Title: "Shadows of Winter"

Chapter 2 in the "Heart and Soul" series. (2/5)

(2/?)

Written by: Shawn

 

Summary: Someone's stalking Anakin and Padme. Someone deadly.

Rated: NC-17

Category: Angst/Romance/Drama

Pairing: Anakin/Padme

Timeline: Obviously, knowledge of Star Wars: Episode 1 and 2 is needed. You must also read the story before this one "The Light and the Dark." This story takes place four months after that one, just days before Anakin and

Padme's two-year wedding anniversary. Check 'Authors Notes' for more information.

Disclaimer: George Lucas and Lucasfilm owns everything. I just want to give Padme and Anakin a happy, albeit passionate ending. Oh, by the way. I loved Episode 3!!!!!!!

Email: DayShawn1974@hotmail.com

Authors Notes 1: In this universe, the Clone Wars will last three and a half years. It's commonly known that Anakin and Padme were separated for five months before Episode 3 when Obi-Wan and Anakin were dealing with the Outer

Rim Sieges. This story picks up one year and eight months after Star Wars: Episode 2, and will take us through the Clone Wars and up until Anakin's moment of truth in the Episode 3. From there, I take things in my own

direction.

Authors Notes 2: While slightly overdramatic as a couple at times, I also imagine a passionate, playful, deeply loving relationship between Anakin and Padme. They have so little time together, so when they have a chance to

steal a moment together, it can go from intense to sweet to passionate and back again in a heartbeat.

Authors Notes 3: Dorme, Padme'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, 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: To Jennifer and Anne, my Jedi Masters of good grammar and all around help. Thank you both so much.

 

~~~~~~

 

~~~~~~

 

The forest of Lycria Falls

Three miles due West of the City of Dysines

The world of Ezcaban, located in the Hoth System

 

 

A glorified scouting expedition wasn't the typical assignment for a well-known assassin.

Hissing in disgust due to the cold temperatures he hated with a passion, Xaria dismounted his Quran air speeder near a cluster of small boulders covered in sheets of ice. Clad in dark insulated clothing, he shifted the heavy backpack hanging off his shoulder and retrieved a hand-held holorecorder, then looped the strap around his neck. His heavy boots dug into the frozen dirt as he trekked forward through a small clearing near the edge of the woods. Up ahead was his destination.

A clear view of the massive Gramorum Mountain in all its frozen glory.

Word spread quickly, through the ranks of the bounty hunters, assassins, and the various intergalactic criminal organizations, concerning a special assignment being offered. Count Dooku felt it was necessary to prepare

safe-worlds for himself and the other Separatists leaders as the war raged on. Two years running and with no true ending in sight, no one place was safe forever. They had to stay on the move and one step ahead of the Jedi.

Luckily for those working in the assassination trade, it didn't matter who won the war.

There would always be people who would pay to have other people killed. Murder for hire predated the Republic, the Separatists and even the Jedi and the Sith. Xaria would never be out of work, and he knew it.

Though unusual for him, this assignment paid far too well to be ignored. While the other four individuals hired scoured the galaxy searching for possible base sites on strategically placed worlds, Xaria figured the

perfect base of operations could be found on a world with a wildly extreme climate. A desolate landscape with the harshest conditions imaginable. One that you would never, ever expect to find the sheltered pampered leaders of the Separatists party.

A brutal world that would be as dangerous for those choosing to stay as any who would attack it.

One might choose a desolate landscape with the harshest conditions imaginable, where one would never, ever expect to find the sheltered and pampered leaders of the Separatist Party, a brutal world that would be as dangerous for those choosing to stay as any who would attack it.

Enter Ezcaban of the Hoth System.

Standing as tall as an adult Wookie, Xaria was a towering reptilian humanoid and skilled predator. Known for his cunning, as much as his viciousness, he'd made a name for himself far and wide in the universe as a man you never

wanted to cross. A fearsome and heavily armed tracker, he'd dealt in the "death for hire trade" for well over twenty years now. His legendary resume even boasted the deaths of three Jedi, among countless others. He knew what

he was doing. He knew how to get things done, and he didn't mind getting his hands dirty.

The red line beneath his view through the holorecorder signaled everything was working properly. He filmed the outlying area with a careful eye for detail, recording the frigid temperatures and the density of the icy layers

covering the mountain. Yes, he pondered to himself, this world would make a fine hidden base of operations. Mustafar was his last destination before reporting back to Count Dooku with his findings.

Miles upon miles of ice no matter how far he looked into the distance. A small world with an even smaller civilization of pathetically unintelligent beings who shunned technology. Pushovers. Such an utterly boring task, but

one he'd be done with in less than a few hours. Then he'd head back to his hidden ship and be off this ice-rock, on his way to one Sith of a payday.

Taking a few steps forward, he suddenly lost his footing on a patch of frozen dirt, nearly falling before catching himself against a trunk of a tree. He inhaled a deep breath of the cold air, steadied himself, and lifted

the holorecorder once more to his eyes. Only this time he wasn't staring at the mountain. One hundred yards away he found a couple of humanoid looking beings talking to one another while a Norian Boar grazed nearby. They were

nothing of interest at all. Probably townsfolk out for the evening. They meant nothing.

And yet... and he didn't know why he did this... he refocused the holorecorder at them just to see their faces. It was a spur of the moment decision to be sure, but fate often acted that way.

What he saw at first caused his vision to squint for a closer look and then a second. He instantly recognized their faces, but that didn't register right away... HoloNet broadcasts were watched by nearly everyone in the

galaxy... then slowly, as if observing an early morning sunrise, his mind remembered. His thoughts became clear as the couple drew closer into a long, passionate kiss. Rumblings of understanding collided in his mind.

Possibilities.

If he was not mistaken, and for a man in his profession a good pair of eyes was a necessity, he was watching the acclaimed Senator Padme Amidala from Naboo and the legendary Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker kissing and holding

each other in a way no Jedi was supposed to be with a woman. Controversy... Scandal... He began filming them as they sat down in the snow, the Senator lying in the Jedi's arms, and knew that this footage was worth ten times

what Count Dooku was paying him for his assignment. HoloNet news stations, gossip hungry broadcasters, and political enemies on Coruscant would pay any fee asked for to have proof of this affair.

And what of the good Count Dooku? What might this information be worth to him? And in what way?

 

 

******

Two Hours Later

******

 

Anakin and Padme's cabin

Located on the far side of the forest of Lycria Falls

The world of Ezcaban, located in the Hoth System

 

 

"Cloud City?" Anakin's incredulous tone lifted just above the crackling fireplace as he tossed another lightsaber-cut log into the flames. Dressed only in his dark pants, sans even shoes, he relaxed for the first time in a very long time. "Master, you have got to be joking?"

"I assure you, I am not. And what is wrong with spending some time at Cloud City? I find its atmosphere refreshingly vibrant," came in reply from the R2-D2 emitted pale-blue illuminated hologram of Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi.

"It's a corrupt city of electronically fixed gambling, fight-to-the-death underground facilities, half-dressed women dancing for money, illegal importing and exporting of stolen goods, starship theft..."

"Anakin," laughed Obi-Wan, who clearly recognized the mischievous smile on his former Padawan's face. "A Jedi shall not know anger, nor fear, nor love," he quoted for what must have been the one-hundredth time, coinciding

with Anakin's eyes rolling at him. "But the Code never said anything about gambling as long as I play with the chips freely given to me at the door and don't keep any winnings I might amass. In addition, watching the legal sport

of alien brawling isn't an act of debauchery, nor would enjoying the skilled dancing of a woman who chooses to perform wearing less clothing than you or I feel was appropriate."

Having built the fire up to a point where the cabin was more than comfortable, Anakin stared back at his Master's mocking of a serious expression. "Somewhere in the ethereal of the Force, Qui Gon is smiling."

"I sincerely hope so," a wide grin of his own spread across Obi-Wan's face, fondly remembering the man that shaped both of their lives. "And I seem to remember no less than a month ago you told me you wanted to visit Cloud City yourself."

"For a city whose motto is 'What happens in Cloud City stays in Cloud City,' I was intrigued." Enjoying the added heat of the massive stone fireplace, he pulled a wide-back chair closer to it and sat down, exhaling a deep breath.

Padme was upstairs taking a bath, so he chose this time to contact his Master. "I'm just surprised you picked that city for your time off."

"Well, I could always leave here early if I'm not enjoying myself and travel to Naboo," Obi-Wan reasoned with his back to R-4's holocam as he pulled his boots on. He didn't trust his face saying those words while looking into

Anakin's. "I was told that my good friend, Senator Amidala, returned home for a few days. I haven't seen her in months and a day or two spent on Naboo wouldn't be too bad a thing, now would it?"

Equal parts fear and curiosity... and maybe even a small spark of jealousy swelled within him. "Naboo is a paradise, that's for sure. I'm sure she would welcome a visit if you decided to go. And if you decide to, please tell her I said hello." Calm and assured, Anakin managed to impress even himself. He always did.

"I'll be sure to keep that in mind." Obi-Wan assured him with a partially mysterious chuckle, then stood to his feet, facing R-4 again. "Now why don't you explain to me why you chose to spend your free time on one of the

coldest worlds in all the galaxy?"

"The hiking is fantastic here. Plus, I like the quiet."

"It's downright frigid there, and you're from Tatooine, a planet with multiple suns. It just doesn't make sense. I know for a fact you don't like the cold. On Aries-5 you complained endlessly."

That had more to do with having not seen his wife in two months than the cold temperatures. "Ezcaban is far away from Coruscant and the war and everything else. There are no HoloNet crews hounding me for interviews or people running up to me asking if I can levitate something for them just to see the Force in action. Like I said, it's very quiet here. It's peaceful. That's what I needed most of all."

Loving Anakin like a brother didn't include believing every single thing that he said. It meant understanding what he didn't say at all. Using the force to call for his Jedi robe from its hanging place, Obi-Wan nodded, his face wearing an understanding expression. He had little doubt that whatever troubled his former Padawan's restless soul could be conquered by what, or more likely who, was on Ezcaban.

"I'll take your word for it. Just remember that if you get bored you can always come and visit me here."

"The same to you, Master."

'Three's a crowd,' Obi-Wan considered to himself, and with a minor note of envy that surprised even him. "The sentiment is very appreciated." Anakin nodded. "Good. Now please stay out of trouble."

"Don't I always?"

"Is that a joke?"

Anakin tried his very best to look hurt. "How can you say such a thing?"

"It would take hours to detail all of your unruly transgressions."

"I am deeply offended, Master."

"You've crashed nine starships."

"Not my fault. We were being fired on each time, and we are alive, I might

add."

"You've lost eight lightsabers."

"All replaceable."

"Your frequent late-night disappearances from the Jedi Temple whenever we are on Coruscant are cause for concern."

"Sometimes I just need a little air. That place is quite old, you know. And the Younglings are constantly hounding me for stories. The food's not exactly good either."

"Your ill-timed jokes about Master Windu's bald head."

"It's as shiny as a Jarkar Orb, and we both know it. You even said so."

"Yes, well..."

"Besides, Master Yoda has taken you to task from time to time as well. Do I need to remind you of that time on Kelois when that HoloNet crew caught you stumbling from that tavern?"

"That... that was a one time offense," Obi-Wan replied somewhat embarrassed. Anakin's smirk didn't help matters at all.

"I made sure that footage was never broadcast for your sake, Master."

"And I have thanked you many times for doing so. You know I usually only have a drink once in a while."

"That night you had..." Suddenly, the ability to speak... to even process a coherent thought fled Anakin Skywalker in a rush of exhaled air. His widening eyes lifted, finding the only true paradise he had ever known

standing at the top of the staircase. "Master, your signal seems to be breaking up. We'll talk later."

"It is? I can see you just fine. R4, check the signal relay..." With one motion of his hand, Anakin conveyed to R2-D2 to cut the signal. The droid did as he was told. With a chirp and a beep, R2-D2 rolled away.

Anakin's undivided attention was required elsewhere.

Staring down at him from on high was the single most beautiful woman in the galaxy, clad in his dark Jedi robe... and nothing else. As naked as the glorious day she was born, Padme watched him watch her with such hunger. A lesser woman would have been intimidated by the savage gleam glittering in his blue eyes. She knew that she should find such violent emotion frightening. But knowing that Anakin would never hurt her, knowing the fullness of his heart and soul, she was finding it thrilling.

Padme was a vision of all that he had ever wanted, needed, or desired in life. Her lush curly brunette tresses hung low off her shoulders, as a Goddess would wear it. But the sheer magnitude of what he felt as his eyes

drank in the sight of her exquisite form draped in his voluminous Jedi robe and nothing else... Force be damned, she was far more striking and powerful than any Jedi he had ever known.

Or any Sith. Anything, anyone, anywhere, anytime, ever. Padme was the alpha and the omega. She was his. She had been made, shaped, sculpted, designed... she'd been destined for him alone.

And she was slowly, methodically, carefully, for as much as not to trip as to add to her slow seduction, descending the stairs. Sweet hints of her sensual curves dipped and swayed with every step, revealing, then snatching

away just as fast as her every charm.

He filled her line of vision as surely as her entire heart. The flames lit his beautiful upper body. Bronzed skin, lean muscles awaited her in a tantalizing display of light and shadows. The war had hardened him deliciously. He was big; he was gorgeous, and everything he had, from the sexy curve of his smile to his long lean legs were hers forever. Including, she thought breathlessly, all the equipment between.

Goodnight, Senator Amidala, she thought with an inward smile. Good evening, Mrs. Skywalker. Your husband waits.

"A serious crime has been committed," she said softly, her voice so husky it sounded like a purr. When he attempted to rise from the chair she gently forced him back down, palms braced at his shoulders. Then she calmly

straddled him low and deep, with his robe parted just so between her breasts. Her arms slithered around his neck, her fingers softly grazing the hair on the back of his head.

"What sort of crime do you speak of?" His heart beat a wicked drum inside his chest. Her smooth skin, so soft against his own, scented to perfection. She smelled good enough to eat, teasing him with hunger pains.

Padme enjoyed the predatory glint in her husband's eyes. His lips made her so aware she was a woman. "Reckless endangerment committed by the man I love against himself."

The asteroid field fiasco. He had honestly forgotten about it, nearly forgot his own name just staring at her. She wasn't letting his actions go without proper acknowledgement. He also knew she could feel his hard arousal thicken

beneath her. She settled over it on purpose, never breaking their gaze. Such a temptress when she wanted to be. She took his breath away. "I'm sorry."

"You're guilty."

Taking her small hand from around his neck, he pulled it between them, and then kissed the soft, delicate flesh at the center of her palm. He then ran the back of his gloved hand down the side of her face in a slow, warming

sweep.

"By all means, my love," he quietly chanted warmth onto her chest, "Punish me."

A rush of heat flooded through her so deep and hot she was amazed that steam wasn't rising from her skin. One wet open-mouthed kiss between her breasts led to another and another, until his tongue trailed right and encircled a small-pebbled nipple, causing her to sigh in appreciation. His tender suckling left her lightheaded, her hand now clutched behind his head, holding him to her while he inhaled her in the heat of his mouth. And when his arms curled around her slender waist inside the robe she began a seductive roll of her hips. He released her, panting onto her heart. "No punishments will be given tonight. Tomorrow, however. That's another story."

He could watch her wearing his robe for all his days and never tire of the vision. He needed pictures. Wanted paintings of her that only he would ever see. She possessed a timeless beauty. Holding her so close to him, flush

against his chest, he sighed. "Then what of tonight?"

"Tonight..." Her shaky laugh was half seduction, half promise. Her hand rose to brush over the burn scar high over his cheek. She felt the warm leather of the black glove over his mechanized arm. Constant reminders of his

sacrifices. His war wounds. "Tonight is all about you."

"Me?" She slowly nodded. "Why?"

"Ani, you and I are each fighting to end this terrible war in our own way. But you fight it physically on the front lines. You've been fighting it there for two whole years from one end of the galaxy to the other. You've

witnessed death up close and personal on a horrific scale. You've slept outside on the hard ground, eaten anything to fill your stomach, and have fought while bloodied and bruised. You've told me all of your stories, and I

hate them."

"Jedi are keepers of the peace. Sometimes that peace doesn't come easily, or without sacrifice. You know this."

"Yes, I do. But I don't have to like it." Her hands gently framed his handsome face, her fingertips smoothing over his features, admiring him through touch. "I love you with the fullness of my being, Ani, and I tell you that as often as I can. But I also possess a great respect for you. I'm so proud of you as a Jedi, as a man and as my husband. I am overwhelmed by the pride I take in being your wife. I know that you often tire of my explanations why we should keep our marriage a secret, but I sincerely hope you never doubt my devotion. It is without end."

"Doubting you is something I am utterly incapable of," he replied softly, ducking his head. "Your words humble me."

She smiled, tipping his chin with her finger to face her once more. "Sometimes you need humbling."

"That I do." He then added, "Love, I may not be a fan of politics, or even understand it the way that I should, but I know that the work you do isn't easy either. I respect your efforts, your beliefs, and your abilities. I'm overwhelmed

that you chose me to spend your life with. You're my gift to be cherished every waking moment. Being your husband fulfills me completely. Everything else is window dressing."

Captivated by his beautiful words, on the verge of tears, she held herself together. "Thank you, but when it comes to our jobs, I enjoy simple comforts you do not. When you are fighting for your life and the lives of others, I'm

debating in climate-controlled meetings or at my spacious apartment. I'm safe and surrounded by the comforts of home while you are surviving any way that you can."

"I survive it so that I can come home to you."

A fact she never doubted. It only made her love him more. "While we're here on this trip I intend to take such good care of you so that you forget there is a war raging." Padme slowly brought her head down and her mouth covered

his, hungrily. At the first touch of his lips, she felt this pure, elemental sensation fall over her. She pulled back, smiling when his lips chased after hers. "You will experience the sweetest affection, and have your every whim

catered too, Mr. Skywalker." Bending down, she pressed a series of soft kisses along the left side of his neck, nipping his pulse with her teeth. "I'm going to pleasure you until you can't take it anymore. I'm going to

make you beg. And do you know why?" she whispered into his ear.

He peered into her lovely brown eyes and fell in love with her all over again. "Tell me."

"Because you deserve it."

Spoken so simply. And with such sincerity. If Anakin Skywalker knew one thing for sure, he knew this, he could never live without this woman. Never. The day he lost her would surely be the day his life ended. "I don't ever

want to be without you."

"Then never go to a place I cannot follow."

With a smoothly effortless movement, he scooped his hands under her backside and lifted her at the same time his mouth came crashing down. He stood, holding her so close as their kiss deepened and made his way to the stairs.

His ascended them with a purposeful stride, all the while plundering her lusciously ripe mouth.

They kissed passionately as he carried her down the short hall without releasing his grip on her. Padme wrapped her legs around his waist as his mouth devoured hers, and he carried her like that into their bedroom.

"Anakin, I want you now." The plea in her voice was urgently erotic.

The beast within him roared. Forgoing the bed, he pressed her against the nearest wall. She sucked his tongue as he shoved it into her mouth and wouldn't allow her to shrug off his robe just yet. They consumed each other

with deep kisses. They were caught in the unrelenting grip of something powerful and ageless and primal.

Her nimble hands shoved at his pants frantically. He lifted her up again so that her legs wrapped higher around his waist, and he pressed the weeping tip of his shaft against her tenderness and thrust inside her, slamming her back

against the wall as she cried out in acute pleasure. He lifted her almost completely off and then entered her again, and her hips moved to meet his in a decadent dance. Her hair was in his eyes, and he bit his lower lip as

she tightened around him.

"Yes," she whimpered dazedly, gasping as he filled her. She rose and fell, impaled by his thick manhood. The sensation of fullness sent her into rapture, as did the sound of their bodies slapping, moving together. It was

as if her body had waited all her life for this man to become a part of her. He took her furiously, grinding her against the wall; the robe protecting her back while her arms tightened around his neck.

With his hands squeezing the curved swell of her backside, holding her up, every thrust banged her lower back against the wall. He surged into her faster, taking her with a ravenous hunger he feared could never be quenched.

She was beside herself in pleasure, her arms clinging around his shoulders and legs wrapped tightly about his hips to keep her up. Moaning wildly as he invaded her quick and hard, she clenched tightly around his thrusting shaft,

loving the way he filled her utterly. The pain of it was beautiful as they gave in to each other, her nipples and breasts burning as they brushed his chest. The sensitive bundle of nerves at the apex of her sex pressing

against his groin with every thrust, and she was quickly climaxing powerfully as the roughness of it shattered her in a most satisfying way. Anakin followed suit, crying out her name as every muscle in his body strained through his release.

Lost in a fit of giggles as Anakin somehow balanced her while kicking away his pants, he stumbled towards the bed until at last he lost his vaunted footing and fell, with her sprawled on top of him. The giggles were endless

now. Oh the passion they shared. The carefree desire. Guiltless and beautiful and all their own. "Are you alright?"

Winded and a bit embarrassed, Anakin kept his eyes shut. "I'm great."

For tonight she'd allow his ego more than a little stroking. "You," she kissed his left temple, "are," she kissed his right temple, "better than great."

"You were pretty incredible yourself."

"Only incredible?"

"My vocabulary isn't nearly as extensive as yours, milady. I'm but a simpleton in the way of words."

"Hardly. You're just lazy, that's all."

His hands settled warm over her slim hips, holding her as they recovered. "I'm not lazy."

"You use the Force to hold your toothbrush when you brush your teeth."

"It saves time. I'm often in a rush."

"You make the bed using the Force," she accused affectionately. He could only smile at her. He had no

defense. "You rearranged my furniture using the Force."

"Your couches are heavy."

"You use my deodorant. I caught you at least three times. It's disturbing," she laughed.

"I can't have my own deodorant, remember. No possessions. What am I supposed

to do?"

"Okay, I'll grant you that one."

"Thank you." He was hard and aroused again, and the movement of her hips against his aching groin created a building pressure that made him feel lightheaded. "Padme, you are insatiable," he taunted her seductively.

He didn't even know. The blazing lovemaking they had just shared left her wanting more. "Well, we do have a lot of time to make up for." Her hand slipped down between them, taking hold of his hardness and squeezing it

while she stared into his eyes. "I love you." She kissed him again, for a long, glorious, heart-swelling time.

Never breaking the kiss, Anakin finally shoved his robe from her shoulders, and tossed it clear across the room. "I would do anything for you."

"You don't have to."

"But I would."

"I know." Her hot breath is on his face and her lips are brushing his. Her hair fell around her face and his as she moaned in anticipation of being filled once more by him. And then she lifted and was settling slowly over him. She pushed herself upright, on her knees, straddling his body, and after gathering her breath, began to raise and lower herself, whispering seductively and breathily into his ear. "I need you, Ani."

"Padme..."

With that she began riding up and down in a slow steady rhythm, savoring the power and hardness of his manhood. She moaned in response, rolling her hips on his lap, impaling herself forcefully on each downward thrust. Then her pace became even more urgent and her moans become one continuous wail of pleasure.

"You're magnificent," Anakin declared breathily between soft passionate kisses as he held onto her hips.

"So are you." Soft panting sounds passed Padme's lips and with erotic determination she drove herself firmly backward, taking him with her. She began riding him in a grinding motion, sitting up as his mouth devoured her nipple, biting it gently as she cooed and bucked on top of him. Her brown curls swayed as he suckled her powerfully. Pulling his face up from her heaving, marked chest she caressed his face in her hands as they kissed, his hips moving powerfully beneath her. Their tongues met as they rocked as one.

Suddenly, violently, a pulsing orgasm swept over her... through her completely. The climax spread from her center to every fiber and nerve ending in her body. She felt as though she was about to fall off the edge of the universe, as if the shuddering storm that overtaken her would sweep her into a mindless, bodiless state of ecstasy. Sweating and panting she held tightly to him while her body tremors tore through her.

He felt her grab his arms and steady herself. She cried out and thrust her hips into his, willing every inch of him inside her. She held her breath, shuddering around him. The rest was incoherent mumbling and whimpering. She lay on top of him twitching and quivering from her climax for an age and a time long after that. He felt god-like and all-powerful. And needy, ready to chase his own little death. "Are you alright, my love?"

Before she could reply, he had her again. She was flipped over, now on her back, and could only hang on for dear life as her husband's need for her took total control. His lack of restraint thrilled her to no end. That she

could render a man... a Jedi nonetheless to his base animal essence made her feel alive, more so than she ever had before.

Lost in his never-ending desire for her, Anakin thrust himself deeply, then faster into her quivering tight

passage. Her body moved in rhythm with his, her legs wrapping themselves around his waist. She raked her nails down his sweat slicked back, her womanhood clenching around him.

He felt her legs wrap firmly around his hips as she gripped his heaving body tightly. His body quickly fell back into the old rhythms as he took her feverishly. She was breathing too heavily, almost hyperventilating, so he

leaned down, taking her tongue into his mouth, locking his lips to hers, and exchanging his very breath with her. Her long moans and sighs deteriorated into quick gasps at his every lunging invasion.

He felt the incredible softness of her inner thighs grasping his waist. With a strength that was incredible, she arched her back again, and pulled him into her with her legs. He slammed into her, pulled out, and then shoved

deeply into her grasping, tight wetness over and over again. As he lost control and his body began to throb deeply into hers he began delving faster and faster. Her hips thrust up off the bed; she almost levitated at the

intense rush of heat that surged through her like a bolt of electricity. Her hands were now clutching at the sheets underneath her, fingers grasping.

Rolling all over the bed they made love, him on top, her on top, throaty cries and gasps of pleasure filling the room. Writhing and crying out until at last Anakin felt a wave rising up from deep within him, faster and faster. He came inside her in a rush of savage ejaculations, moaning loudly, his hips moving up and back. She held him as he came down from his own high and caressed him as his body shook with utter satisfaction.

He was lying on top of her, their legs tangled, their hearts still beating in unison. Sated. Together. And deeply in love.

"I am so hungry."

Anakin nearly burst out laughing, his heart overflowing with love for his angel. "It's a good thing I am the cook in this family."

"That's a very good thing. My experiences in food preparation haven't gone so well over the years."

He felt he needed to tease her, "I would rather make out with Jar Jar than ever eat your Bethel stew again."

"Oh hush. The only thing that was wrong with my Bethel stew was that I over-seasoned it."

"You have no proper knowledge of seasoning. Your true talents lay in the political arena where your mind is your greatest asset," he leaned down for another kiss, "And the bedroom, obviously." She blushed. "But your Bethel stew would have gone over very well on Kashyyk. Wookies aren't picky about what they eat."

"Neither are you," she accused in a biting tone.

"I'm blinded by love."

"That's not exactly what I meant, Ani."

"Fine." Gently pulled from her, he rolled over beside her onto his back, gazing up at the ceiling. "You can make your own food then."

"Don't you dare try to get mad at me. You know you can't."

"You're so lucky I love you."

"I tell myself that every day."

 

 

******

The Next Morning

******

 

As Dormé nursed a steaming cup of delicious Cilian tea, she closely observed her very best friend performing a task she'd never seen her do before. Carefully picking apart her every nuance, from the normally regal set of her slender shoulders to their currently relaxed pose, the sheer lack of her authoritarian persona as she hummed a tune, no doubt from her youth and the way her seemingly liquid-like movements, fluid, sure, and methodical, spoke of a woman deeply cared for and hopelessly in love.

Padmé was glowing, you see.

As the bright rays of a new day cascaded through a window in the kitchen area, Padmé simply exuded a higher class of sensuality this morning... an inner peace of self and life. There was a new air about her, fresh, pure, and altogether joyful. Having spent so many long days and nights with her, watching her work diligently while harboring such fear and loneliness, Dormé couldn't help but to smile at her present good mood. If ever a more selfless, hard working, relentlessly focused on doing what was 'right and just for the people' sort of woman deserved this, it was Padmé Skywalker.

From her chair at the oval Krysian-wood table, Dormé listened to her best friend humming softly to herself as she washed the dishes at the sink. Anakin had prepared a far better tasting breakfast than Dormé had ever expected a man, much less a young man, was capable of. And since the cabin came with virtually no amenities, Padmé chose to handle the clean up. And she had ulterior motives.

That window near the sink, which brought forth such lovely sunlight as they ate breakfast not so long ago, opened in to the backyard clearing where Anakin was cutting tree logs with his lightsaber. Ever the manly-man, he went out sans his thick cloak or even a glove for his flesh and blood hand. No, it seemed he wanted to appear as rugged and wild in the cold as possible. From time to time Padmé secretly peered out of the window at her husband, all the while nibbling her bottom lip as she wore a very un-Padmé-like expression on her face. One that Dormé could only categorize as downright wicked.

"Was he that spectacular?"

Looking up, and then over her shoulder, Padmé worked at fighting off a blush. Her lips curled into a knowing smirk, nonetheless. "A lady never tells."

"Oh, I doubt you were a lady last night, Mrs. Skywalker," Dormé insisted with an arched brow. "A vixen would probably better suit you."

As a gentle flood of warmth came over her, Padmé considered the title for a long moment, smiling

confidently. "Perhaps," she said.

Saying no more, she went back to her task, wiping three plates dry that she'd just washed.

Dormé drank another sip of her favorite tea and then set the cup down on the table. "He brings out such a vibrant side to you."

Padmé took it as a compliment coming from a good friend who knew her so well. "I've never felt comfortable with a man unless it related to my career or duty as a Senator," she explained. "I had become used to a life of doing my very best to represent the people of Naboo, and to a greater extent the galaxy, in the most peacefully democratic ways possible.

"That life, while fulfilling in many areas, left no room for a social life, much less a personal one. And that was fine for me, seeing as I never really had one to begin with."

Turning around, she leaned back against the sink. "When I'm with Anakin, I can still be the woman I have always been, as well as the woman I never knew I was capable of being. He's opened my eyes to a world I could never have imagined.”

It was a strange feeling for a slightly older woman to feel such envy for a younger one, especially when that envy wasn't of vanity, wealth, or stature but simply fulfillment of the heart. Dormé pondered; had any man ever left her with such a breathtakingly luminous morning glow. "You mean the world to him too. I can see it in his eyes every single time he looks at you."

"I know," Padmé agreed immediately, if a bit shyly all of a sudden. How had she, a woman with so little experience with men, it even shook her legendary confidence at times, ever captured Anakin's heart so completely? Then again, some gifts in life were not to be taken apart, but simply enjoyed to the fullest. "I was once the Queen of Naboo and yet have never felt I was truly treated like a Queen until Anakin came into my life. I've lived the life of a powerful, influential woman, but had never truly felt as powerful or influential over one person as I do with my Ani." She laughed to herself, softly and took a deep breath. "I must sound silly."

Love forces you to lose yourself, Dormé thought fondly. "You sound very much in love."

"It's because I am."

"Is that not the best feeling in all the galaxy?"

"It is, until the very moment you dread ever losing the person you love with all your heart. And then you wonder if it was even worth it at all."

Seven years ago Padmé would never have said such a thing. Age and maturity were one factor, and a sliver of Anakin's darker side had crept into his wife. She was no less optimistic or hopeful. It was just that she now knew what she feared most, because now she had something to lose that mattered most.

"It's better to enjoy and give love for however long any of us are blessed with it, then to live without it," Dormé added a bit of wisdom.

"I could not agree more."

"Good," Dormé smiled. "Now point me to another sexy, handsome, reckless Jedi who's ready to break all the rules with a wanton woman from Naboo. Surely, you can pick them out by now."

Dormé was always such a wonderful presence in her life. No one could make Padmé laugh so hard. "I doubt I would be of any help to you. I think that I was very lucky in finding Anakin. He pursued me."

"And yet you gave off no signals that his pursuit would lead to success?" Dormé challenged Padmé, who was forced to duck away for a moment.

"I remember that before you left Coruscant when he was assigned as your bodyguard, you packed that backless dress, that went nearly all the way down to your backside." Dormé continued,  "Now I am fully aware of how nice the weather is on Naboo, but such clothing would surely tempt any young man."

"Are you saying I set out to seduce Ani?"

"I'm saying you wanted him to want you. You subconsciously gave him a reason to believe he had a chance with you. That dress was downright sinful," Dormé said.

"That dress was..." Padmé paused upon catching the fixed expression of 'don't even try it' Dormé focused her way. An impish grin clouded the Senator's face. "Perhaps on some unconscious level I wore that dress to incite him. I had never provoked a man on purpose before. I didn't even know that I could." Suddenly, she was taken back to that beautiful day on Naboo, just after they'd taken a boat to the Lake Country. The weather was perfect, as were the sparkling clear waters, and the undeniable chemistry she shared with Anakin. "He kissed me for the very first time while we were overlooking the lake."

"Can you describe it?" Dormé asked what her inner romantic requested to know.

Padmé took more than a moment as she tried to come up with the words to describe one of the single most profound moments in her entire life. "I knew Anakin wanted me. I just didn't know what to do with the knowledge of that want, or how much I liked it. I knew he was going to kiss me the moment we were alone. As he drew closer, I knew each and every reason why we shouldn't do this, and why we'd regret it for the rest of our lives. They were memorized and on the very tip of my tongue. Then his lips caressed mine and

I forgot everything I had ever learned or experienced, save his name. And then the strangest thing happened."

"And that was?"

"I tasted passion for the very first time on his lips, and it scared me to death. I pulled away so fast I might have hurt his feelings. What lasted mere seconds felt like it lasted a lifetime."

"Then what happened?"

Before Padmé could reply, provided she even had one after such a lecherous claim, the sound of Anakin shouting a word she'd heard him yell once or twenty times before when he dropped something caught her attention.

She was sure it wasn't one suitable for Younglings. She peeked outside again and caught sight of him losing his footing, falling backward with an armful of logs as he fell on his butt in the snow. Apparently, he slipped on a patch of ice. Her laughter came loud and unashamed, as did the ridiculous urge to run out to him and play in the snow. How did she ever live before he came into her life, she wondered? "The Chosen One can't even keep his proper footing in snow, it seems," Padmé said.

"Never forget that he is still a man," Dormé joked, coming from around the table to stand beside her best friend. "A handsome, powerful, Jedi Master-to-be of a man, but still a man, nonetheless. And when a grown man falls down we must laugh at him, or we are not doing our part as women."

Dormé had the most interestingly charming way of dealing with the male species.

"I tend to agree the older I become," Padmé smiled, looking on as her husband swiped snow from his backside, then shot a deeply embarrassed look her way. Now he knew she saw it all. Good, she thought to herself. Humility was something he could always use more of. And if it brought with it that wildly carefree smile to his handsome face, like the one he wore now, then it was worth it. "If he dies in this war it will kill me."

And with those somber words, the mood shifted immensely.

"He won't," Dormé  assured her in the way one might her beloved younger sister. "War scars us all in different ways. This one will scar him in the way it scars all good men who fight it on the front lines, but it will not break him. And he will not die. He lives for you and you alone. Death simply cannot have him."

Sighing, as a dark swell of emotions faded, Padmé caught her breath again. She knew that if her Ani died, he wouldn't die alone. Not without her...

Such thoughts had no place here. Not on the heels of their wedding anniversary. That alone reawakened her smile and good cheer. "Do you know what's funny?"

"That the Jedi Temple has the largest contingent of adult virgins in all the galaxy?"

"Besides that," Padmé laughed with her. "What I meant was," as she pointed toward her husband, whose back was to them now. "He split his pants."

They laughed so hard at him, and for such a long time.

 

 

******

2 Hours Later

******

 

 

"The Halo-1"

Xaria's starship

Located on the far side of Gramorum Mountain

The world of Ezcaban, located in the Hoth System

 

 

As advanced spy technology went, the Bolerian Syndicate created the best in the entire galaxy. Unobtrusive, small, and vastly undetectable, their devices were hotly sought after and came highly recommended, used by

organizations on hundreds of worlds, both political and criminal. It was also the most expensive. Quality wasn't cheap, and in Xaria's line of work, quality was a must.

One couldn't hunt what one didn't understand. True understanding only came from observing one's target.

Seated behind a 50' inch tri-screen control panel in the rusted bowels of his aged starship, Xaria carefully monitored the video being broadcast via Bolerian spy-birds tracking Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala through the streets of Dysines. The couple, accompanied by two droids and a yet unidentified female companion, toured the city at a leisurely pace.

Smaller than the size of a normal humanoids hand, the Bolerian spy-birds each came with individual cloaking devices for the utmost ability to remain undetected while performing their task. Sleek, swift, and extremely

adaptable to their surroundings, they were built with the most advanced, long-range digital camera embedded in their beaks, and were capable of transmitting crystal clear video and audio from half a city block away.

Perfect for an assassin hunting his prey.

Entering in the command for one of the birds to focus in on the unidentified woman traveling with Anakin and Padmé, Xaria pulled up a still-photo of her face on the center monitor.

"Computer, analyze facial structure and cross-match with known aides, handmaidens, and security personal for the office of Senator Padmé Amidala from the planet Naboo."

'Searching,' came an electronically high-pitched voice from the command console. 'A possible match has been found, with a likelihood of 98.9 percent. The facial structure of the photo provided closely matches a female

named Dorme. She was one of Senator Amidala's former handmaidens when she served as Queen of Naboo. Dorme is currently the Senators chief aide. She was well-trained by the Naboo military and even served in its covert

operations ranks for a short time, before being promoted to the high-security detail that protected the Queen of Naboo. She has been photographed with the Senator on many occasions and accompanies her almost everywhere she goes.'

"A close friend..." Xaria considered. As the spy-birds tracked the five individuals through the snow-swept city streets, he leaned in for a closer look when they stopped suddenly, and then Dorme walked off with the droids,

while Anakin and Padmé continued onward alone.

The wheels of his keen mind began to turn. If he had not discovered Dorme was with them last night, then his prey could have other companions, however unlikely. While his gut told him this was a secret getaway for an affair's

sake, he still refused to rule out this having something to do with a mission. Perhaps a secret one for the Supreme Chancellor himself. Both held well-known ties to his office. The possibilities were endless, at least for the moment.

Add in the even greater danger that General Obi-Wan Kenobi could be on this planet, seeing as how it wasn't often he and Anakin were apart, could create even more problems.

Time and patience.

Xaria had a feeling this trip to Ezcaban wasn't a one-day journey, and so he felt that time and patience were his best ally. When dealing with a Jedi, getting too close could be a problem. When dealing with Anakin Skywalker, it

could be deadly. It would be. He didn't have the restraint many Jedi possessed. Few ever survived an encounter with the so-called 'Hero Without Fear.' Dealing with him under normal circumstance would be far tougher than here, when his mind was clearly elsewhere.

Suddenly, a beeping chime signaled he had a new holo-message. Last night he sent an anonymous hypothetical question out to those who he knew worked closely with Count Dooku. What would the capture of Padmé Amidala and or Anakin Skywalker be worth to the Separatists?

The reply was simple. Name your price.

His reptilian features curled into what could be considered a smile, albeit a sinister one. His fingers typed with speed and purpose, instructing one of the spy-birds to stay with Anakin and Padmé, while another focused on Dorme and the droids, and yet another sought out Obi-Wan Kenobi. Just in case.

The hunt had begun.

 

 

******

One Hour Later

******

 

 

Dysines City

The world of Ezcaban, located in the Hoth System

 

 

Ever in awe of his beloved angel, Anakin admired her from a short distance away.

Padmé was as savvy as she was undeniably beautiful, and after the fourth store she'd hauled him into, she had yet to pay the asked for price of any item for sale. He found it remarkable how she would successfully negotiate

the price she wanted, purchase something, then offer a fair trade, plus Republic credits at another store and end up with double what she purchased to begin with. She shopped with the same single-minded focus she exuded when she debated in the Galactic Senate Hall. In addition to having found wonderful gifts for each member of her family in just over an hour and a half, she commissioned a painting of a truly epic Hoth skyline from an incredibly talented Ky'Dari street artist, and managed to settle a mean spirited dispute between two rival shop owners. Her charm, intelligence, and ability to communicate and convey the importance of finding a common ground

were remarkable attributes she commanded effortlessly.

Her husband simply stood behind her and watched, a prideful smirk adorning his face.

"... combining your businesses would not only be a profitable venture, seeing as how close your respective establishments are to one another and how similar the items you sell, but it would also send a positive message to

your community that differences can be overcome for the good of all."

Sizing up the two male Ky'Dari shop owners, Anakin surmised that both were about the same height and weight, with one looking only a few scant years older than the other. Neither seemed like they would have a marked advantage in a one-on-one combative confrontation. He doubted they were carrying weapons; although their heavy cloaks were wide enough conceal a multitude of items. Then again, he smiled to himself, his thinking that only underscored why politics would never be his forte.

After a bit more discussion, the shop owners came to an agreement to meet at sunrise the next morning to discuss a possible merging of their businesses. They shook hands and apologized for their aggressive posturing. Both were so grateful for Padmé's moderating of their disagreement that they offered her half off any two items in their stores.

"You're two of the most gracious men I've encountered in recent days. Thank you." Ignoring her husband's impatient responsive eye roll to her latest victory, Padmé took both of the shop owners up on their offers. She left

Anakin with the five bags he was already carrying, with a smile and a promise that at least two more were to come. His frown lasted all of five seconds, and then he was her Ani again, shooing her off into the stores

while he waited outside. Good, she thought to herself. Having shopped for all her loved ones so far, she could now shop for the love of her life in private.

Marveling yet again at the sight of his own breath on every exhale, Anakin found a bench outside the first shop and took a seat, resting the bags on the ground.

Across the street stood a magnificent temple of shimmering silver and outlined in a gorgeous pale blue. The sun's illumination off its surface only added to its luster. Probably the tallest structure he'd seen on Dysines thus far, it appeared to be something of a religious structure, but he wasn't sure and hadn't ventured to deeply into the belief system of the Ky'Dari clans. Groups of cloaked citizens and their children strolled in and out of the temple while he looked on. Carriages flown just off the ground via trained Garcian Eagles and pulled by six-legged Moya Bores lined both sides of the street, transporting citizens all around the city. Birds ruled the skies, perhaps as nature intended, he surmised. There was a serene sort of contentment the Ky'Dari people carried about themselves. An inner peace he admired, far removed from the war raging outside their small world, or the never-ending political maneuvering, or the race for power and wealth that tainted a great deal of the galaxy. They went about each day with a simple

purpose, peaceful and free. They lived a humble yet contented lifestyle.

A sincere appreciation for their culture and way of life grew within Anakin. While comfortably warm in his dark gray cloak, his hood was completely off his head, exposing him to the elements and anyone who walked by. So far he'd only exchanged a couple of polite greetings, and no more. Children ran by, chasing strange small animals that were probably pets on this world. They barely looked his way, sometimes chasing right past him. He was a stranger

here. A nobody. And that, contrary to the whispers and some truth concerning his over inflated ego, was perfectly okay.

He had watched his wife smile from the moment she woke up beside him this morning and hadn't stopped. She laughed louder, and seemed to touch him asoften as she could. She was playful and teasing. As feminine as he had ever seen her before. There was a weight lifted from her slender shoulders that he wished would never have to return. Not because she wasn't strong enough to bear it, but because she'd worked so hard her whole life to enrich, protect, and aid the lives of others that for once she seemed to be enjoying her own.

More often then not, Anakin honestly didn't know what, if anything, outside of Padmé gave him any real joy. If she was safe, in love with him, and nearby, then he had all that he needed. If the Jedi Council offered him mastery tomorrow, it couldn't compare to Padmé's joy.

Suddenly, Anakin thought of his mother.

The Tatooine skyline consisted of two bright suns that bore the brunt of their fiery existence down on the rock of a planet below them. The heavens above him now consisted of numerous half-lit moons amidst an array of

brilliant shades of soft blue. Such a glorious sight he knew his mother would have loved to witness. Would have appreciated to no end. She saw so little of beauty in her all-too-short life. She had lived such a hard life.

Of all the events Anakin sought to make peace with in his life, being unable to give Shmi what he felt she deserved haunted him worst of all.

Anakin sighed heavily, closing his eyes to remind himself of her lovely face. To see her again, if only in his mind. To hear her comforting voice, and behold the strength she possessed within her eyes. However did she raise and

provide for him in that environment? For such a young man, his regrets were few, but they were devastating. For all of his vaunted abilities he couldn't save his mother's life. So what good were they? Some days he didn't know or

care.

Some days, he just wanted to lash out at the injustice of it all. To lash out at everything and everyone until they all understood the hole her loss left inside his soul.

A small-gloved hand came to rest on his shoulder, the gentle touch familiar even through the material. His mood softened instantly, and his anger began to dissipate. Anakin looked up from his deepest inner thoughts and found

Padmé staring at him with something of a worried expression. How long had he faded out of touch with his surroundings? He felt a slight shiver start from the crown of his head, and then her hand brushed a few snowflakes out of his hair that he didn't even know about. It was softly snowing and he hadn't even realized it. His sheepish grin seemed to lighten her mood.

"Where were you?"

"Someplace dark," he replied honestly.

"That is no place for you."

"As long as you're with me, I know that is true." Rising to his feet, he reached for her two newest bags, only to have her pull away from him. And when her beaming smile... the one she saved only for him, came his way

everything in his world made sense again. The light came back on. "Don't you want me to carry those for you?"

Clutching the bags just out of his reach, Padmé shook her head. "No, thank you. I'll manage."

Anakin chuckled at her display. "I am amazingly confident in all of your abilities, and well aware of your independence. But please, while we are on vacation will you at least allow me to do something for you? I may not know how to shop, but I can carry what you buy."

He was sweet and a gentleman. Such appreciative qualities, for certain. Padmé looped her arm around his and began leading them down the curving street, past a row of lit torches. "I purchased something for you, and I don't want you to know what it is yet."

"You know Jedi cannot have possessions, my love."

His sarcastic tone was oh so teasing. "Jedi are not supposed to be happily married or have the ability to utterly ravish their wives, and yet you are a master at both."

Coming to a halt in front of her, Anakin leaned down, nearly close enough to kiss her. "Tell me what you bought me?"

His mock of an order amused her. She raised a competitive brow. "No. And don't you dare try your Jedi mind tricks on me."

"I would hope my husbandly charm would be sufficient enough."

Her husband was such a handsome, outrageously sexy man. When his smile evolved into a smirk and his voice slipped so low and whispery she felt like she could deny him nothing. His lips, rosy from the weather, reminded her of candy. "You'll find out on our anniversary, and not a day sooner."

"Are we about to have a debate over this?"

"Do you truly feel you could win if we did?"

"I'll kindly remind you, milady, that I am a Jedi Knight of the Republic. And if I may say so myself, a highly acclaimed one. The HoloNet boasts of my courageous exploits on a nightly basis."

"The most humble Jedi of the year award goes to..."

"You know what I mean."

"You can foresee the future at times and yet could not foresee a patch of ice behind you that caused you to fall and split your pants," she delighted in recalling for him, her voice as carefree as the wind. He looked away,

somewhat embarrassed, and she came face to face with the little boy he once was. Her day was made perfect. "I'll stop teasing you if you want me to."

"It's not that. I'm just mad at myself because I only own six pair of pants now. I'm always tearing them, or catching them on fire, or ruining them in dirt, blood, oil, or something alien that just can't be washed out."

Padmé's infectious laughed lifted his soul about. "I am pleased to amuse you so."

"Ani, I do believe I can afford to buy you more than six pair of pants. And I'm sure you are capable of keeping that little secret between you and me."

He leaned down to cover her lips in a new kiss, sweet and pure and thrilling. "Come on. We'll discuss the pros and cons of you buying me pants later."

The pair toured the city on a straight route to begin with, stopping ever so often to peep through shop windows just in case something caught their eye. They came to their next stop to admire the handiwork of a group of amazing ice sculpture artists. With hand-blades and small picks, they created on a wide square podium located on a back lot against a snowy hill. They talked amongst themselves, joking as they worked, and with the small crowds around them as well. They weren't selling anything, or even asking for donations. It seemed they enjoyed the allure of pleasing the crowds and the challenge of besting each other by showing off who had the better skill.

Anakin pointed out a twelve-foot ice sculpture of the temple they'd just seen down the road. The perfect lines, edges, and ridges were of an amazing detail. Padmé marveled at the ice flowers the youngest of the three Ky'Dari,

and the only female, created. They were meticulously designed and probably the hardest of the sculptures made because they were so small.

The boisterous Ky'Dari were having a grand time with the crowds, even racing against one another to create things out of small blocks of ice. Today wasn't a special day, event, or anything like that. It was a day like any other, and this is just how they lived their lives.

Soft instrumental music was played by a friend of the Ky'Dari on an instrument neither Anakin nor Padmé had ever seen before. The moment of simply being lost in the crowd, no more or less than anyone else, was a

feeling of freedom neither had ever felt as a couple before. So often they hid behind closed doors, stealing days, and sometimes hours alone. But not here. With their hoods down, their faces revealed, and surrounded by people,

they were nothing more than a couple obviously in love. They were no more than that.

The tunes began to fade as they walked away.

Looking ahead, Padmé noticed a street vendor whose pushcart emitted thick pillows of steam each time she sold something. "Let's check that out."

"Lead the way."

As they approached the elderly woman who clearly owned the pushcart, the delicious scent of whatever was being sold only amplified their curiosity.

Upon reaching the vendor, Anakin and Padmé were nearly overcome by the beauty of the markings on her skin. An older woman for sure, she looked as if a master painter had outlined her face with his greatest creation. She

wore a compassionate smile and her age well. She greeted them with a polite nod.

"Welcome. I am Bilal. And I sell warmed pastry bread. Would you care for a sample?"

"Yes," Anakin answered with an obvious hunger that seemed to charm the vendor. She opened one of the two metal lids on her pushcart and retrieved a slice of brown bread, with lines of white frosting covering the top. The

bread was steaming hot as she handed it to him. He quickly tore it into two and fed Padmé a piece by hand. She bit it from his fingers, blushing from his affectionate gesture.

"This is fantastic," Padmé complimented the vendor as she chewed the sweet bread. She tasted a hint of cinnamon and chocolate swirl. The frosting reminded her of cakes her grandmother baked once upon a time. The soft

steaming bread made for a wonderful snack and would go well with dinner. "I'd like to buy two loafs."

"Loafs?" the vendor struggled to understand.

"Pardon me. I'm sure you have a different word for things as we do." Looking inside the cart, Padmé pointed to the cluster of freshly sliced bread. "I would like to buy two of those."

Bilal smiled at the couple. "Very good, madam."

Just before the vendor wrapped the two rolls of bread, Anakin snuck his hand in and grabbed two more slices, offering only a shrug as his explanation. He was a kid with a sweet tooth, Padmé knew all to well. After she paid for the bread, she caught up with her husband, and was rewarded with a slice he didn't eat, and had obviously saved for her.

She fell in love with him all over again.

Strolling quietly through the crowds, they turned down a winding road. The weather certainly wasn't like what was found on Naboo, but was inviting, no matter the chilly winds. The snow dusted streets and walkways were carefully

treaded upon, but never that much trouble. The architecture of the city and the color palette weren't complex, and that in itself gave the city its originality and appeal.

"The Jedi are so strict."

His thought came out of nowhere, and yet Padmé challenged him. "But do you understand why?" She recognized the envy in his eyes as he observed the simple people of this world.

"The Jedi do what they feel is right. They sacrifice their lives for the lives of others. Tradition rules them. They refuse to change," he declared his honest feelings. "I don't understand how anything can go unchanged for

growth and proper development to take place." What he said next, he knew would surprise his wife. "You're taken as a child and sent to be trained and given a master. From that moment on your old life isn't yours anymore. There

are days in which it feels like a kinder form of slavery."

"Being born with the gifts of one chosen by the Force comes with a responsibility to use those gifts for the greater good."

"Performing those duties for the greater good comes at a complete sacrifice of anything personal for a Jedi. We are a knight of the order, and nothing more. We cannot become mothers or fathers or husbands or wives. It's not

about wealth or power or status. I feel a Jedi is denied the greatest joy of all. Being able to share your life with someone you deeply love."

How could she argue that point when they lived it every day? She leaned into him, while gathering her

thoughts. "Do you truly want to leave the order?" she asked, "Because if you do, and you truly feel as though you are horribly unhappy, I won't try to stop you. I will always support you."

"But you wouldn't agree, would you?"

"No," she admitted. "Surprised?"

"No," he smiled, ever thankful for her honesty. His wife, his lover, was also his very best friend. "I was born a possession."

Such a life she could never truly comprehend, so she listened.

"I was born into slavery by a slave, and treated as such. My mother and I were sold to Watto and from that moment on we belonged to him, and whatever he wanted us to do we had to do or face his wrath." Anakin felt his wife flinch beside him. "I don't say these things to drudge up the past."

"I am always interested in how you feel. Never doubt that."

He nodded. "Some slave owners forced their women slaves to do things other than cleaning or working for

them." He appreciated not having to allude further, confident that she understood what he meant. "My mother was lucky. Many of my friends' mothers were not. I saw and knew about far more than I should have at a very young age."

"I can't even imagine."

"For me, freedom is the most precious thing in the galaxy," Anakin stated. "Being denied freedom is, in my humble opinion, the worst. And there are times I feel the Jedi deny me... and all the others knights, freedom."

"Then, instead of leaving in protest, why not stay and try to effect change from within?"

"I seem to lack the patience and ability to communicate that you do."

"But never the courage," she told him, ever his champion. "Someday, I would like you to seriously consider how you would bring it up to the Jedi Council, your concerns and thoughts over their practices. I'm sure Obi-Wan and a few

others you respect might be of some help as to how to go about such a thing."

He couldn't tell her that there were times he wanted to force the issue... to force the Jedi Council to see things differently. Deep down he knew that wasn't the right way to go about things. And he had the ultimate example of

a person who saw something unfair and had the proper mind-state to work towards change rather than sulk about those people knowing better already. "Have I ever told you how much I admire you?"

"Yes."

"Good. You should always know that I do."

"Now tell me what you are thinking?"

"I'm thinking that..." A carriage came from down the street, pulled by three hulking Huikeds. "That my feet are cold and I'm tired of holding these bags. Let's catch a ride."

A moment later Anakin was helping Padmé into the back of the small carriage, seating her beside him, with his arm hung protectively, affectionately, over her shoulder. They snuggled in, savoring the quiet and the love they shared.

He buried his face in the coiled, scented strands of her thick brown hair, while she twined their fingers of his flesh hand.

Their eyes shut, and having paid the driver to take them back to their cabin. The ride was going to be a fairly long one, but they didn't mind in the least. Anakin held his angel in his arms and pressed a soft kiss to her

temple, conveying his endless love for her with a brushing caress.

"Dorme's going to be at that playhouse all afternoon," Padmé said in a not so innocent tone. What was even less innocent was her hand stroking Anakin's thigh. "However will we amuse ourselves with her and the droids out of the

cabin?"

"I say we eat the rest of that pastry bread by the fireplace."

"I was thinking we go skating like we talked about last night."

With a finger, he tipped her chin, shifting his position so that they could stare into each other's eyes. "It seems we're at a stalemate, milady."

"I suppose we'll have to," she smiled wickedly, "'Aggressively negotiate' the matter so that we can come to some sort of an mutual agreement."

His body responded to her immediately. "I love your brand of politics, milady."

"I thought you might."

 

 

******

 

The End of Chapter 3

Sneak Peak...

Padme 'forces' Anakin to see things her way...

Dorme is missing...

A little girl named Leia enters the picture...