Author's Notes:

I would just like to remind my readers that my use of Expanded Universe materials is selective. So anything you don't recognize was created by me. For example, I completely made up the personalities and backstories of Varykino's staff. The only thing lifted from the Attack of the Clones screenplay is their names.
This section of the story is more adult in nature. Although there is nothing shown, I strongly caution younger readers.

((((())))))

"It's even more beautiful than I remember it," Anakin commented as Varykino appeared in the distance.

He was cuddled with Padmé in the back of the water speeder they had rented to take them across the lake to their eagerly awaited final destination. He had left the piloting to Artoo so he could enjoy the ride. (And to ensure that it wasn't over too quickly, he had instructed Artoo to plot a slightly out-of-the-way course to the house.)

"That's probably because you're actually looking at it this time," Padmé pointed out. "Because if I recall correctly, you spent the entire last ride staring at me."

"True," he admitted, "but I couldn't help myself. I was mesmerized by your beauty."

"And this time you're not?" she teased.

"Not even a little. You're old news already," he playfully informed her, once again marveling at how easy it was for them to fall into this kind of familiar banter. They had found themselves playing teasing games like this long before they had admitted their love to each other. It was as if they had known each other their whole lives. "You bore me. I need something new to stare at."

"I think I've just been insulted," she mock-huffed. "The nerve!"

"Forgive me, milady," he said, not even trying to sound apologetic. "I misspoke. What I meant to say is that you're so powerful that I no longer have to stare at you to be under your control. There is no escape from you. I am forever your slave."

"Much better," she decided. "I'm very glad to see that you're clear on which one of us is in charge here. After all, I am older than you."

"So am I forgiven, oh older and wiser one?"

"Not a chance!" she declared, turning around in his arms and moving into his lap. "A crime has been committed and the perpetrator must be punished. Prepare to suffer the consequences!"

"May the condemned make one last request before he faces his punishment?"

"Perhaps. I wouldn't want you to think me unfair," she replied. "What is it you want?"

"To kiss you, milady," he told her. "Just one simple kiss. That's all I ask."

"I believe that to be permissible," she decreed. "You may proceed with the kiss."

Without another word, he leaned down to kiss her deeply.

Padmé dropped all pretenses as she returned the kiss, wrapping her arms around his neck and making it perfectly clear that she was no longer playing a game with him.

He tightened his hold on her and pulled her closer against him, losing himself in the passionate act. Whenever he was kissing his beloved, nothing else existed except the two of them and the love they shared. He had spent ten years dreaming what it would be like to kiss her and nothing could have prepared him for the perfection of the reality. She was his world. Being with her was what gave his life meaning. He could never tire of her company or her love.

Force, how he loved her.

Finally, the kiss came to an end and he slightly pulled away without releasing her from his arms.

"I love you, Padmé," he quietly spoke.

"I love you too," she softly responded. "So very much. And I always will."

She then moved her face back to his and initiated a second kiss, this one more heated than the one before. She slid her arms from around his neck, placing her hands on his back. She kneaded his muscles through his clothes and pressed her body against his even closer than before, further deepening the kiss.

Anakin was powerless to do anything but return the kiss. The power she held over him... He couldn't resist her if he tried.

And then it happened. His body once again began to respond to the stimulation, as it had repeatedly onboard her ship.

It was time to end the kiss before things went too far.

He pulled away from her, breaking the kiss.

"We need to stop," he told her. "We can't do this now."

"I know," she acknowledged. She smiled and gave him one more quick kiss. "No privacy."

But then the smile faded as she took on a more sober demeanor. "But I don't know if I can wait much longer, Anakin. I need you, my love. I think it's sweet that you're trying to follow my people's marriage traditions, but they really don't matter to me. All that matters is being your wife and nothing is going to keep that from happening, especially not an old tradition that's meant more for the families of the couple than the couple themselves. I would still marry you even if I knew you'd been with hundreds of women. I love you, Anakin, and I want to show you in the most intimate way possible. Let me show you. Please."

"No, not until we're married," he asserted. "I want everything about our wedding to be perfect and that means following all of the old traditions. And tradition states that the wedding night must be the couple's first time together. How can our wedding be perfect if we break tradition?"

It had been the reason he had been using for why they couldn't make love since she had told him she was ready to take that step in their relationship. (And she had not stopped trying to get him to change his mind since.) But it wasn't the only reason. The real reason...

"So says the Jedi who's having the wedding," she countered. "If that's not breaking tradition, I don't know what is."

"That's different," he insisted.

"Is it?" she wanted to know. "How?"

"I'm breaking the Code, which is more rules than tradition," he explained. "Rules have to be followed. Traditions don't."

"Yet you're insisting we follow them," she reminded him. "Why?"

"For you," he truthfully informed her though it wasn't the complete truth... "Because this is going to be one of the most important days of your entire life and I don't want you to have any regrets about it. I want it to be absolutely perfect for you. I know it bothers you that your family can't be there. You're getting married and your family won't ever know about it. They can't... And it's my fault. If you were marrying anyone else..."

"But I'm not marrying anyone else," she stated. "I'm marrying you, the man that I love. How could you even think that I would regret anything about that?

"I love you so much, Anakin. Yes, I wish my family could be there, but I knew from the moment I agreed to be in a relationship with you that it would have to be kept a secret from everyone, my family included. I understood that when I asked you if you'd marry me. All I want is to be your wife and spend the rest of my life with you. Nothing else matters. And I intend to prove my devotion to you in every way I can.

"Including with my body."

"Padmé..."

He felt guilty for not telling her the entire truth behind his hesitation, but he knew what would happen if he did. Padmé would insist that he was being ridiculous and work even harder to get him to make love to her, which was the last thing he wanted. (Her eagerness to be intimate had surprised him given how conservative the Naboo were as a whole. He had been completely caught off-guard by her initial declaration that she was ready to make love.) Discouraging her was difficult enough as it was. But he refused to give in to her before he was ready. He wanted their first time together to be perfect and that meant he had to be absolutely certain that he would not hurt her before he made love to her.

Because that alone was his biggest fear and the main reason he was pushing her away.

The moment she had told him that she wanted to make love to him had been the moment it had dawned on him just how utterly ignorant he was when it came to sexual intercourse. Yes, he had received the same basic overview that all Padawans who had reached sexual maturity were given, but all they were taught were the mechanics of intercourse. (While the act of sexual intercourse was not explicitly forbidden by the Code, it was strongly discouraged. And to insure that it came across as unappealing as possible to the curious Padawans, it was solely described in clinical terms.) They were not told what it was that turned a simple function of reproduction into "making love." What was it that made it so pleasurable? (Touching himself was one thing. But touching...entering...the woman he loved...) What kinds of things would make her feel good? What things wouldn't she like? Did a man ask those kinds of things of his partner? Or was he already supposed to know? How could he ensure that he wouldn't cause her pain? Until he knew the answers to all of his questions, he refused to touch her.

He had only one chance to give her a perfect and incredibly pleasurable first experience and he refused to fail her.

Because failing her again was the last thing he ever wanted to do.

"It's all right to be nervous, you know," she said as if reading his mind. "I'm nervous. But my mother and sister told me that that's normal when I once asked them about it. Every couple is nervous their first time together. But both Mom and Sola said that the nervousness goes away almost immediately. Then all that's left is the love and pleasure. Let me give you that pleasure, Anakin. Tonight. Even if we're not married."

"I don't..."

"Just think about it, my love," she urged. "Please."

He hesitated before responding, unsure of what to say that would put an end to this conversation. Padmé was making saying "no" incredibly difficult. If he could be certain she would respect his concerns and allow him to do some research before touching her, he would tell her in a heartbeat. But he knew his love and she would insist that it wasn't necessary. But if he gave in and he hurt her...

"I'll think about it," he finally spoke. "All right?"

"That's all I wanted you to say," she told him. "I love you so much."

"I love you too."

"I'm going to do everything in my power to ensure that we are married as soon as possible," she promised. "Maybe even as soon as tonight."

"Is that even possible?" he questioned, knowing that if it was, he didn't have much time to master the art of lovemaking. Because once they were married...

"Aren't you the one who told me that anything's possible?" she teased.

He had to smile at that. "I did, didn't I?"

"Yes, you did, my love," she smiled back, "while I was foolishly trying to convince you that it wasn't. And look at us now. A senator and a Jedi about to get married. The most impossible of impossibilities. You were absolutely right."

"A very rare occurrence," he informed her. "Just ask Master Obi-Wan."

She leaned in and gave him another kiss. "I may very well do just that. Thanks for the suggestion, my love."

"Have I told you lately just how very evil you are?"

"Not often enough," she declared.

"Please tell me again."

((((())))))

"Are you ready?" Padmé asked Anakin as their speeder began to slow for its approach of Varykino's dock. She could see Paddy, the lake house caretaker, waiting for them.

"I'm ready," he confirmed. "How about you?"

"Honestly? I'm more than a little nervous," she admitted. "But there's no turning back now. We're here and whatever happens, happens. I just hope..."

"Everything's going to be just fine," Anakin assured her, squeezing her hand. "You have nothing to worry about. Remember, they've already kept your presence here a secret once before. Why should this time be any different?"

She couldn't help but smile at his lack of knowledge. "Well, there's no chance of anyone ever mistaking you for a local, my love," she said, shaking her head. "Let's see if I can explain. Do you remember the topic of almost every conversation you had with Nandi, Teckla, or Paddy?"

"You mean other than the gossiping?"

"No, the gossiping is exactly what I mean," she clarified. "Remember how I told you how isolated this part of the Lake Country is? Even HoloNet access is extremely limited out here. It's why I chose to hide here in the first place. Practically all of the news the residents hear is from visitors. And what one person learns is almost instantly known by all.

"You saw how small the town is," she continued. "The residents are a close knit group and they share everything they find out with each other. And they also share it with other visitors. It's not only their way of finding out if something is true or not, but how they are kept up-to-date on planetary and galactic affairs. So you can imagine how fast the story of Naboo's senator marrying a Jedi Knight would spread if mentioned to another visitor. A scandal of that magnitude... The entire planet would know in a matter of hours."

"I can't see Paddy, Nandi, or Teckla betraying you that way," Anakin told her. "It wouldn't make any sense. As you said, they've already kept your presence here a secret before and have agreed to do it again now. Why would they expose our marriage? Why keep one secret and not the other? What's the difference?"

"Because the first one put my life in danger and our marriage doesn't," she pointed out. "Paddy has known me since I was a very little girl and Nandi and Teckla have been at Varykino for many years. They would never do anything that they knew would cause me physical harm. But the secret of our marriage... The only thing that endangers is our careers and I doubt that would serve as much of a deterrent."

"I think you underestimate their loyalty to you," Anakin disagreed. "I've seen how much they care about you. I don't think they'll tell anyone."

"I hope you're right," she told him. "Because if you're not..."

He gave her a grin. "Then I'll just have to do my job and protect you by using the Force to...change their minds. First they'll forget they heard anything and then, quite suddenly mind you, they'll all remember pressing business elsewhere. Problem solved," he smugly declared.

"I hate to break it to you, my overconfident Jedi, but-"

A loud whistling from Artoo interrupted.

"Master Anakin, Miss Padmé," Threepio said. "Artoo says that we're about to dock."

"Thank you, Threepio," Padmé replied as she looked up to see Paddy waving in greeting. She gave Anakin's hand one last squeeze before standing up and waving back. "Hello, Paddy," she called with a smile as Artoo smoothly guided the speeder to a stop.

"You have no idea how worried we all were when you left so suddenly," Paddy scolded as he began to secure the speeder to the dock. "What were you thinking, young lady? There is a threat on your life and you just go running around as you please? Have you learned nothing? You're as reckless as you were when you were ten and had that accident."

"Accident?" Anakin spoke up and Padmé groaned. Knowing Anakin, he wasn't going to drop the subject until he knew the entire story. (And he'd never let her live it down once he found out what had happened. It was highly embarrassing!) She looked to see that he had risen to stand beside her. "You've never mentioned any accidents." He turned to Paddy. "As her protector, I think this is something I most definitely need to know about."

"Paddy, as your employer, I order you never to mention my childhood escapades without my permission ever again," she demanded and extended her hand towards the caretaker. She had had more than one...accident over the years prior to her entering politics (she had had quite the adventurous streak as a child) and she had no intention of letting Anakin find out about any more of them. One was bad enough. And with Paddy's tendency to talk too much in general...

"You're no fun," Anakin announced as Paddy helped her out of the speeder.

"Finally starting to learn, I see," Padmé shot back.

"Unfortunately," Anakin declared, climbing out onto the dock. He again grinned at her. "But I have my ways of finding things out, with or without your permission."

"You wouldn't dare," she warned.

"I don't think I have to answer that," he informed her as he helped Threepio from the speeder. Artoo had used his jets to get out on his own.

"Then you had better give that same order to Nandi and Teckla," Paddy advised as he unloaded Padmé's bags. "I already told them all about your youthful misadventures years ago. It took a while before they believed me but once I showed them the holos..."

"You didn't!" she cried, suddenly wishing she had the Force ability to make people forget things.

"These I have got to see!" Anakin spoke up and she glared at him.

"I don't understand why you're so upset," Paddy continued nonchalantly. "You were a very spirited child and had a tendency to do whatever you wanted. You were too young to realize how dangerous some of those things were. All I can say is that you are very lucky that Sola loved to tattle on you or you would have ended up with much worse than a broken arm."

"That's enough, Paddy," she demanded, wanting to disappear. Anakin was going to want to know everything now. She was going to be humiliated! She had to make him stop before things got any worse.

This was why she was worried about telling Paddy about her relationship with Anakin. He had a very big mouth, possibly the biggest in the entire Lake Country, and did not know when to stop talking. Of the three servants, he was the one most likely to let out their secret.

"All right, all right," he reluctantly gave in. "I'll stop...for now." He winked at Anakin and mouthed "later."

"I saw that," she informed them. "I'll just have to make sure that the two of you are never alone together."

"Pardon the interruption," Threepio interjected as he came over to join them, Artoo rolling after him. "But both Artoo and myself are in need of rest and recharging. Would one of you be kind enough to direct us to the nearest powering station?"

Grateful for the change of subject, Padmé saw her chance to prevent further discussion of her childhood. "Of course," she acknowledged him. She returned her attention to Paddy. "If you'd be so kind...?"

"At once," Paddy agreed. He picked up their few bags. "If you boys will follow me."

"Certainly," Threepio replied. "You heard the man, Artoo. Come along."

Artoo whistled a comment.

As Paddy turned to go, Padmé called, "One more thing?"

"Yes, milady?"

"Gather Nandi and Teckla and bring them to the sitting room," she instructed. "I would like the three of you to meet us there. I have something to discuss with all of you and it would be easiest to address you at the same time."

"As you wish."

"Leave the bags in the main hallway," she added. "What I have to say is very important and I would prefer to do it as soon as possible."

"Of course."

"Thank you, Paddy," she said warmly. "I appreciate it."

"It is my pleasure to serve you, my dear," he answered. He nodded towards the droids. "Come on. The power station is by the kitchen."

He walked off towards the house with Threepio and Artoo following closely, Threepio continuing to talk every step of the way. She almost felt sorry for Paddy.

Almost.

Serves him right, she decided.

"There is no way he's going to betray you," Anakin declared. "I could sense nothing but love and devotion from him. He'll keep our secret. I'm sure of it."

"I wish I had your confidence," she sighed. "Because he had no problem embarrassing me just now. And he seemed to really enjoy it too."

"He did," Anakin confirmed.

"Oh, that makes me feel so much better," she sarcastically retorted. "And you seemed to be having a good time yourself."

"Hey, is it a crime to want to know everything I can about the woman I'm going to marry?"

"Not when her past shows how reckless and foolish she was as a child," she informed him. "I'm ashamed of a lot of the things I did."

He pulled her into his arms.

"I'm sure none of it is worse than some of the things I did," he soothed. "I was a pretty bad kid myself. My teachers didn't know what to do with me. I know for a fact that there are several occasions when Obi-Wan contemplated killing me."

She had to laugh at that. The image of calm and collected Obi-Wan almost strangling Anakin was priceless.

"Are you willing to share any of these things with me?"

"I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours," he proposed.

"Deal," she agreed. "But not until after we're married. I'm afraid some of my exploits may scare you off."

"Impossible," he asserted. "Nothing could ever keep me from marrying you, Padmé. I love you too much."

"I love you too," she replied and he tightened his arms around her.

"Everything's going to be just fine," he softly told her. "I know it will."

"I want so badly to believe you," she said. "But I can't help how I feel. I'm afraid."

"Just know that whatever happens, I'm here to protect you," he assured her. "And I'll do whatever I have to do to keep you safe. Our secret is going to remain our secret. I promise."

"I know you do."

She allowed him to continue holding her for a few more moments. There were no words to describe how safe and how loved she felt in his arms. She could stay there forever...

"We need to get inside," she reluctantly spoke at last. As much as she was enjoying being in his arms, their very future was depending on the outcome of her impending discussion with the three people inside the house. "They're waiting for us."

"All right," he said, releasing her. He grinned at her once more. "The sooner we talk to them, the sooner we can get married.

"I can't wait," she smiled back at him. "And after we're married..."

She suppressed the urge to mention making love to him again. This was not the time to get into yet another discussion about it. (She knew he was lying to her about his reluctance to be intimate with her. Tradition had nothing to do with it. But she couldn't for the life of her figure out why he was so adamant about waiting. What was he hiding? Didn't he realize that she would be understanding of whatever it was? Why wasn't he telling her the truth?) But once they were married, there would be no more avoiding the inevitable. She was going to make love to her husband and that was final.

"I'll tell you all about how terrible I was when I was a little girl."

"And that alone is reason enough to marry you," he quipped.

"On second thought..." she teased.

"I love you," he said again.

"I love you too," she echoed.

She took one of his hands and gently tugged on it.

"Let's go."

((((())))))

Anakin settled onto the same couch as Padmé but was careful not to sit too close to her. They had agreed, until they (well, Padmé) knew for sure whether or not Nandi, Teckla, and Paddy could be trusted with their secret, that they could not do anything that would even hint at the true nature of their relationship. They were not to appear to be anything more than close friends.

But they had made that agreement before they had arrived. Now that they were here, he knew with the utmost certainty that their caution was unnecessary. As he had been saying all along, there was absolutely no way that they would give the secret away. They loved Padmé too much.

In his opinion, there could be no employees more devoted to their employer than these three. If their fussing and scolding of her "irresponsible" behavior didn't already make it clear enough, he could feel their love and affection for her pouring strongly into the Force. They adored her and obviously thought of her as family. When they learned the truth, gossiping would be the last thing on their minds. If he knew them as well as he thought he did, they were going to want to help with the wedding. (Take over is more likely, he amended.)

But until Padmé realized this herself, he'd continue to follow the plan. Though he couldn't wait to see the expression on her face when he was ultimately proved right.

"Well," Nandi began in her typically blunt manner, "we're all here. So what's this important thing that couldn't wait?"

Anakin felt Padmé's agitation increase at the question but then she took a few deep breaths and the nervousness seemed to miraculously vanish, once again proving his theory that she was more Jedi than most Jedi he knew. (It was probably some method she had picked up from years of being a politician. He'd have to get her to teach it to him sometime. It was most definitely something he and his out-of-control emotions could use.) And when she began to speak, her voice was calm and clear.

"I have a confession to make," she addressed the three of them. "I lied to you when I told you that my life was still in danger. It's not. No one is trying to kill me anymore. The assassin is dead and his employers have gone into hiding. I am completely safe."

All three opened their mouths to respond, but Padmé held up her hand and they remained silent. Through the Force, Anakin could feel their shock and confusion, though from Nandi, there was another, more subtle emotion that he could not quite identify. He noticed her look directly at him for a moment and had a feeling he knew why. He remembered how quick her mind was from the last time he had been here. Obviously she was wondering why, if there was no danger as she claimed, did Padmé still have a bodyguard?

"But I have a very good reason for lying to you," she continued, oblivious to Nandi's suspicions. "I needed you to once again keep my presence here a secret and I felt that deceiving you about my safety was the easiest way to guarantee that you would. I apologize for the deception, but it was the only way I could think of in the short time I had."

"You could have just asked, you know," Nandi pointed out. "You've known us for how many years now, Padmé? Have we ever disobeyed a request?"

"Well, other than for your own good," Paddy added and Anakin couldn't but smile.

"I know you haven't," Padmé told them, "but I felt that in this case a small lie was the best solution for all involved. If I had simply asked for your silence, you would have wanted a reason and that was exactly what I wanted to avoid. My purpose here is very personal and it's not something I'd feel comfortable talking about over the comm.

"In all honesty," she went on, "it's not something I should be talking about at all. What I've come here to do cannot be found out by anyone. No one can ever know. Too many people will be affected, more than likely hurt if the knowledge ever got out. It has to remain a secret at all costs.

"That's why I chose to have it take place here," she explained. "This house is isolated and private. What occurs behind these walls is hidden from the rest of the galaxy unless one of us chooses to share it with others.

"Do you understand where I'm going with this?"

"I-I think so," Teckla quietly spoke up, hurt evident in her voice and radiating out into the Force. "You want us to leave."

"I never said that," Padmé gently corrected. "In fact, I'd very much like all of you to stay. The three of you are very important to me. But staying means that you can never tell anyone what you are going to witness. Not even your own families. And I would never force you to do something like that against your will. Staying has to be your own choice. You have to be willing to accept the burden of keeping this secret for the rest of your life. Can any of you do that? Would you even want to?"

"You make it sound like you're going to commit a crime and staying would make us accomplices," Paddy commented. "But I know you too well." He gestured towards Nandi and Teckla. "All of us do. You're not the criminal type. True, you were an unruly child, but not that unruly. So whatever this big mysterious thing that you refuse to tell about is, it can't be illegal."

"Well, technically, there's nothing illegal about what I'm going to do," she agreed, "but there are many who would condemn me and everyone else involved if we were discovered. That is why it is imperative that no one ever learns about it."

"Correct me if I'm wrong," Nandi spoke up, again quickly glancing at Anakin, "but this whole thing wouldn't have anything to do with your Jedi protector here, would it?"

You have got to be kidding me, Anakin thought, resisting the urge to burst out laughing.

How Nandi had figured them out he had no idea (they were being careful, after all), but here was poor Padmé desperately trying to decide whether or not she could trust her staff with her secret love life and a member of that very staff had already guessed the truth. (He doubted she knew the entire truth. Guessing their intention to get married was impossible, even for someone as observant as Nandi.) It was actually pretty funny. (Though he was sure Padmé didn't think so, judging by the shocked expression of her face. She had been going out of her way to hide their secret while trying to make up her mind, and Nandi's lucky guess had proven that it hadn't been enough. Knowing his love as well as he did, she was now probably analyzing her every word and action in her mind.) He was very curious to see what would happen next. Padmé's reaction, once she concluded she had done nothing wrong, should be very...interesting.

But before she even had a chance to open her mouth, Nandi went right on talking.

"Because I have to say that I find it rather strange that someone who proclaims to be 'completely safe' has any need of a bodyguard, especially a Jedi one," she casually continued. There was not the slightest hint of maliciousness in her Force sense. She was doing nothing more than voicing her thoughts. "So either you're lying about lying, which I doubt, or you and your extremely handsome friend are about to do something in violation of the Jedi rules, which is much more likely. Something like, oh, I don't know, have a secret love affair. And my instincts, which are never wrong mind you, tell me that I'm right. Aren't I?"

"I..." Padmé tried to speak but her voice failed her. Anakin could tell she was at a total loss of what to say. She had not been expecting anything like this to happen. (How could she? Nandi's mind boggling leap of logic was nothing short of astounding.) He wondered if she'd now see how wrong she had been to worry.

Nandi's sharing of her suspicions made it very obvious (to him, at least) that she had no desire to tell them to anyone else. In his experience, people who spilled secrets wanted to keep their role in the actual spilling a secret as well. If that had been her plan, she would never have revealed them to Padmé, himself, Teckla, or Paddy. (Then again, neither Paddy nor Teckla seemed too surprised by what she was saying. It was as if they had already known. But how could they? Nandi had just figured their relationship out now. Hadn't she?) She had no intention of letting Padmé's personal plans leave this room.

Of course, that begged the question what did she intend?

"Well?" Nandi pressed. "I'm waiting for my answer, young lady. Are you or are you not in a relationship with this young man?"

Padmé's mouth opened and shut a few times, but she was still too shaken to speak. (If he had not witnessed it with his own eyes, he would have never believed it. Had this ever happened to her before?)

So he decided to take matters into his own hands.

Without another word, he moved closer to her and pulled her into his arms.

If that didn't answer Nandi's question, nothing would!

"Oh, Force!" Teckla cried. "You were right, Nandi!"

Nandi rolled her eyes. "Haven't you learned by now? I'm always right."

She was so self-righteous in her tone that Anakin finally had to give in to his urge to laugh.

"And what's so funny?" Nandi demanded to know. "You're the last one who should be laughing about this, Jedi boy. You're the one who'd get into the most trouble if your relationship with this untrusting one here should ever get out. And mark my words, get out it will, unless you two learn how to hide yourselves better. Right now it's just painful to watch the two of you in action. You couldn't make yourselves more obvious if you tried."

"But we were trying to hide," Padmé insisted, at last finding her voice. There was resignation in her tone and Anakin knew she had finally figured out what he had known all along: their secret was safe here. "And as far as I can tell, we were not doing anything wrong."

Nandi gave a little laugh. "Not doing anything wrong? Please! My dear, sweet, darling Padmé whom I love with all my heart, there was not a single thing you were doing right. The very act of trying not to look like you were in love made it all the more obvious that you are. If only you could see yourselves! As amusing as I found your pains to sit far enough apart, I don't think anyone else would keep that observation to themselves. If you're going to hide this affair, you both have a lot to learn. At the rate you're currently going, you'll be caught within a day.

"Besides, you're a little late in your attempts at hiding," she continued without giving them a chance to defend themselves. "You two were broadcasting your feelings rather loud and clear when you were last here." She directed her attention at Padmé. "You weren't fooling anybody with your 'it's forbidden' act, young lady." She indicated her companions. "The three of us were taking bets on how long it was going to take you to cave in."

"What?!" Padmé gasped.

"Bets?" Anakin echoed, not sure if he should be amused or embarrassed. (Amused, he decided. The idea of Padmé's staff betting on her love life was way too funny.)

"Of course!" Nandi asserted, sounding as if such betting was an every day occurrence. "While it was obvious that the two of you getting together was inevitable, we couldn't agree on when it would happen. So we decided to make a little wager. Of course, until you tell us-"

"We will do no such thing!" Padmé declared and Anakin could tell that she was quickly going from resigned to incensed. "How dare-"

"Easy," he tried to soothe her, tightening his arms around her in an attempt to calm her down. The last thing this situation needed was an angry Padmé. "No harm was done. They were just having fun. I don't think they told anyone."

"Of course we didn't," Nandi snorted. "What do you take us for, incompetent fools?" She directed her glare at Padmé. "I would think that after all these years you knew where our loyalties lie, young lady. To imply otherwise is a grave insult. I'm ashamed of you!"

"You're ashamed?" Padmé shot back and Anakin knew he had to do something before the inevitable explosion took place.

"No one was trying to insult you," he offered Nandi while sending out calming waves through the Force to both women. (Obi-Wan would be so proud of him, he decided. Shocked, but proud. For once, he was being the level-headed one!) "Our decision to lie had nothing to do with you personally," he added, feeling relieved as both women seemed to calm down somewhat. "You obviously know the Jedi policy on attachment. Can you blame us for being careful?

"Before you arrived, I can understand," Nandi informed him. "But once you were here?" She indicated Padmé. "That one should have known better. What did she think we were going to do? Tell the entire galaxy? Please!"

"Maybe not the galaxy, but someone," Padmé defended, moving out of Anakin's arms. "As you said earlier, Nandi, I know you, all of you, very well. And the three of you enjoy sharing tales of your employers as much as anybody. Do you deny it?"

Nandi started to reply but Paddy cut her off.

"She has a point, old girl," he said. "All of us have. But," he paused, directing his attention to Padmé, "we have never spoken of anything that would bring harm or dishonor to you or your family or anyone you associate with. True there are some other residents of the town that would, but those people are few and far between. Most of us have more integrity than that. There is a fine line between harmless gossip and divulging personal and private information."

Teckla, who had remained silent for most of the conversation, finally added her voice. "We would never hurt you, Miss Padmé. Honest, we wouldn't."

"I know that," Padmé told her with a weak smile. "And I apologize for making it sound like I didn't. But I'm afraid that once you find out why we're really here that you'll find it difficult to keep the knowledge to yourself, even after you've sworn yourself to secrecy."

"You will find that your fear is unnecessary," Paddy affirmed. "We have yet to betray a confidence and I assure you there have been many far more serious than a love affair."

"But it's not just an affair," Nandi determined, looking straight at Anakin and Padmé and Anakin could almost see her mind working. She was putting the clues together and had guessed far more than she had previously let on. "Otherwise there wouldn't still be this talk of swearing to secrecy. It's more serious than that. Isn't it?"

"You're right," Padmé confirmed and she turned to Anakin. "Much more serious."

"Tell them," he quietly urged. It was pointless to lie anymore and he knew Padmé knew it. "It's time."

She nodded and turned back to the three patiently waiting servants. He could feel her lingering nervousness but he knew once she saw their reactions it would fade completely. Taking a deep breath, she said, "We've come here to get married."

"Oh, Miss Padmé!" Teckla happily exclaimed. "Congratulations!"

"Well, well, it's about time," Paddy informed her. "I was starting to think you'd never settle down."

"And just how in the name of all the ancestors did you think you were going to do that without telling us?" Nandi wanted to know. "You can't pull off a marriage without help, you know."

Anakin could feel Padmé's awe at their immediate acceptance. She had been expecting shock and disbelief, not their overwhelming support. She was deeply touched.

"Th-thank you" was all she could manage to say.

Unable to resist the urge to rub his victory in her face, he leaned down and whispered "I told you so" into her ear.

"Yes, you did," she said, nodding. "You were right all along."

He kissed her cheek. "I still love you even though you doubted me."

She laughed.

"So, when were you planning on having your ceremony?" Paddy asked.

"As soon as possible," Padmé let him know. "We were hoping tonight, but-"

"But what?" Nandi broke in. "You want to be married tonight, you'll be married tonight. It's as simple as that."

"I doubt that's going to happen," Padmé told her. "We want a full traditional wedding. There's too many things we need to get for it to happen tonight. If we had-"

Nandi made a sound, cutting her off. "There you go, doubting us again! You don't think we can do it?"

"I don't think I could do it," Padmé informed her. "There's too much to be done."

"And I say we can do it," Nandi challenged. "Do you have any idea how many weddings I have helped put on?" When Padmé shook her head, Nandi declared, "I didn't think so. So when I say you will be getting married tonight, you will be getting married tonight. And that's final."

She stood up from her seat and turned to Teckla and Paddy.

"On your feet," she ordered sternly, clapping her hands and reminding Anakin of some of the Masters in the Temple. "We have less than eight hours to put a wedding together.

"So get moving before I move you!"

((((())))))

"I think that just about covers everything," Padmé declared as she, Teckla, and Paddy sat around the kitchen table. (While there was no question that Nandi was in charge of the discussion, she was too busy ordering the household droids around to sit down with them. Instead she made her contributions from various locations and doorways around the room.) She placed the datapad displaying the wedding checklist in the center of the table. "The only thing left is to convince Jamayah Rahasan to come and perform the ceremony."

"Which won't be too hard," Nandi informed them from her position by the stove. She was stirring a pot full of sauce. "The old man owes me a few favors from way back. He'll do what I tell him."

Padmé could not even begin to imagine what Nandi held over the elderly holy man. As far as she knew, Rahasan was a beloved member of the community, popular with both adults and children alike. (The children mainly because he always had sweets on hand to give each and every child that he encountered. Padmé could remember the days when she and Sola had begged their parents to take them to visit him during family vacations at the lake house.) He had lived on the outskirts of town for many, many years, arriving long before either she or Sola was born. She had never heard one negative word spoken about him. But if there was anyone who could discover the one or two obscure things that could be held over his head, it would be Nandi. (And she didn't even want to know how Nandi had discovered them...)

"But what about your dress?" Teckla spoke up. "You can't forget your dress. You can't get married without a proper wedding gown!"

Padmé couldn't help but smile at Teckla's declaration. The usually shy and quiet girl rarely spoke out unless she felt strongly about a topic. And wedding dresses appeared to be one of those topics. And Padmé knew exactly why.

Teckla came from an extremely large family and had been attending weddings her entire life. She had been raised on the modern traditions and, like most people, accepted them as the only traditions. And one of the most important of those traditions was the wearing of the bridal gown.

In the past several centuries, it had become a widespread belief on Naboo that a woman could not be married unless she wore an elaborate dress. This, of course, was ridiculous, but most people seemed to ignore that fact. All that mattered was helping the bride-to-be find her perfect dress, a process that could take months. (Padmé had experienced the ordeal first hand when Sola had become engaged to Darred. It had been almost been enough to make her never want to get married herself!) But the truth was this "tradition" had been invented long after the others were already ancient. And it was all because of one queen's taste in fashion.

From what she had learned in school (as part of the Legislative Youth program, she had been required to take a class on Nubian culture, a course she had found absolutely fascinating), the trend had been started by Queen Gleana, a woman who had ruled Naboo centuries ago. By the time of Gleana's reign, a royal dress code had not been created. Most kings and queens continued to dress as they had before being elected to the throne. Gleana, however, had declared that this was a terrible mistake and that a queen should wear clothing befitting her station. So she had begun wearing the most ostentatious outfits she could find or, if she could not find them, she had them designed for her. Her fashion choices had made her more wildly popular than she already was (she was already beloved for her policies) and, after she finished out her second term, her successor adopted the idea herself. After that, it just became yet another tradition of the monarchy. But it was on Gleana's wedding day that a planet-wide fashion revolution took place.

The ancient wedding traditions simply stated that a bride had to wear white as a sign of her purity. (Purity that Padmé herself had hoped to have lost by now...) There were no other directives for a bride-to-be. It could be any style of clothing as long as it was white. For her own wedding, Gleana knew she had to wear something that would not only reflect her role as queen but would also make it clear that this was her big day. So she had invited designers from all over Naboo to come and offer their designs for her wedding dress. She wanted something unique and special. The one she ultimately selected became legendary and forever changed the marriage traditions.

Padmé had seen holos of Gleana's elaborate gown and could see why every woman who saw it would want something similar. Using layers and layers of pure white lace decorated with an exquisite pattern of beads and jewels, it had been a fashion masterpiece. (Though Padmé had always suspected it would be hard to move in. It looked liked it would have been unbearably heavy. And while the outfits she had been forced to wear as queen had never been very comfortable, none of them had been that bad!) It was the perfect dress for a queen.

Within months of Gleana's wedding, women all over Naboo were asking their local shops for wedding dresses just like it. Some wanted identical ones but others thought it was too much and asked for some modifications. In the end, it didn't matter if the resulting gowns were identical or not. The trend continued when it was time for their own daughters to get married. They had grown up with images of their mothers on their wedding day and had fallen in love with what they wore. But they also wanted their gowns to better reflect their own tastes and personalities. And when their daughters had had their own daughters... Eventually, the origin of the wedding gown was forgotten and the people assumed that they had always been worn.

Especially people as young as Teckla.

"As much as I'd love to wear a beautiful gown," she told Teckla, "that is the one tradition that will be impossible to follow if Anakin and I are going to be married at sunset. You know as well as I do how long it takes to find and alter a wedding dress. We don't have that kind of time. I'll just be wearing one of my own dresses. And I already have the perfect one in mind."

And it was true. They didn't have much time. They only had two weeks together. Two weeks to love each other as husband and wife. Two weeks before they had to return to Coruscant. Two weeks before Anakin would be sent out to fight in the war...

No, there was no time to choose a bridal gown. (It has taken months for Sola's to be correctly fitted. It had barely been ready in time for the wedding.) As much as she would have loved to wear one (and what bride-to-be didn't?), she valued her time with Anakin more. All she wanted was to be married to him. That was all that mattered. Nothing else. She could wed him wearing nothing at all and she wouldn't care. She loved him so much and longed to be his wife.

"But Miss Padmé!" Teckla protested. "You have to have a wedding gown! It's the most important tradition! How can you have a traditional wedding without the most important tradition?"

"Anakin is the one who insisted on the traditional ceremony," Padmé reminded her. She saw no point in giving Teckla a history lesson. Like the choosing of a dress, it would waste too much time. Time that was already so limited... "And since he only knows the traditions that I told him about and I made it a point not to mention the gown, he won't know any better. As long as I wear white, as I intend to, it will meet his traditional requirements."

And it was for exactly that reason she had banned Anakin from the planning and preparation of his own wedding. She knew he would object to every little change she had proposed (there had been quite a few), declaring that the ceremony had to be exactly as tradition dictated. So she had sent him off to keep busy. (She was certain there was plenty of machinery in need of repair lying around the house. That alone would keep him distracted for hours.) She knew her love well. He wouldn't understand that what she was doing was ensuring that they were married as quickly as possible so they could put their short time together to good use. He was convinced that only a fully traditional ceremony would make her happy. So if he thought they were having one and saw that she was happy, he would be happy. It was simple solution.

"But...but..." Teckla tried to argue.

"Let it go, Teckla," Nandi ordered. "It's her wedding."

"But it's not right!" Teckla declared, her face falling.

"It's right for me," Padmé gently insisted. She understood Teckla's distress. Teckla only knew her family's ways. It was difficult for her to imagine alternatives. "Remember, this wedding has to be kept a secret. How secret would it be if I bought a wedding gown? It's safer if I just wear something I own."

She then grinned, hoping to bring back the cheerful atmosphere of before. This was, after all, supposed to be a joyous occasion. "Unless, of course, you just happen to have an abandoned gown that's exactly my size just lying around somewhere that I could wear instead."

Teckla's face immediately lit up. "Really? You would?"

"She was joking," Paddy pointed out.

"But I do have a dress!" she insisted. "And it would be perfect!"

Padmé knew a losing battle when she saw one. Teckla was not going to give up until she agreed to wear a proper wedding gown.

"Tell me about this dress," she said, resigned. "Where is it that you can get it to me before sunset?"

"At home, of course," Teckla answered matter-of-factly. "It's mine...sort of. My sister gave it to me to wear when I eventually get married. But it has to be altered first which is why it's been sitting in Mom's sewing room ever since Jiné gave it to me."

Padmé was stunned. She knew how much Teckla admired her older sister. (Teckla was about four years younger than Padmé and had been an employee of the Naberrie family since she was twelve years old. She had told Padmé that she thought of her as a second sister.) To allow her to borrow a gift Jiné had given her...

"I remember that dress," Nandi commented thoughtfully. "Quite beautiful. And if I also recall correctly, Jiné is about our dear Padmé's size."

"Jiné's a little taller, but that's the only difference I can think of," Teckla informed her. "It may need to have the hem adjusted, but otherwise I see no reason why it wouldn't fit her perfectly." She turned to Padmé. "Please say you'll wear it, Miss Padmé. It would mean a lot to me."

"Are you sure?" Padmé asked, her mind thinking of all the terrible things that could accidentally happen to the dress. She would never forgive herself it she ruined something so precious. "Jiné meant-"

"Jiné would be honored to know someone as wonderful as you wore it, milady," Teckla told her. "Just as it would honor me. Please, Miss Padmé. I want you to wear it."

Padmé looked into Teckla's hopeful eyes and found herself unable to say "no."

"All right," she relented. "I'll wear it."

"Thank you!" Teckla squealed, jumping up from her chair and rounding the table. She practically ran to Padmé and hugged her fiercely while she was still seated. "Oh, thank you, Miss Padmé! Thank you so much!"

Teckla released her and stood back up, her excitement barely contained. "I'll go right now! Mom and Dad are both at work and they'll never know I was there. I can be back in less than an hour! I-"

"You'll go when I say you'll go," Nandi cut her off and Teckla appeared to deflate just a little bit. "And you'll go when I go. There's no sense in us taking two separate trips back into town. We'll pick up the dress on our way to fetch Rahasan."

"That sounds like a very good plan to me," Padmé said. "And while you're away, Paddy and I can start on some of the other preparations, such as selecting the music for the dances and choosing which dining set to use."

"Paddy can do any of that himself," Nandi decreed, "or he can wait for us to get back. You, young lady, should be taking advantage of your free time and resting. Because exactly one hour after lunch the real preparations will begin."

"'Real' preparations?" Padmé repeated, not liking the sound of that. "And, what dare I ask, are those?"

"What do you think? Getting you ready for the ceremony of course!" Nandi announced. "Don't you remember anything from Sola's wedding? A bride must be the epitome of beauty on her wedding day. Your hair and make-up need to be done. Your nails. You need to select shoes and jewelry to wear with the dress. By the time I'm through with you, Anakin won't know what hit him."

Padmé giggled. "It's obvious you haven't spent much time with him. He'd think I was beautiful even if I was covered in slime. He's strange that way."

"Nah, he's just in love," Paddy corrected. "We men tend to get that way around the women who own our hearts.

"But don't worry," he added conspiratorially. "It'll wear off in less than a year."

"Paddy Accu!" Nandi scolded. "What a terrible thing to say!"

"But it's true," he defended himself.

"For you maybe, you old coot. With an attitude like that, it's a miracle Cendal's still married to you."

"I could say the same thing about you and Honbri," Paddy shot back.

"Just you try it," Nandi warned before returning her attention to Padmé. "What are you still doing in here? I meant what I said. Shoo! Go rest! I don't want to see you out of bed until I summon you for lunch. Am I making myself perfectly clear?"

Shaking her head, Padmé stood up and said the only thing she could.

"Yes, Nandi."

((((())))))

There is no way that can be very comfortable, Anakin decided as he scanned yet another work of erotic fiction as part of his quest to learn everything there was to learn about making love. What was this guy thinking?

Ever since he had been banned from the wedding planning committee (thank the Force! Nandi had been starting to frighten him), he'd been doing all the research he could on the topic of lovemaking. More specifically, he had been focused on finding out which parts of lovemaking gave a woman the most pleasure. He was determined to give Padmé the most incredible wedding night possible. She deserved nothing less.

So he had planted himself down in front of the first computer terminal he could find and he had begun scouring the HoloNet for any and all items related to sex and making love. (Not the best approach he could have taken given all of the, er, less-than-respectable results he had received. There were some very sick beings out there!)

And it had been a very, very eye-opening experience.

He did not need a mirror to know that his face was extremely red.

While he had been fantasizing about making love to Padmé for many years, he discovered he had been completely wrong about how it all worked. A man and woman simply didn't just throw off their clothes and go at it. There was an entire process they had to go through! (Foreplay, as the arousal process was called, had not been explained at all back at the Temple.) He'd had no idea what it took to get a woman's body ready for the man's entry. Making love was extremely complicated!

And if that wasn't bad enough, it seemed that there was no way for him to avoid causing Padmé pain when he entered her for the first time. Apparently, a woman's first time was always painful. But, thankfully, the pain supposedly only lasted a few moments and was quickly forgotten if the man immediately took her mind off of it by doing one of the many pleasure-inducing things he'd read about.

But reading about how to do them and actually doing them were two very different things. None of the information sources he had consulted had given any advice on how to use them. Which technique was used when? What order were they supposed to occur in? Did it matter? Or was he supposed to do all of them? But did every woman like all of them? Was he supposed to ask her which ones she liked? Thinking about it was overwhelming.

So he did the only thing he knew how: more research. (As he had told Dooku, he was a slow learner.) His source? Erotic fiction. Where better to learn about the application of the various techniques he'd read about than short stories devoted to nothing but sex? (Though he did have to wonder about some of the authors and their ideas of what would feel good. And what was it with their strange obsession with the size of certain body parts? From the way they were described, the people shouldn't even be standing up!) And he had learned a lot as well as gotten some ideas that he knew Padmé would-

"Regretting your decision to wait, I see," a very amused voice spoke from directly behind him, causing him to nearly jump out of his chair.

"P-Padmé!" Anakin stammered, not only shocked that she'd caught him but by the fact that he hadn't sensed her come into the room. He had been so absorbed by his research that he'd let his guard down, something that no Jedi should ever do. (He felt safe and comfortable here at the lake house. The possibility of danger had never crossed his mind.) He was very lucky he was away on leave otherwise he'd be at the receiving end of yet another lecture on the subject from Obi-Wan.

He turned his chair around and found himself looking up into her smiling face.

She wasn't mad or concerned about what he was doing? Why? (He was reading dirty stories on the day of his wedding after he had repeatedly turned down making love to his bride-to-be. He would think she'd be a little upset about it.)

"W-what are you doing here?" he managed before taking a deep breath to calm himself. "I thought you were helping with the wedding preparations?"

"I was, until 'General' Nandi decided that I should be resting instead," she told him as she climbed into his lap. "I was ordered to go take a nap." She planted a gentle kiss on his lips. "Something about a beauty ordeal I have to go through before the ceremony." She mock-shuddered. "I have a feeling that it won't be very pleasant. Anyway I thought I'd check on you first." She kissed him again. "I know all too well your tendency to get into trouble."

"So you were worried about me?" he teased, relief flowing through him at her complete unconcern over his...activity. His secret was still safe. So tonight, when they made love for the very first time, she would be surprised at just how amazing he made her feel...

"Of course," she asserted, "and it looks like I had every reason to be, my naughty love." She kissed him once more, this time more intensely than the previous two. "You were trying to have fun without me and look what happened." She made a "tsk-tsk" sound. "I don't think I've ever seen such a red face in my life."

Uh-oh, he mentally groaned as he realized what she was doing. She had misinterpreted his research as a way of releasing his own sexual frustrations and now she thought she had an opportunity to successfully entice him to make love to her. How was he ever going to get out of this one?

"This isn't what it looks like," he truthfully offered as a means of distracting her. Maybe if he kept her talking...

"And just what do you suppose it looks like?" she questioned, her voice now low and seductive. She placed a hand on his chest and slowly began to trail it down his body. "A curious man looking to see if he can find out what it means to be intimate with the woman he loves? Because that, my love, is exactly what it looks like to me." Her hand arrived at his crotch, which she very pointedly squeezed, eliciting an immediate physical response.

"P-Padmé..." he involuntarily moaned. Force, it felt so good...

"But there's no need to just read about it now that I'm here," she continued, moving her hands to the fasteners of his pants and beginning to undo them. "They say you learn better through experience. So why don't we learn together? Right here, right now."

"No," he insisted, grabbing her hands just in time to prevent her from reaching down into his underwear. (He knew if she made skin-to-skin contact with a certain body part that he'd be lost...) "Not until tonight. The traditions, remember?"

"Forget the traditions," she urged, breaking her hands free of his grasp and placing them on either side of his face. "I'm tired of waiting, Anakin. I want you. Now. Make love to me."

"Not until tonight."

"No. Now."

"No, not until-"

She cut him off by pulling his face to hers and kissing him deeply.

He found himself instinctively kissing her back, losing himself in the moment. As usual whenever she kissed him, his mind refused to function. He couldn't focus on anything but the kiss...

But then reality came crashing back as he felt her slip her hands under his shirt.

He immediately pulled away from her, his desire to make their first time together absolutely perfect reasserting itself. As much as he wanted...needed...to give in to her right now, the knowledge that he had not learned everything he possibly could kept him from surrendering to her. If he did, it would mean that he had once again failed her, something he refused to let happen ever again.

They would not make love until he was absolutely certain it would be nothing short of perfection.

"No," he repeated, pulling her hands out from under shirt. "I want you to stop, Padmé. Please."

He felt a flicker of stunned surprise from her. She had obviously not expected him to be able to resist her again. (Now that he thought about it, she had been downright aggressive in her seduction attempt, something she had never done before. He wondered if she had been doing some research of her own...)

"Please," he repeated, adjusting his grip on her hands so that he was holding rather than restraining them. "I wouldn't ask this of you if it wasn't important to me, but it is. I have my reasons for wanting to wait. Please. It's only just a little while longer. Please."

For a moment, she just looked at him, her eyes searching his face. He could feel her disappointment at this latest refusal as well as her frustration. She very badly wanted to take this step in their relationship and was upset at being turned down again. But he knew that she would cease pushing him at this point. He had made his desire to wait clear and she would not make him do something he didn't want to do.

Finally, she sighed. "All right, Ani. All right," she at last conceded. "If it's that's important to you, we'll wait."

He smiled gratefully at her, relieved that this latest struggle was over. It was now only a matter of hours until they were married. Maybe he wouldn't have to worry about her trying again until after the ceremony. And by then he'd be ready...

"Thank you, Padmé," he told her, releasing her hands from his own. "You have no idea how much this means to me."

"I think I do," she smiled back, softly kissing his lips again. "Although I wish I understood why following the traditions were so important to you."

Oh, boy, he thought. She's not going to give up, is she?

"I already told you," he reminded her. "I'm doing it for you. I want your wedding to be absolutely perfect."

He had given her this reason multiple times ever since she had first started campaigning for them to make love. Obviously, she had yet to believe it. And at this rate, he doubted she ever would. But he refused to tell her the truth until after they had made love for the first time. She would never understand it if he told her now. She'd just laugh at him in that gently chastising way of hers and tell him that he was being ridiculous. And then she'd go right back to seducing him... No, there was no way he'd tell her now. It was for the best.

"And I already told you," she countered, "that I don't care whether or not our wedding is perfect. All I care about is marrying you, Anakin. I love you so much. I wish you could understand that."

"I do understand," he assured her. "And I love you just as much. But there's a reason why our wedding being perfect is so important to me."

"And that reason is?" she wanted to know.

"It's my way of thanking you for making my dream come true," he honestly told her. "I've waited so long for you to come back into my life. I had always hoped you would, but I never thought...never believed... And now it's really happening, the one thing I've wanted more than anything ever since I met you. And I owe it all to you, Padmé. You're the reason my dream is coming true. You. Because you wanted to marry me.

"And I can't think of a better way to thank you than by giving you a perfect wedding," he went on. "One that you will spend the rest of your life remembering and never regretting. I want this to be the most wonderful day of your life."

"Oh, Anakin," she sighed, shaking her head. "Why does everything always have to be perfect with you?

"This is going to be the most wonderful day of my life not because of any traditions but because it's the day I marry you," she declared. "That is the only thing that matters to me, my love. Not any silly, archaic tradition, but you. You and the fact that you will be my husband. Nothing else.

"And I truly fail to see how making love now would prevent us from arriving at that desired outcome," she went on, leaning in and kissing him again. "In fact, I-"

"No, Padmé," he insisted, pushing her away. "I still want to wait. Please."

She simply stared at him, a look of bewilderment on her face. After a while, she said, "Why am I starting to get the feeling that waiting has nothing to do with the traditions?"

Uh-oh!

"Of course it does," he protested, getting a bad feeling that he wasn't going have the luxury of waiting until after the wedding to tell her the truth. She was being way too persistent. What was he going to do? "It's one of the most important of all. You told me about it, remember?"

"I also just told you that I don't care about the traditions," she reminded him. "So if you're still asking me to wait, that tells me you were using them as an excuse. So what's the real reason, Anakin? Why do we have to wait until after we're married?"

Crap!

"Um..."

Think! Think!

"What aren't you telling me, Anakin?" she persisted when he didn't say anything. "And why are you keeping it from me? Don't you know you can tell me anything, my love?"

Anything?

A brilliant idea came to him. There was a tactic he had freely employed as a child that had worked on Mom every time he had wanted to avoid a lecture: changing the subject. Maybe it would work on Padmé too!

"You're supposed to be resting, you know," he pointed out, mentally crossing his fingers. "Nandi won't be very happy if she finds you out of bed."

"Nandi's too busy to check on me and you're avoiding the question," she evenly replied. She smiled. "Nice try through. Now answer the question. Why are we really waiting to make love?"

So much for that idea, he sighed in defeat. (It had never worked on Obi-Wan or any of the other Masters either.) Padmé was being as relentless as a krayt dragon on the hunt. She wasn't budging until she got the truth out of him.

"Does it really matter?" he tried one last time. "We're going to-"

"Of course it matters, Ani," she cut him off. "You've told me that waiting is very important to you. And if it's important to you, it makes it important to me. Now tell me, my love. Why are we waiting?"

"You're going to think this is stupid," he warned her.

"How do you know that?" she challenged. "Let me decide whether or not it's stupid on my own. Give me a chance to come to my own decision. Tell me. Please."

Realizing that he had run out of excuses, he took a deep breath and braced himself for her reaction.

"It's because I'm terrified of hurting you, Padmé," he finally told her.

Her eyes widened at his words and he could feel her shock. (He wondered what she had been expecting him to say.)

Not giving her a chance to recover, he continued, "I know what making love involves, what we ultimately have to do. All Padawans are taught about sex when they reach their species' maturity. But we aren't taught how to do it. And that lack of knowledge scares me, Padmé. What if I do something wrong? What if I hurt you? I'd never forgive myself. I've hurt you too many times already. I won't do it again. I won't."

"Anakin..." she tried to say.

"And to make sure that I don't, I've been doing research on the subject," he quickly went on, preventing her from continuing. He didn't want to let her speak until after he had finished his explanation. "Ever since I was asked to leave the wedding discussion." He gestured towards the monitor behind him and the story that was still displayed. "I've been doing nothing but reading and learning for the last several hours. And I've learned a lot.

"But I haven't learned enough," he explained. "Not yet. And I refuse to touch you until I have. But I'll be ready by tonight, I promise. I'll know enough by then, I swear I will. I'll give you the most incredible experience possible. It'll be perfect, I promise. You won't regret waiting. But you just need to give me more time. Just a few more hours. That's all I ask. Until it's time for us to get married. Please."

He finished saying his piece and awaited her response.

A response that did not immediately come.

At first, she remained silent, her eyes still wide and full of any number of emotions. He could feel her overwhelming disbelief. (Strangely, there was no annoyance or anger. Just...sadness?)

He waited for her to say something, anything. The silence was deafening and he feared the worse for when she finally did react. What was going through her mind?

Suddenly, she stood up from his lap and began pacing the room, still not speaking. For what felt like an eternity, he watched her walk back and forth in front of him. And when she finally turned to face him, he steeled himself for whatever her reaction would be.

"I cannot believe you'd think that I'd say your fears were stupid," she began accusingly, stunning him. Of all the reactions he had expected, this was certainly not one of them.

"Oh, Anakin!" she cried, sounding exasperated. "Do you really think so little of me, my love? I would never do anything like that to you. Never! What kind of a person do you take me for? I love you! I would never, never hurt you that way. I thought you'd know that."

"I-I..." he tried to reply, but he could not summon any other words. His mind was reeling from her surprising behavior. The fact that he had been afraid didn't even seem to bother her. She was more upset about what he had implied about her.

"Why didn't you just tell me you were afraid in the first place?" she questioned. "I would have stopped pushing you then and there if I had known. Do you know how awful this makes me feel, Anakin?"

"What? No!" he quickly answered, upset with himself for what he had done. It seemed that no matter how hard he tried, he could not stop hurting her. "There's no reason-"

"Of course there's a reason," she countered. "I continued to try to make you do something you weren't ready for because I didn't know the truth. My ignorance made me insensitive to your needs. If only you had told me the truth. I would never have kept pushing you like that. Why didn't you tell me?"

"Because I thought you would laugh at me," he at last admitted.

Padmé's mouth dropped open. "Anakin..."

"I thought you would tell me how ridiculous I was being and try to talk me out of waiting," he continued. "I know how important making love is to you and-"

"Only because it will be with you," she asserted, cutting him off. "I'm only eager because I love you so much. As I've told you before, I want to show you how I feel about you in the most intimate way possible. I've never wanted to share my body with anyone before I met you. If sex was all I was actually interested in, I would have hired a professional years ago. But it's not. Making love is. And I only want to do that with you, Anakin. The man I love."

She came to kneel in front of him and took his face in her hands.

"I will wait as long as you need. Do you hear me? As long as you need."

"Th-thank you," he murmured, moved by her understanding and acceptance. "I love you."

"I love you too."

And then she pulled his face to hers and kissed him deeply.

Without breaking the kiss, he reached down and lifted her back into his lap.

Finally, she ended the kiss.

"I can't believe you thought I'd laugh at you," she softly said. "I thought you knew me better than that."

"I'm sorry," he apologized. "I just assumed you'd expect me to be, you know...skilled...in certain areas. I was afraid of disappointing you."

"Impossible, my love," she assured him. "You can never disappoint me. Your love is all I need." She smiled teasingly. "And what would happen if I instead disappoint you?"

"Never," he asserted. "You can't."

"There, you see? Neither of us can ever disappoint the other. So if we make love and we both stink at it, neither of us will be disappointed," she cheerily declared. "How's that for equality?"

He laughed.

"But in all seriousness," she said once his laughter had subsided, "I hope this will teach you that you can trust me with anything. I'll never judge you, Anakin. I will only love and support you and give you anything that you need. I'll always be here for you, my love. What's important to you is important to me. Never forget that."

"I won't," he promised. "It's just..."

"What?" she gently questioned, stroking his cheek.

"I can't forget what I was before I was a Jedi," he told her. "I feel so inferior next to you. How-"

"You are anything but inferior," she asserted. "You should be proud of who you are, my love. You are a Jedi Padawan who has worked very hard to get where you are. You are also a hero. A hero that has saved countless lives and that is not something easily forgotten. More important than that, you are the man I love and plan to spend the rest of my life with. I don't care what you were in the past. The past doesn't matter. What matters is who you are today. And today you are the man I'm going to marry in a matter of hours."

"Oh, Padmé," he managed, too overwhelmed by her words to say much else. Force, did he love her...

She then leaned in and again kissed him deeply, to which he eagerly responded. He returned her kiss tenfold and reveled in the love he felt flowing from her. How had he gotten so lucky?

When they at last parted, she quietly said, "I'll let you get back to your research now." She gave him a playful smile. "I'm holding you to your promise that you'll be ready by tonight."

"I'll be ready," he assured her. "And I'll make it very much worth the wait."

"I have no doubt that it will be, my love," she told him, kissing him yet again.

"It will be perfect."

((((())))))

Padmé sat as still as she could as Nandi and Teckla worked as a team to finish preparing her for the ceremony. They had been at it for what seemed like hours, doing her makeup and styling her hair. And they had refused to let her look in a mirror even once. (Nandi thought it best if she were to be "surprised" by the final result. And in order to ensure that she couldn't see herself, she had been placed in a chair facing away from all mirrors in the room.) Nor had she been allowed to closely examine the dress before or after it was put on her. She could only see the sleeves and the front view of her body as she glanced down. ("That's part of the surprise," Nandi had informed her and had made it clear that that was to be the last word on the subject.)

She again resisted the urge to ask how much longer, knowing that it would only set Nandi off again. (Nandi had only gotten more domineering as the day wore on. Sometimes Padmé had to remind herself that all of this preparation was for a wedding and not a war. Nandi was making it very difficult to tell the difference.) All she wanted was for it to be sunset so she could be standing in front of Anakin and reciting her vows and listening as he spoke his own. Because that would mean that they were finally getting married.

And afterwards, they could finally make love...

Just the thought of Anakin being afraid of her laughing at him made her want to sigh. (Which she did not do out of fear of Nandi's wrath.) How could he think such a thing of her? That he did only drove home how deeply his ordeal had affected him. Although he showed many signs of recovery, such as the return of his innate playfulness, he obviously had a very long way to go. She could only hope that these two weeks spent alone with her would do him the good he needed. It killed her to know that he was still suffering.

Yet despite herself, she could not help but be amused by his true reason for wanting to wait before make love to her. She had thought it would be something typical, such as insecurity over his physical appearance. Never in a millennia would she have guessed that it was because of his usual need to protect her. (Yet another sign that he was getting better, thank the Force.) He didn't want to touch her until he could touch her "perfectly" (something else that signaled his return to himself), because he was convinced that to do so otherwise he would cause her pain. (Clearly, he was unaware of that fact that there was unavoidable pain that went along with a woman's first time. She would make an effort to hide it from his as she experienced it. She could just see him getting all upset in the middle of their lovemaking.) Only her Anakin would concern himself with something like that. And it made her love him all the more for it.

He was-

"Time for the final touch," Nandi announced, interrupting her private musings.

Padmé watched as Nandi went over to the vanity and picked up the box containing the veil. She walked back over to where Padmé was seated and again disappeared behind her. Next came the sound of the box being opened followed by the rustle of material. Moments later, she felt the veil gently placed on her head.

"There," Nandi said, smoothing the veil over her shoulders and down her back. "Perfect."

Teckla appeared in front of her, an expression of awe on her face.

"Oh, Miss Padmé," she breathed. "You look... You look..."

"You look beautiful," Nandi finished with a smile, coming to stand beside Teckla. "I only wish your mother could be here to see you now. I can just hear her telling you how elated she is that you've finally found your own happiness and how proud she is of you. Seeing you like this would make her the happiest mother in the galaxy."

"That's not all she'd say," Padmé pointed out with a smirk. "She'd make sure that she had made it clear that I took too long to get to this day and then she'll loudly wonder why I'm not more like Sola, who has more than fulfilled her daughterly duties."

Teckla giggled and Nandi just shrugged and added, "Well, it wouldn't be Jobal if she didn't."

Padmé gave a small smile. "I wish she could be here too."

For a moment, she allowed herself to feel a tiny amount of sadness that her family wasn't here to share the happiest day of her life with her. But it was only for a moment. She had known going into this marriage that it would have to be kept a secret from them and she did not regret her decision in the slightest. She loved Anakin with her entire being and she wanted to spent the rest of her life by his side. Marrying him was the right thing to do.

Nandi then became all business again. Without looking at Teckla, she commanded, "Now go fetch me her brush. There's one last thing I need to do before I let her go."

"Yes, Nandi," Teckla said, immediately rushing off to perform her assigned task. She came back with the brush and handed it to Nandi.

Nandi accepted it and moved closer to Padmé.

"Just one last touch," she murmured as she took two sections of Padmé's hair, which had been left loose, and draped them over her shoulders. "That should do it," she commented, stepping back so she could get a better view. Then, after a moment of scrutiny, she added, "Now stand up so I can get a look at you."

Padmé obeyed, being careful not to step on the dress as she stood up. (As Teckla had mentioned earlier, Jiné was slightly taller than she was and on her, the dress dragged slightly on the ground. Not even putting on her high-heeled shoes had made a difference. She would have to watch every step she took until she could change into something else, which she planned to do as soon as the ceremony ended.)

Nandi looked her up and down and then ordered "Turn around."

Padmé acquiesced and wondered if she would ever get to look at herself in a mirror. The curiosity to see what the dress and veil fully looked like was overwhelming.

When she had finished her rotation, she looked at Nandi expectantly.

"My work is done," Nandi pronounced. "Go have a look at yourself."

Finally! she silently declared, knowing what would happen if she said the word aloud.

She then carefully made her way over to the nearest mirror.

And what she saw when she arrived completely stunned her.

The wedding gown was the most beautiful dress she had ever seen. It was an elaborate combination of lace and silk that was studded with pearls. The veil was pure lace that was decorated by a mix of pearls and wax flowers. Both appeared extremely fragile, as if just one wrong touch could rend them. Teckla had told her that Jiné's husband's great-great-great-grandmother had made them by hand. The hours spent lovingly laboring over them were apparent in every stitch. It was a wedding gown that most women could only dream of wearing.

"Oh, Teckla," Padmé breathed, turning to face the younger woman. She suddenly felt horribly guilty for wearing this perfect gown. It had been passed down for generations from family member to family member with love. What right did she have to wear it? "This dress is too much. How can you let me wear this? It belongs to you."

"But I want you to wear it, Miss Padmé," Teckla reminded her. "You deserve to wear a beautiful dress and it's the most beautiful one I know. Besides, I couldn't let you get married without a proper dress. It just wouldn't be right."

"You're not going to win this one, Miss Big Shot Senator, so I suggest you let it go already," Nandi spoke up as the knelt to make additional adjustments to the skirt. "The girl is dead set on having you wear it."

"Listen to Nandi," Teckla added. "You have to wear it!"

"I suppose it's too late to change now," Padmé surrendered.

"It is!" Teckla seconded as she excitedly drew her into a tight hug from behind.

"Teckla!" Nandi screeched. "Get off of her this minute! You're wrinkling the dress!"

Teckla jumped back, blushing profusely. "Sorry."

"You should be," Nandi huffed. "Now help me fix what you messed up.

Padmé could only shake her head as they set to work straightening her skirt and veil.

"I really don't think Anakin is going to notice any wrinkles," she pointed out. "He tends to focus on the bigger picture."

"Of course," Nandi replied. "He's a man!"

Padmé giggled.

"And a very lucky one, I might add," Nandi continued. "Jedi boy has found himself a rare and precious treasure in you. I hope he knows what a special wife he's getting."

"He's not the only lucky one," Padmé informed her with a smile.

"I wish the two of you a lifetime of happiness," Nandi said in a sincere voice.

"Thank you, Nandi," Padmé told her.

Nandi smiled and then glanced at the nearest chrono. "And I think it's just about time for the two of you take your vows." She turned her attention to Teckla. "Go see if Rahasan is ready. If he is, come and get us and send Paddy to get Anakin."

"Yes, Nandi," Teckla acknowledged.

She started to leave but immediately hesitated. She turned back and rushed over to Padmé, giving her a second hug.

"Thank you for wearing my dress," she quickly said before releasing her and scurrying out of the room just as Nandi cried, "Not again!"

Padmé could only smile as Nandi began muttering about irresponsible servant girls and once again smoothing out the dress.

It's almost time, my love.

((((())))))

Anakin barely listened to the words being spoken by the holy man as he guided Padmé through her vows. All of his focus on was his beloved and the intense love pouring from her into the Force as she made her promises of loyalty and devotion to him.

He felt like he was in a dream, a wonderful dream from which he hoped he would never wake. He and Padmé were literally being married and there were no words to express his joy. This was the greatest moment of his entire life and one he had waited so long for. His heart's most secret desire was at last coming true. And it could not be any more perfect.

Padmé herself had picked the location, the arbor where they had shared their first kiss, and Anakin could not think of a more fitting choice. (In fact, they stood beneath the same tall tree as they had on that day.) This was the place where they had truly expressed their feeling for each other for the first time. It only seemed right that they begin their life together as husband and wife here.

"...For the rest of my life," the holy man, Jamayah Rahasan, dictated the final line to Padmé.

"For the rest of my life," Padmé echoed, her eyes shining with her love for him. He could hear her sincerity in every word and he could feel her elation as she spoke them. There could be no doubt that she meant everything that she said, which touched him in more ways than he could count. Force, he loved this woman.

This woman who for all intents and purposes was already his wife...

"By the taking of these vows, you have pledged yourselves to one another for all of eternity," Rahasan declared, reciting the words of the ancient Nubian ceremony. "You are bound together for all time. You are now one heart and one soul. You are now one life. In the eyes of the gods, you are husband and wife."

Anakin's heart skipped a beat at the pronouncement. So close now... Just one more ritual to perform and then they would finally be married...

"Let this union be sealed by the performing of the Kiss of Joining," Rahasan continued. "Upon the completion of the Kiss, you will be married in the eyes of the people."

The Kiss of Joining was something he had first learned of from Paddy. It was apparently the most important part of the marriage ceremony. (Padmé had not mentioned it in any of their discussions, which made him assume that she had forgotten about it.) According to Paddy, the Naboo believed that marriage was more than two people just agreeing to share a life. A man and woman were literally bonding their souls together. The speaking of the vows merely brought the two souls close together. It was the Kiss of Joining that united them as one. They would not truly be married until after they had performed the Kiss.

"You may perform the Kiss," Rahasan instructed.

Without breaking eye contact with his beloved, Anakin slowly extended first his right hand, which Padmé eagerly accepted with a squeeze, and then his left, which she took as well. The holding of hands symbolized the two souls being held together by their vows. But it was the meeting of the lips that would make the bond permanent. He then began to gently draw her towards him, elation filling him at what the kiss would mean...

And then she was there and they were kissing again and again. And suddenly it was as if the missing half of him had at long last been restored. He had never felt so complete...so content. His dream was now officially real. They were married. Padmé was truly his wife.

This was now the happiest moment of his entire life.

He was careful not to let the kissing get too out of control. (He could feel Padmé attempting to deepen the contact, her love and desire overflowing into the Force.) After all, they were not alone...

Finally, the kissing ended, their gazes still locked and their hands still joined. He was too overcome to say anything. His deepest-most desire was now his reality. He could not think of one word that could adequately express what he was feeling. It went beyond anything he had ever known.

Padmé broke the spell by smiling at him and he simply smiled back, still unable to speak.

It was then that he caught a flash of color out of the corner of his eye and he turned to see what it was.

The sun was setting over the lake and the water was reflecting all of the colors in the sky. While he had seem many, many sunsets over the course of his lifetime, none of them had ever seemed so beautiful. It was the most gorgeous one he had ever seen.

He could not help but be drawn towards it. He released Padmé's right hand and, still grasping her left, moved towards the railing to get a better look, taking her with him.

"Our first sunset," Padmé said and suddenly he knew what made this one so special.

It was the first one he had watched with the love of his life at his side. The first one he had spent with his wife. That made all the difference in the galaxy.

"I love you," he quietly told her.

"I love you too," she softly replied. "How do you feel?"

"I can't even begin to describe it," he answered, turning to her. "It's like... I don't know. I feel..."

"Complete?" she offered.

"Yes," he nodded. "That's it exactly. I feel complete."

"So do I, my love," she told him. "You complete me, Ani. Until you came back into my life, I didn't realize that there was an empty space in my heart. Now that we're married... I've never felt more fulfilled in all my life. And I have you to thank for it. I love you so much."

"I love you too."

Unable to help himself, he leaned in and kissed her once more, this time drawing her fully against him and wrapping her in his arms...

"Excuse me, Master Anakin," an unwelcome voice interrupted.

They broke apart and he looked to see their "witnesses" still watching them. (Rahasan was nowhere to be seen, obviously having left the arbor while they were...distracted and neglected to take the droids with him.) Threepio and Artoo stood side by side, watching them intently. (Nandi had informed them that there was still too much work to be done and she needed Teckla and Paddy to help her, leaving the droids as the only available witnesses.)

"Artoo and I were wondering if you still required our services or if you would prefer to be alone now," Threepio said.

Artoo beeped angrily.

"I don't care if that's not what you said," Threepio retorted. "Your choice of vocabulary was too disrespectful. As if I would ever dare repeat it! Really!"

Artoo made his opinion known.

"Why you-" Threepio began threateningly.

"All right, you two. That's enough," Anakin cut them off, sending Padmé an apologetic look. "You can go now. I'm sure Nandi can find some way for you to help."

Artoo whistled.

"Artoo!" Threepio exclaimed in a voice as close to a gasp as he could manage. "That's just rude!"

Artoo nastily shot something back before rolling off towards the house.

Anakin just exchanged looks with Padmé who just shook her head.

"I do apologize for his dreadful behavior," Threepio quickly said. "I can only assume there are several parts loose in his innards. I must say I've never met such a rude droid in all my days. Miss Padmé, I would suggest you sent him for a full diagnostic at your earliest convenience."

"Oh, I don't know about that, Threepio," Padmé playfully replied, knowing full well her tone was lost on the clueless droid. "I rather like him the way he is. He's saved my life several times, you know."

"Well, you do have a point," Threepio conceded. "But he-"

"Why don't you go inside now?" Anakin strongly suggested. "Artoo could already be in trouble again."

"That is a frighteningly true statement," Threepio agreed. "I will go find him right now."

"Thank you, Threepio."

"You are most welcome, sir."

And with that, he shuffled off after Artoo, who Anakin suspected Threepio had a secret soft spot for.

"That's some programming job you did on him," Padmé commented as he returned his full attention to his new wife.

"Hey, I was a little kid when I built him," he defended himself. "That was the best I could do."

"I'm sure it was," she smiled. She moved closer to him and put her arms around him. "Now, where were we, husband mine?"

"Right here," he informed her, leaning down to capture her lips once more...

((((())))))

Anakin twirled Padmé one last time just as the music they had been dancing to came to an end.

"One more dance, milady?" Anakin asked as he had done after every single song that had been played all evening.

He had taken everyone by surprise by showing an unexpected flair for dancing. He had eagerly absorbed every dance he had been taught and mastered each relatively quickly. Then he had begged for more. It was as if he could not get enough of it. Padmé had lost count of the number of dances they had so far shared.

But, unfortunately for him, she did not possess the same endurance that he had. (She was just a mere human who could not call on the Force at will to reenergize her tired body.) Her feet had had enough and she needed to sit down. She could not make it through even one more dance.

"Sorry, my love," she told him as the next song began to play. (It was late and Nandi, Teckla, and Paddy had all retired for the night. But before he had left, Paddy had programmed several hours worth of songs into the music database.) "I'm all danced out. My feet are killing me."

"Then I'll have to get you off of them," Anakin decided.

Without a word of warning, he swept her into his arms and began carrying her towards one of the chairs that had been pushed up along the walls to create their makeshift dance floor.

"Anakin!" she laughed as he walked with her in his arms. "I never said I couldn't walk. I just can't dance anymore."

"Better safe than sorry," he replied as he deposited her into the chair and sat down beside her. He leaned in and kissed her. "It would be a shame if I broke my wife on our first day as a married couple."

"It would, wouldn't it?" She gave him a kiss of her own. "I wonder how many credits it would cost to have me repaired."

"Let's hope we never have to find out," he said. "And to make sure we won't, I'll take such good care of you that nothing will ever happen to you ever again."

"Really?" she playfully questioned. It was wonderful to hear him being so lighthearted and joyful after the incident earlier in the day. But he had been in a state of euphoria ever since the ceremony. And she intended to keep him in it for as long as she could. "Not even a scratch?"

"Not even a scratch," he promised.

"This I can't wait to see," she informed him. "Are you going to follow me everywhere from now on, my love?"

"Everywhere," he asserted with a smirk.

"Even the 'fresher?" she challenged.

"Okay, so maybe not everywhere," he conceded. "Even a Jedi has his limits."

"You could have fooled me," she quipped and they both laughed.

"I love you so much," Anakin told her seriously after the laughter had subsided, moving closer to her. He took one of her hands in both of his. "And I mean it when I say I won't ever let anything happen to you. You're my life, Padmé. I won't be able to live without you."

"You won't ever have to," she promised, caressing his cheek. "I have no intention of ever going anywhere. I want to stay by your side for the rest of my life."

"You'll be there," he swore. "I will never let you go."

"I love you, Anakin."

And then he released her hand only to pull her into his arms to kiss her deeply.

As always, Anakin's kiss instantly overpowered her, banishing the rest of the world away. Nothing existed but the two of them. She was drowning in his love, letting it run over her and through her. There were no words to describe the overwhelming feelings he invoked in her. They just were.

She kissed him back, reveling in the passion. Oh, how she did love him! This amazing man. Her Ani.

Her husband...

She felt the beginnings of her arousal starting to form in her lower body, causing her to intensify the kiss and run her hands along his back.

The need to make love to him was incredibly strong. She wanted him so badly.

And she was so very tired of waiting...

His response was almost immediate.

But for the first time, he did not resist.

Instead, he deepened the kiss and mimicked what she was doing to his back on hers.

When they finally parted, she very softly said, "I want to make love to you now, Anakin."

He nodded. "I'm ready."

She stood up from her chair and held out her hand.

He took it and rose up to stand beside her.

"Come with me," she said.

"Let me take you to our room."

((((())))))

As Anakin slowly awoke from his sleep, his first thoughts were of Padmé.

His love. His life.

His wife.

A huge smile formed on his face as the events of the previous day returned to him.

They were married! At last! And the wedding had been even more perfect than he had hoped it would be.

Yesterday had been the most incredible day of his life.

And then last night...

His smile widened.

Last night he had discovered firsthand why Jedi were discouraged from engaging in sexual activities.

And he now knew why what he and Padmé had done was called "making love..."

He turned over to look at her, propping himself up on his elbow. Her back was to him (he had discovered early that she preferred to sleep on her right side), but he could sense how content and happy she was. She had finally gotten what she wanted last night (repeatedly!) and she had told him that it was much better than she had ever imagined.

He had found it to be much better too.

Much, much better...

For a few moments, he just watched her sleep and listened to her even breathing. He wondered what she was dreaming about. Them? Their future? Yesterday and last night?

Padmé then made a noise and rolled onto her back. She yawned before drowsily opening her eyes.

"Good morning," he softly greeted her.

She smiled at the sound of his voice and her gaze quickly found his face. "Good morning."

He leaned down and gave her a gentle kiss. "Did you sleep well?"

She laughed. "You know I did. You?"

"The best sleep of my life," he assured her. And it truly had been. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so rested. "You, my angel, wore me out."

"Good," she replied triumphantly. "Serves you right for what you did to me with all that dancing."

"Hey, you know perfectly well that that wasn't my fault," he protested. "You were the one who told me that there's always dancing at a traditional wedding."

"And who's the one who wanted the traditional wedding in the first place?" she challenged, moving on to her side and assuming an identical pose. "I would have settled for just a ceremony. None of the other things were necessary."

"You loved every minute of it and you know it."

"True," she conceded with a smile, "but only because you made it impossible to do otherwise."

"So basically what you're saying is that it's my fault you had a good time at your own wedding?"

"Exactly!"

Anakin groaned. "Why do I even bother? I'll never win in an argument with you, will I?"

"Never, my love," she playfully informed him. "I am a politician and as such, I am just too skilled to ever lose. You do not stand a chance."

"Well, that's just great!" he mock-complained. "And now I've gone and married you! What have I done?"

"Poor, poor Anakin," she teased. "There's no escape."

"So what you're really saying is that I'm your prisoner?"

"Forever," she told him, moving in and kissing him. "A prisoner of my eternal love."

"Hmm," he murmured, pretending to contemplate that. "I...suppose I could live with that."

"Oh, you!" she laughed and he laughed with her.

She then grew serious. "I love you."

"I love you too."

"Kiss me, Anakin," she demanded.

He did as bidden, leaning in and bringing his mouth to hers, kissing her deeply.

She kissed him back and maneuvered herself closer to him.

He snaked his arms around her and pulled her all the way against him, rolling himself onto his back and laying her on top of him, never breaking the kiss.

When the kiss at last came to an end, Padmé gave a wistful sigh. "I wish we could stay here like this forever."

"So do I," he agreed. He stroked her back. "I never want to leave your side."

"I want that too, Ani," she told him, "but you know as well as I do that it's impossible. We both have our duties to return to."

"I told you how I feel about mine," he reminded her. Now that they were married, being a Jedi mattered even less to him. Padmé was all he cared about. If she'd let him, he'd walk away from that life forever.

"And you know what my position is on that issue," she shot back. "You are going to be a Jedi, Anakin. You've worked too hard to give it all up. I won't let you."

"I know," he admitted. "I just hate that it will keep us apart."

"I'll always be with you, my love," she said. "We're now one, remember? The Kiss of Joining bound you to me forever. Wherever you go, my love goes with you. I'm in your heart and soul. As you are in mine. Never forget that."

"I won't," he swore, meaning it.

She then kissed him deeply and tightened her grip on his arms, making it very clear that she wanted to make love again.

His body responded instantly and he pulled her closer to him, eager to surrender to her request. After last night, he would never deny her again...

"I love you so much," he breathed as their mouths briefly separated.

"I love you," she echoed before drawing him into another passionate kiss.

As he began to deepen the new kiss, he decided that he didn't want to waste any more time thinking about the future. If he only had two weeks to be with Padmé before their respective duties ripped them apart, he was going to devote every waking moment to showing her just how much he loved her. He would not rest until she knew exactly what she meant to him. She was his everything and he wanted her to know it.

And he was going to start right now.

He deepened the kiss even further and then he began to make love to her once more...

The End