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Mutually Beneficial

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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.