Author's Note: This isn't like anything I've written before, so be warned. I've had an idea for something like this in my head for a while; I finally started writing it because I knew I needed a challenge. There is graphic violence in here, and a rape scene, and some language that I don't use in real life, but I wrote none of it gratuitously. Whatever's in the story, I put there for a reason. A bit more serious than anything I've done in the past. I'd really be interested in feedback, especially for later chapters, which will be more difficult for me.

"You look beautiful," said Anakin. Padmé smiled, almost shyly, looking around to see that no one had heard, but the hallway was deserted save for the two of them. "Isn't there any way we could get out of here?"

"There is not," she told him sternly. "How would it look if I didn't even make an appearance at the event that I've been promoting for months?"

"Like you were taking a well-deserved break with your husband," said Anakin, but she waved away his sweet, silly words with gesture of her hand.

"I've got to be there tonight," Padmé said, "and you know it."

He bent his head to kiss her, enjoying her taste. When she broke away, it was to murmur in a plaintive voice, "I saw you've upped the number of guards again. Now I can't go anywhere without being followed by at least one of them. You know I don't like that."

"I know," Anakin admitted, "but I'd rather be safe than sorry. If something ever happened to you—"

"But nothing will," Padmé protested, "and if it did, you'd be there to protect me."

He kissed her again. "Love, you know I would rather die than let any harm come to you. But even now that I'm in charge of your security, I can't be around you all the time."

"You talk like you're expecting an assassination attempt," she teased him. Anakin only smiled at her.

"You should go get changed," he said. "I'll take you back to your apartment, but then I have to get back to the fundraiser."

The ride back to Padmé's rooms was all too short. Lately it seemed that every meeting they had was like that. Anakin had to continually remind himself that this was not a teenager's bashful, flirtatious game, but a real and deadly threat to both their careers. A quick kiss caught by some amateur photographer would not merely be news for the cooing readers of tabloids; more likely, it would result in dishonorable expulsion for Anakin, and eternal disgrace for Padmé.

They arrived at her apartment under the watchful eyes of the two guards that stood at the door. She had been right in saying that Anakin's security for her was more stringent lately.

"I'll see you at the party, M'lady," said Anakin, in a disinterested voice that, it seemed, could never have uttered such ardent words of endearment only minutes before. Padmé gave him a little wave—she moved to step inside, then stopped.

"Do you still have that letter for me?" she asked him.


"Someone was trying to give it to me when we were in the crowd; I couldn't see who. Didn't you take it?"

"Oh, that? It wasn't a letter, M'lady. It was another one of those pamphlets about curfew safety. I didn't think it necessary for you to read."

Padmé nodded her thanks, and then entered her apartment. Anakin watched her go, then returned to his speeder and drove off. He had recognized the crudely-printed writing on that paper as soon as he'd seen it being waved in front of her face, and had grabbed it before Padmé could reach it. Now he pulled his speeder out of the lane and let it hover idly.

The envelope, like all its predecessors, did not have on it a full address, but only two words: "To Padmé." The paper was of a thick, nasty quality, and the handwriting was blotched and scratchy. Dreading with a sick feeling what lay inside, Anakin slit open the envelope and read the letter. There was no preamble to the twisted message within.

Your precious Jedi is stopping my letters and my messages and my gifts, but he can't keep us apart forever. You think he's pretty, don't you sweetheart, the pretty Jedi with the curly hair. Does he know you're thinking about me when you fuck him? Wait till I get him. I'll break his fingers one by one for touching you. I'll rip off his balls and feed them to him. And then I'll have to punish you, darling, dearest because you've kept me waiting for a really long time. You're being bad, but I'll get you too. I saw you yesterday with your hair down when you were getting ready for bed. I knew you were thinking about me because your hands kept moving all over your body, to the places you want me to kiss you, and I will kiss you and make it better once I've punished you like you deserve.

There was more but Anakin could not read it. It was all he could do to keep from vomiting with disgust and hatred and fear. It had been only a month since Padmé had gotten that first letter, had laughed it off and thrown it away. She had not worried about it since then—Anakin had made certain of that. It wasn't easy, getting them all away from her before she figured out what they were, but for nothing would he have let her agonize about these filthy, pornographic letters as he had.

He wanted to believe that these were only empty ravings and that his wife had nothing to fear, but there was a strange, determined strain in all of them that made him take them seriously. It was the reason that he held her a little tighter now when they were alone, and the reason for her increased security.

Anakin wanted to throw it away, but that wasn't gone enough for him. He would wait, as he always did, until he was alone, and could burn it. With each letter that disappeared into smoke and ash he felt the pressure on his chest relieve a bit, at least until the next one came. For now, he simply tucked the hated thing into a pocket and put the speeder back in gear, racing with unnecessary speed back toward the Coruscantian Children's Safety Awareness fundraiser.

The curly-haired Jedi was leaving, taking the letter with him. A low, bestial growl resonated from the throat of a short, heavy-set man; wide, round eyes rolled in their sockets. But it didn't matter, he told himself, breathing heavily through wide nostrils. Not after tonight, it wouldn't matter. Even after all this time the Jedi underestimated him.

The man turned away from his window, from which he had a perfect view of the senator's building. Sometimes, when she left a curtain open, he could see into her bedroom, could watch her as she moved, imagine the thoughts in her head. Once—he spat onto the floor with the memory—he had seen the Jedi come up behind her, kiss her neck and remove his shirt before they thought to close the shutters. Anger began brewing in his chest—but no matter, he told himself again.

Over the faded green tunic he was wearing, greasy with spots and ragged at the hem, he put a blue shirt. It was wrinkled, having been lying on his floor for the past few days since he had acquired it, but otherwise clean. The matching blue pants were almost too small, but he'd tried them on before and knew they would fit. A small, empty package sat by his door, and the most important part of the ensemble—a badge with a name, a logo and an unfamiliar picture—was safely in his pocket.

He'd seen the dress she was planning to wear tonight, and knew it would take her at least four minutes to get into. She liked to linger over her hair and makeup, if only to touch up, and that was another three. Seven minutes was plenty of time; after all, she was only a few steps away.

The package tucked under his arm, he looked at the mirror hung crooked on the opposite wall. Beetle-black eyes gazed back at him from underneath thick eyebrows; wide, thin lips were grinning. There was nothing in that picture that he found either particularly attractive or very ugly. But something was missing—he pulled the badge out and pinned it to his shirt, then put his hand back in his pocket to finger the one item still left there.

"I'm coming, sweetheart," he said to no one in the room, still grinning. "Ready or not, here I come."

Across the way, Padmé was fastening the last button on the sleeve of her dress, humming idly and flushed with the anticipation of tonight.

There was a knock at her bedroom door, and Padmé called, "Come in!" without rising from her dressing table. The door slid open to reveal a short, heavy-set man wearing a delivery uniform.

"Is it a package?" she asked him, frowning at the mirror. A strand of hair had come out of its style and refused to be tamed back into place. "Just leave it on the bed, please."

The man didn't answer, but moved toward the bed and laid his burden there. Instead of going, he stayed where he was, watching her.

"Do you need me to sign something?" Padmé asked him, turning and giving him a polite smile. He shook his head, a shock of short brown hair falling over one eye. His gaze upon her made Padmé shift her weight uncomfortably.

"Do you know me?" he asked her.

"I—I'm afraid I don't," she said, widening her smile. "Have we met?"

"No, never," he replied. His voice was deep and, though he spoke quietly, sounded as though it were wrenched from his throat only with effort. "Thanks to your husband. But we will."

Instantly Padmé's smile faded. "What do you know about that?" she demanded; all the breath seemed to have gone out of her in an instant. He took a step toward her.

"Why did you marry him?" he asked her, and suddenly his voice was plaintive, almost childlike. "You knew it wasn't right—you knew he didn't love you, didn't really love you, not like I—"

"I don't know what you're talking about," Padmé hissed. She was backing away from him now, not bothering with politeness or bravery. Fear flared in her stomach like dragon's fire. "Please go, now."

That was when he seemed to lose patience with her. One second his hand was empty—the next it had plunged into his pocket and returned, grasping a switchblade knife. The point glittered in the dim light, and Padmé froze.

"Take anything you want," she murmured, clutching the back of a chair with white-knuckled hands, never taking her eyes from the blade. "There's a safe in the other room, I have jewels in here—"

"Money? Jewels?" he spat at her, suddenly angry. He lunged, and Padmé shut her eyes, trembling—but there was no impact as the knife tip traced a gentle pattern on her jaw. She heard him say, "If I wanted money I could have had it. You think that means anything to me? No—no. I want something else."

He seemed to be waiting for a reply, so Padmé forced herself to speak. "What, then?"

He leaned forward, keeping the knife's cold steel at her throat, and whispered in her ear, "You, Padmé."

In the deepest part of her mind, his words did not shock her. She felt she had almost known from what he wanted from the moment she had seen him come through that door. But knowing did nothing to quell the cold, violent terror that mounted over her, and it could not stop her from uttering a small cry.

"Don't be afraid," he murmured to her. One large hand with dirty fingernails came up to clumsily caress her shoulder, like a friend, like a lover. It stayed there, trailing over her skin, as he moved to stand behind her. "Don't be afraid."

"My husband," she managed to choke, "is coming back for me in a few minutes. If he finds you, he'll kill—"

"Liar!" he hissed at her, bringing the knife up sharply so that it was directly before Padmé's eyes, only centimeters from them, and she gasped. "Your pretty Jedi is waiting for you at the party. And we'll keep him waiting. You and I have other business here."

Her shoulders were bare, left exposed by the gown's design. She felt him bend his head, and then his lips touched her skin. Padmé was sure she could feel the place he had kissed swelling with poison, knew that if she looked at that spot she would see a dark, ugly mark. The revulsion that shuddered through her body then gave her sudden courage, a resolution that she would not accept this hideous fate. She could see the door—it was only a few feet from her, blocked by nothing but the blade that hovered between her and freedom.

Adrenaline exploded in her veins. In one sudden movement Padmé threw his arms off her, ducked under the knife he held and ran for the door, screaming for help. She knew the guards were stationed outside, if she could only reach them she would be safe, she would be safe—

A howl of rage erupted from behind, and without warning Padmé felt his full weight on her as he leapt at her. She screamed again, felt the knife slice a long trail down her cheek, and then he had grabbed her by the arm and slammed her into the wall so forcefully that for an instant she could see nothing but light.

"DON'T YOU DARE!" he bellowed in her ear, face contorted with fury. Dimly Padmé saw the knife waving wildly, close to her face, and she shrank away from it. She was only distantly aware of the tears running down her face. "DON'T YOU DARE RUN FROM ME!"

"P-please—please don't—" She was sobbing. Pleading was all she had left, but it only seemed to enrage him further. His knife made a long cut down the front of her dress, and after that it was only the work of a moment to rip the bodice open, fully exposing her breasts.

"You'll see—you'll see—" he was panting as he worked, his eyes feverishly taking in the sight. "You never read my letters, so you wouldn't know—it's for the best—"

"Certainly the Senator's work for the CCSA has been greatly appreciated. I wrote to tell her, but of course I had to come in person. By the way, do you know when she'll be arriving tonight? I had hoped to thank her myself…"

"She'll be here soon," Anakin assured the ambassador. "I would have accompanied her here myself, but unfortunately my security duties aren't limited to the Senator."

"Ah, of course," he nodded, stroking the wispy little beard at his chin thoughtfully. Just then the music changed; instead of being merely atmospheric, now there was a distinct rhythm to it, and everyone in the room knew what that meant. Those who were not dancing moved tactfully out of the way, while several happy couples streamed onto the floor. From the music, Anakin guessed an Alderaanian waltz, and he was not wrong. It was the dance he had always wished to share with Padmé in public, and had never been able to.

Women were laughing, heads thrown back in gaiety as their partners took them gently by the arm and held their waists. Diplomats and benefactors of all ages were invited to the fundraiser, but only the young danced. Together as they moved they made a delicate whirlwind of youth and beauty.

"If I were only twenty years younger," the ambassador sighed, and then he remembered who he was talking to. "And if you weren't already married to your Order."

"Perhaps," Anakin replied absently. He was watching the dancers not out of desire, but simple entrancement. The women's dresses swirled around them like wings, brightly colored, creating the illusion of a swarm of butterflies. He imagined Padmé among them, twirling to show off her gown and smiling at him from across the room.

He was at her feet now, hacking ragged strips from the hem of her gown. One length of torn beautiful blue shimmersilk, the dress she had thought to show Anakin and bring a smile to his face with, went around her wrists, binding them painfully tight behind her back. Another he forced into her mouth as a gag, tying it around the back of her head. When he shoved her she had no way to balance herself—Padmé stumbled and fell backwards, catching herself only by leaning back against the dresser on her elbows. She clung to the position awkwardly, tear-stained eyes fixed on her assailant. He came forward, unzipping his pants, and when he got so close to her that she could smell his hot breath on her cheek Padmé felt him, hard and wet, pressed against her thigh through the thin material of her tattered skirt.

"You deserve this," he told her in a hoarse whisper. His fingers were sweating on the knife's hilt. "You want this, you know you do. It's your punishment—"

Padmé's shoulders shook violently as her sobs grew. Her tears were soaking into the gag until the taste of salt was ever-present on her tongue. She could only shake her head, trying to look anywhere except his face.

He clutched her shoulder, the knife still before her eyes, and lifted the skirt. Then he rammed into her. Pain split through her body as though she were being ripped apart, and a strangled noise somewhere between a sob and a scream flew from her throat.

There was that mirror across the room. If only she could tell it to look away—but it kept on reflecting with indifference the nightmarish scene. She moaned instead, and wished to die.

Anakin's face reflected at him in the ornate mirror, spotlessly clean, that hung on the wall. The reflection bore a perplexed expression. Padmé was more than a half-hour late, something she was not known for under normal circumstances and certainly not when an event like this was taking place. He wasn't very worried, but anxious enough that he sought out the hostess. She found him first.

"Master Skywalker, I wanted to thank you for clearing up that small…disturbance, earlier," she said delicately, referring to what had almost been a brawl between a tipsy diplomat and a highly offended Mon Calamari.

"Of course, M'lady," Anakin said. "I wanted to ask you if you'd heard—"

"You have to expect unpleasantness to some degree with so many people in one place," she conceded, completely ignoring him, "but still, things could have gotten out of hand."

"It was my pleasure to help. Miss Varo, have you had any kind of message from Senator Amidala tonight?"

"Amidala? No, I'm afraid I haven't. Why, is something wrong?"

Anakin merely shrugged. He wasn't certain of anything yet; it was only a feeling he had, faint and ominous.

"It is odd, of course," said the young Miss Varo. "It isn't like her to be late, is it? And I know she was so looking forward to being here. Well, you know senators, don't you?" She giggled. "Always some boring business keeping them. My father—"

"Yes, of course," said Anakin, deciding that now it was his turn to cut her off. "If you'll excuse me, M'lady."

With a cursory bow he left her side and, with no aim in mind, found himself standing beside the refreshment table, looking back his reflected face in the mirror. It looked decidedly more strained now.

"Carafi, Master Jedi?" asked a servant, offering a tray bearing the Sullustan delicacy made of wild fowl's raw eggs. When Anakin did not immediately refuse, the young man pushed one into his hand and walked away. Anakin bit into the dessert, not hungry. It tasted like fear.

He was everywhere upon her now, his hands on her arms and stomach, his teeth biting harshly at her breast until he almost drew blood. Padmé whimpered; somehow, even though this was the least of his cruel indignities, it still was painful. He had pushed her down to the floor and now sat upon her like a housecat, proud of its catch.

"You're so beautiful," he murmured, his mouth drawing away from her breast. "He doesn't deserve you. I love you—I love you…"

Even as she heard him say it Padmé could hear the same words in Anakin's voice, tender and sweet. She thought she would vomit, but fought down the feeling. Her mind was revolting, refusing to believe that any of this was real. Even her tears were beginning to dry as she lay there, unmoving, only waiting for him to finish. She believed with all her heart that she was dying, was, perhaps, already dead.

"I thought," he was telling her, his lips moving further up her neck, "we should get away from Coruscant. When I've taken care of your Jedi…"

Fresh terror welled up in her. Yesterday Padmé would have laughed at the thought of anyone threatening Anakin. But he had not been here to save her, and he had not stopped this man from hurting her. Could he save himself? She shook her head in protest, the first time she had responded at all in minutes, and earned for the motion a dizzying slap across the face.

"Don't defend him!" he raged at her suddenly, spitting words. His face was covered in sweat. "His false love—the lies he tells you—only an amusement to him—I know he's been stopping my letters—"

It was then, in the briefest of pauses, that they both heard a noise from the other room. Someone was there.

Padmé would have screamed again for help, but everything in the world seemed to be holding her back. There was a knife cutting into her back, hardly a sound could escape her gag, and some large, traitorous part of her brain was suddenly muttering, We're so tired, so tired, just forget it. He'll leave us alone soon enough. Sit still, be still, shut up. Let him do anything. Who cares anymore?

The apartment seemed to have gone quiet again, and Padmé's attacker seemed almost to relax when suddenly, unmistakably, they heard Threepio's voice.

"—can't understand why the door was locked, but of course you'll want to make certain. The Senator is busy, I think. Please forgive my uncertainty, I've been powered down for the past few hours."

A look of pure, twisted hatred crossed his face for an instant, and Padmé cowered. Blind fear was roaring in her mind now, blocking out all other thought—she was certain she would not live to see the end of the next five minutes. The knife dug into her back, drawing more blood. He bent down to her, and Padmé nearly choked.

"You never saw my face," he hissed, "and if you tell anyone, I'll kill you—you and your pretty Jedi. "

Then he was gone.

He was gone, out the window. Padmé didn't see how, and she didn't care.

He was gone.

The knocking at her bedroom door ceased. Muffled voices, then a foot burst through the heavy paneled wood. The knob turned, and the door opened. Threepio was aghast at the destruction.

"There's no need for that, really, the Senator—"

The one thing in the universe that could make Threepio shut up turned out to be the sight of his mistress, shivering and close to naked on the ground, covered in blood and sweat and saliva, bound and gagged. When one of the guards untied the gag, Padmé only remembered seeing his ashen face inches from hers before she slid into a dead faint.

Her room was dark, and her guards were gone. He called her name, but there was no answer. Anakin should have simply assumed that she had been late in dressing and that, even now, she was on her way to the fundraiser. He should go back, apologize to the hostess for leaving so early with such a vague explanation.

But a pained, frantic thrumming in the Force, faint as it was, kept him there with one hand on his lightsaber, peering into the darkness. He knew his way here well enough so that he easily sidestepped the sofa and found the doorway to her bedroom.

The door opened at his touch, and instantly Anakin's throat closed, his well-trained eyes taking in every obvious sign of struggle. His first thought was of intense regret—Forgive me, my darling, I wasn't here to protect you. He had not even a sign of where she was.

As if on cue, Threepio walked through the closet door. Anakin grabbed on him like a drowning man on a log. "Threepio, what's going on? Where's Padmé?"

If the droid had eyes that were avertable, he would have averted them now. As it was, his lamplight eyes shone into Anakin's as he said, in an anguished tone, "Master Anakin, there's—I'm afraid there's been an incident."

"An incident? What the kriff do you mean?" Anakin snapped, his temper immediately flaring, as it did when he was afraid.

Poor Threepio was helpless, his sense of decorum recoiling from the tale he had to tell; but he had no choice.

"The guards say they heard an explosion down the street—they felt it was their duty to help. When they returned, I met them at the door. I had been powered down in the sitting room. They insisted that they enter her bedroom, and when they did…"

When Anakin reached the nearest medical center—Threepio had told him where she was—his fingernails were digging into his fist like little poniards, leaving behind blue half-moon shapes in his palm when he opened his hand to run fingers through his hair. His breath came in shallow bursts, just on the edge of hyperventilation. Only all-consuming worry for Padmé's sake and safety kept him sane, kept him from giving in to the unspeakable feelings that hovered at the edge of his vision.

He asked a healer for directions to Padmé's room, saw her look at her chart and murmur to herself, "Oh, yes," in a regretful tone before answering and pointing him in the right direction. Then there was nothing to do but find her, nothing but to see her…

She was lying in the hospital's starched white bed, on her side facing away from the door. Anakin couldn't understand why she chose to lie like that until a nurse lifted the back of her gown, and Anakin saw the deep, deceptively short cut that decorated her back like a battle scar. The pragmatic, combat-trained part of his brain saw that, had the cut been perhaps an inch deeper, it would have been fatal.

The nurse, a young woman with straw-blonde hair, proceeded to clean the wound, and then Anakin remembered that this was his Padmé.

He moved toward her and grabbed her arm so tightly that she winced. Her face was white, devoid of expression. He couldn't have said what his own face looked like, but it caused the nurse to duck her head immediately.

"What happened?"

Padmé's hair was damp and pulled back into a loose braid at the nape of her neck. Her free hand rested over her abdomen, clutching at the loose gown. If Anakin had been in another place, unable to sense the sickening despair that hung over this room, and seen only a picture of her, he might have thought she had just given birth. She didn't answer him.

"Padmé, what happened?" he demanded of her, more harshly this time. Even now he didn't really believe it. Things that came from Threepio's mouth were hardly ever to be believed in full, and he was ready to hear it—waiting—prepared to force it out of her, the admission that the droid had exaggerated and that the situation was not as it had seemed.

Padmé looked up at him, her small jaw clenched, and Anakin met her gaze with unintended harshness. The right side of her face was bandaged, and Anakin noticed the raw ends of broken skin beneath the gauze. He could see every emotion that passed behind her eyes, anger and fire, and then—hatred?—and then, so slowly that he almost missed it, all other feelings died and melted into pure, helpless defeat.

"Anakin," she said, in a very small voice, "He hurt me."

Her hands were held empty in midair, and Anakin would have been a monster not to take them and kiss them and hold them tightly as he did. Padmé's eyes squeezed shut, her mouth clenched in a grimace, and she began to sob harder than it seemed she had ever done before. Only a fraction of the wretched pain that grew within her gut could leave her, no matter how many tears she poured onto Anakin's shoulder.

Anakin was experiencing an alien and altogether unpleasant sensation. Never in his life had he been so helpless, unable to heal her, unable to do anything but hold her and hope that it was helping in some way. So he held her and murmured nonsense, "Sweet, darling, it'll be okay, it'll be okay," and Padmé buried her face in his chest and cried.

At length, when Padmé still hurt but had no more tears, the sedative the med center had given her took over. Within seconds she had fallen in a drugged, dreamless sleep, the only peace afforded her. Anakin released her, and she sank back into the thin blankets. Only then did he become aware again of the straw-haired nurse who stood unobtrusively in the corner, watching, hearing—knowing.

Awkwardly Anakin straightened, aware of the situation and, at the same time, hating that he had to consider the public eye even now. She had seen very much—too much—and though his mind raced he couldn't think of any way to turn his words of comfort, Padmé's tears, every touch between them, into something platonic.

He had some vague idea of making her forget what she had seen and what it meant, but as he stepped toward her, the words that stumbled out of his mouth were: "Don't tell anyone—please."

The straw-haired nurse shook her head, her wide eyes on his. "I wouldn't dream of it," she murmured, and slipped out of the room.

Then Anakin was alone with Padmé, who was fast asleep. He sat in the hard-backed chair beside her bed. They were waiting for them at the fundraiser, he remembered vaguely. He looked down at his hands, breathing heavily, and wondered how his world had changed in the space of an hour.