Chapter Nine

Padmé surveyed the Viceroy's manicured gardens with a trained eye. She herself had once lived amongst the most beautifully landscaped scenery on Naboo – and this setting was comparable. But something just didn't seem right. Naboo is an urbanised and highly prosperous population. Kumarat is comprised of rural dwellers that for the most part struggle to reach a subsistence level of existence.

Yes the gardens were well-maintained, not a leaf out of place on any shrub, but while Theed's royal gardens were an expression of its people, these seemed like a flaunting of ridiculous wealth. Her wanderings around the market place had not made it obvious until she'd seen this place. On Kumarat, money was concentrated in the hands of an elite few.

And it disgusted her.

"More tea, my lady?" a voice asked behind her shoulder.

Anakin her heart immediately jumped. It wasn't him, of course. It was one of the Viceroy's attendants. But the inflection in his tone – it reminded her of him. Her Anakin, and his deep, soft, formal address when he had been seducing her with everything he had – coaxing her until she'd let him slip into her heart.

And it reminded her for the tenth time in as many minutes that the sun was falling away in the sky, and her ship was waiting. Ready to provide the private space they needed. Possibly with him already inside, listening to Threepio's endless chatter and waiting for her to return. Or even better, just a few minutes away from arriving. Then she could have a little time to herself – to light some candles and change into something more appropriate.

Intricate gowns are inappropriate when I haven't been with Anakin in months.

Her mouth turned up in a secretive grin and she quickly tried hard to suppress it.

"No, no tea. Thank you," she dismissed the server, moving to her feet.

It was time to initiate the farewell procedures. After all, as important as playing political lip service was, time with Anakin was the reason she was here.

"Thank you for accepting an audience with me on such brief notice, Viceroy Kataira."

The regal woman nodded her head and moved to stand too. They slowly began walking towards the wide-open doors that gave entrance to the palace.

"I thank you for gracing us with your presence, Senator. You've been most enlightening on the Republic's concern for Kumarat."

Ha! Padmé snorted in her mind. I gave away nothing and neither did you. Still, she knew how to play the game and her agreement with the viceroy's statement was non-committal.

"I will have much to tell upon my return to Coruscant."

Of greed, selfishness and perhaps a little on corruption as well she sarcastically remarked to herself but bit her lip to keep her tongue silent. Stop it! the senator then berated herself. You didn't come here to boost morale, you came here to remember that being married isn't about constant heartache and worry. You came here to stop being the victim, the passive war-wife. You came here, because – her face lit up as she pictured him again.

"It has been a pleasant afternoon Viceroy. Thank you."

With that, Padmé nodded her thanks and allowed herself to be escorted out to the speeder she'd arrived in. The guard baulked at her unprotected transportation, just as one of his colleagues had on her arrival, but Padmé was without her security team and quite frankly didn't see the need for them in this environment. The native population were friendly, and the enforced acknowledgement of a class difference irked against her nature. So she ignored the guard, strapped herself in, and turned back to the port.

As soon as she was at the speeder controls, politics was gone from her consciousness. Instead her attention flickered back and forth. Between the hope that Anakin wouldn't be there waiting for her, so she would have time to prepare. As well as a list of things she hoped she could pull together, their locations in various compartments across her cruiser. And finally the image of Anakin's intense gaze locked on her as beneath her fingers his dark robe fell from his shoulders and pooled at his feet.

---

"What will you do with yourself this evening?"

Anakin shrugged, hoping he looked like he didn't care. In his head he'd been keeping up a steady monologue for about four hours now. One that asked Obi-Wan to disappear so he could leave this forsaken village. Even after he left their accommodation he knew with travelling time and necessary precautions he would be pressed to reach her in an hour, and his body couldn't wait that long. His heart was even more desperate, anxious to be near her again.

His plans for the evening were well and truly settled. And there was absolutely no way he was sharing them, especially with his partner.

"I'll find a way to entertain myself."

As Obi-Wan gobbled down the last of the odd-looking meal he'd procured for himself, a thought suddenly struck the younger Jedi. He could spend the night. With Padmé. If he could only come up with some plausible reason now, he could actually wake up in her arms tomorrow.

His eagerness sprung up another notch as a picture of them the morning after their wedding flashed before his eyes. The sun streaming in over the rumpled sheets and Padmé's mischievous grin dancing near his lips as she kissed him. Her hair tumbling down her shoulders in a dishevelled and quite frankly, thoroughly ravished, mess.

Think! He quickly ordered himself, knowing that now it had occurred to him there was no way he would be coming back here tonight. But his mind kept coming up blank. It kept stumbling over the image of Padmé waiting for him in her ship. Where there was a bed.

What had been his previous excuse? The informant. There's got to be something there! he hurried himself in desperation. Ah-ha!

"What if he decides he wants your protection? It may be best if I disappear until tomorrow," Anakin offered.

Obi-Wan reached for his drink, taking a long draught. There was a moment's silence as the Jedi Master swallowed and the Knight willed him to play along.

"I don't think so. He was incredibly wary of me this afternoon, I doubt he has more than the most rudimentary trust for me."

Groaning internally Anakin wanted to kick his master for not willingly playing along. Stubbornly he pressed his friend to accept that the somewhat shaky premise could actually occur. It only had to have enough believability to warrant Anakin staying away until morning.

"But if the meeting gets out of hand he may turn to you."

And if Padmé is not under my hands soon I will hurt that informant personally just to distract you.

Obi-Wan seemed to consider that as Anakin quietly begged the force to grant him this one night. It was Padmé for crying out loud! They had been apart, what was it, thirteen weeks now? She'd taken a big risk, come to this ridiculously unsafe planet and, despite the easy portal she opened for rumour and insinuation to begin, her intent was specifically to be with him. How could they possibly be denied when they were this close?

"Not likely," came the easy dismissal. "If you really think there is that much risk perhaps you should come yourself and watch from a distance. I could use you in a fight."

A pair of fingernails dug into the bedspread beneath him as Anakin's hands slowly fisted. He tried to keep his frustration from showing on his face but it was hard. Just – cooperate! he angrily demanded, his tension increasing as Obi-Wan refused to play along. How else was he going to be able to explain getting out of this?

His blood continued to bubble, approaching boiling point as the avenues leading to the centre where Padmé's ship rested seemed to be closing off by the second. Clutching at the very last possibility, he tried a final time, playing on Obi-Wan's fears.

"He is very suspicious, do you think he'll stake this place out while you're gone?"

There was a long silence as Obi-Wan considered just that proposition. Please please please.

"That is possible," the agreement finally came and Anakin profoundly thanked the lifeforce that had conceived him. "We'll meet up again in the morning. Stay scarce until then."

Anakin curtly nodded. Perfect.

Obi-Wan set about clearing up the remains of his meal and then bid him farewell. Anakin only waited long enough to see him pass out the front entrance of their lodgings and mount a swoop bike before he too left the minimal accommodation behind.

He had a loved one to be with. His heart already started pounding as he gunned the engine, and headed towards a hopefully-already-waiting Padmé.

---

Padmé dug through her bag, finding flight suits and shawls, hairpieces, but no nightgown. Finally her fingers brushed against a soft satin and she grinned in relief, grasping hold of the piece and tugging. The selection of nightclothes that filled her wardrobe had definitely changed since a handsome Jedi – her handsome Jedi – had come into her life. He expected nothing, but – she shivered in remembrance. The feeling of his hands grazing over her skin, and that look in his eyes on the rare occasions they had spent their nights together…There was a reason her nightgowns had become a lot more expensive and a lot more – revealing.

And this one was the newest addition. She quickly stripped off the layers of her outfit and grabbed her present for Anakin. Knowing him he probably wouldn't explore her much beyond feasting on her lips before they were curled up together in a post-orgasmic haze but still, as the soft fabric slid over her skin, it pushed away the final frustrations of her trip. Made her feel…very ready for her husband to come back to her.

She checked her watch as she undid her hair and quickly ran a brush through it.

"Threepio?" she called out through the open doorway.

Padmé next went for a spark lighter and crouched down in her wardrobe, quickly drawing out a tight package of brown paper. As she unwrapped it a dozen candles came rolling into her hands, subtly scented with long burning but so-far virgin wicks.

"Is there anything I can do for you Miss Padmé?"

Looking up she couldn't wipe the smirk that was on her face. Oh no, the only person who would help her now was hopefully on his way.

"If you could wait until Anakin arrives and then disable the com that would be wonderful. After that, you can shut down for the night."

She arranged her candles and started lighting them, almost bouncing out of her skin as she anticipated his arrival.

"Of course! I'll go wait right now!"

"Thank you Threepio," she was sincerely grateful as he left.

Quickly glancing around the room her eyes fell on the bed, still messy from when she'd gotten up this morning. Thought she hated making the damned thing, this was one occasion where perhaps she could make an exception. Especially if she was going to have Anakin in it soon.

An hour later he still hadn't come and she flopped back onto her bed, bored and sick of anticipating. Padmé knew it probably wasn't his fault. Who knew how he planned to get away from Obi-Wan, if he even could. She glanced around her candle-lit bedroom, the romantic setting with its soft light and finally gave in. There was only so long she could sit still doing nothing, it wasn't in her nature.

Rolling out of bed she opened her case and pulled out a dressing gown. Even though she was the only one on board, she still tugged the robe over her revealing nightgown and made her way to the cockpit, activating the holoimager. If she couldn't spend time loving her husband then at least she could get some work done.

Time ticked past and her anticipation of Anakin's arrival began to wear off. Instead, the death toll, the increasing death toll of the war started to occupy her thoughts as she watched the flickering projection before her. Horrifying images of war she had seen many times before. Devastated worlds and destroyed bodies. One particular piece of footage caught her eye and she paused the transmission. Staring at it endlessly. In shock.

Bodies. Dead bodies. In telltale plain robes, some with silver hilts lying by their side.

Dead Jedi.

As the reality of the image began to confront her, that sometimes there were situations even Jedi couldn't escape from, she heard footfalls on the gangplank.

---

A roguish grin crept up on to Anakin's face unbidden as he approached a very familiar looking Nubian cruiser. Before the bike's engine had completely cut out, the vehicle still moving, he vaulted off of it. Barely able to keep from running as he dashed up to the control panel and lowered the ramp.

Oh yes, ohhhhh yes he rejoiced, already feeling her presence nearby. Her exhilarating presence. The one that made him feel everything good that had happened in his life, was happening all at once.

His feet barely touched the ground as he bounded into the short hallway. Just as a flash of Senator dashed out from the cockpit and flew into his arms.

Time stopped. Just for a moment. While her arms twined around him and he lost his sense of everything else. The smile on his face turned from one of wanton anticipation to genuine joy. Surrendering to the press of Padmé's body.

She pulled away and looked him in the eye. Cupping his cheeks and holding him still.

"Don't ever die on me," she ordered in her determined voice.

Anakin's forehead furrowed as he tried to decipher what she meant. But before he even had the chance her soft lips captured his. And everything else was lost. The silky fabric whispered beneath his fingertips as he caressed her. Finding fulfilment in her harsh gasps of breath. Sliding into her soul while their kiss deepened with every passing second.

"I thought we wouldn't be together again for weeks," he told her hungrily when they were forced apart to draw breath.

Now he really had the chance to see her again. Her pale skin glowing even under the harsh ship's lighting. Her lips glistening with his kiss. And two dark eyes were avidly searching his.

With a quiet groan he braced himself against her. Feeling her hands begin travelling his body.

"Are you alright?" she asked seriously.

That was when he understood. She wasn't trying to arouse him. She was looking for new injuries. And he would never lie to her. Carefully he took her hand in his own and led it up his left arm to just above the elbow joint. When she pressed the spot he winced. Watching her for her reaction.

"Shrapnel wound from an exploding droid carrier," he answered her hoarse demand of "how?"

"But I'm still here," he quietly soothed.

Desperate to take her mind away from it. Especially when they were together for the first time in far too long. At that moment his eye was caught by a flash of light. Briefly he glanced down, his attention distracted. Beneath the untied robe, expensive shimmersilk caressed her, so thin that where it cascaded over her curves very little was left to the imagination. And his imagination needed no prompting.

"I managed to convince Obi-Wan I should stay away the whole night," he murmured.

His eyelids were heavy, and the need to explore her with his hands and more began to grow. To see how she had changed since they'd last been together.

With a smouldering gaze and nothing more, he took her hand and led her a few paces down the hallway. To where their bedroom waited.