On a regular basis daylight came and died into night and then became day again. This, the presence and absence of light, became the only indication that segmented areas of time existed, because it was not often that something made one day stand out from any other.
It was a sort of life that neither Anakin nor Padmé had ever really known. Since he was nine Anakin's existence had consisted of training punctuated by missions that sent him away from home for months at a time, and Padmé had never been without work of some kind, surrounded as she had always been by the never-ending demands of politics. It was healing for both of them, and, ironically, at times it was the closest Anakin had come in years to being completely at ease.
Padmé needed and appreciated this time just as much as her husband, but it wasn't long before the emptiness of it began to eat at her.
"It isn't that I mind relaxing," she complained, "but I've got to have something to do in-between. I haven't had this much free time since I was thirteen."
So she commed Apailana and asked for something to keep her busy. The Queen willingly complied, sending over packets of paperwork that Anakin understood not at all. From that day on Padmé could often be found at her desk, working studiously at the wording of a new bill about to be sent to the Senate or editing a draft of a new intern's work.
Anakin didn't like her working, and said so. For him, a break was a break, and using it for work was just a waste. But Padmé had always been strange like that, and right now he was content with anything that she enjoyed. Somehow they had become happy, something that should have been an impossibility under the circumstances; it was easy to pretend that they could stay suspended in time forever, expecting no impending change. It was easy to forget, to lie to themselves.
This was most easily accomplished by not talking about it, so on the topic of Padmé's experiences and current condition they were generally silent. They filled the silences instead with other, slightly less important words, and said "I love you" many times. Always, Anakin had one small part of his mind chained to the commlink at his belt, waiting for the moment when he received a name, a location, something that would let him regain a feeling he had lost.
And then, one not-so-very special day, Padmé came up to him while he was sitting in the living room, reading an account of some old missions he'd found on his datapad. She was dressed in blue, in a loose-fitting dress Anakin had seen once before when she had come to comfort him on Tatooine, and her hair was down around her shoulders.
"Anakin," she said, "I think I need to talk to my parents."
He looked up, surprised. Somehow the necessity, no matter how eventual, of what she wanted to do had escaped him. But he nodded. "Of course," he said. "About—"
His eyebrows shot up. "Everything?" he repeated.
Padmé smiled uncomfortably. "Not everything," she corrected. "I just think they should know that I'm—" One arm curved across her abdomen to finish her sentence.
Putting the datapad aside, Anakin looked up at her. "Do you want me to come?" he asked.
She nodded uncertainly. "I can't do this without you," she said, staring at the floor.
Anakin stood, pulled her hand into his. "You can do anything. You're the bravest person I know," he said. Was that what he was supposed to say? Nothing he did felt right anymore.
"They still don't know about us." Padmé's features fell into familiar, distressed lines. "If you don't want to come, I understand."
This Anakin knew the answer to. "If you need me to be a Jedi, I can do that," he said. Without any direction from his brain, his hand had come up to smooth her hair. "And if you need a husband, I can do that, too."
"Jack of all trades?" she said, amused.
"I'm very versatile."
They left the next morning for the Naberrie home, Anakin driving through the sparkling early air in an open speeder. Padmé was anxious to the point of illness, her usually calm demeanor completely destroyed. Her hands fluttered in turn to her face, her hair, her cloak like frantic white butterflies.
"Do they know we're coming?" Anakin asked her. She nodded, not looking at him.
"I commed them last night. They sounded—excited."
"Why shouldn't they be? Of course they want to see you."
He looked over at her, paying minimal attention to the road. "Nothing you say will make your family love you any less. Especially when you haven't even done anything wrong."
Padmé said something very quiet.
There was a pause.
"Are you still taking Naxin?" he ventured.
She shot him a look that could have melted glass. "Can we please not have this conversation again?" she snapped.
Anakin turned back to the road. "Sorry."
When they reached the house, Anakin parked and went around to help Padmé out of the speeder, but she'd already stood. As she did so, the hood of her cloak fell down to her shoulders to reveal an artistically mussed mass of curls, pinned carefully back with ornaments made of some blue gemstone. A massive wave of déjà vu hit Anakin in the chest at the sight.
Side by side they walked up the steps, and when they reached the door Padmé stopped. Anakin could feel her heart quaking without touching her; it sucked all the air around her into its frantic pulse. Lips barely moving, she asked, "How am I supposed to do this?"
Gingerly, Anakin reached his arms around her waist. This, he knew from experience, was permitted him. Fortunate, that he was allowed to touch her dress. He wanted to say something kind, something comforting, but at that moment the door began to open, and he only had time to hastily move away before Jobal was standing there.
"Padmé!" she cried, reaching out her arms to her daughter, and Padmé's face brightened as it hadn't in a month. Anakin stood apart, watched them embrace and thought what a contrast Padmé's ornate, obviously expensive wardrobe made against the plainly-cut lavender dress Jobal wore beneath her apron. She looked like a princess calling on peasants.
"Anakin," Jobal said, turning to him and smiling widely. "It's a pleasure to have you here again. Every time I see you I feel obliged to thank you again for keeping my daughter safe."
Anakin shifted uncomfortably and swallowed. "Thank you, Mrs. Naberrie," he said quietly, glancing over at Padmé. It seemed like the perfect opening ("Actually, Mom…"), but she probably didn't want to blurt it out on the front steps.
"Come in, you two," said Jobal, stepping aside to allow them entrance. "You're just in time for breakfast." As they stepped into the foyer, Padmé's cloak slipping from her shoulders, Jobal added, "Padmé, your father's in his study. I'll tell him you're here," and left. The second she was gone, Padmé froze.
"I don't know if this is a good idea," she said, looking at Anakin. "Maybe we should go."
"You'll regret it later if you do," he told her. As always when he was uncomfortable, his right hand moved down to his hip, to caress the worn, familiar hilt of his lightsaber. Now that she had made the decision, he knew that any hesitation on her part was nerves rather than true judgment, and he wouldn't let her back down because of it.
By the time they'd moved into the dining room, Ruwee was waiting for them. Padmé ran to him, and once more Anakin stood to the side. Looking too long at them felt awkward, so his gaze moved aimlessly around the room, through the broad windows out to the sunlit gardens, to the warm and familial room in which they stood. Plates were set out, and Anakin counted four, so he assumed that Sola would not be joining them this time.
"Are you two ready to eat?" Jobal asked. She had appeared in the doorway with two bowls of something that Anakin couldn't see. Whatever it was, it smelled delicious, though his appetite was meager at best.
"Where's Sola?" Padmé asked, sitting down. Anakin joined her, still feeling uncomfortable and out of place despite Jobal's best efforts.
"Oh, she and Darred have been off-world for the past few weeks," Ruwee said. "He was offered a job on Alderaan. Fantastic opportunity, and of course Sola and the children went with him."
"I know she'll be sorry to have missed you, though," Jobal said, with a regretful smile. "The girls ask about you all the time, Padmé."
Conversation deteriorated after this point. The Naberries wanted to hear all about their daughter's life since she had been away, but Padmé would only give them so much information before clamming up. Each time she did so, Anakin gave her a look which she determinedly ignored. He understood her reluctance, though; this hardly seemed an appropriate place for such talk. As soon as the words were out of her mouth, the room would change.
At last, Jobal stopped giving hints and threw caution to the winds. "Padmé, it seemed like there was something you wanted to talk about when you commed," she said. "Was it something important?"
For several long seconds, Padmé stared at her plate. "Yes, it was," she murmured at last. With the ridiculous intuition that Anakin remembered faintly from his own mother, Jobal stared hard at her daughter for a moment, then said—in a voice that was the exact audible opposite of her facial expression—"Honey, what's wrong?"
Ruwee, now looking concerned, cleared his throat and said, "Anakin, could you give us a moment alone?"
Padmé gave her permission with a faint nod, and Anakin—to his own shame—practically ran from the room. The first place he thought to go was the garden; he liked the Naberrie's garden. His only goal was to get the door shut behind him before he heard her speak. He managed it.
Once he was outside, of course, there wasn't really much to do. He wandered, looking at the budding flowers and trees and immaculate grass, and a part of him really did enjoy them. But a larger part was bored and anxious. Anakin took a long breath in through his nose and tried not to think, tried to meditate. But after twenty minutes or so, he found himself leaning against the wall behind which, he knew, was the Naberrie kitchen, and he could hear the bricks speaking in low tones beneath his fingertips.
don't want to talk about that, they murmured in Padmé's voice.
I understand. But I can't help wondering… Jobal trailed off. Anakin saw her think of him standing beside Padmé as they had first walked in.
He's—it's not anyone you know, Padmé reassured her, as though the knowledge were somehow reassuring. He's a good man, very kind.
Does he know about this?
No, Mom, I told you. He was only on Coruscant for a few nights. I didn't even know until after he was gone.
I'm proud of you, sweetie, Jobal murmured suddenly, and there was a hug, staining Padmé's dress with soap suds and dishwater. Anakin didn't even have to try to feel Padmé's surprise radiating through the wall.
Why? The tone was odd, stilted somehow. Oh…she was crying.
Because you could have gone to a clinic and made your life a thousand times easier, and you didn't. You did the right thing, Padmé, and I'm so proud of you for being brave…
Now she was crying too, and Anakin felt too uncomfortable to go on listening. He pulled away from the wall, casting an instinctive glance up at the window through which he could see nothing but cabinets; when he turned around, Ruwee was standing there.
"I—oh—I'm sorry, I didn't see—" Anakin stammered. He was suddenly aware of how the situation looked, and embarrassed by the fact that its appearance in no way belied the truth.
Ruwee took a step toward him, and Anakin went backward, until his fingers fumbled against the crumbling stones. The words behind them bored into his mind, though he tried to ignore them.
"You have been protecting my daughter a long time," Ruwee said abruptly. "For that, I am very grateful."
He didn't sound grateful, but Anakin tried to take the statement at face value. "It's my honor, sir," he said, struggling for a neutral tone.
"Indeed." Anakin tried suddenly to shake the feeling of being some teenage girl's first date, scrutinized beyond hope of acceptance. "I believe you to be a good man, Master Skywalker."
"And I see the way you look at my daughter."
If Ruwee Naberrie had hit him over the head with a brick, Anakin would have been slightly less stunned. Completely lost for words, he tried nonetheless to deny, but only a vague stuttering noise made it out of his mouth before Ruwee spoke over him.
"As I said, I believe you to be a good man. If I did not believe this, you would not be here now, and you certainly would not be anywhere near Padmé. Do not make me change my mind. If you have been with my daughter, do not lie. Is the child Padmé is carrying yours?"
Somehow, Anakin's bewildered brain was still able to focus on the fact that he had to lie. They had discussed the reasons over and over again: for safety, for appearances, for the sake of their careers. One living person—the nurse at the Core hospital—knew about him and Padmé, and that was one too many.
But somehow, as he fumbled through all the possible lies he could tell, the a piece of the truth slipped out.
"Sir," he said, his voice hoarse, "I wish with all of me that it were."
As they drove home, Anakin watched her. "Feel better?" he asked.
Slowly, Padmé nodded. Her hands were folded loosely in her lap, resting against the shining blue of her dress like blossoms fallen from a tree; they lacked the nervous energy that had plagued her movements on the previous trip.
"I do," she admitted. "I'm glad they know at least some of it. And they didn't—" She cleared her throat. "They weren't upset. Not very, anyway. Not as much as they could have been."
"See, I told you it would be okay," Anakin teased, daring to smile slightly. There was a moment in which he debated saying the words in his head; then he tossed the debate out the window in a brazen attempt to make her laugh. "So, what did you tell them about the father?"
Padmé looked stunned at the question; Anakin was about to rescind it hastily and with apologies when a sheepish smile appeared at the corner of her lips. Anakin stopped holding his breath.
"Not much," she said. "As little as I could manage—but I think they think it's someone in the Senate."
Anakin nodded in mock understanding. "Ah, yes. Senator's Amidala's famous tryst with Orn Free Taa—ow!"
She'd punched him in the shoulder. "At least have the decency to pair me up with someone handsome."
"What about his aide?"
It wasn't something Anakin would have considered joking with Padmé about under the best of circumstances. Now, it should have been marital suicide. But somehow, strangely, the joke was so taboo, so crude, that it surpassed all normal rules for decent conversation, and was inexplicably funny.
When they reached the lake house, Anakin reached over and took her hand. He leaned in, never breaking her gaze.
"Do you want to go swimming?" he asked her.
Padmé's eyes widened with surprise. "Now?"
"Of course now." He straightened, practically pulling her from the seat. "My Force, you know how bored I've been? Let's do something fun."
They moved down to the beach, Padmé following him with bewildered amusement. The sun was just beginning to set, shooting rays of pink and gold haphazardly into the sky and reflecting gloriously in the lake. Beneath this celestial light, Anakin balanced precariously on one foot, attempting to pull his socks off without letting go of his wife's hand. He managed, but just barely.
"I thought you hated sand," Padmé pointed out, remaining fully clothed.
"I think I changed my mind," Anakin said firmly, pulling his tunic over his head. He waded in up to his knees, then turned around. "Are you coming in or not?"
Flustered and laughing, Padmé shook her head. "I can't, you know I can't," she protested. "Do you know how much this dress cost?"
"Uh-huh. Children in Tatooine are starving because of it. Get in the damn water."
Padmé played with her hair as she stood on the beach in the dying sunlight, torn in indecision. From where Anakin stood, he could see a golden fuzzy halo surrounding her body. At last, she threw up her hands, helpless.
"All right!" she surrendered. "Just give me a second."
Turning around, Padmé reached up and gingerly began to unfasten the first tiny button at the back of her dress. Her uncertain fingers twisted the small pearl back and forth until it slipped from the threaded loop, revealing a graceful V of skin as the cloth fell open.
She continued the ritual, slowly, until at last she stepped out of the dress and onto the dampened sand. Beneath it was only a simple white shift, thin and almost translucent. Padmé blushed as she walked into the water, and when she hesitated Anakin held out his hand for her.
"You look beautiful," he told her quietly, pulling her close. Padmé made a small noise, deep in the back of her throat, and nestled her head against his bare chest. The water splashed quietly against their legs; Anakin was suddenly very much aware of her body fitting snugly against his, and swallowed. Not the time, he told himself sternly.
"This feels nice," Padmé murmured suddenly, lips brushing against his skin as she spoke. This did nothing to appease Anakin's growing feeling of desire, but he did his best to suppress it.
"It doesn't count unless you get wet," he said, and pulled away. Grudgingly, Padmé followed him further out. When they were up to their waists he pulled her under, and when she resurfaced she was laughing.
On a normal night, Anakin knew where this would have ended. From the beach, half-dressed, they would have gradually made their way between kisses up the hillside, until they fell into the bedroom, and he could hold her as she ought to be held and touch her as she ought to be touched, and she would be his wife and he, her husband. But this was not a normal night, and that was the thought that stayed with him, haunting him, as they gathered their things and dressed, and then walked up the hill side by side, not really touching.
Once inside, Anakin sank down in the luxurious couch that sat before the empty fireplace and raked a hand through his still-wet hair. It was growing longer, he though absently, neglected in the face of more important things. Now it was past his ears, aching to twist into curls at the nape of his neck. He sighed, and looked down the white hallway where he knew Padmé was.
More than anything, he wanted to go to her now. Until now he had almost forgotten how long it had been since he and Padmé had spent the night together. Now it seemed painfully obvious. Rubbing a tired hand over his face, Anakin was forced to admit to himself that he wanted release. Was it terribly selfish of him to be thinking this way when his wife had undergone such trauma? It certainly felt so.
And yet—Anakin rose, and paced, as his thoughts grew more emphatic—it wasn't only what he wanted physically—no, it wasn't, he repeated to the cynic in his head. Padmé laughed sometimes, smiled sometimes, but her walls were still there, strong and blatant. She was shunning him still, whether or not she meant to, and more than ever now Anakin wanted to know her, be inside her head. That he wasn't didn't feel right.
With a muted sound of frustration Anakin threw up his arms and held them behind his head, breathing between clenched teeth. They were supposed to be a partnership; they were supposed to be one flesh. This wall, this helplessness, felt unnatural and awful.
The worst part, he thought, was that there were so few things he could do about it. In cases like this, according to popular theory, time was the only healer. He couldn't stand up and force Padmé to get over what had happened to her, even without the ever-present reminder of another man's child growing inside her. Anakin knew now that helplessness was worse than torture, worse than pain, worse than waiting. There were so few things he could do.
He looked down the hallway again.
Padmé was sitting on the edge of the bed, brushing her damp hair, when Anakin came in, a white pill in one hand and a glass of water in the other. She looked up, and Anakin cleared his throat uncomfortably.
"I know you usually take this before bed, so, I thought I'd give you a little help tonight," he said, offering his gifts. There was a beautiful smile on her face when she took them.
"Thank you," she said, sincerity shining in her voice. With the smooth, practiced motion of an experienced pill-taker, Padmé swallowed it and then took a gulp of the proffered water. Then she looked up at him.
"I should probably get to bed, it usually kicks in pretty fast," she said. One hand came up to hold his. Her eyes were deep brown, and right now showed no indication of the pain she was hiding. "Anakin—thanks for coming with me today. I know this isn't easy for you."
There were a dozen things Anakin could have said to his wife just then. He could have tried to describe how much he loved her, how much he would sacrifice for her, although he had done it many times before. He could have agreed with her to lighten the mood, maybe made a joke about being interrogated by Ruwee. He could have told her that the pill she had just taken was not Naxin, but rather a very mild painkiller.
In the end, he only brushed his fingers against her cheek, said, "Don't worry about me," and moved to the other side of the bed.
Later that night, when Padmé tossed and turned in the throes of a predictably restless nightmare, Anakin moved to be closer to her and put a hand on her arm. Her dreams bled through her skin, and she moaned when he touched her. Lying on his back, Anakin stared up at the ceiling and watched with her.
Instantly came a sensation of violation, a sudden and pressing urge to back away. Then, gradually through the gloom, came fleeting pictures, like a video slowly coming into focus: a hand, a knife, streaks of pain running down her back. Someone was stabbing again and again, merciless, careless of the damage he was doing to precious skin and muscle and bone. He hated them all, hated the skin and the bone and muscle, because they were precious. And Anakin, struggling to fight back the foreign feeling, was infuriated because he could not see a face.
"I'm here," said a guttural voice in the dream. "And I think it would be best if you stayed. I wasn't the one that hurt you."
Dream Padmé nodded resignedly; Anakin willed her to turn, to look at her assailant.
"Look at me," the voice demanded. "I made you. Look at me!"
A harsh hand on her dream shoulder made Padmé turn, but something obscured her vision. He came down on her like a hammer, slapped her so hard that she stumbled and fell.
"I can't see you!" she pleaded with him, but he hit her again. As though the slap had knocked the blindfold from her eyes, the darkness disappeared in a second—and then Anakin saw his face.
Instantly, everything else faded for him. The face was his world, and he memorized everything about it: every scar, every crease, every eyelash. When he was certain that it had been permanently burned into his memory, only then did he pull out of Padmé, and he found that he was panting for breath.
What hell, he thought as he recovered and stood. To relive that every night—no wonder Padmé took Naxin. As he groped for his commlink in the dark, he found he was shaking.
"Who is this?" The Besalisk sounded grumpy, as though he had been interrupted.
"It's Anakin. Anakin Skywalker?"
Instantly, Dexter's voice changed. "Anakin, good to hear from you! How have you been?"
"Um…" Anakin glanced over his shoulder, voice low, but Padmé didn't seem to be waking. "Listen, could you keep it down? I have a favor to ask."
"Sure. What's got you stumped?"
"I'm looking for a perp. He's on the official channels, but they'll never find him that way—and I need to find him."
There was some hesitation on the other end. "Anakin, you know I don't travel in those circles anymore."
"No, but you know people who do. I've got a description and last known address, that's it, but I know you can do something with it."
Dexter sighed. "All right, give it to me."
Anakin relayed every bit of information he had, stopping every few seconds to ensure that Dex was getting it all, and asked him more than once if he was writing it down. Dexter assured him that he was.
"I got it, I got it," he said finally. "Is that it?"
"Great. Now mind telling me what this is all about?"
Anakin pursed his lips, glanced down at the floor and then up again. "Something important," he said. Then he hung up and went back to bed.