Upon awakening, Anakin Skywalker's first feeling was befuddlement. Sunlight was streaming onto his face, and a cool breeze was whispering above him, but he was fairly certain that his room in the Temple didn't have a window. Nor did his bed have silky smooth sheets and thick fluffy pillows.
And it most definitely didn't have a beautiful brunette sleeping in it.
Then he remembered—he was on Naboo, with his brand-new wife. They had gotten married just yesterday evening. Letting out a sigh of contentment, he folded his arms beneath his head and turned slightly to watch her sleep.
The idyllic moment lasted a few seconds before Anakin realized that there was something painfully hard beneath his pillow.
It took him a moment to figure out that the ridge burrowing into the back of his scalp was actually his new prosthetic arm. He rolled his eyes at his own forgetfulness and shifted the arm out from under his head, adding lounging beside wife to the list of things made inconvenient by prosthetic limbs, alongside joints snag in hair and cannot snap fingers.
Curse you, Dooku…
Oh, well. He'd get used to it soon enough, surely. It wasn't going to hurt his lightsaber skills, and if this was the biggest of his inconveniences, he could live with it.
An arm for Padmé, he thought happily, is definitely a fair exchange.
There weren't any servants at the lake house, which meant the newlyweds didn't have to do any sneaking around. On the other hand, they did have to cook their own breakfast. Knowing from experience that Padmé was an abysmal chef, Anakin volunteered to scramble and fry, and let his bride set the breakfast table. She glowed when he emerged from the kitchen levitating the various dishes in front of him, and he felt her kiss was fair payment for the oil burns he'd gotten on his real hand.
"This came for you," Padmé said as they settled in at the table. She handed him a message hologram. He switched it on, expecting it to be from Obi-Wan, but instead the projector lit up with a corporate logo.
"Republic Health Insurance Agency?" Squinting, he deciphered the fine print beneath. "'Serving employees of the Galactic Republic for nine hundred years.' Wonder what this is about?"
The actual message blinked into being. Anakin skimmed it quickly, a frown creeping onto his features.
"Your arm?" Padmé guessed, her fork hovering forgotten over her plate.
"Yeah," he muttered. "They say I owe them … wait, 13,575 credits?!"
Padmé raised an eyebrow. "That can't be right. I thought the Order covered all health care expenses."
"Me too," Anakin said, befuddled, flipping to the next screen of the message. "Why…oh, you've got to be kidding me!" he snarled.
"They say they don't cover Sith Lords," Anakin said incredulously. "What, do they think I turned to the Dark Side or something?"
Padmé snatched the hologram from him and read through it meticulously. "Wow," she said slowly. "I think they do."
Anakin shook his head. "Bureaucracy. Just when I thought it couldn't get any more stupid."
"Don't worry," she said absently, eyes still on the message. "I'm sure the Order will take care of it."
He shrugged it off, pocketing the hologram in his tunic. "I'll clear it up when I get back to Coruscant," he said nonchalantly. "Right now I don't want to think about anything but you."
"I take it you've seen to the Senator's needs," Obi-Wan said briskly as Anakin vaulted out of his starfighter's cockpit.
You have no idea, mused the wayward Padawan. "Yes, Master," he said aloud, as solemnly as possible. "She's staying with her parents for a week before coming back to the Senate."
"Good," Obi-Wan said. "We've a new assignment. Praesitlyn is thinking of joining the Separatists, and the Council is sending us to negotiate. We're leaving in three hours."
Anakin nodded. Normally he'd be upset at being shuffled off of Coruscant so quickly, but right now he was glad for something to distract him from missing Padmé. "I just need to run down to the medbay office," he said.
Anakin handed him the hologram message. Obi-Wan scanned it and had to stifle a laugh. "I see the bureaucratic system is in fine fettle, war or no war."
"Very funny, master."
Anakin had never before met the Padawan that was manning the medbay office desk. At least, he thought not, but the more he looked at her the more it struck him that she was exactly the sort of being you would forget you'd encountered. She had small drab brown eyes, short drab brown hair, and wore a tunic that even Yoda would have considered excessively boring. At present she was on the holocom with some harassed-looking Jedi or other, exhibiting for public benefit a voice as tedious and monotonous as the rest of her. Every now and then, she would glance up at Anakin, and blow a startlingly pink bubble of gum.
He tapped his foot in intricate patterns and entertained himself with thoughts of Padmé for twenty minutes, ordering himself not to be annoyed by the way the girl's voice leaked out through her nose...or the arrhythmic snap of her bubble gum… Finally she ended the call and glanced up at him. "Yeeawh?"
Anakin flashed his most charming smile, feeling as though one of them ought to demonstrate some personality, and extended the hologram message. "Ah, I've got an insurance problem here—you see, my arm—"
"Yaw're gawna hafta call RHIA yawself," she said through her nose, not even looking at him anymore as she tapped away on her console.
Talk about an Agricultural Corps escapee. "I, ah, thought the Order handled all medical expenses," he said instead.
"We can't handle yaw puhsonal infawmation," she droned by way of explanation. "Heah's the numbaw." She scrawled a long code on a piece of flimsy and tossed it on top of the hologram in his hand.
"Um," Anakin said, glancing at it. "Okay, then. Thanks." For giving me a first-rate exercise in self-control, he added silently.
She was, of course, not listening. Anakin sighed and glanced at his chrono. Well, he should still have plenty of time to call the—RHIA, was it?—and get this all sorted out. How long could it possibly take?
He trotted briskly up to his quarters, stuffed a fresh change of clothes in his bag, and punched the code into his holocom. The projector lit up with the image of a female Twi'lek, who looked as though only massive amounts of industrial strength adhesive prevented her bustline from exploding out of a perilously-unzipped government-issue jumpsuit. For a brief instant, Anakin thought he had accidentally entered the code for the Twi'leks Gone Wild! Penthouse channel.
"Hello," she cooed.
"Hi," Anakin said, "I've got this misunderstanding with my—"
"—reached the Republic Health Insurance Agency, proudly serving employees of the Galactic Republic for nine hundred years," the Twi'lek continued indifferently. Anakin snapped his mouth shut, belatedly realizing it was a pre-recorded message.
"Our main office operating hours are from eight am to eleven am and two pm to five pm Galactic City time," the Twi'lek said witha rather vapid smile. "Please call again during those hours, or stay on the line to listen to our automated holocom menu for more options."
Menu? Anakin scratched the base of his Padawan ponytail in confusion. Aren't those the things you get at restaurants?
"If you know your party's extension, you may press or say it at any time during this message. If you are calling for a medical emergency, please divert your call immediately to the Galactic City Emergency Report Channel by pressing the red emergency button. If you are employed at the Senate, press one, or say, 'Senate.' If you are a registered care provider, press two, or say, 'Provider.' If you are calling regarding a psychological health issue, press three, and do not speak. If you are a Trandoshan, touch the biosensor pad once and stick out your tongue…"
Anakin didn't need Jedi powers of foresight to predict where this was going.
It felt like half an hour before the Twi'lek finally said, "If you are a Jedi, please press pound-four-six-six-twelve-auresh and touch the biosensor pad four short times and one long time, or say, 'Jedi'—"
"Jedi," Anakin said hastily.
The image blurred for a moment, and then the Twi'lek was back smiling as stiffly as ever. Anakin hoped she was a generated image, because no living being should have to smile that long. Especially not about health insurance. "Please be advised that your call may be monitored for quality control," she said. "If you are calling for a medical emergency…"
"Why in the galaxy would I call my insurance company if I was dying?" Anakin muttered.
"If you are a Master, press one, or say, 'Master.' If you are a Knight, press two, or say, 'Knight.' If you are a Padawan, press three, or say, 'Padawan.'"
"Padawan," Anakin muttered, wishing he could have said "Knight" instead.
"If you are a Healer—"
"Padawan!" Anakin said more loudly.
"—Press four, or say—"
"I'm sorry. Please remember to keep your voice or other vocalizing apparatus at a medium volume," the Twi'lek cooed.
Anakin cut a world-weary gaze to the ceiling. A Jedi does not hate, a Jedi does not hate…"Padawan," he repeated deliberately.
The image flickered to the next sub-menu. "If you are calling for a medical emergency…"
Anakin prided himself on his sense of direction, under normal circumstances, but it didn't take long for him to lose his virtual path as he was forced to navigate through an endless maze of sub-menus. "No, I don't want to get advice on my scalp health," he snarled as the Twi'lek rattled away. "Can't I just talk to somebody?"
"Okay," the Twi'lek said. Anakin started, and then narrowed his eyes in the terrible suspicion that, possibly, this hadn't been pre-recorded after all. "Please wait while I transfer your call to the Customer Assistance desk. Have a pleasant standard day."
"I'm trying," Anakin told her dryly as she disappeared with a small wave of her hand.
He leaned back, rubbing the base of his ponytail in an effort to restore his equanimity, and listened to the opera music that had begun to play. Where had he heard that tune before…oh, right, it was playing in the Chancellor's office half the time. The Sith Wars—he seemed to recall that that was one of Palpatine's favorite operas. How listening to a fat man caterwaul about death and destruction could be anyone's favorite anything, Anakin had no idea.
The projector suddenly chimed and came up with the image of an overweight Rodian. Anakin hoped that yellowish tint to his skin was just the result of a projector flaw. "ThankyouforcallingRepublicHealthInsuranceAgencypleasehold," he droned.
And before Anakin could get one word in edgewise, he was listening to The Sith Wars again.
Anakin ran out of time to wait just as the opera started its third loop. To his own chagrin, he found himself humming the lyrics as he hustled through the Temple hallways. A passing gaggle of initiates bestowed him with alarmed looks from their vantage point on an upper balcony, and he shot them a heated glare in return. Really, was it his fault that it actually had quite a catchy tune?
"… and the Jedi will fall … the Sith shall rule all …"
Okay, maybe the lyrics were a bit inappropriate to the present setting, but it was a classic. Palpatine had said so, and he would know, wouldn't he?
Obi-Wan glanced up from checking his starfighter's systems as Anakin skidded into the hangar, exactly one minute before they were scheduled to leave. "Have you got that insurance business sorted out?"
Anakin scowled at him as he stuffed his bag into the cockpit. "I listened to an entire opera while the agency had me on hold. I think my eardrums need counseling."
"Which opera?" Obi-Wan asked placidly.
"The Sith Wars."
"At least that's a fairly educational one," his master said philosophically.
Educational? What kind of Jedi describes an opera about Sith Lords ripping out Padawans' innards as educational?
"Whatever," Anakin muttered aloud. He swung himself down into the cockpit. "I'll take care of it when we get back."
One month later…
"I missed you," Anakin murmured between kisses.
"Not sorry to leave Praesitlyn?" Padmé asked him mischievously.
"Or Jabiim, or Kamino, or Balamak," he replied. The brief mission to Praesitlyn had morphed into a grueling tour of several conflict sites around the Middle Rim, and had somehow degenerated from diplomacy to "aggressive negotiations" to full-scale military offensives involving the whole Grand Army of the Republic.
She leaned against his chest, looking up at him with a smile. The smile faded a little into concern. "The war—is it as terrible as the holonews makes it out to be?"
"It could be a lot worse," he said gamely, with a brave grin.
"Anakin, I'm serious—"
"—It could be on Tatooine—"
"—I could be sharing a sleeping bag with Obi-Wan—"
"—Jar-Jar could be there—"
"—Anakin!" She pushed him away in frustration.
"I'm alright," he told her, sobering up. "Really. I am."
She eyed him suspiciously. "You'd better not be hiding anything from me."
"I wouldn't dream of it."
"You'd better not be turning to the Dark Side."
"If I was, you would be the first to know," he promised earnestly. She laughed at that and let him tuck his arms around her again.
"Just be forewarned that I'm not going to pay for a new health insurance policy," she teased him. "You know RHIA doesn't cover Sith Lords."
Anakin smacked his head. "I forgot I still had to take care of that."
She frowned again. "Anakin, it's been a month. Why didn't you do that already?"
"I only had a three-hour interim between the honeymoon and the war," he pointed out, "and you can't expect me to call them in the middle of a siege. Force, I can just see it now—" He struck a pose wielding an imaginary lightsaber. "Um, hi, is this the RHIA? Yeah, I'm actually fighting a battalion of droids right now, do you think you could—oh, damn, there goes my other arm—"
"Ani, I'm serious!" Padmé snapped.
He laughed. "Don't worry. I'll call them as soon as I get back to the Temple." A wicked grin worked its way onto his face, and he planted another kiss on her. "Which won't be for a very long time."