Author's Note: I figure I'd best apologize for the incredible lateness of this chapter right off the bat, before you guys lynch me (or worse, leave me). I have no excuse. Well, I sort of do. I have two. My first is that I just finished my first semester at college, so unfortunately I've had some other priorities. And my second is that, as I said in the first chapter, this is a new thing that I'm trying with my writing, so it doesn't some as easily to me as my previous works. So, that's all I have. Anyway, once again, sorry for the wait. Hopefully this chapter is at least partly worth it.
The next few days consisted of packing, of planning, and—in Anakin's case—pacing. There was nothing for him to do but to pace, hours and hours around the Temple. Thoughts ran incessantly in his mind in a tormenting, monotonous train, interrupted only when someone spoke to him and he was forced to answer.
Meditation provided some small comfort, but clearing his mind completely seemed impossible. There was a pause, a tentative peace, and then as though he had been struck by lightning Anakin remembered that there was something in his life worth worrying about, and to ignore it felt almost like a lack of respect for its enormity.
He and Padmé didn't talk much during this time. On the few occasions that he visited her, the distance between them only widened. He was lost for words when at her side, because everything he tried to say nearly came out an accusation—"How could you do this to me? I thought you loved me!"—and he only just managed to swallow it. And Padmé, he knew, was afraid of him—too afraid, sometimes, even to speak for fear of making things worse.
They arrived on Naboo in the middle of the night, the same day that Padmé was released, because they had nowhere else to go. Padmé still refused to go back to her apartment, and Anakin could hardly take her in at the Temple. Probably a complete change of scenery was best for both of them, anyway.
There was silence as they traveled—silence when they reached the house—silence as they stood in the entryway, pretending to admire the ornate sand-colored tiling on the walls like any normal couple. They unpacked on the double bed side by side, worlds apart, and the gulf between them kept filling up with every word they didn't say.
Anakin could feel himself falling away from her, and he fought the urge, once again, to simply lose his mind and start breaking things because everything was so shavving wrong. It was easier, so much easier, to break things than to fix them. But here he was, all the same…
They dressed, sat down on opposite sides of the bed, Padmé combing out her hair over her shoulders like a dark, tangled curtain. Anakin looked over at her.
"Are you okay, sleeping—here?" he asked, his voice hoarse from the disuse it had endured today. The unspoken addendum, "with me," was heard. She nodded, and gave him a faint smile.
"I'm all right," she told him. "Thank you."
The gulf stretched a little further; a muscle in Anakin's temple twitched. On an impulse, he reached forward and took her hand. She didn't flinch away, which he took as an encouraging sign. He swallowed.
"I love you," he said sincerely. "Remember that. I love you, Padmé."
It sounded childish to him, and probably to her as well, like a young boy sensing his mother's pain and offers her the only comfort he has at his disposal. Regardless, a real smile spread across Padmé's face for the first time in days, though it lasted just a moment. Tentatively, waiting for the signal to stop, Anakin leaned forward and kissed her forehead.
Padmé's hand tightened on his. "I love you, too," she replied softly.
It felt like a start, a step in the right direction, and something like hope sent Anakin to sleep that night. But beneath the blankets and the cover of night, he heard her heart breaking again—and turned his back, helpless. Again.
The next morning had a peculiar feel to it, something Anakin noticed the second he opened his eyes. He knew that nothing had changed, that Padmé was still pregnant, that the child was still not his; but the weight of the worry that had plagued him, bearing down on him till he thought he would sink into the ground, was gone.
Anakin sat up, enjoying the sudden ease with which his limbs moved. More than likely, this change was due to nothing more than the change of scenery, waking up in one of those few places that had no negative associations. He was more glad than he knew to be away from Coruscant, and especially from the hospital bed that had held his wife prisoner.
For now, though, the reason for this relief escaped him, and he didn't bother trying to find it. Pulling a light tunic over his head, Anakin left the room without waking Padmé. Lost for a destination, he wandered through the hushed, dim hallways until he found himself almost outdoors, at the door to a low balcony overlooking the lake.
The instant his feet touched the surface, as soon as he stepped outside, he remembered this. Snatches of memories clawed at him.
"Ani? You look so handsome. My son…my grown-up son…"
"Stay with me, Mom. Everything—"
He shook his head, sharply, hoping to dislodge the memories. They were old now, and their old stabbing pain had dissipated into a faint ache in the back of his mind. He leaned over the railing, hands gripping the cold stone, and looked down into the water that, in morning's faint, gray, sunless light, looked pitch black.
He closed his eyes. Could smell grass, lake water—could smell cold. His bare feet shifted on the stone. Could smell stars, soon to die until their resurrection the following night.
It widened, tugging outward, pushing until it was no longer confined to the lake house they inhabited. Some miles away, a blossom farmer was already awake. The season for blossom wine was almost over, so he gathered the last of his crop today with his wife. Wondered whether next year would be a good one. Wondered who had taken the house up on the hill on the lake. Wondered if the newcomers would be interested in buying a jug or two. Tourists could always pay extra.
Then it moved again, this time getting smaller and more focused. Anakin felt where it was going, and felt afraid, but, unwillingly, let it go where it wanted until he found himself approaching a room, a bed, a woman's form. Her eyes were fluttering agitatedly, her breath small and uneven, and he could sense the restlessness with which she slept.
Anakin had absolutely no desire to see what she saw.
"Don't be afraid." His hand, dirty, rough, crawling over her skin like spiders' legs. "Don't be afraid." The knife, glowing and gleaming. "Don't be afraid." The pain, the huge, all-consuming pain, when he dug into her and ripped out her heart. "Don't be afraid. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you—"
With a powerful effort Anakin wrenched himself away from Padmé's dream, and the meditation fell to the ground in pieces. He found himself shaking with pure, primal rage even before his eyes had refocused, gazing down at the water unseeing. "Don't show me anymore," he hissed through clenched teeth. But there was no indication that the Force would heed him, or, indeed, was even bothering to listen. In anger, one useless fist slammed against the wall, but left no trace that it had been. Made him angrier.
Deep breaths brought Anakin back to earth. Above him the sky was beginning to glow gold over the horizon, and it was light enough that he could use his eyes to navigate rather than the Force. He went back inside, wondering if he would ever have a peaceful meditation while on Naboo.
Padmé was sitting at the kitchen counter when he returned. She was a fraction of an inch too short for the stool on which she sat, so her bare feet were swinging just above the floor. She was drinking something from a wooden cup, and her eyes swung upwards over the rim at his entrance.
"How'd you sleep?" Anakin asked her, more from habit than anything else. Padmé lowered the cup before answering.
"Fine," she answered. Anakin almost retorted with the knowledge that she was lying, then bit it back, swallowed it. No good could come from that.
"What's that?" he asked instead.
"Just juma juice," she answered, shrugging. "I found some in the fridge. I don't know how old it is, but it tastes okay."
Anakin investigated. "Should you be drinking this?" he asked, peering into the jug of yellow liquid. "We don't know who was here last. Could've been a Gungan or something."
"I'm sure the Queen has restocked it for us since then. Besides, nothing wrong with Gungan germs," Padmé added, smiling lightly. "For all we know, Gungan spit is an antioxidant."
Anakin snorted. "You knew Jar-Jar as well as I did. He wasn't anti- anything; he was just annoying."
"Be nice," Padmé chided him. "He was—"
Anakin looked at her.
"You know what? Never mind," she said sheepishly, palms raised in defeat. "I'm not going to argue that point."
Anakin chuckled; then there was gradual silence, the brief lightheartedness gone. With every quiet second that passed he could feel the distance between them stretching, and he struggled clumsily to regain the closeness that had almost felt real for an instant.
"Got any plans for today?" he asked. "We could visit some of the new landmarks Apailana was telling us about, or we could visit your family…"
The sudden alarm in Padmé's expression told Anakin that Padmé had not considered this possibility—had not even thought about it—had not, apparently, remembered that parents would have to be told. The practiced Senator shook her head abruptly, a film of neutrality falling over her face.
"Not today, Anakin," she said. "I think I'm just going to go for a walk."
Anakin nodded and said, "Okay." So Padmé finished her juice, retrieved a pair of silk slippers from the bedroom and went outside; and Anakin watched her go without saying a word, because he had absolutely no idea what else could be said. He wondered as he sat in the beautiful white kitchen by himself whether her behavior this morning would later constitute a good day or a bad one—and, if this should be considered good, what the next nine months would be like.
For a few days that was how they spent their time. They lived almost separately, less like husband and wife than like two people who happened to be staying in the same house simultaneously. Padmé was not unpleasant, not unkind, but distant.
Anakin felt that she was disappearing, not only within herself but externally as well, to a place he couldn't follow. She was becoming almost ethereal, a translucent character with a faint, permanent smile fixed on her face. He would have gone with her, wherever she was going, out of a desperate desire to retrieve his wife, but Padmé's mental walls, though untrained, were solid. Anakin could have broken through them, but shied away from breaking forcefully into her mind.
On their fourth day at the house, Anakin was meditating outside on the balcony when a faint buzzing sound interrupted his quest for inner peace. He cracked an eye, to see the large, spherical shape of a postal droid, about a meter in diameter, zooming along toward him over the water.
"Greetings, sir," it said respectfully as soon as it reached him, hovering over the railing with its single antenna quivering in the air. "Is Padmé Amidala at home? I have been authorized to make a delivery to this residence in her name."
"I'm her bodyguard," said Anakin. "I'll take it."
There was a moment of silence as the droid computed this. "That is acceptable," it responded. The panel in its belly slid to reveal a small package wrapped in brown paper, and Anakin grabbed it.
"Who is this from?" he asked.
"I'm sorry, sir, I do not have access to that information," the droid replied smartly. "Thank you, have a pleasant day." And it zoomed off again.
There was very little hesitation on Anakin's part before he opened the parcel, a fact he felt somewhat ashamed of. But it wasn't anything private, wasn't a letter or anything like that. He almost wished it was.
The paper and box aside, he turned over the bottle in his hand. It was white, thin, large, and on the cap was printed, in large, official-looking letters:
THANK YOU FOR YOUR BUSINESS
Anakin frowned. Then he peered at the label, and his eyes widened.
She had just gotten up from the looks of it, bare feet shuffling on the tile, her brown hair pouring down her back. There were bruised half-moons under her eyes, and she appeared absolutely astonished to be stopped by Anakin in the middle of the hallway.
"What is this?" he demanded, holding up the bottle. Padmé took a look.
"It's mine," she said, "I ordered it." She made a grab for it, but Anakin pulled it out of her reach. Padmé stared at him, bewildered.
"What are you doing?" she asked him. It was the first sign of genuine emotion she had shown since they'd arrived.
"What is this?" he asked again, more forcefully. He was angry with her—and at the same time, he wanted to push her, wanted to make her angry as well, wanted to know that she was still alive and could be angry. But it didn't seem to be working. Padmé's eyes were drifting, looking everywhere but at him.
"It's my sleep medication," she said demurely. "The hospital prescribed it for me."
"No, they didn't," Anakin snapped. "Padmé, this is Naxin. Hospitals don't prescribe Naxin—kriff, no one prescribes Naxin!"
"Well, they did for me!" Padmé retorted. Her cheekbones were beginning to flush. "Anakin, give it to me, it's mine."
"You're lying," he said flatly.
"How did you even get this?" he asked, still holding the bottle away from her. He was tall enough that, even with her arm fully outstretched, Anakin could hold it just out of her reach.
"Not important," she muttered.
"Do you know what Naxin does?" he demanded. "Or have you not heard? The side effects—"
"Do you know what it does, Anakin?" Padmé snarled at him. Her vehemence was so unexpected that Anakin forgot to keep talking. It was like seeing a doll come suddenly to life. "It helps people sleep! People who don't care about side effects because they're so desperate, people who need it because nothing else works, people who haven't slept in four—shavving—days!"
Then the house went very, very quiet. For a few moments, there was no noise but the sound of their heavy breathing in uneven patterns that collided with one another. Chest heaving, Padmé stared at him furiously.
"You're the only Jedi here," she said finally, looking straight into his eyes. Anakin's anger abruptly deflated, to be replaced by creeping, shameful guilt. "Some people can't meditate their nightmares away."
With no more words to say, she grabbed the bottle with no resistance on Anakin's part and stalked past him. He watched her go, then turned away. It had been his first act of defiance to the events that seemed to pass by him without noticing or caring for his existence, and it had left him feeling smaller than before. Weary of the day already, Anakin left to wander the rest of the house.
It would be easier, a thousand times so, to pretend that things would right themselves. A tiny, petulant fantasy wormed into Anakin's mind, and for an instant he saw the weeks rolling by, the stranger inside Padmé never growing, and she only becoming warmer and more like herself until nothing had changed. Give it time. That could work—couldn't it?
Pink sunlight was beginning to peek through the high lattice windows, lighting the living room. Anakin had been in this room since they had arrived, remembered everything that had happened within it, but only now did those things seem relevant. As though it had been yesterday he could see a fire spring to life in the grate, the room darkened by dusk, and Padmé the darkest thing of all, her dress sparkling against the deep cushion of the sofa.
No words came to Anakin's mind. All of him was caught up in that memory, in the way her braided hair glinted in the firelight, in his own pleading, adolescent tone that he remembered with a wince. Being in love with her, intoxicated by the presence that followed him where he went like a scent, blinding him with its proximity. It was not words he remembered, nor even the picture itself, but a feeling, a sense that right had been done no matter its results. If the picture were pressed into a thought, forced to take words, they would be these: That night, I fought for her.
Like an emergency engine suddenly revving to life, Anakin's jaw-clenching stubbornness chose this moment to kick in. This was the first test, the moment in which he first felt real doubt and sensed a possibility of defeat. The idea of defeat was still so distant that what it might entail still did not occur to him. Still, in an instant he became determined. He would not lose his wife without a fight.
The next morning found Anakin up early as usual, but not on the balcony. Instead, he was in the kitchen, laboring over the stove with a pan in one hand and a spatula in the other. He was having a small amount of trouble with the eggs, which steadfastly refused to attain the level of fluffiness he was going for.
He left them for a few seconds to start the juicer droid, and when he returned they were sticking to the sides of the pan. Anakin hastily scraped them onto a plate and examined them. Good enough, was his verdict.
"What's going on here?" he heard from behind in a bemused tone. Padmé came up to stand beside him, surveying the culinary landscape.
"Thought I'd make us some breakfast today," Anakin said. "Take this, I'm about to drop it."
He turned to hand her the plate full of eggs, and in doing so saw that the circles under her eyes were faded slightly. Never mind, never mind, he told himself.
"Are you hungry?" he asked.
"Very," Padmé admitted, then, with a smile: "You know we have droids for this, right?"
"Are you insinuating something about my cooking?"
"Just go sit down," Anakin ordered with severity, directing her with the spatula still in hand. "And I'll thank you to know that I gave the droids the morning off."
Padmé sat down at her appropriate seat and found a mug of vine-coffee waiting for her there. She sipped it. Whatever might be said about Anakin's eggs, she thought, the coffee was delicious.
"Did you tell them they weren't needed until this afternoon?" she asked.
"Didn't think to," Anakin said, shrugging. "I just told them to power down for an extra hour. Does it make a difference?"
"It might," Padmé admitted. "They'll probably just come out here and make us another breakfast in an hour."
Anakin, finished with his ministrations, sat down at the counter across from her. "Then you might have the option of two breakfasts," he said. "In this one's defense, I can assure you that, while it might not be perfect, it was made with love and not cold, uncaring droid hands." He gave her a look of such exaggerated intensity that Padmé couldn't help but laugh. Something in Anakin's chest flickered and grew minutely larger. I made her laugh, he thought.
"Padmé," he said, growing sober, "I'm sorry about yesterday. Really I am."
She glanced at him from over her mug, but did not reply. She could always tell when more was coming.
"I just—" He groped at the air, frustrated for words. "Naxin's not safe. It's barely legal, you know that! People have taken it and never woken up."
She looked away, something like guilt in her expression. "The hospital tried to give me weaker medication," she said. "Nothing else worked, not really. Even when I didn't dream, every day I woke up thinking he was standing over me. You don't know—" With a sudden moan that seemed to emanate from the deepest part of her, she bent over the counter, rubbing her palms into her eyes. "It was horrible. Every day. I just wanted to—forget it. I needed some time in the dark."
He reached forward without thinking and grabbed her wrists, pulled them away from her face so he could see her eyes.
"If I lost you," he said, very slowly and deliberately, "I would die. Don't do that to me."
Padmé said nothing. In every particle of skin he touched he could feel her fear, an anxious, crawling sensation that longed to jump away and run. He wanted nothing more than to reach over the counter and kiss her. It seemed impossible that she would not come to life then. The temptation was strong—dangerous.
Anakin let go one of her hands. He felt as he did so that he was holding onto some delicate, wild creature, ready to bolt at the first sign of danger, at the first snapping of a twig. He held the other one tighter.
"I love you," he said again, as though repeating it would make it mean more to her.
In a small voice Padmé said, looking down at the white countertop, "It feels like I'm falling. Like I'm dying. All the time."
"Listen to me," said Anakin fiercely. "I will never let you go."
That was when Anakin first realized that time worked differently here on Naboo. Elsewhere, it passed in chunks, in predefined hours and minutes of exactly so many beats. But here, now, time passed only in moments, and stood still for everything else.