Actions

Work Header

Mutually Beneficial

Chapter Text

Chapter One – Prologue.

The future…

"Listen carefully now. I have something important to say. When you're older there will be people who will tell you that the Jedi were not to be trusted, that they were warmongers, that Emperor Palpatine saved the galaxy from their greed and control. They will tell you that Darth Vader and his Inquisitors hunted them down for the good of all of us. But they're wrong. There is a truth behind all of this that they want us to deny and forget: that the Jedi were guardians, peacekeepers, who fought out of necessity in an attempt to save lives and preserve freedom." Sabé paused in her narration, finding it harder to relay than she'd thought. Her one-person audience stared at her in open expectation, and she took a deep breath before continuing. "Your father wants me to tell you this, because he knows that you can keep the secret. He knows that it's important for you to hear the truth, because one day it could save your life."

The six-year-old princess blinked her wide, dark eyes, her expression solemn and rapt. She was too young to accept the weight of truth and lies, but Sabé had no doubt that she would keep it hidden. She was mature for her age. Too mature. Sabé worried that she was growing up too fast, accepting burdens too early.

"How could it save my life?" Leia asked. "A Jedi couldn't help me if they're all dead."

"There...there is still one," Sabé told her, speaking aloud what she'd sworn never to reveal, the words sticking in her throat. It felt like disloyalty. She forced herself to say the rest, because she knew how important it was, how important the girl in front of her was. "There is someone you can go to if all other hope has gone. He'll help you if he can."

"A Jedi?" Leia whispered, her tone reverent.

Sabé nodded. "He fought in the Clone Wars, trying to protect the Republic your father believed in. When the betrayal happened he barely escaped with his life. After everything he gave to the galaxy..." She left the sentence unfinished, unable to find the words. "He saved lives, over and over."

"How do you know that?" Leia asked, a serious little frown creasing her brow.

Sabé resisted a gentle smile at the earnest expression. "Because he also saved mine, more than once. He was a great warrior, yet a wise and skilful negotiator. He's...my definition of a good man."

Leia's face was an open book, awestruck and fascinated at the picture Sabé was weaving. She had planned it that way. She needed the story to stay with the princess long after it was told.

"He is...the best man I've ever known," she added, unable to fully keep the touch of sadness from her tone.

"Who is he?" Leia asked her with undisguised interest.

Sabé couldn't hold back the tiny smile that his name invoked, filled with memories of everything that made him who he was: a man she would love forever.

"Obi-Wan Kenobi."

* * * * * * *

Present day.

As the first difficult year of the Clone Wars drifted to a close, the Republic reluctantly began to accept the fact that it would not be won easily. Supreme Chancellor Palpatine was able to give more and more aid to the war efforts by means of increasing his so-called emergency powers, each time giving his solemn promise to give them up when the fighting was over. Some senators approved of his actions, while others remained wary. But all of them could see the way things were heading in the Senate. Palpatine was more powerful than any chancellor before him. Those who wished to further their political careers clustered around him, hoping to gain his favour. Most attempts were clumsy and unsubtle, traits that Palpatine did not seem to appreciate. Those who had even the slightest chance of success were more shrewd with their approaches.

One such successful man was Quaine Daedrin of Axum. Senator Daedrin was not the kind of fawning, sycophantic politician that the Chancellor so detested. He got himself noticed by other means, namely his steady, understated support of Palpatine's policies, and his diplomatic skills during Senate meetings. His gentle, almost-friendly manner cloaked the manipulation beneath it as he persuaded senators to see his point of view. Palpatine was both impressed by and wary of such a skill, which placed Daedrin comfortably in his sight. Then, when he had been sure that the Chancellor had noticed him, he had very publicly exposed a Separatist spy in Palpatine's office, earning the man's respect and amusing him in the process, for the wily Chancellor knew exactly why Daedrin had done it. Palpatine was amused enough to draw Daedrin into an informal, unofficial group known as the inner circle, and there he remained, much to the envy and admiration of many other senators.

But there were some who saw Daedrin's rise as an opportunity of their own. Two such people were Jago and Luma Simmonite of Senator Padmé Amidala's political team, her personal liaisons on Naboo. They heard Daedrin's story with wry amusement and immediately saw a chance to arrange a marriage for their daughter, Syrena. Such a marriage for their only child would be a huge step towards the Chancellor's inner circle, and in a way subtle enough to avoid suspicion.

Syrena, who was more commonly known as Sabé, royal handmaiden and member of the Order of Sanctuary, was twenty-seven and, in her parents' objective opinion, had much to offer an astute, up-and-coming senator. She was intelligent and loyal, quick-witted and headstrong, slender with fine cheekbones, full lips and large, expressive dark eyes. Her hair fell in tousled brunette waves down her back, and she often wore it tied up for convenience. Luma often thought it looked untidy, but she supposed it gave her daughter an element of wild charm.

Sabé had not followed the political path of her parents, but served as an aide to Queen Neeyutnee. Her status as a handmaiden was another element that worked in her favour. It was a highly cultivated and skilled position, held by many women of noble birth. It had given Sabé formal court training and etiquette, as well as her name, which marked her status in the Order of Sanctuary. Daedrin was bound to be impressed. Or so Jago and Luma hoped. Their plans were coming together.

The only thing that remained was to inform the bride.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two - Any Means Necessary.

Darth Sidious, the Sith Lord the galaxy knew as Chancellor Palpatine, liked the view from the panoramic window in his office. It seemed an obvious statement to make, but Sith Lords didn't usually bother themselves with liking trivial things. It was a waste of time and energy, ultimately resulting in nothing useful. But regardless, he liked his view. He liked seeing the sprawl of the senatorial district below, the stretch of Coruscant's skyscrapers, the mile upon mile of buildings, people, life. He liked knowing that they danced to his tune. The Republic was his, and he never got tired of reminding himself of that. Perhaps it was a little petty to gloat, but he deserved it. It hadn't been an easy journey, and it was far from over.

Anakin Skywalker was far stronger than he had initially realised. The conflicted young Jedi hadn't given in to the darkness within him, despite the many opportunities Sidious had put in his way. Ultimately, it didn't matter. He would turn eventually. Sidious had seen it. It was just taking longer than he'd anticipated. That in itself wasn't a bad thing. Anakin's poorly-repressed anger was still growing, still gnawing at his thoughts, and his dreams continually showed him his fears. Sidious had made sure of that. To his delight, the HoloNet press had given Anakin the nickname The Hero With No Fear, and he enjoyed watching the Jedi Knight try his hardest to live up to it. The extra pressure, combined with the dreams Sidious regularly sent him, meant that finally, at long last, cracks were beginning to show. Anakin was on the path to the Dark Side, hurtling along it with a certainty that only Sidious could see, his mind full of dread and fury, his heart full of nothing but good intentions. It was really very sad. If Sidious had been the sympathetic type, that was.

While he was happy to wait for Anakin's inevitable downfall, (he was a patient man, after all), it did have one or two irritating side effects. He had had visions of the Republic becoming his Empire after the Clone Wars were over, but for that he needed Anakin. Tyranus was too weak to stand at his side when he was an emperor. Only Anakin could do that, deserved that, and the two of them would inspire fear and obedience throughout the galaxy.

The Clone Wars would only end when Anakin became his apprentice. Only then could he create his Empire. Since, for the moment, the Jedi refused to give in to his dark instincts, the war had to go on a little longer, and therein lay the minor problems. War was expensive and delicate, and in order to ensure that it progressed in the way he intended, he needed to keep his dictatorial authority. There were an ever-growing number of senators who were displeased with the drain on the Republic's finances, as well as the way he'd kept his emergency powers and continued to increase them. Because he was still living most of his time as shrewd-yet-harmless Chancellor Palpatine, he had to deal with the naysayers as any politician might: legally and with sound argument. On the surface, at least.

He'd used a sympathy vote to get elected as chancellor, drawing on reactions to woeful reports of the Trade Federation's invasion of his homeworld, as well as Padmé Amidala's heartfelt plea for help. The senators rose up in angry droves, voting him in to satisfy their feelings of righteousness. It had been laughably easy. There was no reason why a similar trick shouldn't quiet those who were beginning to turn against him. It wouldn't have to be on nearly the same scale, of course. Just a gentle reminder that he needed his power to restore justice to the people. Padmé would no doubt be just as much a help as she had been the first time. Her passion for doing the right thing seemed to be inspiring to others, and she was never more sincere than when something affected Naboo.

Unsure as to which specific path to take, Sidious asked the Force to provide an answer. Two days later Quaine Daedrin exposed the spy in his office, earning his attention. Sidious had known about the spy, of course, but he knew that it would seem odd if the Separatists didn't try to infiltrate the Senate. And besides, the spy had been a useful way of passing information.

While Sidious had known about it, the persona of Palpatine hadn't, and he'd reacted with the appropriate amount of shock, disappointment and gratitude. It was blindingly obvious that Daedrin's ultimate goal was his approval, but the man's unusually devious plan seemed out of place in a senator of his diplomatic calibre. Sidious found it interesting, wondering if Daedrin could be useful, and readily accepted him into his inner circle of other potentially useful people.

Just over a week later, Daedrin requested an appointment to discuss a matter pertaining to Naboo. Ever mindful of the plan he was hoping to craft, Sidious agreed to the meeting. In preparation, he consulted his sources, digging for information about the charismatic senator from Axum. What he learned pleased him, and augmented his belief that the man could be of use. With the right incentive, of course. Fortunately, with his new knowledge, Sidious had that incentive at his fingertips.

Daedrin was a practiced manipulator, clearly knowing enough to present a likeable, trustworthy front to the public without going over the top. Sidious saw his affable persona, listening to him spout pleasantries with an impressive amount of sincerity, but to a Sith he reeked of duplicity. Ambition was obviously one of his driving traits. Daedrin displayed the most deceit and cunning he'd seen from a senator in a long time.

Sitting in his chair, wearing one of Palpatine's open, pleasant expressions, he waited, hoping that Daedrin was punctual. The senator knew better than to keep the Chancellor waiting, turning up at the office a few minutes early.

Sidious offered him a chair after greetings had been exchanged, and the senator took his seat, his posture confident, paired with the right amount of deference. He was good, very good. He knew exactly what he was doing. Lesser men than Sidious would probably be fooled into thinking he was genuine.

"So, Senator Daedrin," Sidious began, his voice a welcoming invitation to share concerns, "what can I do for you?"

"I was hoping to pick your brains, Chancellor," Daedrin said, leaning back in his chair, his data pad resting on his lap. "I've received a letter that I'm not sure what to make of. Are you familiar with Jago and Luma Simmonite?"

Padmé Amidala's Theed correspondents. Hardly worth his notice, but he made it his business to know everyone in politics.

"I believe we have met once or twice," he answered, resting his clasped hands on the desk in front of him. "What of it?"

Daedrin's carefully-neutral expression shifted slightly, betraying a touch of awkwardness. "They've written to introduce themselves, and they've offered their daughter's hand in marriage. They say that arranging marriages is legal on Naboo."

Sidious raised an eyebrow in mild surprise. That wasn't the course he'd been expecting the conversation to take. "Yes, it is. Although the law that allows it is hundreds of years old. Most people don't acknowledge it, but legally it still stands. It is unusual for parents to involve a groom from offworld though. Did they give any reason why they have chosen you?"

"Only the expected praise and admiration for my political skills," Daedrin said, his tone a careful balance between boastful and matter-of-fact. "I've been so fortunate as to come under your notice, Chancellor, it's only natural that that attracts attention."

"Oh, I agree," Sidious told him truthfully. "Their daughter is acquainted with Senator Amidala, is she not?"

Daedrin nodded. "Yes, she is a royal handmaiden, and has been for some years, I understand."

Sidious studied the younger man. He looked…almost intrigued. That was interesting. Momentarily putting it aside, he turned his focus back to the girl.

"She must be the decoy who tricked Viceroy Gunray," he mused. Not a difficult achievement, by any means. The viceroy was a fool.

"I have heard that story also."

The first strands of understanding were beginning to form, and he realised the Force was pointing him in the right direction. He followed his thoughts to their natural conclusion, confident that answers would become apparent very soon.

"If that is so, that would make her a member of the Order of Sanctuary," he said, resisting a smile. That was it, the leverage he needed to draw on the sympathies of the people.

"I'm not familiar with them," Daedrin put in, and Sidious felt a flash of irritation at his interruption and even his very presence in his office. Explaining things to ignorant people was so tedious.

"The Order was not always as well known as they are now," Sidious informed him, sitting back more comfortably in his chair, keeping his face placid and accommodating. "They are an elite group of female warriors, exclusive to Naboo. Highly trained, highly dedicated, they make it their job to protect people of import. Most of the Queen's handmaidens are Order members, as are some of Senator Amidala's, I understand. They represent the highest class of security on Naboo, and were once something of a legend. Now, I would describe them as...an iconic group."

Daedrin looked suitably engrossed, and it appeared to be authentic. "Kind of like a lesser version of the Jedi then?"

"Oh, not nearly in the same league, my boy," Sidious said with a genial chuckle. "And without quite so many restrictive rules."

He watched Daedrin process the information, saw him pick up on his slightly negative opinion of the Jedi. He was quick, Sidious had to give him that. There was more comprehension in his strangely mismatched eyes than the Sith Lord had initially been expecting. That was promising. He was intelligent and ambitious: two things that Sidious liked useful people to be. It saved an awful lot of hassle in the long run.

Changing the subject, he said, "I'm going to ask you something, Senator Daedrin, and I want you to answer truthfully."

Daedrin looked suddenly wary, clearly unsure if it was a trick question. Sidious didn't blame him.

"Of course, sir."

Adopting a conversational tone, he fixed Daedrin with a steady look. "I hear that you have risen very high, very fast through the political ranks on Axum, and I can't help but wonder: does a man like you accomplish that with diplomacy alone? Or does he use any means necessary to get what he wants?" He ended his sentence with a thin-lipped smile of encouragement.

Daedrin took a moment to compose his answer. For the first time, he seemed uncomfortable. "I, uh, I'm not quite sure what you're implying, Chancellor, but-"

"I'm not implying anything," Sidious cut in, still polite, still pleasant. "I am simply asking. And I would like the truth." He let a steely edge seep into his voice, the faintest hint of a warning.

"Yes," Daedrin said at once. "Yes, of course. I..." He cleared his throat awkwardly. "I have been known to take...unorthodox measures...when others have failed. But only ever in a good cause."

"Naturally," Sidious commented sardonically.

Daedrin frowned, still uncertain about what was happening and why he was being asked to explain himself. His confusion was written all over his face.

"Let me guess," Sidious went on. "Your unorthodox measures include...blackmail? Framing?"

The younger man's expression told him everything he needed to know about how accurate he was. And there was a spark of dread there too. There was something he really didn't want known, more than anything else.

Sidious plucked the word from the air, lips twisting up in another little smile. "Murder?"

Daedrin's already-pale face turned a shade paler. "It...it was self-defence, sir. I had no choice. I regret it utterly and completely, but..."

"No, Senator, you don't. What you regret is that I know about it."

Daedrin seemed uncharacteristically speechless, hurriedly searching for the right thing to say.

"It was Darnell, was it not?" Sidious asked casually, calling the name to mind. He'd read about the diplomat's untimely demise, even before he'd sought information about Daedrin. "The authorities declared that it was an unfortunate accident. But very advantageous for you. It paved the way to your position as senator."

"You don't understand, Chancellor, Darnell was corrupt to the core. He was taking bribes from the Separatists."

"Oh, I know." Holding back a laugh at Daedrin's incredulous expression, he elaborated. "There is very little that I do not know about the members of the Senate, especially the corrupt ones. You did well to deal with the problem, although your methods were a little extreme."

"I didn't mean for that to happen," the senator insisted, and there was an element of truth in his manner. "When I challenged him about his actions, he pulled a vibroblade on me. I had no choice."

Sidious fixed him with a penetrating stare, enjoying the look of intimidation on his face. "While I believe that he surprised you, I find it difficult to reconcile how a fight in self-defence turned into a murder that was conveniently written off as an accident."

Daedrin dropped his gaze to his hands, clasped tightly in his lap. When he spoke, his voice was quiet, laced with a trace of defeat. He apparently assumed that he was beaten, exposed as a fraud, and had decided to drop the front of innocence. "It was an accident. He lunged at me with the blade. I dodged, and we wrestled for control of the knife. I saw an opportunity to pitch him over the balcony, so I took it. The vibroblade flew out of his hand as he fell. The authorities never found it. I left his apartment and altered the security feed. No one ever even suspected that I'd been there. Darnell liked a drink. Most people assume that he was drunk when he fell."

Pleased to have heard the story in the man's own words, Sidious nodded. "I see. That has cleared the matter up considerably. Thank you, Senator."

"I suppose I'm to be arrested now?" Daedrin asked, fearful but still harbouring a hint of confident defiance.

Sidious smiled at him, watching the confusion dance across the senator's face. "Not at all. Your secret is safe with me."

"Then why..."

"I expect honesty from my associates, Senator Daedrin. Especially those I am only just getting to know. It benefits me to be aware of what skills you have to offer. I never know when I might need to make use of them. Now, Senator, answer me this: do you believe in our cause and the war we're fighting?"

Allowing himself to relax slightly, Daedrin cleared his throat, shifting in his seat. If he was bemused about the direction of the conversation, he kept it to himself. "Yes, of course. The Republic has to protect itself."

"And would you agree that we must win, whatever the cost?"

After a brief, loaded pause, the senator nodded once. He seemed to comprehend that a great deal rode on his reply. "Yes," he said simply.

Sidious met his gaze, adopting a slightly more nonchalant tone. "Good. If we're to see victory, I must continue to use the powers the Senate gave me to progress the war in the right direction. Unfortunately, there are a growing number of senators who still believe that I should surrender those powers. That is something I cannot do, Senator, not in good conscience, not while the Republic still needs my leadership. I swore I would give up the emergency powers when the war ends, and I intend to honour that. After I see us victorious. I don't think that makes me unreasonable, do you?"

"Not at all, Chancellor," Daedrin answered sincerely. "I think it's commendable that you intend to see it through."

Sidious was glad that the senator was not being overly deferential, but then he'd always been smart enough to avoid that sort of behaviour. If there was one thing the Chancellor couldn't stand, it was sycophantic politicians.

He rose to his feet, walking the short distance to the window. He looked out across the criss-crossing lines of traffic, creeping along in orderly rows, contained there by nothing more than a strict airway code. People were always so eager to do what they were told.

"How do you intend to keep your emergency powers?" Daedrin spoke up.

"There is only a small chance that the disputers will gather enough support to make a winning argument," Sidious admitted, turning to glance at him, "but I would rather not take that chance."

"What do you need me to do?" Daedrin asked, looking up at him with a grim, sincere gaze, a touch of resigned inevitability in his voice.

So he understood his position. That was sensible of him. Sidious squared his shoulders, clasping his hands behind his back, and studied the traffic once more. Time to drop the final bombshell.

"I understand that what happened with Darnell was an accident...of sorts. But I also know what you were before you were a senator, how you raised funds for your campaigns."

"No," Daedrin murmured. Sidious could see his shocked expression reflected in the window. "That's...impossible, nobody knew...nobody could connect that name with the one I've made for myself since."

"It wasn't as difficult to connect the pieces as you seem to think, Senator. Trust me, a good freelance assassin can be surprisingly hard to find, so when one disappears without a trace...one must look to who comes to prominence at the same time. It was very simple. Either you killed him, or you were him. And I think we both know which." Shooting a barbed smile over his shoulder, he added, "Don't look so panicked, Senator Daedrin. I wish to hire you."

"Hire me," the senator repeated faintly. Gathering his composure, he added, "Off the record, I assume."

Sidious didn't dignify that with an answer.

"Would that be in exchange for not exposing me to the authorities?"

"Partially," Sidious told him with a nod. "But you will be paid for your services too. I have no wish to expose your crimes. Despite your past, you are a gifted diplomat and a credit to Axum. If you deal with this small, unpleasant business of mine, you will be a credit to the Republic too, not to mention a help to the war effort."

Pivoting away from the window, he studied Daedrin's bewildered countenance, and inwardly sighed. It was almost too easy to manipulate these people.

"I...accept," the senator said at length. "What do you need?"

"The Order of Sanctuary," Sidious proclaimed, earning a wide-eyed stare of confusion from Daedrin. "Their reputation is becoming more widely known across the Republic, people know that they are among the finest bodyguards in the galaxy. Above all else, they are a shining example of what Naboo can offer. If, one by one, they started...dying..." He let the word hang, teasing out the silence. "It could be construed as a direct attack on my homeworld."

Daedrin visibly struggled for control over his astonishment, eventually taming it as he got used to the idea. "And that would generate enough sympathy that people would cut back on their criticism," he stated.

"I believe so, yes."

"But... Forgive me, Chancellor, but...you're really willing to kill innocent women, security officers, no less?"

"There's a bigger picture here, Senator Daedrin," Sidious reminded him callously. "It's my job to make difficult choices for the benefit of the Republic."

Daedrin did not look convinced, but apparently decided that questioning him was an unwise path to walk. No doubt the threat of the truth about his past was also at play.

Sidious took his seat again, pressing his fingertips together, peering over the top of them with a steely-eyed look. "Come now, Senator, I doubt you're really that shocked. After all, it's just another job for you, isn't it? And I assure you, I will not forget your service."

Daedrin glanced at his hands briefly, taking a moment to consider. "I think...," he began, seemingly searching for the right words, "that none of us are in a position to question your decisions, Chancellor." He was not fawning, simply declaring that in the future he would choose not to ask for details. The less he knew, the better. "I will gladly follow any orders you give me…in my…other professional capacity. And I'll be grateful for whatever support you can offer in my political career."

Sidious smiled one of his humourless, cold smiles. "Very wisely spoken," he said mockingly.

It was always a gamble, exposing Palpatine's unsympathetic, darker side, but in this case it was necessary. Daedrin was nothing more than a means to an end, a tool to get a job done. And if he got himself caught, it didn't matter, because he was something else too: expendable. He wouldn't talk, not while Sidious had the threat of his past hanging over him.

"The means are up to you, of course," the Sith Lord told him. "If you choose to work with an accomplice, that's your prerogative, but keep the information you share with them to a bare minimum. And be prepared to travel. There are several Order members guarding dignitaries here on Coruscant, but most will be on Naboo, with several further afield. This could very well be a long-term assignment, as the Order members will be harder to find once they realise what is happening to their colleagues."

"I understand, sir," Daedrin said submissively. "Perhaps it might be wise to leave a gap of several weeks between hits? If that wouldn't interfere with your plans. I wouldn't want to bring suspicion on myself by moving too swiftly."

Sidious considered the request, weighing up the pros and cons. He could certainly work with an ongoing threat. It could even turn out to be more effective, keeping the matter in the public eye for longer, refreshing people's memories with every HoloNet report. A rapid hit on the Order would be over too quickly.

"Whatever you think best," he replied, all cordiality and benevolence once more. "Ensure that you make an impact to begin with, though. Take out three or four over, say, a month. Then you can slow down. I will not insult your intelligence by asking if you can handle alibis."

"I usually come up with something."

"In a few months, I will arrange for you to be noticed by the HoloNet crews for exposing another spy, or something similar." He waved it off dismissively: he would smooth out the details later. "As before, I will be indebted to you. Then, by the time your lovely new wife is found dead, the public can share your distress, and it will seem a personal insult to me."

Daedrin seemed vaguely startled, as if he'd forgotten why he'd even come. "I, uh, I wasn't even sure whether…if I would accept the proposal. Do...do you think I should?"

Sidious glanced at him thoughtfully. It wouldn't make a huge amount of difference either way, aside from perhaps lessening any suspicion about Daedrin's involvement.

"I leave it in your hands," he told him graciously. "There will be benefits if you do accept, but the choice is yours. After all, you are the one who would have to live with her for a time."

Daedrin raised a single eyebrow at the word 'benefits', no doubt thinking of more gratifying things than a potential cover for his assassinations. Sidious inwardly sneered. Ordinary men were so undisciplined, so simple, so blinded by their own selfish desires. It made them much easier to manipulate, but he couldn't help looking at them with disdain. A Sith learned to ignore unimportant needs, to treat them with the nonchalance they deserved and focus on the bigger picture.

He watched the thoughts zipping through Daedrin's head, content to wait patiently until the man had made his decision. Being a chancellor in wartime meant there were many demands on his time, but he exercised patience nonetheless.

"I will write back to the Simmonites," Daedrin announced at length, "and tell them that I'm interested. I remember their daughter, actually. I saw her once when I met with the Queen."

Ah, so that explained the touch of fascination Sidious had seen in the younger man. The girl was probably pretty.

"I can't deny that it will be a lot less effort than a regular marriage," he went on. "And it will, as you say, have its benefits."

Sidious nodded in agreement. "Good. That's everything settled then."

Picking up on the air of dismissal, Daedrin got to his feet, almost losing his data pad as it slid off his lap. He fumbled for it clumsily. Sidious watched with amusement, knowing that the man's disintegrated composure was entirely down to him. He'd walked into the office with confidence, exuding charisma and respect. He was apprehensive now, and a little awestruck. Sidious had a way of inspiring those traits in people.

"I will let you get to your writing," he said, pasting on one of Palpatine's more pleasant smirks.

Daedrin sketched a stylish bow, clawing back a small amount of his dignity as he did so. "Thank you, Chancellor. Good day."

Sidious let him get within a few feet of the door, then called, "And Senator..."

Daedrin turned, eyebrows raised in question, eyes darting about nervously. "Yes, sir?"

"Do not breathe a word of what we have discussed."

From the anxious way he nodded, Sidious knew that Daedrin had heard the threatening undertones in his voice. There was no need to scare him any more. Today.

Daedrin turned on one heel, and departed the office as quickly as etiquette allowed him. Sidious chuckled briefly to himself, rotating his chair so that he faced the window. He knew the senator was capable of tracking down the Order members without his help. Once he began researching, he'd know what to look for. The plan should work, all being well, and if it didn't, it was no great loss. He'd think of something else. Daedrin's skills were useful, but he was ultimately replaceable. Everyone was replaceable. Except perhaps...Anakin.

Sidious didn't like admitting it. Accepting that he needed Anakin seemed like a weakness, but it didn't alter the truth. The volatile young man was a unique case, only scratching the surface of his potential. He'd be a legendary Sith, in time. Time was something that Sidious hoped he'd just bought himself. His grand plans could wait. In the meantime, he had a Senate to control.

Chapter Text

Chapter Three – Undesirable Pact.

Blissfully unaware of her parents' intentions for her regarding marriage, Sabé was enjoying her day off, happy to let someone else have the responsibility of managing the Queen's handmaidens for a short rotation. Securely holed up in her pleasant suite of rooms at the palace, she basked in the sunlight that streamed through her window as she sat at her desk. Her head bent gracefully over the letter she was composing on her data pad, several spiralling strands of hair forming web-like patterns on the surface of the desk.

Dear Obi-Wan, the letter began.

I hope all is well with you and that you are continuing to survive this war uninjured. I will freely admit now that I have nothing of interest to say this time, and am simply writing this letter so as to not lose contact with you. I expect an enlightening and exciting reply, however.

Naboo is flourishing at the moment. The flowers in the palace gardens are just beginning to bloom. It's beautiful. It's a pity that that Blue Shadow incident was the cause of your last visit here. At least we managed to grab that cup of caf after it had all died down. It's not often that we get the chance to meet in person, is it? I am glad that we've continued sending these letters over the years.

The beeping of her comlink interrupted her next sentence, and she reached for it with a grumble, half expecting a summons from Captain Panaka for some crisis or other.

"This is Sabé," she answered warily, childishly screwing up her eyes in anticipation of losing her free day.

"Only me," came her mother's voice.

Sabé let out a sigh and slumped in her chair. Not the duty she was expecting, but duty nonetheless.

"Your father and I would like to talk to you," her mother continued, barrelling into the conversation in her usual straightforward fashion. Luma Simmonite was a woman who seemed to harbour the belief that greetings and pleasantries were social rules that only applied to other people. "Are you free to come over? You mentioned that you'd be off today."

"Now?" Sabé asked jadedly.

"If possible. It's important."

"What's this about?"

"I'd rather not say over the com channel. Just come over."

"Fine," Sabé said through gritted teeth. "I'll be right there."

Irritated by the intrusion to her quiet writing, she signed off and typed rapidly on the data pad.

Well I'm being summoned by my parents for some reason. I'll write again when I have more to say. In the meantime it's your turn!

Your good friend,

Sabé.

She hurriedly sent the letter, then went in search of shoes. Although she hadn't had particular plans for her day, she was annoyed to have it disrupted. She loved her parents, but sometimes wished they lived in a different city. Theed was altogether too small, made all the smaller by the fact that her parents often met with Queen Neeyutnee on political business. There really was no escaping them if Sabé wanted to keep her job.

Locating her shoes from where they'd been kicked under the bed, she slipped them on, and hastened from the palace, squinting a little as she stepped out into the sunshine. The warmth embraced her, providing balance for the cool breeze that tugged at her hair. It was perfect weather for being outside without a cloak. Spring flowers were beginning to bloom in the planters that lined the promenades, giving the air a faint sweetness that she'd missed during the winter months. Not for the first time, she reflected that Theed was one of the most beautiful cities in the galaxy.

Jago and Luma lived in a luxury apartment not far from the palace, so it did not take Sabé long to walk there, despite the streets being busy with tourists and market-goers. She expertly weaved her way through them, arriving on her parents' doorstep almost exactly ten minutes after leaving the palace.

She was welcomed in by their serving droid and shown through to her father's spacious office. Both Jago and Luma were present there, and they both looked up with a smile as she entered. Jago sat behind the desk, his hazel eyes warmer than his smile. Sabé had never known him to display affection too openly. He was a politician through and through, rarely betraying too much of himself to those around him. It had served him well in his career, but had made him rather distant as a father. He was a man with presence, tall, handsome, well-dressed, his slight belly one of many signs that he lived well. His hair, once as dark as Sabé's own, was streaked with grey but, like many men, the look suited him.

Luma stood at her husband's side, her hands linked as she toyed with her wedding ring. She had her own office, of course, but seemed as comfortable in Jago's as she was in her own domain. Her greying honey-blonde hair was secured in its usual elaborate bun, and her dress was smart and formal, in a style reminiscent of some of Padmé's plainer gowns. Her make-up was flawless, suitable for her age. As usual, she looked far more put-together than Sabé felt, something that happened often and always struck her as being the wrong way round.

"Syrena," her mother greeted, "thank you for coming so promptly."

Sabé was so used to her parents' stubborn usage of her birth name that she didn't even bother correcting them any more.

"You gave me little choice," she said, her tone not nearly as suspicious as she felt it should be. "What's all the fuss?"

Jago sat forward in his seat, resting his chin on his clasped hands. "We have some news for you. Do you want to sit down?"

Sabé took the chair opposite the desk, smoothing her skirts as she sat. "How bad is this news?" she said in an attempt at light-heartedness.

"Dearest, it's not bad news at all," Luma pacified. "It's a wonderful opportunity."

At that, Sabé's alarm bells started ringing. She had always got on well with her parents in a civil if not exactly affectionate sense, so she knew to be wary when Luma began addressing her as 'dearest'. She knew her mother loved her, in her own way, but she had never been the maternal type, and so the endearment sounded horribly false.

"What sort of opportunity?" Sabé asked, narrowing her eyes.

"You've heard of Quaine Daedrin, of course," Jago stated.

"The senator? Yes. Why?"

"He's a new favourite of Chancellor Palpatine's since he uncovered that spy. Apparently he's right up there in the inner circle."

Sabé nodded, wondering where the conversation was heading. She was aware that it was her parents' ultimate goal to be included in the inner circle.

Just as she was thinking over the fact, Jago repeated it aloud, running a hand through his hair in a way that seemed uncharacteristically tense. Automatically, Sabé felt herself tense up too, her taut muscles making her sit stiffly in her seat.

"We think that Senator Daedrin may be our way in," Luma told her, her gaze faintly calculating as she thought about it.

"How?" Sabé asked, curious in spite of herself.

"Through his wife."

"But he's not married, is he?"

"No, not yet." Luma looked pointedly at her daughter. Her careworn-yet-striking features were unusually placid, revealing barely a trace of her inner thoughts.

Sabé's eyes widened and her jaw fell open in surprise. Holding up a hand, she snapped, "Oh no, no way."

"Syrena, be reasonable," Jago put in, the simple three words sending her back to her childhood. How many times had she heard them, heard the subtle warning behind them?

"Reasonable?" Sabé squeaked, her voice shrill in her panic. "You're trying to marry me to a man I've never properly met and you're telling me to be reasonable?"

Jago heaved a sigh that spoke volumes, namely that his daughter was reacting exactly as predicted. "Apart from the other benefits, you would be in a perfect position to help us."

"To help you with what exactly?" she asked scathingly, gesturing for emphasis. "Your ambitions? I've never shared them, why are you involving me?"

"Many people are growing wary of the Chancellor's rise in power. You would be in a good position to find out if he's corrupt, and if he isn't...well, it's no small thing to be married to one of his closest associates."

"Do you think he's corrupt?"

Jago shrugged. "Who knows? But you'd be in a useful situation either way."

Sabé bit her tongue against another snapped retort. She had no desire to be useful.

"You've been of a marriageable age for some years now," said Luma, her dark eyes, so like Sabé's own, fixing her with a stern stare. "We are well within our rights to arrange a suitable match for you."

Sabé grimaced, clasping her hands tightly in her lap. She knew they were right, taking advantage of an ancient law passed when Naboo had suffered a severe drop in the population following an outbreak of disease. The law stated that if a girl had not married by the time she was sixteen it could fall to her parents to arrange. Not all parents chose to do so. Most were unaware that the law still held.

She stared down at her hands, watching her knuckles turn ivory, trying to be calm, trying to think her way out of it. Her head was spinning, bombarding her with thoughts and opinions, too many, too fast for her to get a grip of. She needed to stop the panic, and quickly, before she let it rule her actions.

"Look," said Jago, trying and failing to sound understanding, "if it doesn't work out you can always get the marriage annulled."

"On what grounds?" Sabé asked breathlessly, trying to exert some semblance of control.

"Non-consummation," Luma offered casually.

Sabé stared at her, incredulous. "Mother, the man is thirty-three years old, there's no way I'd get away with non-consummation!"

"Women know all sorts of little tricks to avoid that, darling."

Sabé hastily held up a hand. "I do not want to have this conversation with you, especially in front of my father."

Irritatingly patient, her mother argued, "It would only be until the war ends…"

"That could be years!"

"You shouldn't be so negative about this so quickly," Luma tried again. "You did say that he was good-looking."

"Objectively," Sabé snapped. "It doesn't suggest that I wish to spend the rest of my life with him."

"He's a wealthy man," Jago pointed out. "You'd want for nothing."

"I don't..." she began, trailing off with a little huff of exasperation. "He may not be interested anyway," she added, changing direction.

"Oh, he's interested," Luma said excitedly, a keen glint lighting her eyes, a sign of ambitions within reach.

Sabé glanced at her sharply. "What?"

"We contacted him about you, and he remembered you from that time the Queen visited the Senate and met with him."

Sabé thought back to that incident. To her it was insignificant, hardly worth the remembering. Queen Neeyutnee had been speaking with a group of senators, one of which happened to be Quaine Daedrin. None of the dignitaries had even so much as glanced in her direction until the Queen had asked her for a data pad. She had stepped forward to pass it over, then returned to her place. She had glanced up just once, and had met Daedrin's piercing stare. A little shocked that one of the senators should still be looking at her, she had swiftly dropped her gaze and had kept it lowered for the duration of the meeting. The following day they had returned to Naboo, and the encounter had all but faded from her mind.

"I don't understand why," she murmured. "We never even spoke, it was...just nothing. It was nothing!"

Luma shook her head. "Syrena, you are a very beautiful young woman. I don't like the thought of you wasting your youth in service to the Queen."

A chill travelled the length of Sabé's spine. She hadn't considered that she would be giving up her career too. It was unfair. It was wrong. A flare of anger ignited as she considered what they were asking her to do. No, not asking. They hadn't done her the courtesy of asking. She stared at the cerulean carpet, trying to draw some measure of calm from the peaceful colour. She would find a way out of her parents' proposition, no matter what it took. It was unacceptable that she should be forced to give up her lifestyle, her job, her home, to give herself to a virtual stranger. To begin with, she would have to pretend to agree to it, to give herself room to escape and work out the rest. She needed a proper plan.

Lifting her chin, keeping her tone level, she asked, "What exactly do I get out of this? Just out of interest."

Her parents exchanged a glance. She detected the beginnings of triumph in their expressions, buried under a heap of wariness that she knew they were wise to feel.

"Senator Daedrin isn't one of the most eligible bachelors in the Senate for no reason, Syrena," her mother began. "He's rich, so he could provide for you easily. You'd be far safer with him than you are working as a bodyguard. I've heard that his hobbies include music and visiting the theatre, so that shows a pleasing amount of sensitivity, don't you think?"

"I guess," Sabé mumbled, finding the reasons too vague for comfort.

"Plus there'd be your position, as we said, married to someone so influential and astute," Jago added. "And if it turns out that Chancellor Palpatine is corrupt, well, then it's your duty to help us expose him."

The duty card. It hadn't taken them long to play that one. Sabé took her duty at the palace very seriously, and had a reputation for her unwavering loyalty. But that was duty to her monarch, to her planet. It meant something. It was so vastly different to the apparent 'duty' they were suggesting.

She'd heard enough. She gave a great sigh, drawing out a thoughtful pause. "I suppose," she conceded, lacing the appropriate reluctance through her tone. Pasting an expression of regret on her face she added, "Look, I'm sorry I reacted strongly to this, but it just came from nowhere. I didn't even know you were considering marriage. Surely you can understand that it'll take some getting used to."

Jago nodded. "Of course. Perhaps we should have involved you earlier."

"I need time to think about this. I'd like to go home for an hour and speak to Padmé. She knows Senator Daedrin better than I do. Then I'll return and we can talk again."

Her parents exchanged another look. They knew as well as she did that she didn't have a choice in the matter. The entire conversation had been nothing but a formality.

"Humour me," she said. "Please."

Jago sat back in his seat, his stern countenance already telling her what his answer would be. "If you need some time, by all means use the lounge or the garden. But we'd like to get this matter settled before you leave."

Knowing that it would be unwise to push them, Sabé nodded. "I see. I'll do that then."

Rising from her chair, she gave them both a nod before heading out into the garden. The fresh, warm air calmed her, but she felt no more in control than she had in the study. Tears of anger and disappointment cut paths down her cheeks, and she dashed them away crossly. She was finding it difficult to see her parents' point of view. Whichever way she considered it, it seemed a vastly selfish move on their part. In her opinion, parents were supposed to make sacrifices for their children, not the other way around. She admitted that in their own way, they probably thought they knew what was best for her. Or at least, that was what they were telling themselves. For her part, Sabé was struggling to comprehend how her parents could possibly think it was all right to organise her entire life for her just because a vastly outdated law allowed it.

Making her way to the very end of the garden, she hid herself behind the ornamental shrubs. There was a single stone bench there, facing the fish pond, and she sat down on it heavily, propping her chin on her hand. She watched the fish swim endless circuits, with nothing more to worry about than which direction to drift next. Wondering what that must be like, she brooded about the difficulty she found herself in. She wasn't going to marry Daedrin. She was determined on that point. She just didn't know how to avoid it. Yet.

Her thoughts turned to Padmé, one of her oldest friends, and Sabé wondered what she would do given the same situation. Digging in the pocket of her dress, she smiled to herself as she located her holo projector, thanking the gods that she'd picked it up before she'd left her room. There was only one way to find out what Padmé would advise, and that was to simply ask her.

Punching in her friend's frequency, she waited only a few moments before Padmé's tiny, fuzzy blue image materialised above the disc, her hand outstretched as she held her own holo projector.

"Sabé!" she began, smiling. "You know I love hearing from you but the Senate session is due to resume in five minutes. Can it wait?"

"No!" Sabé burst out. "It can't wait, but I'll be quick."

Padmé immediately sobered. "What is it?"

"What do you know of Quaine Daedrin of Axum?"

"Not a lot," the senator said with a shrug. "He's a skilled diplomat, but some of his ideas are a little extreme. Why?"

"My parents want me to marry him," Sabé told her, managing to keep her voice surprisingly level. "They just told me about it now, it's already agreed."

Padmé's shock was evident even over the holo. "Oh…that's…wow, that's so fast."

Sabé nodded her agreement, shifting on the bench. "What do I do? How can I get out of it?"

"I…don't know. I'm sorry, Sabé, I…have no idea." Her friend shrugged again, helplessly.

"If I run away there's always a chance that they'll find me, then I'll be back where I started."

"You could…marry someone else," Padmé suggested, her tone betraying her uncertainty. She was always loath to recommend the devious way out of problems, preferring to be upfront and above board. But despite that, she never failed to find solutions, even if they sometimes involved a little deviousness.

"Marry someone else?" Sabé repeated, unsure whether to laugh or start an immediate search. "Padmé! I don't exactly have a line of suitors at the door. And besides, that still wouldn't solve the problem of me giving up my job."

"There must be someone you can strike a deal with. Someone you can marry in name who would let you go your own way. That way you could stay on Naboo."

Sabé gave a quiet, thoughtful huff, pursing her lips. "Honestly…I'm not sure I want to."

The moment the words were out, she realised she absolutely meant them. Despite lamenting that her parents' decisions affected her life in ways she didn't want, she wasn't sure she could go back to things as they were. She hadn't yet allowed herself to fully comprehend just how hurt she was, knowing that it would make her too emotional, too distracted. Until she figured out a way to avoid the marriage, she needed to keep a clear head. Still, she knew she'd have to face it eventually.

"I…I don't really know what I'm going to do," she went on. "But now…suddenly the palace doesn't feel far away enough."

Padmé tilted her head sympathetically, her gaze resting on her outstretched hand. On handheld holo projectors, eye lines rarely matched up, but Sabé appreciated the sentiment anyway.

"Well," Padmé said pensively, "Captain Typho has been asking me to employ another handmaiden. I've been putting it off…you know…since Cordé. I told him I could manage with Moteé and Teckla."

"Can you?"

She was fairly sure where the conversation was headed, and she didn't want Padmé offering jobs that weren't legitimately available. Her friend was always careful with her allocated budget, but Sabé knew an additional wage being paid out would be a strain.

"I can manage, yes," Padmé told her, "but sometimes I think they would benefit from there being another handmaiden around. I think they struggle with security cover sometimes, especially when I travel, and I know it isn't easy for them when one of them has time off. The Queen would prefer me to have three anyway. She says it looks better." Padmé pulled a face, as if she didn't think the Queen's reasoning mattered much. "I can request a transfer, if you want. I'd be happy to have you in my service again."

Sabé managed a half-smile. "Just like old times? Thanks. I'll think about it."

"I have to go," Padmé said, annoyed. "But I'd like to talk more about this. Why don't you come and stay for a few days? I'll speak to the Queen and see if she'll let you take a leave of absence. We can figure something out."

Sabé wanted nothing more than a chance to escape for a while, and seized upon the opportunity. "Thank you, I think I will. If nothing else it will keep me from killing my parents. Murder is still illegal, right?"

"Last time I checked," Padmé replied dryly, looking at something over her shoulder. "Okay, I really do need to go. Keep me updated," she ordered before her image faded.

Sabé pocketed her holo projector, mind full. She'd quipped about not killing her parents, pretending, (either to Padmé or herself, and she wasn't sure which), that she could deal with it lightly. Nothing could be further from the truth. They'd disrupted everything in the course of one conversation. Every time she thought she had a grasp of just how much, she thought of something else. She felt a little better for talking to Padmé. The senator had a way of making all problems seem fixable, but regardless of that, she was no nearer to a real, feasible solution.

'Marry someone else,' Padmé had said, as if it were a simple matter. The only men she knew well were all guards at the palace, and since the law had been created to boost the population, same-sex alliances weren't valid, and wouldn't be a solid enough counter against it. She wouldn't trust any of her colleagues to be willing to go against the wishes of Jago and Luma Simmonite. Her parents didn't quite have Padmé's fame and reverence, but they were well-respected at the palace.

She was beginning to lose hope already, yet felt desperate to hold on to what she had left of it. Panic hovered not far away, a worrying, alien sensation, and she did her best to keep it at arm's length. She was trained to deal with every situation with a cool and level head, which she frequently did, but this was too personal, too…different. She didn't know what to do, or how to fight it. The flutter of alarm in her stomach made her feel nauseous, weak. She hated that.

There came a crunch of gravel on the path, and Sabé automatically straightened up, calming herself, unwilling to show how worried she was. The steps were light. Not her father then, but neither did they sound like Luma. That just left…

Sabé glanced up, not too surprised to see her sister, Idriel, round the corner.

"Ah," she said in cynical greeting, the sarcasm keeping her voice steady. "Youngest daughter doesn't like the idea of an arranged marriage, let's wheel out the married daughter to persuade her how good it is."

"Nobody wheeled me out," Idriel stated, sitting down on the bench with all the grace and elegance that had come naturally to her, but that Sabé had had to learn. "Mother and Father asked me yesterday if I would–"

"Wait," Sabé interrupted. "You knew about this yesterday?"

"No, Syrena, that was what I was about to say," Idriel retorted irritably. "I was asked to come over, but I've only just found out why."

Calming her spiky temper, Sabé nodded. "And? Thoughts?"

Idriel considered, her expression calm and thoughtful. They were very similar to look at, but Idriel was clearly the elder of the two, a fact that she was always aware of and irked by. They had the same dark eyes, the same narrow nose and angular jaw line, the same long, gently waved hair, but where Sabé's was dark and generally untameable, Idriel's was the same honey-blonde as Luma's, and always impeccably styled.

"I admit I was surprised," Idriel said at length. "You've never seemed the marrying kind."

"I'm not."

"What, not at all? Or just not Senator Daedrin?"

Sabé sighed softly. The topic seemed trivial, but it was helping her keep her focus. "I'm not saying that that isn't something I would like, one day. Maybe. But not like this. Not with a man I barely know to forward the careers of my parents."

"It might turn out to be the best move you ever made," Idriel suggested, shrugging.

"Do you really believe that, or is that just what they told you to say?"

"I'm just putting a positive spin on it. You never know, you and Senator Daedrin might get along well together. Marriage might suit you, as it does me."

"You chose it though," Sabé countered. "You chose Jensen and he chose you. That's how it's supposed to work."

"I chose it, yes, but that doesn't mean I didn't make changes. I was set to be a literary student, remember? On Coruscant. I gave that up to stay here and marry Jensen, and I don't regret it."

A brief silence fell. Sabé wondered how true her sister's statement was, whether she did regret it, just a little. She didn't push the matter though. Idriel had never been particularly open about things that bothered her, a trait she'd no doubt inherited from Jago. It had made it difficult for them to be close while they were growing up. Idriel's emotional distance, plus their eight year age gap, hadn't exactly made for a bond of eternal friendship. By the time Sabé was old enough to really be a companion to her sister, Idriel was more interested in studying and boys. An unusual combination, but one that worked for her.

Idriel had married Jensen and moved out of their parents' house, and Sabé had become a handmaiden, taking a room at the palace. They had grown even more apart, not friends exactly, but not estranged either. They were civil to each other, and fond of one another in a detached kind of way. Family was family, but Sabé would always be closer to the friends she'd made during those early days at the palace: Padmé, first and foremost, and Gregar Typho, a fellow officer who currently served as Padmé's chief of security.

"So," Idriel said, breaking through her thoughts, "when is the wedding?"

Sabé couldn't help pulling a childish face in distaste. "I don't know."

Lowering her voice, Idriel asked, "Are you going to go through with it?"

Sabé glanced at her, surprised that she would ask, immediately suspicious that her parents were using her sister as a spy. Idriel certainly wouldn't help her get out of it, she knew that for sure. Like many others, she respected their parents' position too much.

"What choice do I have?" Sabé said rhetorically. "It's the law."

Idriel nodded in agreement, and they sat in a heavy silence that dragged and felt awkward. She didn't ask any more questions, and Sabé assumed that she'd gotten the answers she was sent out for.

"So, do you have any news?" Sabé put forward eventually.

A wide, radiant smile blossomed on her sister's face. "Actually, I do. Jensen and I are expecting a baby."

Sabé grinned, genuinely pleased for her, and pleased to see her so happy. "Idriel, that's wonderful. I'm going to be an auntie! I can teach them all sorts, like how to shoot, how to defend themselves, how to-"

"Don't you dare!" Idriel exclaimed. "You will take them to holo movies and babysit, that's all!"

"So no blasters as birthday presents?"

"Definitely not!"

They shared a giggle, enjoying the rare moment of harmony, but then Idriel spoiled it by saying, "You may have one of your own in a year or so."

Sabé sobered immediately. Another reason why she had to get out of the marriage. She didn't want children. She knew she might change her mind if she ever found the right person, but as things were she was adamant that she didn't want them.

Unwilling to have that conversation, she uttered a vague, "Maybe."

The garden suddenly seemed like a detention yard, and she couldn't wait to get back to her room at the palace. Her fight or flight instinct was clamouring for attention, and she quieted it by reminding herself that tomorrow she would fly to Coruscant, to her allies: her friends.

She stood up abruptly, causing Idriel to raise her eyebrows in mild surprise.

"I should go and speak to Mother and Father," she told her. "Get this matter settled. I'm sure they'd rather talk about the baby with you."

"We have seven more months to talk about the baby," Idriel said with a smile, getting to her feet. "This takes priority."

They walked back through the garden in silence, Sabé still unsure of her sister's true opinion of the arranged marriage. She studied their approaching reflection in the large windows that formed the entire back wall of the apartment. One golden head, one dark. One tall and elegant, the other walking with a melancholy slouch. Idriel's gown was plainer in style, but the fabric was more decorative. Sabé's was in-keeping with palace fashions, and had draping, layered sleeves and a sweeping neckline, but the colours were plain and her belt was practical. Just like when they were children, they couldn't be more different if they tried.

Seated back on the chair in Jago's office, Idriel hovering diplomatically behind, Sabé faced her parents with a sombre, contrite expression.

"I'm sorry if you feel I've been difficult about this," she began, her tone rather formal as she attempted to get the speech out, "but you must understand that marriage wasn't something I was thinking of for myself. Not right now. Maybe not ever. I can't say that I'm happy about your decision, and I wish you'd talked to me sooner. That said, I appreciate that you are within your rights according to the law." She took a deep breath, steeling herself. "If I am to marry Senator Daedrin, I would like the opportunity to get to know him better. I've spoken to Padmé, and she's offered to let me stay with her for a few days, so I'll be flying to Coruscant in the morning. I intend to meet Senator Daedrin while I'm away, if he can spare the time."

Her parents exchanged a look, and Sabé knew at once that she'd hit the right tone of reluctant acceptance. She tried to keep her relief from showing on her face.

"That sounds like a good idea," Luma said. To her credit, her smile was gentle and not overbearingly victorious. Sabé realised that that was for her benefit.

She nodded, and rose to her feet. "I'd better go and pack. Padmé said she'd clear my absence with the Queen, but I'd like to speak to her myself as well."

"Of course."

"This is going to be a wonderful opportunity for you, Syrena," Jago added.

She didn't trust herself to say any more, so she simply nodded again, turning to leave. Idriel followed her to the door, surprising her by pulling her into a brief hug.

"I know you don't want this," her sister muttered in her ear, "but try to make the best of it, okay? Things have a way of turning out."

"I hope you're right," she said truthfully.

Idriel let her go, studying her face with a faintly calculating air. Sabé had no intention of confiding in her. She was convinced that whatever she said would make its way back to her parents. So she smiled as best as she was able, and said goodbye. Her added congratulations wiped the doubt from her sister's face, replacing it with a beaming smile. Seizing her opportunity, Sabé slipped out the door.

She felt better for being outside in the late afternoon sunlight, but everything seemed suddenly oppressive. Not caring about who saw her, she began running for the palace, her skirts held up in one hand, her elegant shoes constantly reminding her that they were not made for dashing about. Disregarding years of etiquette training, she pelted up the steps and through the corridors, finally reaching the privacy of her small suite of rooms. Leaning back against the door that slid mercifully closed on the world, she simply stood there, breathing heavily.

She tilted her spinning head back, resting it against the door, hating the way she felt. She was a security officer, a soldier, trained to fight battles and eliminate threats. She was comfortable with that. But this…this was a problem she couldn't fight, not in the way she knew how. And that made her incredibly uneasy.

"But that's why you're going to see Padmé," she told herself aloud. "This is her kind of battle."

Moving away from the door, she kicked off her shoes and plopped down on her desk chair. She really did need to pack and speak to the Queen, but her motivation had momentarily stepped out. Her biggest worry was that 'marry someone else' would be the extent of Padmé's plan. That seemed an impossible task, and she wasn't sure that it would be any better than marrying Daedrin. It would be her choice, that was a plus, but other than that… Padmé could work to overturn the law in her professional capacity, but Sabé knew that that would take months, maybe even years. She needed a quicker solution.

The blinking light on her data pad drew her attention, showing a new message. It was a letter from Obi-Wan Kenobi. Momentarily sidetracked, surprised by his quick reply, she accessed it.

Dear Sabé,

This is just to inform you that I too have nothing of any merit to say. I suppose the letters will be incessantly boring from this point on. Ah well.

Your true friend,

Obi-Wan Kenobi.

P.S. Only joking. Proper reply coming in a day or two.

She chuckled, archiving the message. When she'd first met him, she would never have guessed that he had a sense of humour. He'd been so serious, so intense in everything he did. It was strange sometimes to think that the man she was friends with was the same solemn Jedi Padawan she'd temporarily fooled into thinking she was the Queen. She wondered if he'd have any advice to offer about her dilemma, or whether such a problem – so far removed from what the Jedi usually had to deal with – would stump him.

Steering her thoughts back on track, she stood up and headed to the fresher. If she was going to speak to Queen Neeyutnee she needed to be tidy. Five minutes with a comb and a handful of hairpins did the trick.

Sabé knew the Queen's schedule like the back of her hand, and knew exactly when she could steal a few minutes of her time. She didn't anticipate any hiccups with her time off. The Queen was young, only fifteen years old, and treated Padmé with the familiar reverence that the senator frequently got from her people. She often took Padmé's advice when it was offered, and was wont to do her a favour if asked.

As predicted, Sabé was granted her week's leave. The Queen had spoken to Padmé already, and had been expecting her request. The meeting was over within five minutes, and Sabé headed back to her room to pack.

As she worked, methodically sorting what she needed, her mind turned over everything that had happened that day. Padmé's earlier phrase 'marry someone else' kept making its presence known, playing over and over in her head until she was ready to scream. She was sure that the answer could never be that simple, and so to have it repeated as a constant reminder of unhelpful advice was more than a little annoying. She wondered if Padmé would expect her to advertise.

Wanted: One partner for marriage of convenience. Must be willing to have no involvement in wife's life whatsoever.

She gave an unladylike snort. It was absurd. It was all absurd. If only she could bring herself to laugh at it.

With reluctance, she was starting to think that maybe Padmé was on the right track after all. Marrying someone else, on her own terms, might be the only quick solution that gave her a chance of retaining some normality. But like she'd said when the point was initially raised, a partner willing to marry her just to get her out of her parents' arrangement was not going to be easy to find.

And then, out of the blue, a phrase from the letter she'd read floated back to her.

Your true friend, Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Sabé halted her packing, her heart racing, wondering if she dared ask… He was a noble and loyal man who had been her friend for eleven steady years. She trusted him completely. The fact that he was a Jedi was a complication, but one that could work to her advantage. A Jedi had no interest in marriage. Logically, they would be more open to the suggestion of a marriage in name only, and wouldn't ask her for things she was not willing to give. She knew that the Jedi Council had been known to grant permission for marriages in extreme circumstances. Sabé wasn't sure that she qualified as one of those, but she was willing to try. She had to try.

A flicker of optimism made its way cautiously into her thoughts. It was crazy. It was the craziest plan she'd ever formulated, but so far, it was her best hope. Sabé glanced up from the gown she was folding, meeting her own gaze in the mirror. Her dark eyes were wide, her lips pressed tightly together in stubborn-yet-apprehensive determination. She would do it. She would fly to Coruscant, she would walk into the Temple, and she would ask a Jedi Master to marry her. And she would hope to the gods that he said yes.

Chapter Text

Chapter Four – Flight.

 

After a less restful night than she would have liked, Sabé was up at first light packing the last of her belongings for the week ahead. The fight or flight instinct that she'd felt at her parents' apartment was still hovering irritatingly at the back of her mind, and she hoped that leaving Naboo sooner rather than later would quiet it.

One of the privileges of being a handmaiden was free use of the royal starfighters. Sabé fully intended to take advantage of it, and made a detour to Captain Panaka's office to sign one out. Her superior officer was not yet on duty, but she wasn't surprised to see him sitting at his desk anyway, his usual cup of caf in front of him. The man gave a whole new meaning to being dedicated to the job.

"So," he began without preamble, "you're flying off for a week?"

Disapproval emanated from him in waves: in his voice, in his folded arms and stern frown, in his severe, clear gaze as he studied her.

Sabé had known him for years, and was well aware that his bark was worse than his bite.

"I cleared it with the Queen," she told him placidly, filling out the relevant flimsi forms.

"I am your superior, Sabé, you should have cleared it with me."

She didn't argue, because she knew he had a point. It had slipped her mind in the madness of the previous day. It was unfortunate but understandable, she thought. Explaining it, however, would be a waste of time. Panaka didn't do sympathy, especially where his officers were involved.

"Next time I will," she said. She didn't smile, because he'd think she was playing him, but she shot him a companionable nod.

"Hmph," he grunted.

Sabé bit her lip to keep from smiling. She knew her almost-impeccable record was the only thing keeping him from ranting at her. That, and the fact that he hadn't touched his morning caf yet.

They sat in silence while Sabé completed the form, Panaka making slow but steady progress on his beverage.

"I want that starfighter back in one piece," he barked at her, his way of letting her know that they were okay.

Sabé nodded. "Yes, sir."

"See you in a week."

She did smile then, because despite his grumpiness, she was fond of him. "See you in a week."

"And tell that nephew of mine to call once in a while. I'm starting to forget what he looks like."

Sabé agreed, not hiding her amusement. She handed him one copy of her form, then made her way out of the palace, hearing it start to awaken as she walked the corridors. The hangar wasn't far, less than five minutes away. As she started down the palace steps, she noted the unusual quiet of the streets, clear of tourists and commuters. Only market traders were about so early in the morning, already busy setting up their stalls. Through the comparative emptiness, the approaching figures of her parents stood out jarringly.

Taken aback, Sabé halted on the steps, their unexpected presence there unnerving her. They only came to the palace on political business, and she knew full well that the Queen wouldn't be receiving anyone until later in the morning.

She walked down to greet them, trying to keep the majority of her surprise from her voice. “Mother, Father, what are you doing here?”

“We came to say goodbye,” Luma explained with a tight smile.

Sabé resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Her parents had picked a spectacularly inconvenient time to take an interest in her life. It was ironic really. When she was younger she would have given anything for them to visit her simply to bid her farewell, but now she just wanted her solitude back.

“Oh…” she muttered, trailing off. “Um…goodbye.”

“It’s very early to be setting off, isn’t it?” Her mother glanced around, as if to illustrate her point with the lack of people on the streets.

Sabé had hoped to make a clean getaway. She hated the thought that she was predictable, especially to Jago and Luma, who’d never appeared to really pay attention to any of her habits and traits.

“I want to make the most of my free time,” Sabé explained. It was partially true. “Besides, I’m hardly going to meet Senator Daedrin like this.” She gestured to her pilot’s uniform: smart, practical, and the exact opposite of what Luma classed as appropriate attire for charming suitors. “I don’t know when I might see him, so I thought I’d give myself plenty of time to freshen up and relax at Padmé’s first.”

“I’m glad you brought that up,” her father put in. “We spoke to Senator Daedrin after you left yesterday.”

“Oh?” said Sabé, the familiar sinking feeling already making itself known.

“He wondered if you’d meet him for lunch.”

“Today?”

“Today.” Jago peered at her as she scrambled for a suitable response. “You do still plan on seeing him, don’t you?”

“Of course!” she exclaimed, going a little overboard on the brightness. Inwardly wincing, she toned it down. “That’s the whole point of the trip, after all. Where and when should I meet him?”

All visible signs of suspicion fading from his face, her father seemed to relax. “In the main foyer of the Senate at noon.”

Sabé nodded automatically. “Right. Thank you for, um, coming to tell me." Suddenly desperate to be away, she flashed a quick smile and continued down the steps. "I’d better get going. I'll see you when I get back.”

She knew her hasty departure was less than subtle, but she couldn't bring herself to care. If her parents were wary they didn’t appear to show it, and said a hurried goodbye before letting her go. Sabé had absolutely no intention of meeting Senator Daedrin at noon, and she hoped that she’d managed to keep that fact from Jago and Luma.

She met no one else on the street, and the hangar was blissfully empty too. Social interaction wasn’t one of her priorities right then and there, a fact that the brief conversation with her parents had clarified. The droid in the security booth accepted her sign out form, pointing out which one-seater ship she was allocated. Happy to concentrate on something that was less self-involved than her concerns of the past day, Sabé began running through the pre-flight checklist, making sure the ship was in good enough condition to get her to Coruscant. It was purely routine. Every vehicle in the palace hangar was checked and serviced on a regular basis, with even the smallest faults dealt with. Sabé did not expect trouble from her ship, and so was not surprised to find that everything was pristine.

After stowing her small suitcase in the luggage compartment, she climbed the short ladder to the cockpit to run through the system checks. It was tedious, but necessary. The monitor flashed up a series of reports, accompanied by green symbols that indicated how well everything was working. Sabé let it get on with it, looking out of the viewport at the hangar’s vast expanse. She remembered a time long ago when she’d crossed the dark, polished floor towards the royal cruiser, surrounded by battle droids and hostages. She’d been dressed as a queen, feeling like an anxious imposter, only slightly reassured by the presence of the Jedi leading the way ahead. Obi-Wan had been nothing but a nameless apprentice who’d leapt from the sky to her rescue, and had gone striding off to free the pilots with enviable calm. Would he react with that same calm when she told him her plan? Or would he call her selfish and refuse his help? She thought the latter option was unlikely, but somehow she couldn’t quite shake off her apprehension.

The sound of the hangar doors sliding open jolted her out of her reflections. Two men entered, dressed in matching blue flightsuits, each carrying a bag. They paused to talk to the droid in security. Sabé couldn’t hear what they were saying, but their bright, cheerful tones echoed across the room, drawing a cynical groan from her. She was in an exceptionally grumpy mood that morning.

The monitor displayed the last of the pre-flight reports, and she cleared the screen. After searching the cockpit for a helmet, she eventually spotted it hanging on a hook on the wall below. With a put-upon sigh, she scrambled back down the ladder, snatching the helmet with more force than was necessary. The two men passed her as she was adjusting the chin strap, the nearest one giving her a polite nod of acknowledgement. She returned it with a brief smile. Her red and grey uniform clearly identified her as a royal security officer, and she valued their reputation too much to impose her grouchiness on a couple of innocent strangers.

As they passed, she saw the man who had nodded to her exchange a pointed look with his companion. Sabé halted, one foot on the ladder, her eyes narrowed as she watched them. Being a bodyguard made her naturally suspicious, a trait that paid off when lives were at stake, but could get tiresome in everyday life. She watched as the two started preparations for their own ship. They paid her no more attention, nor even looked in her direction. Chances were they were just going about their business. Unless they were ignoring her on purpose to appear normal.

Cautiously, keeping on eye on them, she ascended to the cockpit once more. Her nerves were already a little more frayed than usual, and she was afraid that she was reacting with paranoia more than instinct. She was done with her pre-flight checks, and there was no way they’d be able to follow her through hyperspace. Forcing herself to relax, Sabé put them out of mind and fired up the engines.

She let the autopilot fly her out of the hangar, taking control to guide the ship into orbit. A cluster of hyperspace rings floated there, and she headed towards a compatible one. Punching the coordinates into the nav computer, Sabé made the first jump, watching the stars turn to bright streaks through the canopy.

The journey through hyperspace gave her opportunity to think, to let in the concerns and doubts that she’d managed to keep at bay all morning: namely the fact that she was on her way to carry out the most desperate, half-formed, unlikely plan that she’d ever had the misfortune to be the author of. She knew she was running away, and it didn't sit well with her, going against her training as a bodyguard. As she'd reflected before, an arranged marriage was an unexpected setback that she didn't know how to fight. If she was in a generous mood, she would have said that she was beating a strategic retreat, not running away. But it certainly felt like running away.

In her periods of wakefulness during the night, she’d struggled to understand her parents’ line of thought, trying unsuccessfully to find one redeeming aspect of their decision. She’d always gone her own way: taken what jobs she wanted, dated who she wanted, taken on basic training with the Order of Sanctuary, accepted their invitation to be a fully-fledged member, then joined the Palace Guard as a handmaiden. Although there’d been disagreements and protests along the way, Jago and Luma had never stooped so low as to actually interfere in her life. The fact that they would do so now, and with something so important and life-altering, left her bewildered and hurt. She just couldn’t comprehend their lack of respect for her choices, her wishes. Sabé wasn’t used to feeling as if what she wanted didn’t matter.

She watched the pale rush of stars outside the viewport, feeling her anger burn in her chest. She would get out of it somehow, if not with Obi-Wan’s help, then with someone’s. But the damage had already been done. Whether she was victorious or not, her life would be inescapably changed. She had already decided to accept Padmé’s job offer. After she’d sorted out the Daedrin problem, she would swap Naboo for Coruscant. She wouldn’t avoid her parents completely, she knew that. They were Padmé’s liaisons after all, but there would be less need to see them in person, and she could easily miss their conference calls.

The introspection was making her melancholy, and she turned her attention to other things, anything. For the remainder of the journey she spent her time thinking up ridiculous names to suggest to Idriel for the baby, singing cheerful songs out loud and judging how out of tune she was, and trying to predict just how mad Panaka would be when he heard she was leaving the Queen’s service.

All in all, the flight to the capital was trouble-free, and she was able to make a timely arrival. She’d cleared her ETA with Padmé, making her friend aware that she wanted to leave Naboo as early as possible. With the time difference and the length of the journey, Padmé wasn’t too inconvenienced.

Sabé spotted a speeder below as she approached the landing platform. She guided her ship in, landing neatly in the designated area in the centre of the platform. Shutting the system down, she opened the canopy, and was immediately hit by a wave of cold air and disruptive noise.

Welcome to Coruscant, she thought wryly, climbing out on to the ladder.

“Hello, stranger,” came a familiar voice, a voice that she’d missed more than she’d realised.

She turned her head, a grin spreading wide. “Gregar!” she cried, the word muffled by her helmet.

He stood below, garbed as always in his captain’s uniform, and, as always, looking more comfortable in it than anyone else she knew. He was grinning too, his single good eye flashing a spark of amusement.

“Say again?” he quipped.

Sabé tugged off the helmet, dropping it onto the seat, and shut the canopy before jumping the final few steps of the ladder. She ran the short distance, leaping into his arms, knocking his hat askew. He grunted, then laughed, lifting her off her feet just because he could.

“It’s so good to see you,” she said sincerely, hugging him tightly.

“Were you always this heavy?”

“Shut up!”

He let her down, and they drew apart. Dark-olive-skinned, good-looking, his black hair cut short for practicality, he stood half a head taller than Sabé. He was stocky, built powerfully, another graduate of his uncle Panaka's demanding training. A silver patch covered where his left eye was missing, and his right eye was often the only clue to his innermost thoughts, the rest hidden behind a stoic mask. Sabé studied him, noting the differences from the last time she’d seen him. He seemed tired, and not just in the sense that he was probably not getting enough sleep, but a deep, down-to-the-marrow weariness. She knew why. A year ago, Padmé had married Anakin Skywalker in secret, subjecting Gregar to a lifetime of knowing that the woman he loved had chosen someone else.

He sent her a little smile of acknowledgement as she finished her appraisal. She’d always been able to read him, and he knew that. That was partly why she’d become, and remained, his closest confidant.

“Thank you for coming to meet me,” Sabé said. “I’m surprised Padmé could spare you.”

“We both thought you’d want to see a familiar face,” he explained. “She didn’t want to draw too much attention to your arrival. The HoloNet crews have been following her for a week.”

Sabé frowned, folding her arms. “Why is that?”

Gregar wrinkled his nose, his expression all ridicule and contempt. “Because she debuted a new dress at a charity function.”

“Seriously?”

“Yup.”

Sabé rolled her eyes. “Don’t people have better things to be worried about? I mean, there is a war on.”

Gregar gave a shrug, still looking aggravated at the whole situation. “Apparently not. It’s damned annoying. I never know if the people stalking her are assassins or journalists, and it’s illegal to shoot the latter. Allegedly. I doubt anyone would really complain.”

“Gregar Typho, you’re turning into your uncle,” she told him in mock seriousness.

While there were similarities in their professional demeanours, Gregar had a long way to go before he matched Panaka in brusqueness, irritability, and sheer obstinacy.

He fixed her with a narrow-eyed look, not rising to her gentle teasing. She chuckled.

“Have you missed me?” she asked sweetly.

“Not really,” he said wryly, earning a whack on the arm.

She hadn’t hit him hard, and he didn’t even bother pretending that it affected him, shooting her an impish grin.

Sabé headed back to the ship to retrieve her bag, blowing tendrils of hair out of her face. The helmet had all but destroyed the bun she’d hastily constructed that morning. Gregar took the bag from her, and they walked to the speeder together. As they went, he slung an arm across her shoulders in an awkward hug.

“It hasn’t been the same without you around,” he admitted.

She sent him a smile, more grateful to be back with him, and soon with Padmé too, than she could put into words.

“How are things?” she asked, as they got settled in the speeder. “You know, with you?”

Gregar pulled a face, negotiating away from the landing platform and into the streams of traffic. “How you would expect, I guess.”

Sabé didn’t press him to elaborate. She could imagine the anguish he dealt with, seeing Padmé every day and having to maintain distance, not only out of professional propriety, but because she was a married woman.

“Must be difficult,” she mumbled, because she felt obliged to say something.

“And then some.”

“Have you ever thought about leaving?” She glanced at him, studying his profile. His expression was neutral, but she wasn't fooled. “It would be…kinder. Easier. You’d be able to move on.”

“I could never leave her,” he stated quietly. “Even if I can’t be with her, I can make sure she’s safe. It…comforts me to know that. Despite…despite whatever pain it causes me.”

Sabé looked ahead, staring into the tail light of the vehicle in front. “Is it…” She paused, considering the question, half afraid to ask, not wanting to somehow make it worse. “Is it very bad?”

Gregar gave a single bark of humourless laughter. “It’s torture,” he told her, his voice unnaturally blank.

Sabé reached out a hand, covering his where it rested on the speeder controls. She had no words, just silent support.

He acknowledged it with a quick smile before becoming sombre once more. “Seriously, Sabé…I…I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. I hope to the gods that you never have to go through anything like this.”

“Me? Oh, I’ll be fine,” she reassured. “I’m too cold-hearted to fall in love.”

“Don’t joke, I meant that.”

Sabé squeezed his hand before drawing hers back. “I know,” she said softly. “But your situation is fairly unique. I know it doesn’t make it any easier, but I’m pretty sure it’s true. And with regards to me, well…I’ve not yet found the time for love, and I doubt that’ll change any time soon.”

Some of his levity returning, Gregar shot her a glance. “That’s sad. You never know.”

He guided the speeder out of the lane it was in, veering off towards the Senate Apartment Complex where Padmé’s penthouse home awaited.

Sabé laughed, but the wind snatched it away. “I love you, and I love Padmé. That’s more than enough to be going around for now.”

“That’s not the same, and you know it.”

“Well, I don’t…it’s…" She gave a short, irritated huff. "Oh, stop it, Gregar, this isn’t about me.”

They joined the line of vehicles waiting to park in the sprawling lot beneath the complex, and Sabé tucked her wayward hair behind her ears.

Gregar shot her a look, raising one slanting eyebrow. “It’s all about you, that’s why you’re here.”

She gave a huff. She’d been enjoying discussing other things, despite learning of her friend’s pain. Being reminded of why she was there sobered her.

“Of course,” she murmured, her tone betraying all her anxiety and reluctance.

She just caught his sympathetic look out of the corner of her eye. “It will be okay,” he said warmly, and she almost believed him.

“Guess we’ll see,” she put in noncommittally, half hoping it would be a conversation stopper.

They sat in silence as Gregar parked the speeder in the private bay allocated to Padmé’s apartment. It was one of the perks of being influential enough to rent the penthouse: never having to worry about finding a parking space, and having a turbolift right beside it that went straight to the top floor.

They got out, rescuing Sabé’s bag from the backseat, and headed towards the turbolift. A droid was working there, sifting through a mass of coloured wires that snaked from the wall panel it had removed.

“Sorry, sir,” it said as they got closer, “this lift is out of order. Please make your way to the main foyer and take the lifts there.”

“What’s wrong with it?” Gregar barked, wary, as always, of security breaches. “Do my men upstairs know about it?”

“Yes, sir. They were the ones who reported the fault.”

A quick com call upstairs confirmed the droid’s story, and they made their way to the public lifts. Sometimes a broken lift was just a broken lift.

The main foyer was bustling, a steady stream of residents coming and going, intertwined with the throngs of tourists and visitors. As they crossed to the turbolifts, Sabé caught sight of two men in blue jumpsuits talking to the droid on reception. Her stomach gave a twist as her mind flashed to the men from the hangar on Naboo. Had she been followed? She could only see their backs, but she thought their hair colours were the same. They’d been prepping a larger ship than hers, it wasn’t out of the question that its more advanced hyperspace engines could have brought them to Coruscant in fewer jumps, putting them ahead of her.

‘You’re paranoid, Sabé,’ she scolded herself internally. ‘Probably just a coincidence, or not even them.’

Keeping her eyes on them as they waited in line, she hoped for some kind of confirmation of her fears, but even when she could see their faces, she wasn’t sure. She wished she’d paid more attention back in the hangar, but she’d been distracted and testy, and hadn’t bothered to commit their faces to memory. She wouldn’t make that schoolgirl error again.

“What’s up?” Gregar asked, noticing her wary glances.

“Tell you later.”

“Okay.”

Both taught by the ever-cautious Panaka, they knew better than to discuss anything but the most trivial gossip in crowded places.

Gregar fished in a pouch at his belt for his ID. “Do you want us to get a lift to ourselves?”

“Can you do that?” Sabé questioned sceptically.

“Don’t know. Let’s try.”

She followed him through the horde to the turbolift attendant, a stressed-looking Bith who was skilfully keeping things moving as best as he was able. Gregar stepped up to him, flashing his ID card.

“I’m Captain Typho, Senator Amidala’s chief of security,” he introduced. “The lot lift is out of order, any chance the senator’s associate here can take a private lift?” He gestured at Sabé, who drew herself up importantly.

Dropping Padmé’s name opened a lot of doors. The attendant studied Gregar’s ID, then nodded.

“Of course, sir. Sorry for the inconvenience, madam,” he added to Sabé.

“Not a problem,” she said graciously.

When the turbolift arrived, dropping off two Wookiees and a Bothan, the attendant waved them forward, holding everyone else back. Happy to let him deal with the chorus of irritated protests, Sabé hit the keypad to close the door.

Gregar put his ID card away, looking impressed. “I wasn’t sure that was going to work. Good to know.”

Sabé nodded in agreement, lips upturned in a small smirk. “Yes, but I wouldn’t do it too often when escorting women. You’ll get a reputation.”

He laughed. “I hadn’t thought of that. Hmm…the possibilities.”

She giggled, shaking her head, leaning back against the railing that lined the curved walls. Gregar did the same opposite her, folding his arms.

Sobering again, he asked, “So what was going on with you back there?”

Her smile dropping, Sabé explained about the two men, adding that there was probably nothing in it. The thought that her parents would have her followed seemed absurd, and yet she couldn’t rule it out. With a painful jolt she was reminded that she didn’t trust them, and she wouldn’t put it past them to send someone to keep an eye on her. They had known she was going to Padmé’s apartment, and she hadn’t been at all confident that they had fallen for the sincerity of her agreement to the marriage. Was it really so important to them that she saw Senator Daedrin while she was on Coruscant?

Even if it turned out not to be the men from the hangar, or if it was a coincidence, she knew she would have to assume otherwise just to be safe. She would have to make the lunch date at noon.

She pulled a face as she spoke the realisation aloud, guessing that she looked like a child who didn’t want to go to school, judging by the way Gregar tried to hold back a smile.

“Just think of it as reconnaissance,” the captain suggested.

Sabé sighed, but nodded. It was a helpful way to look at it. Above the door, the floor numbers flickered past, too fast to register. They were almost at the penthouse.

“Sabé,” Gregar began, his tone grave yet sincere, “I know what Padmé advised you to do.”

“You mean marry someone else?”

“Yeah.”

She glanced at him, frowning, taking in his serious expression, the way he seemed slightly conflicted about what he was turning over in his mind.

Meeting her gaze earnestly, he continued. “I was thinking…it would make sense if…if that person was me.”

Her eyebrows shot up in surprise. She hadn’t been expecting that.

“We’re friends, you trust me, life would carry on as normal.”

She shook her head, saying gently, “No, Gregar. I appreciate that you would ask…more than you know. But that’s not what you want…you…” She trailed off, unable to find the words. His feelings for Padmé had been obvious to her almost from the first moment they met, and she had a sympathetic respect for that.

“What I want doesn’t matter,” he said bluntly. He held up a hand when she opened her mouth to protest. “No, let me finish. I know what you’re thinking, but it’s irrelevant. She made her choice, and it wasn’t me. Maybe one day I’ll get over that, but it won’t be any time soon. She’s…” He left the sentence incomplete, glancing away as he finished it internally. “I’ll never be free. I’ll always love her, but I know I may as well…love a dream.”

Sabé watched the slideshow of emotions cross his face, wishing there was something she could say to comfort him, but it all seemed hollow.

“My point is,” he went on, “the woman I love isn’t free, and I can’t see myself wanting anyone else. So if I can help you, then that’s what I want to do.”

She bit her lip, touched by the thought. “Thank you. I…it means a lot, really. But…I can’t. Padmé would never forgive me.”

“Padmé doesn’t feel anything for me, if she ever did.” His voice was laced with bitterness. She didn’t blame him for that.

“I disagree. You know she did.”

She couldn’t clarify it for him because he refused to see sense. She understood that he was protecting himself from more emotional pain, but it was frustrating nonetheless. Padmé still harboured feelings for him, Sabé was sure of it. They had been there before, and they were there still, despite whatever she felt for Anakin. If Sabé took Gregar up on his offer, regardless of whether it was a marriage in name only, she knew Padmé would be hurt. She attempted to explain her thought process, but she knew he wouldn’t concur, a fact that his expression confirmed as soon as the words were out of her mouth.

“Look,” she said, trying a different direction, “I have a plan…kind of. There’s someone I’m going to ask for help. I don’t know if he’ll agree, but if he does then I’ll be okay.”

Gregar pressed his lips together in a hard line of disapproval. Perhaps it was still due to his lack of comprehension of the reason behind her refusal, or perhaps it was the thought of her being potentially reckless. Sabé wasn’t yet ready to share the details to ease his mind. She was too apprehensive about the whole thing.

They squared off for a moment, staring each other down from opposite sides of the turbolift. Gregar still stern, Sabé more neutral, one eyebrow raised. Before either one could back down, the doors chimed and slid open, revealing the short corridor to Padmé’s apartment door. They broke eye contact and exited the lift, neither willing to travel back downstairs for the sake of stubbornness.

Sabé headed for the door, but halted when Gregar placed a hand on her arm. She glanced up at him expectantly, meeting his resigned gaze.

“Okay, look,” he said, conceding with visible reluctance. Still she couldn’t bring herself to tell him he didn’t need to worry. “I trust your judgement. Carry out your plan. I hope it works out. But promise me…if he says no, consider my offer.”

She nodded, sending him a tiny smile. “I will. Thank you, Gregar.”

Not for the first time, she wondered what it was that stopped her falling for him. He was so loyal and kind, always putting others, (mainly Padmé, it had to be said), before himself, suffering through pain that could be avoided for the sake of Padmé's safety. He made her laugh, gave her a shoulder to cry on, and she knew that he'd always be there when she needed him. Really, she reflected, she should be head over heels. But their relationship had never turned that way.

Gregar gave a nod of his own, stepping ahead to press the door chime. Teckla answered it after a few moments, her dark hair hidden by a purple hooded cloak. A handmaiden that Padmé had transferred from Varykino Lodge on Naboo, Teckla had been serving her on Coruscant since the start of the war, following Dormé’s resignation. Sabé didn’t know her very well, and the other woman’s naturally quiet demeanour sometimes made her difficult to talk to, but she was pleasant and good at her job, if lacking the rigorous training that Sabé had received.

"Welcome, Lady Sabé," Teckla greeted, smiling. "The senator is waiting for you in the lounge. I'll bring some tea shortly."

"Thank you."

Sabé and Gregar made their way to the apartment's spacious, terraced lounge, a room dominated by the views through its missing outer wall, the gap covered instead by an almost-invisible force field. The room was all elegant neutral tones, marble floored, with curved sofas surrounding a water feature. Huge drapes hung artistically beside the supporting columns, and two large statues guarded the steps down to the veranda.

Padmé was there, sitting on one of the sofas, surrounded by data pads and pieces of flimsi. She leapt up when they entered the room, hurrying over to wrap Sabé in a hug. Her smile was a pleasant welcome, despite not being as bright as Sabé remembered.

“It’s so good to see you!” the senator greeted enthusiastically.

“You too,” Sabé replied, drawing back to return Padmé's smile. “Thank you so much for letting me stay. I just...I needed to get away.”

“It's fine. Any time."

Sabé knew she meant that, and she felt a wave of gratitude towards her friend for everything she was doing, and would do, to help her.

"Come and sit down," Padmé said, gesturing to the sofas. Turning away, she tidied her flimsi sheets into a neat pile, resting the data pads on top. She was casually dressed. By her own standards, that was. Padmé's casual was most other people's well-dressed and sophisticated. She wore a simple dress of olive green, and her dark, wavy hair was loose, held back only by a minimal silver band at her brow. Her face was free of make-up, but looked fresh and beautiful, showing only a trace of the stress and pressure that she constantly carried.

"If you don't need me, M'lady, I'll check on the broken turbolift situation," Gregar cut in.

Padmé barely glanced his way, agreeing in a flat, formal tone. "Of course. Go ahead, Captain."

Gregar bowed, despite the senator's turned back, flashed Sabé a tight smile, then departed.

Sabé inwardly sighed, finding it difficult not to take sides in the emotional soap opera that was her friends' lives. It wasn’t helped by the fact that she didn’t dislike Anakin. The young man was cocky, brash, and occasionally demanding, but his heart was in the right place, and he’d saved hundreds of lives during the course of the war. He’d always been pleasant to her, although she suspected that that was gratitude for keeping Padmé safe, and not really for her own sake.

She followed Padmé, taking a seat next to her on the sofa. Her friend fixed her with a steady look, all business.

"How have things been since we spoke yesterday? Do you have a plan?”

“I...think so,” Sabé replied cautiously. "I've thought about it a lot, and the only solution that seems workable...I've...I've decided to try what you suggested, marry someone else."

They both fell silent as Teckla entered with the tea. It was not that their topic was a secret, but Sabé felt too raw about it to discuss it with anyone but her friends. The quiet handmaiden placed the tray on a side table, moving it within reach, then she bowed and swiftly left.

Padmé served them both, something that went against Sabé's handmaiden instincts. She accepted her tea cup and held it resting on her lap, warming her palms.

"So," Padmé continued, "you have someone in mind?"

Sabé bit her lip, suddenly wary and slightly embarrassed, although she wasn't quite sure why. "Yes," she answered at length, her tone cautious, "but...I'm not sure I want to say who. He...he might not agree." She sighed, swirling the plume of steam rising from her tea. "Are we sure this is the best solution?"

"Nothing short of revoking the law itself will get you out of it," Padmé told her firmly. "And we both know that that's going to be a long path." If the task daunted her, she didn't let on.

"Are you sure you want to go ahead with that?" Sabé felt compelled to ask, guilty for the trouble she'd be putting her friend through. "I don't want to take you away from other work."

Padmé seemed surprised that she was mentioning it. "Of course. It would take too long for it to benefit you, but it could help someone in the future who might be in the same situation. It's an outdated, irrelevant law, it should be repealed. Not to mention, it’s completely misogynistic," she added, her tone snappish in righteous anger.

Sabé nodded, lips twitching in a tiny smirk. "You could have just said 'yes'."

Padmé pointedly ignored her, stirring her tea, pasting on her most serene expression. Sabé chuckled.

“What will you do if your...um...your potential future husband doesn't agree?” Padmé enquired, struggling for the appropriate term.

“I’m not sure,” Sabé admitted. “Run away and start a life of crime maybe?”

“A little drastic, don’t you think?”

“Probably.” Changing the subject she said, “Have you seen Anakin much lately?”

Padmé shook her head. “No. Since he’s become a Knight and taken a Padawan he’s sent out on more assignments.” Her voice was level, conversational. Sabé found her more difficult to read than usual, a fact that puzzled her somewhat.

Putting her uncertainty aside, she carried on. “Obi-Wan mentioned in one of his letters that Anakin had passed the trials. He was very proud, I think.”

Padmé nodded in agreement, still placid. "Anakin said the same. They're quite the team, the HoloNet loves them. They still get assigned to the same missions most of the time. I guess because they work so well together."

“Are they both away from the Temple then? I was hoping to see them while I was here." Sabé tried to look casual as she dug for information, well aware that it would be far more straightforward to simply ask Padmé what she wanted to know.

“Anakin’s away. Obi-Wan’s not. He won’t be here for long though, the Council members never are.”

“Oh, well I’ll try and drop round to say hello.”

A comfortable silence fell. Sabé sipped her tea, idly watching the speeders zip by outside. A stray thought occurred to her, and she shifted her gaze to Padmé.

"It can't be easy for you," she began, "being between me and my parents. They do work for you, after all."

Padmé raised her eyebrows in surprise. "I hadn't thought of it that way," she admitted. "But this has nothing to do with that. I don't agree with this law, and I don't agree with their decision to make you marry. The work they do for me as my advisors shouldn't be relevant. I won't see you married off to a virtual stranger against your will."

Sabé nodded, looking down at her tea, grateful, relieved, yet still full of guilt that she was disrupting so many people's everyday lives, Obi-Wan included. "Thank you," she said, hating how small and trivial the words sounded.

"You're welcome," Padmé said with a gentle smile. "If I can't do this for you after years of you laying your life on the line for me, I wouldn't be much of a friend."

"See, this-" she pointed at Padmé, who looked a little taken aback, "-this is why people love you. I know you still don't understand it, but this is why. Well, and your dresses, apparently."

Padmé's expression changed in a heartbeat, irritated and fed up. "Captain Typho told you about the HoloNet crews."

"He did. It'll die down."

"I hope so. I hate being spied on all the time just because I wore a stupid dress!"

At the mention of spying, Sabé shifted in her seat, reminded of the men she’d seen downstairs. Padmé was looking at her, curious, and she relayed the story and her suspicions, as well as her concerns that she wouldn't be able to sneak away later.

Padmé listened calmly, frowning at the thought of Jago and Luma sending spies to follow their daughter. "That's...concerning," she muttered. "But we can find a way around it. I can send Moteé or Teckla down with you, and you can wear one of their cloaks."

"Okay. That could work. Even if the other turbolift is fixed by then, we don't know if they'd be checking there too."

"Better to be safe," Padmé put in.

Sabé fervently agreed. Caution was always better than having a situation to deal with later, especially in cases of this kind.

"I need to be sure," she mused out loud. "I'll be able to see if they're still there when I go to meet..." She trailed off, suddenly remembering that she had somewhere to be. "Oh gods, what's the time?" Glancing at the chrono on Padmé's data pad, she leapt to her feet. "I'm supposed to meet Daedrin at the Senate in fifteen minutes. Karrabast," she swore.

"You can make it," Padmé assured, standing too. "It shouldn't take you that long to get over there."

"Yes, but I need to get changed. I still look like a pilot."

"You're in the blue room. There's an en suite fresher there."

"Thanks, Padmé."

Picking up her discarded bag, she hurried to make herself presentable, knowing that if she didn't, it would get back to her parents. She didn't want to do anything to make them suspicious. Not so soon.

Thanking the gods for anti-wrinkle fabric, she hauled her best dress out of her bag. It was burnt orange and deep crimson, cinched at the waist with a belt of matching cloth, with the draping sleeves that were so popular on Naboo in recent years. Sometimes Sabé enjoyed feeling elegant and ladylike, but the sleeves got on her nerves, making everyday tasks more difficult than they needed to be. She shimmied into it, hurriedly styling her hair into a simple braid. She had no time for anything more complicated, and she doubted Daedrin would care what her hair looked like. Swapping her boots for heeled shoes, she gave herself a cursory glance in the mirror before leaving the room.

She said a quick farewell to Padmé, then left the apartment, taking the main elevator to the foyer. On the trip down, she wondered how badly the meeting was going to go, whether she'd give her plans away by her lack of enthusiasm about the marriage. There was always the chance that Daedrin was a perfectly nice, decent man, although she knew those were few and far between in politics. Still, even if he did turn out to be nice, she'd break his heart a hundred times over if it meant living her own life.

There were a few things she was curious to know, and only he had the answers, so she supposed it wasn't a huge setback that she couldn't avoid him. She was dreading it all the same, though, fighting the urge to run back to her room in the apartment and hide under the bed covers, like she'd used to do as a child when a storm came.

She smiled to herself, realising she was comparing Daedrin to weather, the one thing that people could never resist grumbling about. It seemed surprisingly apt. If she could keep finding things to amuse herself, the meeting wouldn't be nearly as bad.

Or, she reflected, stepping out of the lift and spotting her two potential spies still in the foyer, it could be a whole lot worse.

Chapter Text

Chapter Five – The Best Laid Plans.

Four days ago.

Senator Quaine Daedrin did not like being backed into corners, told what to do, or made to feel ridiculed. He'd spent years building up his smooth outer shell. His self-assurance and intelligence ensured that nobody treated him that way. And nobody did. Except Chancellor Palpatine.

In the space of one meeting, the Chancellor had dissolved all his barriers, destroyed his confident exterior, laid his past before him and blackmailed him with it, had made him feel small and insignificant, like a puppet on a string. His anger surged inside him, simmering like acid on metal. Bitterly, he knew that he'd never act on it. Something prevented him, something he wasn't used to feeling: fear.

He'd underestimated Palpatine. He realised that leaders made difficult decisions, but the Chancellor's reasoning for wanting the Order of Sanctuary eliminated seemed...selfish. His cold, unemotional demeanour as he'd given Daedrin his orders chilled the senator to the bone. Palpatine was more than he seemed, and not to be trifled with. That much was clear. Daedrin didn't much care if a group of glorified bodyguards lost their lives at his hand, but he didn't enjoy being manipulated. Still, it was better than being dead. He suspected that that was the alternative.

He'd spent his time since the meeting researching the Order, noting any details about their fighting style or their defining features. It had been very secretive in the first hundred years of its life, but recently it had taken a step out of the shadows. He'd still had to dig for information, but there was more available than he'd initially expected.

Daedrin took several discreet trips to Coruscant's lower levels, putting out feelers, trying to discover if there were Order members on the planet, and who they worked for. His sources got back to him within a day. It was remarkable what a pile of credit chips could do to increase people's productivity.

With a list of names in hand, he made his plans. He needed to take one of them out as soon as possible, to assure Palpatine that he was earning his pay. Despite his anger and his wounded dignity, Daedrin intended to follow his orders to the letter. Ambition was one of his driving forces, but the other was self-preservation, and he was smart enough to know when he was beaten. Palpatine held all the cards. Daedrin suspected that that statement held more truth than even he realised.

On the evening of the intended assassination, he made his preparations, hoping that it hadn’t been too long, that he hadn’t lost his sharp instincts. He’d studied the property, an apartment in one of the wealthiest districts on the surface, figuring out his entrance and exit routes. It was a small building by Coruscanti standards, only having ten floors. No doubt that was a selling point: exclusivity. It made his job significantly easier, but still he knew it was going to be tough. By far, the most straightforward hit would be on Sabé, the fiancée he barely knew, the woman referred to by her parents as Syrena.

Momentarily sidetracked, he thought of her, wondering if marrying him was actually her request that she’d asked her parents to handle. Jago and Luma had written to him, telling him that they planned to break the news to her in a few days, but that could easily be a lie. He’d been completely taken aback by their initial letter. He hadn’t thought of himself as the marrying kind, let alone going about it like this, but he couldn’t deny that he was starting to warm up to the idea. Sabé was a striking young woman, bearing a startling resemblance to Padmé Amidala, (that in itself was a plus, in his opinion), and Jago and Luma had told him she was intelligent. He doubted very much that she’d be pleased at being discussed like a piece of real estate, but he was finding it rather amusing. If it worked out, perhaps he’d ask Palpatine if he could keep her alive.

Turning his attention back to the job at hand, he ran over his plan once more. Daedrin preferred to leave as little to chance as possible. He was grateful for the nostalgia that had persuaded him to bring his equipment from Axum. To carry out his assignments, he’d always worn light, flexible armour, topped with a helmet to maintain anonymity. Suiting up in it once more brought a torrent of memories, some of which he’d rather have kept in the dark. But with it came the familiar mind-set that accompanied a kill, the calm tenseness that kept him on his toes, the heightened reflexes, and the cold, clear head. For the first time, he actually felt capable of the task ahead of him.

Daedrin left his apartment via the balcony, under the cover of relative darkness. Coruscant was never truly dark, being constantly lit by thousands of street signs and vehicle lights, but it was still possible to conceal what you didn't want seen. He’d stowed a small swoop bike in the lounge a few days ago. Smuggling it up in the turbolift had been an experience, and had resulted in one or two awkward questions from his neighbours. (He’d pleaded an interest in mechanics.) The bike had been modified to reach higher altitudes, and Daedrin had been assured that he’d be safe using it so far above the surface. As he fired it up, he reflected cynically that if it wasn’t safe, he’d find out fairly soon.

As it was, he had a trouble-free ride to his destination, parking the swoop on the flat roof of the apartment building. There were no viable sniping points nearby, and the swoop was too unstable to be used as a base.

Unnerved by the sheer amount of traffic around him, Daedrin crept to the edge of the roof, not used to being so exposed, hoping his black armour blended with the few shadows that stretched across the building. Working quickly, he secured his rappel cable to a sturdy air conditioning pipe, testing it with a few hard tugs. Glancing down at the penthouse balcony below, he waited.

He’d done his research. He knew that the bodyguard would come out to do a sweep of the terrace at precisely ten-thirty. Checking his chrono, he saw it was ten-twenty-eight. He withdrew a narrow vibroblade from his sleeve, holding it ready.

At ten-twenty-nine he hopped over the edge of the roof, swiftly rappelling the short distance to hover above the balcony. Flipping himself upside down, he interlocked his ankles around the wire, holding himself still.

At ten-thirty the balcony door slid open, and a young woman with vivid red hair stepped out. She was garbed in a security uniform, and wore an old-fashioned vibrosword across her back. She stood directly beneath him, just out of reach, and Daedrin froze, knowing he’d have to abort if she spotted him.

Business-like, she checked the edges of the balcony, looking a little bored, as if she really didn’t expect to find anything. Her greatest mistake was not looking up.

She crossed to the other side of the balcony, her back to him as she completed her checks. Daedrin lowered himself down, flipping right side up, his boots hitting the floor as silently as he could manage. The ongoing traffic helped cover the noise. Blade poised, he crept closer.

Lunging, he seized her, cutting a gash on her throat, recoiling as she rammed her elbow in his stomach. She spun, aiming a kick at his hand, evidently trying to knock the blade away. Her green eyes were wide with shock and pain, the blood dripping down her neck. It should have been a fatal slash. Daedrin grimaced, wondering if he was getting sloppy.

They traded blows on the balcony. She was clearly the better fighter, but Daedrin had his armour to protect him, plus the greater strength that the luck of the biological draw had given him. Wrestling, he pressed her back against the railing, hands around her wounded neck. Her fingers scrabbled at the bottom of his helmet, trying to pull it off. Glancing sideways, he spotted the spy-eye security camera above the terrace door. Smart.

Daedrin leapt backwards, deciding to change tactic. She’d managed to raise the visor at the front of the helmet, but still it hid everything but his eyes. He didn’t have time to fix it, however, as she came at him again, aiming another kick. He grabbed her leg, leaving her hopping inelegantly, and punched her in the face. She reeled back, and he threw the vibroblade. It buried itself in her chest, and she looked down at it hazily, her expression vaguely surprised. She collapsed to her knees, a trickle of blood leaking out the corner of her mouth, mingling with the bruises on her face.

“Naharé!” came a shout from the apartment.

He turned sharply. The dignitary stood there, wrapped in a dressing gown, looking horror-struck. Daedrin dived for the bodyguard’s blaster, snatching it out of her holster and aiming it at the plump politician beyond the door. He fired, purposely missing, and the man scurried off, yelling at the top of his lungs. Daedrin dropped the blaster, yanked his vibroblade out of the woman’s chest, and activated the reverse rappel. He shot up towards the roof, leaving the Order member slumped on the balcony, the look of astonishment frozen forever on her face.

Daedrin pulled himself up onto the roof, released the cable, and sprinted for his swoop bike. Firing it up, he shot away from the scene, taking a long, roundabout route back to his apartment to make sure that he hadn’t been followed. He dragged the bike inside, hiding it in a closet, reflecting, as he struggled with it, that he needed a different base of operations. He’d look into renting a storage facility somewhere, perhaps. He certainly couldn't continue working out of the apartment when he brought Sabé back to it.

Daedrin retreated to the fresher, scrubbing the bodyguard’s blood off his armour. He’d done it, and successfully, but he wasn’t happy. It should have been a clean kill, no wasting time with close-quarter combat. He met his own gaze in the mirror, taking in his thin-lipped look of disapproval. Next time, he’d do better.

As well as a base of operations, he was also going to need help. An accomplice taking on some of the work would allow him to have watertight alibis. He’d put in appearances at the theatre or a restaurant, make sure he was seen there. Obviously, he did not intend to raise suspicion, but life had taught him to be cautious.

Palpatine had made it quite clear that the job was entirely in Daedrin's hands, and that he couldn't expect any assistance at all. It was extremely frustrating, as he felt sure that the Chancellor had a list of helpful contacts as long as his arm. Yet, despite his annoyance, he could understand the man's need to distance himself from what he'd asked Daedrin to do. He would have done the same in a similar position.

He'd need to speak to his own contacts again, get them to discreetly look into finding someone suitable to work with him. In the meantime, he'd carry on alone, and simply make sure that the next hits went a lot smoother. Still, he enjoyed a small feeling of accomplishment. He hoped Palpatine would be pleased.

* * *

Present day.

Even with all her rushing around, Sabé was a few minutes late to the meeting. Sacrificing a burst of extra speed for the sake of dignity, she walked sedately up the carpeted steps to the grand foyer. A popular tourist destination, the public-access sections of the Senate were always busy, making it difficult to get anywhere in a hurry. As she crossed the foyer, tagging on behind a school party, she spotted Senator Daedrin up ahead, waiting for her.

She hung back for a moment, observing him. He seemed to be waiting patiently, his placid expression suggesting that his thoughts were far away, on other matters entirely. As she watched, he tilted his head from side to side. Most likely he was simply stretching his neck muscles, but the fluid movement reminded her of a snake, and made her feel uneasy. She scrutinised him in detail, trying to read him, trying to find even the smallest hint of what his intentions were. A tall man of slim build, he walked with subtle presence and a vague sense of entitlement. His hair was dark blond, meticulously styled to look casually slicked back. He favoured muted colours, which seemed to emphasise the paleness of his complexion, and his clothes were expensive without being ostentatious. His features were striking, if not classically handsome, with sharply slanting cheekbones, an aristocratic nose and intelligent mismatched eyes.

Quashing her nerves, she approached him. He turned as she got nearer, greeting her with a smile. Reaching for her hand, he pressed a courteous kiss to the back of it. She fought the urge to tug it out of his grip, uncomfortable with such a forward greeting.

"It's lovely to see you again, Syrena," he began, his tone nothing but politeness and charm.

"Sabé, please," she told him. It was bad enough when her parents called her by her birth name, but she couldn't handle hearing it from a virtual stranger.

"Sabé," he repeated with a nod of acknowledgement. “I must apologise.”

She let the uncertainty show on her face, unsure what he was trying to accomplish with an apology so early in the relationship. “For what?”

He looked genuinely troubled, his brow furrowed in thought. “I’m sorry. I’m aware that this match is of your parents’ making. Thank you for agreeing to meet with me.”

Unsure how to respond, Sabé simply nodded. She didn't really know what to expect from him, and she was finding everything surprising. It was making her edgy. She didn't like feeling as if she wasn't in control.

Unruffled by her silence, Daedrin shot her another smile. His smiles were pleasant enough, not quite reaching his eyes, but she'd seen enough politicians smiling to be used to that.

“Shall we get some lunch?” he pressed on. “Then we can talk. I don’t think you said a single word to me the last time I saw you!”

“Handmaidens are seen and not heard,” she explained politely, unimpressed by his attempts at levity. “Lunch sounds good. Lead on.”

She took the arm he offered, and they made their way to one of the nearby restaurants in the Senate District. The silence hung awkwardly. Then Daedrin chose to break it.

“I noticed that you carried a sword,” he commented as they walked, his tone conversational.

Sabé raised her eyebrows in mild surprise. As a Royal Handmaiden, she wore a sword on one hip and a blaster on the other, and kept both out of sight beneath the flowing fabric of her cloaks. He must have caught a glimpse of it as she’d passed a data pad to the Queen.

So he notices the small details, she thought to herself. Definitely something worth knowing.

“When I found out that Queen Neeyutnee was making a visit,” he went on, “I spent some time researching Naboo. If you carry a sword that must make you a member of the Order of Sanctuary.”

Sabé still wasn't sure that the increasing attention the Order was getting was a good thing. It made her feel uncomfortable to talk about it. People liked to celebrate the achievements it had to its name, but personally she preferred to stay in the shadows. She could do her job much better from there.

“You did your research well,” she said, keeping her voice neutral. “The Order never used to be so well known. Its members keep to themselves.”

He shot her yet another smile, which she caught in her peripheral vision. Really, he needed to tone them down. She doubted very much that she truly inspired so many smiles in the man.

“It’s an honour to meet one of you,” he told her, a touch of respect in his words.

Sabé acknowledged it with a nod, not trusting herself to reply to such a deferential statement, especially since she wasn't sure how genuine it was. Generally speaking, she didn't trust politicians.

When they reached the restaurant, they were seated at a table by the window, which offered an impressive view of the Senate building. Mostly they talked about unimportant things, a light conversation that Sabé handled with ease. He asked her questions, apparently trying to get to know her, and she answered as best as she was able without giving too much away. She was never comfortable talking about herself. Daedrin, on the other hand, was very good at it, telling her all sorts of things about his life that she really wasn't interested in hearing.

He continued to be courteous throughout the meal, but Sabé was still too tense to finish her food. Despite his graciousness and charisma, she found him impossible to fathom, and it worried her immensely, wondering what he had to hide. He would have made a brilliant Sabacc player. The angular planes of his face registered nothing that he did not want to show.

Her growing unease aside, she was glad that she had been forced to come out with him, despite the complaints she'd made. It had given her a chance to try and read him. She hadn't been terribly successful, but even that was useful to know, as nobody was that unreadable without a good deal of intention. There was one burning question, however, that she simply had to get an answer to.

“May I ask you something?” she ventured during a lull in the conversation, moving her food around her plate with her fork.

“Of course, Sabé.”

“Why did you agree to this? To my parents’ proposition, I mean. You’re not from Naboo, you have no obligations whatsoever, so why?”

He seemed to consider the question carefully, taking a slow sip of his wine as he pondered. His face remained placid, guarded. “Is it so strange that a man would jump at the chance to be married to a beautiful woman such as yourself?" he answered at length.

She tried not to scoff. She didn't want to hear comments that belonged in cheap romance novels.

“Yes," she said bluntly, "frankly, it is. Most people don’t get married to people they barely know, and those that do often get divorced soon after.”

“I'm not most people,” Daedrin remarked, possibly trying to seem mysterious. It was just annoying.

Sabé shook her head, hoping her disapproval was plain to see. “Damn politicians, you always side-step questions.”

He gave a laugh at that. “True. My apologies.”

“I don’t want your apologies, I want you to answer.” She was starting to lose patience.

His gaze was calculating and unwavering as he stared at her across the table. “Very well,” he said, swirling the last of his wine around the bottom of the glass. “You intrigued me.”

Sabé lost what was left of her polite demeanour. “Oh please. Don’t give me that. You were in the same room as me for an hour, you noticed me for maybe half, and we never spoke.”

“You’re rather cynical, aren’t you?” he commented, frowning.

“Exceedingly so.”

“Hmm.”

“Look,” she said, leaning forward in a business-like way, “I know that you’re trying to charm me, and I appreciate the effort, but at this stage in the relationship what I would really appreciate is your honesty.”

Daedrin raised an eyebrow, and appeared to decide to humour her, rattling out facts quickly and without much emotion. “I’m not a sentimental man. I don’t expect to fall head over heels in love with the woman of my dreams. But I find the idea of companionship appealing, especially if the companion in question is a woman of rare beauty. Such an arrangement would be hard to find the usual way, so when your parents contacted me, naturally I agreed. But what I said was true: you did intrigue me.”

Sabé gave a satisfied nod. “There, that wasn’t so difficult, was it?”

“Oh, it was. More than you know. It is not the natural state of any politician to tell the absolute truth.”

“So I gather.”

“Is that the only reaction you’re going to give?” He actually sounded rather surprised.

“For now.” She was adept at being inscrutable herself.

Daedrin laughed, and drained the last few drops of wine in his glass. “You are…a very…unique woman, Sabé. I look forward to getting to know you better.”

“Thank you,” she replied simply. “If you’ll excuse me, Senator Amidala is expecting me back.” Sabé got to her feet. She had heard all she needed to, and she was completely out of good-humour. She didn't want to say anything she'd regret. “Thank you for lunch.”

Daedrin rose too, not seeming bothered by the fact that she was leaving him to pick up the tab. “You’re very welcome. How long are you here for before you return to Naboo?”

“Only a week.”

“So I can see you again?”

Sabé nodded, although she did not intend to be found by the time the week was up. “I’ve promised tomorrow to Padmé though. We have a lot of catching up that is shamefully overdue.”

“Of course, I understand," he said smoothly. "Perhaps the next day then? Shall I contact you at Senator Amidala’s?”

Unable to see any feasible way of sparing Padmé the bother, she reluctantly agreed. “By all means. Goodbye, Senator Daedrin.”

“Quaine, please,” he requested, once again smiling disarmingly.

Answering automatically, she repeated, “Quaine.”

“Goodbye, Sabé. Until next time.”

Fervently hoping there wouldn't be a next time, Sabé returned his smile, spun on her heel, and left the restaurant. Every step away from him was like a breath of fresh air. She suspected that it was not so much the man himself that disturbed her, more what he represented. But there was something about him that made her skin crawl. He was too charming, too courteous. It all came across as horribly false. She didn't know him well enough to confirm whether he was genuine or not, (and she accepted that she was inclined to think badly of him because of the marriage), but she couldn't help finding him insincere.

On the air taxi ride back to Padmé's apartment, she reflected on the meeting. She wasn't sure what to make of his answer to her question about why he'd agreed to marry her. It had a ring of truth to it, but she wasn't completely convinced. Perhaps it simply was that an arranged marriage was less hassle than finding a bride the usual way.

The turbolift in the speeder lot was working again when she arrived at the Senatorial Apartment Complex, and she took it straight up to the top floor, emerging in the short corridor to the front door.

Padmé was sitting in her office writing a report when she got back, but soon set it aside to ask for the details of the meeting, not bothering to hide her interest. Sabé relayed everything as faithfully as she could, pausing only to answer her friend’s questions.

“I just couldn’t read him,” Sabé finished up with a growl of frustration. “I think I probably did persuade him to tell me the truth at one point, but as for the rest, who knows?”

“So you didn’t like him?” Padmé asked, her brow creased in a worried frown.

“Not exactly. I didn’t have cause to dislike him, but..." Sabé shrugged, still unsure. "I didn’t trust him, not an inch. The sooner I can put my plan into action, the better.”

"Were those two men still downstairs when you came in?"

She'd momentarily forgotten about them, and she slumped in her seat, disgruntled. "I didn't see them, I came in through the speeder lot, but they were there when I left."

Padmé bit the inside of her cheek, considering something. "I can't even ask security to throw them out," she said, sounding irritated. "They'd just wait somewhere outside. Besides, we don't know for sure what they're here for."

"I know, I thought the same."

"You'll have to disguise yourself as a handmaiden when you go. Just in case. Or even a security officer."

Sabé frowned a little, trying to recall something. "You don't have any female officers at the moment though, do you?"

Padmé pondered that, shrugging. "Well, you could tuck your hair up under the hat, they might not notice you’re a woman if they don’t get a good look at you."

Sabé nodded in agreement, angry that she was being forced to take such extreme measures. Her parents were trying to rule her life even here. Potentially. It was suffocating, and instilled an urgency in her that the logical part of her brain thought was disproportionate. But even knowing that didn’t stop her reacting, didn’t stop her feeling that she simply had to act now. She had to get moving, had to talk to Obi-Wan, as soon as possible.

Sabé wasn’t sure what expression had made its way onto her face, because Padmé leaned forward over her desk, her dark eyes full of concern.

“Are you okay? I mean, really okay?”

“Of course,” she answered automatically, and Padmé pressed her lips together sternly, clearly not believing her for a second.

“Sabé…” the senator began, her tone distinctly disapproving.

“What?” Sabé said defensively.

“You can’t kid a kidder.”

Although she was immediately curious at the odd choice of phrase, Sabé bit her tongue, knowing full well that Padmé wouldn’t let her change the subject. She made a mental note to raise it at a later date, if it was still relevant.

For her friend’s sake, she tried to put how she felt into words. “I’m…uneasy, I guess. I just want all of this over with, so I can get back to some kind of normal. I know it’s not going to be as it was…but it will be better than this.”

Padmé nodded, seeming to comprehend a little of what she was feeling. “So, that’s your plan for tomorrow, is it? Go to-”

“No,” Sabé interrupted. “I’m going today. Now. When I’ve changed, I mean.”

“Now?” Padmé repeated in surprise. “You’re really that worried?”

“I…seem to be. Yes.” She shrugged helplessly, unable to really explain why it bothered her so much. “I just want it sorted,” she finished up. “I won’t be able to relax until I’ve secured a way to avoid this arrangement, and I really don’t want another sleepless night.”

Padmé looked concerned, but seemed to understand. “Well, okay, if that’s what you want.”

“I’ll feel more at ease,” Sabé clarified. “I’m going to get changed. I’d rather leave while I’ve still got some afternoon left.”

“Okay. Let me know when you’re going,” Padmé said, already turning back to her work.

Sabé repressed a smile. Her friend never managed to put unfinished paperwork aside for long. She’d heard from Padmé’s sister, Sola, that as a child she’d done the same with her homework too.

“I’ll stick my head around the door,” she assured. “Where’s Gregar? He should be able to lend me a security uniform.”

Probably without realising she was doing it, Padmé’s head shot back up at the mention of his name. “He’s most likely in his office. You know your way around, don’t you?”

“Yes, I’m fine. Although calling this place an apartment is stretching it slightly!”

“I know,” Padmé agreed, wrinkling her nose. “Why the Council of Governors thinks I need this much space, I’ll never understand. Ask Threepio if you get lost, he’s here somewhere.”

Sabé nodded, although she hoped to avoid the fussy protocol droid if she could. He was always quite hard work. She made her way to the large corridor branching off the marble lounge. It was lined with doors, leading to a multitude of rooms: the main fresher, three rooms for handmaidens and security, two guest rooms, and the Chief of Security’s office. It was an unusual arrangement for the office to be in the senatorial apartment, but Padmé had her own on the upper level, and had always said that she didn’t want the room going to waste. Gregar had his own apartment on the floor below, but it was tiny and functional, containing only the essentials.

Sabé peered in through the open office door, taking in how tidy and organised the little room was. Another Panaka trait that Gregar had inherited. The man himself was sitting at his desk, head bent over a data pad. He looked up after a moment, alerted by her halting footsteps.

“Not interrupting, am I?” she asked.

Gregar sat back in his seat, stretching his neck. “No. I’m just writing a reference for an officer who’s leaving. Why?”

Sabé entered the room properly, perching on the edge of the desk. “I need your help.”

He raised an eyebrow, his expression openly curious. “With?”

She summed up everything as briefly as she could, explaining her plan to leave in disguise. He waited for her to finish before he spoke, listening with a furrowed brow.

“That’s doable,” he said confidently. “But are you sure that hiding your hair under a hat will be enough to fool those men downstairs?”

“From a distance…I hope so. I just need enough time to get to an air taxi, and if I’m walking next to you or one of your officers…” She trailed off, shrugging.

Gregar looked sceptical, but nodded. “Well, we can but try.”

“Thank you.”

“I’d better come down with you. If you’re walking next to someone in the exact same uniform, the differences will be more apparent.”

Sabé paused, a flash of guilt crossing her face. “I hadn’t considered that.”

“Lucky you consulted a professional, then,” he said with a smile.

She rolled her eyes good-naturedly, smirking.

“Give me a minute,” Gregar told her, getting to his feet. “I’ll check the spare uniforms and see if we have one small enough. Pretty sure we’ve had some recruits almost as skinny as you.”

He left the office, and Sabé heard his brisk footsteps echoing down the corridor. She waited there patiently, idly doodling on a piece of scrap flimsi, and soon he was back, a security uniform hooked over one arm.

“What’s that?” he asked, craning his neck to look at her drawing.

“It’s a nexu,” she replied, sounding affronted that he hadn’t guessed.

He adopted an incredulous tone. “That’s a nexu?”

She stuck her tongue out at him, hopping off the desk. Gregar laughed, handing over the uniform.

“Here you go, smallest I could find.”

“Thanks.” Sabé held it up against herself, looking down at it in scrutiny. “Should be okay. Let me go and find out. I’ll be back.”

“Sure.”

In the privacy of her room, she swapped her elegant dress for the uniform. It was a little big, baggy in some areas, but nothing too noticeable. Once she cinched the waist with her own belt, and tugged on her own boots, it looked fine. Her slender, athletic figure helped sell the deception, as she had always been lacking the soft curves that other women liked to flaunt. She wound her braid into a crown on the top of her head, securing it with the hat, which she pulled down firmly. Studying her appearance in the mirror, she decided that her disguise was passable, but wouldn’t hold up to close examination. Her face was too feminine, even without make-up.

She strapped her blaster to her hip, looking longingly at her sword, which she knew she had to leave behind. It was too much of a giveaway. Although she found herself using her blaster more often in practical situations, having the sword by her side made her feel better, more confident. It was a kind of good luck charm. Reluctantly, she left it lying on the bed, and she headed back to Gregar’s office.

He didn’t laugh when he saw her, which she took as a good sign. Perhaps the plan wasn’t as ridiculous as it seemed. They left the office together, heading to the upper level so that Sabé could say goodbye to Padmé. Gregar hovered outside while she did that, his expression neutral once again.

Padmé raised her eyebrows when she saw Sabé’s new outfit, seeming surprised. “This might work,” she said, her tone betraying how sceptical she’d been.

“Guess we’ll find out.” Sabé shrugged, then pulled her friend into a hug. “Thank you for everything you’ve done.”

“I only wish I could do more.”

Sabé smiled as she drew back. Typical Padmé. “You’re going to fight against the law, that’s enough.”

The senator smiled briefly, not looking convinced. “Do you have any idea how long you’ll be?”

“No, no idea. Don’t worry though, I’ll be fine.”

Padmé pressed her lips together in her favourite judgmental expression, and she placed her hands on her hips. “Don’t worry? Are you crazy?”

Sabé considered the question, answering honestly. “Probably.”

Padmé shook her head, sighing. “Be careful.”

“I will,” she assured. “I’ll be in touch.” She turned to leave, but glanced back in expectation when Padmé said her name.

“You’re, uh…you’re going to the Jedi Temple, aren’t you?”

Unsure how to react, whether to lie or come clean, Sabé froze until she realised her silence answered for her.

Nodding, Padmé didn’t look at all astonished, something that Sabé found curious. “Good luck.”

“Thanks. I think I’m going to need it.”

Shooting her friend a tiny, humourless smile, Sabé exited the office. She felt more in control now that she was actually doing something, but she was inescapably nervous, and she wanted it all over and forgotten. Squaring her shoulders, she left the apartment with Gregar, determined to think positively. It would all work out. It had to.

* * *

After Sabé departed, Padmé sat back in her desk chair, pondering, trying to work out what the outcome of her friend’s plan would be. The fact that she would turn to Obi-Wan Kenobi was not surprising. The two shared a firm friendship, maintained over many years through letter writing. Padmé had always recognised how significant it was for Sabé, how she thought more of the charismatic Jedi Master than she seemed to realise. Padmé had said nothing, not wanting to make Sabé feel awkward. Now that the handmaiden was on her way to ask the question she must ask, Padmé was especially glad she hadn’t mentioned it. She knew Obi-Wan well enough to surmise that he would want to help if he could, but whether he would agree to a marriage of convenience was anyone’s guess. Attachment was firmly against the rules of the Jedi Code, and marriage was almost the very definition of it.

She leaned her chin on her hand, staring unseeingly at the writing on her data pad, hoping that, against the odds, things would go right for Sabé. She didn’t deserve what Jago and Luma were putting her through.

“Report going well, M’lady?”

Padmé glanced up at the sound of Gregar’s voice. He nodded pointedly at the abandoned data pad on the desk.

She kept her voice even and polite. “Very well, thank you, Captain.”

He was Captain Typho out loud, but somehow had never stopped being Gregar in her head. She wondered if she was Padmé in his.

“Did Sabé get away all right?” she asked.

“I think so.”

“And the spies?”

“Still there.” He looked disgruntled, his forehead creased in a frown. “One was outside reading a holo mag. I didn’t see the other one. It’s beyond suspicious now, if you ask me.”

Padmé nodded, uneasy. “I agree. I could speak to Jago and Luma, but I’m not sure that Sabé would want me to. Not at this stage, anyway.”

“I would advise caution,” Gregar put in. “We should do nothing until she's settled, or we could put her plans in danger.”

“You’re right, but doing nothing goes against my instincts.”

He smiled then, just a brief flicker across his face. “Mine too. Do you think Sabé’s plan will work?”

“I’ve just been wondering that myself,” she admitted, leaning her chin on her hand.

“He’s a Jedi, so that’s a huge complication right there.” He didn’t bother to curb his words. Padmé knew full well his opinion of her Jedi husband. “But she doesn’t trust anyone else enough with this.”

Neither of them said it, but it would have been far more logical for Sabé to marry Gregar. But Padmé knew she never would, out of respect for her, and for the fact that Gregar had been in love with her almost from the first moment he laid eyes on her. Sabé had known it before she had. And Padmé’s feelings for Gregar had been the cause of the senator’s only major argument with Sabé, in which the handmaiden took Gregar’s side and refused to believe Padmé’s insistence that she didn’t love him.

Padmé always tried to keep her thoughts away from those heated words. They made her feel guilty. She had since begun to fear that her friend had been right. Whenever she looked at Gregar she would quash the stirring of old feelings. It didn’t matter anymore anyway. She was a year married to Anakin. Gregar had accepted that, doing his duty diligently as always, but maintaining formality in his manner of address to her.

They never spoke about the past. Their working relationship was close and functional, but lacked the warmth of the friendship they’d had when Padmé was Queen. With Sabé with them again it had almost felt like a return to those days.

“Master Kenobi will want to help,” Gregar said, breaking through her thoughts. “But in what capacity, I don’t know.”

“I came to the same conclusion,” she told him, keeping her focus. “I guess we’ll just have to wait and find out.”

He glanced up, meeting her gaze with his single good eye. Padmé knew what he was thinking. The side of him that was susceptible to bitterness was considering remarking on how well-practiced he was at waiting. She paused for the barbed comment. She expected them now and then, on the rare occasions that he punished her for falling for Anakin. She deserved it, she supposed. He was only human, and he had daily proof of the fact that another man was married to the woman he loved. He opened his mouth to speak, and she braced herself.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “she’ll contact you as soon as she can.”

Padmé nodded, inwardly sighing in relief. She found his judgment particularly hard to deal with. It was fortunate that he was gracious enough to spare her from it where he could. She reached for her data pad, pulling up the documents she had been working on. Sitting dwelling on budding regrets was doing her no good at all.

“I’d like to be alone, please,” she spoke up, her tone formal. “Send Moteé up with some caf.”

He bowed, his expression placid and unreadable as always. “Of course, M’lady.”

“Thank you,” she said to his back as he strode away, “…Gregar.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Six – Securing a Future.

 

On the upper side of Coruscant’s expansive mid levels, CoCo Town provided a middle ground between the affluent upper levels and the sprawl of the seedy underworld. It attracted visitors from both directions, having both a theatre and a disreputable cantina within several feet of each other. Neither establishment did very well, as there were better cantinas below and better theatres above, and most Coruscant residents knew that.

However, being in the mid levels had its advantages, one of which was a healthy trade in information. CoCo Town’s citizens heard gossip from the underworld and the upper levels, and turned a profit selling it on. No one in CoCo Town had more to offer than Dexter Jettster, but he chose to earn a living through his diner, only passing information to people he liked. Fortunately for Obi-Wan Kenobi, he was one of those people.

The Jedi Master found himself once again seeking Dex’s help following an unhelpful trip to the archives. It seemed like a long shot, but then so had the sabre-dart that had led him to Kamino. Dex was full of seemingly-obscure knowledge.

Obi-Wan walked the quickest route to Dex’s Diner, enjoying the sickly burst of sunshine that had pierced the clouds. Coruscant did not really have seasons as such, simply days that were more cloudy than others, and warmer sunshine for several months of the year. CoCo Town was busy as usual, but nobody bothered him. Most people respected the Jedi, although there had been growing hostility among the population since the war began. Many felt that the Jedi shouldn’t be as involved as they were. Obi-Wan understood why they thought that way, but it was natural for the Jedi to be involved, especially considering that the Separatists were being led by at least one Sith, possibly two.

Dex’s Diner was a small, one-level hut of a building by the side of one of the main thoroughfares through the district. Seeing it again made Obi-Wan smile pensively, taking in its familiar dull chrome walls and narrow windows, everything unchanged by the chaos that had altered so much across the galaxy. It never changed, just as Dex never changed. He was one of the most reliable friends Obi-Wan had.

The diner was quiet following the lunchtime rush, only a handful of patrons sitting in the booths that lined the front wall. Dex was leaning on the bar, two of his arms folded, another scribbling over a hard copy of the menu, making notes for future additions. A brown-skinned Besilisk whose large frame indicated his love of food, Dex was the fastest cook in CoCo Town, always using his four arms to prepare meals as quickly as possible, so as to not keep people waiting. It was not the healthiest food on the planet, but it was filling and reasonably-priced, earning him a decent living.

“Those darned archives of yours!” Dex thundered as he looked up, his gruff voice full of amusement.

Obi-Wan blinked, briefly startled. “Hello to you too, Dex. You can’t possibly know why I’m here.”

“You’ve got that look on your face,” Dex stated, folding his other set of arms.

“What look?”

“Your ‘I need your help’ look.”

Obi-Wan chuckled, seating himself at the bar. “I see. I must try and be less conspicuous.”

“What you must try and do,” Dex told him firmly, jabbing a finger for emphasis, “is update your damn archives with information that is actually useful!”

Obi-Wan held back a laugh, imagining the outrage on Jocasta Nu’s face if she could hear Dex’s words. The archivist was very proud of the records, often to be heard blaming the analysis droids or external sources for any errors reported.

“Cup of caf?” asked Hermione, the diner’s sole human waitress. She was standing guard at the heated caf pot, picking lumps of an unidentified food substance out of her blonde ponytail, a disgusted look on her face.

“Yes, thank you,” Obi-Wan said with a smile. Nodding at her hair, he added, “What happened to you?”

“Nothing I can’t handle,” she answered through gritted teeth, glaring at the wheeled waitress droid that was busily collecting cups from the booths.

Obi-Wan had heard Dex reflecting on the bizarre rivalry between his two staff members, stating that the droid was often the jealous one, falling back on spiteful tricks to try and discredit Hermione. Fortunately, the plucky young woman was a favourite with customers, and did not view the droid’s pettiness as anything more than an inconvenience.

She washed her hands, then served the caf, pouring a large cup for Dex too. Placing Obi-Wan’s cup in front of him, she winked.

“Here you go, hon.”

“Thank you.”

Casual flirting was basically in her job description, and Obi-Wan knew that it was no cause for concern. Still, he always chose not to acknowledge it directly.

“So,” Dex said, setting his menu aside and fixing Obi-Wan with a knowing stare, “what can I do for you?”

Obi-Wan took a sip of his drink, then set the cup down and drew a small data pad from a pouch on his belt. Calling up an image, he pushed it across the bar so that Dex could see it.

“Have you ever seen this symbol before?” he asked. “I’m following up a lead. It could be nothing, but I have to check.”

Dex turned his beady eyes to the data pad, studying the image of a tattoo on the back of a human woman’s shoulder. He raised one of his arms, cupping his bulbous chin in his hand as he considered.

Obi-Wan watched him examine it, searching his friend’s face for any sign of recognition. “The archives came up with several examples of similar symbols from various worlds and cultures,” he explained, “but nothing exactly like this.”

“Hmm,” Dex rumbled thoughtfully, not taking his eyes from the picture. “I’m…not a hundred percent certain, but…I think what you got here is the symbol of the Order of Sanctuary.”

Obi-Wan frowned, folding his arms on the bar, studying the image upside down. “I’m familiar with the name…but I’m not sure why.”

“I don’t know much about them, I gotta be honest. But they’re a group of warriors that hail from Naboo.”

Understanding dawned, and Obi-Wan’s eyes widened as he began to put the pieces together, realising why he knew the name.

“That senator friend of yours…” Dex prompted.

“Padmé Amidala?”

“Yeah. She should have a few Order members among her handmaidens. She’d probably be able to help you out more than I can.”

Obi-Wan smiled to himself, already thinking of Sabé. “Oh, I think I can do better than that.”

Dex laughed good-naturedly, a grin stretching his wide mouth. “No doubt. You Jedi are better at everything, of course. Except updating your damn archives.”

"Will you let that go?" Obi-Wan sighed in mock exasperation, reaching for his caf cup.

"Nope," Dex replied smugly, popping the P.

Nearby, busy cleaning the surfaces, Hermione giggled softly.

Obi-Wan shook his head, smiling, and took another sip of caf. While he finished his drink, he and Dex chatted about less important things, reminiscing about the past, and catching up on what each of them had been doing since they last saw each other.

"How's that apprentice of yours?" Dex asked him, stirring sweetener into his own drink.

"He’s not my apprentice anymore," Obi-Wan told him, feeling a touch of pride despite knowing better. "He passed the trials a few months ago. He has a Padawan of his own now."

"Really?" Dex said, brows raised in delighted surprise. "How's that going for him?"

"Well, I think," Obi-Wan told him truthfully. "It's hard work, but I think it's good for him. The responsibility has made him a little more mature."

A little, he kept to himself, but still not enough.

Anakin still hadn't learned not to react emotionally, despite experiencing many different consequences of his reckless behaviour. Often it was because he cared too much, always wanting to save everyone. And often he did, which made Obi-Wan feel callous about reprimanding him, because saving lives was a good thing no matter the circumstances. It would be an admirable trait in anyone else, but it was a hindrance for a Jedi. At best it was distracting, at worst...it was a path to the Dark Side.

Not for the first time, Obi-Wan wondered if Qui-Gon had been right to push for Anakin's training. He'd been too old, he'd already learned love, attachment, anger, pride, all things perfectly normal for a regular childhood, but forbidden to a Jedi student. And they were hard to unlearn, deeply rooted, almost instinctive. Obi-Wan had done his best to teach Anakin to move past them, but he constantly questioned his success. Anakin was an exemplary warrior, but not quite a good Jedi. Not yet. He still had much to learn, but Obi-Wan could do no more than he'd already done. There were some lessons that Anakin had to learn for himself. Obi-Wan was proud of him, of how far he'd come, but he worried too. Almost constantly.

He’d hoped that teaching Ahsoka Tano would have helped Anakin develop, and it had to a certain extent. The girl was more than capable, coping admirably with the responsibilities the war had thrown on her, but Anakin’s casual disregard for rules and, occasionally, Jedi elders had rubbed off on her as well. Obi-Wan had been concerned about that happening. Ahsoka was at an impressionable age, and she was already showing signs of inheriting Anakin’s arrogance. He only hoped that she would overcome it. And that Anakin would too.

"Good for him," Dex said warmly, breaking through Obi-Wan's thoughts. "Give him my regards, will ya?"

Shaking his melancholy reflections aside, Obi-Wan nodded. "Of course."

Realising that he’d delayed long enough, he drained the last of his caf, set the cup down on the bar, and got to his feet.

"Thank you, but I must get back," he said with a smile.

Dex fixed him with a sharp look. “You know, the last time I gave you information, a war started.”

“I had noticed,” he answered dryly.

“Well, just…warn me next time, okay?”

Obi-Wan chuckled at the words. “I’ll try. I really do appreciate your help.”

Dex nodded to him, grinning. "Any time, buddy, any time."

Obi-Wan overpaid for his drink, as he always did when Dex gave him information, said his round of goodbyes, and left the diner.

A short while later, as he ascended the iconic steps of the Jedi Temple, he turned his thoughts to Sabé. Although she’d never said so, it seemed likely that she was part of this Order of Sanctuary, and he knew she’d probably help him with his enquiries if he asked her. He was due to write her a letter, but he doubted the Council would want to wait for a reply. As soon as he returned to his quarters, he would call her.

It was a simple thing to do, but it seemed…odd somehow. He and Sabé never really contacted each other except for the letters. She would be surprised to hear from him, perhaps worried, until he explained. She always made sure he knew what frequency she could be reached at, however, so it stood to reason that his call would not be unwelcome. He was over-thinking it far too much, more than was probably normal. It was puzzling.

He was pulled out of his reflections as he crossed the main entrance hall of the Temple, interrupted by a dispute that was occurring between a visitor and one of the security droids. The public could visit the entrance hall, but to reach any of the chambers in its depths one had to get past the welcoming droids that guarded it.

The droid’s falsely sympathetic tone drifted across the foyer, cutting through Obi-Wan’s thought process.

“I’m very sorry, miss,” it was saying to a woman wearing a security uniform that was slightly too big for her, her dark hair hanging in a long braid down her back. “I cannot allow you to–”

“Dammit,” she snapped dramatically, gesturing with the hat she was holding, “my whole future depends on this!”

Stepping forward to intervene, quashing his irritation, Obi-Wan asked calmly, “Is there a problem here?”

The woman’s shoulders tensed at his words. She turned, meeting his gaze with wide, dark eyes. Sabé. Her mouth was open slightly, frozen, as if whatever she’d been about to say had suddenly escaped her head.

For a brief, surreal moment Obi-Wan wondered if his desire to speak to her had somehow conjured her into being. The ridiculous thought vanished as quickly as it came, and he looked at her in surprise. Perhaps she was there regarding the case.

“What are you doing here?” he asked, concerned. “Is everything all right?”

“This lady would like to speak to you, Master Kenobi,” the droid pointed out unnecessarily. “She says it’s urgent.”

“Evidently,” he commented, studying her, taking in her ill-fitting outfit, and the strange half-relieved, half-worried expression on her face.

She looked a little awkward under his scrutiny, dropping her gaze to the floor, then forcibly raising it again.

“Can we go somewhere quiet to talk?” she said, sounding almost embarrassed.

Curious about what she had to say, wondering why she seemed so edgy, he nodded at once. “Of course. Come this way.”

He escorted her out of the entrance hall, into the wide, spacious hallways beyond. She walked half a step behind him, looking around at the vast, impressive architecture with visible awe. Obi-Wan almost smiled. He never failed to appreciate the majesty of the place he was fortunate enough to call home, and somehow he liked seeing someone else admire it too. It was easy to lose perspective when a view was seen every day. Only seeing it again, through an outsider’s eyes, could reinforce how magnificent the Temple was.

The Temple didn’t have many rooms nearby that were suitable for casual visitors. Most of them were in use, but he felt sure that there would be a vacant meditation room. His assumption proved correct, and he waved Sabé inside, apologising for the unusual setting.

She shrugged off the apology, more coolly polite than he remembered. She was distracted, he could sense that. Her Force signature radiated her anger, distress and nervousness. Outwardly she had it under control, but he could feel it bubbling beneath the surface. Something had gone drastically wrong for her since her last letter.

He’d been forbidden to speak about the case to anyone not involved. Until he knew the reason for Sabé’s visit, he couldn’t start that conversation. He hoped that she would. Obi-Wan never enjoyed concealing truths.

They both sat down on low circular stools. The late afternoon light filtered in through slatted blinds, creating a dim yet peaceful atmosphere. Despite the tranquillity, Sabé still looked on edge, twisting her hands in her lap in an unusual display of her anxiety.

“Tell me what’s wrong,” Obi-Wan began gently, trying not to make the words sound like an order. “You look as if your entire world has been flipped upside down.”

Sabé gave a tiny, sardonic snort. “That sounds about right.”

Obi-Wan remained quiet, waiting for her to fill the silence.

She took a deep breath, making visible attempts to calm down. He could tell that her nervousness was irritating her. Her eyebrows were drawn together in a frown, and her lips pouted, an expression he recognised as one she used when she was annoying herself.

“You know I mentioned in my letter that my parents had summoned me?” she said finally, directing her sentence at the hat on her lap rather than at him.

“Yes,” he replied.

“Well, they wanted to inform me that they have arranged a marriage for me.” Her tone was conversational, falsely so. Her voice trembled with repressed anger. “With…” she went on, faltering a little, “…Senator Quaine Daedrin.”

Obi-Wan was suddenly on high alert, his surprise threading through him. It wasn’t the direction he had expected the conversation to take, but he was certain that it still related to the case. The only difference was that now he was convinced that Sabé was still in ignorance. And he didn’t have clearance to enlighten her.

She met his gaze, and he saw her register his shock, pressing her lips together flatly. Obi-Wan schooled his expression to one of neutral concern. He couldn’t afford to give anything away yet.

Realising that he wasn’t going to comment, Sabé continued, speaking levelly. “According to an ancient Naboo law, they are within their rights to do this. Padmé is putting together a campaign to get the law repealed, but that could take years. It would be too late for me by then.”

“Senator Daedrin is not your choice then?” Obi-Wan asked carefully.

“No!” she burst forth, and he felt something akin to relief briefly flash through him. “I'm sure he’s fine once you get to know him, but I met with him earlier today and I don’t trust him at all,” she went on, letting her bitter and somewhat biased opinion taint her tone. “He’s ambitious enough to get close to the Chancellor, but for what reason I don’t know. My parents want to get near the inner circle, that’s why they’ve suddenly set this up. They claim it’s my duty to abide by their wishes, but…I can’t do it, Obi-Wan. I won’t!”

She halted abruptly, her eyes wide, her jaw set stubbornly. She looked mildly alarmed, as if she hadn’t expected her emotions to take over quite so much. Her anger had spiked, he could feel it.

Trying to inject a little calmness, he said, “What other options are there?”

Sabé took another deep breath. When she continued, her voice was steadier. “My parents did suggest – trying to be reassuring, I think – that I could get the marriage annulled on grounds of non-consummation, but I don’t see that as a feasible option. If I wasn’t willing he could try and force me.”

She spoke matter-of-factly, but there was steeliness to her grim expression. Looking at her, Obi-Wan instinctively felt that if anyone tried to force themselves on her she would most likely take a vibroblade to them. He was glad that she would defend herself, but he didn’t much like the idea of her serving time for murder.

He nodded, accepting her words with a frown. “True. That’s a possibility that I don’t think we want to confirm.”

“No,” she agreed, wrinkling her nose. “The only way out of it that I can see is…for me to marry someone else, on my own terms, and work out a mutually beneficial arrangement.”

Obi-Wan considered that, swiftly concluding that she was probably right. A torrent of questions invaded his thoughts, queries about whether she had considered everything that an arranged marriage would entail, whether she minded giving up some freedoms. He kept them to himself, crediting her with the common sense to have thought it through already.

Sabé sighed, and he picked up on a wave of nervousness emanating from her. She was sitting rigidly on her stool, her posture tense, her hands gripping the hat she still held in her lap. As he watched, she bit her lip, then opened and closed her mouth, as if the words she wanted to say were stuck in her throat. She sighed again, the brief hiss of air betraying more annoyance than the first time. Visibly, she pulled herself together, sitting straighter and finally meeting his gaze.

“You know I wouldn’t bother you for your help unless it was urgent,” she said quickly.

“You’re not bothering me at all, but I’m not entirely sure how I can help,” he told her truthfully. “The Jedi can’t offer you protection because they can’t be seen to get involved in personal matters.”

Sabé tilted her head, expression indicating that she’d already come to that conclusion. “No, no, of course. It’s just that… Gods, this is difficult.” She took a deep breath. “I need to find…” She bit her lip again, searching for the right words. “Obi-Wan, you’re my dearest friend and I trust you with my life…and I’m sorry that I have to ask you to do this, but…”

Dawning realisation began to creep in, and his eyes widened, caught off guard. “Are you…” he began hesitantly, feeling slightly awkward that he had to demand clarification. “Are you asking me…what I think you’re asking me?”

Sabé nodded earnestly, cheeks flushing pink. “I need someone I can trust,” she declared simply.

Obliged to state the facts aloud, he said, “Sabé, I’m a Jedi. The Code forbids it.”

“But dispensation has been granted in the past,” she argued, making a valid point. “Master Ki-Adi-Mundi is married to five wives, is he not?”

“That’s because his species has a low birth rate.”

Sabé gave a nod, the corner of her lips lifting in a small, cynical twitch. He could see that she hadn’t really expected the importance of her situation to equal Master Mundi’s.

“I had to at least try,” she said simply. “It’s…it’s okay. Thank you for hearing me out.”

Obi-Wan said nothing, studying her thoughtfully, wondering if he really was in a position to help her. A marriage of convenience was not a violation of the Code in the traditional sense, and wouldn’t alter his dedication to the Jedi Order. It was possible that the Council would allow it, especially in light of Senator Daedrin’s potential involvement in the case they were investigating. But did he want to agree to it? That was another matter.

“Why me?” he asked her.

Sabé looked at him in mild surprise. “Uh…well, I know you’re a good person. I trust you more than most other people. And…I guess I thought that a Jedi was less likely to mind being hooked into a marriage of convenience. If I chose someone else it could disrupt their chances of marrying for better reasons, but that wouldn’t be an issue for a Jedi, and it wouldn’t strictly be an attachment. Not an emotional attachment, anyway.”

Outwardly calm despite his tumbled thoughts, he met her gaze, considering. Part of him was a little surprised that he was considering it, but he knew without question that he had to do what he could to protect her. It was his duty as a Jedi as well as a friend. She needed more protection than she fully realised, and he wanted to help her. He just hadn’t expected to help her…this way. It would be a strange arrangement, it would be awkward, it would be difficult once the news got out, but perhaps it was the best path. He had to trust that the Force wouldn’t lead him astray, wouldn’t let him do something so life-altering if it was wrong. He took in her troubled, tired face, the dark circles under her eyes, the tiny bite marks on her lower lip. It couldn’t be wrong to take that anxiety away, he was certain of it.

And so, after an eternity, he nodded once. “All right.”

She blinked at him owlishly. “What?”

“I agree,” he clarified.

She smiled, looking relieved, but there was still a strand of confusion there. “You…you do? That’s…I mean…uh, thank you. But I thought…”

“The Council reconvenes in twenty minutes,” he told her. “I’ll raise the issue with them, and we’ll see whether they’ll consider this. They’ll probably summon you to hear your input.”

“That’s fine.”

Keeping his voice placidly business-like, he asked, “Assuming they agree – and you should have a back up plan, by the way – when do you want to go through the ceremony?”

Sabé’s eyes widened a fraction, as if it was only just hitting her how fast things were moving and changing around her. Her words were calm, however, and he felt sure she hadn’t intended to give anything away.

“As soon as we can, if you don’t mind,” she said at once. “I can’t function for worrying about this. It’s…actually quite frustrating.”

She seemed embarrassed to admit it. Obi-Wan knew from past interactions that what troubled Sabé the most were the things that affected her on a deeply personal level. She no doubt thought she was overreacting, but he could understand it. She’d worked hard to achieve her position, to create the lifestyle she wanted. To potentially have it snatched away by a law she could not refuse…no wonder she was so livid and uneasy.

“What is it about Daedrin that bothers you so much?” Obi-Wan asked her, curious as to her thoughts.

She shrugged, pulling a face. “I don’t know exactly, and that in itself is worrying. Something about him makes me want to get as far away from him as possible.”

“Always trust your instincts,” he advised. She didn’t know how right she was.

“I did. That’s why I travelled here to try and persuade a technically-unavailable man to marry me.” Although her tone had been light, it was evident that something still bothered her. “Gods,” she groaned, pressing the heels of her hands to her eyes. “Am I being completely selfish about this entire thing?” She lowered her hands and sent him a deeply guilty, apologetic look. “I only thought about appeasing the Jedi Code. I didn’t really think about how this would affect you. It’ll take your future options away. I can’t ask you to do that for me.”

She had a point. Sort of. However, he didn’t think her actions could really be considered selfish. It was self-preservation, brought on by panic, laced with a tiny trace of overreaction. But it wasn’t selfish.

He shook his head, speaking evenly, “Sabé, you’ve done nothing of the sort. My future options were unshakeable anyway due to my duty to the Jedi, and I have no intentions to leave the order. I wouldn’t have agreed if I didn’t understand everything this entails.”

“But you’ll be stuck with me,” she pointed out.

“Our lives will barely change,” he countered. “Although I do think it would be better for you to remain on Coruscant.”

“Yes. I agree with that. I’ve already organised something. But–”

“Sabé,” Obi-Wan interrupted firmly, cutting her off.

She halted mid-word, and he scrambled to fill the silence he had created.

“Has it occurred to you,” he began, realising that she needed reassuring, needed an alternative viewpoint, “that the idea of being married to you is not unappealing?”

Sabé paused, considering, her mouth falling comically open. “Um…no,” she admitted.

He gave a brief chuckle, knowing that there was no false modesty. It genuinely hadn’t occurred to her. It was rather endearing.

“You’re one of my oldest friends,” he told her warmly. “If I am to be stuck with someone for the rest of my life, I can think of no better company.” He sent her a smile, beginning to feel that there was more truth to his words than he had initially thought. “Besides,” he added lightly, “you’ll save me hours and hours of time I would have spent writing letters.”

She let out a laugh, a burst of released tension. “Fair enough,” she said with a nod. “If you’re sure.”

“I am. I want to help you. But we’ll have to wait and see what the Council says.”

“Yes, of course.” Sabé scrutinised him, her eyes narrowing in thought. He wondered what she was searching for, what conclusions she drew. “I can never thank you enough for this, Obi-Wan,” she said softly.

He simply smiled, unsure what else there was to say until they had heard from the Council. It seemed strange to try and talk of trivial things after such a weighty conversation. Sabé seemed to concur, and by mutual, wordless agreement, they sat in comfortable silence until it was time to move.

With only a few necessary sentences passed between them, they travelled up the Temple’s south-western tower, where the Council chamber sat at the very top. On the floor below, Obi-Wan left Sabé in a small lobby near the turbolift that led directly to the chamber.

“Wait here. I’ll raise the subject as soon as I can. When the lift arrives you’ll know you’re called in.”

“Okay,” she answered with a nod, biting her lip again. It was getting to be a bad habit of hers.

“Don’t be nervous,” he told her, sending her a sympathetic half-smile. “They’re not monsters.”

“Can’t help it,” she murmured honestly, shrugging. “It’s a…weird sensation…you know, knowing a bunch of strangers will decide which path your future takes.”

Obi-Wan could empathise with that, although he had no basis for comparison. The Jedi Council had always decided his fate. He reached out a hand and squeezed her arm in support, and she gave a small, tight smile in response.

“I’ll be fine,” she said reassuringly. “Don’t make yourself late.”

“No, that wouldn’t be a good start, would it? I’ll see you shortly.”

Sabé nodded, and he stepped into the turbolift. As the doors closed he saw her start to pace, still a catalyst of raw, nervous energy. He hoped she’d have a definitive answer soon. And he hoped she had a back-up plan. Usually his experience gave him some indication of how the Council would vote on certain matters. Meetings often played out as he expected, but in this instance he had no clear idea. The Force remained silent on the subject too, although so far he hadn't felt that he'd made any wrong decisions.

The lift doors slid open, and Obi-Wan walked out into the large, circular room filled with natural light. But for the section of wall where the doors were, the entire room was lined with huge, lofty windows, displaying panoramic views of Coruscant, and the tops of the Temple's other towers. The Council members sat in custom chairs that formed a circle, their backs to the windows. Several of the Jedi were not present, their seats filled instead by their holographic images, transmitted from whichever far away world they were stationed on. His was the only empty seat. With a small, apologetic bob of his head, he crossed the room and sat down.

For the first forty minutes, the topic of discussion was the war, how it was progressing and whether any substantial development was close at hand. Each Jedi who was currently elsewhere gave reports on the status of their assignments, as well as highlighting their future plans. Any additional strategies were brought up and debated with the usual calm rationality that could be expected from Council meetings.

Obi-Wan knew the last business to be deliberated would be the investigation he had a hand in, and he was content to wait until then to raise the subject. He only hoped that Sabé hadn't worn a hole in the floor below with her pacing.

Master Yoda, who always led meetings by unspoken agreement, finally shifted the discussion towards the investigation, and Ki-Adi-Mundi began his report.

Clearing his throat, Obi-Wan spoke up. “Forgive me for interrupting, Master Mundi, but before we proceed there’s an issue I need to raise that I believe could be linked to this case.”

Always easy-going, Mundi gestured for him to continue, one eyebrow raised questioningly.

Obi-Wan leaned forward in his seat, resting his elbows on his knees. “Earlier today an acquaintance of mine from Naboo came to me for help. Her parents are trying to force her into an arranged marriage that she doesn’t want. Apparently some ancient, outdated law allows them to do so. Senator Amidala intends to try and get the law repealed, but it could take months before action is taken, which would be too late for Sabé, my acquaintance. Her intended is Senator Daedrin, and although it was her parents who made the match, the senator has expressed a keen interest in the idea.”

“Do you believe that there might be a link between this friend of yours and the dead bodyguard?” Mace Windu asked, brow creased in a deep frown.

“I think it’s possible, yes,” Obi-Wan answered gravely. “This afternoon I enquired about the tattoo that was found on the woman’s body, and was told that it was likely to be the symbol of the Order of Sanctuary, a group of highly-trained warriors from Naboo. I have not yet had chance to confirm this, but I believe that Sabé may also be a member of the Order. It would explain why Senator Daedrin has taken an interest in her.”

Ki-Adi-Mundi fixed him with a thoughtful, narrow-eyed look. “Have you asked Miss Sabé for her input?”

“No, I didn’t want to say anything without the authorisation of the Council, but I do think that she could be of use. If we find out more about the Order of Sanctuary, we may see more links.”

“You mentioned she came to you for help,” Mace Windu said. “Does she suspect Senator Daedrin of being more than he appears?”

Obi-Wan considered the question, not entirely willing to speak for Sabé. “I…don’t think so, Master. She doesn’t seem to trust or like him, but considering the circumstances her parents have put her in, one could hardly expect her to. The help she asked for is…unorthodox.”

Yoda raised a hand to his chin, frowning at Obi-Wan in a way that made him feel as if the wizened Jedi Master already knew everything he meant to say. “What did she ask for, Obi-Wan?” he said quietly.

Still finding the situation strange and surreal, Obi-Wan pushed his emotional response aside, focusing on the facts instead. “She requested that she and I enter into a marriage in name only, so that she may carry on with her life without being at the mercy of the law. If our suspicions about the senator are true, I believe that this may also be a way to keep her safe.”

“And, an answer did you give?” Yoda asked.

“Yes, Master. I agreed, providing that the Council voted for the idea. I understand that it may be considered a breach of the Code, but a marriage of convenience will not interfere with my duty to the Order.”

Sombre and direct, as always, Mace Windu raised an eyebrow as he turned his level gaze Obi-Wan’s way. “Why did she come to you specifically for this?”

Glad that he’d asked Sabé the question himself, he answered simply. “We’ve known each other since the Trade Federation incident on Naboo. She trusts me.”

“Ask her, we will,” Yoda decided firmly. “Is she still here?”

Obi-Wan nodded. “Yes, Master, she’s downstairs.”

“Go to her. Discuss this, we will, before we call you both back.”

He’d half been expecting to be dismissed from the conversation, so he stood, bowed smoothly and headed for the lift. He had mixed feelings about the situation, and he hadn't yet allowed himself to consider what his preferred outcome would be. Like Sabé, his future now rested on the decision of his peers. Unlike Sabé, he was resigned to wait patiently until he found out what it was.

* * *

“I think we should allow this marriage,” Ki-Adi-Mundi declared, as soon as the turbolift doors closed behind Obi-Wan's back. “If our suspicions regarding Senator Daedrin are true, then this Miss Sabé could be a target. She would be safe under Obi-Wan’s protection.”

“With regards to her safety, we can organise that without the marriage side of it,” Mace Windu countered. “The arranged marriage, although unfortunate, is a personal matter. I’m not sure it would be wise for us to get involved.”

Plo Koon spoke up over the top of his steepled fingers. “I don’t think we can assume it is simply a personal matter, not when we suspect Senator Daedrin of murder.”

“Agreed,” put in Yoda. “More complicated, it is. But right you are, Master Windu, that we cannot be seen to interfere in an individual planet’s law. Another solution, we must find. Kept safe, Sabé must be.”

“It sounds as if she must also be kept safe from the demands of her parents,” Ki-Adi-Mundi said with a frown.

“Yes, yes,” Yoda muttered slowly, nodding his head, his expression resigned. “How a parent should treat their child, it is not. But just because we disagree with it does not mean we can involve ourselves.”

“But if we’re right, a marriage to the senator could be a death sentence for her.”

“If he is targeting members of this Order of Sanctuary,” Kit Fisto added, “then it would be like handing her to him on a plate.”

Ki-Adi-Mundi nodded in firm agreement. “There is too much uncertainty surrounding the senator. Until we know for sure, we must act as if he poses a direct threat to the lady. The marriage would be an excellent cover for Obi-Wan to act as her protector without alerting Daedrin to our suspicions.”

“It may not be an attachment as it stands now,” Mace Windu put in cynically, “but it could easily become one. We still don’t know enough about why she chose Obi-Wan. We could be fanning a flame that spreads to something problematic. Worst case scenario, it could lead Obi-Wan to the Dark Side.”

“Faced this challenge before, Obi-Wan has,” Yoda said, his tone resolute and reassuring. “More than once, I believe. Always remained strong and committed, he has. But speak for the lady, I cannot.”

Mace Windu glanced down at him thoughtfully. “You are inclined to allow this marriage?”

Yoda turned his wise, sleepy eyes Mace’s way. “Trust in Obi-Wan, I do,” he said simply.

Still looking highly sceptical, Mace leaned back in his seat, holding up a hand. “Well, let’s put it to a vote then.”

“Shouldn’t we hear from the girl first?” put in Adi Gallia, tilting her head, resting her chin on a single fingertip.

“Her input refers mostly to the case,” Mace told her. “I don’t believe that there’s much she can say about this marriage issue that we haven’t already heard from Obi-Wan.”

“Very well then,” said Ki-Adi-Mundi. “All those in favour of allowing the marriage, raise your hands.”

The room echoed faintly with the sound of rustling fabric as a number of hands went up.

Mace Windu counted them silently, raising an eyebrow. "All right. Let's get them both up here."

* * *

Sabé spent the majority of her time in the waiting area pacing back and forth in front of the turbolift doors. It achieved nothing but sore feet and a tense disposition, but she felt better for doing it. When she was fretting she couldn't abide sitting still. Fretting was one of her many traits that she couldn't trace back to either of her parents. She'd never seen Jago or Luma do anything that even remotely resembled it. If she didn't have Luma's looks and Jago's spitfire temper she would have suspected that she was adopted. Idriel had always been so perfect growing up that Sabé felt like an oddity within her own family. That was probably why she was so close to Padmé and Gregar: she'd found herself an alternative family.

Sabé had long ago reached the conclusion that she must have inherited elements of her personality from her grandparents. She couldn't remember meeting any of them. Jago's parents had died before she was born, and Luma's father when she was two. Luma's mother had remarried and run away to Corellia, and only wrote once a year on the Winter Solstice. Sabé let out a quiet giggle as she considered that. Perhaps it was her maternal grandmother she inherited her traits from, seeing as she was in the middle of trying to do something very similar.

As she paced, she tried not to look at the chrono every five minutes, aware that it only made the time feel even more sluggish than it already was. Eventually, after an hour or so, the lift doors slid open and Obi-Wan stepped out. She glanced at him in surprise, then quickly figured out what was happening.

"They're talking about us, aren't they?"

He smiled wryly, clasping his hands behind his back as he stood there, seemingly content to wait however long. "Yes, they are."

Half afraid to ask, she ventured, "What do you think they'll say?"

"I honestly don't know," he replied with a shrug. "They'll put it to a vote, take my opinion into consideration, weigh up the factors of the issue."

Sabé sighed, folding her arms, clenching fists because she didn't know what else to do with her hands. "I always knew this was a long shot," she confessed, trying not to slip too far into pessimism. "I mean, it's an absurd question to have to ask someone."

"Do you have a back-up plan?" Obi-Wan asked her seriously, his clear, blue gaze all earnest concern.

She thought of Gregar and his offer, and hesitated. "Ye-ess," she stumbled incoherently. "Sort of. But...no, not really."

He looked understandably puzzled and amused at her answer, overlaying the worry for a moment. "I see. Thank you for clearing that up."

She couldn't help but laugh, and felt grateful for the brief respite. "I...A friend of mine has offered," she explained, attempting to clarify. "But I know that it would be the wrong decision for him. He's in love with someone else, and I believe that she has feelings for him too. I don't want to get in the way of that. Neither of them would thank for me for it in the end." For the moment, she chose not to get into the complicated tangle that was Padmé, Gregar and Anakin. "So you see, I have a back-up plan available, I just don't want to use it."

He nodded, seeming to understand, and they stood in companionable silence until the turbolift doors opened once more. Obi-Wan held out an arm, gesturing her forward. Gathering her courage around her like a shroud, Sabé stepped into the lift. The ride up was short, and it seemed like the doors had barely closed before they were sliding open again, revealing the impressive circular chamber. The eyes of the Council members bored into her as soon as she entered the room, and she tried not to feel self-conscious. Following Obi-Wan's subtle lead, she crossed the patterned floor to stand in the very centre.

“Welcome, Sabé,” said Master Yoda, his eyes kind despite his solemn tone.

She remembered him and one or two others from Qui-Gon Jinn's funeral on Naboo. She doubted that they remembered her, but she was used to that.

“Thank you,” she replied politely.

“Explained the situation to us, Master Obi-Wan has. An unusual one it is.”

“To say the least.”

“We’re told Senator Daedrin is your intended,” Master Ki-Adi-Mundi put in.

“That’s right,” she confirmed, wondering why they were asking what they already knew. She assumed they saw some value in reading how she answered. They all sat casually in their seats, leaning back, looking confident, calm, and austere. It was a little intimidating.

Master Yoda scratched his chin, frowning. “Hmm. And not keen on this idea, you were. Very wise. Very wise.”

Sabé raised an eyebrow, beginning to sense that there was more going on than the issues she had brought to the discussion. “Wise? How so, Master Yoda?”

“Come back to that, we will," the Jedi Master assured her, leaving her mildly annoyed at the lack of answers. "Please tell us why you chose to ask for Master Obi-Wan’s help.”

Sabé took a deep breath, reciting the facts that she was sure they had already figured out. “I've known him for eleven years, ever since he and Master Qui-Gon Jinn helped us reclaim Naboo from the Trade Federation. Since then, we have kept in touch by trading letters. I know him to be an honourable man, and a great Jedi Master, and I trust him with my life.”

Master Yoda nodded slowly. She couldn't tell if he was pleased with her answer or not.

Master Mace Windu spoke, peering at her over his clasped hands. “Are you a member of the Order of Sanctuary?”

Taken aback by the question out of the blue, she simply nodded, surprised that the once-secret Order had been a point of discussion twice in one day.

“Could you tell us about that?" Master Windu went on. "What are their defining traits?"

Not seeing the relevance, but knowing better than to ask, Sabé obliged him. "Well, Order members are exclusively female, for a start. Like the Jedi, students are taken on from childhood, and train under one or two fully-fledged warriors. At the age of fourteen, they must pass a test to qualify for full initiation. If they do get accepted into the Order, they're presented with a traditional sword as a kind of passing gift."

"Do you fight with the swords?" Obi-Wan asked, looking genuinely interested in the crash-course culture lesson she was giving.

"Sometimes, but these days a blaster tends to be more practical. Swords don’t block laser bolts.”

“But you do carry the swords, do you not?” Master Mundi asked.

“Yes, most Order members do,” Sabé told him with a nod. “It’s seen as a kind of…mark of rank.”

Master Mundi exchanged a glance with Master Windu, and the latter raised a slanting eyebrow, turning back to Sabé.

“Is there anything else you can tell us about the Order?” he pressed.

Frowning a little, still irritated at the lack of answers, Sabé continued, keeping her voice level in an effort to remain polite. “When a student qualifies for full membership they receive two initiation tokens. The first is a name. All Order members have names that end in an accented E.”

In her peripheral vision she saw Obi-Wan shoot her a slightly baffled glance, and she knew what he was thinking.

“Just to be confusing, not all women with names that end in É are Order members,” she explained. “Over time, and partly down to the secretive nature of the Order’s earlier years, the trend leaked into Nabooian culture, resulting in non-members with names ending in É. Padmé Amidala being one such example.”

“So Sabé is not your real name?” Obi-Wan said, looking at her with curiosity.

“It’s not my birth name,” Sabé corrected. “I consider it my true name now. I earned this name. It defines my achievements in life.”

He sent her a tiny smile, indicating that he understood. She could see why. She was proud to be known as Sabé, just as he must be proud to go by his earned title of Master Kenobi. Within the limits of the Code, of course. But that was a conversation for another time, when it was just the two of them.

Clearing her throat briefly, she carried on. “The second token is received during the initiation ceremony. It’s a tattoo in brown ink, a symbol that evolved from the Naboo royal insignia.”

Master Windu sat forward in his chair. “What does this symbol look like?”

Sabé thought about the best way to describe it. “It’s a little hard to explain, but it’s a stylised flower with a tall, pointed central stem and a curled petal on either side.” She sketched the air with her fingers as she spoke. “It has varying small details as well.”

“Hmm,” said Master Yoda, drawing the word out. It was a thoughtful sound, but there was a resigned ring to it, as if Sabé had just confirmed something for him.

Losing patience, she shot a bemused glance at Obi-Wan, who gave her a tight smile and a small nod. Guessing that he was indicating that it would all make sense soon, she bit her tongue against any comments.

“This symbol…does it look like this?” Master Windu asked, holding up a data pad.

Frowning, Sabé stepped closer for a better look. The data pad displayed a close up of a woman’s back, the tattoo clearly visible on the left shoulder.

“Yes, that’s it,” she affirmed. “On an Order member, definitely. Where did you get that?”

For the first time, Master Windu lost some of his severe demeanour towards her. “Unfortunately, it’s on the body of a woman who was murdered at her employer’s apartment four days ago. She was identified as Naharé, a bodyguard from Naboo, but her status as an Order member was unknown.”

Sabé shook her head, shocked. “But how? Order members are supremely skilled fighters, they don’t fall easily.”

“Shows the marks of her defence, her body does,” Master Yoda put in. “An experienced warrior did this.”

Flustered, Sabé exhaled noisily, her mind flooding with questions. “You…you said murdered. Murdered, not killed. Like…it was a…planned hit of some kind.”

“We believe it was,” Ki-Adi-Mundi told her. “The assailant shot at the diplomat Naharé was protecting, but left as soon as he ran off. Clearly, the bodyguard was the only priority.”

“But that’s…” She gestured meaninglessly, clutching at air. “That doesn’t make any sense. Who would attack the security and not the diplomat? I mean, why?”

“Seeking answers, we are,” Master Yoda assured her. “For your help with this lead, grateful we are.”

“You’re welcome,” Sabé replied automatically, “but I don’t see what this has to do with me.”

Ki-Adi-Mundi spoke up in a calm tone. “One of our suspects is Senator Daedrin, although we do not have conclusive proof.”

Sabé’s entire body went cold. Everything snapped into place, the Council’s line of questioning suddenly making sense.

“What proof do you have?” she said at length, her mouth dry. “If I may ask.”

“We have security footage,” Master Windu spoke up. “The warrior wears a helmet, but during the fight, Naharé was able to lift the visor. His features are far from clear, but we were able to pick up a slightly unusual retinal scan.”

“Daedrin has mismatched eyes,” Sabé recalled numbly.

Master Yoda nodded. They were apparently already aware of the fact. “Obvious, it is, that the figure is a humanoid male, but more proof we will need if we are to stop him.”

Sabé could feel the beginnings of a headache thrumming at her temples. Daedrin’s agreement to the arranged marriage suddenly made chillingly perfect sense. If she went through with it, she could be making herself the easiest assassination target in the history of the Republic.

“It’s possible that someone is targeting Order of Sanctuary members,” Master Windu said grimly. “But as yet, we’re not sure why.”

“But clear, it is, that you must not marry the senator,” Master Yoda declared firmly.

Sabé had found herself temporarily distracted while relaying information, but at the tiny Jedi Master’s words, she felt her nervousness return in a single rush. Although, strangely enough, the new knowledge that her life might be at stake made her more hopeful about the Council’s agreement to her plan. She shot a quick glance Obi-Wan’s way, but his face was neutral and unreadable, and he did not meet her gaze.

“Voted on this, the Council has,” Master Yoda went on. “A decision, we have reached.”

“The Jedi cannot be seen to interfere in individual planetary law systems,” Master Windu interjected, his tone once again bordering on moody. “However, considering that your life may be in danger, and we don’t want to alert Senator Daedrin to our suspicions before we’re certain he’s behind the murder, we have agreed to allow some more…unusual measures to ensure your safety.”

Sabé listened with rapt attention, wishing he’d get to the point and give her a definite answer.

“Due to the unusual nature of the situation, and considering that it will not alter Master Kenobi’s commitments to the Jedi Order, the Council grants you permission to marry.”

Sabé nodded, so full of relief and gratitude that she didn’t trust herself to speak sensibly.

“The marriage will be ideal cover for Obi-Wan to act as your protector,” Ki-Adi-Mundi explained. “However, if the story is picked up by the HoloNet, Obi-Wan must make a statement declaring that he acted against our knowledge. We will deny it if we are approached. It will not look good for you, Obi-Wan, we will have to appear to reprimand you. But it will die down eventually. You will be able to resume normal duties when it's made clear that it's a marriage of convenience.”

Obi-Wan bore the new information without flinching, his calm expression never wavering. “If that is what it takes to keep the Jedi free from suspicion of intervention, then so be it.”

“No, I’m not having that,” Sabé cut in. “There must be another way. I can’t risk Obi-Wan’s reputation like this.”

“Sabé,” Obi-Wan soothed, “there is no other way. Don’t worry about me, I’m thick-skinned.”

“I can’t sit back and hear them whisper about you, knowing that it’s my fault. I didn’t think I would be causing you this amount of trouble when I came to you for help.”

Obi-Wan’s lips twitched in his attempt to hide a smile. “Sabé, you have been causing me trouble ever since I met you.”

Sabé shot him an indignant look, but nodded her understanding. He was changing the tone: the topic was closed. She would have to get past her guilt and accept the help he was freely giving.

“For your protection,” Master Mundi continued, “we will set you both up in an apartment. We keep a number of safe-houses that you can use. It’s basic, but it’s near the Temple, which should suit us. You’ll be safer there than if you chose to stay with Senator Amidala or anywhere in the Senate District.”

Sabé wondered how they knew she had decided to remain on Coruscant, but figured that it was a fair assumption. “I’m sure that will be just fine,” she said. “Thank you, all of you, for everything you’ve done.”

“It’s not over yet,” Master Windu reminded her. “It could take some time to build up a case against Senator Daedrin. The Jedi must remain a neutral party, but we cannot ignore what’s going on here. The Coruscanti police are already looking into it, but we doubt they’ll dig too hard. They don’t like to upset the high-ranking politicians. We will have to remain discreet while we investigate. We must have irrefutable proof before we present our findings to the Chancellor. The last thing we want to do is tip off the senator.”

“Of course, I understand.”

“But for now, think of yourself, you must,” Master Yoda told her sagely. “Have the ceremony as soon as possible, you should.”

“We’ll need witnesses,” Obi-Wan pointed out.

“I’m not teaching a class until tomorrow,” said Master Mundi. “I can accompany you.”

Obi-Wan nodded. “Master Secura is recovering from a minor injury, is she not? I’m sure she would appreciate a change of scenery.”

Master Yoda nodded. “Speak to her, I will. In the meantime, go and rest. Many plans to make, you have.”

Obi-Wan bowed and Sabé followed his lead, realising that they were dismissed. As soon as the lift doors had closed, shutting the Council chamber from view, Sabé let out a deep sigh.

“That went better than I could have hoped,” she said. “Except for the part where I discovered that my ex-fiancé has probably murdered one of my fellow Order members.” Her tone was light, but in reality she was deeply disturbed by the thought, unable to fathom why anyone would target the Order, and aware that they would only get further confirmation when another bodyguard turned up dead.

“Yes. I’m sorry I couldn’t mention that before, but I wasn’t sure if the Council wanted to share the information,” Obi-Wan said, a small apologetic look on his face.

“That’s okay, I know how these things have to work. But if it is Daedrin, I don’t understand how he plans on targeting the others without going to Naboo.”

Obi-Wan shrugged. “Perhaps he’ll find a legitimate excuse. Politicians are always making visits to other worlds. Although that wouldn’t be very subtle,” he admitted. “And would make him look extremely suspicious.”

“He’s risen so high now, since he got closer to the Chancellor. He’s noticeable to everyone.” She shot him a sideward glance, one eyebrow raised. “Maybe he’s bitten off more than he can chew? I mean, why would he slip up so soon?”

“Perhaps,” was all he said.

The lift doors slid aside, and they emerged back in the lobby where Sabé had spent so much time pacing earlier.

“I want to help with this investigation,” she announced, making a snap decision. “Thinking about it, it would be better if I did marry Daedrin. Then you’d have someone on the inside.”

“No,” Obi-Wan said at once. “If you married him you could end up dead within a month.”

“Not desirable,” she muttered. “I know you’re right, but for the sake of the investigation it is a golden opportunity.”

“Sabé, just for once would you please not put your duty first? We’re trying to protect you. If there is a way you can help we’ll let you know, you have my word.”

“You’d better,” she said good-naturedly.

“Are you hungry?” he asked. “We have time for a quick meal.”

“Not really, but I should probably try and eat something.”

He nodded. “I thought as much. Follow me.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven – A Very Strange Wedding.

 

As Obi-Wan escorted Sabé down to one of the Temple’s many refectories, she realised that she was hungrier than she’d thought. She’d barely eaten anything at her lunch date with Daedrin, and she was starting to feel it. They sat together at a small table in the corner, and she was suddenly hit by a wave of fatigue, wanting nothing more than to curl up and sleep until that conversation with her parents was a faint memory.

“Are you disappointed that you won’t get a proper wedding?” Obi-Wan asked unexpectedly as they ate.

Confused, she glanced up, her brow furrowed. “Not really. Why?”

“HoloNet gossip would have us believe that most women have their weddings planned from childhood.”

“Oh.” Understanding dawned, and she laughed. “Not me. As a child I was more interested in climbing trees.”

Obi-Wan chuckled, the broadness of his smile indicating that he could picture it quite easily.

“I lost count of how many lectures I got.” Lifting her chin, she put on an exaggerated, inaccurate impression of her mother. “‘Dresses aren’t for climbing in’, ‘You’ll ruin your shoes’, ‘Why can’t you act like a lady like your sister?’” She sighed, once more feeling a stab of bitterness. “Idriel – that’s my sister – was always so perfect at all the ladylike stuff that I figured our mother would be content with her, and I could carry on as I liked. But she used to haul me in from the garden and make me take etiquette lessons. Which, ironically, turned out to be a godsend when I was training to be a handmaiden, so I suppose she was right in a way.”

“You don’t talk about your sister much,” Obi-Wan commented, spearing a piece of salad with his fork.

Sabé raised her eyebrows in surprise, considering it. “I suppose I don’t. We don’t see each other very often.”

“What does she think about your arranged marriage?”

“I’m not really sure.” She glanced unseeingly to one side, recalling the brief conversation she’d had with Idriel. “She…didn’t seem to have any strong opinions about it either way. Which, thinking about it, is…kind of odd.” She frowned, remembering again the way her sister hadn’t seemed surprised or concerned about their parents’ actions. “I wonder what they said to her before she came and found me.” Sabé shrugged, taking a bite of her meal. She chewed slowly, thinking, still puzzled and hurt by the whole thing. She didn’t particularly want to talk it over and face it all again.

“To return to your original question,” she said eventually, “if I ever did think about my wedding, I never would have imagined wearing this outfit to it."

Obi-Wan glanced at her ill-fitting security uniform and smiled. "Do you want to change? We have a little time."

"No, no, I'm fine. It doesn't bother me. I wear nice dresses on a daily basis." She considered her childhood dreams, trying to recall the ones about her wedding. "It was always my choice of groom," she added, remembering. "I never expected that I’d have to fight for the chance to make that choice.”

He studied her, his expression pensive. With a touch of caution in his voice, he said, “I…am your choice?”

“Well…yes. In a way. It’s not normal circumstances, I admit, but I have made a choice, however limited it was."

He conceded the point, seeming more at ease. “Fair enough.”

Sabé put down her fork and sat back, cradling her cup of caf in the palm of her hand. “What about you? I know Jedi aren’t supposed to get married but I’m sure it’s crossed your mind before.”

“Once or twice,” he replied with a private smile.

Pleasantly surprised, Sabé broke out in an unexpected grin. “Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’ve been in love! Tell me!”

“Must you press every point I raise?” he said with a mock grumble, the twinkle in his eye giving him away.

“In this case, yes," she insisted, glad to be talking about something else. "Spill! You never mentioned anyone in your letters.”

He shrugged casually, an obvious attempt to kill the topic. “They were both before I met you.”

She waved her hand in a circular motion, urging him to continue. “And? Brunette, blonde, redhead, Twi’lek, Mirialan?”

“What does it matter?” he sighed, setting his cutlery aside.

“It doesn’t. I’m just curious about Obi-Wan the man, since I’m already well acquainted with Master Kenobi.”

He didn't look as if he fully understood why she was asking, but he seemed to pick up on her need to talk about something that wasn't related to her situation. With a pensive exhale, he clasped his hands in front of him, eyes turned to the table top as he thought back.

“Okay, fine," he answered at length. "The first was a fellow Padawan, Siri Tachi. We discovered feelings for each other, but we eventually decided to put them aside and maintain our commitment to the Order. I don’t think either of us regretted that decision. It was the right one.” His voice was level and entirely at ease. He truly had found the balance of distance and affection.

“What's she like?” Sabé asked, curious about the kind of person who could break through his exterior as a model Jedi.

"She was spiky," he told her with a fond smile. "But with a kind heart. She...challenged me, and it was good for me. She was a good Jedi...a good person."

"Was?" Sabé repeated softly.

He nodded. "She was killed a few months ago. Saving Padmé, actually." There was no trace of sadness in his voice. He'd clearly come to terms with it weeks ago, but there was an edge of wistfulness to his words.

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I'm grateful for the things that she taught me, and grateful that I knew her."

The unselfish, open-hearted way he spoke was rational, but didn't lose any emotion in the process. If Sabé had had to define how to love without forming attachments, that would have been it. It puzzled her further about the Jedi Code, which she'd never really understood. It was clearly possible to love and be a dedicated Jedi, so she didn't see why it should be so forbidden. But then, not every man was like Obi-Wan. As much as she hated to think it, she wasn't convinced that Anakin loved Padmé in that selfless way.

"You said 'first'," she commented, taking a sip of caf. "There was someone else?"

Obi-Wan nodded, staring unseeingly at the table top. He seemed a little more on edge recalling the second, which only served to make Sabé more curious.

“The second," he ventured at last, "was Duchess Satine Kryze of Mandalore.”

Sabé felt her eyes widen in surprise. “A duchess? My goodness, Kenobi, you aim high, don't you?” she said with a wink.

He smiled wryly. "Not on purpose, I assure you." His smile dropped and his expression grew reflective. “Satine and I were very young, both of us not yet twenty. It was easy to love her. She was strong-minded, intelligent and always put her people first. I fell into the trap, despite my past experiences with Siri that should have taught me to know better. It was different with Satine. She wasn’t bound by the Jedi Code as I was. I don’t think she truly understood why I gave her up.”

“That must have been hard.”

“It was, especially considering…well, I had been foolish, let’s put it that way.”

“I don’t follow,” Sabé said.

Obi-Wan was not the sort of man who got embarrassed. The quick shift of his gaze to the imaginary lint on his sleeve was the only indication that he was discussing a sensitive topic.

“Satine and I…” he began, examining his caf cup, “had a...what you’d call a…”

“Physical relationship?” Sabé offered with a flash of inspiration, curbing her surprise.

He glanced up to check that nobody was listening, then nodded, seemingly relieved that she had come to the conclusion on her own.

“Fortunately no…complications…arose from that…incident.”

Understanding what he meant, Sabé nodded her agreement. She felt a dash of sympathy for the unknown duchess, glad that fate had been kind and she was not stuck raising a half-Jedi child on her own.

“So what happened?” she asked, finding the insight into his past intriguing.

“I...was self-centred." He gave a sigh, shrugging. "There's no other word for it. I knew my actions were against the Code, but I just wanted a moment of selfish normality. It was wrong, and I shouldn’t have used Satine like that, but... I got caught up. I even considered leaving the Order to have a life with her, but I knew that that would be a decision I would come to regret. What we had was...a whirlwind: intense but also destructive. It would have destroyed us both in the end, even at nineteen years old, I could see that. So we parted. Master Qui-Gon and I were stationed on Mandalore for a year, but I always knew I'd have to leave eventually.”

“Then what happened?” Sabé asked, leaning her elbows on the table. She was finding it hard to picture Obi-Wan letting himself get caught up in anything. He was always so in control, so self-assured, and seemed as if he always had been.

“I moved on," he told her. "Continued to learn and grow, until I was sent to negotiate with the Trade Federation and ended up stranded on Tatooine with a mouthy handmaiden.”

She grinned. “What can I say, it was fun being Queen while I got to boss you around.”

“Evidently,” he replied, smiling. "I remember you actually argued with me when I told you not to send any transmissions. I was just doing what Master Qui-Gon had instructed, and you jumped straight down my throat. I didn't know how to react."

Sabé smiled sheepishly, letting out an embarrassed little laugh. "Um...you argued back, I seem to recall. And then you stormed out."

"I didn't 'storm'," he insisted.

"Oh, there was definitely some storming going on."

A blue-skinned Twi’lek Jedi made her way over to their table, weaving her way through the others. She wore a brace on her right arm, and one of her lekku was heavily bandaged. She walked with grace, despite her healing injuries, and her face was free of pain. She wore a long, flowing gown and cloak that hid her lightsaber from view. Sabé thought it was an unusually dressy uniform for a Jedi, until it occurred to her that it was probably a disguise. Obi-Wan’s brief look of surprise confirmed her suspicion.

“Master Kenobi,” the Twi’lek greeted in accented Basic.

“Master Secura. How are you feeling?”

“Frustrated,” she admitted. “I’m keen to get back to active duty. But thank you for this opportunity to leave the medical wing.”

“Any time.”

She turned to Sabé, offering a smile. “I am Master Aayla Secura.”

Sabé nodded politely. “Sabé. Pleased to meet you.”

“Nice dress,” Obi-Wan commented.

Master Secura pulled a face. “It’s my disguise. The Council thought that it would not look good for three Jedi to appear at a wedding.”

“Would it not be safer for Obi-Wan to be disguised too?” Sabé asked, frowning.

The Jedi shook her head at once. “No. There cannot be the slightest thing that could be used in a case against the legality of the marriage. Obi-Wan must be himself. Now, if you are both ready, it is time.”

Sabé and Obi-Wan shot each other a look across the table, then got to their feet.

Obi-Wan glanced at Master Secura. “We’re ready.”

They made their way to the entrance hall, Sabé trying her best not to feel irrationally nervous. She'd fought to get to this point, and it made no sense that she should feel anxious again. Yet, she had to forcibly put it out of mind.

Master Mundi was already waiting for them, his usual Jedi robe replaced with a long, bulky coat that had clearly seen better days. He greeted them with a nod.

“Miss Sabé, Master Kenobi,” he began in his customary courteous tones.

They both nodded to him.

“Have we located a registrar?” Obi-Wan asked him.

“Yes,” said Master Mundi. “There’s a Chagrian registrar working near the Uscru Entertainment District.”

“What’s his reputation?” Sabé put in.

“Not brilliant. He books appointments in fifteen minute slots, but he is legal.”

“That’s all we need, I suppose," she said with a shrug. "Have we booked?”

Master Mundi gave a nod. “Yes, and we should be on our way.”

The party took the turbolift to one of the Temple’s hangars and Master Mundi settled himself at the controls of a four-seated speeder. Master Secura got in beside him, leaving the back seats for Sabé and Obi-Wan.

They joined the lines of traffic weaving their way through Coruscant’s sunset-streaked skies, heading for the vibrant lights of the entertainment districts. The short journey passed in silence. Sabé was tense. She knew it was only a matter of time before her parents would first discover her missing, then soon after discover her marriage. And then of course, there was Daedrin to consider. She wondered how he would react. His smooth exterior could easily hide a coiled spring of anger, ready to lash out when necessary. Or perhaps he would simply consider himself inconvenienced and devise an alternative way of dispatching her.

She gave herself a shake. It would achieve nothing to wildly speculate. She would do better to focus on the matter at hand.

The speeder dipped down towards the outskirts of the district. The natural light was restricted so far down, and the streets were lit by colourful signs and adverts. The outskirts were not quite as seedy as the city’s underbelly a few levels down, but it did attract death stick dealers and one or two higher-class streetwalkers. It was one of many areas that served as middle-ground between the city and the undercity, in reputation as well as location.

They left the speeder somewhere memorable, activating the security field since its theft was a distinct possibility. The building they needed was as decorated as the rest, its front façade littered with neon signs.

“Charming place,” Master Secura commented sardonically, her nose wrinkled. “Could we not do better than this?”

“Not on such short notice and with a secure level of secrecy,” Master Mundi replied.

“It could be worse,” Sabé pointed out.

They headed towards the main entrance, the three Jedi clustered around their charge. Inside, there was a waiting room with a mismatched collection of chairs, a door that seemingly led to the ceremony room, and a rusting protocol droid.

“Greetings sirs and madams,” it said enthusiastically. “May I take the name of your booking, please?”

“Kenobi,” Master Mundi said.

The droid waved them towards the seats. “You are expected, please make yourselves comfortable.”

The Jedi each took a seat while Sabé drifted towards the window, watching the patrons of the entertainment district begin to emerge for the night’s amusement. Her mind full of her various worries, she felt worlds away from the laughing crowds below, half wishing she could join them. She heard a rustle of fabric, then Obi-Wan’s quiet footsteps approaching her position.

“Are you all right?” he asked. “Are you nervous?”

She glanced up at him, her dear friend who would in a matter of minutes become her husband. It felt...strange.

“Yes,” she answered honestly. “It’s annoying, I didn’t think I would be.”

“You are entitled,” he told her. “It’s a big step, after all. And this isn’t exactly a normal situation.”

“I wish you Jedi weren’t always so calm about everything! It makes me feel inferior!”

He gave a quiet chuckle. “It’s a lesson drilled into us at a young age.” There was a brief, companionable pause, then he added, “I must say, of all the things I thought I might do today, this wasn’t one of them.”

Sabé laughed, glad for the small break in tension. “Glad I can keep you on your toes.”

The door slid aside, causing them all to look up. A Kiffar bride and groom appeared, broad smiles on their faces as they departed with their Dug witnesses. The tall, indigo-skinned Chagrian registrar stood in the doorway, waving the new group forwards.

Obi-Wan held out a hand. “We must keep up appearances,” he said quietly.

“Of course,” Sabé said, clasping it. His fingers tightened around hers, flooding her with sudden reassurance. “Shall we?”

He nodded, and they entered the room, their companions dutifully following. The room was small but not unpleasant, softly lit by dim lamps and the glow of the signs outside. There was a second collection of ill-matched chairs, and a lone table. The Chagrian stood before it as if he were the holiest of high priests rather than a simple registrar. As they approached, he looked them up and down.

“Hmm. Not often I get one of you lot in here.”

Master Mundi and Master Secura exchanged a concerned glance, evidently troubled by the term ‘not often’.

“Thought this sort of thing was against your rules.”

Obi-Wan stepped forward and pressed a pile of credit chips into the registrar’s palm. “This is for your silence.” Another pile in the opposite hand. “And to ensure that you tell me immediately if anyone comes asking about this.”

The Chagrian looked a little taken aback, but readily pocketed the credits. Extra money on top of his fee would always be agreeable. He broke out in a grin. “Okay then, folks, shall we begin? Bride and groom, write down your full names here." He slid a piece of flimsi across the table towards them. "Witnesses, take a seat.”

When the technicalities were sorted, the unusual bride and groom stood side by side in front of the registrar. Sabé inhaled deeply through her nose, keeping calm as best she could.

“Right," the registrar began, his entire attitude casual and nonchalant. Strangely enough, Sabé found that his unprofessionalism lessened her nervousness. "My name is Chas Durell. I'm a fully licensed registrar. Marriage, according to the law of Coruscant, is the union of two or more beings, depending on cultural traditions.” He cleared his throat and glanced down at his flimsi pad. “We are gathered here today to witness the union of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Sabé Syrena Simmonite.” He paused, glancing up at Sabé. “Seriously, honey? What were your parents on when they named you?”

Sabé simply slanted one eyebrow, a move that was equally as threatening as pulling a dagger from a sheath.

The Chagrian shrugged and continued. “If anyone here knows of any reason why these two may not be lawfully joined, speak it now or forever hold your peace.”

Master Mundi and Master Secura remained silent.

“Cool,” murmured Durell. “Hate that part.” Aloud, he said, “Would you face each other, please?”

Sabé and Obi-Wan obediently moved.

“Who gives this woman to this man?”

Master Mundi stood up. “I do.” Under the registrar’s instruction, he placed Sabé’s left hand in Obi-Wan’s right, then returned to his seat.

“Who gives this man to this woman?”

“I do,” said Master Secura, stepping forward to join Obi-Wan’s left hand with Sabé’s right.

“Excellent. Sabé Syrena Simmonite, do you freely bind yourself to Obi-Wan Kenobi, to be his companion, partner, aide and comfort for all the days of your life?”

Forcing her dry mouth to work, Sabé muttered, “I do.”

“And you, Obi-Wan Kenobi, do you promise to forsake all others, to be Sabé’s comfort and confidant, friend, lover and companion for your mortal days?”

“I do,” Obi-Wan answered.

“Do you have the rings?” Durell asked.

Sabé tensed, a brief stab of panic shooting through her gut. The rings had slipped her mind completely. Then she felt Obi-Wan squeeze her hands in encouragement. Master Mundi stepped forward, holding two plain silver bands. Sabé could not help feeling embarrassment mixed with her relief. She knew she should have organised them herself, but she had been in no fit state to remember details.

Durell took the rings from Master Mundi and held them in his palm. “The rings are a symbol of your love, unbroken and shining. They show the galaxy the vows you make here today.”

He handed the rings over, and Sabé and Obi-Wan carefully slid them into place.

“All right,” the registrar finished brightly. “You have exchanged vows and rings. By the power vested in me by the office of the Supreme Chancellor, I pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss.”

Sabé and Obi-Wan looked at each other, united in sudden wariness. Sabé hadn’t exactly forgotten that part of the ceremony, but neither had she allowed herself a single moment to think about it. Unwilling to jeopardise their cover, they hesitantly drifted towards each other. Obi-Wan lightly placed his hands on her waist. They drew closer until their lips touched.

Sabé felt the spark of it like a lightning bolt, unexpected and thrilling. Her heartbeat increased to what she feared would be an audible rate. Her body grew warm, starting from the point where their lips met, travelling all the way down to her boots. It was a swift, chaste kiss, nothing more, yet it was somehow more intense, more consequential than any of the seemingly passionate kisses she had exchanged with her old flames.

Even more surprising, and – she was hesitant to admit – concerning was the immediate feeling of rightness. Kissing Obi-Wan felt like opening the cover of a well-loved book; familiar, exciting, comforting. Like a homecoming. It was an ill-advised train of thought, and she fought to quash it. Whatever she had been expecting, it wasn’t this.

When they pulled apart they gazed at each other, equal looks of surprise, confusion and something else unspoken on their faces.

For the first time, Sabé looked at him and did not see her old friend, but a handsome, intelligent, compassionate man. For the first time, she truly studied the features she knew so well: the casual sweep of the red-brown hair that he’d grown out with much relief as soon as he’d become a Knight, the piercing azure blue eyes that held an intensity she’d been somehow unaware of, the neatly-trimmed beard that he’d grown to appear more like a tutor, that he now wore comfortably and suited. He was not the cocky-yet-considerate young Padawan that she’d first become friends with. He had matured, grown stronger, become more sure of himself and his place in the scheme of things. He was still her old friend with the dry sense of humour, and yet she was suddenly seeing him in a different light altogether.

And he, she could read it in his eyes, was seeing her in the same way.

Gods, she thought, what is this?

Master Mundi and Master Secura did not appear to have noticed anything amiss, and got to their feet in preparation to leave.

Sabé and Obi-Wan carefully avoided each other’s gaze while they signed a flimsi and data version of the register, and paid Durell his fee. As they left, they passed the next couple of grooms, one human and one Pantoran man, awaiting their turn. They all returned to the speeder in silence.

Back in the lines of traffic, Master Mundi shot them both a glance and said, “We’ll drop you off at the safe-house, then report to the Council.”

“Do you need me there for that?” Obi-Wan asked.

“No, don’t worry. I’m sure it will only be a brief report.”

Master Mundi guided the speeder to a residential district in the shadow of the Jedi Temple. It was not as upmarket as the senatorial district where Padmé lived, but neither was it rundown or rough. They halted outside a tall, unremarkable apartment building, and Obi-Wan and Sabé disembarked.

Master Mundi fixed his fellow Jedi with a steady look. “Remember, Obi-Wan, your first priority is Miss Simmonite’s…sorry, Mrs. Kenobi’s protection. When the Council has decided how to proceed with the investigation, we will inform you.”

Obi-Wan nodded his understanding.

Sabé stepped forward. “Thank you for everything the Jedi have done for me,” she said, addressing them all. "I appreciate it more than I can say."

Master Mundi gave a smile. "You're welcome, Sabé. Have a pleasant evening."

He and Master Secura bade them farewell, and the speeder rose and departed, leaving the newlyweds alone to ponder their new situation and the inconvenient possibilities sparked by the simplest of chaste kisses.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight – Unity.

 

The safe-house apartment was pleasant, decorated in soft blues and warm creams, but nowhere near the opulent luxury that Sabé was used to seeing in her service to Naboo’s hierarchy. However, it suited her better for its simplicity, as she couldn’t abide fuss.

As she and Obi-Wan stood surveying their temporary home, she turned to him.

“I can never thank you enough for everything you’ve done.” Her words were soft, full of sincerity.

He waved off her thanks with a modest smile, but she persevered. She'd asked so much of him, and he hadn't let her down, even on matters that she'd had no right to ask.

“No, I mean it," she insisted. "You’re a true friend, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and I will never forget this. Some day I hope I can repay you.”

“When you find a way, let me know,” he said diplomatically.

She nodded, smiling briefly, and set about exploring the rest of the apartment. It did not take long, as it wasn't large, but it gave her something to do to briefly escape from the growing awkwardness. She still couldn’t explain the sudden change in her view of her old friend. A simple kiss should not have sparked such a reaction. It confused her, and confusion made her feel insecure. There was a hint of attraction between them now that hadn’t been there before, and she wasn't sure what to do about it.

You don’t need to do anything, she told herself. This means nothing.

But she knew that wasn't exactly true. There was a clause in the marriage law that demanded consummation. Considering why it had been created in the first place, such a clause made sense, even if it seemed hopelessly outdated now. Sabé hadn’t thought too hard about it, assuming that they would lie if the topic ever came up. They weren’t married under the law, but their union needed to be water-tight. Since that kiss, a traitorous little part of her had wondered whether they would dare to truly make it secure.

Before the ceremony, the thought of doing anything other than lying about it hadn’t been an option, because to do so would be embarrassing, and demand more from Obi-Wan than the Code strictly allowed. (Although she couldn't see how a single encounter could be construed as an attachment.) But now...the possibility didn't seem as strange as it had done. That kiss had changed everything.

Sabé sighed, feeling ill at ease and confused. And confused about being confused. She didn't want to feel it. It had just made everything awkward, and it was an annoyance she hadn’t anticipated. She couldn't help wondering if Obi-Wan was feeling the same as she was. She didn't know if she had the courage to ask.

Thinking about it caused a wave of nerves to come crashing to the forefront of her reflections. Nervousness was something she wasn’t used to, and she didn’t care for the way it invaded her life and made simple tasks difficult.

Just go and talk to him, she scolded herself. He's a rational person, like you're supposed to be.

Chastened, she squared her shoulders and headed out to her new husband.

He had discarded his robe, which was draped across the back of the sofa, and was standing at the window, watching the streams of traffic move across the night sky. He had drawn all the blinds in an attempt to avoid spies and the HoloNet but he was able to observe the view thanks to the genius of the design, which let insiders look out but kept outsiders from looking in. He already looked at home. A by-product of constantly being on the move, she suspected: it didn't take him long to settle in anywhere.

“Everything okay?” he asked without turning.

She could see the start of his profile against the dim light from outside.

“Yes, fine," she answered, pleased that her voice was still level. "This place is ideal."

"Good."

A momentary stillness fell, and she found herself nervously polishing the toe of her boot on the carpet, something she'd done all the time as a child. She made herself stand up straight, clearing her throat before speaking again.

"I, uh, I'm going to need to go back to Naboo sometime soon. I have to pack my things and put my affairs in order. Would you be able to accompany me?”

“Of course," he answered easily, the tilt of his head implying that he was looking at her reflection. "You are my assignment now, Sabé, I can accompany you wherever you need to go.”

“Oh.” She nodded, unsure how to react. She’d never been an assignment before. She wondered what he was thinking, whether the marriage felt like a betrayal to the feelings he'd had for his duchess. She hoped that they hadn't made a terrible mistake.

The silence stretched on between them. All of Sabé’s good intentions concerning her calm state of mind floated out the viewport, and her anxiety returned with vengeance. She caught Obi-Wan’s subtle wince as he sensed it, and her cheeks reddened.

He turned, appraising her with folded arms, his expression placid and reflective.

"What's on your mind?" he asked calmly.

"Nothing," Sabé shot out, immediately regretting it. It was so painfully clear that it wasn't true.

Obi-Wan fixed her with a look, raising an eyebrow, and she knew she should stop even attempting to fool him.

Sabé sighed, one corner of her lips twisting up in a little scowl of uncertainty. "I wasn't sure if I should raise this topic, but..." She paused, gathering her thoughts. "The marriage can be annulled on grounds of...of, um, non-consummation. I just wanted to check whether that's something you're okay lying about...because...uh, because..." She trailed off, then shook her head, sighing nosily. "Gods, do you have any idea how awkward you make this when you just stand there calmly?"

Obi-Wan pressed his lips together, clearly trying not to smile. She felt a stab of indignant annoyance.

"I'm sorry," he said, not entirely sincerely.

"Sure," she muttered, unconvinced. "Anyway, I wasn't sure of the Jedi policy where lying is concerned. It doesn't seem like something you'd be a hundred percent okay with, but...the alternative..."

He left the window, crossing the room to stand in front of her, an arm's length away. Sabé felt the absurd instinct to step back, his sudden nearness startling her.

"What's your policy where lying is concerned?" he asked softly.

It was a thinly-veiled double-edged question, and she narrowed her eyes slightly, scrutinising him. She wasn’t sure how far he’d disobey the Code. Yes, he’d done it before, as she’d learned earlier, but that had been for love, not…whatever it was they had discovered between them.

"I...I'm...I think I prefer not to," she said, feeling dry-mouthed as she realised how honest she was being. "But," she couldn't help adding, "sometimes it...becomes necessary. To...save feelings. Sometimes it's the right thing to do."

"Perhaps," he admitted, dropping the pretence of the topic. "We shouldn't. I'd be bending the rules, and I can't pretend otherwise...but also, I can't help but feel uncomfortable at the thought of there being any loopholes in this marriage. It...feels like tempting fate."

Sabé nodded, understanding his viewpoint. She agreed with it, even though a foolish part of her felt stung at his clinical reasoning.

"You, er, you're right," she spoke up. "Daedrin could be a nasty piece of work rather than just someone I don't like. It would be better not to leave any loopholes, like you said, that he could exploit later. Or that my parents could find out about."

They held each other's gaze for a drawn-out moment, studying, scrutinising, making sure that they were completely on the same page. For two people considering letting themselves get caught up in each other, Sabé thought they were being surprisingly logical. The way they were talking still made it seem like a task they had ahead of them rather than anything more intimate. She wasn't sure she was comfortable with that, but at the same time she didn't want to do anything they'd later regret.

The spark, whatever it was, jumped between them like lightning, and she suddenly knew beyond doubt that their more selfish impulses would win. While that realisation made her stomach flip with anticipation, it also worried her. She didn't want to be the cause of anything that would steer Obi-Wan off the light path. That thought was enough to stop her cold.

"No. I can't," she mumbled abruptly, taking a clumsy, panicked step away from him.

Although his demeanour was still calm, his eyes revealed what he was feeling: namely, the same as she was; the spark and the uncertainty.

“Obi-Wan,” she began with a sigh. “It’s…I think it’s unwise. We’re being self-seeking, both of us. We’re talking about erasing loopholes, but we both know that’s only a small part of it. This is about taking what we want, because we’ve suddenly discovered what that is.”

She opted for harsh honesty, because she knew she should speak plainly, yet she felt her cheeks burn red, and her fists clenched at her sides.

Obi-Wan still gazed at her thoughtfully, frowning a little as he processed her words. She couldn’t tell if he agreed with her or not. Sabé watched him for a while, finding his silence grating.

“Any time you want to join in this conversation, go right ahead,” she snapped, embarrassment-fuelled anger flaring.

His gaze sharpened under hers, and he looked mildly apologetic.

“I understand what you’re saying,” he told her, as if the awkward pause hadn’t happened at all, “but I can’t see it as cynically as you do.”

“What do you mean?”

She expected an articulate, well thought-out answer. Instead, he replied with five simple words.

“It doesn’t feel like selfishness.”

Sabé fell silent, contemplating. She wouldn’t have accepted such a vague argument from anyone else, but a Jedi’s feelings held far more significance than others. If Obi-Wan felt that anything was even slightly off, they wouldn’t be having the conversation. She’d known him long enough to be certain of that.

She thought about the rules he was bound by, the Jedi Code. No possessiveness: there wasn’t a shred of that in him anyway. No attachment: theirs was a marriage of convenience, their relationship firmly platonic. Mostly. Falling deeper into introspection, Sabé examined the way she was feeling, suddenly afraid that it might be more than it should be. There was nothing inappropriate between them. There was attraction, there was potential for more than that, but it wasn’t anything lasting. It wasn’t love. If there was something she should be good at recognising, it was passion without love. She’d felt that before, seven years ago, during her ill-fated relationship with Killric Devennon.

And Obi-Wan was right, it would make the marriage secure, and she couldn’t deny that that was a comforting thought. It seemed to be Obi-Wan’s only thought, however, and she suddenly worried that she was making a fool of herself thinking that there was anything more going on. She’d seen it, or thought she had, but doubt crept in regardless.

Tentative, unsure if she was allowed to ask, she ventured quietly, “Do you feel it too?”

She had to know, however much it altered the tension in the room.

Obi-Wan hesitated, gazing at her with those piercing blue eyes, clearly debating his answer. Then, almost reluctantly, he nodded.

“And the first time as well?” she pressed. “During the ceremony?”

This time he answered immediately, with plain honesty. “Yes.”

Sabé nodded, an almost absurdly polite gesture.

“Does it make a difference?” he added.

She bit her lip, considering the question. Knowing she should pay him the courtesy of the same honest answers he’d given her, she examined her reflections critically. She was slightly embarrassed that she wanted him, feeling it was something that she shouldn’t be dabbling in, that he should be off-limits. To have confirmation that those desires were reciprocated lifted some of that embarrassment away. She was taken aback by just how much it changed her perception.

“Yes,” she replied, her slight surprise leaking into her tone. “It makes a difference.”

He stepped towards her, and she took half a step forward herself, closing the gap almost without thinking. They were close enough to touch, but neither took the initiative.

“Sometimes my path is crystal clear,” Obi-Wan explained to her, his voice quiet, “and sometimes I can only rely on instincts. This is one of the latter times.”

Sabé wetted her dry lips. “And…what do your instincts say?”

His fingertips came up to trace her jaw line, his hesitant touch lighter than the finest mist. Her skin tingled at the contact, sending a flutter of tiny shivers through her body.

“Much the same as yours, I imagine,” he murmured, leaning in.

Sabé tilted her head up, meeting his lips with hers. Everything she’d begun to feel at the ceremony came flooding back, washing away any residual doubts, and any leftover strangeness at being wrapped in an embrace with her old friend. Pulling him closer by a handful of tunic, Sabé gave herself over to her instincts. She let herself get swept away on a tide of awareness, knowing he was doing the same, that they were in it together, whether it was bending the rules or not. She still wasn't sure, but the more she kissed him, the less she cared. They would deal with the consequences later. For now, there was nothing but the two of them.

* * *

An indistinguishable amount of time later found Sabé quiet and contemplative. She lay on her front, her arms folded across a pillow, her hair splayed in a mass that was half waves, half tangles. Her head rested on her arms, tilted towards her companion. Obi-Wan lay on his back beside her, seemingly as deep in thought as she was. They were both peaceful, free from any lingering shyness, comfortable enough with each other to remain side by side in their jumble of sheets.

Sabé allowed herself a small smile of satisfaction as she relaxed, safe in the knowledge that she was well and truly free from an unwanted marriage, and that nothing could threaten the security of the new one. The trouble was far from over, she knew that, but she was out of harm's way for the moment. She had done it on her own terms.

Moreover, she had discovered something about herself and Obi-Wan that she hadn't known existed, and rather than make things awkward, it actually seemed to have eliminated the residual unease. She didn't quite understand the logic of it, but she wasn't complaining. She wasn't complaining about any of it.

Obi-Wan shifted onto his side, glancing down at her. He reached out and lightly traced his fingertips across the tattoo at the base of her spine.

“Your Order of Sanctuary mark,” he said, phrasing it as a question he already knew the answer to.

She nodded. “Let’s hope it won’t end up displayed on a crime scene image.”

“I won’t let that happen.”

She shot him a smile. “I know. Neither will I, if I can help it.”

“The odds are good then," he mused lightly. "You should be all right.”

“That’s a relief.”

There was a companionable silence. Sabé realised that Obi-Wan’s palm still rested on her back. She found the warmth oddly comforting.

“Do you not think,” she wondered aloud, “that this should feel…stranger than it does?”

He considered the question for a long moment, a frown creasing his forehead. “Perhaps,” he said at length. “But you and I know each other well, we’re both practical people.”

“Even so, this is not a normal situation. And then there’s what happened at the ceremony.”

“You don’t think that that was just simple attraction?”

“No, I don’t.” She halted, closing her eyes briefly. “I'm sorry, I know how that sounded. I didn’t mean that there wasn’t attraction there, I just meant–”

“I know what you meant,” he interrupted, apparently amused by her flustering.

She pulled a face before continuing. “I just meant that it was unusually sudden. It was just there...in an instant. In my experience, that doesn’t happen. It’s either there from the beginning or–” She came to an abrupt stop as she examined her own feelings. With a pang she realised that it had been there from the beginning. It had been something that she had never consciously acknowledged, that she had been able to suppress out of respect for his duty and their friendship.

“Oh,” she muttered.

“Something you’d like to confess?” he asked innocently, unable to hide a hint of a smirk.

For a moment Sabé was reminded of his younger self, as she'd first known him, when he'd still been trying to shake off his arrogant phase. His teasing, as always, was purely benevolent. Deep down, she didn't really mind it, but still she gave an irritated huff.

“No,” she said stubbornly. “There’s no point, you know what I'm thinking!”

He laughed, but did not deny it.

She pressed her face to the pillow and mumbled, “Am I never going to have any secrets ever again?”

She spoke lightly, but she meant it, and wondered if she should work on some kind of shielding technique. For whatever reason, he was able to read her more easily than she was entirely comfortable with. She wasn't convinced that it was solely due to the Force, either.

Obi-Wan's expression sobered. “Would it make you feel better if I said that I have felt it too, almost since the beginning?”

She turned towards him again. “Not if you’re just saying it for the sake of it,” she quipped, realising that he was levelling the playing field, so to speak, but unable to accept his words at face value.

“I’m not,” he assured her warmly.

Still not able to let it lie, Sabé pressed on, “But how can you have? It’s forbidden, isn’t it?”

“They can’t stop us from feeling," he told her conversationally. His expression was thoughtful yet confident, implying that he'd considered the issue before. "It’s how we act on it, or don’t act on it, that matters.”

“And you didn’t act on it,” she mentioned unnecessarily.

“No. I was wiser when I met you, with the experiences of Siri and Satine behind me. I was less inclined to rush into things. And besides, I had a lot on my mind. There was...a darkness that I could sense almost constantly while Qui-Gon and I were making our way to you. It was somewhat distracting."

"That was the Sith Lord that killed him?" Sabé surmised.

"I think so. I hope so, anyway. Otherwise, it's still out there."

A poignant hush fell, lending a bleaker undertone to the atmosphere. Sabé rested her chin on her folded arms, eager to break the mood and get the conversation back on track.

"I...felt it from the start," she admitted, "but I never really acknowledged it consciously, or even fully understood it. I was very young back then, still quite naive. And you were kind of intimidating, you know."

His face broke into a surprised, amused smile. "I was intimidating?" he repeated.

"You were!" she insisted. "I had never seen a Jedi before, and you leapt down off that walkway and starting cutting down droids faster than any warrior I'd ever seen. You had this...aura of power, even as an apprentice. It was..." She trailed off, shrugging.

"Intimidating," he finished for her.

She nodded unapologetically, smiling as he gave a light chuckle.

"I was very young," she repeated, defensive.

"You were an adult by Naboo standards," Obi-Wan helpfully pointed out, laughing when she turned a narrow-eyed glare his way.

Sabé dropped her frown when he laughed, finding it infectious. Another moment of silence fell as they considered the new revelations. Neither of them seemed to be terribly surprised by the knowledge now they had grown used to the idea. Sabé wondered if they had somehow always been aware that they were ignoring their attraction, and it had become one of the many elements that made up their relationship.

“You’re thinking too much again,” Obi-Wan said matter-of-factly.

Sabé shot him a look that was part defensive, part curious. “How do you know that? I might be daydreaming.”

“You always frown when you’re thinking.”

“Hmph,” she grumbled, turning on her back and drawing the covers up over her chest. Obi-Wan pulled his hand back to his side.

“What’s on your mind?” he asked, his expression open and accommodating.

She bit her lip, debating whether to be completely frank with him. “I was just…thinking about the fact that we seem rather at ease for a couple in a marriage of convenience.”

He nodded understandingly, as if the same thought had occurred to him too. “Well, we’re no ordinary couple, and we’re both rational people. But you’re right. Tomorrow I’ll sleep in the other bedroom.” In a strange tone that seemed almost contrite, he added, “Or I could move there tonight, if you prefer.”

She paused, considering his question. It would be better if he went straight away, then they could carry on with their lives as they intended to: amiably, but firmly separate. Despite what had been said earlier in the evening, she knew they were walking a knife’s edge with regards to the Jedi Code and what was deemed acceptable. And yet…

She met his gaze, so sincere, so compassionate…so intensely distracting. She marvelled that she’d never noticed it before, back when she’d placed him firmly in the category of ‘friend’ where there were no blurred edges. But then there were many things that she’d never noticed before that she suddenly could not help seeing. She’d never known her own thoughts could be so superficial, and they made her blush to think of, but she couldn’t restrict her observant nature only to things that mattered. The lean muscles, which had previously remained safely concealed beneath his tunic, made for an active, athletic physique that she couldn’t help but admire. Now she knew how it felt to be held in his arms, to let her fingertips skim across the planes of his chest and watch how he reacted to her touch. She had never directed any particular attention to his hands before, strong yet gentle, his palms calloused from rigorous weapons training, but now she couldn’t help remembering how they’d felt tracing paths on her skin, holding her tight in moments of shared urgency.

And, of course, now that she knew he could kiss the way he’d kissed her earlier, she would never be able to forget it. She had never imagined that a kiss could be so much at once, that it could convey passion, admiration, gentle tenderness, raw hunger, and the fond affection that she had already valued between them. A curious part of her wondered what it would have been like if they had been in love, and that element was added to the already-heady mix. She shut that thought down right away, concerned about where it might lead.

Caught up in all her conflicting thoughts, Sabé wasn’t sure if she could really go back to how things had been before, but she was very much aware that she had no choice. But that was tomorrow. Surely they could have a single night to explore what they’d found. A single night out of their entire lives wouldn’t shatter the Jedi Code.

Feeling almost shy, she ventured softly, “Will it be seen as attachment or possession if you stay?”

Obi-Wan hesitated, then slowly shook his head, calmly awaiting her next, inevitable question.

“It’s not an obligation anymore,” she felt compelled to point out. “Would you regret it?”

A brief frown crossed his face. “Regret it? Of course not, what makes you say that?”

She looked away, fighting the blush that threatened to stain her cheeks. “I thought perhaps it would make things…awkward.”

“I think we’re past awkwardness now. But I’m a Jedi, I’m trained to let things go. I wouldn’t want you to bear regrets or…get too involved.”

That he hit so close to the path her own thoughts had taken unnerved her, but she brushed it aside. “I have my feet on the ground,” she assured him. It was the truth, but she still wasn’t sure that it would be enough. “I don’t know what will happen,” she said, working through her reflections. “Not with this Daedrin thing or the war or any of it. I can’t be sure of anything anymore. But…” She looked up to meet his eyes again. “This is real to me. I don’t think I want to let it go just yet. Can we not have tonight for ourselves and take duty back in the morning?” Her expression was calm and quietly expectant, and she braced herself for his refusal.

Obi-Wan made no reply other than the steady intensity of his gaze. Just as Sabé was about to babble something to break the silence, he placed a hand on her cheek, drawing closer. Their lips met, her arms twined around his neck, and she once again gave herself up to the intensity of their unexpected connection.

 * * *

Sabé wasn’t surprised to find herself alone when she woke the next morning. Although she had no regrets about what had happened the night before, she was relieved to see the empty space beside her. Waking up together seemed…too domestic, too comfortable. It would have bred more awkwardness than any of the previous night’s activities could have. She couldn’t remember if he’d held her while they slept. She wasn’t sure if it was wise to find out. Obi-Wan probably knew, but she’d let him keep that secret to himself.

Sabé stretched, wincing as she was reacquainted with sore muscles she hadn’t used in a while, and let herself sprawl for a moment. Lying in was a luxury she rarely enjoyed. If she was awake, she was up, not wanting to waste any of her day. And, of course, being a handmaiden meant utilising every minute of time in the most efficient way possible.

After a quick glance at the chrono, she hauled herself out of bed, wrapping the sheet around herself and smoothing down her hair as best as she was able. She ventured out to the lounge, where she found Obi-Wan deep in meditation. He was sitting cross-legged on the floor, his face radiating an enviable level of tranquillity. Sabé crept away, leaving him in peace, and retreated to the fresher.

Wider awake when she emerged, she tugged on her borrowed security uniform, looking forward to having access to her own clothes again once they reached Padmé's apartment. Sitting in front of the room's single mirror, she braided her damp hair into a thick, chestnut rope, securing it with a simple tie.

Thus attired, she wandered back out to the lounge, where Obi-Wan had not moved a muscle. Although he appeared to be in deep concentration, his eyes flickered open as she approached, and he greeted her with a warm smile.

“Good morning,” he said, his tone neutral and friendly, eliminating any doubts Sabé may have had about potential embarrassment between them.

“Good morning,” she answered, returning the smile. "Sorry if I disturbed your meditation."

He shook his head at her apology. "You didn't, don't worry." He got fluidly to his feet, automatically dusting his tunic down despite the fact that the carpet was spotless.

"Have you had breakfast?" Sabé asked, trying not to be envious of his seemingly-effortless grace of movement. Idly, she considered how impressed her mother would be to see someone with such natural coordination.

"Not yet, I was waiting for you. And before you ask, no, I haven't been up long." He shot her an impish grin, and she darted her tongue out at him without thinking. He chuckled in response, and Sabé tried not to flush at her immature retort.

"Well then," she said, heading towards the kitchen that was tucked into one corner of the lounge, "I'd better do something about that. Breakfast, I mean." She paused, pivoting to look back at his amused expression. "I'm not the most domestic person, I'll warn you now. But I can do this. So...go back to meditating, I'll let you know when it's ready."

Obi-Wan gave her a quick salute, his face deadpan, then laughed when she wrinkled her nose at him.

Smiling to herself, Sabé set about making a pot of caf, her morning priorities ingrained after many years of early wake-up calls. Soon the smell of the hot liquid filled the apartment, mixing nicely with the warm scent of toasted flatbread. Obi-Wan wandered over to investigate, his eyes lighting up when he spied the caf. Sabé kept her amusement hidden as he poured them both a cup, glad to know that the Jedi Knight had his harmless weaknesses just like she did.

"Where did you find the bread?" he asked as he stirred his drink. "I thought I'd need to go on a supply run."

"It was frozen. There are a couple of other loaves in there too." Lips quirking in a smile, she added, “The Council thinks of everything.”

They moved their simple meal to the small table nearby, eating in companionable silence. Obi-Wan was openly amused at Sabé’s affection for caf, and she took his teasing good-naturedly. It was on the tip of her tongue to point out that it was partly his fault that she hadn’t got much sleep, but she thought it unwise to joke about it, even though she would have paid money to see the look on his face.

“What are your plans for today then?” he asked her conversationally, hands wrapped around his own caf cup.

Sabé considered the question with pursed lips. “Well,” she said thoughtfully, “Daedrin thinks I'm with Padmé today, so I suppose that’s where I should be.”

He nodded in agreement. “Yes, we still can’t rule out the possibility that he’s watching the places he expects you to be.”

“What if it’s reported that I'm in your company a lot?” she asked.

Obi-Wan shrugged, seeming more nonchalant than she suspected he truly was. “That’s inevitable. The news will come out eventually. The registrar’s bound to talk.”

She raised her eyebrows in mild surprise. “You think so?”

“I do.”

“Even though you paid him off?”

“Especially since we paid him off.”

Understanding dawned. “Because Daedrin will still be bothering me if it remains a secret,” she surmised.

“Yes,” Obi-Wan acknowledged with a nod. “It has to come out, but it must look like we tried to hide it.”

Meeting his eyes, she ventured, “It, uh, it won’t be easy, you know. When it comes out, even if it’s not widely known…”

“I know,” Obi-Wan acknowledged, in the calming tones he was so proficient at. “I’ll be temporarily suspended from the Order. But my duty is to protect you, and I will do so, no matter the complications.”

She thought for an instant that she saw a glimmer of the previous night’s intensity in his gaze, but it was gone so fast that she concluded that it was her imagination.

Idiot, she scolded herself.

Firmly telling herself that she was not disappointed, she turned her attention to her caf cup.

After breakfast, they caught an air taxi to Padmé’s apartment block. Sabé kept a look out for her parents’ spies, soon spotting one of them sitting on a bench outside the main entrance. He eyed her suspiciously as they passed, then went back to the holomag he appeared to be reading. Obi-Wan shot her a sidelong glance as her anger spiked, and she shook her head minutely.

She explained everything in the turbolift, and was reminded that she wouldn’t have to worry about the spies for much longer. Since she knew that that meant she needed to confront her parents, the thought did not comfort her as much as it should have.

At the apartment, Padmé welcomed them graciously. Obi-Wan did not react to her lack of surprise at seeing him there, choosing instead to greet her in his usual gallant fashion. The senator led them into the lounge, calling Teckla for tea. Then, when they were settled, she turned to Sabé.

“Well?” she said, not bothering to hide her curiosity.

Sabé gave a single nod. “It’s done. I'm safe for now.”

Padmé nodded back, smiling briefly. “I’m glad to hear that,” she said, the truth of the statement plain to hear. “You’re a good man, Obi-Wan.”

He acknowledged the compliment with a warm look, but added simply, “Sabé is a friend. I wasn’t going to stand aside and see her married to a man of dubious intentions.”

Padmé interest seemed piqued by his words. “You don’t trust Senator Daedrin?”

“I don’t. The Jedi have…suspicions that he is not all he appears.”

Between them, Sabé and Obi-Wan relayed the details of the attack on the Order of Sanctuary member. Padmé was predictably horrified at the story, and immediately offered to do what she could. Sabé and Obi-Wan had discussed Padmé’s involvement at length, and Obi-Wan had eventually been convinced that the senator could help. This had pleased Sabé, as she had no intention of hiding anything from her friends.

“Surely this won’t be allowed to continue?” Padmé said, her brow furrowed.

“I’m not sure how to proceed at this point,” Sabé admitted.

“You’ll need to be careful,” Padmé advised. “Chancellor Palpatine won’t take kindly to an attempt to smear one of his best diplomats. Daedrin must be extremely convincing to have gotten this far.”

Obi-Wan nodded sagely. “I agree. We’ll have to proceed slowly. The Jedi Council is aware of the situation. They will deal with it, but it will take time. I would appreciate it if you didn’t speak of this to anyone else.”

“Of course,” Padmé said at once, “I understand.”

Sabé took a long sip of tea, relishing the light, faintly bitter taste. She had another favour to ask. It felt as if she’d done nothing but ask favours over the last few days, and she silently vowed to even the balance when she was able.

“Padmé, were you serious when you talked about employing me?” she ventured over her tea cup.

Padmé seemed amused by her apologetic tone, the corner of her lips twitching as she nodded. “I was. Do you want the job?”

“The Jedi Council thinks I’ll be safer here under Obi-Wan’s protection. You did say you’d been meaning to employ another handmaiden.”

“I have. Or rather, Captain Typho informs me that I’ve been meaning to take on another handmaiden.”

She rolled her eyes good-naturedly, and Sabé smiled to herself.

“In all seriousness though,” Padmé went on, “after Cordé and Versé…I didn’t want another handmaiden to die for me.”

Sabé threw her a sympathetic look. “I know. But if it helps, it seems likely that someone already wants to kill me, so being in your employment won’t make that possibility any more probable than it already is.”

The senator let out a burst of laughter, and Obi-Wan politely hid his smirk behind his hand.

“There’s a kind of skewed logic to that, I guess,” Padmé conceded.

“I can take care of myself, you know,” Sabé pacified. “And Obi-Wan will be around to make sure nothing happens to me.” She shot him a glance. “Won’t you?”

“If I must,” he said dryly.

“Yes, you must.” Facing Padmé again, she continued, “If you’ll have me then, I’d be honoured to return to your service.”

Wiping the levity from her face and formally extending a hand, Padmé said, “Welcome aboard, Lady Sabé.”

Sabé clasped her friend’s hand, bowing her head. “Thank you, my lady.”

Both of them dropped the ceremonial behaviour along with their hands.

“I'll have to speak to the Queen,” Sabé said thoughtfully. “I hope she’ll understand. Not to make too much of my own importance, but the loss of me from her service may give weight to your arguments. I’m the handmaiden with the most experience, and one of only two Order members currently among her attendants. I may not be the best handmaiden ever, but I’m bound to leave a hole.”

Padmé nodded her agreement. “That’s true. Let me broach the subject with her then. I can raise the topic of repealing the law at the same time, kill two birds with one stone.”

“That would be good,” Sabé said eagerly. “Then I can speak to her in person when I go back to Naboo.”

Padmé set her cup down, shifting forward in her seat. “I’ve been reading up on the law so I can begin forming an argument against it. I sent you a copy, did you read it?”

“Most of it,” Sabé assured.

“Most of it?”

“Mm-hm. Why?”

Padmé slanted an eyebrow, her expression disapproving. “Did you read the part about children?”

Grimacing, Sabé briefly glanced away. “Um…not as such.”

Padmé gave an exasperated huff, and snatched up several pieces of flimsi. “How many times, Sabé? How many times, read the small print!”

Wide-eyed, the handmaiden leaned backwards at the heated words. “I had a lot on my mind!” she exclaimed, defensively shrugging.

Obi-Wan raised a hand, his composed bearing completely at odds with the two women. “What does it say?” he asked.

At the sound of his rational question, both women schooled their expressions, focusing on the matter at hand.

“It states,” Padmé began, skimming the page, “that if a couple have not had children or a child after two standard years then the marriage can be dissolved.”

Sabé bit her lip in concern. “Oh. But...does that count for us? We didn't marry under the law.”

“I would argue that it doesn't count," said Padmé, "but there may be those who would say the opposite. It would be best to avoid any additional complications."

“I agree,” Obi-Wan answered, frowning. “It seems we’ve got ourselves a time limit then.”

“Surely the Jedi Council won’t take that long to find evidence against Daedrin?” Sabé spoke up.

“I’m not sure,” Obi-Wan admitted. “He’s left no traces so far. And we have to tread delicately. It could draw out longer than we hope.”

Padmé placed a reassuring hand on his sleeve. “I can’t help with that, but hopefully, if my campaign is persuasive enough, it won’t take that long to repeal the law.”

“How did they get away with clauses like that?” Sabé mused, her eyes darting across the page. “I know they wanted to boost the population, but the lack of consideration for freedom of choice is annoyingly one-sided.”

Padmé tilted her head in thought. “Yes, I’ll be making that argument. And with regards to boosting the population, they probably thought they were being pretty generous with the time limit.”

“Probably,” Sabé said grudgingly. “That doesn’t explain why it only applies to women, though. Everyone had a duty to try and increase the number of children being born, yet it’s only the women who were bound by this stupid law.”

“Women didn’t have as much choice back then,” Padmé pointed out sombrely. “That’s why there’s all that stuff about consummating the marriage, even though young women these days have more of a physical relationship with their partners, and it’s not the big deal it used to be. Of course, you could always just lie about it, nobody’s going to check.”

Sabé inhaled a mouthful of tea and coughed. Obi-Wan patted her on the back, much to her mortification, and she resisted the urge to glare at him.

“Don’t worry,” Padmé told him, her tone overly bright and cheerful, “she is house-trained, I guarantee it.”

“Glad to hear it,” he replied with a smile.

“I hate you both,” Sabé put in, wiping her streaming eyes.

Padmé smiled serenely, her expression too benevolent for Sabé to stay mad at her for long.

“Are you okay?” the senator asked, observing her scarlet-cheeked friend with one of the surprisingly-maternal looks that she was so good at.

“Tea went down the wrong way,” Sabé explained lamely. It sounded stupid even to her.

“I see.” Padmé did not appear to be convinced in the slightest, but sat back in her chair with a placid sigh. “Anyway, back on track, is it okay with the two of you if I use you as an example in my speech? By the time I come to give it, the news might be out. If it’s not, we can request that the information be kept confidential.”

Sabé exchanged a glance with Obi-Wan, her eyebrows raised in question. “I don’t have a problem with that,” she clarified.

“Nor me,” he said.

Padmé gave a nod. “I’ll send you both a copy when I’m done writing it.”

Obi-Wan excused himself to visit the fresher, and Sabé leaned towards Padmé, her voice hushed.

“What do you think Anakin will think of all this?” she hissed. “Doesn’t he resent having to keep your marriage secret?”

“Yes,” Padmé whispered back. “I don’t know what he’ll think. Sometimes he laughs about things and sees the logic behind them…other times he just lets his temper get the better of him.”

“Split personality?” Sabé half-joked. It made her feel guilty when she didn’t trust Anakin, which happened occasionally.

Padmé let out a short laugh. “Sometimes I wonder,” she said, a touch of seriousness amongst the humour in her tone.

Sabé frowned, picking up on her friend’s unease. But then Padmé’s expression cleared, and she fixed her with a steady gaze.

“About the coughing,” she began.

Sabé’s eyes narrowed. “What about it? I told you, my tea-”

“Sabé, please. How long have we known one another?”

“Clearly too long,” she groused.

“You two aren’t lying about it, are you?” Padmé theorised, her voice sounding almost gleeful, her eyes wide with amused disbelief. “You actually… Well. I wouldn’t have thought that Obi-Wan would-”

Sabé pressed her fingertips against her eyes. “Please stop talking.”

“So…?” Padmé went on, ignoring her words.

Lowering her hands, Sabé glanced at her, startled by her mischievous grin. Sometimes she tended to forget that underneath her determined, professional demeanour, Padmé was a regular young woman who took delight in the same things other young people did.

“So what?” Sabé asked warily.

Padmé quirked an eyebrow. “How was it?”

“That…is between Obi-Wan and myself,” the handmaiden spluttered, aware that her flustered behaviour was only causing her friend more entertainment.

“Oh, come on.”

“Padmé, I refuse to discuss this with you!”

Padmé opened her mouth to fire another comment, but promptly shut it again when Obi-Wan made a reappearance.

Rescued again, Sabé thought wryly.

“Padmé,” she said aloud, as if continuing a conversation, “you know I never pay attention to what the fashion houses are saying we should be wearing. It’s different for you, you’re a trend-setter.”

“Really?” Padmé muttered, non-committal.

There was a pause as Obi-Wan took his seat once more. His expression didn’t indicate that he had any idea of what they’d been discussing since he left, but Sabé had her suspicions regardless. No doubt she’d hear all about it later.

Putting that aside, she turned her focus back to where it should be. “Oh, by the way,” she said, remembering, “Daedrin will probably contact you tomorrow, looking for me.”

Padmé accepted the knowledge with a nod. “What do you want me to tell him?”

“Just an edited version of the truth,” Sabé decided. “That I and my belongings have gone to stay elsewhere.”

“He won’t believe that I don’t know where you are,” the senator pointed out.

“But it will be the truth, won’t it? You don’t know where I am. Nobody does except the Jedi Council.”

“Even so…”

“He may find out sooner or later,” Obi-Wan cut in. “Those spies of your parents’ will no doubt follow us back to the apartment building. Others could do the same.”

“But they won’t know which apartment we’re in,” Sabé mused aloud. “The building is huge.”

“No, thankfully,” he agreed. “It will be easy to lose them once we’re inside. That won’t be a problem.”

“They can’t find out about our investigation either,” Sabé said fiercely.

Obi-Wan threw her a glance. “There is no ‘our’ investigation. It’s a Jedi investigation.”

She fixed him with a warning look. “You can’t shut me out of this.”

“I’m afraid we can,” Obi-Wan shot back sternly.

“I’m involved,” she insisted.

“Not to that extent.”

Temper flaring, Sabé got angrily to her feet, addressing her words to the top of his head. “Look, I may not be the supreme beings you Jedi are, but I am a skilled warrior, and it is my sisters that are being targeted. I have a right to want to help them.”

Obi-Wan rose placidly, putting her at a disadvantage of half a head’s height. Still she stared him down, her chin jutting up stubbornly.

Padmé stood too, watching them both with an expression of amusement, feeling the familiar stirrings of suspicion about the nature of their relationship. There were elements at work that they seemed oblivious to, but Padmé was beginning to see.

“You have the right,” Obi-Wan said, his voice firm, “but not the freedom. It’s not safe for you to be too involved.”

“You’ve never cared about my safety before now!” Sabé’s eyes widened the moment the words were out of her mouth. “I’m sorry,” she amended with a sigh. “I didn’t mean it like that. I just…I’ve been a security officer for years, and you’ve never said anything about being concerned.”

He met her gaze, his blue eyes full of sincerity. “Of course I was concerned, Sabé, as I am for all my friends who regularly face dangerous situations. But I know better than to interfere with your life.”

“But that’s exactly what you’re doing now!” she retorted.

He fixed her with another steady look. “Security services is one thing, having you in a vulnerable position when there’s a murderer on the loose is something else entirely.”

“You’ve got double standards,” Sabé stated, pressing her fingertip to his chest in a series of prods, underlining each word.

Obi-Wan remained maddeningly calm. He placed his hands on her upper arms and, annoyingly, she felt herself begin to relax.

“The Jedi will do everything they can to protect your friends,” he told her.

“I know,” she replied mildly, her voice quiet but laced with steel. “But I would be an asset.”

Padmé was watching with rapt attention, her mouth slightly open in surprise. Sabé knew what she was thinking. There was no one in all the galaxy who could bring her out of one of her tempers, except, it seemed, this man.

“I don’t deny it,” Obi-Wan admitted, “but the Council’s orders are–”

“Oh, orders!” she interrupted. “Do you always follow orders?”

“Always,” he said, not missing a beat. “Except when I don’t.”

She raised an eyebrow, saying nothing.

Obi-Wan attempted a brief smile. “Sabé, you must realise that this is for your own benefit.”

She sighed noisily, unclenching her fists by her sides. “Of course I realise that. I know you mean well, but I don’t take kindly to being smothered. You may be my protector, but you’re not my babysitter, okay?”

He gave a short nod. “Okay. But I still can’t authorise your involvement in a Jedi matter.”

“I told you, I’m already involved.”

“No, you’re not.” He narrowed his eyes at her firm expression. “Are you even listening to me?”

“Of course I am, but all I hear is you disagreeing with me.”

“Can’t think why that would be,” he muttered sarcastically.

Padmé held up a hand. “Okay, enough. You’re obviously not going to agree on this, and there’s no point in going round in circles. You have other things to think about, like talking to Jago and Luma.”

Sabé and Obi-Wan continued to stare at each other, their eyes defiant, bright with the spark of challenge. Then, almost in synch, they relented and retook their seats.

“I'm sorry, Padmé,” Sabé said. “I’m usually better at keeping my cool.”

“You know I'm not stressing this point to annoy you,” Obi-Wan told her. “I know how capable you are, but the Council has spoken.”

She pulled a face and he let out a sigh, running a hand through his hair.

“Look,” he spoke up eventually, “give them a chance. See how it goes for a month or two, then if you still want to get involved…I’ll help you.”

Sabé considered it, then nodded. “Deal.”

While they shook hands on it, Padmé lowered her head and smiled to herself.

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine – Handmaiden, Jedi, and In-Laws.

 

They spent the afternoon in one of the Jedi Temple’s large training rooms. It was one of the chambers that outsiders were never usually permitted to see, but Obi-Wan, sharing Sabé’s restlessness, allowed her access. They occupied one of the sparring mats alongside pairs of training Padawans.

Sabé had brought her blunted practice swords, and she spent a few moments teaching him basic technique. His abilities with a lightsaber already made him a more than proficient swordsman, but he found setbacks in the unusual weight and balance of the weapon. The lightsaber held all its weight in the handle, whereas the sword’s was distributed along its entire length.

Sabé won their first rounds with ease, but once he had grown used to it, which did not take long, he won continuously. Sabé was a good-natured loser, accepting a hand up from the mat when necessary and always bracing herself for the next duel. She was a natural with the sword, her body the right combination of strength and lithe grace to allow for fluid movements. She made up for her petite stature by being quick on her feet, often neatly dancing out of his blade’s path with inches to spare.

When they were finished with the swords, he began to show her lightsaber technique with a couple of training sabers fixed at the lowest setting. If touched, the blade delivered a burn that was painful but not harmful.

She rose to the challenge but, like him, she found the differences between the two weapons tricky to get used to. Still, she held up well, managing to hold off his attacks for over a minute before a light hit on the leg had her letting out a very unladylike phrase.

“Tired?” he asked with a smirk.

“Nice try,” she retorted. “Let’s go again, I think I'm getting the hang of it.”

He obliged her with a nod, and raised his saber. She attacked with a series of quick strokes that had him pouring all his effort into his defence, but then he found his feet again, rapidly beating her back. Another hit and curse word later, she was calling for a halt.

“I get the picture,” she said, her hair untidy, her face shining with perspiration, lit up with a huge grin. “You’re better than I am and to challenge you results in pain. Noted. Let’s move on.”

He laughed. “You were never going to beat me. I have the Force on my side, remember.”

“That’s cheating,” Sabé declared, hands on hips.

“If it makes it easier for you to accept defeat that way, then yes, I was…cheating.”

“Or,” she amended thoughtfully, “at the very least you had an unfair advantage.”

Obi-Wan smiled. “All right, you have me there.”

“So we’re even then?” she suggested impishly, eyes wide and innocent.

He retorted with a suspicious frown, not buying it. “Well, I wouldn’t quite put it–”

“Great!" Sabé interrupted, tone overly bright. "We’re even.”

“You’re infuriating,” he told her lightly.

She shot him a grin. “I know.”

When it became clear that sparring was over for the day, they packed up and headed back to the apartment. There was no sign of the spies that Sabé’s parents had sent after her, but Obi-Wan knew better than to assume that they were not around. He hoped that after they visited Naboo and spoke to the Simmonites in person, the two scouts would be dismissed.

Settled in the apartment that was not quite home yet, they shared dinner and light conversation before retreating to the single sofa for the evening, where their talk turned to more serious matters.

“Have you given any thought to when you want to go back to Naboo?” Obi-Wan asked.

“Not really. I think I prefer the idea of talking to my parents over talking to Daedrin, so I guess as soon as possible. Then I can avoid him for a few more days.”

“You can’t avoid him forever.”

“No, I know that.” Her lips quirked in a smile. “But I can try.”

He gave a brief chuckle.

“I think in a day or two,” she went on in a more serious tone. “Or even tomorrow, if you want.”

Obi-Wan nodded. “How did you get here?” he asked.

“One of the royal starfighters. I’ll need to return it, so if you could lay your hands on a two-seater fighter for the journey back, that would be useful.”

“I’ll see what I can do. Shall we say the day after tomorrow? I’ll need to inform the Council about our plans.”

She nodded in agreement “Of course.”

They did not return to the topic of the investigation after the dispute in Padmé’s apartment. Instead they spent the evening reading or reminiscing about their time stranded on Tatooine.

Obi-Wan knew he had projected an outward appearance of calm acceptance about the entire situation, and on some levels it was a true one. But in order to get there he had battled the same reservations and fears that Sabé herself had no doubt confronted. Although she had not mentioned her troubles, he could almost read her every thought as it danced across her face. In the space of a day he had seen distress, relief, gratitude, concern, apprehension, shock, passion and stubbornness, each one taking its turn to shape her striking features. He knew she had no idea that she was such an open book to him, and he intended to keep it that way. She would be embarrassed to find out how well he could read her.

It had not always been the case. When they had first met, her face and character were hidden behind the royal mask of Queen of Naboo, a mask that, he was later to discover, was not hers. She had worn it well, had almost fooled them all. But he was a Jedi, not to mention the fact that he had had too much time on his hands and too much curiosity about her for his own good. It hadn’t taken him long to find the woman underneath the face paint, and to learn that she was as human as her subjects. Then when she and Padmé had begun switching places again, it became obvious to him which was the queen and which the handmaiden.

Sabé, although practically flawless in her portrayal of Padmé, could never be anything other than herself for long. Once he had become aware that there were two queens, Obi-Wan had begun to notice the differences between them. They had both conducted themselves with regal dignity in the face of their homeworld’s trouble, yet while Padmé had committed herself fully to the etiquette, Sabé had not been able to disguise the fiery glint of her anger. It had been nothing but a certain sparkle in her dark eyes, but it had been enough for him to notice. It had been at that moment that he had become aware that his witty companion was the decoy and not the monarch.

It was not until after the battle, when she had been his silent support after the death of Qui-Gon, that he had thought to ask her name. She had given it in exchange for a promise of letters, a request that he had granted with pleasure. Thinking back to that time, he had never imagined that their friendship would have led them to a marriage of convenience. Being a Jedi, he had, of course, never imagined that he would have married at all. Possession and attachment were the two dangers always lurking to prevent such an arrangement. They were demons that Ki-Adi-Mundi was constantly fighting to allow him to keep his family. Possession was the easier to contend with, since control of that kind was not healthy in any relationship. But attachment was a slippery slope, subtle in its tendency to slowly develop within a heart so that it escaped notice until the damage was done.

He was still unsure how Mundi managed it. Once or twice he considered that he might not have managed it at all, and that he had somehow found a way to balance the two. Such thoughts were not permitted, of course, and attachment continued to be seen as a starting point for weakness and vulnerability. Obi-Wan didn’t agree with it, but he admitted that he had no basis for argument. He didn’t have any significant attachments, only his friendships with Anakin, Sabé and his fellow Jedi. So he had no cause to say whether or not it was possible to remain attached and dedicated at the same time.

The Code was vague on the subject of friendships, especially within the Order. It encouraged unity and camaraderie between the Jedi Knights, but neatly glossed over the topic of attachment. Obi-Wan had long been of the opinion that the Code was too archaic, too open to misinterpretation to be followed so literally and with the unquestionable obedience that Padawans and Masters alike were expected to show. It had been written in a different age, and while he agreed that they should not lose sight of their ideals, he could see that if they didn’t move with the times it would be easy for them to get left behind.

He was far too aware of the controversy to raise the subject himself. Fortunately, he had the foresight and patience to wait and find others of a like mind before he brought the topic before the Council.

He gave a sigh and Sabé looked up from her data pad. Sabé. His wife. He still couldn’t get used to that idea.

“Are you okay?” she asked, her brow furrowed in concern. “You’re just staring into space.”

“I was thinking,” he corrected.

“Careful. Don’t do yourself an injury.”

He sent her a mock glare and she laughed, her face relaxed and bright with her mirth. Unbidden, the memory of her in his arms, her eyes dark with the intensity of their discovered passion, shot through his mind like a pod racer. He blinked in surprise and the image vanished. It was not the Jedi way to dwell on past events, and he was taken aback to find himself doing so.

Sabé didn’t seem to notice anything amiss, continuing to watch him with a calm, level gaze.

“I’m fine,” he told her.

“Sure?” she asked with unexpected perception.

“Yes. Don’t worry.”

She did not look convinced, but gave him a nod and an understanding smile. He smiled back, appreciative of her ability to know when not to push for answers. He couldn’t help but briefly wonder just how empty and cold his bed would feel without her.

If this is how I react after one night then it’s better for us both that we thought to keep it a one-off occurrence, he told himself.

He wasn’t entirely sure that it had been a wise move in the first place. It certainly hadn’t been on his mind when Sabé had asked for his help, nor had it played a part in swaying his decision.

His immediate reaction to most situations was to help in any way he was able. Sabé’s heartfelt plea and obvious distress had spoken to his compassionate nature, not to mention what he knew of Daedrin. But her cry for help had demanded he give more of himself than usual, and it had needed careful thought before he had agreed. He knew that he had kept her waiting for an answer, but he hadn’t wanted to do her an injustice by replying before he was sure.

After consideration, he had realised how little the new arrangement would affect his life. The only change would be that he would spend more time in Sabé’s company, and that was by no means unwelcome. In the eleven years of their correspondence, they had only been able to meet in person a handful of times. He knew her well, yet in some ways he didn’t know her at all. He had wondered if the marriage would serve to strengthen the ties of their friendship. The Force always gave him an indication of which people he needed in his life, and Sabé was one of them. With that in mind, and the knowledge that he would be able to keep her safe, he had agreed. As soon as the words had been spoken, he had felt a ripple of comforting assurance from the Force that had told him he had made the right decision.

He did not expect to find himself so caught up in her. He had seen in her eyes that she did not expect it either. They had both been drawn into the tidal wave of sensation, feeling and instinct, so uncommon and thrilling in its novelty. It had gone against everything he had ever been taught, even the Code itself. There is no passion, there is serenity. But to him it had been both, it had felt right. And that confused him immeasurably. He had been taught to follow the Code and to listen to his instincts, but those two instructions had never opposed each other as they did where Sabé was concerned. He wondered what it meant, whether it meant anything at all, and if it would turn out to be a mistake or some kind of providence.

At least there wouldn’t be the same fear of additional complications that had occurred with Satine. Sabé had firmly assured him that her contraceptive implant was well-maintained and functioning. That would have been difficult to explain to the Council.

He glanced at the data pad in his hand, accepting that he wouldn’t be looking at it at any point that evening. He leaned forward and placed it on the low table that Sabé had propped her feet on, then stood.

“I think I’ll retire,” he announced.

Sabé quirked an eyebrow and nodded. “It is getting on for midnight,” she said in apparent agreement, lifting her feet off the table and standing, her motion precise and elegant.

They stood in silence for a while, both uncomfortable in the midst of the first moment of awkwardness they had experienced.

Sabé pointed a finger in the vague direction of her room. “I should…”

Obi-Wan hastily gestured her forward. “Of course. Good night.”

“Good night.”

She faltered a little, seemingly unable to decide if she was supposed to hug him, kiss his cheek or do nothing. Eventually she settled on a smile, then practically ran to her door. Obi-Wan watched her departing back, raising a hand to his chin as he reflected on the unease of their parting, hoping it was not an omen of how things would be between them now.

Putting it out of his mind, he prepared for bed and settled down to sleep, slipping into a light meditation to coax his body into rest. The bed did seem awfully large for one person alone.

Opening his eyes to allow himself a glare into the darkness, he chided himself for his foolishness and once more attempted to quieten his thoughts.

Unbeknownst to him, on the other side of the wall, Sabé was doing the same.

* * *

The following day, Sabé spent her time lying low in the apartment, thoroughly bored but aware of the foolhardiness of leaving. The Council meeting took Obi-Wan away from her for half the day, and when he returned he was bearing a message written on flimsi.

“Handed to me by a young lady called Teckla,” he told her.

Sabé nodded. “She’s a handmaiden of Padmé’s.”

“Another Order member?”

“No. But Moteé is. I hope she’s been warned of the danger she might be in.” Unfolding the note, she skimmed it quickly, translating Padmé’s vague message with ease. "Daedrin is looking for me," she reported.

Obi-Wan seemed unsurprised. "We knew he would."

"Yes." She felt utterly fed up at the news, however predictable it was.

“The Council have given me use of a starfighter for the journey tomorrow," Obi-Wan told her, "so we can leave whenever you’re ready.”

“Let’s not leave it too late,” Sabé said after some consideration. “I think… Well, even with the trouble they’ve caused, I wouldn’t want to worry my parents. They must have heard that I’ve gone missing by now.”

He nodded his understanding.

Struck by a stab of bitterness, she added, “Gods know why I’m considering their feelings since they don’t seem to care for mine, but there you go.”

Obi-Wan said nothing, but sent her the kind of smile that implied he was sympathetic to how she was feeling.

The following morning, they departed as soon as they were both up and dressed. Sabé carried a single bag containing a gown and accessories. Her mother was an old-fashioned woman, who preferred to see her daughter in the dresses befitting her rank rather than a jumpsuit and boots. Sabé always chose outfits in Luma’s favourite styles and colours when she had something particularly unpleasant to tell her.

They docked their ships in the palace hangar, then headed to Sabé’s suite so that she could change. When she was tidier, they took a slow walk to Jago and Luma’s apartment, a walk that seemed to get more painstaking the further they went.

“Is it my imagination,” Ob-Wan said, breaking the companionable silence, “or are you moving slower?”

“It’s your imagination,” Sabé said firmly, pausing to tip a fictitious pebble out of her shoe.

“I see. I never would have thought it possible.”

“What?”

“That the Lady Sabé, who has stood up to the droid armies of the Trade Federation, would show more fear at the prospect of seeing her own parents than she did in the face of battle.”

Not able to think of a witty retort, Sabé settled for a huff and folded her arms, sending the long, sweeping sleeves of her gown flapping. He was right, of course, and knew it, judging by the smirk he was failing to hide. Irked by his perception and his amusement at her behaviour, Sabé quickened her pace. She was acting like a child, she knew that. Unpleasant scenes with her parents tended to bring it out in her.

In a time far too short for Sabé’s liking, they reached the apartment. The Simmonite protocol droid, D8-420, answered the door.

“Miss Simmonite, how lovely to see you back,” the droid said, its female voice programmed to have the familiar gushing tones heard so often from protocol droids.

“Thank you,” Sabé replied. “I’m here to see my parents.”

“Oh. I was not aware they were expecting you.”

“They’re not. Are they here?”

“Of course. They’re in the lounge. I’ll take you through.”

They followed the droid through the bright, white-painted corridors to the lounge, a large yet comfortable room, with windows overlooking the pristine garden. Jago and Luma were seated on one of the curved sofas, sharing a pot of tea and softly spoken conversation.

“Master Jago, Mistress Luma, Miss Syrena is here to see you,” D8-420 announced.

Both of them leapt to their feet at once, their faces etched with a mixture of concern and relief. Sabé stepped back a fraction to stand at Obi-Wan’s side, trying to put forward the notion that he was not a bodyguard. She knew well that her parents would almost consider him a servant if they thought him appointed to her by the Council.

“Syrena!” Luma cried, hurrying over to clasp her daughter’s hand.

Jago swiftly followed. “Are you all right?”

A little taken aback by their greeting, Sabé nodded, smiling at them both in what she hoped was a reassuring way. She wasn’t sure how else to react. “I’m fine,” she told them.

“Where have you been?” Luma asked sharply, always the first to jump directly to the point. Her anxiety apparently appeased, she was back on usual form. “You left here in such a rush, and then vanished almost as soon as you got to Coruscant.”

Sabé grimaced, unable to decide whether her mother was brazenly barefaced about her spies or if she had simply been careless with her speech. Her guilt at causing her parents to worry suddenly dispersed.

“Well, you would know,” she said placidly, her words revealing the barest hint of her anger. “Send spies after me again, Mother, and then watch how fast I disappear.”

Her parents had the grace to look sheepish.

“We worry about you,” Jago said, his tone unapologetic.

“Worry? That wasn’t worry,” Sabé retorted hotly. “That was controlling. That was making sure I met Senator Daedrin as you planned.”

She felt the lightest of touches to the back of her arm. Instantly grounded, she fought to quieten her temper.

“Why couldn’t you just take my word for it?” she asked in a softer tone. “I did as I said I would.”

“The main thing is you’re safe,” Luma cut in, making a blatant attempt to smooth things over. Turning, she unceremoniously thrust the teacups at D8-420 and ordered refreshments.

“Please tell us what you’ve been doing to necessitate a Jedi protector,” Jago said, his stern brow wrinkled in a frown, his words shattering Sabé’s intentions of making Obi-Wan appear as an equal. “I take it my daughter is safe with you, Jedi…?”

“Master Obi-Wan Kenobi,” Obi-Wan offered with a respectful bow. “Sabé is highly capable, but yes, she is always safe with me.”

“Could I have my hand back, do you think?” Sabé asked her mother.

Luma glanced down and released the hand in question. “Oh. Sorry, dear.” And then, quick as a flash, she reached for it again. “What’s this?” She held up Sabé’s hand, where the plain silver wedding band shone.

“Ah…” Sabé muttered with a sinking heart. That was not how she had intended to raise the topic. “That? That’s what I came to talk to you about. I’m…married.”

“Well, this is wonderful!” Luma beamed.

Sabé looked at her in open confusion. “It is?”

“Of course! You’ve saved us all the trouble of planning a wedding, not to mention the expense.” Luma was not the sort of woman to lament missing her big moment as mother of the bride.

Jago placed his hands on his wife’s shoulders, one of the rare, affectionate gestures that reminded Sabé that her parents’ union was not entirely a convenient one.

“Why did you not bring your husband with you?” he asked, his expression warm.

“I did,” Sabé said edgily. Behind her, she heard Obi-Wan let out an almost-silent, weary sigh. Like her, he could see that the conversation was hurtling towards a messier conclusion than they’d planned.

Luma glanced around, as if expecting Senator Daedrin to burst out of a cupboard bearing a banner reading ‘surprise’.

“Senator Daedrin is here?”

“No,” Sabé answered, keeping her voice calm and level. “Senator Daedrin is on Coruscant. I hope. I have…married Obi-Wan.”

There was crushing silence for a horrible, awkward moment, and then, unexpectedly, a snigger from Luma.

“Don’t be absurd. Jedi aren’t allowed to marry.”

“We obtained a dispensation from the Council,” Sabé explained.

“They would never have granted it, not for something like this,” her mother laughed.

“If this is an attempt to get out of marrying Senator Daedrin, you haven’t really thought it through,” Jago put in, fixing his daughter with a severe, hard look.

Riled by their reactions, Sabé felt her palms grow hot as she clenched her fists. She was comforted by Obi-Wan’s steady presence at her side. They had both agreed beforehand that she should do most of the talking, but his stillness was almost as reassuring as his words. His expression was carefully guarded, but he seemed unsurprised at Jago and Luma’s response.

Wordlessly, Sabé drew a folded piece of flimsi from her pocket. Luma snatched it and read it, Jago peering over her shoulder.

“I’m not sorry,” Sabé murmured, as they both stared at her in shock. “I won’t be used in your plans. I know you thought Daedrin would be a suitable match for me, but I disagree.”

Luma glanced again at the marriage certificate in her hand. “And how exactly is a Jedi a better match for you?” she asked coldly. “He has no money, not even any possessions to speak of, nothing to bring to the marriage.”

Obi-Wan raised a single eyebrow at the barefaced statement, but kept his silence.

“Ugh, you’ve never understood! I don’t care, Mother,” Sabé said heatedly. “It’s not about that. At all. I earn enough to keep myself. And besides, Obi-Wan brings protection, companionship and honour to the marriage, which is far more important to me than wealth.”

“So you’re not in love then?” Jago asked. “This isn’t some runaway marriage?”

Sabé shook her head. “No. We’re old friends. Obi-Wan fought with me in the Battle of Naboo eleven years ago.”

A flicker of recognition and grudging respect lit Jago’s grey eyes. Luma, however, still looked stony.

“How did you get the Jedi Council to grant you a dispensation?” she asked. “They don’t just hand them out on a whim.”

Sabé glanced at Obi-Wan, unsure how much she was permitted to reveal.

“I’m afraid we can’t say,” he spoke up. “But it was decided with Sabé’s safety in mind.”

“That’s extremely convenient,” Luma pointed out.

“Perhaps so,” Sabé agreed, “but it also happens to be true.”

Silence hung again, as weighty and prominent as if there was another person present. Then D8-420 bustled in with a tray, breaking the tension. The droid began busying itself with sorting cups, but quickly exited when Luma gave a short, snapped order. Nobody moved to help themselves to tea.

“So,” Jago said at length, “to recap, you’ve deliberately gone against our wishes and married yourself to this Jedi.”

“I have.”

Jago gave a deep sigh, looking, for a moment, every one of his fifty-nine years. “Well, my dear, I only hope that this plan does not backfire on you.”

Sabé nodded mutely, unsure what to say to a comment she was not anticipating. “I don't expect it to,” she said eventually.

“No one ever does.”

“And what about Senator Daedrin?” Luma asked.

Sabé glanced at her mother, a small smile playing about her lips as she made a rapid decision. “Oh. I leave it to you to explain the situation to him.”

As one, her parents and Obi-Wan turned to stare at her.

“I’m sorry, you’re doing what?” Luma exclaimed. “You can’t possibly…”

Sabé held up a hand, cutting her off. “You can talk to him, Mother, I have no wish to. You started this, you can finish it.”

Her mother pressed her lips together in a thin line of disapproval before saying, “He deserves to hear it from you.”

“He deserves nothing of the sort,” Sabé scoffed. “He never proposed to me, therefore I have nothing to refuse. This whole state of affairs is your doing.”

Her parents exchanged a glance, and Jago shrugged his shoulders.

“Technically, she’s right,” he said, his tone heavily laced with reluctance.

“You won’t avoid a confrontation this way,” Obi-Wan told her.

“I know that. That’s not the point.” She shot him a warning look, communicating her desire not to be lectured to.

“All right,” Jago spoke up, “we’ll talk to him. But you should too.”

Sabé gave a humourless laugh. “I doubt I’ll have a choice in the matter. If you’ll excuse us now, Obi-Wan and I have things we need to do.”

“Syrena,” Jago said gently, searching her face, “is this really what you want?”

Sabé met his gaze boldly. “No, Father. It’s not what I want, nor what Obi-Wan wants. But what choice did you leave me?”

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten – Confrontation.

 

When business with Queen Neeyutnee and her parents had been concluded, Sabé knew that she could not put off departure any longer. After their argument in the wake of Padmé’s appointment as senator, Sabé had never imagined that she and her former queen would work together again. Now that it was happening, she was eager for the change, not to mention the convenient distance from her parents. Still, it was with some reluctance that she gathered her belongings into bags and prepared to leave Naboo. She was somewhat surprised at how neatly her old life packed away into a small collection of cases. Somehow she had assumed that she had made more of an impact on her suite of rooms at the palace ,but she had packed everything in under an hour, leaving the room exactly as it had been when she had moved in.

She lingered a little longer, saying the necessary goodbyes to those she would miss and avoiding those she would not. Obi-Wan trailed silently in her wake, seemingly content to let his mind wander while she conducted her business, although she doubted that the Jedi Master ever simply let his mind wander. It was more likely that he was partaking in some form of waking meditation.

Eventually, however, she ran out of delaying tactics. Well aware that she should not have been delaying at all, (and that Captain Panaka would have more than a few colourful words to say if he knew of her behaviour), Sabé took a moment to collect her thoughts. She needed to stop thinking like a woman in potential danger and start thinking like a soldier once more. The inevitable confrontation with Daedrin was just another battle to be fought. She needed to move past the uneasy feeling his presence inspired and focus on the facts: namely that they were most likely to meet in a public forum, where he would be limited in his actions. She could handle that easily enough. And if luck really wasn’t on her side and she found herself alone with him, well… It would be of academic interest to find out if all her training and experience could match up to the skills of a deadly assassin.

She straightened her posture and lifted her chin, instantly feeling more confident than she had in days. She was not a helpless victim. She was Sabé, bodyguard to the elite, high-ranking official of the Order of Sanctuary, and she refused to die for someone else’s gain.

I will not be cowed, she told herself firmly. Not now, not ever.

Obi-Wan tilted his head in interested appraisal, and Sabé realised he had been watching her every move. He gave a nod in response to her renewed tenacity and smiled.

“I’m ready now,” she told him.

“I know,” he said.

***

Obi-Wan was well-practiced in the art of observing a lot while looking nonchalantly innocent, an art that he had perfected over many years. It was something he had tried hard to pass on to Anakin, with little success. His former Padawan always lacked subtlety.

As Sabé returned to Coruscant and her position in Padmé’s entourage, Obi-Wan was watchful, searching for anything amiss. He didn’t know enough of Daedrin to guess what his reaction might be. The senator was an enigma wrapped in many layers of deceit and corruption. Sabé grasped that they needed to tread more carefully than ever around him, something that Obi-Wan was sincerely grateful for. He never needed to explain things to her, she always thought things through just as thoroughly as he did. It was refreshing.

There was a confrontation on the horizon. They both knew it. Now they had returned to Coruscant, it was only a matter of time before Daedrin’s path crossed with Sabé’s, either by design or in a professional capacity. If the senator really was targeting Order of Sanctuary members, Sabé had lost all chance of whatever protection he might have offered her if she had agreed to become his wife. Exactly how safe she would have been was still unclear, and Obi-Wan was grateful that she wouldn’t find out first-hand.

The altercation occurred within a day of their return. Padmé was attending a session in the Senate, requiring Sabé to accompany her with Teckla while Moteé visited a sick friend. As they made their way through the corridors of the Senate building, several of the senators whispered among themselves, questioning why Padmé needed the protection of two handmaidens, a chief of security and a Jedi Master.

Obi-Wan walked behind the women with Captain Typho, keeping his senses on alert. Daedrin would be unavoidably present, and Obi-Wan knew that he would no doubt have heard the news from the Simmonites. Sabé’s shoulders were tense beneath her crimson hooded cloak, her Force signature sporadic with her anxiety. She knew it too.

Daedrin’s entourage came face to face with Padmé’s as they rounded the bend of the Senate building’s gently curved corridors. Daedrin bowed first to Padmé, as was correct, but then immediately moved to meet Sabé head-on. Obi-Wan stepped up to her side, not wishing to fight her battles for her, but unable to stand quietly.

“I wish you had told me plainly that your heart lay elsewhere,” Daedrin began, his tone polite but lacking in warmth.

“My heart is still in my own keeping,” Sabé returned formally. “This had nothing to do with it. I did not wish to be a pawn of my parents and the law forbade me from refusing, so I took matters into my own hands. I'm sorry that you were caught up in their plans to further their ambition.” Her voice was calm, courteous, and gave no hint of either the worries she had harboured or that she suspected him to be a murderer.

“Even still,” he pressed on, “you should have told me.” He took half a step closer to her, lowering his voice. “Or was it that you were using me to get back at your parents by making them explain the situation?”

Sabé stood her ground. Obi-Wan couldn’t see her face, but he imagined her expression was stern, judging by the beginnings of a smirk at the corners of Daedrin’s mouth. He felt a ripple of annoyance on Sabé's behalf and swiftly quashed it.

“I felt that it was their duty to inform you, since they were the ones that got us both into this,” she shot back coolly.

There was a heavy pause. In his peripheral vision, Obi-Wan could see Padmé hovering, evidently wondering whether she should step in.

“For your sake, I do hope you’re being honest with me,” Daedrin said smoothly. His eyes were glacial, holding back none of his anger. He was clearly not a man who was willing to accept being made to feel foolish.

Captain Typho moved forward to stand at Obi-Wan’s side, further back-up behind Sabé’s cloaked figure, while Teckla stood ramrod-straight to her left.

“For your sake,” Sabé returned, “I do hope that isn’t a threat.”

Daedrin smiled, but it was as false as all his courtesy. “I like you, Sabé. You have guts. I’m disappointed that you decided to take this course. Still, I’m sure we’ll meet again. From time to time. Excuse me, Senator Amidala.” With that, he continued on his way, his aides shooting Sabé curious looks as they passed her.

“You all right?” Typho asked quietly.

Sabé nodded, letting out a breathy sigh. “I’m fine, Gregar. Thanks for the support. Padmé, I’m so sorry that had to happen while I was on duty.”

Padmé shook her head, waving off the apology. “It was always going to happen this way. I’m glad it’s over with.”

“So am I.”

She turned to meet Obi-Wan’s gaze, and he studied her face. She was telling the truth about being fine, but there was a shaky edge to her serene countenance. She nodded slightly at his unspoken question, and he knew that she was fit to continue her shift of duty.

Padmé continued to walk the corridor. Sabé and Teckla fell into step behind her. Obi-Wan glanced at Typho, who was keeping pace beside him.

“Thank you,” he said in a low tone. “I’m glad Sabé has defence other than me, although I know your first duty is to Senator Amidala.”

Typho shot him a look. “Of course. Sabé’s my oldest friend, I would never let anything happen to her.”

They shared a smile of understanding before facing forward again. During the series of incidents that had started the Clone Wars, Obi-Wan had found Typho more help in protecting the senator than the distracted Anakin had been. They had built up the foundations of camaraderie and trust in the few days they had worked together. He was glad to have the younger man's backing once again.

Obi-Wan waited in the alcove entrance to the Naboo pod while the Senate was in session, able to observe and hear what was going on without drawing attention. The Jedi Council had expressly ordered him not to sit in the pod with the senatorial party, as it would spark a negative reaction if the Jedi were thought to be supporting a particular system.

Padmé was not as vocal as she usually was, apparently not overly interested in the issues raised. When the session was over, she sent Obi-Wan an apologetic glance.

“This must be so boring for you, Master Kenobi.”

“Not at all", he assured her truthfully. "Sometimes it’s helpful to listen to the political side of things. It’s easy to forget the complexities of the situation out on the frontlines.”

Padmé nodded her understanding. “I suppose you see things in terms of battle strategy and attack plans, one system at a time."

“It can seem that way,” he agreed. "The bigger picture can get lost when you're busy trying to focus on smaller details."

The party moved out from the main chamber, back onto the curved corridors surrounding it. They made their way back to Padmé’s apartment, where Sabé made herself busy with fixing lunch. Obi-Wan followed her into the kitchen to speak a few words in private.

“I need to report to the Council about the run-in with Daedrin,” he began. “I’ll come back and pick you up from here later, if that suits you.”

“No problem,” she replied, never taking her focus off her task.

“How are you? You seemed a little shaken, despite being fine.”

She gave him a quick glance and what was supposed to be a reassuring smile. “I am fine. I was a bit shaken but I’m okay now. I just wasn't sure what to expect. He's...I don't know, he always strikes me as volatile. It will be easier to see him again now that this first time is out of the way, now that I know he intends to be civil.”

“Yes,” he agreed. “We must be cautious though. He may target you sooner rather than later, since you’re here on Coruscant, within easy grasp.”

“I’ll be cautious,” Sabé promised. “We must keep an ear out for news of him planning trips to Naboo too. The majority of the Order members will still be there.”

Obi-Wan leaned his shoulder against the doorframe, folding his arms. “Are there many of you on Coruscant that you know of?”

“I only know of myself and Moteé," Sabé replied, cutting starfruit into segments, her blade quick and precise. "I can contact the Order and ask. I have high-level clearance, so they should tell me what I need to know." Lowering the knife, she shot him a thoughtful look. "Should I warn them?”

He considered the question. It seemed the right path to take, to make sure that the Order was on their guard. But since the Jedi investigation was top secret and to be kept quiet, he didn’t know what they would want Sabé to do.

“I’ll check with the Council,” he told her. “They may prefer a need for secrecy.”

Sabé frowned at the chopping board. “I would prefer that my sisters be aware of any potential threats. These are lives at risk, after all.”

“Yes, I know," he told her, in complete agreement but aware that he was bound by what the Council decided. "I’ll raise the point with the Council. I’ll see you later.”

“You’re not staying for lunch?” she asked, eyebrows raised in mild surprise.

“I’m not hungry."

"You should eat, you know," Sabé scolded lightly.

He gave a brief chuckle, but didn't comment on it. “I’ll be back later," he said, then swiftly departed.

***

Sabé served Padmé her meal, and the senator ate it whilst looking over her notes from the morning’s Senate session. Padmé kept a meticulous archive of records that she always appropriately tagged and labelled. It was a laborious way to sort her notes after each session, but saved her a lot of time if she needed to refer back to things later.

Sabé ate in the kitchen with Gregar, happy to leave Padmé with her political documents, knowing that the senator would barely notice what was on her plate, let alone whether or not she had company.

See-Threepio was fussing around the kitchen when she got back there, and she shooed him out to find something useful to do.

“Thank you,” Gregar said earnestly. “He was starting to drive me crazy.”

“You’ve only been in here five minutes,” Sabé countered, amused.

“It was a very long five minutes,” he insisted, pouring her a cup of caf.

Sabé nodded her thanks, hopping up onto a stool. She leaned over the cup and took a deep, appreciative sniff.

“It’s good having you around again,” Gregar spoke up between bites. “You make me feel so much better about my own caf addiction.”

“It’s good to be with you two again,” she admitted with a smile, ignoring his jibe. “I didn’t want to leave, but I think I’ve been working for the Royal House for too long. I missed you both. The palace is no fun at all without all three of us there.”

“How we misused those secret passages!” He grinned, reaching for a slice of bread.

“Well, how else was Padmé supposed to escape and actually have a life?” Sabé asked defensively. “She needed us, Gregar. I think she would have gone insane if we hadn’t reminded her that she was human and not some…I don’t know…Queen-shaped droid.”

Gregar gave a laugh. “Thank the Gods my uncle never found out! He would never have authorised my promotion to the rank of captain!”

“You know how fond I am of your uncle, but he’s too severe,” Sabé said between mouthfuls of fruit. “There’s more to life than duty.”

Gregar snorted. “That, coming from you, is so rare, I wish I’d recorded it.”

“Shut up! I have a life beyond my duty.”

“Yeah? Like what?”

Sabé pulled a face at him. “I…write things. Letters to people…okay, a person. I…occasionally run away to get married to said person. And…I…well, um…” She slumped, letting out a grunt. “Okay, you’re right. I have no life at all. Satisfied?”

“Yes. I love being right.”

Sabé held up her fork. “Be nice to me, or I’ll poke out your other eye.”

Gregar laughed and took a sip of caf. “You’re lucky I’m not sensitive about that.”

“If you were, I wouldn’t have said it,” Sabé told him with a smile.

“I know.”

There was a companionable silence as they finished up their food. Sabé glanced at her chrono, making sure that she was not taking too long. She knew Padmé would be a while sorting her notes, but she had things to do in the meantime, and Teckla needed her break.

“I’m glad things worked out with Obi-Wan,” Gregar said, cutting through her reflections.

“Me too,” she put in. “Definitely one of the weirder things I’ve ever asked a friend to do.”

“I wouldn’t plan on making it a habit,” he advised seriously, the glint of humour in his eye giving him away.

She fixed him with a jaded look. “Thank you for that.”

“Any time.” He saluted her with his caf cup.

Sabé shook her head, saying fondly, "Idiot."

"Takes one to know one," Gregar shot back without missing a beat.

She sighed loudly, curling her hands around her drink. "So," she began, approaching a more serious topic. "Is Padmé always this work-obsessed and distant? Or have I just been away too long?"

A shadow crossed Gregar's face and he leaned back in his seat. "It's kind of hard for me to tell, she's always a little guarded around me. But...she always works hard. She's happy you're back, but...I don't know, I think whatever you two argued about when she took the position of senator might have something to do with it."

Sabé grimaced. "I was afraid it might be that. Maybe I shouldn't have stayed away, but...we'd never argued like that before. It left its mark. She's friendly with me now, but it's not exactly like it used to be."

"She never told me what it was about," he said with a shrug. "I think I can guess though. You stuck up for me, didn't you?"

"Ah..." Sabé muttered, embarrassed. "I did. I know I shouldn't have gotten involved really, but I couldn't help saying something. I kind of wish I hadn't, I don't think it helped in the slightest, and it just caused a rift between Padmé and me."

"That's why you chose to stay behind and serve Queen Jamillia," Gregar surmised.

She nodded, smiling without humour. "Yes. Pure avoidance. Not my proudest moment."

Sabé thought back to that heated discussion, which had taken place only moments after Padmé had agreed to become Naboo’s senatorial representative.

“Padmé, I thought you had decided to retire from public service. You wanted to! You said you were looking forward to being a regular citizen again. What changed?”

“Nothing. Part of me still wants that. But I couldn’t refuse a request like this, not from the Queen. She thinks Naboo still needs me. How could I turn that down?”

“She’s been Queen for three days, how can she know what Naboo needs yet? You deserve to think of yourself for once.”

“Captain Typho will be my chief of security. I’ll be assigned three handmaidens. There’s a place for you still, if you want it.”

“Captain Typho? What happened to Gregar?”

“It…wouldn’t be professional to think of him that way.”

“But your plans to live quietly in the lake country, that was going to be an opportunity for you two. I thought that was what you wanted too. Especially after last night.”

“That should never have happened. It…was a mistake, Sabé. I shouldn’t have…We shouldn’t have…”

“You know he loves you. You’re too kind-hearted to lead him on. What happened would never have occurred if you didn’t feel something too.”

“It was…it could have been the beginning of something, but not anymore. Our relationship must be strictly professional. He’s always felt that the difference between our social classes was too great.”

“That was while you were Queen. He waited until you’d stepped down. He waited for you, Padmé!”

“He won’t accept it now that I’m a senator. I know he’ll never overstep his boundaries. And frankly–”

“You’ll break his heart if you do this.”

“…Frankly I’m relieved that whatever it was is over before…before I…loved him.”

“Padmé, you already love him. You’re just too busy burying your head in politics to do anything about it. Thank you for your very kind offer, but I would prefer to remain in service to the Queen. Goodbye.”

She had stormed off after that, and hadn’t spoken a word to Padmé before the new senator had departed for her apartment on Coruscant. Of course, they’d made up to an extent once Sabé had cooled down, but the subject was never raised again.

“I didn’t agree with her decision to become senator,” Sabé confessed. “On grounds of it not being fair to you. Or her.”

“That’s sweet of you, but I think I always knew that her loyalty to Naboo would outweigh anything she might have once felt for me." He shifted forward, reaching for his caf cup, taking sips between sentences. "It’s what makes her so good at her job. Her people love her and need her. Nobody else speaks for them the way she does. I just...can’t imagine taking that away from the people for selfish reasons of my own. Maybe I'd want to, deep down, but I'm not sure I could live with the guilt."

Sabé reached across the table and covered his hand with hers. “You must be as selfless as a Jedi, Gregar.”

He gave a short laugh. “I don’t know about that. I heard they can control their emotions. I’ve just learned to hide mine. I forgave her for becoming senator, but when she married Skywalker…I considered leaving her service.”

Sabé looked at him, surprised. “I didn’t know that. Nobody would have blamed you.”

I would have, eventually," he said with certainty. "I told you before, I could never leave her. I can only sleep at night knowing that she’s under my protection. She’s the safest woman in the galaxy because of the way I feel about her.”

Lowering her voice, Sabé confided, “For the record, I disagree with her decision to marry Anakin. It was a stupid, reckless thing to do, and they should have both known better.”

“I guess falling in love makes you impulsive,” Gregar said acrimoniously, shrugging. “But I can’t really blame her. I know it’s my fault.”

“What? How can you think that?”

“I chose duty over her. I chose to follow the rules of social position and etiquette when I could have ignored them all for her love." He glanced down at the table top, his expression contorting as he recollected the source of his bitterness. "And then Skywalker sweeps in, younger, taller, more handsome than me, and spouts this awkward speech about how beautiful she is. He paid her compliments, he risked everything to be with her. How could she not fall for him?”

Sabé squeezed his hand, letting out a quiet sigh. “I can’t pretend to know what goes on in Padmé’s head, but I do know that whatever she felt for you was genuine. And...I've never been convinced that it's entirely gone, despite what she may feel for Anakin."

“She’s married. It’s done.”

"It's...well, yes, I guess, but..."

“I appreciate that you’re trying to help, Sabé, but please, I don’t want to talk about it.” He shot her a quick, insincere smile, the kind that said that he didn't feel like smiling, but neither did he want to offend her.

Sabé nodded, withdrawing her hand. “Of course. Whatever you want.”

“I need to go and speak to my team. I’ll see you later.” He rose and left the kitchen before she could reply.

Sabé exhaled noisily and slumped forward, letting her forehead rest on the cool table top. Her two friends had been a constant worry for her ever since Padmé had married Anakin. It wasn’t that she didn’t like the young Jedi, but she firmly believed that he shouldn’t have pressured Padmé into a secret marriage. And judging by her melancholy behaviour, Padmé was beginning to see it as a mistake too.

She wondered why nothing was ever simple. If it had been, Padmé would have stayed on Naboo and been with Gregar, and she herself would not have been forced to enter into a marriage of convenience to avoid a potentially murderous senator. Suddenly her life seemed too dramatic and complex to be real, the events of the past few days weighing heavily on her shoulders.

I'm living in a holo drama, she realised with a groan.

She heard footsteps in the corridor, but didn’t bother to raise her head. The steps halted in the doorway as their owner took in the scene, then continued on their way to the cooler unit.

“It went well then,” came Moteé’s voice.

“What went well?” said Sabé, her breath fogging up the table top.

“Your meeting with Senator Daedrin.”

“Perfectly. He resents me and possibly wants to bang my parents’ heads together," Sabé reported cheerfully. "How’s your friend?”

“Oh...she’ll be fine. She seems to be recuperating.”

“That’s good.”

There was a pause. Then Moteé cleared her throat. “Shall I fetch Senator Amidala’s leftovers? Or were you planning to do it with the power of your mind?”

Sabé sat up straight, adjusting to the slight dizziness she had brought on herself. Moteé’s expression was a bizarre mixture of stern and amused. She took a sip from the glass of water in her hand, awaiting the answer.

“I’ll go.” Sabé slipped off her stool and headed for the door. A sudden thought occurring to her, she turned. “What do you mean, leftovers?”

“She always has leftovers. I haven’t seen her eat a full meal in weeks.”

"Right," Sabé nodded, frowning.

They exchanged a worried look, which Moteé tried to gloss over with a faint smile. "I think she's just stressed. I hope so, anyway."

"Me too," Sabé murmured distractedly, all sorts of scenarios racing through her head to explain her friend's loss of appetite. Turning her attention back to her fellow handmaiden, she added, "I'll go and see. Leave the plates, I'll sort them."

With that, she spun and walked the short distance up to Padmé’s office. True to Moteé’s word, there was a portion of food still on her plate.

“Was lunch to your liking, M’lady?” she could not resist asking, picking it up and examining how much she'd eaten.

“It was fine, thank you, Sabé,” Padmé replied, not taking her eyes off her data pad.

Sabé watched her for a few moments, then quietly asked, “Padmé, is everything all right?”

“Of course," the senator answered, scribbling some illegible notes on a piece of flimsi. "Why wouldn’t it be?”

“You tell me.”

Padmé finally looked up, and her brow creased in a frown. “Why do you have a red mark on your forehead?”

Sabé pulled her hood lower. “No reason.”

Setting down her pen, Padmé folded her arms on her desk. “I spoke to the Queen, by the way. There’ll be an opportunity for me to present my arguments for revoking the marriage law, but it won’t be for a few months.”

“A few months?” Sabé repeated, surprised. She'd known the courts moved slowly, but...

“The council has other issues to deal with before ours. We just have to be patient, Sabé.”

Sabé picked up her empty cup, nodding reluctantly. “I can do that. When I have to. Are you sure you don’t want anything else to eat?”

“I’m fine, really," Padmé insisted, traces of annoyance creeping into her voice for the first time. "I need to get back to work,” she said finally, picking up the pen once more.

Taking the thinly-veiled hint, Sabé bowed and left her alone.

***

When Obi-Wan returned to the apartment, Sabé and Gregar were sitting at a small table in the lounge, bouncing security ideas back and forth. Sabé knew from one glance at his expression that something was wrong. She immediately leapt up from her seat and approached him, not liking the grim set of his mouth.

“What is it?”

He glanced at her, his eyes full of compassion. “Our investigator tracked down an Order member who was staying at 500 Republica. She was found dead outside her employer's apartment this afternoon."

Sabé clenched her fists, digging her nails into her palms in an attempt to calm her burst of anger. “Who was she?”

“Her employer said she was called Petré."

Sabé closed her eyes and took a deep, cleansing breath. “I knew her. I trained with her. She was serving Lord Demara, wasn’t she?”

“Yes. He’s unnerved that someone could have attacked his security team. He’s gone into hiding for the time being, although considering what we know, there really isn’t much point to that.”

“I have to warn the Order, Obi-Wan, they need to know what’s happening here.” She fixed him with her most insistent look, unprepared to back down on the issue. Investigation-compromising it may be, but lives were at stake.

Fortunately, he nodded. “The Council agrees. They said that considering the nature of the Order, they can be trusted to be on the alert without raising suspicion.”

Sabé felt a small weight leave the burden on her shoulders. She didn't want to have to argue with Obi-Wan, not any more than she already had. She knew he was on her side.

“That's good," she said earnestly. "I'm relieved, to be honest. I'm not sure what I would have done if they'd refused. Made a nuisance of myself, I guess. Why was Demara here, anyway? From what I hear, he rarely leaves his mansion on the outskirts of Theed.”

“From what we can gather, he was simply here visiting friends," Obi-Wan explained, dismissively. "There’s something else, though. Daedrin has an alibi.”

Sabé frowned, battling the stirrings of confusion and resentment “What?”

“Petré’s time of death is estimated to be between 13 and 1400 hours. Daedrin was in his office at the Senate at that time. Which means that either we were mistaken, or-”

“He has an accomplice," Sabé spat. "Do we have any leads on who?”

Obi-Wan shook his head, looking weary. “No," he answered succinctly, sounding thoroughly irritated at the fact. "Whoever committed the murder looped the security feed first."

Sabé reached out and placed a hand on one of his folded arms. “This has to stop. I know you don’t want me involved in the investigation, but if my insider knowledge can help in any way your investigator has to let me know. I can’t sit back and hear more and more of these reports.”

“I know," he agreed, running a hand through his hair. The gesture betrayed his fatigue and made him seem very human. Jedi were not all-powerful, after all. "I will tell you if there’s a way you can help, Sabé. I give you my word.”

They held each other’s gaze for a long, drawn out moment.

“Trust me,” Obi-Wan added.

“You know I do.”

Gregar cleared his throat, and they both turned sharply to look at him. He gave a small, apologetic smile.

“Hi. Is there any news on your marriage yet? The HoloNet is usually pretty quick to pick up this sort of thing."

“There have been one or two reports," Obi-Wan told him. "The Council is due to release its statement tomorrow morning. I’m to be suspended for three months for acting without their permission, but I’m not expelled because I technically haven’t breached the Code.”

“Three months?” Sabé repeated with wide eyes. “I was hoping it would all blow over soon. I hate all this negativity, especially since it’s my fault.”

“I’ve been through far worse,” Obi-Wan reassured, managing to inject humour into his tone. “It’s almost a holiday.”

“You worry too much, Sabé,” Gregar put in.

“Only because I care,” she said defensively, walking away and resting her nail-stabbed hands on the back of the chair she had been sitting in.

“And it’s to your credit,” Obi-Wan said sincerely, “but you need to trust in the people around you. We will get to the bottom of these murders, and those responsible will be brought to justice. Rushing into things and needlessly worrying won't help anyone."

“Patience. Is that what you’re stressing here?”

“In a word, yes.”

“I am being patient," she stated, unsure if it was really true. "But it’s difficult to maintain when my colleagues are being slaughtered and I have no idea why.”

Obi-Wan looked as if he shared her frustrations. “I know,” he muttered. “I know.”

And she knew that as with everything else he’d said that evening, it was the absolute truth.