Chapter Eight

Padmé couldn't wipe the grin off her face as she returned to Threepio's company. Carefully she now retraced her steps to the speeder she'd rented. Her mood was instantly elevated by those brief moments just spent with Anakin, and inside her heart was pounding excitedly. Tonight she'd have him all to herself and even if it could only be for a few hours, it would be worth anything the universe asked of her.

The ghost of his touch still caressed her arms, a lingering tingling heightening her senses. She shivered, her steps lifting until she was almost bouncing. Even though Padmé knew she should still be wary of other unsavoury characters – after all if this were a safe planet with only harmless people Anakin and Obi-Wan wouldn't be here – there was nothing that could repress the fulfilment at seeing him again or the giddiness of anticipation.

Only a certain protocol droid's incessant babbling reminded her that she still had to get herself safely back to her ship. Hopefully without catching Obi-Wan's attention, because he still had to be nearby.

"There nothing to worry about Threepio," she quietly assured.

He didn't sound very sure when he replied "If you say so Mistress Padmé, but I still think we should hurry out of here."

"I agree," Padmé soothed, finally setting her eyes on her speeder.

Without looking around she could feel Anakin's gaze burning into her and knew he couldn't be far. He was watching her. With a knowing grin of what those fiery eyes would look like tonight, smouldering in soft light as she lost herself in them, Padmé slipped into the driver's seat. Threepio was all too eager to follow after her and without a glance back towards where Anakin had been beneath her palms in that alley, she started the engine and sped away. Back to where her ship was berthed and eager to make preparations for tonight.

The return trip to the terminal was made in silence, but it was by no means uncomfortable, and the time seemed to fly by. Padmé was deeply lost in her thoughts, a jumbled mix of the list of things she needed to do before tonight change the sheets, bathe, find that new nightgown… and images of just what she would do to him the minute they were truly alone.

She left her golden droid to secure the speeder and hurried to unlock her ship, bounding up the ramp in exhilaration. As soon as she was on board the flashing of a waiting message at the com station caught her eye and a brilliant smile covered her face.

"Left me a message Anakin?" she asked the air with a mischievous grin.

The thrill of anticipation shot through her again, her body lighter than air as she rushed to the control panel and let her fingers fly to enter commands. He must have snuck away from Obi-Wan, or not yet returned to his friend's company, either way he'd left her some message with a promise for tonight. She just knew it.

Or so she thought.

A small figure popped up on the viewing pad alright. But it wasn't Anakin, and there was no deliciously arrogant smirk tugging the corners of his lips. Instead what was obviously a government official bowed in a recorded message, and Padmé's hopes fell. Oh no! she suddenly remembered her agreement to attend to the Viceroy at dinner this evening, as the diplomat invited her to be there early. An engagement that had completely slipped her mind as the mere thought of being near Anakin again had reigned supreme.

Her fingers curled in on themselves, digging into her palm as she cursed her lack of anonymity. It was unthinkable to forego her duty and fail to join the Viceroy. But it was impossible to resist the allure of being alone with Anakin.

Desperate to think of a solution she forced herself to unfurl her fingers so she could rap them on the countertop in a staccato beat. Think she urged herself. There had to be a way to do both, to somehow do her job and put in her time as a politician without interfering with her first chance in months to experience the exuberance of her young husband.

She glanced up, out the expansive viewport to the bustling market town before her. Slowly her smile began to creep back.

"Threepio, what's the time locally?" she asked as her eyes settled on a somewhat battered looking yacht unsteadily aiming for the hanger alongside hers.

Padmé heard his pronouncement of just past midday with barely-disguised glee. She stood up abruptly and began fixing the plain wrap, hoping she could blend in just as well this time.

"I'm going out to observe the town. I'd like you to call the Viceroy's staff back and inform them I am most eager to speak with her. Perhaps she would be free to meet with me for afternoon tea."

"Miss Padmé?" he asked confusedly.

"I may have to eat dinner Threepio, but that doesn't mean dessert shouldn't be the bigger meal."

The dark haired senator swept out of her ship and disappeared into the mainly peasant shoppers without another word, a smile of undeniable satisfaction on her face.

---

Leia winced as Luke guided the damaged craft into the berth they'd been allocated. With a roll of her eyes she studied the Spartan hanger through the front viewscreen. It was barely more than three walls and a few terminals.

"This is what I had to put all my diplomatic skills to use for?" she sarcastically complained to her brother.

He simply shrugged it off, his fingers slipping over the controls to shut down the protesting engines.

"They were upset we didn't approach on one of the assigned vectors. We're lucky, that accident could have been a lot worse."

His passive response irritated her to no end, but Leia did her best to suppress her annoyance. This was supposed to be about finally putting to rest Luke's curiosity about their parents. Well, parents wasn't the right term – more like the machine and the woman he'd either coerced or raped in an encounter that had ended in their conception. Not something she cared to know about, but if they settled this now then they could move on with their lives.

And so far it wasn't off to a very good start. Look how badly their unexpected drop out of hyperspace had turned out. Stranded on a backwater planet with a damaged ship.

"How long do you think it will take to fix?" Leia asked.

She unstrapped herself from the co-pilot's chair and started heading for the exit, wanting to see for herself how bad it was. Judging by the concentration Luke had been putting in just to bring them down safely, she could hazard a guess that it wasn't good.

"Well there's not much out here besides farmers, and the nearest trading outpost is two days away so I imagine getting spare parts is going to be a bit of a problem."

Leia winced as she got beneath the main body and set eyes on the huge gash running along the underbelly.

"We were lucky to get down," she acknowledged, fingering the side of the breeched hull.

Luke too seemed shocked by how much worse the damage seemed now that he was up close.

"We're lucky nothing terrible happened to that other ship," he reminded.

Leia pointed to the starboard thruster, almost completely torn from the hull. In no time at all she'd whipped a datapad into her hands and started making a list of the problems she could at least set her eyes on. A list that was getting far too long for her liking, and far too quickly.

"Can't forget the Nav comp," she muttered, more to herself than Luke. "That's obviously going to need a complete overhaul."

Luke sighed, rubbing his hand over his face tiredly. That was going to be harder to fix than anything – if the Nav computer needed an overhaul then they'd be here for more than just a handful of days.

"At least it decided to fail on us near an inhabited system," Luke tried to cheer her up. "You could have been stuck with me for weeks if we'd had to go at sublight speeds."

She wasn't so eager to see the bright side. A few days, that was what she'd promised Han. Briefly she considered placing a call to him right now, he would probably only take a day to get out here at most. Then she heard Luke swearing softly at the sight of a precariously balanced stabiliser and knew she couldn't abandon her brother now.

There were a few things they had to sort out. Before evil incarnate's next generation of descendents made their way into the world.

"Why did it fail on us at all?" Leia begrudgingly grumbled back.

Luke gave her a sly grin and a quick "Will of the force," then ducked out of sight before she could throw anything at him.

---

By the time Anakin set eyes on Obi-Wan once more the Jedi Master was alone. If he'd even caught their connection in the first place. He was sitting alone at a small table in the local cantina at any rate.

Anakin made a gesture toward the bar tender then joined his friend. For once he thanked those years of Jedi training, and simply hoped they were shining through now. Because his excitement at seeing Padmé was still palpable, he had to try extra hard to school his face into calm. When he'd woken this morning this was not where he expected to be right now. Having just set his eyes – and hands, and lips for that matter – on Padmé for the first time in months.

"Where did you go?" Obi-Wan asked distractedly.

His eyes were still warily scanning the locals, giving Anakin a little more time to take a few deep breaths and try to control the urge to grin. Why did it seem like he could still smell her?

Determined not to let Obi-Wan find out she was here he tried to seem serious as he replied

"I did not want him to feel intimidated. What did you find out?"

A glass of light green liquid appeared next to Obi-Wan's luminescent blue from the barkeep's webbed hand.

"Thank you."

The woman nodded and took the credits from Anakin's hand, leaving them alone at their table. Shaking his head Obi-Wan finished surveying their companions in the cantina then turned his full attention to Anakin. They both hunched in so their conversation couldn't be heard. It went without saying that both were actively scanning the force for any unwanted eavesdroppers.

"What the good Viceroy neglected to mention to the Senate about Kumarat was that it has an exclusive contract to supply the trade federation with grain, under the proviso that they maintain a confidentiality agreement."

Anakin took in this information, his brow furrowing as he tried to understand.

"The trade federation have no need for food crops – their droid armies don't need the kind of sustenance clones do," the younger Jedi noted in confusion.

"No," Obi-Wan agreed. "But they've taken some heavy casualties recently. Their control over the Mid-Rim is weakening, and that's the core of their food basket."

Looking around at the other patrons, for the most part roughened farmers with a few market stallholders thrown in to complete the mix, he could already see a problem looming on the horizon.

"If that's true then this whole economy is being driven by Trade Federation money. Remove that and their reliable income goes with it. They're not going to welcome our interference."

"No," Obi-Wan quietly affirmed.

Silence fell between them as they considered the problem carefully. Biting his lips Anakin considered the attention they'd been receiving the past few days. Almost worshipped wherever they set foot. If people found out they were here to prevent the trade federation from annexing one more planet that could be a serious problem. A threat even.

Anakin's attention drifted to a few minutes ago, when Padmé had been pushed up against the wall of that building and her hands had been smoothing down the top of his chest. Beneath his clothing the muscles in his shoulders rippled, remembering her mouth crushed to his and looking forward to the way she would touch him in a few hours. This time without his shirt on. As he contemplated all the things he was eager to do again, he briefly let his mind plan out his evening. First he would need to make sure Obi-Wan was distracted, like he had been in the market today.

In fact, why had Obi-Wan let their informant go?

"Where is he now?" Anakin asked thoughtfully.

"There's a meeting of the farmer's co-op in a few hours and he wanted to prepare. Depending on the nature of the meeting it could produce a very helpful gauge of local sentiment."

Hoping his face was still schooled into his 'listening' face, Anakin realised it couldn't have been more perfect. A night with Padmé was most certainly awaiting him. Because the opportunity to distract Obi-Wan had just presented itself.

"You should go," he encouraged.

It took effort to suppress the eagerness he felt.

Obi-Wan sat back in his chair, tugging at the short length of his beard.

"You think our informant will mislead us?" he asked, his mind obviously calculating variables.

"Or the meeting may get out of hand. Require your personal touch," Anakin pointed out.

Either way I will go stir crazy if I don't see Padmé. It would be much safer for you to attend this gathering.

Anakin conjured up an image of himself on a maddened rampage, running Obi-Wan through with his lightsaber after being denied the pleasure of a night with Padmé. Much to his delight Obi-Wan nodded in agreement.

"I think you may be right. You'd be best to stay away, we don't want to spook our friend."

"Agreed."

The picture in his mind changed. To Padmé's dark eyes dropping briefly as he brushed the straps of her nightgown over and off shoulders. Then rising once more in smouldering anticipation. He sucked in a harsh breath. Tonight couldn't come fast enough.