She’d had trouble getting here alone. She’d slipped out the last time, then returned to find her entire family waiting to confront her. Whatever they hadn’t already gotten out of her after Ryoo and Pooja had seen Anakin’s message had come out that night. They’d seen her leaving today and at first had insisted on coming with her. She’d finally begged them not to until they had backed off. She still wasn’t sure if either of her nieces weren’t following her. She ended up walking around the village twice in an attempt to lose them if they were.
At last she walked a little beyond her village, and sensed his presence before he materialized beside her and they were in a tight embrace, the heat from his body warming hers in the cold night. “I’ve missed you, Padmé,” he whispered into her hair.
She wanted to say that she’d missed him too. But she could only think about all the questions of why, why he had to stay away for so long. She would never dare ask them, and she didn’t even need to; it wasn’t as if she didn’t understand. But they lingered in her mind and held her tongue.
“Feels like we’ve been apart for a lifetime,” Anakin continued, then kissed her neck, then her mouth, and that sent tremors up and down her back, and if he wanted her, here in the darkness of the woodland, she thought he would have her-until she heard a rustle too loud to be an animal in the bushes behind her.
Anakin heard it too. A moment later he was down in the bushes, lightsaber blade out and placed on the throat of a frightened Pooja.
“Ani, Ani stop it! That’s my niece! Oh Pooja, I told you not to follow me!”
Anakin hastily deactivated his weapon and retreated, allowing Pooja to scramble to her feet. Glancing between the two of them, she looked frightened, but also angry.
“I wanted to see you,” she said to Anakin. “I wanted to find out who you were. I wanted to see the man who got my Aunt Padmé with two children and then couldn’t stay to give her any help at all, who left her alone for months with no idea how she was going to explain her pregnancy to anyone and told her to wait and wait and wait, for months, and then came back and told her to wait again, and you’ve been gone exactly seven weeks and four days and she’s been in agony the entire time and what do you have to say for yourself?”
During this speech Anakin’s face had gone from perturbed to outraged to simply defensive, and he said, “I’ve wanted to be here every single day. But I’m lucky to be here tonight. I should be back with Master Kenobi, but he sent me with Geonosis with a message, so I could stop here tonight.”
“Let me guess, you don’t have time to meet the rest of our family.”
Anakin turned from her to Padmé and said, “How important is it that I meet your family?”
Pooja answered before Padmé could. “If you’re going to keep Aunt Padmé tied to you so that she can’t marry and get her babies a real father, that’s the least you can do.”
“Then I’ll follow you and we’ll meet right now.”
There was still some hostility left in his voice, but Pooja didn’t notice it. “Okay, come on then!”
She headed back towards the village, humming. “Please try to be quiet,” Padmé called to her. “Noone else can know about him.”
All the way back through the village Padmé's heart was hammering. Surely it was too much to hope for that noone would look out the window. It was not too much to hope for, at least, that they wouldn’t quite realize what they were looking at.
When Padmé knocked on the door, it drew open a little, and she saw Sola peering over the edge. A moment later it opened completely and Sola held out her hand. “Knight Skywalker. Glad to finally meet you. Come in, you don’t want the other villagers seeing you, do you?”
With the door safely shut behind them, Padmé introduced Anakin to each member of her family, beginning with Sola and ending with her father, who shook hands with Anakin while Anakin gazed at him nervously. “So...you knew who I was?”
“I told you already that Ryoo and Pooja saw your message. After that meeting I intended up telling them most of it.”
“She said you were a Jedi,” said Ruwee Naberrie, “and that you’ve been at the front lines in the war these past three years with Obi-Wan Kenobi, who helped liberate our planet thirteen years ago.”
“I was Master Kenobi’s apprentice until I was knighted, after the war began, and we still usually work together.”
“How is it really going?” Jobal asked next. “We follow the news, of course, but they never provide the real picture.”
“Really?” asked Anakin, who never had time to pay attention to such things.
“It says we’re winning. Are we, really?”
“We’re doing better than them,” Anakin answered, “but they are still causing a lot of death and destruction throughout the galaxy. I’ve talked to Chancellor Palpatine, and he has said more than once that the only way to end the war is to take down both Count Dooku and General Grievous. Without their leaders the Separatists will fall into confusion and can easily be subdued.”
“That’s what the holonet says as well,” replied Jobal thoughtfully, as if he believed Anakin was leaving something out. It occurred to Padmé that she couldn’t say for sure that he wasn’t.
At this point Anakin glanced at the chronometer. Padmé's father saw him do so, and asked, “You can't stay, can you?”
He shook his head. “Not much longer, I’m afraid. I have to be on Geonosis tomorrow, and Master Kenobi has noticed already it's sometimes taken me a lot longer than it should to make a journey. As of right now I'll be an hour off; any longer and he may get suspicious.”
“Then I will ask you a couple of questions now which I have been thinking over these weeks. Then, I believe, we will leave you a little time alone. First, how do you intend to be a proper father when your relationship with my daughter is forbidden by your Order, and you can be here so little?”
This was why Padmé had not wanted to bring Anakin together with her family. Because she knew he had no good answer to that question.
“I’ll probably be able to be here more often after the war ends. Of course, it still won’t be for sometimes very long periods of time, but I can promise you that I will make every attempt to be here for my family.”
Would this be answer enough for him? In her head, Padmé passed through what her father had said in the past, about how it was the most selfish of men that ran out on a pregnant woman without telling her their intentions first, leaving her to face motherhood uncertain of how to give her child what he or she needed. Never mind that her children would have the same five people taking care of them that Ryoo and Pooja did, and while Padmé was worried about something they might need, that something wasn’t a father.
Jobal Naberrie did indeed look less than pleased as he next asked Anakin, “Then secondly, why are you putting my daughter through this?”
“What?” Whatever Anakin had expected the next question to be, he clearly hadn’t expected that. “I love her-”
“You don’t love her enough to let her go, or to let your position in the Jedi Order go.”
“I don’t want him to,” Padmé said before Anakin could respond. “I don’t want to let him go either, and I don’t want him to make that kind of sacrifice for me. I initially turned him away because of that, but in the end, I couldn’t.”
She felt everyone’s eyes on her as she said this, was aware of the selfish weakness she had admitted to. “Well...” her father said slowly. “I still don’t like this, but if you both insist on it...come. Let’s leave them alone for a little while.”
Padmé’s family trailed out of the room, and Anakin pulled Padmé close and whispered words of love in her ear that she barely heard. Even with them gone she could still sense their eyes on her.
They kissed several times and then he pulled away. She saw his eyes travel to the chronometer and hers followed.
“I don’t want to go,” he said.
“You must,” she replied; his tone had made that clear.
“Walk with me, please.”
Hand in hand they walked through the night, Padmé no longer caring who saw them. Houses gave way to brush and trees without her really noticing. They heard the sound of the nightbirds above them and Padmé felt Anakin’s hand tighten around hers.
They took the long way, once safely in the woods, but at last they came to his fighter pilot. The battered but still bright steel had never looked more out of place than it did then.
“I love you,” he said, and they kissed one last time, gently, and very, very slowly.
Then she stepped away as he climbed into the pilot seat and started up the takeoff cycle. She retreated to the edge of the fighter’s engine lights, and watched, as calmly as she could, as after one last look he closed the hatch and pulled up off the ground and up to the tops of the trees. She looked up after him, and stood there until he became a spec of light that vanished against the dark sky.
She never saw him again.