The following is a work of fanfiction. All characters and situations belonging to the Star Wars saga are copyrighted to Lucasfilm Ltd. Everything else, including original characters, is of my own creation.

Author's Notes:

The very first time I saw Attack of the Clones back in 2002, I left the theater with one very particular question on my mind: how had Anakin and Padmé decided to get married? I immediately decided that I would have to one day address this very issue in a fanfiction. And after many years of wanting to write the story, Bonds was born. Eight months in the making, I now finally have a satisfactory answer to my question.
This story is designed to take place in canon. It literally is an "insert" into Attack of the Clones, before going past it at the very end. I did my best to make sure that I did not contradict the movies in any way, but there are sure to be mistakes. I hope that they will not detract from your enjoyment of the story.
I would like to add at this point that I play fast and loose with Expanded Universe materials. I use the movies and the screenplays as my primary guides. I will sometimes include things I like from the EU, but anything you do not recognize is my own creation.
This story contains implied adult content. Nothing is explicity shown, but there a main plotline dealing with the issue of sex. I advise caution to younger readers.
All questions and comments may be sent to me at my e-mail address. Please see my author profile for details.
Thank you and I hope you enjoy the story.

Julie Horwitz


The word circled endlessly through Anakin Skywalker's mind as he lay in the infirmary aboard the Justice. And as much as he wanted to deny it, he knew that it was exactly what he was. A complete and utter failure.

Mom was dead because of him. He had not been there when she needed him. He had waited too long by trying to ignore his instinct that his nightmares would come true. Because Obi-Wan had told him over and over again that dreams were nothing but dreams and that they would eventually "pass in time," he had been obedient and stayed where he was. But his Master had been wrong and now Mom was gone forever. Because he had failed to listen to his own feelings.

He had failed and she had died.

He wished he were dead instead.

And he knew he could have been...should have been. His reckless behavior on Geonosis had nearly cost him his own life many times over. He knew he was lucky that his arm was all he had lost. (The effects of the painkillers were again wearing off and the throbbing pain served as yet another reminder of his failure.) He had been an arrogant and overconfident fool in thinking that he could rescue Obi-Wan without help or that he could even stand a chance against an opponent like Dooku on his own. (And that had been before he had even known Dooku was a Sith.) His mistakes had not only almost gotten him killed but Obi-Wan as well.

Some Chosen One he was.

And Padmé...

Padmé who had at last admitted that she loved him...

She had almost died too.

Because of him.

And after losing Mom, the thought of losing Padmé was too much for him to bear. She was everything to him, his heart and soul. The best and most treasured member of his remaining "family." (Obi-Wan and the Chancellor were both very important to him, but neither could ever equal Padmé.) And now that he knew she loved him as much as he loved her...

He could not live without her.

Yet he knew that it was exactly what he had to do. It was the only way to keep her safe. He was too dangerous for her to be around. He had almost caused her to die once. He refused to let that happen ever again. Not to her.

Not to anyone.

As he lie in bed thinking, he had realized that he had no choice but to leave the Order. It was the only way to prevent his incompetence from harming anyone ever again. A Jedi was supposed to be strong and able to protect everyone from everything. As the last few days had proven, he was neither. The only things he was was weak and pathetic and all he did was bring pain to those around him. He had no right to remain a member of a group that would be better off without him.

Padmé would be better off without him.

Where he would go and what he would do he did not know, but at least he would no longer be there to let anyone down.

To fail anyone...

As soon as he returned to Coruscant, he would announce his resignation to the Council. (An event he knew would please certain Masters all too well...) Then he would leave and he would never be in a position to endanger anyone ever again. It was the right thing to do.

It wasn't as if anyone would really miss him.

Well, except for Obi-Wan.

And saying goodbye to him would probably be one of the hardest things he would ever have to do in his life.

For all of their arguments and disagreements, Anakin knew that he and his Master were very close. The past ten years had seen their relationship strengthen and deepen over time. In Anakin's opinion, they had long ago stopped being simply Master and Padawan. Anakin saw Obi-Wan as the only father he had ever known and he had no doubt that Obi-Wan saw him as a son. A pain-in-the-backside son, but a son nonetheless. (Why else would Obi-Wan be so hard on him? If he did not care about him, he wouldn't push him to be the best apprentice he could be.) As strictly as Obi-Wan followed the Code in all things, he had broken the rule against attachments a long time ago. And Anakin knew neither of them would have it any other way. It was what made their relationship so special and unique.

Truly the biggest issue between them had always been their differing views on how fast Anakin's apprenticeship should progress. Anakin had long felt that because he was so strong in the Force that he didn't really need to learn every minor technique. He had believed that his focus should be on the more advanced Jedi skills. It had been his opinion that the more basic skills were for those who couldn't access the Force as easily as he could. And since he had the highest midi-chlorian count on record...

Obi-Wan, on the other hand, was a believer in the slow, steady, and methodical approach to training. He refused to teach a new technique or skill until Anakin had mastered the one he had last been taught. And Obi-Wan insisted on teaching every single piece of Jedi technique used in the Order. It drove Anakin mad and had been the source of argument after argument.

What an ungrateful fool he had been.

If only he had understood what Obi-Wan had been doing for him. His Master had gone out of his way to make sure that he was as thoroughly trained as he could possibly be. By teaching him everything there was to learn, Obi-Wan had been preparing him for every conceivable situation he could come across as a Jedi. And had he appreciated any of it? Of course not! He had been too busy believing that he was better than anyone else, the best and most powerful Jedi that had ever lived.

And now, at last, his overconfidence and arrogance had caught up with him. Because he hadn't listened to his Master, he had gotten both of them hurt.

He had gotten Padmé hurt.

Leaving would probably be the first correct thing he had done since joining the Order.

Obi-Wan would of course be disappointed by his decision, but he would soon come to realize that it was the only one he could have made. It would be unfair of him to continue wasting Obi-Wan's time. His Master deserved a worthy apprentice, one that would listen to him and appreciate how lucky he was to have such a good teacher. (How Obi-Wan had put up with him for as long as he had he would never know.) An apprentice that deserved such a wonderful Master. Unlike him.

He who was nothing but a failure and a fool...

At least saying goodbye to Padmé would be relatively simple.

Although she had confessed her love to him, Anakin knew that Padmé would still tell him that they could not be together. Nothing had changed. He was still a Jedi and she was still a senator. A life together would be impossible, she would remind him. And this time he would not argue with her. For her own safety, he would let her win.

She had nearly died once because of him. He would rather die himself than to have her life at risk because of his failings ever again. He loved her too much. Knowing that she loved him too would have to be enough. It was for the best and Padmé deserved nothing but the best.

Confident in his decision, he began to mentally compose his resignation...


Padmé Amidala walked through the Justice's infirmary in search of someone who could tell her where Anakin was.

Despite the late hour, she had to see him, to talk to him.

There was so much that needed to be said. She didn't even know where to begin.

Mainly, she wanted to apologize to him. It was her fault that he was lying there in the medical ward at all. She was the one who had insisted that they go and "rescue" Obi-Wan themselves. (She had truly believed that it would be a simple matter of diplomatic negotiations. How naïve she had been...) All she had wanted to do was to take his mind off of his pain. The death of his mother and his subsequent...actions...against the Sand People had both devastated him. She had hated seeing him in such agony and had only wanted to help. She had thought that freeing Obi-Wan would be a good distraction.

Instead, it had only made things worse...

Then, after she had finished apologizing, she intended to beg for his forgiveness. Forgiveness that she didn't deserve but wanted...needed... nonetheless. He had almost died because of her. She had forced him to go to Geonosis. He had not wanted to disobey the Council's orders, but she had not given him a choice. And if it hadn't been for her, he would have never gone up against Dooku. She felt as if she had severed his arm herself.

But she knew that Anakin would forgive her easily...too easily. His love for her blinded him to her faults. He would not see her as responsible for any of what had happened. But he would accept her apology just to appease her. As she had quickly learned, Anakin would do or say anything if he thought it made her happy even if doing or saying it went against his own wishes.

Such as backing down every time she had refused to admit her feelings for him.

She knew he was desperate to enter into a relationship with her. His words to her that night at the lake retreat had made that perfectly clear. He wanted to be with her and no one else. He didn't even seem to care that it was against the Jedi Code and that he would be expelled if he were ever caught. All that mattered to him was that he loved her and that he suspected she loved him too.

Suspicion that had become fact by her own admission...

He was never supposed to have found out. She had known what would happen if she ever admitted her feelings for him. He would see it as "proof" that they were meant to be together and then begin to press her even more intensely to enter into a relationship. It had been a disaster waiting to happen.

A disaster that was now imminent...

She knew Anakin was well aware of the consequences he would face if he were caught in a relationship with her...with anyone. Jedi were forbidden from having attachments of any kind. (And Padmé could think of no greater attachment than love.) It was public knowledge that any Jedi caught breaking the Code would be immediately expelled. Yet this fact did not seem to deter Anakin in the slightest, which made no sense considering how important being a Jedi was to him.

One of the first things she had learned about him when they had initially met ten years ago was that he had always dreamed of being a Jedi. The fact that he had been a slave had made no difference to him. It had been his dream and he had been determined that it would come true. And, thanks to the chain of events that brought him to the attention of Master Jinn, it had.

She remembered how excited he had been about it on that first trip to Coruscant. The topic had come up when she had started talking to him as a way of taking his mind off of his mother, whom he had desperately missed. It had not taken long for the conversation to turn to his hopes and dreams about the new life that awaited him. He had had so many plans back then. So much good he had wanted to do.

Good he could not do if he were expelled.

The last ten years of his life had been devoted to training so he could make those dreams come true. Why would he suddenly want to risking losing everything by being in a relationship with her? Why did he not seem to care? Why was being with her so important to him?

Why her?

She did not understand how he had fallen in love with her in the first place. When they had met, she had been fourteen and he had been nine, hardly an age where a child even thought of the concept of romantic love. She had been kind to him, of course, but none of her actions had been anything other than that of a big sister caring for a younger brother. And truthfully they had spent very little time together, her mind occupied with getting the Trade Federation off of Naboo. Yet when they had been reunited after ten years of separation, Anakin had already been madly in love with her. How? Why?

It made no sense to her. When they had parted, they had been children and they had barely known much about each other. Yet somehow over the course of the past ten years, Anakin had fallen deeply in love with her. He had blatantly confessed to thinking and dreaming of her constantly during that time, a confession that had at first frightened her. (She had feared that it meant that he had less than honorable intentions towards her. Fears that had been reinforced by the way he constantly looked at her...) But after getting to know him...

In the short time since they had been reunited, Padmé had come to realize that Anakin did not lie about his feelings. On the contrary, he voiced them every chance he got. He was open and honest about everything. If he said he loved her, then it was the truth. If it had simply been lust, as she had initially thought because of his behavior towards her, he would not have continually backed off with every rejection. Knowing Anakin as she now did, he would have kept pushing until she gave in. By backing away, he demonstrated that he respected her feelings and cared about her. A man only after her body would not have taken her feelings into consideration. That small act expressed his love for her more than mere words ever could.

And Anakin's love was a powerful thing. It was so intense... (Even Mom and Sola had picked up on it after just spending a few hours with him.) To be the recipient of such love was both flattering and frightening. How could any one man feel so deeply for her? Who was she to deserve such devotion?

She had been a fool to think she could resist being affected.

She didn't even know when she had fallen in love with him. It had just happened. All she knew was that she had become aware of her feelings the first time he had kissed her. One moment they had been talking and then his lips had suddenly been gently pressed against hers. And in that instant, she had known that she loved him. The kiss had felt so right, so perfect. She hadn't wanted it to end...

And then she had remembered who they both were and why they were in the Lake Country and she had instantly broken off the kiss. Anakin was a Jedi, forbidden to love anyone, and she was a senator, who was older and supposedly wiser, under his protection. If she allowed herself to openly love him, she would ultimately destroy his dream. And while Anakin acted as if he did not care, she knew deep down that being expelled from the Order would devastate him. (How could it not?) She loved him too much to let that happen. It would be better if she stopped things before it was too late. Her love gave her the strength to push him away.

But she would be lying if she said it hadn't hurt.

Anakin had managed to do what no other man had ever done: he had gotten her to fall in love with him. The way he made her feel... For the first time in her life, she knew what it was like to love and be loved. It was amazing and overwhelming and keeping it hidden from him had been getting harder and harder with every passing day. She wanted nothing more than to be with him. The strength of her feelings towards him surprised her. It was unlike anything she had ever experienced.

Until he had come back into her life, her work had been everything to her. Nothing else had seemed important, especially not something as trivial as romance, though, like any young woman, she had secretly hoped for marriage and a family. (But never with a Jedi!) Helping others had been her sole joy. Knowing that she could help even one of the millions of beings who suffered on a daily basis was enough to make her happy.

Of course, no one around her had been able to see that. All they could focus on was the fact that she was well past the traditional Nubian age of marriage. (Her family, especially Mom and Sola, constantly bemoaned her "lonely life," as they called it, and urged her to drop out of public service altogether.) Not that it was any of their business, but there was nothing Padmé could say or do to stop the comments, or even more less welcome, the "help:" blind dates in the form of political meetings or arranged escorts for social events, all of which she would politely suffer through. It was tiresome, but she had gotten used to it.

Truthfully, the only reason she didn't date was because she had never met a man who had interested her in the least. Why should she be with someone she didn't care about? She had no intention of marrying just for the sake of marriage. If she married, it was going to be for love. And, until now, she had never felt that way towards anyone...

And, ironically, it changed nothing. She and Anakin could not be together. She would not allow him to lose his dream. And although he couldn't see it at the moment, it was for the best. He had devoted the last ten years of his life to becoming a Jedi. She refused to let him give up everything he had worked so hard for for her. She was not worth such a tremendous sacrifice.

Pushing him away was the right thing to do.

No matter how painful it was.

She was then jolted out of her musings by the sound of a door sliding open and someone stepping out into the main corridor. She looked up just in time to see Obi-Wan Kenobi emerge from a room and walk directly into her path.

Oh, no!

Resisting the urge to panic, she quickly banished all thoughts of Anakin from her mind. She could not risk Obi-Wan picking up on them, which was why she had waited so long to go to Anakin. (She expected that their conversation was going to be highly emotional and feared anyone sensing those emotions, especially his Master.) She had hoped he would have already left his Padawan's side for the night. She had a terrible feeling that he was already suspicious of her because of her actions in the hangar. (She had not been thinking when she had rushed into Anakin's arms after finding him. Her sole focus had been on the fact that Anakin was still alive. She had behaved inappropriately not only in front of Obi-Wan, but in front of Master Yoda as well.) She would have to be careful in how she presented her request to see him.

"Good evening, Senator," Obi-Wan greeted in his usual friendly tone. There was no indication that he was wary of her intentions, but that meant nothing. He was a Jedi and Jedi were adept at hiding their feelings. (Well, most Jedi anyway. Anakin was the exact opposite.) "How is your back feeling?"

"Much better, thank you," she answered, offering him a smile. She would use his behavior as a cue for her own. If he was friendly, she would be friendly. If he turned accusing... "The doctors tell me that there should be no scarring.

"And, please, it's Padmé," she urged, getting an idea. If he did not trust her, he would most likely want to keep things formal between them. (Although she privately referred to him as "Obi-Wan," to directly address him as such would be disrespectful.) "After all we've been through together, I think it's time we dropped the formalities. Don't you agree?"

"Completely," he told her, smiling back. "And in that case, I must insist you call me Obi-Wan. It's only fair."

Her guard somewhat relaxed. His friendliness was apparently sincere. If he was suspicious, he was not letting it color his opinion of her. (Perhaps he had been too distracted to notice her transgression with Anakin? Considering the pain he was in at the time, it was possible.) Until he indicated otherwise, she would continue to treat him in kind.

"Very true," she agreed. "All right...Obi-Wan, now it's my turn to ask: how are your injuries feeling?"

Anakin had not been the only one cut by Dooku's blade.

"Less painful then they were," he informed her. "The medication they gave me is working marvelously. If it weren't for the two new additions to my scar collection, I'd never know they were there."

Padmé couldn't help but laugh at his quip. "'Scar collection'? And here I thought Jedi weren't allowed any possessions."

Anakin had mentioned his Master's quirky sense of humor though this was the first time she herself had experienced it. She took it as a good sign. If he was joking with her, it meant that he did not view her as someone untrustworthy.

"What the Council doesn't know," he deadpanned and then they both laughed.

Obi-Wan was definitely someone she could see having as a friend.

It was no wonder Anakin cared so much for him.

Suddenly, his smile faded and he became serious. "I take it you've come to see Anakin."

Her guard snapped back into place at the abrupt change in his demeanor. Had she misread his friendliness?

"Only if he's up to visitors," she cautiously admitted. "I don't wish to disturb him."

"On the contrary, it would be a blessing if you could," Obi-Wan said, taking Padmé aback.

What a strange thing to say. "What do you mean?"

"Senator...Padmé, forgive me for the bluntness of what I'm about to ask, but I need for you to be honest with me," Obi-Wan went on. "What is the status of your relationship with Anakin?"

It took all of Padmé's self-control not to react to the question. Why was he asking her this? What did this have to do with visiting Anakin?

"We're friends, nothing more," she carefully answered. Had the friendly conversation they had just had been a trap to get her to admit her feelings? Obi-Wan appeared to already be aware of them. (Obviously, he had seen her rush into Anakin's arms.) But hadn't Anakin made it clear that Obi-Wan was known for being up-front and honest about everything? Why the deception? "Why?"

"Would you say that you are close?" he continued, ignoring her question. "Please. This is very important."

Unsure of where he was going with this, she decided to be as truthful as she possibly could without revealing too much. There was no point in lying to a Jedi. He would know.

"I suppose," she stated in as casual a tone as she could manage. "I know I feel close to him. We...shared a great deal about ourselves with each other while I was in hiding. I know I'm very comfortable around him and he gave the impression of feeling the same way around me. But I can't speak for him. You'd have to ask him yourself."

Technically, she could speak for him on this matter. Anakin had made his feelings for her extremely clear. He loved her. As she loved him...

"There's no need to," Obi-Wan spoke. "I already know how he feels about you. He's been...infatuated with you from the time he was small boy. You're constantly on his mind." He raised an eyebrow. "You didn't notice?"

Again, Obi-Wan astounded her with what he already knew. If this was a trap for her, it was a poor one. He had revealed too much of his knowledge. So what was this all about? What was the point of these questions if not to condemn her for loving a Jedi?

"I never said I didn't notice," she amended. "I just said I couldn't speak for him."

He gave her a small smile. "You're a good friend to him, Padmé. But you have nothing to fear from me. No one is more aware of Anakin's...difficulties with attachment than I am. And I'm hoping that his attachment to you can be used for his benefit."

She was simultaneously confused and relieved. (He only thought they were friends! Thank the Force!) But concern for Anakin took precedence over all else.

"What do you mean by 'benefit'?" she questioned. "What is this all about, Obi-Wan? What's going on?"

Obi-Wan's expression turned sympathetic. "Perhaps it would be better if we sat down before I continue."

A wave of panic crashed over her. People were only usually asked to sit down when they were about to be told bad news. Was Anakin...?

Oh, Anakin!

"Anakin is in no physical danger," he assured her as if reading her mind. (A Jedi wouldn't do that, would he?) He placed his hand on her arm and guided her over to the nearest chair. He waited until they were both seated before continuing. "With the exception of his arm, he's in perfect health. In fact, he's scheduled to receive his new arm in the morning."

"Then what's wrong?"

"He's fallen into a deep depression, Padmé," he soberly informed her and her eyes widened at the revelation. "And no one can figure out why. He won't speak to anyone, not even me."

She couldn't believe what she was hearing. Anakin so depressed that he wouldn't speak? It didn't seem possible. The Anakin she knew and loved always voiced his feelings. It was part of who he was. If he was not talking...

"When?" she finally managed, fighting against the urge to run to him.

What had she done to him? This was all her fault...

"Almost immediately after he was taken from your arms for treatment," he told her matter-of-factly, finally admitting that he had truly seen her in the hangar. "He said your name a few times and then stopped speaking altogether. At first, I thought it was because he was in pain. But later, after he refused to respond to direct questions, I started getting concerned. Then there's the overwhelming sadness I sense in him. Anakin has always been more emotional than the average Jedi, but this is different and it worries me."

My poor, poor Ani...

"I was hoping," he went on, "that if you talked to him, he'd respond. I know how he feels about you. If anyone could pull him out of this, it's you."

There was no accusation or denouncement in his tone. Obi-Wan was dead serious about this. He was terribly worried about his Padawan and desperate to help him in any way he could, even if it bordered on violating the Code.

"You really do care about him, don't you?" she asked, recalling the complaints Anakin had voiced about his Master.

"I do," Obi-Wan quietly admitted. "Though I'm sure Anakin thinks otherwise."

"I think he knows," she told him, also remembering the way Anakin had fondly spoken of their years together. She completely let down her guard, realizing that Obi-Wan was only thinking of Anakin's well-being and nothing else. He knew Anakin cared for her and that was all that mattered to him. "And he cares about you too. He constantly talks about you and I don't mean by complaining, though he does a lot of that too."

He gave her a weak smile. "I'd be surprised if he didn't."

"You just want the best for him," she honestly stated. "And you refuse to let him dictate what that best is."

"Yes." He met her gaze. "Do you understand why I had to ask you how you felt about him?"

She nodded. Drawing Anakin out of his depression would not be easy and someone who had no personal interest in him would more than likely give up right away. Obi-Wan knew she wouldn't. She would stay with him until she received a response.

Though she had a feeling Obi-Wan would not approve of the desperate measures she was contemplating...

"Thank you, Padmé."

She took both of his hands in hers and gave them a reassuring squeeze. "I'll stay with him as long as it takes. You have my word."

"Anakin is very lucky to have a friend like you," he said. "And so am I."

The sincerity in his voice was unmistakable. He meant what he said.

"Thank you, Obi-Wan." She released his hands and rose to her feet. "I suppose I should get started now. I have a feeling that this may take a while."

"However long you need," he promised her, also standing up. "The Council won't be sending him on any missions any time soon. They'd rather he made a full recovery first."

"The Council is wise," she commented. "What about you? Will they give you time?"

"My injuries are minor," he told her. "I will probably receive a new mission upon my return to Coruscant."

"I hope it won't be anything too strenuous," Padmé said.

"So do I." He offered her another small smile. "Because Anakin won't be around to save my neck."

"So I've heard," she smiled back. "Though the way Anakin tells it you'd think you do nothing but walk into trouble."

He chuckled. "He would say that, wouldn't he? May the Force be with you, Senator," he replied, still smiling. "Take good care of my Padawan."

"I promise I'll send him back to you as good as new," she assured him. "May the Force be with you."

With a last smile, she turned back towards the room Obi-Wan had been leaving when she encountered him. The room where Anakin waited.

I'm here now, my love, she thought.

And I'm not going anywhere until you're ready for me to leave.


As he watched Padmé disappear into Anakin's room, Obi-Wan Kenobi once again hoped that he had made the right decision.

He more than anyone knew how deeply Anakin's feelings ran for Padmé. Her mere presence in the room would affect him. She had an inexplicable hold over him and if she demanded that he talk to her, he would talk to her. He knew Anakin would not deny her anything, even something as simple as talking. If anyone could pull him from his depression, it would be Padmé.

And that was what bothered him.

By sending her to Anakin, he was reinforcing (exploiting, to be completely honest) the attachment to her. An attachment that should have been dealt with years ago. A Jedi was supposed to remain detached and impartial in order to insure the fair carrying out of justice. Attachments meant biases, which interfered with duty, as Anakin's behavior on Geonosis had so clearly demonstrated. (Obi-Wan had no doubt that if he had not pointed out that Padmé would have placed duty first, Anakin would have literally jumped from the transport to go after her.) How could he honestly ever recommend Anakin for Knighthood if his overwhelming attachment to Padmé continued to exist? If any (and there were many) of his attachments continued to exist? It was a violation of the Code and the Council would never approve of the promotion as long as they were there.

If Anakin wanted to be a full-fledged Knight, he would have to give up all of his attachments...

Hypocrite, he berated himself.

Who was he to tell Anakin to release all of his attachments when he himself secretly clung to his own? Granted, he had become adept at hiding them over the years and did not let them interfere with his duty (if only Anakin could learn the value of silence when it came to his feelings...), but he still had them. They were a part of who he was and they had helped to shape him into the man...the Jedi he was today. He would not dishonor the memory of his apprenticeship to Qui-Gon or his lifelong friendship with Siri by denying their existence. In violation of the Code or not, his attachments were extremely important to him and he had no intention of ever letting them go.

Especially the one that happened to be the strongest of them all: the one to his ever-frustrating Padawan.

While the past ten years had not been easy, he would not change them for anything. Anakin was probably one of the best things that had ever happened to him. The boy was full of so much life and energy and was a joy to be around. And while Anakin had many, many faults (it would take hours to list them all), they were far outweighed by all of his good qualities. He would one day make a fine Jedi. And Obi-Wan could not be prouder of him.

And, like his own, Anakin's attachments were an integral part of who he was. But, unlike himself or anyone he had ever known, Anakin was completely defined by his emotions. They drove him and they controlled everything he did. In his mind, there was no separation between duty and emotion. He performed his duty because he cared for those he was helping, even if he had never met them before in his life. He simply saw someone in need and instantly decided to help him, not only because it was the right thing to do but because he wanted to. He had the biggest heart of anyone Obi-Wan had ever met. That was who Anakin was. Take that away from him and he would be diminished.

Deep down, Obi-Wan knew it would be an impossible task to break Anakin of his attachments. He didn't even believe he'd ever be able to convince him to keep them hidden either. Anakin would not be Anakin if he didn't share his feelings aloud. Yet Obi-Wan would continue to try because he knew how important being a Jedi was to his Padawan. And he would do whatever he could to ensure that he passed the Trials and received the rank he deserved. Because he cared about Anakin very much.

Loved him, in all truthfulness.

He was his son in all but blood.

Not that he'd ever actually told Anakin that...

Padmé was the first person to whom he had openly admitted his feelings...his attachment to Anakin. His reasoning for sharing his secret with her had been two-fold: one, because he knew she felt the same way (what had happened between them during their time in hiding? When they had left Coruscant, she had been politely friendly towards Anakin but nothing more) and would understand why she was the only one who could help Anakin, and two, because she would not judge him for his infraction against the Code. She alone knew how powerless he had been from keeping Anakin out of his heart. He was now in hers too. Their mutual caring for his Padawan bonded them together. His secret attachment was now hers too. But she was not forbidden from acting on it.

She could openly tell Anakin how she felt. She could say the words that would bring Anakin back to them. Because Anakin would listen to her.

Because he knew she cared.

If only I had told him, Obi-Wan sighed. I should have told him.

He often wondered how different their relationship would be if he had been honest and open with Anakin about his feelings. Anakin had not been raised in the Temple like a normal Jedi. He had not been taught to keep his emotions to himself from early childhood. Instead he had spent the first half of his life being raised by a mother in an environment that encouraged emotional openness and honesty. He had come to the Temple at nine years of age with certain emotional needs and expectations that the Jedi, especially Obi-Wan, had not been prepared to handle. And although he had come to understand the Jedi mindset after living among them for the past ten years, he still had the same needs that he had had when he first arrived. Needs Obi-Wan had never been able to properly meet because of his traditional Jedi upbringing. And this failure had prevented Anakin from truly understanding how much he meant to Obi-Wan.

Truthfully, neither of them was at fault. The problem lie in Obi-Wan's inability to effectively communicate his feelings to Anakin. Anakin had been raised to expect specific verbal and physical demonstrations of affection. Temple-raised Jedi like Obi-Wan did not nor did they know how to give them. When Obi-Wan, or any other Jedi for that matter, failed to respond in a way Anakin instinctively expected, he was left confused and hurt. Padmé, on the other hand, behaved exactly in the way Anakin expected. As a result, Anakin understood how she felt about him. Because Obi-Wan did not do the same, Anakin was in the dark about his Master's feelings. The problem was as simple as that.

But will the solution be just as simple? he wondered.

As difficult as it would be for him, he knew telling Anakin how he felt would be the easy part. The trouble would be in what came afterwards. Would Anakin even believe him? Would he want to believe him?

For the past ten years Obi-Wan had not been the Master Anakin had needed him to be. Although their relationship had improved over time (there where times when he felt they were as close as any Master and Padawan could ever hope to be and others when he saw a stranger in Anakin's place), he had continually ignored Anakin's special needs and tried to force him to be something he was not. He knew Anakin resented how he had been treated and rightfully so. Would apologizing for his insensitive behavior make any difference in their relationship? Would Anakin allow him to atone for his mistakes?

He exhaled, forcing all thoughts of sharing his long-hidden emotions from his mind. It was too early for him to start worrying about Anakin's reaction to his confession. Anakin had to first recover before he would even think about broaching such a heavy topic with him. And as of this moment, Anakin wasn't even talking to anyone. He didn't even know how long it would take before he would talk to Padmé. All he knew was that eventually Anakin would. His attachment to her guaranteed it.

Deciding that he was not doing himself any good by waiting here, he turned from Anakin's door and headed out of the infirmary. It was late and he needed to sleep to insure the complete healing of his own wounds.

He hoped that the morning would bring the good news of Anakin's recovery.

As the door slid open and Padmé's unique presence flooded into his room, Anakin quickly squeezed his eyes shut and prayed that she'd believe him asleep and leave. He knew why she was here and he was not ready to accept the painful reality she was bringing with her. It was too soon to say goodbye. He wanted more time to hold onto the fantasy of a future with her. That was the only thing that was keeping him going. Just a little longer, at least until they reached Coruscant and he could guarantee never seeing her again. Because seeing her would only bring pain...

Pain that the both of them were already experiencing...

It was her anguish that had alerted him to her arrival in the medical ward. It was so strong that he had sensed it before he had even sensed her. She was in terrible pain and it was all his fault. He had done this to her. He had made her fall in love with him against her will and now she was in agony because she was still determined to push him away.

Because she loved him...

During their brief time together, Anakin had gotten to know Padmé incredibly well. (His childhood memories paled in comparison to the reality of being with her.) And one of the things he had immediately learned about her was how strongly she was guided by her heart. Her powerful compassion led her to all those in need of her help. (Including those who she only believed needed her help...) This set her apart from most other politicians who were only concerned about their image and used charity work as a way of gaining support for themselves. Padmé truly cared about each and every cause she championed. And it seemed that the more she cared about an issue, the more driven she was to do something about it. (Like pushing him away, for example...) Nothing was more important to her than doing the right thing. And she would do almost anything to ensure that it got done.

Her most common method of pursuing justice was to let the facts of an issue speak for themselves. She felt that it was wrong to attempt to gain support through sympathy. (Too many other senators did just that, much to her disgust.) She wanted justice to prevail not because her supporters wanted to make her happy but because they knew it was the right thing to do. She wanted to be viewed as nothing more than a messenger, never allowing her personal feelings to show in public. She displayed passion for the cause but nothing further, keeping her involvement at an impersonal, all-business level. (Ironically, this had led to numerous comparisons with the Jedi, which Anakin found highly amusing. In his opinion, she was more Jedi than a lot of Jedi he knew!)

And she had attempted to push him away by using this same approach. She had wanted him to believe that she felt nothing for him so he would pay attention to all of the reasons why they could not be together. If he had thought she did not love him, she had probably reasoned, then maybe he would listen to why a relationship was impossible and give up pursuing one. (Unfortunately for her, her plan could have never worked. He had felt her feelings for him the moment they had come into existence. Pretending she didn't have them had been pointless.) Her goal had been to return his concentration to his Jedi training which she had believed was the most important thing to him in the galaxy. (It was his own fault. Because before she had come back into his life, it had been the most important thing in his life and he had told her as much. How could she have known that she had changed everything?) And if it hadn't been for the certainty of their death on Geonosis, she would have never confessed her feelings.

But they hadn't died, so, as far as she was concerned, nothing had changed. Her admission had been made in the heat of the moment and therefore, in her mind, should be ignored. She still felt the same way about his future. She would do everything she could to insure he remained a Jedi.

And he had no intention of stopping her.

Her life was more important to him than anything else.

But he wasn't ready to lose just yet. Not when he could still pretend that they had a future together. It was incredibly selfish of him, he knew, but he couldn't help himself. He loved her so much and he wanted to savor every last second of this small moment in time where she loved him in return. But when the time to let her go came, he wouldn't fight her.

He couldn't.

Please go away. Please go away, he silently chanted, hoping she'd fall for his sleeping act.

But, much to his chagrin, she didn't leave. Instead she did something much worse.

She began walking towards him.

Force, no!

What was she doing? It was obvious she thought he was asleep or she would have said something by now. Which meant she couldn't be intending to tell him goodbye unless she planned on "waking" him up, which he doubted. (Padmé was many things but cruel was not one of them.) So why wasn't she leaving?

He could feel her pain intensify with every step she took towards him. Why was she doing this to herself? Why stay near him when it hurt her so badly? What could she possibly want?

The only other reason he could think of for coming to him was that perhaps she was lonely and was seeking out a familiar presence. She was all alone on the Justice, surrounded by clones and strange Jedi she did not know. He was the one person she did know well so it would make sense that she would come to him for companionship. Sitting with him while he was asleep would go a long way in easing her loneliness without forcing either one of them to deal with the painful reality of their situation.

It was the most logical explanation he could think of, but he had no way of knowing what she truly had in mind until she acted. So he could do nothing but wait.

And hope.

He concentrated on keeping still as the sound of a sliding chair indicated that she had finally reached his bedside.

It took every once of control he possessed to not react when he felt her take his remaining hand, which had been resting atop of the blanket, in both of her own.

Don't move, he ordered himself.

"Oh, Anakin," she barely whispered before raising his hand and, much to his surprise, bringing it to her lips for a gentle kiss.

He barely prevented himself from responding to the unexpected contact.

She then returned his hand to the bed, but she did not release it from her grasp, softly caressing it with her thumbs.

Her pain continued to pour into the Force and he badly wanted to open his eyes and ask her what was wrong, but his need to hold on to her as long as he could kept him from doing anything but lie still. He could only wait and see what she would do or say next.

Then, without warning, her anguish suddenly spiked and she burst into tears.

Without giving it a second thought, he sat straight up in bed, slid as close to the edge as he could, and pulled her against him as tightly as his one arm and position allowed him.

"Let it out, Padmé," he urged, not caring that he had given himself away. Whatever was upsetting her was bad if it had driven her to tears. She needed immediate comforting and that was far more important than his own selfish desires. He loved her too much to ignore her pain. She needed him and that was all that mattered. "Let it all out."

She buried her face against his chest and continued to sob.

"I'm here," he murmured as he held her shaking body as best he could. (If only he had had his surgery and had two arms to wrap around her!) "Everything's going to be all right."

He wanted to do so much more than just hold her, but he did not think she'd accept any other form of comfort. Upset as she was, she would not have forgotten her mission of "protecting" him. Trying to do something like kiss her would only cause her to push him away for the last time.

Her crying went on for what seemed like an awful eternity before her tears at last began to subside.

"Feel better?" he quietly asked when she finally pulled away from him, wiping at her cheeks.

"Yes," she nodded, sniffling. "Thank you. I... I'm... I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that."

"There's nothing to be sorry for," he told her. "You did what you needed to." He reached up and starting brushing away the tears she had missed. "I'm glad I was here for you."

"But I'm supposed to be here for you," she pointed out, finally revealing her reason for being there. "I was coming to check on you when I saw Obi-Wan. He was so upset, Anakin. I've never seen him so worried. He told me that you weren't talking to anyone and that you had fallen into a depression. Hearing that upset me too, so I promised I'd go to you and try to see if I could help you in any way I could. It wasn't supposed to be the other way around. You didn't need me doing this to you. I apologize."

"You don't need to apologize to me, Padmé," he informed her, surprised by Obi-Wan's behavior. (His Master was never one to share his feelings in general, let alone with someone outside of the Order. This was very out-of-character for him. Clearly, he had been disturbed by his Padawan's behavior more than Anakin had thought. The sooner he resigned from the Order, the better for his Master it would be. Obi-Wan did not need this kind of trouble in his life.) "Ever. You should know that by now." He cupped her cheek. "I-"

He pulled away from her, realizing what he was about to say. He now knew she wasn't here for the purpose he had feared, but he didn't want to risk reminding her of it.

Thinking quickly, he forced a grin onto his face. "Hey, what do you know? I'm talking now!" he changed the subject. "And you did it without even trying! How about that? I bet you didn't expect it to be so easy, did you?"

He waited until he received a weak smile from her in return.

"You're so amazing," he told her, pleased he was able to make her feel better. (At least there was one thing at which he wasn't a failure.)

"But I'm not," she countered, her smile fading. "And you'll agree after I've told you what I've done."

His own smile fell as he realized he had failed once again. (Damn his incompetence! Maybe it was a bad idea to prolong the inevitable goodbye after all...) "I doubt that. You're the most incredible person I've ever met, Padmé. You know how long I've admired you. Nothing will ever change that."

I love you, he silently added.

"Even telling you how I've hurt you?"


He stared at her. Why would she think such a ridiculous thing like that? She wasn't capable of hurting anyone. He was the dangerous one, not her.

"Hurt me? How?" he challenged.

"Whose fault do you think it is that you're lying here?" she elaborated. "If it weren't for me, you would have never gone to Geonosis. You would never have fought Count Dooku. You'd still have your arm. You wouldn't have nearly died."

Anakin just continued to stare at her. She was blaming herself for all of his own mistakes? Force, that was the craziest thing he had ever heard! How could any of it be her fault?

"That's not true and you know it," he countered. "You didn't strap me into the pilot's chair and hold a blaster to my head. I went because I wanted to."

While it was true that he hadn't wanted to go at first, her arguments had made him see a rescue mission as a way of redeeming himself in the eyes of the Council. He had disobeyed his mandate to protect Padmé and deserted his mission. (And, unknown to them, he had failed miserably in his attempt to save Mom. Not to mention his loss of control with the Sand People...) They didn't trust him as it was. He had needed to do something to prove them wrong, to show them that he was more competent than they believed him to be. Rescuing Obi-Wan on his own would have done just that. No one would have ever questioned his skills again. He would have proved himself to be everything he knew he was, the best and most powerful Jedi who had ever lived.

But he hadn't. Instead he had failed.


"But you wouldn't have gone if I hadn't insisted," she argued. "You only went because I did, in order to protect me. You had been instructed by Master Windu to keep me where we were. I'm the one who didn't listen."

"Believe me, if I had wanted to keep you from going, I would have," he assured her, surprised she hadn't realized how easily he had given in to her. He could have stopped her from going in any number of ways. He was physically both bigger and stronger than she was. "I didn't stop you for selfish reasons. I wanted to go.

"And everything that happened to me was my own fault," he added, not giving her a chance to argue. "I made a lot of stupid mistakes, things I should have known better than to do. I ignored all of my training. I probably deserved everything I got."

"You can't mean that," Padmé insisted. "You weren't thinking clearly. How could you be? You had just lost your mother. You shouldn't have been there in the first place. I was wrong to make you go."

"If I had been acting like I had been trained, it shouldn't have mattered," he reminded her, upset that she was still trying to blame herself for his incompetence. He decided to attempt to lighten things up again. "I expect quite the lecture from Master Obi-Wan."

"Be serious, Anakin," she admonished him. "This is your life you're joking about."

He sighed in exasperation. He had never met anyone so stubborn. Arguing with her was impossible. How could he make her see that none of this was her fault?

"Why is it so important that this be your fault?" he finally demanded to know.

She faltered, obviously not expecting such a direct question.

"Because..." She looked down. "Because..."

"Tell me."

Her eyes met his. "Because I love you."

His eyes widened in surprise. That was the last thing he had expected to hear.


Fresh tears rolled down her cheeks. "I only wanted to take your mind off what had happened. I thought it would be a simple matter of diplomacy. A few hours of negotiations that would result in Obi-Wan's release. I figured you'd be so annoyed over the lack of action that you'd forget about your pain for a little while. No one was supposed to get hurt...

"I made such a mistake and you're paying the price for it. And I have to live with that the rest of my life."

"Padmé, no..."

He felt his own eyes filling with tears at the guilt in her voice. She truly believed that she was at fault when nothing could be further from the truth. He was to blame for everything.

Even the part about her loving him...

"I love you so much, Anakin," she continued, making him hate himself even more. "I've done so many things I shouldn't have because of the way I feel about you. I was foolish and irresponsible. I should have reported you to the Council so many times, but I wanted to protect you instead. I knew how important being a Jedi was to you. I was afraid of what would happen if I told them about your feelings for me. And I was even more afraid that they'd learn of mine for you.

"I let you go to Tatooine because I hated hearing you cry out in the middle of the night from your nightmares," she went on. "And I convinced myself that the only reason I went with you was so you could pretend to still be following orders. But the truth was that I wanted to be there in case you needed me. I wanted to be with you if something terrible had happened, so I could comfort you and let you know that you were loved. I didn't want you to suffer alone."

"Thank you," he managed, overwhelmed by what she was telling him. "If you hadn't been there that day..."

She had been his saving grace after he had returned with Mom's body. He had been in a state of shock, devastated by what had happened and by what he had done as a result. The way he had lost control... He hadn't realized that he was capable of such violence and this new knowledge frightened him. (It still did. If it had happened once...) He had committed an act of mass murder because his mother had died. What kind of a monster was he? The shame and guilt he had felt...still felt...was indescribable. He had wanted to die too, taking the memory of his actions with him.

But then Padmé had come to him and when she had asked him what was wrong, he had not been able to keep the truth from her. He had felt compelled to share his shame with her. And instead of watching her love turn to hate and disgust as he had been sure it would, he had been the recipient of such unbelievable compassion. She had comforted and reassured him, letting him know that she still believed him to be a good person despite his horrendous actions. And then she had held him while he cried, something only his mother had done for him.

She was truly an angel, just like he had always known she was. His love for her had never been stronger than it had that day. She had saved him and he would be forever grateful.

So it was only right that he return the favor and save her from himself...

She reached out and took his hand again. "You don't need to say anything. I already know. You were in such pain. It hurt me to see you suffering that way. How could I have done anything else?

"I should have known that you weren't up to going anywhere after going through what you did," she went on. "You weren't in any shape to go on a mission, real or imagined. What I did was thoughtless and insensitive."

"No, Padmé. No."

"Stop trying to protect me," she ordered. "We both know your injuries are a result of my carelessness. I-"

"I'm leaving the Order," he interrupted, effectively changing the subject.

He couldn't stand hearing her put herself down anymore. She was not responsible for any of what had happened. She had just been doing what she did best, following her heart and letting her compassion guide her. He was the dangerous failure. And he would not rest until he had made her see it.

He loved her too much to do otherwise.

"What?!" she questioned, sounding shocked. "Why?"

"For the reasons you refuse to see," he told her.

"And because I love you too much to hurt you anymore."


No, no, no! What have I done?

Padmé stared at him in disbelief, despair threatening to overwhelm her at any moment. The very thing she had fought so hard to prevent was happening despite her efforts. Anakin was going to leave the Order, the life he loved and had dreamed of ever since he was a child...

Because of her.

Because he thought he was hurting her.

And it was her own fault. She had come to him to draw him from his depression and had instead made an already bad situation infinitely worse. Something she had said or done had somehow convinced him that he had hurt her, and for some reason he believed that the only way to make it up to her was to abandon the life he had wanted for as long as she had known him. Why, she couldn't even begin to imagine, but knowing Anakin as she did, changing his mind would be near-impossible. What was she going to do?

She felt like crying all over again. How was she going to fix this? He obviously wasn't thinking straight, the idea that he had hurt her and had to leave because of it was evidence enough of that. (She was the one who had repeatedly hurt him through her negligence.) But depressed or not, when Anakin made up his mind, nothing short of an act of the Force could change it, especially when it came to her well-being and safety. He was ridiculously overprotective of her and overreacted to the slightest perceived threat. If he believed that leaving was the only way to guarantee her continued happiness, then leaving was exactly what he was going to do. But she couldn't let that happen. His future was too important to her. But where to even begin? What could she say that wouldn't cause even more damage?

Since entering his room, she had not said or done a single thing correctly. Every word out of her mouth had been like poison to him, gradually leading him towards his fateful decision. She had carelessly let her emotions gain control of her and she had told him things he was never meant to hear. (Knowing she loved him was one thing but to learn what she had done because of that love...) Breaking down in front of him had been the worst possible thing she could have done. She knew how Anakin reacted when he believed she was upset. (Was it really any surprise her crying had woken him from his sleep?) And now she was on the verge of tears again...

I will not give in, she ordered herself. For Anakin's sake.

She had to get her emotions under control. They were to what Anakin was truly reacting. Perhaps if she could convince him that his leaving would hurt her even more than his imagined offense...

Even as she thought of it, she knew it was an extremely risky gamble. Using Anakin's emotions against him was dangerous, especially when there was more than a little truth to what she would be telling him...

Because losing him would devastate her.

Much more than she had ever imagined.

Although she had been endlessly trying to push him away, she had never thought that he would completely walk out of her life. All she wanted was for him to stop trying to enter into a romantic relationship with her and focus on his training. She had just assumed that once he got over her "rejection" (which could take years given his current maturity level), he would realize that she had done the right thing and then they could resume being friends. (Not that she didn't want to be much, much more than friends with him...) She had never once considered that she'd lose him entirely. She had, after all, gotten very used to having him around. She very much wanted him to remain a part of her life even if it wasn't in the way they both desired...

Ultimately, all she truly wanted was for him to be happy. And she could think of nothing that would make him happier than achieving Knighthood, as he had dreamed of his entire life. (Despite what his depression-addled mind was currently telling him, throwing away his dreams would destroy him. She refused to let that happen. He would be a Jedi if it was the last thing she did.) Knowing he was happy would make her the happiest woman in the galaxy. And that was what she wanted to make him understand more than anything.

"You've never hurt me, Anakin," she softly began, struggling to keep her emotions under tight control. (She was a politician, for Force's sake! What was it about this man that made her abandon years of training and practice?) If she had any hope of getting through to him, there could be no more slip-ups. One wrong word and he'd be forever lost. "And I can't understand why you think you have."

"Because-" he tried to protest.

"No," she emphatically cut him off, "you haven't. Don't you think I would have said something if you had? You know me better than that, Anakin. I would never allow such an incident to go unaddressed. Would I?"

From their previous conversations, she knew he responded very well to gentle prompting. When he was directly questioned, he always took his time before answering, as if he were seeking approval for saying the right thing. (And knowing him, he probably was.) Normally he just blurted out the first thing that came to mind, never even considering the consequences of his words. (She remembered his behavior on the day they were first reunited. Even she had been embarrassed for him.) The prompting forced him to think before speaking.

"Not if you were too distracted to realize it happened," he pointed out. "You've been so busy blaming yourself for my mistakes that you haven't noticed what I've done to you. But you can't hide your pain from me, Padmé. I can feel it. You're in pain and I know that I'm the one that caused it."

"I think you need to tell me exactly what you think you've done to me," she countered, refusing to resume the argument about whose fault everything was. (Force, the man was stubborn! What would it take to get him to accept that he was completely blameless?) She needed to prove to him that he hadn't hurt her yet if her plan was going to work. Maybe by shooting down his assumptions one by one she could get him to see the truth. "Because as far as I'm concerned you've done nothing but perform your duties as my protector. You kept me alive exactly as you were supposed to. So therefore, any transgressions, whether they were real or imagined, can be ignored."

"Not by me they can't," he informed her. "You're the most important thing in the universe to me, Padmé. The idea that you're in pain...that I caused it... I can't let that go. It hurts me so much. All I want to do is protect you, to keep you safe."

"I know," she soothed, sensing that he was getting very agitated by her refusal accept his warped view of reality. She feared that things were once again getting rapidly out of hand. "And you have. I swear to you you have. Why won't you believe me?"

"Because I know what I've done to you," he insisted.

"And just what is it that you've supposedly done?"

"I made you fall in love with me."


His matter-of-fact words caught her off-guard. What in the galaxy...?

"You...made me...fall in love with you?" she echoed incredulously.

Of all the things she had expected him to say, this had not been one of them. How in the universe had he come to this insane conclusion? Didn't he know that it was impossible to force another person to love you? (If anything, his persistence would have frightened most women off. She herself had been very disturbed by it until she had gotten to know him better...) And how could he think that loving him had hurt her?

He nodded. "I just kept pushing you and pushing you," he continued in a very serious tone. "You kept telling me 'no' and I wouldn't listen. I wouldn't leave you alone and look what happened."

"You've lost me," she confessed. "Not only did you not make me fall in love with you, which I assure you I did completely on my own, but I fail to see how loving someone as wonderful as you could harm anyone. What-"

"That's where you're wrong, Padmé," he cut her off. "I'm anything but wonderful. I'm dangerous and a failure. If I was as wonderful as you say, you wouldn't have nearly died."

"You are neither dangerous nor a failure," she countered, upset to hear him speaking about himself this way. The Anakin she knew and loved had an over-inflated ego. To hear him so down on himself... "You are a highly skilled Jedi. What happened to me was my own-"

"No," he insisted, "no. Everything that happened was because of me, because of how you feel about me. You said it yourself. You told me that everything you did was because you loved me. That you wanted to protect me and comfort me. How can that not be my fault?

"You told me you went with me to Tatooine in case I needed you. And then you said you brought me to Geonosis because you thought it would distract me from... what happened with my mother. You were thinking only of me and were almost killed because of it. If I hadn't forced you to fall in love with me-"

"Anakin," she interrupted, the pieces at last falling into place, "you're jumping to conclusions without hearing the full story."

She finally understood where his decision to leave had come from. Because he was convinced that he had forced her into falling in love with him and because she had confessed to acting inappropriately because of that love, he had made the leap of logic that he had directly caused her to go to Geonosis, where she had been captured and nearly killed. He had already become convinced that he was a complete failure because of his mother's death and the fact that he had been unable to protect her from what happened on Geonosis had only reinforced his belief. In his mind, if he left, he could never fail her again. It all made sense now.

"Everything you're saying is based on assumptions," she went on, praying that she could finally reach him. "You listened to what I said, but you only heard parts of it. Yes, I did do those things out of my love for you, but I didn't fall in love with you because of your so-called 'pushing.'

"Anakin, I was already in love with you the first time you kissed me."

His eyes widened. "Wh-what did you say?"

"I said," she answered, gently taking his face into her hands to ensure that he paid attention to her words, "that I had already fallen in love with you before we reached the Lake Country. But I didn't realize it had happened until the moment you kissed me. Why else do you think it took me so long to pull away? I was enjoying it. The way it made me feel..." She caressed his cheeks with her thumbs. "I wanted it to go on forever.

"Just like I know I'll want this one to."

And then she leaned in and kissed him deeply.

Anakin's response was immediate. He began kissing her back fervently, wrapping his arm around her and pulling her from the chair onto the bed with him.

She gasped into his mouth at the unexpected full body contact. Their previous two kisses had consisted of nothing but their lips touching. This one...felt so different... and was so much more intense. It was causing...sensations to course through her body. Sensations she had only experienced before in the privacy of her own bedchamber...and evoked by her own exploratory touch. Sensations she could not allow herself to feel around Anakin.

They made her want to do things with him.

Dangerous things...

She gently broke the kiss and, although she felt that it would be wise to end the close physical contact (she was experiencing unfamiliar urges that she dared not give in to, for both of their sakes), she refrained from extracting herself from his embrace. She was unsure how much progress she had made in convincing him to stay and did not want to send him the wrong message. (There was no doubt in her mind that Anakin would misinterpret such an action.) As long as she could keep him from kissing her that way again...

"Please don't leave the Order," she quietly implored him, not giving him a chance to either speak or kiss her again. "You've wanted to be a Jedi your entire life. Don't throw away everything you've worked so hard for. You deserve to live out your dreams. And nothing would make me happier than seeing them come true for you. Please, Anakin. Stay."

"I can't," he said, releasing her and moving away.


"Because I'm a failure, Padmé," he told her. "I'm a failure as a Jedi and a disgrace to the Order. It's better for everyone if I just leave."

She couldn't believe what she was hearing. Just when she thought she was getting through to him...

"No, Anakin, no! You're not a failure. You're only human. You can't save everyone, no matter how much you want to. What happened with-"

"It's not just how I let Mom or you down," he corrected her. "It's everything I've ever done since leaving Tatooine. I've had a lot of time to think since I've been in this room and I've realized that I was never meant to be a Jedi."

"You can't be-"

"It's true," he cut her off. "I haven't done a single thing right since my training began. Ask Obi-Wan. He'll tell you what a horrible Padawan I've been."

"I doubt that," she countered. "Obi-Wan doesn't strike me as the type who would continue to train someone for ten years if he didn't believe in his ability to succeed. He-"

"He's only training me because of the promise he made to Qui-Gon," Anakin insisted, his voice getting more and more emotional as he went on. "That's the only reason he hasn't given up on me like he should have. I know I would have given up on me a long time ago. I'm disrespectful and disobedient-"

"No, Anakin, that's-"

"And arrogant," he continued, ignoring her. "What Master should have to listen to his Padawan claim that he's better and more powerful than he is over and over again? Because that's all I've done to Obi-Wan for the last ten years. I've lost count of the number of times I've argued with him over my training. I believe I'm ready to learn a particular skill and when Obi-Wan disagrees with me, I yell at him and tell him that he's being unfair and holding me back. What kind of apprentice does that make me? What kind of person? No one should have to put up with someone as rude and ungrateful as I am. Thank the Force I've finally come to my senses. Leaving is the best thing I can do."

"You're so wrong," she informed him. "Obi-Wan cares about you a great deal and that has nothing to do with an old promise. Because if he didn't care and if you were as horrible as you say you are, he would have stopped training you a long time ago. You know him, Anakin. He wouldn't put up with you if he didn't believe in you. But he does. He loves and believes in you. He looks at you and sees the Jedi you'll someday become.

"Just like I do."

She reached out and once again took his hand.

"You're not a failure, Anakin," she assured him. "Yes, you've made some mistakes, but you've learned from them and that's all that matters because you'll never make them again. A true failure never recognizes what he's done wrong and therefore he'll continue to make the same bad choices over and over again. You, my love, won't. You've learned your lessons and have become a better person for it. And I couldn't be prouder of you.

"Please stay. If you leave, then everything you've worked so hard for will have all been for nothing. Finish what you've started. Be the Jedi you've always dreamed of being. Believe in yourself just as I believe in you. I love you."

"Not if it means losing you," he said, retracting his hand from hers. "Because if I stay that's exactly what's going to happen. Isn't it?"

"You won't lose me," she promised. "We'll still see each other. We just can't-"

"You don't understand," he interrupted. "When I said you were the most important thing in the universe to me, I meant it. You're the only thing I care about, Padmé. The only thing. Life isn't worth living without you in it. I'd rather have you by my side more than anything else, even more than being a Jedi. I love you so much. I need you. If we can't be together..."

"This is exactly why I didn't want to tell you how I felt," she asserted. "I knew this would happen. You've become so focused on the idea of a future with me that you've begun ignoring everything else, including what's really important to you."

"No, Padmé, I-"

"Yes," she cut him off, "you are. While being with me may seem more important to you at this very moment, that will change in the future. I know you, Anakin. Being a Jedi is all you've ever wanted. It's almost all you talked about during our time on Naboo. You'd never forgive yourself if you gave it up for me. You'd be miserable and regret your decision every day for the rest of your life. I refuse to let you do that to yourself. I love you too much. All I want is for you to be happy and I know you'll be happiest as a Jedi."

"That's not-" he tried to protest.

"Stop fighting me," she demanded, hating the pained expression on his face. "Don't you think I want to be with you? If I thought it was possible, I'd do anything to make it happen. I've waited my entire life to fall in love with someone. You are the first man I've ever had feelings for like this. Do you realize how hard it is for me to say 'no' to you? But I do it because I know it's for the best. You were meant to be a Jedi, Anakin. I won't take that away from you. Not even for my own selfish desires. I'd rather you be happy than anything else in the galaxy. And knowing that you're happy will make me happy."

"But how can I be happy without you?" he countered. "I need you, Padmé. You're everything to me. Do you realize how much it hurt me to be around you when I wasn't sure you loved me? And now that I know... How can I stand being near you if I can't hold you or kiss you? Or tell you how much I love you? Those are the things that will make me truly happy. If I can't...

"I can't stay if we won't be together," he bluntly told her. "It will be too painful."

"What about...?"

"My training? Obi-Wan?" he offered. "Nothing else matters but you, Padmé. I would give up everything for a chance at a life with you. I love you so much. The only reason I would even consider staying would be to be with you. I'd rather leave than have to see you and be reminded of what I lost."


She was at a complete and utter loss. She had no idea what to do now. Anakin had, in so many words, given her a choice: be in a relationship with him (which, by default, meant he would stay and finish his training) or lose him forever. He had placed his fate in her hands. But how could she choose either one? Neither would insure his future as a Jedi.

"You'd give up everything just like that?" she questioned. "Just to be with me?"

"In a heartbeat," he replied. "Without a single regret."

"You only think that now," she disagreed. "It would change after awhile."

"I'm willing to risk it," he informed her. "You're worth it."

It was rapidly becoming obvious that she had misjudged his devotion to her. If he was willing to give up his dream of being a Jedi...

But he's so young and really doesn't know any better, she reminded herself.

It was easy to forget how young Anakin really was. At nineteen, he was still more boy than man but there were times when he exuded a maturity far beyond his years. Fortunately, this was not one of them. It made it easier to use her experience against him.

"I refuse to let you give up your dream," she declared. "You may not understand now, but I know how you'll feel if you gave it all up for me. I've seen it happen to other people too many times. I won't let that happen to you. And if that means doing everything in my power to keep myself away from you, then so be it."

Anakin grew quiet as he appeared to process what she had told him. She knew he was trying to come up with yet another "solution" to offer her. He was not giving up yet.

"I know you've already said that doing both would destroy us, but would it really?" he finally spoke, proving his determination once again. "All I want is the ability to come to you alone whenever I can and show you how much I love you. I'm not asking you to go out in public with me and risk being seen. I'd settle for a kiss every once in a while in the privacy of your apartment. That's all, I swear. Just knowing that I have you would be enough. No one would ever have to know."


"Please, Padmé," he urged, desperation clear in his voice and she knew that she had pushed him as far as he would go. "Being with you is all that matters. I have no other reason to stay but I'd do it for you. I'll be the Jedi you want me to be if you let me have this one thing. Let me have that and I'll be the happiest man alive. I know this can work. Give it a chance. Please."


She hesitated, afraid of hurting him further. Anakin was asking the impossible. Did he really think he'd be allowed to go visit a well-known senator on his own whenever he felt like it without attracting suspicion? Obi-Wan was already wary of his feelings towards her. While he currently dismissed them as friendship, that would change as Anakin spent more and more time with her. Questions would be asked and...

Or maybe, she realized, he'd never really have the chance to see her at all. Between his training and his missions, all of his time would be taken up. Visiting her would be impossible to manage. He'd never have an opportunity to see her. Yet...

Yet the possibility of seeing her would always be there. He would know he could come to her if he wanted. In his mind, he'd have both of the things he loved, her and his impending Knighthood. It was perfect. And maybe that would be enough to satisfy him.

"I want you to stay, Anakin," she quietly said. "I love you and I want to be with you. Please don't leave."

A sorely-missed smile lit up his face and at once she knew she had made the right decision.

The only decision.

"Oh, Padmé!"

And then she found herself being kissed again, even more passionately than before if that was at all possible.

His arm wrapped around her again and suddenly they were both lying down on the bed, her body atop of his and the kissing continuing uninterrupted.

The dangerous urges and sensations from before immediately returned but this time she simply ignored them. She was an adult woman and could control her actions. She was not some hormonal teenage girl who didn't know any better. Anakin needed this. How could she deny him her love after he had fought so hard for it? Her sexual desires had no place here. (Besides, Anakin had never indicated that he wanted to go that far with her and even if he had, she would turn him down. This was not the time or place for such an intimate activity and they were not married...) This kiss was about their love and their commitment to each other, pure and simple.

But then she felt Anakin's body respond beneath her and she knew it was time to stop. As inexperienced as Anakin was with women, she still did not want to tempt fate. Once he got started doing something, it was very difficult to get him to stop, as she well knew.

She broke the kiss and gently maneuvered herself so that she was now laying next to rather than on top of him. She was careful to keep his arm around her.

"I'm sorry," he murmured, sounding embarrassed as he pulled her closer to his side. "I didn't..."

"It's all right, my love," she soothed him. "There's no need to be.

"Maybe it's time for me to go back to my room," she added, realizing she should probably leave before she got too comfortable. His embrace was wonderfully warm and comforting. If she wasn't careful, she could drift off to sleep...

"No," he protested. "Don't go. Please stay with me a little while longer." He gave her a small grin. "I promise I'll be good."

Her heart soared at the tease. He was slowly returning to his normal self. "All right, but only because you promised."

She relaxed back into his embrace.

"I love you," he told her, stroking her arm.

"I love you too," she replied, marveling at the power those simple words had. This was the first time they had so casually said it to each other and the feeling was amazing.

They fell into a contented silence and Padmé once again knew she had done the right thing. She had never seen him as happy as he had been when she had finally agreed to enter a relationship with him. And after all the pain and suffering he had just gone through in a very short period of time, he deserved some happiness. And although she knew their relationship would not be exactly as he imagined, he did not and that was all that mattered. He was unbelievably blissful right now and she intended for him to stay that way.

As they continue to lay quietly together, her mind began to stray. Anakin was taken care of for the moment, his depression hopefully gone. As long as she stayed with him like this, she knew he'd be fine. (In the back of her mind she reminded herself that she couldn't stay in his bed too long. She had to be gone before he was taken to surgery. If she was discovered...) She wondered what had been happening in the Senate during her time away. The only thing she knew for certain was that the Military Creation Act she had fought so hard to prevent had been passed and that it had saved her life as well and Anakin's, Obi-Wan's, and hundreds of other Jedi.

Unfortunately, she also knew that they were now in a state of war with the Separatists.

A war that they, the Separatists, had started themselves when they had sentenced Anakin, Obi-Wan, herself, and the Jedi that had come to rescue them to death...

Oh, Force!

The full impact of what had taken place on Geonosis finally hit her. Her worst fears had come true. After ten thousand years of peace, the Republic was again at war. War!

A war that would mainly be fought by its sole protectors: the Jedi Knights.

The Jedi, to which her beloved belonged.

He would be out there too, fighting alongside his fellow Jedi.

In danger of dying at any moment...

"What is it?" Anakin quietly asked and she realized that he had detected her sudden distress.

"Nothing," she lied, wanting to protect him from the harsh reality as long as she could.

Although he wouldn't be sent out to battle until after he had fully recovered (she now realized why Obi-Wan expected to be sent on a new "mission" as soon as he got back to the Temple despite his own injuries), he would still be exposed to the devastation the war would bring. He would learn of the deaths of friends, colleagues, and innocent bystanders. She knew how he would react and that he would want to go out into the field as soon as he could, believing he alone could turn the tide of the war. While she believed he would try to be less reckless in light of their discussion, she knew her love well and feared that he would purposely put himself in the path of danger. It was in his nature to protect others at the expense of his own safety. And that knowledge frightened her.

When she had given in to his plea for them to be together, she had believed he would spend most of his time safe in the Temple. And now, too late, she had remembered the war.

What if she still lost him forever...?

"I was just thinking about something I'll have to do when I get back to Coruscant," she went on. "I've been away so long. I'm sure Dormé has had her hands full."

"I wish we didn't have to go back," he sighed, seemingly satisfied with her answer. He was thankfully still too wrapped up in his own happiness to think about anything else. As far as he was concerned, the war did not exist. "I want more time with you."

"I do too," she agreed, the fear that she would never see him again once they returned getting stronger with every passing second...

She thought then of her parents and of Sola and Darred. There had been many occasions in the past where both couples had to spend periods of time apart but neither had ever doubted the possibility of seeing one another again. They had known where one another was at at all times. Neither had experienced the numbing fear of their loved one dying on a strange planet all alone.

With a war, there was no telling where Anakin would be at any given time. If he died, she would probably never know it unless it was made public. And because of who he was, she would not be able to share her fears or grief with anyone.

"What aren't you telling me, Padmé?" he asked as he picked up on her emotions once more. "What's bothering you?"

"That we'll never have the same type of relationship that my parents and my sister and her husband have," she admitted, deciding to be partially truthful with him. She knew that he would not stop asking what was wrong until she told him something. "As a child, I always thought of my parents as the perfect couple. They always looked so happy together. Sola and I used to say that when we grew up and got married that we wanted our lives to be exactly the same way. And when we did grow up, Sola did exactly that while I instead devoted my life to my work.

"Until I met you," she amended, leaning up to kiss him. She didn't want him worrying about her again. She wanted him to enjoy these last hours of calm before the storm. "But as long as you're a Jedi, we can't let anyone know of our love. No one will be able to see us and wish that they could be like us. We have to keep our love hidden away and I wish we didn't."

"I told you I'd-"

"No," she interrupted. "You're going to be a Jedi, Anakin, and that's final. I want that for you. I'd never ask you to give that up for any reason."

Even to protect you from danger.

"I'll do anything if it will make you happy," he asserted, pulling her tighter against him.

"I know, my love. I know."

Again, her mind drifted to her parents and Sola and Darred. She had observed both couples closely over the years and had noticed an incredible bond between husband and wife that no words could properly describe. It was in every word they said and every action they made. It connected them together even when they were apart. She had watched that bond grow deeper and stronger with every passing year and she had often wondered if that was because they were married or just because they loved each other. And she had also wondered if she'd ever get to find out for herself...

For a long time now, she had doubted she would ever discover the secret of that special bond...until Anakin. She loved him with every part of her body and soul. If there was ever a man she would want...did want...to marry, it was him. But was marriage even possible for them? (And did he even want it himself?) He was a Jedi and even the small concession she had granted him was dangerous if they were ever caught. But marriage! There was no telling how the Council would react to a Jedi being married if they were discovered.

But if they were married... If they were married, they would have that magical bond to hold on to while he was away at war. Neither would ever be completely alone. And for her, she realized, it would be a comfort. A comfort she desperately needed...

"I want to marry you, Anakin," she spoke very softly, afraid of how he would respond. In all of his begging of her to be with him, never once had he suggested marriage. "I've been thinking and it's something I want very much. Do you...? I mean, is that...? Is that something you want, my love? Do you want to marry me?"

Anakin rolled on the bed so that he was completely facing her.

"My life is yours, Padmé," he answered slowly. "Anything you want, if I can give it to you, you'll have. All you have to do is ask. I love you. Of course I'll marry you."

"Are you sure?" she questioned, nervous that he had only agreed to please her.

"You have no idea how long I've wanted this," he informed her. "It's something I've only dreamed of. I never thought it would happen. Just knowing you love me is miracle enough."

"I love you so much," she told him, relief spreading through her.

"I love you too," he said. "I'll love you forever, Padmé. Nothing will ever change that."

She smiled at him. "And nothing will ever change my love for you. I promise you, Ani."

He smiled back and then he leaned in and gently kissed her.

"And I promise you."


A flicker in the Force roused Anakin from his sleep. He immediately came alert and tried to ascertain the cause of the warning.

His first instinct was to check on Padmé who had fallen asleep in his embrace sometime after they had finished talking. (She had kept wanting to return to her room and he had kept urging her to stay just a "little while longer." Finally, she had just given up trying to leave.) He looked down and found her to be still sound asleep. Through the Force he felt her contentment and he knew that she wasn't in any immediately distress.

So what was wrong?

Determined not to disturb her, he sat up as far as he could and sought out the wallchrono with his eyes. He found it immediately and when he saw the time, knew what the Force had been trying to tell him.

It was nearly time for his surgery and they would be coming for him at any moment.

He had to act quickly if their secret was to be protected. Reaching out with the Force, he got a secure hold around Padmé and lifted her as gently as he could from the bed. Holding her mere inches above the mattress, he withdrew his arm from around her. He then raised her slightly higher and levitated her back to the chair she had brought next to his bedside. Once she was positioned over it, he carefully set her down, making sure he did not accidentally wake her. Still holding her in the Force, he maneuvered her into the most comfortable position he could manage.

Satisfied that she was safe from any suspicions, he withdrew his Force grip and then turned his attention to himself. He quickly repositioned himself in the direct center of the bed and straightened the blanket before laying back down on his pillows.

Now all he had to do was wait.

He turned his head to gaze at Padmé, who was blissfully unaware of the danger she had just been in. She had slightly shifted positions in the few moments his attention had been elsewhere, but she was still in a deep sleep. A small smile sat on her lips and he wondered what she was dreaming about. Their future, perhaps? (It was what he had dreamed about almost every night for the last ten years.)

He formed a smile of his own and mused that he could watch her for all eternity and never get bored. She was so incredibly beautiful. Even her sleep captivated him. Force, did he love her.

And soon he was going to marry her.


He still couldn't believe it. It felt so surreal. The one thing he had dreamed of but dared not ever hope for was coming true. The woman he had loved for almost half his life wanted to marry him. Him! A former slave. No one could be more unworthy of her love but miraculously, he had it. And now he would have her as his wife. It literally was a dream come true.

Yet he didn't know why.

Until her sudden declaration, Padmé had been adamant that nothing mattered more to her than the completion of his Jedi training. She had fought with him until he agreed to stay and finish what he had started. (He still felt that he didn't deserve to remain a part of the Order, but how could he deny her anything, especially now that she had given him the one thing he had ever wanted?) So what had changed? What had made her desire more than a mere relationship? Why marriage?

He knew it had something to do with the distress she had felt shortly after agreeing to be in a relationship with him. Obviously, a thought had gone through her mind that had upset her, but what could it have been? And how had it led to her desiring to marry him? He doubted she had been completely truthful with him when he had asked her what was wrong. Padmé had admitted to trying to protect him in the past. It stood to reason that she was doing the same here. But what could marriage protect him from?

He realized he should have probably asked her, but once she had started laying out her plans for how they were going to get married, he hadn't had the heart to stop her. As she had thought and rethought out what they were going to do, she had only grown more and more animated with each idea and he had merely listened in rapt fascination. He had always known that she was brilliant but experiencing that brilliance first-hand was mind-blowing. Her scheme was nothing short of perfection and no one, especially not Obi-Wan nor the Council, would suspect a thing.

Her plan was simple: given Anakin's unquestioned need to recover from both his ordeal (being captured, sentenced to death, losing his arm, etc.) and his surgery, she would ask Obi-Wan if he would allow him to spend his recovery on Naboo rather than in the Jedi Temple. Her reasoning would be that it was, for Anakin, a more soothing environment than the Temple and that he would recuperate more quickly if he was in a place where he could completely relax. It was completely innocent and plausible. Obi-Wan would have no reason to object, especially if he was as concerned as Padmé said he was.

And that was only the first part of the plan. The second and best part would take place once they returned to Naboo and the Lake Country.

Padmé wanted them to marry at the lake house, which was where they had truly gotten to know each other. It was the site of their first kiss and she felt that was only fitting that it also be the site of their marriage and he couldn't agree more. While he had already loved her long before she had reentered his life, he had fallen all over again during their time together there. Varykino was, for all intents and purposes, their place. It was only right that they start their new life together there.

She had refrained from going into any further details with him, informing him that she would take care of everything once they arrived at the house. He had responded by telling her that as long as it resulted in them getting married, he didn't care what was actually involved. She had laughed at that and promised that it most definitely would.

There was another ripple in the Force and the door to his room slid open to admit a medical droid pushing a gurney.

"Padawan Skywalker, I am here to take you to the operating room," the droid said. "It is time for your surgery."

"I'm ready," Anakin acknowledged.

He took one last look at Padmé and started getting out of bed.


Obi-Wan found Padmé seated in a chair not far from Anakin's room. She had a pile of datapads in her lap and was currently reading one of them. From the expression on her face, it was obvious that she was not pleased with the words on the screen.

News from Coruscant, most likely, he decided. He himself had been brought up-to-date on galactic affairs by Master Windu less than an hour ago. (Yesterday he had been too busy recovering from his injuries and worrying about Anakin to find out the consequences of the Geonosis disaster. He wished he still didn't know.) And things were not looking good at all.

The Republic was officially at war with the Separatists. Chancellor Palpatine had used his newly appointed emergency powers to create a "Grand Army of the Republic" and had immediately filled its ranks with the clones from Kamino. The war had begun the moment the army had landed on Geonosis. Once that happened, there had been no turning back.

He sighed. He supposed it had only been a matter of time before civil war broke out but he, like Padmé and some of her like-minded colleagues, had hoped a peaceful solution could be reached. But the Chancellor had taken that decision out of the Senate's hands and settled the issue. Now all the future held was countless battles and needless bloodshed.

But as much as he didn't like it, the war was now his reality and as a Jedi, it was his duty to defend the Republic. He would go where the Council sent him and do his job. The Republic always came first.

He reached Padmé just as she laid down the datapad with a look of disgust.

"Entertaining reading material?" he lightly greeted her as he sat down in a chair beside hers.

He decided that it would be best to ease into any discussion of Anakin. While he was sensing no urgent distress from her, she was definitely worried and unhappy about something beneath her irritation over the political situation. His instincts told him that it was Anakin and that he had not yet returned to himself as he had hoped.

She made a face. "This would never have happened had I'd been there," she declared. "I'm sure Jar Jar meant well when he made his proposal, but what in the Force was he thinking? He should have know that I'd never condone giving any one person such authority. As long as the Chancellor keeps his emergency powers, the Senate cannot act."

"Perhaps that was the motivation of the senators who voted for him to have them," Obi-Wan suggested. "Not everyone is as dedicated as you are."

"Dedication has nothing to do with it," she retorted. "His emergency powers invalidate the very purpose of the Senate's existence. We are supposed to be a democratic body, not a dictatorship.

"But you're not here to listen to me rant about the disaster in the Senate," she pronounced, her demeanor becoming more sober as she pointedly changed the subject. "You want to hear about what happened with Anakin last night."

"Very much," he verified, getting a bad feeling that his instincts were correct. "How was he when you last saw him? Has there been any change?"

"Very little," she answered sadly, confirming his fears. "He talked to me a little bit about what was bothering him, but he's still in a deep depression. He's hurting very badly and I can't honestly foresee him making a full recovery any time soon. The things he was saying about himself... They were so painful to hear." She paused, visibly upset over what she was telling him. Experiencing Anakin's agony first-hand had been bad enough and now he was asking her to relive it for him.

He felt a twinge of guilt. It has been his idea to send Padmé to Anakin and he was responsible for the misery she was feeling because of it. But he did not regret his decision. His belief that Anakin's attachment to her would be the key to his recovery appeared to be correct. Anakin had spoken to her, which he had not done for anyone else. While Padmé did think much of its significance, Obi-Wan knew better.

"I tried to get through to him," she finally continued, "but he... He wouldn't listen to me. He...

"He wanted to leave the Order, Obi-Wan," she informed him, meeting and holding his gaze. "I barely managed to change his mind."

Obi-Wan's eyes widened at the revelation. Leave the Order?

"Did he say why?" he asked as calmly as he could manage, the shock of the information having shaken him to his core. The idea of Anakin wanting to leave the Order was preposterous. No one wanted to be a Jedi more. It made absolutely no sense. Why would he...?

She nodded. "He's convinced himself that he's a failure, that he's never done anything right. He even believes that he's mistreated you over the years and that he's been a horrible apprentice. He can't understand why you continued to train him. He thinks he was never meant to be a Jedi.

"The only reason he's staying is because I was able to convince him that if what he thought about you was true, you would not still be training him," she went on before he could comment. "I told him that you believed in him and that you cared about him. I'm not sure if he completely believed me, but he believed enough to stay." She sighed. "The way he's talking about himself. He's in such pain. I... I want to help him so badly but..."

"You've done more for him than anyone else," Obi-Wan assured her, wondering how Anakin had developed these strange ideas about himself. Until now, Anakin had been quite vocal about how he should have already taken the Trials and that he was better than most other Jedi. What had happened to him during their time apart to so radically alter his opinion? Did it have anything to do with the mysterious trip to Tatooine? "You were able to get him to talk when no one else could. He feels safe with you, Padmé. That's why I believe you are the only one who can help him."

"I hope you're right," she said, "because a great deal of this is my fault. And only I can make it up to him."

Again, her words shocked him.

"Why do you say that?"

"Did you know Anakin was having nightmares about his mother?" she asked instead and he immediately got the feeling that he knew where this was going. Anakin's mother was on Tatooine. Based on Padmé's statements, he assumed something had happened to his mother and Anakin had been there to witness it. If this was the case, it would explain a great deal.

He nodded his confirmation and she continued, "I thought that, perhaps, if he visited her that...if he could be assured that she was all right, that the dreams would go away. So I...gave him permission to leave Naboo to see her."

Her admission all but verified his theory. It also spoke of how close Anakin and Padmé had become. She cared so deeply for him that she had compromised her safety in order for him to ease his worries about his mother that he had not seen or contacted in ten years.

"But something happened to her while he was there."

"Yes," she quietly told him. "She died.

"In his arms."

"Oh, Force," he murmured, realizing the implication of what had happened. Anakin had been dreaming that she had been in danger for weeks, but Obi-Wan had dismissed the dreams as a product of an overactive imagination. Then, thanks to Padmé, he had been able to go investigate and had, too late, discovered his dreams to be true. It was no wonder he was an emotional wreck. Knowing Anakin as he did, his Padawan was probably blaming himself for her loss, thinking that if he had believed his dreams that his mother would still be alive.

But these events also pointed to a more important fact: Anakin's dreams had been given to him by the Force. While every Jedi was taught from the time they were a youngling that the future was not set, it was possible to get a glimpse of a potential future through deep meditation. However, this was usually only achieved when one was intent of seeing it. Anakin had not. He had been sleeping when his visions had come to him. What this meant, he could not say.

Anakin was the most powerful Jedi in the history of the Order. His midi-chlorian count was unique and his strength in the Force was incredible. He was not fully trained yet some of his abilities surpassed several Masters'. But this one was new and unsettling. Never again would Obi-Wan dismiss any of Anakin's dreams.

"How did she die?" he finally asked, wanting to know everything that had happened.

"She was abducted from her home by a group of Sand People," Padmé told him. "They're a nomadic tribe that have a history of hostilities with the farmers. Why they took her, no one knew but she was taken in the middle of night when she had gone out alone to pick mushrooms. By the time Anakin reached her, she had been held and tortured for a month. It was a miracle she had even survived as long as she did. But he... He..." She trailed off, obviously deeply affected by what she had witnessed.

"He's... He's convinced that he should have been able to save her," she finally continued. "He refuses to believe that there was nothing more anyone could have done. He thinks that if he had been more powerful that he could have...done something.

"And even worse, he thinks it's his own fault that he's not as powerful as he thinks he should be," she went on. "That he's failed in his training somehow. It's why he thinks he was never meant to be a Jedi.

"I should have known better than to talk him into going to Geonosis after what had happened," she confessed. "He needed time to mourn his loss. But I decided that what he needed instead was something to take his mind off of her death. And since I believed that it would simply be a matter of negotiating for your release, I convinced him to accompany me on a 'rescue mission'. And when it turned out to be something else entirely, he was in no state to deal with the situation. And because of that he was terribly injured and nearly died.

"I was so wrong and I want nothing more than to make it up to him," she finished. "Everything that happened to him was my fault. All I want is to set things right with him."

Obi-Wan was silent as he slowly digested the information. Padmé's account explained everything, especially Anakin's behavior after her fall from the ship. After losing his mother so violently, he hadn't wanted to lose Padmé the same way. His recklessness in his fight against Dooku had been a product of his desperation to reach Padmé. And after he had lost the duel, the feelings of failure Padmé had spoken of had returned full force and had resulted in his current state.

"I'd like to ask your permission to bring him back to Naboo with me," she spoke after a while. "My family home in the Lake Country is isolated and peaceful. And he's familiar with it because that is where we stayed while I was in hiding. I can't think of a better place for him to recover. He was very happy there. I believe being back there will do him good."

"I don't know..." Obi-Wan said hesitantly. While part of him agreed with Padmé's assessment (Anakin, once he started feeling even slightly better, would resent being trapped in a small room and constantly observed), the rest of him balked at the idea of blatantly disregarding protocol. He could only bend so many rules before guilt set in. "Standard procedure is for an injured Jedi to stay in the Temple infirmary. In his current condition, I think it would be wise for him to be under constant medical supervision."

"The house itself may be isolated, but I assure you that we are fully capable of calling for assistance if it is needed," she informed him. "Anakin would receive the best care available. And...

"And, he would not feel pressured to quickly recover so he could be sent out to fight in the war," she finished pointedly, making her true motivation very clear.

"As I told you last night, the Council would never send him on a mission before he was ready," Obi-Wan replied defensively. He did not like what she was implying about the Council. They were strict, true, but they were not unreasonable. "He would be given all the time he needs."

"I'm not talking about the Council," she corrected. "I meant Anakin himself. You know as well as I do how he'll feel when he hears about a single battle. He'll want to be out there fighting too. He craves action.

"Besides," she added, "how will I be able to help him if he's in the Temple? You yourself said that I was the only one who could get him through this."

"And there's no reason you still wouldn't be able to," he told her. "While it's true that non-Jedi are discouraged from entering the Temple, they are not forbidden. Your purpose in being there would be known. No one would question your presence."

"Wouldn't they?" she challenged. "Both Anakin and I would be constantly watched. Neither of us would be able to say anything without it being scrutinized for inappropriate content. You may be tolerant of our close friendship but I doubt many other Jedi would be."

As soon as she spoke the words, he knew that they were true. He accepted Padmé's feelings for Anakin because he shared them. He was as attached to his Padawan as she was and did not see them as a danger. Because of this, he had failed to view Anakin and Padmé's close friendship as any other Jedi would, as a violation of the Code. The moment it was noticed within the Temple, contact would be strictly forbidden between them. The Council was wary of Anakin's attachment issues as it was. This would be yet another strike against him in their eyes.

"I believe you may be right," he conceded. "But I'm afraid the Council would never approve of a convalescence outside of the Temple. They will insist that he be under Jedi care."

A look of concentration graced Padmé's face as she appeared to go over the situation in her mind. In the political community, she was known for her ability to find solutions where there appeared to be none. Obi-Wan had no doubt that she would find something for this dilemma as well.

"Is Anakin still assigned as my protector?" she asked him at last.

He couldn't help but smile as he realized where she was going with this. Her cleverness impressed him. "As far as I know," he told her. "Usually, an assignment of this nature ends when all threats have been eliminated. Do you feel that you are still in danger?"

"Yes, I do," she informed him in a senatorial manner but he could tell that she was suppressing a smile of her own. "I do not want to return to Naboo unescorted and since Padawan Skywalker is still assigned to me, then I insist he continues to perform his duties as my Jedi protector. The Council cannot refuse my request."

"No, milady, they cannot," he agreed.

"Good," she replied, sounding very satisfied with herself. "And if it so happens to turn out that I still feel unsafe once I arrive, then I will have no choice but to ask Anakin to stay even longer."

"Of course," he acknowledged, grateful for Padmé's solution. Anakin would receive the care he needed in order to ensure a full recovery and the Council would not be able to object. However, in order for the ruse to work, it could not continue for too long. "But I would suggest that the threat is put to an end in a reasonable amount of time. The Council will start to wonder at Anakin's fitness for the assignment after too long."

"Understood," she promised. "A month then."

He shook his head. "Too long. One week."

"Not long enough," she argued. "Three."

"Two and no more."

"Fine," she accepted. "Two weeks. But if he needs more time..."

"He will take it in the Temple infirmary," he countered. "Anything else will be cause for suspicion and I believe that's the last thing you want."

"All right. Two weeks only," she agreed. "But if he needs more and I learn that he wasn't properly cared for..."

"He will be," he assured her. "You drive a hard bargain, Senator."

"I refuse to give up what I believe in without a fight," she informed him. "I want what's best for Anakin."

"As do I," he assured her. "Thank you, Padmé. For being such a devoted friend to him."

She smiled at him. "I'm not his only devoted friend. Thank you for allowing me to help him. I'll make sure he knows what you did for him."

"I have no doubt that you will...

"My friend."


As Anakin slowly returned to awareness, his first instinctive act was to seek out Padmé's comforting presence. And, to his joy and relief, he found her immediately.

"Padmé..." he murmured, his throat sore and his mouth dry. He felt weak and disoriented from the anesthetic. He doubted he could sit up even if he tried.

"I'm right here," she assured him and as he blinked his eyes he saw her smiling face above him. "How are you feeling?"

"Thirsty," he answered honestly. "And very tired."

"Here," she said, moving out of view for a moment and when she reappeared, he felt something being pressed against his lips.

"Drink this," she instructed.

He obeyed and immediately cool water began to soothe his mouth and throat. He drank eagerly, unable to get relief fast enough.

"Not too fast," a second voice warned from the other side of his bed. "You don't want to make yourself ill."

It was the voice of his Master.

He's here too? Anakin thought incredulously, his eyes shifting in the direction of the voice. And, sure enough, he found Obi-Wan seated in a chair. I don't believe it.

He had only expected to find Padmé with him when he awoke. Obi-Wan's presence surprised him. Had he been there the entire time? Why? (In all of the times he had been in the Temple infirmary, Obi-Wan had only made quick visits between the performing of his duties. And they had always taken place when he had been awake.)

He finished the water and Padmé took the empty cup away. She then gently wiped his mouth dry with a cloth.

He was amused by the action considering that she was doing it right in front of Obi-Wan. But there was nothing inappropriate about the gesture in itself and she had not made it into more than what it was. His Master had no reason to object. (If only Obi-Wan knew what he really wanted to do with her. How he longed to kiss her again. The sooner his Master would leave the room...)

"How long have I been out of surgery?" he asked to get his mind off of doing...things with his love.

"A little over an hour," Obi-Wan informed him, thankfully oblivious to his Padawan's improper thoughts.

"And we've both been here with you the entire time," Padmé added as if in answer to one of his unspoken questions. "We wanted to be here when you woke up."

"Both of you?" he repeated, wanting to make sure he had heard right.

"Of course," Obi-Wan assured him. "You are very important to both of us."

Anakin was stunned. It was the closest Obi-Wan had ever come to speaking about his feelings of attachment towards him that he himself had instinctively recognized for years. But knowing something and hearing it said aloud were two very different things. The words touched him.

"Thank you, Master."

"How does your new arm feel?" Obi-Wan asked without acknowledging the thanks. (But Anakin hadn't expected him to. Obi-Wan's bending of the Code only went so far.) "The droid that brought you back said that the surgery was performed successfully and that there were no complications. Your arm should be fully functional."

At the mention of his prosthetic, Anakin gazed down for his first look.

The arm itself looked like it belonged on a droid...before it received its coverings. It was skeletal in design, which made sense considering that it had to be attached to his existing bone structure, and all of its wires and moving parts were visible. (He had to admire the workmanship, but his mechanically-inclined mind couldn't help but make notes of areas that he felt could use improvement. I can be my own project, he mused.) It was not the most pleasant thing to look at (he hoped that the scientists would hurry up and figure out how to graft synthflesh to metal), but as long as it did what it was supposed to, he was grateful to have it. (All it needs is to be covered with a glove, he concluded.)

He reached over with his other hand to touch it and unexpectedly found it to be warm. He had assumed it would be as cold as any other piece of metal he had handled. (Padmé definitely won't mind being touched by this.)

Time to see if it works, he decided.

Slowly, he raised his new arm from the bed and was instantly surprised by how...normal the movement felt. If he closed his eyes, he wouldn't be able to tell that it wasn't the arm he had been born with. He brought the hand level with his face and flexed the fingers and rotated the wrist. Again, he could not tell that this was not his natural arm. He didn't know much about how cybernetics were interfaced with the nervous system, but the results were amazing. A being could probably have every part of his body replaced and never know the difference. He was thoroughly impressed.

Relief flowed through him. He had feared that he would need physical therapy before being released, which would have delayed or entirely prevented his return to Naboo with Padmé. Now there was nothing keeping him in this bed. (Well, other than his current incredible exhaustion, that is.)

"Just like my old one," he declared with a weak smile. "Does this mean I can get out of here now?"

"You're not going anywhere until you get your strength back," Padmé informed him. "You just had surgery, Anakin. You need your rest."

"Especially since you have a mission to complete," Obi-Wan added.


Padmé was still in danger?

Why hadn't she told him?

He resisted the urge to turn to her, afraid of what he might say. Instead, he said to Obi-Wan, "I thought that Master Windu had taken care of the assassin."

"The one we knew of," Padmé interjected and he had no choice but to look at her. "You know how badly Viceroy Gunray wants me dead. What if he had hired more than one assassin to ensure that the job got done? There's no way of knowing, of course, unless there is a new attack on my life, but I for one would rather be ready for it than be caught unawares." She paused and held his gaze for an instant. "I'd feel much safe traveling back to Naboo under your continued protection."

And then he understood. This was Padmé's plan. She had told Obi-Wan that she felt she was still in danger and he had had no choice but to allow him to continue his mission of protecting her. (Until she felt the threat on her life had been completely eliminated, his mandate to protect her still stood.) Obviously, Obi-Wan had found a reason to object to her original plan (in all honesty, he wasn't really too surprised) and she had had to quickly think of something else.

"Of course, Padmé," he agreed as calmly as he could manage. "It will be my honor to continue to protect you."

"Good," she replied, smiling at him. "We'll leave as soon as you are able."

"I won't take too long," he promised.

"You'll take as long as you need," she insisted. Still smiling, she added, "I refuse to travel with a protector who needs protection of his own."

"Yes, milady."

"Now that that's settled," Obi-Wan spoke up, "would you mind giving me a few minutes alone with my Padawan?"

All of the relief Anakin had been feeling instantly vanished. If his Master was asking to speak with him alone...

"Not at all," she warmly answered, much to his chagrin. He was too tired to listen to yet another lecture right now. Obi-Wan had the worst timing. "There are some things I have to take care of anyway."

Then, to his utter surprise, she leaned down and gave him a kiss on the cheek. (Obi-Wan couldn't object to that, could he? After all, it was only on the cheek.) "I'll be back later," she promised before standing up. "Don't be too hard on him, Obi-Wan."

"You have my word," his Master told her, which made Anakin even more uneasy. Obi-Wan was always hard on him. He was a stern teacher. Anakin doubted he knew how to go easy. And if this lecture was going to be about what he suspected it was going to be about...

"Then I leave him in your capable hands," Padmé said. "Master Jedi," she addressed him with a nod.

"Senator," Obi-Wan echoed.

And with that, Padmé walked across the room and vanished through the door.

Leaving Anakin completely alone with his Master.

Swallowing, he waited nervously for the discipline he rightfully deserved (after all, he had abandoned his mission and ignored direct orders from both his Master and Master Windu) to begin.

"Padmé told me about your mother," Obi-Wan began without preamble, the words taking him by complete surprise. (Padmé had told him about that?! What had she been thinking?) "I am very sorry to hear about your loss."

The sympathy in Obi-Wan's voice stunned him. He wasn't just saying he was sorry. He was sorry.

I don't believe it.

"Th-thank you," Anakin stammered aloud, not knowing what else to say. For ten years, Obi-Wan had been encouraging him to put all thoughts of his mother (and Padmé) out of his mind for good. "Release your attachments" was said almost as frequently as "May the Force be with you." Now here Obi-Wan was openly acknowledging his attachment to his mother and the feelings of loss brought on by her death. He didn't understand it. What was going on?

"I was wrong to dismiss your dreams without any consideration," Obi-Wan continued, just about flooring his apprentice. "I simply assumed they were only dreams and I attributed them to your constant thoughts about your mother. If I had known differently..."

"How could you have, Master?" Anakin questioned, both confused and amazed by his Master's strange behavior. Was Obi-Wan feeling all right? Was this some side effect of the pain medication he had taken for his injuries? He was definitely not himself. "You weren't the one having the dreams. You couldn't have known what they felt like."

"But I saw what they were doing to you," Obi-Wan countered, "and that should have been enough of a reason to do something about them. I... I..." He trailed off and Anakin wondered what was going through his mind.

"Force, this is difficult," Obi-wan commented after a few moments. "What I'm trying to say is..."

"Take your time, Master," Anakin encouraged, curious about what his Master was finding so difficult to say. Obi-Wan had never been at a loss for words before. His Master was one of the most skilled speakers he had ever met. (Other than his beloved, of course.)

Obi-Wan nodded and took a deep breath. "I know I have never given you any reason to believe this, but I care about you a great deal, Anakin. These past ten years together... You have come to mean more to me than just my Padawan. I... I think of you as... You've told me I'm the closest thing you have to a father. Well, the reverse is true as well. You are the closest thing I will ever have to a son."

Anakin's mind reeled. Obi-Wan's words far surpassed the small acknowledgement of his feelings that he had made earlier. He was confessing everything Anakin had always known to be true. But why? He still didn't understand what was happening. Why was Obi-Wan suddenly breaking every part of the Code he had so strongly supported until now?

"Speaking with Padmé opened my eyes to how I've mistreated you over the years," Obi-Wan continued, answering his question as well as shocking him even more.

Mistreated?! What in the name of the Force had Padmé been thinking to say such a thing to his Master? Why would she? (He knew she was protective of him but...) And why had Obi-Wan even listened to her...believed her? What was going on?

"You are unique among the Jedi and I have been doing everything in my power to change that uniqueness," Obi-Wan went on. "I thought it was the best way to insure that you would be Knighted when the time was right. I was...wrong. As you told Padmé, I was only holding you back. By trying to make you into something you were not, I was harming you. I have done nothing but wrong you from the beginning. And for that I am sorrier than I can ever say."

"No, Master," he argued, upset with Padmé for revealing things to his Master that she had no right to repeat. He knew her intention had been to help him, but it had not been her place. Obi-Wan had never done anything wrong. He was the one who had done nothing but behave inappropriately. "What I said to Padmé-"

"Was how you truly feel," Obi-Wan finished. "And she only told me because she knew I needed to be aware of it. You know how she feels about you, Anakin. Would she ever do anything to purposely hurt you?"

Anakin shook his head, feeling just the slightest bit better knowing she hadn't confronted his Master as he had initially feared.

"When I first learned that you were in a depression, I couldn't understand why," Obi-Wan continued. "You had seemed to be fine during the...events on Geonosis. I said as much to Padmé, who I knew you had grown closer to during your time together. I told her that I wanted to help you but I didn't know how. I was hoping that she could give me some insight on why you were so unhappy and she did. She told me that your mother had died and how you believed her death was your fault. She also told me why you felt it was your own fault.

"In all honesty, I was...hurt that you had talked to her more than you had ever talked to me," he went on. "It made me realize how badly I had wronged you over the years. My own Padawan didn't trust me with the truth of his feelings. I have failed you in every way possible."

"But I didn't mean a lot of the things I said," Anakin argued, feeling terrible for what he'd inadvertently done. If only he hadn't said those things to Padmé... "I was upset and not thinking straight. You've never held me back, Master. I only thought I was ahead of what you were teaching me when I was really just where you said I was. Forgive my arrogance. I promise I'll do better from now on."

"There's no need to lie to me, young one," Obi-Wan informed him. "You wouldn't think or feel any of those things if they weren't true. I'm not so certain of my abilities as a teacher that I would deny making any mistakes. On the contrary, I've made far too many."

"No, Obi-Wan..." Anakin tried again.

"I would like the chance to make everything up to you," Obi-Wan ignored his protest. "I want nothing more than to be the Master you need. Will you give me that chance, Anakin? Will you allow me to atone for all of my past mistakes?"

"Master, I..."

Anakin didn't know what to say. It was like his argument with Padmé all over again. Like Padmé, Obi-Wan refused to let him have the blame for anything even though all of it was rightfully his. But unlike with Padmé, there would be no simple resolution.

Obi-Wan smiled sadly. "I never meant to hurt you. My mistakes are my own and I am truly sorry for all of them. I don't want to make any more. But in order for that to happen, I'll need your help. I want us to be a true team from this day forward."

"I want that too," Anakin told him, meaning it. He was going to do everything in his power to change. (But he was only doing it because Padmé had asked him. Otherwise he would have already informed Obi-Wan of his intention to leave the Order. She was his only reason for staying.) "But I'm as much to blame for our problems as you are. You aren't the only one who's made mistakes."

"Then let us make a promise right here and now that as soon as you return from your mission to Naboo that we'll make a fresh start," Obi-Wan proposed. "We will put the past behind us and become the team I believe we can be. Every decision we make will be made together. There will be no more of my deciding what's best for you without first discussing it with you. We will talk about everything, no matter how trivial. I will no longer try to force you to be something you are not.

"And I will see to it that when you are truly ready, you will take the Trials."

"Thank you, Master," Anakin murmured, moved. Obi-Wan was at last giving him everything he had ever wanted. Next to Padmé wanting to marry him, this was the greatest moment of his life.

"You are welcome, Padawan," Obi-Wan accepted with a genuine smile. "Now, then, I shall leave you to your rest." He rose from his chair. "I do not believe Padmé to be a very patient woman."

"You have no idea, Master," Anakin smiled back.

"I will be back later to check on you," his Master promised.

"I look forward to it."


Padmé silently watched as Anakin effortlessly worked the controls of her ship. He did not even seem to notice that one of his hands was now artificial. His piloting skills were as amazing as ever.

He pressed a few more buttons and pulled down on a lever and the stars instantly transformed into the familiar blur of hyperspace.

They were free.

And in a matter of days, they would be married.

"All right," Anakin announced, undoing his restraints and swiveling his chair towards hers. "I've just engaged the autopilot and programmed the computer to alert us right before reversion to realspace. According to the navicomputer, we should arrive on Naboo by tomorrow night."

"I can't wait," she smiled at him as she released her own restraints and stood up. "Because the sooner we get there, the sooner you'll be my husband."

"And you'll be my wife," he reminded her. "Marriage isn't one sided, you know."

"And how would you know anything about marriage anyway, Padawan Skywalker?" she teased as she took the two steps to his chair and planted herself in his lap. She wrapped her arms around his neck. "Isn't that kind of knowledge forbidden to a Jedi?"

"Since when has that kind of thing ever stopped me?" he shot back, placing his hands on her waist.

"You have a point there," she conceded, loving the happiness in his voice. Ever since his conversation with Obi-Wan, he had begun to sound more and more like his old self. His depression had seemingly vanished overnight. Whatever Obi-Wan had said to him had been exactly what he needed to hear. (She had not asked either one of them what had been said. It was a private conversation and unless one of them volunteered the information, it was none of her business.)

She leaned in and gave him a kiss.

"You realize we're finally alone," she told him, feeling elated at the truth of the words.

For the first time since they had officially become a couple, they could openly kiss and express their love for one another. There was no danger of anyone catching them. They were free to say and do anything they wanted without fear of being seen or heard. And Padmé couldn't get enough of his affections.

If only this freedom could last forever...

"I do," he asserted, beginning to run his hands along her sides.

"And do you also realize what that means?" she playfully challenged, kissing him again.

"Maybe," he answered in a serious tone and halting the movement of his hands.

"Maybe?" she echoed, suppressing a giggle. She didn't have to see his infamous smirk to know that he was teasing her. "I'm shocked."

"Oh, really?" he threw back. "Then I guess you don't want me to show you what I think it means."

"Now when did I ever say that?"

"You didn't," he admitted as he pulled her into a deep kiss.

Padmé was immediately overwhelmed by the intensity as she kissed him back. It was the most powerful one they had shared yet and it filled her body with the most incredible sensations. She was having trouble focusing on anything but the feel of his lips on hers...

And then suddenly he pulled away from her, breaking the kiss and leaving her breathless.

"So was I right?" he questioned, this time openly smirking at her.

"You know, if I didn't know any better, I'd say you've been kissing other woman behind my back," she informed him, moving her arms from his neck to plant her hands against his chest. "You are far too talented to be a beginner."

"Maybe I have," he declared, still smirking. "But I'm not saying anything. If you want to know the truth, you're going to have to force it out of me and there's only one way to do that."

"Oh, you!" she laughed, unable to maintain a straight face any longer. "Maybe you should just kiss me again before I decide I don't like you anymore."

"Not possible," he asserted.

And his mouth was against hers once more, kissing her passionately.

She lost herself in the kiss, the outside world falling away until there was nothing but the two of them. How she loved him...

"Artoo-Detoo, there you- Oh, my goodness!"

The voice startled them apart and it took Padmé a moment to catch her breath before she could focus on the source of the disturbance.

There, situated in the doorway and as looking as innocent as an astrodroid could possibly manage, was Artoo. A distressed Threepio was standing behind him.

In her joy to be "alone" with Anakin, she had forgotten that they weren't actually alone. The two droids had returned to her ship after the chaos on Geonosis (she had caught glimpses of them during the fighting) and had remained there ever since.

"I'm dreadfully sorry, Master Anakin," Threepio quickly apologized. "If I had known he had voyeuristic tendencies, I would have-"

Artoo beeped indignantly.

"Research?" Threepio translated while Padmé did her best to keep from bursting out with laughter. "Do you really expect any of us to believe that you were doing research on human behavior? What use does a mechanic have for human repro-"

"Threepio," Anakin interrupted, "it's all right. Artoo didn't mean anything by it. Did you, Artoo?"

Artoo made a negative noise.

"See?" Anakin said to Threepio. "No harm done."

"But sir, that does not excuse his bad manners," Threepio protested. "I suggest you punish him."

Artoo made a comment.

"I don't care what I said about you not understanding human behavior," Threepio defended himself. "Spying is not the way to learn about it. Besides, you have no business learning about humans. Behavior is my area of expertise. You are nothing but an overgrown repair kit."

Artoo said something else that sounded decidedly nasty.

"How about we go someplace a little more private?" Padmé suggested as she slid off of Anakin's lap while the droids continued insulting each other.

"You want to leave just as it's getting good?" Anakin mock-pouted as Artoo whistled angrily.

"Please," she insisted. "If we don't, I'm going to start laughing so hard that's it'll only make things worse." Artoo would go out of his way to defend his behavior while Threepio would spend the entire time trying to figure out what she found so funny, never once considering that it could be him.

"You're not the only one," he grinned, standing up and taking her hand. "Where do you suggest we relocate to?"

Padmé's lips formed a grin of her own.

"Someplace I think you'll really like, my love."