Before the suns had yet to peek over the horizon and bathe the city in gold... before it had yet to strike their window or even cast so much as a shadow... Anakin's comlink buzzed. This time, he knew better than not to answer it. Lest Master Obi-Wan were to learn he was with the Senator again. Padme stirred. Anakin answered the comlink before it could buzz again and wake her.
"Yes, Master?" Anakin said without a hint of sleepiness.
"Meet me at the docking bay. As soon as possible."
"Yes, Master," Anakin replied.
The padawan learner moved quietly, a consideration he owed his sleeping wife who was still spent from their late night activities. He pulled the covers to her neckline and kissed her on the cheek.
Soon he was out of bed and slipping into his clothes. As far as Obi Wan knew, he was a guest at a friend's countryside house. Thankfully, the Council had given him permission before Obi Wan had the chance to override their decision, as he had yet to land on Coruscant. The Master would know something the council did not: the countryside lead straight to Padme's house.
Anakin Skywalker landed on the docking bay at the top of the Jedi Temple. There, his long time Master, Obi Wan Kenobi watched, a proud look on his face. He smiled gently and laid a hand on the young man's shoulder, just above the elbow.
"I'm sorry to have bothered you so early, Anakin. But I have good news," Obi Wan said.
"News?" Anakin asked. The war was over?
"The Council has recommended you. You're to become a Jedi Knight."
Anakin turned and looked at Obi Wan, his eyes wide with surprise. "How..." he could barely get the words out... "could this be?"
"Your mission on Jalane as second in Command was such a success that they've decided to award you."
A look of joy washed across Anakin's face. "I-I don't know what to say..."
"All that waits is my word. I will write my pledge this evening. By tomorrow, you will be a full Jedi Knight."
"Thank you, Master. You can't know how much this means to me," he gasped. To be acknowledged... a voice within him whispered.
"Anakin, you will be the youngest Jedi in the history of the order. I am more proud of you than I have ever been and am grateful to have served as Master. The time has come for you to clear your own path. The path to greatness and I will stand in your way. This is part of the ceremony Anakin, why I called you to the top of the Jedi Temple to look on the sleeping world. For you are awake, and the path of knowledge is yours to take. I only wish my master, Qui Gon Jinn were alive at the time of my ceremony. But this is not a time for grief, it is a time of celebration. Today, we become more than master and apprentice, comrades, colleagues or equals... today, Anakin... we become brothers."
Anakin smiled. A smile that spread like a crack across a slate of ice. Obi Wan extended a hand, which Anakin happily accepted and clutched within his own. They shook. Then suddenly, Obi Wan pulled him in. The shake had turned into a hug. He slapped Anakin on the shoulder proudly.
Anakin was stunned by the gesture. When had Obi Wan ever hugged him? Obi Wan had raised him with a loving, but iron fist. Anakin thought about the many times he had cried for his mother and how Obi Wan had told him to let go of his attachment and be strong. Or was it STRENGTH? Is there a difference? he wondered. Anakin couldn't decide. He also thought about the times he had fallen and hurt himself... how Obi Wan merely folded his arms across his massive chest, and motioned young Anakin to stand and bite pain on the nose. Not once, when there were tears did Obi Wan ever hug him the way a child deserved to be hugged. Yes, the master's fist was made of iron. And now, there was Anakin's... both literally and figuratively. And he had Obi Wan to thank.
The Jedi parted ways, and very amicably with Obi Wan promising to write his pledge. Anakin went straight to Padme's house to tell her the good news. When he arrived, he found her sitting at the table, a piece of fruit, bread, and juice before her. He raced directly to the bedroom and stripped out of his clothing.
And there it was. Again... She hadn't even put them away.
He left his shirt on the floor then walked to the dining room where Padme read the paper as she ate. He sat across from her and tried to catch her eye. But Padme, seemed to be engrossed in the morning paper. Or at least, tried to give the illusion of being engrossed in the paper. She was hiding something. After staring at her for a long while, waiting to be acknowledged, she looked over the top of the newspaper and smiled... the gleam of deceit in her eyes.
"Good morning, my love," she said, reaching across the table for his hand.
He took hers into his own and forced her to meet his gaze. She was nervous, but tried to hide it. His senses were more acute than her feeble attempts at deceit.
"I saw a pair of pants, a shirt, and tunic on your bed last night. What were they doing there?"
Padme looked away then pushed her chair back and stood. "Can I get you something to eat?" she offered in a cheerful nonchalant voice that didn't sound like her own.
"I'm not hungry," Anakin replied. "Whose are they?!" he repeated.
Padme stepped back and met his gaze... she swallowed and wrung her hands together nervously.
"I can't talk about it," she said, turning away.
"Whose are they?" Anakin asked, in a more menacing tone.
Padme steeled herself.
"Obi-Wan Kenobi's," she replied.
Schmii's son was not a good man. He used to be. But when Schmii died and his Master Obi Wan Kenobi told him to "let go", in the place where his love for her had been there was a void. A black spot that darkened his heart... Anakin's love for Padme filled this void and made him whole again. And now that black spot threatened to become a black hole. A void so wide and so vast, that not even light could escape.
Padme would not escape.
A chrome colored durasteel hand turned into a fist. Schmii's grieving son wanted to crush her. And how easily he might -- in the same manner that he slayed those horrible sand people. But it was years of Jedi training that held him back... the same number of years that he loved Padme.
"Wh-Wh-what do you mean?" he asked. The voice was not his own.
Padme had not yet turned to look at him. But she trembled. Her husband's anger flowed across the room to her in waves of tangible energy. That was power. Raw power - his power... and she was afraid of it.
The power got closer and he was but a breath away. His flesh hand pressed into her cheeks as he pulled her face close to his and kissed her.
"I knew you were keeping secrets from me," he said, looking into her eyes. He was so close in fact, their eyelashes touched. The black hole opened. He stared at her face, his eyes lowering to her precious deceitful little mouth. The black hole closed. "I love you too much to let him have you." So that was Obi Wan's plan to steal her from him... use the tenets of the Order to keep them apart, convince the council to send him off to war so that she's alone and vulnerable and he could have her to himself. It wasn't Padme's fault, it was Obi Wan's. Obi wan is jealous of me, he thought. I have it all, I have the power, I have Padme's love, you have nothing.
"You have me, Anakin. No one else. I'm yours," she pleaded. Couldn't he trust her? Just this once? He was too busy brooding.
"Trust you?" he asked, with a wry twist of his mouth. She should be grateful she's still alive, he thought. How the black hole wanted her...
When the love was gone and there was nothing to replace it, only darkness remained in its wake.
Padme pressed the palm of her hands onto his bare chest and gave him a pleading look. "I love only you," she said.
He felt the love, sensed it even, but didn't know what to believe. She was keeping secrets, and there was only one way to find the truth - go to the source. He was ten times more powerful than his Master, Obi Wan Kenobi. He would show him that power.
Anakin turned on his heels and strode to the bedroom. He dressed quickly then clipped his lightsaber onto his belt.
He felt Padme's presence lingering in the doorway just behind him. "Where are you going, my love? Stay here with me," she begged.
As much as Padme wanted to, she couldn't tell him the truth. The truth would bring so much trouble... but this... was just as bad.
But Anakin brushed past her. His durasteel fist knocked over a lamp as he stormed through the living room toward the veranda where his ship waited. Padme winced and hugged her arms to herself. When the danger passed she gave chase again, but he had already closed the hatch and powered up.
She ran, then stood precariously close to the edge fighting the emission from the bottom of his starfighter and the wind that blew her hair about her head. She waved and jumped as the starfighter climbed the sky to places unknown. To trouble.
Padme collapsed to the marble floor and curled into a ball. Her hand covered her face and she sobbed. The stress was too much.
Could she have told her husband, that the clothes had not belonged to Obi Wan Kenobi, but to Cobra Sien who had placed them there? That she lived under the stress of a bribe that would have ruined their lives? Would have destroyed her husband's chances with the Order? That Sien stood on that very balcony, his hand caressing her shoulder, his lips dragging along the curves of her neck as he promised to destroy them if she didn't comply?
She could tell her husband these things but what would happen? He would kill Cobra Sien. And what of his chances then? Wherever she turned, her husband seemed to be under threat. Because of her. Because he loved her and she let him.
So Padme protected him the only way she knew how. She told a lie. She manuevered the way politicians do. But Cobra was more than she could handle at the moment because he had something she did not. Leverage. He had the high ground.
Cobra Sien wanted her badly. And even more than wanting her, he wanted to destroy her secret husband. Secret was the operative word - a powerful word, a tool that gave him all he needed to control her.
"Leave these clothes on your bed."
"Whose are they?" she asked.
"They belong to Obi Wan Kenobi," Sien answered.
"But-why?" she gasped.
"I want your husband to see them."
She gave him a blank stare. A curious stare. An sympathetic stare. Sien knew something she did not. That Anakin was already back on Coruscant. Padme complied because she thought she knew something Sien did not. That her husband was off fighting the war, and he would not see the clothes.
"If you tell him that I put them there, I will tell the Jedi Council about your..." he cupped her chin, a sneer on his face, "secret wedding."
"And what do you hope to gain from this?" he would never have her, she thought.
"Pleasure," he replied. He was going to destroy Anakin skywalker. Brick by brick.
Obi Wan Kenobi sat in his room there at the Jedi Temple doing as promised and writing the pledge letter for his Padawan learner. He had become impressed by the young man, and so had the council - the same council that notoriously rejected him upon their first meeting. But even they had to admit that Anakin had not only shown himself to be a fine peacemaker, in being so patient there on Jalane, but also a fine warrior.
Emotionally, the young man also seemed to have matured - in ending his affair with Senator Amidala for the good of everyone. His sacrifice may not have seemed like much, but Obi Wan understood why it was a big deal.
Suddenly, a presence in the doorway brought him from his thoughts. The Jedi Master knew who it was before he had even turned to look at him. But there was an upset fluttering of nervousness that churched his stomach...
Anakin rocked on his heels, eyes blazing. "I need to speak to you, Master." Again, it was his Jedi training that kept the thread restraint intact.
The young man looked tired -- no, angrier than he had ever seen him. Obi Wan stood, a look of worry on his face. "Sure, Anakin, what do you wish to talk about?"
"Not here," Anakin said.
"Why not here?"
"I will talk to you, but outside of the Temple, Master!" His voice rose to a shout. And his words sounded more like a demand than it did a request. Obi-Wan, who wore only his pants and shirt, slipped into his tunic. WIthout turning around, he muttered. "I'll meet you in the temple orchard - by the gazebo."
Without bothering to reply, Anakin was already on his way. Traces of the darkside were left near the door where Anakin stood. In almost what appeared to be an after thought, Obi Wan grabbed his light saber and clipped it to his belt.
The Jedi Master approached... a serene look on his face. He then looked around, to see if anyone was watching.
"You wanted to meet privately... it something wrong?"
"You know exactly why I asked you to come here," Anakin barked.
"Anakin..." Obi Wan said in a pleading voice. "The last I spoke with you, we parted as friends... as brothers. Not as master and apprentice. What changed?"
Anakin unclipped his lightsaber and a long blue beam materialized. The placid look on the master's face turned to one of confusion. "Anakin... what's gotten to you?"
The padawan raced toward his master and hard black boot was introduced to face. Obi Wan landed flat on his rear end and skidded across the grass. He leapt to his feet and shot Anakin a look.
"You're possessed by the darkside-- Anakin, talk to me!"
The Jedi Master ignited his light saber - and without a moment to collect himself, he saw that the young man was already charging.
"You're the one who is on the darkside!" Anakin accused.
Anakin swiped at the Jedi Master who deflected the parry with a blow of his own followed by a back hand to his face. A splattering of blood flew out of Anakin's nose.
"You really want to do this?" Obi Wan asked. He raised a hand in the air in a gesture of defeat. "Anakin, I care about you. I don't want to fight."
The padawan charged again, a series of swings attacking, forcing Obi Wan to circle a tree as he deflected the parries. Anakin swung but Obi Wan ducked. The lightsaber cut right through the bark of the tree. The ancient Temple's bollop tree fell sideways then smashed into the ground.
Enough was enough! Obi Wan decided. Anakin swung again, and Obi Wan evaded the swing, and returned one of his own. He then caught the young man by his flesh arm, jammed his foot into Anakin's leg, causing his knee to buckle. The other hand smacked him right across the face. Anakin was so stunned, that he dropped his light saber. Obi Wan jumped on top of him and locked an arm around his neck from behind giving the padawan only so much air to breathe.
"I don't know what's gotten into you, but whatever it is, there must have been a mistake."
Anakin tried to mutter something, and Obi Wan released him -- just enough for him to talk. "You... you were with Padame!" he cried. A vein throbbed in Anakin's head as the mechanical arm tried to pry Obi Wan loose. The master was suprised by how strong the young man was, though not strong enough to defeat his master yet.
"How dare you, accuse me of something you were too weak to avoid! How dare you accuse me of anything untoward with the Senator. Anakin, you have been like the son I never had -- a brother to me. I would never do anything to hurt you."
He rolled on top of Anakin and pressed his arm into his neck, to effort to pin him down.
"She said... the suit was yours."
Anakin cried -- then screamed "the blue Jedi clothes! They were yours, she said."
"Blue..." Obi Wan muttered, loosening his grip on Anakin. "I did lose a blue Jedi tunic and pants shortly before I went to Kost. Did you ever think to ask that she somehow recovered them?"
Anakin went limp and Obi Wan set him free. "Did you ever think to ask how she came to be in possession of the clothing?" he repeated.
A tear rolled down the side of Anakin's face. "No, master."
"And yet, you turned against me. You destroyed a thousand year old tree. You continue to obsess over Senator Amidala... and worst of all... your anger." Obi Wan shook his head, his voice edged with disappointment.
"I'm sorry, Master."
How many times had he heard that before?
"You accused the council of holding you back. The only thing that has ever held you back, was not your skill - but your anger. Tomorrow, my recommendation to the council will be to keep you in my care. You are not ready to become a Jedi Knight."
In fact, he should be lucky he' is not expelled.
"I know, Master," was all the padawan could say.
Obi Wan had long gone when Anakin finally drew his battered self from the grass in the Temple gardens, the ancient bollop tree, Master Yoda's favorite, at his feet.
What was there to say? It was his own anger and jealousy that blinded him. It was his own anger that cost him the promotion to Jedi Knight. Obi Wan was right. All he ever did was try to make him the best he could be. He would never betray that trust in order to take Padme away just to have her for himself... or would he?
Doubt still lingered at the back of Anakin's mind. And what of Padme? Why would she tell him such a thing if it wasn't the truth? And how did she come to be in possession of the items anyway? Did she do these things simply to taunt him? To test his love?
Anakin walked -- ran to the temple. It suddenly dawned on him that the only time he was centered and in control of his emotions was when he was out on the battlefield. And so, it was to the battlefield where he would return. There, he could swallow his love for Padme, eat his embarrassment of being so easily squashed by Master Obi Wan out in the garden... there he could think about others, and not only himself. There, he could be what he was meant to be... a Jedi.
As for Padme... well, she could have the life she longed for. She could go back to being a Senator and everything will be right again.
Anakin raced to the Room of a Thousand Fountains, where Master Yoda meditated. When he entered, the ancient man opened but one eye, and spoke... "that tree... as ancient as I, it is. Or was I shall say."
Anakin dropped to his knee and bowed his head almost reverently. "Master Yoda... I beg your forgiveness. I was arrogant. I was fool and showed no reverence for the tree or Master Obi Wan's teachings. For that, I ask that I am sent to help the Jedi resist the Separatists in the Outer Rim Sieges. I am also asking that my promotion to Jedi Knight be deferred until I have proven myself worthy of such an honor."
Master Yoda stabbed the padawan in the shoulder with his gimer stick. "Ready you are your humility shows. But honor your request I will. To Zalust you will go in the morning."
"No, Master. I will leave tonight," Anakin replied, looking up to meet Master Yoda's gaze.
"Very well," Yoda said as he climbed from his little hover disk. "To Zalust you will go tonight."
The sooner, the better, Anakin thought.
Padme couldn't sleep. In fact, she tossed and turned for most of the night, between climbing out of bed and checking the veranda with hope in her heart... that husband might be there. She stood barefoot on the cold marble flooring her hands covering her eyes as she wept. He wasn't coming back.
Dawn broke. Padme's focused her gaze on the Jedi Temple's highest tower, still longing to see her husband's ship flying towards her in a blaze of ion fury. She stood on the veranda until blistering sunlight filled the apartment and distant skies were overrun with air traffic as civilians went about their daily business.
Threepio watched his master's wife, his brain computer whirring with confusion as he tried to determine what was wrong with her. Her eyes were leaking and had dark circles beneath them. If they continued to leak, the poor woman could dehydrate. Like people on tattoine when they went without water for too long.
Threepio approached the saddened woman with a glass of water in his hand. She refused, and he begged her to accept. With some reluctance she finally did and allowed the nagging protocol droid to sit her on the couch.
He left the room to fetch a blanket. And when he returned she was fast asleep, her legs curled beneath her.
It was several hours later when Padme woke up again. She sprang up, the first words on her lips, "Anakin-" then she remembered... he was gone and wasn't coming back.
Then suddenly a voice called out from a corner of the room.
"Looking for someone?" it said...
Padme knew that voice. A voice she met with dread and sickness in her belly. "What are you doing here?" she asked, with undisguised contempt in her voice. "You were ordered to stay away from me."
"The charges were dropped," Cobra said.
"Dropped?" Padme gasped...
Cobra laughed. "Of course, did you think the charges would stick? Chancellor Palpatine dismissed them himself."
Padme's lips formed a thin white line. "Anakin wouldn't want you here."
"You mean your secret husband? Anakin Skywalker is in the Outer Rim territories fighting the Separatists."
Padme drew the robe she wore over her gown closed, then shot the man an accusing look. "What do you what, Senator?"
"My life back."
"You ruined your reputation, not me. You were the one who behaved in a manner unbefitting a Republic Senator."
"You mean like, marrying a Jedi and keeping it a secret?"
Padme went silent.
"And you were the one who reported the incident to the Jedi Council."
"I merely defended my-my husband!" It was Palpatine who wrote the council, Padme thought. The same Palpatine who dropped the charges.
Padme turned and looked at the ship on her veranda and a cold chill ran up her spine. Cobra walked toward her and she backed away. Then in a sudden move, he grabbed her by the shoulders and tried to pull her close.
Padme struggled and fought against him. But he was too strong. Cobra jerked her toward him and pressed his lips against her own. He held her for several seconds long, his lips cold and dry as she squirmed to be free. In a desperate move to pry him away, Padme bit his bottom lip.
Cobra growled, dug his fingers into her shoulders and shook her. Padme spat in his face.
Cobra set her free and wiped the spittle from his nose and cheek with one of his gloved hands. Padme took a fighter's stance.
"Get out!" Padme ordered.
Cobra...gave her a long menacing smile. Just as he did, Threepio came trotting into the room. "Is anything wrong, my lady?" The senator sounded like she was in trouble and Threepio was going to protect her... He was fully prepared to call security!
"Senator Sien was ljust eaving," Padme tersely replied.
Without another word, Cobra backed his way to the veranda, then climbed into his ship.