Title: Instead of Hurting You

Author: Julie the Tall Terror

Category: AU Post TPM, character depth, action/adventure and some angst

Rated: PG for a little violence

Summary: Ani/Ami romance or at least a close facsimile thereof. Lots of action and evil Sith attempts to seduce Anakin to the darkside. Happy ending guaranteed! Ani is 18 and Padme is 23.

Sequel to "If I Don't Catch You", "I Won't Fail You", and "I'm Counting On You". You actually don't have read those stories to understand this one, but I'd really like you to!

Feedback: Yes! It always improves fanfic! tall_terror@hotmail.com

Begun: June 13, 2001

Completed: July 7, 2001

Qui-gon and Obi-wan are only featured in flashbacks because I couldn't see how Ani could possibly court his lady with two masters looking over his shoulder. ;)

Part 3 of 3

Unknown Planet

"How are you doing, my friend?"

Anakin looked up in surprise. He hadn't heard nor sensed Palpatine approach. I must be more tired than I thought.

"I'm okay," Anakin looked down at the small child sleeping fitfully on a cot. He'd spent the last half hour trying to feed her before she became too exhausted.

"I have been discussing these people's situation with my advisors and my physician," Palpatine said quietly. "Due to the strength and danger of this disease, we may have to voluntarily quarantine ourselves until more healers have come and determined whether it is safe."

"Yes, we can't risk this spreading across the galaxy. Any number of worlds could be susceptible."

"For now, we anticipate that after help arrives, it could be a month before we can leave," Palpatine said sadly. "Perhaps longer."

"I understand, but we have no choice."

Palpatine put one hand on Anakin's shoulder, "You are a good man, Anakin."

Anakin smiled in gratitude and returned to watching the child. While trying to sooth the little one's troubled sleep, Anakin remembered the last time he was in an infirmary.

~~Flashback~~

"I'm really, really sorry, Obi-wan!"

Obi-wan glared at his apprentice. Anakin sounded sincere, but he was still enjoying his master's discomfort. Obi-wan was still pink, but no longer from being covered in the chemicals Anakin had used in his prank. He'd washed that all off, but by then it was too late. Now he was pink and red from a rash.

"I never would have done it if I thought you might be allergic."

Obi-wan laid back on the medical bed and stifled a groan. His skin hurt and itched everywhere. "You shouldn't have done it at all," he said in a tired voice.

"Well, maybe its not so bad. Teiuq can come take care of you!"

Obi-wan gave an incredulous look, "There is no reason for her to see me like this."

"Sure there is, don't girlfriends like to nurse their boyfriends back to health?

"I doubt Teiuq is the type," Obi-wan looked sternly at him, "I don't need to embarrass myself by moaning and groaning just to gain her attention."

"You did a lot of moaning and groaning for the healers."

"That's different!"

"Right, sure, whatever you say Master," Anakin smirked.

"Do you want another week of cleaning duty?"

"No, sir!"

"Why is it you never do these things to Qui-gon?" Obi-wan muttered.

"Its just not as fun," Anakin struggled not to laugh. Besides, Qui-gon never falls for it. He always knows.

Obi-wan glared balefully at him, "Just guard the door and don't let her in."

"Yes, Master!"

~~end flashback~~

Anakin smiled sadly to himself in remembrance. "Kaely, could you look for the -" Anakin frowned when the little droid didn't appear. "Kaely?" She's probably off playing with some kids.


Kaely was bored. After knocking over two bottles of medication and dropping clean cloths on the dirty floor when she'd attempted to carry too many, she had decided to leave the makeshift hospital. The pink droid had been helpful and a great comfort to the children for the last several days, so she was sure Anakin would convince the healers to let her come back tomorrow.

It was dismal outside, so Kaely returned to the ship. Flying close to the ceiling, she soared over the crew and other passengers in the corridor. She weaved around two of the ship's crew hauling out the trash. It reminded her most of the ship's systems were still not functioning and to her dismay that included the doors. While trying to decide how she would get around the ship, Kaely noticed one of the passengers manually pulling open a nearby door.

Darting quickly, she followed the man as he went through the ship. Anakin had never let her explore the ship and Kaely was delighted for the chance to see more of the interior. The passenger was one of the Supreme Chancellor's staff and he went from place to place delivering messages by hand since the com units were fried. She carefully slipped behind him and flew above his head as much as possible so that no one would notice her or order her to leave.

After climbing the stairs, the man stopped at a room near the end of the center level. It took him a long time to get the door open because he had to attach a small portable power supply to the lock and even then it required several electronic keys and passwords. When it finally opened, Kaely could hardly contain a squeal of delight. The tiny room was filled with many big, shiny things. She began inspecting a very beautiful gilded Naboo mirror, while the man opened a safe. When she returned her attention to him she saw that he carefully measuring a small number of bright pebbles into a container and weighting it. He then marked on a datapad how much he removed.

Kaely then realized that she was in a vault for storing the many different currencies they'd need on the different worlds they were supposed to have visited on their journey. And the objects were the souvenirs that the Supreme Chancellor had bought on Naboo. She flew to a safe in the furthest corner of the room and began examining the locks. She was sure it was filled with many pretty things. With most of the main power out, the major alarm system would be out as well. Stealthily, the droid ducked behind a statue and poked one of her arms into the thin card lock. She was thrilled when it was easy to bypass the safe's personal alarm and it opened quickly for her.

Kaely had seen the man use three different shaped keys on the other safe, and so she had to use a different arm for the round hole of the second lock. She stopped a listened to determine if the man had moved. Hearing nothing, Kaely pulled her tiny arm out and peeked over the statue. The man was gone, and a loud clank from the shut door told her that he had locked the outside.

For a moment Kaely was alarmed, but she then decided that it was a good thing. She could explore the vault's pretty things all she liked now. For hours she played dress up with the room's treasures and remembered to carefully put everything back as she found it. Finally tiring of the game, Kaely began looking for the ventilation system. She couldn't open the vault's door, but she could open a very small vent.

It was a very cramped space, and dark. Kaely had to scoot on her wheels most of the time lest she bang against the walls and ceiling of the passage while flying. She turned her little spotlight on low so it would not shine into the vents she passed by. She had intended to go to a room where she could see that the door had been left open, but was distracted by the many rooms she passed that she had never been in.

Curiosity getting the better of her, Kaely opened the small vent and hovered out. It was a fine apartment space with decorative works of art and mirrors. Kaely loved mirrors. She heard the door's mechanism begin to clank and quickly hid herself.

Supreme Chancellor Palpatine strode into the room and rotated the door's manually shut. He walked past the droid to the com terminal in the desk and turned it on. Kaely watched as the machine that should not have been operable came on and told him how many messages he had waiting. She snuck around behind him to try to get closer to the door and be ready to bolt the moment he left the room.

Her movement and bright pink paint was reflected in one of the mirrors and Palpatine spun around. Kaely never saw the flash of lightening that struck her tiny hull. The fried droid fell to the floor with a clunk. Palpatine pulled out a handkerchief to pick up the hot metal and looked over her black and smoking hull. Satisfied that the droid was dead, he wrapped her in the cloth. He flipped open the nearest garbage hatch and dumped the evidence down the shoot.

Leisurely, Palpatine returned to his holo-messages.


Naboo

Padme stared at the horribly injured corpse. Vaguely she heard Sera asking if he had any identification or weapons on him. They both gasped in shock as the captain held out a lightsaber.

"I think that the Sith master has another new apprentice," Anakin whispered in dread.

Padme's mind raced as she remembered what Anakin had told her about the Sith only a few days before. Quickly, she dragged Sera into the next room away from the others.

"Sera, you can't allow your guards to report this," Padme whispered.

Sera frowned, "I can't hide a dead body."

"This man was a Sith."

"A what, dear?"

"The Sith are enemies of the Jedi," Padme practically hissed. "For the last decade the Sith have been trying to either kill or convert Anakin. Anakin's master took down one Sith and Ani killed the last apprentice."

Sera looked back at the dead body sprawled on her floor, "He knew Anakin's last name, but the way he said it... he was shocked."

"The last Sith apprentice tried to kill Anakin out of jealousy," Padme murmured. "But... "

"How would he know to come after you, Padme?"

Padme gasped in surprise, "You're right. If he wanted to know where Anakin had gone, he should have attacked Shmi Skywalker, not me."

Sera's eyes grew wide. Quickly, she bellowed across the room, "Captain! Contact the home of Shmi Skywalker at once!"


Unknown Planet

It was evening, the beginning of the best time of day for Anakin. They'd discovered that the night air was quite cold, giving Anakin more time to rest and eat between tending to the sick. Anakin had fallen into a routine of staying with the Supreme Chancellor after the last meal of the day to speak with him. Though today, Palpatine did most of the talking.

"You've seen the galactic unrest first hand, Anakin," Palpatine drawled. "And how stretched the Jedi are to reduce the outbreaks of fighting everywhere. Its appalling!"

Anakin listened with interest. The majority of the politicians were blind to the seriousness of the Jedi's predicament. Even the ones asking for help didn't realize what a heavy burden the Jedi bore.

"Even as Supreme Chancellor I don't have enough power to help," the old man continued. "The Senate could, but they are too corrupt to care. I've tried my best to make them see, but their greed and ambition consumes them."

Palpatine paused to look at Anakin intently and his voice grew low, "I have fleets of ships loyal to me that are willing to end this anarchy." He smiled faintly as Anakin was suitably impressed and surprised.

He sat back and spoke in a normal tone again, "Anakin, I've revealed this to no one yet, only the Senate. I just want to protect the weaker worlds from their cruel neighbors, but the Senate refuses to let me deploy my ships!"

Finally Anakin broke in, "Why haven't you told us?"

Palpatine's face took on a sheepish look, "I wasn't sure how your Jedi Council would react to the knowledge that I have my own personal army. Which is why I'm telling you, my friend. Will you vouch for me?"

"Certainly sir," At the older man's reminding look, Anakin corrected himself. "Palpatine."

"Thank you. Now, I know you need to rest, goodnight, my friend."

"Good night," Anakin answered and walked out of the ship. The night air felt good. I just need to visit the hospital one more time and then I can sleep. Anakin longed for the cot he'd set up near the afflicted. I wish I could talk to my masters about all this.

~~Flashback~~

"No Kaely, we can't take your painting set. There's just no room."

Anakin waved the hovering droid away and closed up his bag. "I'll find something else for you to do while we are traveling with the Supreme Chancellor."

"Are you ready, Anakin?"

"Yeah!" Anakin called from his room.

"I need to speak with you before I go," Qui-gon replied from the common room.

Anakin grabbed his bag intending to set it by the front door. He walked out and dropped it in shock when he saw his master.

"Qui-gon?"

Kaely saw him too and commented that she thought Qui-gon looked good in green.

"Thank you, Kaely," Qui-gon smiled.

Qui-gon went to pick up his own pack by the door. His shirt was a forest green with a white pattern and he wore gray-blue trousers. He wasn't wearing his brown cloak, but a long indigo coat. The only part of his apparel Anakin recognized was the brown boots.

"Yes, Anakin?"

Anakin blurted the obvious, "You aren't in uniform."

"It would be better if I did not go on vacation dressed as a Jedi," Qui-gon smiled at Anakin's stunned face. "And I rarely get the opportunity to wear civilian clothes."

Anakin recovered himself and dumped his bag by the door.

"Anakin, you will be without Obi-wan or my supervision for the next few weeks," Qui-gon began. "And I am confident that you will conduct yourself properly. However, beware of the politicians you will be traveling with. They can be very devious and would love to manipulate a Jedi for their own agendas."

"I'll be careful," Anakin promised.

"Good," Qui-gon smiled. "Enjoy your time with your mother and try to keep Kaely from tormenting your fellow passengers."

"I will," Anakin laughed at Kaely's indignant beep.

"I have to go now, " Qui-gon told him. "Remember to say goodbye to Obi-wan before you leave. He should be out of the Kenobi Ward by then, but don't count on it."

~~end flashback~~

Anakin fought a wave of homesickness as he thought of the Temple and his masters. I never thought that I'd ever think of the Temple as home. He sighed miserably and leaned against the doorway of the hospital. A tug at his tunic mad him look down.

It was one of few alien children who had not become sick yet. After making some guttural mewing sounds in an attempt to communicate, the child held out a wrapped cloth. Anakin took it gingerly and pulled the scrap of material away in delight. It was Kaely. Her casing was scorched and she was completely out of power, but at least she was in one piece.

Anakin thanked the child and quickly pulled out some tools from his belt pouch. Whatever did you get yourself into this time? Anakin opened the droid's doors to check her power cell. Several wires had snapped loose, but fortunately nothing was melted. Anakin happily reconnected everything and plugged her into one of the power packs they were running the lights with.

We are going to have a long talk once you finish recharging, little one.


Unknown Planet

The next morning Anakin was at first surprised to see that Kaely still had not finished recharging. Well, her power cell has never run dry before either. I guess it would take a longer.

"Ah, Anakin!"

Anakin turned away from the table his tiny droid was on and walked over to the Supreme Chancellor. "Good morning."

"It is indeed," Palpatine gushed. "I wish you'd had breakfast with me today, for I have wonderful news!"

I know that help hasn't arrived, so it is not that. The crew would have said something earlier if it was, and anyway I'd sense an approaching ship.

"It seems that our dear healer has made a breakthrough! He is mixing up a medication now and will treat some of the ill today with it."

Anakin grinned, "That's great!"

Palpatine pulled out a chair from the table where the clean blankets and cloths were stacked. Anakin had given up his cot and slept in the storage room the previous night. The number of patients was growing terribly.

"I wanted to ask how you feel about what we spoke of yesterday, now that you've had more time to think about it."

"Well," Anakin hesitated. Due his near constant exhaustion from tending to the sick and his happiness to have Kaely back, he really hadn't thought much about it at all. "Fleets to protect those who are defenseless sounds good on the surface, however, others would see them as a threat."

"I understand and I was concerned as well. As things have worsened however, we are swiftly running out of options."

"But to use fear is -"

"- to be avoided at all cost," Palpatine interrupted. "I know. But when dealing with terrorists and worlds intent on slaughtering each other, kindness and negotiations don't work. If fear is the only way, wouldn't you rather prevent the wars completely?"

Anakin was perplexed, "There must be another way."

"There is," Palpatine said. "Giving up all together. Take Queen Amidala for example. She chose not to be Queen for another term out of grief for the wretchedness she sees in the world and galaxy around her."

"What?" Anakin frowned at him in disbelief.

"After spending the last ten years trying to make a difference and uphold peace and justice on her own world to no avail... Is it any wonder she has relinquished her position?"

"That's not true," Anakin said defensively.

Palpatine's eyebrows shot up, "Really?"

"Yes," Anakin stated. "She's not one to quit."

"I spoke to her several times before we left Naboo, and Amidala was quite despondent over the situation and gave every indication that she had lost hope," Palpatine hedged.

Anakin was silent for a moment with a scowl on his face, "Padme hasn't and never will give up like that. She'll always work hard doing something to help and improve Naboo and even the galaxy if she can."

For a moment Palpatine's eyes flashed with irritation at Anakin's stubbornness. But then a surprised smile broke out on his face, "I see its no good arguing with you. You'd defend, Padme, to the death."

Anakin stared at him in alarm.

"Don't worry," Palpatine looked very smug. "I won't tell anyone of your affection for the former Queen of Naboo."

Anakin choked on his reply and felt his face burn.

"You hide it extremely well, my friend. I never would have guessed before. Your secret is safe with me."

As the Supreme Chancellor rose to leave, Anakin caught a glimpse of the man's smile turning feral. For the first time in years, Anakin felt real terror.

Qui-gon was right. Politicians are dangerous. I hope help arrives soon, I've got to get home and tell the Council about Palpatine's ideas and plans. Especially about those ships, the potential for disaster is too great.

A quiet ping sounded and Anakin looked behind himself. The machine registered that it had finished recharging the power cell and Kaely's eyes lighted up. She began to whistle frantically before even un-plugging herself from the power outlet.

"Hey, slow down," Anakin told her. "You aren't making sense."

Kaely repeated herself and waited.

"That still doesn't make sense," Anakin frowned. "People can't throw electricity. I think your vocal processor is scrambled. Do you mean you were hit by a fusing tool's bolt?"

Kaely practically hissed a negative. She then began declaring that she'd found a working com terminal.

Anakin stared at her, "Where?!"

Kaely explained how she'd seen a man talking into a holo-terminal on the ship.

"I need more detail, what 'leader-man'? The captain? One of the pilots?" Anakin silently growled in frustration that the standard droid language of hoots and whistles was not conductive for names.

Kaely had made up her own beeps to stand for his name, Qui-gon's and Obi-wan's years ago, but for everyone else she had to describe their appearance. Which could often be fun when another Jedi heard her, in all seriousness, refer to Yoda as "the green troll". Objects, purposes, locations and even feelings, Anakin could deduce, but the names of people had to be invented and only that droid would know them.

"Very important leader who tells everyone what to do," Anakin deciphered. "You mean Palpatine?"

Kaely gave a very loud yes.


Anakin stormed into the damaged ship determined to confront Palpatine. Kaely trailed closely behind him. He found him with his advisors, but Anakin wasn't going to wait for them to finish. Being a Jedi was very useful when ordering people to get out, they often automatically obeyed with question.

Anakin's mouth compressed into a thin line and he fought to not grit his teeth, "Why have you been lying to me?"

"My friend, whatever are you talking about?" Palpatine asked in astonishment. "Jedi can always sense when a person is lying, why would I even try?"

Before those words would have startled Anakin, but not now, he was prepared this time, "You are very skilled at bending the truth and deliberately withholding information. As part of the agreement to send a Jedi escort, you promised to share all knowledge pertaining to security with me."

"Of course, of course," Palpatine tried to calm him. "I've told you everything that I felt you needed to know."

Anakin stared at him intently. He's, again, telling the truth! That agreement is useless! Any clever politician can twist it to suit themselves and tell a Jedi only what they think is necessary without breaking it.

"You have a working com terminal and didn't tell me," Anakin almost growled. "How many plausible sounding reasons can you give to explain that?"

Palpatine seemed to think about it for a moment, "It worked only temporarily, my friend. It shorted out right after I sent a distress signal. It had so little power I feared that the signal would be too weak to be heard by anyone. So," he sighed plaintively. "I chose not to get anyone's hopes up."

This is incredible! Anakin was determined not to be swayed this time. "And what's your excuse for damaging my droid?"

Palpatine was completely shocked and for the first time his eyes looked at Kaely hovering in the air, "I don't know what you are talking about?"

Anakin hesitated, again he detected no deception. Kaely was zapped pretty badly. With all of the repairs and welding going on, Kaely could have easily flown right through the sparks in her eagerness to tell me what she saw.

Kaely began spouting a string of beeps and promises of vicious jabbing and stinging with her various arm attachments. While safely behind Anakin, of course. Palpatine merely blinked at her in incomprehension. Once Kaely realized Anakin still hadn't responded, she began to loudly yell at him, too.

A loud hammering began at the door and someone was yelling frantically. Anakin spun and yanked the manual release. It was one of the crew.

"A ship's coming!" she exclaimed. "We've been able to detect that it is in orbit right now."

"Hurry, Anakin," Palpatine said quickly. "You must be ready to protect that ship from the electrical field before it begins to land!"

Anakin bolted down the passages and jumped out of the ship. For a moment he stood very still as he searched for the incoming vessel with the Force. It was just beginning to drop into the outer atmosphere. Not much time. Anakin began relaxing himself and banishing all disturbing thoughts about his argument with Palpatine. He closed his eyes and slowly the rest of the world began to fade as he concentrated with the Force on that ship only. It would take all of his focus and strength, and he knew it.


"He's here!" Padme called excitedly from the cockpit.

"Finally," Sera sank into the pilot's seat. "Did you hail them?"

"I almost didn't, but I think it's worth the risk to break transmission silence now. We'll be gone long before anyone could trace us."

Sera looked at the readout of information on her console. Before leaving Padme had insisted that she and Sera couldn't contact the Jedi in fear that the Sith's spies would intercept the transmission. However, she did agree to leave a message with her handmaidens. If Padme or Sera didn't contact them within one week, Sabe was to send the warning to the Jedi Temple.

That deadline passed two days ago and every moment since, Padme had worried that the Sith or his minions would track her location, waiting for her to lead them to Anakin.

"Still no answer to our hail," Sera noticed.

"Either they are ignoring it or its damaged, either way means we and Ani are in danger."

The first lightening bolt nearly blinded them both as it darted across the ship's nose. A second and third clashed together nearby. Both women shielded their eyes as another barely missed hitting them.

"Where did this come from!" Padme exclaimed.

Sera didn't answer, she was struggling to fly the ship.


Anakin sank to his knees without realizing it. Again and again the electricity nearly shot the small ship out of the sky. He had expected it to be just as difficult as it had been when he'd landed the Supreme Chancellor's ship, but not harder. Anakin opened his eyes to look at the descending ship.

I should be able to deter it better than this. Anakin gasped as one of the bolts got through and struck the small transport's back exhaust and skitter across the hull. This doesn't make sense, when we arrived the electricity was dispersed striking all around us, but this time the lightening is all concentrated on the ship. It shouldn't be so powerful or... precise.

"No, oh no," Anakin whispered. He risked breaking his focus to take a moment to perceive his surroundings. With mounting anxiety, Anakin turned his head slowly to look at where Palpatine was standing behind him.

"Need help, my friend?"

Anakin stared in horror, "Leave them alone, Sith."

"I might, but that depends on you," Palpatine's fingers were laced together and on his face was a look of absolute concentration. Like Anakin, he was hardly breathing from the effort. "If you want that ship to land intact, you must agree to not leave."

"Never! And don't bother with the 'join me or die speech'. My answer from five years ago hasn't changed."

"Are you sure?"

Anakin jerked as another lightening bolt successfully evaded his defense and struck the ship. The strain of dividing his attention was becoming much worse, but he didn't dare expose himself to the Sith.

"Do you know who is up there?" Palpatine laughed with glee. "Your lovely Padme!"

Terror filled Anakin's mind and threatened to make him loose his focus all together. While struggling to protect them, he spared the control necessary to determine if she was in that ship or not. Anakin began to stiffly stand up.

"Come now, we both have the same goals. We both want peace for the galaxy. You yourself have admitted that the Jedi methods have not been working. I merely have found solution that will, if you are by my side."

"Shut up," Anakin growled hoarsely.

"Tell me, Anakin, do you really think the Jedi would ever let you marry her? A Jedi marrying a politician?" the Sith looked more tense now. "You know you will have to leave the Jedi, so why not join me? I would never deny you the woman you love for such petty reasons."

Anakin began to shake from the stress of splitting his attention. He couldn't maintain his hold much longer. I can't win. If I give in he'll probably kill her, if I fight she'll die too. Anakin never felt so helpless and was acutely aware that he was still only a Padawan.

"No!" Anakin bellowed and struck out with the Force. For a moment, Palpatine staggered back, but regained his footing easily.

"This is your last chance Jedi, you will obey me, or she will die."

Anakin couldn't conceal the fear in his eyes, "Like you said, I'll defend Padme to the death."

I can't keep this up. I can't win against a Sith Master. I'm going to die.

Anakin began using the Force to grab everything within his reach while still trying to partially defend the ship dropping through the atmosphere. He Force flung rocks, equipment, and sand at the Sith giving him no choice but to deflect them to protect himself. And then, Palpatine retaliated.

Electricity, exactly like that in the sky, sprung from the Sith's fingertips. Anakin's lightsaber was in his hands and ignited in an instant. He held it out to block as much as he could and tried not to cry out when the rest hit him. Anything that kept the Sith busy and not attacking Padme's ship was worth it.

Anakin retreated from the onslaught. Palpatine was consistently aiming for his ankles, knees, and arms, but never the head. He wants to disable me, not kill me. Not yet anyway. It's probably taking more effort for him to be careful to not hit me fatally then it would if he wanted me dead.

The wind whipped at his cloak as the ship lowered itself closer to the ground. Suddenly, laser bolts from the ship dug into the ground between Anakin and the Sith. Palpatine held his ground, but had to stop flinging lightening to defend himself. Anakin didn't have time to rejoice. He turned and leaped up at the ship above him and landed on the ramp.

The hatch closed quickly and the ship fired a few more shots at the Sith while it began to rise. Anakin barely had time to catch his breath before he sensed Palpatine lash out at the ship with more Dark Force lightening. The ship's engines whined loudly as they shot back up into the sky. With the last of his strength, Anakin shielded the transport for as long as he could before finally passing out.


"Ani? Wake up. Please, wake up!"

Anakin groaned and opened his eyes only to squint at the bright ship lights above. "We made it?"

"Yes," Padme smiled in relief.

Anakin stared at her in wonder, both happy and horrified that she really had been on the ship. He grabbed her around the waist and fiercely held her tight. As his eyes began to water, he buried his face in her hair.

"Palpatine was a Sith all along," he said in a shell-shocked voice. It was still very hard for Anakin to believe that he and the rest of the Jedi had been fooled for so long.

"I know," Padme whispered.

"He's going to kill everyone on that planet," Anakin whispered. "I think that was his intention all along. He needed some excuse to keep me in one place without any interference so he could get me used to his ideas. It can't be a coincidence that those people down there are sick. He either used some disease foreign to that world, poison, or even something engineered isn't too far fetched."

"It won't happen again, Anakin," Padme tried to reassure him.

"I," Anakin felt his throat go dry. "I walked right into his trap, again! Even with all of the visions warning me."

"Ani -"

"Well, we've reached lightspeed and are set to go straight to Coruscant," Sera announced suddenly from the doorway. Anakin let go of Padme and began to stand up from the ship's deck.

"No, no," Sera waved at him. "You're not supposed to stop hugging her."

Padme gave Sera an incredulous look, while Anakin stared blankly. Kaely trilled a question from where she was sitting on the floor beside him.

"Yes, I'm fine," Anakin smiled sadly at his little droid. "When we get home, I'm going to begin designing a tiny holo-camera for you. No one will ever be able to weasel out of something if you have proof. Not even a Sith."

"Come with me, Kaely," Sera called to the droid. "I want to show you the cockpit."

Instantly, the pink droid zoomed into the air, happy to follow Sera. Sera glanced back at the couple with a smile before shutting the door. Anakin felt awkward in the silence that followed.

"I should have listened the first time," Padme said softly. "Instead of hurting you."

Anakin's eyes grew wide. "Are you serious, I mean, are you going to reconsider... " Anakin's voice trailed off.

Padme grinned, "I didn't know how much I loved you until I thought I'd lose you to-"

Anakin didn't let her finish. He drew her close and kissed her very carefully. Nothing fast or overly passionate, he was too worried that he'd botch it. Just gentle and sweet the way he'd hope their first kiss would be.

"Padme, once Palpatine strikes, we won't have time for anything but survival. We should cherish the time we have now. I, what I mean is, holo-messages won't be enough anymore and... "

Anakin looked down at Padme intently and held his breath in silence. She was very still for a moment before breaking into a huge grin.

"I don't need to live on Naboo. I couldn't bear to be so far from you," She then grew serious, "Anakin, I want to marry you."

Anakin laughed, "When?"

"As soon as possible," Padme kissed him again. "I know that you aren't supposed to, you haven't finished training. But I don't want to waste any time."

He stared at her, "Really? No long courtship or a wedding that takes months to prepare for?"

Padme shook her head, "We can't risk it, we'll both have so much work to do in order to expose Palpatine and stop him. If its possible, I don't want the Sith to even know we are seeing each other, much less married."

Anakin nodded, "Elope now and hold the fancy ceremonies until later. Sounds great to me!"

"What will you tell the Jedi?"

Anakin's face became grave, "I won't. Oh, I'll tell Obi-wan and Qui-gon, I wouldn't be able to hide this from them. But the rest don't need to know, and with the turmoil that is to come, they are unlikely to notice."

"Are you sure? I doubt your masters would approve."

"They'll get used to it. But just in case, I won't tell them until after we get back from the honeymoon."

The End

(until the next sequel)

July 7, 2001

minor revisions: August 24, 2001

Thank you all bunches and bunches! I've never felt nervous about writing a story before (I happily jumped into writing the others). But just the thought of trying to write this one scared me senseless! I don't know if I could have finished this without all of your encouragement to keep going. :D