Title: "Shadows of Winter"

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

(3/4)

Written by: Shawn

 

Summary: Anakin and Padmé race against time to save Dormé's life from a dangerous enemy only to find out that she isn't the target at all. They are.

Rated: NC-17

Category: Angst/Romance/Drama

Pairing: Anakin/Padmé

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

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

Disclaimer: George Lucas and Lucasfilm owns everything.

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 Padmé were separated for five months before Episode 3 when Obi-Wan and Anakin were dealing with the Outer

Rim Sieges. This story picks up 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 Padmé. 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: Dormé, Padmé's handmaiden/bodyguard and best friend in this story knows of her marriage to Anakin. Obi-Wan only suspects more is going on than he knows but, 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.

 

~~~~~~

 

History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats.

- B. C. Forbes

Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.

--Marcus Aurelius

There is no difficulty that enough love will not conquer, no disease that enough love will not heal, no door that enough love will not bridge, no wall that enough love will not throw down, no sin that enough love will not

redeem... It makes no difference how deeply seated may be the trouble, how hopeless the outlook, how muddled the tangle, how great the mistake. A sufficient realization of love will dissolve it all. If only you could love

enough, you could be the happiest and most powerful being in the world...

--Emmet Fox

 

~~~~~~

 

******

 

******

 

Anakin and Padmé's cabin

The upstairs bedroom

Located on the far side of the forest of Lycria Falls

The world of Ezcaban, located in the Hoth System

 

 

"Wherever have you been?" Padmé asked herself while brushing her thick, curly-brown hair down off her shoulders. She gazed at the reflection in the bedroom's floor-length mirror and barely recognized the woman before her.

This woman had a joyful glow about her that Padmé hadn't seen in quite some time. She seemed to radiate an undeniable inner peace and a confident sensuality that was in sharp contrast to the reserved and very opinionated

Senator from Naboo. Where was the weariness that had begun manifesting itself in her warm mahogany eyes? Had the somber mood she hid so well been a facade all along? What made her smile finally reach the fullness of her lips again?

The answer to those questions meditated downstairs by the fireplace.

Anakin.

He was close enough to reach in just a few short strides if Padmé choose. Or she could simply call his name once, and he would come to her that very instant. He would take her in his strong arms and smother her lips with all

the intense passion he lived his life with.

And then she would forget the cold, stabbing fear she'd lived with for the last two years each time a War Report came over the Holonet. In his embrace she would not know fear because as surely as he respected that she could take care of herself, he longed to be the one to do so.

Anakin's love wasn't possessive. It was absolute. Padmé knew that, even as she found it thrilling and scary all at the same time.

She ran the brush through her hair using long, slow strokes while critiquing her appearance. The dark, Dalamar-cotton plush robe she wore was designed to provoke desire. She adored the luxuriously comfortable fabric against her skin while admiring the decadent way it clung to her slim, petite figure. Beneath it she wore nothing, fresh from a soothing hot bath in an actual tub instead of a refresher. Afterwards she took her time adorning her body with her favorite lotion and body spray.

Padmé couldn't remember the last time she felt so incredibly desirable and feminine.

Gone were the elaborate pins holding her normally conservative hairstyle in place. The appropriate, albeit bland attire she wore at the Senate Hall, wasn't meant to tempt or titillate but to convey a person regarded with respect. There was no one there she wanted to physically impress. No one to incite in ways that excluded her brilliant mind or keen understanding of whatever subject matter was being covered that day. There were no security guards patrolling about or press constantly searching for the next controversial quote. The endless speeches she endured and the boring meetings she attended were a world away.

Here, in this cabin shared with the man she loved with all her heart and soul, she could breathe again.

Gentle pelts of snow drifted against the window nearby. Despite the cabins cold exterior, the interior was perfectly cozy. Padmé shut her eyes as she enjoyed the quiet of her inner thoughts. Through their bond she reached out

to Anakin and sensed his relaxed state of mind as he focused on the Force. It was amazing how open he was to her, even going so far as to allow her to experience the Force through him. It was a wondrous sensation the likes of which she could never have imagined.

Padmé lifted a small sculpted glass bottle from the dresser, opened the golden top and dabbed her finger inside. She swabbed a few drops of the lavender colored liquid behind her ears and along the nape of her neck. She inhaled the sultry blend of fragrances native to Naboo and smiled.

With Dormé off sightseeing in Dysines with the droids, Padmé knew that she and Anakin would have the entire afternoon alone together. When they arrived back at the cabin they felt no need to rush into the inevitable, instead choosing to part ways for a time and tend to some personal needs.

Padmé wanted to soak in a natural steaming bath, while Anakin felt he could at last meditate now that he was with her again and able to concentrate.

Upon setting her brush down, Padmé opened herself to an awareness she'd fought off since arriving on this planet. The guilt she felt over taking this remarkably selfish vacation during a time of galactic war threatened to rob her of the ability to enjoy it. Duty, responsibility, and her serious commitment to public service were hallmarks of how she lived her life. Add to that the personal sting inflicted by being excluded from the latest peace talks by Supreme

Chancellor Palpatine didn't help matters either. She warred within herself for having not fought harder to be a part of the peace delegation because of how she longed to be reunited with Anakin again.

At least R2-D2 was closely monitoring the HoloNet for any breaking news reports concerning the war, as well as any urgent messages that needed to reach her. She was confident that if a matter of dire consequence took place

she would be notified immediately. For now she had time to herself, and she knew she had better take advantage of it. There was no way to know when she would have her Ani all to herself again in the near future.

And in a time of war nothing was promised to anyone. Stolen moments needed to be cherished and appreciated.

Padmé exited the bedroom after giving her appearance a final once over. Her heartbeat quickened when she found Anakin sitting bare-chested by the fireplace in his Jedi meditative pose. Barefoot, clad in dark pants, the flames amber hue seemed to illuminate the hard planes of his leanly muscled chest.

As handsome as Padmé thought Anakin was at the time they fell in love, this man before her simply took her breath away. He carried himself with a darker edge that spoke of the harsher times the galaxy currently faced. The war and what was naturally within his soul added more years to his appearance than he had lived. Taller and broader, he commanded attention when he walked into a room. He exuded boldness as surely as he did courage. He was as proud as he was gentle. A fierce man to be reckoned with when threatened, and yet his capacity to love was unmatched.

And he was her beloved husband.

In two standard days they will celebrate as many years in marriage. Padmé could scarcely believe it as the memories overtook her. Where had the years gone? To her it was only yesterday Anakin kissed her for the very first time at the Lake Country on Naboo, and she lost her heart to him forever. No matter how many lonely nights they spent apart during the war their love didn't diminish in the least. On the contrary, it expanded their connection through the Force and bonded them in a way that could never be broken.

Perhaps that was why Padmé chose to lovingly admire her husband from afar. She didn't have to hope and pray that he was safe. She didn't have to stay up late watching the HoloNet News to catch a glimpse of his latest heroic feat so that she knew he survived another day. He was right in front of her, looking as strong and healthy as he ever had.

"Go away. You're disturbing me."

Anakin failed miserably at holding off the smile that curled his lips when he said that. Padmé followed suit. "I thought my presence was soothing?"

"Not when you're wearing that robe."

She noted that his eyes were still shut. "You can't see me."

"I can always see you, Padmé." Anakin concentrated his thoughts on her in such a profoundly emotional way he knew that she could sense it through the Force-bond they shared. He yearned for her to experience how he saw her in his mind's eye. She was forever beautiful and the sum of his life, always.

Walking off the stairs toward him, she paused for a moment. "Does that mean you spy on me?" Padmé joked, her arms crossed her chest. Clear blue eyes opened to her at last.

"No. That's not quite what I meant." His bashful smirk came not only from her teasing, but the longing gaze she treated him too. Surely she saw his own reflected back at her. She wasn't everything he wanted in life. But she

was absolutely everything he needed.

Watching him rise to his full towering height, Padmé didn't bother to disguise how absolutely delicious he looked to her. "If you weren't finished I can give you more time."

"That's not necessary. I've never been one to meditate for hours on end." Soft and sensual best described Padmé in that dark slinky robe. And from what he could tell she wasn't wearing anything underneath. The scent of her

perfume was already wrecking havoc with his senses. "Come here."

Asked softly, but it was an order nonetheless. Padmé gave a regal tilt of her head, followed by one arched

brow. "Why don't you come over here?"

"I asked first."

"That's irrelevant."

"How so?"

"Because I said so."

"Is that how you debate in the Senate?"

"Are you looking for a debate?"

"I just asked you to come over here."

"And I made a perfectly reasonable counter proposal that you come over here. Furthermore..." Before Padmé could finish what she was going to say the rug she stood on began slowly sliding across the floor toward Anakin. She calmly stepped off of it and fixed her husband with a playful glare. "That wasn't funny."

Anakin wore such an innocent expression on his face. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

Her husband's mischievous smile warmed her heart. "You were using the Force."

"You're imagining things."

"So rugs move by themselves now?"

A look of tender amusement was evidence enough that Padmé was enjoying their verbal sparring as much as he was. Alas, all things an end must come. Never mind the competitive spirit Anakin possessed, he found her rosy lips far to inviting to resist any longer. He strode toward her with purpose.

Padmé found herself embraced so swiftly she only had time to lift her lips to meet his. He nibbled her lush mouth with a gentle hunger for a satisfyingly long time. Her arms circled his neck while his slipped around

her waist, hauling her flush to his bare chest. Desire filled minutes passed until at long last they parted, still holding each other closely. The crackling fireplace serenaded their bliss.

Anakin delicately brushed his flesh hand through the thick chestnut-brown curls of her hair, with his other gloved arm still secured around her slim waist. He sighed and then shook his head. "I miss you even when I'm with

you."

"It's because we've spent so much time apart."

"Sometimes it feels like I'm going out of my mind because I just want to be with you so badly."

Padmé exhaled a weary breath and pressed her head to his chest. She shut her eyes. "When the war is over we promised we would discuss our options. I have faith that a peaceful resolution can still be found even now."

"You'll have to keep that faith for the both of us."

She lifted her head to look into his eyes. "War won't end by waging it."

"It would end if the leadership of one side were decimated."

"If only it were that easy," Padmé thought out loud. The complicated opinions they each had on the war were as different as the ways in which they fought it. Nonetheless, the respect each held for the other's opinion never faltered. "I don't want to talk about the war." She punctuated her statement with a little kiss to the center of his chest. "We're all alone, Ani."

Anakin stroked the small of her back while gazing into her soulful brown eyes. "Yes, I have noticed."

"What would my handsome Jedi husband like to do for the next couple of hours?" How enjoyable it was to step out of herself and enjoy the sudden blush that came over his face, how unlike her to insinuate such debauchery.

"That is an easy answer, milady. But first I would like us to exchange our anniversary gifts."

That caught her a bit by surprise. "Our anniversary is still two days away."

"Padmé, with the lives we lead anything could come up at any time, and we'd have to leave immediately," Anakin explained. "I would really like to give you your gift and be able to enjoy your reaction..." he smiled, "Hopefully

enjoy your reaction, that is."

"Of course I would love anything that you gave me. And to be perfectly honest you didn't have to give me anything at all."

"Due to the fact that I am a Jedi and can't possess credits, I truly appreciate that," he laughed at the end. "But I read up on traditional Naboo marital customs. I know it's expected of the husband to give his wife a gift

on their anniversary."

"Ani, that's sweet, but I don't require anything..."

"I have your gift, Padmé," he insisted. His hold around her waist released only to take her hand in his. "I will admit that it's a bit unconventional."

"We're a bit unconventional," she asserted ironically enough. "To be perfectly honest you're unconventional all by your lonesome."

"Fine. I'll keep my gift." His mock of an attempt to walk away was stalled by her tugging his hand as she began leading him upstairs to their bedroom.

"Of course I want your gift," Padmé assured him as they walked into the bedroom. She relinquished his hand and made her way over to the bags in the corner of the room that contained her purchases from earlier in the day, as

well as the other surprise she brought with her from Coruscant.

She motioned for him to sit down on the bed. "Can I go first?"

"I don't mind." Anakin's nervous excitement over giving Padmé her gift was replaced by the realization that he hadn't thought of receiving one himself. It never crossed his mind. He had been given enough by simply being with her and couldn't fathom a gift more special than that.

Anakin regarded the thick white cloth covering whatever object Padmé was holding as she walked over to the bed and sat down next to him.

She handed him the gift and watched as he pulled the material off to reveal a polished shiny bell with an alien inscription on the side. His curious appraisal wasn't one of disappointment, but of attempting to figure out the

why she had chosen this.

"It's a Ky'Darian ship ornament," Padmé explained. "One of the shop owners told me the story about first settlers on Ezcaban and how they were master starship builders. Space travel was the only field of technology they had

any real interest in. He said that Ky'Darian architects would design and engrave a bell ornament for a ship before building it. The curious part of the story is that the first Ky'Darian ship that arrived on Ezcaban was built

by a rogue Ky'Darian who didn't respect tradition and never created a bell for his ship. Incidentally, it crashed landed here."

"That's quite a story."

Padmé noted that he was still struggling to understand her gift. She liked that. "Apparently as legend has it, no Ky'Darian starship in the history of their people ever crashed that had a bell onboard. And while I have no way

of verifying that for certain, I was impressed enough to feel that a bell has a certain significance it can offer you."

Whatever was she inferring? "Is that a knock on my piloting skills?"

"You, my love, have crashed nine starships."

Anakin sat up a bit straighter, preparing to defend himself. "I can explain each one."

"That's not the point." Padmé placed her hands on the bell and shifted it around it so that the engraving faced him. "Look at the inscription. It's written in ancient Ky'Darian and says 'One heart. One spirit. One soul. Anakin and Padmé Skywalker.'"

Truly touched by the words she chose, Anakin traced a finger over the engraving. He couldn't read the language, and that was probably a good thing, seeing as how if Obi-Wan saw it hanging in his fighter he wouldn't be able

to read it either. "I love the inscription. It's wonderful."

"But it's not your gift," Padmé surprised him yet again. "It goes along with it."

Hidden in her left hand was a small black card-key. She placed it in the palm of his gloved hand. "The Lexion Factory District located in the far north quadrant on Coruscant is the home of many of abandoned warehouses that were burned out thirty years ago."

"I'm familiar with the area."

"It's too close to the lower levels, and no one finds the warehouses of any value. This key opens warehouse 47-A. Your gift is inside it."

Anakin turned the card-key over in his hand. "You bought me a warehouse to hang my bell in?"

What was so amusing to Padmé was that just for a moment her husband looked as if he wasn't joking but only for a moment. "Inside that warehouse is a military-class Corellian hyperspace Z77 engine." That certainly got his

attention. He was hanging on her every word now. "I found one of your many tech-manuals lying around our bedroom floor and saw that particular engine's page was the most frayed. I asked Captain Typho about it, and he told me that it was one of the most powerful and advanced starship engines in all the galaxy." Her husbands' eyes widened as he began to put two and two together. "Ani, this wasn't easy to arrange, and I had to 'alter'..."

"Forge?"

"Alter," she persuaded him to ask no further questions with the tone of her voice, "Some Naboo shipping details. I managed to purchase the engine and the war wreckages of a Neimoidian shuttle and a Hoersch-Kessel Drive support cruiser. With that engine, the wreckage shells, and spare parts of those ships I want you to build your own starship. I know you've always wanted too." The realization of what she offered took a moment to sink in, and when it did the euphoria that came over him was music to her heart. "You built a running pod-racer literally out of junk, and at that time you were just a little boy. You built C-3PO in your spare time, and you constantly upgrade

your star fighter. The number of tech-manuals in our bedroom rivals my book collection. Of all the gifts I could give you, the one that honors what fulfills you most would be to give you the chance to design your own ship

the way you want to. And hopefully that bell you're holding will ensure you never crash it."

To say Anakin was overwhelmed would be an understatement of epic proportions. Struggling to find the right words to truly convey what her gift meant to him, he could only draw her into his arms, pressing his face to

her neck. "Padmé... I can't possibly thank you enough. Your gift is incredible." He pulled back to face her. "How did you possibly accomplish all of that?"

"Dormé and Moteé were a great help to me, and I pulled a few favors from friends. It took several months to ship the engine around to different locations before sending it to its final destination. Moteé's the

actual owner of record for the warehouse. Dormé arranged for the wreckages of the ships to be scrapped and the materials sold for charity. I reimbursed their value to cover our tracks. None of it was easy, but all of it was

worth it to see you so happy."

Anakin set the bell on the bed and then lifted his hands to frame Padmé's face. "I love..." he kissed her before he could even finish.

Padmé couldn't help laughing against his lips when through their connection she heard him already going over ideas for the ship. "Could you kindly wait until we're done kissing to consider the how you will design your new toy?"

"My apologies, milady." Anakin stole another quick kiss and then rose to his feet. He approached the walk-in closet and removed his Jedi robe. Now it was time for her gift. "From the moment a child is old enough to become a

Padawan learner he or she is told three things. First is that the Jedi have faithfully served the people of the Republic for over a thousand years. It is a tradition to be honored and upheld for as long as you live. Second,

that the Jedi Code must be heeded at all times. It was created to give a Jedi the structure and focus necessary to do our duty. And lastly," he retrieved his light saber from the inside of the robe and held it in his

hand. "We are told that 'this weapon is your life.'"

Padmé's eyes followed him back to the bed. Back to his place beside her. She waited for him to continue.

"Obi-Wan calls the light saber an elegant armament of a more civilized age. Because a Jedi's powers flow from the Force, the light saber is considered a means of concentrating and becoming attuned to it. That is one of the main

reasons the Order constantly reminds all Jedi that this weapon is your life."

"Something tells me you don't agree."

"I knew I married you for more than your good looks."

Padmé snickered, "Go on."

"The light saber is the most important symbol of a Jedi. Someone not trained in the Jedi arts can't operate it properly in a battle. It would be as deadly to the user as it would be against someone." Anakin held his

light saber between them, considering it closely. "Two days after I left you on Naboo following our wedding I created this light saber to replace the one that was destroyed on Geonosis. I've had this since the war began, Padmé. It's the longest I've ever had a light saber. It's seen me through some very dark times..." he trailed of ominously. "If this is my life," he rotated the handle toward her and extended it, "Then I give my life to you."

Padmé's hand slowly rose to her chest. "Ani, I can't..."

"Yes, you can," he reassured her. "I built this light saber. I've defended the Republic with it. It's saved and taken lives. It's defended me throughout the war thus far. And if it is my life then in wish you to possess it. This light saber matters to me more than any other. It's the first I have owned since becoming a Knight. I want you to have it. I want you to always know that I freely give myself to you. All that I am or

will ever be."

Padmé hadn't expected tears to sting her eyes, and yet as she gently wiped away the moisture that threatened to fall she knew that she would love Anakin Skywalker until the day she died. She knew that he was meant for her.

That it was destiny that she found him. "I am honored and overwhelmed. Thank you, Ani. I will cherish this always." She accepted the light saber in the palm of her hand, noting the cold metallic feel. Her thumb pressed around the ignite button as she tested the weight and how solid it felt. She'd never paid such close attention to one

before. "What will you tell Obi-Wan?"

Anakin shrugged, grinning. "If I tell him I lost another one he'll just grumble like he always does. It won't be a big deal."

"I can place this in the chest I keep your Padawan braid in," she thought out loud while leaning her body into his side. Turning her gaze toward his face, she added, "I love you."

Anakin brushed another kiss over her lips. "That is my greatest gift, Padmé."

She placed his light saber and the bell on the small inn table near the bed. Suddenly, she remembered something she wanted to do. "How about we skate across the lake tonight?" The instant frown that clouded his features did

little to deter her. "Oh come on. As far as daring escapades go it wouldn't even rank compared to some of the crazy things you've done."

"Me and ice don't mix."

"It'll be fun. There's huge frozen lake not far from here. Do you remember how beautiful it looked with the moonlight reflected upon it?" His scowl was further ignored. "It's not like I'm asking you to wrestle a Bovorian lion

with your bare hands. It's just a night of skating with your wife."

"You skate and I'll watch. I'm not going to fall down and embarrass myself in front of people over and over." Before she said another word he added, "And I know you don't want to skate alone. You want to do it where the

crowds gather. Sorry, Padmé. The answer is no."

No? No... Padmé thought it over carefully. She had no use for a response like that. If he wouldn't give in voluntarily then he would be made to.

Knowing his wife as well as he did, as well as her inability to accept loosing an argument, when she slid over sideways across his lap and wrapped her arms around his neck he knew he was in trouble. "Padmé, I'm not going

ska..." Her soft lips began making love to his neck, complete with gentle little bites and full open-mouth suckling. When she 'innocently' adjusted her position he groaned deep in the back of his throat. "I'm, not changing my... I'm not... okay, you have to stop doing that."

By the time Padmé had pushed Anakin on his back she straddled his waist. She leaned down just over his lips, her hair falling around them. "We are going skating."

"Is that an order?"

"If it has to be."

 

 

******

 

******

 

Syphen Theater

Dysines City

The world of Ezcaban, located in the Hoth System

 

Dormé brushed yet another stray tear from her eyes as the hauntingly gripping music rose to a crescendo that perfectly complimented the actor and actresses performance onstage.

What was meant to occupy a couple of hours for Padmé and Anakin to have time alone turned into quite a riveting experience for her. Seated comfortably in a fifth-row aisle seat inside the torch-lit Syphen Theater, Dormé found

herself spellbound by the fourth act of a wonderful play that featured no dialogue at all. With the droids near by she relaxed and enjoyed herself for the very first time since arriving on the frigid world of Ezcaban.

Perhaps it wasn't such a bad place after all.

The seven-character play was called "The Symphony of Sorrow." The story was based around a well-known Ky'Darian fable about the sudden tragic deaths of a man and a woman who never met and how those they left behind come to meet each other quite by accident and fall in love. Recommended by a kindly shop owner

during her shopping excursion, Dormé felt, as little more than half the play was over, that this small theater troupe could teach the Grand Theater on Coruscant a thing or two about captivating performances.

The eight-person orchestra played just to the side of the main oval stage, and they were nothing less than majestic. Charged with guiding the audience's emotions through music, its concert was every bit as powerful

as those who acted onstage.

Dormé had fallen in love with the firelight atmosphere in the dimly lit, cozy theater on the west side of Dysines City. As good as it felt to be out of the cold, the entertainment value was as unexpected as it was priceless. A fan of the theater since childhood, she had never witnessed such a story told without spoken word before, without even an acknowledgment of names for the characters involved. Yet she knew that the first couple loved with

the sweetness of first love while the second were older and more battle weary. Unrelated tragedy struck, shattering not only both couples through death, but also the two people who were left behind.

There was a common bond of loneliness that connected those who suffered from it. And while Dormé was no man's widow, her life of duty and service came with very little time for dating and even fewer actual relationships, so few in fact that she tried not to think about it most of the time. The roles of handmaiden, decoy, and bodyguard to a former Queen-turned highly-esteemed Senator summed up her life to this point.

Far from a wife and never a mother, the years were finally beginning to nip at her heels. As the joy her best friend enjoyed, despite the harsh times apart from her love, she envied the few and far between good times Padmé

shared with Anakin.

Accomplished and respected didn't secretly mean loved, and every woman longed to feel loved. This play highlighted a growing pain in Dormé. One she'd hid well over the years.

This play touched her deeply. Particularly the emotionally raw second act which dealt with each of the widows attempting to return to their normal lives. The facade of normalcy and an above-it-all attitude so cleary etched

on their faces weren't foreign to her. Smiles that didn't quite reach the fullness of your face but fooled those around you who worried about all that you could not say.

Dormé recognized much of herself acted out before her. Too much at times. The performances, sans dialogue, were no less well acted because of that fact. The actors seemed to have mastered the art of expression through body

language, the way that they walked, and eerily with their eyes. The gorgeous natural art etched on the skin of the Ky'Darian people was a lovely compliment to the emerald cloaks they wore throughout the show.

Crowd reaction could best be described as deafly silent, though no less appreciative. Dormé would look from time to time to those around her, a crowd of fifty or so, and saw the same emotion on their faces reflected on

her own. When the brokenhearted widowed duo finally met by accident on the street one day wide smiles surrounded the small theater via its audience. A subtle romance of not only the characters but also those watching had begun.

And then Dormé noticed something strange that sent a sudden chill up and down her spine that had nothing to do with Ezcaban's natural climate.

Her eyes just so happened to shoot a glance to the upper rafters above the stage. She squinted and then blinked a few times to make sure she wasn't seeing things. What she focused on was a small section of the ceiling no

bigger than her hand that seemed to be warping slightly, as if a cracked mirror was laid in front of it.

She looked away and then back again. This time the distorted image seemingly shifted to the right about one foot and came to a stop.

That was damn peculiar.

One of two things had to be taking place here. Either she was seeing things, due to her perspective from her seat below and the torch-lit theater, or that was the telltale sign of a miniature-cloaking device. The kind usually

attached to spy birds when they were following someone.

Her mind quickly ran over the best course of action. If she wasn't being paranoid and was being followed then it might not be a good idea to have R2 immediately scan the area for spy devices. Alerting whoever was tracking her that she was on to him could cause innocent people to be hurt if a fight broke out. Once she was outside then she'd have more options.

It was a good thing she never left home without her blaster.

Standing with all the dignity of a Queen, Dormé calmly excused herself and casually traveled down the aisle. She motioned for the droids to follow her towards the exit. She managed a quick glance over her shoulder to see if anyone was paying attention.

That was when she spotted a massive hooded figure rise from its seat. He took to the aisle heading towards the exit.

Dormé swore softly under her breath, "Damn."

A cold late afternoon wind brushed a wintry kiss across her cheek upon reaching the outside. With her breath blowing before her, Dormé drew her hood over her head while clutching her blaster inside her cloak. She pushed herself through a crowd of people as fast as she could without drawing attention. She hadn't expected so many people out on the street and that only made things worse.

"Miss Dormé, I was under the impression you were enjoying the play a great deal," C-3PO commented as he followed close behind her, attempting to keep up with her brisk pace. "I myself found it quiet interesting. The lack of dialogue reminded me of the Horashe Actors Guild on Primus-5." The inquisitive droid noticed her less than relaxed mood. Her pace quickened. "Is everything alright Miss Dormé? You seem quite perturbed."

Forgoing a reply, Dormé made her way a block down the street before ducking behind a corner shop when a large double-carriage drove by. She immediately fell to one knee before R2. "I need you to scan for spy devices and

frequency jammers. Focus skyward and then branch out with your sensors with a one-mile radius to start. Do it now."

If C-3PO had eyes they would have widened after hearing that. "Good heavens. Do you think we are being followed?" The golden droid began looking all around, clearly agitated. "Is there no safe place in all the universe for a droid?"

R2 emitted a string of beeping sounds that C-30O deciphered for Dormé. "He says all frequencies in this area are being jammed and that something small and metallic has passed overhead at least five times, but he can't get a fix

on it to be able to determine exactly what it is. However, he is sure that it was not organic in any way."

They were being followed and it's (it was) by a professional. Sometimes Dormé hated being right. "Let's keep moving. R2, try to contact Anakin and Padmé. Leave a message of distress on a constant loop that we are being followed, and they might be under surveillance as well." She turned to C-3PO. "Try to act normal."

"If that is what you wish then rest assured I shall..."

Dormé grabbed his arm and led him down the street as fast as he could go without causing a scene. In one shop's window reflection she noticed the hooded stranger from the theater on the other side of the street. She was a

damn good shot and could easily pick off such a large target with ease. But what if he wasn't so good and innocent people were hurt? She needed a clearing or faster transportation than her feet.

Suddenly, she didn't have to worry about any of that. The needle-thin saber dart embedded in her neck injected a light blue substance before she could even raise her hand to reach for it. She slumped forward against a wall

before crumbling to the ground behind a row of boxes. Heavy footsteps were the last thing she heard before she lost consciousness.

"Miss Dormé, please wake up," C-3PO begged while hovering over her. "Oh dear."

The laser blast that struck the golden droid in its back was fired by a weapon equipped with a silencer. His power source deactivated as his fall to the ground echoed a thud.

Holstering his weapon, Xaria was pleased that no one seemed to have witnessed what transpired. He calmly crossed the street and swept Dormé's body into his arms. He carried her behind a clearing of bushes and then noticed the smaller of the two droids was following him. He recognized the make and model from the countless pictures of Senator Amidala's entourage he'd gone over most of last night.

Lowering Dormé's unconscious body to the ground, Xaria removed a small disk from inside his cloak and placed it at R2's data entry slot. "In ten minutes the jamming frequency will lift. Broadcast this message to your masters." He

pushed the disk inside R2 then lifted Dormé in his arms and stormed off into the alley behind the buildings.

The bounty hunter who had cleverly stalked his prey for the last hour never knew that in the last ten minutes he himself had been followed by a very curious person.

One who was only eight years old.

 

 

******

 

******

 

Anakin and Padmé's cabin

The upstairs' bedroom

Located on the far side of the forest of Lycria Falls

The world of Ezcaban, located in the Hoth System

 

 

... and this time when they were finished, it took them even longer to catch their breaths.

Sprawled over Anakin's heaving chest, Padmé admired the rapid beat of his throbbing heart as it matched her

own. Their heated sweat mingled and clung their bare skin as one. Her body hummed to the tune of her final thunderous climax. One so powerful her ears were still ringing. Only a moment ago she gently willed him from her body, yet hadn't the strength to do any more than that.

With the soft, soothing feel of Padmé's satisfied slumber over him, Anakin sought his way through the hazy fog of his pleasure-filled mind to find the energy to move. He simply couldn't, so he lay there stretched out on the

bed, content for the first time in a long time that everything he needed he had with his beloved angel.

The third time wasn't as slow or sweet as the first or as laughter-filled and teasing as the second. After a brief nap something raw and primitive came over them in an erotic fury. They tore into each other like a couple of

wild animals, their sweat-slick abdomens collided in a violent rhythmic maelstrom that left them as sated as they were blissfully exhausted when it was all said and done.

The intense, sensuous noise of frenzied slapping flesh that marked their fiery love making now gave way to faint breathing as Anakin and Padmé slowly fell from the soaring heavens back down to the land of mortals. Wrung dry

and spent, neither possessed the ability to move from the final position their passion ended in.

Neither seemed to mind either.

Padmé had never felt more alive in her entire life than she did right now, especially after having thoroughly pleasured him so vigorously she surprised even herself with her forwardness. Her lips met the smooth, moist skin of

his strong chest, grazing petal-soft kisses over his heart. The sheer masculine beauty that best described her Ani never ceased to amaze her. How had the former wallflower, inexperienced young woman, focused on a life of public service, ever found such love and passion when she wasn't even looking for it?

Her heart filled to near bursting with joy over loving him with the fullness of her being. Of all her acclaimed accomplishments, worked hard for and attained, her marriage, and the love she shared and received from her husband, were her crowning achievements. She deeply breathed the incredible fragrance of him, drowning in his scent. Upon gazing upward, she found his eyes shut, lips curled into a peacefully sated grin.

Yes, she had tamed him.

So often when they made love he was the aggressor, for lack of a better word. When in the world of knowledge and culture she bested him almost easily, behind closed doors despite his lack of sexual experience

beforehand, he quickly mastered her body to the point of annoyance as surely as ecstasy. He simply owned her in the physical sense. He instinctively knew what would turn her inside out and did it until she begged him to stop when she really didn't mean it.

Now, as mahogany eyes gazed down at the man she loved, Padmé reveled in not only the decadent post-orgasmic hum of her body, but also how she boldly rode her husband until he shouted her name at the top of his lungs, until he lay quietly beneath her, broken and still, his arms unable to even move by his side.

She triumphantly smirked over his handsome, grinning face. He has had, as of yet, not acknowledged her

victory. That was all right though. She was well known for her legendary patience with people. Especially men.

"Skating sounds like a nice way to end the evening." Padmé's deep, joyous laughter at Anakin's obvious declaration of defeat was music to a troubled soul. The brilliant vixen who dominated him just a few minutes ago was again his beloved angel, gloriously nude and happily lying over his chest.

"Oh really?" Padmé drawled though her face was adorned in a charming smile. "I thought you wanted no part in any skating?"

"You managed to change my mind, milady." Anakin could no longer suppress the urge to reach up and brush the chestnut locks of her long hair aside. Her lush dark lashes were the perfect compliment to her beautiful creamy

complexion. Her appeal was timeless and absolute. "Your persuasive argument just now swayed my opinion."

"My track record for winning debates should have informed you long ago that disagreeing with me was a futile gesture at best." A faint smirk curved her mouth.

"I only concede that when you're nude I am not at my full capacity to properly plead my case."

The flash of hunger in his eyes, all for her, left Padmé breathless. "You didn't stand a chance." She tenderly brushed some sweat-dampened hair away from his forehead. "Admit it?"

Anakin gazed into her eyes. "We're going skating, alright. Don't push your luck." Padmé graced him with curiously a raised brow and then cleared her throat. "If... if you don't mind that is?"

Bending down, she pressed her lips to his softly. "You'll have fun. I promise."

"I'm going to hold you to that."

"Just hold me."

There was an exquisite courtesy in her words. Her wish was his command, always. His arms slipped around her slim lower back, cuddling her to his chest as he buried his face in the thickness of her scented, coiled hair. The

quiet enveloped them in its gentle embrace, shoving aside the loneliness and fear they'd lived with during the hard months they were spent apart. The galaxy could war with itself from one end of the universe to the other, but

it just didn't matter.

Padmé and Anakin loved each other beyond reason. Beyond anything. And that would never change.

Propping herself up on one elbow, Padmé ran her fingers through his hair. He leaned into her touch. "These are the moments when I truly consider walking away from the Senate just to be with you all of the time."

Nights without end he'd longed to hear her say that. And like those times he knew that just wasn't who she was. But that didn't stop him from hoping. "You know that I would."

"I do," she replied with a nod. "But then I am reminded that we are needed and that our sacrifice is for the greater good. Our sacrifice of the life we want has meaning."

"Does that make the hurt go away?"

"It makes the time we do have all the more special." His expression betrayed his disagreement with her. She expected no less.

"I would walk away from it all for you."

"That humbles me more than you could ever possibly know. That you love me so much you would walk away from one day becoming a Jedi Master.... But I could never ask that of you." Before he spoke she pressed a single finger to his lips. "I couldn't live with myself if all that you have worked so hard to accomplish was taken away because of me."

"I don't hold the rank of Jedi Master above you. I hold nothing above you."

"I know," she said softly, tracing a finger along his face. His warm hands fell to her hips, anchoring her to him. "Our time will come, Ani. Be patient."

A suspicious quiver of a smile curled his lips. "I'm trying."

"I know."

Anakin lifted up to her. "Come here." His right hand caressed, and then cupped her cheek as he kissed her ardently while tenderly stroking her naked back. Her arms circled his neck as they drank each other in, their mouths

and tongues thirsty as they had been earlier. When they had enough their arms closed around each other

again. "Did I tell you where Obi-Wan is?"

Padmé shook her head. "No. I just assumed he was on Coruscant at the Temple."

"He's at Cloud City." Her eyes widened as her lips drew into a tight line. She was no fan of that place or any place with such a despicable reputation for illegal gambling, death fights, smuggling, and rampant prostitution.

"Why would one of the most respected Jedi in the galaxy go there?" she asked as she sat up, and then crossed her arms over her chest. "Is he on an undercover assignment?"

"He's taking some time off there. Just enjoying the sights, I suppose." His wife's clear annoyance amused him to know end. "Obi-Wan's always been a bit of a rogue. He may not break the Jedi Code, but he will bend it to its

limits. I'm sure he's won more than a few Sabbac games by now. And he does enjoy a good fight or two between equally matched opponents."

"That place is crawling with gamblers who sucker people out of their credits and smugglers who break the law as easily as they breathe."

"Those dance houses are quite nice." Anakin said that just to draw his wife's ire. He tried his best not to laugh at her appalled expression. "What's wrong with women dancing? Is it any less an art form than painting

or singing?"

"No one paints or sings in the nude, Anakin. No one paints or sings in the nude while gyrating on someone's

lap." Anakin seemed to look away, as if picturing something in his mind that was about to get him in a world of trouble. "Obviously you have no interest in places like Cloud City, right?"

A hint of a threatening tone laced her words. "I've been interested in the carbonite freezing experiments Cloud City engineers are running trials on for some time now." For some strange reason that just didn't seem to be the

answer she was looking for.

Anakin embraced her once more, pulling her flush to his chest. "Cloud City is vibrant and alive with mischief. It's the kind of place that never sleeps. Yes, there are people performing illegal acts there, but the same can be said for any planet in the galaxy," he explained. "The gambling might be illegal, but I bet it's fun. Cloud City is known for having some of best entertainment anywhere in the universe. It's exciting and a bit dangerous. It's also a place I bet you would have the time of your life."

"You must be joking?"

"Far from it," he replied. "You have lived a sheltered, respectable life away from the grittier aspects that are the most fun. And I would bet my one remaining good arm that you would have the time of your life if I took you

to Cloud City."

That city was the opposite of anyplace she'd ever wanted to visit. Then again, the naked man holding her was the opposite of the man she thought she might end up with someday. Sometimes she had to admit her lack of a social

life experience might have brought on preconceived notions that might not be entirely true. And most of all, she couldn't imagine anywhere she could go with Anakin and not have the time of her life.

"Maybe."

It was as close to a concession as one could gather from Padmé. Anakin simply nodded and then kissed her forehead.

Suddenly, they heard the communicator in Anakin's robe beeping rapidly from across the room. Using the Force, he pulled it to his hand. The text message came with a high alert status.

'We're being followed and you may be under surveillance as well.'

Padmé examined the communicator's display more closely. "This message was set on a constant loop over an hour ago."

"And she never replied back to say what happened."

"She's in trouble." Padmé's lips tightened. She scrambled out of Anakin's arms and off the bed, searching for her clothes. "We have to track the signal of her communicator and the droids immediately."

Anakin shot off the bed next. "I have a bad feeling about this."

"Join the club."

 

 

******

 

******

 

******

 

Dysines City

The world of Ezcaban, located in the Hoth System

 

 

Cold, blustery winds attempted to tame the roaring torch-lit bonfires illuminating downtown Dysines City as nightfall approached. Known as the "Lights of Shyzra", signaling that the festival began soon could be seen from miles around. Early preparation had begun in earnest despite the worsening weather conditions.

The most exciting time of the year on Ezcaban was anything but for Anakin and Padmé at the moment.

Riding the back of a hulking six-legged Norian Boar, Padmé held tight around her husband's waist as they avoided pits of muddy slush on the snow-covered road leading from Lycria Falls forest into the heart of the city

itself. Rugged best described the bumpy ride thus far. Tracking R2's location beacon, they hoped to find Dormé safe and sound.

Hoped being the key word.

Bypassing a subtle advance into the city, Anakin rode the powerful beast as hard as he could, navigating the slippery trails throughout the crowded city streets while heeding Padmé's directions in his ear. The icy wind and chill bit painfully at his face, yet he disregarded the pain. A friend was in danger and so his mind was focused solely on that and nothing else.

While silently cursing the sheer amount of people and festival set-ups he had to maneuver around as they progressed deeper into the city, Anakin reached out with the Force for a sense of what they were walking

into. Feelings of dread clouded his thoughts. He kept them to himself. There was no reason to worry Padmé until they had a real reason staring them in the face. That was likely soon enough anyway.

"Turn right at the Mion temple up ahead. R2's beacon signal strength is peeking just around the corner," Padmé had to nearly shout in Anakin's ear as the lively city streets echoed a celebratory atmosphere. She had longed

to experience that with her husband as they toured the city at night. To be out in the open with him, carefree and able to engage in something as simplistic as handholding in public were the small dreams she carried to her

lonely bed at night. Sometimes it seemed like they couldn't win for losing. "Head over that ridge and around those stores on the left hand side of the street."

Following her instructions, Anakin guided the beast until he caught sight of a familiar droid up ahead. "There's R2," he pointed out as he began reining the Norian Boar from its heady gallop into a slowing trot. The beast roared its approval at being able to rest. "C-3PO's lying next to him."

As soon as Anakin pulled the beast into a full stop Padmé quickly dismounted. Her blaster was tucked away inside her heavy coat as she approached the droids. To her utter surprise a small child was standing over

C-3PO, studying him intently.

The child looked up suddenly, startled by the stranger's arrival. Her eyes took on a shadow of suspicion. She quickly backpedaled away from the shiny man she had taken an interest in and then took refuge behind a frozen tree just a few feet away.

Padmé sighed at having no time to apologize for scaring the young child. She kneeled down next to R2, whose beeps and chirps were coming so fast she could scarcely make out what he was trying to convey. When his side panel opened revealing his text screen she realized he had a message for them. "Ani?"

"3PO's power conduit's been overloaded. I think I can fix it right here. Give me a moment," he stated with his back to her. He quickly retrieved a small case from his cloak. His emergency tool set for any number of jobs was

something he had put together just before the war began. It certainly came in handy.

Padmé noticed R2's internal drive spun a disk she didn't recognize. The words 'Message Ready' appeared on the droids text screen. "Looks like whoever did this left his calling card."

"Play it." Hunched down next to his wife, Anakin waited while R2 accessed the file.

'I HAVE TAKEN THE WOMAN AND WILL RETURN HER SAFELY IN EXCHANGE FOR 100,000 REPUBLIC CREDITS. IF YOU CONTACT THE LOCAL AUTHORITIES SHE WILL BE KILLED. YOU ARE BEING WATCHED CLOSELY EVEN AS YOU READ THIS MESSAGE. DO NOT TAKE THIS THREAT LIGHTLY. YOU HAVE UNTIL NIGHTFALL TO RESPOND. COME TO THE NORTH SIDE OF GRAMORUM MOUNTAIN NEAR THE CAVES AND WE WILL DISCUSS A TRANSFER OF PAYMENT. ANY DEVIATION FROM MY INSTRUCTIONS WILL RESULT IN THE WOMAN'S DEATH.'

"A tourist kidnapping here?" Padmé questioned herself before turning to Anakin. Skepticism clouded her features. "I carefully researched Ezcaban and found it to be one of the most crime-free worlds in the entire galaxy. This isn't at all indicative of what I know of the Ky'Darian people."

"Anyone is capable of anything, Padmé."

"Yes, of course. But this doesn't make sense. Why would a Ky'Darian want Republic credits when they rarely leave their home world? Republic credits make up barely 20% of the currency used on this world. It would make far

more sense to ask for Ky'Darian shiars as payment."

"I read all of the reports you sent me about the people of this world. Their society isn't technologically advanced. They aren't trained in the arts of stealth. Dormé is. If she felt she was being followed it had to have been by a professional. And since a tourist kidnapping hasn't taken place here in over twelve years..." Anakin thought out loud. Peering just over his wife's shoulder, he gazed at the small child, who he could see now was a beautiful little girl watching with a most curious expression. The darkening skies and gentle snowfall around them gave her a near ethereal appearance. He slowly stood to his feet. "We may have a witness who could shed some light on this situation."

Acknowledging her husband's hunch with a look, Padmé quietly took the lead. They were careful to approach the child at a slow pace. "Excuse me. These droids belong to us and were being watched by a very close friend of ours

who is now missing. Did you by any chance see anything that might help us find her?"

"I can't talk to strangers," came a soft voice. The falling temperature caused her to draw her cloak tighter around herself as she backed away slowly.

Anakin remembered his mother's lessons concerning talking to strangers from his youth. He bent down on one knee to give the child a sense that he was friendly. "My name is Alar and this is my wife Bella. We're visiting your

world on vacation. We're from Coruscant." Gaining a closer look at the child, her beautiful long, dark lashes and huge expressive eyes charmed him instantly. The native Ky'Darian designs along her temple were exotic to an

amazing degree. "What is your name?"

"Leia."

"Leia," Padmé repeated her name, smiling. "That's a very pretty name."

"Thank you. My mommy says it means 'Angel' in Ky'Darian. My grandfather told me stories about angels before bedtime. I think they live on the Moons of Iego. I was named after them."

A grace fell over Anakin as fond memories of the past visited the present. He had always believed in angels. She was indeed beautiful enough to be an angel. A lovelier child he had never seen. She reminded him of his beloved

even though she was only a child.

Leia looked from the tall man to the woman and back. They didn't seem to be bad people and weren't angry that she was looking at their droids. They talked nicely and were not trying to come any closeer. "I saw some things."

"Did you see our friend? Her name is Dormé." A simple command code pressed into R2 and the droid flashed a holographic image of her best friend. "This is her," Padmé explained. The child slowly came out from around the tree she had been hiding behind to gain a closer look. "We fear she might be in trouble."

"I saw her," Leia admitted with an earnest nod. "An off-worlder took her away. He was all alone. He carried her over his shoulder."

Anakin's brows knitted tight. "Was this person look like us?" The child shook her head.

"Can you tell us what the person looked like?" Padmé asked.

Leia shoved her gloved hands in her coat pocket while trying to remember what she saw. "He was really, really tall. Taller than you," she motioned toward Anakin. "He didn't have any hair on his head or face and his skin was

very dark green. It was kind of shiny and smooth like the outside of my gloves. He wore very dark clothing, and I think he shot something at your friend. I couldn't see what though."

"Where did she fall down at?" Anakin followed where Leia gestured with her finger. He strode over, inspecting the frozen ground. "There are no traces of blood here. The attacker must have used some sort of tranquilizer."

Carefully walking around the area where Dormé was taken, Padmé thought over what they had learned

so far. "None of this makes sense."

Considering what Leia had told them, Anakin turned to Padmé. "The kidnapper

isn't Ky'Darian and this is a trap."

"How did he have a disk with him that he knew R2 would be able to play if he hadn't been following us for sometime? He had to have known R2's make and model. And if he has been stalking us then..." Padmé hadn't wanted to listen to that nagging voice in the back of her head. The one that whispered such terrifying things. "The kidnapper might know who we are."

"That's my guess," Anakin hated to agree. "Dormé is the distraction. We're the real target. He's leading us to an ambush."

One that Padmé knew they would have to walk into to save Dormé's life. She made her way back over to Leia and bent down to talk to the child. "Thank you so much, Leia. You've been a great help." Such a sweet smile from the

little girl lifted the senator's spirits.

"If you're going to the north side of Gramorum Mountain then you'll be outside the solar shield surrounding our city. It's one of the coldest places on the planet," Leia proudly informed her newest friends.

"Great," Anakin muttered under his breath. That would only make things even more dangerous as nightfall approached. "At least we have a map of the surrounding area." Suddenly he felt a small hand patting his shoulder,

drawing his attention.

"My father used to work in those caves on the north side of the mountain. He knows a lot of different ways to get there. I can take you home and you can ask for his help."

Children's trusting nature was but one of the many qualities Padmé loved in them. "Thank you, Leia. That would be a great help if you could introduce us to your father."

"... oh dear. I seem to have been..." C-3PO sat up quickly and peered around. "Master Ani... Ms. Padmé..." Upon training his eyes on R2, he immediately complained, "Whatever have you gotten me into this time?"

"Easy there 3PO. You're going to be alright," Anakin smirked from behind the droid as he rose and then helped him to his feet. Padmé stood by his side. "We better get a move on. It's almost nightfall."

Leia led them away. "Follow me."

 

 

******

 

******

 

The North-East Caves of Gramorum Mountain

The world of Ezcaban, located in the Hoth System

 

 

Anakin asked Padmé not to come once.

Only once.

The effort was futile at best, but at the very least he had to try. She insisted that any danger he faced she would face by his side. And with a dear friend in danger because of them she had no intention of sitting on the

sidelines.

The admiration Anakin genuinely held for his wife's courage notwithstanding, the husband in him feared for her safety. Padmé eloquently tucked her blaster inside her cloak while reminding her husband that more people had tried to kill her than him and that she still has both her arms as a result.

The matter, serious as it was, ended that very moment.

Leia's father Gorvelious listened to their story and gave them his best unconventional route to reaching the north side of Gramorum Mountain near the outer caves by using a seldom used cave that nearly bore through a third

of the mountain itself. A lifelong Dohien Ore miner, he knew every twist and turn around that mountain. He explained that even with all his experience navigating it endless perils the trek would be very dangerous. And with the mountain being out of the range of the solar shield covering Dysines City, the temperatures were deadly now and would only get worse.

Padmé explained that they had no choice in the matter. She could tell that Gorvelious felt they weren't telling him the entire truth about their friend's abduction. She was grateful that he seemed to judge them worthy for

his daughter's sake despite his reservations, of which he kept silent. He provided them with thick mining cloaks, scarves, gloves, and boots. His wife worked the mines once upon a time and had a pair that fit Padmé.

After an hour-long ride around the mountain to the area Gorvelious instructed them to go to, Padmé and Anakin began a cautious, torch-lit descent into the darkness of a mysterious cavern opening.

With each of them holding a torch covered in thick Yseys liquid which could burn for hours in below zero weather, they transversed the cave's twists and turns while checking the map Gorvelious gave them. Their best, hopeful plan was to surprise whoever was holding Dormé and rescue her. If they accomplished that then their next priority would be to find out how much the kidnapper knew about them and if he'd told anyone so far.

Venturing further into the cave, the cold rush of icy air coming from the other side stung their faces and even through the heavy garments they wore as the brutal temperatures took their toll.

They didn't say a word as an hour passed inside the cave. One long, slow moving hour as sharp rocks on the cave floor bit at the spiked soles of their boots. They pressed steadily onward.

Padmé's torchlight flickered through a low passageway. She quickly checked the map, careful to not catch it on fire. "We don't have much farther to go. Do you sense anything?"

"Only that you're cold."

His concern over how she was doing was appreciated even as she wished his concentration remained on the duty at hand. "I'm alright, Ani. Don't worry about me. I'm trying not to worry about you. We have to stay focused and

find Dormé."

"Okay Obi-Wan."

"Not funny."

"Yes Master."

"Anakin!"

"I know you thought it was funny. You're just to cold to smile." A gust of icy air escaped through the scarf covering her mouth. It had to have been a laugh. Anything to lighten the mood was a plus as far as Anakin was

concerned.

Padmé knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that loving a man didn't mean you didn't want to strangle him sometimes.

The dancing orange illumination from their torches gave the cave walls a life all their own, seemingly able move like animals, but only their shadows followed them here. Each step had to be planned carefully as the ground under their feet could go from loose dirt to an icy patch in a heartbeat.

"Look," Anakin called out as up ahead the faint at first, and then bright stars of a dark blue nighttime sky called out to them.

"We're close to the cave's exit." Padmé pulled the satchel she wore beneath her heavy cloak around and produced a thermal scanner. Even with gloves on the low temperatures made her hands tremble as she tried to steady herself. She calibrated the device for intense close proximity scanning within thirty feet. Waiting, she sighed at the device's readings. "Nothing so far."

"He's blocking the signal," Anakin offered with a surety as they finally reached the cave's ledge looking over a vast array of much larger caves near the base of the mountain. "I can feel a presence."

"Do you recognize it?"

"No."

The edge to her husband's voice meant it wasn't friendly either. Padmé tossed her torch aside, now holding her blaster in her free hand. Crouching down on their knees in the snow, they crawled toward a small cliff while looking for signs of anyone nearby.

"I want you to stay here, Padmé."

She expected no less and was sure he knew her answer before she gave it to him. "I have the 100,000 Republic credits with me. I know he doesn't want them, but he needs to see them. We don't want to tip our hand that we know this is a ruse until we know Dormé is safe."

"Padmé, please. We don't know if he's alone or if there are others." His eyes pleaded with her for understanding. She just had to know she was his life. If something happened to her...

Reaching between them, Padmé squeezed her husband's hand as the wind howled about them. "Respect me," she said simply, watching his head bow and then a resigned sigh. "Thank you."

"I am going to have to kill him, Padmé." Turning to his wife, cold not only described their surroundings, but the expression he wore. "He's a danger to us."

"If it can be avoided..."

"It can't."

Anakin's tone was unshakeable. Padmé hated the finality of his words. She hated solutions that ended in bloodshed no matter the situation. But she also knew when certain things couldn't be ignored. "We'll cross that bridge

when we..."

A deafening blast erupted!

Numerous ripple-like explosions took place all around them, starting even from inside the cave they just exited as a massive avalanche threw them off the patch of hard ground they were standing on and over the side of the

mountain itself.

Anakin's body felt horribly out of control as his screams were eaten by the violent rush of crashing white and blizzard snowfall. The disorientation of tumbling through the air ended quickly. He landed hard on his left shoulder

and then rolled face first into a patch of dirty snow. The wind was knocked out of as he could barely move.

"Padmé..." he whispered softly in the night, slowly coming to his senses as the shockwaves of the avalanche began to die out. Only the dark sky above looked down upon him.

Groaning in pain, Anakin felt bruised all over, out of breath, and with no knowledge of where he had landed. "Padmé?!!" he shouted into the air while rolling over, his hand now clutching his ribs as sharp pain raced up the right side of his body. "PADME!!!"

"She'll live, Jedi!" came shouted as a reply from not far away. The deep voice seemed to echo from every direction.

Anakin couldn't see ten feet in front of himself as blinding snow clouded his vision. Upon turning around he made out a towering behemoth of a being shrouded in a dark cloak. He swore he could almost see it smiling. "Where is

she?"

"Look up."

Anakin's eyes rose skyward as his heart sank into the pit of his stomach. Some sort of glass prison with a single engine system covering its base housed his wife's unconscious body. He prayed to the Force she was

unconscious and not... He couldn't ever bring himself to think that. "IS SHE ALIVE?!"

"The capsule is taking her to my ship," the being said as it approached its prey. "My ship's controls are attuned to my pulse, Jedi. You and I are going to do battle in this frozen wasteland. I have killed Jedi before, but none with your reputation."

The purest hatred imaginable rose within Anakin as his eyes blazed blood red. "Release her now!"

"I am Xaria."

"I don't care. You'll be dead soon enough."

A Jedi on his knees before him... Such a glorious battle to come. Xaria hoped this one was every bit the warrior he was made out to be. "If you kill me my ship is preprogrammed upon my death to deliver your wife to Count

Dooku. And if I kill you then it's a lose, lose situation for the Skywalkers."

He knew who they were. That just didn't matter. Reaching out with the Force, Anakin felt for Padmé's life-force. She was bruised and in pain, but no longer unconscious. Nothing was broken that he could tell. His wife's

resourcefulness was about to be put to the ultimate test. "What do you want?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Xaria pulled along, curved razor-sharp blade from inside his cloak. "I am going to kill the most dangerous Jedi in the galaxy in one-on-one combat, then expose your scandalous marriage to entire galaxy,

and top things off by delivering the esteemed senator to Count Dooku personally." He snarled, "What they do with the pretty little senator is none of my concern. And you know the good Count holds her in such high

regard."

The lecherous tone of his voice... its ugly, vile implications... Anakin could feel a side of himself... hidden... cold... angry... a dark side of himself rise, one that desired the blood of his enemy. "You've done all of this

only to die."

"Let's test that theory, shall we." Xaria lunged at an unarmed Anakin.

 

 

******

 

The End of Chapter 3

One Chapter Left...