slept shirtless.

Such a pleasing sight to wake up to.

Minutes trickled by in slow motion as Padmé enjoyed the peace surrounding her, safe and secure next to Anakin. The four days they spent apart felt so much longer than that since they became parents. Missing him as deeply as she did walked hand in hand with her respect for his role as a Jedi Master. Meshing their insanely busy schedules while maintaining the appearance of a deep and abiding friendship hadn't been easy. Despite it all the best times of their lives were when they were together, no matter the details of how they had to make it work.

Despite the faraway noise of Coruscant's busy skyline, with its endless streams of repulsor-lift traffic, Padmé reveled in the knowledge that she wouldn't have to travel in it today. She certainly wouldn't miss the Senate Hall's lengthy security checkpoint clearances, or the gossip-hounding reporters twisting her every statement into that night's lead story on the HoloNet. Time away from her infant children, even when spent performing a worthwhile task, still tore at her heart.

Thankfully, that wasn't going to be a problem today. Padmé didn't have to get up so early for any reason that didn't involve her family.

The meeting she was set to attend this morning, on the upcoming Senate hearings over new and massive charges of fraud filed against the Intergalactic Banking Clan, was postponed late last night. She dreaded the midday Senate rebuttal of charges filed against the very long-winded CEO of the Corporate Sector Authority over expunged information from the records archive. Baron Tagge could talk for hours without saying a relevant thing the entire time. Praise the Force, that too was delayed until a later date and with it the Senate Hall caterer's lunch menu of bland dishes they tried to pass off as edible.

With her day suddenly free of her duties, Senator Amidala could retire for the next twenty-four hours.

Enter Padmé Skywalker.

From the moment her steamy, late night shower was interrupted by a very aroused Jedi Master the good Senator was nowhere to be found. And now as Padmé felt so carefree... so liquid calm and light... so weightless... so...

Wait a minute!

"What?" Padmé muttered upon blinking away the last of her sleepiness, only to look down at her wide-awake husband, his hand covering his mouth to stifle the laughter he was no doubt enjoying at her expense. Being made fun of wasn't something she took well at all. "Ani, how many times have I told you not to make me float when I'm asleep?"

Anakin wisely did not respond. The sight of his wife hovering in mid-air never failed to amuse him.

"Why must you levitate me when I'm waking up in the morning?" she questioned from about two feet above him, her arms now crossed over her chest. She followed his line of vision and what she found made her eyes narrow. He was enjoying an eyeful of her breasts through her nightgown. As much as she dearly loved this man she knew one day she might turn to the dark side just to get back at him. "What is so funny about seeing me... hey... stop that... do not twirl me around..."

The absolute light of his life was the sound of his hysterically mad wife turning in mid-air above him. Oh yes, he would pay for this transgression when he least expected it. His brilliant, strong-willed, mature wife had let her hair down more since the demise of Palpatine. Not so reserved, she gave as good as she got in the games department. That only made him love her more.

"I'm getting dizzy. Stop right now!" Her order was heeded immediately as she came to a calm still above her smirking husband. Holding onto a seething rage wasn't possible when his infectious amusement took hold of her. Despite being the trigger of his laughter, he was overwhelmingly happy to be home. And while she couldn't let him think he could get away with stuff like this whenever he wanted to, she had to admit loving that blissful expression he wore. He was such a kid sometimes. That alone reawakened her youthful side as well. "Floating me without my consent is something we've talked about before."

"Not really talked," Anakin reminded her while smiling, his hands behind his head. "It was more like you ordered me to never do it."

Padmé's thick mahogany hair hung down around her face. She swept it all back with one swipe of her hand. "You seem to think the Force is meant to be an instrument for pulling pranks on me."

"Perish the thought."

"You move my shoes all the time," she accused him, counting off his crimes on her fingers. "You leave them on shelves too high for me to reach."

Innocence best described his expression. "It's C3PO. I'm sure of it. He's secretly out to get you."

"You pull pins from my hair when I don't know you're doing it."

"You can't prove that."

"When I'm turning the water taps and nothing comes out it's you holding the water back with the Force."

"Now why would I do such a thing?"

The guilty grin he couldn't resist told the tale. Padmé glared at him. "I don't like it when you do those things."

"And you're perfect, right?"

"That's no way to argue your point. You don't have a point. You are at fault here."

"This isn't the Senate Hall. For Force-sake, you're levitating over me in a sheer pale blue gown."

"I can plead my case while unraveling yours no matter my lack of clothing." Defiant in his eyes, she tried her best not to laugh. Men were so easily befuddled. And since this one was in love with her, she could play him like a finely tuned instrument.

"What about you? You have the nerve to complain when I bring home Kolar berries, saying they are unhealthy, but then you eat the whole bag."

The chocolate dipped sweet berries were a favorite of Padmé's, though she would never reveal that to him. He was too much fun to toy with. "How they disappear is not my concern seeing as how you have never caught me eating them. There is no video footage, nor sworn testimony. Your accusations are unfounded and insulting."

"It had to be you. C3PO and R2 don't eat. Your handmaidens stay out of our food units, and the twins don't have teeth yet."

"Luke's a feisty one. You underestimate him. He can gum anything."

"And I hate it when you stack and alphabetize all of my tech manuals."

"You leave them out all over the place. I only seek to bring order to the chaos that surrounds your belongings."

When had she turned things around on him? And how did she manage to look so utterly beautiful while floating over him. Both were smiling now despite the silliness they were engaging in this morning. Moments of levity and mirth were priceless amidst the strict responsibilities they lived with day after day. Anakin cherished moments like these more than any other.

"Why did you have to spray that flowery air freshener in my speeder?"

He was far too cute when he complained. Padmé fondly remembered spraying a whole bottle of the cheap perfume she received as a free gift for attending a fundraiser. "Your speeder carried an odor I found very displeasing."

"Obi-Wan accused me of getting in touch with my feminine side. Master Windu actually cracked a smile at me."

"You have a feminine side? Why didn't you mention this before we were married?"

"That's 'my' speeder."

"It's 'ours'," she declared as the tide turned. "We're married, remember? We share everything."

"You nearly threw a fit when you caught me using your toothbrush a week ago."

"We share everything 'except' my toothbrush. I thought that went without saying." No matter that she hung above him, she had yet again won this round. Containing the glee she felt over this very immature, though thoroughly enjoyable argument of sorts wasn't easy at all. She held her smile in check. "I find you guilty of abusing the Force to annoy the woman who bore your children. Furthermore, I find you in need of a shave."

Padmé continued, " In addition..." Slowly, ever so subtly she felt herself begin to descend until her chest pressed to his. Natural gravity saw her slim figure draped over him, and then his strong arms anchored around her lower back as he gazed into her eyes. "I'm mad at you."

If Anakin lived to be as old and wise as Yoda he knew he would never verbally best his wife. Her argumentative abilities and speaking skills were omnipotent, and so he used his greatest weapon, her utter weakness to his tender affections.

"Doing that isn't going to solve things," Padmé purred through a whispery moan when his lips began softly kissing her neck and then warmed the shell of her ear.

His hands tangled in her lush, thick hair. His lips brushed moist kisses across her cheek until he reached her lips at last. Sweet... Force, she tasted so sweet to him, their mouths merging urgently, his fingers combing through her hair as his tongue explored, delving passionately with her own.

All pretenses of denying him were lost the moment his lips captured her own. He claimed her as his own long ago, and forever more. From one heartbeat to the next she felt devoured by his passion for her, while loving every second of it. Loving him with the full extent of her heart.

And if those two precious children of theirs were kind, she intended to love him with her body as well. What a way to start the day...

And then the Holocom beeped on her desk in the corner of the room.

Anakin groaned against her lips, and then she gently pulled away. His arms held her tighter until he recognized that look on her face. "Please ignore it."

"What if it's an emergency?" His sigh was evidence enough that even he didn't want to risk that. "Just give me a second, and then I'm all yours." His child-like groan made her ruffle his hair.

Padmé padded across the room and sat down in the chair at her desk. She pressed the receive button and was greeted with the face of an old friend. "Sabé?"

"My lady," Sabé greeted her good friend and former Queen with a gracious nod. "It's been too long." Suddenly, a raised eyebrow brought with it a knowing expression of humor on the former decoy's face. "Good morning. And by good morning I mean it must be one for you. You're flushed a lovely shade of red, and your hair is in disarray. Your smile is downright sinful."

Padmé rolled her eyes, somewhat embarrassed. "Oh please." Sabé wasn't going to let this go. That just wasn't her former handmaiden's style. "What can I do for you?"

"Oh, nothing really. I just wanted to catch up. But I can tell you were or are otherwise occupied." Sabé never mentioned Anakin over any communication lines, but the implication lingered just the same. "My morning doesn't seem as good as yours."

"Perhaps we can catch up a bit lat..." Before Padmé could finish Sabé began laughing really hard. The Senator quickly discovered it was due to the straps on her gown slowly falling off her shoulders of their own accord. Sparing another glare over at the bed, she continued. "Maturity is lacking in the male species these days."

"I doubt maturity is what had you blushing pink."

Padmé saw the hem of her gown slowly rise, revealing the soft, satiny skin of her toned thigh. "Sabé, when the 'others'," a code word for the twins, "are taken care of I will call you back."

"That's perfectly okay. You have other matters to attend to. I'm sure you have things that want to get into you... I mean things you need to get into." Sabé bit back a naughtier line as Padmé stared while shaking her head. "I'll speak to you soon, my lady."

"Farewell, Sabé." Padmé ended the transmission, stood and walked back over to the bed. Despite wanting to remind her husband yet again to not undress her when she was talking to someone who could see her, he looked entirely too sexy sitting up against the bed, naked as the day he was born, devouring her with his eyes.

Before she could fall back into bed twin wails echoed over the baby monitor device. Padmé hung her head, as did her husband. "They're hungry."

"So am I."

He didn't mean for food. She liked that. "Later," she winked. "I promise."

"Alright, angel."

"Now get up and help me."

"Yes Master."

"What was that?"

He didn't dare try another smart remark with her. At least not until after the babies were asleep again. "Coming, my love."

Ninety Minutes Later

"You are such a good little girl," Anakin complimented Leia while he spoon-fed her in the kitchen. Seated next to the sky-blue highchair vacated by her brother, the youngest female Skywalker wasn't giving her father any problems this morning. As long as she faced the immense, curving glass hub overlooking Coruscant's dawning skyline she tended to not be so fussy. "Eat just a little bit more, and then we're done."

Anakin took his time feeding her as the soft smacking noises she made signaled her approval. Normally, she was busy trying to grab his long hair or avoiding the spoon altogether until her breakfast smeared across her cheek. A handful and a half, Obi Wan often joked she could scream so loudly the Jedi Council could hear her from the nursery. But for some unknown reason she was giving her father a break today.

Gazing into his daughter's warm, brown eyes, Anakin was awed again by how beautiful she was. She reminded him of all that was good in his life. Leia's soft, curly hair now resembled her mother's chestnut brown locks. She held her rattle the way he hoped she would one day wield a lightsaber, though he would never say the like around Padmé. She was fast becoming her own little person, just like her brother.

"All done," Anakin was pleased to report and then made a silly face just to hear her laugh. He gently wiped her face clean while listening to Padmé's soothing voice quietly explaining to Luke that his teething wasn't going to last forever. The cold teething ring in his son's mouth seemed to have quieted him for the time being. The caring tenor she used with Luke was the same one that comforted him after his own terrible nightmares. It came as no surprise their son could be swayed as well.

With Leia's short attention-span focused on the amazing shades of amber covering Coruscant's upper atmosphere, Anakin watched his wife circle the apartment with their son nestled safely to her chest. He adored watching her when she wasn't aware of it. She moved with such grace, carrying an aura as regal as the Queen she used to be. She was such an incredible woman, and he was amazed that she had chosen to spend her life with him. The Force's Chosen One be damned, he was Padmé's. Her gentle heart called out to his troubled soul, drawing him to her like a moth to a flame forever more.

Privately, Anakin wondered if this feeling would ever end, the sense of wonder she effortlessly instilled within him. He had been married to her for nearly four and a half years, and now they had two amazing children. At no time has had he found himself considering what else could be out there.

Or more to the point, whom.

In all of the ways a man could love a woman, Padmé had been his first. Not a day had gone by that she failed to fulfill every aspect of his life. He loved her from the moment he was born and only fell deeper the moment he saw her so many years ago. She meant more than the world to him, more than the galaxy itself.

Padmé was life to Anakin. Without her there would only be death. He knew that. Lived with it. Killed for it. And would die a thousand times for her.

The whispery cooing sounds his daughter made while being amused by the many busy air-taxi cabs whizzing by the window gave him yet another reason to brush his lips over her temple. She had that perfectly sweet baby scent, a note of innocence for him to enjoy after a lifetime of far less than that.

Anakin shifted his attention back to Padmé, now touring the veranda with their son. This apartment, their home, was a quiet, peaceful haven away from it all. A Senator and a Jedi visited, but only the Skywalker family lived here.

Drawing a somber breath, Anakin promised himself his family would never know suffering the way he did.

Luke and Leia would never know the horror of being someone's slave. They would never be a living piece of property, ordered when to eat, when to sleep, when to wake up and what to do. They would never be sold like merchandise the way he and his mother were. They wouldn't' have to live with the fear he did growing up that someone would purchase his mother to use in ways that had nothing to do with work.

Disgusting, and yet Anakin had friends who lost mothers and sisters to slave owners seeking pleasures of the flesh. He'd seen men, women, and children beaten and whipped in the streets. Things that could damn a child's spirit, and yet in the midst of misery his mother managed to bestow upon him such endless love and caring.

Shmi taught him mercy when none was offered to her. However did she know, he'd considered in his darker moments of reflection? How had the poverty they endured not broken her? How could she be so affectionate when she was shown so little? How had she remained so kind and compassionate when they were treated so badly?

Padmé, as sympathetic as her nature was, had never been exposed to such hardships on a personal level. She had traveled across the stars and seen many atrocities, but they never touched her loved ones. She never had to live the way those who needed her help did.

And for that Anakin was eternally grateful.

Padmé had given him everything he lost, and all that he felt would forever be just out of his reach. When his mother died, the last of his family was gone. The day he married Padmé changed that. And now he was a father thanks to her. The solitary existence that underscored one's pursuit to become a Jedi no longer applied to his life.

All because an angel loved him.

This dream existence could have easily become a nightmare. Anakin recalled the exact moment in Palpatine's office when the Supreme Chancellor begged and pleaded for his life. When he declared that only through the Sith could he save Padmé. Had Qui-Gon's wisdom not come to him in his most dire hour events could have turned out vastly different.

Images of dead Padawans slain by his own hands tortured him some nights. A dark figure of cold evil haunted him. Emotionless and hate filled, it murdered every good thing Anakin loved. And what was worse, sometimes when it took of its helmet, he looked just like...

A small balled up fist rapped softly against Anakin wrist, dragging him away from his restless inner thoughts. He grudgingly conceded that Obi-wan's observation a few weeks ago was true. Leia might look almost exactly like Padmé, but she definetly had his smile.

Living in the blissful present, Anakin bent down to kiss that little fist a couple of times, causing a fit of giggles in Leia. "You're in such a good mood this morning," he said to her, returning her smile. "Do you think you could stay that way for the next five years or so? Your mom and I would really appreciate it."

Leia made a cute baby sound in response.

"I'll take that as a yes." Soft, padding footsteps approached. When Anakin lifted his head he found Padmé walking back into the kitchen. Luke slept peacefully with his head on her shoulder while she tenderly rubbed his back. His angel had worked her magic yet again.

Padmé felt Anakin's eyes following her all the way across the kitchen, stalking her every step. She gently settled a sleeping Luke back into his highchair. "You're staring."

"You're beautiful."

Smiling, she met his sincere gaze. "Even with this spit-up on my dress?"

"You're stunning."

He meant it, over the top as most of his compliments were. Nonetheless, it did make her blush. Months after becoming a mother he knew how to make her feel like a woman. He had certainly and thoroughly loved her like a woman last night. "Thank you."

Padmé exhaled against his chest when Anakin embraced her, and then kissed the top of her head. For a day free of meetings, speeches, and paperwork she felt it was off to a good start. "Even with the multiple feedings, burping, and endless diaper changing, I wouldn't trade mornings like these for anything."

"Oh I could think of an activity of two that..."

"Oh hush." Padmé might love that roguish smile of his, but insinuations of that nature had a proper time and place. She sought out her daughter's drowsy-little face and brushed her head with her hand. "Leia's about to fall asleep."

Anakin pulled the wet teething ring from Luke's little fist and then kissed his son's cheek. "I wouldn't count on that lasting too long."

"Neither would I."

Confident that the babies were sleeping for the time being, Anakin and Padmé quietly made their way over to an oval glass table and sat down next to each other. For a few minutes they didn't say a word, choosing to enjoy the quiet and simplicity of being together as a family. Outside their home, Coruscant was as engaging as ever. The slowly rising sun lit the sky, signaling that a new day had begun in earnest. Streams of heavy starship, air taxi, and transport bus traffic filled the skies.

None of that mattered inside these walls.

"Are you worried?" Padmé asked with a gentle nudge of her elbow against his arm.

Anakin sort of shrugged, as if paying her query no mind. Of course he knew what she was referring to. "Not really."

And he wasn't. That much was true. But she knew her husband well enough to know something was bothering him. "You have no way of knowing what the Jedi will do about the Code."

"Neither do you."

"And that's a good thing. It gives us as good of a chance for a positive outcome as any other."

In just two short days the Jedi Council would reveal its decision on what it would do about the Jedi Code. In two short days their secret life might not have to be secret any longer. Or Anakin wouldn't be a Jedi any longer.

"It doesn't matter," he stated firmly, and then with a smile when he took her hand in his. "I have my family, and they come first. All else will be taken in stride."

Being a Jedi meant a great deal to the man she loved, no matter how he tried to make light of it. Padmé was determined that they would enjoy today and not brood. "I'm going to make myself some Cynamon tea. Would you like a cup?"

"Of course." Going about her business with the ingredients, Anakin couldn't help but smile when she reached for two cups on a top shelf that were just out of reach. She glanced over her shoulder, not needing to ask. The cups lifted from their lofty perch, descending into her hands.

"I truly believe every woman needs a Jedi in the home," Padmé teased while brewing the tea.

"I feel so special now."

"I meant for practical reasons," she amended with her back to him. "For me personally, only you will do."

Padmé handed him a steaming cup of Cynamon tea complete with the sprinkles he liked, and then sat down next to him again. "You make the best tea."

"It's astounding to me how you can repair or build just about anything, and yet you cannot make tea at all."

"The Force doesn't grant any one being every skill. I hate to inform you Padmé, but I am not perfect."

She stared at him with her mouth sarcastically agape, eyes wide open. "You're kidding me?"

Sitting up straight with his shoulders set, Anakin sought to let her down gently. "I'm afraid not."

Sipping her tea, Padmé added, "So I married you under false pretenses?"

"You were overwhelmingly in love with me."

"I still am," she confessed sweetly, and then received another kiss as a reward. Suddenly, C3PO appeared at the kitchen's entryway.

"Excuse my intrusion, but there is a HoloNet news program about to run a short segment on Master Anakin. While it does no seem of any great importance I thought you might be interested."

"Uh oh." Anakin didn't like the sound of that. They lived with the ever present fear of their secret life being revealed one day. Anytime their names were mentioned on the HoloNet they worried that someone had finally discovered what they had worked so hard to hide.

Shifting in his chair, Anakin used the Force to manipulate the buttons on the wall-mounted viewing screen, switching it on. The image of an impeccably dressed Utapaun female appeared.

Padmé recognized her immediately. "That's Tylin Sau. She hosts a gossip show my sister watches all the time. A credible reporter is hardly the words I would use to describe her."

With a wave of Anakin's hand the volume increased. The Utapaun's calm, mellow voice carried loud and clear.

"Good Morning Coruscant. As many of you know there are shocking news reports that the Jedi Council might soon be lifting its rules banning Jedi from entering into a romantic relationships. With that in mind we felt it was only fair to discuss the most charismatic, dangerous, and sexy Jedi in the entire galaxy. One Anakin Skywalker."

Padmé rolled her eyes, tongue firmly held in cheek. Next to her, Anakin leaned forward, now thoroughly engrossed in what was being said onscreen. C3PO hung close by as well.

"The Hero of the Clone Wars. The man without fear. The Chosen One. No matter the title, the name Anakin Skywalker screams controversy, mystery, and hotness. He sparks conversation and opinion like no other. Admired by men and wanted by women, he's up until now been the unattainable Jedi everyone wanted. Well ladies, if reports are true in just 48 short hours he might be available."

"She seems quite credible in her assessment of me." Anakin knew not to look at Padmé. Nonetheless, he felt her glare. And it took the Force to suppress the grin he felt coming on.

Tylin Sau sat behind her news desk and continued. "In our most recent HoloNet poll nearly 88 of the nine thousand viewers who voted said that Anakin Skywalker was the one man who they felt could give them a night they would never forget."

"Oh give me a break," Padmé muttered under her breath. Her husband was enjoying this entirely too much. "They don't even know the real you. They're just being shallow. And you should never trust a poll."

Anakin didn't say a word. But he did cover his mouth with his hand. He was smart enough to at least do that.

"What we have done tonight is compile a list of three women our staff felt had the best opportunity to snare the Chosen One," Ms. Sau explained. "First up is the most recognizable model on Coruscant. That's right. We're talking about the beautiful Cesq Mven."

Padmé started laughing so hard she had to grab onto Anakin's arm when the image of the statuesque gray-skinned humanoid-like woman walked a runway during some sort of fashion show. "Ani, I met her once at an evening political function. She would have no interest in you whatsoever."

A note of wounded price clouded his face. "And why is that?"

Knocking him down a peg or two was always fun. "It might have something to do with that fact that she doesn't enjoy the company of males," Padmé explained to a clearly floored Anakin. "Certain things are kept out of the public eye for many reasons, though people behind the scenes know who is doing what. Cesq has a longtime female companion who poses as her bodyguard. It's just not publicly known. They are very much together in every way." Her husband's huff amused her to no end.

"Next on our list is the alluring galactic songstress herself, Voyce."

Anakin groaned at the mention of her name. "I hate her music. It's so fake."

"That's not the only thing that's fake on her," Padmé alluded to the incredibly popular and large chest she boasted. The reporter went on and on about her music awards and lurid relationships with powerful men. "She does present a provocative image."

"She wouldn't rate a second look from me."

"Voyce has been quoted after a recent concert as saying if the Jedi Council lifted its ban on Jedi pursuing romantic relationships the female-led charge after Anakin Skywalker would make the battle with the Separatist forces over Coruscant look like a minor skirmish. And then she said she'd be leading the charge."

"And I'll be waiting for them with a blaster in one hand and yours in my other," Padmé uncharacteristically sounded off. Anakin kissed her cheek hard until she had to push him away. His wink was cute, albeit silly. Padmé ignored the reporter's attempt to explain why the singer would be a match for her Ani until... "Oh my!"

"Our last entry in the Anakin Skywalker sweepstakes is one who might surprise you. The esteemed Senator Padmé Amidala's beauty and strength of character make her a viable candidate for the Chosen One. Though highly opinionated, she's always rated well among our male polls as far as the kind of woman they would want to take home to meet their mothers."

Anakin's laughter only made Padmé angrier every second that passed.

"The good Senator has a well publicized friendship with Anakin Skywalker dating back many years. Her recommendation to this list was the most hotly contested amongst my staff. While some felt she would be the perfect compliment to Anakin's wild side, others felt her serious personality, understated sex appeal, and holier-than-though attitude wouldn't catch the eye of our rogue Jedi. As one staff member said, and I quote. 'Would she even know what to do with his "lightsaber" if she had it'. Unquote."

"Oh I know exactly what to do with his lightsaber," Padmé graced her husband with a vastly sensual expression while grazing her hand up and down his thigh. "No one could possibly wield his lightsaber better than me. Isn't that right?"

Force be merciful, she owned him whenever she looked at him like that. "Absolutely."

"Might I interject for a moment," C3PO announced, looking back and forth between the two. "Master Anakin's light saber is one of the biggest I have ever seen."

Blushing, Padmé ducked her head, not wanting to laugh so loud the children woke up.

"However would you master such a large and imposing weapon? You hands are quite small in fact."

C3PO was priceless in his own way, Padmé surmised. "Those two children over there are testament to my mastery of his lightsaber," she declared with the utmost pride.

Not sure what was going on here, or how terribly he might have misinterpreted what the news reporter had said, C3PO shook his head, turned around, and walked away. "I don't think I shall ever understand human behavior. It makes me happy that I'm a droid. We always make sense."

Anakin and Padmé laughed until they heard the front door chime sound.

"It appears we have a visitor," C3PO noted. "Shall I answer the door?"

Padmé waited on Anakin, who shut his eyes momentarily and then said. "It's Obi-Wan."

"Welcome our guest, 3PO. Thank you." Padmé enjoyed the good feeling of stretching her arms out after walking around with Luke and then noticed the curiously blank expression on her husband's face. Whatever was that about? "Are you alright?" she asked when she rose from her chair.

Anakin did not reply right away as he sensed his master's nervous Force projections.

"Something's troubling Obi-Wan," he declared after a moment, and then followed her into the living room. The look of concern in his wife's eyes failed to draw his attention as another presence... familiar and... he had no clue why his heart was suddenly racing. "It's alright, I'm sure."

An elusive restlessness rippled across the Force-bond Padmé shared with her husband. She wasn't as confident in identifying its meaning, though her skills had greatly improved with his teachings. For the time being she chose to focus on what was in front of her and not what she couldn't comprehend.

Whenever Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi visited their apartment he was welcomed as an extended member of the Skywalker family and thus was greeted with a warm hug from Padmé. "Ben, we've missed you. I trust your investigation went well?"

Obi-Wan pressed a polite kiss to her cheek and then drew back before her. He bowed respectfully. "My results were successful and yet highly unexpected."

"Whatever the results I'm pleased to see you." Anakin embraced his former master. He chose not to pry into the serious mood Obi-Wan seemed to be in.

Without his trademark smirking grin, Obi-Wan appeared very tense. That wasn't like him at all. Padmé hoped that he was alright. "We just fed the twins and thankfully they've fallen asleep. Would you like to see them? Can I fix you something to eat? Perhaps something to drink?"

"I'm afraid I need to talk to you about a matter of the utmost importance." Obi-Wan rubbed at his beard while deep in thought. Having not made an effort to shield his feelings from Anakin, nor Padmé, whom he suspected was Force-sensitive in some way, he didn't see the need to stress this wasn't a social call. "Both of you, actually." Suddenly, he realized he had forgotten his manners. "I apologize for my interruption. I should have communicated with you earlier before coming over unannounced."

"You never need to do that, Ben. You are always welcome here." Sparing a glance between the two Jedi, Padmé sensed perhaps the men needed a moment alone. It also didn't sit well with her that Obi-Wan sounded far too somber this morning. Something was weighing heavily on his mind. "Come with me 3PO. We'll take the twins to the nursery."

"Thank you, my la... Padmé," Obi-Wan managed a small smile despite his reasons for coming over. Padmé returned it, appreciative that at long last he was able to address her as a close friend. She exited the room, leaving him alone with Anakin.

While dreading the thought of any separation from his family, Anakin accepted that the commitment he made to the Jedi was for life. From the moment he sensed Obi-Wan's presence, the calm that surrounded him this morning began to crumble. "Can I assume a very dangerous mission has been handed to us? Perhaps one that will keep us away from Coruscant for an undetermined amount of time?"

"I wish it were that simple my friend."

Anakin didn't like the sound of that at all. "Is this Jedi business?"

"It's personal," Obi-Wan explained. "But yes, it is associated with Jedi business."

Anakin pressed the issue no further, seeing as how Obi-Wan seemed to be anxiously awaiting Padmé's return. If his visit involved yet another potential threat to his wife's life, heads would roll. Literally.

Having quickly changed into a beautiful emerald green dress, Padmé entered the living room and proceeded to take her place at Anakin's side. She gestured for Obi-Wan to take a seat on the circular couch. "Leia needed a little singing when she threatened to wake up. Lucky for us she's been easy to deal with this morning."

Obi-Wan had never missed an opportunity to see the twins he loved so dearly. The fact that he had not even asked about them worried her a great deal. "Ben, if you've come here with bad news please tell us what it is. There is no need to stall."

Never one to avoid things, Obi-Wan had always appreciated that about Padmé. He struggled with how to proceed. Coming to grips with the things he'd learned in the last few days hadn't been easy for him. For them it would be much worse. "I assure you the news I bring is not bad. But I must warn you, it is very shocking. I ask that you give me time to detail all the facts."

When Anakin offered no reply Padmé sensed a fear rising within him. More than anything else it was a fear of the unknown. "Of course, Ben."

"Master Windu's thorough investigation into Palpatine's dealings since before the invasion of Naboo, all the way to the point of his death, have uncovered startling new information. We have confirmed that Count Dooku was the one who erased all of the information on planet Kamino from the Jedi Archive. He did this before he left the Order. In addition, he posed as the deceased Master Sifo Dyas when he ordered the clone army years ago."

Padmé and Anakin gave him their undivided attention.

"It seems Count Dooku copied many ancient scriptures and journals. According to Mas Amedda, Palpatine was particularly interested in the prophecy of the Chosen One. When it was discovered that the Chosen One had been located at last and that he would have the ability to bring balance to the Force, Palpatine made plans to seize that power."

"By seducing my husband to the dark side," Padmé concluded. "He failed."

A fact Obi-Wan praised the Force for every day. "Palpatine liked to cover all his bases. He at least considered the possibility of failure enough to have a back-up plan."

Anakin's heart suddenly sank into the pit of his stomach. "Please don't tell me I was cloned?"

"No... no, you were not cloned." Obi-Wan chose his words carefully. "Anakin, I love you like a brother. I love your family like my own. I would give my life for any of you. So, I want you to know that what I am about to tell you, I have researched to the best of my abilities. I have consulted trusted colleagues to verify things I am not well versed in. I would never, ever bring information like what I am about to reveal to you without having exhausted every possibility."

There was more. Anakin sensed something just over the horizon. Something pivotal and life changing. He unconsciously reached for Padmé's hand, needing her touch to ground him.

"Anakin, I officially interrogated Mas Amedda and Kamino Prime Minister Lama Su. As you both know they have been charged with serious enough crimes against the Republic to warrant the death penalty. Both offered me information that they claimed would be valuable enough to grant them amnesty from execution. Mas Amedda in particular told me something that Lama Su authenticated. Three days ago I personally escorted her back to Tipoca City to discover the truth."

"And that truth was?"

Obi-Wan saw no way to break this to him gently so he decided to do it straightforward. "Palpatine feared that if you were proven to be the Chosen One and he failed in turning you to the Darkside you would someday destroy him. To that end about a year before we returned to Coruscant and were assigned to safeguard Padmé after the attempt on her life on the landing platform, a small team of specially designed clone soldiers ventured to Tatooine and abducted your mother."

A searing hate rose within Anakin like a tide of fire. "Are you telling me Palpatine was responsible for my mother being taken by the sand people?"

"Yes and no." Obi-Wan continued in as calm and even of a tone as possible. "Shmi did not conceive you with a man, Anakin. You were a virgin birth. A mystery of the Force itself. To that end Palpatine wished to study your mother. He wanted to know if there was anything special about her that he could use." It was now or never. "The clone team captured Shmi from the Tusken Raiders without their knowledge and replaced her with a clone."

"What?" Anakin gasped in a haunted voice. He trembled beside Padmé, her small hand his only anchor to this world.

"The woman you found in the Tusken camp was a clone of your mother. Shmi did not die in your arms."

"I would have known!" Anakin roared until Padmé's gentle tug on his arm calmed him. He stood and began furiously pacing the room. "I was there. I saw her. I would have known if that wasn't my mother."

Obi-Wan regarded Padmé for how to proceed. She gave a nod that it was alright. She knew Anakin best. "You saw your mother dying. She'd been tortured and was bleeding in your arms. Your emotions clouded your judgment. No one expects you to have been thinking about anything but what was in front of you."

This was utter madness. Insanity! Anakin could not believe he was hearing any of this. "I would know," he repeated through a tightly clenched jaw as the color faded from his cheeks. His throat constricted painfully. "I would know."

Unable to sense what she didn't expect to find, which was dishonesty or treachery from Obi-Wan, Padmé questioned, "What proof do you have?"

There was no easy way to reveal the unbelievable. Obi-Wan felt the winds of change blowing all around him. Nothing would ever be the same again. "Prime Minister Lama Su told me Shmi was being held against her will in Kamino's neighboring Rothana system. She'd been held captive there for four and a half years. Lama Su took me to her, Anakin. I found Shmi. She is unharmed, but hasn't been privy to anything that has happened since her abduction. She was isolated from news of the galaxy, her family, and the war."

"You're crazy!" Anakin barked angrily. He stalked toward his former master. "That is not possible. My mother is dead. Someone is playing some sick game with my life, but rest assured I will find out who and..."

"Ani."

Padmé's soft voice effortlessly extinguished the dragon's fire inside him. "My mother is dead." He motioned toward Obi-Wan. "You know what her death did to me. You know all of it now. How could you bring this lie to me?"

"Because it is no lie," Obi-Wan assured him to the best of his ability. "I have run several DNA tests on Shmi myself. I have interviewed her extensively. Upon returning to Coruscant I brought her to Master Yoda. You know there is no Force-being alive with his depth of perception. He meditated with her. His conclusion is that she is Shmi Skywalker." He exhaled a deep breath. "I know how impossible this all sounds."

"No, you don't."

Padmé cautiously approached her husband from behind. She gently rested her hand on his shoulder and then turned his body around so that she could look into his eyes. "Love, Obi-Wan would not ever hurt you this way if he wasn't sure."

Anakin was appalled that she would even suggest... "You believe him?"

"I believe in him. I believe he is capable, intelligent, trustworthy, and that he loves us. He deserves the benefit of the doubt."

"Anakin, there's more." Obi-Wan felt his former padawan's icy stare fall upon him. "Shmi is here. She's in the hallway. She wants to see you."

Anakin stood mute with disbelief clouding his eyes. Air fled his lungs in a rush. He couldn't breathe as if he were suffocating. Shmi's death killed a part of him even his beloved Padmé could not fill. Her loss was an open wound that would never heal. Whomever was perpetrating this scheme directed at him would pay a most brutal price. "I could bring her..."

"No!"

The unbearable agony her husband felt coursed through Padmé as well. She sensed his unwillingness to even consider the possibility. She knew what rehashing this terrible pain could cost him. "Love, if Obi-Wan does have proof we have to allow him to present it."

Anakin glared at her as though she were a traitor and then without saying another word left room.

Taking her own dear time to process things, Padmé looked to Obi-Wan. "Are you sure?"

"I am as sure as I could possibly be. I have done all that I could think to do and all that was suggested to me by those I respect. I would never hurt Anakin on purpose. I truly feel the woman in the hallway is his mother."

If Shmi were alive Padmé knew Anakin would fight believing it with all that he had. If it was a lie then someone wanted to hurt her husband in the worst possible way. Either way they needed to know the truth. "Bring her in. I'm going to talk to Anakin."

Padmé fled the living room and quickly found Anakin in their bedroom peering out over Coruscant's dizzying air traffic. His shoulders were set hard, as if he'd closed himself off so that he couldn't be hurt. She sensed his eyes were shut but that he was aware she was there. "Do you remember when I told you that I knew the perfect room for the children at the Lake Retreat on Naboo?"

Her softly spoken words illuminated memories from his subconscious. He had just returned to her from the Outer Rim Sieges and learned he was going to be a father. His joy at seeing her again amplified a thousand fold when she revealed her pregnancy.

"The room overlooking the garden was my favorite. I knew it would make the most beautiful nursery. I dreamed of that room, Ani." Padmé did not touch him, nor did she expect a reply just yet. "When we arrived on Naboo, and the babies were born, you not only painted the entire room yourself, you installed larger windows to allow in more sunlight and then built that lovely patio for us to enjoy Naboo's wonderful weather." She continued, "I know you remember that. You told me you would never forget the look on my face when I saw all that you had done. You made my dreams come true that day and every day since."

She watched him exhale deeply. His hands clenched in fists at his sides. He was in such pain, all of it shared with her, and so she reached out to him not by touch, but with her heart. "Do you remember three months into the war when you returned to Coruscant for a weekend? We had such hope that the war was going to end when we learned that Count Dooku had agreed to face to face negotiations with Palpatine." The gentle smile that lifted her lips recalled how happy they were. "We laughed and made love all night long. We were so sure that the war was about to come to an end, and then we could decide on what we were going to do with the rest of our lives."

Padmé came around him to his right side, her back to the broad ledge. "Do you remember how disappointed we were when we learned the meeting was a ruse? That it was supposed to be a means to assassinate Palpatine."

Anakin held his fiery anger and deep-seeded fear close to his heart... though she still found a way to touch him.

"We sat in the dark for an hour and didn't say a word to each other. You were leaving in the morning. Do you remember how hard I cried in your arms? Do you remember how bad it hurt to leave me behind?" Her hand lifted to caress his cheek; confident he would not... could not turn her away. His eyes opened to her, misty and filled with pain. "We have lived our small dreams and survived our terrible nightmares, Ani. No matter the outcome we can survive this as well."

"She died in my arms, Padmé." He swallowed deep in the back of his throat and then gazed into her warm brown eyes. "She said my name. She touched my face, and then she passed away. After that I lost all control I had over myself. I lashed out and murdered every living thing I saw. That's what my mother's death awakened in me. It awakened the dragon inside me. One I have struggled to hold in check ever since."

"Your actions were one of intense grief and hatred for those who you felt tortured and killed your mother. Right or wrong you were in a very dark place. I don't know if I or anyone else could safely say what we would have done if we were in that same situation. But what I do know is that you survived it. You did not fall into darkness the way Palpatine wanted you too. You found your way back to me despite his manipulations."

"He promised many influential people more wealth and power than they could possibly imagine in exchange for favors. Those same people are now being hunted all over the galaxy by the Jedi for crimes against the Republic. Their assets have been frozen. Their associates have turned on them. They have lost everything." Anakin had to make her see the truth. He just had too. "Do you know the one thing they all have in common?"

"They all know it was you who killed Palpatine."

"Exactly. I cost them everything Palpatine promised. He could have told them anything about me. This could be one big revenge plot against me."

"Or it could be a miracle."

Sometimes she could be exasperating. "How can you say that?"

"Because there are two miracles just down the hall," she reminded him. "I almost died during child birth. To this day all that I remember is holding your hand and the severe pain slowly fading away. That was a miracle."

"But this!" he cried out, turning from her with his hand swiping over his face. "This is too much. I found my mother's dead body. I flew her across the desert back to the Lars' homestead. I dug her grave with my own two hands. I covered it with dirt myself."

"We have all been fooled before."

"Why are you so confident we are not being fooled now?"

"I'm not. I'm simply open to any possibility, and I have the utmost faith in Obi-Wan. He loves our family. He loves you. He is not easily decieved, nor does he lack intelligence or cunning. If he feels he has found Shmi you can rest assured he has brought proof with him. Proof that we can double and triple check ourselves."

His angel held such everlasting hope within her that sometimes its innocence blinded him. "This is a lie, Padmé."

"Then let us to prove it. But we cannot act as if Obi-Wan isn't someone we trust with our lives." A maelstrom of conflicting emotions flowed between them, as Padmé experienced elements of the Force she had never dreamed existed. "I am with you always."

That alone gave him incentive to make it through the three and a half year war. It served as his best reason to get up in the morning. For her... "Where is Obi-Wan?"

"I asked him to bring Shmi in. They are waiting for us."

"When this is proven to be a plot against me I will make whoever is responsible pay."

"I understand." Padmé knew he sensed her fear as she felt his utter conviction. "They're waiting for us."

Anakin accepted his wife's extended hand, and she led him back into the living room. They rounded the corner hallway as if in slow motion. His heart simply stopped the moment he saw... saw 'her' standing there. Mercy for his soul, she looked as he remembered her. As he had dreamed and grieved for her every time he shut his eyes.

When the tears threatened to fall he willed them back while stonewalling his heart. There was no way this woman... her hair... her loving face... No! He let the cold settle around his spirit.

Anakin slowly walked toward Shmi wearing a grimace as viciously hard as Palpatine's faced before he died. "Who are you?"


The End of Chapter 1