There was something, always, about Padmé’s eyes that left him unable to speak—that fired the circuits of his brain, so that he could only stare at her in wonder and a distant joy. Even now, as they were wide and her brows tight above them, he scrambled for purchase on his own words, tried to force out something like hello my secret wife, I’m very sorry that I’m sprawled on your carpet, I’m also very sorry that you probably thought I was dead for the last two months, have I ever told you how beautiful you are, something that struck between the appropriate lines of apologetic and explanatory.
“I don’t understand,” was all he managed to croak out.
Padmé reached up and tucked a dark curl of hair behind her ear. She seemed, or at least Anakin thought she seemed, equally awestruck, content to stare at him exactly the way he was staring at her. “You don’t understand,” she said, eventually, softly.
“I don’t understand,” he said, raising his metal, gloved hand—the one he knew wouldn’t shake—to cup her cheek. “How you have such soft carpets but only on half of your apartment. What’s the point, my love, if you have one long incredibly soft carpet leading from your door to under your couches, where no one’s going to enjoy it?”
For a moment, Padmé’s expression froze, carved in that deep shock it had been when she’d first seen him and shrieked his name and dropped her mug of tea with a crash. And then, wondrously—and this was one of his favorite things—her face split into a broad, beaming smile, the one that seemed to melt her eyes with warmth. Her smile turned into hiccups and then sobs, and she dropped her head on his chest, saying, “Only—only you would come out of nowhere, unexpected, and lay down on my carpets and—and complain about them.”
Anakin’s heart ached. He worked his hands through her hair, rubbing his thumbs in small, smooth circles over her scalp. “I take the softness of carpets very seriously, my lady,” he said, quietly.
She pushed herself upwards, and then scrubbed beneath her eyes. “You scared me,” she said.
“I know. You dropped your tea.”
Padmé arched a brow. “You’re the love of my life, and you’re going to make me hit you upside the head. I thought you were—I thought you were dead, Ani. They had reassigned your legion, no one had made any official mention of you outside of reporting that you weren’t fit for command, I couldn’t look without drawing suspicion—”
Anakin wished she were still leaning against him, so he could hold her, but as it were he found her hands and threaded his fingers through hers. “Reports of my death were greatly exaggerated,” he said, lightly.
Padmé brought their folded hands to her mouth and kissed his knuckles. She was crying, again, but then she was also smiling beneath it. “Don’t ever scare me like that,” she said.
“I can’t promise,” he murmured.
Padmé sucked in a breath, and kissed his knuckles again. After a moment, she said, lowly, “I know, my love.”
She rose, then, stiffly—her nightgown was a light green, like grasses in a field, and just sheer enough that Anakin’s blood was filled with warmth. She cleaned up the shards of her mug, and then left deeper into the apartment, and when she came back it was with a small towel. When she saw him, unmoved, still sprawled on the carpet, she said, “Do you have any intentions of getting up?”
“I like this carpet,” he said, mildly. “It’s plush.”
Even in the low light of the night, her gaze on him was sharp. “Anakin,” she said, warningly.
“I’m working on upright, I promise, my lady,” he said.
Padmé mopped up the tea and left to dispose of the towel; Anakin was under no such impressions that she wouldn’t be standing over him imperiously in half a minute, demanding to know what was wrong. He still didn’t want to explain to her that two months ago his group had been caught between Separatist land mines and he’d been buried in the rubble, and though it’d been a few days since he’d been pulled out of his bacta submersion, he was exhausted and aching in ways he couldn’t explain. He still didn’t want to explain to her that it ached to move, because he wasn’t entirely sure anymore how to do it properly. He didn’t want to tell her that there was less of him.
“Let me help you,” she said, when she returned, and, sure enough, stood over him with her arms crossed over her chest, small but imperious all the same.
Anakin sighed. “I don’t actually need help. I was just putting it off.”
Padmé arched her brow again. Anakin pushed himself up, aware of the stiffness of the cybernetic vertebrae they’d replaced the middle of his spine with in a last-ditch attempt to save him from life-threatening paralysis, the dull ache of the healing which couldn’t be completely accomplished with bacta. The odd pull of muscles in his chest that had been sliced through to replace the part of his ribcage that, after having been broken so often, had practically crumbled to bone-dust, and been replaced by steel. Then came the worst part—the leg that had been pinned and mangled by the rubble, that Anakin had sliced through just above his knee with his own lightsaber, that had gotten infected and been thusly carved down to his mid-thigh, where they’d plugged another neural interface mechanism into him and attached another steel limb. It was equal parts heavier and lighter than he was used to. It hurt more on the day-to-day than his arm did, but, well, his arm wasn’t constantly bearing his weight, and the wound on his arm hadn’t gotten infected before it had been treated.
Finally Anakin had pulled himself upright, but he hunched over a bit, swaying from side-to-side as he tested how steady his balance was. When he’d determined it good enough, he grinned down at Padmé and said, “Upright. Like I said I would, love.”
Her eyes were wide, again, horrified, but no smile beneath them to ease the burn. “You’re still recovering,” she said.
“This one’s a longer process,” he said, wincing. “On the bright side, I have three weeks of leave, where I’ve been effectively told to do as little as possible.”
“Longer process,” she repeated, dully, her eyes scanning him like she could see the damage through his robes. And then her face turned upwards to his, her eyes gleaming, and asked, “Three weeks of leave?”
“The best part is that no one is expecting to see me doing anything, anywhere, and I’ve been forbidden to engage in anything more strenuous than meditation,” Anakin said. This—this he would keep to himself, this he would never tell her, but despite the pain of it, despite the aching loss and the readjustment and the way his body would never be the same, it almost felt like a blessing. It almost felt divine. Three unmitigated weeks with his wife, the longest breadth of time they’d had since getting married at Varykino, and that even if there was nothing of him she wanted given that there was so little of him left, he couldn’t bring himself to care at all. The chance alone was everything to him.
One of her hands reached out and fisted in his robes. “What happened,” she said, harshly. “For that much time, after two months, something—something awful had to have—Ani. Love. Tell me.”
Anakin swallowed. He couldn’t form the words, so he leaned down and rapped on his left leg, which offered only a hollow metallic sound through the bulking sleeve he covered it with, and his pants over that. “Just a little less of me,” he said, softly.
Padmé’s hand covered her mouth, and the expression on her face—it was such unspeakably rapt horror that Anakin had to look away, because it prickled his skin, flooded his cheeks with blood to see it. The last thing he wanted from Padmé was her pity, but then, she had first met him as queen, while he had been an overenthusiastic boy slave. He was terrified, sometimes, that all she felt for him was pity, but he didn’t have to courage to ask her to stop, because it would mean she would walk away.
Her arms wrapped around his waist, pulled her flush to him with her cheek pressed against his chest, and almost by instinct he wrapped around her in turn. “I’m alive,” he said, evenly.
“For how much longer,” she said, her voice cracked through with a grief that was all too familiar to him. “For how much longer, if—this war has to end, Ani, it has to. I’m so sorry.”
“There’s nothing to be sorry for,” Anakin said, sharply. “It’s a leg. I still work. I’m alive, you’re alive, and we have—we have so much time.”
“I don’t know how you can brush pain off that easily,” she said, morosely.
Anakin huffed. “It’s mostly healed, anyway. Now it’s all about adjusting. And who really said it was all that painful?”
Padmé pushed away from him, brow furrowed, bound and determined to argue her point, but—and this he did quickly, before his nerves caught up with the motion—Anakin grinned at her rakishly and then swept her into his arms and spun her around while she yelled in surprise. It delighted him to no end that she’d never gotten taller, while he had, and he could spin her like this as he liked.
He set her down, and then her hands cupped his face and she rocked up on the tips of her toes to press a warm, dry kiss to the bridge of his nose, one that chased away the pain flaring through him. “Incorrigible,” she whispered, the corners of her lips curved in a smile, when she’d pulled away.
“Good as new,” he said. He thumbed a stray tear off her face. “And don’t call me that, that’s what Obi-Wan always says.”
“I can’t imagine why,” she said, clearly straining against her own broadening smile. One of her hands left his cheek—sweet sunshine and warm water, that was all he felt when she touched him—and cradled his flesh wrist. She tapped her fingers idly against his pulse. “Everyone who knows Anakin Skywalker knows he’s so well-behaved he’s practically an angel.”
Anakin stooped low and pressed a kiss to her crown. “The only angel here is you,” he whispered, into her hair.
Padmé’s breath hitched. “If I wake up,” she whispered, “if I wake up and this is a dream, and you’re dead, I will never forgive you.”
One more time, he told himself. He wasn’t, technically, supposed to be lifting anything, but—her voice was so small, and he could feel her shaking, and his heart felt like it was being strangled with razor wire. He bent and raised her off of the ground, his metal arm braced beneath her knees and his flesh one at her back, and straightened, giving her a small but steady smile. “Then we’ll sleep,” he said, “and when you wake up, I’ll be right beside you.”
“Promise me,” Padmé said.
Anakin stepped forward, cautiously, and then faster when he knew that, despite the ache flaring through him, he wouldn’t give. “I promise with everything I have, my lady.”
Then she beamed and leaned over to kiss his cheek, and—it had been worth it, every ounce of pain, for this. Every ounce of pain he’d ever lived, from his earliest days bleeding into the sands of the desert, to now when his freshly-implanted metal pieces sat in pounding throngs of hurt, every minute he’d bled, it was all worth it to hold Padmé Amidala Naberrie as her husband and she as his wife. In secret, buried in marriage records on Naboo sealed by public relations and privacy laws, she was Padmé Amidala Naberrie Skywalker, and he was Anakin Skywalker Naberrie, both legally her husband and legally a citizen of her homeworld. Legally her family, and it sent a thrill through him every time he thought about it—family.
He settled her into her mussed sheets. The idea of walking around to the other side of the bed, with his leg and back throbbing, annoyed him, so instead he crawled—ungainly—over top of her, and then settled in beside her. In response, she shoved his shoulder.
“You almost elbowed me in the face,” she said, giggling.
Anakin folded his arm and then tapped her nose with his elbow. “Mission successful, love.”
“I don’t care if it’s what Obi-Wan calls you, you’re incorrigible,” she said.
Anakin groaned. “I put so much effort into being romantic for you, my lady, and you ruin all of my work.”
“I put so much effort into loving you, and yet you elbow me in the face at first opportunity,” she said. “I know your arm seizes. Does your leg?”
Anakin stilled. It took a moment to pull his brain off of the track of their banter, their mirth, and back to his leg. “Sometimes,” he admitted. “Not now.”
“Is it only the leg?” she asked. Her eyes were steady on him, black beads in the dark, the reflection of the lights of Coruscant the only way he could make them out. She was beautiful even when he couldn’t see her.
Anakin shook his head, slowly. “Parts of my spine. There were—damaged vertebrae. I would have been paralyzed otherwise. It’s for the best, because they would have had to implant a neural dock for the cybernetics anyway. The feedback from one limb isn’t enough to fry my nervous system, but, two.”
Her face had that rapt look of horror, again. “Where?”
“Middle of my back. There’s a scar,” he said. He had plenty of scars. The only thing about this one that stood out was how long and straight and careful it was.
“Anything else?” she asked.
“This feels like an interrogation,” he said, mirthlessly.
Padmé sighed. “You wouldn’t tell me anything if it weren’t.”
Anakin almost refuted that, but at the last second, bit his tongue and internally ceded the point. “A couple of my ribs were broken again. They’ve been broken often enough that they—they weren’t going to heal. So there’s a metal replacement for them.”
She drew herself closer to him and pressed a kiss between his brows. “Can I see,” she asked, softly.
“It’s not pleasant,” he said.
“As long as you’re my Ani,” she said, “there’s nothing of you I don’t find pleasant, love of my life.”
“Hard to argue against that logic, my lady.”
He stripped down until he was left in his black under tunic, dumping his robes unceremoniously on the floor beside him—they’re going to get wrinkled, Ani, if you leave them there—and then shucked off his pants, revealing his bare leg and then the black bulking sleeve that mimicked the shape of an actual leg. It was both aesthetic and important to disperse heat, and protect the appendage, and keep the various mechanizations from getting caught on the fabric of his pants.
Padmé’s hand, warm and small and delicate, hovered at the edge of the sleeve. “May I?”
Anakin dipped his head, and she unlatched the top and then pulled it down. He expected more of her horror, but then she looked up at him and was biting her lip. “It’s black and gold,” she said, at last.
Anakin nodded, again, confused, and then she said, “They match,” fervently.
Anakin threw his head back and laughed, because he had known, after listening to a number of intense discussions on color coordination, if he hadn’t requested the materials to be black and gold she might have divorced him in frustration. “I did that for you,” he said, still chuckling. “I just knew you’d have hated it if they didn’t match.”
“Nonsense,” she said, quickly. “It’s still your leg. It can be whatever color you want, I don’t mean to—”
“Love,” he said, “you didn’t pressure me. Relax. I like black and gold, anyway, if you haven’t noticed. I thought you’d enjoy the coordination. I know it drives you wild when things don’t match.”
“As long as you like it, and it’s your choice,” she said. “You built it, the way you did your arm?”
Anakin shrugged. “Everything but the neural interface. That’s a bit more biomechanical than my expertise goes.”
Padmé thumbed a part over the metal knee. He could feel that, too, although it was further away, more distant than the artificial nerve receptors in his metal fingertips. “It’s beautiful. Of course you built it.”
Anakin flushed, but Padmé’s hands roamed higher, to the half of a thigh that was flesh and the rope of scar tissue the neural interface was sunk into. “May I?” she asked, again.
“I’m all yours, my lady,” he said, and then she pressed her palms into the sore muscle there and worked her hands in. She liked to do this for the end of his arm, also, but his thigh ended at a point that made the spasms worse when they did come, and his leg bore half his weight all day. Anakin could go a few days without having to really use his right arm if it came to it, but his leg had to be functional no matter what, and it was—it was a different kind of amputation. Her hands were deft and strong and quick and knew where to go, and the massage worked out tension he’d been working against, pain that had flared through him, until he was boneless against her ludicrously expensive pillows.
When she was done, she leaned down and pressed a kiss over the rope of scar tissue just above the neural interface plate, the way she did with his arm. It was almost amusing, in a gallows humor kind of fashion, that his wife had a ritual for his injured limbs, but at the moment the only thing he could feel was blinding gratitude and love that threatened to steal the air out of his lungs.
“Better?” Padmé asked, and on anyone else, her expression would have been smug.
“You’re incredible,” Anakin murmured.
“So are you, my love. I’d say we’re evenly matched.”
Padmé tucked herself against him, and then Anakin remembered that Padmé’s apartment ran cold and he was almost always cold, so he curled up around her and shoved the cold tip of his nose into the crook of her shoulder.
“Three weeks of this,” she said, laughing. “You’ll be frozen by the end of it.”
“You’ll keep me warm,” he assured her.
Padmé shifted, and pulled the blankets up around them and over them both—the truth was that they slept terribly together. For the first half of the night Padmé was content to cuddle with him, but then after that she’d wake up from the heat and roll over, and she kept her apartment cold so he’d have to go searching for her spare blankets. But for that first half of the night, they were inseparable, and they were some of the best hours of Anakin’s life.
“I wonder what the galaxy would say if I told the tabloids the Hero With No Fear is a unrepentant cuddler,” she said.
Anakin hummed. “I think the galaxy would say that he’s very cold, and he makes many good points when he says his wife keeps her apartment colder than Hoth.”
Padmé swatted his head. “If you wore dresses as heavy as I do, you’d understand.”
Anakin stroked her waist with his thumb. “I think the solution is wear less clothing.”
Her hand tangled in his hair, threading through it. She’d been the one who suggested he keep it long, and he’d been happy to oblige, because he’d never cared all that much about looks—his dark robes were even something he’d begged the Temple quartermaster for when he was nine, because he was constantly frigid in the Temple and there had to be something warmer than the standard Jedi robes—and, most importantly, she’d liked it a lot when he’d come back from the front with shaggy hair. He’d forgotten about it, and then quickly discovered that she liked pulling on it, and—well. Padmé drove most of his aesthetic decisions, admittedly.
“Less clothing, you say,” she said.
“Mhm,” Anakin said. “Ideally, none.”
Padmé snickered. “A romantic proposal, Master Jedi. Though I’m afraid it would make giving speeches in the convocation chamber a little difficult.”
“Three weeks,” she said, idly. “It would be unfortunate if I came down with a sudden bout of illness, so I didn’t have to make any speeches in the convocation chamber.”
Anakin grinned against her neck. “Would anyone notice,” he said, excitedly, “would anyone notice if you were sick at the same time I’m supposed to be on leave, or—”
“The Council hasn’t released anything about your leave,” she said. “Now, I think it’s because they’re trying to keep your injury covered up until you’re about to ship out again. You’re important for morale. And, well—Rabé actually requested leave to go back to Naboo. She could go, posing as Senator Amidala, and then the only trouble at all will be the cabin fever, if we’re lucky.”
A happiness swelled so fierce in Anakin’s chest he could feel his eyes burn with it. “I won’t have to put in that many appearances at the Temple. Just enough so that someone yells at me for doing something a little more strenuous than meditating.”
“I don’t like the idea of strenuous.”
“I have a reputation to uphold, my lady,” he said, simply. “I have to be incorrigible.”
Padmé laughed. “You wouldn’t be my dearly beloved if you weren’t,” she said.
The burn in his eyes spread to his throat, and Anakin pulled her tightly against him, tucking his face deeper into the crook of her neck so she wouldn’t see it. For a moment he couldn’t speak, couldn’t breathe, around happiness scorching him like fire, a gratefulness almost too powerful for him to name. There was something eating him alive, every day he lived, something curling in him and threatening to tear him apart—there were days that the idea of getting up, of moving through another day of the Clone Wars and sending men he considered friends out to die, made him want to close his eyes and never open them again. Somewhere deep in himself he knew there was—something—he was losing to the heat of it, that every day he slept less because his sleep was just more death and pain and soul-deep exhaustion. With Ahsoka gone, there’s no reason to smile at the forefront of the war, no reason to do anything but work through the razor wire being dragged through his nerves every day, the part of himself that grew louder every day that would let a blaster bolt hit him square in the chest if it meant a little more peace and a little less burning alive in the heat of it all.
But if his life were to be three weeks of heaven for every three years of hell, from this night forward, he’d march through every blasted second of it gladly just to hold Padmé like this again. Padmé Amidala Naberrie Skywalker, he thought, and then in her warmth and bathed in the smell of her, he drifted off. It would be a good three weeks.