Title: "The Ties That Bind"
Chapter 5
The Finale
Written by: Shawn

Summary: The Final Chapter: Parental guidance comes in differing
forms from Palpatine and Jobal, while the dinner party thrown in
Padme's honor turns into a night the Skywalker's will ever forget. At
last the truth about their marriage is revealed to the Nabberie
family.

Category: Drama/Romance

Rated: M for all that it implies.

Ship: Anakin and Padme Skywalker

Timeline: I've always believed the Clone Wars lasted about three and
a half years. This story takes place at the two and a half year mark.
So it's been two and a half years since PA were married. None of her
family know about the nuptials.

Disclaimer: GL owns everything.

Beta Read by: The Dark Lord of the pen, Master Anne bows respectfully

Authors Notes 1: At the end of the day life is all about family.

~~~~~~

"We've got this gift of love, but love is like a precious plant. You
can't just accept it and leave it in the cupboard or just think it's
going to get on by itself. You've got to keep watering it. You've got
to really look after it and nurture it."
~~ John Lennon

"Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs. Being purged, a fire
sparkling in lovers' eyes. Being vexed, a sea nourished with lovers'
tears. What is it else? A madness most discreet, a choking gall and a
preserving sweet."
~~ William Shakespeare

"Family quarrels have a total bitterness unmatched by others. Yet it
sometimes happens that they also have a kind of tang, a pleasantness
beneath the unpleasantness, based on the tacit understanding that
this is not for keeps; that any limb you climb out on will still be
there later for you to climb back."
~~ Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960

"Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a
family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one."
~~ Jane Howard

~~~~~~

"Varykino"
A stone path leading through the garden
One of the Nabberie family home's located in Lake Country Retreat
Early morning
Naboo

"Guards, leave us," Palpatine ordered with a mildly deeper than usual
voice, and then without a parting glance over his shoulder several
crimson-clad Red Guard faded behind the Supreme Chancellor of the
Republic. Walking with a withering hand over Anakin's shoulder, his
voice suddenly filled with a great deal of fatherly affection. "Son,
you were magnificent yesterday."

As a flock of Garcian Birds flew quietly overhead, Anakin tamed the
emerging smile that curled his lips, seeking to convey maturity in
his mentor's eyes. Still, it wasn't often Obi-Wan acknowledged his
accomplishments with compliments. It was a nice feeling to have that
for once. "As a Jedi, I was only performing my sworn duty to the
Republic. No more, no less."

Palpatine gave something of a modest laugh, sensing the Jedi was
repeating a phrase he'd heard before, probably from his Master,
rather than echoing his own feelings. "Anakin, what you did in
infiltrating Theed castle from an underwater location, defeating
those deadly assassins, and then saving Queen Jamilla was the stuff
of legends. At least allow yourself a moments glory over the good
you've done. And don't let anyone make you feel guilty for it."

Stopping momentarily over a small pebble-stone bridge overlooking
Varykino's magnificent garden, Anakin cast his eyes over the sheer
beauty of Naboo and sighed. "I don't seek fame, Chancellor."

"Greatness rarely does," Palpatine replied with the utmost authority
and then a gentle expression. Anakin's mood seemed to lift, as was
his goal while in the young mans presence. "So tell me about the
attack?"

Anakin began detailing what he witnessed and what he learned from
interrogating those captured after yesterdays attempted
assassination. Palpatine listened intently. "Someone hired the
Draconian Horsemen to assassinate the Queen and Senator Amidala.
Whoever hired them had direct access to the Castle renovation
schedule, security protocols, and knowledge that Senator Amidala
might be visiting."

Palpatine's gaze intensified. "There's a rat in the Queen's nest,
Anakin," he pointed out. "Such information reeks of an inside job."

"I agree."

Closing his eyes to a warm Naboo breeze, Palpatine seemingly enjoyed
the world he once called home. "I shall have a talk with Queen
Jamilla personally. Where there is power, treachery and betrayal will
follow. She must double and triple-check her inner circle to weed out
who helped her would-be assassins."

Nodding, Anakin added, "As for Senator Amidala, how anyone knew of
her trip here is beyond me. I trust her inner circle completely and
can't imagine any of them betraying her." The Supreme Chancellor was
quiet beside him. "I fear the new technology being used these days.
All those advanced listening devices and miniature holocams the size
of a writing pen are dangerous."

"Perhaps a more in-depth techno sweep of her personal starship,
apartment, and office would be in order. I can have the finest of my
security team look into it if you want?"

Anakin was humbled by the offer. "Chancellor, that would be
wonderful. Thank you. Assuring her safety would ease my soul."

Pleased that Anakin would so easily accept his aid, Palpatine
gestured for them to continue their quiet walk. "We must, above all
else, protect those we love."

"I wish everyone saw it that way," Anakin noted with no small amount
of wistfulness as they entered a winding path through the garden.

Palpatine turned to Anakin. "How are you doing, son?"

"Outside of a few bumps and bruises, I'm fine."

"No, Anakin." Palpatine drew Anakin's attention by stopping just
behind him. His arms crossed his chest to convey how serious he
was. "I mean how are you really doing?"

Obi-Wan, for all that his master had taught him, never knew him the
way Palpatine did. Perhaps the Supreme Chancellor sensed exactly what
was troubling him because he cared enough to ask and not simply brush
his feelings aside with yet more Jedi rhetoric on self-control. "Just
before I left for Theed Palace I did something to Sen... to Padme,"
he amended as he felt there was no need to hide the intimacy of using
her first name with him. He began to explain his actions, detail his
reasons, and express his guilt minus regret for doing what he felt
was best.

Mindful of Palpatine's silent reaction thus far, Anakin patiently
awaited his thoughts. "I was protecting her..."

Hands clad behind his back, Palpatine began a methodical journey
around Anakin, considering his words carefully, taking his own dear
time before offering his estimation. He gave the impression that he
cared enough about what Anakin revealed to fully think it over before
speaking. Stopping before the Jedi, he smiled while placing his hands
on Anakin's shoulders. "My boy, you have done well," he began a
nod. "Her pride may have been hurt, and so you will have to work to
amend that and soothe her feelings. But better her pride taking a
fall than losing her life."

Anakin exhaled. "I wish you could tell her that."

"Perhaps the day will yet again come where she trusts me enough to be
her friend. Alas, that day may be far off indeed as the war rages
on." Palpatine stood tall, his stature as regal as any king... any
emperor would portray himself. "There are times, Anakin, when we must
do what is best for our loved ones, even though at that time they
don't recognize the gift of our leadership. We must be bold and
strong in our convictions for time will judge us righteously in the
end. Trust in that and your feelings."

Palpatine continued, "What you did yesterday, in risking your life to
save Queen Jamilla's was a good thing. What you did to Padme was for
her own good, no matter the means. Better her angry and alive then
dead with you bearing the guilt of inactivity and grief on your
shoulders."

"Why can't she see the error in her own ways?" Anakin asked
unconscious of how much he may have subtly revealed with his
outburst, all the while respectful enough of the Chancellors instinct
that his secret probably was figured out years ago. "I do not
understand women, your excellency."

From the very pit of his lungs came a hearty laugh as Palpatine
regarded the young man with such amusement. "Not even your most
ancient, most well hidden Jedi archives possess the answer to that
eternal question. Rest assured in neither of our lifetimes will we
unravel such a mystery as is a woman."

Sincerely feeling better, Anakin hugged his mentor. "Thank you."

"Son, I am here for you, always. I only want to see you reach your
full potential, unhindered by the jealous sway of those who secretly
fear your power." A daring rise grew within his voice. "The attackers
would have killed Padme. They would have ripped her from your arms
and left her lifeless body for the galaxy to mourn." Such delicious
rage and anguish swept of Anakin through the Force. Palpatine
delighted in it. "But you are powerful and decisive. You act for the
good of the people you love. That is your greatest weapon. Right and
wrong are opposing viewpoints the fearful squabble over while the
innocent suffer. But you, my son. You will lead rather than follow.
You will achieve rather than he held back by those unable to
acknowledge your greatness. And you will save the lives of your
dearly beloved... by any means necessary."

Anakin's chest swelled with pride as the respect he craved was given
to him by the single most powerful individual in the galaxy. His
heart needed a father-figure to unburden his worries and give the
wisdom of his
years. And then he smiled widely and teased, "So I take it you really
don't know how to explain women, do you?"

"It appears even my highly regarded intellect has its limits,"
Palpatine offered humbly, smiling. And then saw two small children
watching them from behind a tree. They attempted to hide when they
were
noticed. "Anakin, I think the little ones are seeking your attention.
I won't trouble you any longer. I just needed to see for myself that
you were alright."

While firmly shaking the Supreme Chancellors hand, Anakin saw his
nieces attempting to hide their presence from them. "Padme's nieces
have taken a liking to me, and I them."

"Then enjoy their youthful exuberance, Knight Skywalker." Palpatine
bowed, and then began backing away. "And make peace with Padme. She
belongs by your side. She is far greater ally than any Jedi, I fear.
She truly cares about your well being. May the Force be with you."

"May the Force be with you, your excellency," Anakin bowed
respectfully, and then zoomed so fast, using the Force, behind that
tree that the girls didn't even see him move. "Boo!"

"Aiiihhh!" Both Ryoo and Pooja jumped, shrieking loudly when they saw
their uncle appear seemingly out of nowhere.

Barely standing to her uncles hip, the youngest of Sola's daughter
pointed at him. "That was not funny." Pooja pouted, as she was known
to do, and then was swept off her feet along with her sister in
Anakin's arms, who peppered them with kisses before setting them back
on their feet. "Okay, I forgive you. But no more scaring us."

Laughing against her uncle, Ryoo clung to his Jedi robe. "Pooja, you
were so scared you turned red."

"Did not."

"Did too!"

"Did not. I just jumped a little."

"You screamed."

"So did you."

"But not as loudly as you."

"Ladies," Anakin interrupted, and then took each of their hands in
his own. They were such sweethearts. "There will be no fighting. I
was just teasing you. I'm sorry, alright." They both nodded their
forgiveness and hugged him. "Good. So what mischief are my favorite
little girls up to this morning?"

"Uhm, we were looking for you," Ryoo announced as they began taking a
walk. "We overheard our mother talking to Papa about something bad
happening yesterday and that you were hurt. Are you hurt, Uncle
Ani?"

They were young and unprepared to fully understand so much. He sought
to ease their fears. "I'm perfectly fine, milady." Ryoo's face lit up
magically.

Meanwhile, Pooja gently poked his stomach with her middle finger. "He
didn't fall apart."

"His head looks on straight."

"No one took a bite out of him."

"And that's a very good thing," Anakin joked, thoroughly enjoying
their company. This was life to his heart. Being on Naboo minus the
responsibilities of a Jedi. Here, he was simply a man with his
family. With the children he was family to them and nothing was
hidden. Their presence soothed him like only one other
could. "Whatever mischief are 'we' to get into this morning, ladies?"

Pooja ducked her head, looking both ways before whispering, "But Aunt
Padme says we can't use you for our nefarsisis means any more."

"Nefarious," Ryoo proudly corrected her younger sister. "I think it
means bad." Pooja shrugged.

Kneeling between them, Anakin lowered his voice, grinning. "What do
you want me to do?"

The trio huddled, plotting their nefarious next caper.

******

******

"Varykino"
North terrace of the estate
One of the Nabberie family home's located in Lake Country Retreat
Morning
Naboo

For Padme, the soothingly warm lake breeze ruffling her thick brown
hair was as welcome a feeling as the sight of the Republic Blade
starship, and its military escort vessels, ascending into the distant
skyline and then bursting through clouds into outer space. Good
riddance, she thought to herself. With her small hands resting on the
terrace railing, her regal poise and posture silently defied the
departure of the Supreme Chancellor, a man she was growing to more
than dislike as the war and his bullying politics continued.

To make matters worse, Palpatine's keen interest and strong
friendship with Anakin troubled her greatly. She feared dire
consequences were inevitable where that was concerned.

Sighing, she exhaled a deep breath, wishing to banish all thoughts of
Palpatine from her mind. Days ago she arrived here to enjoy a much
needed vacation with her family and was overjoyed to have her husband
with her. Missing him for months at a time left her craving his
presence, and to enjoy that with her family was a blessing she'd been
looking forward to for some time now. Returning to her home world of
Naboo awakened feelings of peace and joy within her whenever she was
able to visit. But yesterday's attack at Theed Palace, the undeniable
knowledge that she was a target as well, and her bitter argument with
Anakin revealed a deep fracture in their marriage. Issues that have
been long overlooked have surfaced and could no longer be ignored.

In her opinion, Anakin betrayed her yesterday. Deeply so. In a
marriage based on trust and equality, she felt he denied her both, as
well as her say in matters of the utmost importance. With a somber
gaze cast over the beautiful shimmering lake her hands balled into
fists at her side, frustration clouding her face. Her heart ached
over being hurt by the man she loved above all else.

And yet, that very term wasn't shared by her husband. Causing a
creeping sense of failure to boil inside her belly over their
marriage. His accusations burned her to the core. Padme would have
laughed if she wasn't struck so powerfully by the mere notion he was
correct in his assessment. Nothing in all the galaxy compared to her
love for him. Nothing ever could. She'd give away every single credit
of her vast fortune and fame for him in a heartbeat, but the
dedication and character that gave purpose to her life left her
unable to fathom throwing away the ability to help the helpless for
the selfish joy they'd steal by leaving everything behind.

Her head and her heart were at war just as surely as the galaxy was.

Padme lived with a secret belief, that to her, meant everything.
There was a sincere part of her that felt Anakin was so important to
the whole galaxy that she willingly sacrificed her happiness in the
now for a future where she was sure he would triumph over the Sith,
and then her reward would be a life where she was his universe. But
deep down she knew that she already was, and there was guilt, no
matter how thrilling the emotion, in that knowledge.

Anakin's profound friendship with Palpatine, his intense need to fix
things no matter what, coupled with her belief that her way is the
only way, and the numerous lies they were forced to live with were
taking an immense toll on Padme. Again, she suffered quietly. As
alone as she often was in her apartment on Coruscant. Alone when news
broke of the war, her heart withholding its beat until she heard that
Anakin was alright. Utterly alone if he died out there...

"By the Force, if I ever lost him..." softly escaped Padme's lips in
barely a hush, a tremble shuddering over her body. Shaking her head,
she pressed her hand over her mouth, her eyes misting ever so
lightly.

As the sun's brilliant light danced across the lake, Jobal kept
silent vigil over her daughter from the entryway. Careful to observe
rather than act, it was obvious the emotional pain her child was
dealing with. The mother in her wanted to rush in to save the day,
but Padme was a stubborn one. Dealing with her required a certain
deft touch. Thankfully, Jobal wasn't clueless as to what was crushing
her daughter's spirit. "Dear, come in to have a bit more to eat. You
barely touched your breakfast this morning."

Padme listened to her mother's beloved voice and the soft sound of
footsteps closing in. "I'm afraid I don't have much in the way of an
appetite this morning." Looking to Jobal when she joined her side,
Padme offered a smile she hoped would disarm her worry. "I didn't
sleep very well. I'm sure I'll make up for breakfast with a late
lunch."

Padme's brown eyes were restless and somber, her face missing the
sunrise smile Jobal so loved. If her daughter were younger she would
demand to be told what was troubling her. But she was a grown,
educated woman now. In every way, Jobal surmised as the days of
considering her daughter innocent and naive were in the distant
past. "You seem... edgy."

Ducking the subject, Padme switched gears, slightly. "Anakin told me
about your talk last night."

"Did he now?" Jobal replied warmly. "Are you angry that he told me
all of your secrets?"

Her mother, ever the family patriarch, was as clever as they come.
Padme was sure she got that from her. "I abhor secrets."

"That doesn't mean one doesn't have them." Jobal was careful to enjoy
the paradise of their surroundings, giving her daughter just enough
space... for now. "Anakin is a remarkable man."

"Who sometimes thinks he knows what is right for everyone."

"And that is different from you, how?" Stifling a laugh as Padme's
face took on a petulant expression reminiscent of those she wore as a
child, Jobal continued, "You are often one who feels her way is the
only way as well."

Hugging herself lightly, Padme offered, "I have never forced my will
upon anyone."

"So I take it Anakin forced his will upon you?"

"He..." and then she stalled herself, cautious in dealing with the
skills of a very intelligent, probing mother. "It's nothing."

"It's something, Padme." Deciding the time was now, Jobal took up one
of her daughter's hands lightly, holding it. "Something deeply
personal is troubling you, and I want to help. You are my child and
that will never change no matter your political stature or power. I
love you, and I can tell you are not yourself right now. Trust that
your secrets are forever safe with me. And that I would never, ever
judge you. I am your mother, and I will be until the end of time."

Padme hesitated, and then marveled at her mother's ability to calm,
disarm, and guilt-trip her all at the same time she made her feel so
loved.

Smiling to herself, she figured Jobal would have made a great
politician. She was certainly the very best mother. Even still, there
were aspects of her life Padme felt she wouldn't understand.

"The attack at Theed palace yesterday. We know for a fact that I was
a target along with the Queen. That means somehow someone knew I was
traveling to Naboo. They guessed my precise whereabouts, but knew
that I was on the planet. That means I have a breach where my
personal security is concerned."

Jobal's stare grew serious. "Do you think I am a fool, Padme?"

"Mother, of course not."

"Then do not pretend to be troubled by an attempt on your life. We
very well know that is my cross to bear, not yours. You have dealt
with threats before, and have handled them accordingly. That is not
what is bothering you right now, and we both know it."

Feeling things were hitting far to close to home, Padme gently
released her hand, turning away as her feelings threatened to
overwhelm her. The lies and deception were weighing heavily on her
subconscious. As was the fact that Anakin wasn't sure of her love.
When she felt ready to crumble, that very moment she found herself
enveloped in her mother's paternal embrace. For all her vaunted
strength and self-reliance, the woman in her needed her mother as
tears fell upon her cheek against her will.

Finally, Jobal thought to herself while holding her daughter. "I know
that you love him, dearest." No reply, though she expected as
much. "And I know that he loves you with all his heart and soul. He
doesn't try to hide the affection he feels for you when you are
around. His eyes betray his adoration. As do your own."

Speechless, Padme held her peace while embraced by her mother. She
was slowly turned around to face her.

"Whatever the complexity of your relationship, that is your business.
But do not think a mother doesn't know when her child is in love. And
do not pretend that she can stand by and do nothing when her child is
in pain. She can't. So allow me to give you some woman to woman
advice."

"Mother..."

A pointed finger silenced Padme. Jobal gently grasped her
shoulders. "Men are the most imperfect creatures in all the galaxy."
Ahh, there was that sunrise smile she lived for. "But we are no less
imperfect, just more practical and rational." That earned her a
gentle laugh. "I have seen you with him, and it is a thing of beauty
how you have blossomed. I would have never wished for you a mirthless
man missing even a trace of daring. There's a fire within him that
won't allow a dull moment, and every woman needs that. But he is
young and to be trained like all men, so patience is a virtue."

Padme verbally neither confirmed nor denied her mother's claims,
although at this point her silence answered all.

"There's a balance in relationships, Padme. A careful, fragile
balance where there are times we must compromise, ask for forgiveness
and be forgiven. No one is perfect or right all the time. Everyone
makes mistakes. Now if Anakin has made a grievous error in judgment
recently, then he should apologize and understand how that made you
feel. But you yourself must take a good, hard look in the mirror.
What hand have you played in the demise of things? In what personal
ways have you hurt him?"

Jobal continued, "Do not think your father and I have had a perfect
relationship free from mistakes and conflicts. We are as human as any
couple, only the personal business of our relationship is just that,
personal. I don't need to know the inner workings of what you and
Anakin share. But as your mother I do need to pass along the wisdom
of one who's traveled the road you are on. Relationships are about
compromise, Padme. Without that they can wither and die. Anakin might
be the Chosen One who will bring balance to the Force, but you are
the Chosen One who can bring balance to your relationship. "

Jobal sighed, taking a careful step away. Padme's tears were gone,
and she seemed better, no matter her silence. Her resolve was back in
place, as was a spark of understanding in her eyes. "This dinner we
are having. Allow me to cancel it. Your father has invited, amongst
close friends of the family, a couple of single gentleman who are all
interested in you. Surely you don't want to go through with this?"

Padme moved to hug her mother dearly, hoping to convey just how much
she appreciated her. "Trust that I love you more than you will ever
know, and that your words are exactly what I needed to hear. But to
say that what Anakin and I share is complex... that barely scratches
the surface. For now the dinner must go on, but rest assured I shall
make things right."

Jobal couldn't ask for anything more. "Alright dear, I trust you. I
may not understand you fully, but I do trust you. And I trust your
Anakin." Padme made no attempt to deny that claim, much to Jobal's
chagrin. "He is a remarkably sexy man."

Padme swallowed hard. "Mother, do not ruin this wonderful moment with
such talk."

Jobal smiled brightly. "You're blushing."

Ignoring that bit of truth, Padme cast her hopeful gaze over the Lake
Country, with its thick green grass, rolling hills, and the sparkling
lake she so loved as a child. It was at that very moment she
recognized a small row boat coming to shore with Anakin, Pooja, and
Ryoo aboard. Her husband was rowing when they docked, and then exited
the boat, helping the children ashore. Pooja was holding a thick
brown blanket of sorts... that seemed to be moving. "Whatever are
they..."

"Oh, I believe this is the culmination of their latest nefarious
plot," Jobal laughed. "I overheard my grandchildren talking in a
closet this morning about a trade they were making with three other
children on one of the small islands. Apparently they're trading
three dolls, a holo-picture frame, and twenty credits for a Delorion
cat. They have been pestering Sola for a new pet for weeks now and
have seem to take matters in their own hands. What is it about the
women in this family that they can so easily keep a secret." Her
curiously teasing gaze fixed upon her daughter.

"I have no idea what you are talking about," Padme declared while
keeping a close eye on her husband and nieces. The nefarious trio
stopped to unfold the blanket and sure enough, a small black Delorion
kitten poked its cute little head out. "Are you going to intervene?"

Jobal gave a modest wave of her hand. "No. They are enjoying their
sisterhood and time alone with their new best friend. Rest assured
they will slip up before the day is out, and then they will pay. For
now, I'll allow this trespass."

Padme leaned over and brushed a kiss over her mother's cheek, and
then turned towards the railing and yelled as loudly as she
could, "I'M GONNA TELL!!!" The trio cast their gaze towards her,
while she was pointing at them. Ryoo and Pooja's faces were priceless
looks of shock, and then they were gone as Anakin Force-ran them in a
blur away. "I'M STILL GONNA TELL!!!"

Jobal shook her head, walking away with a smile. "Children indeed."

******

******

"Varykino"
One of the Nabberie family home's located in Lake Country Retreat
Outside the main dining hall
Early morning
Naboo

As Teckla and Nandi excused themselves to finish the final
preparations for tonight's dinner celebration, Ruwee regarded his
complex wife with a most curious expression. Her private suggestion,
just now whispered in his ear, was the last thing he expected to
hear. "The dinner party that you helped put together, you now want to
cancel at the very last moment? What brought this on?"

Unwilling to speak of her Padme's personal life, and the secrets that
came with it, Jobal navigated tough waters. "I fear we've worked
against Padme's best interest by essentially putting her on display
tonight in hopes of finding her a suitor. My judgment in the matter
has wavered, and I think canceling tonight's dinner would be for the
best. Or perhaps simply sending our guests home and having a family-
only affair?"

"Our guests have arrived already and sending them away would be in
poor taste," Ruwee countered, and then gazed at his wife. "Dear, is
there something I need to be made aware of? Has something taken place
that you makes you want to cancel the dinner?"

The worry in his eyes caused her to briefly caress his cheek. Padme's
silence during their talk earlier today was a confession unto itself,
and Jobal would not betray that. Not even to her beloved
husband. "No, things are as they were. I just worry that we have made
certain assumptions about Padme that we should not have and that she
would be better served by allowing her to live her own life minus our
interference. "

Ruwee kissed his wife's cheek, taking her hand in his. "Dear, outside
of a fabulous meal with a few good friends, Padme will meet and greet
three gentlemen. If no sparks fly the world won't end. Trust me, I
shall not play matchmaker. The evening will evolve according to her
wishes. Remember, all that we have done is put a few good men before
her. If none capture her attention then so be it."

Despite her inability to argue his points, lest she arouse his
further suspicion, Jobal nodded. Nonetheless, she felt tonight's
dinner had the makings of a colossal disaster. "Alright then. Things
shall go as planned. And I could use a glass of Zalor brandy... as
the night to come may call for more than one."

"As could I," Ruwee noted with a smile. They were soon interrupted by
the sound of Paddy Accu's voice as he announced the arrival of their
guests. "And so it begins."

"Mr. and Mrs. Nabberie, it is a pleasure to meet you." Milas Vahn
extended a firm handshake to Ruwee, and then bowed before kissing
Jobal's hand in greeting. Possessing short dark hair and even darker
eyes, the rich heir and current operations chief of Vahn
Intergalactic Imports, Naboo's biggest shipping company, spoke of his
surprise and gratitude over being invited to tonight's dinner in
honor of the Senator. He added that he held a great deal of respect
not only for Padme's political views and accomplishments, but of her
business savvy as well. Tall and confident, he dressed for success
and looked the part as he was immaculately attired from head to toe.
Jobal had to admit to herself he was a fine specimen of man and
seemed well spoken and sincere despite his vast wealth.

Next, the Nabberie's greeted Dr. Syne Kel, who brought a dozen fresh
long-stemmed Gossa roses as a gift. Jobal worked with his father some
years ago in social programs that aided the underprivileged, and
commented in a teasing manner on Syne's uncanny resemblance to his
father. Articulate to a grand degree, the doctor had a very good
sense of humor, joking that he'd never found his father particularly
good looking. That earned him a round of laughter from all around
them. His warm smile and emerald-green eyes conveyed a genuineness
that impressed Ruwee. He admitted a certain nervousness at meeting
the former Queen, but was eager to enjoy her company for the evening
and most grateful for the offer. His gentle nature was something
Jobal instantly liked about him.

Last, but certainly not least was the arrival of someone Ruwee and
Jobal met a long time ago when Padme entered the Legislative Youth
Program. Palo hugged both of them on sight, genuinely pleased to see
them again. It was easy to see that the acclaimed painter they knew
as a boy, was now all grown up and assured of himself. He regarded
the other gentlemen with a knowing nod, as they had all been told
that the Senator was single. His past with her gave even at least a
modest edge, or so he hoped.

Palo's celebrity status on Naboo was well known, and he seemed
comfortable with it to a degree Jobal wasn't sure she liked. Though
harmless enough, he seemed to lack that thrilling something a woman
required in a man. Still, he was sweet in recalling a funny story
from Padme's youth and remembered more than a few things about the
Nabberie's to be able to ask them about their family. He was
especially looking forward to seeing Padme again, as they had only
exchanged a couple of holo-mails over the years.

All talk ceased when the guest of honor appeared at the top of the
immaculately- decorated staircase. Dressed in a stylishly sleek V-neck
black evening gown that screamed seduction, Padme was a vision of
beauty as she slowly descended the stairs. She wore her thick brown
hair down in luxurious curls, complimented by a shimmering tear-drop
jewel around her neck. The more than appreciative stares of the men
gathered below gave her reason enough to smile, although she didn't
dress to kill for them. A certain moody Jedi craved her like the air
he breathed whenever she wore all black, and she had every intention
of torturing him throughout dinner and then pleasuring him all night
long afterward. There was work to be done in her marriage and once
order was restored all would be forgiven. For now though, she'd play
the part of the lonely, single Senator in desperate need of a social
life and a man in her bed.

Later on she would passionately ravage a certain Jedi-husband until
he couldn't think straight, ensuring he would never, ever again
question he was her heart's truest desire and the most important
person to her in all the galaxy.

Upon reaching the bottom of the staircase Padme gave a quick
appraisal of the male-herd brought before her. The mere thought of
which she found amusing for some reason. Milas was handsome indeed,
but she'd heard about how much and often he got around the Naboo
social circles with various women. Not for her at all, but probably
good for a sizable charitable donation to a worthy cause by nights
end. Syne now, he had beautiful eyes and dimples. She was well aware
of his hard work for the underprivileged in the poorer districts
around Naboo. While admirable, he lacked any sort of danger about
him. He seemed easily conquerable, lacking any ability to enrage
her... or to captivate. He had the potential to be a girl's good
friend and no more.

And she needed much, much more.

Palo, well, he still owned those dreamy eyes and that dark, curly
hair of his. He'd grown up nicely in her estimation, but she's found
a bit of arrogance about him unbecoming in some of his interviews. He
seemed to enjoy the limelight in a less than humble fashion, no
matter that he was truly talented. Still, he was a pleasant reminder
of her innocent youth when she had just discovered boys and what
kissing was. "Thank you all for coming. Although I don't know the
faces, I look forward to making your acquittance. I want everyone to
relax and enjoy themselves this evening. This isn't a state affair,
it's a dinner party. Please enjoy the feast I'm sure my mother has
worked very hard to help prepare. No one ever leaves our house hungry
is her motto. Entertaining conversation and endless refills of wine
glasses should ensure a most enjoyable evening."

One by one introductions were made, as Padme switched roles from
guest of honor to hostess. She greeted each of the men warmly,
exchanged a brief bit of conversation, and then moved on to the next.
Palo was last, giving her an impromptu hug that went on a bit longer
than she felt was necessary. She sensed the other men's jealousy
toward him, as well as his uncaring attitude toward them.
Nonetheless, they were ushered into the main dining hall as more
guests arrived.

Sio Bibble and his wife arrived next, with apologies from the Queen
as there were still emergency meetings going on concerning
yesterday's attack. Padme understood, hugging the former Governor
while engaging him in conversation over his thoughts concerning the
attack. He gave her his concerns and theories as they walked for a
moment, and then she saw him into the main dining hall before
rejoining her mother. Together, they greeted Zsu and Sali Wesq, dear
friends of the Nabberie family for many years now.

Soon after the Nabberie women were alone again.

Taking her daughter softly by the shoulder into a nearby corner,
Jobal whispered, "If you would like to fake a illness to get out of
this, I bet we could call the whole thing off."

Finding it necessary to needle her mother, Padme lifted her hand over
her chest as if she were appalled. "Mother, that would be lying."

"You're a politician dear. Surely you are well versed in the art."
Padme's mock of a shocked expression amused Jobal to no end. "I'm not
sure if going through with tonight is the wisest course of action."

Understanding where she was coming from, Padme pulled her mother into
a deep hug. "Trust that your dear words today struck home and that I
will make everything right. I love you more than words can say."

Jobal had little choice but to trust her daughter. "I love you as
well. I just hope you know what you're doing."

"Padme Amidala, you are truly a sight for sore eyes."

Upon hearing that most familiar Southern Naboo accent, Padme found
one of her oldest and dearest friends, as well as former college dorm-
mate, Cass Echo striding towards her. "Now this is truly a surprise,"
Padme happily noted, and then quickly embraced her, again reminded of
just how tall she was. Standing at five foot ten, Cass was statuesque
in height, never mind possessing the slender figure of a Coruscant
model. Her long, fiery red locks and fair complexion were as lovely
as Padme remembered. She still carried with her hazel eyes a carefree
spark. "Its so good to see you again, Cass. What has it been? Two or
three years?"

"Nearly four, my dear. But we've both been busy, so no one is to
blame." Offering a polite greeting to Jobal, the elder Nabberie gave
the women a few moments alone. "I was floored when I received the
invitation, Padme. You never return home for your birthday or
festivals, so when the opportunity came to see tonight I just had to
attend." Taking a step back, Cass appraised her longtime friend. "You
look amazing. I never would have guessed you would wear such a...
wicked instrument of male manipulation. "

Cass's effervescent smirk said it all. She was as blunt as she was a
bad girl with a good heart. Padme sorely missed her when their
careers led them in vastly opposite directions. "I've changed over
the years, Cass. I am no longer the saintly wallflower you so
mercilessly teased once upon a time."

"Thank goodness for that. You have blossomed into not only one of the
most feared politicians in the galaxy, but a beautiful a woman as
well. Praise the Force you are finally out of your former Queen
attire," she laughed good-natured at Padme's expense. "One could not
tell if you were a woman at all, you were so covered in heavy make up
and layers of clothing."

"Perhaps I should have been more like you and made sure the boys knew
what was under my clothes every chance I got?"

"If I didn't love you so I'd take that as an insult. And if you had
then you would have enjoyed allot more fun." Their back and forth
rapport was the same as it had always been. Whenever they were
together, a fun time as had by all. "How have you been, Padme?"

"Aside from yesterday's unfortunate events, I'm fine. Just doing my
best in the Senate to end this atrocious war. And I'm overjoyed to be
home with my family. How are you?"

"Well, I haven't killed anyone at the Banking Union, so that's a
plus," she noted in her usual flair. "I'm fine, just overworked and
in need of a good, strong man to spend a couple of wild, sweaty
nights with." Casting her gaze around, Cass leaned in and
whispered, "I do hope your good friend will be attending tonight's
festivities? "

Padme blinked. "Good friend?"

"That deviously handsome Force's gift to women, Anakin Skywalker...
now he would be one amazing mountain to climb."

Suddenly, Padme wanted to push Cass off that mountain and fire at
blaster at her while she fell, but kept her unsavory emotions in
check. Her jealousy flared hot, so fast it surprised her, and it was
coming from a good friend who if she knew that Anakin had someone
wouldn't dare make a pass at him. Still, the wife in her wanted a
pound of flesh for the comment alone. "Yes, my good friend should be
here any..." And then he was there, standing before them, having
arrived as quiet as a whisper on the wind.

Clad in a full black Jedi robe, Anakin slowly withdrew his hood,
hands clasped before him. He looked the very definition of dark
power, passion, and danger. Though he regarded them both, he only
acknowledged Padme. "Milady."

Cass's facial expression screamed she would eat him alive and serve
at the foot of his bed. She quickly shook her head free and then
gently nudged Padme.

Stuttering briefly, Padme introduced, "Good evening, Anakin. This is
Cass Echo. I think I mentioned her to you once or twice."

"A friend from college, I believe." Anakin took Cass's right hand and
brushed a soft kiss over it. "It's a pleasure to meet you."

"Can I have your chil..."

"Cass, please show yourself in and have a glass of wine," Padme
quickly ushered her off. "I'll be in shortly." Cass departed,
offering a wildly flirtatious wink at Anakin. "She tends to come on
strong."

"Since she believes she was flirting with a single man, can she be
blamed?"

Issues between them lately came down to that and that alone. Padme
quietly leaned into him, settling her hand over his chest. "Dear, I
love you. And I want us to talk after dinner is over with."

"That I even have to endure this evening is an insult."

"It is one dinner that I ask for, and then we shall mend things
between us. Again, I do apologize for asking you to do this." Padme
felt, despite the frustration she was putting him through that he
found her attire most pleasing. She smiled as his feelings were laid
bare before her. "I will make this up to you."

"How?" Her invasion into his personal space left him momentarily
breathless.

"By giving you what you deserve."

Anakin watched her walk away, eying the seductive sway of her
gorgeous backside. Tonight was going to test him in ways Obi-Wan
could only dream of. If he could get through the evening without
killing someone then perhaps he truly was destined to bring the Force
back into balance.

If not, then heads would roll.

Literally.

******

"... so in runs little Padme screaming that we all had to come
outside quick. She had something awesome to show us, and we had to
see it right now," Sola regaled the guests with a story she was sure
Padme, judging from her death-glare, didn't particularly want to be
told. Alas, it was a universal right that all older sisters got to
torture their younger siblings. "So I ran outside after her with our
parents following us. That was when our esteemed Senator led us over
a small hill to a stretch of grassy land that Shaaks graze. When we
arrived my dear sister began jumping up and down while pointing at
two Shaak's in particular, shouting that one was trying to...how did
she put it, jump over the other from behind, but could never seem to
do it. She told us it looked very determined."

The humorous roar around the table caused Padme to blush, never mind
the youthful innocence the story conveyed. She silently swore
sisterly vengeance on Sola someday when she least expected it.

Sola so enjoyed the spotlight when she could rib her sister. "My poor
mother raced toward Padme, put her hand over her eyes and drug her
away while my father simply shook his head at the scene. Suffice to
say, that one Shaak never quite leapt over its friend, but he seemed
to be smiling after the effort."

"Now that was utterly charming," Cass chimed in, enjoying the chance
to tease her good friend. "Tell me, dear Padme? Did you ever get the
chance to see a Shaak leap another from behind?"

Taking off her heel and throwing it just wasn't proper etiquette for
a former Queen and current Republic Senator. "Cass, would you like me
to show you the door?" Snickers around the table as she said it
wearing a smile. The single-fingered gesture that was her friend's
reply made Padme roll her eyes as laughter settled around them. All
the while she felt Anakin's warm and tender gaze, wishing it were not
from across the length of the table, but right next to her.
Unfortunately, Palo held that seat. And he seemed to enjoy the
nearness far more than she did.

While Milas and Syne had been perfect gentlemen despite their obvious
romantic interest in her, Padme found Palo's constant need to lean
over and whisper something in her ear a bit annoying. He seemed to
think that their brief and platonic flirtation during their past gave
him some sort of added intimacy. She could tell her mother, sister,
and Cass recognized her mild discomfort. Anakin was not pleased at
all, and her worry escalated when she saw that his light saber was
with him. Nothing good could come of that.

At least the wine was excellent. And the feast looked and smelled
magnificent.

No matter the circumstances surrounding tonight's dinner, Jobal was
pleased as friendly conversations broke out around the double-
pedastle dining table during the first course of dinner. Seated
between Anakin and her husband, she admired the newly remodeled main
dining hall. Adorned with a truly magnificent floral arrangement,
antique Pilar vases, a massive wood-burning fireplace, and original
artwork by a truly talented painter who was a dear friend of the
family, she felt it gave off a warm sense of home despite the
luxury.

Just across the table, Sio, his wife and Milas were engaged in a
serious discussion over recent export restrictions placed on key off-
world Naboo contacts by Palpatine's administration. Syne enjoyed a
few words with Padme over an outbreak of Lunas disease in the
northern hemisphere that relief efforts were only now getting under
control. Palo found new fans in Zsu and Sali. He was more than happy
to discuss his work and when his next art showing would be.

While keeping careful watch over Ruwee's sneaky attempt to secretly
eat something Jobal knew wasn't good for his digestive system, she
noted Anakin's utter boredom and frustration with even being here.
She liked him the very first time she met him, but now she considered
him family, and felt she had an understanding of him that caused her
to care even more. Especially now that he'd captured her daughter's
heart. But for a man accustomed to the front lines of war in recent
times, a social dinner party probably didn't appeal to him at all.
Add into that a couple of men who all had designs on the woman he
loved... She
leaned into him. "How are you this evening, Anakin?"

Taking a moment to wipe his mouth with a napkin, he offered, "I'm
fine, Milady."

"You seemed bored."

She already had the ability to see through his facade. "This is not
how I usually spend my evenings."

"Well, we are honored by your presence, and you are most welcome in
our home at any time," Jobal declared sincerely, holding his gaze a
moment. He seemed very appreciative. "And I'll have you know this,"
she began, and then lowered her voice for his ears alone, "I tried to
cancel this dinner at the last minute."

"May I ask why?"

Jobal calmly favored him. "Well, you may ask."

Lips curling into a smile, Anakin couldn't help enjoying the quietly
clever mother of his beloved. She was a refreshing change from Obi-
Wan. He hadn't realized until coming here how badly he needed someone
in his corner on a more personal level. "So what do you think of the
men seeking to ensnare your daughter?"

Jobal studied him closely, and then drank from her wine glass. "I
consider her already ensnared," she noted while looking away. Anakin
neither confirmed nor denied a thing, not that she expected
otherwise. "I saw that you brought your light saber to dinner
tonight. May I ask why?"

His eyes slowly swept over the three men seated at the dining table,
and then settled on Jobal. "Well, you may ask." She laughed softly
and he considered the sound delightful. "I thought that if you ran
out of knives I would have something to cut my meat with."

"Or perhaps cut through the loud aroma of Palo's cologne." They
shared a chuckle, and then Anakin gave a slow nod. Suddenly, his eyes
darted toward Padme with such possessive tenderness Jobal found
herself dying to know how long he'd loved her, and how their
relationship came about. That thought fled her mind the moment she
caught sight out of the corner of her eye her mischievous husband
using her conversation with the Jedi to reach for the tray of Norsian
Crisp pasta. A favorite of his, but not the best thing for his body
considering his advancing age. He didn't need another bad episode
like last time.

Jobal gently tapped Anakin's wrist and then pointed toward the dish
Ruwee was reaching for. He seemed to gather, without a word spoken,
what she wanted him to do. Mesmerized as always by one who could
command the living Force, she watched the dish slowly move farther
out of Ruwee's reach until it was so far away he'd have to get up to
go and retrieve it.

Padme and Sola's laughter soon alerted the room to what was happening
as Ruwee crossed his arms, glaring at his wife. "You think that was
funny, don't you?"

Jobal uttered not a sound, enjoying her dinner once more.

******

"Have I told you how truly amazing you look tonight?" Palo
complimented in Padme's ear while dancing with her by the crackling
fireplace.

Having heard Palo mutter something, Padme was otherwise occupied with
observing Cass dancing oh so closely with Anakin. Her vaunted
maturity was being sorely tested in ways it never had before as she
couldn't stand the way he held her body against his, draped in his
arms. Her head ached, and she wanted to drag him away from her and
never look back. She was of two trains of thought as the soft music
played
on.

"Padme?"

For one, her rational mind knew that Anakin loved her alone and that
Cass was a good person who, if she told her right this second about
her marriage, would apologize profusely and then tease her
mercilessly.

But she'd never seen her husband with his strong arms around another
woman. She'd never seen a woman with her head resting against his
shoulder, her eyes shut, loving the way his warm embrace felt.
Knowing her friend the way she did, Cass was no doubt entertaining
thoughts of a grand conquest tonight, openly lusting after Anakin.
The knowledge of which left Padme terribly uncomfortable.

When Anakin smiled at something Cass whispered in his ear, and then
returned the sentiment, Padme felt a hot stab of jealousy. Her eyes
widened in surprise when Palo suddenly stopped in front of her,
casting a most curious stare.

"Your mind seems elsewhere?"

"I... I'm sorry, Palo. Please forgive me." Pulling him back into
their dance, the last thing Padme wanted was to cause a
scene. "Perhaps the music has lulled me."

"And here I was hoping it was me."

"Your company is appreciated, Palo." Unfortunately for Padme, Palo
took her modest confirmation as window of opportunity. He attempted
to draw her closer, into a more intimate slow dance. She politely
rebuffed his attempt, and with no more than an arched brow conveyed
her meaning. He accepted without mention, and she hoped that would be
his last failed attempt of the night to make more out of his
invitation than a dinner party.

As for Palo, he felt the presence of her Jedi friend was probably the
culprit as to why she was a bit distant. Anakin seemed the big
brother type, his menacing eyes boring into him from the moment he
led Padme onto the dance floor. And though she had already danced
with the two other competitors for her affection, he was last and
hoped to make the best impression.

Now if only that infuriating Jedi would give Padme room to breathe,
Palo felt he could make a connection with the gorgeous Senator. One
that would reawaken her obviously frozen heart and give him a greater
piece of the spotlight than he'd ever enjoyed before.

Meanwhile, Jobal danced with her husband while keeping secret watch
over Anakin and Padme. After dinner, but before dessert the guests
decided to enjoy the soft music by candlelight, and so people paired
off with who they came with to start, and then began pairing off for
conversations sake. Anakin chose not to dance at first, but then was
cornered by Cass as they were now seemingly enjoying each other's
company. Jobal had no doubt where Anakin's heart lay, but maybe this
was payback for tonight. Padme seemed distracted from the moment she
saw them.

The young and the games that they play.

Her daughter was stubborn to an extent Jobal hadn't believed
possible. Nonetheless, she had seen enough thus far. It was time for
her to intervene. "Dear, could you please save Sola's feet from Sio's
lack of coordination. I'd like a moment with Anakin."

"You're leaving me for the Jedi, aren't you?" Ruwee joked while
brushing a kiss over her cheek.

"I think he's taken, dear."

"That's not entirely the best answer you could have given me," he
smiled.

"I love you, but you're infuriating. Go." Offering her a bow of
sorts, Jobal watched him walk off, and then made her way over to Cass
and Anakin by the flower-trimmed windows. A polite tap on Cass's
shoulder drew her attention. "Might I cut in? It's not often a woman
gets the chance to dance with a Jedi."

"Certainly, Mrs. Nabberie." Cass gave a sensually lazy head-to-toe
appraisal of Anakin before stepping aside. "He is a fine specimen and
a skilled dancer. I can only imagine his other skills," she trailed
off as Anakin took Jobal's hand.

"She's... interesting, " was all Anakin could think to say.

"She's a predator and you, my dear Jedi, are the prey."

"Trust that she will never catch me."

"I do indeed." Jobal quite enjoyed his company as they danced. Sola
even winked at her, ever the tease. She could easily see the allure
this one possessed. Dangerous, gorgeous, and the supreme confidence
he carried himself with were unmistakable. "Padme doesn't seem to be
enjoying herself very much."

"It's probably her choice in dance partners."

"Then allow me to rectify that little problem." Not one to sit back
and watch from the sidelines, Jobal guided Anakin past the other
dancing couples to where Padme and Palo were. "Palo, dear. I would
just love to hear about your amazing new exhibit." She sensed that
man loved to talk, especially if it were about himself. "If you don't
mind?"

"Not... not at all." Frustration simmered over the artist's face, but
he held his tongue as he couldn't refuse. Anakin's presence didn't
help matters in the least. With his fate sealed he politely took
Jobal's hand, who immediately led him away almost against his will.

Wasting no time despite their differences, Anakin extended his
hand. "Milady?"

Taking his hand, Padme nestled against him... home for her heart, her
head resting over his chest, eyes shut, with his other hand warming
the small of her back. She couldn't care less who saw them or what
anyone thought. She was with the man she loved, who she knew was
still bitterly angry with her, and yet couldn't hide his feelings.
The way he breathed just over her neck, clutching her body to his,
she knew
his precious heart.

"Would you think it unladylike if I clawed Cass's eyes out?"

A more unPadme-like phrase, he had never heard from her before. His
bright smile lived for her alone, giving him the gift of her
jealousy. He warmed the shell of her ear with his breath. "You could
never be unladylike, angel."

The pleasant hum that escaped her lips found his notice as he
squeezed her tighter in his arms. "I wish that I could kiss you."

"You have only to take what is rightfully yours."

"Soon." She wasn't sure he believed her, but she was dedicated to
ending this farce and repairing the damage she'd done to their
marriage. For the time being, she adored the man in her arms. "I see
my mother has you wrapped around her little finger."

"She's a wonderful person."

"And she knows that I love you beyond words."

"Did you tell her about us?"

"No, but she's observant to a degree I may have underestimated. And
she knows that you are in love with me as well."

"I don't hide it. I never have." Her silence gave way to guilt, as he
felt she deserved a small bit of it. Not even the envious stares he
received from the other men seeking his angel mattered as he was
still upset. The only salvation was that even his anger lessened when
she was in his arms, her head tucked below his chin, clinging to him
and him alone. "I may have to kill Palo before the night is done?"

Her giggle was as surprising to her as it was to Anakin, that a
darkly humorous joke could cause such a reaction. "He is an arrogant
pest at best. Leave him be. He'll be gone soon enough."

"He lusts after you."

"But I lust only for you," Padme declared softly, and then tilted her
head when the announcement that dessert as ready to be served. "If
you will be patient just a little while longer, I promise everything
will be the way that it should."

"Patience isn't one of my strong suits." And with those parting words
Anakin left Padme alone with her thoughts

******

Standing with his wine glass raised high, as were all the other
guests and the Nabberie family, Milas offered a toast to the guest of
honor. "To Padme Amidala. Naboo's champion. Unmatched in
intelligence, character, and courage under fire. You are a shimmering
jewel in the crown of our world, and a shining example to us all...
And by far the most beautiful woman in the universe." His toast drew
cheers and applause while he focused his attention on the woman of
the evening, favoring her with a gentlemanly nod and a little wink
that made her smile.

Padme wore a gracious expression. "Thank you, Mr. Vahn."

"Milas, milady," he teasingly corrected the Senator, who bowed her
apologies. "Although I wouldn't consider you calling me husband
someday an insult." Snickers around the table at his flirtatious
comment, to which Padme gave a wave of her hand in dismissal. Still,
she appeared less than offended. "Boyfriend wouldn't be bad either."

"Enough, Milas," Padme laughed, mildly embarrassed. "Thank you for
the toast."

With his face set in a scowl, Anakin's hand brushed over the handle
of his light saber. Jobal gently tapped his wrist out of the sight of
anyone. "People don't ever die or leave hungry at my dinner table,"
she explained in a low tone of voice, and then saw the corners of his
mouth lift as he took his seat again. She exhaled as one crisis was
averted.

At that very moment another began.

The rumbling pitter-patter of little feet sounded down a staircase
just outside the main dining hall. Everyone's attention peaked when
the voices of children shouting at something could be heard quite
clearly. As their voices grew in volume Neckla shrieked by the
entrance door when something moving very fast ran over her foot.

"No, don't go in there... Noooo!" Pooja was heard yelling
frantically. Alas, she was far to late.

The collective stares of everyone at the dinning table witnessed the
appearance of a small black Delorion kitten racing into the dining
hall, and then leaping onto the shoulder of a bewildered Sio Bibble.
The loud sound that escaped his mouth was high-pitched and far from
manly, as the kitten dove onto his wife's lap, and then ran across
the backs of the chairs Sola, Darren, and Zsu occupied. Humorous
chatter erupted when the animal leapt onto Milas's head, and then the
table itself. It raced towards the massive, triple-layered cake that
was the center piece of dessert and leaped in the air...

And then hung there.

Anakin's outstretched palm dangled the kitten above the cake, while
the guests caught there breaths after such a surprising event. Never,
ever, had an animal interrupted one of Jobal's dinner's. She looked
to the dining hall entrance where a so-very-guilty Pooja and Ryoo
stood, huddled together. Their little faces screamed, "We are so
dead!"

"Children, come here now," Sola demanded while watching the kitten
gently descended into Anakin's hands, and then begin to lick his
fingers as if he recognized the Jedi. Curious indeed. "What is the
meaning of this?"

Taking the longest route possible to their mom, Ryoo and Pooja, with
their heads hung low rounded the table. When they reached Sola, who's
arms were crossed as she awaited an answer, they looked to each
other, not sure who should speak. Luckily for them, they didn't need
too.

"Sola, I'm afraid I am at fault for tonight's... four-legged
entertainment, " Padme half-laughed while casting her gaze at her
scared nieces. "I received the Delorion kitten this afternoon as a
gift and asked Pooja and Ryoo to watch after it for me until after
dinner. The little rug rat must has escaped their care. I do
apologize for the disturbance. "

Sola glanced from her sister, to her girls and then her mother, and
finally back to her girls. Mischief was afoot, but she'd let it go
for now. With just a look, Darren understood they'd discuss this with
the
girls later. "Take Padme's gift back upstairs and keep it safe and
out of the way."

The girls, overjoyed that their favorite aunt hadn't told a thing,
hugged their mom, and then raced around the table to hug Padme
tightly.

Ryoo whispered, "I knew you wouldn't tell. I just knew it."

Padme gave a nod, and then shoveled them off. They ran to Anakin
next, took the kitten and each kissed his cheek. After a quick
goodbye to their dad and grandfather the children departed. Chuckles
around the table over the unexpected intrusion as everyone took it in
stride.

Soon after, Teckla and Nandi began serving dessert, which consisted
of a slice of triple-layered Drizzle cake and two scoops of Veens ice
cream. A wonderful evening thus was winding down, and for Padme, she
couldn't be happier. The sooner the dinner was over with, the sooner
she could fix things with Anakin. Her husband wasn't pleased with her
in the least right now, and hadn't so much as looked at her in quite
a while. She swallowed that bit of hurt, and then resolved herself to
righting the wrongs just as soon as their guests left.

"Anakin?" Palo called out, catching the Jedi's attention. "How about
you regale us with an exciting story from the front lines of the war?"

Amidst a hushed stillness around the table, Anakin sent a hard glare
at Palo. "There is nothing exciting about war."

The painter could tell he struck a nerve, his intent all
along. "Surely the Man Without Fear, as the HoloNet news agency so
famously coined you, has had adventures that would leave us
spellbound over dessert. Especially during the dark times we live in
today."

"The dark times, as you put it, consist of a horrible war where
millions of innocent people are dying. There are no adventures to be
found or discussed for the merit of fun," Anakin noted in a sharp
tone, his expression hardening. "Perhaps you have an exciting tale
for us. I'm sure you've enjoyed some wild days with your paint
brushes." Padme covered her mouth to keep from laughing, while the
other guests found the back and forth between the men most
interesting.

Palo's agitation grew. "Forgive me, Jedi Skywalker. I create, not
destroy like you and the Jedi."

"A Jedi's mandate is not to create, but to protect and serve the
Republic," Padme spoke up, much to Palo's disappointment. "I have the
utmost respect for them. Especially Anakin, whose bravery and
character I admire above all others."

Jobal would have applauded if it wouldn't have caused a scene. Sola
nodded her agreement. Ruwee watched them both thoughtfully.

Palo's jaw tightened. "And yet the Jedi are under constant HoloNet
scrutiny over rumors of corruption, lies, and the intent to deceive
the Republic."

Ruwee laughed to himself, and then offered, "The same could be said
for Palpatine's regime. Only in that case I'm willing to bet
everything I own it's true. These are troubling times, Palo. People
are suffering while others debate rumors and conspiracies. I would
rather deliver food and medicine to a grieving world than learn of
the criminal dealings that happen behind closed doors."

Palo lifted his hands in mock defeat, though secretly angry at how
quickly Padme's family came to Anakin's defense. "Perhaps my intent
was misinterpreted. It's not often I dine with a Jedi, much less one
with Anakin's hero status."

"So you hoped that I would entertain you?" Anakin pinned Palo with a
menacing gaze.

"Jedi can use the Force. Parlor tricks and all," Palo said while
refilling with wine glass. "Although I am not sure if one could
expect anything more spectacular than lifting that kitten earlier."
That very moment his wine glass took flight from his hand, floated
just over the center of the table and hung there for all to see. Then
it slowly descended down to the table. Palo suddenly felt a fool as
he lowered his hand by his side. "And I thought the vaunted, unseen
Force you Jedi believe in were capable of so much more."

"I find your lack of faith distressing, " the words rolled off
Anakin's tongue. Before Palo could reply his chair suddenly lifted
off the floor. His obvious discomfort was the most pleasant sight
Anakin's seen all night. "If you are looking for entertainment, Palo.
Allow me to grant your wish."

Palo's chain began to spin while his hands clung to the arm
rests. "This is not funny."

"I'm not so sure about that," Syne interjected. "I'm quite amused by
the sight of a grown man spinning in mid..." Speech failed the
esteemed doctor when his chair rose from the floor. Looking around
the guests below him, he smiled, "I have now floated. My life is
complete."

Padme enjoyed seeing Anakin put Palo in his place until her chair
began to rise. One by one, each of the guests chair's lifted off the
floor amidst gasps and cheers as they were all treated to a show of
the Force. And then the dining table itself lifted, not spilling or
turning over a single thing. And if the spectacle of the scene
weren't amazing enough, the entire dinner table and all of the guests
fully swiveled in a slow circle until everyone was sitting on the
opposite side of the room they began on as each chair softly landed
back on the floor.

Good-natured chatter filled the room, as well as questions about the
Force and how it felt to use it. Anakin tried as best he could to
accommodate everyone, answering to the best of his ability. He
enjoyed the attention, as well as the respect he was given as the
dessert and conversation lifted everyone's mood.

That was until Anakin caught sight of Palo leaning over Padme's chair
to tell her something privately. The painter's carnal thoughts were
wide open to the Jedi, his intentions clear as day. Though Padme had
zero interest in him that wasn't the point that made Anakin so irate.
It was that all night long he'd had to hold his tongue while men
flirted with his wife, danced with her, their eyes full of longing
and desire. Their minds filled with images of his angel in their bed.
Finally, he'd had enough.

Standing from his chair, Anakin declared with a bow, "Thank you for a
wonderful dinner. I'm going to call it an evening. Goodnight."

Offering no more of an explanation than that, he exited the dining
hall with all eyes on him.

"Excuse me," Padme quickly stated, noting Jobal's nod. She had work
to do and now was the time.

******

Cursing her short legs, Padme chased after Anakin's long, angry
stride down the dimly lit western hall of the estate. Her heart
begged her to shout after him, but she couldn't find her voice no
matter how hard she tried. Damn whatever those back in the dining
hall thought of her abrupt departure. Her marriage was on the line,
so nothing else mattered.

She had to fix this, and she had to fix this now.

Padme saw Anakin enter one of the empty guest rooms at the end of the
hall. Her pursuit came to a halt just outside the partially open
door. There were so many things she wanted to tell him and to make
him understand. And yet she considered that perhaps the correct
course of action would be to listen.

Quietly entering the small guest room, she found Anakin staring out
of an open corner window, his back to her. The black Jedi cloak he
wore was on the floor, obviously thrown behind him. He was ever aware
of her presence, so she saw no reason to announce herself. Instead,
she fed off his emotions through their shared Force-connection and
felt such a powerful wave of betrayal and frustration that tears
moistened
her eyes. By the Force, what had she done?

On the wing tips of a deep breath, Padme braced for his fury.

"I had thought," Anakin spoke in a grim tone as the moonlit lake
surrounding the estate filled his line of vision, "That it hurt when
Count Dooku severed my arm. But that was nothing compared to night."

Hovering close by, Padme lowered her head as his words struck home,
and then gently wiped her sad eyes.

"Those men in there... each of them desired you," he nodded, his rage
barely restrained. "Each of them imagined bedding you to their
hearts' content. They smiled and laughed at everything you did. They
hung on your every word, each hoping for the sparkle in your eyes to
favor them just once. I listened to their thoughts from the moment
they saw you. I was forced to sit there like a good little boy,
holding my tongue the entire time while they danced and flirted with
you in my face. I felt humiliated."

When Anakin turned around to finally face Padme, the shadows hid his
face from her. She sensed he had much more to say, and though it hurt
her so badly to hear it, she knew that she had too.

"My wife..." Taking a careful step toward her, only enough to see her
stricken face, Anakin shook his head in defiance of her tears. "I've
spent the entire evening being disrespected. I feel betrayed by YOU!"
he shouted at her for perhaps the first time ever and even her pained
expression did little to sooth his anger. "I am exhausted because of
all the deception in our lives. I am surrounded by lies, and it
sickens me. I feel hidden from your loved ones as if you are somehow
ashamed of me." He paused for a brief moment, breathing heavily. "If
I have to keep secrets from the Jedi and the Senate, then so be it.
But I shouldn't have to with the only family I have left. And the
vast majority of them don't even know that I am family. I would
rather go back to the war than live like this another day."

Padme longed to hold him. To assure him of her absolute love, and
swear that this would never happen again. But her mother's words came
back to her here. In order to make this right, she had to know
exactly what she did wrong. And so she quietly held her peace,
brushing aside the tears as they fell. Though he was almost within
arms reach, they felt worlds apart.

Anakin's glare drifted over her, the pain so fresh not even her
sensual allure could tame it. "You made me feel unworthy because of
what I had to endure tonight," he declared through tightly clenched
teeth. Padme's hand covered her mouth as she cried before him. Her
pain only amplified his own. "I've never been so angry with you... I
don't have anything else to say."

Exhaling deeply, Padme gently brushed her tears aside while gathering
herself. Her soft gaze followed him to the foot of the bed where he
sat down, and then ran his hand slowly over his face. She recalled
his apology to her over what happened yesterday, and his explanation
for why he did it. She knew her anger and disappointment were valid.
Her opinion stood over his mistake. She was still hurt over his
actions, and yet, on some level she understood them. He was right in
telling her that she should have not gone to Theed Palace with him.
The danger would have been greater, and perhaps the assassins would
have accomplished their goal of killing her. His methods were at
fault, but his heart was in the right place.

Where was her heart tonight, she considered, while he watched these
men parade around her? All of them seeking her affection and romantic
interest. He suffered such disrespect, and for that she felt crushed
at her hand in all this. Nonetheless, Padme Amidala did not fold when
the day looked lost. She did not bow her head and allow the worst to
survive for long. She was a fighter, and there was no greater battle
for her than this one.

Even as her presence suffocated him, Anakin hated that the faint
scent of her perfume clinging to her soft skin could wrench such a
reaction from him as she invaded his personal space, standing before
him now. He felt her turmoil, sadness, and regret. Felt it so
strongly that all he wanted to do was take it all away so that she
wouldn't have to bear it. Even though tonight was her fault, his love
for her was that absolute.

"Before we were reunited after the assassination attempt on
Coruscant, I had no personal or social life at all," Padme revealed
in a measured tone voice, her arms wrapped around herself to ward off
the emotional chill shivering hr body. "I was running on auto-pilot,
with my every waking hour dedicated to the service of Naboo and the
Republic. And while I took great pride and satisfaction in the work I
was doing, behind closed doors I was so lonely and incomplete that I
began to feel old. Very, very old."

Brushing a shaky hand through her hair, Padme continued. "I didn't
have a clue how to develop a social life because I was so detached
from everything normal. I cherished my time as Queen, but I was an
oasis unto myself. There was the business of Naboo and nothing else.
No parties. No vacations. Nothing that would signal a young woman
enjoying her life. When you are Queen your focus is devoted to the
people, so that is what I did. And when my time was done I used to
dream that I would get away from the spotlight and live like all the
other girls my age. I wanted to find someone special and fall in
love. I wanted to go places and do things that were fun. But once my
time as Queen ended I realized that I was so out of touch with how to
live like a normal person that I rushed into negotiations for the
vacated Senator position. I knew how to live a structured life. I
knew how to work long hours, keep my composure and focus in meetings,
and deal with politicians. I understood that sort of life. So I
drowned myself in it. But then you returned to my life... and I
finally learned to live."

"Ani," she spoke his name as affectionate as a gentle kiss. "When I
fell in love with you my life became bright and new. I... I didn't
know I was capable of being in love or even having a relationship. I
was so woefully unprepared for you that I fought my feelings with
everything that I had. But your dear heart won me over, and I thank
the Force every day for that. You saved me, Ani. You saved my life
and I love you more than I could ever say. But you need to understand
that before you, I had no other relationships. I didn't have any
experience with a man in any way before you."

His silence came without him even lifting his eyes to her.
Nonetheless, Padme pressed on. "None of what I have done wrong is
excused by my lack of experience in relationships. I guess I'm just
trying to say...I'm... I'm not perfect. I sometimes only listen to
the sound of my own voice. I make mistakes, and I have made a
grievous one tonight. I am sorrier than I have ever been before, and
I am heartbroken because I feel that I have failed you," she cried,
her face wincing painfully, her hand over her heart. "That ruins me
inside."

When her voice trembled and hitched, Anakin found he couldn't stand
not looking at her anymore. Her tears crippled something inside him
as she bled her heart.

"I am so sorry that I have kept my family away from you. I am sorry
that I have fought you over telling them about us. I am so proud to
be your wife. You are my sunrise and sunset, Ani. I only want a life
with you, (no comma) and could live any other way as long as I had
you with me. I need you by my side," she poured her heart to him with
tears falling down her cheeks, her face stricken with sorrow. "I have
felt like I was protecting you by hiding us because I think you are
so very important to the Republic. I think you are destined for
something so monumentally great that it will benefit the entire
galaxy. But I went too far, and now I can only hope that you forgive
me. I love you to the depths of my very soul. And I swear I will
never fail you again."

Anakin's expression softened upon her, no longer filled with anger or
resentment. His blue eyes pooled with longing, desperate to erase
tonight from his memory.

Trembling as she stood between his legs, Padme felt fragile before
him, awaiting his reply. "I think after breakfast tomorrow morning we
should gather the family and tell them together. We will tell them
everything. And I will apologize to you again in front of them. I
feel you deserve that." His unwavering stare tore through her until
she couldn't take it anymore. Through a fresh wave of tears her voice
strained, "Ani, please..."

With intense urgency his strong hands clasped her beautiful face,
bringing her soft lips to his, forcing her to straddle his thighs.
The hot, visceral emotion behind his hungry kiss saw her shaking with
sensation. Her husband's fiery passion left her wet and needy the
second he began drinking from her lips, his arms clutching her
tightly to his chest, unable to get enough of her. Her hands grabbed
at his shirt, drawing him closer, craving the feel of his body
against her own. Their tongues curled round and round inside her
mouth, their heads gliding from side to side, inhaling the other's
breath. Her dress bunched up towards her slender hips, though she
barely noticed. Never had her body craved sex the way it did right
now as she felt her moist center grinding over his throbbing
erection, creating the most delicious friction.

By the Force, they needed to kill all the pain and anger and hurt
that crossed between them in the last day.

In a quiet flash, they moved in sync. Anakin's right arm crossed her
lower back, hauling her flush to his chest. He stood for a brief
moment while she worked his pants down off his hips, before sitting
again as they frantically kicked off their shoes. Having gone the
night sans underwear to entice him, there was nothing in the way as
she poised herself above the weeping tip of his thick shaft, and then
slowly lowered her body until she was so full of him she swore she
could feel his heart beating inside her own chest.

The entire time their gazes remained locked, sharing the raw need
that threatened to overwhelm them.

"I love you," Padme promised before her lips caressed his in a brief,
trembling kiss. Her arms locked around his neck as she began to ride,
her hips grinding low and away, lazily impaling him inside her.
Crying while making love to him, desire quivered her belly, causing
her thighs to clench over his. When his lips parted with a husky moan
her body liquefied around him. They were still partially-clothed, and
yet he hadn't ever felt so perfect to her as he did now. She sighed
pleasurably over his lips each time she slid down his cock, drew him
out, and then drove him back inside deeper. "I love you so much,"
softly escaped her lips.

Watching Padme make love to him was a revelation of all that was good
in his life. His fiery anger died a little more with every roll of
her slender hips, her sex dragging and pulling him to madness. With
his strong hands clutching her hips, she rode his lap in short,
grinding circles until he groaned, "...my angel."

"Always," she panted, kissing his throat, over the shell of his ear
and cheek, and then back to his lips, plundering them with her
tongue. And when he finally fell onto his back, her hands braced his
chest, her body taking him inside her with greater intensity. Her
eyes squeezed shut, her body clenching around the fullness of his
throbbing flesh. Up and down she moved over him tirelessly, adoring
the expression of awe he wore, and the way he sighed her name.

Spiraling intense ripples of pleasure erupted when Padme threw her
head back, her bottom lip caught in her teeth as the hot friction
over her clit sent tremors of a blinding orgasm coursing through her
body. She bent over him, shaking, trembling, her cries muffled in the
hollow of his neck as waves of pleasure tore through her. His arms
held her through the longest, most satisfying climax of her entire
life.

Breathing heavily over him, Padme sensed Anakin was far from through
with her.

When his mouth captured hers again, Anakin moved on sheer instinct
alone. He lifted them into a sitting position, shoved his pants off
with his feet, and then in one fluid motion stood and drove Padme's
back solid against the nearby wall. At no time had he slipped from
her body, his cock pulsing inside her tight, slippery warmth.

With a sharp intake of air, Padme was mesmerized by the need to
conquer shadowing his blue eyes. To claim and dominate her for all
time. She felt his greed for her through their Force-connection. ..
his possessiveness and devoted love... his borderline obsessive
passion. His intense feelings made her ache for him, wanting him to
know that she was his for all time and that would never, ever change.

"Take me," she boldly pleaded with him, staring into his eyes. Her
legs locked further around his hips, her ankles following suit. With
her back braced high to the wall, his hips began to lift her body
with hard, surging thrusts that caught her breath in her
throat. "Take me... fuck me... Make me never forget that I'm yours."

"Loveyousomuch. .. Padme...Padme, my love." Anakin's hands shaped to
the sensuous curves of her backside, using the grip to surge into her
harder, his hips driving her up the wall with every resounding slap
of their bodies. He was lost in the exquisite feel of her... in the
way she aroused him to no end. An animalistic groan fled his lungs in
a rush as he was swept in the lust of her potent allure. Unable to
speak, his body conveyed his thoughts with every lifting, deep thrust
that ripped a cry from her lungs. He couldn't keep his eyes off the
beautifully flushed expression on her face, the way her beautiful
features grimaced with passion, or the way her voice hovered just
above a purr.

Padme arched wildly with his bouncing, deep thrusts. The act was
rougher, her legs jerking wildly, being vigorously fucked out of her
mind by the man she loved. He was so big, hot, and hard inside her...
taking her at his whim, giving her all that he had as his thrust
rocked her body against the wall until she soared through a euphoric,
writhing orgasm that shot hot sparks through her. Not for a second
did Anakin stop driving her up the wall, lifting her with his
pounding hips, his groans loudly ringing her ears. Kissing him hard,
she begged him, "Come inside me, Ani... let go... Come inside me...
please..."

What shred of self-control he had left crumbled to ashes when her
request entered his mind. Wrenching her body upwards one last time,
Anakin roared through a savage series of ejaculations, his essence
bursting warm and wet inside her until he had nothing left to give...
until his legs nearly buckled from exertion, his heart lodged
somewhere in the vicinity of his throat.

Padme, for a brief instant... felt a blinding, powerful sense of the
Force sweep through her twice... and then it was gone as quickly as
it came.

Moments later they were cuddled on the bed, still partially clothed,
eyes shut, humming peacefully as their emotional storm had passed.
The raw lust of their make-up sex ended, leaving behind this softer,
quieter side of their relationship. They each apologized again,
making promises in the dark that past mistakes would never return.
They were on equal footing once more, and intended to stay that way.

Behind the locked door they undressed and fell asleep under the
covers in each others arms, unconcerned with the thoughts and
assumptions of anyone outside the bedroom. And unlike last night, a
peaceful sleep was had by all.

******

The next day, early morning

******

As Ruwee sat motionless beside his wife, with the rest of the
Naberrie clan gathered around them in the sitting room, the silence
was deafening. He stared at his youngest daughter as if seeing her
for the very first time after her startling revelation. In some ways
he was seeing her for the very first time, as Padme Amidala was no
more than a professional title at best. Her true name, taken after
marriage rites performed by a holy man, was Padme Skywalker.

By the Force itself, she was married. And to a Jedi nonetheless.
Ruwee held his peace, gathering his thoughts after Padme's revealing
confession moments ago.

Just after breakfast this morning Padme announced that she needed the
children to leave the room, as she had something of the utmost
importance to tell the family. By closely judging his wife and elder
daughter's lack of surprise, coupled with Padme's abrupt exit from
last night's dinner after Anakin departed, he had at least a basic
idea of what he was about to hear.

Seated beside Jobal, Ruwee expected that Padme would reveal her
feelings for Anakin, and obviously that the Jedi returned them. That
in and of itself had the makings for chaos but certainly wasn't the
end of the world. And he wondered, had he paid closer attention would
he have noticed something more between them. The implications of
their relationship, both personal and professional, left him reeling
with worry. But as Padme began to detail a story beginning with the
accursed assassination attempt on her life years ago, shock and awe
claimed Jobal as well. He'd suspected she was aware of some, if not
all of Padme's secret life up to this point, but apparently even she
wasn't informed fully.

As a family, they sat and listened to Padme discuss the most personal
aspects of her life, why they married just before the war began, and
their reasons for keeping it a secret. Ruwee detested secrets and had
always taught his children the eventual downfall they led too. From
his daughter's lips, he was stunned to learn of the hidden life she'd
lived in the shadows. Of the worry over Anakin's position as a Knight
and her's as Senator. And her constant dread over a war her husband
fought on the front lines.

He never wanted a soldier for her. Though his respect for their duty
never wavered, he well understood the pain those left behind were
forced to endure. And now his precious Padme had taken the Chosen One
as her husband.

"I can only imagine how all of this sounds to you," Padme conceded
with Anakin by her side, standing before the family. "My one and only
defense, of which I will never feel a day's guilt as I have lived a
self-less life, is that I truly, deeply love Anakin. He completes
me," she smiled, reaching for his hand. "And he makes me very happy.
I only wish I could have shared this with you sooner. I should have,
and I recognize that now. I have done my marriage and my husband a
great disservice in keeping them a secret from my family."

Turning to her husband, Padme brought her hand to his cheek,
caressing it softly. "I am so sorry for keeping this secret as long
as I have. I love you endlessly, and I promise to honor you and our
marriage from now on." He brushed a forgiving kiss over her lips, and
then she took a deep breath and faced her parents again. Their shock
hadn't worn off just yet, as evidenced by their blank stares. "I am
sorry that I didn't share all of this with you sooner. Years ago,
even. I hope you can forgive me."

"Forgive you?" Jobal spoke softly as she rose from her chair and took
her daughter into the comfort of her embrace, holding her
tightly. "Dear, you have nothing to be forgiven for. You are an adult
and well aware that all actions have consequences. Nonetheless, you
sought your happiness and joy. That is all any of us can do in this
life."

Padme favored her mother with an apprehensive expression. "But I've
lied to you all for so long."

"Your reasons are your own," Jobal began with such warm affection in
her voice. "Today, you have given us such a gift," she smiled at
Anakin. "All that a parent wants for her child is to be a good
person. To live a life of high character, self-less deeds, and to
reach for her goals whatever they are. You have accomplished all of
those things and now have found love. There is no greater gift than
to know that your child is happy and loved. So for that, I thank you
and Anakin."

Sola approached the couple next, hugging her sister first, and then
Anakin. "And to think, I thought Padme was boring and unpredictable, "
she teased her sister. "I have never been happier to be wrong in my
entire life."

"Thank you, sister." For Padme, the morning's success seemed to hinge
on the thoughts and feelings of her father. Although grown and sure
of her path in life, the daughter within her still sought his love
and respect. He often spoke of giving her away at her wedding and was
from a more traditional courtship background. Nothing about her and
Anakin was traditional, except that they deeply loved each
other. "Father?"

Rising slowly, his expression calmly collected without a hint of
emotion, he came to his daughter, standing before her and her
husband. Husband... the word was still wrapping around his mind.
Never could he have imagined... such was life though. Ever evolving
and different for everyone. Still, Padme's soft brown eyes conveyed
her feelings. He could always read them. Today they were filled with
love and devotion
for Anakin. Her days and night, minus the grueling war weren't filled
with a hollow sense of love. She had someone and was happy. It might
take a while to get used to, but her heart was true. His respect for
her was unshakable.

Ruwee placed his hands on Padme's slender shoulders. His face lifted
into a bright smile, and then he drew her into a comforting hug. "I
knew you'd be trouble the day you were born."

Padme laughed, exhaling a lifetime's worth of worry. Tears filled her
eyes... tears of joy. "I promise to be a bit more boring from now on."

"Perish the thought, dear." Ruwee kissed his daughter's cheek, and
then moved to Anakin, whom he gave a long hug too as well. His voice
whispered, "Please protect her."

"With my life, always," Anakin replied, and then shook Ruwee's hand.
Darren shook his hand next, and then Jobal and Sola embraced him.

"Welcome to our family, Anakin," Ruwee offered as the mood lifted,
and all was well again. "We are so proud to have you."

Family... outside of Padme he felt as if that word was meant for
others. Never him. The Jedi were an institution. They were justice
and truth and the protectors of the Republic. But they were not
family. Not like the Naberrie's. For the first time in years, he felt
truly at peace with himself. "Thank you."

A light tapping noise drew their collective attention towards the
terrace. Pooja and Ryoo peaked out from behind the door. "Uhm, are
you all done with the older people stuff yet?" Pooja politely asked
after losing a bet with her sister on who should ask.

Jobal could see the mischief in her grandchildren' s eyes already. And
it wasn't even lunchtime yet. "Whatever do you two rascals require?"

Ryoo blurted out, "Can Uncle Anakin come out and play?"

Everyone turned to the Skywalkers, who both bowed their heads, a bit
bashful. Ruwee laughed, "We are truly the last to know, I see."

"We shall all come out to play," Sola happily reported as she led the
family out onto the terrace, and then down the long flight of stairs
that led to the sandy beach front by the lake.

Anakin and Padme, hand-in-hand toured along the shore, watching the
children chase each other and their grandfather across the white
sands. Jobal cheered her grandchildren on, while Sola and Darren held
each other, enjoying the moment immensely.

The war, the Senate, Palpatine, and the Jedi Order were far removed
from this paradise. There was only room for love and togetherness
here. Come what may in this most dangerous, unpredictable age, this
amazingly complex, and yet loving family will endure.

After all, those are the ties that bind.

******

The End - No Sequel

Extra special thanks to my amazing beta reader Anne, who is just the
best, the fastest, and most knowledgeable Star Wars fan I have ever
known. Extra special thanks also to everyone who was patient for this
final chapter. I hope you enjoyed it. I had a great time writing it.
On to "Beloved"