Title: "Beloved"
Written by: Shawn
Chapter 3 in the "Heart and Soul" series. (3/5)
This follows "Shadows of Winter"
Part (3/3) The Finale

Summary: The fate of Anakin Skywalker.

Rated: M
Category: Heavy Angst/Romance/Drama/Grief
Pairing: Anakin and Padmé Skywalker. Another slight, one-sided attraction/admiration/interest. Not slash.

Story Warning: Graphic Violence, Angst

Timeline: Obviously, knowledge of Star Wars: Episode 1 and 2 is needed. You must also read the other "Heart and Soul" chapters before this one. "The Light and the Dark" and "Shadows of Winter." This story takes place six months after SoW.

Disclaimer: George Lucas and Lucasfilm owns everything.

Email:

Authors Notes 1: In this universe the Clone Wars will last three and a half years. It's commonly known that Anakin and Padmé were separated for five months before Episode 3 when Obi-Wan and Anakin were dealing with the Outer Rim Sieges. This story picks up two years and four months after Star Wars: Episode 2.

Authors Notes 2: If some of you are concerned about the Pairing notes above, I ask you to trust me and the story.

Authors Notes 3: Dormé, Padmé's handmaiden/bodyguard and best friend in this story knows of her marriage to Anakin. Obi-Wan only suspects more is going on than he knows but elects not to pry.

Authors Notes 4: The official Star Wars database provided many of the details for this story, though some things are my original creations.

Extra Special Thanks: Anne, my Jedi Master of good grammar and all around help. She's the best. Seriously.

"Love is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being "in love" which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it, we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two.
- Captain Corelli's Mandolin. "Love is the beauty of the soul." --St. Augustine

Vostus Spaceport
Located on the small red moon circling a planet called Er'Kit
The Outer Rim Territories

Senator Amidala wasn't here tonight.

Padmé Nabberie was still on Coruscant.

Mrs. Skywalker understood how to handle this so called Empress. Understood that she only observed one form of dialogue. Inside her cloak, her small hand tightly gripped the lightsaber Anakin gave her for their wedding anniversary. "If you don't get out of my way right now I swear by the Force there won't be enough of you left to scrape off this floor."

Flanked by a number of her imposing Morgukai soldiers, Empress Sesar regarded her with the coldest expression. Utter silence fell over the busy spaceport landing bay for a couple of heartbeats. "You dare to threaten me?"

"I dare anything that stands in my way this night. Now move..." Padmé paused briefly as the Morgukai soldiers raised their weapons. "Or be removed."

Sneering with the purest aggression, Empress Sesar took a bold step closer toward Padmé. The sheer audacity that this would-be smuggler should address her in this way would not go unpunished. Her space-station's criminal residents began gathering around the landing bay, enthralled by the sudden drama unfolding before them. Well if they wanted a show, then they were going to get one. No one defied Empress Sesar and lived. "I will erase you from existence."

Giving herself fully over to every emotional exercise Anakin had ever taught her, Padmé immersed her strong mind and total focus in the Force with such intensity she felt the world around her slow to a crawl. "This is your last chance. Free us or die."

"Morgukai, kill the male! This one's mine!" Drawing her long jeweled blade its hip sheath, Empress Sesar lunged furiously at Padmé...

Violence erupted!

Vibrant swarms of laser fire chaotically swept past her, though Padmé didn't flinch. Mindful of the razor-sharp blade murderously falling to assault her, she became a absolute vessel of the Force. The blue blaze of sizzling energy ignited in her hand, forged by a skill she had never learned. The darkest, coldest clarity gave her the uncanny speed to slash through the jeweled blade aiming for her neck, and then slice a wickedly crisp counter-arc, completely severing Empress Sesar's upper body from her torso.

The ruler of Vostus Spaceport was dead before she even knew it, her gaze wide open in horrific shock as thick, dark red blood pooled around her remains.

Padmé didn't even blink, her deadly attack a direct unconscious reaction. Her Force-entranced mind had willed her body into action, never mind her conscious self wasn't aware of anything. The dismembered body before her was a gruesome sight that gripped her soul with a frigid hand, and yet she was able to parry three laser blasts while centered in a Force-induced fog. Unseen hands guided her movements... gave her the most fluid of motions... the most amazing rush of power she had ever felt before.

As always, Obi-Wan had assessed the fight before the first shot was fired. Several Morgukai soldiers were buried under a massive Durasteel beam he suddenly forced from the ceiling to crush them. With his lightsaber cutting a blazing path through anything in his way, pandemonium raged around them as squads of Morgukai soldiers began firing wildly, some hitting other smugglers and their starships when their blasts were reflected by the light sabers.

Ben couldn't wrap his mind around, and wasn't sure he wanted to know, how Padmé obtained a lightsaber and the ability to use it. He didn't have a clue. But he sensed the Force was with her strongly... but it wasn't right. It wasn't a miracle. It felt...

Darker.

It felt like a nightmare come to life.

Cloaked in black, Padmé maneuvered with a dreadful skill he'd seen few Sith warriors muster. The lightsaber was an extension of her instead of being a weapon she used. Her abilities simply weren't possible or plausible, though he had no time to ponder it further. The smugglers were now battling the Morgukai guards and each other in a frenzied free-for-all of violence. "Milady, we must flee this place at once!"

"Agreed." Padmé whirled around to deflect another laser blast, having sensed its coming a half-second before the Morgukai soldier fired. There was no rhyme or reason to her skill. It did not exist no matter that it did. She was utterly lost in her feelings for Anakin. Lost in the rage at those who tried to take him from her. Lost in the crippling, blind fear of life without him. Lost in their powerful shared connection through the Force and her cold, absolute, all consuming fear of losing him.

Her fear motivated her. Armed astromech droids, Morgukai soldiers, smugglers, and pirates battled in a fight that was fast blazing out of control. The lawlessness escalated into a full blown riot as Padmé and Obi-Wan ran for the Avenger, each cutting down anything standing in their way. But hordes of Morgukai soldiers were entering the spaceport from all sides while firing wildly, centering their attacks on them. The duo managed to forward-flip over a row of empty transparisteel drums, taking cover for a moment. All around them laser fire erupted through the air while starships began abandoning the spaceport in droves.

"There goes any hope of a diplomatic solution," Padmé noted with a wry grin.

"I doubt they wanted to discuss things in a committee."

Arching her brow, Padmé replied, "I am not a committee." Before another word was said new laser fire whizzed overhead, ricocheting off the transparisteel drums, sending red-hot debris flying all around them. "Anakin's still out there. But he won't last much longer. We need to get off this space station now!"

"We may need a bit of assistance," Obi-Wan said while deflecting a couple of laser blasts. All of a sudden streams of green laser fire whizzed past them from behind as Dormé and five Nelvaanians provided cover-fire. Ever calm, he gave a modest shrug. "Good timing." They made a run for it, racing toward the Avenger.

"Thank you," Padmé shouted at Vexor when she reached the Avenger's boarding ramp.

"You are most welcome, deliverer. Now I suggest you depart this station. Good journey." Offering a last bow of thanks, the elder Nelvaanian quickly ushered his people on board the Bothan slaver's Raider-vessel.

"Good journey, my friend." After tossing four thermal detonators behind her to assist in their escape, Padmé entered the Avenger and immediately took the pilot's chair, igniting the starship's engines. Obi-Wan took the chair beside her while Dormé closed the boarding ramp in the rear. "We're coming, Ani. Please hold on."

Massive explosions detonated around the space port's landing bay as gusting fuel fires broke out of control, starships fled in all directions, and the Avenger soared skyward in search of Anakin Skywalker.

******

Three Standard Hours later

******

"The Avenger"
Curcean-class starship
The bridge
Flying low and fast over the robust red moon of Er'Kit came
One standard hour later.

While Padmé was gunning the Avenger's Core-Fyre engines to their propulsion limits blazing a path over the rocky terrain of the red moon, she relied on two very opposite skill-sets in her desperate quest to find Anakin.

Utilizing some of the best long-range scanning technologies in the galaxy, Dormé closely monitored three holographic visual arrays at the same time. She deftly searched for human heat variances, hyper-drive energy signatures and the specific fuel expulsion fumes from a Jedi star fighter. For the last standard hour they'd canvassed roughly a third of the entire red moon circling Er'Kit. Unfortunately, warping pulse waves due to the moon's close vicinity to its home world were capable of masking and creating false energy signatures that made her job all the more difficult. Nonetheless, she persevered for Padmé's sake. And for Anakin... if he were still alive.

Dormé silently prayed with all her might that he was.

Meanwhile, Padmé's other hope sat beside her in the co-pilot's chair.

Appearing as calm and collected as he was legendary for being able to in moments of extreme crisis, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi reached out through the Force with more determined exertion than he ever had before. Never had he been unable to sense Anakin's powerful presence through the Force. A fact that now troubled him greatly. Hope and love for his Jedi-brother drove him past the dark logic whispering he was already dead and that this was about Padmé's closure more than anything else. He needed to believe otherwise for Padme and for himself to a lesser extent. From his earliest training he was told to let go of all that he feared to lose. Trained to understand that grieving wasn't the Jedi way. He was supposed to rejoice for those who became one with the Force.

But that was before he was given to Master Qui-Gonn as a Padawan.

There, he learned a alternate path through the mystery that was the Force. One less rigid that challenged the old thinking while respecting it at the same time. The Obi-Wan before Master Qui-Gonn would have declined Padmé's request to join her, citing that all logical thinking would lead to the sad, but very real conclusion that Anakin was dead. Her heartfelt pleading, despite their close friendship would have fallen on deaf ears.

But that Obi-Wan Kenobi didn't exist anymore.

The Jedi he was now honored his commitments, and Anakin was one of them. This vile, insane war was supposed to end with them standing triumphantly side by side. And then he would receive the greatest honor a teacher could ever witness. His student reaching and then someday surpassing him. The day Anakin attained Mastery would be one of the proudest moments of Obi-Wan's life. For as hard as he was on Anakin, he recognized limitless potential in him. No living being was ever as powerful with the Force as Anakin was at his age. And by the time he reached Obi-Wan's age the Jedi Master knew he would have no equal that had ever been in the Jedi Order.

But even more important than his power, was his heart and courage. Those were the traits Obi-Wan judged Anakin by the most. They were why he would see this quest to its end.

Whatever end that ultimately was.

"Ben?"

Padmé's soft voice reached him through his deep immersion in the Force. He exhaled a deep breath and then turned to her. "I'm sorry, Milady. I can't sense any sign of him. I fear the worst... If his ship is here we may need to visually see it. The fighter's homing beacon must to be destroyed."

Nodding, Padmé set her silent gaze forward through the clear cockpit window. She looked for anything out of the ordinary. Anything at all that might lead her to her love. She'd come clear across the galaxy to the Outer Rim, having crossed moral lines she never thought she'd cross before... all to save the man she loved. She had no regrets while skillfully navigating over a treacherous mountainous region before flying low past stretches of barren landscape that went on for miles. Her mind focused solely on Anakin, seeking him through the Force in such a way that she was sure wasn't hidden to Obi-Wan. The time for caring about discretion was long past. It had been twenty-seven standard hours since her husband's disappearance and with each hour that passed the chances of finding him alive...

No, she refused to think that way. He called out to her, and she pleaded with him to stay alive. She was coming for him. He had to know that. He did know that.

Failure was not a option for Padme Amidala-Skywalker.

"Padme, I have something," Dormé announced suddenly, her heart lodged in her throat. Padme and Ben quickly swiveled their chairs to face her. "I'm picking up something dense enough to be a Jedi fighter fifty clicks from here." She pointed into the holographic image of a wide crater and the mangled object her sensors were picking up on. "It's the only thing for miles that I'm sure is made of transparisteel alloy. Faint energy signals are coming from it."

"That has to be him!" Padme boldly declared while aggressively rearing the starship towards Dormé's coordinates, pushing the engines so hard the entire ship began to shake violently as they zipped over a massive hilltop, and then dipped between a rocky valley below.

"Padme, I must caution you." Having waited long enough, Obi-Wan had carefully planned what he was going to say should they have any sign of Anakin. He'd be less than a good friend if he did not prepare her for the worst, all the while hoping for the best. "If this is Anakin's ship and we find him this may not be a sight you want to see." He watched her visibly tremble, the sheer force of her feelings for Anakin nearly overwhelmed him. Such love he'd never felt before... "Please allow me to see him first. I promise you I will bring him to you immediately. But If I can spare you..."

All pretenses washed aside, Padme began openly crying, her right hand now covering her mouth as all she could do was nod in reply. This was it. Her journey across the galaxy was about to culminate in her fondest dream or her worst nightmare come to life. Her throat felt as if it was choking her, while her heart racing so fast she couldn't catch her breath. She nonetheless kept the ship on course.

And then she saw it.

"There!" Padme shouted, driving the Avenger toward a burned out Jedi fighter lodged against the side of a huge stone pillar. Fragments of it were littered in every direction. The clear canopy was still in place, giving her the slightest ray of hope. And then she saw a figure lying slumped over in the cockpit... motionless and paler than she had ever seen him before. "Ben, go now!"

The Jedi Master rocketed through the back of the starship, quickly calling two oxygen-masks to his hand with the Force. He slammed his fist into the side wall-panel, opening the Avenger's rear entrance bay. He leapt out before the landing ramp finished descended and sprinted toward the downed Jedi fighter.

As he closed in the unconscious pilot was unmistakable.

It was Anakin.

Obi-Wan could tell he wasn't breathing... wasn't moving or anything. He quickly ignited his lightsaber and slashed through the side of the cockpit's canopy, ripping through the transparisteel shielding. He couldn't thank the Force enough for the slightest bit of air he heard released because he was too busy gathering Anakin's large body into his arms, slipping a extra oxygen-mask over his face, and then hoisting his body over his shoulder. Grunting with exertion, he frantically carried his friend back to the Avenger where Padme waited at the bottom of the ramp. He swiped aside his air-mask. "Take him to the Bacta tank and start a full physical analysis. I need to retrieve R2."

Padme heard little of what he said as Dormé helped her drag Anakin's body to the back of the ship. "Ani..." she called to him with tears trailing down her face, her hand now caressing the cool
skin. Almost cold against her fingertips, his complexion two shades darker than normal. She was beyond distraught. "He's not breathing!"

Dormé said nothing, using all her strength with Padme to take his clothes off of him and push his bruised body into the Bacta-filled tank. Padme snapped the regulated oxygen-mouth piece over his face and then pushed the switch to close him inside. Some of the gelatinous, translucent red alazhi and kavam bacterial particle fluid overflowed the tank's upper rim when the lid closed air-tight. His body hung motionless as seen through the clear shell.

Though looking weaker than she had ever seen him before, Anakin was the most beautiful thing Padme had ever seen. "Run a full body analysis on him. We have to... we..."

"Milady," Dormé turned Padme by her shoulders, holding her still for a moment. "Breath. Think. You found him. Talk to him now. Reach him as only you can. Let me worry about the Bacta tank controls. Right now he needs to hear your voice and know you are near. You have to reach him now. Only you can."

Moving back to the Bacta tank, Padme placed her hand against the tank where Anakin's head was and rested her forehead gently against the cool glass. Behind her she heard the faintest trace of a heartbeat clear the medical computer's speakers. For her, it was the most glorious sound ever. "Beloved, listen to me," she called out to him privately, all the while knowing that Obi-Wan had returned with R2's body and was standing in the doorway. She closed her eyes and widened her fingers over the glass shell, bonding with him through the Force. "I came for you just like I told you I would. Now live for me. Fight with all your strength. I here, and I love you. I need you. You swore your life to me, Anakin. I am here to collect." Her voice lowered to barely above a whisper.

"Live, my love."

******

Some time later

******

"The results of Anakin's thorough physical analysis is as follows: His blood shows no sign of foreign toxins or infection, nor is he suffering from radiation poisoning of any kind. His blood work is perfectly normal. That's the good news. All the rest is bad," Dormé began softly after double-checking her findings. "Anakin has several broken ribs, a separated shoulder, a cracked collar bone, and a broken right foot." Padmé slowly paced in front of the Bacta tank that held her husband's body, while Obi-Wan quietly stood in the corner, observing. "He has a pierced lung and a ruptured spleen as well. He is suffering from extensive internal bleeding, severe blood loss, bruising over a third of his body, and oxygen deprivation." She sighed, before continuing, "Thankfully, the Bacta fluid is nurturing the growth of a bacterial medium that is seeking out the traumatized
tissue and is promoting regeneration and growth. Anakin's injuries are healing rapidly, but he is in a comatose state the likes of which I have never seen before. His brain wave activity is operating at only five percent of what it should function at."

Dormé spared a gaze to Obi-Wan first, and then to her good friend. She dearly wished she had better news to report. "Milady, the Bacta tank can heal his grave injuries, but it will do nothing for his mental state. Brain damage is a possibility at this point. I don't know anything else to do. In all honesty, he should have died from his injuries. Half of what he endured would have killed a normal person almost instantly. How he even managed to stay alive..."

"Leave it to Anakin to find a way to do the impossible," Padmé noted minus a smile, her weary brown eyes focused through the faint red haze of the translucent liquid keeping her husband alive. He was essentially suspended in mid-air inside the tank, wearing a small oxygen mask over his nose and mouth. He hadn't so much as moved a finger since he was submerged. Her heart was breaking by the beat. "Ben, can you sense anything?"

While gently grazing his beard with his hand. Obi-Wan walked the short distance to Padmé's side. He gave a slow shake of his head, completely unsatisfied with what he was about to say. "Padmé, I have never in my lifetime been in the presence of a Jedi and yet could not sense him or her through the Force. Never. For a being as powerful as Anakin, this mystery is further compounded. My best advice would be to bypass a rendezvous with Valkyrie as their medical staff won't be of any more help to us than what Dormé is doing now. Anakin must be taken to the Jedi Temple. There, our healers and Master Yoda can attend to him. For now, I cannot sense anything at all. If I were not seeing him with my own two eyes, I would not know of his presence. This is particularly baffling to me."

After bowing her head for a moment to whisper a silent Naboo prayer, Padmé's attention fixated on the Bacta tank and its occupant. Anakin had never appeared so battered and beaten, the sight of which relentlessly tore at her heart. This was her worst nightmare brought to life. Tremors of guilt swept through her when she thought of how many times he asked her if they could walk away from all this, and in her high and mighty tone of voice, she refuted him with talk of duty and a future life after the war. Other times she even accused him of being selfish.

How foolish she felt now.

Her dearest heart was suspended before her very eyes near death, his mind shut down to such a degree that the medical monitors could barely track it. The man she loved more than her own life nearly lost his fora war she could neither explain nor define. A war that was no closer to ending than when it began. Months and months of wasted time apart for a cruel galaxy she found less and less favor in. If he never recovered she knew that she wouldn't either. Punishment for her aloof belief that life owed her a happy ending simply because she lived it as a good person.

Life wasn't fair. She'd learned that lesson years ago and many times since youth, but yet again she chose to ignore it for the so-called greater good.

Where was that greater good now?

"Padmé?"

Lifting her eyes to Dormé, Padmé exhaled deeply, taking a moment to collect herself. "Plot a course to Coruscant. Our best hyper-space speed."

"At once, milady." Sparing a look at Obi-Wan on her way out, Dormé caught sight of his careful observation of not only Anakin, but Padmé as well. His concern, while evident, seemed to convey a note of ... tenderness for her as well. While she knew that she could be mistaken, something inside her felt that she wasn't. Had the Senator so effortlessly ensnared another man? Sighing, she went on her way. "Master Jedi."

Obi-Wan gave a polite bow upon Dormé's departure, and then returned his thoughts to the mystery at hand. Anakin's condition was unlike any he'd seen before, but then again, so was Padmé's incredible display of Force-abilities and lightsaber skill. None of which she'd ever shown a proficiency to have or had ever been taught. He possessed a legion of questions that would wait but someday need to be answered. For now though, his good friend and the woman... Yes, Padmé was a woman to him. A remarkable one, never mind the stab of guilt that he quickly shoved away at the deep appreciation he felt toward her. And affection. All of that aside, they needed him now. "Padmé, Anakin's Force-presence is gone. I cannot sense him at all. So when we arrive on Coruscant I would suggest..."

"Ben, please leave."

Her words cut sharp, although deep down he understood. "There are Jedi healers at the Temple who might be able to..."

"I will find him. I'm the only one who can." Padmé sensed that from the depths of her soul. Rising to the challenge ahead, she took Obi-Wan's right hand in hers and gave it a gentle squeeze. "You traveled across the galaxy on my word alone, and for that I will be forever grateful. I love you, Ben. You are dear to us beyond mere words could ever convey. But you have to trust me now. I need to be alone with Anakin. Only I can save him."

You are dear to us... They were the words he dreaded to hear, removing any last shred of doubt he clung to that Anakin and Padmé had not crossed the line. No, they didn't just cross it, they erased it utterly. His brother had kept what they shared secret from him for Force knows how long. But after spending time with Padmé again, could he blame Anakin for cherishing such a remarkable woman? Mindful as he was daily of the Jedi Code and his own strict personal discipline, he was not immune to her charm. He simply understood it could never be for him not only because of his commitment to the Order but that she favored him as a dear friend and no more.

He knew that would never change. Especially now.

Offering a respectful bow, Obi-Wan began backing away. "I'll take my leave, Padmé. I'm going to retrace what happened through R2's central memory banks for my report. Please notify me if there is any change in Anakin's condition."

"Of course." Padmé nodded while brushing away a stray tear falling down her cheek. She didn't hear Obi-Wan walk away. Suddenly, he was just gone and she was alone with her Anakin. She submerged herself in their love for the daring task ahead. "I found you, beloved. I told you that I would," she spoke to him while wearing a small smile, followed by more tears. She stilled her trembling to gain control of her emotions as best she could. "Anakin."

There was no response.

"You called out to me and I answered." Summoning her enduring courage, Padmé rested her forehead against the glass and shut her eyes while reaching out to Anakin through their Force-connection. She cleansed her mind of all the fear, anger, and desperation she'd felt since hearing that her husband was killed. Here and now, her heart sought its mate through the great unknown. Wordlessly, she called out to him, drawing from that same well of mysterious power that she had on the space station. "I am hollow without you, Anakin. Wherever you are, my love. Come back to me. I need you."

Time passed forever in a second.

Suddenly, she sensed his presence through the Force... his spirit resided someplace darker and colder than she imagined could exist, and yet she felt that place was what kept him alive. Her total focus was set on his name alone, repeating it desperately in her mind. Tears cascaded down her cheeks as she burrowed deeper through the great unknown, searching for him through that dark place. It might have saved him, but it could not have him.

Padmé alone was Anakin Skywalker's savior.

"...angel..."

The faint sound of his voice in her mind was all that she needed to hear. All that she needed to direct her pure focus on through their connection until the force of his presence grew around her. "I am here. You are safe. Come home to me. I love you."

At first it was the unmistakable sounds of bubbles that drew her eyes open. Then Padmé found the absolute most beautiful set of blue eyes gazing lovingly back at her through the Bacta tank's glass hub. The mouth piece Anakin wore emitted stronger bubbles now, signaling his breathing had strengthened. Her hand quickly covered her mouth as the emotion swept over her. Despite the horror of hearing that he had died and the vicious pain her heart endured since, he was alive.

They triumphed through the worst possible adversity. They conquered when all hope seemed lost.

They were the Skywalker's. And nothing, not even death, could stand in their way.

Inside the tank Anakin gazed at his Angel. Truly, she was the most beautiful sight he'd ever seen, or would ever see. How he got here and the circumstances that surrounded it didn't matter at all. She saved him; just like he knew she would. His endless faith in her was rewarded. And with the last of his strength he managed to lift his arm and press his flesh hand to the glass. Padmé placed her hand over his on the other side.

"Welcome back, my love." Padmé wept openly while watching over her husband, the sweetest joy she had ever known swelling inside her heart.

******

One Standard Day Later

******

ChanPal SuRecon Medical Tower
An elite medical facility. Resembles a gloomy spire dominating its particular stretch of Coruscant skyline
Early morning Coruscant

Let there be light...

Sky blue eyes opened as Anakin slowly blinked himself awake, noting the mildly numb lack of sensation he felt throughout his body that was no doubt the side effect of some powerful pain meds. He had always hated pain meds, but judging by how stiff and sore he felt, they were probably a necessary nuisance. He swallowed hard in the back of his throat and then noticed his mechanized hand was missing. The remaining nub was a constant reminder of his impatient failure at the hands of Count Dooku. Wincing, he inhaled a deep breath and shoved aside all thoughts of the Sith Lord to gather his bearings.

Anakin realized he was lying in a hospital bed, his right arm hooked up to a number of monitors in what looked like a very sophisticated medical facility. The white room was larger and far more technically advanced than those at the Jedi Temple healing chambers. In the far right corner were two sophisticated medical droids he instantly recognized as Republic military models from those used on the Republic Cruisers he commanded. A 2-1B unit seemed to be working on something with its back to him, while a FX-7 analysis droid went about its duties at a multi-keyboard computer terminal. The irritating sound of its metallic fingers typing away reminded him of how it sounded when he first tried to do anything shortly after he was fitted with his cybernetic hand, before he covered it with a black glove.

He never liked that sound. In fact, he hated that it constantly reminded him of the loss of some small part of his humanity. And the war was slowly chipping away at what he had left.

Shifting gears, the last thing Anakin recalled before just now was spiraling out of control through a massive Hyperspace ring, was trying his best to stabilize his severely damaged fighter, and then preparing for a violent crash landing on a red moon. His final thoughts before blacking out were centered powerfully on Padmé. He was sure he was going to die.

Padmé...

Jerking alert, Anakin suddenly glanced to his left, and what he found was his heart's desire. Contrary to what he thought as an innocent child, angels could sleep. Padmé slept curled in a large beige chair with a thin white blanket covering her. There was nothing regal or Senate fashionable about her dark attire that had obviously seen better days. The blanket had fallen a bit off her shoulders, no doubt when she turned in the night. He smiled at the knowledge of how she often shifted in her sleep, but hated how uncomfortable she must have slept. His mind began to play over the ugly possible scenarios as to how she learned of his disappearance and the dreadful toll that must have taken on her. Reaching out through the Force, he sensed she was mentally and physically exhausted to a degree that broke his heart. As badly as he wanted to call out to her, he knew she needed her rest. He was sure there was a very long story to be told concerning how she found him. For now he wanted her to sleep for as long as
she could.

Everything else could wait.

Lifting his flesh hand from his side, Anakin called upon the Force to gently draw the blanket up over her more fully. The rustling movement quickly drew Padmé awake, and when she found Anakin staring at her with such adoration shining in his eyes she felt moved to tears. There he was, alive and well. The last day and a half had felt like an absolute nightmare. Finally, the dawn had come. She exhaled at last. "I really wish you'd stop crashing starships."

Anakin's smile lit up all of Coruscant. "Come here," he playfully ordered while watching her shrug off the blanket. Padmé reached for him, and was pulled into his strong arms, gently lying half over his body as they held each other so tight. Sighing, she buried her face in the crook of his neck and released the overwhelming tide of emotion over everything that had happened. Anakin softly stroked her back, hating himself for having put her through so much pain, but again vowing she would never suffer because of him again. She clung to him, her nails digging into his shirt while sobbing over his neck. Her small body heaved and trembled as relinquished the last of the grief she held onto. "I'm so sorry, Padmé. I thought I had a chance to capture Count Dooku and finally end this war once and for all. I never meant
to hurt you."

Her hand swept away fresh tears as she lifted her head to gaze upon him. "I'm not angry with you for trying to end the war. That was very heroic, if impatient. But I am very angry with myself." Her expression crumbled into an anguished pose as she wept before him, unable to stem the tide of painful emotion that swept over her. "You've asked me to walk away from all of this so many times, but I consistently refused. We've argued, and I've even accused you of being selfish. But maybe you're more aware than I am of the fact that life isn't promised to any of us. No matter how good our deeds or how high our character, death is the one constant in the universe. I fear I've placed duty above us sharing our lives together, but no more and never again," she finished with authority. Gracing his bruised cheek with the warm palm of her hand, Padmé drew a long, deep breath, "I will never place anything above our marriage again. Ask me to walk away from it all... the Senate and the war... I'll leave it all behind without a second thought... we can leave tonight.
We'll never look back. I swear it."

The sincerity lighting her beautiful brown eyes were his whole world. Anakin knew that she meant every word that she said. Her tone had been desperate, no doubt reflecting her feelings of late. And while the idea ofleaving the war behind to be with her greatly appealed to him, he knew her heart was suffering from the recent fear of losing him. His strong, independent, selfless Padmé was still, at the end of the day just a young woman in love. One who had thankfully lost very few people in her life. Perhaps this was one of the first times ever she truly faced a death so close to her heart. He knew that the important political work she did in the Galactic Senate fulfilled a huge part of her as equal as their marriage did, and he could never take that from her. That she would even offer to run away with him meant more than words could ever say. "Thank you, Angel. It means everything to me that you would even offer that. But we can't walk away."

Padmé could barely believe her ears. "Ani, I can't lose you to this war."

"And I can't take you away from the important work that defines so much of your character. I fell in love with all of you, Padmé. Even the stubborn parts that remind me of my sworn duty to the people and the sacrifices we must all make during the war for the greater good. We may have argued about that from time to time, but I do respect it. I always have."

She studied his serious expression and lifted a skeptical brow. "You've wanted to walk away from the war for a long time now. Why the sudden change of heart?"

"I could ask you the same question in reverse. Why are you now so keen to leave?"

"Because two days ago I was told you were dead," Padmé revealed in a trembled tone, the horrible memory of hearing the news shadowing despair over her face. "I had to face the stark reality of life without you and it just about killed me. The fact that you were able to reach out to me and that you're still alive are the two greatest miracles of my life. But not even your legendary luck can last forever." She was tenderly drawn against his chest, and then laid her head there, shutting her eyes to everything except the reassuring beat of his heart. "I thought my life was over, Ani."

He held her closer, pressing his lips softly to her temple, giving her the space she needed to express her heart.

"The definition of me has always been my accomplishments, education, and ability to govern and lead. But when you came back into my life I became part of something greater than I had even been before. I never knew how wonderful it felt to love someone, and be loved in return. I didn't know passion or communion with another person. I didn't understand the balance a vibrant personal life offers your soul, or how truly lonely serving only a solitary professional life could be. Sharing my life with you is what I want most in all the galaxy. To think that this vile war might take you from me sickens me. I just..."

Anakin gently interrupted, "If we walk away from the war, especially when you know all the good that we could do, you would resent me and yourself someday. And I don't think you want to live that way. I know you, Angel. I know all to well the fear of losing the person you love most. Any time I hear of any sort of incident at the Senate Hall or near 500 Republica I can barely restrain myself from rushing back to Coruscant. I know how blinding that fear is. But I also know what you have always reminded me of. That billions of people are counting on us to do the right thing at a time when very few are, and keep up the good fight. Our path isn't an easy or fair one, but it is just. That doesn't always help me sleep at night, but it is the truth."

As always, he spoke to her soul as only its mate could. She lifted her gaze to him, smiling. "I see our roles have reversed."

"I wouldn't count on it to last," he teased with a wry grin. "I blame my current mood on these excellent pain meds."

"No, I blame it on your amazing heart." Leaning in, her soft mouth rested over his in a light, lazy caress that lingered just long enough before the sound of someone clearing their voice intruded on their private moment. Upon finding the source of their distraction, Padmé and Anakin both stared long and hard at Obi-Wan standing just inside the room with his arms crossed his chest. The scene they made, lying in bed in each others arms was unmistakably intimate.

Accepting the blunt truth before him, Obi-Wan calmly approached them, his expression betraying not a hint of emotion. His steps were measured and slow. "Anakin, I certainly hope you do not expect that sort of
welcome-back-from-the-dead greeting from me."

Never mind that their secret was literally out of the bag, Anakin just couldn't seem to care. His arm curled possessively around his wife, he replied, "Perish the thought, Master." When Anakin struggled to
sit up, Padmé helped him. Instead of trying to offer up a plausible explanation, she calmly sat beside her husband, snuggled against his side. Her place, after all. Damn anyone who thought different. "I would take issue with that sort of response as well."

"Indeed you would, I suspect." Exhaling deeply, Obi-Wan walked around Anakin's bed, standing before his former Padawan. Obvious drama aside, the sight of him alive and well was a cherished one to be certain. The smile that broke out upon his face said it all. "You seem to be recovering well."

"My latest brush with death seems to have left me weakened, but it seems I shall recover. Thanks to you and Padmé," Anakin noted seriously. "Master, I cannot thank you enough for all that you've done to help Padmé find me. I can only assume the circumstances placed you in a rather... sensitive position. Considering the Order and all. I truly appreciate everything you did."

"You would have done no different for me, Anakin. And you have already, many times."

"Still... this time was different," Anakin noted.

Nodding while grazing his beard slowly, Obi-Wan asked, "How much do you know about the rescue?"

"Only who was involved. I must thank Dormé soon as well," he acknowledged in Padmé direction. "Now that I'm awake I would love to hear all the juicy details. I get the feeling it was quite an adventure."

Padmé gazed away for a brief moment, and then found Obi-Wan awaiting her on how best to approach this. She silently thanked him for allowing her to lead the way. "It began with a dream of you that I had shortly after learning of your death..." She spoke truthfully, although she chose to leave out the more intimate qualities of her "connection" with Anakin. She explained how she even went to seek the help of the Supreme Chancellor, and how he came to her aid despite her grievous concerns about his character. She began detailing the perilous trip to the moon of Er'Kit, being taken with great hostility taken into Vostos Spaceport, confronting Empress Sesar and barely escaping with their lives. She purposely left out all talk of her use of the Force in front of Obi-Wan, all the while knowing of his keen
interest and that some day soon he would not simply let it go.

Not that she didn't have a cruiser load of questions herself. For the moment though, she was simply too overjoyed to have her husband back to give it
any further thought.

Continuing her tale of his daring rescue, Padmé went nowhere near talking about the kiss she shared with Anakin's former Master. And for that, Obi-Wan seemed grateful, if embarrassed a little. Of the entire truth she intended to tell Anakin very soon, it had already decided in her head that it would be forever omitted. No good would come of its knowledge no matter the circumstances.

She knew her husband well.

Obi-Wan patiently waited for her to finish, and after answering a few of Anakin's questions, he fired one of his own. "Now that bit of business is finished, how about you tell us how you managed to survive? I've seen you
cheat death countless times, but I could not sense your presence through the Force in any way."

Sighing, Anakin chose his words very carefully. "Perhaps that moon holds secrets none of us are completely aware of, Master. I honestly don't know why you were not able to sense my Force presence." That was the absolute truth, though there was far more to the story. Obi-Wan seemed curious, as was his usual mood. "Master, again, thank you."

"I would do anything for you, Anakin. You are my dearest friend, along with Padmé. I hope you both know that." With those carefully delivered words, the couple before him understood that Obi-Wan would keep their secret for all time. A silent pact between family no matter the forces against them. And while a part of him hurt over having found out this way instead of being told outright, he considered that everything simply wasn't his business to know. And that he loved his brother more than the Jedi Code. He was sure somewhere in the ethereal of the Force, Master Qui-Gonn was smiling. "I'll be reporting to the Jedi Council shortly. I'll make sure they are informed of all that they 'need' to know."

"I sincerely hope I am made privy to that report as well, Master Kenobi."

All eyes coasted to the entrance of the hospital room where Supreme Chancellor Palpatine had entered and quietly shut the door behind him without anyone noticing. Anakin's face broke into a pleased expression at
the sight of him. "Your Excellency, it's good to see you again."

"Anakin, my boy. Just look at you, alive and well." Palpatine's beaming smile revealed a depth of genuine emotion no matter its dark origin. He was sincerely thankful that Anakin was alive. "I have never been more satisfied that the Jedi were so wrong." He lifted a solitary finger in a fatherly way, pointing at Padmé. "She never gave up on you. She believed when all conventional wisdom said otherwise."

"And you aided me in my most dire time of need, Chancellor," Padmé found the need to say. She regarded Palpatine with something glimmering in her eyes that hadn't been there in years. She wasn't sure how long this feeling would last, or if she might someday live to regret it. But tonight, he'd earned it. "There are numerous reasons why you could have dismissed me without a second thought. I am one of your harshest critics, and we have not been on good terms in quite some time. Nonetheless, thank you. We could not have saved Anakin's life without your assistance. I will never forget what you did for me."

Exhaling a deeply held breath, Palpatine calmly walked around Anakin's bed to stand before Padmé. He gave a slow shake of his head. "Once we stood side-by-side in defense of Naboo as close friends. And then as time inevitably does, relationships can fray and whither. But those we hold dear to our hearts, like 'our' Anakin," he noted with no small amount of pride considering Obi-Wan close by, "We can put aside our differences for a common goal. I may disagree with a number of things you champion, as you feel the same towards me. But I have never lost my respect of you. I am overwhelmingly pleased that my faith in you was rewarded."

Though the moment called for a hug, and if he were any other individual she would have, Padmé could not bring herself to give such affection to this man. He was corrupt, no matter the glimmer of good he exposed her too. But he did earn a sincere handshake, and a nod. "Thank you."

"You are most welcome, milady." Appearing for a brief moment as if he were hurt by her lack of going further, Palpatine gently brushed down his lavish robe, and then turned to Obi-Wan. "How are you doing, Master Jedi?"

To say that Obi-Wan disliked this Palpatine would be a vast understatement. Still, he would always respect the office he held if nothing more. He only feared the final cost of Palpatine's help and when he would inevitably call that debt in. "I am no worse for wear, your Excellency. Anakin is alive. That is all that matters. Thank you for asking."

Sensing this was as much of a cordial visit as this group would ever have, Anakin spoke up, "Padmé, Master, can I please have a moment alone with the Chancellor?"

Though Padmé wasn't surprised that he would ask for this, she never liked how close her husband was to Palpatine. Alas, tonight wasn't the night to question this. Not when she was still so overjoyed that Anakin was alive and with her again. No matter the immense stature of the men in the room, nor their connections to her, Padmé bent down to her husband and brushed her lips over his brow. A simple, soft kiss for certain, but laced with intimacy and ownership. Anakin Skywalker belonged to her alone. "I'll return shortly."

"And I shall see you tomorrow, my friend," Obi-Wan hugged his former Padawan. "Please try to get some rest and not do anything crazy or heroic
for the rest of the evening."

"I promise, Master. And again, thank you."

Obi-Wan left with a polite nod, ever mindful how good it felt to hope against hope. Every now and then miracles happened. "Your Excellency."

"Master Jedi," Palpatine regarded him as the door shut behind Padmé, who exited last. He slowly moved to the vacated chair, setting the white blanket aside. Facing Anakin, Palpatine bowed his head as if
in prayer. "Son, I am..." he paused dramatically, causing Anakin to raise up as if to assist him. "I'm alright. Just getting older, I suppose. I swear, announcing your death took a decade off my life."

"I am so sorry you had to go through that," Anakin noted as his sore body strained. He fought off a grimace. "If the situations were reversed, rest assured I would feel the same about you."

Nodding, Palpatine lifted his old eyes to the young man who he had such interest in his destiny. "Anakin, I want you to listen to me for a moment. Listen to the voice of wisdom as I am a far older man than you. This is not the first war I have lived through. I have seen far more in my days than most, and certainly more death. And while I am the Supreme Chancellor of the Republic, I have never had what you possess. Such love with your Padmé." Delicious emotion he felt from Anakin at the mention that Padmé was his and his alone. "The title and wealth I hold are frail a thing to grasp, like trying to capture running water in the palm of your hand. They are meaningless, and to that end I wish to extend to you a gift."

Anakin sighed, "Your Excellency..."

"Anakin, I do not know when or how this war will end, nor if I will even live through it. We are facing the single greatest threat the galaxy has ever known. And while the Galactic Senate politically wars within itself, and the Jedi continue their narrow and fanatical pursuit of Count Dooku good people are dying each and every day." He paused once more, collecting his thoughts... and gauging Anakin's reaction. "Son, I know I couldn't bear it if you were lost as well. I am a student of your career record. You have fought on the front lines of the Clone war since its beginning. Your courage and accomplishments are epic. As I have said before, you are the most gifted Jedi I have ever met. But you are simply flesh and blood. You are not immortal, and so to that end this old man, imperfect as I am, wants you to walk away and enjoy the life he never did. I have known wealth and power, but never love as you do with Padmé. I don't ever want you to lose that, as I can attest to the emptiness of raw power."

Palpatine watched Anakin, sensing his immense trust. All was as it should be. "I have arranged for an unmarked starship to be hidden in the lower levels of Sector 9. Inside it is a Veritech ID creation device and two
million credits. Disappear tomorrow with Padmé and I will leak a story that you suffered a massive heart attack overnight. Senator Amidala, in her grief decided to retire to her home world for a time, and then simply decided to remain there and help serve the Queen. You can be with her for the rest of your life and leave this dark one behind. You can have what you want. You need only accept what I am offering you and
it is done."

"It would be illegal."

Palpatine's expression coiled into a smirk. "Illegal is a point of view, Anakin. One that I fine tested daily in these tough times."

"Why would you offer me this when you know the Republic needs me?"

"I offer you what I have never had. Something so much more than what you have been told you should settle for. Through me, you can have a real life with Padmé. On Naboo, you could live out the rest of your days in paradise, far away from the horrors of war. You can see and experience so much more than these old, tired eyes have. Perhaps take the path I had not the courage to pursue."

Anakin was humbled and breathless to such a degree. This brilliant man had taken him under his wing at such a young age, and showed him a depth of respect and caring the Jedi woefully lacked. He would always love Obi-Wan like a father, but he often enjoyed the relationship associated with that title with Palpatine alone. Nevermore than right at this very moment. "Sir, your offer... I am humbled beyond measure. That you aided Padmé despite the severe rift between you says so much aboutyour character. And now... I cannot thank you enough. But I can't accept your offer either. I have a sworn duty to the Republic and the Jedi Order. Padmé has so much of herself vested in the Senate and ending this war. We want to leave the Republic in a better place than it is in right now, and then will be our time. So again, thank you. But we cannot accept."

Resting a tired hand over Anakin's shoulder, Palpatine appeared understanding. "You're a stubborn one, that's for sure."

"Just trying to uphold the example set for me."

Palpatine's face took on a most amused pose. "Oh, so its my fault then?"

Anakin laughed, shaking his head. "Hardly. I blame the Jedi for their strict sense of duty."

"The Jedi are to blame for so many things, I fear." When Anakin seemed to want him to explain that stray thought, Palpatine deftly switched gears. "However did you survive that crash?"

Sensing that his Master had left the medical facility and Padmé was in a private communications room, Anakin's tone of voice took on a sharper, more serious mood. "Sir, do you remember those meditative techniques you taught me a year ago? The ones that were said to be used by Force-sensitive beings not of the Sith or Jedi?" Palpatine nodded, thoroughly engrossed now. "I somehow drew myself into a trance using one of those techniques and I believe that is how I was able to survive with very little air and severity of my injuries. I believe, though I don't know this for certain, that was why Obi-Wan could not sense me through the Force. I wasn't channeling something Jedi-centric. I was... more. Different and unique."

Leaning into him, Palpatine spoke softly, but with blunt force. "Speak of this to no one."

"As you wish."

Everything made sense now. Palpatine began doing the one thing that would always assure he stayed ten steps ahead of the Jedi and everyone else. His greatest single weapon was his ability to adapt to any situation. Nothing he did was rigid or set in tradition. He was fluid and always able to reconsider how best to meet his goals. This entire tragedy, one not of his making, had now led to an unimaginable discovery. For now, he'd continue playing the role of concerned father. It would evolve into Master soon enough. "Rest, my boy. We will talk again soon." Both men looked up as Padmé re-entered the room.

"Chancellor, forgive me if this sounds rude, but you need to leave. Anakin needs his rest."

"You are quite right milady. And I could never think of you as rude. I will take my leave." Giving Anakin a brief hug in front of Padmé brought a smile to his face. With a gentlemanly tip of his head, he walked
by Padmé. "Milady."

"Your excellelancy." When the door shut, Padmé returned to her husband's arms. "The arrangements are made."

"What arrangements?"

"I spoke with Master Yoda a short time ago. You have been granted eight days leave. My family has offered you room and board at their estate, and as your friend I will accompany you." Her smile said it all, wicked as it was. "You are all mine for the next eight days."

"Only eight days?"

"Forever, Anakin. You are mine forever."

"And you are mine."

"Always." They kissed long and deeply, loving each other to the depths of their very souls.

******

One standard day later

******

The office of Supreme Chancellor Palpatine
666th floor
Galactic Senate Office Complex

"The violent art of a lightsaber is so poetic," Darth Sidious whispered ominously to himself while watching a holo-vid of Senator Amidala butchering a number of Morgukai soldiers. Having eyes and ears everywhere, commandeering this bit of information was tricky at best. The footage alone would be priceless to any number of HoloNet news agencies, not to mention enemies of the good Senator and her home world of Naboo. The epic scandal that would follow might actually eclipse the war for a time. Sadly though, neither the space pirates who delivered this holo-vid to Separatist spies, nor those who witnessed the battle first hand were breathing anymore.

Dead men tell no lies. And they couldn't tell the truth either.

As incredible as the footage was, Darth Sidious found himself almost envious of those that watched Padmé murder without a hint of restraint. Despite her total lack of training as a Sith or Jedi, she wielded a lightsaber as if it were a direct extension of her very soul. Her focus was absolute, while her motions were brutal and precise. Her speed was deadly, as was her obvious killer instinct. This woman simply never existed before. For years had the Dark Lord of the Sith watched his one-time 'friend'. While it was true she possessed stubborn courage and a deeply misguided sense of justice, she never exuded the skill of a Force-user. Not until two days ago when the life of her husband was at stake.

"Love... such a corruptible thing." His well-manicured fingernails danced over the ultra-dense lanthanide alloy of his desk while he watched Padmé kill the slaver who was about to beat his possessions. A smirk lifted upon his face. Even one such as she had a cruel streak when pushed to the limit. At the end of the day she was no better than anyone else. Anakin's death opened a gaping wound in her that would never heal. The thought of which was a beautiful thing to the Dark Lord in every way.

The footage continued as it switched perspectives. The two people kissing passionately onscreen caught his attention next. It seemed in her paranoia; Empress Sesar placed hidden cameras all over her space station in a effort to maintain security. "Oh, my poor Anakin. If ever you saw your precious wife and former Master in such an intimate embrace... I shudder to think what you might do," he cackled softly before switching off the footage and locking it away in a secret data file. "Such wondrous possibilities."

Darth Sidious closed his sunken yellow eyes and exhaled deeply, enjoying his good fortune over recent events. The Force-sensitive meditative states he taught Anakin in secret were deeply entrenched in the Dark Side of the Force, though the Jedi never knew. The same Force-deception techniques that shielded his presence from powerful Jedi Masters like Yoda and Mace Windu were the reason Anakin's Force presence could not be detected. But the Chosen One was so strong with the Force that even Darth Sidious himself could not sense him.

"Such power will be mine to control someday," he noted behind the dark cloak covering his head. But who would have ever guessed the absolute raw power of Anakin and Padre's Force-connection? Who could have guessed that in her time of dearest need she'd draw upon his strength... upon whatever life giving resource he possessed to save him. She would truly accept anything... do anything... even kill to save the man she loved. Padmé Amidala drew the Dark Side of the Force to her very soul and drowned herself in it to such an extreme degree that she was able to become as deadly as any Force user in the galaxy. For her husband(')s life, she showed no restraint in her actions. She was a vessel for the Dark Side... and now was no longer expendable.

For some time Darth Sidious suspected that only the fear of Padre's death could push Anakin far enough away from the Jedi Order that he would cross a line from which he could never return. But now opportunity was delivered to his doorstep. The treachery to come would yield the same result he had always planned. The eradication of the accused Jedi Order and his absolute rule of the Republic. But he never suspected that he might be able to obtain two incredibly powerful Sith Lords at the same time.

"Patience" he calmly reminded himself while removing his dark robe, replacing it with the regal garb his day job required. There would be a time and a place to push the right buttons and manipulate all the pawns into
position. Anakin's near death experience was the catalyst for the next step in his grand plan to dominate the Republic. He would allow the Skywalker's their dream for a little while on Naboo. Soon enough their dreams would become a nightmare from which the galaxy would never recover.

"Now I shall have the honor of announcing Anakin's return from the Jedi to the Senate," Palpatine smiled to himself while taking a second look in the mirror, making sure he was presentable. He walked out of his private refresher past the Bronzium statues of the Four Sages of Dwartii - controversial philosophers and law givers from the early days of the Republic. Visionaries who, like him, saw past the notions of right and wrong. They simply intended to accomplish all that they felt was in the best interest of the people. Despite the people's opinion, mind you. "A Supreme Chancellors work is never done."

******

The end of "Beloved"

Next in the "Hearts and Souls" series is "Paradise"
Coming soon...

Thank you all for your amazing patience. I promise new AP fics will come much faster. But before "Paradise" and the continuation of the "Salavation" and "Scandalous" universe, a very angsty erotica A/P fic is coming called "Black Orchid"

Now I'm off to read Helen T's "Purgatory" and Pink-Green-White-4ever's "Shattered Balance" two of the finest new A/P Star Wars fics out there. I highly recommend them both.